The Stockholm Conference

"After three years of war, efforts are still being made to feed the workers with the emptiest promises: “In Stockholm they are going” to renounce national unity."

Many people are taking an interest again in the Stockholm Conference. The question of its significance has been discussed at length in the newspapers. It is inseparable from an appraisal of the very principles of the whole of present-day socialism, particularly concerning the attitude to the imperialist war. This is why the Stockholm Conference should be dealt with in some detail.

From the outset the revolutionary Social-Democrats, i.e., the Bolsheviks, were against participating in the conference, as a matter of principle. Everyone knows that on the attitude to the war socialists in all countries, belligerent and neutral alike, are split into two large, main divisions. Some took the side of their governments, of their bourgeoisie. These we call social-chauvinists, i.e., socialists in words and chauvinists in action. A chauvinist is one who conceals defence of the predatory interests of “his own” ruling classes with the concept “defence of the fatherland”. In the present war, the bourgeoisie of both belligerent coalitions are pursuing predatory aims: the German bourgeoisie are fighting to plunder Belgium, Serbia, etc., the British and French bourgeoisie are fighting to plunder the German colonies, etc., and the Russian bourgeoisie are fighting to plunder Austria (Lvov) and Turkey (Armenia, Constantinople).

Hence, those socialists who have come down on the side of their bourgeoisie in the war have ceased to be socialists, have betrayed the working class and have, in effect, deserted to the camp of the bourgeoisie. They have become class enemies of the proletariat. The history of European and American socialism, particularly during the time of the Second international, i.e., from 1889 to 1914, shows us that this desertion of certain socialists, particularly most leaders and members of parliament, to the bourgeoisie is no accident. In all countries, the opportunist wing of socialism provided the main recruits for social-chauvinism. Regarded scientifically, which means not singling out individuals but taking the whole international trend in its process of development, the sum total of its social ties, social-chauvinism is opportunism carried to its logical conclusion.

Everywhere the workers are showing, in a more or less clear and sharp form, that they realise the social-chauvinists are betraying socialism, that they hate and despise the more prominent social-chauvinists such as Plekhanov in Russia, Scheidemann in Germany, Guesde, Renaudel and Co. in France, Hyndman and others in Britain, etc.,etc.

A revolutionary internationalist trend has arisen in all countries during the war, despite the gagging and ruthless persecution by the bourgeoisie. This trend has remained loyal to socialism. It has not yielded to chauvinism, has not allowed chauvinism to be covered up by lying phrases about defence of the fatherland. It has exposed the utterly fraudulent nature of these phrases and the absolutely criminal nature of the war, which the bourgeoisie of both coalitions pursue for purposes of plunder. This trend includes, for example, MacLean in Britain, who has been sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour for opposing the predatory British bourgeoisie, and Karl Liebknecht in Germany, who has been sentenced to penal servitude by the German imperialist robbers for the “crime” of calling for a revolution in Germany and exposing the predatory character of the war waged by Germany. The Bolsheviks in Russia also belong to this trend and are persecuted by the agents of Russian republican-democratic imperialism for a “crime” similar to the one for which MacLean and Karl Liebknecht are being persecuted.

This is the only trend loyal to socialism. It is the only trend that has not failed the solemn declaration of convictions, the solemn pledge made in November 1912 in the Basle Manifesto which was unanimously signed by the socialists of the world, of every country without exception. The Manifesto speaks not of war in general—there are wars and wars—but of the war which everyone in 1912 clearly saw was being prepared, and which broke out in 1914, the war between Germany and Britain and their allies for world domination. With this war in the offing, the Basle Manifesto does not say a word about the duty or right of socialists to “defend their fatherland” (i.e., to justify their participation in the war). What it does say, very explicitly, is that this war must lead to the “proletarian revolution”. The betrayal of socialism by the social-chauvinists of all countries is perfectly evident from the cowardly manner in which all of them now avoid, like thieves avoiding the scene of their crime, the passage in the Basle Manifesto which speaks of the connection between this particular war and the proletarian revolution.

The impassable gulf that separates the socialists, who remained loyal to the Basle Manifesto and “responded” to the war by advocating and preparing for the proletarian revolution, from the social-chauvinists, who responded to the war by supporting “their” national bourgeoisie, is obvious. It is also obvious how helpless, naive and hypocritical are the attempts to “reconcile” or “unite” the two trends.

It is this kind of attempt that is evident in all its wretchedness on the part of the third trend in world socialism, the so-called “Centre” or “Kautskian” trend (named after the most prominent “Centrist”, Karl Kautsky). Throughout the three years of the war this trend has shown its complete lack of principle and its helplessness in all countries. In Germany, for example, events compelled the Kautskyites to break away from the German Plekhanovs and form a separate, so-called Independent Social-Democratic Party[1]. All the same, this party is afraid of drawing the necessary conclusions, it preaches “unity” with the social-chauvinists on an international scale, continues to deceive the mass of workers with the hope of restoring this unity in Germany, and hinders the only correct proletarian tactics of revolutionary struggle against “one’s own” government, a struggle to be waged in war-time as well, a struggle which may and must vary in form but which cannot be put off.

This is the state of affairs in international socialism. Without making a clear appraisal of this situation, without having a principled opinion about all the trends in international socialism, it is impossible so much as to approach practical questions like that of the Stockholm Conference. Yet the Bolshevik Party was the only party that gave a principled appraisal of all trends in international socialism in the detailed resolution which it adopted at its conference held between April 24 and 29, 1917, and which was endorsed by our Sixth Party Congress in August. To ignore this principled appraisal and discuss Stockholm without reference to it means taking an entirely unprincipled stand.

As an example of the lack of principle prevailing among the petty-bourgeois democrats, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, we may quote an article from Novaya Zhizn of August 10. The article is worthy of attention because it brings together, in a newspaper belonging to the extreme Left wing of the petty-bourgeois democrats, the most widespread errors, prejudices and lack of principle over Stockholm.

“One is free,” we read in the leader of Novaya Zhizn, “to take a dim view of the Stockholm Conference, for one reason or another. One is free, as a matter of principle, to condemn attempts to bring about agreement among the ‘defencist majorities’. But why deny what is strikingly obvious? After all, following the well-known decision of the British workers, which sparked off a political crisis in the country and caused the first deep crack in British ‘national unity’, the conference acquired a new significance.”

This argument is a perfect example of lack of principle. Indeed, how is it possible to draw the conclusion, from the indisputable fact that owing to the Stockholm Conference a deep crack has occurred in British “national unity”, that it is our duty to patch up this crack rather than widen it? The fundamental alternative is to break with the defencists (social-chauvinists) or to agree with them. There can be no other choice. The Stockholm Conference was just one of numerous attempts to reach agreement. It failed. Its failure was due to the unwillingness of the Anglo-French imperialists to hold peace negotiations now, while the German imperialists are willing. The British workers have become more aware of being deceived by the British imperialist bourgeoisie.

Then what use should be made of this? We revolutionary internationalists say that it should be used for widening the breach between the workers and their social-chauvinists, for making this breach complete, for removing every hindrance to the development of the revolutionary struggle of the masses against their governments, against their bourgeoisie. Acting in this way, we, and we alone, can widen the crack and force a complete break.

What is actually achieved by those going to Stockholm, or rather, by those preaching to the people that it is necessary to go there, now that reality has “squashed” the idea? All they manage is to patch up the crack, for the Stockholm Conference is admittedly being convened and supported by people who are supporting their own governments, by the ministerialist Chernovs and Tseretelis, the Staunings, Brantings and Troelstras, not to speak of the Scheidemauns.

This is what is “strikingly obvious”, this is what the opportunists of Novaya Zhizn forget, or gloss over, when they argue absolutely without any regard for principles, without a general appreciation of social-chauvinism as a trend. The Stockholm Conference is a colloquy of ministers of imperialist governments. Novaya Zhizn cannot evade this fact however hard it tries. To call upon the workers to go to Stockholm, to tell them to wait for Stockholm, to call upon them to place any hopes whatever in Stockholm means saying to them: “You can, you must, expect good to come from an agreement between the petty-bourgeois parties and imperialist government ministers, those who support imperialist governments.”

It is this unprincipled and most harmful propaganda that Novaya Zhizn is unwittingly carrying on.

Owing to the conflict between the Anglo-French social-chauvinists and their governments, the paper forgets that the Chernovs, Skobelevs, Tseretelis, Avksentyevs, Brantings, Staunings and Scheidemanns are also social-chauvinists supporting their governments. Isn’t this lack of principle?

Instead of saying to the workers: see, the Anglo-French imperialists have not even allowed their social-chauvinists to go and talk with the German social-chauvinists; that shows that Britain and France are also waging a predatory war and that there is no salvation except through a complete rupture with all the governments, with all the social-chauvinists, Novaya Zhizn consoles the workers with illusions.

“In Stockholm,” it writes, “they are going to reach an agreement on peace and to jointly draw up a general plan of struggle: refusal to vote credits, renunciation of ‘national unity’, recall of ministers from the governments, etc.”

The only thing which is supposed to make this thoroughly fraudulent sentence sound convincing is that the word “struggle” is printed in bold type. A wonderful device, I must say!

After three years of war, efforts are still being made to feed the workers with the emptiest promises: “In Stockholm they are going” to renounce national unity.

Who plans that? The Scheidemanns, Chernovs, Skobelevs, Avksentyevs, Tseretelis, Staunings and Brantings, i.e., the very people (and parties) who for several years and for several months have been pursuing a national unity policy. No matter how sincere Novaya Zhizn’s faith in such a miracle may be, no matter how conscientiously it may hold the conviction that it is possible, we must say, nevertheless, that it is spreading the greatest piece of deception among the workers.

Novaya Zhizn is deceiving the workers by inspiring them with confidence in the social-chauvinists. It implies, that, although so far the social-chauvinists have been Cabinet members and have pursued a national unity policy, they will soon reach agreement among themselves in Stockholm, they will come to an understanding and cease to act in that way. They will begin to fight for peace, they will refuse to vote credits, etc., etc.

All that is nothing but deception, the greatest deception. It is reactionary talk designed to console and reassure the workers, to inspire them with confidence in the social-chauvinists. But the socialists who “fight for peace”—not in words, not to deceive themselves or the workers—started their fight long ago, without waiting for any international conferences. They started their fight by renouncing national unity, precisely in the way it was done by MacLean in Britain, Karl Liebknecht in Germany and the Bolsheviks in Russia.

“We quite understand the legitimate and healthy scepticism of the Bolsheviks towards the Renaudels and Scheidemanns,” writes Novaya Zhizn, “but the publicists of Rabochy i Soldat, like doctrinaires, just cannot see the wood for the trees; they do not take into account the changes in the mood of the masses on which Renaudel and Scheidemann have relied.”

It is not a matter of scepticism, gentlemen; it is in your midst that intellectual scepticism, which conceals and expresses lack of principle, is the dominant mood. We are not sceptical of the Renaudels and the Scheidemanns, we are their enemies. There is a world of difference between these two things. We have broken with them, and we call upon the masses to break with them. It is we, and we alone, who “take into account” the change in the mood of the masses, as well as something besides, something far more important and more profound than moods and changes in moods, namely, the fundamental interests of the masses, the fact that these interests cannot be reconciled with the social-chauvinist policy represented by the Renaudels and Scheidemanns. In Stockholm, the Novaya Zhizn people and the ministers of the Russian imperialist government, will meet none other than the Scheidemanns and Renaudels (for there is no real difference between Stauning and Troelstra, let alone between Avksentyev and Skobelev, on the one hand, and Renaudel, on the other). But we turn our backs on the Stockholm comedy played between the social-chauvinists, among the social-chauvinists, in order to open the eyes of the masses, so as to express their interests, call them to revolution, and use their change of mood not to pander to a given mood in an unprincipled manner, but to wage a struggle on principle for a complete rupture with social-chauvinism.

“The Bolsheviks,” writes Novaya Zhizn, “like to taunt the internationalists going to Stockholm with having compromised with the Scheidemauns and Hendersons, ‘without noticing’ that their attitude to the conference puts them in the same category as the Plekhanovs, Guesdes and Hyndmans—for profoundly different reasons, of course.”

It is not true to say that our attitude to the conference puts us in the same category as the Plekhanovs! That is obviously absurd. Our position coincides with that of the Plekhanovs in refusing to go to a milk-and-water conference with a group of social-chauvinists. But both in principle and in practice, our attitude towards the conference differs from that of the Plekhanovs. Meanwhile, you who call yourselves internationalists are really going to the conference together with the Scheidemanns, Staunings and Brantings; you are really compromising with them. Isn’t that a fact? You describe as “the great cause of uniting the international proletariat” what is the petty, miserable business—largely an intrigue which is dependent upon the imperialists of one of the coalitions—of uniting the social-chauvinists. That is a fact.

You would-be internationalists cannot urge the masses to take part in the Stockholm Conference (it is very probable that things will go no further than urging, for the conference will not take place; but the ideological significance of the urging remains); you cannot urge the masses to participate in the Stockholm Conference without uttering a pile of lies, without sowing illusions, without whitewashing the social-chauvinists, without rousing hopes among the masses that the Staunings and Brantings, the Skobelevs and Avksentyevs are capable of renouncing “national unity” in earnest.

Meanwhile, in our propaganda against Stockholm, we Bolsheviks tell the masses the whole truth. We continue to expose the social-chauvinists and the policy of compromise with them, and lead the masses towards a complete rupture with them. Since matters have reached a point where the German imperialists consider the situation appropriate for participation in the Stockholm Conference and are sending their Scheidemann agents to it, while the British imperialists consider the situation inappropriate and do not even want to talk about peace, we expose the British imperialists and take advantage of the conflict between them and the British workers to promote the latter’s class-consciousness, to carry on vigorous propaganda for internationalism, and explain the need for a complete rupture with social-chauvinism.

The would-be internationalists of Novaya Zhizn are behaving like intellectual impressionists, i.e., like people who spinelessly yield to the moods of the moment and forget the fundamental principles of internationalism. The Novaya Zhizn people reason as follows: since British imperialism is opposed to the Stockholm Conference, we must be for it; it shows that the conference has acquired a significance it has not had so far.

To reason like that actually means abandoning principles, for German imperialism is at present in favour of the Stockholm Conference because of its own selfish and predatory imperialist interests. What is the value of the “internationalism” of “internationalists” who are afraid of openly admitting this indisputable and obvious fact, who have to hide from it? What guarantee have you, gentlemen, that by taking part in the Stockholm Conference together with the Scheidemanns, Staunings and Co. you will not virtually become a plaything, a tool in the hands of the secret diplomats of German imperialism? You cannot have any such guarantee. There is none. Even if it does take place, which is very improbable, the Stockholm Conference will be an attempt by the German imperialists to explore the possibilities of such and such an exchange of annexations. That will be the true, the actual significance of the eloquent speeches of the Scheidemanns, Skobelevs and Co. And if the conference does not take place, your preaching to the masses, rousing false hopes in them in regard to the social-chauvinists, hopes for their speedy, possible and probable “reformation”, will acquire real significance.

In either case, you may wish to be internationalists but you will actually turn out to be accomplices of the social-chauvinists, now of one coalition, now of both coalitions.

We, however, take into account all the ups and downs and all the particulars of politics and remain consistent internationalists advocating the fraternal alliance of the workers, rupture with the social-chauvinists and work for the proletarian revolution.


[1] The Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany was a Centrist party founded in April 1917 by the congress in Gotha, in an atmosphere of revolutionary upswing, which was greatly stimulated by the February revolution in Russia. The opportunist leadership of the German Social-Democratic Party was losing ground among the rank and file and the party was threatened with a break-away of Left-wing elements. To avert a split and the formation of a revolutionary party of the working class, the Centrist leaders set up the so-called Independent Party which, they hoped, would help them retain their influence. The Independents disguised themselves with Centrist talk in advocating unity with the social-chauvinists, and tended to renounce the class struggle. The Labour Community, a Kautskyite organisation active in the Reichstag, formed the bulk of the Independent Party.

In October 1920 a split occurred in the Independent Social-Democratic Party at the Halle Congress. In December 1920 a sizable number of Independents joined the Communist Party of Germany. The Right-wing elements founded a separate party and took the party’s former name, Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany. This party existed till 1922.


Source: Marxist Internet Archive.