III: War

The outbreak of war in 1914 left the internationalists isolated; syndicalism had as many renegades as the Second International. La Vie ouvrière ceased to appear, but in November 1915 Rosmer circulated former subscribers with a letter, reproduced below. This set out a principled case against the war, and made an attempt to regroup the internationalist left after Zimmerwald. Throughout the rest of his life, Rosmer attempted to come to terms with the experience of the war, and many of his later years were devoted to writing his massive and uncompleted history, The Working-Class Movement during the War (1936ff), a work which Trotsky greatly admired. As he wrote in March 1936: ‘Every serious proletarian revolutionary ought to read — more exactly, to study — Rosmer’s book… Every revolutionary organisation ought to provide its propagandists with this book in order to arm them with facts and invaluable arguments. The rule should be established: nobody in our ranks who has not studied Rosmer’s work ought to be allowed to speak publicly on the question of war… With all the greater vigour and friendliness should the press of the Fourth International acclaim this work.’ (LD Trotsky, ‘An Honest Book’, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1935-36, New York, 1977, p284) We have included three chapters from this book. The first is largely autobiographical, describing the isolation of the Vie ouvrière grouping. The second deals with the Russians in Paris, notably Trotsky, and how contacts were made between them and the syndicalists which were to bear fruit in the Comintern period. Finally, the conclusion attempts to draw some lessons, and Rosmer develops his critique of ‘revolutionary defeatism’.

Rosmer’s incomplete Le mouvement ouvrier pendant la guerre originally appeared in Paris, 1936 (Volume 1) and 1959 (Volume 2). A two-volume facsimile reprint was published in Paris in 1993. A translation of the conclusion to Volume 1 was published in duplicated form by John Archer in 1990.

Other writings by Rosmer on the war period include his essay ‘The Fight Against War in France During the War’ (a short version of material contained in his Mouvement ouvrier pendant la guerre) in Julian Bell (ed), We Did Not Fight (London, 1935); A Rosmer, ‘Trotsky in Paris during World War I’, New International, Volume 16, no 5, September/October 1950, pp263-78 (described as ‘specially written’ for this issue of New International); A Rosmer, ‘Trotsky, militant parisien’, Quatrième Internationale, seventeenth year, no 70, September-Octo­ber 1959, pp8-11, translated as ‘The Paris Militant’, Fourth International (ISFI), no 7, autumn 1959, pp15-18; A Rosmer, ‘A propos de Zimmerwald (1915)’, Cahiers du mouvement ouvrier, no 2, June 1998, pp90-2 (a speech reconstructed from notes).

Trotsky’s view of Volume One can be found in LD Trotsky, ‘An Honest Book’, 21 March 1936, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1935-36, New York, 1977, pp283-4, and ‘Letter to Victor Serge’, 29 April 1936, Writings of Leon Trotsky, Supplement 1934-40, New York, 1979, p661, also in D Cotterill (ed), The Serge-Trotsky Papers, London, 1994, p46.

Other relevant texts include H Draper, War and Revolution, New Jersey, 1996, pp123-4 (on Rosmer’s attitude to defeatism in the First World War); Pierre Broué, Trotsky, Paris, 1975, pp151-5 (on Rosmer, Vie ouvrière and Zimmerwald); SF Kissin, ‘Kienthal: The Second Zimmerwald Conference, April 1916’, in War and the Marxists, Volume 1, London, 1988, pp218-22; P Roy, ‘Naissance d’une internationale’ (on Kienthal), Informations ouvrières, 22‑28 May 1991; P Roy, ‘Les conférences socialistes internationales de Zimmerwald (1915) et de Kienthal (1916)’, Informations ouvrières, 8-14 September 1999; LD Trotsky, My Life, New York, 1960, pp247-50 (on Rosmer, Paris and Zimmerwald); LD Trotsky, ‘Letter from Spain on the Socialist Minority’, 11 December 1916 (from A Rosmer, ‘Vingt lettres de Trotsky’, supplement to La Vie ouvrière), in P Broué (ed), Le mouvement communiste en France, Paris, 1967, pp51-4.

Alfred Rosmer

Letter to Subscribers to La Vie ouvrière[1]

Paris, 1 November 1915

When you have remained silent for 15 months, there are so many things to say that it is hard to know where to begin. You would like to bring everything up to date immediately, but you are soon obliged to abandon the attempt. This is what has just happened to me. Seeking to resume contact with our subscribers in this modest form, I set out to examine all the questions raised by the war, and this first letter grew disproportionately long. I had to cut it, to trim it down. At the present time, the essential thing is to state our position clearly, and to explain our long silence.

Our position was established by Monatte as early as November 1914 by his attitude at the Confederal Committee,[2] and then by his resignation and the circular in which he gave his reasons.

More than once we considered resuming the publication of VO, in a form appropriate to the circumstances, and to make it into a journal in which those syndicalists, Socialists and anarchists who had remained faithful to their principles could have expressed themselves freely. We did not manage to do so. The call-up of one comrade after another disrupted and almost completely dispersed our little group. Those who remained were so lacking in resources that we had to let 15 months elapse before we could write from our own address.

If we had agreed to sing along with the chorus of those who suddenly discovered virtues in war, such obstacles would have been easily overcome. But it would have meant ‘losing all reason for living in order to stay alive’ — a very old phenomenon, like the expression which describes it. Not for a single moment were we willing to be dupes of the interpretations so generously provided by our rulers to the peoples of the world in order to appease their consciences and send them joyfully to their deaths.

 A war of liberation, a war of civilisation against barbarism, a war of races, a war for the rule of law, the need to crush enemy militarism, a war to end all wars, a war for the principle of nationalities, for the independence of small nations — we saw none of that in the enormous conflict which had been unleashed. We recognised the clichés which governments produce at the beginning of every butchery, and which they use against each other. A few months ago, in his letter to Clemenceau, Georg Brandes[3] recalled that in 1870 it was already said that this war would be the last. But amid the disarray into which they had been plunged by the collapse of Socialism and syndicalism, many workers clutched on to one or another of these explanations, which seemed to them like a last hope. They were offered a counterfeit ideal. They accepted it. A unanimous press imperceptibly distorted judgements.

Since then, many of them have pulled themselves together: the very way that things have developed has been enough to open their eyes, and to make them face the real problem.

One of our friends who, after some hesitation, finally let himself be persuaded that it was a necessary struggle against an unacceptable tyranny, recently wrote — from the front — that he could now see that ‘governments have falsified the meaning of the war’. It is their explanation of the war which was false.


Those among the syndicalists who, from the very start, lined up with the government, have discovered two things. They claim that they did everything possible to prevent war, and that it is Germany alone which bears the responsibility.

These are convenient and comfortable ideas. They mean that we have nothing to reproach ourselves for, and that it was indeed necessary to defend ourselves against aggression which had been long premeditated. However, both claims are false.

These syndicalists have very rapidly awarded themselves a testimonial of irreproachable behaviour. What did they do to prevent war? Alongside the public action which is known to everybody, there were almost daily sessions of the Confederal Committee. The history of these sessions will be written. It is not a glorious one.

Even if we stick to the immediate facts and simply study the Allied diplomatic documents, we cannot say that it was Germany alone which wanted war and provoked it. The war which was unleashed 15 months ago had been haunting Europe for 10 years. Each time it became threatening, as in 1905, 1911 and 1912, we denounced it as the clash of rival imperialisms, we mobilised French workers against it, and we participated in international demonstrations. Now that it has been unleashed despite our efforts, they pretend that they don’t recognise it for what it is, and it is characterised as a surprise attack by German militarism against the freedom of the peoples. Do they think our impotence can thus be concealed?

If this is a calculation, it is a wretched and dangerous calculation. For this new standpoint has two consequences, one for the past and one for the future.

If Germany was preparing for 40 years to strike France at its chosen moment, then the nationalists were right when they constantly denounced its warlike intentions, and we were quite wrong to oppose them.

And for the future, it is those who want to carve up Germany who are right. To destroy German militarism has no meaning unless it means to weaken Germany, and to cut it up into pieces. It is undoubtedly true that a Germany stripped of its provinces on the left bank of the Rhine, as is demanded by the League of Patriots and as is shown on the map which they are distributing to soldiers at the front to show that France is not waging a war of conquest, would be militarily less strong. It would not be definitively crushed, but it would be considerably weakened, and it would take decades to re‑establish its former power. But that would in no way affect militarism itself. It was an English writer, Arnold Bennett,[4] who had to remind us that German militarism can be defeated only by the Germans themselves, for militarism does not destroy militarism, but breeds it. Can we not see, at this very moment, all states, whether or not they are involved in the war, are arming themselves frenetically?

And moreover, this explanation created for the occasion, discovered after the event, in complete opposition to everything we said until the very eve of the war, has another danger: it takes away all responsibility from our chauvinists and our nationalists. They too are repeating that it is a war for Law and Justice — General d’Amade[5] said so at Petrograd, a few days ago — against German savagery. And we should let them say they didn’t want war! We should forget the German-hating policies of Delcassé,[6] whom Jaurès denounced so frequently and so courageously, defying the anger of the Anglo-French imperialists! We should be silent about the clearly nationalist policies adopted by the whole government, beginning with the coming to power of Poincaré! What strange forgetfulness that would be. And tomorrow, when governments have to give an account of themselves before the peoples for their accumulated crimes, we should have nothing to criticise our own government for.

We have no desire to extenuate Germany’s responsibilities. It had its Pan‑Germanists[7] who were all the more dangerous in that they lived on the expectation of victory, in that they knew that they possessed a more powerful military force. But our nationalists and the British jingoes took it on themselves to respond, and having seen what we have seen and done what we have done, there is for us only one possible attitude: to say that the war results from a conflict of rival imperialisms, and resolutely refuse to identify with our governments which all bear their share of responsibility. And if we are told we are pro-German because we do not accept the official explanation of the war, we shall reply as Noah Ablett replied to the English jingoes in the name of the Welsh miners: ‘We are not pro-German, but we are the working class!’


If the madness that marked the outbreak of war was understandable among the masses, misled by the newspapers, no such excuse was valid for the activists, bound by their previous statements and commitments, and by syndicalism itself.

It might have been claimed that the war which broke out was an event that was so unforeseen and so unforeseeable that it was quite forgivable to lose one’s head, and that there was really nothing else to do but to tail behind the nationalists and the government.

However, the present war is the same as that which alarmed us when it threatened to break out in 1905, in 1911 and in 1912. On those occasions, the governments were obliged to negotiate, but the cause of the conflict remained intact. The peace of Agadir,[8] so laboriously concluded, was only a truce. It did not disarm the imperialists. In France, our nationalists drove out the minister who had signed it. In Germany, the Pan-Germanists accused their emperor of cowardice, and publicly called him Wilhelm-the-Poltroon. For England had clearly shown for the first time what its attitude would be in the event of a Franco-German war; it would side with France. Thus were confirmed the secret military agreements binding the two countries, of which ministers had denied the very existence whenever they were questioned on the subject. The Pan-Germanists gave vent to their anger. Our nationalists, now sure of English support, became more aggressive. Positions became clear: Triple Entente[9] against Triple Alliance;[10] from now on any conflict between two powers would become a European conflict. This division of Europe into two major groups did not bring peace, but war. They clashed in Africa, in Asia and in the Balkans.

Today, when the word imperialism is used, it is not given its modern meaning but its ancient meaning, which has lost all relevance. Imperialism must be defined as the economic struggle between great powers for the conquest of markets, to acquire spheres of influence in non-industrialised countries where they can sell off their products, obtain concessions and exercise a sort of protectorate. It lies at the foundation of all modern wars: the USA against Spain, for Cuba and Panama; Japan against Russia, for Manchuria and Korea; Britain against the South African republics, for the exploitation of the mines. The Balkan war itself, which, to the short-sighted, is a war of nationalities and races, is an imperialist war. The Balkan states — Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria — did not unite of their own accord against Turkey. The Balkan League was the work of the late Mr Hartwig,[11] the Russian minister in Belgrade. As was said at the time, it marked the return of Russia to Europe, after its unfortunate adventures in the Far East. The aim was to weaken Turkey, Germany’s strong point, and to create a Greater Serbia, blocking the way for the Austrians and Germans towards Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, a route which they are trying at this very moment to re-establish.


Such was the state of Europe over the last 10 years. The two big groupings did not establish a state of stable equilibrium; they bore within themselves a germ of war, and a deadly war at that.

However, this war had been avoided on several occasions. It had been avoided for various reasons, and notably because of international demonstrations by Socialists and workers. Today, when our International has been put to the test and shown to be only a caricature of an International, we should be mistaken to exaggerate our strength, but for the governments it was one of those imponderables which they could not neglect, and the efforts they have made to win the backing of working-class and Socialist leaders show clearly that they were not free from anxiety on this point.

It was thus possible to have different estimations of the degree of probability, or even inevitability, of the war; but as to its nature if it were to break out, there could be no doubt.

Now today the nationalists — and the same is true of all countries — are triumphing noisily, and repeating that they predicted the war.

But we predicted it just as much as they did — and better than they did. But between us and them there was this difference: they said it was inevitable because they wanted it; we said that it was not inevitable because we believed that we were strong enough to prevent the governments from launching their peoples into this terrible adventure.

Early in 1911, we published an article by Merrheim entitled ‘The Approach of War’, where he showed how acute the Anglo-German economic rivalry had become and the threat of war which it contained. On 5 July in the same year, there was another article, by Domela Nieuwenhuis, with the title ‘The Anglo-German War seen from Holland’. Today, I shall merely note the existence of these two articles, already four years old. But soon I promise I shall demonstrate how much more truly prophetic the views of our two comrades were than the incredible nationalist nonsense about the ‘prewar period’.


What a lot of things should be said about England, about the important rôle it has played in European politics over the last 10 years, and about the question of where it is today. At the beginning of the century, England experienced the kind of universal hatred which is currently directed at Germany. She was scarcely loved before the South African War. That inglorious war made her hated. Everything which is now used against Germany was turned against her. In the newspaper articles of the period, you simply have to replace the word England with the word Germany. M Ernest Lavisse,[13] who is taking a very enthusiastic part in the current journalistic ‘Hun‑hating’, wrote — perhaps he remembers?

England has wearied the world with the way it treats it with contempt… At the beginning of the conflict with Transvaal, she let it be understood that it would not be a good thing to propose arbitration… The recent claim of Germany to sell its products made in Germany seems to her to be indiscreet and improper. (Revue de Paris, 1 January 1900)

At that time, M Lavisse believed that a Frenchman could meet a German emperor, that he could address open letters to him; he envisaged without horror the possibility of a Franco-German rapprochement. England was belaboured without restraint. There was no more English literature, even less so any English art. Even the appearance of English women provided a reason for detesting perfidious Albion.

This caricature of England finds its equivalent today, in an inverted form. In vain do the great English newspapers write that England would have intervened in any circumstances; and that she did not intervene because Germany had violated Belgian neutrality, but because she had a vital interest in seeing that Germany did not exercise hegemony in Europe. The Times says so; the Morning Post says so; Bernard Shaw proves it decisively. In France, we’re still at the stage of seeing the war as a melodrama in which England is the good character and which requires the traditional dénouement, as demanded by minister of state Vandervelde.

If it is permissible to show a preference for a way of life and a form of civilisation without thereby ceasing to understand and like others, I was and I remain an Anglophile. But the England without soldiers, the England of individual freedom, the England which welcomes refugees, this England is in process of dying, and it will not be Germany which has killed it, but its own imperialists. One of my friends, alarmed by the changes which he is observing, wrote to me: ‘Poor old England, we shall not see her again!’ It is not this England which is waging war. It is the imperialists, it is their war and they expect all sorts of benefits from it: abroad, the economic defeat of Germany; at home, the establishment of conscription which will enable them, like Briand, to avert the threats of great strikes, even more formidable than those of 1911‑12.

German Socialists

It has recently been recalled that it was VO which published M Andler’s articles. Why did we take them from Action nationale, where they had gone unnoticed? Because they posed the question of imperialist Socialism, and we wanted such a serious question to be discussed publicly.

We had no illusions, for our part, as to the revolutionary quality of German Socialism, considered in its official and parliamentary manifestation.

The workers’ movement, in particular, through its numbers, its resources, and the extent of its organisation, was gradually acquiring the same position as was held by trade unionism across the Channel, and was thus acquiring a sort of hegemony. It was more closely involved with international life, willingly sending financial assistance and giving aid for strikes. As far as the material side of its task was concerned, it had nothing to reproach itself with. But it was not the same as far as the moral aspect was concerned. We could never persuade it to take on true international action, whether for time of peace or for time of war, and to prepare the necessary working-class mobilisations. As far as the British trade unions were concerned, we had formerly come up against British insularity, which had little international sense, and confined itself to a vague pacifism, akin to bourgeois pacifism. With the German trade union movement, we now came up against a kind of unformulated but dangerous imperialism. Hence we missed no opportunity of denouncing it and revealing the dangers inherent in it.

Where, at that time, were those who now make all German workers responsible for the treachery of a few of their leaders, and refuse to recognise them for as long as the war lasts? They were with them and against us. Never, in the international conferences did we have the slightest support: great nations and small nations alike were systematically with Germany and against us. And those of our Socialists who, at every opportunity, wanted to make us bow down before the Germans, who wanted to take us before them to be given lessons, who constantly disparaged the value and strength of our syndicalism, how did they recognise their error? They did it in a strange way: by imitating these men whom they once admired but now no longer wish to acknowledge. One of them, from Switzerland, is now putting forward nationalist claims to Alsace-Lorraine in L’Humanité. Another stated, a few months ago, that at the present time it would be impossible for him to meet a German Socialist, ‘even Liebknecht’. Such is the assistance they have given this brave minority which, despite prison and governmental persecution, is pursuing its campaign against the war with such courage. In them it has opponents who are as dangerous as its own Südekums and Heines.

Sacred Union

Moreover, are they not themselves the counterparts of the Südekums and Heines? Like them, they have put themselves at the disposal of their government for all the tasks that the latter has entrusted to them. To justify themselves, they repeat that German and French Socialists are not on the same level. If it is true that the German Socialists were, and are, under a greater obligation because of the key rôle they played in the international movement, because of the favourable military situation of Germany, which has no ‘enemies’ on its territory, and because of the covetous desires of their Pan-Germanists, nonetheless their failure could not be an excuse for our failure.

The Sacred Union, which is the negation of Socialism, is more solid in France than in any other country. It is our Socialists who are cementing it; every time they are attacked too sharply by the nationalists, they complain and appeal to it.

Now under the pretext of the Sacred Union, what do we see? Has the Christian ceased to adore his God, the royalist his king or the bourgeois his dividend? No. All of them are, on the contrary, very active, and sometimes more than active. But the working class, for its part, is paralysed, its organisations are lifeless, and its newspapers serve it badly when they have not totally abandoned it. It has been handed over to capitalist exploitation. Tomorrow we shall be dumbfounded to remember that those who were considered as the most legitimate representatives of the working class could have signed such a pact, by which the present is sacrificed and even the future endangered.

Do they think it will be possible, from one day to the next, to revert to the old attitude? Guesdist[14] superficiality says so, and, doubtless, believes it. But even if it were sincerely desired, it would not be possible.

There are writings and statements which commit. They will try to establish a national Socialism, a national corporatism: the people required for such an undertaking already exist. We shall observe a sight similar to what occurred when Millerand entered the Waldeck-Rousseau cabinet. We shall see governmental corruption at work. We shall see workers’ organisations under siege. We are already seeing it.

Standing Fast

In the state of disarray produced by any great war, above all when the Socialist and workers’ leaders go over to the government, there is a period in which we can think only of saving and preserving what exists. The task which then faces revolutionaries is, for them too, to stand fast. That is what the Italian Socialists have done. It is what our comrades in the Independent Labour Party have done from the very first day, and have not ceased to do ever since. If we had had a similar attitude to theirs, the government would have felt the existence of a great force hostile to its policies, a great movement which it could momentarily paralyse, but not destroy, and that would have been a salutary reminder for it.

Peace Proposal

There is now no doubt that President Wilson tried to get the belligerents to negotiate at the beginning of this year. We have all the official evidence we need. At that time, a kind of balance had been established between the opposing forces. The Germans were occupying Northern France and Belgium, but they had lost their colonies, and Galicia was partly occupied by the Russians. It would have been easy to negotiate on the basis of the prewar status quo. It would have been an excellent solution for the peoples, for it would have shown that war is purely destructive, but it would have been a disastrous outcome for governments. We shall know one day — we already have a glimpse — who was intransigent: their responsibility to the world will be a heavy one. If, at that moment, oppositional forces had exercised sufficient pressure, they would have compelled the belligerents to negotiate. How many lives would have been spared! But the intrepid warriors well away from the front had no desire for such a solution. They needed more dead, because what they wanted was to impose their conditions for peace.

And the war went on. And France continued to live in darkness, thanks to the odious regime imposed on it by M Viviani’s[15] government for 15 months. There is now only one newspaper, produced with the special information provided by the government. Anyone who deviates from this is suppressed. If there are heavy losses, they are in Germany. If there is weariness, it is in Germany. If there is a desire for peace, it is in Germany. If prices are high, it is in Germany. If the government is acting arbitrarily, it is in Germany. If there are imperialist Socialists, they are in Germany.

Ah! We may well make fun of the way in which other peoples are informed! Never, in any country, has such a state of suffocation prevailed.

For the Organisations

And if we denounce this regime, if we refuse to bow down before the kind of Socialist and syndicalist dictatorship which tries to suppress all opposition, if we dissociate ourselves from certain attitudes and certain actions, then we are accused of being agents of working-class disunity, and of breaking organisations which have already been weakened.

The worst enemies of the organisations are those who have compromised syndicalism, who have trampled its principles underfoot, and who have made syndicalism into ‘a party just like the others’. Where should we be, in France, if the Metalworkers’ Federation had not stood firm amid the upheaval? The working masses today are not gathering around structures and individuals which have failed the test, and they will not gather around them tomorrow.

In England, the Independent Labour Party, against which the nationalists have been vituperating, which is persecuted by the government, and whose propaganda is obstructed, is far from being weakened, and, on the contrary, its strength is increasing. Its paper, the Labour Leader, has seen its circulation increase by 18 000 since the outbreak of war; it has grown from eight to twelve pages, and not only has its influence increased among the working masses, but it has also grouped around itself all the anti-imperialist Liberals who have remained true to their principles.

In France, Socialism and syndicalism have abandoned the working class at the gravest and most painful moment. The disarray has been greater than in any other country and it is easy to drift into demoralisation and scepticism when faced with such betrayal. But it is not true that there is nothing that we can do, and for some time the signs of reawakening have been numerous enough to give confidence to everyone. The Zimmerwald Conference must be the starting-point for vigorous action for peace by Socialists and syndicalists.

I thought I could support this action by supplying as often as possible information on the international Socialist and labour movement. In France we know nothing of what is really happening abroad. We don’t even know what is going on in France. Who knows, for example, that Louise Saumoneau has been in prison since 2 October?

For that I shall need moral and material assistance. You can give moral support by writing to me, and material support by sending me subscriptions. For the moment, there can be no question of fixing a subscription rate, since these Letters are appearing irregularly, and their form is provisional. But even with this limited form, it will be possible for me to say many things which I think are useful. I shall not be short of subject matter. Today, I am making a start using my own resources, to break our long silence. But I do not need to say that I shall welcome joyfully the cooperation of all those who want to help me. With the assistance I receive along the way, it will be possible to create the instrument for our propaganda.

Alfred Rosmer

A Little Island: La Vie ouvrière[16]


N Thursday 30 July, Paris was gripped by panic. Mainly this took the form of a sort of paralysis. War was on the way; life was coming to an end. There was a rush on the banks and post offices which only paid out 50 francs a fortnight. Currency was in short supply; gold, and even silver had gone into hiding. The Banque de France was issuing notes for five and twenty francs.

On Saturday, towards the end of the afternoon, the paralysis suddenly got much worse; the buses had been requisitioned and had ceased running. In the silent streets the strange new feeling that people were experiencing added to the general anxiety.

In the following days, the city seemed to have been emptied of its population. There was no sign of life, except around the stations and sometimes in the streets, where there were marches by howling mobs, chanting ‘To Berlin! To Berlin!’, and singing the Marseillaise. In order to feed their patriotic fervour, those leading them here and there launched them against ‘Hun’ shops. The stores of the Maggi company, which press campaigns financed by commercial rivals had presented as being an enemy concern, were the first to be demolished. But nobody examined things too closely. A German-sounding name on a shop was enough to provoke destruction and looting. Henceforth our ‘brothers’ from Alsace were not spared, and it was enough for a bakery to be ‘Viennese’ for it to be pillaged. The government let things take their course — that is, if we assume that it did not actually instigate these patriotic displays.

Historians and writers have told us of the demonstrations against the war in 1870. Vallès gives an account in L’Insurgé.[17] They were small demonstrations which were quickly suppressed. In August 1914, there was not even anything equivalent. The main reason was doubtless the sort of levy in mass which was the form taken by recruitment into the army, and thus the sheer numerical size of the armies from the very first day, as they took in the most active part of the population. Moreover, the preparation by the government had been infinitely easier and cleverer; the leaders of the Republic had been able to make this war into a popular war. The appearance of the working‑class districts, and the mood prevailing there, were no different from what you could observe in bourgeois and aristocratic districts. Already there were denunciations and more or less discreet visits by the police. The unanimity of the press — Jaurès’ paper[18] and the syndicalist daily saying the same as the others — greatly contributed to creating this situation. False rumours of all sorts were in circulation. On Sunday evening, when recruitment into the army was just beginning, I overheard a conversation in a street near the Faubourg Saint-Antoine where people were already talking about a great battle which was supposed to have taken place in Alsace, and which, of course, had ended in a French victory. It would not have been a good idea to try and explain that such an event was absolutely impossible: no trace of critical spirit remained, and you could retail the most appalling stupidities so long as they were directed against the ‘Huns’.

In this Paris, which was deserted and overwhelmed — overwhelmed in spirit, that is — Monatte and I undertook to seek out what little islands of resistance might exist. Guy Tourette, who during the month of July had given us daily assistance at La Vie ouvrière, had had to leave us early on; he had no means of support, and was obliged to fall back on his family in the provinces. There could be no question of continuing to produce La Vie ouvrière; the mobilisation had taken away its essential support, its subscribers. It was then in its sixth year. It had taken its place in the workers’ movement, an important and enviable place, as the journal of revolutionary syndicalism. It was neither an official nor a semi-official publication, which didn’t make life easier for it. Monatte, who had founded it and bore the responsibility for it, was anxious to preserve this independent character. He had succeeded in gathering round the journal a substantial number of subscribers — nearly 2000 — who were very firmly committed to him. In normal times, balancing the budget still remained a serious problem. With the mobilisation, we were obliged to call a halt for the present. All we could do was to take stock, as it were, of those forces which had not been swept away by the flood.

Monatte and I were not subject to the call‑up. We set out to look for people. Our first visit was to James Guillaume. La Vie ouvrière had had no more devoted friend; he was always ready to help in whatever fashion, even taking on humble translation jobs, for which there were never many volunteers. But it was a hopeless visit. His deep hatred for Social Democracy, and his persistent bitterness going back to the time of the First International, were bound to draw him into a war against Prussian militarism. He told us so. For him, it was necessary to choose sides between the warring parties, and his choice was made; he could not hesitate. Since he did nothing by halves, this position was to take him a long way, and he went so far as to denounce Liebknecht’s heroic act as a Social Democratic manoeuvre.

Next we saw Maurice Boucher. He had not been such a close friend. He was a member of the SFIO. But he had always faithfully subscribed to the journal, following it closely and showing a keen interest, and, when some people in the Socialist camp planned to boycott it, he wrote to us straightaway to protest publicly against this attempt at proscription. He had just hurriedly returned from Switzerland, where he had been going to spend his holidays. Monatte questioned him, and asked him for news, thinking that he must know things of which we, confined to Paris, were ignorant. But he knew nothing, or else didn’t want to know anything. You could feel that he was crushed by the present, and anxious about the future. Later he went over to support for the war for democracy, though he never collapsed into abject chauvinism.

One day, on returning from our disappointing wanderings, we found a note from Marcel Martinet. He had only recently been associated with us, but he was very well informed about working-class matters and activities, and he had immediately given us active support. The few lines he had written said, in effect: ‘Is it I who am mad? Or the others?’ We visited him without delay. It was the first time we had landed on solid ground, and we felt great joy. From then on Martinet was involved in all our activities, and closely associated with our work; he was to be the poet of these ‘accursed times’.[19]

Some days later we got another note, equally laconic, from Mme Compain. She had taken an intelligent and constructive interest in the condition of working women, a subject often neglected in the working-class press, but to which La Vie ouvrière had always given due importance. She said she was at our disposal to give us any assistance. This time it was a disappointment. The help she was offering us was for war. When I went to see her, it was immediately clear that any argument was futile. Like many others she had decided to stick to some brief formulae. For example, imperialism was Germanic because Germany had an emperor. I could have objected to this that Russia also had an emperor, and one who was pretty well known as such; but it was clear that there was no scope for rational debate.

Meanwhile Monatte had gone to the Libertaire.[20] There he had met Pierre Martin, who was very solid, but who was convinced that nothing could be done until women from the suburbs took to the streets. This was quite a common feeling. We observed it in the case of several syndicalist militants. They believed nothing could be done. Things must be allowed to take their course. It was a passivity encouraged by the belief — or the hope — that the war would be short. What could be observed in the poor districts also tended to support it. Left to themselves, the workers who remained behind had not been able to swim against the stream. The same ones we had seen in the Pré-Saint-Gervais, in all the anti-war demonstrations,[21] had now been carried away by the crusade against Prussian militarism. The case of the Parisian workers was no exception. The turnaround that took place in Petersburg was even more extraordinary. AF Ilyin Zhenevsky has described it in his pamphlet Between Two Revolutions published in 1931 by the Russian Publishing House in the series ‘Revolutionary Episodes and Lives’, ‘with the authorisation of the Association of Old Bolsheviks in Moscow’. Here is his story:

I remember days of anxiety and apprehension in July 1914. I had just arrived in St Petersburg from Geneva to spend some time with my family, having been obliged to go to Switzerland after my arrest and expulsion from secondary school in 1912. I was studying at the University of Geneva. Conversations with party comrades informed me that the dark reaction of the years 1907-08 had gone for ever and that we were on the eve of a new revolutionary wave. I soon had the opportunity to confirm this. Carrying out a small task which my political friends in Geneva had asked me to do, I had gone to the Vyborg district; at the end of a street, on the Sampsoneievsky Embankment, I saw a large crowd marching past carrying red flags and singing revolutionary songs. This unexpected sight, which reminded me vividly of the demonstration on May Day 1912, in which I had taken part, filled me with joy and made me think that important events would occur soon. The very next day the trams stopped running. The workers threw themselves onto the trams, made the passengers get off, put jacks under the wheels and promptly turned the carriages over. That happened almost exclusively in working-class districts… Here and there people began building barricades around the overturned carriages. The movement spread. As later on, during the February Revolution, groups gathered on the street corners, discussing events excitedly, and levelling the most violent accusations against the monarchy and the authorities. These improvised meetings were allowed to take place freely. The police did not dare intervene.

But the clouds were gathering in the West. All of a sudden war broke out, at the wrong time. Everything changed immediately.

I remember having met, some days after the events which I have just referred to, on Liteiny Prospekt, a large crowd making its way to the Nevsky Prospekt. The appearance of a demonstration right in the city centre bowled me over. ‘Could it be the Revolution?’, I thought with immense delight. Alas! I was soon disillusioned. I heard singing: ‘…reign to confound our enemies.’ The crowd was singing the Tsar’s anthem. I soon made out the national colours and the portrait of the emperor being carried at the head of the procession. I can’t express the bitterness I felt at that sight. The revolution had finished as quickly as it began.[22]

We often saw Merrheim. He was standing firm. He kept us informed of what was happening in the CGT leadership. We did not have quite the same position. Where he was simply expressing reservations, we thought he should have firmly stated his hostility, for example on the question of Jouhaux joining the National Relief Committee. But in the first days after the collapse, when we felt terribly isolated, his moderate opposition was easily explicable. Besides, he was quickly led to sharpen it. One morning, when we had just arrived at his home, two policemen arrived to check his papers. Other militants whom we met still remained undecided. They did not approve of the CGT’s new policy, but they did not want to condemn it, either. They thought we should wait.

We soon had to face the problem of whether we could remain in Paris. The answer came quickly, for any chance of finding work was out of the question. There was no work of any sort. Later, when people recognised that the war would last for a long time, the situation changed; there was work for everyone; the government had to give benefits to the relatives of those mobilised. But in the first month, there was total destitution; National Relief was being organised slowly, and what it did was merely charity. We could only have stayed in Paris by taking a job in part of its apparatus — something we did not want to do at any price. Towards 20 August, when the papers were reporting great French victories in Alsace, and when the official reports, embroidered on and exaggerated by the press, let it be understood that Germany’s fate was already decided, we left.[23]

But Monatte could not stay away from Paris for long. From his village in the Auvergne, he went down to Saint-Étienne and Lyons, where he was pleasantly surprised to see that people had not lost their heads so much as in Paris. The militants who had not yet been called up were certainly more or less disoriented; they could not understand the attitude of the CGT leaders, but they were quite determined not to yield anything to the ravaging flood. At Lyons, the secretary of the departmental association was among the most solid, and he had the association committee on his side; convinced that the resistance of comrades in the Rhône was not an exception, he had already thought of launching an appeal with a view of pulling together the scattered forces. This was so close to Monatte’s own views that he could not fail to give very strong support to this plan.[24]

After this encouraging sounding in the provinces, Monatte returned to Paris, where I joined him a little later, as soon as Marcel Martinet had found me a job. I also brought back my spoils; I had worked through foreign journals and newspapers, and found evidence that outside France there were islands of resistance existing in every country.

Monatte had already entered into relations with Martov, as is explained below. Guilbeaux, whom we did not know personally then, had come, having learned from a chance meeting that La Vie ouvrière was standing fast. He told us of a group with which he was associated, attended by Painlevé, among others, which surprised us greatly; the criticism which they made of the war was very moderate and not very coherent, but all the same it was an opposition group. In any case, it did not go very far, and it did not prevent Painlevé from becoming Minister of War 20 months later. Guilbeaux was then in his ‘Rollandist’ phase. The Journal de Genève had just published Romain Rolland’s article ‘Above the Battlefield’; to distribute it and to make it known, we had made typed and even hand-written copies.

We also knew, rather vaguely, that there was resistance among the Socialists. In order to have accurate information, I went to L’Humanité. There I met Amédée Dunois, who from the very first day had indeed adamantly refused to join the democratic crusade and to accept the stories dreamt up to draw the Socialists into the war. In these premises where people had completely lost their heads, he had only one supporter, H-P Gassier: his cartoons, full of wit and intelligence, made him the best polemicist on the paper. But he was not publishing any more; there was no longer any room for him in Renaudel’s L’Humanité. Daniel Renoult was also resisting, though his opposition was more moderate; it was above all the chauvinistic articles published by L’Humanité, especially those of Compère-Morel, which provoked his legitimate anger.

We had soon been able to establish what our forces were. After three months of war and military disasters which were quite different from what the general staff and the newspapers had given people to hope for, the unthinking enthusiasm of the first days was already in decline. Now the new illusion was peace by Christmas. People believed in it, or wanted to believe in it. And they had adopted positions which they could not now abandon. The perspectives for any possible action remained a long way off. But what we could do as of now was to resume our weekly meetings where old and new friends could meet and maintain contact. The appearance of the city had changed a great deal. In August, there was a glaring sun and the crazy expectation of victories. At present, with short days, the streets scarcely lit, the shops shut early and few passers-by, Paris had a mournful air as soon as night fell. And already there were lists circulating of the names of fallen comrades.

Alfred Rosmer

Nashe Slovo: A Russian Socialist Daily Paper in Paris during the War[25]


 HAVE recalled above our encounter with Russian Socialists and their participation in our meetings at La Vie ouvrière. I must return to the subject, since there were not merely regular and cordial relations between them and us; on several occasions, notably at the time of the Kienthal Conference,[26] we drew up in common texts which were published jointly in the name of La Vie ouvrière and Nashe Slovo, the name of their group and of the paper they published in Paris. On the eve of their departure, in 1917, it was at the headquarters of the Metalworkers’ Federation that they called the last joint meeting. They were convinced that the Allies, led by France, would support the counter-revolution with all their forces, and they asked us to respond to counter-revolutionary intrigues by mobilising the French proletariat — that is, that part which we could already influence — in defence of the revolution.

For these comrades had a paper, a daily which they published regularly from September 1914 until just after the February Revolution, when they all left for Petrograd, as soon as they had received visas. It is an ‘extraordinary story’ which deserves to be told. It has its place in a history of the French labour movement.

For us who had no possibility of publishing anything at all in the first months, this paper was a cause of wonder and envy. It is true that the Russian Socialists had had much more training than we had for working under martial law; they also had much greater resources than we had, in Paris, to publish pamphlets and even a paper, which may seem surprising. Until the war each group of émigrés had its own paper; there existed therefore in Paris several Russian printshops, naturally of a modest size, and these groups all had printers among their members.

Any more than the rest of us, the groupings of Russian émigrés in Paris had not escaped the mood of panic caused by the advent of the war, nor the consequences which were to be produced by the collapse of the Internationals and the acceptance of the Sacred Union by almost all the leaderships of the Socialist parties. It will suffice to mention here that the Bolshevik group in Paris was at this time particularly put to the test, a significant number of its members going so far as to volunteer for the war of liberation alongside Tsarism. The Socialists from these various groups who did not want to abandon the struggle were hence led to come together, and it was their merger which was to give birth to Nashe Slovo.[27]

The moving spirit of the paper was Antonov-Ovseyenko; he was responsible for everything — editing, administration and, above all, finding the necessary resources. He showed a tenacity and an optimism which surprised even Trotsky, someone who was not lacking in these two qualities. On various occasions, indeed, Trotsky had said to me: ‘This time, it’s all over with Nashe Slovo; we can’t go on.’ It was never over, and Nashe Slovo was always saved. The big worry was paper, a big expense on which it was impossible to cut down. With the printers, you could always get by, even if there was invariably a large backlog of wages; even when there was nothing for them in the till, they produced the paper; just like the editorial staff they considered it was their duty.[28]

At first, the paper generally had four pages, of small size, but quite soon it was necessary to reduce the size and be satisfied with a single sheet. But even reduced to two pages, it remained solid and substantial, providing abundant information and features devoted to theory and theoretical debate, after the Russian fashion. There were numerous contributors of high quality. Alongside Trotsky, who dominated it, there were Martov (until Zimmerwald), Lunacharsky, Ryazanov, Kollontai, Lapinsky, representing the Polish party, Dridzo-Lozovsky, Chicherin, Rothstein, Ruser, Angelica Balabanova, M Bronsky, L Vladimirov, Divilkovsky, Zalezhsky, Meshcheriakov, Karl Radek, M Pokrovsky, M Pavlovich, V Poliansky, C Rakovsky, Sokolnikov, Sergeev (Artem), M Uritsky, Chudnovsky and Manuilsky, who wrote under the name of Bezrabotny (unemployed). The dispersal of émigrés throughout the world guaranteed an ample international correspondence, bringing valuable information on the development of the movement in all countries. At one point, nothing more was received from Rothstein or Chicherin, who were providing information from London on the British movement. Trotsky then asked me to follow this movement. I wrote an article each week. Henriëtte Roland Holst was also invited to contribute.

No paper was ever more seriously prepared. The editorial board met every morning for the work of preparing the issue; it was the opportunity for long and very lively discussions, when the various tendencies represented in the group clashed. On the right were Martov and Lozovsky; on the left, Trotsky. Between these two extreme positions was a centre of conciliators, notably the born conciliator Lapinsky, a conciliator by theory and by nature who was the happiest of men when he had succeeded in preventing a split — which was often threatened — between Trotsky and Martov.

Martov was in a difficult position. He was personally much more advanced than the great majority of his party[29] and as a result, since he was its representative outside Russia, he was very cramped in his writings and his acts, obliged to defend points of view which were not exactly his own, concerned also to maintain the unity of his party. There were questions that he did not even want to allow to be asked. After having taken part in some of our meetings at La Vie ouvrière, he wondered, and asked his friends, whether this participation should continue. We had no link of any sort with the Socialist party or with the Socialist International, and until the war we had in general been opponents. His friends set his mind at rest and the answer was affirmative. However, one evening he provoked an incident which was momentarily surprising, the meaning of which did not become apparent until later. I had analysed the content of an American Socialist journal which we had just received, The New Review I think, and I was translating the conclusion of an article by English Walling, setting out clearly the principle of the reconstruction of the International. I did not then know that at this very time this question was the subject of heated controversies between the Russian Socialists. Lenin wanted all loyal Socialists to consider as of now that the Second International was dead, and to work immediately for the building of a new International, though on entirely different bases from those advocated by English Walling. The Mensheviks were of an exactly opposite opinion; hence Martov was somewhat irritable, saying curtly that he was not prepared to discuss this question.

The break, avoided several times, occurred some time before Zimmerwald, when Martov went to settle in Switzerland; he decided that he would no longer contribute to Nashe Slovo.

I sometimes went to meet Trotsky at the end of these daily meetings held at the newspaper’s printshop, in the Rue des Feuillantines. From there we went to have lunch in a Russian canteen that had been set up in the Boulevard Montparnasse, in a large well-lighted workshop, where for 60 centimes you got a decent meal. On special days, when there was an important guest, usually a Russian comrade passing through Paris, we went to a nearby restaurant, on the corner of the Boulevard Raspail. These visitors often brought us information of the highest importance; the Russians moved around a great deal, even in wartime, while for us any travel was impossible. The Boulevard Montparnasse was quite different then from what it has become since the war; only the Rotonde existed, and it was simply a café of a modest size frequented by a rather odd clientele. It has very often been presented as a sort of headquarters of the Russian Socialists during the war. ‘Well informed’ writers have claimed that Trotsky was there more or less permanently. Perhaps it is not wholly useless, in passing, to destroy this myth. The only regular customer of the Rotonde was Martov. Having a rather Bohemian style, he had the habit of doing his journalistic work in cafés. It was there that he wrote to citizen Dubreuilh, Secretary of the Socialist Party, a letter which was a model of cutting irony. Martov was not only the delegate abroad of the Menshevik party, he was one of its representatives on the International Socialist Bureau.[30] On this basis, he demanded that the French Socialist Party should treat him as the representative of a fraternal party and allow him to take part in meetings of the CAP.[31] He harassed Dubreuilh with statements and refutations of lies retailed by the press about the attitude of the Russian Socialists, as he had harassed Renaudel and L’Humanité — in the event fruitlessly — in speech and writing with the same purpose. This tenacity made citizen Dubreuilh lose his patience and his coolness, and finally he brutally told Martov that he must cease all relations with the French section because they did not know — as the party secretary dared to write — what he represented. It was this shameful letter which provoked the cutting reply from Martov. We arrived just as he was finishing it. He read it to us. It was a fine piece of writing; in fact Martov was known for his brilliant gifts as a polemicist. It is a pity we did not take a copy; it would still be worth reproducing, for it sometimes happens that history repeats itself.

If today one reads Against the Stream,[32] and reads it undiscerningly, simply to find recipes and copy out formulae, then Nashe Slovo may seem to have been a rather mediocre undertaking, which can rapidly be dismissed as ‘pacifist’, and a ‘hotbed of errors’, or at best as causing confusion, which is scarcely a lesser insult. But to draw profit from Lenin’s writings, it is necessary to know how to read them, especially his polemical writings. It is clear here that he is being unfair, and that he knows he is being unfair; he is impatient to win over Socialists to his point of view and he bluntly abuses anyone who resists. That is his tactic; but it in no way prevents him from declaring on occasion his agreement with Nashe Slovo. We shall take up this question, with all its implications, in a later chapter.

For our part, having seen how Nashe Slovo lived, and having also known what the Bolshevik group in Paris achieved, we must express our gratitude to the Nashe Slovo group for the assistance it rendered to the French labour movement during the war, and we must observe that what its efforts represented in terms of courage, intelligence, and devotion are not frequently to be found in the history of the workers’ movement.[33]

Having returned to Russia, under Kerensky, the editors of Nashe Slovo quickly came close to Bolshevism; they found themselves in full agreement with the platform defended by Lenin, whereas Lenin came up against resistance and even opposition at the highest levels of his own party. There were only a few stragglers, notably Lozovsky, who took his time in adhering to Communism. Their names are to be found on every page of the history of the Revolution: before October, during the days of October, and after October. We must conclude that they were not so badly prepared.

Alfred Rosmer



ROM the information assembled here such specific lessons emerge that it will be possible for us to conclude briefly. They will be even more obvious when we have the full history of the war available, the secret treaties made by the governments in the course of the events, and the so-called peace treaties which rounded it off. But there are two questions on which we do not need a new light to be shed: the collapse of proletarian internationalism and its rebirth, the beginning and culmination of the period which we have just studied, the Sacred Union and Zimmerwald. Between these two extreme points, the working-class struggle against the war developed and took shape.

We have noted some succinct judgements which settle the first of these questions in a few words. The Second International — as also the CGT — was reformist: in 1914 it was ripe for national defence and for the Sacred Union. There is nothing surprising about its treachery. But Lenin’s ideas on the question are perceptibly different. First of all, it must be remarked that the Second International was the one to which the Bolsheviks belonged. They were sometimes in a minority within it, an opposition; they formed the nucleus of a left; in the congresses they attempted to improve the resolutions which were moved by amendments — as they succeeded in doing at Stuttgart by an addition which has subsequently become famous.[35] Nonetheless, they never thought of leaving it. And even when it had shamefully collapsed, their judgement of it and of what it had achieved remained sympathetic. On 1 November 1914, in the first wartime issue of Sotsial Demokrat, Lenin spoke of it in these terms: ‘The Second International did its share of useful preparatory work in preliminarily organising the proletarian masses during the long, “peaceful” period of the most brutal capitalist slavery and most rapid capitalist progress…’[36] And again on 12 December: ‘The Second International which… was able to perform the highly important and useful work of expanding the influence of Socialism and giving the Socialist forces preparatory, initial and elementary organisation, has played its historical role…’[37]

Trotsky’s judgement was exactly the same: ‘The Second International has not lived in vain. It has accomplished a huge cultural work… It has educated and assembled the oppressed classes. The proletariat does not now need to begin at the beginning.’[38]

And Rosa Luxemburg: ‘The Second International, so recently still our pride and our hope…’[39]

Not all its component parts, moreover, were bad. There were excellent ones, if only those Serbian Socialists whose attitude has been described to us in the moving letter from Dushan Popovich.

It is important to observe that the collapse produced by the war did not only drag in the Second International. Revolutionary syndicalism was not spared either, and nor was anarchism. We must ask why. One of the reasons for this general collapse no doubt lies in the fact that the struggle against war was carried out with the dominant idea that working-class protest and threats would always make governments draw back, and that they would not dare to continue. Hence the disarray when the war went ahead despite everything.

We have seen the CGT recall the decisions of its congresses, and proclaim that these decisions ‘would be put into effect’ as soon as war was declared. If the subject were not tragic, one would be tempted to smile at this juridical formulation, which was not accompanied by any practical measure. What had been foreseen for this virtually automatic application of the decisions — and what decisions? The revolutionary general strike! In fact nothing. And as nothing had been foreseen or prepared, the proclamation remained a sham. Military mobilisation was decreed and carried out unobstructed, and leaders lacking vision and courage then considered that there was nothing else left for them to do but to rally to the war on the basis of an alternative ideology.

It was the same thing for the anarchists, although here the collapse was even more surprising. For them, there were no congress decisions; they were hostile to organisation. But there was anarchism, and it should have been enough, with its intransigence and its Absolute which floated above frontiers and laws, with its particular hatred of every aspect of armies or militarism. There were, certainly, individual resistances — but no more than elsewhere — and for a long time the only voices heard were those of Kropotkin, Malato and Jean Grave. The false start of Sébastien Faure, his retreat, and the tone in which he recounted his interview with Malvy left an impression of embarrassment, an unease which was to paralyse the anarchists who were already prepared to break from war anarchism; it was only in 1916 that some anarchists, among others those from Les Temps nouveaux, publicly declared their ‘disagreement’ with the most eminent among them, who hitherto had been the only ones to speak.

H               H               H

When war goes ahead, that means that the governments have accepted the challenge from the working class. This, through the voice of its national and international organisations, had proclaimed: ‘We do not want war. War would be a collapse into barbarism. We shall prevent it. Revolution follows war. Remember 1871 and 1905. If you are criminal enough to make war despite everything, we shall have no thought other than to use the disorganisation thus created in order to overthrow you!’ If the government takes up the challenge and scorns these threats, it is because it has been persuaded that it can do so with impunity; it feels that the preparation of the war has breached the defences of the Socialist and revolutionary organisations, and the Sacred Union is achieved almost immediately, because it is already implicit. And at the outbreak of war, when the belligerent armies are scarcely assembled, there is already one loser, namely the working class. The bourgeoisie reinforces its ordinary means of domination by establishing martial law, censorship and unlimited dictatorship. The working-class organisations survive materially; but in fact they have been destroyed. They are no longer, with a few rare exceptions, anything but governmental organisms.

These are the conditions in which the working class must join battle and struggle against war. They are identical in all the belligerent countries, although we can note some more or less significant differences. It is clear that rallying to the war, around the government, must be more difficult in autocratic nations — as the example of Russia in 1914, proves; it must also be said that Socialism there was of a different quality from that in most other countries.

H               H               H

At a distance, the first workers’ protests against the war seem timid. The pedants whom we have had occasion to deal with will not fail to note the fact, scornfully contrasting them with the firm programme which Lenin immediately drew up. It is doubtless worthwhile to try to specify the extent of the divergences and to stress the reasons for them.

In 1914, Lenin was living in a non-belligerent country. He had thus escaped the atmosphere of collapse which is prevalent in all countries at war. As is natural, his eyes turned first to Russia, where, precisely, the situation was less hopeless than anywhere else. The Socialist deputies in the Duma had voted against the war credits. The Bolsheviks were already organising their clandestine activity. There was no Sacred Union, or at least only a minimum. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that if Lenin and his immediate collaborators were firm, his party did not avoid defections, and that some Bolsheviks, as we have seen, went so far as to enlist in the French army.

In opposition to the programme established by Lenin, the protests against the war which arose in the belligerent countries spoke first of all of peace. Monatte spoke of peace. Liebknecht, also, spoke of peace. There was a convergence there which is surely not without significance. The fact is that in the belligerent countries people were frightened by the ravages of war. War destroys the material wealth of capitalist society. It also risks destroying the forces of the proletariat. This feeling, this apprehension, were expressed by Trotsky in his pamphlet when he wrote:

On the other hand, the war with its armies of millions, and its hellish weapons of destruction can exhaust not only society’s resources but also the moral forces of the proletariat. If it does not meet inner resistance, this war may last for several years more, with changing fortunes on both sides, until the chief belligerents are completely exhausted. But then the whole fighting energy of the international proletariat, brought to the surface by the bloody conspiracy of imperialism, will be completely consumed in the horrible work of mutual annihilation. The outcome would be that our entire civilisation would be set back by many decades. A peace resulting not from the will of the awakened peoples but from the mutual exhaustion of the belligerents, would be like the peace with which the Balkan War was concluded; it would be a Bucharest Peace extended to the whole of Europe.[40]

But let us go further. If the slogan of peace is accompanied by the denunciation of the war as an imperialist war, if it affirms the collapse of the International, if it denounces the Sacred Union, if it declares that ‘this war is not our war’, if it asserts fidelity to Socialism, if it says: ‘The class struggle goes on!’ — then it is clear that this slogan of peace cannot be reduced to a mere pious aspiration. Now what Lenin feared was a passive opposition; he did not want a ‘platonic internationalism’,[41] nor for the Socialist opposition to the war to be able to be confused with that of the Pope who from time to time was obliged by his profession to make hypocritical homilies for peace, or with that of Scheidemann’s followers, who spoke of peace when the territory of ‘their’ fatherland was safe, and when ‘their’ armies were stationed on enemy territory. There was no such danger in France, where any reference to peace was considered as an ‘enemy manoeuvre’, where the very word peace irritated the social-chauvinists, and was considered as seditious by the government.

The slogan of peace, surrounded by implications which made it seem like a Socialist demand, made it possible to get unity around the first opponents of the war, an indispensable condition for breaking the paralysing isolation. Our pedants talk of mobilising the ‘masses’ as though they were troops impatient to go into action. But in the first days of the war, it was the masses who were shouting ‘Long live war! To Berlin!’ Intoxicated by the press and by governmental preparations, abandoned by their leaders, they were the ones who made up the stream against which it was so difficult to resist. Let us have no illusions. Class consciousness is not so widespread. It remains a rare virtue. Internationalism is too often merely a word to be repeated; the declaration of war knocks down this all too fragile façade and awakens national and racial prejudices which have been carefully maintained by the bourgeoisie. When, racked by weariness, discontent, anger and the sense of having been cheated, the masses begin to escape from the nationalist hypnosis, making propaganda among them still runs up against extreme difficulties, as can be judged by this fact: even after Zimmerwald, after 18 months of war, when Hasfeld tried to distribute the pamphlets of the Committee,[42] he more than once found himself being refused by sympathisers who said to him: ‘If they haven’t been passed by the censorship, we don’t want them.’ And workers’ cooperatives refused to print them.

The conclusion on this point is that if the programme formulated by Lenin in November 1914 was excellent, it was also necessary to take account of the conditions in which it was to be applied, and these conditions were not the same in all countries; the possibilities of action which resulted were, moreover, repeatedly indicated by Lenin, notably when he wrote:

Despite the protests of the chauvinistic Socialists who claim that the international revolutionary movement is impossible in time of war, we see in Russia demonstrations and political strikes, in Germany demonstrations against the cost of living, in England and Italy strikes which are only a beginning, but which can, with the support of revolutionary elements, be transformed into mass struggles against the war and capitalism.

This is the main point. The chauvinistic Socialists declared that the revolutionary movement in wartime is impossible because they did not want it, because it was incompatible with their policy of rallying to the war and of the Sacred Union, while everywhere the opposition showed the determination to maintain it and acted to this end according to its strength and the possibilities of the moment. At the Kienthal Conference, meeting six months after Zimmerwald, a clear shift to the left could be noted, precisely because the impetus given by Zimmerwald had everywhere created new possibilities for action.

H               H               H

Let us take the draft resolution prepared by Lenin for the Zimmerwald Conference.[43] It may be summed up as follows. The war is an imperialist war. The masses must be summoned to revolutionary struggle. This struggle will begin with ‘the struggle against world war and for an end to human butchery’ (we may note that the end of human butchery is peace). The Socialist deputies must reject all military credits. Socialist ministers must resign. A new International must be prepared.

If we now look at the writings of the French syndicalists who opposed the war, we shall find common points and no essential differences. If they did not mention war credits or Socialist ministers, it was because they were not members of the Socialist Party, but they were in full agreement on the point, and ready to support vigorously any Socialist who was willing to vote against the war credits. Merrheim, the most moderate of all, declared in all his writings that the ‘class struggle goes on’. Now, as Zinoviev, co-author of Against the Stream, wrote on 29 February 1916: ‘The class struggle during the war — especially during a war like the present one — necessarily becomes a civil war, it means nothing other than civil war.’ Finally, compare the draft manifesto, likewise drawn up by Lenin, and the speech written by Dumoulin, in early July, for the CGT Confederal Conference on 15 August; I think the reader will not fail to be struck by the number of common points in these two texts.

Nor is there any disagreement about the necessity to work, without further delay, for the creation of a new International. On this vital question, Trotsky was for his part no less categorical than Lenin, and likewise wrote as early as October 1914:

All efforts to save the International on the old basis, by personal diplomatic methods and mutual concessions, are quite hopeless… the entire book, from the first to the last page, was written with the idea of the new International constantly in mind, the new International which must rise up out of the present world cataclysm, the International of the last conflict and the final victory.[44]

This is not a question of making arbitrary parallels between attitudes which remained divergent in certain respects. It is a question of understanding in order to be able to make maximum use of the lessons of the hard experience of yesterday’s war, so as to be better placed to struggle tomorrow.

H               H               H

One of the divergences arose about ‘revolutionary defeatism’. The polemic took place between Lenin and Nashe Slovo, and in particular Trotsky. There can be no question of presenting the whole debate here. I shall confine myself to a few remarks. In Against the Stream there are several articles by Lenin and Zinoviev on this question. All the arguments given in favour of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ are not equally cogent, and above all they do not all lead to the same conclusion. Inasmuch as they enable us to draw out exactly what Lenin’s thought was, it seems that he lays down as a principle that if one does not start from revolutionary defeatism, one will be fatally paralysed in action against war. You would be afraid to unleash strikes, mass demonstrations and the fraternisation of soldiers at the front because such actions could compromise the military situation of the country to which you belong, and affect its chances of victory. But you can very well push such action to the maximum degree without adopting this starting point. It can be carried out on the basis of the class antagonism which survives in war as in peace, saying with Liebknecht, ‘The main enemy is at home’, and clarifying this with Lenin’s formulation: ‘The conversion of the present imperialist war into a civil war is the only correct proletarian slogan.’[45] The consequences of our action interest us only in relation to our own goal — revolution; not in relation to ‘victory’, which is the affair of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Does ‘revolutionary defeatism’ add anything more? I don’t think so. On the contrary, I see clearly the dangers it contains. The word ‘defeatism’ was widely used during the war. The press used it incessantly to mislead and to alarm. It is useless to reinforce this argument if it is not absolutely necessary. I shall recall here a response by Noah Ablett in 1915 which I mentioned already. When the miners of Wales were on strike, the whole of chauvinist England stood up against them, screaming at them: ‘You are helping the enemy! You are pro-German!’ And Noah Ablett, in the name of the miners, responded calmly: ‘We are not pro-German; we are the working class.’ I think this is the best basis, a sure and sufficient basis for the workers’ struggle against war, and one which can justify it in the eyes of all workers. ‘Defeatism’, even if preceded by the epithet ‘revolutionary’, puts the stress on defeat when we should put it on revolution.

If it is claimed that the formula of ‘revolutionary defeatism’, by the rigour it implies (Lenin writes that ‘this slogan alone implies a consistent call for revolutionary action against one’s own government in wartime’),[46] is the only one capable of absolutely preventing Socialists from rallying to war, that it allows of no false interpretation, I can show from a recent example that this is not the case. In an article in Internationale communiste, W Pieck, the new leader of the German Communist Party, precisely invokes ‘defeatism’ to justify the absurd tactic adopted by his party on the question of the Saar plebiscite.[47]

There is also something else in ‘revolutionary defeatism’: the idea that the Socialist revolution can only arise on the basis of military defeat, and history seems to justify this. But it is not strictly true either, and it is also not without disadvantages. Why say in advance that without defeat revolution is not possible? In Italy, after the war, there was a situation which was as clearly revolutionary as one could wish; now Italy belonged to the group of victorious nations.

H               H               H

Lenin’s judgement on the Zimmerwald conference, and the formation around him of a ‘left’, by no means diminish the importance of the conference itself. It was a first step towards the rebuilding of an International, declared Lenin, adding: ‘This first step has been taken timidly and could in no way prove that the majority of the participants in the conference were fully aware of all the consequences implied by this first step.’[48] Indeed, there was no doubt about that; from the debates which had taken place, it seemed that some of the participants would be left behind. But their defection by no means prevented the work embarked on from following its natural course, and that is what mattered. It was vital above all to take this first step, even if it was to be taken timidly; and to reach the result, we have seen that long and patient efforts had been necessary.

H               H               H

The practical lessons which should be drawn from all this experience can be summarised as follows:

The starting point is to determine the character of the war. The features of an imperialist war are now well known. They were already known before 1914. All the Socialists, in their congresses, had formulated them in great detail; the fact that many of them later rallied to the war changes nothing. The facts have shown that it is an absolute illusion to believe that by entering a war with different ends from those of the imperialist predators — with the aim of struggling against militarism, or for the defence of democracy — one can purify it, eliminate its original defect, or imprint a different character on it: this is the mistake of the Russian Socialists who joined the French army.

Any war which repeats that of yesterday, that is to say any war fought for the defence of the status quo, for the defence of the Europe established at Versailles, must be an imperialist war; whether the power blocs lined up against each other are the same or different, or whether what was yesterday an alliance is now christened a pact, makes little difference. This is self-evident.

Any war described as anti-fascist, and any war fought allegedly to overthrow fascism, would repeat the illusion of 1914, the illusion of those who sincerely believed that the victory of the Triple Entente would mean the destruction of militarism. Neither militarism nor fascism will ever be destroyed by war; war can only strengthen them, and spread them throughout the world. Fascism and militarism cannot and will not be defeated other than by the working class.

The classification of imperialist nations as ‘peaceful’ or ‘warlike’ is false and dangerous. Imperialist nations are ‘peaceful’ or ‘warlike’ according to their interests. A satisfied imperialism is peaceful. A dissatisfied imperialism is warlike. The arguments sometimes revived nowadays in favour of such classification are those cited in the statement of the Russian Socialists who volunteered for the French army. The Versailles Treaty, its consequences, and the new threat of war have answered them once and for all.

The distinction between a war of aggression and a war of defence, the establishment of who is the aggressor — except of course when it is a colonial war, where the aggressor is always the colonising power, today Mussolini, tomorrow democratic France in Morocco — the respect for treaties etc, are all only pretexts to draw them into war. I can do no better than refer to the work of G Demartial[49] where all the lies of war are studied in detail and unmasked. What is happening at this moment before our eyes shows that they have not lost their effectiveness.

But the aim of this book is not the study of today’s problems. It is to recall what happened yesterday, to relate the facts, to show their interconnection, and to draw out their meaning; the lesson must then be so clear that it will provide the reply to the agonising questions of the present. Governments can only make war by deceiving the proletariat, and by persuading it that the war into which they are throwing it is also its war. If it does not stand up in advance, resolutely, against this lie, it risks being carried away by the stream. One imperialist war will follow another, with ever more ruins, and ever higher piles of corpses. That is yesterday’s lesson — and today’s — the hard lesson which cost us dearly. It must not be forgotten.

[1].      Printed as an Appendix to Le Mouvement ouvrier pendant la guerre, Volume 1.

[2].      The leading body of the CGT, with delegates from industrial federations and departmental associations.

[3].      Georg Brandes (1842-1927) was a Danish literary critic.

[4].      Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) was a novelist, author of Anna of the Five Towns.

[5].      Albert d’Amade (1856-1941) was a French general, who commanded French forces at the Dardanelles.

[6].      Théophile Delcassé (1852-1923) was a French politician; as foreign minister he negotiated the Franco‑Russian alliance and the Entente Cordiale with Britain.

[7].      Pan‑Germanists wanted a single state for all German-speakers.

[8].      A dispute between France and Germany over the port of Agadir in Morocco in July 1911 ended with a convention in November 1911.

[9].      The collaboration of Britain, France and Russia during 1907-17.

[10].     The alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy during 1882-1915.

[11].     NG Hartwig (1855-1914) was the Russian ambassador to Persia during 1906-08, and then to Serbia from 1909 onwards.

[12].     Like many French writers, Rosmer often uses ‘England’ when Great Britain or the United Kingdom would be technically correct.

[13].     Ernest Lavisse (1842-1922) was a French historian, and editor of a history of France.

[14].     A trend named after Jules Guesde (1845-1922), a founder and leader of French Marxism. His followers represented the ‘orthodox’ Marxist left of the SFIO, but he backed the war in 1914 and became a minister.

[15].     René Viviani (1863-1925) was a French Socialist politician, and Prime Minister in 1914-15.

[16].     Chapter VII of Le Mouvement ouvrier pendant la guerre, Volume 1.

[17].     Jules Vallès (1833-85); journalist, novelist and communard; L’Insurgé (1886), the third volume of his autobiographical novel Jacques Vingtras, gives an account of the 1870 war and of the Commune.

[18].     L’Humanité, founded by Jaurès in 1904, was the SFIO daily until it became the Communist Party’s paper in 1921.

[19].     A reference to Martinet’s banned volume of poems, Les Temps maudits (1917).

[20].     The main anarchist journal.

[21].     In a previous chapter Rosmer had described the large working-class demonstrations against war in Paris and other cities in the last few days before the outbreak of hostilities.

[22].     In Trotsky’s My Life there is information about how events developed in Vienna:

The patriotic enthusiasm of the masses in Austria-Hungary seemed especially surprising. What was it that drew to the square in front of the War Ministry the Viennese bootmaker’s apprentice, Pospischil, half-German, half-Czech; or our greengrocer, Frau Maresch; or the cabman Frankl? What sort of an idea? The national idea? But Austria-Hungary was the very negation of any national idea. No, the moving force was something different. The people whose lives, day in and day out, pass in a monotony of hopelessness are many; they are the mainstay of modern society. The alarm of mobilisation breaks into their lives like a promise; the familiar and long-hated is overthrown, and the new and unusual reigns in its place. (LD Trotsky, My Life, New York, 1960, p233) [Rosmer’s note]

         James Maxton tells how a strike he was leading in Scotland at the beginning of August came to a sudden end the day war was declared. The strikers, men and women recruited in the slums of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee for raspberry picking, and shamefully badly paid, were demanding a wage increase. ‘Our strike, however, came to an abrupt end,’ writes Maxton, ‘… the male portion of our army of strikers vanished in 24 hours to line up at the recruiting offices to fight for the country which was only giving them the meanest level of existence… I was already beginning to learn something of war psychology.’ (J Bell (ed), We Did Not Fight, London, 1935, pp214-5). [Rosmer’s note]

[23].     Official communiqué of 20 August: ‘Our troops have achieved brilliant results, especially between Mulhouse and Altkirch. The Germans are in retreat on the Rhine, and have left numerous prisoners in our hands. Twenty-four large guns have been captured, including six in the course of struggle by our infantry.’ French pilots were carrying out magnificent feats. The Liège forts were still holding out, and those at Namur ‘as powerful as those at Liège, have not yet even been attacked’. [Rosmer’s note]

[24].     It was only put into practice towards the middle of January, and in a rather watered-down form. On 13 January 1915, the general committee of the association of unions in the Rhône unanimously adopted a statement which concluded with these words:

The Association of workers’ unions of the Rhône, placing the general interests of humanity above all secondary considerations, strongly affirms that the principle of workers’ internationalism is still alive and declares that it will rally to any genuine action which is attempted in order to establish, in the near future, a just and lasting peace. War on war! Long live the workers’ international! [Rosmer’s note]

[25].     Chapter 9 of Le Mouvement ouvrier pendant la guerre, Volume 1.

[26].     A follow-up to Zimmerwald, held in April 1916.

[27].     It appeared first of all under the title of Golos (The Voice); after being suppressed by Malvy it became Nashe Slovo (Our Word) for two years, and a further ban shortly before the February Revolution made it turn into Nachalo (The Beginning). [Rosmer’s note] [Louis Malvy (1875-1949), a Radical politician, was Minister of the Interior during 1914-17.]

[28].     Trotsky wrote:

At the time when the Germans were nearing Paris and the bourgeois French patriots were deserting it, two émigré Russians set up a tiny daily paper published in Russian. Its object was to explain current events to the Russians whom fate had isolated in Paris, and to see that the spirit of international solidarity was not utterly extinguished. Before the first number appeared, the capital of the paper amounted to exactly 30 francs. No ‘sane’ person could believe it possible to publish a daily paper on so little capital. (Trotsky, My Life, p243) [Rosmer’s note]

[29].     At the outbreak of war he even for a moment envisaged collaboration with Lenin. On 14 October 1914, he wrote to Axelrod: ‘Rather than Plekhanov, we could perhaps come to an agreement with Lenin, who, it appears, is preparing to act militantly against opportunism in the International.’ For his part, Lenin judged Martov’s position as follows:

Martov is behaving with more decency than the rest of this crowd, and has come out in opposition to both German and French chauvinism, to Vorwärts, Mr Hyndman and Maslov, but is afraid to come out resolutely against international opportunism as a whole, and against the German Social Democratic Centrist group, its most ‘influential’ champion. [VI Lenin, ‘The Position and Tasks of the Socialist International’, Collected Works, Volume 21, Moscow, 1964, p37] [Rosmer’s note]

[30].     This was the leading body of the Second International between Congresses.

[31].     The Comité Administratif Permanent (Permanent Administrative Committee) of the SFIO was the leading body elected annually by the Party Congress.

[32].    This was a collection of writings by Lenin and Zinoviev on the Socialist movement and the First World War.

[33].     At Zimmerwald, ‘the French delegates noted in their report the value of Nashe Slovo in establishing a contact of ideas with the international movement in other countries. Rakovsky pointed out that Nashe Slovo had played an important part in setting forth the development of the international position of the Balkan Social Democratic parties. The Italian party was acquainted with Nashe Slovo, thanks to the many translations by Balabanova.’ (Trotsky, My Life, p250) [Rosmer’s note]

[34].     Final chapter from Le Mouvement ouvrier pendant la guerre, Volume 1.

[35].     At the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International in 1907, an amendment was successfully moved by Luxemburg, with Lenin’s support, urging the use of ‘whatever means’ to prevent the outbreak of war, and arguing that if war broke out, the ensuing crisis should be used to ‘hasten the abolition of capitalist class rule’.

[36].     VI Lenin, ‘The Position and Tasks of the Socialist International’, Collected Works, Volume 21, op cit, p40.

[37].     VI Lenin, ‘Dead Chauvinism and Living Socialism’, Collected Works, Volume 21, op cit, pp98-9.

[38].     LD Trotsky, The War and the International, Wellawatte, 1971, p13.

[39].     This is an extract from a letter by Luxemburg to the editors of Labour Leader (London), dated December 1914. The text appears in R Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke, Volume 4, Berlin, 1979, p18.

[40].     Trotsky, The War and the International, op cit, pp73-4.

[41].     VI Lenin, ‘The Collapse of Platonic Internationalism’, Collected Works, Volume 21, op cit, p194.

[42].     For the Committee for the Resumption of International Relations; cf pp5-6, n10 above.

[43].     VI Lenin, ‘The Draft Resolution Proposed by the Left Wing at Zimmerwald’, August 1915, Collected Works, Volume 21, op cit, pp345-8.

[44].     LD Trotsky, preface to The War and the International, op cit, pp xii-xiii.

[45].     VI Lenin, ‘The War and Russian Social Democracy’, Collected Works, Volume 21, op cit, p34.

[46].     VI Lenin, ‘The Defeat of One’s Own Government in Wartime’, Collected Works, Volume 21, op cit, p276.

[47].     ‘Our slogan [status quo] was in conformity also with the Leninist principle of defeatism (defeat of our own bourgeois government) as it was launched by the Bolsheviks during the World War.’ (W Pieck, IC, 20 March 1935)[Rosmer’s note] The Saar was detached from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and put under League of Nations rule. The 1935 plebiscite gave inhabitants a choice of Germany, France or the League of Nations. The Comintern advocated a vote for the status quo.

[48].     This sentence sums up the arguments in Lenin’s article ‘The First Step’, Collected Works, Volume 21, op cit, pp383-8, but is not actually a direct quotation from it.

[49].     La Guerre de 1914. Comment on mobilisa les consciences, Paris, 1922.