By Vladimir Lenin
Review by David T. Jones
Unsurprisingly, Lenin had an idiosyncratic approach to World War I.
In a short (1,200 word) address delivered to a rally of the elements of the Zimmerwald Group (an association of socialist and anti-war advocates) in Berne in February 1916, Lenin noted that the war had been raging for 18 months with no end in sight.
He argued that no participant in the fighting could claim to be fighting a “defensive war” (particularly not Russia). He proclaimed that “all the Great Powers are waging an imperialist, capitalist war, a predatory war, a war for the oppression of small and foreign nations, a war for the sake of the profits of the capitalists.” Thus phrases such as “defense of the fatherland” are “capitalist deception.” Specifically, he denounced Russian “tsarism” which he argued had oppressed a hundred million people and continues to seek new areas for “predatory” conquest.
Rather bitterly, Lenin denounced those socialists that had split from the globally endorsed Basle Manifesto which in 1912 had denounced war and proclaimed socialist unity of workers. In reality, events showed that socialists were national patriots first and socialists second at best. Lenin, however, attempted to make lemonade from this circumstance, claiming that “the leaders, functionaries and officials, have betrayed Socialism and have deserted to the side of the governments” while the workers continued to resist the war.
Lenin even had time for the United States, claiming that capitalists were making “enormous profits” from the war and agitating for U.S. entrance into the fighting so they could increase their profits further. He praised U.S. socialist leader “Comrade” Eugene Debs, Presidential candidate of the American Socialist Party, for his anti-war stance (ill-fated as it developed).
Nevertheless, Lenin was prescient in predicting that the fighting would “guarantee that the European War will be followed by the proletarian revolution against capitalism.” Indeed, for 70 years after the war’s end, the world confronted Soviet communism not as Lenin hypothesized but nevertheless an existential challenge for the free market West.