How the First World War Broke Out
The imperialist antagonisms reached an extremely acute stage during the one and a half decades preceding 1914. Countries like Britain and France, which possessed large colonial realms, were being outstripped by Germany, which by comparison had no colonies worthy of the name and was therefore pressing for a re-division of the world. Antagonisms were piling up on all sides. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the situation had been characterized by:
- the sharp German-British antagonism on the Boer question, which was in reality a struggle for hegemony in South Africa and which ended with the victory of Britain;
- the naval-building duel between Germany and Britain, which now began to have serious fears for its rule over the oceans;
- the Morocco conflict of 1905-1906 until 1911, which led to the brink of war, and in which Germany attempted in vain to destroy the French domination of Morocco because of the strategic significance and the mineral treasures of this North-West African territory;
- the struggle for the Near East, in the course of which Germany made a vassal of Turkey and thereby incurred the hostility of Britain and Czarist Russia;
- the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, in the first of which the small nations of South-East Europe threw off Turkish rule, while in the second the victors fought out a bloody struggle among themselves, with the gigantic silhouettes of Russia behind one side and of Germany-Austria behind the other;
- the building of the two great power blocs, Britain-Russia-France (the Entente), and Germany-Austro-Hungary-Italy (the Central Powers). The latter coalition became even more fragile than ever through Italy's robber war of 1922 against a Turkey dependent on Germany (conquest of Tripolis and Cyrenaica). The Central Powers were led by Germany, which had attained unity in 1871 under reactionary Prussian leadership and since then had developed tempestuously, but found that the world had already been divided up among the great powers and planned on appeasing its appetite through war.
The murder of the Crown Prince by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo in June 1914 offered the rulers of the two Central Powers, which feared the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, torn by numerous national antagonisms, a welcome opportunity to make war. While they made profuse protestations of their desires for peace in public, they made sure by their action against Serbia that a peaceful solution would be impossible. Britain deceived the Central Powers up to the last moment as to what its position would be in a continental conflict. That enormously encouraged the lust for war of the ruling classes of Germany and Austria, which believed in Britain's neutrality. With the First World War, which pushed mankind into what was then an unimaginable catastrophe, the general crisis of the world capitalist system began.
While the bloody battles were still going on, the newly
Soviet power proclaimed The Decree on Peace and showed the
way to ending the murder of the peoples. The Kaiser's government
of Germany and its generals, however, shut their ears to the call
for peace, broke the armistice with Soviet Russia, on February
18, 1918 attacked again on all fronts, and robbed the young Soviet
state of enormous territories.
From June 28 to August 4, 1914
On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austrian throne, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, was murdered in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo. Perpetrated by Serbian nationalists, it was an act of terrorist revenge for the oppression of the Serbian people by the Danube monarchy. Austro-Hungary had in 1908 completed the annexation of the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which it had long occupied, which were inhabited by Serbs and were nominally under Turkish jurisdiction. If the assassination of Francis Ferdinand, the zealous practitioner of Slav suppression, was understandable as an expression of the indignation of the sections of the population deprived of their national rights, it was also politically harmful, since the assassins substituted individual terror for the organized struggle of the masses that was needed.
For the governing circles of Austro-Hungary -- and also of Germany, however -- the killing of Francis Ferdinand was a windfall. The two powers had long been striving to conquer the Balkans, whose economic penetration, especially by Germany, had already made great advances with the building of the trans-Balkan railway, which was designed to continue on to Baghdad. Now the Austrian cabinet and the German Kaiser believed they had found the desired pretext, not only to humiliate Serbia, which they considered -- and hated -- as a Slavic outpost of Russia, but to take it over completely. The ruling circles in the Danube monarchy ardently desired a local war with easily won victories which should make the oppressed Italians, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles and other minorities in the multi-national state forget their complaints against Vienna. The same circles hoped that a triumphant short war would arrest the threatening disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Kaiser state and unite round the monarch all the peoples striving to break away.
The influential Austrian Chief of the General Staff, Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, had years earlier already drafted the plan about which he writes frankly in his memoirs:
"The possibilities which I had for a long time already envisaged in this matter were in the first place the achievement of a peaceful and lasting union of Serbia as a federal state with the Hapsburg monarchy; but if Serbia should reject the union and continue its hostile aspirations directed against the monarchy, then the only alternative was a war launched at the appropriate moment. In 1906, when I was named chief of the general staff, I had already pointed that out, and in 1908-09 said the moment had come to clear up the situation with Serbia."
What had been "neglected" in the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was now to be made up for. The aim was to identify the chauvinist Serbian organization "The Black Hand," to which the murderers of the Archduke belonged, with the Belgrade government, and to use that as the pretext for launching war. That required an ultimatum with demands that could not possibly be met. The ministers who were responsible for the policy of the Danube monarchy, but lacked all sense of responsibility, literally trembled for fear that they would be robbed of their war if Serbia should accept even the most humiliating demands. On July 18, 1914 -- the ultimatum was still being brewed in the diplomate kitchen -- the First Counsellor in the German embassy in Vienna, Prince Stolberg, wrote to the German state secretary of the Foreign Ministry:
"As I reported yesterday, Count Leopold Berchtold (the Austrian foreign minister -- A.N.) hopes that the Austrian demands ... will not be accepted by Serbia, but he is not completely certain, and I have the impression from statements of his, as well as of Alexander von Hoyos (Berchtold's cabinet chief -- A.N.) that Serbia could accept the demands. To my question, what would then happen, if the thing should again disappear like water in the sand in this way, Count Berchtold said it would then be necessary to frustrate the practical implementation of the single stipulations to the greatest possible extent. -- If one really desires a final clarification of the situation with Serbia ... then it would of course be difficult to understand why such demands were not put forward which would make a break unavoidable." (My emphasis -- A.N.)
The desire for war was thus quite openly expressed by the leaders among themselves, while the press, at the same time, was overflowing with protestations of the desire for peace and spoke only of the punishment of the Archduke's murderer. We have cited Hoyos and Berchtold. It is clear now that these men, in view of the decay of the Danube monarchy, normally could not even dream of getting into a project so pregnant with danger as a military action against Belgrade, in view of the very close Russian-Serbian relations.
In actual fact, the source from which the Viennese politicians and military got their courage was in Berlin. There the Austrians had their backs stiffened. The Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm desired a preventive war. It considered itself to be armed to the teeth, believed that the other continental powers like France and especially Russia were behind in armaments, and was convinced that with every passing month the disintegration of Austro-Hungary would continue. It was therefore necessary to exploit the moment when one believed oneself to have the advantage over the other powers. The German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Gottlieb von Jagow, on 18 July 1914 wrote the German Ambassador in London, Prince Karl Max von Lichnowsky, who had warned against the war policy:
"If we did that (namely, leave Austria in the lurch -- A.N.) Austria (and we ourselves) could with justice reproach us with the fact that we have diverted it from its last possibility for political rehabilitation. Then the process of its wasting away and its internal disintegration would be hastened ... Basically, Russia is not now ready to fight. France and Britain will also not desire war now. In a few years, Russia, according to all competent indications, will be ready to fight. Then it will crush us with the number of its soldiers; then it will have built its Baltic Fleet and its strategic railways. Our group will in the meantime become steadily weaker." (Wolfgang Hallgarten: "Vorkriegsimperialismus")
Therefore -- up with war as the way out of the Austrian state crisis and as a preventive measure to "finish off" the enemy in his unfinished state of defence! Helmuth von Moltke Jr., Chief of the General Staff of the German army, had said in May 1914:
"Every additional delay means a lessening of our chances; we cannot compete with Russia in terms of masses."
In 1914 Germany was of course still a monarchy whose head, Kaiser Wilhelm II, had great influence on German internal and foreign policy, as a result of his semi-absolute position. On diplomatic documents of the German Foreign Office (which were published after the First World War and some of which have already been quoted here), the Kaiser had frequently written marginal comments, which were typical of his views and of his mischievous instructions. On June 30, 1914, the German Ambassador in Vienna, Heinrich von Tschirschky und Bögendorff, reported to the Foreign Office in Berlin:
"One hears there, even among serious people, the repeated wish that accounts have to be settled, but properly, with the Serbs."
Alongside these words, the Kaiser wrote: "Now or never!"
Tschirschky continued in his report:
"I utilize every such occasion to warn, quietly but with great emphasis, against too hasty measures."
Whereupon the Kaiser exploded in writing:
"Who has given such instructions? That is very stupid! ... Tschirschky should be good enough to drop this nonsense! We have got to clean up on the Serbs, and soon." (Emphasis by Wilhelm II.)
On July 21, 1914, the German ambassador in St. Petersburg sent in a report on his talk with the Russian minister of foreign affairs. The latter had expressed the fear that certain Austrian circles "apparently are not satisfied with representations in Belgrade, but have the aim of destroying Serbia."
Alongside the last seven words Wilhelm II wrote in the margin: "That would be the best!"
After Austria on July 23, 1914 had delivered its ultimatum, about which we will have more to say, the British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey of Fallodon told the German ambassador the next day:
"A state that accepts that sort of thing really ceases to count as an independent state."
The Kaiser wrote in the margin of the report:
"That would be most desirable. It is not a state in the European sense, but a gang of robbers!"
And a report of the German envoy in Belgrade, which described the shocked dismay of the Serbian government in view of the extravagance of the Austrian demands, was finished off with the following final remark in the Kaiser's most personal style:
"How hollow is the whole so-called great Serbian state; it is the same with all the Slave states! One has only to deal firmly with this rabble!"
That was a naked dedication to aggression and a directive for German diplomacy. We see that the cynical scorn for other people, above all the Slavs, is a legacy which Wilhelm II left to Hitler, although in the end the pupil, admittedly, excelled the teacher.
Twenty-five days after the assassination in Sarajevo, on July 23, the Austrian government handed its 48-hours ultimatum to Serbia. It was a cold-blooded provocation and so formulated that acceptance would lead to the destruction of the independence of Serbia, whereas rejection would inevitably lead to war. Apart from the obligation placed upon the Serbian government, in the ultimatum, to make a strong statement to its own people against the propaganda for the withdrawing of countries "which belong to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy," Serbia was required to fulfil 10 further demands. They included demands which no state concerned with its honour and independence could fulfil, such as the demands 5 and 6, according to which Austrian state organs would from then on participate on Serbia's territory in the latter's police and juridical functions. That was to be a permanent state of affairs and by no means limited to the clearing up of the assassination. Incidentally, the Foreign Office in Berlin had the note containing the ultimatum in its hands the day before it was sent to Belgrade, but undertook nothing to tone it down.
Although the ultimatum was monstrous both in tone and content, a reply came from Belgrade before the time limit had expired accepting practically all the demands with a single reservation. When the German Kaiser read the Serbian note on July 28, even he had to concede in a written comment:
"A brilliant accomplishment for a time limit of 48 hours. This is more than one could have expected! A great moral success for Vienna; but with this every ground for war disappears, and Baron Wladimir von Giesl (the Austrian envoy in Belgrade -- A.N.) could well have remained on in Belgrade! On this basis I would never have ordered a mobilization. W."
Immediately after reading the Serbian reply, the Kaiser wrote the state secretary in the Foreign Office a letter which began with the words:
"After reading through the Serbian reply, which I received this morning, I am convinced that the wishes of the Danube monarchy have been fulfilled, by and large. The few reservations which Serbia makes with regard to a few points could certainly, according to my opinion, be cleared up through negotiations. But the capitulation of the most humiliating kind involved is made clear orbi et urbi (to the whole world -- A.N.), and through it every ground for war disappears."
The German Kaiser, therefore, himself admitted that the Serbian reply had cut the ground from under the feet of the warmongers. After all this, a relaxation of the situation could have been expected, since Serbia had given in to an extent that by far exceeded the expectations even of the German and Austrian authorities. But since the latter wanted to come away with the laurels of war at no matter what cost, Kaiser Wilhelm II demanded, in his letter to Jagow quoted above, the occupation of the Serbian capital of Belgrade and "a portion of Serbia" by Austria under the pretext that there had to be guarantees that the Serbian pledges would be observed. He added:
"That is also necessary, in order to give the army, mobilized for the 3rd time to no purpose, an external 'satisfaction d'honneur,' to make it possible for it to appear to be victorious in the view of other countries and to be conscious of at least having stood on foreign territory. Without this, the lack of a field campaign could lead to a very nasty mood against the dynasty that would be most inconvenient."
Serbia had capitulated to the excessive demands of Vienna, but it was overrun by war nevertheless, in order that the decaying Danube monarchy could raise its tottering prestige. In actual fact, Austro-Hungary mobilized and declared war on Serbia on the same July 28 on which the German Kaiser had had to concede that "every ground for war falls away" as a result of Serbia's falling into line.
Austria's attack on Serbia led to a sharpening of the anti-Austrian attitude in world public opinion. But in the capitals of both Central European great powers the leaders remained quite indifferent, even with regard to the threatening probability that Russia would resort to arms to prevent the altering of the situation in the Balkans. That, however, in view of Germany's alliance with Vienna, would also bring Germany into the war, in which case France would have to fulfil its duties as an ally of Russia and equally have to enter the war. There was no anxiety in the capitals of Central European powers because the German General Staff believed it had the recipe for victory in its pocket: the defeat of France in a lightning campaign, in order then, with its rear free, to knock out Russia. One can see that Hitler acted with very little originality a quarter of a century later when he too took over the methods of the Kaiser imperialists in this field.
Admittedly, the British were then an unknown quantity. Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, in his negotiations with the German ambassador spoke only of the dangers of a four-power conflict, that is to say, of Germany, Austria, Russia and France, but never of the possibility of British participation. He thus gave the rulers of Germany the impression that the United Kingdom would remain neutral, and thereby encouraged the aggression of Berlin and Vienna, just as 25 years later the Foreign Office equally encouraged German expansion to the east and south-east. British policy was in no way concerned with maintaining the peace; it was concerned rather with maintaining the continental balance of power which, in the case of a four-power conflict, would cease to exist through an anticipated victory of the Central Powers. At that time there was such an enormous respect in Germany for Britain, in view of the international position of the latter, that an unmistakable nod from Grey -- let us say, some time close to July 20 -- would have been enough to make the court, the diplomats and the General Staff in Berlin very cautious indeed, and would have brought Austria to its senses. But the nod did not come. An objective historical approach cannot set aside the suspicion that Downing Street did everything to manoeuvre the ever more dangerous German competitor, by encouraging its confidence in British neutrality, into making war, to make every retreat impossible for Germany, and then to hit out at it. After July 26, King George V told the brother of the German Kaiser, Prince Heinrich: "We will do everything to remain neutral."
This British posture was looked upon by the gentlemen in Berlin as a blank check for their war policy. All the greater was their fury when Britain showed its hand and Berlin saw itself in the role of the thief who had been robbed. Now, on July 30, they would have liked to draw back. On the previous day, Grey had suggested a four-power conference to Prince Lichnowsky, at which Austria, "after the occupation of Belgrade and of other Places," should reveal its conditions. At this talk, Grey had for the first time made clear that in case of the participation of Germany and France in the war, it would be intolerable for Britain "to stand aside and wait long." The foreign secretary had left no doubt on which side his country would act.
A few hours after receipt of the Lichnowsky report, the terrified German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg sent a message to the German ambassador in Vienna to have him "urgently propose," in the name of the German government, "that Austria accept Grey's proposal ... Your Excellency are requested to express yourself in this sense immediately, with the greatest emphasis, to Count Berchtold, if possible, also to Count Istvan Tisza (Hungarian Prime Minister -- A.N.)."
This "Telegram 200" was sent off by the Berlin main telegraph office at 9 o'clock in the evening. Two hours and 20 minutes later the following laconic message went to the same address:
"Urgent! Please do not carry out Instruction No. 200 for the time being. Bethmann-Hollweg."
What had happened in the interval of 140 minutes between the two telegrams? We can conjecture, because the draft of a telegram of the German chancellor which was not sent is available. It states:
"I have stopped carrying through Instruction No.200 because General Staff now informs me that military preparations of our neighbours, namely, in east, force us to quick decision ..."
It is therefore clear that the military party which was set on war nullified every move to soften the antagonisms, just as Hitler, equally determined on war, 25 years later, in August 1939, took precautions against the possibility "that some 'dirty dog' brings me a proposal to mediate."
Prince Lichnowsky writes in his memoirs:
"It needed only a sign from Berlin to persuade Count Berchtold to be satisfied with a diplomatic success. Such a sign, however, was not forthcoming. On the contrary, the pressure was in the direction of war."
Thus the catastrophe ran its course. Mobilization in Austria and the invasion of Serbia; mobilization in Russia, then Germany and France. The destruction of the neutrality of Belgium through the march in of German soldiers. A British ultimatum with the demand that the troops withdraw immediately. The refusal of the German government and Britain's entrance into the war. The world catastrophe was rolling. The immediate cause was the encouragement of Austrian aggression by German imperialism.
It is impossible to end this chapter without a word on the wretched role of the press. The Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, which was especially close to the General Staff and the government, on July 30 issued an extra edition that reached the streets in the centre of the capital city at 2:30 am and announced the mobilization.
In reality, there was no mobilization on that day or the next. But the aim of the men behind the scenes and those who fathered this false report was served: the Russian ambassador, as well as the official Russian news agency, immediately sent the announcement of the Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger to Petersburg, where it helped turn the Russian partial mobilization into a total mobilization. That in turn gave the German military, thirsting for war, the pretext for the proclamation of mobilization on August 1.
If the extra edition of the Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger was an especially striking and provocative falsification, it was by no means an exception. In order to whip the population into a war mood, the entire press published unbelievable lies in its reports. In one case, French doctors were caught in the act of poisoning wells -- so the story went. In another case, French aviators were seen flying over German territory. Or spies were caught in possession of large sums of money. Reports of this kind followed one another daily -- before war itself had yet broken out! -- on the front pages of the newspapers, until broad sections of the public were reduced to actual hysteria and were ready to accept the role of cannon fodder. Yes, these lies even figured as one of the grounds for the official German declaration of war on August 3 against France:
"Yesterday French aerial bombs were dropped on the railway lines near Karlsruhe and Nuremberg. France thereby forced us into a state of war."
On this question the Nuremberg city council declared two years later:
"Nothing is known by the assistant general commander of the 3rd Bavarian Army Corps as to whether bombs were ever dropped by enemy pilots, before or after the outbreak of war, on the railway lines Nuremberg-Kissingen and Nuremberg-Ansbach. All the claims and reports on this question have revealed themselves to be false."
In the meantime, however, the lies had served their purpose as a pretext for the German declaration of war.
When the government of Kaiser Wilhelm claimed it had had the First World War forced upon it, it was simply lying. It was consciously prepared, as we have seen, and was the inevitable result of a campaign of the ruling classes of Germany and their organizations for one and a half decades for the domination of Europe and the world. The guilt of other imperialist powers, which followed similar aims, should of course also not be forgotten. Even those industrialists who did not belong to the all-German circles screamed for a redivision of the world, although they knew very well that that could not be achieved without war, without at least a war that would spread over all of Europe. The chairman of the Board of Directors of the powerful electrical concern AEG (Allgemeine Elektrizitätsgesellschaft), Walther Rathenau, seven months before the outbreak of the First World War demanded: "We need land in this world; in future divisions of it we must get as much of what we need until we are approximately as satiated as our neighbours."
The war aims were summarized one month after the outbreak of the war in the memorandum of the German Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg. The head of the Kaiser's government saw these aims as follows: the taking over of Eastern France, especially the ore basin of Briey, and "a trade treaty which would make France economically dependent on Germany." The memorandum added: "This trade treaty must give us financial and industrial freedom of movement in France. Belgium must be reduced to a vassal state, must place its coast militarily at our disposal, and economically become a German province." Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne -- that is to say, the north coast of France -- were to be joined to this vassal state.
The chancellor briskly, cheerfully announced Luxemburg would be a "German federal state," which would be enlarged by the French "corner of Longwy." The Netherlands were generously granted formal independence, but would have to be "internally" brought "into dependence on us" with "a close customs duty connection" and with "German occupation rights for the Scheldt Estuary." A major role in the colonial ambitions of the chancellor was played by "the creation of a connected Central African colonial realm."
To be able to swallow and digest these enormous morsels, Bethmann-Hollweg proposed the creation of a "Central European economic federation" which "must stabilize the economic domination by Germany." By Central Europe the chancellor made clear he meant the following countries: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austro-Hungary, Poland, Italy, Sweden and Norway!
Insane plans? Certainly! But Bethmann-Hollweg was looked upon as one of the moderates in the circle of German imperialists (and was precisely for that reason thrown out of office two years later). With regard to Russia he had produced the general formula that its "rule over non-Russian vassal people must be broken."
On the same day that this memorandum of war aims saw the light of day, its author received a memorandum from the leader of heavy industry in the Rhine and Ruhr region, August Thyssen, who raised claims for the taking over of the Don region, with Odessa, the Crimea, the region of the Sea of Azov and the Caucasus -- because of the raw material resources in these areas! Incidentally, that was only an auxiliary program, for in August 1914 the coal and steel industry had already put forward its list of objectives, which in the east included all of Poland, the Ukraine, Lithuania, Courland, Livonia, Esthonia and Finland! All of these were guiding stars of official German policy from the first days of the war.
All the more wretched was the role played by the leadership of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The SPD was the strongest, the most respected section of the 2nd International. The proletarians of the world looked up to it. But the revisionist poison had already penetrated deeply into the SPD leadership. The rightwing leaders gave up all Socialist principles, and the class struggle to implement them, in return for a few crumbs from the table of the ruling circles. Feeble tribute was paid to Socialism, if at all, only in May Day speeches; in practice, integration in the capitalist system was sought, and the interests of the German proletariat were equated with those of Kaiser Germany. Instead of putting a spoke in the wheel of the imperialists' war chariot, the rightwing SPD leaders actually painted the arch-reactionary war effort as a highly progressive cause in order to provide the Kaiser with proletarian infantry.
"Our very nation is threatened by the hordes of the bloody Czar," cried the Münchener Post, the Social Democratic organ in Bavaria, on August 4, and the same theme was taken up by the entire press and leadership of the SPD, with the exception of the small left wing. Complicity in the aggression of monarchical German imperialism was disguised as defence against Czarist reaction. The Social Democratic leaders appealed to the profound feelings of the class-conscious German workers who had always shown vigorous solidarity with the persecuted Russian Socialists. Among these millions of German workers, the deception was spread that what was involved was a war in defence of culture against Russian barbarism; but they were not told that the ruling German classes had quite other things in mind, namely, gaining the hegemony over the European continent by conquest, as well as over the Near East, and the expansion of the German colonial empire in Africa. The rightwing SPD leadership concealed the fact that imperialism is the epoch of finance capital and monopoly, which rampages in all directions, not for freedom but for annexations, regardless of its political system, of whether it is authoritarian, or a semi-absolute monarchy, or a so-called bourgeois democracy.
But what a similarity in the justification of the war by the German Social Democratic leadership in 1914 and in the speeches of the SPD leaders, and the articles and appeals of the West German Social Democratic press, after the Second World War, both of which pursued the same incitement against Russia. The only difference was the incitement of the latter was even worse than that of their predecessors. For the Russia of the Czars had become the Soviet Union of Lenin, the great Socialist power for peace.
Incidentally, the policy of the Social Democratic leaders of France and other countries of the Entente was on the same level. They transformed the war of their bourgeoisie into a defensive action against "brutal Prussian militarism."
It would mean distorting history if one passed over in
silence the fact that the leftwing elements in the SPD, after the
first weeks in which they were profoundly shaken by the
unmitigated betrayal of the great majority of the party executive
and of the parliamentary group, closed ranks and with great
courage and dedication exposed the imperialist character of the
war and called for a struggle against the ruling classes. On October
26, 1914, Karl Liebknecht wrote to the party executive: "What
we face is a crude German-Austrian preventive war and at the same
time a war of conquest."
Karl Liebknecht opposed the passing of the war credits in the Reichstag (parliament) session of December 2, 1914 in a fiery declaration against the exclusively capitalist interests served by the war of annexation. In the black night of chauvinism that was unleashed there burned the flame that Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, Franz Mehring, Wilhelm Pieck lit in illegality of underground work. The Spartacus movement founded by them saved the honour of the German people. But in the first years of the war they were only a relatively small group against which the whole terror of the government and of the SPD party apparatus, which was controlled by the right-wing leaders, was turned in order to choke off the voice of Socialist truth in prison or penitentiary or through ordering the members of the left into the most exposed trenches on the battlefield.
In both war camps, the great majority of the top Social
Democrats concealed the real nature of the war, through which the
dominant world powers sought to annex territories, to tear
colonies away from each other and to plunder their competitors.
The great and praiseworthy exception was the Social Democratic
Workers' Party led by Lenin. Because it dissipated the fog of
imperialist lies with the bright light of truth, because the
Bolshevik party was the only proletarian party that remained
loyal to the cause of Socialism and internationalism, and
organized civil war against the imperialist government of its own
country, it was able to develop the maturity of the masses and to
carry through the October Revolution of 1917, that great turning
point in world history through which one-sixth of the earth was
liberated from the domination of the war profiteers and
From the Soviet Peace Appeal to the Robber Peace of Brest
Soviet power was hardly 24 hours old when it issued its peace appeal, "To all! To All! To All! and adopted the famous Decree on Peace.
This message to the peoples and governments of all countries engaged in war proposed the immediate opening of negotiations for a just, democratic peace, a peace without injurious and oppressive conditions. It also put forward the proposal for an immediate armistice. The call appealed especially to the class-conscious workers of Germany, Britain and France, mindful of the examples of proletarian heroism, to free the people of the terror of war with courage and energy and to establish peace.
What an opportunity for the German people! Hungry, decimated, worn out, in the fourth year of the war it longed more than ever before for peace. The German imperialists themselves could not remain unaffected by this mass sentiment, but under cover of armistice and peace negotiations they wanted to conduct a new armed drive for booty. On December 3, 1917, the negotiations between Germany and Soviet Russia began with the proclamation of a truce on the eastern front, which on December 15 led to an armistice. Two days earlier, on December 13, 1917, the Association of German Iron and Steel Industrialists had already approached the state secretary of the Foreign Office with "The desires of the iron industry regarding the conclusion of peace with Russia." The German monopoly lords considered that the time had come at last for their long cherished robber plans to be carried through and for the newly born state of the workers and peasants to be held down economically, with its neck under the German jackboot. Determined to hold onto this country in order to recoup their own fortunes and for their own profit, they demanded:
"1. Russia must permit the unrestricted and unrestrained export of manganese and iron ore, that is to say, also customs free.
"2. Russia must concede the right to purchase metal mines of every type and land in all parts of the country, along with their use of exploitation by Germans free of all special taxation.
"3. Russia must also, however, make the Germans equal in principle in every way to all its citizens, whether in connection with participation or in connection with the founding of commercial enterprises ... If we wish to create large foreign balances with our industrial products, then we are in the first place dependent on the European land mass, and in this respect, above all on the great Russian realm with its enormous need for iron and steel products of every kind ... For that reason it is necessary to press for the reduction of Russian customs duties at least for Germany."
On December 22, the peace negotiations began at Brest-Litovsk. The hearts of the peoples of Germany and of Soviet Russia beat faster; they longed for peace and believed that it was now very close.
At that moment German imperialism smote the negotiations table with its sabre. It wanted, not a settlement but robbery, not peace but war. Documents published by West German bourgeois historians in 1967 reveal the depraved mentality and the brutal aims of the circles then ruling Germany. As the plenipotentiary of the supreme command of the army, the chief of the department of operations of the German Admiralty was sent to Petrograd at the end of 1917 in order to negotiate with the Soviet government on the exchange of prisoners-of-war. This Rear-Admiral Baron Walter von Keyserlingk sent eleven military-political reports to the German military leadership between January 3 and February 14, 1918 in which not a word was said about his official mission, but which contained detailed proposals for military actions against Soviet Russia.
The letters are therefore worthy of mention, because the advice offered in them was made the basis of the aggression that was to follow. The Baron demanded that the German Reich should undertake "the setting up of a protective wall as far to the east as possible through the joining together of the peripheral countries ... a generous colonization project across Russia to Asia," in which "setting foot on the internal lines of Asia would be of decisive military importance."
On February 4, Keyserlingk urged Berlin "to strike as quickly as possible against Petersburg through Esthonia ... In that way the Baltic question would also be solved in the easiest way" (meant here is the annexation of Russian Baltic regions by Germany -- A.N.).
In his first report, the emissary of German militarism summarized the issues as follows: "The rich treasures possessed by the country and their exploitation is a vital economic and military question for Central Europe ... The German Reich can only set itself the goal of separating (from Russia) the western non-Russian peripheral regions and joining them onto the Reich." In addition, "we must drive our influence into the rest of what remains of Russia as a factor promoting orderliness. For such a colonizing project, which also includes great military advantages, with a possible threat to Britain in India, there must, however, be a government at the head of Russia which is included to accept from the surplus power of Germany the power which she herself lacks."
These plans of conquest which in fact covered all of Russia were also placed before the Kaiser, who personally dealt with them with approving marginal remarks such as "Very good," "Also my view." After he had read some of the reports, the Kaiser declared on February 2, 1918: "I have given orders to march against Petersburg as soon as we are finished with the Ukraine."
It should be pointed out that all of this was going on while the peace negotiations were in progress ...
On February 13, 1918, the crown council met under the chairmanship of the Kaiser at Bad Homburg. In the course of the meeting, the Kaiser read out the reports of Baron von Keyserlingk from Petrograd. Then he gave free play to anti-Semitic utterances and made the demand, according to the minutes of the meeting: "We must kill off the Bolsheviks as quickly as possible!"
In an effort to present the policy of the then top leadership of the Reich as neither authoritative nor effective, bourgeois historians describe the last German Kaiser as a braggart and chatterer not to be taken quite seriously. An analysis of the character of Wilhelm II, however, is not really the point. What is decisive is this: were his views put into practice, and did they reflect the opinion of others in the ruling power complex? That was very much the case. It was precisely at the above-mentioned crown council meeting at Homburg that the real military dictator of the day, General Erich Ludendorff (who five years later marched at Hitler's side in the Munich Putsch), turned over a memorandum to the Kaiser which, after listing the annexations planned, said: "Perhaps we will deliver the Bolsheviks the death blow." In the crown council, Ludendorff demanded the conquest of Petrograd.
The actual supreme commander, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg (seven years inter Reich president in the Weimar Republic, who named Hitler to the post of chancellor), identified himself with that opinion. The abbreviated minutes of his remarks to the Homburg crown council meeting quote him as saying: "We must defeat Russia. Must overthrow government."
In short -- the overthrowing of the Soviet regime, the killing of its supporters ! -- although they had offered Germany peace and had entered into an armistice with Germany. After these so very "friendly" guidelines were put forward by the German leaders, the only question that remained was how to implement them. The Kaiser was hit by the following inspiration: "Not a new war, but help!" The desired conquest was to take on the character, therefore, of a police measure in the name of humaneness. The Chancellor, Count Georg von Hertling, was delighted: "We must have appeals for help, then we can deal with them." Now the practical men had the word. Field Marshal von Hindenburg set out the schedule: "We must receive appeals for help by the 18th." General Ludendorff had in the meantime quickly arranged for a telegram from Riga along these lines, and asked: "Is that enough?" No. The chancellor asked for still more "calls for help," especially from Finland and the Ukraine, so that he could better justify the planned military campaign in the Reichstag.
How such things are done is shown by the case of Finland. Ludendorff addressed himself on February 13, during the crown council meeting, to the representative of the reactionary forces in Finland, Edvard Immanuel Hjelt, who was in Berlin, and by February 14 the requested call for help had already arrived, only a few hours after the crown council ended with the decision to break the armistice, to arrange for "calls for help" from the occupied territories, in order to be able to describe the aggression as an act of liberation, and to begin the military offensive on February 18.
That is how it happened. Instead of going on from the armistice to peace, as desired by the Bolsheviks, German imperialism moved from the armistice to a new war.
Exploiting the fact that the old Russian army was gone and that the new Red Army did not yet exist in practice, German imperialism tore from Soviet Russia, in the Brest-Litovsk peace forced on the latter, Poland, Finland, the Ukraine, Lithuania and Courland. In the Caucasus, Kars, Ardahan and Batum were carved away. These territories had a population of 60,000,000 people, had the richest grain regions and accounted for about four-fifths of the coal and iron production.
But even the Brest-Litovsk peace dictate of March 3, 1918, the first article of which said that both partners to the treaty would "henceforth live in peace and friendship with each other" -- even this treaty, which contained the above territorial acquisitions by the Germans, was broken by German imperialism.
Annexation Despite the Conclusion of Peace
In an army order on the resumption of the aggression in the south, in the Ukraine, the German army's supreme command declare that the military operations must be continued beyond the border of the Ukraine to the Black Sea coast and the Don Basin, in order to reach the Russian stores of iron ore and coal. These new attacks culminated in the occupation of the Crimea at the end of April and the taking of Rostov, at the beginning of May.
On March 15, 1918 -- that is to say, after the conclusion of peace with Soviet Russia -- German troops landed in the North on the Aland Islands, which were to serve as the springboard for "Operation Finland." One month later, on April 3, the Baltic Sea Division under Major General Count Rüdiger von der Goltz operating from Danzig, moved against Hangö and seized Russian ships and military equipment. Four days later, the Brigade under Colonel Baron von Brandenstein sent from Reval moved eastwards from Helsinki to Lovisa on land and occupied Helsinki on April 13. In this manner German imperialism put down in blood the Finnish Republic of Workers' and Peasants' Councils.
A series of reports by the first diplomatic representative to the Soviet government in Moscow, Count Wilhelm von Mirbach-Harff, to the German Chancellor date from this period. Mirbach, who at the end of April had handed his letters of accreditation to the President of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee Jakov Mikhailovitch Sverdlov, complained in his first report which was read and annotated with marginal remarks by the Kaiser, about what struck him as the incomprehensible coolness of the Soviet government. Was the Soviet government supposed to display extravagant warmth in receiving the representative of the government which -- despite, and after, the signing and sealing of the peace -- continued to plunder, make war against, and chop up Soviet Russia?!
In his letter of April 29, 1918 to the German Chancellor, Hertling, it is stated: "The handing over of my credentials took place, not only in the simplest, but also in the most frosty, form. The president stubbornly remained in a laughably defiant pose of injured national pride the whole time. In his address of reply, in which he expressed the expectation that 'I would know how to remove the obstacles which still stood in the way of a real state of peace,' he became quite biting. Nor did he, after the completion of the official ceremony, honour me with the request to be seated or to exchange a few words of a personal nature."
Alongside this last sentence, the Kaiser wrote:
"Was also not necessary; Mirbach should not even have expected it from an anarchistic proletarian!" Puffed up with impudent arrogance, filled with the fanaticism of insane class hatred, the German emperor revealed his own anachronistic lack of comprehension of the situation, when he commented on Mirbach's report with the following unashamedly aggressive words:
"He has no real government confronting him, only the robbers' leaders of a thieving, impudent proletarian rabble; he must base himself on that, and act accordingly."
The war and predatory policy of German imperialism remained as unalterable and greedy as on the first day of the world holocaust. When a communication from the German envoy in Stockholm, Baron Hellmuth Lucius von Stoedten, to the German chancellor, dated May 1, in which Lucius von Stoedten gave his opinion about the German policy on Finland and on German-Soviet relations, spoke out for a genuine peace with Russia and for Germany's real interests in such a policy, Wilhelm II rejected the views of the ambassador with the marginal comment: "I cannot in any way agree with the view of Herr Lucius ... unbelievable rot!" A genuine peace with Russia was viewed by Wilhelm II as follows: "Completely impossible between Slavs and Germans ... Rot! Will never come!" And under the report, to emphasize his own ambitions and lust for power, he wrote:
"The gentleman is crazy! This is a policy of fear! I am absolutely of another view. We can only secure peace if the Russians fear us. The Slavs will always hate us and remain enemies! They fear and have respect only for the one who thrashes them! Like Japan did! It will be the same with us! The Entente, if it wishes to, and if my diplomacy is too dumb, can always do what it wants to in Russia -- it has brought Russia into war; but our preponderance in the Germanic area is necessary in order, once and for all, to keep Russia back from our western border. Not even the most favourable Russian peace can accomplish that!"
The Brest-Litovsk dictate did not go far enough either for the coal, iron and steel barons of the German Kaiser Reich. Their hunger for territory and raw materials was not satisfied by far. Their powerful influences thus encouraged the Kaiser's policy for Germany which itself was striving for an Imperium Germanicum" stretching far to the east.
On May 16, 1918, the 15 most powerful German iron and steel trusts, including August Thyssen, Hugo Stinnes, Emil Kirdorf, Alfred Hugenberg, Peter Klöckner and Louis Röchling, addressed themselves to the government with a memorandum urging the launching of new military aggressions and piracies, "in order to guarantee the permanent primacy of Germany in the east," "to make secure the political position of the German Reich in the eastern regions in a more enduring and at any rate much more extensive form than has been recognizable in the conclusion of peace up to now."
What was meant by this, among other things, emerges from the minutes of the discussion which followed at the invitation of Krupp director Bruhn in the Stahlhof in Düsseldorf. In an enclosure accompanying the memorandum to the state secretary of the Reich Ministry of Economy it was stated:
"Above all, it is essential that a permanent military occupation, by Germany and its allies, of the European transportation lines to Northern Russia should follow. It is necessary to see to it that the Murman Coast, as well as the islands of the Baltic Sea, in the first place Ösel, the Aland Islands and Finland also, remain in our military power."
It was further demanded that "along with the most deep-going financial penetration of Russia," attention be paid "to the protection of Germany's political and military preponderance with respect to all hostile and allied states."
The unimaginable robbery carried out up to that point, therefore, was still not enough. On the West European horizon, the shadows of the approaching military catastrophe for Germany had already appeared -- but the German generals and politicians did not attempt, as all political logic would have demanded, to establish better relations with the new Russia. On the contrary, on August 27, 1918, they forced still another appendix to the Brest-Litovsk treaty onto Soviet Russia. Under it, Soviet Russia had to recognize the splitting away of Livonia, Esthonia and Georgia, had to accept the German occupation of the Black Sea area far beyond the Ukraine, and in addition, to undertake to pay six thousand million marks in indemnities.
In the last period of the First World War, the appearance of new weapons such as armoured vehicles and tanks, the greater use of the air force and the extraordinarily great need for trucks made oil into an ever more important, yes, essential raw material. That played a great role in turning the attention of the German government to the Caucasus, because that area seemed to be indispensable, as a source rich in raw materials, for the continuation of the war in the west. There were three factors that stirred the interest of the army supreme command in the Caucasus:
1. the great quantities of oil vital for the war, and which the German war economy needed,
2. the possibility of putting together an army with the armed forces in these areas which, if things developed suitably, could fight alongside Germany against Russia, and
3. the perspective "of building a firmly united Caucasus bloc" with Georgia, "which would also be of great importance after the war economically and militarily."
In the judgment of the army and navy commands the obtaining of oil from Baku was a life and death question for Germany, which would even justify the sending of German troops to the Caspian Sea. General Wilhelm Groener, in an address in mid-September in Kiev to German non-commissioned officers emphasized the significance of Baku for Germany:
"I can only regret that we did not have a few more divisions in the spring in order, as quickly as possible, to move to Baku to obtain for the German Reich what is absolutely needs if it is to hold out in the war ... If we do not open up Baku and the oil territory there for our purpose, we simply cannot keep shooting ... We need the products right up to the Caspian Sea, and if possible, the products of Turkestan also."
On September 13, 1918, the supreme command ordered the preparation of the attack on Baku, estimating that by mid-October it would be taken and supremacy on the Caspian be won. In the order issued on September 23 it was stated, among other things: "German interests demand that the German war flag wave over the Caspian Sea."
Even on September 27, when the German troops in France, defeated, were flooding back to Germany, Ludendorff sent a message to State Secretary Paul von Hintze in which he demanded a move against the Bolsheviks, the installation in Russia of "an acceptable regime" for Germany, the stabilization of the German position in the east, in order to be able to bring these accomplishments to the table as trumps in the peace negotiations with the Allies.
These men, running amuck, were not to enjoy their triumphs in the east. At the beginning of October, insatiable German imperialism, which had made an enemy of the whole world, had to capitulate in the west, and its conquests in the east were thereby also dissipated, since the German armies stationed there were also seized by a revolutionary ferment, elected soldiers' councils and tried to get back home. Soviet Russia annulled the Brest-Litovsk dictate.
What has to be remembered is the fact that the political methods that brought about the annexationist military campaign of February 1918 served Hitler as a model 20 years later. In advance of every conquest, he arranged "calls for help" from the victim. That was as true of the Anschluss of Austria as of the occupation of the so-called Sudeten German areas of Czechoslovakia, for the attack on Danzig, as well as on direct Polish territory. In every case, the nazi Gauleiters, as organizers of the Fifth Column, produced the required screams for help, until the Second World War was under way.
As is known, the U.S. government is also conducting its aggression against Vietnam under the cloak of help for the Saigon government (which, however, was created, is financed, and upheld militarily by Washington). That is a part of the imperialist preparation of war in practice in the 20th century.
1. "Mobilization in Germany. The decision had been made, made in the sense which, on the basis of the news of the last few hours, had to be expected. We learn that Kaiser Wilhelm has just ordered the immediate mobilization of the German army and the German navy ..."
3. This development confirms the courage and realism and the Socialist farsightedness of V.I. Lenin, who had fought through the signature of the Brest-Litovsk dictate against the adventurist left-sectarianism in his own ranks. Any other decision in February 1918 would have created the danger of the overthrow of Soviet power. But thanks to Lenin's tactic, precious time was won for the creation of the Red Army on the one hand, and for the maturing of the revolution in Germany and Austro-Hungary, on the other hand.
(From Thus Wars Are Made! Albert Norden, Verlag Zeit, 1970)
The War and Russian Social Democracy
The European war, which the governments and the bourgeois parties of all countries have been preparing for decades, has broken out. The growth of armaments, the extreme intensification of the struggle for markets in the latest -- the imperialist -- stage of capitalist development in the advanced countries, and the dynastic interests of the more backward East-European monarchies were inevitably bound to bring about this war, and have done so. Seizure of territory and subjugation of other nations, the ruining of competing nations and the plunder of their wealth, distracting the attention of the working masses from the internal political crises in Russia, Germany, Britain and other countries, disuniting and nationalist stultification of the workers, and the extermination of their vanguard so as to weaken the revolutionary movement of the proletariat -- these comprise the sole actual content, importance and significance of the present war.
It is primarily on Social-Democracy that the duty rests of revealing the true meaning of the war, and of ruthlessly exposing the falsehood, sophistry and “patriotic” phrasemongering spread by the ruling classes, the landowners and the bourgeoisie, in defence of the war.
One group of belligerent nations is headed by the German bourgeoisie. It is hoodwinking the working class and the toiling masses by asserting that this is a war in defence of the fatherland, freedom and civilisation, for the liberation of the peoples oppressed by tsarism, and for the destruction of reactionary tsarism. In actual fact, however, this bourgeoisie, which servilely grovels to the Prussian Junkers, headed by Wilhelm II, has always been a most faithful ally of tsarism, and an enemy of the revolutionary movement of Russia’s workers and peasants. In fact, whatever the outcome of the war, this bourgeoisie will together with the Junkers, exert every effort to support the tsarist monarchy against a revolution in Russia.
In fact, the German bourgeoisie has launched a robber campaign against Serbia, with the object of subjugating her and throttling the national revolution of the Southern Slavs, at the same time sending the bulk of its military forces against the freer countries, Belgium and France, so as to plunder richer competitors. In fact, the German bourgeoisie, which has been spreading the fable that it is waging a war of defence, chose the moment it thought most favourable for war, making use of its latest improvements in military matériel and forestalling the rearmament already planned and decided upon by Russia and France.
The other group of belligerent nations is headed by the British and the French bourgeoisie, who are hoodwinking the working class and the toiling masses by asserting that they are waging a war for the defence of their countries, for freedom and civilization and against German militarism and despotism. In actual fact, this bourgeoisie has long been spending thousands of millions to hire the troops of Russian tsarism, the most reactionary and barbarous monarchy in Europe, and prepare them for an attack on Germany.
In fact, the struggle of the British and the French bourgeoisie is aimed at the seizure of the German colonies, and the ruining of a rival nation, whose economic development has been more rapid. In pursuit of this noble aim, the “advanced” “democratic” nations are helping the savage tsarist regime to still more throttle Poland, the Ukraine, etc., and more thoroughly crush the revolution in Russia.
Neither group of belligerents is inferior to the other in spoiliation, atrocities and the boundless brutality of war; however, to hoodwink the proletariat and distract its attention from the only genuine war of liberation, namely, a civil war against the bourgeoisie both of its “own” and of “foreign” countries -- to achieve so lofty an aim -- the bourgeoisie of each country is trying, with the help of false phrases about patriotism, to extol the significance of its “own” national war, asserting that it is out to defeat the enemy, not for plunder and the seizure of territory, but for the “liberation” of all other peoples except its own.
But the harder the governments and the bourgeoisie of all countries try to disunite the workers and pit them against one another, and the more savagely they enforce, for this lofty aim, martial law and the military censorship (measures which even now, in wartime, are applied against the “internal” foe more harshly than against the external), the more pressingly is it the duty of the class-conscious proletariat to defend its class solidarity, its internationalism, and its socialist convictions against the unbridled chauvinism of the “patriotic” bourgeois cliques in all countries. If class-conscious workers were to give up this aim, this would mean renunciation of their aspirations for freedom and democracy, to say nothing of their socialist aspirations.
It is with a feeling of the most bitter disappointment that we have to record that the socialist parties of the leading European countries have failed to discharge this duty, the behaviour of these parties’ leaders, particularly in Germany, bordering on downright betrayal of the cause of socialism. At this time of supreme and historic importance, most of the leaders of the present Socialist International, the Second (1889-1914), are trying to substitute nationalism for socialism. As a result of their behaviour, the workers’ parties of these countries did not oppose the governments’ criminal conduct, but called upon the working class to identify its position with that of the imperialist governments. The leaders of the International committed an act of treachery against socialism by voting for war credits, by reiterating the chauvinist (“patriotic”) slogans of the bourgeoisie of their “own” countries, by justifying and defending the war, by joining the bourgeois governments of the belligerent countries, and so on and so forth. The most influential socialist leaders and the most influential organs of the socialist press of present-day Europe hold views that are chauvinist, bourgeois and liberal, and in no way socialist. The responsibility for thus disgracing socialism falls primarily on the German Social-Democrats, who were the strongest and most influential party in the Second International. But neither can one justify the French socialists, who have accepted ministerial posts in the government of that very bourgeoisie which betrayed its country and allied itself with Bismarck so as to crush the Commune.
The German and the Austrian Social-Democrats are attempting to justify their support for the war by arguing that they are thereby fighting against Russian tsarism. We Russian Social-Democrats declare that we consider such justification sheer sophistry. In our country the revolutionary movement against tsarism has again assumed tremendous proportions during the past few years. This movement has always been headed by the working class of Russia. The political strikes of the last few years, which have involved millions of workers, have had as their slogan the overthrow of tsarism and the establishment of a democratic republic. During his visit to Nicholas II on the very eve of the war, Poincaré, President of the French Republic, could see for himself, in the streets of St. Petersburg, barricades put up by Russian workers. The Russian proletariat has not flinched from any sacrifice to rid humanity of the disgrace of the tsarist monarchy. We must, however, say that if there is anything that, under certain conditions, can delay the downfall of tsarism, anything that can help tsarism in its struggle against the whole of Russia’s democracy, then that is the present war, which has placed the purses of the British, the French and the Russian bourgeois at the disposal of tsarism, to further the latter’s reactionary aims. If there is anything that can hinder the revolutionary struggle of the Russia’s working class against tsarism, then that is the behaviour of the German and the Austrian Social-Democratic leaders, which the chauvinist press of Russia is continually holding up to us as an example.
Even assuming that German Social-Democracy was so weak that it was compelled to refrain from all revolutionary action, it should not have joined the chauvinist camp, or taken steps which gave the Italian socialists reason to say that the German Social-Democratic leaders were dishonouring the banner of the proletarian International.
Our Party, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, has made, and will continue to make great sacrifices in connection with the war. The whole of our working-class legal press has been suppressed. Most working-class associations have been disbanded, and a large number of our comrades have been arrested and exiled. Yet our parliamentary representatives -- the Russian Social-Democratic Labour group in the Duma -- considered it their imperative socialist duty not to vote for the war credits, and even to walk out of the Duma, so as to express their protest the more energetically; they considered it their duty to brand the European governments’ policy as imperialist. Though the tsar’s government has increased its tyranny tenfold, the Social-Democratic workers of Russia are already publishing their first illegal manifestos against the war, thus doing their duty to democracy and to the International.
While the collapse of the Second International has given rise to a sense of burning shame in revolutionary Social-Democrats -- as represented by the minority of German Social-Democrats and the finest Social-Democrats in the neutral countries; while socialists in both Britain and France have been speaking up against the chauvinism of most Social-Democratic parties; while the opportunists, as represented, for instance, by the German Sozialistische Monatshefte, which have long held a national-liberal stand, are with good reason celebrating their victory over European socialism -- the worst possible service is being rendered to the proletariat by those who vacillate between opportunism and revolutionary Social-Democracy (like the “Centre” in the German Social-Democratic Party), by those who are trying to hush up the collapse of the Second International or to disguise it with diplomatic phrases.
On the contrary, this collapse must be frankly recognized and its causes understood, so as to make it possible to build up a new and more lasting socialist unity of the workers of all countries.
The opportunists have wrecked the decisions of the Stuttgart, Copenhagen and Basle congresses, which made it binding on socialists of all countries to combat chauvinism in all and any conditions, made it binding on socialists to reply to any war begun by the bourgeoisie and governments, with intensified propaganda of civil war and social revolution. The collapse of the Second International is the collapse of opportunism, which developed from the features of a now bygone (and so-called “peaceful”) period of history, and in recent years has come practically to dominate the International. The opportunist have long been preparing the ground for this collapse by denying the socialist revolution and substituting bourgeois reformism in its stead; by rejecting the class struggle with its inevitable conversion at certain moments into civil war, and by preaching class collaboration; by preaching bourgeois chauvinism under the guise of patriotism and the defence of the fatherland, and ignoring or rejecting the fundamental truth of socialism, long ago set forth in the Communist Manifesto, that the workingmen have no country; by confining themselves, in the struggle against militarism, to a sentimental, philistine point of view, instead of recognising the need for a revolutionary war by the proletarians of all countries, against the bourgeoisie of all countries; by making a fetish of the necessary utilisation of bourgeois parliamentarianism and bourgeois legality, and forgetting that illegal forms of organisation and propaganda are imperative at times of crises. The natural “appendage” to opportunism -- one that is just as bourgeois and hostile to the proletarian, i.e., the Marxist, point of view -- namely, the anarcho-syndicalist trend, has been marked by a no less shamefully smug reiteration of the slogans of chauvinism, during the present crisis.
The aims of socialism at the present time cannot be fulfilled, and real international unity of the workers cannot be achieved, without a decisive break with opportunism, and without explaining its inevitable fiasco to the masses.
It must be the primary task of Social-Democrats in every country to combat that country’s chauvinism. In Russia this chauvinism has overcome the bourgeois liberals (the “Constitutional-Democrats”), and part of the Narodniks -- down to the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the “Right” Social-Democrats. (In particular, the chauvinist utterances of E. Smirnov, P. Maslov and G. Plekhanov, for example, should be branded; they have been taken up and widely used by the bourgeois “patriotic” press.)
In the present situation, it is impossible to determine, from the standpoint of the international proletariat, the defeat of which of the two groups of belligerent nations would be the lesser evil for socialism. But to us Russian Social-Democrats there cannot be the slightest doubt that, from the standpoint of the working class and of the toiling masses of all the nations of Russia, the defeat of the tsarist monarchy, the most reactionary and barbarous of governments, which is oppressing the largest number of nations and the greatest mass of the population of Europe and Asia, would be the lesser evil.
The formation of a republican United States of Europe should be the immediate political slogan of Europe’s Social-Democrats. In contrast with the bourgeoisie, which is ready to “promise” anything in order to draw the proletariat into the mainstream of chauvinism, the Social-Democrats will explain that this slogan is absolutely false and meaningless without the revolutionary overthrow of the German, the Austrian and the Russian monarchies.
Since Russia is most backward and has not yet completed its bourgeois revolution, it still remains the task of Social-Democrats in that country to achieve the three fundamental conditions for consistent democratic reform, viz., a democratic republic (with complete equality and self-determination for all nations), confiscation of the landed estates, and an eight-hour working day. But in all the advanced countries the war has placed on the order of the day the slogan of socialist revolution, a slogan that is the more urgent, the more heavily the burden of war presses upon the shoulders of the proletariat, and the more active its future role must become in the re-creation of Europe, after the horrors of the present “patriotic” barbarism in conditions of the tremendous technological progress of large-scale capitalism. The bourgeoisie’s use of wartime laws to gag the proletariat makes it imperative for the latter to create illegal forms of agitation and organisation. Let the opportunists “preserve” the legal organisations at the price of treachery to their convictions -- revolutionary Social-Democrats will utilise the organisational experience and links of the working class so as to create illegal forms of struggle for socialism, forms appropriate to a period of crisis, and to unite the workers, not with the chauvinist bourgeoisie of their respective countries, but with the workers of all countries. The proletarian International has not gone under and will not go under. Notwithstanding all obstacles, the masses of the workers will create a new International. Opportunism’s present triumph will be short-lived. The greater the sacrifices imposed by the war the clearer will it become to the mass of the workers that the opportunists have betrayed the workers’ cause and that the weapons must be turned against the government and the bourgeoisie of each country.
The conversion of the present imperialist war into a civil war is the only correct proletarian slogan, one that follows from the experience of the Commune, and outlined in the Basle resolution (1912); it bas been dictated by all the conditions of an imperialist war between highly developed bourgeois countries. However difficult that transformation may seem at any given moment, socialists will never relinquish systematic, persistent and undeviating preparatory work in this direction now that war has become a fact.
It is only along this path that the proletariat will be able to shake off its dependence on the chauvinist bourgeoisie, and, in one form or another and more or less rapidly, take decisive steps towards genuine freedom for the nations and towards socialism.
the International Fraternity of the Workers Against the Chauvinism and
Central Committee of the Russian
Social-Democratic Labour Party