Imperialism, World War and Social Democracy

Herman Gorter, Het imperialisme, titelpagina.jpg


Essay by the Dutch poet and socialist Herman Gorter on the First World War, imperialism, and the International (an international organisation of socialist parties). The essay was published in Amsterdam in 1915. To read fragments of the original, please click on the sources above.


In this essay, the most famous Dutch poet of the time, the socialist Herman Gorter, examined the causes and possible effects of the First World War on the internationalist labour movement and class struggle. The essay was translated in German and French, with extracts published in the Swiss journal Demain. Pages et Documents, April 1918, 354-363. In the first two extracts, Gorter argued that the war was a result of imperialism, caused by European hunger for economic expansion into Africa and Asia. Gorter had observed how the International was shattered in August 1914, when all national social-democratic parties decided to support the war aims of their governments or, in Gorter's words, the bourgeoisie. In the third extract, the Dutch poet advocated that all European workers should reunite against their common imperialist bourgeois enemies. He claimed that as all European belligerents aspired for foreign territories, labour movements should not confine their actions to national borders. Moreover, as one of few Dutch intellectuals, Gorter stimulated European workers to reject colonialism. Oppressed workers from Belgium to the Dutch East Indies, the Netherlands to Algeria, England to The Congo should collectively fight imperialism for both economic and moral reasons. He referred to a growing interest among African and Asian working-class communities in socialism, encouraging European workers to help them. As imperialism had become truly global, the proletariat and the labour movement should become global too. In the fourth extract, Gorter analysed Germany's imperial ambitions in detail. He considered German capitalist hunger as the main catalyst of war, since Germany had failed to control her large colonial territories.