Communist Worker

Archive of Communist Workers Group of Aoteaora/New Zealand up to 2006

FOR A NEW ZIMMERWALD: PART 2

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The Collapse of the International

This is the second part of an article that examines the history of the first Zimmerwald movement against imperialist war in 1915, in preparation for a ‘new Zimmerwald’ today to oppose the drive to imperialist war. The first part showed that in the years after 1907 the Second International while formally anti-imperialist became rotten at the core with a rightward opportunist movement rooted in the labour bureaucracy. This set the scene for the historic betrayal of August 4, 1914. In this second part we take the story further to show how the revolutionary left was vigorous in challenging the ‘pacifist’ and centrist opposition to the war, notably Leibknecht’s famous vote against war credits,but failed to see the urgency of organising a strong anti-imperialist war movement.

August 4, 1914.

The outbreak of war saw the rotten centre of the International expose in a massive betrayal. Despite many dire warnings, this event was still a huge shock for the ‘left’.

Rosa Luxemburg co-founder of the new revolutionary journal Die Internationale wrote in the leading article in the first issue “The Reconstruction of the International”:

“On August 4, 1914 German Social Democracy abdicated politically; at the same time the Socialist International collapsed. Every attempt to deny these facts or go gloss them over, regardless of its motive, in reality serves only to perpetuate the disastrous self-deception of the Socialist parties and the internal sickness that led to their collapse”. (183)

“A body of four million strong allowed a handful of parliamentarians to turn it around in twenty-four hours and harness it to a wagon going in a direction opposite to its aim in life…Marx, Engels, and Lassalle; Liebknecht, Bebel and Singer trained the German proletariat so that Hindenburg could lead it” (186)

:

Brave exceptions on the Left.

Luxemburg, Trotsky and Lenin all drew the conclusion that this betrayal did not call into question either Marxism or the revolution. It was the result of alien class forces and the ‘internal sickness’ of the party. They all called for a the reconstruction of a new International to replace the collapsed Second.

However, almost immediately differences emerged on how to fight the war. Trotsky said that workers had to stop the war to preserve their power and so use their arms to fight for the United States of Europe. But how? Mobilise for peace? “Neither victory or defeat” was his slogan.[155]

Lenin said that workers must oppose the war by calling for the defeat of their own country. It was necessary to turn imperialist war into civil war by turning their weapons on their own bourgeoisie. [156]

Their differences.

Trotsky criticises the Bolsheviks for their defeatism in Russia as unrealistic. It is “an uncalled for and absolutely unjustified concession to the political methodology of social-patriotism, which would replace the revolutionary struggle against the war and the conditions causing it, with an orientation – highly arbitrary in the present conditions – towards the lesser evil”. Trotsky wants to avoid defeats as they “disorganise the whole of social life, and above all else the working class”. [165]

Lenin responds that this is typical of Trotsky’s “high-flown” phrases with which he “justifies opportunism”. He criticises Trotsky for calling for peace without any means of linking this to revolution i.e. defeatism. “ ‘A revolutionary struggle against the war’ is merely an empty and meaningless exclamation, something at which the heroes of the Second International excel, unless it means revolutionary action against one’s own government even in wartime.” [166].

Lenin accuses Trotsky of ‘opportunism’ because Trotsky assumes that the call for the defeat of Russia must mean the victory of Germany. The ‘lesser evil’ means that Russian workers will see the victory of Germany as preferable to the victory of the Tsar. And Trotsky is not prepared to swim against this stream of social-patriotism

But, says Lenin the 2nd International position was clear: “In all the imperialist countries the proletariat now desire the defeat of it own government”. So in rejecting the call for workers in all countries to defeat their governments, and adopting the position that one nation must win, it is Trotsky that adapts to the “political methodology of social-patriotism” [167].

Trotsky moves towardKautsky’s fatalist view that neither revolutions nor international solidarity between workers of different countries is possible in an imperialist war. That’s’ why the call for ‘peace’ is substituted for ‘defeatism’ because it does not challenge social-patriotism. It means in effect “neither victory nor defeat”.

This is a paraphrase of the “defence of the fatherland” slogan because it is a ‘class truce’. The working class is neither for nor against the war policy of its ruling class which also claims to be ‘against defeat’. [168] So the class struggle is suspended for the duration of the war. That is why the Italian government threatened its social democrats with ‘treason’ if it called a general strike. This explains why the Tsarist government charged Russia’s social-democrats with ‘high treason’.

For Lenin: “A proletarian cannot deal a class blow at his government or hold out (in fact) a hand to his brother, the proletarian of the ‘foreign country’, without contributing to the defeat, to the disintegration of his ‘own’ imperialist ‘Great Power’”[169].

Lenin concludes:

“Those who stand for the “neither-victory-nor-defeat” slogan are in fact on the side of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, for they do not believe in the possibility of international revolutionary action by the working class against their own governments, and do not wish to help develop such action, which, though undoubtedly difficult, is the only task worthy of a proletarian, the only socialist task. It is the proletariat in the most backward of the belligerent Great Powers which, through the medium of their party, have had to adopt – especially in the view of the shameful treachery of the German and French Social-Democrats – revolutionary tactics that are quite unfeasible unless they ‘contribute tot he defeat’ of their own government, but which alone lead to a European revolution, to the permanent peace of socialism, to the liberation of humanity from the horrors, misery, savagery and brutality now prevailing.” [170]

In Germany it was some months before the revolutionary left was able to mobilise opposition to the leaderships betrayal. Small meetings in working class branches supported the minority opposition to war credits but also criticised the minority for upholding party discipline and voting with the majority in the Reichstag. In Stuttgart on September 21, a meeting of SPD elected leaders condemned the war credits stand by 81 to 3.

Liebknecht responded:

“You are quite right for criticising me. Even if alone, I should have called out my “No!” in the Reichstag and so informed the whole world that the talk of unanimity of the Reichstag and the German people is a lie”. [173]

In November in the Berlin suburb of Niederbarnim local left wingers also took a stand against the war credits:“Had the Social Democratic faction done its duty on August 4, the external form of the organisation would probably have been destroyed, but the spirit would have remained…then the German working class would have carried out its historic mission.”Their conclusion was to build a new party and begin underground work.

“The Main Enemy is at Home”: Liebknecht and the Spartacists

In December on the second vote for war credits 20 deputies voted against at the party meeting. But once again all but Karl Leibknecht voted with the majority in the Reichstag.

On December 2, 1914 Karl Liebknecht took his historic stand and cast the sole vote against war appropriations. [174] In a declaration, “Explanation of War Credits Vote”, distributed as an illegal leaflet he explained his political stand. In the leaflet Leibknecht said he refused to vote for war credits because the war “is an imperialist war, fought for the capitalist domination of the world market and for the political domination of important territories for settlement of industrial and finance capital” [175]

Leibknecht was drafted into the army on 7 February 1915.Rosa Luxemburg was arrested and jailed on 18 February. Despite the repression, the left SDs formed an underground opposition to imperialist war in the factories and working class areas, known as the ‘Spartacists’ – the name of the leader of a slave rebellion against the Roman empire. Their main slogan became “The Main Enemy is at Home”!

But it was the Russian revolutionaries who spelled out what revolutionary defeatism meant.

“Who is it that threatens the Russian people? Who should we combat? They say it is the Germans…But it is the landlords, the factory owners, the big proprietors and merchants who steal from us; it is the police, the tsar, and his hangers-on who rob us. And when we have had enough of this robbery, and call a strike to protect our interests, then the police, the soldiers, and the Cossacks who are unleashed upon us…Now they try to mislead us and make us believe that our enemy is “the Germans” whom we have never seen… But will we Russian workers be so stupid as to take these lying phrases seriously?…No! If we must sacrifice our lives, we will do it for our own cause. They put guns in our hands. Good. We will use these guns to fight for better living conditions for the Russian working class.” [178]

Revolutionary defeatism got a practical endorsement during Xmas 1914 when British, French and German soldiers fraternised at the front. The British and German troops even organised their own 48-hour truce! Lenin wrote that this proved workers could unite against their own bosses. The military high commands worried that it might spread rapidly ordered that fraternisation was high treason punishable by death.

Lenin wrote (in The Slogan of Civil War Illustrated) that if the opportunists had devoted their efforts to calling on workers to fraternise for peace instead of backing their bosses war efforts and accepting ministerial jobs, then the spontaneous fraternisation of Christmas 1914 might spread on into the new year and beyond. The real issue came down to what cause should workers die for.

“There is only one practical issue – victory or defeat for one’s country –Kautsky, lackey of the opportunists, has written…Indeed, if one were to forget socialism and the class struggle, that would be the truth. However, if one does not lose sight of socialism, that is untrue. Then there is another practical issue: should we perish as blind and helpless slaves, in a war between slaveholders, or should we fall in the “attempts at fraternisation” between slaves, with the aim of casting off slavery? Such, in reality, is the “practical” issue.” [179]

Kautsky and ‘ultra-imperialism’

Meanwhile, Kautsky was working overtime trying to invent new twists in Marxist theory that would justify workers not having to fight anybody in principle. His theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ was revamped to claim that imperialist war was old fashioned and that the class interests of the bosses were now so enmeshed in each others stock markets that fighting imperialist wars was bad for business.

“Every far-sighted capitalist today [with the benefit of Kautsky’s lesson on where their class interests lay] must call on his fellows: capitalists of all countries unite!” [180] Kautsky is saying: imperialists wake up!Why are you fighting among yourselves when the real danger is posed by the colonial and semi-colonial countries, and by your own socialist movements. You are ruining yourselves unnecessarily. Stop the war in your own interests. Peace brings prosperity!

This was the old opportunist line from the pre-war Congresses of appealing to the bosses self-interest but now revived to provide ‘official Marxist’ legitimacy to the opportunists.

Kautsky and Co got the savaging they deserved from the revolutionaries. In a new theoretical journal, Die International, launched on April 14 1915 to combat this falsification of Marxism and to advance the creation of a new revolutionary leadership, Rosa Luxemburg wrote the devastatingly brilliant ‘The Reconstruction of the International’:

“Kautsky, the representative of the so-called Marxist Centre – politically speaking, the theoretician of the ‘swamp’ – made a sincere contribution to the party’s present collapse. Many years ago he degraded theory to the role of obliging hand-maiden to the official practice of the party establishment. Already he has thought up an opportune new theory to justify and whitewash the collapse”.[184]

“…Official theory, whose organ is Die Neue Zeit, [The New Times!] misuses Marxism any way it pleases to serve the party officials’ current domestic requirements and to justify their day-to-day dealings…The world historic call of the Communist Manifesto has been substantially enriched and, as corrected by Kautsky, now reads: ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite in peacetime and cut each other’s throats in wartime!”

”…According to historical materialism, as Marx laid it out, all of previously recorded history is the history of class struggle. According to Kautsky’s revision of materialism, that must be amended to read: ‘except in time of war’.” [187]

Luxemburg goes for Kautsky’s throat: “A moments reflection shows that Kautsky’s theory of historical materialism…does not leave a single stone of Marxist theory standing. According to Marx neither the class struggle nor war fall from the sky, but rather arise out of deep-seated social and economic causes. Thus neither of the two can periodically disappear unless their causes also vanish into thin air.”

“…Wars in the present historical period result from the competing interests of rival groups of capitalists and from capitalism’s need to expand. But these two driving forces do not operate only when the cannon’s roar, but also in peacetime, when they prepare and make inevitable the outbreak of new wars. War is indeed, as Kautsky is found of quoting from Clausewitz, only ‘continuation of politics by other means.’ And it is precisely the imperialist stage of capitalist domination whose arms race has made peace illusory, by declaring what is in essence the dictatorship of militarism and permanent war.” [188]

On the dangers of ‘official Marxism’ Luxemburg says this:

”All attempts to make Marxism conform to the present transitory decrepitude of Socialist practice, to prostitute it to the level of a mercenary apologist for social imperialism, are in themselves more dangerous than all the blatant and shrill excesses of the nationalist confusion in the ranks of the party. Such attempts tend not only to conceal the real causes of the International’s profound failure, but also to discard the lessons from this experience necessary for its future construction.” [192]

Writing for the Russian Bolshevik journal Kommunist, in September 1915, Lenin also takes Kautsky apart in “The Collapse of the Second International”.

First Lenin refutes Kautsky’s complaint that the revolutionary situation that was expected at the Basle Congress did not occur with the outbreak of war because governments got stronger and workers weaker. Lenin shows that the war did create a revolutionary situation which he famously defined in this article.

A revolutionary situation exists ‘objectively’ when the ruling classes find it impossible to rule ‘in the old way’; when the ‘lower classes do not want to live in the old way’, and when workers are drawn into independent action. To which he adds the necessary ‘subjective’ changes to workers consciousness –the “ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government” [194].

Thus the prediction of the pre-war Basle Manifesto is “fully confirmed” says Lenin; even “…those who fear revolution – petty bourgeois Christian parsons, the General Staffs and millionaires’ newspapers – are compelled to admit that symptoms of a revolutionary situation exist in Europe…To deny this truth, directly or indirectly, or to ignore it, as Plekhanov, Kautsky and Co have done, means telling a big lie, deceiving the working class, and serving the bourgeoisie”. [196]

So rather than take advantage of a revolutionary situation to ‘hasten’ the downfall of capitalism as demanded in the Basle Resolution, Kautsky and Co take refuge in the ‘big lie’ that no such crisis exists. Hence Kautsky rejects the charge that the leadership of the SD betrayed the masses. He caricatures the left SD position as calling for a ‘revolution within 24 hours’ which was impossible.

Lenin counters that revolutions are not ‘made’ but develop within objective conditions and the betrayal of the leadership was a massive setback to that development.

Kautsky justifies his position by trying to make the crisis dissolve into thin air as a ‘mistaken’ policy option that can be turned into peace by appealing to ruling class interests

The conditions were not ripe for revolution because the ruling class had not come to an impasse where it could not ‘rule in the old way’ but could instead opt for peace rather than war.

Lenin responds:

“The most subtle theory of social-chauvinism, one that has been most skillfully touched up to look scientific and international, is the theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ advanced by Kautsky…This theory boils down, and can only boil down, to the following: Kautsky is exploiting the hope for a new peaceful era of capitalism so as to justify the adhesion of the opportunists and the official Social-Democratic parties to the bourgeoisie, and their rejection of revolutionary i.e. proletarian, tactics in the present stormy era…[198]

But says Lenin: “Let us recall what the passage from the previous and “peaceful” period of capitalism to the present and imperialist period has been based on: free competition has yielded to monopolist capitalist combines, and the world has been partitioned. Both of these facts (and factors) are obviously of world-wide significance: Free Trade and peaceful competition were possible and necessary as long as capital was in a position to enlarge its colonies without hindrance, and seize unoccupied land in Africa, etc., and as long as the concentration of capital was still weak and no monopolist concerns existed i.e. concerns of a magnitude permitting domination of an entire branch of industry. The appearance and growth of such monopolist concerns (has this process been stopped in Britain or America? Not even Kautsky will dare deny that the war has accelerated and intensified it) have rendered the free competition of former times impossible; they have cut the ground from under its feet, while the partition of the world compels the capitalists to go over form peaceful expansion to an armed struggle for the repartitioning of colonies and spheres of influence.” [199]

Both Luxemburg and Lenin proved that Kautsky’s ‘official Marxism’ rejected the laws of capitalist development and the operation of the market, leaving “no stone” of Marxist theory overturned. Rather imperialism by its nature was inevitably forced to war. That war created the objective factors necessary for a revolutionary situation but the old leadership had betrayed the Basle resolution and failed to lead a revolutionary opposition to the war. It needed to be replaced urgently by a new leadership that could exploit the revolutionary crisis and turn imperialist war into civil war. The time was overdue to regroup the left SD forces and begin the process of building a new Third International.

It was necessary to unite the left forces and prepare for a anti-war conference. The question arises why did the ‘left’ leave the initiative to the ‘centre’ to convene the first anti-war conference at Zimmerwald in September 1915, one year after the war had begun. Why did it take the ‘left’ so long to re-organise?

Towards Zimmerwald

The bourgeoisie understood that imperialist war created a revolutionary crisis and passed tough repressive measures against workers and the ‘left’ in general. The anti-war movement was driven underground and many of their leaders and cadres were imprisoned. To implement the Basle resolution and the call to turn imperialist war into civil war, the left needed to build a new international. Why didn’t the left initiate an antiwar conference?

Two pre-conferences were held during this period; an International conference of Women met in Bern, March 26-28, and an Internationalist Youth Conference during April 1915. But no call arose out of either of these for a full blown anti-war conference. In May 1915, the Italians try to get the ISB to hold an antiwar conference. This is rejected, so the Italians decide to convene a conference without the ISB. A Preliminary Conference met on July 11 in Bern. Invitations were sent to the official ISB national leaderships! Kautsky among others declined.

Zinoviev reported on the Preliminary Conference. He was obviously surprised to find that the organisers had invited only representatives of the official ISB parties “Where are the genuine lefts of the International?”he asked.

[All page references are again to ‘Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International. Documents: 1907-1916. The Preparatory Years”. Edited by John Riddell. Monad Press, New York, 1984]

Part 3:Zimmerwald and the Left I next issue of Class Struggle

From Class Struggle 45 June/July 2002

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Written by raved

June 27, 2008 at 10:22 pm

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