Zimmerwald Left

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Zimmerwald Left


an international group of revolutionary socialists formed on the initiative of V. I. Lenin on Sept. 4, 1915, at a meeting of left-wing socialist delegates to the Zimmerwald Conference, which was to begin the next day.

At the meeting Lenin gave a speech on the nature of the world war and the tactics of international Social Democracy. The attending delegates worked out a draft resolution and manifesto that substantiated the Russian Bolsheviks’ view on war, peace, and revolution, a view that was shared by the representatives of left-wing socialists in several other European countries. (The group officially took the name “Zimmerwald Left” only in November 1915, when the first and only issue of the group’s press organ, Internationale Flügblätter, was published.) The first members of the Zimmerwald Left were the left-wing socialists who attended the meeting on September 4, including V. I. Lenin, G. E. Zinov’ev (delegates of the Central Committee of the RSDLP), Ia. A. Berzin (from the Central Committee of the Latvian Social Democracy), J. Borchardt (representing the International Socialists of Germany), F. Platten (Switzerland), K. Radek (representing the National Committee of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania), E. Höglund (Sweden), and T. Nerman (Norway).

After the Zimmerwald Conference, at which the Zimmerwald Left sharply criticized the underlying principles of the centrist and quasi-centrist views of the majority, Lenin as head of the Bureau of the Zimmerwald Left launched an intensive campaign to propagandize the group’s views. The editorial board of the Leninist newspaper Sotsial-demokrat published the magazine Kommunist, which Lenin planned to make the international organ of left-wing Social Democracy. Two issues of Sotsial-demokrat (nos. 45–46 and 47) featuring documents of the Zimmerwald Left, as well as copies of the pamphlet Internationale Flügblätter, were sent to many countries. The Bureau of the Zimmerwald Left published two issues of the theoretical journal Vorbote, containing Lenin’s article “Opportunism, and the Collapse of the Second International,” Lenin’s theses “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-determination,” and other materials.

An important role in the left’s struggle for a revolutionary policy was played by Lenin’s pamphlet Socialism and War, which was translated into German and distributed among the delegates to the Zimmerwald Conference. Foreign sections of émigré Bolsheviks were instrumental in organizing new groups of supporters of the Zimmerwald Left. Operating within the Zimmerwald Association, the Zimmerwald Left supported it “insofar as it combats social-chauvinism” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 30, p. 285). At the same time, the Zimmerwald Left elucidated and subjected to well-reasoned criticism the inconsistency and vacillations of the Zimmerwald majority.

After the Kienthal Conference of 1916, Lenin bent his efforts to consolidating the left in Switzerland, where the Zimmerwald right-center, headed by R. Grimm, was sliding toward a clearly pacifist position and coming to terms with the social chauvinists. In early 1917, when the open treachery of the Zimmerwald right became a fait accompli, Lenin raised the question of breaking with the Zimmerwald Association. However, Lenin’s appeal was not immediately understood by the left, which without breaking with the association was clearly diverging from it and moving closer to the Bolsheviks. The October Revolution of 1917 helped the foreign left to find a place in the ranks of the Communist International, founded in March 1919.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
War on War: Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left, and the Origins of Communist Internationalism.
(26) Once at the congress, Hoglund and Nerman sided with Lenin and came to be counted, along with Zinoviev, Radek and others, among the eight out of the thirty-eight delegates who made up the Zimmerwald Left. Keen to show support, the two put up 300 Swedish crowns out of SDUF's budget in response to Lenin's call for financial contributions.
(22) Due to the government's refusal to issue passports, British delegates had been absent from the conferences of the 'Zimmerwald left' in 1915 and 1916, see Thorpe, British Communist Party and Moscow, p21.