Vladimir Lenin

The "Peace Programme"

Published: 25 March, 1916, in Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 52.

[Lenin begins by introducing his general platform; to get to the key section of the document, click hereThis is a fairly long document; read only the four paragraphs or so that I have guided you to.]

The question of the Social-Democratic "peace programme." Is one of the most important questions on the agenda of the Second International Conference of the "Zimmerwaldists" In order to bring home to the reader the essentials of this question we will quote a declaration made by Kautsky, the most authoritative representative of the Second International and most authoritative champion of the social-chauvinists in all countries.

"The International is not a fit instrument in time of war; it is, essentially, an instrument of peace... The fight for peace, class struggle in peace time." (Neue Zeit. November 27, 1914.) "All peace programmes formulated by the International;the programmes of the Copenhagen, London and Vienna Congresses, all demand, and quite rightly, the recognition of the independence of nations. This demand must also serve as our compass in the present war." (Ibid., May 21, 1915.)

These few words excellently express the "programme" of international social-chauvinist unity and conciliation. Everybody knows that Sudekum's friends and adherents met in Vienna and acted entirely in his spirit, championing the cause of German imperialism under the cloak of "defence of the fatherland." The French, English and Russian Sudekums met in London and championed the cause of "their" national imperialism under the same cloak. The real policy of the London and Vienna heroes of social-chauvinism is to justify participation in the imperialist war, to justify the killing of German workers by French workers, and vice versa, for the sake of determining which national bourgeoisie shall have preference in robbing other countries. And to conceal their real policy, to deceive the workers, both the London and the Vienna heroes resort to the phrase: We "recognise" the "independence of nations," or in other words, recognise the self-determination of nations, repudiate annexations, etc., etc.

It is as clear as daylight that this "recognition" is a flagrant lie, despicable hypocrisy, for it justifies participation in a war which both sides are waging, not to make nations independent, but to enslave them. Instead of exposing, unmasking and condemning this hypocrisy, Kautsky, the great authority, sanctifies it. The unanimous desire of the chauvinist traitors to Socialism to deceive the workers is, in Kautsky's eyes, proof of the "unanimity" and virility of the International on the question of peace!!! Kautsky converts nationalist, crude, obvious, flagrant hypocrisy, which is obvious to the workers, into international, subtle, cloaked hypocrisy, calculated to throw dust in the eyes of the workers. Kautsky's policy is a hundred times more harmful and dangerous to the labour movement than Sudekum's policy; Kautsky's hypocrisy is a hundred times more repulsive.

This does not apply to Kautsky alone. Substantially the same policy is pursued by Axelrod, Martov and Chkheidze in Russia; by Longuet and Pressemane in France, Treves in Italy, etc. Objectively, this policy means fostering bourgeois lies among the working class; it means inculcating bourgeois ideas into the minds of the proletariat. That both Sudekum and Plekhanov merely repeat the bourgeois lies of the capitalists of "their" respective nations is obvious; but it is not so obvious that Kautsky sanctifies these lies and elevates them to the sphere of the "highest truth" of a "unanimous" International. That the workers should regard the Sudekums and Plekhanovs as authoritative and unanimous "Socialists" who have temporarily fallen out is exactly what the bourgeoisie wants. The very thing the bourgeoisie wants is that the workers should be diverted from the revolutionary struggle in wartime by means of hypocritical, idle and non-committal phrases about peace; that they should be lulled and soothed by hopes of peace without annexations, a democratic peace, etc., etc.

Huysmans has merely popularised Kautsky's peace programme and has added: courts of arbitration, democratisation of foreign politics, etc. But the first and fundamental point of a Socialist peace programme must be to unmask the hypocrisy of the Kautskyist peace programme, which strengthens bourgeois influence over the proletariat.

Let us recall the fundamental postulates of Socialist doctrine, which the Kautskyists have distorted. War is the continuation, by forcible means, of the politics pursued by the ruling classes of the belligerent Powers long before the outbreak of war. Peace is a continuation of the very same politics, with a registration of the changes brought about in the relation of forces of the antagonists as a result of military operations. War does not change the direction in which politics developed prior to the war; it only accelerates that development.

The war of 1870-71 was a continuation of the progressive bourgeois policy (which was pursued for decades) of liberating and uniting Germany. The debacle and overthrow of Napoleon III hastened that liberation. The peace programme of the Socialists of that epoch took this progressive bourgeois result into account and advocated support for the democratic bourgeoisie, urging: no plunder of France; an honourable peace with the republic.

How clownish is the attempt slavishly to repeat this example under the conditions prevailing during the imperialist war of 1914-16! This war is the continuation of the politics of an over-ripe reactionary bourgeoisie, which has plundered the world, which has seized colonies, etc. Owing to the objective situation, the present war cannot, on the basis of bourgeois relations, lead to any democratic "progress" whatever; no matter what the outcome of the war may be, it can lead only to the intensification and extension of oppression in general, and of national oppression in particular.

That war accelerated development in a democratic bourgeois-progressive direction: it resulted in the overthrow of Napoleon III and in the unification of Germany. This war is accelerating development only in the direction of the socialist revolution. Then the programme of a democratic (bourgeois) peace had an objective historical basis. Now there is no such basis, and all phrases about a democratic peace is a bourgeois lie, the objective purpose of which is to divert the workers from the revolutionary struggle for socialism! Then the Socialists, by their programme of a democratic peace, supported a deep-going bourgeois-democratic movement of the masses (for the overthrow of Napoleon III and the unification of Germany), which had been manifesting itself for decades. Now, with their programme of a democratic peace on the basis of bourgeois relations the Socialists are helping the deception of the people by the bourgeoisie, whose aim is to divert the proletariat from the socialist revolution.

Just as phrases about "defence of the fatherland" inculcate into the minds of the masses the ideology of a national war of liberation by means of fraud, so phrases about a democratic peace inculcate that very same bourgeois lie in a roundabout way.

"That means that you have no peace programme, that you are opposed to democratic demands," the Kautskyists argue, in the hope that inattentive people will not notice that this objection substitutes non-existent bourgeois-democratic tasks for the existing socialist tasks.

Oh no, gentlemen, we reply to the Kautskyists. We are in favour of democratic demands, we alone fight for them sincerely, for the objective historical situation prevents us from advancing them except in connection with the socialist revolution. Take, for example, the "compass" which Kautsky and Co. employ for the bourgeois deception of the workers.

Sudekum and Plekhanov are "unanimous" in their "peace programme." Down with annexations! Support the independence of nations! And note this: the Siidekums are right when they say that Russia's attitude towards Poland, Finland, etc., is an annexationist attitude. And so is Plekhanov right when he says that Germany's attitude towards Alsace-Lorraine, Serbia, Belgium, etc, is also annexationist. Both are right, are they not) And in this way Kautsky "reconciles" the German Sudekum with the Russian Sudekums!!!

But every sensible worker will see immediately that Kautsky and both the Sudekums are hypocrites. This is obvious. The duty of a Socialist is not to make peace with hypocritical democracy, but to unmask it. How can it be unmasked? Very simply. "Recognition" of the independence of nations can be regarded as sincere only where the representative of the oppressing nation has demanded, both before and during the war, freedom of secession for the nation which is oppressed by his own "fatherland."

This demand alone is in accord with Marxism. Marx advanced it in the interests of the English proletariat when he demanded freedom for Ireland, although he admitted at the same time the probability that federation would follow secession. In other words, he demanded the right of secession, not for the purpose of splitting and isolating countries, but for the purpose of creating more durable and democratic ties. In all cases where there are oppressed and oppressing nations, where there are no special circumstances which distinguish revolutionary-democratic nations from reactionary nations (as was the case in the 'forties of the nineteenth century), Marx's policy in relation to Ireland must serve as a model for proletarian policy. But imperialism is precisely the epoch in which the division of nations into oppressors and oppressed is the essential and typical division, and it is utterly impossible to draw a distinction between reactionary and revolutionary nations in Europe.

[And, for a bit more on Lenin and self-determination.]

As early as 1913, our Party, in a resolution on the national question, made it the duty of Social-Democrats to apply the term self-determination in the sense here indicated. And the war of 1914-16 has fully shown that we were right.

Take Kautsky's latest article in the Neue Zeit of March 3, 1916. He openly declares himself to be in agreement with Austerlitz, the notorious, extreme German chauvinist in Austria, the editor of the chauvinist Vienna Arbeirer-Zeitung, when he says that "the independence of a nation must not be confused with its sovereignty:' In other words, national autonomy within a "nationality state" is good enough for the oppressed nations, and it is not necessary to demand for them the equal right to political independence. In this very article, however, Kautsky asserts that it is impossible to prove that "it is essential for the Poles to adhere to the Russian state"!!!

What does this mean? It means that to please Hindenburg, Sudekum, Austerlitz and Co, Kautsky recognises Poland's right to secede from Russia, although Russia is a "nationality state," but not a word does he say about freedom for the Poles to secede from Germany!!! In this very article Kautsky declares that the French Socialists had departed from internationalism by wanting to achieve the freedom of Alsace-Lorraine by means of war. But he says nothing about the German Sudekums and Co. deviating from internationalism when they refuse to demand freedom for Alsace-Lorraine to secede from Germany!

Kautsky employs the phrase "a nationality state"—a phrase that can he applied to England in relation to Ireland, and to Germany in relation to Poland, Alsace-Lorrainc, etc.—obviously for the purpose of defending social-chauvinism. He has converted the slogan "fight against annexations" into a "programme of peace"...with the chauvinists, into glaring hypocrisy. And in this very article, Kautsky repeats the honeyed little ~udas speech: "The International has never ceased to demand the consent of the affected populations when state frontiers are to be altered." Is it not clear that Sudekum and Co. demand the "consent" of the Alsatians and Belgians to be annexed to Germany and that Austerlitz and Co. demand the "consent" of the Poles and Serbs to be annexed to Austria!

And what about the Russian Kautskyist Martov He wrote to the Gvozdevist journal Nash Goles (Samara) to prove the indisputable truth that self-determination of nations does not necessarily imply defence of the fatherland in an imperialist war. But Martov says nothing about the fact that a Russian Social-Democrat betrays the principle of self-determination if he does not demand the right of secession for the nations oppressed by the Great Russians; and in this way Martov stretches out the hand of peace to the Alexinskys, the Gvozdevs, the Dotresovs, and the Plekhanovs! Martov is silent on this point also in the underground press! He argues against the Dutchman Gorter, although Gorter, while wrongly repudiating the principle of self-determination of nations, correctly applies it by demanding political independence for the Dutch Indies and by unmasking the betrayal of Socialism by the Dutch opportunists who disagree with this demand. Martov, however, does not argue against his secretary, Semkovsky, who in 1912-15 was the only writer in the liquidationist press who repudiated the right of secession and self-determination in general!

Is it not plain that Martov "advocates" self-determination just as hypocritically as Kautsky does; that he, too, is covering up his desire to make peace with the chauvinists?

And what about Trotsky? He is body and soul for self-determination, but in his case, too, it is an idle phrase, for he does not demand freedom of secession for nations oppressed by the "fatherland" of the Socialist of the given nationality; he is silent about the hypocrisy of Kautsky and the Kautskyists!

This kind of "struggle against annexations" serves to deceive the workers and not to explain the programme of the Social-Democrats; it is an evasion of the problem and not a concrete indication of the duty of internationalists; it is a concession to nationalist prejudices and to the selfish interests of nationalism ("we" all, bourgeois and social-chauvinists alike, derive "benefits" from "our" fatherland's oppression of other nations!) but not a struggle against nationalism.

The "peace programme" of Social-Democracy must, in the first place, unmask the hypocrisy of the bourgeois, social-chauvinist and Kautskyist phrases about peace. This is the first and fundamental thing. Unless we do that we shall be willingly or unwillingly helping to deceive the masses. Our "peace programme" demands that the principal democratic point on this question—the repudiation of annexations—should be applied in practice and not in words, that it should serve to promote the propaganda of internationalism, not of national hypocrisy. In order that this may do so, we must explain to the masses that the repudiation of annexations, i.e., the recognition of self-determination, is sincere only when the Socialists of every nation demand the right of secession for the nations that are oppressed by their nations. As a positive slogan, one capable of drawing the masses into the revolutionary struggle and explaining the necessity for adopting revolutionary measures to attain a "democratic peace," we must advance the slogan: Repudiation of the National Debt.

Finally, our "peace programme" must explain that the imperialist Powers and the imperialist bourgeoisie cannot grant a democratic peace. Such a peace must be sought and fought for, not in the past, not in a reactionary utopia of a non-imperialist capitalism, nor in a league of equal nations under capitalism, but in the future, in the socialist revolution of the proletariat. Not a single fundamental democratic demand can be achieved to any considerable extent, or any degree of permanency, in the advanced imperialist states, except by revolutionary battles under the banner of socialism.

Whoever promises the nations a "democratic" peace without at the same time preaching the socialist revolution, or while repudiating the struggle for it—the struggle which must be carried on now, during the war—is deceiving the proletariat.