Various articles and brochures written in 1914, 1915 and 1916 by Lenin and Zinoviev, who were in exile in Europe, were published in March 1918 in a two-volume compilation titled “Against the Current”. All except for one of the said writings were published in “Social-Democrat”, the central organ of the bolsheviks that was first published on 1 November 1914. Only one of them, written by Zinoviev and called “Second International and War: Are We Denying Our Heritage?”, was published in “Communist”, another outlet of the bolsheviks.
Lenin wrote the following preface for “Against the Current”:
“Most of the articles compiled here were published in “Social-Democrat”, the central organ of Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) that came out in Switzerland between late 1914 and early 1917. Only one of them, which was one of the most important, was published in the “Communist”, which had a single issue that also came out in Switzerland in 1916.
To better understand the connection between these articles, the chronological order they were published in should be taken into account.
These articles fall under two main categories. Some of them are dedicated to the criticism of war and the tasks that stem from that. The other category is dedicated to the internal matters of the party and the factional struggle, which myopes has for a long time seen as a “chaotic situation” or “a fight between individuals”. However, this conflict, as can be seen more clearly today, served to draw a demarcation line between real socialists and the lackeys of the bourgeoisie such as Liber, Dann, Martov and co.
One should not forget that the first set or category of articles are much more important. No class-conscious toiler can truly understand how international socialist revolution and the idea of the first victory of this revolution on 25 October (TN: 7 November) came about without knowing these articles
One of the writings in “Against the Current” was about the 1915 May Day. This article was written by Zinoviev and was titled “May Day of the Bourgeoisie”. Three writings of Lenin that were complementary to this article (“The Social-Chauvinists’ Sophisms”, “The Question of the Unity of Internationalists”, “Bourgeois Philanthropists and Revolutionary Social-Democracy”) were also published at the same date on the 41st issue of the “Social-Democrat”, the central organ of the bolsheviks.
In this context, to understand which ideas lie behind the cancellation of 2020 Newroz and the attitude of the left towards the 2020 May Day, the entirety of the article about the 1915 May Day that was published in the “Against the Current” compilation should be read as an object lesson.
“May Day of the Bourgeoisie
International proletariat celebrated the 25th anniversary of May Day in 1914. However, this day has become the day of the bourgeoisie in 1915. This is very sad and painful but it has to be acknowledged to understand the severity of the situation and find a way out.
In front of us, we have the central organ of the German social democracy and we can see a small official note:
In view of the special circumstances, the party leadership is advising against stopping work this year. For this reason, our newspaper will not be published on 1 May. Regular membership fees will not be collected. If it is possible to find a clubhouse, party members are advised to hold meetings in the evening. The party will not publish a special May Day issue.”
This small note that explains everything is more informative for a historian conducting research on the state of socialism and the International than the handful of deceptive brochures from Kautsky.
German social chauvinists have once again taken another infamous step towards betraying the international banner of the workers. Unfortunately, it does not take a psychic to figure out that they are not alone and French, English etc. social chauvinists will soon follow them! This way, May Day, the day of struggle against chauvinism that is the scourge of humanity, poverty and capitalist slavery, the day of labor and socialist hope will be sabotaged again this year.
For this very reason, 1 May becomes a day bourgeoisie celebrates.
Bourgeois democrat Jacobi had once said that the formation of a single trade union was of greater historical importance than the victory at the battle of Sadowa. The million-strong party of the German proletariat is now thinking that the slaughter between the Moselle and the Meuse or slaughters in other fronts are more important than a socialist day celebrated by millions of workers.
The war has been going on for eight months. To this day, bourgeoisie is yet to cancel any of their holidays. The religious holidays, the days of ignorance and prejudice, are still celebrated with all their splendor. In fact, religious propaganda has ramped up due to war. Church fanaticism has reared its head once again. Bourgeoisie and reactionaries are providing an endless supply of opium of religion to the soldiers who are crushed under the burden of the war and civilians who have lost their hope. Socialist workers, on the other hand, are asked to forego May Day.
The importance the workers attached to May Day shows their internationalism, socialist consciousness, selflessness and their will to fight against capitalism. For the official social democracy circles in Germany, this barometer is at below zero. Socialists have become social chauvinists.
Who needs the current war? The pathetic situation on 1 May 1915 gives an answer to this question. Without a doubt, one of the aims of bourgeoisie in this war is to deal a blow to the rising movement of the workers, undermine the socialist organisation of the working class and weaken the red menace that had become an urgent threat for the bourgeoisie of the advanced countries. 1 May 1915 will be a sign that, at least for the time being, they succeeded. On the eve of May Day in 1890, bourgeoisie was in a state of worry and was captive of a physical fear. The best representatives of the working class, on the other hand, were encouraged by this success. Impatiently waiting for the first big demonstration of the workers, Friedrich Engels had written to his friend Friedrich Sorge that participation of the English proletariat to the May Day would be an intellectual revolution.
25 years have passed and the strongest social democratic party is calling for working to give up May Day in favor of the social peace of the bourgeoisie! This is a symbolic sign. This is a bigger disaster than the bombing of the Reims Cathedral. This is the peak of the denigration of the socialism banner by social chauvinists. They have depleted the goblet of shame.
Isn’t this a day of celebration for the bourgeoisie?
Recently, a reactionary writer compared the stance of international social democracy towards this war to that of Catholic church. That is because this church, another international organisation, had shattered due to the war when it called for good French Catholics to fire upon their Austrian brothers, who are not worse Catholics. Just as French socialists had called for the destruction of German socialists in this war and vice versa. This analogy by a reactionary has a kernel of truth. However, this is a devastating fact. Because social chauvinists are dragging the worker movement to a more despicable attitude than that of Catholic church. Catholic church did not cancel its holidays. During Christmas night, soldiers in both fronts had declared a spontaneous ceasefire.
After 4 August 1914, Some of the German social democratic parliamentarians who voted for war credits told how heart-wrenching it was. Proletarians who will aim their weapons towards their brothers from other countries will suffer an even bigger anguish! What can be more terrifying and tragic?
On 1 May 1915, the bourgeoisie of all countries will be taking revenge on the international worker movement. Official social democracy is giving up on May Day! This is a battle won by the bourgeoisie. This is a victory of the principles of the bourgeoisie. Therefore, it is a celebration for the bourgeoisie of all countries. Still, the one who laughs last laughs best.
Can it be imagined for advanced workers to tolerate the yoke of social chauvinism, remain silent at the face of the humiliation they are subjected to through the alliance of opportunists and the bourgeoisie? Is it possible that there are no murmurings of protest or clenched fists amongst the best representatives of the toilers who read the declaration that cancels the May Day? Can it be overlooked that they curse those who led the Second International into this embarrassing situation?
Bourgeois messieurs, today is your day! But our day will come. The war is also arousing the feelings of anger and hatred towards your society that produces violence, corruption, slavery and massacres. Soon, they will realise that, if they are going to die, it would be better to die for our cause, the cause of socialism, in a civil war against all of the bourgeoisie and all governments. Who knows if the bourgeoisie will escape the future May Days in peace? What about the May Day in 1916?
1 May 1915 G.Zinoviev”
Why and Against Which Current?
Zinoviev wrote the following introduction to “Against the Current”:
“The title of this compilation is “Against the Current”. We were a small group that undertook the struggle against social chauvinism. We started this struggle when worker organisations in all countries were under the influence of patriotism and the defense of the homeland. It was at a time when even Karl Liebknecht hadn’t openly voted against the war credits in Germany.
With a small but determined group of internationalists from other countries, we formed the initial core at Zimmerwald. Zimmerwald Left was a minority that was few in numbers. And to be honest, delegates of Russian internationalism were seen at the time as a group of refugees that were detached from the masses and that did not represent the large working class masses…..
The author of this article vividly remembers a discussion he held with Victor Adler at the onset of the war. Victor Adler, an old opportunist that has proven this characterization time and time again, was saying that he “saw the likes of us too many times”, he was thinking of us as naive children. It was apparent what he thought of as in his every word: “these revolutionaries are resistant to being exiled to places away from the prison; however, one should not expect these ‘utopians’, ‘fantasy enthusiasts’ to be followed”. Subsequent developments have proven the sceptical construct of this old leader wrong. These developments have shown that it was us, those ‘fantasy enthusiasts” and “utopians”, who could mobilize the oppressed classes of our countries and express the longings and the mentality of the millions of toilers at a critical junction for humanity. However, we were raising our voice in an isolated manner at the start of the war.”
Executive Committee of the Communist International released the following statement on May Day in 1920:
“….On 1 May 1915 German and French socialist, who had betrayed socialism, insisted that the working class give up on May Day. Their slogans were “War until the end” and “War until victory”. The massacre of workers of one country at the hand of workers of another had to go on unceasingly. In the name of the “defence of the homeland”, workers had to not halt production for even one day or one hour. For the will of the god, the production of the weapons that were going to be used for workers of one country to massacre workers of another had to be uninterrupted.
The leaders of the official socialist parties had declared a “social peace” with the bourgeoisie. Nothing was to disrupt the sincere cohesion between the workers and the bosses. May Day had to be sacrificed in favor of this social peace.
This way, May Day, the day of the proletariat, was turned into the May Day of the bourgeoisie.
The cancellation of the official May Day celebrations by the official social democracy was met with a devilish smile, wicked satisfaction and ridicule by the bourgeoisie of all countries. For the bourgeoisie of all countries, workers giving up on the day of labor and international solidarity was a more valuable victory than all the victories that were won on the battlefields.
In 1919, however, he Red International, the International of Communism was founded. Third International is building the camaraderie of proletarians who undertook the mission of overthrowing the bourgeoisie and establishing the International Soviet Republic. Our Third Communist International is undertaking the organisation of the May Day.”
Social Chauvinism Is Not a Thing of Past
However, social chauvinism did not become a thing of the past with the establishment of the Communist International. On the contrary, the infiltration of the remnants of the Second International starting from the Fifth World Congress could not be prevented and Communist International, encircled by these elements, surrendered to revisionism after the Fifth World Congress. This International, established with its stand against the social chauvinism in the first war of division, made itself redundant by towing the line of social chauvinism in the second war of division and liquidated itself.
The 1945 May Day celebrated in Paris after the retreat of the Nazi Army was an exemplary event. The newspapers published in that May Day announced the death of Hitler, who committed suicide a day earlier. Millions of Parisians celebrated May Day again on the streets of Paris arm in arm with General de Gaule and his supporters as well as with the sections of bourgeoisie that did not collaborate with Nazis. These scenes and the stories about these scenes asserted that May Day regained its international identity. However, on the contrary, this was the proof of May Day’s surrender to the bourgeoisie through the agency of the social chauvinists. That is because, at the same time, the enthusiastic toilers that filled the streets of Algiers and Oran in the French colony of Algeria were met with the bullets of the French units under the command of De Gaule. The massacre of toilers (among which there were many French as well) that started in these cities did not end there. Within a week, it spread to all of Algeria and on May 8, it led to Setif, Guelma and Kherrata massacres that are considered among the biggest massacres, which according to some should be recognized as genocide. Social chauvinists that celebrated May Day in Paris in the spirit of “social cohesion and peace” never took a stance against these massacres.
Where Are the Signs of Social Chauvinism in the Lands We Live in Today?
It would be useless and futile to trace the signs of social chauvinism in the lands we live in by looking at the recurrent massacres in Kurdistan. That is because most of the leftist movement today survives by hovering around and depending on Peoples’ Democratic Party. For this reason, although not causing a severe reaction, the massacres in Bakur as well as in Bashur and Rojava Kurdistan did not lead the leftist movement to fall in line with the government despite Erdoğan’s efforts. In this context, social chauvinism does not occur as siding with the state but through the line of peace and the “fraternity of the peoples”. Likewise, there is no movement in Kurdistan demanding “the freedom of the Kurds and the independence/union of Kurdistan”.
That being said, if social chauvinism is to unite around the state at a critical socio-political issue, there is no need to wait for a war to see the traces of this sort of opportunism. On the contrary, what is the term that best describes those voluntary quarantine advocates who, in the face of the current Corona pandemic, have suspended their usual activities by themselves without waiting for the prohibition and bans of the government, competing with each other to show they are even more mindful and “responsible” than the government?
Obviously, such people heed the guidance not of bolsheviks who showed the courage of standing against the current but those opportunist/chauvinists who cancelled May Day in 1915. For this reason, it is the duty of communists who follow the line of bolsheviks to evoke the 1915 May Day. Not surrendering to the voluntary quarantine, not shying away from being isolated and standing alone is a necessity and a duty. Even though large masses are not following the communists, we are faced with the attacks of the security forces and the sarcastic criticism of social chauvinist opportunists and not of the toilers, who are forced to go to work and go to the marketplace despite the pandemic and that shows which is the correct path.
 * The war in question was fought on 3 July 1866 in Sadowa (present-day Czech Republic) between the armies of the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Empire alongside its ally, the Kingdom of Saxony. Prussia routed its opponents in this war through its technical superiority.
 ** The Meuse is a large river that rises in the region of France formerly known as Lorraine and flows through Belgium and the Netherlands. The Moselle flows through France, Luxembourg and Germany before discharging into the Rhine.