In this the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the Spring of 1915 witnessed the first international gatherings of socialist against the War. From 26-28th March 2015, twenty nine socialist women delegates from Russia, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, France, and Britain met in Bern, Switzerland to discuss their opposition to the War.
Just ten days later, on April 7th 1915, youth delegates representing Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Bulgaria and Russia also met in Bern to voice their opposition to the World War. Below we publish the two declarations which ring across the last century to us.
Women of the Working People!
“Where are your husbands? Where are your sons?
For eight months they have been at the front – torn from their work and their home. Youth, the support and hope of their parents; men in the prime of their life; men with graying hair, the providers for their families: clothed in uniforms, they all live in the trenches, under orders to destroy everything that diligent labor has created.
Already, millions lie in mass graves. Many hundreds of thousands lie in the hospitals with shattered bodies, smashed limbs, sightless eyes, and broken minds, gripped by epidemics or prostrated by exhaustion.
Proletarian women! You have been told that your husbands and sons have been taken away to protect you, weak women, and your children, your house, and your hearth. What is the reality? The shoulders of “weak” women must now bear a double burden. Defenseless, you are delivered over to grief and deprivation.
Your children go hungry and freeze; you face threats to take your home; your hearth is cold and empty.
You have been told about a great brotherhood and sisterhood between the high and the lowly, about a “civil peace” between the rich and the poor. But the civil peace finds expression when the employers drive down your wages; merchants and unscrupulous speculators raise prices; and landlords threaten to throw you on the street. The government is miserly toward you, while bourgeois charity sets up soup kitchens and advises you to be frugal.
What is the purpose of this war, which inflicts on you such dreadful suffering? You are told it is for the good of the country, the defense of the fatherland. What is the good of the fatherland? Doesn’t it mean the well-being of the many millions that the war converts into corpses, cripples, jobless, beggars, widows, and orphans?
What has placed the fatherland in danger? Is it the men in other uniforms on the other side of the border? But they wanted war just as little as your husbands. They are just as ignorant of why they should murder their brothers who wear different uniforms. No! The fatherland is endangered by all those who grow rich from the suffering of the broad masses and base their rule on oppression.
Who benefits from the war? Only a small minority in every nation. First of all, manufacturers of rifles and cannon, of armor plate and submarines; the owners of docks and suppliers to the army. To increase their profits, they fomented hate between different peoples and so contributed to the outbreak of war.
The war serves the interests of the capitalists as a whole. The labor of disinherited and exploited masses produced heaps of goods that cannot be consumed by their creators. They are too poor; they cannot pay! The workers’ sweat produced these goods; workers’ blood is now shed to win them new markets abroad. Colonies must be conquered, where capitalists will pillage the earth’s treasures and exploit the cheapest labor power.
This war’s goal is not to defend the fatherland but to expand it. That is ordained by the capitalist order, which cannot exist without the exploitation and oppression of some human beings by others.
Workers have nothing to gain from this war and stand to lose everything that is near and dear to them.
Working women! The men of the working class have been brought to silence. The war has dulled their consciousness, paralyzed their will power, and distorted their whole being.
But on top of the gnawing concern for your loved ones at the front, you women endure poverty and distress at home. Why should you wait before expressing your desire for peace and your protest against the war? Why do you recoil? You have endured for the sake of your loved ones, your sons and husbands; now you must act on their behalf!
Stop the slaughter! This cry rings out in every language. Millions of proletarian women raise this call. It echoes back from the trenches, where the consciousness of the people’s sons rebels against this slaughter.
Women of the working people! In these harsh times, Socialist women from Germany, Britain, France, and Russia have come together. Their hearts are moved by your needs and your suffering. For the sake of your future and that of your loved ones, they call on you to work for peace. Just as they found a path to unity across the trenches, so you too must come together, in all countries, to raise a single cry: Peace! Peace!
The world war has imposed on you great sacrifices. Sons born of your pain and suffering, raised through your care and effort, your husbands – your companions in the hard struggle to survive – all are taken from you. Compared with these sacrifices, all others are small and insignificant. All humankind is looking to you, proletarian women of the warring countries. You must become the heroines who will deliver them!
Join together in common purpose and common action. Proclaim in your millions what your sons cannot yet affirm:
Laboring people of all countries are brothers. Only their common will can put an end to the slaughter. Socialism alone will assure the future peace of humankind.
Down with capitalism, which sacrifices untold millions to the wealth and power of the propertied!
Down with the war! Forward to socialism!”
Appeal of the International Youth Conference
“The international socialist youth conference, meeting April 5-7, 1915 in Bern with delegates from seven countries, renews the decisions of international socialist youth conferences in Stuttgart (1907), Copenhagen (1910), and Basel (1912) calling on worker youth of every country to join in struggle against genocidal war and militarism.
The conference notes with deep regret that, when the war broke out, in most countries, the [socialist] organizations of youth, just like those of adults, failed to carry out these decisions.
The present war is the result of imperialist policies of the ruling classes in every capitalist country. Even where the ruling classes and their governments present it as a defensive war, it is caused by these same policies, inseparable from capitalism and hostile to the people. The war is irreconcilably counterposed to the interest of the working class, threatening and destroying its vitality, crippling its organizations and hampering its capacity to act against the world’s exploiters.
The policy of “civil peace” represents Social Democracy’s abdication as a party of proletarian class struggle and its abandonment of the vital interests and ideals of the proletariat.
Based on these considerations, the international socialist youth conference calls for an immediate end to the war. It welcomes the efforts of party units in the belligerent countries–and especially the decisions of the international proletarian women’s conference — to renew class-struggle actions and thus force the ruling classes to conclude peace.
The conference protests emphatically against attempts to enlist the socialist youth organization in the service of the bourgeois imperialist youth guards. This aims to divert the worker youth from their proper task of socialist education, through struggle, against capitalist exploitation and militarism.
One of the horrendous results of the present war is to employ youth who are barely past school age as cannon fodder. Given that fact, the conference underlines the need to show young men and women workers of every country how the war and militarism originate and take shape as side effects of the capitalist social order. We must educate them in the spirit of the international class struggle. This will rally them in growing numbers and with growing conviction to the banner of revolutionary socialism.”
We are very grateful to John Riddell for publishing these declarations which together with his notes on the two Conferences can be found at: