V. I. Lenin

The First International Socialist Conference at Zimmerwald{5}

AUGUST 23–26 (SEPTEMBER 3 –8), 1915

Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 41, pages 349-355.1.
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) © 2004 Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.  





The present war springs from imperialism, i.e., the highest stage of capitalism, when the development of the productive forces and the growth of capital have gone beyond the narrow framework of separate national states, and induce the “great” powers to try to enslave other nations and seize colonies as sources of raw materials and areas for the export of capital.

The objective conditions are quite ripe for socialism and the great powers are fighting the current war in an effort artificially to delay the collapse of capitalism, by preserving and intensifying the dependence of colonies, by seizing privileges on the world market, and by splitting and sup pressing the international revolutionary struggle of the workers.

Social-Democrats fully recognise the necessity of freedom for all nations. In the epoch of struggle against feudalism, absolutism and foreign national oppression, they recognised defence of one’s country—today they recognise as just the war waged by the oppressed nations (especially colonies) against their oppressors, the “great” powers.

But the current war between the great powers is a war between slave-owners to intensify and consolidate slavery, for a redivision of the colonies, for the “right” to oppress other nations, for the privileges of great-power capital and for the reactionary suppression of the working-class movement. That is why talk about “defence of one’s country” on the part of both belligerent groups of powers is a bourgeois swindle of the people. Neither the victory by any of the present governments, nor the status quo ante helium   can safeguard the freedom of nations from the imperialist great powers, nor can it give the possibility of a decent life to the working class, which is being increasingly weighed down by the high cost of living, the trusts, militarism and its attendant political reaction, even in the freest countries.

The real meaning of the “defend your country” slogan in this war is defence of the great-power privileges and advantages, defence of the “right” of the given bourgeoisie to oppress other nations, it is a national-liberal labour policy, an alliance between a small section of the workers and their “own” national bourgeoisie against the mass of proletarians and the exploited. Socialists conducting such a policy are in fact chauvinists—social-chauvinists. The policy of voting for war credits, entering ministries, Burgfrieden,{1} etc., is a policy of opportunism and betrayal of socialism. The working class cannot attain its great aim of labour emancipation, without carrying on a resolute struggle against opportunism and social-chauvinism.

The Basle Manifesto of 1912, adopted unanimously in anticipation of precisely the kind of war between the great powers which has in fact come about, definitely recognised the reactionary and imperialist character of the war, and clearly announced the approach of a proletarian revolution in connection with such a war. In effect, the war has created a revolutionary situation, and has generated revolutionary sentiments and discontent. It is the task of Social-Democrats to maintain and develop these, help to clear the revolutionary awareness of the masses and purge their minds of the falsehood of bourgeois and socialist chauvinism, promote every effort at revolutionary mass struggle against imperialism, for socialism, and to work to transform the imperialist war into a civil war for socialism.

To intensify their revolutionary agitation, Social-Democrats must make use of the growing massive desire for peace, which expresses the disappointment of the masses and the clearing of their revolutionary consciousness. But in so doing, Social-Democrats should not deceive the people by holding out hopes for any kind of stable democratic   peace, that would rule out the oppression of nations, and that would come soon and without the revolutionary over throw of the present governments.

Written before July 13 (28), 1915 Printed from the original
First published in 1937 in Lenin Miscellany XXX




  1. 1. Fact of the war and the consequences. Overall picture.
  2. 2. Imperialist character
    1. 1) colonial plunder
    2. 2) oppression of nations
    3. 3) division of the world.
  3. 3. Bringing out the aim.
  4. 4. Falsification of its character
    a) emancipation of peoples —oppression
    b) democracy —despotism (reaction?)
    c) culture —barbarous war
    d) welfare —social reforms
    e) capitalist income —high cost of living!
  5. 5. Capitalism (Trotsky).
    (Break-up of the bourgeois world)....
  6. 6. At the height of the crisis of capitalism, w h i c h (crisis) dooms the proletariat to the greatest sacrifices, it is urged to defend capitalism, there are demands for civil peace.
  7. 7. Struggle against war....
  8. 8. Decisions of congresses....
  9. 9. Official parties—against these decisions
    voting credits
    entry into ministries
    for bloc }}
    D e f e n c e o f o n e’ s c o u n t r y.
  10. 10. Struggle of minorities (and parties) against the war.
  11. 11. Return of the working class to its task.
  12. 12. I.S.B.
  13. 13. Meeting at Berne.{7} (Links created.)
  15. 14. Banner of class struggle.
  16. 15.
    1. a) action by belligerent countries....
    2. b) action by neutral countries....
  17. 16. International scale.
  18. 17. Terms of peace.
  19. 18. Appeal.
Written between August 19 and 23 (September 1 and 5), 1915 Printed from the original
First published in 1962 in Vol. 27 of the Fifth Russian edition of the Collected Works Translated from the French and the German



  1. 1) Imperialism and plunder
  2. 2) Diverting the attention of the revolutionary proletariat and weakening its movement...
  3. 3) Exposure of bourgeois sophisms—one group
  4. 4) Devoir socialiste...{2}
  5. 5)
    Quote bottom
    5. page 5 top—
    7. page 5 top
    [BOX:] 1
  6. 6) German Social-Democrats cannot plead struggle against tsarism
  7. 7) Our press has been rebuking us over the German leaders’ behaviour
  8. 8) Quote, p. 8, end from the word M&ehat;me
    [BOX:] 1/2 page
  9. 9) Russian S.D. remplit son devoir{3} by its vote and i l l e g a l p r o c l a m a t i o n
  10. 10) It is harmful to cover up the bankruptcy of the Second International;   the Centre is especially harmful
  11. 11) This bankruptcy is the bankruptcy of opportunism
    page 11
    [BOX:] 1
  12. 12) Chauvinism in Russia, including a section of the Social-Democrats
  13. 13) Defeat of tsarism—the lesser evil
  14. 14) Illegal organisation and agitation
    [BOX:] [[ quote (end of 15 and 16)
    [BOX:] 1 ]]
Written between August 23 and 26 (September 5 and 8), 1915 Printed from the original
First published in 1962 in Vol. 21 of the Fifth Russian edition of the Collected Works





It was inevitable that things here should have come to a struggle of opinion between Ledebour and us.{8} However, I must protest against the method used here by Ledebour in attacking Radek. The assertion that our manifesto has been signed only by men who are safe is inadmissible. It has also been signed by the Latvian delegates and Borchardt. Another old and hackneyed argument is saying that one should not call the masses to revolutionary action unless one is able to take a direct part in it oneself. Further more, I deny that there should be no mention of the means of struggle. That has occurred in all revolutionary periods. The means should be made known to the masses so that they could be explained and discussed. We in Russia have always acted in this way; in fact, the interpretation of the means of struggle had been the subject of arguments between Plekhanov and myself even in the pre-revolutionary years. When the objective historical situation of 1847 confronted   Germany with revolution, Marx and Engels sent out an appeal from London calling for violence.{9} The German movement is faced with a decision. If we are indeed on the threshold of a revolutionary epoch in which the masses will go over to revolutionary struggle, we must also make mention of the means necessary for this struggle. According to the revisionist view taken by David and others, that is naturally something quite useless: after all, they do not believe that we are on the eve of a revolutionary epoch. We who believe this must act otherwise. You cannot make revolution without explaining revolutionary tactics. It was precisely the worst feature of the Second International that it constantly avoided explanations; and it is that which the Dutch Tribune-Marxists{10} quite correctly called the German Centre’s “passive revolutionary attitude”.

Now on the question of persecutions. You in Germany should in general do more than legal work, if you want real action. You must combine legal and illegal activity. The old methods are no longer adequate to the new situation. You yourselves have said: we are going forward to an epoch of great class battles. In that case, you must also have the means for this. And it is not at all necessary for the manifesto to be signed, it could well be issued without signatures. At any rate, you should not act semi-legally, like Clara Zetkin, for instance. That calls for too much sacrifice.

Here is how things stand: either a truly revolutionary struggle or mere empty talk which will help no one but the deserters, against whom Liebknecht speaks out so sharply in this letter.{11} Coming out for peace does not mean much in itself. David also writes: we are not for the war, but only against defeat. Everyone wants peace. Taking account of the new situation, we should use new and specific means of struggle which should not be similar in any way to the old German or Russian methods.


I do not agree with Serrati that the resolution will appear either too early or too late.{12} After this war, other, mainly colonial, wars will be waged. Unless the proletariat turns off the social-imperialist way, proletarian solidarity will   be completely destroyed; that is why we must determine common tactics. If we adopt only a manifesto, Vandervelde, L’Humanité and others will once again start deceiving the masses; they will keep saying that they, too, oppose war and want peace. The old vagueness will remain.

First published in 1965 in Vol. 54 of the Fifth Russian edition of the Collected Works Printed from the minutes of the conference
Translated from the German



No. 1.
noch die wichtigste Frage des Opportunismus ber\"uhrt, noch die besonders sch\"adliche Rolle des s.-d. Zentrums aufdeckt.{4}
No. 2.
We vote for, in particular, because two French comrades have put forward an important consideration. It is they who have pointed to the exceptionally oppressed condition of the workers in France, their extreme corruption by revolutionary phrase-mongering, and the need for a slow and cautious transition to resolute tactics. But in Europe as a whole it is opportunism that is the enemy of the working-class movement.
Written on August 26 (September 8), 1915 Printed from the original
First published in 1930 in Lenin Miscellany XIV


{1} Peace at home.—Ed.

{2} Socialist duty.—Ed.

{3} Has done its duty.—Ed.

{4} Neither touches on the highly important question of opportunism,nor exposes the exceptionally harmful role of the S.D. Centre.—Ed.

{5} The First International Socialist Conference at Zimmerwald (Switzerland) was held from September 5 to 8, 1915.

It was attended by 38 delegates from 11 European countries. Most delegates took a Centrist stand. It discussed the following questions: 1) reports by representatives of the various countries; 2) joint declaration by representatives of Germany and France; 3) proposal by the Zimmerwald Left on the adoption of a resolution of principle; 4) adoption of a manifesto; 5) elections to the International Socialist Committee; 6) adoption of a resolution voicing sympathy for the victims of the war and the persecuted.

Lenin took an active part in the work of the Conference: he made speeches, sent notes to delegates during the sittings and spoke to them during the recesses. Before the Conference, he carried out extensive preparatory work in rallying the Left wing against the social-chauvinists and the Centrists. On the eve of the Zimmerwald Conference, between September 2 and 4, there was a meeting of Russian and Polish delegates to discuss a “Draft Resolution Proposed by the Left Wing at Zimmerwald” which was written by Lenin, and a draft resolution motioned by Karl Radek which Lenin had criticised before the meeting. After the discussion it was decided to motion at the Zimmerwald Conference Radek a draft corrected on the basis of Lenin’s remarks. The draft resolution and the draft manifesto written by Lenin condemned social-chauvinism and Centrism, raised the question of rejecting the slogans: “defend your country” in the imperialist war and a “civil peace”, and pointed to the need for the propaganda of revolutionary action.

A majority at the Conference rejected the draft resolution on the war and the tasks of Social-Democrats and the draft manifesto motioned by the Left wing. However, the appeal “To the Proletarians of Europe” adopted by the Conference contained, thanks to Lenin’s insistence, a number of basic propositions of revolutionary Marxism.

Lenin’s “Draft Resolution Proposed by the Left Wing at Zimmerwald”, his articles “The First Step” and “Revolutionary Marxists at the International Socialist Conference of September 5–8, 1915”, in which Lenin assesses the Zimmerwald Conference, are published in Vol. 21 of the present edition, pp. 345–48, 383–88, 389–93.

The proceedings of the Zimmerwald and the Kienthal conferences from which Lenin’s speeches published in this volume have been taken, were received by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the C.P.S.U. Central Committee from the International Institute of Social History at Amsterdam in 1964. Some minor remarks by Lenin are not included in the volume. p. 349

{6} These are theses for a report on the character of the First World War and the tactics of revolutionary internationalists, which Lenin gave at a private meeting of Left-wing Social-Democratic delegates at the Zimmerwald Conference on September 4, 1915, before the Conference opened. It was also attended by some other delegates. The meeting adopted the draft manifesto and the draft resolution motioned by the Left wing at the Zimmerwald Conference. p. 351

{7} A reference to the Vorkonferenz, a preliminary conference, on the question of convening an international socialist conference, held at Berne on July 11, 1915. It was called on the initiative of the Italian and Swiss socialists, and was attended by representatives of the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee, the Regional Executive of the Polish Social-Democratic Party, the P.P.S.-Lewica and the O.C. of the Mensheviks. Most of those attending were Centrists. The main question was the composition of the Forthcoming First International Socialist Conference. The Kautskian majority of the Vorkonferenz tried to get the Centrists led by Kautsky and even avowed social-chauvinists, Troelstra and Branting, to attend the conference. The representative of the R.S.D.L.P. Central Committee motioned a proposal that invitation to attend the next preliminary conference should be sent out to representatives of real Left-wingers in the international working-class movement, who had by then separated themselves from the official parties in most countries (the Dutch Left, the Bulgarian Tesnyaki, the Left-wing opposition in the Swedish and the Norwegian Social-Democratic parties, the group of German Left-wingers—Inter national Socialists of Germany, the Polish Social-Democrats [opposition] and the Latvian Social-Democrats). But the Kautskian majority at the conference rejected the proposal. The preliminary conference adopted a decision to cell the second Vorkonferenz which was to take the final decision on the conference. But it was not held, the Zimmerwald Conference being convened instead. p. 351

{8} In the discussion of the draft manifesto and the draft resolution on the war and the tasks of Social-Democrats, motioned on behalf of the Zimmerwald Left by Karl Radek, a sharp struggle flared up at the Conference between the revolutionary internationalists led by Lenin and the Kautskian majority led by the German Social-Democrat G. Ledebour. Opposing these documents, Ledebour and the Swiss Social-Democrat R. Grimm declared that, in putting forward concrete demands for revolutionary action, the draft manifesto and resolution motioned by the Left gave away the tactical measures of revolutionary Social-Democracy to the enemy. They said that people who signed these documents and spread their ideas in the belligerent countries could be subjected to reprisals. p. 353

{9} An apparent reference to the Communist Manifesto (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1962, pp. 21–65). p. 354

{10} The Tribunists—members of the Social-Democratic Party of Holland, whose organ was the newspaper De Tribune. Their leaders were D. Wijnkoop, H. Gorter, A. Pannekoek and Henriette Roland-Holst. They were not consistent revolutionaries but represented the Left wing of the labour movement in Holland, and during the First World War mainly took an internationalist stand. In 1918, they set up the Communist Party of Holland. p. 354

{11} A reference to Karl Liebknecht’s letter of September 2, 1915, to the International Socialist Conference at Zimmerwald. He could not take part in the Conference, because he had been drafted into the German army in early 1915. In his letter he opposed “civil peace” and called for a civil war against the bourgeoisie, for the international solidarity of socialists of all the belligerent countries, S or a struggle against the imperialist war and a break with the social-chauvinists. p. 354

{12} In his speech, the Italian Socialist Party delegate G. Serrati declared that the resolution on the war and the tasks of Social-Democrats, motioned by the Left, was either premature or belated, because the war was already on and it had been impossible to prevent its outbreak. p. 354

{13} The addenda were not included in the final text of the statement read out at the Conference in which the Zimmerwald Left motivated its voting for the official manifesto. p. 355

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