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From: V.I. Lenin: On Imperialism and Opportunism, Futura 1974, 103 p., pp. 87-91.


Written July 14, 1919,
published August 1919.

Ramsay Macdonald on the Third International



Ramsay MacDonald, with the amusing naiveté of a “drawing-room” socialist who carelessly uses words without at all understanding their serious significance, giving no thought whatever to the fact that words commit one to deeds, declares that in Berne “a concession to non-socialist public opinion” was made.

Precisely! We regard the whole of the Berne International as yellow, treacherous and perfidious because the whole of its policy is a “concession” to the bourgeoisie.

Ramsay MacDonald knows perfectly well that we have built the Third International and broken unreservedly with the Second International because we became convinced that it was hopeless, incorrigible, played the part of a servant to imperialism, of a vehicle of bourgeois influence, bourgeois lies and bourgeois corruption in the labour movement. If in desiring to discuss the Third International Ramsay MacDonald evades the substance of the matter, beats about the bush, utters empty phrases and does not speak of what should be spoken about, that is his fault and his crime. For the proletariat needs the truth, and there is nothing more harmful to its cause than plausible, respectable, petty-bourgeois lies.

The problem of imperialism and of its connection with opportunism in the labour movement, with the betrayal of the workers’ cause by labour leaders, was raised long ago, very long ago.

For a period of forty years, from 1852 to 1892, Marx and Engels constantly pointed to the fact that the upper stratum of the British working class was becoming increasingly bourgeois as a consequence of the country’s peculiar economic conditions (colonies, monopoly of the world market, etc.). In the seventies of last century Marx won himself the honourable hatred of the despicable heroes of the Berne International trend of those days, of the opportunists and reformists, for branding many of the British trade union leaders as men who had sold themselves to the bourgeoisie or were in its pay for services rendered to its class from within the labour movement.

During the Anglo-Boer War, the Anglo-Saxon press quite clearly raised the problem of imperialism as the latest (and last) stage of capitalism. If my memory serves me right, it was none other than Ramsay MacDonald who then resigned from the Fabian Society, that prototype of the Berne International, that nursery and model of opportunism, which Engels describes, with the power, brilliancy and truth of genius, in his correspondence with Sorge. [45] “Fabian imperialism” – such was the common expression employed at that time in British socialist literature.

If Ramsay MacDonald has forgotten this, all the worse for him.

“Fabian imperialism” and “social-imperialism” are one and the same thing: socialism in words, imperialism in deeds, the growth of opportunism into imperialism. This has now become, during the war of 1914-18 and since, a universal fact. The failure to understand it shows the great blindness of the Berne yellow International, and is its great crime. Opportunism, or reformism, inevitably had to grow into a phenomenon of world-wide importance, socialist imperialism, or social-chauvinism, because imperialism brought to the fore a handful of very rich, advanced nations, engaged in plundering the whole world, and thereby enabled the bourgeoisie of those countries, out of their monopolist superprofits (imperialism is monopoly capitalism), to bribe the upper strata of the working class.

Only ignoramuses or hypocrites who deceive the workers by repeating platitudes about capitalism and in this way cover up the bitter truth that a whole trend in socialism has gone over to the imperialist bourgeoisie could fail to see the economic inevitability of this development under imperialism.

And from this fact two indisputable conclusions emerge.

First conclusion: the Berne International is in fact, from the angle of its real historical and political role, and irrespective of the good will and pious wishes of particular members of it, an organisation of agents of international imperialism operating within the labour movement, permeating that movement with bourgeois influence, bourgeois ideas, bourgeois lies, and bourgeois corruption.

In countries where democratic parliamentary culture is of long standing, the bourgeoisie has learned splendidly to use deception, bribery and flattery in their most subtle forms as well as violence. Not for nothing have the “luncheons” given to British “labour leaders” (i.e., lieutenants of the bourgeoisie whose duty is to fool the workers) have acquired notoriety; Engels in his day spoke about them. [46] To the same category of facts belongs the “charming” reception given by M. Clemenceau to the traitor-socialist Merrheim, the courteous receptions given by Entente ministers to the leaders of the Berne International, and so on and so forth. “You train ’em, and we buy ’em,” a clever capitalist, an Englishwoman, said to Mr. Social-imperialist Hyndman, who related in his memoirs how this lady, a person shrewder than all the leaders of the Berne International put together, appraised the “labours” of the socialist intellectuals in training workers to become socialist leaders.

During the war, when the Vanderveldes, Brantings and the whole gang of traitors organised “international” conferences, the French bourgeois newspapers were bitingly scornful, and rightly so. They said: “These Vanderveldes seem to be suffering from a sort of tic. Just as those who suffer from tic cannot utter a couple of phrases without strangely twitching the muscles of the face, so the Vanderveldes cannot make a political speech without repeating, parrot-like, the words internationalism, socialism, international working-class solidarity, proletarian revolution, etc. Let them repeat any sacramental formulas they like so long as they help to lead the workers by the nose and serve us, the capitalists, in waging the imperialist war and enslaving the workers.”

Sometimes the British and French bourgeoisie are very clever and excellently appraise the servile role played by the Berne International.




In order to really defeat opportunism, which caused the shameful death of the Second International, in order to really assist the revolution, the approach of which even Ramsay MacDonald is obliged to admit, it is necessary:

Firstly, to conduct all propaganda and agitation from the viewpoint of revolution as opposed to reforms, systematically explaining to the masses, both theoretically and practically, at every step of parliamentary, trade union, co-operative, etc., activity, that they are diametrically opposed. Under no circumstances to refrain (save in special cases, by way of exception) from utilising the parliamentary system and all the “liberties” of bourgeois democracy; not to reject reforms, but to regard them only as a by-product of the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat. Not a single party affiliated to the Berne International meets these requirements. Not a single one of them shows that it has any idea of how to conduct its propaganda and agitation as a whole, explaining how reform differs from revolution; nor do they know how to train both the Party and the masses unswervingly for revolution.


Fourthly, there must be no toleration of the verbal condemnation of imperialism while no real revolutionary struggle is waged for the liberation of the colonies (and dependent nations) from one’s own imperialist bourgeoisie. That is hypocrisy. That is the policy of the agents of the bourgeoisie in the labour movement (labour lieutenants of the capitalist class). The British, French, Dutch, Belgian, or other party which is hostile to imperialism in words but in deeds does not wage a revolutionary struggle within “its own” colonies for the overthrow of “its own” bourgeoisie, does not systematically assist the revolutionary work which has already begun everywhere in the colonies, and does not send arms and literature to the revolutionary parties in the colonies, is a party of scoundrels and traitors.


LCW Vol. 29, p. 500-503, 504, 505-506.

[45] op.cit. p. 65.

[46] op.cit. p. 61.

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