The Kiental Manifesto: Socialists against war, 1916
100 years ago this week
The second appeal against the First World War by the socialist Zimmerwald Movement. Also published in socialistworker.org. The Kiental Manifesto is published as part of a series (“100 years ago”) documenting the socialist response to World War 1.
By John Riddell. One hundred years ago this week, socialist opponents of the First World War gathered in Kiental, Switzerland, issued an appeal calling on working people to “use every means possible to bring a rapid end to the human slaughter.” The appeal, known as the “Kiental Manifesto,” appears here for the first time online in English.
Seven months earlier, the first gathering of socialist groups in warring and neutral countries had issued the Zimmerwald Manifesto, which quickly became the banner of socialist antiwar forces across Europe.
The second conference was held April 24-30, 1916, in the mountain village of Kiental in neutral Switzerland. Its proceedings revealed that antiwar socialist forces were growing and radicalizing, but also that disagreements among them had widened.
Forty-three delegates in Kiental represented socialists in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia and Switzerland, plus two observers, of which one was from Britain. More than a dozen delegates, including Leon Trotsky, were denied travel documents and could not take part.
The world war was deadlocked. Titanic battles, each of which costing the lives of hundreds of thousands, resulted in only tiny adjustments in the battle lines. Even among non-combatants, deaths caused by the war rose into the millions.
Meanwhile, despite fierce repression, resistance among working people was increasing. In Russia, protest strikes embraced hundreds of thousands of workers in the period between the Zimmerwald and Kiental conferences.
The Zimmerwald movement united across the battle lines socialists who opposed the war effort of their respective ruling classes and worked for mass workers’ action to impose an end to the slaughter. Zimmerwald supporters agreed in insisting on immediate peace without annexations or indemnities. They rejected all the plans of warring governments for conquest.
There was less agreement, however, on how peace was to be achieved. Many socialists favored pressuring the governments to negotiate a peace agreement. More radical delegates, led by the Bolsheviks of Russia, called on workers to struggle “for political power, for socialism and for the unification of the socialist peoples.” They joined in the Zimmerwald Left, whose cry to soldiers was: “Lower your weapons and turn them against our common enemy–the capitalist governments.”
This radical vision prefigured how the war was ultimately ended, through the revolutions that swept Russia the following year and all central Europe in 1918.
Delegates at Kiental adopted a resolution on peace that went some way toward encompassing the Zimmerwald Left position, while leaving the underlying differences unresolved.
Rebuilding international socialism
The Socialist International had disintegrated at the outset of war in August 1914. Leaders of its main parties in Britain, France, Germany and Austria-Hungary repudiated the international’s resolutions by supporting the wars waged by their respective ruling classes. Antiwar socialists called this stance “social-patriotism.”
Opinion was divided in Kiental on how to resolve this crisis. More moderate delegates favored efforts to persuade the leaders who had betrayed the International in 1914 to reconvene its leading body, the International Socialist Bureau.
The Zimmerwald Left and its allies, including the Spartacist current led by Rosa Luxemburg in Germany, called on workers to “turn their backs on social patriotism and, through revolutionary struggle against war and imperialism, to create the theoretical and organizational preconditions for preparing the launching of a new International.”
The conference united around a compromise text that condemned the social-patriotic leaders without stating how the International’s collapse was to be remedied.
Similar to the Zimmerwald Manifesto in most respects, the Kiental Manifesto went beyond it on a crucial and much-debated question. It demanded rejection of any form of support for the government’s’ war policies, including through voting against “war credits”–that is, motions in parliament to authorize war spending.
The Kiental conference gave new impetus to socialist opposition to the war. Nonetheless, in terms of the Zimmerwald movement’s internal dynamics, its outcome was ambiguous. A few weeks after its adoption, Bolshevik leader Gregory Zinoviev made this assessment:
Without a doubt the second Zimmerwald conference [Kiental] represents a step forward. The influence of the Left was greater by far than at Zimmerwald. The prejudices against the Left have diminished.
But the conference also revealed:
two points of view; two policies. Some consider that the Second International has collapsed and that the fire of world war is forging the preconditions for the Third International, freed of opportunism and nationalism. Others do not understand the character either of the war or of the crisis socialism is undergoing. The whole contemporary period appears to them to be an episode that will pass away…
No illusions! There is a large right wing among the Zimmerwaldists. There is no guarantee that it will stay with us through to the end.
Indeed, within a few years, after the workers’ and peasants’ triumph in Russia, the revolutionary and moderate forces who met at Kiental separated, and the Zimmerwald Left joined with other currents in forging a new, revolutionary International.
The Kiental Manifesto
Proletarians of all countries, unite!
Two years of world war! Two years of devastation! Two years of victims’ blood and reaction’s fury!
Who is to blame? Who stands behind those who threw the burning torch into the keg of gunpowder? Who had long desired this war and prepared for it?
The ruling classes!
In September 1915, we met as socialists from warring and neutral countries alike in Zimmerwald, joining hands across the bloody chaos. Amid the horrors unleashed by war, we united to declare in our Manifesto:
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.
As Jaurès said a few days before his death, “Every nation rushed through the streets of Europe brandishing burning torches.”
* * *
Millions of men have fallen into their graves. Millions of families are obliged to mourn. Millions of women and children have been turned into widows and orphans. Ruins have been piled on top of ruins, while irreplaceable cultural monuments have been destroyed. And after all this, the war has reached a dead end.
Despite the untold masses of victims on all battlefronts, nothing decisive has been achieved. The governments sacrifice millions upon millions of soldiers merely to shift the battle lines ever so slightly.
Neither victors nor vanquished! Or rather, all sides are defeated–all are bled white, all are ruined, all are exhausted: that will be the outcome of this gruesome war. All this to show ruling classes that their fantasies of imperialist world domination have not been achieved.
Once again it has been made clear that the only socialists to have served the interests of their peoples are those who, despite persecution and slander, have stood firm against nationalist hysteria and demanded an immediate peace without annexations.
So join with us in crying out across the battlefields: Down with the war! Long live peace!
Workers of city and countryside:
The governments and imperialist cliques, together with their press, tell you to hold out to the end, in order to liberate oppressed nations. This is the crudest method of deception of all those that have been utilized in this war. The true goal of this generalized slaughter is, for some, to secure lands that they have assembled and conquered through centuries of war. Others want to divide the world anew in order to expand their holdings. They aim to annex additional lands, to cut apart and tear apart entire peoples, in order to reduce them to the status of common serfs and chattels.
Your governments and your press tell you that the war must be continued in order to destroy militarism.
Do not be deceived! Militarism in a nation can only be eliminated by this nation itself, and the task of bringing it down is posed in every country.
Your governments and your press also tell you that the war must be continued so that it can be the last war. This too is a deception. Never has a war put an end to war. On the contrary, each war awakens the lust for revenge. Violence begets violence.
Thus after each sacrifice, your tormenters will demand new ones. Nor do the bourgeois pacifist zealots offer an escape from this vicious circle.
There is only one way to prevent future wars, namely for the working classes to conquer political power and abolish capitalist property.
Enduring peace can only be achieved by victorious socialism.
Proletarians! Who are those who urge you to “hold out to the end” until “victory”?
They are the ones who were truly responsible for causing the war. Among them: the venal press, the war contractors, the war profiteers, and also the social patriots who ape the bourgeois war slogans. Among them are the reactionaries, who are secretly pleased by the death on the battlefields of those who only yesterday were threatening the rulers’ privileges–socialists, trade unionists, and all those who sowed the seeds of socialism in town and countryside.
That is the party of the politicians who insist that we hold out!
They control state power; they rule over the mendacious press that poisons the people; they enjoy freedom to agitate for continuing the war and increasing death and devastation.
And you are the victims. You have only the right to go hungry, to be silent, to suffer the chains of the state of siege, the censorship, and the musty air of the dungeon.
* * *
You, the people, the working masses, are made victims of a war that is not your own.
You, the workers from city and countryside, stand in the trenches, in the front lines, while behind the lines you see many of the rich and their accomplices–shirkers living in safety. For them war means the death of others.
And even as they wage their class struggle against you even more fiercely than before, they preach to you of “civil peace.” Mercilessly they draw profit from your poverty, your suffering, while inciting you to betray your class and drive from your heart your greatest strength–your hopes in socialism.
Social injustice and class rule are even more apparent in war than in peacetime.
In peace, the capitalist system robs workers of the joys of life; in war it robs them of everything, including life itself.
* * *
And let us be done with devastation. It is you, working people, who will bear the burden of these heaps of ruins today and in the future.
The hundreds of billions in cash thrown into the maw of the god of war are unavailable for maintaining the people’s wellbeing, for cultural purposes, and for social reform that could ease your lot, promote popular education, and alleviate poverty.
And tomorrow new and heavy taxes will be laid on your stooped shoulders.
So let us end the squandering of your labor, your money, and your life’s energy. Rise up in struggle for an immediate peace with no annexations!
* * *
In every warring country, working women and men are turning against the war and its consequences, against poverty and want, against joblessness and inflation. Let them raise their voices for restoration of the civil rights taken from them, for social legislation presenting the demands of the working classes in city and countryside.
Let proletarians of the neutral countries stand by socialists in the warring countries in their difficult struggle and resist with all their strength any further expansion of the war.
Let socialists of every country act on the decisions of international congresses, which made it the duty of the working class to make every effort to bring the war to a rapid conclusion.
Put all the pressure that you can on your deputies, parliaments and governments.
Demand that parliamentary representatives of parliamentary parties immediately reject any form of support for the governments’ war policies. Demand that from now on they vote against all budgetary credits for the war.
Use every means possible to bring a rapid end to the human slaughter!
Take up the slogan: For an immediate armistice! Rise up in struggle, peoples suffering ruin and murder!
Take courage! Bear in mind that you are the majority and, when you so desire, you can assume power.
Let the governments know that hate against the war is growing in every country and with it, the desire for social retribution. This is bringing closer the hour of peace among the peoples.
Down with the war!
Long live peace, immediate peace, without annexations!
Long live international socialism!
The Second International Socialist Zimmerwald Conference, May 1, 1916.
Newly translated by John Riddell from the German text in Angelica Balabanoff, Die Zimmerwalder Bewegung 1914-1919, Frankfurt: Neue Kritik, 1969. For documents and analysis of the Kiental conference, along with another translation of the Manifesto, see John Riddell, ed., Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International, New York: Pathfinder, 1984, pp. 510-39.
1. For documents and analysis of the Kiental conference, see John Riddell, ed., Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International, New York: Pathfinder 1984, 510-39. Another account of the conference is found in R. Craig Nation, War on War, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009 (1989), 136-43. The conference minutes are available in German in Horst Lademacher, ed., Die Zimmerwalder Bewegung, The Hague: Mouton, 1967, vol. 1, 263-390.
2. Riddell, Lenin’s Struggle, p. 518.
3. Riddell, Lenin’s Struggle, p. 538.
4. The Kiental Manifesto was drafted by a committee of Giuseppe Modigliani, Ernst Meyer and Karl Radek, representing respectively the conference’s right, center and left currents. It was adopted on April 30, 1916.
5. The term “civil peace” (Burgfrieden) was used by supporters of the war effort in calling on the workers’ movement to cease resistance to employers and government for the duration of war.
6. The reference here is to resolutions of International Socialist Congresses in 1907, 1910 and 1912 that included a statement that if war should break out, the working classes and their parliamentary representatives are duty-bound “to intervene for its speedy termination and to strive with all their power to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to rouse the masses and thereby hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.” See Riddell, Lenin’s Struggle, p. 35.