This selection from Imperialism, the Split in Socialism by Vladimir Lenin is being posted by LOOP because of its relevance in the socialist movement at present. Throughout the book, Lenin condemns the Kautskyites for their stances on colonialism and deviation to “bourgeois labour parties.” The similar issues Lenin addresses to the Kautskyites is uncannily familiar to any anti-colonial leftist and it cannot be repeated how much of a valuable lesson the victory of Lenin and anti-imperialism is over the failures of the “cautious” colonialist Kautskyites. Although LOOP certainly finds Lenin’s work valuavle, please note that not all of the language utilized by Lenin at all times would be reflective of the language LOOP would utilize to describe its political line. LOOP hopes to further the anti-colonial discussion within Leninism and is preparing a release of this book for educational purposes.
The fact that is that “bourgeois labour parties,” as a political phenomenon, have already been formed in all the foremost capitalist countries, and that unless determined and relentless struggle is waged all along the line against these parties—or groups, trends, etc., it is all the same—there can be no question of a struggle against imperialism, or of Marxism, or of a socialist labour movement….[The] supporters abroad are nothing but varieties of one such party. There is not the slightest reason for thinking that these parties will disappear before the social revolution. On the contrary, the nearer the revolution approaches, the more strongly it flares up and the more sudden and violent the transitions and leaps in its progress, the greater will be the part the struggle of the revolutionary mass stream against the opportunist petty-bourgeois stream will play in the labour movement. Kautskyism is not an independent trend, because it has no roots either in the masses or in the privileged stratum which has deserted to the bourgeoisie. But the danger of Kautskyism lies in the fact that, utilising the ideology of the past, it endeavours to reconcile the proletariat with the “bourgeois labour party”, to preserve the unity of the proletariat with that party and thereby enhance the latter’s prestige. The masses no longer follow the avowed social-chauvinists: Lloyd George has been hissed down at workers’ meetings in England; Hyndman has left the party; the Renaudels and Scheidemanns, the Potresovs and Gvozdyovs are protected by the police. The Kautskyites’ masked defence of the social-chauvinists is much more dangerous.
One of the most common sophistries of Kautskyism is its reference to the “masses”. We do not want, they say, to break away from the masses and mass organisations! But just think how Engels put the question. In the nineteenth century the “mass organisations” of the English trade unions were on the side of the bourgeois labour party. Marx and Engels did not reconcile themselves to it on this ground; they exposed it. They did not forget, firstly, that the trade union organisations directly embraced a minority of the proletariat. In England then, as in Germany now, not more than one-fifth of the proletariat was organised. No one can seriously think it possible to organise the majority of the proletariat under capitalism. Secondly—and this is the main point—it is not so much a question of the size of an organisation, as of the real, objective significance of its policy: does its policy represent the masses, does it serve them, i.e., does it aim at their liberation from capitalism, or does it represent the interests of the minority, the minority’s reconciliation with capitalism? The latter was true of England in the nineteenth century, and it is true of Germany, etc., now.
Engels draws a distinction between the “bourgeois labour party” of the old trade unions—the privileged minority—and the “lowest mass”, the real majority, and appeals to the latter, who are not infected by “bourgeois respectability”. This is the essence of Marxist tactics!
Neither we nor anyone else can calculate precisely what portion of the proletariat is following and will follow the social-chauvinists and opportunists. This will be revealed only by the struggle, it will be definitely decided only by the socialist revolution. But we know for certain that the “defenders of the fatherland” in the imperialist war represent only a minority. And it is therefore our duty, if we wish to remain socialists to go down lower and deeper, to the real masses; this is the whole meaning and the whole purport of the struggle against opportunism. By exposing the fact that the opportunists and social-chauvinists are in reality betraying and selling the interests of the masses, that they are defending the temporary privileges of a minority of the workers, that they are the vehicles of bourgeois ideas and influences, that they are really allies and agents of the bourgeoisie, we teach the masses to appreciate their true political interests, to fight for socialism and for the revolution through all the long and painful vicissitudes of imperialist wars and imperialist armistices.
The only Marxist line in the world labour movement is to explain to the masses the inevitability and necessity of breaking with opportunism, to educate them for revolution by waging a relentless struggle against opportunism, to utilise the experience of the war to expose, not conceal, the utter vileness of national-liberal labour politics.