Second International

   Founded at the International Workers’ Congress in Paris in 1889, the Second International was a loose association of socialist and workers’ political parties and trade unions. It was dominated by the very strong German social democratic movement, although it also included representatives from most of the major working-class organizations in Europe. The political parties affiliated to the Second International were supported by some 12 million voters in elections in their home countries, and had a total membership of around four million. Ideologically the Second International was dominated by Marxism, although other viewpoints were represented, most notably anarchism until the anarchists were expelled in 1896. The individuals whose interpretations of Marxism held sway were first and foremost Friedrich Engels, Karl Kautsky and Georgii Plekhanov, with the ideas of Vladimir Illich Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg also being influential. The Second International was primarily concerned with developing and coordinating strategy and tactics and with establishing common policies for its member organizations. Congress meetings were held every two to four years, and an International Socialist Bureau administered and coordinated the affairs of the International.
   Four notable issues dominated debates within the International.
   The first was the issues of the extent to which member organizations of the Second International should work with bourgeois governments, and the Paris Congress of 1900 decided that as a temporary expedient such cooperation was permissible. The second issue concerned modifications of Marx’s ideas and in particular the questions of whether reform or revolution was the appropriate road to communism, and if a Marxist ethics should be developed. The Amsterdam Congress in 1904 condemned the leading revisionist thinker Eduard Bernstein who argued for a modified Marxism that embraced a Marxist ethical code and sought to achieve communism through a gradualist, electoralist strategy. Third was the issue of colonialism and whether or not there were circumstances when it was progressive as a civilizing force. The Stuttgart Congress in 1907 decided against colonialism ever being acceptable. Finally, the Second International policy on war was also decided at the 1907 Congress. The resolution was to try to prevent war between countries, but if it should break out, to exploit the situation to bring about the collapse of capitalism. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 tested this resolution and saw the major parties in the Second International all back the war efforts of their own countries. This departure from internationalism and descent into nationalism led to the collapse of the Second International.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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