Centrism

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Centrism

 

an ideological and political current that emerged during the struggle between the reformist and revolutionary trends in the Second International. The centrists tried to smooth over the irreconcilable contradictions between the two trends by making concessions to opportunism on cardinal questions of the program and tactics of the working-class movement.

Unlike the avowed opportunists, who openly advocated a revision of Marxism in the direction of social reformism, the centrists cloaked their opportunism in “orthodox” Marxist phraseology. V. I. Lenin wrote, “Undisguised opportunism, which immediately repels the working masses, is not so frightful and injurious as this theory of the golden mean, which uses Marxist catchwords to justify opportunist practice, and tries to prove, with a series of sophisms, that revolutionary action is premature” (Poln. sobr. sochi., 5th ed., vol. 26, p. 263).

Kautskyism was the main centrist trend in the international arena; in Russia, the main centrist trend was Trotskyism. The centrist ideology assumed its final form before World War I; during the war its essential opportunism became even more evident. The Bolsheviks propagated Lenin’s slogans demanding that the imperialist war be turned into a civil war and that the people work to ensure the defeat of their “own” government; the centrists, on the other hand, limited themselves for the most part to the dissemination of abstract pacifist propaganda.

Centrism was an international phenomenon; leading centrists in Germany included K. Kautsky, H. Haase, G. Ledebour, and A. Hoffmann; in Russia, L. Martov, N. Chkheidze, and L. Trotsky; in France, J. Longuet and A. Pressemanne; in Switzerland, R. Grimm; in Great Britain, R. MacDonald and P. Snowden; and in Italy, F. Turati and G. Modigliani. Despite some slight differences in their views, all were essentially in agreement in denying the need for a dictatorship of the proletariat and in rejecting the revolutionary tactics of the left socialist internationalists. Kautsky, who rejected revolutionary methods of ending the war, advanced the groundless theory of “ultraimperialism,” which was refuted by the history of capitalism in the period of its general crisis. According to V. I. Lenin, the theory exploited “the hope for a new peaceful era of capitalism” to justify the adhesion of the opportunists “to the bourgeoisie, and their rejection of revolutionary, i.e. proletarian, tactics” (ibid., p. 230).

The centrist leaders, hostile to the Great October Revolution in Russia and to the founding of the Communist International, used the Second-and-a-Half International to fight the communist movement. Some centrist adherents tried to infiltrate the movement. After the merger of the Second-and-a-Half International with the Bern International in 1923, the Centrists became virtually indistinguishable from the right reformist elements in the working-class movement.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. (See Index Volume, part 1, pp. 706–07.)
Istoriia KPSS, vol. 2. Moscow, 1966. Pages 303–11, 472–79, 595–646.
Istoriia Vtorogo Internatsionala, vol. 2. Moscow, 1966. Pages 166–78, 235–38, 411–77.
Lenin v bor’be za revoliutsionnyi Internatsional. Moscow, 1970. Pages 161–70, 296–301.
Temkin, Ia. G. Lenin i mezhdunarodnaia sotsial-demokratiia, 1914–1917. Moscow, 1968. Pages 58–65.
Chernetsovskii, Iu. M. Bor’ba V. I. Lenina protiv kautskianskoi reviziimarksizma. Leningrad, 1965.
Galkin, I. S. “Bor’ba V. I. Lenina protiv tsentrizma v gody pervoimirovoi voiny.” In the collection Pervaia mirovaia voina, 1914–1918. Moscow, 1968. Pages 239–53.

IA. G. TEMKIN