The Social Democratic Party of Germany

The defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871 plunged Europe into a period of reaction, leading to the disintegration of the First International by 1873. The reconstruction of the international socialist movement began in Gotha in 1875.

The German Socialists were the founding and most powerful section of Social-Democracy throughout the period of its existence. The Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany was founded in May 1875 atGotha, uniting Liebknecht and Bebel’s Social-Democratic Workers’ Party and the Lassallean General German Workers’ Union. See Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme and Engels’ 1891 Foreword to the Critique.

Wilhelm Liebknecht Wilhelm Liebknecht(1826-1900) After participating in the 1848 revolution, fled to Switzerland, then to England, returning to Germany in 1862. Liebknecht and Bebel were the first deputies of a left-wing party to be elected to the North German Reichstag. In Eisenach in 1869, Liebknecht and Bebel founded the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, and in 1891 were co-founders of the Social Democratic Party. Liebknecht was a member of the German Reichstag from 1874 until his death in 1900. See the text of the Erfurt Program, compiled by Wilhelm Liebknecht and Engels’ Critique of the Draft Program.

August Bebel August Bebel(1840-1913) Bebel had trained as a cabinet maker, and was introduced to socialist theory by the Lassallean German Workers’ Association founded in 1863. In 1872, Bebel and Liebknecht were imprisoned for two years for their opposition toFranco-German War. After the SDP merged with the Lassalleans in Gotha in 1875, Bebel remained the unquestioned leader. His fiery parliamentary speeches were renowned across Europe, and Bebel remained on the Left of German Social Democracy until his death shortly before the beginning of the War. His Women and Socialism is the earliest Marxist work on the emancipation of women.

Eduard Bernstein Eduard Bernstein(1850-1932) Left Germany during the anti-Socialist laws to produce the Sozial Demokrat from Switzerland. Lived in London from 1888 to 1900 where he was close to Engels until Engels’ death in 1895, and was named his literary executor. From 1896, Bernstein became an advocate of reformism, coining the aphorism: “The movement is everything, the final goal nothing”. See Evolutionary Socialism, 1899. Reichstag Deputy on and off from 1902; founded the Independent Social Democratic Party 1916, but returned to the Social Democractic Party after the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht in 1919.

Karl Kautsky Karl Kautsky(1845-1938) In 1880, Kautsky joined Bernstein in Zurich who smuggled socialist material into Germany in defiance of the Anti-Socialist Laws. Bernstein introduced Kautsky to Marxism and Kautsky visited Marx and Engels in England. He founded Neue Zeit in Stuttgart in 1883 and was its editor until 1917. In this position he became the most influential leader of Social-Democracy and authority on Marxism until the Russian Revolution. In 1891, Kautsky’s Erfurt Program was adopted by the SDP. See the text of the Program.

The Spartacists

Franz Mehring Franz Mehring(1846-1919) Literary critic, writer and historian, a leader of the Left-wing of the German Social Democrats and later member of the Spartacist League. Mehring and Clara Zetkin were the only members of the “older generation” of Marxists who supported Lenin’s “revolutionary defeatism” line against the War and survived to see the founding of the Communist Party of Germany in 1919.

Karl LiebknechtKarl Liebknecht (1871-1919) Son of Wilhelm Liebknecht and founding leader of the Socialist Youth International in 1907.

With Rosa Luxemburg, Liebknecht was leader of the “International Group” and later founded the Spartacist League and was the only Reichstag Deputy to oppose war credits in the Reichstag in 1914. Drafted during the war, he was imprisoned in May 1916 for anti-war activity. Released in November 1918, Liebknecht was a leader of the failed Berlin uprising in January 1919 and murdered on January 15th 1919, along with his life-long comrade Rosa Luxemburg.

The German SDP and the War, 1914

Rosa LuxemburgRosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) A Polish Jew, at 18 years of age Rosa Luxemburg was forced to escape to Zurich to avoid imprisonment for her revolutionary agitation. Here she met Russian Social Democrats such as Georgy Plekhanov and Pavel Axelrod. Luxemburg split with both the Russian and Polish Socialist Party over the issue of Polish self-determination, and helped create the Polish Social Democratic Party. Leo Jogiches, leader of the Polish Socialist Party became her life-long companion.

Rosa Luxemburg was a leader of both the German and Polish Social Democrats, an electrifying speaker who always stood on the left wing of social democracy. She was critical of Lenin’s centralised methods of organisation (See Russian Social-democracy) and was a foremost advocate of the mass strike as opposed to parliamentary activity (See The Mass Strike). She spent the War inside prison, and was released only in time to take her place at the head of the German Revolution and to be arrested by her erstwhile Social-Democratic comrades, and murdered in January 1919.

The French Parti Ouvrier

Paul Lafargue
Paul Lafargue
(1841-1911) Paul Lafargue was born in Cuba but studied medicine in France and became a follower of Proudhon. He met Marx and Engels while acting as a delegate to the First International and married Laura Marx in 1868, thereafter working closely with Marx and Engels and leading the Marxist wing within the Parti Ouvrier.

After the fall of the Paris Commune Paul and Laura fled to Spain but later settled in London. Lafargue was an influential speaker and writer, including works on ethical aspects of socialism. The couple commited suicide together in 1911. See Paul Lafargue Archive.

Anton Pannekoek
Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960) The Dutch astronomer Anton Pannekoek was active in the German Social Democratic Party while living in Germany before the War and contributed to Die Neue Zeit. The leader of the Social Democrats in the Netherlands, after the Russian Revolution, Pannekoek stayed aloof from both the Comintern and the Socialist Parties, taking a syndicalist direction. See Party and Class.

Russian Social-Democracy

The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party grew out of the Emancipation of Labour Group founded in 1878 by Plekhanov, Vera Zasluich, Pavel Axelrod and others.

The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party

The R.S.D.L.P. was founded in 1901, but at its Second Congress into two factions known as the “Bolsheviks” and the “Mensheviks”. These two factions still operated as parts of a single party as late as 1912.

G V Plekhanov George Plekhanov(1856-1918) Left Narodnya Volya, with its focus on the peasantry and terrorist tactics, and founded the Emancipation of Labour Group, with a focus on the urban working class. Forced into emigration in 1880, Plekhanov did not return to Russia until the formation of Provisional Government in 1917.

Plekhanov was the “father of Russian Marxism”, and up to 1903 Lenin and Plekhanov were allies in the struggle against Bernstein’s “evolutionary socialism.” Even after Lenin split with Plekhanov, Plekhanov was held in high regard. However, he did not foresee the possibility of the working class seizing power without Russia first passing through a period of democratic capitalism, and opposed the October Revolution.

Vera Zasulich
Vera Zasulich (1851-1919) Joined the Narodniks as a youth, but after emigrating in 1880 joined with Plekhanov in the Emancipation of Labour Group. Zasulich translated a number of Marx’s works into Russian and with Lenin and Plekhanov as an editor of Iskra. Zasulich was a Menshevik from 1903.

Pavel Axelrod (1850-1928) Influenced by the writings of Bakunin, in 1877 he joined Land and Liberty. When this group established the terrorist Narodnya Volya, he joined instead with Plekhanov in the Emancipation of Labour Group. Axelrod was a Menshevik from 1903.

Julius MartovJulius Martov
(1873-1923) Began his political career in 1895 working with Lenin in the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class and onIskra but led the Mensheviks in oposition to Lenin’s conception of Democratic Centralism in 1903. At the time of the October Revolution he held a left position in the Menshevik ranks, remaining in the Second Congress of the Soviets after the Right SRs and Mensheviks had departed. He emigrated to Berlin and publishedSotsialistichesky Vestnik.

V I Lenin Lenin(1870-1924) Left Russia to meet with Plekhanov, returning to Russia in order to unite all the revolutionary circles in Russia in a single Party – the R.S.D.L.P.. However, Lenin’s conception at this time was for a party of “professional revolutionaries”, rather than the amateurish revolutinary circles or loose labour parties of Europe. Over this issue, Lenin split with all the older generation of Russian Marxists.

Lenin’s Bolshevik faction was the centre of opposition to the War at the Zimmerwald Conference. The February Revolution, which brought a social-democratic Provisional Government to power, which continued Russia’s participation in the First World War. Returning from exile in April 1917, Lenin called for the overthrow of the Kerensky government and the ending of the War, and led the successful Russian Revolution of October 1917. Lenin died just when power had been secured after the Wars of Intervention.

See The Bolsheviks Subject Archive. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Zinoviev, were the main force in the Zimmerwald-Left opposition to the First World War, laying the basis for the Communist International formed in 1918.

Leon Trotsky Trotsky(1879-1940) Worked with Lenin on Iskra in 1902 but broke with Lenin after the Second Congress. He broke with the Mensheviks in 1904 and tried during the next decade to reunite the factions of the RSDLP. In the 1905 revolution, he was the leader of the St. Petersburg Soviet and developed the theory of Permanent Revolution. In 1915 he wrote the Zimmerwald Manifesto.

Trotsky joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917 and was elected to its Central Committee and led the Military Revolutionary Committee which organised the October Revolution.

Source: The Bolsheviks and War, by Sam Marcy ;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

Proletarians of Europe!

The war has lasted more than a year. Millions of corpses cover the battlefields. Millions of human beings have been crippled for the rest of their lives. Europe is like a gigantic human slaughterhouse. All civilization, created by the labor of many generations, is doomed to destruction. The most savage barbarism is today celebrating its triumph over all that hitherto constituted the pride of humanity.

Irrespective of the truth as to the direct responsibility for the outbreak of the war, one thing is certain. The war which has produced this chaos is the outcome of imperialism, of the attempt on the part of the capitalist classes of each nation, to foster their greed for profit by the exploitation of human labor and of the natural treasures of the entire globe.

Economically backward or politically weak nations are thereby subjugated by the Great Powers who, in this war, are seeking to remake the world map with blood and iron in accord with their exploiting interests. Thus entire nations and countries, like Belgium, Poland, the Balkan states, and Armenia are threatened with the fate of being torn asunder, annexed as a whole or in part as booty in the game of compensations.

In the course of the war, its driving forces are revealed in all their vileness. Shred after shred falls the veil with which the meaning of this world catastrophe was hidden from the consciousness of the peoples. The capitalists of all countries who are coining the red gold of war-profits out of the blood shed by the people, assert that the war is for defense of the fatherland, for democracy, and the liberation of oppressed nations! They lie. In actual reality, they are burying the freedom of their own people together with the independence of the other nations in the places of devastation.

New fetters, new chains, new burdens are arising, and it is the proletariat of all countries, of the victorious as well as of the conquered countries, that will have to bear them. Improvement in welfare was proclaimed at the outbreak of the war – want and privation, unemployment and high prices, undernourishment and epidemics are the actual results. The burdens of war will consume the best energies of the peoples for decades, endanger the achievements of social reform, and hinder every step forward. Cultural devastation, economic decline, political reaction these are the blessings of this horrible conflict of nations. Thus the war reveals the naked figure of modern capitalism which has become irreconcilable, not only with the interests of the laboring masses, not only with the requirements of historical development, but also with the elementary conditions of human intercourse.

The ruling powers of capitalist society who held the fate of the nations in their hands, the monarchic as well as the republican governments, the secret diplomacy, the mighty business organizations, the bourgeois parties, the capitalist press, the Church – all these bear the full weight of responsibility for this war which arose out of the social order fostering them and protected by them, and which is being waged for their interests.


Exploited, disfranchised, scorned, they called you brothers and comrades at the outbreak of the war when you were to be led to the slaughter, to death. And now that militarism has crippled you, mutilated you, degraded and annihilated you, the rulers demand that you surrender your interests, your aims, your ideals – in a word, servile subordination to civil peace. They rob you of the possibility of expressing your views, your feelings, your pains; they prohibit you from raising your demands and defending them. The press gagged, political rights and liberties trod upon – this is the way the military dictatorship rules today with an iron hand.

This situation which threatens the entire future of Europe and of humanity cannot and must not be confronted by us any longer without action. The Socialist proletariat has waged a struggle against militarism for decades. With growing concern, its representatives at their national and international congresses occupied themselves with the ever more menacing danger of war growing out of imperialism. At Stuttgart, at Copenhagen, at Basel, the international Socialist congresses have indicated the course which the proletariat must follow.

Since the beginning of the war, Socialist parties and labor organizations of various countries that helped to determine this course have disregarded the obligations following from this. Their representatives have called upon the working class to give up the class struggle, the only possible and effective method of proletarian emancipation. They have granted credits to the ruling classes for waging the war; they have placed themselves at the disposal of the governments for the most diverse services; through their press and their messengers, they have tried to win the neutrals for the government policies of their countries; they have delivered up to their governments Socialist Ministers as hostages for the preservation of civil peace, and thereby they have assumed the responsibility before the working class, before its present and its future, for this war, for its aims and its methods. And just as the individual parties, so the highest of the appointed representative bodies of the Socialists of all countries, the International Socialist Bureau, has failed them.

These facts are equally responsible for the fact that the international working class which did not succumb to the national panic of the first war period, or which freed itself from it, has still, in the second year of the slaughter of peoples, found no ways and means of taking up an energetic struggle for peace simultaneously in all countries.

In this unbearable situation, we, the representatives of the Socialist parties, trade unions and their minorities, we Germans, French, Italians, Russians, Poles, Letts, Rumanians, Bulgarians, Swedes, Norwegians, Dutch, and Swiss, we who stand, not on the ground of national solidarity with the exploiting class, but on the ground of the international solidarity of the proletariat and of the class struggle, have assembled to retie the torn threads of international relations and to call upon the working class to recover itself and to fight for peace.

This struggle is the struggle for freedom, for the reconciliation of peoples, for Socialism. It is necessary to take up this struggle for peace, for a peace without annexations or war indemnities. Such a peace, however, is only possible if every thought of violating the rights and liberties of nations is condemned. Neither the occupation of entire countries nor of separate parts of countries must lead to their violent annexation. No annexation, whether open or concealed, and no forcible economic attachment made still more unbearable by political disfranchisement. The right of self-determination of nations must be the indestructible principle in the system of national relationships of peoples.


Since the outbreak of the war, you have placed your energy, your courage, your endurance at the service of the ruling classes. Now you must stand up for your own cause, for the sacred aims of Socialism, for the emancipation of the oppressed nations as well as of the enslaved classes, by means of the irreconcilable proletarian class struggle.

It is the task and the duty of the Socialists of the belligerent countries to take up this struggle with full force; it is the task and the duty of the Socialists of the neutral states to support their brothers in this struggle against bloody barbarism with every effective means. Never in world history was there a more urgent, a more sublime task, the fulfillment of which should be our common labor. No sacrifice is too great, no burden too heavy in order to achieve this goal: peace among the peoples.

Working men and working women! Mothers and fathers! Widows and orphans! Wounded and crippled! We call to all of you who are suffering from the war and because of the war: Beyond all borders, beyond the reeking battlefields, beyond the devastated cities and villages –

Proletarians of all countries, unite!

Zimmerwald, September 1915.

In the name of the International Socialist Conference:

For the German delegation: Georg Ledebour, Adolf Hoffmann.
For the French delegation: A. Bourderon, A. Merrheim.
For the Italian delegation: G.E. Modigliani, Constantino Lazzari.
For the Russian delegation: N. Lenin, Paul Axelrod, M. Bobrov.
For the Polish delegation: St. Lapinski, A. Warski, Cz. Hanecki.
For the Inter-Balkan Socialist Federation: In the name of the Rumanian delegation: C. Rakovsky; In the name of the Bulgarian delegation: Wassil Kolarov.
For the Swedish and Norwegian delegation: Z. Hoglund, Ture Nerman.
For the Dutch delegation: H. Roland-Holst.
For the Swiss delegation: Robert Grimm, Charles Naine.

International Socialist Commission at Berne,
Bulletin No. 1, p. 2,
September 21, 1915.

Working-class Internationalism
& Organisation

The Communist League, 1847 – 1850

Prior to 1864, there were a number of small “secret societies” which engaged in revolutionary activity, and from time to time, attempted to coordinate their activities across national borders. These included the League of the Just, Marx and Engels’ Communist League, George Julian Harney’s Association of Fraternal Democrats, and Ernest Jones’s International Committee.

The Communist League, documents and letters
On the History of the Communist League, Engels 1885
Forerunners of Proletarian Internationalism, Stekloff 1928
Harbingers of The First International, Stekloff 1928
The main figures of the international workers’ movement of this period were Louis-Auguste Blanqui,Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, George Julian Harney, Johann Eccarius, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon andWilhelm Weitling.

International Workingmen’s Association, 1864 – 1873

The November 1864, while living in exile in London, Marx was invited to participate in founding the International Workingmen’s Association, meant by its founders, mostly English Trades Council activists, as a kind of “mutual aid society”, to organise solidarity between workers engaged in strikes and other struggles.

The First International grew rapidly up until the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871, incorporating the mass membership of whole unions as well as individuals, and small socialist groups, etc. After 1872, the International fell into crisis and split between socialist and anarchist wings; the General Council was moved to New York and the International wound up in 1876.

History Archive
The main figures of the international workers’ movement of this period were Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Mikhail Bakunin, Paul Lafargue, Ernest Jones, William Morris, F Adolph Sorge, Johann Ph. Becker and Wilhelm Liebknecht.

The Second (Socialist) International, 1889 – 1915

In 1880, the German Social Democratic Party supported the call of its Belgian comrades, to call an international socialist congress in 1881. The little town of Chur was chosen and the Belgian socialists, the French Parti Ouvrier, the German social democracy, and the Swiss social democracy, participated in the preparations for the congress which would lead to the founding of the Socialist International.

Unlike the First, the Socialist International was made up of political parties with properly elected leaderships, political programs and membership bases in each country. The national sections of the International built trade unions, contested elections, and were deeply involved in the life of the working class in each country.

The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 and the national and revolutionary crises which the War engendered however, threw the International into crisis. The Social-Democrats met at Zimmerwald in 1915 to try to work out a joint platform of opposition to the slaughter taking place around them. TheZimmerald Conference failed to unite all the Social Democrats or end the War, but did bring together a Left wing which supported the Russian Revolution and laid the basis for the Third (Communist) International.

History Archive
The main figures of the international workers’ movement of this period were Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, G V Plekhanov, August Bebel, Clara Zetkin, Daniel De Leon, Franz Mehring and V I Lenin.

Third (Communist) International, 1919 – 1943

In the wake of the successful Russian Revolution of 1917, and while the young Soviet republic was still fighting for its life in the Wars of Intervention, the Bolsheviks invited revolutionaries from all over the world to come to Moscow to found a new, revolutionary Communist, International.

The interventions cost 200,000 Bolshevik lives and 10 million died of famine. After Lenin’s death Trotsky was forced out by the counter-revolutionary Stalin who made an accommodation with “democratic imperialism” after the second world war.

Fourth (Trotskyist) International, 1938 –

In response to the degeneration of the Third International, in 1938 Leon Trotsky organised a conference to found a Fourth International.

The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International The Mobilization of the Masses around Transitional Demands to Prepare the Conquest of Power. The Transitional Program (1938)

Trotsky himself was assassinated by an agent of Stalin in 1940, but the Fourth International reconvened after the devastation of the Second World War and is active today as the Socialist Equality Party website is the World Socialist Website

From the transitional program

Open the Road to the Woman Worker!
Open the Road to the Youth!

The defeat of the Spanish Revolution engineered by its “leaders,” the shameful bankruptcy of the People’s Front in France, and the exposure of the Moscow juridical swindles – these three facts in their aggregate deal an irreparable blow to the Comintern and, incidentally, grave wounds to its allies: the Social Democrats and Anarcho-syndicalists. This does not mean, of course, that the members of these organizations will immediately turn to the Fourth International. The older generation, having suffered terrible defeats, will leave the movement in significant numbers. In addition, the Fourth International is certainly not striving to become an asylum for revolutionary invalids, disillusioned bureaucrats and careerists. On the contrary, against a possible influx into our party of petty bourgeois elements, now reigning in the apparatus of the old organizations, strict preventive measures are necessary: a prolonged probationary period for those candidates who are not workers, especially former party bureaucrats: prevention from holding any responsible post for the first three years, etc. There is not and there will not be any place for careerism, the ulcer of the old internationals, in the Fourth International. Only those who wish to live for the movement, and not at the expense of the movement, will find access to us. The revolutionary workers should feel themselves to be the masters. The doors of our organization are wide open to them.

Of course, even among the workers who had at one time risen to the first ranks, there are not a few tired and disillusioned ones. They will remain, at least for the next period as bystanders. When a program or an organization wears out the generation which carried it on its shoulders wears out with it. The movement is revitalized by the youth who are free of responsibility for the past. The Fourth International pays particular attention to the young generation of the proletariat. All of its policies strive to inspire the youth with belief in its own strength and in the future. Only the fresh enthusiasm and aggressive spirit of the youth can guarantee the preliminary successes in the struggle; only these successes can return the best elements of the older generation to the road of revolution. Thus it was thus it will be.

Opportunist organizations by their very nature concentrate their chief attention on the top layers of the working class and therefore ignore both the youth and the women workers. The decay of capitalism, however, deals its heaviest blows to the woman as a wage earner and as a housewife. The sections of the Fourth International should seek bases of support among the most exploited layers of the working class; consequently, among the women workers. Here they will find inexhaustible stores of devotion, selflessness and readiness to sacrifice.

Down with the bureaucracy and careerism!
Open the road to the youth!
Turn to the woman worker!

These slogans are emblazoned on the banner of the Fourth International.

Under the Banner of the Fourth International!

Skeptics ask: But has the moment for the creation of the Fourth International yet arrived? It is impossible, they say, to create an International “artificially”; it can arise only out of great events, etc., etc. All of these objections merely show that skeptics are no good for the building of a new International. They are good for scarcely anything at all.

The Fourth International has already arisen out of great events: the greatest defeats of the proletariat in history. The cause for these defeats is to be found in the degeneration and perfidy of the old leadership. The class struggle does not tolerate an interruption. The Third International, following the Second, is dead for purposes of revolution. Long live the Fourth International!

But has the time yet arrived to proclaim its creation? … the skeptics are not quieted down. The Fourth International, we answer, has no need of being “proclaimed.” It exists and it fights. It is weak? Yes, its ranks are not numerous because it is still young. They are as yet chiefly cadres. But these cadres are pledges for the future. Outside these cadres there does not exist a single revolutionary current on this planet really meriting the name. If our international be still weak in numbers, it is strong in doctrine, program, tradition, in the incomparable tempering of its cadres. Who does not perceive this today, let him in the meantime stand aside. Tomorrow it will become more evident.

The Fourth International, already today, is deservedly hated by the Stalinists, Social Democrats, bourgeois liberals and fascists. There is not and there cannot be a place for it in any of the People’s Fronts. It uncompromisingly gives battle to all political groupings tied to the apron-strings of the bourgeoisie. Its task – the abolition of capitalism’s domination. Its aim – socialism. Its method – the proletarian revolution.

Without inner democracy – no revolutionary education. Without discipline – no revolutionary action. The inner structure of the Fourth International is based on the principles of democratic centralism: full freedom in discussion, complete unity in action.

The present crisis in human culture is the crisis in the proletarian leadership. The advanced workers, united in the Fourth International, show their class the way out of the crisis. They offer a program based on international experience in the struggle of the proletariat and of all the oppressed of the world for liberation. They offer a spotless banner.

Workers – men and women – of all countries, place yourselves under the banner of the Fourth International. It is the banner of your approaching victory!