Workers Vanguard No. 1049

11 July 2014


World War I and the Betrayal by Social Democracy

(Quote of the Week)

At the outbreak of World War I on 4 August 1914, the German Social Democratic Party voted to fund the war effort of its “own” ruling class. This historic betrayal of the proletariat by the largest party of the Second International was repeated by “socialists” in almost all other combatant countries. In response, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin launched a fight to break revolutionaries away from the social chauvinists of the Second International and regroup them around a proletarian internationalist program, as expressed in the excerpt below. This sharp fight, which hammered on the need to turn the interimperialist slaughter into civil war pitting the proletariat against the capitalists, was essential in preparing the Bolshevik Party to lead the working class to power in the socialist revolution of October 1917 in Russia.

It is the duty of every socialist to conduct propaganda of the class struggle, in the army as well; work directed towards turning a war of the nations into civil war is the only socialist activity in the era of an imperialist armed conflict of the bourgeoisie of all nations. Down with mawkishly sanctimonious and fatuous appeals for “peace at any price”! Let us raise high the banner of civil war! Imperialism sets at hazard the fate of European culture: this war will soon be followed by others, unless there are a series of successful revolutions. The story about this being the “last war” is a hollow and dangerous fabrication, a piece of philistine “mythology”.... The proletarian banner of civil war will rally together, not only hundreds of thousands of class-conscious workers but millions of semi-proletarians and petty bourgeois, now deceived by chauvinism, but whom the horrors of war will not only intimidate and depress, but also enlighten, teach, arouse, organise, steel and prepare for the war against the bourgeoisie of their “own” country and “foreign” countries. And this will take place, if not today, then tomorrow, if not during the war, then after it, if not in this war then in the next one.

The Second International is dead, overcome by opportunism. Down with opportunism, and long live the Third International, purged not only of “turncoats”...but of opportunism as well.

The Second International did its share of useful preparatory work in preliminarily organising the proletarian masses during the long, “peaceful” period of the most brutal capitalist slavery and most rapid capitalist progress in the last third of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. To the Third International falls the task of organising the proletarian forces for a revolutionary onslaught against the capitalist governments, for civil war against the bourgeoisie of all countries for the capture of political power, for the triumph of socialism!

—V.I. Lenin, “The Position and Tasks of the Socialist International” (November 1914), Collected Works, Vol. 21