Lenin and the ‘Socialist Standard’

On February 14, 1915, a Conference of so-called “Allied Socialists” opened in London. At this conference Maxim Litvinov (Maximovitch), the Bolshevik representative to the International Bureau of the Second International attempted to read a declaration sent by his section of Russian Social Democracy.

The conference chairman, Keir Hardie, twice prevented the reading of this declaration, whereupon Litvinov left the conference. This London Conference became an important landmark for the Bolsheviks who considered that they had made clear the differences between their anti-war stand and the “social chauvinist” approach of the Second International. At the time the conference was held the actions and resolutions of the participants were reported and commented on in the Zurich organ of the Bolsheviks, the Sotsial-Demokrat.

Later the conference was dealt with in detail in a number of works such as Lenin’s Collected Works Vol. XVIII, Lenin on Britain and A. U. Pope’s Maxim Litvinoff. But nowhere is it recorded that the declaration supplied to Litvinov and refused a hearing at the conference was in fact printed under his name in the March 1915 issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD and the whole of the front page was given over to its presentation.

Since the declaration was in fact written by Lenin himself {and more than likely translated into English by him) this is indeed strange, for in Leninist circles even a doodle by the late master would be sought after and noted! In fact this seems to be the first known article by Lenin to have been published in English.

Is there an explanation for this odd silence? Let us look a little closer at the events of 1915.

After making a verbal and written protest Litvinov left the conference hall in disgust. For some days afterwards he attempted to get his Party’s declaration printed in the “Labour” and “Socialist” press but every journal approached refused to print it. He then asked the Socialist Party of Great Britain to publish it. The Minutes of our Executive Committee for February 23, 1915 read:

Russian Letter on War: M. Maximovitch stating that certain Russian Political Parties had been excluded from the arrangements made by Socialist Bureau although members of the Bureau, and also protesting against the action of the European Socialists in the supporting the War.

Lobb and Anderson moved “That the letter of M. Maximovitch be inserted in the next issue of the S.S. as a front page article”. Cd.”

If we compare this declaration (also reproduced in our pamphlet Russia Since 1917) printed exactly as received, with the version later published in the Sotsial-Demokrat (March 29, 1915), we find that the Russian version differs from the English printing. The Russian version concludes with two sentences not found in the copy submitted to us by Litvinov. These sentences read

“the workers of Russia extend their comradely hand to the Socialists who act like Karl Leibknecht, like the Socialists of Serbia and Italy, like the British comrades from the Independent Labour Party and some members of the British Socialist Party, like our imprisoned comrades of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.

It is to this road that we call you the road of Socialism. Down with chauvinism which destroys the proletarian cause! Long live International Socialism.”

And here we have the solution to the mystery. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had for long held the traditional Social-Democratic illusions concerning the strength of the anti-war forces. Before the war they believed that the anti-war resolutions of the International, would lead, in the event of a crisis, to antiwar action, even though the reform-minded masses were clearly patriotic, and the German Party itself had repeatedly in the Reichstag and in its press, sworn itself to stand by the Fatherland. After the war began they still continued to see pockets of socialist internationalism in places where they did not exist and never had existed. For the Bolshevik theories were based on a belief in the need to manipulate socialistically-ignorant masses, therefore they could not reject the mass-based reformist labour parties but tried to find allies within them, Lenin up to the date of the London Conference was quite ignorant of the real activities of the ILP for example. Since he relied on Litvinov for his information about English political affairs it is clear that Litvinov was playing the old opportunist game of concealing the defects of those he wished to ally himself with. The extent of Lenin’s illusion can be gauged from his comments on the London Conference:

“On the other hand, the Journal de Débats laid the cards on the table in declaring that the major achievement was the vote of the English Socialists with Keir Hardie at their head, who had hitherto been against the war and against recruiting, and who at the conference cast their vote in favour of the war until victory is won over Germany.” (Sotsial-Demokrat March 29, 1915.)

Litvinov on the other hand, living in England, knew the real nature of the so-called anti-war forces. He knew that the ILP leaders though regretting the outbreak of war (in common with many Tories and Liberals) had not in fact opposed it. He knew that Keir Hardie, MacDonald and the others had in fact supported the war long before the London Conference. He knew that these gentlemen had in fact boosted recruitment to the forces even if they opposed the official recruiting platforms. So he deleted the final part of the declaration knowing that part to be riddled with illusions and knowing the Socialists Party had consistently exposed these illusions. After the date of publication he presumably regretted his action since it reflected on the accuracy of the information he had supplied to Lenin. The fact that Lenin’s statement had been published and distributed widely in this country was never mentioned by Litvinov in any of his writings on the London Conference.

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