‘The Attitude of the Russian Socialists’ by Alexandra Kollontay from New Review. Vol. 4 No. 3. March, 1916.

Alexandra Kollontai had broken with the Mensheviks in 1915 over their social-patriot position and had become an emissary in the International for Lenin and the Bolsheviks when she traveled to the United States in 1916 on a speaking tour. While in the U.S. the following year she would join the Socialist Propaganda League, revolutionary internationalists in the Socialist Party. Here, transcribed for the first time, she writes to ‘New Review’ explaining the differences among various groupings of Russians socialists and defends the position of the ‘majority,’ the Bolsheviks for a U.S. audience.

‘The Attitude of the Russian Socialists’ by Alexandra Kollontay from New Review. Vol. 4 No. 3. March, 1916.

The Russian Socialists, like their comrades in Germany, France and even America, are divided into three groups: The extreme patriots, such as Scheidemann, Plechanoff, Hyndman, Vandervelde and Charles Edward Russell; the left or revolutionary wing, such as Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin and the whole Central Committee of the Majority Group in Russia; and the Centre, represented by Kautsky and Haase in Germany, and by the Organization Committee (minority group) in Russia.

The difference in this connection between Russia and Germany is that the extreme patriots in Russia have not the majority either of the party or of the working class with them; they have no official organization of the party supporting them, with the exception of local organizations consisting mostly of intellectuals (for example, the group of journalists supporting the social-patriotic monthly, Nasha Sarja).

The Russian social-patriots attempt to distinguish between their attitude and that of Scheidemann and Legien in Germany, or that of Sembat and Guesde in France; they reiterate and emphasize their unaltering opposition to the regime of the Czar. But perhaps it is not quite a quality of their own which prevents them from going as far as Scheidemann in their capacity as “obedient citizens” and servants of the feudal class government of Russia…Who knows how far these social-patriots would go in endorsing the war and “civil peace” if the Russian Government were clever enough to exploit their patriotic feelings?

‘Deutsch and Plekhanov leading the demonstration in favor of the June military offensive in front of the Defense Ministry in Petrograd, June 1917.’

Their attitude is clearly expressed in the Manifesto bearing the names of Plechanoff, Leo Deutsch, and the members of the second Duma, Alexinsky and Beloussow, recently published in the NEW REVIEW, —an attitude quite identical with that of Scheidemann, Legien, etc. They support the war in the interests of the “democracy” and “freedom” of Europe; in order to defend their Fatherland from the ruin that a victory of German capitalism and militarism would entail; and in order to insure the conditions necessary for the unrestrained development of the national forces of production in Russia, which, according to Plechanoff, will eventually bring about the downfall of the Czarism. This implies a victory for Russia; and until that is achieved, no strikes, no revolutionary action, nothing that might prevent a victory over Germany. They replace the International concept with that of pure and simple Nationalism.

The attitude of the official centre of the Majority Group (the Central Committee), as well as that of other secret local organizations and the five exiled Socialist members of the Duma, is in direct opposition to the attitude of the Russian social-patriots. Starting with the fundamental fact that this is a war of Imperialism of all the nations involved, the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Party maintains that the duty of the Socialists is to convert the war between the nations into a civil war of the working class against their class governments. They condemn the voting of the war credits by the French and German Socialists and denounce the civil peace. If a choice is to be made between two evils, victory or defeat, it is in the interest of the working class to desire a defeat of their government, as victory could only strengthen the Czarism. If the proletariat of all the belligerent countries adopted this attitude, if they would precipitate civil war, instead of supporting “civil peace,” the war of Imperialism would soon cease. And the declaration of civil war would immediately revive the revolutionary spirit and international solidarity of the working class of the world, —rebuilding the International on a truly revolutionary basis.

Lenin in 1916.

This clear and uncompromising attitude of the Majority Group of the Russian party, expressed in a Manifesto as early as November, 1914, has rendered a great service to the Russian movement and to the whole International, formulating the ideas that have since been adopted by the revolutionary wing of the German party. By means of meetings, secretly printed leaflets, papers, and the work of the secret organizations, the revolutionary Socialists of Russia are fighting against the war by stirring up the revolutionary spirit of the proletariat. Hundreds of our comrades have been arrested for this activity and sent to jail by the agents of the government fighting for “freedom” and “democracy.” And still the fight goes on. The great number of strikes which have taken place during the war are some of the good results achieved by the work of the uncompromising and international wing of the Russian party. (1)

In the international movement, the Central Committee is supporting the idea of rebuilding the International upon a more definite basis of international class solidarity and revolutionary mass action.

In between the Russian social-patriots and the Internationalists stands the Centre, as in Germany. In Russia it is the left wing of the party, the International Socialists, that inspires the movement and, that has the support of the majority of the working class. (2)

The Centre is represented chiefly by the so-called Minority Group, whose official expression is the Organization Committee. The attitude of the Organization Committee is as unclear as that of Kautsky’s. Axelrod, one of the chief and best known leaders of the Minority Group, opposes the outspoken patriots in Russia, such as Plechanoff, but he is willing to forgive the acts of the German and French comrades who betrayed the principle of International solidarity and violated the decisions of the International Congresses of Stuttgart and Basle. The members of the Organization Committee, Axelrod, Martoff, Martinow, etc., issued an Open Letter opposing the Manifesto of the social-patriots Plechanoff, Alexinsky, etc., but have not broken their connections with the outspoken patriotic group, Nasha Sarja, affiliated with the Organization Committee, and that openly declares it does not oppose war. (3)

‘Leaders of the Menshevik Party at Norra Bantorget in Stockholm, Sweden, May 1917. Pavel Axelrod, Julius Martov and Alexander Martinov.’

Their tactics are as unclear and as unsteady as those of the German Centre. Declaring themselves Internationalists, they do not accept the logical result of this position: the necessity of clearing the Third International of the spirit of nationalism and opportunism, of proclaiming the principle of International class solidarity more holy and sacred than the “defense” of any capitalistic fatherland. The Centre of the Russian party hesitates in the middle of the road; their’s are tactics that help to perpetuate confusion in the mind of the Socialists, presenting a serious obstacle to the rebuilding of the International on a sound class-conscious international basis.

All the three groups have their own press and papers. The Central Committee is not only publishing secret papers in Russia, but has a semimonthly paper, The Social Democrat, published in Switzerland. It also issues a scientific review, The Komunist. The Organization Committee is affiliated with a number of daily papers and some reviews that are appearing openly in Russia, and has an official paper, The Messenger of the Organization Committee. The outspoken patriots publish a paper Prisiw in Paris, and a review, Swobodnoje Slowo in New York. Since the outbreak of the war a group of International Socialists under the direction of Trotzky, have published a Russian daily paper, Nashe Slovo, in Paris. This paper stands very near to the principles upheld by the Central Committee, with some tactical differences. Comrades who before the war belonged to different faction of the party, but who have since united on the basis of their Internationalism, are working on this paper. Another monthly paper, Vpeirod, also internationalist in principle, is edited by Comrade Lunacharsky and his friends in Switzerland. Both these papers energetically oppose all shades of social-patriots and class alliances, and stand for a new and revolutionary International.

Trotsky in 1915.

The Socialist members of the Duma since the outbreak of the war have opposed the government, vigorously criticising its activity and refusing to vote the war-credits. But it must be pointed out that the parliamentary group consisted of two factions: five members of the Majority Group (left wing) and seven of the Minority Group (right wing); and there is a difference in their attitude to the war, even though the Minority Group persists in its opposition to the government. The Minority Group did expel from membership the Duma member Mankow as soon as he declared himself an adherent of the outspoken patriotic policy; but in their attitude on the most important question of national defense there is a touch of unsteadiness, a lack of revolutionary decisiveness, (4) of that very spirit which animated the five exiled members of the Majority Group to oppose the war, in and out of the Duma.

The hour has come when the Socialists must assume a clear and uncompromising attitude to the faults and weaknesses of the past, —the only guarantee that the Third International will not repeat the “old faults” of the Second International. The time has come to decide decisively whether Socialism is a revolutionary movement, based upon international class solidarity; or whether Socialism is a movement of social reform, an integral part of the national liberal movement. The Majority Group in Russia has answered this vital question in a decisive and revolutionary way, and its great services to the Russian movement and the new International will be more and more appreciated as events shape their course.


1. During the war the Russian workers not only managed to maintain their economic struggle, but organized a number of political strikes. Ln April, 1915, there was a large protest strike on the memorial day of the massacre of the gold workers in the Lena district, and 400 men were arrested. On the first of May, 35,000 workers went on strike in St. Petersburg. In June and July, the textile workers in Kostroma and Iwano-Wosnesensky engaged in an economic struggle ending with more than 100 workers killed, many wounded and a large number of arrests. As a protest against these bloody events the workers in St. Petersburg organized strikes. The movement developed great strength in August and September, when, after the dissolution of the Duma, the workers demonstrated against the government; their demand being ‘”Down with the government!” In St. Petersburg 150,000 men were on strike, 25,000 in Nijni-Novgorod, and a large number in Moscow. C:harkow and in the South of Russia. Not only has the war not crushed the revolutionary movement, but during the last six months the movement has grown in intensity. Influenced by the Internationalists, the workers in St. Petersburg refused by a large majority to participate in the “Industrial War Committees,” the purpose of which is to organize the defense of the country.

2. See the reports of the Central Committee published in the Bulletin No. 8 of the International Socialist Commission in Berne, issue of the 27th of November, 1915.

3. In my letter to the NEW REVIEW (January 1st issue) I put the name of Comrade Trotsky among those who signed the appeal of the foreign bureau of the Organization Committee. Trotsky did not sign the appeal, his attitude is not identical with that of the Organization Committee. The unfortunate mistake, for which apologize to Comrade Trotsky, has only one explanation: the rush in which my letter was written.

4. See the speech of Comrade Tscherise in the Bulletin No. 2 of the International Socialist Commission in Berne.

The New Review: A Critical Survey of International Socialism was a New York-based, explicitly Marxist, sometimes weekly/sometimes monthly theoretical journal begun in 1913 and was an important vehicle for left discussion in the period before World War One. Bases in New York it declared in its aim the first issue: “The intellectual achievements of Marx and his successors have become the guiding star of the awakened, self-conscious proletariat on the toilsome road that leads to its emancipation. And it will be one of the principal tasks of The NEW REVIEW to make known these achievements,to the Socialists of America, so that we may attain to that fundamental unity of thought without which unity of action is impossible.” In the world of the East Coast Socialist Party, it included Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Herman Simpson, Louis Boudin, William English Walling, Moses Oppenheimer, Robert Rives La Monte, Walter Lippmann, William Bohn, Frank Bohn, John Spargo, Austin Lewis, WEB DuBois, Arturo Giovannitti, Harry W. Laidler, Austin Lewis, and Isaac Hourwich as editors. Louis Fraina played an increasing role from 1914 and lead the journal in a leftward direction as New Review addressed many of the leading international questions facing Marxists. International writers in New Review included Rosa Luxemburg, James Connolly, Karl Kautsky, Anton Pannekoek, Lajpat Rai, Alexandra Kollontai, Tom Quelch, S.J. Rutgers, Edward Bernstein, and H.M. Hyndman, The journal folded in June, 1916 for financial reasons. Its issues are a formidable and invaluable archive of Marxist and Socialist discussion of the time.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/newreview/1916/v4n03-mar-1916.pdf

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