1915: The Zimmerwald Manifesto
The conference unanimously approved a manifesto drafted by Leon Trotsky, translated below. The manifesto was widely distributed as an underground leaflet. The ideals of Zimmerwald became a source of inspiration for a growing movement of militant action which prepared the revolutions of 1917 and 1918. It is presented here together with two other documents of the Zimmerwald Conference and an introduction.—John Riddell
Table of Contents
- Introduction to the 1915 Zimmerwald Conference (by John Riddell)
- Letter to the Conference by Karl Liebknecht
- Resolution of the Zimmerwald Left (drafted by Karl Radek)
- The Zimmerwald Manifesto (drafted by Leon Trotsky) — see below
The Zimmerwald Manifesto
Proletarians of Europe!
The war has lasted more than a year. The battlefields are littered with millions of corpses; millions more have been crippled for the rest of their lives. Europe is like a gigantic slaughterhouse. Its entire civilization, created through the labour of many generations, is consigned to destruction. Fierce barbarity celebrates its triumph over everything that was until now the pride of humankind.
Regardless of the truth regarding immediate responsibility for the outbreak of this war, one thing is clear: the war that produced this chaos is the result of imperialism, the striving by capitalist classes of each nation to feed their greed for profit through exploitation of human labour and natural resources around the entire globe.
In this way, economically backward or politically weak nations are subjugated by the great powers, who seek to utilize the war to redraw the world map through blood and iron in accord with their exploitative interests. In this way entire peoples and countries, like Belgium, Poland, the Balkan states, and Armenia, risk being partly or entirely torn apart and annexed.
As the war proceeds, its driving forces are revealed in their full depravity. Shred by shred, the veil that has concealed the nature of this global catastrophe from the masses’ awareness falls away. Capitalists of every country, who coin the red gold of war profits from the blood spilled by the people, claim that this war serves to defend the fatherland, democracy, and liberation of oppressed peoples. They lie! In actual fact, they are burying on the fields of destruction the freedom of their own peoples along with the independence of other nations. New fetters, new chains, new burdens are arising that will weigh down on the proletariat of all countries, both the victors and vanquished. When the war broke out, it was said to herald better living standards, but the real results are privation and want, unemployment and inflation, malnutrition and epidemics. Paying the costs of war will consume the peoples’ best energies for decades, imperilling the achievements of social reform and hindering every step forwards.
Cultural devastation, economic decline, political reaction: these are the blessings bestowed by this abominable conflict of nations.
The war thus reveals the naked form of modern capitalism, now incompatible not only with the interests of the working masses and the requirements of historical development, but with the basic requirements of the human community.
The ruling powers of capitalist society, who held the fate of nations in their hands – both monarchist and republican governments, secret diplomacy, the powerful business groups, the bourgeois parties, the capitalist press, the church – all of them bear the full weight of responsibility for this war, which arose from the social organization that nourishes these institutions and is defended by them – a war waged on behalf of their interests.
Exploited, deprived of rights, scorned as you were when the war broke out, they called you brothers and comrades in order to lead you to the slaughter, to death. And now that militarism has crippled, maimed, degraded, and destroyed you, the rulers demand that you surrender your interests, your goals, and your ideals – in a word, accept slave-like subordination to the civil peace. You are denied the possibility of expressing your views, your feelings, and your pain; you are prevented from raising your demands and acting to achieve them. The press is gagged, political rights and freedoms are trodden underfoot. Military dictatorship reigns with an iron fist.
No longer can we passively stand by in face of this situation, which threatens the entire future of Europe and humankind. For decades the socialist proletariat has waged a struggle against militarism. At the proletariat’s national and international conferences, its representatives grappled with growing concern with the constantly growing danger of war arising from imperialism. At the Stuttgart , Copenhagen , and Basel  congresses, the international socialist congresses showed the path that the proletariat must trod.
Since the beginning of the war, socialist parties and workers’ organisations in many countries that voted for this course have disregarded the obligations arising out of it. Their leaders have called on the working class to suspend the class struggle, the only possible and effective means of proletarian emancipation. They have approved war credits for the ruling classes. They have placed themselves at the disposal of governments for the most varied tasks. Through their press and their emissaries, they have sought to win the neutral powers for the policies of their governments. They have provided socialist ministers to serve as hostages for maintenance of civil peace. They have thus assumed responsibility before the working class, present and future, for the war, including its aims and methods. And just as the individual parties failed, so too did the most authoritative representative body of international socialism, the International Socialist Bureau.
These factors are largely responsible for the fact that the international working class, which did not succumb to the national panic when the war broke out, or subsequently broke free of it, has even now, in the second year of mass slaughter, not found ways and means to launch a simultaneous and effective struggle for peace in every country.
In this intolerable situation, we have gathered as representatives of socialist parties, trade unions, and minorities in their ranks – as Germans, French, Italians, Russians, Poles, Latvians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Swedes, Norwegians, Dutch, and Swiss. We stand not on the ground of national solidarity with the exploiting class but on that of international proletarian solidarity and class struggle. We have come together to retie the torn threads of international relations and to appeal to the working class to come to its senses and take up the struggle for peace.
This struggle is one for freedom, brotherhood among the peoples, and socialism. The task is to take up this struggle for peace – a peace without annexations or reparations. Such a peace is only possible if every thought of violating the rights and freedom of peoples is condemned. Occupation of entire countries or parts of countries must not lead to their forcible annexation. There must be no annexation, either open or concealed, and no forcible economic alignment, one made still more unbearable by denial of political rights. The right of nations to self-determination must be the unshakable foundation of national relations.
Since the war began, you have placed your energies, your courage, and your endurance at the service of the ruling classes. Now the task is to act for your own cause, for the sacred aims of socialism, for the deliverance of oppressed peoples and subjugated classes through irreconcilable proletarian class struggle.
Socialists in the belligerent countries have the task and duty of taking up this struggle with full force. Socialists in the neutral countries have the task and duty of supporting by every effective means their brothers in this struggle against blood-soaked barbarity.
Never in world history has there been a more urgent and noble task to be accomplished through our combined efforts. No sacrifice is to great, no burden is to heavy to achieve the goal of peace among the peoples.
Working men and women! Mothers and fathers! Widows and orphans! Wounded and crippled! We call on all of you who are suffering from the war and because of the war. We call to you across the borders, across the smoking battlefields, across the destroyed cities and villages:
PROLETARIANS OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!
Zimmerwald, Switzerland, September 1915.
On behalf of the International Socialist Conference:
For the German delegation: Georg Ledebour, Adolf Hoffmann.
For the French delegation: A. Bourderon, A. Merrheim.
For the Italian delegation: G.E. Modigliani, Constantino Lazzari.
For the Russian delegation: N. Lenin, Paul Axelrod, M. Bobrov.
For the Polish delegation: St. Lapinski, A. Warski, Cz. Hanecki.
For the Inter-Balkan Socialist Federation: C. Rakovsky (Rumanian delegation) Vasil Kolarov (Bulgarian delegation).
For the Swedish and Norwegian delegation: Z. Höglund, Ture Nerman.
For the Dutch delegation: H. Roland-Holst.
For the Swiss delegation: Robert Grimm, Charles Naine.
Previous items in the ‘100 years ago’ series
- 100 years ago: Two calls to struggle against the world war
- When Karl Liebknecht said ‘no’ to world war
- 1915: Socialist women unite against war
- 1915: The youth challenge to war
. Translated from Horst Lademacher, ed., Die Zimmerwalder Bewegung, The Hague: Mouton, 1967, pp. 166-9. Italics are as in original text.
. The key passage in these congress resolutions reads as follows:
“If a war threatens to break out, it is the duty of the working classes and their parliamentary representatives in the countries involved, supported by the coordinating activity of the International Socialist Bureau, to exert every effort in order to prevent the outbreak of war by the means they consider most effective, which naturally vary according to the sharpening of the class struggle and the sharpening of the general political situation.
“In case war should break out anyway, it is their duty to intervene in favor of its speedy termination and with all their powers to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to rouse the masses and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.”