Theses on the Attitude of the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland Towards the War

Proletarians of all countries, unite!
There is one goal, the conquest of power!


V. I. Lenin
December 1916

Collected Works, Vol. 23
Progress Publishers
Moscow 1960-70
Reproduced by
The Red Flag


These theses and several other items in this volume („Principles Involved in the War Issue“; „An Open Letter to Charles Naine“; „12 Brief Theses on H. Greulich‘s Defence of Fatherland Defence“; „Imaginary or Real Marsh?“; „Proposed Amendments to the Resolution on the War Issue“; „The Story of One Short Period in the Life of One Socialist Party“) were written in connection with the discussion of the war issue in the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland.1 In August 1916 the Party Executive decided to call an emergency congress for 11.-12.02.1917 to discuss the war issue. The Zürich Congress (04.-05.11.1916) endorsed that decision and am pointed a commission to draw up draft resolutions for the emergency congress. The commission framed two drafts: the majority draft, based on Grimm‘s Centrist theses, published in July 1916, and the minority social-chauvinist draft which called on social-democrats to „defend the fatherland“ in the event of Switzerland entering the war. Lenin, who was closely associated with the Swiss Left, was well informed of the commission‘s activities. His „Theses on the Attitude of the Swiss Social-Democratic Party Towards the War“ were written to help the Swiss Left. Lenin drew up several variants and drafts, devoting special attention to practical proposals, before working out the final text.

1. The present world war is an imperialist war waged for the political and economic exploitation of the world, for markets, raw material sources and new spheres of capital investment, oppression of weak nations, etc.

The „defence of the fatherland“ phraseology of the two warring coalitions is no more than a bourgeois deception of the peoples.

2. The Swiss Government is the steward of the Swiss bourgeoisie, which is wholly dependent upon international finance capital and intimately associated with the imperialist bourgeoisie of the Great Powers.

It is therefore no accident, but an inevitable result of these economic facts, that the Swiss Government is from day to day — and this has been so for decades — conducting an increasingly reactionary policy and secret diplomacy, hampering and violating the people‘s democratic rights and freedoms, kow-towing to the military clique and systematically and shamelessly sacrificing the interests of the broad masses to the interests of a handful of financial magnates.

Switzerland may at any moment be drawn into the present war as a result of this dependence of her bourgeois government on the interests of the financial oligarchy, and of powerful pressure by one or another of the imperialist coalitions.

3. Consequently, in relation to Switzerland, too, „defence of the fatherland“ is now no more than a hypocritical phrase. For in reality it is not a question of defending democracy, independence or the interests of the broad popular masses, etc., but, on the contrary, of preparing to hurl the workers and small peasants into the holocaust in order to maintain the monopoly and privileges of the bourgeoisie, of strengthening capitalist domination and political reaction.

4. Proceeding from these facts, the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland rejects „defence of the fatherland“ on principle, demands immediate demobilisation and calls on the working class to reply to the bourgeoisie‘s war preparations and to war itself, should it break out, with the sharpest methods of proletarian class struggle.

Among these methods the following should be especially urged:

(a) Rejection of civil peace, sharper principled struggle against all bourgeois parties, and also against the Grütli Association as an organisation of agents of the bourgeoisie within the workers’ movement, and against Grütli trends within the Socialist Party.

(b) Rejection of all war credits, no matter under what pretext requested, both in peace-time and war-time.

(c) Support of all revolutionary movements and every struggle of the working class of the belligerent countries against the war and against their own governments.

(d) Assistance to the revolutionary mass struggle within Switzerland — strikes, demonstrations, armed rising against the bourgeoisie.

(e) Systematic propaganda among the armed forces, establishment for this purpose of special social-democratic groups in the army and among conscription-age youth.

(f) Establishment by the working class of illegal organisations in retaliation to every government curtailment or repeal of political freedoms.

(g) Systematic preparation, through regular and consistent explanatory work among the workers, of a situation in which the leadership of all workers‘ and office employees‘ organisations without exception would pass into the hands of persons who accept and are capable of conducting this struggle against the war.

5. The Party‘s aim in the revolutionary mass struggle, adopted at the 1915 Party Congress in Aarau, is a socialist revolution in Switzerland. Economically, this can be carried out immediately. Socialist revolution offers the only effective means of liberating the masses from the horror of high prices and hunger. It is being brought nearer as a result of the crisis that has gripped the whole of Europe. It is absolutely necessary for the complete elimination of militarism and war.

The Party declares that all bourgeois pacifist and socialist pacifist phrases against militarism and war that fail to accept this goal and the revolutionary means of achieving it, are illusions or lies and can only have the effect of diverting the working class from any serious struggle against the foundations of capitalism.

Without ceasing its fight to improve the position of the wage-slaves, the Party calls upon the working class and its representatives to put on the order of the day propaganda for an immediate socialist revolution in Switzerland. This should be done through mass agitation, speeches in Parliament, legislative proposals, etc., proving the need to replace the bourgeois government by a proletarian government relying on the support of the mass of the propertyless population, and explaining the imperative need for such measures as expropriation of the banks and big industries, repeal of all indirect taxes, introduction of a single direct tax with revolutionary-high tax-rates for big incomes, etc.


(1) Complete repudiation of defence of country both from the military and the political position, and ruthless exposure of the bourgeois lies behind this slogan.

(2) Unconditional rejection of all war credits and demands both in time of peace and of war, and with a motivation of principle. Impose the duty of doing this on the Party‘s representatives in parliament and in all other State institutions.

(3) Struggle in all the Party‘s propaganda and agitation — above all in practical activity — against all military establishments, and repudiation of all military duties to the bourgeois class State.

(4) Systematic transition by the party to revolutionary struggle and revolutionary tactics all along the line, instead of being confined to reformism in practical activity.

(5) Adoption of the work and activity of Karl Liebknecht and the whole Spartacus group in Germany2 as a model of the only international activity, of real struggle against the war and all wars, and emulation of their example.

(6) Struggle by means of propaganda, agitation and organisation against the social-patriots (that is, „defenders of their country“) and reformists (that is, opponents of the immediate application of revolutionary means of struggle) within the Swiss Socialist Party.

(7) Explaining to the masses that all solemn declarations against militarism and war inevitably come to empty talk without a complete change in the Party‘s structure and activity and without control by the resolute opponents of social-patriotism and reformism of all the posts in the socialist-political and also trade union, consumer and all other working-class organisations.

(8) Propaganda and preparation of a vigorous revolutionary mass struggle (demonstrations, strikes and so on, depending on the growth of the overall revolutionary struggle) for the purposes of the proletarian revolution as the only means of doing away with wars.

(9) Explaining to the masses that in case of necessity they must themselves set up from below special organisations for such struggle adapted to the hard conditions of wartime.

(10) Making sure that the Party‘s revolutionary tasks in the struggle against the high cost of living, war, etc., are known and clear to every section of the exploited people outside the Party.

(11) Systematic propaganda in this context among young people of pro-conscription age, and also in the army, etc.

1The Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland (in French and Italian cantons the Party is called the Swiss Socialist Party) was set up in the 1870s and was a member of the 1st International. It was reestablished in 1888. Strong influence in the Party was enjoyed by the opportunists, who in the 1st World War took a social-chauvinist position. In the autumn of 1916, the Right split away from the Party and set up its own organisation. The Party majority headed by R. Grimm took a Centrist, social-pacifist position. The Left of the Party took an internationalist position. Under the influence of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, the Left of the Party gained in strength. In December 1920, the Left withdrew from the Party and in 1921 united with the Communist Party of Switzerland, which was formed in 1919.

2The Spartacus group — a revolutionary organisation of German Left-social-democrats, formed at the beginning of the 1st World War by Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin, J. Marchlewski, L. Jogiches (Tyszka) and W. Pieck. In April 1915, Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring founded the magazine The International, which rallied the main forces of German Left-social-democrats. On January 1st, 1916, an All-German Conference of Left-social-democrats was held in Berlin there the group was formalised and decided to call itself the Internationale group. As its platform, the conference adopted „Leitsätze“ (Basic Propositions) worked out by Rosa Luxemburg with the participation of Karl Liebknecht, Franz Mehring and Clara Zetkin. In 1916, the Internationale group, apart from political leaflets which it published from 1915, began illegal publication and circulation of „Political Letters“ signed Spartacus (published regularly until October 1918); then it also began to call itself the Spartacus group.

The spartacists conducted revolutionary propaganda in the masses, organised mass anti-war manifestations, directed strikes and exposed the imperialist character of the world war and the betrayal of the opportunist social-democratic leaders. However, they made serious mistakes in theory and policy: they denied the possibility of national liberation wars in the epoch of imperialism, failed to take a consistent position on the slogan of transforming the imperialist war into a civil war, underestimated the role of the proletarian party as the vanguard of the working class and feared a resolute break with the opportunists.

In April 1917, the group joined the Centrist Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany, retaining its organisational independence. In November 1918, during the revolution in Germany, the Spartacus group broke away from the „Independents“ and set up the Spartacus League, publishing its own programme on December 14th, 1918. At their inaugural congress (December 30th, 1918-January 1st, 1919) they set up the Communist Party of Germany. Lenin repeatedly criticised the mistakes of the German Left-social-democrats and pointed to the inconsistency of their position. At the same time, he put a high value on their revolutionary activity. He wrote: „The work of the German Spartacus group, which has carried on systematic revolutionary propaganda in the most difficult conditions, has really saved the honour of German socialism and the German proletariat.“