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On the Struggle Against Social-Chauvinism

V. I. Lenin

The most interesting and most recent material for this topical problem has been provided by the International Conference of Socialist Women, which adjourned recently in Berne.[1] The readers will find below an account of the Conference and the texts of two resolutions-the one adopted and the one rejected. In the present article we would like to discuss only one aspect of the question.

Representatives of the women's organisations attached to the Organising Committee; women members of Troelstra's party in Holland; women from the Swiss organisations that are hostile to Berner Tagwacht for its allegedly excessive Leftist leanings; the French representative, who is unwilling to disagree on any important point with the official party, which is known to adhere to the social-chauvinist point of view; the women of Britain, who are hostile to the idea of a clear line of division between pacifism and revolutionary proletarian tactics-all these agreed with the "Left" German Social-Democrat women on one resolution. The representatives of women's organisations connected with our Party's Central Committee disagreed with them, preferring to remain in isolation for the time being rather than join a bloc of this kind.

What is the gist of this disagreement? What principles and general political significance are involved in this conflict?

At first glance, the middle-of-the-road resolution, which has united the opportunists and part of the Left wing looks very fitting and correct in principle. The war has been declared an imperialist one, the "defence of the fatherland" idea has been condemned, the workers have been called upon to hold mass demonstrations, etc., etc. It might seem that our resolution was different only in the use of several sharper expressions such as "betrayal", "opportunism", "withdrawal from bourgeois governments", etc.

It is undoubtedly from this standpoint that criticism will he levelled against the withdrawal of the representatives of the women's organisations connected with our Party's Central Committee.

However, if we give the matter more attention, without confining ourselves to a purely "formal" recognition of one truth or another, we will realise that such criticism is quite groundless.

Two world-outlooks, two appraisals of the war and the tasks of the International, two tactics of the proletarian parties clashed at the Conference. One view holds that there has been no collapse of the international; no deep and grave obstacles to a return from chauvinism to socialism; no strong "internal enemy" in the shape of opportunism; no direct and obvious betrayal of socialism by opportunism. The conclusion to be drawn might be worded as follows: let us condemn nobody; let us "amnesty" those who have violated the Stuttgart and the Basic resolutions; let us merely advise that the course followed should be more to the left and that the masses be called upon to hold demonstrations.

The other, view is diametrically opposed to the former on each of the points enumerated above. Nothing is more harmful or more disastrous to the proletarian cause than a continuation of inner-Party diplomacy towards the opportunists and social-chauvinists. The majority resolution proved acceptable to the opportunist delegates and to the adherents of the present-day official parties just because it is imbued with the spirit of diplomacy. Such diplomacy is being used to throw dust in the eyes of the working masses, which at present are led by the official social-patriots. An absolutely erroneous and harmful idea is being inculcated upon the working masses, the idea that the present-day SocialDemocratic parties, with their present Executives, are capable of changing their course from an erroneous to a correct one.

That is not the case. It is a most egregious and pernicious illusion. The present-day Social-Democratic parties and their Executives are incapable of seriously changing their course. In practice everything will remain as before; the "Left" wishes expressed in the majority resolution will remain innocent wishes; an unerring political instinct prompted this in the adherents of Troelstra's party and of the present Executive of the French party, when they voted for such a resolution. It is only when it is most actively supported by the present Executives of the Social-Democratic parties that an appeal for mass demonstrations can acquire a serious and practical significance.

Can one expect such support? Obviously not, It is common knowledge that such an appeal will meet, not with support, but with stubborn (and mostly covert) resistance from the Executives.

If the workers were told this in a straightforward way, they would know the truth; they would know that to give effect to "Left" wishes, a radical change is necessary in the line of the Social-Democratic parties; a most stubborn struggle is necessary against the opportunists with their "Centrist" friends. As it is, the workers have been lulled by "Left" wishes, while the Conference re/used to call by name, loudly and clearly, the evil which must be combated if those wishes are to be realised.

The diplomatic leaders, who are at present conducting a chauvinist policy within the Social-Democratic parties, will make excellent use of the weakness, the indecision and the insufficient clarity of the majority resolution. Astute parliamentarians that they are, they will distribute the roles among themselves: some of them will say that the "serious" arguments of Kautsky and Co. were not appreciated or analysed, and that therefore they must be discussed in a wider gathering; others will say, "Were we not right when we said that no deep-seated differences existed, if the women adherents of the Troelstra and Guesde-Sembat parties were able to agree with the Left-wing German women?"

The Women's Conference should not have aided Scheidemann, Haase, Kautsky, Vandervelde, Hyndman, Guesde, Sembat, Plekhanov and others to blunt the vigilance of the working masses. On the contrary, it should have tried to rouse them and declared a decisive war against opportunism. Only in that case would the result have been, not a hope that the "leaders" named above would "reform", but a mustering of forces for an arduous and bitter struggle.

Consider the way the opportunists and the "Centrists" violated the Stuttgart and Basle resolutions. That is the crux of the matter. Try to visualise, clearly and without diplomacy, what has actually taken place.

Foreseeing war, the International convenes and unanimously decides, should war break out, to work "to hasten the downfall of capitalism"; to work in the spirit of the Commune, of October and December 1905 (the exact words of the Basle resolution!); to work in a spirit that will consider it a "crime" if "the workers of one country shoot at the workers of another country".

A line of action in an internationalist, proletarian, and revolutionary spirit is indicated here with perfect clarity, a clarity that cannot be improved within the limits of legality.

Then war broke out—the very kind of war and exactly along the lines foreseen at Basic. The official parties acted in an absolutely contrary spirit: not like internationalists but like nationalists; not in a proletarian but in a bourgeois way; not in a revolutionary direction but in the direction of ultra-opportunism. If we say to the workers that this was downright treachery to the socialist cause, we thereby reject all evasions and subterfuges, all sophisms a la Kautsky and Axeirod. We clearly indicate the extent and the power of the evil; we clearly call for a struggle against that evil, not for conciliation with it.

What about the majority resolution? It does not contain a word of censure for the traitors, or a single word about opportunism, but merely a simple repetition of the ideas expressed in the Basle resolution! One might think that nothing serious has happened, that an accidental and minor error has been made which calls merely for a repetition of the old decision, or that a disagreement has arisen which is inconsequent and not of principle, and can be papered over!

This is downright mockery of the International's decisions, mockery of the workers. As a matter of fact, the social-chauvinists wish nothing else but a simple repetition of the old decisions, if only nothing changes in practice. This is, in fact, a tacit and hypocritically disguised amnesty for the social-chauvinist adherents of most of the present parties. We know that there are many who would follow this path and confine themselves to several Left phrases. However, their road is not for us. We have followed a different road, and will go on following it; we want to help the working-class movement and the actual construction of a working class party, in the spirit of irreconcilability towards opportunism and social-chauvinism.

Part of the German women delegates seem to have been afraid of a very clear resolution for reasons relating only to the tempo of the development of the struggle against chauvinism within a single party, namely, their own. Such reasoning was obviously out of place and erroneous, since the international resolution did not and could not deal with either the speed or the concrete conditions of the struggle against social-chauvinism within the individual countries; in this respect, the autonomy of the various parties is beyond dispute. The proclamation was needed, from an international tribune, of an irrevocable break with social-chauvinism in the entire direction and character of Social-Democratic work. Instead of that, the majority resolution once more reiterated the old error, that of the Second International, which diplomatically veiled opportunism and the gap between word and deed. We repeat: this is a road we shall not take.


[1] The International Conference of Socialist Women held in Berne on March 26-28, 1915, dealt with the attitude to the war. It was convened on the initiative of the women organisations attached to the C.C. R.S.D.L.P., with the active participation of Clara Zetkin, loader of the international women's movement. Twenty-nine delegates from Britain, Germany, France, Holland, Switzerland, Russia and Poland attended the Conference, the Russian delegation including N. K. Krupskaya and Inessa Arrnand.

The report on the International Conference of Socialist Women was published in the Supplement to Sotsial-Demokrat No. 42 of June 1, 1915.

Published: Supplement to Sotsial-Demokrat No. 42, June 1, 1915.
Published according to the text of the Supplement.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197[4]], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 199-204.

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