The end of the Second International

The work of Julius Brauthal is written from a point of view of an Austrian Social-Democrat of 1960’s, and hence can not be revolutionary. Yet, it is much more informative than the works of official communists of the Stalin-Khrushchev period (e.g. William Forster, Palm Datt).

Braunthal notes that on August 4th, 1914, “almost all Socialist parties in the belligerent countries pledged themselves to the defense of the very bourgeois-capitalist states whose destruction has hitherto been their aim”. The explanation for this that he gives is that “powerful feelings of patriotism and nationalism had none the less been lying dormant among the mass of the working classes”, and leaders of the SD simply gave an expression to these: “They were able to lead the movement because they were in harmony with the natural aspirations and impulses of the mass membership”. In particular, speaking of the German Social-Democrats, he says: “long before the outbreak of war they had lost the character of a revolutionary party”. Use of a general strike to protest against war was rejected. “The sole question at issue was whether, if Germany were dragged into war, the party should vote for or against the war”, i.e. a parliamentarian posing of the question, not revolutionary one.

Explaining the 4th August, Lenin, according to Julius Braunthal, said that “the leaders of the Labor parties represented only an upper crust of the working classes – a ‘labor aristocracy’ – and not those of the broad masses of the proletariat. High profits made by monopolies through exploitation of the colonies enabled capitalists in the imperialist countries, as Lenin put it, to ‘bribe’ individual sections among the workers; in other words, to offer them a higher living standard than that of the great majority of workers, thereby creating among them a vested interest in the survival of imperialism. These privileged groups constituted the ‘labor aristocracy’. They were the standard-bearers of reformism before the war, and became champions of ‘social chauvinism’ during the war. They were in alliance with their middle classes".

Lenin's explanation reminds us of the facts brought to attention by Milovan Djilas in 1960's, in his book "The New Class": "The real difference in the income of American, and, for example, Indonesian worker today is greater, than the difference between the first and a large shareholder. Every citizen of the USA in 1940, on the average obtained $1440, while the income of an Indonesian was 58 times less, i.e. only $27". Today we can talk about production only in the global sense. On this scale, the American, British, French, German, etc. workers, and hence workers' parties, belong to the privileged crust of the global working class. 

Braunthal’s critique of Lenin:

1) “the living standards of American workers were (and still remain) far higher, and those of Swedish workers scarcely lower, than those of British workers, even though the American and Swedish capitalists derived no extra profit from colonial possessions". In reply to Braunthal: to argue that the USA is not an imperialist country is nonsense. The imperialism of the U.S. is not through a formal possession of colonies, but through military basis all over the world.

2) "Reversing the argument, the living standards of Belgian workers were lower than those of the Swiss, although Belgium possessed large – and for Belgian capitalists extremely profitable – colonial territories, while Switzerland boasted nothing but its native lakes and mountains” In reply to Braunthal: the Swiss derive their high standard of living due to the Swiss banks participating in the management of surplus-value appropriated by European and world imperialists. It's not for nothing that a Swiss resort of Davos serves today as a meeting place for financial elite from around the world.  

3) Braunthal: “it was precisely the ‘labor aristocracy’ in the great imperialist countries - the metal workers in Germany and France, for instance – who were in the forefront of anti-war and anti-imperialist struggle during the war… The revolutionary hard core of the Independent Social Democratic party of Germany, whose majority was affiliated to the Communist party in Halle and was destined to turn it into a mass party, were the highly skilled and highly paid metal-workers of Berlin”. In reply to Braunthal, we can point that it is only the most advanced ranks of the working class that can be the leaders in the fight for socialism. 

In short, the arguments of Brauthal reveal him as an apologist for imperialism.

Birth of the Third International

As against the general Social-Democratic capitulation to “patriotism”, there was a social-democratic Zimmerwald movement, centered around the slogan of “peace”. Lenin rejected this "struggle for peace", “counterposing to it the slogan of transforming the imperialist war into civil war”. Hence, the problem of what attitude to take to an incoming war is of prime (#1) importance in socialist/revolutionary movement. Hence, the theoretical importance of discussing the social nature of present-day Russia, China, etc. Those who describe Russia as “capitalist”, naturally see in a war like the one between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 “an imperialist war”.

At Zimmerwald,“apart from the Italian Socialist party, the only parties officially represented were those of Eastern Europe. These included the Bolsheviks… the Mensheviks… the left wing of the Russian Social Revolutionaries” and other small groups, like that of Trotksy (“Nashe Slovo”). There were also individual socialist delegates from Western European countries, but they didn’t represent their parties, but went on their own initiative.

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In 1917, there was a revoluton in Russia, first the February revolution, then the October one. It makes no sense to repeat what happened, but note the following sources on the problem: 1) John Reed, "Ten days that shook the world", 2) Sukhanov, "Notes on the revolution", 3) Trotsky, "History of the Russian revolution". One of the best movies is "Doctor Zhivago", a 1965 film based on a novel by Boris Pasternak. History is best written by eyewitnesses and participants. For them, it is not history, but an account of a real struggle.

After the start of revolution in Russia, we have 1918, a start of revolution in Germany. Braunthal writes: “Military collapse has become the necessary presupposition and pre-condition for a German revolution”. And not only German. Russian, before that, and the Paris Commune, before that. Hence, we can formulate the following generalizations:

1) “The over-all tendency of capitalism is towards wars” (Braunthal),

2) Local wars have a tendency to become a World War (Djilas)

3) "A new world revolutionary situation would emerge from another world war” (Braunthal)

Hence, revolutionaries should not be afraid of a world war, but should welcome it, as a step towards a revolution. A war and a revolution is like a surgery during which the life of a patient is threatened so that s/he may get healthy. It is a betrayal of revolution to talk about "peaceful revolution".

The revolutionaries should keep in mind that the French government “drew up plans to arrest all trade-union officials and all revolutionary Socialists on the outbreak of war in order to prevent the threatened general strike”. Hence, plans should be prepared in advance to go into hiding, underground. 


Braunthal continued

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