Zimmerwald Conference of 1915

Zimmerwald Conference of 1915


an international socialist conference that declared its opposition to World War I, unleashed by the imperialists, and social chauvinism. It was held in Zimmerwald, Switzerland, from Sept. 5 to 8, 1915.

Thirty-eight delegates took part in the conference, including socialists from Russia, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Rumania, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway. On the eve of the conference, V. I. Lenin organized a group of socialist internationalists—the Zimmerwald Left—which during the conference opposed the centrist and quasi-centrist majority, sometimes called the Zimmerwald Center, headed by R. Grimm.

The main issue discussed at the conference was the proletariat’s struggle for peace. During the discussions the left introduced its draft resolution and manifesto, which exposed the imperialist nature of the world war, strongly condemned social chauvinism, and called on the workers of the warring countries to begin a civil war in order to gain the political power necessary for the socialist organization of society. The majority of those attending the conference rejected both documents, recommending that the conference limit itself to a pacifist declaration. On behalf of the left, Lenin demanded concrete political slogans. “If we are indeed on the threshold of a revolutionary epoch in which the masses will go over to the revolutionary struggle,” said Lenin, “we must also make mention of the means necessary for this struggle” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 54, p. 375).

The conference adopted a compromise manifesto that did not correspond in many respects to the platform proposed by the Zimmerwald Left. In general, however, the manifesto did deal with the task of mobilizing the international proletariat for the struggle against imperialism and war by recognizing the imperialist nature of the war and by pointing out, albeit not forcefully enough, the falsity of the slogan “defense of the homeland” and the treachery of the leaders of the Second International. “In practice, the manifesto,” noted Lenin, “signifies a step towards an ideological and practical break with opportunism and social-chauvinism” (ibid., vol. 27, p. 38). The conference also adopted the Resolution of Sympathy for War Victims and the Persecuted, which expressed brotherly sympathy for the Bolshevik deputies to the Duma, who had been exiled to Siberia, as well as for K. Liebknecht, R. Luxemburg, K. Zetkin, “and all comrades who are being persecuted and arrested because they are struggling against the war.”

The conference created the International Socialist Committee, in effect a new International Socialist Bureau, elected “against the wishes of the old one, and on the basis of a manifesto that openly condemns the tactics of the latter” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 42). The coalition formed at Zimmerwald between the revolutionary internationalists and the centrists and quasi-centrists was a temporary union of two fundamentally different currents that maintained their separate views. In criticizing the position taken by the majority at the conference, Lenin emphasized that the Zimmerwald Left must operate within, not outside, the Zimmerwald Association. “The unitedness of the former group,” stated Lenin, “is one of the most important facts and greatest achievements of the Conference” (ibid., p. 43).