The Tasks of the Left-Radicals (or the Left-Zimmerwaldists) in the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland

Lenin's directives for the Left wing of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland, that is, the communists inside that party.

Proletarians of all countries, unite!


V. I. Lenin
October-November 1916

Collected Works, Vol. 23
Progress Publishers
Moscow, 1960-70

Reproduced by
The Red Flag

During the 1st World War, Lenin lived in Switzerland, from where he directed the activities of the bolshevik party. He was also a member of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland and shared in the activities of its Left wing, attending its meetings and helping it with his advice. Dr. F. Brupbacher, a Zürich Social-Democrat who frequently met Lenin in that period, wrote:

«Lenin was in close touch with the Zürich labour organisations, attending their meetings every time an important issue was discussed. For instance, he was present when a report on Youth Day was made to a meeting of woodworkers, at meetings of the Zürich Labor Union when the war question was debated, a youth meeting in Hottingen at which Platten spoke on refusal to do military service and on revolutionary propaganda in the army, a meeting of the Unterstrasse branch which I addressed on the war issue. […] Lenin displayed the patience of Job in his relations with the Swiss comrades.» (Maurice Pianzola: «Lenin in Switzerland».)

The theses «The Tasks of the Left-Radicals (or the Left-Zimmerwaldists) in the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland» were written in Russian and German and translated into French. They were circulated to bolshevik groups in Switzerland, to Swiss Left social-democrats and were discussed at their meetings.


The Congress of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland in Zürich (04.-05.11.1916) definitely proved that the decision to join Zimmerwald and accept revolutionary mass struggle (resolution of the 1915 Aarau Congress) remains on paper, and that within the Party there has been definitely formed a «Center», that is, a trend similar to that of Kautsky-Haase and the Labor Collective in Germany, and of Longuet-Pressemane and Co. in France. This «Center», of which R. Grimm has become the head, combines «Left» declarations with «Right», that is, opportunist, tactics.

It is therefore the task of the Left-Zimmerwaldists in the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland immediately and effectively to consolidate, their forces in order systematically to influence the Party so that the Aarau Congress decision shall not remain a dead letter. Consolidation of their forces is all the more urgent since both the Aarau and Zürich congresses have left no doubt whatever as to the revolutionary and internationalist sympathies of the Swiss proletariat. Resolutions of sympathy for Liebknecht are not enough; there must be serious acceptance of his slogan that the social-democratic parties of today need regeneration.i

The platform of the Left-Zimmerwaldists in the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland should be, approximately, as follows:


1. «Defense of the homeland» on the part of Switzerland in the present imperialist war as well as in the new imperialist wars now in preparation is nothing but a bourgeois deception of the people. For, actually, Switzerland‘s participation in the present or similar wars would only be participation in a predatory and reactionary war on the side of one of the imperialist coalitions; it would definitely not be a war for «freedom», «democracy», «independence», and so on.

2. The attitude of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland towards the bourgeois Swiss Government and towards all the Swiss bourgeois parties must be one of utter distrust. For that government (a) is closely bound up, economically and financially, with the bourgeoisie of the imperialist «great» powers and is completely dependent upon them; (b) has long ago turned towards political reaction all along the line in international and domestic affairs (political police, servility towards European reaction and European monarchies, and so on); (c) its whole policy over a period of many years (military reorganization in 1907, and so on, the Egli «case», the de Loys «case»ii, and so on, and so forth) has proved that it is increasingly becoming a pawn in the hands of the most reactionary Swiss military party and military clique.

3. In view of the above, it is the urgent task of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland to expose the true character of the government, which is cringing before the imperialist bourgeoisie and the militarists, expose its deception of the people by means of phrases about democracy, and so on, show the very real possibility of this government (with the approval of the whole of the ruling bourgeoisie in Switzerland) bartering away the interests of the Swiss people to on or the other imperialist coalition.

4. Therefore, in the event of Switzerland‘s involvement in the present war, it will be the duty of the social-democrats absolutely to repudiate «defense of the homeland» and to expose the use of that slogan to deceive the people. In such a war the workers and peasants would lay down their lives not in their own interests, and not for democracy, but in the interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie. The socialists of Switzerland, as of all other advanced countries, can and must accept military defence of the homeland only when this homeland has been reorganised along socialist lines, that is, defence of the proletarian-socialist revolution against the bourgeoisie.

5. Neither in peace nor in war can the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland and its deputies vote war credits under any circumstances, no matter what deceitful speeches about «defending neutrality», and so on, are made to justify such voting.

6. The proletariat‘s answer to war must be propaganda and the preparation and carrying out of revolutionary mass actions for the overthrow of bourgeois rule, the conquest of political power and the achievement of socialist society, which alone will save mankind from wars. The determination to achieve it is maturing in the minds of the workers of all countries with unprecedented rapidity.

7. Revolutionary action must include demonstrations and mass strikes, but under no circumstances refusal of military service. On the contrary, not refusal to take up arms, but turning these arms against one‘s own bourgeoisie is the only action that can correspond to the tasks of the proletariat and to the slogans of the best representatives of internationalism, for example, Karl Liebknecht.

8. The social-democratic workers must counter the slightest government action, either before entering or during the war, towards abolishing or curtailing political liberties by forming clandestine organizations to conduct systematic, persistent propaganda, undaunted by any sacrifices, for war against war, and explain to the masses the real character of the war.


9. Not only in the belligerent countries, but in Switzerland too, the war has led to the unprecedented and scandalous enrichment of a handful of rich people and to incredible want among the masses, resulting from high prices and food shortages. The Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland‘s main task must be a revolutionary, not reformist, struggle against this calamity: systematic and persistent propaganda and preparation for such a struggle, undeterred by inevitable temporary difficulties and set-backs.

10. In reply to the numerous bourgeois projects of financial reforms, the Social-Democratic Party must make it its main task to expose attempts by the bourgeoisie to shift the burden of mobilisation and war on to the workers and poor peasants.

Under no circumstances, and under no pretext, can social-democrats agree to indirect taxation. The decision of the Aarau Congress (1915), and the Huber-Grimm resolution adopted at the Zürich Congress (1916), which permit social-democrats to agree to indirect taxes, must be rescinded. All social-democratic organizations must forthwith begin most energetically to prepare for the Party Congress in Berne in February 1917, and must elect only delegates who favour rescinding these resolutions.

It is the job of liberal officials, and certainly not of revolutionary social-democrats, to help the bourgeois government extricate itself from the present difficulties and preserve the capitalist system, that is, perpetuate want among the masses.

11. Social-democrats must propagate as widely as possible among the masses the urgent necessity of introducing a uniform federal property and income tax, with high and progressive scales not lower than the following:



Tax (in %)

20,000 CHF



50,000 CHF



100,000 CHF



200,000 CHF



and so on

Tax on persons living on pensions:

until 4 CHF per day


until 5 CHF per day


until 10 CHF per day


until 20 CHF per day

25% and so on

12. Social-democrats must ruthlessly combat the bourgeois lie, spread also by many opportunists in the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland, that it is «impractical» to advocate revolutionary-high rates of property and income taxation. On the contrary, this is the only practical and the only social-democratic policy. First, because we must not adapt our selves to what is «acceptable» to the rich; we must appeal to the broad masses of the poor and propertyless who are indifferent to, or suspicious of, the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland, largely owing to its reformist and opportunist character. Secondly, the only way of wresting concessions from the bourgeoisie is not by «bargaining» with it, not by «adapting» ourselves to its interests or prejudices, but by preparing the revolutionary forces of the masses against it. The larger the section of people we convince of the justice of revolutionary high taxation rates and of the need to fight to secure such rates, the sooner will the bourgeoisie make concessions. And we will utilise every concession, however small, in the unswerving struggle for the complete expropriation of the bourgeoisie.

13. The fixing of a maximum salary for all salaried employees and officials, federal councillors, and so on, of 5,000 to 6,000 CHF per year, according to size of family. The prohibition of the accumulation of all other incomes under penalty of imprisonment and confiscation of such incomes.

14. Compulsory alienation of the factories and works — in the first instance of those that are indispensable for supplying the necessities of life to the population and also of all agricultural enterprises of over 15 hectares (over 40 «Jacharten») in area (in Switzerland there are only 22,000 enterprises of this size out of a total of 252,000, that is, less than 1/10 of all agricultural enterprises). Systematic measures, on the basis of these reforms, to increase food output and ensure the people a supply of cheap food.

15. Immediate and compulsory alienation by the State of all water power in Switzerland; this, as well as other alienated property, to be subject to the above-mentioned scales of property and income tax.


16. Utilization of the parliamentary tribune and the right of initiative and referendum, not in a reformist manner, in order to advocate reforms «acceptable» to the bourgeoisie, and therefore powerless to remove the main and fundamental evils suffered by the masses. The aim should be propaganda in favour of Switzerland‘s socialist transformation, which is quite feasible economically, and is becoming more and more urgently necessary because of the intolerably high cost of living and the oppression of finance capital, and also because the international relations created by the war are impelling the proletariat of the whole of Europe on to the path of revolution.

17. Abolition of all restrictions without exception on the political rights of women compared with those of men. It must be explained to the masses why this reform is particularly urgent at the present time, when the war and the high cost of living are agitating the minds of the broad masses and, in particular, are rousing the interest and the attention of women towards politics.

18. Compulsory naturalization of all foreigners, free of charge. Every foreigner shall become a Swiss citizen after three months‘ residence in the country, unless they, on very good grounds, apply for a postponement, which may be granted for not more than three months. It must be explained to the masses that such a reform is particularly urgent for Switzerland, not only from the general democratic standpoint, but also because, owing to its imperialist environment, Switzerland has a larger percentage of foreigners than any other European country. 9/10 of these foreigners speak one of the three languages used in Switzerland. The disfranchisement and alienation of foreign workers serve to increase political reaction, which is already mounting, and weaken international proletarian solidarity.

19. Immediate propaganda for social-democratic candidates in the 1917 National Council elections to be nominated only on the basis of a political platform that has been previously widely discussed by the electors. This applies in particular to the question of the attitude towards the war and defence of the fatherland, and the question of reformist or revolutionary struggle against the high cost of living.


20. Effective operation of the Aarau decision on the revolutionary mass struggle is impossible without systematic and persistent efforts to extend social-democratic influence over the masses, without drawing into the movement new strata of the toiling and exploited masses. Propaganda and agitation for the social revolution must be conducted more concretely, more explicitly, and on pressing practical issues. This will make it understood not only by the organised workers, who under capitalism will always remain a minority of the proletariat and of the oppressed classes in general, but also by the majority of the exploited, who are incapable of systematic organisation because of the terrible oppression of capitalism.

21. To influence broader masses, the party must organise more systematic publication of leaflets for free distribution. These should explain to the masses that the revolutionary proletariat is fighting for the socialist transformation of Switzerland, which is necessary for and in the interests of 9/10 of the population. Open competitions should be organised between all party branches, particularly the youth organisations, for the best distribution of such leaflets, and street and house-to-house propaganda. More attention and effort must be devoted to propaganda among the rural workers, agricultural labourers and day-labourers, and also among the poor section of peasants who do not exploit hired labour and do not profit, but suffer, from the high cost of living. The Party should demand of its parliamentary representatives (National, Cantonal, Great and other Councils) that they utilise their particularly advantageous political position, not for idle reformist parliamentary talk, which naturally only bores the workers and rouses their suspicion, but for propaganda for the socialist revolution among the most backward strata of the proletariat and semi-proletariat in urban, and particularly rural, areas.

22. A decisive break with the theory of «neutrality» of the industrial organizations of the working class, office employees, etc. A truth most strikingly confirmed by the war should be brought home to the masses, namely, that so-called «neutrality» is bourgeois deception or hypocrisy, that in fact it means passive submission to the bourgeoisie and to such of its particularly disgusting undertakings as imperialist war. Social-democratic activity in every organisation of the working class and of the poor strata of the small bourgeoisie or office workers must be intensified. Special social-democratic groups must be formed within all such organisations; systematic efforts must be made to create a situation in which revolutionary Social-Democracy shall have the majority in and directorship of these organisations. The special importance of this condition for the success of the revolutionary struggle must be explained to the masses.

23. Social-democratic work among the troops must be extended and intensified, both before and after the call-up. Social-democratic groups must be formed in all military units. The historical inevitability and legitimacy, from the standpoint of socialism, of using arms in the only legitimate war, namely, the proletarian war against the bourgeoisie to liberate humanity from wage-slavery, must be explained. There must be propaganda against isolated terrorist actions and for linking up the struggle of the revolutionary section of the army with the broad movement of the proletariat and of the exploited population generally. There must be more intensive propaganda in support of the section of the Olten decisioniii urging soldiers to refuse to obey when troops are used against strikers, and it should be explained that passive disobedience alone is not enough.

24. To explain to the masses the inseparable connection between the practical, consistent, revolutionary social-democratic work, as outlined above, and the systematic struggle over principles among the three main trends in the present-day labor movement that have arisen in all civilized countries, and have taken definite shape also in Switzerland (particularly at the 1916 Zürich Congress). These three trends are: (1) the social-patriots who frankly accept «defense of the homeland» in the present imperialist war of 1914-16; this is an opportunist trend of the agents of the bourgeoisie in the labour movement; (2) the Left-Zimmerwaldists, who, in principle, reject «defense of the homeland» in the imperialist war. They favour a break with the social-patriots as agents of the bourgeoisie and mass revolutionary struggle, combined with complete reorganization of social-democratic tactics to conform with the propaganda and preparation for such struggle; (3) the so-called «Center» (Kautsky-Haase, Labor Collective in Germany; Longuet-Pressemane in France),iv which stands for unity between the first and the second trends. Such «unity» only ties the hands of revolutionary social-democracy, prevents the development of its activity and corrupts the masses by failure inseparably and completely to link up Party principles and Party practice.

At the 1916 Zürich Congress of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland, in three speeches on the question of the National Council group delivered by Platten, Naine and Greulich, there was the very clearly expressed admission that the struggle between the different policy trends within the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland has long since become a fact. The sympathies of the majority of the delegates were obviously with Platten when he spoke of the need consistently to work in the spirit of revolutionary Social-Democracy. Name openly, precisely and definitely declared that two trends were continuously fighting each other within the National Council group, and that the workers‘ organisations must themselves see to it that adherents of the revolutionary trend who were in complete agreement with each other be elected to the National Council. When Greulich said that the party had cast off its old «favorites» and had found new «favorites», he too thereby admitted the existence and struggle of different trends. But no class-conscious and thinking worker will agree with this «favorites» theory. It is precisely in order to prevent the inevitable and necessary struggle between trends from degenerating into a contest between «favorites», into personal conflicts, petty suspicions and petty scandals that all members of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland must see to it that the struggle between the different policy trends is fought openly and on principles.

25. An intensified principled struggle must be waged against the Grütli Associationv as a glaring manifestation on Swiss soil of the tendencies of bourgeois labor politics, namely, opportunism, reformism, social-patriotism and corruption of the masses by bourgeois-democratic illusions. The mistaken and pernicious character of social-patriot and «center» policies must be explained to the masses, using the concrete activities of the Grütli Association as an example.

26. Preparations must be immediately started for the elections to the February (1917) Party Congress in Berne to ensure that they are held only after every party organization has discussed the principles and concrete policies set forth in the various platforms. The platform outlined here should serve as the platform of the consistent, revolutionary, internationalist social-democrats.

The election of all directing Party officials, to the press commission, to all representative bodies, to all management committees, and so on, must take place only on the basis of such a discussion of platforms.

Every local organisation must carefully control the local Party press organ to ensure that it pursues the views and the tactics, not merely of Social-Democracy in general, but of a precisely defined platform of social-democratic policy.


27. In order that acceptance of internationalism by the Swiss social-democrats shall not remain an empty and non-committal phrase — to which the adherents of the «Center», and social-democrats of the epoch of the 2nd International generally, always confine themselves — it is necessary, first, consistently and unswervingly to fight for organizational rapprochement between foreign and Swiss workers bringing them together in the same unions, and for their complete equality (civic and political). The specific feature of imperialism in Switzerland is precisely the increasing exploitation of disfranchised foreign workers by the Swiss bourgeoisie, which bases its hopes on estrangement between these two categories of workers.

Second, every effort must be made to create a united internationalist trend among the German, French and Italian workers of Switzerland, a trend that will make for genuine unity in all practical activity in the labor movement and will combat, with equal determination and on principle, French (in Latin Switzerland), German and Italian social-patriotism. The present platform should be made the basis of a common and united platform of the workers of all three main nationalities or languages in Switzerland.

Without such a fusion of the workers of the revolutionary direction within all the nations of Switzerland, internationalism remains nothing but an empty phrase, and it would really be better to talk a little less about the 3rd International and a little more to help practically create this 3rd International on the particularly favorable soil of

To facilitate this amalgamation, the publication should be started of supplements (even if weekly and only two pages at first) to all social-democratic newspapers (and to all periodicals put out by workers‘, office employees‘, and so on, trade unions). The supplements should be published in three languages and should explain the present platform in the light of current political developments.

28. The Swiss social-democrats must support in all other socialist parties only the revolutionary-internationalist forces, the forces that accept the Zimmerwald Left. This support must not remain platonic. It is particularly important to reprint in Switzerland the anti-government manifestos clandestinely issued in Germany, France and Italy, translate them into all three languages and distribute them among the workers in Switzerland and all the neighboring countries.

29. At the Berne (February 1917) Congress the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland must not only unreservedly accept the Kienthal Conference decisions, but must also demand an immediate and complete organizational break with the International Socialist Bureau at The Hague, that bulwark of opportunism and social-patriotism, which are irreconcilably hostile to the interests of socialism.

30. The Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland is in a particularly favourable position to keep in touch with developments in the labor movement in the advanced European countries and unite its revolutionary elements. The Party must not, therefore, wait passively for an internal struggle to develop within that movement, but must keep in advance of that struggle. In other words, it must follow the road of the Zimmerwald Left, the correctness of which is being proved more clearly every day by the course of events in the socialist movements of Germany, France, England, the United States and all civilized countries in general.

i The slogan was advanced by Karl Liebknecht in his letter of October 2nd, 1914 to the German Social-Democratic Party Executive. Lenin quotes this letter in his rough draft of «Theses for an Appeal to the International Socialist Committee and All Socialist Parties» (Before 25.12.1916).

This is the background to Liebknecht‘s letter: In August 1914, Liebknecht asked the party Executive to arrange a number of anti-war rallies and issue a manifesto in the name of the Reichstag group urging all party members to oppose the war. The proposal was rejected. In September 1914, Liebknecht toured Belgium and the Netherlands, informing internationalist socialists of the situation in the German Party, for which he was disciplined by the Executive. The letter was a reply to this disciplinary action.

ii Karl Heinrich Egli — Swiss colonel. Spied for Germany and her allies during the 1st World War, when he was deputy chief of the Swiss General Staff. Tried early in 1916 at the insistence of the social-democratic press and parliamentary group, he was acquitted, due to pressure from the bourgeoisie and the military clique, but was obliged to leave the army.

De Lohs (Loys, Treytorrens) — Swiss colonel. In August 1916 published several articles urging Swiss participation in the war. Was exposed by the social-democratic press, which demanded his dismissal from the service, but the military command confined it self to a reprimand.

iii The Olten resolution on the war question was adopted by the emergency congress of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland at Olten, February 10th and 11th, 1906.

iv In the German social-democratic press, the «Center» is sometimes identified, and rightly so, with the Right wing of the «Zimmerwaldists».Lenin

v Grütli Association — a bourgeois reformist organisation founded in Switzerland in 1838, long before the organisation of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland. The name derives from the 16th-century Union of Grütlians (conspirators), who rose against Austrian rule. In 1901 the Grütli Association affiliated with the Social-Democratic Party but remained organisationally independent. Its newspaper, The Grütlian, followed a bourgeois-nationalist policy. In the 1st World War the Grütli-Verein took up an extreme chauvinist position and became the mainstay of the Right-wing social-chauvinists. This led the Zürich Congress of the Social-Democratic Party (November 1916) to declare that membership in the Grütli Association was incompatible with membership in the Party.

vi This paragraph has been translated from the German version of the text, authored by Lenin alongside the Russian version, which the English translation was done on the basis of. The second part of the paragraph — concerning the 3rd International — was omitted in the Russian and English versions.