Workers Vanguard No. 1159

23 August 2019


Lenin on WWI: For Revolutionary Defeatism

(Quote of the Week)

In August 1914 at the onset of World War I, a bloody interimperialist war to redivide the world, the Second (Socialist) International collapsed as the leaders of its national sections, with few exceptions, supported their own capitalist governments. In response, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin launched a fight to split those parties and win subjectively revolutionary elements to proletarian internationalism. Lenin’s program of revolutionary defeatism, which saw the defeat of one’s “own” imperialist bourgeoisie as a motor force for the proletarian seizure of power, was strikingly confirmed in the October 1917 Russian Revolution led by the Bolshevik Party.

Is it not treachery to Social-Democracy when we see the German socialists’ amazing change of front (after Germany’s declaration of war); the false phrases about a war of liberation against tsarism; forgetfulness of German imperialism, forgetfulness of the rape of Serbia; the bourgeois interests involved in the war against Britain, etc., etc.? Chauvinist patriots vote for the Budget!...

Even given the total incapacità and impotence of the European socialists, the behaviour of their leaders reveals treachery and baseness: the workers have been driven into the slaughter, while their leaders vote in favour and join governments! Even with their total impotence, they should have voted against, should not have joined their governments and uttered chauvinistic infamies; should not have shown solidarity with their “nation,” and should not have defended their “own” bourgeoisie, they should have unmasked its vileness.

Everywhere there is the bourgeoisie and the imperialists, everywhere the ignoble preparations for carnage; if Russian tsarism is particularly infamous and barbarous (and more reactionary than all the rest), then German imperialism too is monarchist: its aims are feudal and dynastic, and its gross bourgeoisie are less free than the French. The Russian Social-Democrats were right in saying that to them the defeat of tsarism was the lesser evil, for their immediate enemy was, first and foremost, Great-Russian chauvinism, but that in each country the socialists (who are not opportunists) ought to see their main enemy in their “own” (“home-made”) chauvinism.

—V.I. Lenin, “The European War and International Socialism” (late August-September 1914)