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The Tasks of the Opposition in France

V. I. Lenin

February 10, 1916

Dear Comrade,

Your deportation from France–which, incidentally, was noted with a protest even in the chauvinist paper, La Bataille[1], which, however, did not care to tell the truth, namely, that you were deported for sympathising with the opposition–has once again recalled to my mind the burning question regarding the situation and the tasks of the opposition in France.

I saw Bourderon and Merrheim in Zimmerwald. I heard their reports and read about their work in the newspapers. I cannot in the least doubt their sincerity and devotion to the cause of the proletariat. Nevertheless, it is obvious that their tactics are mistaken. Both fear a split more than anything else. Not a step, not a word that might lead to a split in the Socialist Party or in the trade unions in France, that might lead to a split in the Second International, to the creation of the Third International–such is the slogan of both Bourderon and Merrheim.

Nevertheless, the split in the labour and Socialist movements throughout the world is a fact. We have two irreconcilable working class tactics and policies in relation to the war. It is ridiculous to close our eyes to this fact. Any attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable will doom all our work to futility. In Germany, even Deputy Otto Ruhle, a comrade of Liebknecht's, has openly admitted that a split in the Party is inevitable, because its present majority, the official "leaders" of the German Party, have gone over to the bourgeoisie. The arguments advanced against Ruhle and against a split by the so-called representatives of the "centre" or "marsh" (le marais) by Kautsky and the Vorwärts[2], are just lies and hypocrisy, however "well-intentioned" this hypocrisy may be. Kautsky and the Vorwärts cannot and do not even attempt to deny that the majority of the German Party is in fact carrying out the policy of the bourgeoisie. Unity with such a majority is detrimental to the working class. Such unity means subordinating the working class to the bourgeoisie of "its own" nation; it means a split in the international working class. Actually Ruhle is right when he says that there are two parties in Germany. One, the official party, is carrying out the policy of the bourgeoisie. The other, the minority, is publishing illegal manifestoes, organising demonstrations, etc. We see the same thing all over the world, and the impotent diplomats, or the "marsh," such as Kautsky in Germany, Longuet in France and Martov and Trotsky in Russia, are causing the greatest harm to the labour movement by their insistence upon a fictitious unity, thus hindering the now ripe and imminent unification of the opposition in all countries and the creation of the Third International. In England even a moderate paper like the Labour Leader publishes Russell Williams' letters urging the necessity for a split with the trade union "leaders" and with the Labour Party, which he says, "sold out" the interests of the working class. A number of members of the Independent Labour Party have declared in the press that they sympathise with Russell Williams. In Russia, even Trotsky, the "conciliator," is now compelled to admit that a split is inevitable with the "patriots," i.e., the party of the "Organisation Committee," the O.C., who approve of workers participating in the War Industries Committees[3]. It is only false pride that compels Trotsky to continue to defend "unity" with Chkheidze's Duma fraction, which is the most faithful friend, protector and defender of the "patriots" and the O.C.

Even in the United States of America there is actually a complete split. Some Socialists in that country are for the army, for "preparedness," for war. Others, including the most popular leader of the workers, Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party Presidential candidate, preach civil war against the war of nations.

Look at what Bourderon and Merrheim are doing! In words they are opposed to a split. But read the resolution which Bourderon moved at the Congress of the French Socialist Party[4]. This resolution demands the withdrawal of the Socialists from the Cabinet!! The resolution bluntly "disapproves" of the C.A.P. and the G.P. (C.A.P=Com. Adm. Perm., G.P.= Gr. Parlem.[5])!!! It is as clear as daylight that the adoption of such a resolution would cause a split in the Socialist Party and in the trade unions, because Messrs. Renaudel, Sembat, Jouhaux and Co. would never reconcile themselves to that.

Bourderon and Merrheim share the error, the weakness and the timidity of the majority of the Zimmerwald Conference. On the one hand, in its Manifesto this majority indirectly calls for revolutionary struggle, but is afraid to do so openly. On the one hand, it declares that the capitalists in all countries are lying when they talk about "defending the fatherland" in the present war. On the other hand, the majority was afraid to add the obvious truth which, in any case, every thinking worker will add for himself that not only are the capitalists lying, but so also are Renaudel, Sembat, Longuet, Hyndman, Kautsky, Plekhanov and Co.! The majority of the Zimmerwald Conference wants to become reconciled with Vandervelde, Huysmans, Renaudel and Co. again. This is harmful to the working class, and the "Zimmerwald Left" acted correctly when it openly told the workers the truth.

Look at the hypocrisy of the socialiste-chauvins: in France they praise the German minority in Germany they praise the French!!

What enormous significance the action of the French opposition would have if it straightforwardly, fearlessly, openly declared to the whole world: We are in agreement only with the German opposition, only with Ruhle and his associates!! Only with those who fearlessly sever all connections with avowed and tacit social-chauvinism, socialism chauvine, i.e., with all the "defenders of the fatherland" in the present war!! We ourselves are not afraid to sever our connections with the French "patriots" who call the defence of colonies "defence of the fatherland," and we call upon Socialists and syndicalists in all countries to do the same!! We extend our hand to Otto Ruhle and Liebknecht, only to them, and to those who associate with them; and we denounce the French and the German majorité and "le marais". We proclaim the great international unity of all those Socialists in all countries who in this war repudiate the fraudulent phrase, "defence of the fatherland," and who are a fraud, and who engaged in preaching and preparing for the world proletarian revolution!

Such an appeal would be of enormous importance. It would scatter the hypocrites, expose and unmask international fraud, and would give a tremendous impetus to the rapprochement of those workers the world over who have really remained loyal to internationalism.

Anarchist phrase-mongering has always been very harmful in France. But now the anarchist-patriots, the anarchist-chauvins, like Kropotkin, Grave, Cornelissen and the other knights of La Bataille Chauviniste will help to cure very many workers of anarchist phrase-mongering. Down with the social-patriots and socialist-chauvins! and down also with anarchist-patriots and anarchist-chauvins! This call will find an echo in the hearts of the workers of France. Not anarchist phrase-mongering about revolution, but sustained, earnest, tenacious, persistent, systematic work of creating every where illegal organisations among the workers, of spreading free, i.e., illegal literature, of preparing the movement of the masses against their governments. This is what the working class of all countries needs!

It is untrue to say that "the French are incapable" of carrying on systematic illegal work. Untrue! The French quickly learned to conceal themselves in the trenches; they will quickly learn the new conditions of illegal work and systematically to prepare for a revolutionary mass movement. I believe in the French revolutionary proletariat. It will also stimulate the French opposition.

With best wishes,
Yours, Lenin

P.S. I suggest that the French comrades publish a translation of this letter (full translation) as a separate leaflet.[6]


[1] La Bataille (The Battle) – Organ of the French anarchist syndicalists, published in Paris form 1915 to 1920 in place of La Bataille Syndicaliste, which was closed down in September 1915; during the First World War, took a pro-war stand.

[2] Vorwärts (Forward) - Central Organ of the German Social-Democratic Party published daily in Berlin from 1891 to 1933 by decision of the party's Halle Congress, as the successor of Berliner Volksblatt, founded in 1884.

Engels wrote for the Vorwärts. In Russia, it backed the Economists and then, after the split in the Party, the Mensheviks. It published articles by Trotsky, but wouldn't publish Lenin.

During the First World War Vorwärts took a social-chauvinist stand. It's articles were later against the October Revolution.

[3] The War Industries Committees, created in May 1915, were formed by Russia's leading captialists to help the tsarist regime with the war effort (manufacture of war materials, supplies, etc). The chairman of the Central War Industries Committee was the Octobrist leader and large capitalist A. I. Guchkov. Among its members were the manufacturer A. I. Konovalov and the banker and sugar manufacturer M. I. Tereshchenko.

In an effort to raise patriotism and worker productivity for longer days and weeks (despite falling pay and increasing food prices), "workers' groups" were created within the committees. To create these groups with some legitamacy, the capitalists convened a wide ranging worker delegates' meeting in Petrograd on September 27 (October 10), 1915. Despite the best efforts of the capitalists, a Bolshevik resolution calling for a boycott and for a revolutionary way out of the war obtained 95 votes to the Mensheviks 81. Naturally, the capitalists would not accept this result, so a second meeting was convened, this time without the pro-Bolshevik delegates. This opened the way for the Mensheviks, led by Gvozdev and an agent provocateur Abrosimov, to elect a "workers' group" of ten delegates... at least for the city of Petrograd. Nation-wide elections to the "workers' groups" took place only in 70 out of the 239 regional and local War Industries Committees, and of those 70 only 36 committees actualy had workers' representatives elected and serve a role.

    We are opposed to participation in the war industries committees, which help prosecute the imperialist and reactionary war. We are in favour of utilising the election campaign; for instance, we are for participation in the first stage of the elections for the sole purpose of agitation and organisation.
    - Several Theses, Vladimir Lenin

Lenin believed the creation of these committees were a turning point in workers consciousness during the war. A ground swell of mass indignation arose when the tsar made clear that the only way workers could organise was to openly support the war.

    The outstanding fact in the life of Russian Social-Democracy today is the elections of St. Petersburg workers to the war industries committees. For the first time during the war, these elections have drawn masses of the proletarians into a discussion and solution of basic problems of present-day politics; they have revealed the real picture of the state of affairs within Social-Democracy as a mass party. What has been revealed is that there are two currents and only two: one is revolutionary and internationalist, genuinely proletarian, organised by our Party, and against defence of the fatherland; the other is the “defence” or social-chauvinist current, a bloc of the Nashe Dyelo people (i.e., the backbone of the liquidators), the Plekhanovites, Narodniks and non-partisans, this bloc being backed by the entire bourgeois press and all the Black Hundreds in Russia, which proves the bourgeois and non-proletarian essence of the bloc's policy. - Social-Chauvinist Policy Behind a Cover of Internationalist Phrases, Vladimir Lenin

[4] French Socialist Party - Founded in 1902. In 1905, the F.S.P. and the Socialist Party of France founded the United Socialist Party, which included all socialist parties and groups (Guesdists, Blanquists, Jauresists, etc.). The leadership of the F.S.P. passed into the hands of the socialist-reformists (led by Jaures), who constituted the majority. During the First World War, it took a social-chauvinist stand, its parliamentary group voted for war credits, and its members were in the bourgeois government. The F.S.P. split at its Tours Congress, December 25-30, 1920; the majority formed the Communist Party of France, while the Right-wing opportunist minority, led by Leon Blum, left the Congress and formed their own party, retaining the old name of the French Socialist Party.

The resolution moved by Bourderon at the F.S.P. Congress in December 1915 was rejected by a majority. At that time, Bourderon belonged to the Right-wing of the Zimmerwald Group.

[5] The French abbreviations for Permanent Administrative Commission and parliamentary group.—Ed.

[6] This letter was published in French as a separate leaflet in Geneva 1916.

Published: First published in Russian in 1924 in Proletarskaya Revolutisa No. 4 (27).
Published in French as separate leaflet in 1916. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, UNKNOWN, [19xx], Moscow, Volume 22, pages 127-130.

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