Resolution of the Zimmerwald Left

September 9, 2015

The Zimmerwald Conference, a small gathering held in Switzerland 100 years ago, on September 5-8, 1915, marked a turning point in the world socialist movement. Socialists from many countries issued an appeal that united an antiwar resistance to the First World War and helped prepare the revolutions with which the war concluded.

Here, we publish a resolution drafted by Polish socialist Karl Radek on behalf of 11 left-wing delegates from Russia, Poland, Latvia, Germany, and Switzerland convened by Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin. This group, which became known as the Zimmerwald Left, said that workers' antiwar struggle should aim at "the overthrow of the capitalist government" and an end to capitalist power. Though its resolution was not adopted by the conference, the Zimmerwald Left became a rallying point for revolutionary socialism.

The document is published as part of the series marking the 100-year anniversary of the war. Also included is series editor John Riddell's introduction to the Zimmerwald conference, as well as two other documents from the meeting: "Liebknecht's letter to Zimmerwald" and "The Zimmerwald Manifesto."

Draft Resolution on the World War and the Tasks of Social Democracy[1]
Submitted by the Zimmerwald Left

THE WORLD war that has laid waste to Europe for a full year is an imperialist war. It is being waged for political and economic exploitation of the world, for markets, sources of raw materials, outlets for capital investment, and the like. The war results from capitalist development that simultaneously knits together the entire world in a global economy and generates independent groups of capitalists, formed around national states, with counterposed interests.

The bourgeoisie and the governments seek to conceal the true nature of the world war by claiming it is a struggle forced on them to maintain national independence. But this is a deception of the proletariat. In reality the war is waged precisely in order to oppress other peoples and countries. The stories about defending democracy in this war are just as deceptive, for imperialism signifies the most ruthless tyranny by big business and political reaction.

British soldiers wounded in battle during the First World War
British soldiers wounded in battle during the First World War

Imperialism can only be overcome by eliminating the contradictions from which it arose through socialist organization of the capitalist countries. Objective conditions are already ripe for this task.

When the world war broke out, the majority of workers' leaders did not propose this slogan, the only one possible against imperialism. When the war broke out, these leaders, entrapped by nationalism and consumed by opportunism, delivered the proletariat the proletariat over to imperialism, while abandoning the principles of socialism and thus the genuine struggle for the interests of the proletariat.

Social patriotism and social imperialism[2] represent a more dangerous enemy for the proletariat than the bourgeois apostles of imperialism because, by misusing the banner of socialism, it can lead astray the less conscious layers of the working class. In Germany, not only the openly patriotic majority of the former Social Democratic leaders but also the party's Centre current, which poses as an opposition, share this outlook. So too do the majority of leaders in France and Austria, plus a portion of the leaders in Britain and Russia (Hyndman, the Fabians, trade-unionist ideologues, Plekhanov, Rubanovich, the Nashe Delo group). The first prerequisite for revolutionary mobilization of the proletariat and the reconstruction of the International is an irreconcilable struggle against social-imperialism.

What else to read

This is part of a series of articles and reprints compiled by John Riddell documenting the developing socialist response to the First World War 100 years ago. Other installments include:

John Riddell
Capitalism's world war and the battle against it

V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky
Two calls to struggle against the war

Karl Liebknecht
Liebknecht's historic appeal against war

Women's conference statement
Socialist women unite against war

Socialist Youth International
The youth challenge to war

John Riddell
The Zimmerwald resistance emerges

Karl Liebknecht
A letter to Zimmerwald

Zimmerwald Left
Resolution of the Zimmerwald Left

Zimmerwald Conference
The Zimmerwald Manifesto

Vladimir Lenin
Ireland's fight for self-determination

Karl Liebknecht
Liebknecht's cry of defiance in a military court

Käte Duncker
A call for workers' power to end the war

For a comprehensive collection of other documents from the period, see Lenin's Struggle for a Revolutionary International, edited by Riddell.

It is the task of socialist parties and of socialist oppositions within parties that have gone over to social-imperialism to arouse and lead the masses of workers to revolutionary struggle against the capitalist governments and to conquer political power for the socialist organisation of society.

Socialists do not give up the struggle for every single step forward against capitalism, for every reform that strengthens the proletariat; they do not relinquish any of the means to organize and arouse the masses. On the country, revolutionary Social Democrats utilize every struggle, all demands contained in our minimum program,[3] with the goal of heightening the war crisis just like every other social and political crisis of capitalism and broadening it into an attack on capitalism's foundations. By conducting this struggle under the banner of socialism, the working masses are inoculated against slogans of oppressing other peoples, of maintaining the domination of one nation over another, and of seeking new annexations. They will become deaf to the cry of national solidarity that led the proletarians onto the fields of slaughter.

The prelude to this struggle is the struggle against the world war and for a quick end to the slaughter of the peoples. This struggle demands rejection of war credits, an exit from government ministries, and denunciation of the war's capitalist and anti-socialist character--in the parliamentary arena, in the pages of legal and, when necessary, illegal publications, along with a forthright struggle against social-patriotism. Every popular movement arising from the consequences of war (impoverishment, heavy casualties, and so on) must be utilised to organize street demonstrations against the governments, propaganda for international solidarity in the trenches, demands for economic strikes, and the effort to transform such strikes, where conditions are favourable, into political struggles. "The slogan is civil war, not civil peace."[4]

Revolutionary Social Democrats reject all illusions that the foundations for an enduring peace can be laid and the first steps toward disarmament be taken through some kind of diplomatic and governmental accord. On the contrary, revolutionary Social Democrats must say again and again that only social revolution can achieve an enduring peace and the liberation of humankind.


1. Translated from Horst Lademacher, ed., Die Zimmerwalder Bewegung, The Hague: Mouton, 1967, pp. 117-123. The resolution, drafted by Radek, was presented jointly with Lenin. Lenin also prepared a draft resolution for the Zimmerwald Left that was not presented to the conference; see Marxist Internet Archive. For the proposed manifesto also submitted by the Zimmerwald Left, see Riddell, Lenin's Struggle, pp. 299-301. Italics are as in original text.
2. The word "social" in "social patriotism" and similar expressions refers to reactionary positions taken by Social Democrats or others claiming to be socialists.
3. "Minimum program" refers to demands that can in principle be accomplished within capitalism. A classic presentation of a minimum program is found in German Social Democracy's "Erfurt program" of 1891.
4. Footnote in the original text: These words are taken from the letter to the Zimmerwald Conference of an outstanding leader of the German Opposition.

Further Reading

From the archives