The first world war presented Europe and the major imperialist countries with a most pronounced social crisis. Torn by the devastation and horror of war, the proletariat of Europe had the opportunity to liberate itself by overthrowing capitalist imperialism, taking power into its own hands and bringing about a peaceful socialist world.
This was the plan drawn up by all the major European mass socialist parties in the run-up and on the eve of the war. In 1912, in a congress in Basel, Switzerland, all the working-class parties in Europe agreed that the war that was coming was an interimperialist war that should not be supported by the working class. That workers should therefore refuse to fight and should instead use the crisis to foment socialist revolution at home.
Yet with the exception of the Russian Bolsheviks, who in October 1917 led the world’s first proletarian revolution, overthrowing the parasitic and bloodthirsty rule of capital acrtoss the Russian empire, all the other countries’ socialist movements failed entirely to live up to their responsibilities.
Betraying the workers and submitting themselves to the rule of their imperialist masters, the social democracts of western Europe ignored their pervious promises about fighting against the war, championed ruling-class slogans such as ‘In defence of the fatherland’, ‘In defence of demcracy’, etc, and went to work recruiting the workers into the imperialist armies and sending them to the fratricidal slaughter.
“The most ‘left’ and arch-revolutionary resolutions – and the most shameless forgetfulness or renunciation of these resolutions – are one of the most striking manifestations of the [Second] International’s collapse.” This was the assessment of Lenin at the time, who went on to characterise social democracy – the pre-war brand of international socialism – as a “stinking corpse”.
These events led to a permanent split in the working-class movement – between those who represented the needs of the imperialist ruling class and those who represented the aspirations of the working masses. The split in socialism, brought about by the desertion of social democracy from the side of the working class, led ultimately to the formation of the Third International – the communist international – under the leadership of the Russian communists.
The Labour party and other major so-called ‘socialist’ parties in Europe, have from that day to this served the agenda not of workers, but of our exploiters. Today, Jeremy Corbyn, as head of the Labour party and leader of her majesty’s loyal opposition, is no exception, despite the hope and faith placed in him by the fake-left block of British Trotskyite and revisionist ‘socialists’.
The ongoing lesson of World War 1 is not that ‘Labour is an anti-war party’. It is that Labour is a social-imperialist party; occasionally mouthing socialist phrases, but consistently doing the dirty work of driving home imperialist policies in Britain and around the world.
‘Reform’ of capitalism is not possible. Capital must be confiscated and all wealth and power placed in the hands of the proletariat, the working masses.
The bourgeois state must be smashed. It cannot be wieleded for the purposed of the exploited classes.
These are the lessons of World War 1. It is high time the British working class and socialist movement learned them.
A presentation to the Stalin Society by Comrade Ranjeet of the CPGB-ML.