The Second International before 1914



When war broke out in 1914, the main parties affiliated with the Second International supported their respective governments and their war efforts on nationalist grounds.

At the end of 1914, with the First World War already underway, Vladimir I. Lenin characterized the political bankruptcy of the “Second International” (as the Socialist International, IS) was known, calling it a “social-patriot”, calling on revolutionaries to “transforming the imperialist war into civil war” through “revolutionary defeatism”, fighting for the defeat of the bourgeoisie in each country in the inter-imperialist struggle, would it be possible to reconstitute the international unity of the proletariat, which was massacred in the interests of each bourgeoisie in the trenches of war.

The orientation of the SI leaders, in the congresses of that organization held from 1907 onwards, had been that the workers in their countries should try their best to avoid the outbreak of the world conflict. If this were not possible, they should take advantage of the crisis caused by the war to precipitate the fall of capitalism. However, when war broke out in 1914, the main parties affiliated to the Second International supported their respective governments and their war efforts with nationalist arguments (the "Sacred Union" of the nation), causing the collapse of the International. Only the Russian, Serbian and Hungarian social democratic parties, as well as important sectors of the Italian Socialist Party – together with small groups within other socialist parties (notably the German one) – remained faithful to the internationalist principles extolled by the International in the past.

This did not come as a complete surprise. The ideological and political divisions in the Socialist International went back to the last decade of the 1889th century, that is, they existed practically since its foundation. The SI was founded in 1883, at a congress held in Paris, largely prepared by Friedrich Engels, a companion in the ideas and struggles of Karl Marx, who died in 1880. It was only after Marx's death that a mass labor movement: nineteen labor and socialist parties were founded on the European continent between 1896 and XNUMX, in addition to important national union federations.[I] Engels worked closely with these organizations, both in their early stages and when they began to develop into mass movements. The Socialist International considered itself the successor and continuation of the AIT (International Workers' Association) founded in 1864 in London, and dissolved in 1872, after the defeat of the Paris Commune.

The political base of the Socialist International had been laid in the AIT, in the internal confrontation in that organization between supporters of Marx and Bakunin, the “anarchists”, opposed to the political organization of the working class, defended by the “Marxists” (a denomination that Marx, initially, rejected). Bakunin attributed the Marxist conception of revolution (which he called “German socialism”) and the idea of dictatorship of the proletariat to a characteristic of the temperament of the German people (of which Marx was a part), marked by “hereditary docility” and also by the “thirst to dominate”. It was the anarchists who, in a pejorative way, created the term “Marxist”, later assumed without negative connotations by a fraction of the French socialists, and later popularized. In a resolution of an international conference of the AIT held in September 1871, it was established that the working class could only act as such “by organizing itself in the form of a political party, different from all the old parties formed by the possessing classes, and opposed to all they". Such a position had been defended by Marx and Engels since 1848 (beginning with the Communist Manifesto) and opposed at the apex the positions of Bakunin and his followers who “were opposed to any kind of political party. The resolution [of the AIT] was for them a violent slap”.[ii] Shortly afterwards, in the post-defeat reactionary climate of the Parisian Commune, the Prussian (now German) Chancellor Otto von Bismarck passed a law that prohibited socialist propaganda and activity, determining a strong setback of politically organized socialism in the country (a phenomenon that spread across Europe).

Although claiming to be a continuation of the AIT (being called the Second International), the IS also resulted from changes in international political conditions and their repercussions in each country. In Germany, after Prussia's victory in the war against France (1870), the creation of a single nation-state, in the form of a federal empire, eliminated the bases for the separate existence, on the one hand, of the pro-socialist faction. -Prussia formerly led by Ferdinand Lassalle and, on the other, that closest to Marx, led by August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht. In 1875, with Lassalle dead, the merger of both fractions into the SAPD (Socialist Workers' Party of Germany, the future SPD, social democratic party) took place at a congress held in Gotha, which approved a program harshly criticized by Karl Marx, due to to make, according to him, broad concessions to Lassallean ideas (although Marx's critique concluded in an optimistic way, with the statement: “A step ahead of the real movement is better than a dozen programs”).[iii] In 1877, the SAPD obtained a significant number of votes in the general elections, becoming the main political opposition to Bismarck, a fact that confirmed Marx and Engels in their decision to support the creation of the party, despite the restrictions on its program.

In another country of the so-called “European tripod”, the historical cradle of the European revolution, France, the 1880 amnesty for exiles and exiles from the Commune of 1871 allowed the reorganization and political progress of socialism: Marx was directly involved in the discussion and writing of the program of the POF (French Workers' Party) headed by Jules Guesde. Workers' parties were beginning to become significant political factors in some of Europe's most important countries. The changes were also geopolitical, with the displacement of the economic-industrial axis of the continent towards Germany: the SPD (name of the SAPD from 1890) became, as a result, the “guide party” of the new Workers' International. Even so, it was in Paris that, on July 14, 1889 (on the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution) the International Workers and Socialist Congress met, with the participation of 300 delegates, representing twenty countries; it was the most representative and numerous international congress ever held by the socialist movement. Among others, August Bebel, Eduard Bernstein, Jules Guesde, Clara Zetkin, Charles Longuet (Marx's son-in-law), Paul Lafargue, Giorgui Plekhanov, Pablo Iglesias, among others, were present. Friedrich Engels, the main exponent of the movement, was unable to attend for health reasons. After securing the participation of a large majority of delegates in tune with Marxist theses in the Congress, he devoted himself to another task: preparing for publication the two volumes of The capital left unfinished by Karl Marx. Among the practical resolutions of the founding Congress of the Socialist International was support for the initiative of the AFL, which intended to hold a large demonstration on May 1, 1890, to remember the repressive massacre of Chicago workers, which consecrated the date as International Day of Workers, adopting as a fundamental program the struggle for eight hours.

This was to be a great international demonstration, with a fixed date, so that, in all countries, and in all cities, at the same time, workers mobilized: it was decided that workers from different nations would have to “hold this demonstration under the conditions imposed on them by the special situation of each country”. A more than secular tradition was born. Engels, impressed by the gigantic demonstration held by English workers on May 1, 1890, wrote: “As far as my eyes could see a sea of ​​heads, 250 or 300 people, of which three quarters were workers. It was the most gigantic assembly ever held here. What I wouldn’t have given for Marx to have experienced this awakening”. The first year of existence of the new International also witnessed the abolition of the anti-socialist law in Germany, in force for almost a decade, and a great electoral success for German social democracy, which after twelve years of persecution managed to obtain almost one and a half million votes in the elections. of the Reich. Before his death in 1895, Engels was still able to witness the German elections of 1893, in which Social Democracy won hundreds of thousands of additional votes.

German Social Democracy seemed to grow with the automatic progression of a natural law. The imperial government no longer dared, except for minor political extortions, to prohibit the work of the workers' party. Engels asserted that a social regime which allowed, within the framework of the law, the activity of an enemy movement working to overthrow it, was doomed to disappear. International socialism was consolidating, but it was only in 1900 that the International was equipped with leading bodies. In some countries, Germany in the first place, it was already considered, with its parliamentarians, trade unions, and a whole network of cultural associations, theaters, sports clubs, youth and children's associations, a "society within society", a parallel society that prefigured, for many, the socialist society of the future. After Engels died in 1895, the main theoretician/ideologist of international social democracy became the German-speaking Marxist (but of Czech origin) Karl Kautsky, one of the testamentary executors of the posthumous work of Marx and Engels.

Radicalizing its political delimitation, the Socialist International excluded anarchists, due to existing divergences in relation to political action, since for them the International should not participate in elections, nor in any public/state office, including parliament. At the Socialist Congress in Zurich, in 1893, a resolution was approved that excluded from the International organizations that were not in favor of political action aimed at the conquest of political power by the proletariat. At the London Congress of 1896, on the proposal of Wilhelm Liebknecht, anarchists were excluded from the International (which many of them had not joined). The contention between Marxism and anarchism (current that continued to be organized and expanding, especially in countries of Southern Europe and the Americas), also reignited the debate on the autonomy of the working class and the management of production in a society emancipated from capital. Engels, at the end of his life, in polemics against the Italian anarchists, in the text Of the Authority, dissociated collective ownership of the means of production (a basic axiom of a socialist mode of production) from the direction of the work process. The workers should be the legitimate “owners” of the factories, but not necessarily command them directly in each location, in democratic and slow assemblies. He argued that the conditions of modern industry demanded authority and discipline in the production process, an argument rejected by anarchists, supporters of a federation of free and autonomous communes.

The IS quickly established itself as a recognized organization and consolidated its strength. The political profile of their internal divergences was defined in 1899, when the French socialist leader Alexandre Millerand joined the cabinet of the liberal/radical government headed by Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau, dividing the French socialist party between defenders of this entry, headed by Jean Jaurès, called of “ministerialists”, and the “hard line” headed by Jules Guesde, contrary to “millerandismo”. The debate divided international socialism, with alignments not always obvious: Rosa Luxemburgo, leader of the left wing of the German SPD, for example, aligned herself with the defenders of Millerand's entry, since the invitation to join the government made by the government was a political challenge that could not be ignored. In the same period, in England, the laborism (Labour Party), based on trade unions, encouraged by Parliament's third reform bill (preceded by a demonstration of 45 people in Hyde Park) which expanded the electoral college by two million new voters, with the vast majority coming from the most disadvantaged classes, changing the country's political scene completely.

Controversies about the future socialist society and the means to achieve it widened and deepened on the eve of the turn of the century. From 1896 onwards, the trend led by Eduard Bernstein, called “revisionist”, gained strength in Germany (and soon after, throughout the International), as it proposed a revision of the basic points of Marxism, later defined as “the colonization of Marxism by view of state officials”: ​​it reintroduced nationalist views into international socialism. The current had antecedents prior to the founding of the SI, in the ideas of the editorial board of the German socialist newspaper published in Switzerland (due to the validity of the “anti-socialist laws” in Germany) which stated that “by extolling the violence of the Paris Commune and demanding a confrontation with the capitalists, the socialists had thrown the liberal middle class into the arms of Bismarck and his reactionary policies. The editors advocated renouncing violent revolution, and advocated reforming capitalism instead of introducing socialism, cooperation instead of class struggle, and winning the support of the whole of society instead of exclusively appealing to the class. hardworking. This program bore a strong resemblance to what would later be called 'revisionism'… Eduard Bernstein was one of the members of the newspaper's editorial board”.[iv] Marx and Engels sharply criticized these positions, although Engels later reconciled with their supporters and began to collaborate with the newspaper.

The growing adaptation of social democracy, based on the positions conquered in the State, especially in parliament, had already been spreading for at least a decade, according to its main leader, August Bebel: “At the end of December 1884, at the time when Bebel was drafting the Workers Protection Bill, he was so depressed by the way parliamentarism had become a haven for corruption [Versumpfung] who often thought about abandoning it altogether. In mid-1885 he complained bitterly that most members of the fraction [social democrats in parliament] had been corrupted by parliament. Occupying seats in the Reichstag, he said scornfully, satisfies his ambition and vanity; with great complacency they consider themselves among the 'elect of the nation' and take immense pleasure in parliamentary comedy; they take it very seriously. This disgusted Bebel. In March 1886, after having taken an active part in parliamentary work for the previous eighteen months, he confessed his despondency and bitterness to his old friend Motteler: 'I often deeply hate all this parliamentary quackery; after each speech I feel a kind of melancholy despondency [hangover], because I must say to myself that on this platform that is so important to people and that many take seriously, no fate will be decided'. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Bebel's declared disgust with 'parliamentary quackery'. He had no reason to deceive his closest friends.”[v]

It was, however, an empirical movement, lacking in program and theory: “revisionism” fulfilled this function, although it was very far from limiting itself to extolling the virtues of socialist activity in parliament. Its founder, Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932), the first critic of Marxist theory coming from Marxism itself, was one of the main theorists and leaders of German social democracy; Friedrich Engels had appointed him one of the testamentary executors of his written work; it was Bernstein who edited the first publication of the Marx/Engels correspondence. Bernstein questioned the main Marxist theses: the doctrine of historical materialism, considering that there would be other factors besides economic ones that would determine social phenomena; attacked the dialectic for failing to explain changes in complex organisms such as human societies; the labor theory of value, considering that it comes from the “marginal” utility of goods, a theory recently created and defended by neoclassical economists. He also cast doubt on the inevitability of capitalist economic concentration and the growing (absolute or relative) impoverishment of the proletariat.

Due to the above, he attacked the idea of ​​the historical inevitability of socialism for economic/social reasons: socialism would arrive sooner or later, yes, but for moral reasons, for being the fairest and most supportive political system. And he attacked the idea of ​​the tendential existence of only two social classes, one exploiting and the other exploited, noting the existence of several interconnected and growing intermediate classes, with all classes in a society possessing a superior “national interest”. As an alternative to the theses he criticized, Bernstein defended the gradual and constant improvement of workers' living conditions (giving them the means to rise to a standard of living equivalent to the middle class), objected to the need for nationalization of companies and rejected violence revolutionary in any of its variants.[vi] Bernstein's political conclusions were based on a characterization of changes in the structure of capitalism, as well as on theoretical developments in the field of socialism, which were based on the need to endow Marxism with the “philosophical” base it supposedly lacked (a procedure of which Bernstein was not the only advocate).

In an era of widespread development of positivism, “Marxism” still lacked a comprehensive theoretical aura (Engels, in the final phase of his life, devoted ample efforts to filling this gap, being further criticized for allegedly “downgrading” or adulterating the theoretical content of the Marxist legacy in his attempt to popularize it: the Italian Rodolfo Mondolfo published in 1912 a text explicitly defending this thesis). Seeking to fill the supposed “philosophical gap” of Marx, advocating for this a “return to Kant”, that is, to philosophical idealism, in Die Voraussezungen des Sozialismus (1899), Bernstein stated about the dialectical method: “It constitutes what is traitorous in the Marxist doctrine, the snare that lies ahead of all consequent observation of things”, which did not constitute the filling of an omission, but a opposition on a vaguely positivist basis. Based on the “consistent observation of things”, Bernstein argued that the advance of capitalism was not leading to a deepening of differences between classes; the capitalist system would not enter the successive crises that would destroy it and open the way to socialism; political democracy would allow workers' parties to achieve the necessary reforms to ensure the well-being of workers, without the need for a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The conquest of an advanced social legislation for the time, and a considerable level of political freedoms, made this current in German social democracy progress, arguing that the workers had become, or could become, full citizens. Through voting they would gain a majority in parliament, and through social legislation they would gradually and peacefully reform and overcome capitalism.

Bernstein's views, presented in Theoretical Socialism and Practical Socialism,[vii] although theoretically based, they did not, however, go, in their empirical evidence, much beyond the verification of the improvement of the economic situation of the metropolitan working class and the more complex character of bourgeois political domination through democratic methods, which had progressed in Western Europe and America. in the last quarter of the XNUMXth century. These ideas were strong within the party, especially among union leaders. Rosa Luxemburgo observed: “If the different currents of practical opportunism are a very natural phenomenon, explainable by the conditions of our struggle and the growth of our movement, Bernstein’s theory is, on the other hand, a no less natural attempt to unite these currents into one. theoretical expression that is its own and goes to war with scientific socialism”.[viii] Rosa Luxemburg, like Karl Kautsky and also August Bebel, waged a sustained battle against revisionist theses.

The revisionist target was clear: let's look at some central views of Bernstein. On liberalism and socialism: “With regard to liberalism, as a great historical movement, socialism is its legitimate heir, not only because it succeeded it in time, but also because of the qualities of its spirit, as demonstrated by every question of principle about which it has dealt. than to adopt an attitude towards social democracy”. On historical evolutionism (linear progress) as opposed to social revolution (progression by leaps): “Feudalism, with its inflexible organizations and corporations, had to be destroyed almost everywhere by means of violence. The liberal organizations of modern society differ from those of feudalism precisely because they are flexible and therefore capable of change and development. They do not need to be destroyed, but only to be developed”. On German nationalism: “Just as it is not desirable for any other of the great civilized nations to lose its independence, so it cannot be indifferent to German Social Democracy that Germany, which has taken and takes an honorable part in the work of world civilization, does not be accepted as an equal in the council of nations.” From noting the improvement in the situation of the working class, it was time to justify its support base. In this way, Bernstein not only posed new problems, but also translated a spirit of relative satisfaction with the development of European capitalism and colonialism, without any analysis of their contradictions, pointing out as “positive” the new methods of organization and domination of capitalism in the metropolises.

Kautsky's response to Bernstein exploited his theoretical and empirical weaknesses, such as his critique of the Marxist analysis of increasing concentration of capital and the "theory of increasing social misery". The question touched on a nodal point of Marxist theory and political program. Years later, the main bourgeois critic (albeit coming from socialism) of socialist current and thought, the Italian-German sociologist Robert Michels, attacked this thesis with theoretical erudition lacking in Bernstein, arguing that post-Marx Marxists had limited themselves to repeating , without empirical foundations, a thesis in which Marx himself had limited himself to “following in the footsteps of Fourier and Sismondi [a utopian socialist and a neo-Ricardian economist, respectively, who preceded Karl Marx in the analysis of capitalist contradictions]… one of his essential tasks is to paraphrase in a varied way the various notions of the master about the law of impoverishment [immiseration]. It is not useful to accompany them on their way too easy... Many of Marx's opponents in the field of international socialism did not escape his doctrinal influence; Bakunin, for example (who) noted the increasing mortgage and peasant impoverishment, inevitable with the extension of large landed property; by which the peasant would be predestined to become a socialist immediately after realizing the existence of an economic law that condemned him to sink in the torrent of the proletariat”,[ix] which, according to Michels, (and Bernstein before him) did not happen.

A unique position in the “revisionist debate” was adopted by the most popular European socialist leader, the Frenchman Jean Jaurès. He criticized Bernstein, including with regard to the necessary economic and industrial concentration, but pointed out that concentration in certain sectors (railway, for example) led to deconcentration in others (local transport). The main thing, however, is that rejecting the Bernsteinian perspective as a collusion of socialism with liberalism, and defending the class struggle independent of the proletariat, Jaurès approached Bernstein regarding the possibility of a peaceful and gradual transition to socialism: “Was socialism revolutionary? … Bernstein's main error was that of hiding, behind the question of present of the revolution – its imminence greater the less – the question of its need (but) in this situation, Jaurès launched an attack against Marxism as vigorous as his previous defense… Was an extraordinary rupture necessary? Marx had maintained this point of view, but his method had been based on 'outdated historical assumptions or inaccurate economic assumptions', one political and the other economic”.

According to Jaurès, the first was based on the experience of the 1789 revolutions, bourgeois revolutions followed by weak proletarian revolutions, which would have created a “violent model” that was no longer valid in 1900, when the working class was already socially and organizationally strong enough to carry forward its own revolution, no longer as a wagon of the bourgeoisie (which was no longer revolutionary) but by peaceful means (through universal suffrage, cooperatives, unions, etc.). The second inaccurate hypothesis was precisely the “theory of increasing misery”, which was opposed by the social, wage and union achievements, which made this misery retreat lastingly. For Jaurès, Marx would have predicted that growing misery would always end up imposing itself on workers' resistance, which could only impose temporary and precarious limits on it, leading the proletariat necessarily to revolutionary action, which for Jaurès could, on the contrary, be peaceful and the result of the accumulation of conquests and social and political instruments by the working class, which led him to political conclusions similar to those of Bernstein, although starting from different premises.[X]

As a counterpoint to revisionism, Marxist orthodoxy prevailed in Germany. In his critique of Bernstein, Karl Kautsky argued the empirical reality of economic concentration around big capital, giving less room for the survival (and even expansion) of the “intermediate classes”, as Bernstein argued (Leon Trotsky, in the 1930s, pointed out , a little past, an error of appreciation of Marx in this regard, in a preface to a 90th anniversary edition of the Communist Manifesto). Rosa Luxemburgo also explored, in her criticism of Bernstein, a certain intellectual poverty, his “petty bourgeois and bureaucratic spirit”, and gave expression to the moral indignation of many social democratic militants in the face of Bernstein’s intellectual self-sufficiency. Bernstein had launched his jabs at "Marxist orthodoxy" in a series of articles published in the Party's theoretical journal, Die Neue Zeit, between 1896 and 1897. Although these articles caused outrage in the left wing of the Party, there was initially no serious rebuttal; Karl Kautsky, who edited Die Neue Zeit, even thanked Bernstein for his contribution to the debate: the right wing of socialism was encouraged and a revisionist tendency of international reach was organized around the newspaper Sozialistische Monatshefte (released in January 1897).

It would be a mistake, on the other hand, to reduce “revisionism” or similar tendencies to metropolitan phenomena. The Argentine Socialist Party (PSA), for example, defended, through its majority, the need for a “sound capitalism” (based on the English model) against the “spurious capitalism” prevailing in the country. In the PSA, one of the central claims was free commercial exchange, against all protectionist barriers, arguing that such a policy would make goods cheaper, benefiting workers and modernizing the economy.[xi] A similar phenomenon took place in Russia, with the current of “legal Marxism”: “The leaders of the movement – ​​Peter Struve, Mikhail Tugan-Baranovsky, Sergei Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdyaev and Semen Frank – were deeply involved in the struggle between fading populism and militant Marxism. Their belief in Westernization placed them in the Marxist camp, but they were too critical to submit to the rigidity of Marxist dogma for long. Russian conditions, however, did not offer such a position as the German revisionist Bernstein enjoyed, and although he was able to remain a social democrat, the 'legal Marxists' rapidly evolved towards liberalism... [The movement] enjoyed a brief peak period of seven or eight years at the turn of the century and then dissolved into liberalism, academic economics and philosophy”.[xii] “Peripheral reformism”, however, did not reflect, as in the capitalist metropolises, the progressive accommodation of important portions of the working class to the prevailing order, in which they had obtained significant improvements (these sectors practically did not exist), but the dissatisfaction of the “progressive” intelligentsia. ” with the delay and/or the defects of “capitalist modernization” in the semi-colonial world (including, of course, a social misery that the capitalist metropolises seemed to be leaving behind).

Bernstein's political conclusions were considered more worrisome than their theoretical bases, although some, such as Plekhanov, also refuted his "neo-Kantian" philosophical eclecticism (the later called "father of Russian Marxism" did so in the Russian magazine Zaria, in 1901),[xiii] and, above all, Kautsky attacked its economic foundations, especially his theory about the growth of the middle classes (arguing the proletarianization of the “liberal professions”) and his criticism of the theory of the pauperization of the proletariat, that is, the criticism of the Marxist thesis about the progressive concentration of wealth and poverty in the fundamental social poles of bourgeois society. Kautsky sought to show that the tendency towards the concentration and centralization of capital was real and confirmed the Marxist method of analysis, including the growth in the relative poverty of salaried workers, if their income was compared with the enrichment of capitalists, that is, their ever-decreasing appropriation of mass of surplus value created in production, or the increasingly unequal distribution of the social wealth produced.

The tendency of capitalist production favored the concentration in the hands of big capital of an ever-increasing percentage of social wealth: “The large factories, which in 1882 did not supply more than half of national production, thirteen years later produced two thirds, if not three-quarters of it, a rapid concentration of capital, an evolution that marches by giant steps towards socialist and collectivist production… While the total increase of companies was 4,6%, small companies only increased by 1,8 % and the large 100%. The absolute number of the former increased, but their relative number decreased”.[xiv] Kautsky also did not follow Bernstein in combating the dictatorship of the proletariat; in discussing the SPD program at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, he wrote: “When Bernstein says that we must first have democracy to lead the proletariat step by step to victory, I say that for us the question is the other way around. The victory of democracy is conditioned by the victory of the proletariat”. Kautsky also defended, against Bernstein, the Marxist theory of crises and the march of capitalism towards collapse, with obvious political implications.

In 1899, in the midst of the crisis raised by French “Millerandism”, the German SPD was still the center stage of the controversy raised by revisionism. Bernstein proclaimed that the development of capitalism led to the democratization of society (and the transformation of workers into citizens). full fledged) by increasing the number of owners, thanks to the introduction of joint-stock companies. As a result, the revisionists defended a new political tactic, which favored parliamentary and trade union struggle. The struggle for better working conditions and wages would be the privileged instrument to lead capitalist society, through economic reforms, towards socialism. In fact, these reforms would already be the “molecular” realization of the new socialist society: “The movement is everything and the end means nothing”, wrote Bernstein. The revisionist theses were condemned at the congresses of German social democracy in Hannover (1899), Lübeck (1901) and Dresden (1903). Its main political critic was August Bebel, the main leader of German socialism: “The congress – affirmed the resolution proposed by Bebel in 1903 – condemns most decisively the revisionist attempt to alter our tactic, put to the test several times and victorious, based on in the class struggle. If we adopt the revisionist policy, we would constitute ourselves into a party that would conform only to the reform of bourgeois society. We condemn any attempt to convert our party into a satellite of the bourgeois parties”.[xv]

The revisionist terrain had previously been paved by revisionist philosophical developments, but these were placed on a secondary plane in the face of political developments: “The reaction triggered by Kautsky, the official theorist of the SPD, to the meaning of Bernstein's analyzes and proposals took place much more in function of the political repercussion they could have on the action of social democracy in Germany and even throughout Europe; (the) set of Bernsteinian writings was the result of the problems that were already facing Marxist thought in relation to the advance of capitalist society and its transformations. However, one cannot deny that Bernstein's initiative deepened and intensified the debates... In the vast majority of thinkers of world social democracy there was a tendency to look for the epistemological and philosophical foundations for Marxism in the positivist thought of the natural sciences, primarily in French materialism; or, on the other hand, as a reaction to this 'naturalist-materialist' vision, in Kant”.[xvi] Bernsteinian revisionism, on the other hand, was not the only “dissident” variant in international social democracy. In Edgar Carone's proposal,[xvii] There were four political modalities in the Second International:

1) The German Social Democratic Party served as a model for the Netherlands, Finland, the Scandinavian countries, Austria. It had a very dynamic organizing model and imposed itself through discipline and electoral progress; it was capable of accepting Bernstein's reformist current and Rosa Luxemburg's revolutionary current within its ranks, imposing unitary discipline on its militants; the party had emerged from illegality with some 100-150 members and grew steadily through the 1890s in both membership and votes. The party's rapid growth also brought new problems in the form of increasing external pressures. Although, at the national level, they were excluded from all participation in government, at the state level, particularly in the South, the party was invited to support liberal governments, an attempt to make the SPD assume responsibility for the functioning of capitalist society and to incorporate the party in the regime after the failure of the repression triggered by Bismarck. In 1905, the SPD had 385 members and 27% of the electorate. The party press had an enormous readership, with 90 newspapers and magazines, with a circulation of 1,4 million copies in 1913. The party, its press and schools had about 3,5 full-time members, more than three thousand union employees be added;

2) French socialism was composed of diversified lines. Its origins came from the Jacobin revolutionary currents of the XNUMXth century, from the “utopian” socialist currents and from a recent and superficial Marxist heritage, conflicting tendencies among themselves. The revisionists in French socialism were linked to the idea of ​​continuous electoral progression and “ministerialist” rise, as in the Millerand case. Anarcho-syndicalism, with Fernand Pelloutier and his “direct action unionism”, also represented an important force in the country;[xviii]

3) English socialism was linked to broad movements and a tradition of workers' struggle; Marxism was defended by some of its currents, but it was opposed by the “Fabian” socialists, and it was a minority in the workers’ party: alongside the traditional trade unionist current – tradeunionist -, a labor movement of a political character had emerged in the country – the Labor Party – which united the traditional claiming action, for wages and better working conditions, with nationalizing measures.

Finally, 4) In Russia, a continental empire where the working class was still small, and in which the peasant class constituted the majority of the population, the working class was initially linked to populism, which defended the idea that in Russia the revolutionary movement would be peasant origin and would follow different paths and even opposite to the western paths. Russian Marxism rose up against this thought: Plekhanov, with the emphasis he gave to inevitable capitalist development and the nascent working class; and Lenin, who gave these concepts an empirical basis (in his 1899 work The Development of Capitalism in Russia)[xx] and placed the need for a centralized, strong and structured workers' party, in the conditions of repression and absence of democratic freedoms in the empire of the tsars. The political and ideological origins of the Communist International are found, mainly, in this current and in its internal and external polemics.

In the Socialist International, differentiated policies made it possible to distinguish “conservative” socialists from revolutionaries and “centrists” (those situated between reformism and revolution). They were part of these Kautsky and his magazine, The New time, and the Viennese “Austro-Marxists”, who maintained the Marxist vocabulary and orthodoxy and speculated on the inevitable character of historical evolution to predict the proletarian revolution. Intellectually, the Austro-Marxists were the most sophisticated current of the Second International, opening the field of Marxist research and reflection to new terrains, and maintained a confrontation with the sophisticated Viennese culture of the first decades of the XNUMXth century. In the field of law, with the legal theories of Hans Kelsen, who had discussions with the socialists Otto Bauer and Victor Adler; in the field of economics with the Wiener Schule by Carl Menger, Böhm-Bawerk and Wieser. In the logical-scientific field, the Austro-Marxists were in contact and confrontation with Ludwig Wittgenstein and also with the Wiener Kreis of Carnap, Hahn, Neurath and Schlick, influenced by the thought of Ernst Mach; in the field of literature with Hofmannsthal, Kraus, Musil, Roth, Zweig, Schnitzler, Bahr, Altenberg; in the field of music with Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schöenberg and Richard Strauss; in the field of architecture with Hoffmann, Loos, Wagner; and, finally, in the field of psychoanalysis with its founder, Sigmund Freud, with whom the Austrian socialist leader Otto Bauer was a personal friend.

Austro-Marxism developed between the final decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the early years of the First Austrian Republic. Its main theorists were Victor Adler, Gustav Eckstein, Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding, Otto Bauer, Karl Renner, Friedrich Adler and Max Adler, members of the Social Democratic Party of Austria. Although marked by the attempt to reconcile socialism with Austrian nationalism, it was a heterogeneous movement, sheltering in its ranks both neo-Kantian and Marxist thinkers. They also received the influence of positivist currents developed in Austria, such as those of Mach and Avenarius. Austro-Marxists gathered in the Circle Future (“future”), publishing the series Marx-Studien (since 1904) and the magazine The fight since 1907: “Its representatives were the first to promote Marxism as a critical social science, as a discipline of social research that was simultaneously empirical and theoretical, and to do so at the height of the issues of their time… in open debate with the main currents of the philosophy and social sciences of his time”.[xx] José Aricó pondered that “only in relation to the issues of contemporary high culture could Marxism provide answers to the questions posed by the crisis provoked by Bernstein. At the heart of the initiative of Marx-Studien, as well as in the broader project of The fight the purpose was to find a way out of the artificial debate between orthodoxy and revisionism, and to establish a political confrontation not only with Bernstein, but also with Kautsky”;[xxx] if that was the attempt, it did not materialize: the Austrian social democracy was not able to elaborate a political alternative to the reformism of the German social democracy, in spite of trying to be situated to its left.

Austro-Marxism did not manage to constitute a strategically differentiated tendency within international socialism: its program was based on Marxist principles, but, “in the face of social developments that did not coincide with the perspective outlined by Marx, it developed revisionist tendencies that had little in common with Marxism”. Bernstein's German revisionism. Victor Adler, who was neither a dogmatist nor a systematic theorist, considered criticism of the fundamental principles of Marxism on which the party was based to be harmful because it threatened the unity of the party. However, at the 1901 congress the need to change some definitions of the program [of Hainfeld, the founding program of the party] was maintained, and the part relating to the 'increasing misery of ever wider layers of the population' was in fact abolished, and the formula, condescending to anarchism, according to which, while direct universal suffrage was fought for, parliamentarianism was defined as 'a modern form of class rule'. Austro-Marxism tended to justify in Marxist terms or to describe as indirect achievements of Marxism the indispensable revisions of theory… In general, even theorists or politicians who, like Karl Renner, had clearly left behind the fundamental principles of Marxism, preferred to describe as Marxists their deviations”.[xxiii] This procedure was far from just “Austrian”.

The Russian socialist leader Leon Trotsky recounted the shock he experienced when he came into contact with the main leaders of Austrian social democracy during his exile: “They were extraordinarily cultured people, who knew a lot more than I did about many things”, he wrote in his memoirs. At the first meeting he attended with them at the Café Central in Vienna, he felt dazzled. He followed the conversation with devotion. But then interest was overcome by amazement. He realized that these talented intellectuals were not revolutionaries: "They embodied the type of man who is precisely the opposite of revolutionary." The Austro-Marxists were “daffodils who gazed at themselves with pride”; vibrated with the theoretical effort produced by themselves. Deep connoisseurs of the works of Marx and Engels, exegetes of The capital, the Viennese Marxists were “completely incapable of applying Marx’s method to the great political problems and, above all, to their revolutionary aspect”. They wrote magnificent articles, revealing their erudition, but they did not go beyond the passive assimilation of the system: “The Austro-Marxists were, in general, nothing more than good bourgeois gentlemen who dedicated themselves to studying this or that part of Marxist theory, as they could study the career of Marxism. Right, living pleasantly off the interest of The capital".

In the years leading up to the world war, Austrian Marxists began to feel uneasy when the possibility of a rupture with the old order ceased to be seen as a utopia. What a difference, commented Trotsky, between “those gentlemen, aristocrats of thought”, who liked to be addressed by the workers as “Comrade Herr Doctor” and the revolutionary simplicity of Marx and Engels, who “felt a serene contempt for everything that was apparent brightness, for titles, for hierarchies”. Trotsky registered that the German social democracy differed from the Austrian one, because in that one the positive weight of personalities like Rosa Luxemburgo, Karl Liebknecht and even August Bebel still made itself felt. Karl Kautsky, on the contrary, accommodated himself: “He tried to popularize Marxism as a schoolmaster, imposing himself as his only mission to reconcile reformism with the revolution. He made no secret of his organic aversion to anything that meant transplanting revolutionary methods to German soil.”.[xxiii]

The Socialist International was basically European, with the exceptions of Japan, three American countries (USA, Canada, Argentina), and the participation of representatives of a European enclave in South Africa.[xxv] In the three American countries present at the Congresses of the International, and also in other Latin American countries (Brazil, Mexico), the representation of the International was basically composed of European immigrant workers, or of activists fleeing anti-socialist repression in Europe. This also reflected the largely foreign composition of the working class in these countries in the early stages of their industrialization. In the next phase, the socialist parties slowly took root in the local working class and intelligentsia. In Brazil, for example, in an urban environment in constant transformation, common work environments emerged between slave and free workers, collective protests, shared associative forms in the formation of the working class from the struggles and organizations that emerged in the mid-nineteenth century and lasted until the first decades of the twentieth century.

At the Paris Congress of the International (1900) the International Socialist Organization was created, a permanent body composed of two delegates per country, based in Brussels, with a secretariat; the Belgian delegation – Vandervelde, Servy – functioned as the Executive Committee of the International. The appointment of Camille Huysmans to the position of secretary, in 1905, ensured the continuity of activities between congresses; the main leaders of socialism at the time participated in its annual meetings: Jaurès, Vaillant, Guesde, for France; Kautsky, Singer, Haase (Germany); Plekhanov, Lenin, for the Russian Social Democrats, Rubanovitch, for the Social Revolutionaries (SRs, or “esserists”) of Russia; Rosa Luxemburg (Poland); Branting (Sweden); Christian Rakovsky (Romania and Bulgaria); Keir-Hardie, Hyndman (England); Sen Katayama (Japan); Victor Adler (Austria); Knudsen, Stauning (Denmark); Turati, Morgani (Italy); Hillquit (USA). The composition of the International was socially heterogeneous, even attracting “men with a sore conscience belonging to the upper classes, such as the American Robert Hunter, married to a daughter of the banker and philanthropist Anson Phelps Stokes. Like others of his ilk, Hunter had been appalled by the articles on corruption and set out to seek a remedy for social injustice.”[xxiv] But these were exceptions: the vast majority of the International was made up of workers and intellectuals from the petty bourgeoisie.

The left tendency of the International was composed of heterogeneous and politically dispersed groups, among which stood out the supporters of Rosa Luxemburg in Germany, those of Lenin in Russia, the “tribunists” in Holland, the “narrows” (tesnjaki) in Bulgaria, and others. The reformist tendency, in turn, developed mainly in the big parties; in Germany under the theoretical form seen above, in France and Italy through “ministerialism” (participation or critical support of liberal governments), in Russia through “legal Marxism” and “economism”. The variety of strategic and ideological positions was evident in all events and congresses, as well as in the bodies of the Socialist International, the International Socialist Bureau and the Socialist Interparliamentary Commission. Outside the Socialist International, anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists had greater strength than the Socialist International in the labor movement in several countries, especially in Latin countries in Southern Europe and in South American countries, where anarchism was the main driver of the organization. local trade union. In the transition from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century, the International exercised strong political authority in the international labor movement, with the anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist current as its main adversary.

The socialist leaders affirmed that, at the institutional level, socialism had gone beyond the “declarative state”, mere discourse. Jean Jaurès wrote in 1902: “When socialism was, above all, concerned with preparing its general forms, it could be useful to carry out a review of the principles at any international congress. However, socialism has already passed this period. It is necessary for him to carry out, for each problem, an exact and meticulous analysis, a precise critique of ideas, a conscientious search for solutions”. Jaurès proposed a “new army” (Armée Nouvelle), an “Armed Nation”, in which the children of workers could reach the rank of officers, with their military studies financed by unions and cooperatives.[xxv] During Belle Epoque, between the death throes of the 1th century and the years that preceded the First World War, the optimism of the working class in a progress that would take it to a new world was translated into the development of forms of organization and political activity, which would be, for the workers, embryos of a socialist society. The self-confidence of the working class was visible in its mass demonstrations, among which the XNUMXst of May assumed primacy; in their associations and unions; in their political parties, called socialists in Latin-speaking European countries, social-democrats in Germany, Russia and other countries, or “labor” in English-speaking countries.

For the left wing of the International, it was necessary to overcome the growing bureaucratism of the workers' (or socialist) parties and trade unions. New experiences indicated elements of overcoming the old unionism, restricted to the negotiation of the price of the workforce, and cooperativism, limited to a horizon of competition within the capitalist market. In 1904, in Italy, the internal commission that transitioned, over time, from contractual negotiation to the search for direct production management. Participation in parliamentary action was also considered from the point of view of the development of class consciousness, that is, the possibility and opportunity of awakening the hostility of the proletarian classes against the ruling classes. This attitude has changed under the influence of practice. The adaptation of socialist tactics to the legislative action of parliaments and the growing importance of the struggle to introduce reforms within the limits of capitalism, the predominance of the minimum program of the socialist parties, the transformation of the maximum program into a platform for discussions on an “ultimate objective” distanced, formed the basis on which parliamentary opportunism and corruption developed.

At the Congress of the International in Amsterdam, in 1904, Bernsteinian revisionism was still central in the debates: this time it was condemned by an “international tribunal”. But Bernstein and the revisionists remained in the socialist parties and the International, including in its leadership. The congress unanimously approved the proposal that in all countries the unity of workers' and socialist parties should be sought in a single organization "since there was only one proletariat", but advised that this unity should be realized "under the basis of the principles established by the congress of the International and in the interests of the world proletariat”.

The metropolitan bourgeoisie saw the progress of the Socialist International with alarm, and was forced to experiment with new political groupings due to the rise of the workers' parties: in Germany, the SPD had 4 million voters, 111 deputies, a network of trade unions, cooperatives , schools, as well as “laborism” (Labour Party) in England or the SFIO (the socialist party, Section Française de l'Internationale Ouvrière) in France. Socialism was beginning to develop outside Europe: in Russia, with the advance of Marxism in intellectual circles and the growing role of socialists in the workers' strikes that multiplied in the country; in the USA (with 6% of the total votes for the socialist candidate Eugene Debs in the 1912 presidential elections), in Japan, with the progress of social democracy. In the “peripheral” countries, agrarian concentration and rural backwardness were reinforced, which was combined in some of them with a strong industrial concentration, dominated by foreign capital, causing an ever greater sharpening of class contradictions. Since the end of the XNUMXth century, however, socialist militants such as Helphand-Parvus, or Rosa Luxemburgo, have denounced the existence of an organized opportunist tendency in international socialism, in which Lenin still did not expressly echo them.[xxviii]

The forefront of international politics tended to be occupied by inter-imperialist contradictions, especially between the old powers (France and England, Russia, Holland and Belgium to a lesser extent) and the new expanding powers (Germany and the USA). In France, the foreign policy of the Third Republic led to the conclusion of an alliance with Russia (1894), to a entente cordial with the old enemy England (1904), in addition to a colonial expansion claimed by its bourgeois elites. The world order was threatened at its very center: “The heart of Europe was occupied by a country that, in a few decades, became the most industrialized, whose speed of industrial and commercial development surpassed that of the oldest industrial countries, which appeared on world markets at a time when territories formerly free from European domination were all occupied as colonies or semi-colonies of the older industrial states.[xxviii] In this situation, Germany only had two possibilities: the formation of a colonial bloc outside Europe, or a territorial expansion towards Turkey, along the Berlin-Belgrade line. Both possibilities clashed with British international positions and its expansive interests.

The system of States in Europe did not return to the objectives of the old “European concert”, based on the “Peace of Westphalia”, with its bases in the balance of power based on norms and consensus, not on the mutual threat; from the 1890s, the consensus had been destroyed. The loose and occasional alliances of the great powers had given way to a system of permanent alliances, even in times of peace, which were transformed into two power blocs (Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy; Triple Entente: France, Russia , Great Britain). According to some authors, the purpose of German imperialist policy was the internal stabilization of an outdated system, based on the opposition of the ruling elites to the “liberating” process of industrial society: German and Italian (later) imperialism, in this interpretation, appear as a diversion of internal political tensions; colonialist expansion would be irrelevant in itself: it was significant only as an expression or outlet of internal economic and political tensions.

Be that as it may, it was a fact that the domestic politics of Europe's leading states and international politics were intertwined as never before. Wilhelmine world policy (of Wilhelm II of Germany) would have been an “internal policy”; and the march towards the world war was a flight forward, attempted by the retarded elites (in relation to the “capitalist modernization” of the country), who felt, internally and externally, at a dead end. The German elites would have sought to avoid the social and political consequences of the capitalist modernization process, even at the cost of war. And it was also a fact that the European powers were preparing economically and politically for war; military spending had almost quadrupled in three and a half decades, a growth greater than that of production or the state budget.

Military spending by Germany, Austria-Hungary, England, Russia, Italy and France

The center of the capitalist world harbored explosive economic and geopolitical contradictions. The rivalries of the European countries with each other and with the USA also worsened due to the competition for the colonial world, that is, for the “market reserves” for their overaccumulated capital and for their exclusive access, against the other imperialist powers, to the sources of raw materials from “backward countries”. The shocks in China, Russia, the Middle East and Central Asia, Latin America, defined a new era: the periphery of the capitalist world, most of the planet, was in convulsion with the penetration of capital in all its economic spheres, and with the social revolts it provoked, which included a new and young working class. A new historical era was taking shape: Karl Kautsky could verify that “when Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, the theater of proletarian revolution was limited to western Europe for them. Today it encompasses the whole world”.[I] The revolution, occupying the center of the political stage, would help to demarcate more clearly the camps into which socialism was beginning to be clearly divided: reformists (“revisionists” or not) and revolutionaries. The theater where this split developed most profoundly was situated between Europe and Asia, between the metropolises of capitalism and the colonial or semi-colonial world, and it was none other than the largest country on the planet, Russia, the multinational empire of the tsars.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books by paths of history (Shaman).


[I] Karl Kautsky. The Path of Power. São Paulo, Hucitec, 1979 [1907], p. 107.

[I] Gary Steenson. After Marx, Before Lenin. Marxism and socialist working-class parties in Europe, 1884-1914. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991.

[ii] Jonathan Sperber. Karl Marx. A 2014th century life. Barueri, Amarilys, 485, p. XNUMX.

[iii] Karl Marx. Critique of the Gotha Program. Texts. São Paulo, Alfa-Omega, 1981.

[iv] Jonathan Sperber. op cit., P. 507.

[v] Vernon L. Lidtke. The Outlawed Party: Social Democracy in Germany, 1878-1890. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1966, p. 234.

[vi] Bernstein's Major Works: Sozialismus und Demokratie in der Grossen Englischen Revolution, 1895; Die Voraussezungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Soziaildemokratie (The Premises of Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy), 1899; Zur Theorie and Geschichte des Sozialismus, 1901.

[vii] Edward Bernstein. Evolutionary Socialism. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1964.

[viii] Rosa Luxemburg. Reform or Social Revolution. São Paulo, Popular Expression, 2003.

[ix] Robert Michels. Theory of K. Marx sulla Miseria Crescente e le Sue Origini. Turin, Fratelli Bocca, 1922, pp. 168-169.

[X] Bo Gustafsson. Marxism and Revisionism. The Bernsteinian critique of Marxism and its historical-ideological premises. Barcelona, ​​Grijalbo, 1975, pp. 356-359.

[xi] Cf. Osvaldo Coggiola. Socialism and anarchism in Argentina. Studies nº 5, Center for Third World Studies (FFLCH/USP), São Paulo, November 1986.

[xii] Richard Kindersley. The First Russian Revisionists. A study of “Legal Marxism” in Russia. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1962.

[xiii] Guiorgy V. Plekhanov. Cant against Kant. Valencia, Alejandria Proletaria, 2017.

[xiv] Bernstein und das Sozialdemokratische Programm: Eine Antikritik (Karl Kautsky. The Socialist Doctrine. Replica to Bernstein's book “Theoretical Socialism and Practical Socialism”. Buenos Aires, Claridad, 1966, pp. 80-81).

[xv] Joseph Rovan. Histoire de la Social-Démocratie Allemande. Paris, Seuil, 1977.

[xvi] Antonio Roberto Bertelli. Marxism and Capitalist Transformations. Do Bernstein-Debate to the Weimar Republic, 1899-1933. São Paulo, IAP-IPSO, 2000, pp. 46 and 64.

[xvii] Edgar Carone. The II International. São Paulo, Edusp-Anita Garibaldi, 1993.

[xviii] See Jacques Juillard. Fernand Pelloutier et les Origines du Syndicalisme d'Action Directe. Paris, Threshold, 1971.

[xx] Vladimir I. Lenin. The Development of Capitalism in Russia. Barcelona, ​​Ariel, 1974.

[xx] Michael R. Kratke. Retour sur une tradition méconnue: austromarxisme et économie politique. Actuel Marx No. 60, Paris, 2016.

[xxx] José Arico. New Lectures on Economics and Politics in Marxism. Mexico, Fund for Economic Culture, 2011.

[xxiii] Norbert Leser. Theory and Prassi dell'Austromarxism. Rome, Mondo Operaio, 1979, pp. 5-6

[xxiii] Leon Trotsky. My Life. Paris, Gallimard, 1973.

[xxv] Eugène Varga. Les Partis Socialdémocrates. Paris, Bureau d'Editions, SPD.

[xxiv] Barbara W. Tuchman. La Torre del Pride 1890-1914. Barcelona, ​​Peninsula, 2007, p. 416.

[xxv] Rosa Luxemburgo criticized this position, defending the armament of the proletariat in substitution of the professional army, also criticizing, describing it as anachronistic, Jaurès’ distinction between “defensive wars” (just) and “offensive wars” (unjust): L'Armée Nouvelle by Jean Jaurès (Juin 1911). In: Daniel Guerin. Rosa Luxembourg et la Spontaneité Révolutionnaire. Paris, Gallimard, 1971.

[xxviii] Parvus. Opportunism in practice. International Socialist Review, vol. 2, New York, November 1901: “Now there is no longer any doubt that we have installed full opportunism in Germany. There was a time, not so long ago – even the youngest members of the party still remember – when German Social Democracy was considered immune to opportunism. At that point, all that was needed to defeat any political position in the party was to point out its opportunistic character. For it was considered an axiom that the party should not and could not be opportunistic”.

[xxviii] Fritz Sternberg. The Imperialism. Mexico, Siglo XXI, 1979.

See this link for all articles