-Greeting of the Paris Action Committee of Socialist Women for Peace and Against Chauvinism
From The Archives Of Women And Revolution-
The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Spring 2001, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.
International Women's Day, 1916;A Greeting of the Paris Action Committee of Socialist Women for Peace and Against Chauvinism
We reprint below a statement of greetings from the Paris Action Committee of Socialist Women, an internationalist oppositional grouping within the French social democracy, on International Women's Day 1916. It is translated from the version published by the Gruppe Internationale, led by Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring and Leo Jogiches, in the illegal Spartacusbriefe (No. 17, 30 March 1916).
Following the definitive betrayal by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) at the outbreak of World War I, when its entire Reichstag fraction (initially including even such revolutionists as Karl Liebknecht, who misguidedly yielded to considerations of party "discipline" and "unity") voted the war credits demanded by the government, the minority of revolutionary -internationalists within the party were reduced to tiny, isolated propaganda groups without a party press or a party apparatus.
"Without an organization," said Lenin, "the masses are deprived of the sole expression of their will." The task, then, which the left radicals in the German social democracy faced, was the creation of an organization that might begin to overcome the atomization of the working class. This task had to be accomplished under conditions of illegality and against the old party leadership which, in its fear of such attempts to reach the masses of disfranchised party members, had imposed a moratorium on all discussion and criticism of the "official" line and refused to hold the yearly party congresses required by SPD statutes.
Coinciding with the increasing class collaboration of the party executive from 1910 onward had been a cessation in the growth of party membership (indeed, membership would have dropped, for the first time ever, had it not been for disproportionate recruitment of women). The large masses of non-organized workers were unwilling to take risks for a party whose timidity had emboldened employers to ever harsher attacks on their living standards.
The SPD section for work among women led by Clara Zetkin constituted a laudable exception to the party's general drift to the right (see "Foundations of Communist Work Among Women: The German Social Democracy," Women and Revolution Nos. 8 and 9, Spring and Summer; 1975). While subscriptions to the central party press were falling off, Zetkin's Die Gleichheit ("Equality") was able to chalk up a large increase in subscribers; similarly, it was undoubtedly Zetkin's activizing radicalism which in large measure accounted for the growth in women members—an indication that the SPD's capitulation to national chauvinism was not an expression of the "will of the masses" but rather of the revisionist leadership's default of socialist principle.
But Zetkin was able to carry on her fight for socialist international working-class solidarity in the forum of Die Gleichheit only for a short time longer; with the collaboration of the Prussian authorities the party leadership was able to gain control, install a compliant editor and proceed to run the journal into the ground. Circulation fell off sharply, and soon Die Gleichheit was suspended.
The statement of the Paris Action Committee is of interest not merely for its uncompromising interna¬tional proletarian solidarity in the midst of the chauvinist hysteria of the imperialist holocaust but also for the solutions it advances to the crisis of proletarian leadership.
Revolted by the quiescence and then by the outright betrayal of the party leadership and correctly viewing the masses as far more revolutionary than this petty-bourgeoisified leadership, many revolutionists over¬reacted by adopting a theory of mass revolutionary initiative exemplified by the "spontaneism" of Rosa Luxemburg. According to this view, the party was to be primarily an educational organization, providing leadership when the masses did decide on their own to initiate the final collapse of capitalism.
Such glorification of the masses' undirected revolutionary will led the social-democratic lefts to downplay the role of proletarian leadership. Thus, Luxemburg could write in 1910, when the SPD party executive was throttling mass demonstrations in favor of electoral reform: "If the mass of party comrades comprehends and truly feels this [the need for militant struggle], then our leaders will also be found at their posts. 'It's the masses that are decisive'."
Similarly, in the Paris Action Committee's statement, there is the belief that the old social democracy will somehow be revived and reconstituted "from below." A complementary error was the divided left social-democrats' neglect of the crucial need for organiza¬tional unity achieved on a firm programmatic basis.
But the theoretical/organizational failings of the social-democratic left opposition display a deeper inadequacy: a failure to come to grips with the changed conditions generated by the dominance of imperialism by the turn of the century. In foreign affairs imperialism had meant an unprecedented aggressiveness of the major capitalist powers, posing an imminent threat of world imperialist conflict. Internally, the dominance of monopoly cartels interpenetrated with bank capital found reflection within the German Second Reich in a closing of ranks by the capitalist exploiters and an unparalleled intransigence toward the labor move¬ment. Now, for example, lockouts were financed by a joint fund set up by all significant German industry. This hard-nosed stance of the German bourgeoisie vis-a-vis the social-democratic threat found expression politi¬cally in a strengthening of the reactionary bloc between industry and the East Elbran junkers with the aim of excluding the SPD from parliament. Within the labor movement itself, imperialism was accompanied by increasing divisions within the working class—not only industrialist-fostered "yellow unionism" but also what Lenin termed a "labor aristocracy" of relatively well-paid workers.
In the face of this challenge, the German social democracy remained tied to its old policy of verbal militancy and practical impotence. In particular, the entire left still clung to the Kautskyan theory of the "party of the entire class," i.e., including both those backward, reactionary layers which had not even achieved trade-union consciousness and a labor aristocracy whose relatively, elevated status made it prone to accept the status quo. Proponents of proletarian "unity" overlooked the fact that backward and non-revolutionary layers in the party would certainly generate spokesmen for their views within the party leadership.
While the Gruppe Internationale, which published this greeting, consisted of uncompromising revolution¬ists who were to found the German Communist Party, in failing to lend an organizational form to their views, they could offer no real solution to the social-democratic betrayal of the SPD leadership. It was only in the codification of Bolshevik practice in the early Comintern (particularly in the "Theses on Tactics" and "Guidelines on Organization") that the division between maximum and minimum program, enunciat¬ed in the Erfurt Program of 1891, was to be transcended in the creation of a party of a new type, the Leninist vanguard party of the proletariat, in which a conscious leadership of professional revolutionaries would be able to intervene decisively at crucial world-historical junctures precisely because it rested on an alert, class-conscious rank and file. Not Kautskyan "unity"-mongering, but such tactics as the united front simultaneously unmasked the old social-democratic misleaders and achieved working-class unity around the achievement of particular shared, strictly limited goals.
The statement of the Paris Action Committee of Socialist Women reprinted below is thus essentially a backward-looking document, harking back to the great traditions of the Second International and attempting to preserve a synthesis—"the great socialist family"— that had been first eroded and then dissolved by a triumphant imperialism. But the Second International had died in an act of definitive class-collaborationist betrayal. It was the Third International which was to continue the fight for international proletarian revolu¬tion through the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war directed against the international bourgeoisie under the leadership of an effective and disciplined international party of the working class.
To socialist and proletarian women of all countries the Committee sends an expression of its warmest sympathy on International Women's Day. From the ' bottom of its heart it hopes and desires that a great many socialist women's organizations will succeed— more freely and openly than it has itself been able to— in calling upon women everywhere to express their dearest wish, the wish for an immediate end to the frightful struggle that for 19 months now has been inundating the world in blood, and in uttering in numerous mass meetings with a clear voice the, word "peace" tabooed in our country.
We feel ourselves in solidarity with the socialist proletarians of the so-called enemy nations, with the proletarians whom we no more confuse with their exploiters than we would be confused with our own hangmen. We feel this solidarity the more strongly the more zealously our own, our true enemies, the capitalists, strive to incite us against foreign proletari¬ans. Thus under the present conditions it is particularly to the socialist and proletarian women of countries at war with us and especially to the proletarian women of Germany that we offer the assurance of our most heartfelt, warmest sympathy, and above all to Clara Zetkin and all the women comrades who, heroically and inspired with glowing conviction, are struggling for socialism and for peace without counting the costs to themselves.
The Committee renews the vow of proletarian solidarity made by its members at the time of their entry into the great socialist family. To each and every one it sends fraternal greetings, sad, painful greetings, but greetings supported by the unshakable belief in the future of the proletariat.
For the Committee: Louise Saumoneau, Paris