Democratic Socialism and World War Two

By Otto Bauer, Theodor Dan, and Jean Zyromski, with a Foreword by Friedrich Adler and a statement by Henry Noel Brailsford (1935). Translation1 and introduction by Ben Lewis.


To my knowledge, what follows is the first English-language translation of an anti-war manifesto written by three leading members of the Labour and Socialist International (1923–1940). The translation should be of interest to a contemporary audience for three main reasons. First, it provides a glimpse of the political self-understanding of this significant trend within the workers’ movement, which sought to distance itself from the experience of Bolshevism and to win away workers to its banner. Second, the manifesto offers valuable insights into the geopolitical dynamics of the tumultuous 1930s, with the threat of another generalised global conflict looming ever larger on the horizon. The manifesto’s discussions of such varied phenomena as the history of the Second International, Stalinism, National Socialism and the League of Nations are extremely illuminative (and reveal some of the Socialist and Labour International’s illusions in the latter). Third, nonetheless, the manifesto contains potential insights for the contemporary left in its continued attempts to formulate an anti-war strategy that fights to work most effectively for peace through the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production and its inherent tendency towards war.


‘…then it is too late!’2

‘Should war nonetheless break out, then it is too late!’ In this succinct phrase once made in conversation, the former Chancellor of the German Reich, Hermann Müller3 formulated his attitude to the problems that I attempted to present for discussion in my pamphlet on the position of the International in the event of war.4 He thereby openly professed to the views that determine, whether this is acknowledged or not, the attitude of wide sections of the Labour and Socialist International. We have to do everything to prevent war; yet if, in spite of everything, the disaster runs its course, then the international politics of the proletariat will sink into the mass grave of all culture too, as they in fact did in 1914. The spirited purpose of averting the danger of war, one which is shared by the entire [Labour and] Socialist International, is for so many coupled with absolute despair regarding the future, even with a veritable fatalism for the moment when war nevertheless breaks out. This resignation is to a large degree a rejection of their experience of the world war;5 it springs from the subconscious need to justify their own policies in 1914.With some individuals it perhaps even represents the desire, even if this is not admitted, to preserve the freedom to once again, in the event of a future war, pursue autonomous national policies without subordinating these to the general interests of the international working class, interests which coincide with the true interests of humanity as a whole.

These fatalist views are in flagrant contradiction to the principles on which the Labour and Socialist International agreed at its founding congress in Hamburg in1923. In its statutes, it declared: “The Labour and Socialist International is not merely an instrument for tasks in peace, but an equally indispensible instrument in war.” This observation certainly does not provide any detailed directives, but it does contain one thing: the unambiguous recognition of the necessity of international socialist policies in the event of war.

This principle has been acknowledged, but thus far the Labour and Socialist International has not taken any steps to practically prepare its tasks as well. There are ample grounds to justify this sin of omission. In the first decade after the world war, this monstrous experience still continued to have such an effect that, for great masses of the people, the slogan ‘Never again war!’ was much less of a pragmatic political demand for the future than it was a conclusive judgement on the past, a past which could never return. Millions of people resist the mere thought of permitting a repeat of the horrible disaster. Yet even those who may have seen new dangers for the future, but were lulled with optimism, could be perpetually mesmerised by the expansion of the system of collective security, of which the League of Nations was to be the first step. They believed that, to prevent war, everything had to be concentrated on expanding the achievement of Geneva and that any discussion of how to approach a new war was likely to detract from the confidence in the success of securing peace through collective treaties.

The failure of the League of Nations in the face of the Japanese warmongers6 and the fizzling out of the disarmament conference7 were warning signals which ought to have taught us that, in the long run, such a policy of burying our heads in the sand puts the working class at risk of being as unprepared to confront the outbreak of a new war as it was in 1914. Of course, we must tenaciously take advantage of all possibilities offered by the institutions of Geneva.

Of course, we must continue to work tirelessly for the creation of collective securities. Yet, in parallel with this work of securing peace, we must seriously consider what must happen if war nonetheless breaks out. Work on these problems cannot be deferred until the moment when war has really already arrived — the expression, ‘then it is too late’ fully applies here!

Those who have followed the events of this summer8 will wonder, with increasing concern, whether it is already too late. It is thus to be warmly welcomed that some of the International’s best-known comrades have made an attempt to draw up a sketch of the working class’s international policies in the event of war. I was unable to participate in the development of the document and refrain from putting my signature to it at this stage. I do so in order to avoid any misunderstandings which could be deduced from my capacity as Secretary of the International. Yet my personal position is clearly visible from the statements above. I consider this first attempt at a pragmatic political treatment of the problem to be of extraordinary merit. Factually, I am also in full agreement with the broad lines of this exposé.

Yet it goes without saying that it is supposed to be the basis of a discussion and that everyone will have amendments to propose in one direction or another. However, above and beyond these individual matters, this sketch places the tasks, which are still to be faced, in the correct light.

In their archives, the general staffs of all the military powers have strategic plans worked out in detail for every conceivable possibility in the event of war, even if its occurrence still appears to be improbable. The exposé presented here for discussion envisages just one event, premised on the current world situation. As a result, it certainly has particular contemporary significance. Yet we know how, in these turbulent times, the world situation is changing in the manner of a kaleidoscope. We must also be equipped for situations of a quite different kind; we have to take as the basis of our investigations the multiplicity of premises that the general staffs do in pursuing their goals. For only if we get to the bottom of these problems will it not be too late.

The present document also makes us aware of how confronting the problem of international politics in the event of war is not only a task of an intellectual nature and of historical knowledge, but first instance it is a question of moral courage. The nationalist mobs of all countries are imbued with a burning hatred of any open commitment to an international mindset; they will also foam over the present document as ‘treason.’ That cannot bewilder us. Twenty-one years ago today, with the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia,9 disaster ran its course. Today, like back then, we are convinced that, in the face of war and all the disasters that it brings, there is only one possible position that the working class can take – restless courage to be internationalist.

—Friedrich Adler
Brussels, 23 July 1935

Theses on the Question of War (1935)

The International and its affiliated parties must already consider what position they will adopt, if war is to break out, for three reasons.

Firstly, the socialist parties must not once again, as they were in 1914, be surprised by war and thereby be forced to adopt a hasty, insufficiently thought-out position. Their position must be carefully considered and prepared.

Secondly, with the victory of National Fascism in Germany, with the developments in the Soviet Union and with the alliances which individual states have concluded with the latter, the situation has completely changed. The International has to emancipate itself from traditional opinions that no longer correspond to the situation today.

Thirdly, the current position of the International on the most important contemporary problems of international politics must be determined by recognition of the tasks which fall to it in the event of war.

For these reasons, the undersigned present the following theses for discussion.

The signatories submit the guidelines contained in these theses only in their own
name, not in that of their parties
. Only they are responsible for these theses, not their parties.

The signatories themselves are not of one mind on the assessment of every individual question discussed in the following theses. They are, however, agreed on the general guidelines and on the practical political conclusions.


(1) Hitler Germany is the most powerful citadel of Fascism. In the event of war, the victory of Hitler Germany would subject the whole of Europe to the reign of the most brutal Fascism. In contrast, the defeat of Hitler Germany would unleash the proletarian revolution in the largest, most industrially advanced state on the continent, thereby facilitating the victory of socialism in Europe as a whole. If war comes about, then international socialism has the greatest interest in Fascism being defeated and the proletarian revolution being unleashed in Germany.

(2) The Soviet Union has expropriated the large landowners and capitalists, constructed powerful nationalised industry, collectivised agriculture and significantly raised the cultural standards of its peoples. Even if this revolutionary upheaval was accomplished under a terrorist dictatorship, this dictatorship can and must be gradually dismantled and developed into a socialist democracy to the extent that the international socialist proletariat can show itself to be willing and able to successfully defy the Fascistic tendencies in the development of the capitalist world, and the extent to which the development of the forces of production in the Soviet Union will succeed
in overcoming economic plight: in ending the embittered struggle between town and country over the still all-too-sparse yield from the land; in raising the cultural standards of the masses of the people and hence strengthening their self-consciousness and their urge to run their own lives.

Such developments in the Soviet Union would create a model of a socialist social order and thereby strengthen the appeal of socialist ideas all over the world. In the event of war, defeat of the Soviet Union would cut short these developments, bring about the downfall of the Soviet government and abandon all of its large territory to the White counterrevolution. In contrast, the victory of the Soviet Union would enormously enhance its prestige in Europe and Asia, thereby severely undermining international capitalism as a whole and, with this, making the world victory of socialism considerably easier. If war comes about, then the interests of international socialism demand that the Soviet Union is victorious.

(3) The victory of the bourgeois democrats in the world war — Great Britain, France, and the United States — toppled the autocratic powers in Germany and Austria–Hungary. It brought democracy to power across central Europe. Yet the power of the bourgeoisie ruling the three victorious powers prevented the central- European revolutions of 1918 from going beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy.

If the world war was a victory of democracy, then it was in fact a victory of bourgeois, capitalist democracy.

Within a few years, the young bourgeois democracies of central and Eastern Europe have been blown apart by class contradictions. The democracies formed in 1918 have fallen prey partly to Fascism and partly to military dictatorships. With the exception of Czechoslovakia, all of these democracies have succumbed to counter-revolutionary forces. One-and-a-half decades after its victory, democracy has once again lost all of the space it gained in 1918. At the same time, with the victory of Fascism, the threat of war has arisen once again.

The peoples of Central and Eastern Europe have found out that democracy is not secure as long as it rests on the ground of capitalist class society. They have found out that bourgeois democracy could only secure freedom and peace for a few years. The world working class, which was unable to exploit the world war’s shock to the capitalist system in order to go beyond it, is now threatened by the danger of having to go through the hell of a second world war.

The world working class must possess a strong will, exploiting a new war to conquer political power for itself and thereby overcome capitalism.

Three factors must therefore determine the policies of the world proletariat in the event of war. The interests of the world proletariat demand that German Fascism is defeated. The interests of the world proletariat demand that the Soviet Union is victorious. The interests of the world proletariat demand that, in all capitalist countries, the working class exploits the war to conquer political power and thereby overcome the capitalist social order.


These factors must determine the international policies of the working class in the here
and now.

(1) Of course, international socialism must still concentrate all its efforts on preventing war. War is the most abominable crime against humanity; only when the masses of the people appreciate that capitalism and Fascism alone have provoked the war catastrophe, only when the masses of the people know that international socialism has done everything in its power to prevent war, only then will international socialism be able to exploit the war to conquer state power, to overcome capitalism. It is likely that German Fascism is only seeking to delay war for the purpose of completing its armaments and winning allies in the meantime, enabling it to then attack with greater force. Yet this possibility must not beguile international socialism into approving a preventative war against Hitler Germany. It may be the case that, with time, Fascist Germany becomes stronger in relation to democratic France, but it is certain that, in the same period of time, the Soviet Union will become stronger than Fascist Germany. It is equally certain that, with the passing of time, the Fascist dictatorship in Germany will lose effect, its prestige in the eyes of the German people will sink and the dormant revolutionary forces in the German working class will grow. So even though, with the passing of time, German Fascism may become stronger in relation to bourgeois democracy, in the same period of time it will become weaker in the face of the proletarian revolution. We are under no illusions that there can be eternal peace in capitalist society, but we have the greatest interest in deferring the outbreak of war as much as possible.

(2) In the struggle against war, international socialism must support the governments of those states that have been sated by the outcome of the last war and that wish to maintain peace. Yet if international socialism supports the efforts of capitalist governments to maintain peace, it must do so without any illusions, and must seek to destroy the illusions of the masses of the people as to these governments’ real aims and what they can actually do.

The governments attempting to salvage the endangered peace in Europe today are conservative governments seeking to preserve the distribution of power that resulted from the world war and, with this, the capitalist social order; their goals are therefore the opposite of ours. They are imperialist governments defending their position of dominance over the working class of their particular country, over the subjected peoples of the colonies and their position of power in the world; we are enemies of all imperialisms. If today we are compelled to support the policies of these governments for the sake of peace, then their policies are not our policies. In the course of events we can, and will, be compelled to also turn against these capitalist governments and to call the masses of people into battle against them.

(3) In their attempts to preserve peace, these conservative governments have no other means at their disposal than to endeavour to counter any power that might attack another with such an overwhelmingly powerful coalition that the attack becomes pointless, deterring Hitler Germany from attacking through fear of such a coalition. As long as proletarian socialism is not yet in power in the most decisive countries, it cannot fail to support these efforts of the capitalist governments to maintain peace.

For this reason, international socialism must, for the time being, back the institution that is the League of Nations and demand from all governments the strict observation of the commitments adopted by its treaty. It must turn against all governments that violate these commitments and combat those governments that, out of their own power and alliance interests, feebly tolerate such violations that devalue and belittle the League of Nations.

Yet as much as international socialism must support the League of Nations, it must not fall into dangerous illusions about its ability to prevent war.

The League of Nations is what the superpowers controlling it make of it. If these superpowers agree not to tolerate an attack, then no power will dare to do so. If the superpowers do not agree, then at the moment of the danger of war the League of Nations will not be able to make decisions or able to act. Politics that make the actions of international socialism in the event of war contingent on decisions of the League of Nations—on the League of Nations establishing the aggressor and taking action against it—are therefore utopian. International socialism will have to determine its actions in the event of war itself, not make them contingent on the decisions of the League of Nations.

(4) In the struggle against war, international socialism must support efforts at expanding and buttressing the League of Nations treaty with treaties that are to create a system of collective security. Yet it must not be deceived by the character or effectiveness of such treaties.

Already now, the continent has been divided into two hostile camps. Whether a system of treaties will function against the aggressor in the event of a conflict between both camps will depend on the decisions of Great Britain. Yet as long as capitalist and imperialist governments rule Britain, this decision itself will be contingent on Great Britain’s global imperialist interests. If, for example, Japanese imperialism attacks the Soviet Union, if subsequently Hitler Germany and Poland want to exploit this war situation in order to likewise attack the Soviet Union, then in line with the Treaty of Locarno it will be up to Great Britain whether France and Czechoslovakia can come to the aid of the Soviet Union without falling foul of Great Britain. Yet Great Britain’s decision will be determined by its imperialist interests in East Asia. In this manner, the system of collective security makes British imperialism the arbitrator of Europe. This decisive role, which Britain secured for itself for centuries through the ‘system of European equilibrium,’ is today secured through the ‘system of collective security’.

Any new war would endanger the loose structure of the British Empire. British imperialism therefore has an interest in maintaining peace. For the sake of peace, international socialism can therefore support attempts at the expansion of the system of collective security, despite this system obviously serving the power interests of British imperialism. Yet if at the moment we do this for the sake of peace, then we can be under no illusions, and allow no illusions to develop among the masses of the people that, as long as capitalist governments rule Great Britain, the collective system of security is also an instrument of imperialism, which — owing to its imperialist character and its use for imperialist ends — we can be compelled to confront in the course of events.

(5) In the struggle against war, international socialism must also support regional pacts that seek to confront any aggressor with a strong coalition and thereby deter Hitler Germany from an attack and towards peace.

Yet international socialism must not be deceived, and must not deceive the masses of people, that these treaties are anything more than the modern form of war alliances, and that they are also subject to imperialist aims.

Thus France, so as to win the companionship of Italian Fascism against German Fascism, gave the former free reign in Austria and was thereby partly culpable for the bloody suppression of the Austrian workers. Thus, to the same end, France put up little to no resistance to Italian imperialism’s schemes for the conquest of Abyssinia.

If, for the sake of peace, international socialism supports regional pacts, it cannot and must not refrain from teaching the masses of people to understand that, in the hands of capitalist governments, all such pacts can be instruments of imperialist policies of conquest and subjugation.

(6) Since the end of the world war, international socialism has called for international disarmament. Had it been strong enough to achieve this, the equality of the defeated nations would have been restored not through rearmament, but through the victorious powers disarming. The resistance of the victorious powers’ capitalist classes prevented this. Thus the equality of the defeated nations has been restored through rearmament and through arbitrary violations of the peace treaty. The shift in power relations between the European states, precipitated by Germany’s arbitrary rearmament, is the immediate cause of the threat of war.

Today, following Germany’s rearmament, and in light of Italy and Japan’s attitude towards all questions relating to armaments, an international disarmament that went far enough to eliminate the danger of war has become a utopia. Nevertheless, international socialism must support all efforts at achieving a contractual restriction of armaments. But it must not foster and spread the illusion that even now an international disarmament can be achieved that really would be able to secure international peace.

International socialism cannot call for one-sided disarmament on the part of those states threatened by an attack from Hitler Germany. If, in order to maintain peace, international socialism has to support the formation of a power that can confront any aggressor, then it cannot wish to disarm this power. If international socialism wishes for Hitler Germany to be defeated — should it unleash war — then it cannot wish for the enemies of Hitler Germany to go without the necessary armaments.

Yet international socialism must not overlook how, under the rule of capitalist governments, each army is not simply a weapon against enemies abroad, but also a means of holding down the working class at home. It must not overlook how states that today are enemies of Hitler Germany and allies of the Soviet Union can tomorrow, in a changed situation, also use their armies in the struggle against the Soviet Union, or for imperialist conquests. As long as state power is not in the hands of the people, therefore, international socialism must leave responsibility for armaments to the capitalist classes and their parties. While it must recognise the necessity of military service and the arming of the people with the necessary means of defence in all countries threatened by Hitler Germany, it must actually combat those institutions of militarism that are suited to turning the armies into instruments of reaction. It must call for the armies to be purged of all Fascist and reactionary elements, for the abolition of all privileges of the officer corps that are not necessary to the maintenance of military subordination and for the abolition of all class privileges in selecting officers. It must combat any extension of the period of service beyond that necessary for training and border control. Above all, it must energetically combat the deployment of large permanent mercenary squads within the armies based on universal conscription. Justified under the pretext of military-technological necessity, in reality these squads place large mercenary armies at the service of capitalist governments in order to hold down their own people. It must combat any possibility of making war a source of extra profits for the capitalists and therefore demand the nationalisation of the weapons industry and a tax of 100% on all war profits.


Every war is a crime against humanity. Yet international socialism cannot adopt the same attitude to all wars. Its position during war must be made contingent on the effect that the outcome of the war can have on the liberation struggle of the world proletariat.

Thus it is only possible to specify firm guidelines for the position of international socialism in a specific war, not in any conceivable war. In what follows, we have in mind a war between two coalitions, one of which is led by Hitler Germany and the other, to which the Soviet Union belongs. We shall specify the attitude of international socialism in the event of such a war.

In 1914 two coalitions confronted each other, both of which were made up of capitalist and imperialist powers. While Russian tsarism stood on one side, Prusso-German militarism and the Austro-Hungarian prison of nations stood on the other. Back then, the International could not side with either coalition. Things are different in the case of the war that humanity now has to face. If Hitler Germany and the Soviet Union are at war, then the International must side against Hitler Germany and its allies; it must wish for it to be defeated by the Soviet Union and its allies.


Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill in Tehran, 1943.

While in 1914 the International was unable to side with either of the coalitions, the individual socialist parties agreed civil peace [Burgfrieden] with their governments and summoned the working masses to defend their own countries. With this Burgfrieden, this union sacrée, the Socialist parties refrained from exploiting the war to fight for political power, to topple capitalist rule. Yet in any new war, it will precisely be a matter of the proletariat exploiting the shock to the system represented by the war to conquer political power.

For these reasons, in the event of the war that we have in mind, the following rules apply:

(1) In the Soviet Union, the working class must of course defend the revolutionary state from any attack with all its strength and enthusiasm. The Socialist parties in the Soviet Union who are in opposition to the Bolshevik dictatorship must also unconditionally and unreservedly champion revolutionary defence of the country and, for the duration of the war, subordinate all their demands to the necessity of revolutionary national defence and winning victory in the interests of the world proletariat as a whole. On the other hand, the Soviet government will bolster the revolutionary defence of the country and the enthusiasm of the Western and central-European working class for the defence of the Soviet Union if it grants amnesty to all oppositional Socialist and Communist prisoners and exiles, drawing them into the active organisation of the revolutionary defence of the nation.

There are parties belonging to the Labour and Socialist International that strive for the separation of their peoples from the Soviet Union. We do not dispute the right to national self-determination of Georgia and Armenia any more than we do for any other people, but we demand from the Socialist parties of these peoples, as well as those of all other Socialist parties, that they subordinate all specific national interests to the general interests of the world proletariat. Socialist parties that provoke or support nationalist uprisings or want to sabotage the defence of the Soviet Union for nationalist motives would violate the vital interests of the world proletariat. They would carry out the business of Hitler Germany. They would place themselves on the other side of the barricades. We must therefore establish full clarity on whether the Socialist parties of the Ukrainians, Georgians and Armenians want to unconditionally and unreservedly support the defence of the Soviet Union in the event of war and subordinate their national ambitions to the imperative of this defence: only then can there be room for these parties in the Labour and Socialist International.

The Soviet Union will have to wage war in alliance with the capitalist powers. If the Soviet Union is already now compelled to bring its diplomatic methods into line with those of its capitalist allies; if the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is already now disavowing Communist Parties in the countries allied to it for the sake of these capitalist allies, calling on the Communist Parties to be docile in the face of the demands of the general staffs in these countries, then in war, more than ever, the danger exists that the Soviet Union’s war policies come under the pressure of its capitalist allies and that their proletarian, revolutionary character is thereby concealed or watered down. In the face of this danger, international socialism must push for the Soviet Union to wage the war as a revolutionary war, a propaganda war to unleash the proletarian revolution in Germany and to exploit it so as to facilitate the overthrow of capitalist rule in the other countries as well.

Any revolutionary war risks ending in Bonapartism. The dictatorship of a narrow ruling layer within the party presiding over the Soviet Union increases this danger. Socialism must combat it by pushing for the release, and free organisational activity of, the popular forces in the Soviet Union, without harming the united and disciplined leadership of the war. These forces should counteract all the dangers of Bonapartism with the self-consciousness of the masses of the people, their strong will to run their own lives.

(2) In the democratic countries allied with the Soviet Union, socialism cannot and must not sabotage the war effort; any form of sabotage would represent help for Hitler Germany and harm to the Soviet Union. Socialism must call on the workers to fulfill their duty as soldiers in the field and workers in the war industries.


Yet socialism must not be deceived: the war aims of the capitalist governments fighting the war on the side of the Soviet Union are entirely different to its own. It must therefore maintain its complete independence from these governments. It must not assume political responsibility for their conduct of the war. It must not conclude civil peace with them.

In the war, the capitalist governments will aim to disempower Germany for all time. They will want to carve up the German Reich, rob the German people of its national unity and freedom, subjugate it and place it under tribute. In contrast, we, if it comes to war, will not want to fight against the German people, but against German Fascism. We cannot and must not aim for the carving up of Germany, the subjugation of the German people and its exploitation. Our aim can only be to unleash the proletarian revolution in Germany in order to, as soon as it has been victorious, immediately conclude a separate peace with the new proletarian Germany on the basis of complete equality and without any open or hidden annexations and contributions, and with this peace to strive for the union of the European peoples in a federation of Socialist workers’ and peasants’ republics.

The capitalist governments may have overthrown the Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns at the end of the world war, but they also prevented the central-European revolutions from going beyond the limits of bourgeois society. They crushed the Hungarian revolution by force of arms and attempted to defeat the Russian Revolution through military interventions. If a new war unleashes a proletarian revolution in Germany, then the Western powers’ capitalist governments will all the more seek to rescue the capitalist social order in Europe through counterrevolutionary interventions. In contrast, we must aim to lead the German proletarian revolution to victory and to exploit this victory to transform the social order across the whole of Europe.

Initially, the capitalist governments will attempt to defeat Germany. Yet any victory for the Soviet Union will increase its prestige both in Europe and Asia, thereby threatening the capitalist social order. The bourgeois classes in the states allied to the Soviet Union will soon fear the victories of their ally more than those of their common enemy. While they initially want to defeat Germany with the blood of Russian workers and peasants, on the day after the common victory they will turn against the Soviet Union in order to salvage the capitalist social order. In contrast, after the victory over Fascism we must aim to organise the European socialist economy alongside the Soviet Union and the victorious German revolution.

Thus the Socialist parties of the democratic countries allied with the Soviet Union must, from the first day of war, teach the masses to understand the contradictions between their war aims and those of the capitalist classes. The Socialist parties must state that the capitalist classes of Western Europe themselves led National Fascism to power and are partly culpable for the return of war, in that they imposed unbearable reparations on Germany after the [First] world war, refused to establish the equality of Germany by means of international disarmament and humiliated and mistreated the young German democracy. The Socialist parties must state that an imperialist war against the German people, led by capitalist governments, will only rally the German people around the Fascist dictatorship; that only the passing of state power into the hands of the proletariat in the countries waging war against Germany can provide its people with the guarantee that its war enemies are not striving for annexations, tribute, the dismemberment of the country or to deprive the country of its rights; that only the passing of state power into the hands of the proletariat in the countries waging war against Germany can unleash the revolution in that country and thereby facilitate a speedy end to the war. The Socialist parties have to state that only the passing of state power into the hands of the proletariat in the countries waging war against Germany can make it possible to conduct the war as a revolutionary war of liberation, as a propaganda war to maintain the solidarity with the Soviet Union that is under threat from the class interests of the capitalist class, to speed up the German revolution and thereby establish a social order that will know no war across the whole of Europe.

By familiarising the masses of people with these insights, the Socialist parties in the countries waging war against Germany will prepare themselves to exploit acts of war to seise state power, to transform the war against Germany into a war against Fascism and capitalism itself, to unleash the German revolution and, at the moment of its victory, to end the war.

In the democratic countries allied with the Soviet Union in the fight against Hitler Germany, socialism cannot refuse or sabotage the revolutionary defence of the Soviet Union, but it must seek to exploit events during the war so that, during its course, this defence becomes a revolutionary, Jacobin one in defence of a proletarian, socialist country.

(3) This task will all the more confront the working classes of the Fascist and semi-Fascist countries, who will probably take part in the war as part of a coalition of powers allied with the Soviet Union against Hitler Germany.10 In these countries, the working class will have to strive to turn the weapons given to it by its native Fascism against it as quickly as possible in order to overthrow it and to take over the conduct of the war effort itself. An anti-Fascist revolution in these Fascist and semi-Fascist countries should set the German workers an encouraging example of how to overthrow Fascism there and thus end the war.

(4) In Germany, and in the countries allied with it, socialism must oppose the war and prompt the working masses to revolution against war, Hitler Fascism, and capitalism.

At the beginning of the war, the disorganised, shackled and frightened German proletariat will be unable to offer revolutionary resistance to the war. Were the International to issue a slogan calling for a general strike to prevent war, then this would not get through to Germany and would not get a hearing. Such a slogan can therefore never be issued; only in the democratic countries standing against Hitler will such a slogan be followed — it would merely aid Hitler Germany.

In the course of the war, one great obstacle will confront the unleashing of the proletarian revolution: during the last war as well, the Western powers declared over and over again that they were only waging war on Germany’s rulers, not its people; despite this, they then imposed the injustice and the encumbrances of Versailles on defeated Germany. Following this experience, the German people will fear disorganising the defence of Germany by making a revolution during war, being defeated once again and suffering a worse fate than it did in the Treaty of Versailles. The German people will thus only rise up against its despots if it has a hope that overthrowing them will bring the end of the war and a peace that does not violate the country or deprive it of its rights. Therefore, the proletarian revolution in Germany will be able to be unleashed all the more quickly during the war the sooner that socialism in the countries waging war against Germany takes state power into its hands and thereby rids the war of all imperialist aims hostile to the German people.

However, should the proletarian revolution break out and prove victorious before the working class in the capitalist countries waging war against Germany can take power, then the German proletarian revolution will have to organise a Jacobin, revolutionary national defence of the Soviet Union against the imperialism of the capitalist classes in the hostile powers threatening the German people. In that case, in as far as they want to continue the war, the Soviet Union will have to separate from these capitalist allies and immediately conclude peace with proletarian, revolutionary Germany In that case, socialism in the capitalist countries waging war against Germany will have to oppose, by all available means, any counterrevolutionary intervention in Germany, the continuation of the war against it, any attempts to impose an imperialist violent peace [Gewaltfrieden] on it or to carve it up. In the struggle against such aims, it must attempt to conquer state power.

(5) In the neutral countries, socialism must not demand that their countries join the coalition fighting against Hitler Germany or join the war. If it did so, then it would burden itself with responsibility for all the blood and suffering of the war, place itself in opposition to the masses of the people, become isolated and render itself powerless. Yet socialism will have to demand that the neutral countries apply all sanctions against Hitler Germany with which international law [Das Völkerrecht] can threaten the aggressor; it will also have to demand that the neutral countries do not support Hitler Germany’s war effort with loans or the supply of war material, raw materials and foodstuffs.

During the war, the Socialist parties in the neutral countries will further have the task of maintaining connections with the Socialist parties in the countries fighting on both sides of the trenches, thereby keeping the International in working order. This task will, however, not be limited to connections with parties attached to the Socialist and Labour International. The war situation will urgently require an understanding and collaboration between the Socialist and Communist parties. If the last war split the world proletariat, then a new war, in which the working class across the world will strive to defend the Soviet Union and to exploit the shock of war to conquer state power in the capitalist countries, will and must reunite the world proletariat.

A new world war will cause severe economic convulsions in the neutral countries too. The victory of the proletarian revolution in Germany, the proletariat conquering state power in the countries waging war against Germany and victory for the Soviet Union would revolutionise the working masses in the neutral countries too, making it possible for the working class to conquer state power there as well.

(6) The International must now already familiarise the masses of workers with these guidelines in the event that war breaks out. The Socialist parties have no interest in concealing from the capitalist world their aim that, in the event of war, they will strive for the proletariat to conquer state power, overthrow capitalist class rule and overcome the capitalist social order as their immediate aim everywhere in the world — even in the countries where, in peacetime, they conduct the liberation struggle of the working class using only peaceful, democratic means.

On the contrary! The knowledge that revolution follows war is one of the things that most deters the ruling classes and their governments from it. The capitalist classes’ fear of the social revolution has a much greater impact on peace than any League of Nations statutes and peace treaties do. If the International shows itself to be resolute, exploiting the war to overthrow capitalism, then it will work most effectively for peace.

— Otto Bauer (Austria), Theodor Dan (Russia), Jean Zyromski (France)

A Statement from Henry Noel Brailsford:

Although I agree with the general tendency of this splendid memorandum, I cannot
put my name to it:

  1. Because it calls for support for the League of Nations and regional pacts,
    despite exposing the true character of both of them with salutary candour.
  2. Because it does not investigate any other way of preventing war with Hitler
    Germany than by organising a superior power. I believe that, with necessary
    caution and clear insight into Hitler’s aggressive plans, we ought to investigate the possibilities of revising the outcome of the world war as of 1919.

It is my conviction that, both at the moment and in the future, the Socialist parties will also have to preserve their full independence of judgement and freedom of action vis-á-vis the foreign policies of capitalist governments, including when these governments hide behind the League of Nations and its system of pacts.

— H.N. Brailsford (England)


  1. Translated from Hans-Rüdiger Peter (ed.), Fedor I Danund Otto Bauer, Brief wechsel: 1934–1938 (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1999), pp.153–169.
  2. From one of Friedrich Adler’s letters (Adler’s footnote).
  3. A German social democrat who twice served as chancellor and also as foreign minister, in which capacity he was one of the German signatories of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Just days before the outbreak of the First World War he was sent on an unsuccessful mission to investigate the possibility of international anti-war action between French and German social democracy.
  4. Friedrich Adler, Falls der Krieg dennoch ausbrechen sollte… (Wien: Volksbuchshandlung, 1929).
  5. Known to the contemporary reader as the First World War. In order to be as faithful as possible to the original text, I have avoided the temptation to change these references to read ‘World War I’ and retained the original terminology[BL].
  6. Following the Japanese invasion of Manchuriain1932, the Chinese called upon the League of Nations for assistance, leading to the League calling for Japanese withdrawal. Yet the League, in part reflecting the conflicting economic and trade interests of its constituent members, was unable to agree on any effective actions or sanctions against the Japanese government.
  7. This refers to the aborted attempts at disarmament at the 1932–1934 Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments in Geneva.
  8. It is not entirely clear what Friedrich Adler is referring to here, but the context suggests that he is highlighting ongoing tensions in East Asia, which precipitated the Second Sino-Japanese War on 7 July1935 — 16 days before Adler penned this introduction. [PW: “The Northern China Incident took place in 1935 when the Japanese carried on aggression against northern China and the Kuomintang government headed by Chiang Kai-shek betrayed our sovereignty and humiliated our nation. In May of that year, the Japanese demanded that the Kuomintang government grant them administrative authority over northern China, and in June Ho Ying-chin the Kuomintang government’s representative there, submitted and signed an agreement with Yoshijiro Umezu, commander of the invading forces in northern China which became known as the ‘Ho-Umezu Agreement.’ By its terms China forfeited much of her sovereignty in the provinces of Hopei and Chahar. In October at the instigation of the Japanese invaders, some Chinese traitors staged a revolt in Hsiangho, Hopei Province, and seized the county town. In November, a number of Chinese traitors were put up by the Japanese invaders to start a self-styled movement of autonomy in the five provinces of northern China, and a puppet ‘Anti-Communist Autonomous Administration’ was established in eastern Hopei To meet the Japanese demand for ‘special administration for northern China’ the Kuomintang government appointed Sung Cheh-yuan and others to form a ‘Political Council for Hopei and Chahar.’” — Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung.]
  9. The response of the Austrian Ministerial Council to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, setting out the set of punitive demands, aimed at weakening Serbia, that sparked the First World War.
  10. In 1935, several European countries, such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, and others were considered by their contemporaries to be semi-Fascist at the very least. Yet as the authors predict, correctly as it turned out, it did not necessarily follow from the extremely authoritarian and repressive nature of these countries that they would side with Hitler Germany in the coming war.

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