‘Imperialism, War, and Socialism: Mass Action is the Answer’ by Herman Gorter from International Socialist Review. Vol. 17 No. 3. September, 1916.
The Cause of Failure.
Because they have been bent on reforms, the Socialist leaders, the working people themselves, the whole working class movement have become nationalistic, imperialistic, chauvinistic.
The reformists, in conjunction with the ignorance of the workers, are responsible for what has happened. They have had their eye on reforms, and reforms are to be achieved within the framework of the separate nations. So the attention of the workers was not directed toward the development of imperialism. Therefore when the great day came when the workers of the world might have faced world capitalism the workers were not prepared.
One great blessing imperialism may bring to us. It may teach us that at last the time has come when the masses must act for themselves.
During the earlier part of the labor movement small groups could act thru leaders. Against trusts and banks, against imperialist governments small groups are powerless. A deputy, a committee, cannot fight a great syndicate. The action of committees and groups must be backed up by the masses themselves. There is no other way open to the proletariat.
The Socialist movement is entering its third period. The radical was the first. The reformist was the second. Now comes the third. This last one will serve to unite the masses, to form them into a body capable of facing bank capital, the trust, the imperialist governments.
The future will be one of ceaseless international struggles, of war upon war. Capitalism is developing. and spreading itself over the world thru the power of nations.
Internationalized capital is as yet weak in comparison with that which is national in character. National capitalist interests are paramount, and these interests are mutually opposed. The only means of adjustment among them is war, so we shall have war.
There will be peace movements-just as there has been a religion of love during the long period of individualistic struggle and selfishness. But a sentiment in favor of peace will be merely the reverse side of a warlike civilization.
In fact, war is uneconomical from the capitalist point of view. The peace advocates may be the worst enemies of labor and the best friends of capital. But they will not succeed. Capitalism has its own laws, and one of these is the law of struggle.
The New International.
The war will be followed by a period of misery for the European working class. There may be some few little reforms granted to keep the people quiet. But these will be merely temporary.
In the face of this situation new tactics are necessary.
A time of mass-action, perhaps of revolution, is approaching.
But national revolutionary activities will be only incidental. In the midst of misery and death there will arise a new militarism, a new preparedness and, eventually, another war. For this all capitalist, imperialist nations will begin to prepare as soon as the present war is over.
If the workers do not wish to become a race of slaves they must prepare to face the situation with international mass action.
Translated by William E. Bohn. [Editorial Note: This article is made up of short passages from a pamphlet in which the war and imperialism are discussed from the viewpoint of the Left Wing European Socialists. The translator has attempted merely to give the author’s main point, that our nationalistic Socialism is behind the times.]
The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v17n03-sep-1916-ISR-riaz-ocr.pdf