War on War: Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left, and the Origins of Communist Internationalism
R. Craig Nation
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The First World War represented a tragic crossroads for the international Left. The pressing decision of the hour—whether to collaborate with or to resist imperialist war—was answered overwhelmingly with the former choice by almost every major party of the Second International. Here is the story of those who chose the second road; a road that, the author argues, renewed socialism after the cataclysm of war.
R. Craig Nation has been a professor of strategy and director of Eurasian studies at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, since 1996. He is a specialist in war and peace studies.
an abrupt halt to preparations for the long-planned general congress about to convene in Vienna. Although the ISB restructured its executive and transferred its headquarters from Brussels to The Hague in order to preserve an appearance of neutrality, it remained paralyzed by the categoric refusal of the SFIO and POB to work together with the representatives of hostile powers.f By clinging to the principle of consensus the ISB condemned itself to inactivity and the International to irrelevance.
radicals met in the Salle Grenelle in Paris on the centennial of the storming of the Bastille and federated in a "New International," social democrats had demonstrated their capacity to organize internationally and pose a challenge to the dominant bourgeois order that transcended national boundaries. Despite their diversity, the International's partisans could intone with one voice the concluding refrain of their battle hymn: L'lnternationale sera le genre humain! (The International shall be the
(with the concession that whether one preferred the slogan "mass action" or "civil war" was of secondary importance); and (3) refutation of defense of the Patherland.e! Obviously crafted to appeal to a broad stratum of opinion, the condi- 84 The Zimmerwald Movement tions were in fact somewhat disingenuous. They ignored what were becoming the most controversial aspects of Lenin's program-the demand for the creation of independent left radical parties and a third International. It was clear that
tasks in long-term perspective. "We know that an entire world has collapsed," he began, "and that it is a question not only of the collapse of socialist organizations, but of the need to create a new ideological orientation." The search for "new directions" would inevitably create "misunderstandings and frictions," but these must not be allowed to obscure Zimmerwald's achievements and potential. Though the Zimmerwald chairperson's tone was optimistic, the intensity of the friction that he
labor movement. In the end, however, it was nothing less than shameless exploitation that made possible a "softening" of class hegemony through the forms of bourgeois democracy. The fatal error of the bourgeoisie's revisionist epigones was to mistake the temporary advantages generated by imperialism for a sustainable trend and model. Colonialism had become essential to the survival of competing "national" imperialisms, and with most of the world already partitioned the struggle for influence