November 10, 2018
                 Number 5

Centenary of the End of World War I

Steadfast Opposition to the Betrayal
of the Workers' Movement

Demonstration in London in 1916 against conscription.

Workers' Opposition in Britain
Criminal Role of Social Democracy in the First World War
- Chris Coleman -
Attitude of the Bolshevik Party Towards the War
-  V. I. Lenin -

World War I Posters
Anti-War Posters and Propaganda for War

Workers' Opposition in Britain

 May Day demonstration in Scotland in 1917

In the period before 1914, workers in Britain waged strikes, organized themselves in new ways and took increasingly militant action in defence of their interests. It was in these circumstances that, before the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Labour Party, along with the other social democratic parties of Europe, had pledged to oppose an inter-imperialist war between the big powers. It had adhered to the resolution, re-adopted at the Basle Congress of the Second International in 1912, that all such parties "should use every effort to prevent war by all the means which seem to them most appropriate." In the event of war, "it was their duty to intervene in favour of its speedy termination and with all their powers to utilize the political and economic crisis created by the war to arouse the people and thereby hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule."

However, as soon as war was declared the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress leaders declared "that an immediate effort be made to terminate all existing disputes ... and, wherever new points of difficulty arise during the war a serious attempt should be made by all concerned to reach an amicable settlement..." They declared their support for the predatory war, created the conditions for the government to declare strikes and other trade union activities illegal in many industries for the duration of the war, and to introduce the draconian Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), which made active opposition to the war a criminal offence.

In 1915, leading members of the Labour Party joined the warmongering coalition government.

Despite this betrayal, opposition to the war and to its economic effects continued, most famously amongst the workers in the munitions factories in Scotland. As early as 1915, over 10,000 workers in Glasgow took unofficial strike action against the attacks on their living standards. Local shop stewards organized what became the Clyde Workers' Committee, with hundreds of delegates elected directly from the workplace meeting on a weekly basis.

Thousands of workers in South Wales also took strike action against repressive government legislation aimed at curtailing their rights, while in 1917 engineering workers throughout Britain went on strike in opposition to government plans for more widespread military service and other anti-worker measures.

Opposition to the war and the demand for its termination were greatly strengthened after the revolutionary events in Russia in 1917. At the Leeds Convention of over a thousand delegates from labour, trade union and socialist organizations held in June of that year, there was overwhelming support for an end to war and for establishing workers' and soldiers' councils throughout Britain to usher in an anti-war government.

The experience of the First World War showed that the workers of Britain and other countries must play a leading role in society to stop the war. The betrayal by the Labour Party and other parties which comprised the Second International showed that the workers must organize themselves based on their own independent program and aims. They must give up illusions that electoral parties which comprise party governments in the service of the bourgeoisie will serve their interests.

Today, the workers must organize with the perspective of creating their own anti-war government, building the proletarian front to bring this about, and settling scores with all pretexts for the betrayal of their interests.

  Left: Leeds Convention to end the war and establish workers' and soldiers' councils.
Right: Issue of The Worker, January 29, 1916.

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Criminal Role of Social Democracy in
the First World War

The treachery of the social-democratic parties which comprised the Second International was, in the words of one commentator, "the worst debacle ever sustained by the world's working class in its entire history."[1] In the quest to lead the working class to constitute the nation today and fight for anti-war governments, the experience of the international workers' movement in defeating the social chauvinism of the Second International has important lessons.

For nigh on 25 years, beginning at the Brussels conference of 1891, the Second International had been passing resolutions warning of the war threat and calling for opposition to inter-imperialist war. The London conference of 1896 had even called for the abolition of standing armies, arming the people, arbitration courts and war referendums by the people. At the Stuttgart Conference of 1907 the famous resolution was passed, its concluding paragraph drafted by V.I. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, the principles of which remain valid to this day. It read:

If a war threatens to break out, it is the duty of the working class and of its parliamentary representatives in the country involved, supported by the consolidating activity of the International (Socialist) Bureau, to exert every effort to prevent the outbreak of war by means they consider most effective, which naturally vary according to the accentuation of the class struggle and of the general political situation.

Should war break out nonetheless, it is their duty to intervene in favour of its speedy termination and to do all in their power to utilize the economic and political crisis caused by the war to rouse the peoples and thereby hasten the abolition of capitalist class rule.[2]

Rosa Luxemburg speaking at the Stuttgart Conference in 1907.

There is little doubt that the social democratic parties could have prevented the war or at least brought about its speedy termination. In a situation of mass opposition to war throughout Europe, the most powerful of the parties of the Second International, the German Social Democrats, were in a position to do so, and moreover, even to lead a revolution. Only the Russian Bolsheviks, however, of those in any position to do so, remained true to the principles agreed at Stuttgart. And it was to be the October Revolution, led by them, which brought the terrible destruction of the war to an end. But as the dark clouds of war gathered and every imperialist power found justification and saw opportunity to advance its interests -- Germany to seize colonies from Britain and France and the Ukraine, the Baltic provinces and Poland from Russia; tsarist Russia to partition Turkey and seize Constantinople and the straits to the Mediterranean; Britain to smash its rival Germany and seize Mesopotamia and Palestine from Turkey; France to seize the Saar and Alsace-Lorraine from Germany; and the USA in the background ready to exploit any opportunity to advance its ambition for world mastery -- party after party of social democracy took up the capitalist's banner of national chauvinism and supported war. Only the Russian and Serbian parties in the Second International resisted.

Decisively, the German Social Democrats were among the first to move, voting for war credits in the Reichstag. In Britain, typically, the social democrats were more circumspect. The mass of the working class in Britain, as in other countries, was bitterly opposed to the war which broke out in August 1914. The Labour Party responded to this sentiment by calling demonstrations throughout the country on the eve of Britain's entry. The British section of the International Socialist Bureau issued an anti-war manifesto, signed by Arthur Henderson and James Keir Hardie, which ended with the slogans "Down with Class Rule," "Down with War." These two were chief speakers at an enormous Trafalgar Square rally, the biggest ever known, where resolutions were passed calling upon the organizations of the workers to keep to the resolutions of the Second International against imperialist war. Other huge demonstrations took place across the country.

Independent Labour Party MP James Keir Hardie speaking in Trafalgar Square August 3, 1914.
The ILP opposed war on the basis of international working class solidarity and capitalist profiteering from war.

However, the Labour Party leaders ensured things did not go beyond demonstrations and fine words. In the very first days of August the Daily Citizen, organ of the Trades Union Congress and Labour Party, called on the workers to "stand together in defence of the Motherland." Within weeks the trade unions signed a pact of "civil peace" with the Liberal Government, the Labour Party entering into a similar pact in the political field. The Independent Labour Party (ILP), whose leaders including Ramsay Macdonald were also leaders of the Labour Party, issued "Down with the War" manifestos, but these were confined to demands for "peace" and calling on the workers to do "general propaganda for socialism, though not dealing specifically with the war." Meanwhile rank-and-file militants of the ILP and British Socialist Party were encouraged to take up pacifism and conscientious objection, subject to the brutal criminalization of conscience by the British elite.

By the end of August the National Labour Party executive and the Parliamentary Labour Party, which included five ILP members, had accepted an invitation from the Government to join the recruiting campaign. Such treachery was closely followed by an agreement between Henderson and Prime Minister Lloyd George which prohibited strikes and adopted compulsory arbitration for any disputes in munitions production. This agreement led to the draconian Munitions Act of June 1915, which enforced compulsory arbitration throughout industry and controlled the employment and movement of all workers. Local Munitions Tribunals, including trade union officials, enforced its strictures. By early 1916, when compulsory conscription was introduced, Labour Party leaders were part of the Government and had ceased any form of opposition to the war.[3]

"Defence of the rights of small nations" was one of the pretexts of the British government for entry into the war. But when the Irish rose on Easter 1916 and declared the Republic, the uprising was crushed with great brutality, mass executions and other atrocities. Labour leaders, now Ministers in the government, were complicit in this. The ILP in their journal Labour Leader declared that they "condemn as strongly as anyone those immediately responsible for the revolt" and said that James Connolly, cruelly murdered by the British while critically wounded, was "terribly and criminally mistaken."[4]

Support for the inter-imperialist war by the social democrats, however, was only the beginning of the great betrayal. Despite the dreadful slaughter and destruction of the war, it opened up great opportunities for the advance of the people's cause. Four great Empires had been destroyed -- the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman. New independent nations came into existence. Revolutionary upheavals with a distinct anti-capitalist socialist character swept Europe. But only the Bolsheviks in Russia were to seize the opportunity. Elsewhere the treachery of social democracy was to be the main factor in revolution and socialism not prevailing in most if not all the area involved.

In Germany itself revolution broke out in November 1918, sparked by the Kiel mutiny in the German Navy. Revolt spread like wildfire and, influenced by the Bolshevik example, Soviets were established all over the country. On November 9 the national government collapsed and the Kaiser fled. With leadership, the German working class was in a position to push through the proletarian socialist revolution. The Social Democratic leadership had no such intention. They did not want or believe in socialism. They were liberals, who only strove to patch up capitalism a bit here and there. Their leader, Ebert, had said: "I hate revolution as I hate sin."[5] In close cooperation with the capitalists "to save Germany from Bolshevism," they set up first a caretaker government headed by Ebert, then a Provisional Government of Social Democrats and Independents. They manipulated the German Soviet's Congress to support the Provisional Government, then provoked armed struggle with the Spartacists and set reactionary military elements against the fighting workers. Berlin's streets ran with blood and the rebellion was crushed. In the course of this Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were arrested and murdered.

Within weeks the bourgeois Weimar republic was set up, with the capitalists cynically putting right-wing Social Democrats at the head of the government -- Ebert himself, Scheidemann and Noske. Even the Soviets were given "advisory" capacity! It was this government, headed by Social Democrats, that signed the Versailles Treaty which was inevitably to pave the way for the rise of fascism and the horrors of the next world war.

By the end of World War I, a revolutionary situation had developed in Britain too. Unofficial strikes had become widespread. The Shop Stewards Movement, severed from "official" Labour, grew in influence. In Scotland, the revolutionary Clyde Workers Committee, despite all attempts to crush it -- including the repeated jailing and brutal mistreatment of its political leader, the teacher John MacLean -- had made laws regulating employment and conscription inoperable on the Clyde, among other victories. A huge movement had developed against the war. Mutinies spread in the Army and Navy -- notably the burning of the base at Étaples by mutineers.[6] Even the police had formed a union and were striking. Mass support for the Bolsheviks was recorded among the militant workers and when the government sent troops to intervene in the new Soviet state, disaffection among the soldiers and sailors was a major factor in bringing the intervention to a sorry end. When again the government sought to intervene in support of the Polish White Guard invasion of Soviet Russia in Spring 1920, mass action in opposition took place throughout the country. The munitions ship Jolly George, bound for Poland, was famously rendered unsailable by the dockers on the Thames. "Councils of Action" were set up by workers across the country. Lenin himself likened the situation in Britain to that in Russia at the time of the February Revolution of 1917, saying that the Councils of Action were in essence Soviets, and pointing out that even the opportunist social democrats had been forced to support them.

Once again, however, these same social democrats were to rescue the bourgeoisie. Vicious anti-Soviet propaganda and attacks on the revolutionary workers, as well as on the newly formed Communist Party, rapidly became the official policy of the Labour Party and ILP. This treachery, combined with the heritage of opportunism even among the best elements of the working class, and the relative weakness and frequent sectarianism of the communists, meant that the bourgeoisie survived the revolutionary crisis of 1919-20 in Britain.[7]

The key role of the opportunist social democrats in preventing socialist revolution and keeping the capitalists and imperialists in power in all but Russia, when the opportunity had so vividly presented itself during the First World War period, was summed up brilliantly by Lenin at the Second Congress of the new Communist International (the Third International) in 1920. He famously said in his report:

Practice has shown that the active people in the working class movement who adhere to the opportunist trend are better defenders of the bourgeoisie, than the bourgeoisie itself. Without their leadership of the workers, the bourgeoisie could not have remained in power. This is not only proved by the history of the Kerensky regime in Russia; it is also proved by the democratic republic in Germany, headed by the Social Democratic government; it is proved by Albert Thomas' attitude towards his (French) bourgeois government. It is proved by the analogous experience in Great Britain and the United States.[8]

Social democracy continued to be the preferred policy of imperialism, their main instrument to keep the working class from power, until the last decades of the 20th century. Then with the final collapse of the Soviet Union and Peoples Democracies, the flow of revolution turned to retreat, and neo-liberal globalization became the order of the day throughout the imperialist system of states. Neo-liberalism has been accompanied inevitably by the unbroken ravages of imperialist wars of conquest and intervention, which continue unabated to this day. Death, destruction, displacement of millions, continue to be visited upon the world's peoples. And, as always, the world's peoples desire peace.

Looking back at the First World War, there is no doubt that the Bolsheviks seizure of power in Russia and their immediate withdrawal from the war was a major factor in bringing peace, in bringing the war to an end. Theirs truly was an anti-war government. Lenin's continued rejection of all opportunist policies was true to the cause of peace.

In today's circumstances and appropriate to today's conditions, the guarantee of peace is the empowerment of the working class, for the working class to constitute itself the nation, opening the path to a new society and taking steps to establish a political process that brings into being an anti-war government. This is the problem to be solved.


1. William Z Foster, History of the Three Internationals (International Publishers: New York, 1955), p. 225.

2. Ibid., p. 207

3. Ralph Fox, The Class Struggle in Britain, Part II: 1914-1923 (Martin Lawrence: London, 1933), Chapter 2.

4. Ibid., p. 16.

5. Foster, p. 278.

6. The Étaples mutiny was a series of revolts in 1917 by British Empire soldiers in France during the First World War.

On August 28, 1916, a member of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), Private Alexander Little (10th Battalion; no. 3254), verbally abused a British non-commissioned officer after water was cut off while he was having a shower. As he was being taken to the punishment compound, Little resisted and was assisted and released by other members of the AIF and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). Four of these men, including Little, were later identified, court-martialled, convicted of mutiny and sentenced to death. Three had their sentence commuted. While the military regulations of the AIF prevented the imposition of capital punishment on its personnel, that was not the case for the NZEF. Private Jack Braithwaite, an Australian serving with the NZEF, in the 2nd Battalion of the Otago Regiment, was considered to be a repeat offender -- his sentence was confirmed by General Douglas Haig and he was shot by a firing squad on October 29.

After this incident, relations between personnel and authorities at the camp continued to deteriorate. Mass protests of 1,000 men broke out between September 9-12, until reinforcements of 400 officers and men of the Honourable Artillery Company arrived.

Many men were charged with various military offences and Corporal Jesse Robert Short of the Northumberland Fusiliers was condemned to death for attempted mutiny. He was found guilty of encouraging his men to put down their weapons and attack an officer, Captain E.F. Wilkinson of the West Yorkshire Regiment. Three other soldiers received 10 years' penal servitude. The sentences passed on the remainder involved 10 soldiers being jailed for up to a year's imprisonment with hard labour, 33 were sentenced to between seven and 90 days field punishment and others were fined or reduced in rank. Short was executed by firing squad on October 4, 1917 at Boulogne.

In the 1970s, public interest in the mutinies led to the discovery that all the records of the Étaples Board of Enquiry had long since been destroyed. (Wikipedia)

7. Fox, Chapters 3 and 4.

8. Lenin, Selected Works, p.196; quoted in Foster, p. 294.

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Attitude of the Bolshevik Party Towards the War

The Attitude of Socialists Towards Wars

Socialists have always condemned war between nations as barbarous and brutal. But our attitude towards war is fundamentally different from that of the bourgeois pacifists (supporters and advocates of peace) and of the Anarchists. We differ from the former in that we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within the country; we understand that war cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and Socialism is created; and we also differ in that we fully regard civil wars, i.e., wars waged by the oppressed class against the oppressing class, slaves against slave-owners, serfs against land-owners, and wage-workers against the bourgeoisie, as legitimate, progressive and necessary. We Marxists differ from both the pacifists and the Anarchists in that we deem it necessary historically (from the standpoint of Marx's dialectical materialism) to study each war separately. In history there have been numerous wars which, in spite of all the horrors, atrocities, distress and suffering that inevitably accompany all wars, were progressive, i.e., benefited the development of mankind by helping to destroy the exceptionally harmful and reactionary institutions (for example, autocracy or serfdom), the most barbarous despotisms in Europe (Turkish and Russian). Therefore, it is necessary to examine the historically specific features of precisely the present war.

Historical Types of Wars in Modern Times

The Great French Revolution ushered in a new epoch in the history of mankind. From that time to the Paris Commune, from 1789 to 1871, one of the types of wars were wars of a bourgeois-progressive, national-liberating character. In other words, the chief content and historical significance of these wars were the overthrow of absolutism and feudalism, the undermining of these institutions, the overthrow of alien oppression. Therefore, those were progressive wars, and during such wars, all honest, revolutionary democrats, and also all Socialists, always sympathized with the success of that country (i.e., with that bourgeoisie), which had helped to overthrow, or sap, the most dangerous foundation of feudalism, absolutism and the oppression of other nations. For example, the revolutionary wars waged by France contained an element of plunder and conquest of alien territory by the French, but this does not in the least alter the fundamental historical significance of these wars, which destroyed and shattered feudalism and absolutism in the whole of old, serf-ridden Europe. In the Franco-Prussian war, Germany plundered France, but this does not alter the fundamental historical significance of this war, which liberated tens of millions of German people from feudal disintegration and from the oppression of two despots, the Russian tsar and Napoleon III.

The Difference Between Aggressive and Defensive War

The epoch of 1789-1871 left deep tracts and revolutionary memories. Before feudalism, absolutism and alien oppression were overthrown, the development of the proletarian struggle for Socialism was out of the question. When speaking of the legitimacy of "defensive" war in relation to the wars of such an epoch, Socialists always had in mind precisely these objects, which amounted to revolution against medievalism and serfdom. By "defensive" war Socialists always meant a "just" war in this sense (W. Liebknecht once expressed himself precisely in this way). Only in this sense have Socialists regarded, and now regard, wars "for the defence of the fatherland," or "defensive" wars, as legitimate, progressive and just. For example, if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, India on England, Persia or China on Russia, and so forth, those would be "just," "defensive" wars, irrespective of who attacked first; and every Socialist would sympathize with the victory of the oppressed, dependent, unequal states against the oppressing, slaveowning, predatory "great" powers.

But picture to yourselves a slave-owner who owned 100 slaves warring against a slave-owner who owned 200 slaves for a more "just" distribution of slaves. Clearly, the application of the term "defensive" war, or war "for the defence of the fatherland" in such a case would be historically false, and in practice would be sheer deception of the common people, of philistines, of ignorant people, by the astute slaveowners. Precisely in this way are the present-day imperialist bourgeoisie deceiving the peoples by means of "national" ideology and the term "defence of the fatherland" in the present war between slave-owners for fortifying and strengthening slavery.

The Present War Is an Imperialist War

Nearly everybody admits that the present war is an imperialist war, but in most cases this term is distorted or applied to one side, or a loophole is left for the assertion that this war may, after all, have a bourgeois-progressive, national-liberating significance. Imperialism is the highest stage in the development of capitalism, reached only in the twentieth century. Capitalism now finds the old national states, without the formation of which it could not have overthrown feudalism, too tight for it. Capitalism has developed concentration to such a degree that whole branches of industry have been seized by syndicates, trusts and associations of capitalist billionaires, and almost the entire globe has been divided up among the "lords" of capital, either in the form of colonies, or by enmeshing other countries in thousands of threads of financial exploitation. Free trade and competition have been superseded by the striving for monopoly, for the seizure of territory for the investment of capital, for the export of raw materials from them, and so forth. From the liberator of nations that capitalism was in the struggle against feudalism, imperialist capitalism has become the greatest oppressor of nations. Formerly progressive, capitalism has become reactionary; it has developed the forces of production to such a degree that mankind is faced with the alternative of going over to Socialism or of suffering years and even decades of armed struggle between the "great" powers for the artificial preservation of capitalism by means of colonies, monopolies, privileges and national oppression of every kind.

War Between the Biggest Slave-Owners for Preserving
and Fortifying Slavery

To explain the significance of imperialism, we will quote exact figures showing the division of the world among the so-called "great" (i.e., successful in great plunder) powers:

Division of the World Among the "Great" Slave-owning Powers







"Great" Powers

Square kilo-


Square kilo-


Square kilo-


Square kilo-















































United States
of America







Six "great"









Colonies belonging not to great powers (but
to Belgium, Holland and other states)







Three “semi-colonial” countries
(Turkey, China and Persia)






Other states and countries



Entire globe (without Polar regions)



From this it is seen how most of the nations which fought at the head of others for freedom in 1798-1871, have now, after 1876, on the basis of highly developed and "overripe" capitalism, become the oppressors and enslavers of the majority of the populations and nations of the globe. From 1876 to 1914, six "great" powers grabbed 25 million sq. kilometres, i.e., an area two-and-a-half times that of Europe! Six powers are enslaving over half a billion (523 million) inhabitants of colonies. For every four inhabitants of the "great" powers there are five inhabitants of "their" colonies. And everybody knows that colonies are conquered by fire and sword, that the populations of colonies are brutally treated, that they are exploited in a thousand ways (by exporting capital, concessions, etc., cheating when selling them goods, subordination to the authorities of the "ruling" nation, and so on and so forth). The Anglo-French bourgeoisie are deceiving the people when they say that they are waging war for the freedom of nations and for Belgium; actually they are waging war for the purpose of retaining the colonies they have inordinately grabbed. The German imperialists would free Belgium, etc., at once if the British and French would agree "fairly" to share their colonies with them. The peculiarity of the situation lies in that in this war the fate of the colonies is being decided by war on the Continent. From the standpoint of bourgeois justice and national freedom (or the right of nations to existence), Germany would be absolutely right as against England and France, for she has been "done out" of colonies, her enemies are oppressing an immeasurably far larger number of nations than she is, and the Slavs who are oppressed by her ally Austria undoubtedly enjoy far more freedom than those in tsarist Russia, that real "prison of nations." But Germany is fighting not for the liberation, but for the oppression of nations. It is not the business of Socialists to help the younger and stronger robber (Germany) to rob the older and overgorged robbers. Socialists must take advantage of the struggle between the robbers to overthrow them all. To be able to do this, the Socialists must first of all tell the people the truth, namely, that this war is in a treble sense a war between slave-owners to fortify slavery. This is a war firstly, to fortify the enslavement of the colonies by means of a "fairer" distribution and subsequent more concerted exploitation of them; secondly, to fortify the oppression of other nations within the "great" powers, for both Austria and Russia (Russia more and much worse than Austria) maintain their rule only by such oppression, intensifying it by means of war; and thirdly, to fortify and prolong wage slavery, for the proletariat is split up and suppressed, while the capitalists gain, making fortunes out of the war, aggravating national prejudices and intensifying reaction, which has raised its head in all countries. even in the freest and most republican.

"War is the Continuation of Politics by Other (i.e., Violent) Means"[1]

This famous aphorism was uttered by one of the profoundest writers on the problems of war, Clausewitz. Marxists have always rightly regarded this thesis as the theoretical basis of views concerning the significance of every given war. It was precisely from this viewpoint that Marx and Engels always regarded different wars.

Apply this view to the present war. You will see that for decades, for almost half a century, the governments and the ruling classes of England, and France, and Germany, and Italy, and Austria, and Russia, pursued a policy of plundering colonies, of oppressing other nations, of suppressing the working-class movement. It is this, and only this policy that is being continued in the present war. In particular, the policy of both Austria and Russia peace-time as well as in war, is a policy of enslaving and not of liberating nations. In China, Persia. India and other dependent countries, on the contrary, we have seen during the past decades a policy of rousing tens and hundreds of millions of people to national life, of liberating them from the oppression of the reactionary "great" powers. A war on such a historical ground can even today be a bourgeois-progressive, national-liberation war.

It is sufficient to glance at the present war from the viewpoint that it is a continuation of the politics of the great powers, and of the principal classes within them, to see at once the howling anti-historicalness, falsity and hypocrisy of the view that the "defence of the fatherland" idea can be justified in the present war.

The Example of Belgium

The favourite plea of the social-chauvinist triple (now quadruple) entente[2] (in Russia, Plekhanov and Co.), is the example of Belgium. But this example goes against them. The German imperialists shamelessly violated the neutrality of Belgium, as belligerent states have done always and everywhere, trampling upon all treaties and obligations if necessary. Let us suppose that all the states interested in the observation of international treaties declared war on Germany with the demand for the liberation and indemnification of Belgium. In such a case, the sympathies of Socialists would, of course, be on the side of Germany's enemies. But the whole point is that the "triple (and quadruple) entente" is waging war not over Belgium; this is perfectly well known, and only hypocrites conceal this. England is grabbing Germany's colonies and Turkey; Russia is grabbing Galicia and Turkey, France wants Alsace-Lorraine and even the left bank of the Rhine; a treaty has been concluded with Italy for the division of the spoils (Albania, Asia Minor); bargaining is going on with Bulgaria and Rumania, also for the division of the spoils. In the present war waged by the present governments it is impossible to help Belgium without helping to strangle Austria or Turkey, etc.! How does "defence of the fatherland" come in here? Herein, precisely, lies the specific feature of imperialist war, war between reactionary-bourgeois, historically obsolete governments, waged for the purpose of oppressing other nations. Whoever justifies participation in the present war perpetuates imperialist oppression of nations. Whoever advocates taking advantage of the present embarrassments of the governments to fight for the social revolution champions the real freedom of really all nations, which is possible only under Socialism.

What is Russia Fighting For?

In Russia, capitalist imperialism of the latest type has fully revealed itself in the policy of tsarism towards Persia, Manchuria and Mongolia; but, in general, military and feudal imperialism predominates in Russia. In no country in the world is the majority of the population oppressed so much as it is in Russia; Great Russians constitute only 43 per cent of the population, i.e., less than half; all the rest are denied rights as aliens. Of the 170 million inhabitants of Russia, about 100 million are oppressed and denied rights. Tsarism is waging war to seize Galicia and finally to crush the liberties of the Ukrainians, to seize Armenia, Constantinople, etc. Tsarism regards the war as a means of diverting attention from the growth of discontent within the country and of suppressing the growing revolutionary movement. At the present time, for every two Great Russians in Russia there are from two to three rightless "aliens:" tsarism is striving by means of the war to increase the number of nations oppressed by Russia, to perpetuate this oppression and thereby undermine the struggle for freedom which the Great Russians themselves are waging. The possibility of oppressing and robbing other nations perpetuates economic stagnation, because, often, the source of income is not the development of productive forces, but the semi-feudal exploitation of "aliens." Thus, on the part of Russia, the war is distinguished for its profoundly reactionary and anti-liberating character.

What is Social-Chauvinism?

Social-chauvinism is advocacy of the idea of "defence of the fatherland" in the present war. Further, this idea logically leads to the abandonment of the class struggle during the war, to voting war credits, etc. Actually, the social-chauvinists are pursuing an anti-proletarian, bourgeois policy; for actually, they are championing not "defence of the fatherland" in the sense of fighting foreign oppression, but the "right" of one or other of the "great" powers to plunder colonies and to oppress other nations. The social-chauvinists repeat the bourgeois deception of the people that the war is being waged to protect the freedom and existence of nations, and thereby they go over to the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. In the category of social-chauvinists are those who justify and embellish the governments and bourgeoisie of one of the belligerent groups of powers, as well as those who, like Kautsky, argue that the Socialists of all the belligerent powers have an equal right to "defend the fatherland." Social-chauvinism, being actually defence of the privileges, advantages, robbery and violence of one's "own" (or every) imperialist bourgeoisie, is the utter betrayal of all socialist convictions and of the decision of the Basle International Socialist Congress.

The Basle Manifesto[3]

The manifesto on war that was unanimously adopted in Basle in 1911 had in view the very war between England and Germany and their present allies that broke out in 1914. The manifesto openly declares that no plea of the interests of the people can justify such a war, waged "for the sake of the profits of the capitalists" and "the ambitions of dynasties" on the basis of the imperialist, predatory policy of the great powers. The manifesto openly declares that war is dangerous "for the governments" (all without exception), notes their fear of "a proletarian revolution," and very definitely points to the example of the Commune of 1871, and of October-December 1905, i.e., to the examples of revolution and civil war. Thus, the Basle Manifesto lays down, precisely for the present war, the tactics of revolutionary struggle by the workers on an international scale against their governments, the tactics of proletarian revolution. The Basle Manifesto repeats the statement in the Stuttgart resolution that, in the event of war breaking out, Socialists must take advantage of the "economic and political crisis" it will cause, to "hasten the downfall of capitalism," i.e., to take advantage of the governments' embarrassments and the anger of the masses, caused by the war, for the socialist revolution.

The policy of the social-chauvinists, their justification of the war from the bourgeois-liberation standpoint, their sanctioning of "defence of the fatherland," voting credits, entering cabinets, and so on and so forth, is downright treachery to Socialism, which can be explained only, as we will see lower down, by the victory of opportunism and of the national-liberal labour policy in the majority of European parties.

False References to Marx and Engels

The Russian social-chauvinists (headed by Plekhanov), refer to Marx's tactics in the war of 1870; the German (of the type of Lensch, David and Co.) to Engels' statement in 1891 that in the event of war against Russia and France together, it would be the duty of the German Socialists to defend their fatherland; and lastly, the social-chauvinists of the Kautsky type, who want to reconcile and legitimatize international chauvinism, refer to the fact that Marx and Engels, while condemning war, nevertheless, constantly, from 1854-55 to 1870-1871 and 1876-1877, took the side of one or another belligerent state once war had broken out.

All these references are outrageous distortions of the views of Marx and Engels in the interest of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, in just the same way as the writings of the Anarchists Guillaume and Co. distort the views of Marx and Engels in justification of anarchism. The war of 1870-1871 was a historically progressive war on the part of Germany until Napoleon III was defeated; for the latter, together with the tsar, had oppressed Germany for many years, keeping her in a state of feudal disintegration. But as soon as the war developed into the plunder of France (the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine), Marx and Engels emphatically condemned the Germans. And even at the beginning of that war Marx and Engels approved of the refusal of Bebel and Liebknecht to vote for credits and advised the Social-Democrats not to merge with the bourgeoisie, but to uphold the independent class interests of the proletariat. To apply the appraisal of this bourgeois-progressive and national-liberating war to the present imperialist war means mocking at truth. The same applies with still greater force to the war of 1854-1855, and to all the wars of the nineteenth century, when there was no modern imperialism, no ripe objective conditions for Socialism, and no mass Socialist parties in any of the belligerent countries, i.e., none of the conditions from which the Basle Manifesto deduced the tactics of "proletarian revolution" in connection with a war between the great powers.

Whoever refers today to Marx's attitude towards the wars of the epoch of the progressive bourgeoisie and forgets Marx's statement that "the workers have no fatherland," a statement that applies precisely to the epoch of the reactionary, obsolete bourgeoisie, to the epoch of the socialist revolution. shamelessly distorts Marx and substitute, the bourgeois for the socialist point of view.

The Collapse of the Second International

The Socialists of all the world solemnly declared in Basle, in 1912, that they regarded the impending war in Europe as the "criminal" and most reactionary affair of all the governments, which must hasten the downfall of capitalism by inevitably calling forth a revolution against it. The war came, the crisis came. Instead of revolutionary tactics, the majority of the Social-Democratic parties conducted reactionary tactics, went over to the side of their respective governments and bourgeoisie. This betrayal of Socialism signifies the collapse of the Second (1889-1914) International, and we must understand what caused this collapse, what brought social-chauvinism into being, what gave it strength.

Social-Chauvinism is Consummated Opportunism

During the whole epoch of the Second International, a struggle raged everywhere in the Social-Democratic parties between the revolutionary and the opportunist wings. In a number of countries a split has taken place along this line (England, Italy, Holland, Bulgaria). Not a single Marxist has any doubt that opportunism expresses bourgeois policy within the working-class movement, expresses the interests of the petty bourgeoisie and the alliance of a tiny section of bourgeoisified workers with "their" bourgeoisie against the interests of the proletarian masses, the oppressed masses.

The objective conditions of the end of the nineteenth century exceptionally intensified opportunism, converted the utilization of bourgeois legality into subservience to it, created a tiny stratum of bureaucrats and aristocrats within the working class, and drew into the ranks of the Social-Democratic parties numerous petty-bourgeois "fellow travellers."

The war accelerated this development and transformed opportunism into social-chauvinism, transformed the secret alliance between the opportunists and the bourgeoisie into an open one. Simultaneously, the military authorities everywhere have introduced martial law and have muzzled the mass of the workers, whose old leaders have nearly all gone over to the bourgeoisie.

Opportunism and social-chauvinism have the same economic basis: the interests of a tiny stratum of privileged workers and of the petty bourgeoisie who are defending their privileged position, their "right" to crumbs of the profits "their" national bourgeoisie obtain from robbing other nations, from the advantages of their position as the ruling nation, etc.

Opportunism and social-chauvinism have the same ideological-political content: collaboration of classes instead of class struggle, renunciation of revolutionary methods of struggle, helping one's "own" government in its embarrassed situation instead of taking advantage of these embarrassments for revolution. If we take all the European countries as a whole, if we pay attention not to individuals (even the most authoritative), we will find that it is the opportunist trend that has become the chief bulwark of social-chauvinism, whereas from the camp of the revolutionaries, more or less consistent protests against it are heard nearly everywhere. And if we take, for example, the grouping of trends at the Stuttgart International Socialist Congress in 1907[4], we will find that international Marxism was opposed to imperialism, while international opportunism was in favour of it already at that time.

Unity with the Opportunists Means Alliance Between the Workers and "Their" National Bourgeoisie and Splitting the International Revolutionary Working Class

In the past epoch, before the war, although opportunism was often regarded as a "deviationist," "extremist" part of the Social-Democratic Party, it was nevertheless regarded as a legitimate part. The war has shown that this cannot be so in future. Opportunism has "matured," is now playing to the full its role as emissary of the bourgeois in the working-class movement. Unity with the opportunists has become sheer hypocrisy, an example of which we see in the German Social-Democratic Party. On all important occasions (for example, the voting on August 4)[5], the opportunists come forward with an ultimatum, which they carry out with the aid of their numerous connections with the bourgeoisie, of their majority on the executives of the trade unions, etc. Unity with the opportunists actually means today, subordinating the working class to "its" national bourgeoisie, alliance with it for the purpose of oppressing other nations and of fighting for great-power privileges, it means splitting the revolutionary proletariat in all countries.

Hard as the struggle may be, in individual cases, against the opportunists who predominate in many organizations, peculiar as the process of purging the workers' parties of opportunists may be in individual countries, this process is inevitable and fruitful. Reformist Socialism is dying; regenerated Socialism "will be revolutionary, uncompromising and insurrectionary," to use the apt expression of the French Socialist Paul Golay.


Kautsky, the biggest authority in the Second International, gives us a highly typical and glaring example of how the verbal recognition of Marxism has led actually to its conversion into "Struveism,"[6] or into "Brentanoism."[7] We see this also from the example of Plekhanov. By means of obvious sophistry they rob Marxism of its revolutionary living spirit; they recognize everything in Marxism except revolutionary methods of struggle, the preaching of and preparation for such methods, and the training of the masses precisely in this direction. Kautsky, in an unprincipled fashion, "reconciles" the fundamental idea of social-chauvinism, recognition of defence of the fatherland in the present war, with a diplomatic, sham concession to the Lefts, ... abstaining from voting credits, the verbal claim of being in the opposition, etc. Kautsky, who in 1909 wrote a whole book on the approaching epoch of revolutions and on the connection between war and revolutions, Kautsky, who in 1912 signed the Basle Manifesto on taking revolutionary advantage of the impending war, is now, in every way, justifying and embellishing social-chauvinism and, like Plekhanov, joins the bourgeoisie in ridiculing all thought of revolution, all steps towards direct revolutionary struggle.

The working class cannot play its world-revolutionary role unless it wages a ruthless struggle against this renegacy, spinelessness, subservience to opportunism and unexampled vulgarization of the theories of Marxism. Kautskyism is not fortuity, but a social product of the contradictions within the Second International, a combination of loyalty to Marxism in words and subordination to opportunism in deeds.

This fundamental falseness of "Kautskyism" manifests itself in different ways in different countries. In Holland, Roland-Holst while rejecting the idea of defending the fatherland, defends unity with the opportunists' party. In Russia Trotsky, while also rejecting this idea, also defends unity with the opportunist and chauvinist Nasha Zarya group. In Rumania, Rakovsky, while declaring war on opportunism as being responsible for the collapse of the International, is at the same time ready to recognize the legitimacy of the idea of defending the fatherland. All this is a manifestation of the evil which the Dutch Marxists (Gorter and Pannekoek) have called "passive radicalism," and which amounts to substituting for Marxism eclecticism in theory and servility to, or impotence in the face of, opportunism in practice.

The Marxists' Slogan is the Slogan of Revolutionary Social-Democracy

The war has undoubtedly created a most acute crisis and has increased the distress of the masses to an incredible degree. The reactionary character of this war, and the shameless lies told by the bourgeoisie of all countries in covering up their predatory aims with "national" ideology, are inevitably creating, on the basis of an objectively revolutionary situation, revolutionary moods among the masses. It is our duty to help the masses to become conscious of these moods, to deepen and formulate them. This task is correctly expressed only by the slogan: convert the imperialist war into civil war; and all consistently waged class struggles during the war, all seriously conducted "mass action" tactics inevitably lead to this. It is impossible to foretell whether a powerful revolutionary movement will flare up during the first or the second war of the great powers, whether during or after it; in any case, our bounden duty is systematically and undeviatingly to work precisely in this direction.

The Basle Manifesto refers directly to the example set by the Paris Commune, i.e., to the conversion of a war between governments into civil war. Half a century ago, the proletariat was too weak; the objective conditions for Socialism had not yet ripened; there could be no coordination and cooperation between the revolutionary movements in all the belligerent countries; the "national ideology" (the traditions of 1792), with which a section of the Parisian workers were imbued, was their petty-bourgeois weakness, which Marx noted at the time, and was one of the causes of the fall of the Commune. Half a century after it, the conditions that weakened the revolution at that time have passed away, and it is unpardonable for a Socialist at the present time to resign himself to the abandonment of activities precisely in the spirit of the Paris Communards.

The Example Shown by the Fraternization in the Trenches

The bourgeois newspapers of all the belligerent countries have reported cases of fraternization between the soldiers of the belligerent nations even in the trenches. And the issue by the military authorities (of Germany, England) of draconic orders against such fraternization proved that the governments and the bourgeoisie attached grave importance to it. The fact that such cases of fraternisation have been possible even when opportunism reigns supreme in the top ranks of the Social-Democratic parties of Western Europe, and when social-chauvinism is supported by the entire Social-Democratic press and by all the authorities of the Second International, shows us how possible it would be to shorten the present criminal, reactionary and slave-owners' war and to organize a revolutionary international movement if systematic work were conducted in this direction, if only by the Left-wing Socialists in all the belligerent countries.

The Importance of an Underground Organization

The most prominent Anarchists all over the world, no less than the opportunists, have disgraced themselves with social-chauvinism (in the spirit of Plekhanov and Kautsky) in this war. One of the useful results of this war will undoubtedly be that it will kill both anarchism and opportunism.

While under no circumstances or conditions refraining from utilizing all legal possibilities, however small, for the purpose of organizing the masses and of preaching Socialism, the Social-Democratic parties must break with subservience to legality. "You shoot first, Messieurs the Bourgeoisie,"[8] wrote Engels, hinting precisely at civil war and at the necessity of our violating legality after the bourgeoisie had violated it. The crisis has shown that the bourgeoisie violate it in all countries, even the freest, and that it is impossible to lead the masses to revolution unless an underground organization is set up for the purpose of advocating, discussing, appraising and preparing revolutionary methods of struggle. In Germany, for example, all the honest things that Socialists are doing, are being done in spite of despicable opportunism and hypocritical "Kautskyism," and are being done secretly. In England, people are sent to penal servitude for printing appeals against joining the army.

To regard the repudiation of underground methods of propaganda, and ridiculing the latter in the legally published press, as being compatible with membership of the Social-Democratic Party is treachery to Socialism.

Concerning Defeat of "One's Own" Government in the Imperialist War

Both the advocates of victory for their governments in the present war and the advocates of the slogan "neither victory not defeat," equally take the standpoint of social-chauvinism. A revolutionary class cannot but wish for the defeat of its government in a reactionary war, cannot fail to see that its military reverses facilitate its overthrow. Only a bourgeois who believes that a war started by the governments must necessarily end as a war between governments and wants it to end as such, can regard as "ridiculous" and "absurd" the idea that the Socialists of all the belligerent countries should wish for the defeat of all "their" governments and express this wish. On the contrary, it is precisely a statement of this kind that would conform to the cherished thoughts of every class-conscious worker, and would be in line with our activities towards converting the imperialist war into civil war.

Undoubtedly, the serious anti-war agitation that is being conducted by a section of the British, German and Russian Socialists has "weakened the military power" of the respective governments, but such agitation stands to the credit of the Socialists. Socialists must explain to the masses that they have no other road of salvation except the revolutionary overthrow of "their" governments, and that advantage must be taken of these governments' embarrassments in the present war precisely for this purpose.

Pacifism and the Peace Slogan

The sentiments of the masses in favour of peace often express incipient protest, anger and consciousness of the reactionary character of the war. It is the duty of all Social-Democrats to utilize these sentiments. They will take a most ardent part in every movement and in every demonstration on this ground; but they will not deceive the people by conceding the idea that peace without annexations, without the oppression of nations, without plunder, without the germs of new wars among the present governments and ruling classes is possible in the absence of a revolutionary movement. Such a deception of the people would merely play into the hands of the secret diplomacy of the belligerent governments and facilitate their counter-revolutionary plans. Whoever wants a lasting and democratic peace must be in favour of civil war against the governments and the bourgeoisie.

The Right of Nations to Self-Determination

The most widespread deception of the people perpetrated by the bourgeoisie in the present war is the concealment of its predatory aims with "national-liberation" ideology. The English promise the liberation of Belgium, the Germans of Poland, etc. Actually, as we have seen, this is a war waged by the oppressors of the majority of the nations of the world for the purpose of fortifying and expanding such oppression.

Socialists cannot achieve their great aim without fighting against all oppression of nations. Therefore, they must without fail demand that the Social-Democratic parties of oppressing countries (especially of the so-called "great" powers) should recognize and champion the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, precisely in the political sense of the term, i.e., the right to political secession. The Socialist of a ruling or colony-owning nation who fails to champion this right is a chauvinist.

The championing of this right, far from encouraging the formation of small states, leads, on the contrary, to the freer, fearless and therefore wider and more widespread formation of very big states and federations of states, which are more beneficial for the masses and more fully in keeping with economic development.

The Socialists of oppressed nations must, in their turn, unfailingly fight for the complete (including organizational) unity of the workers of the oppressed and oppressing nationalities. The idea of the juridical separation of one nation from another (so-called "cultural-national autonomy" advocated by Bauer and Renner) is reactionary.

Imperialism is the epoch of the constantly increasing oppression of the nations of the world by a handful of "great" powers and, therefore, it is impossible to fight for the socialist international revolution against imperialism unless the right of nations to self-determination is recognized. "No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations" (Marx and Engels). A proletariat that tolerates the slightest violence by "its" nation against other nations cannot be a socialist proletariat.


1. See Karl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, (Berlin, 1957), Vol.I, p.4.

2. The Quadruple Entente -- an imperialist alliance of Britain, France, Russia and Italy. The latter joined the Triple Entente after breaking away from the Triple Alliance.

3. The Basle Manifesto on the war issue was unanimously adopted at the special congress of the Second International held on November 4-25, 1912, at Basle, Switzerland. The manifesto revealed the predatory aims of the war the imperialists were preparing and urged workers everywhere resolutely to combat the war danger. The manifesto proposed that in the event of an imperialist war breaking out, Socialists should take advantage of the economic and political crisis to precipitate the socialist revolution. (On the Basic Manifesto, see also V.I. Lenin, "The Collapse of the Second International," Collected Works, Eng. ed. (International Publishers: New York, 1930), Vol. XVIII, pp.273-82.)

At the Basic Congress, Kautsky, Vandervelde and the other leaders of the Second International voted for the Manifesto, but as soon as the world war broke out in 1914, they went back on it, and sided with their imperialist governments.

4. The Stuttgart International Socialist Congress, held on August 18-24, 1907. At this congress the R.S.D.L.P. was represented by 37 delegates. Lenin, Lunacharsky, Litvinov and others represented the Bolsheviks.

Most of the work of the congress was conducted in commissions, which drafted resolutions for submission to the plenary sessions. Lenin was a member of the commission that drafted the resolution on Militarism and International Conflicts. Jointly with Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin moved his historic amendment to Bebel's resolution, declaring that it was the duty of Socialists to take advantage of the crisis brought about by war to rouse the masses for the overthrow of capitalism. The congress accepted this amendment. (On the congress, see V.I. Lenin, "The International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart," Selected Works, Eng. ed. (Lawrence and Wishart: London, 1943), Vol. IV, pp. 314-23, and Collected Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. XIII, pp. 59-65.)

5. The voting on August 4 -- On August 4, 1914, the Social-Democratic group in the German Reichstag voted in favour of granting the government of Wilhelm II war credits and for supporting the imperialist war. The leaders of German Social-Democracy betrayed the working class and took up the position of social-chauvinism and of defence of their imperialist bourgeoisie.

6. Struveism -- see pp. 48-49 of this book.

7. Brentanoism -- a bourgeois reformist theory which "recognized the 'school of capitalism,' but rejected the school of the revolutionary class struggle" (Lenin). Lujo Brentano, a German bourgeois economist, advocate of so-called "State Socialism," tried to prove that it was possible to achieve social equality within the capitalist system by means of reforms and the conciliation of the interests of the capitalists and the workers. Under the cloak of Marxist phraseology, Brentano and his followers tried to subordinate the working-class movement to the interests of the bourgeoisie.

8. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, "Der Sozialismus in Deutschland," Collected Works, Ger. ed. (Berlin, 1963), Vol.XXII, p. 251.

(Socialism and the War, Chapter 1: The Principles of Socialism and the War of 1914-1915, Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 21, 1914-1915.)

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World War I Posters

Anti-War Posters and Propaganda for War

Anti-War Posters



Propaganda for War







Tsarist Russia

Left: "Everything for the War! Subscribe to the 5.5% war loan" St. Petersberg, Russia, 1916.
Right: Freedom Loan -- War Until Victory! (T. Butschkin)


Left: “The eight-headed hydra.” In this German poster, Germany and Austria-Hungary, are portrayed as soldiers fighting and defeating a many-headed hydra, with each head representing one of the Triple Entente powers and their allies. Centre: "Everything for homeland! Everything for freedom!" Right: " If the Plough is to Till the Field Peacefully, Donate Money!"

Austro-Hungarian Empire

"Draw forth the Austrian War loan" with 16th century Austrian soldier.

Ottoman Empire

"Mobilization! Soldiers, to arms! The first day of the mobilization is ..."

United States

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