100 years after World War I, the struggle for proletarian principles is as relevant as ever
One hundred years ago, the war enters a new year of slaughter. It was supposed to have been "over by Christmas", but Christmas has been and gone and the war continues.
On Christmas Eve, fraternisations along the front line give rise to the "Christmas Truce". On their own initiative, and to the consternation of their officers, the soldiers – workers and peasants in uniform – spontaneously leave their trenches to exchange beer, cigarettes, and food. The General Staffs on both sides, taken by surprise, do not know how to react.
These fraternisations pose the question: what would have happened if there had been a workers’ Party, and International, capable of giving them a broader vision, allowing them to bear fruit and become a conscious opposition not only to the war but to its causes? But the workers have been abandoned by their parties: worse still, these parties have become the recruiting officers of the riling class. Behind the firing squads that await deserters and mutineers, stand the "socialist" ministers. The betrayal of the socialist parties in most of the belligerent nations has meant that the International has collapsed, incapable of applying the resolutions adopted by the Congresses of Stuttgart in 1907 and Basel in 1912: this collapse is the theme of one of the articles in this issue.
The New Year begins, but there will be no "Christmas Truce" in 1915: uneasy, the General Staffs will tighten discipline and shell the front lines next Christmas, to nip in the bud any attempt by soldiers and workers to bring the war to an end.
And yet, painfully and without any overall plan, the workers’ resistance re-emerges. In 1915 there will be more fraternisations on the fronts, major strikes in Scotland’s Clyde Valley, demonstrations of German working women against rationing. Little groups, like Die Internationale (of which Rosa Luxemburg is a member) or the Lichtstrahlen group in Germany, survivors of the wreckage of the International, begin to organise despite censorship and repression. In September, some of them will take part in the first international conference of socialists against the war, in the Swiss village of Zimmerwald. This conference, and the two that follow it, will confront the same problems as the 2nd International: is it possible to pursue a policy of "peace" without a policy of revolution? Is it possible to imagine rebuilding the International on the basis of the pre-1914 unity which has been revealed as an illusion?
This time, the left will win the battle, and the 3rd International which will come out of Zimmerwald will be explicitly communist, revolutionary, and centralised: it will be the answer to the failure of the International, just as the Soviets in 1917 will be the answer to the bankruptcy of unionism.
Almost 30 years ago (in 1986), we commemorated the 70th anniversary of Zimmerwald in an article published in this Review. Six years after the failure of the International Conferences of the Communist Left1, we wrote: "Like at Zimmerwald, the regroupment of revolutionary minorities is posed acutely today (…) Faced with the present stakes, the historic responsibility of revolutionary groups is posed. Their responsibility is to engage in the formation of the world party of tomorrow, whose absence can be cruelly felt today (…) The failure of the first attempt at conferences (1977-80) does not invalidate the necessity of such places of confrontation. This failure is a relative one: it is the product of political immaturity, of sectarianism and of the irresponsibility of a part of the revolutionary milieu which is still suffering the weight of the long period of counter-revolution (…) Tomorrow, new conferences of groups descending from the Left will be held".2
We cannot but accept that our hopes, our confidence of those years have been bitterly disappointed. Of the groups that took part in the Conferences, only the ICC and the ICT (ex-IBRP, created by Battaglia Comunista of Italy and the CWO of Britain shortly after the Conferences) remain.3 While the working class has not let itself be enrolled under the colours of generalised imperialist war, neither has it been able to impose its own perspective on bourgeois society. As a result, the class struggle has proven unable to impose on the revolutionaries of the Communist Left even a minimal sense of responsibility: there have been no more Conferences, and our repeated calls for a minimum of common action by internationalists (in particular at the time of the Gulf Wars during the 1990s) have fallen on deaf ears. The spectacle presented by anarchism is, if possible, even more deplorable. Few have emerged with honour (the KRAS in Russia is an admirable exception) from the lapse into nationalism and anti-fascism as a result of the wars in Ukraine and Syria.
Nor has the ICC been spared, in this situation characteristic of the general atmosphere of social decomposition. Our organisation is shaken by a profound crisis, which demands of us an equally profound calling into question and theoretical reflection if we are to face up to it. This is the theme of the article on our Extraordinary Conference, also published in this issue.
Crises are never comfortable, but without crises there is no life and they can be both healthy and necessary. As our article emphasises, if there is one lesson to be learned from the betrayal of the Socialist parties and the collapse of the International, it is that the unruffled path of opportunism leads to death and betrayal, and that the political struggle of the revolutionary left has never avoided confrontation and crisis.
ICC, December 2014
1 We refer our readers to the article ‘Sectarianism, an inheritance from the counter-revolution that must be transcended’ http://en.internationalism.org/ir/22/sectarianism
2International Review n°44, 1st quarter 1986
3The GCI having gone over to the enemy camp when it gave its support to the Peruvian Shining Path movement.