XVIII. Revolutionary Defeatism in Conflicts between Imperialist States: The Marxist Classics





The RCIT elaborates in its “Theses on Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist States” that the position of Marxists in inter-imperialist conflicts is based on the principles of international working class solidarity. Hence, they must refuse to side with their own ruling class as well as with that of the opposing imperialist camp. Their slogan must be: Down with all imperialist Great Powers – whether the US, EU, Japan, China or Russia!


Instead of supporting their “own” ruling class, they advocate irreconcilable class struggle as it was summarized by the famous German revolutionary leader Karl Liebknecht during World War I: “The main enemy is at home”. Revolutionaries try to utilize every conflict of the imperialist ruling against a rival in order to weaken the ruling class, to advance the class struggle and to finally transform such conflicts into a civil war against the ruling class.


These principles result, under the conditions of war, in the strategy which has become known as “the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war”, i.e. the advance of the proletariats’ struggle for power under the conditions of war. The same principles mean, under the conditions of a trade war between imperialist powers, to advocate the transformation of the Global Trade War into domestic political class struggle against the ruling elite.


In all scenarios it is the goal to unite the international working class on an internationalist basis and to break any “patriotic” unity of workers with “their” imperialist bourgeoisie as well as with the social-imperialist lackeys inside the workers movement.


Such are the strategic goals of the program of revolutionary defeatism. It is a program which is always part of the politics of the revolutionary party resp. pre-party organization. It would be an unforgivable mistake to believe that it would be only a program concerning the struggle against wars and, hence, that it would become relevant only once a war breaks out. If a Marxist organization only begins to fight against imperialist aggression and wars once such conflicts start, it will be too late. When a major war actually starts, the ruling class will have already fired up its political and ideological machinery of chauvinism long before. And if a revolutionary party opens the defeatist struggle only by then it will have no chance against a superior class enemy. No, the program of revolutionary defeatism has to be implemented from now on.


Such work for a revolutionary defeatist orientation requires comprehensive agitation and propaganda utilizing all legal means (according to the democratic space allowed by the ruling class) and illegal means. Such work must be conducted in workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, universities and barracks and, where possible, also in parliament. The goal must be to rally the masses for class struggle actions like demonstrations, strikes up to general strikes, uprisings – again according to conditions and relation of forces.


Given the fact that revolutionaries constitute only a small minority today, it is urgent for them to apply the united front tactic. This means that they should call on workers and popular mass organizations (trade unions, parties, migrant organizations, etc), which are usually led by non-revolutionary forces, for joint activities against government plans for armament, against colonial aggression abroad, against protectionist measures and sanctions against rivals, etc. They should call such parties, where they have representatives in parliament, to vote against the military budget and against all such measures. Revolutionaries should criticize such forces – usually reformists and petty-bourgeois populists – whenever they fail to act against the ruling class’ imperialist policy.


Furthermore, it is of utmost importance for revolutionaries to advocate cross-border joint statements and activities of socialists, trade unions as well as other workers and popular mass organizations of the respective imperialist countries involved in the conflict. Such measures can be a strong signal of concrete internationalist working class solidarity!




Marx and Engels in the Pre-Imperialist Epoch




Before we go more into detail of the substance and the tactics of revolutionary defeatism, let us briefly elaborate on the historical background of this strategy.


As is well known, Marx and Engels lived in the 19th century, i.e. the pre-monopolistic epoch of capitalism. In this epoch, capitalism was booming and, hence, the bourgeoisie in the industrialized countries could occasionally play a historically progressive role. As a result, wars between European states, or between the North and the South in the U.S., did usually not have a reactionary character on both sides. The inter-state relations in the international political situation were rather, as Marx and Engels elaborated, characterized by the constant threat of Tsarist Russia as the biggest and most reactionary Great Power. [1] In addition, there existed looming historically progressive democratic tasks as the national unification of fragmented Germany as well as Italy, the national liberation of Poland as well as Ireland, etc.


It was such historical background where Marx and Engels called enthusiastically for revolutionary war of Germany against Tsarist Russia in 1848.


Only a war against Russia would be a war of revolutionary Germany, a war by which she could cleanse herself of her past sins, could take courage, defeat her own autocrats, spread civilisation by the sacrifice of her own sons as becomes a people that is shaking off the chains of long, indolent slavery and make herself free within her borders by bringing liberation to those outside. The more the light of publicity reveals in sharp outlines the most recent events, the more facts confirm our view of the national wars by which Germany has dishonoured her new era.“ [2]


Likewise did the founders of scientific socialism later side with other powers like Britain or the Ottoman Empire in military conflicts with Russia. [3]




The Bolsheviks and the Russian-Japanese War 1904/05




However, this changed with the transition from pre-monopolistic to the monopolistic capitalism, i.e. the beginning of the imperialist epoch at the beginning of the 20th century. As Lenin explained in his writings during World War I, the bourgeoisie couldn’t play a historically progressive role in any of the developed countries. Hence, the defense of the fatherland in the advanced capitalist countries had lost any progressive character:


What do we mean when we say that national states have become fetters, etc.? We have in mind the advanced capitalist countries, above all Germany, France, England, whose participation in the present war has been the chief factor in making it an imperialist war. In these countries, which hitherto have been in the van of mankind, particularly in 1789-1871, the process of forming national states has been consummated. In these countries the national movement is a thing of an irrevocable past, and it would be an absurd reactionary utopia to try to revive it. The national movement of the French, English, Germans has long been completed. In these countries history’s next step is a different one: liberated nations have become transformed into oppressor nations, into nations of imperialist rapine, nations that are going through the “eve of the collapse of capitalism”[4]


In other words, from now on the working class and the oppressed people did not face only Czarist Russia but all imperialist Great Powers as their “greatest enemy and the greatest stronghold of reaction.


Lenin and the Bolsheviks fully elaborated the program of revolutionary defeatism at the beginning of World War I. However, they already developed key elements of this strategy during the war between Russia and Japan in 1904-05. [5] As is know, this war ended with a defeat for Russia and triggered the first Russian Revolution in 1905-07.


Lenin emphasized, already before the beginning of the revolutionary uprising in January 1905, the connection of war and revolution: “we must recognise the great revolutionary role of the historic war in which the Russian worker is an involuntary participant.[6]


Military disaster is inevitable, and together with it discontent, unrest, and indignation will inevitably increase tenfold. We must prepare for that moment with the utmost energy. At that moment, one of the outbreaks which are recurring, now here, now there, with such growing frequency, will develop into a tremendous popular movement. At that moment the proletariat will rise and take its stand at the head of the insurrection to win freedom for the entire people and to secure for the working class the possibility of waging the open and broad struggle for socialism, a struggle enriched by the whole experience of Europe.[7]


As a consequence, the Bolsheviks advocated a defeatist position, i.e. they stood for the defeat of their “own” reactionary government.


The cause of Russian freedom and of the struggle of the Russian (and the world) proletariat for socialism depends to a very large extent on the military defeats of the autocracy. This cause has been greatly advanced by the military debacle which has struck terror in the hearts of all the European guardians of the existing order. The revolutionary proletariat must carry on a ceaseless agitation against war, always keeping in mind, however, that wars are inevitable as long as class rule exists. Trite phrases about peace à la Jaurès are of no use to the oppressed class, which is not responsible for a bourgeois war between two bourgeois nations, which is doing all it can to overthrow every bourgeoisie, which knows the enormity of the people’s sufferings even in time of “peaceful” capitalist exploitation. (...) It was the Russian autocracy and not the Russian people that started this colonial war, which has turned into a war between the old and the new bourgeois worlds. It is the autocratic regime and not the Russian people that has suffered ignoble defeat. The Russian people has gained from the defeat of the autocracy. The capitulation of Port Arthur is the prologue to the capitulation of tsarism. The war is not ended yet by far, but every step towards its continuation increases immeasurably the unrest and discontent among the Russian people, brings nearer the hour of a new great war, the war of the people against the autocracy, the war of the proletariat for liberty.[8]


They polemicised against the Mensheviks because of their pacifist position. True, the latter did not take a social-patriotic stance – in this war, even large sectors of the urban intelligentsia and the bourgeoisie failed to support the militarist goals of the Tsar as they despised the autocracy. (In fact many opposition parties were even in contact with the Japanese secret service and took money from it! [9]) But the Mensheviks criticized Lenin’s advocacy of “defeatism” and accused him of promoting "Japanophilism". In contrast they advocated the slogan of "immediate peace." [10]


Lenin rejected such a pacifist position: “Neither could the new Iskra help showing muddled thinking. It had quite a lot to say at first about peace at any price. It then made haste to “correct itself”, when Jaurès showed plainly whose interests, those of the progressive or those of the reactionary bourgeoisie, would be served by a quasi-socialist campaign for peace in general. And now it has ended up with platitudes about the unreasonableness of “speculating” (?!) on a victory of the Japanese bourgeoisie and about war being a calamity “regardless of whether” it ends in the victory or the defeat of the autocracy.[11]


As we see, the essential differences between the Bolshevik strategy of defeatism and the left-Menshevik strategy of platonic anti-militarism and pacifism were already visible one decade earlier.




The Full Elaboration of Lenin’s Defaitist Program in World War One 1914-17




Hence, it is not surprising that Lenin was able to fully elaborate a revolutionary defeatists program within days after the first shots opened World War I as close collaborators of him testified. [12] Following his release from prison after eleven days in August 1914 in Galicia, Lenin, together with his wife and comrade-in-arms Nadezhda Krupskaya as well as Grigory Zinoviev and Zlata Lilina, went to Swiss where they threw themselves into working for the split of the politically collapsed Second International and the creation of the Third, revolutionary International. [13]


According to the memoirs of the Russian Bolshevik G. L. Shklovsky, Lenin proclaimed at the moment of his arrival in Swiss after the beginning of World War One: „He is not a socialist who does not, in times of imperialist war, desire the defeat of his own country.[14]


On the next days after arriving in Bern, Lenin began to organize meetings with his comrades in which he explained them the necessary tactics in this imperialist war. He succeeded in this effort and his theses on the war, later expanded into a Manifesto and several resolutions, were agreed and adopted both by leading institutions of the underground party in Russia as well as the Bern Conference of Bolshevik groups abroad (in late February 1915). [15]


The core idea of Lenin’s approach was that revolutionaries must advance the struggle against the imperialist wars through the methods of the class struggle and utilize the crisis caused by the war for the revolutionary overthrow of one owns bourgeoisie. Hence the unequivocal stance for the defeat of one’s own government in the war: “During a reactionary war a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government. This is axiomatic, and disputed only by conscious partisans or helpless satellites of the social-chauvinists.[16]


Lenin approvingly quoted the Italian Marxists who proclaimed at the beginning of the world war their defeatist position and stated that the only just war is the war of the oppressed to take power: “We are always for ‘santa guerra di tutti gli oppressi per la conquista delle loro patrie!’” (a holy war of all the oppressed, for the conquest of their own fatherland!” [17]


This approach was combined with the struggle for the socialist revolution. Hence the central slogan of the Bolsheviks was the “civil war”: “The conversion of the present imperialist war into a civil war is the only correct proletarian slogan.[18]


We regard civil wars, i.e., wars waged by an oppressed class against the oppressor class, by slaves against slaveholders, by serfs against landowners, and by wage-workers against the bourgeoisie, as fully legitimate, progressive and necessary.[19]


The Bolsheviks concretized their strategy of transforming the imperialist war in a civil war in the following way:


The following should be indicated as the first steps towards converting the present imperialist war into a civil war: (1) an absolute refusal to vote for war credits, and resignation from bourgeois governments; (2) a complete break with the policy of a class truce (bloc national, Burgfrieden); (3) formation of an underground organisation wherever the governments and the bourgeoisie abolish constitutional liberties by introducing martial law; (4) support for fraternisation between soldiers of the belligerent nations, in the trenches and on battlefields in general; (5) support for every kind of revolutionary mass action by the proletariat in general.[20]


The Bolsheviks were fully conscious of the fact that the imperialist war inevitable provokes objective explosive situation which had to be utilized to advance the class struggle: “The war has undoubtedly created a most acute crisis and has immeasurably increased the distress of the masses. The reactionary nature of this war, and the unblushing lies told by the bourgeoisie of all countries to conceal their predatory aims with “national” ideology are, on the basis of an objectively revolutionary situation, inevitably creating revolutionary moods among the masses. It is our duty to help the masses become conscious of these moods, deepen them and give them shape. This task finds correct expression only in the slogan: convert the imperialist war into a civil war; all consistently waged class struggles in wartime and all seriously conducted “mass action” tactics inevitably lead to this. It is impossible to foretell whether a powerful revolutionary movement will flare-up in connection with, during or after the first or the second imperialist war of the Great Powers; in any case it is our bounden duty to work systematically and unswervingly in this direction.[21]




Bolshevik Agitation against the War in Russia




The Bolsheviks in Russia put all efforts in resisting against the mobilizations for the imperialist war. Despite suffering a wave of mass arrests in the weeks before, they distributed illegal leaflets in Petersburg and other cities in July, August and September 1914. Furthermore, they attempted to organize street demonstrations and protests of conscripted soldiers. In their propaganda the Bolsheviks advocated slogans like “Down with the War!”, “Down with the Tsarist Regime!” and ”Long live the Revolution!”. They also raised slogans like “Get politically organized!” and “Get Yourselves Weapons, Time is Running Out![22]


Alexander Shlyapnikov, one of the Bolshevik leaders during the war period, reported in his recollection about the party’s anti-war agitation on the streets and in the factories. He quotes from a leaflet, issued by the Petersburg Committee of the party at the beginning of the war:


“’Down with the war!’ ‘War on war!’ must roll powerfully across city and hamlet alike across the width of our Russia. Workers must remember that they do not have enemies over the frontier: everywhere the working class is oppressed by the rich and the power of the property-owners. Everywhere it is oppressed by the yoke of exploitation and the chains of poverty. (…) Without having time to wash workers’ blood off the streets of Petersburg and only yesterday branding all of working-class Petersburg as well as all the workers of Russia as “enemies within” against whom savage cossacks and mercenary police went into action, they now call for the defence of the fatherland. Soldiers and workers! You are being called on to die for the glory of the cossack lash and for the glory of a fatherland that shoots starving peasants and workers and strangles its best sons in prison. No, we don’t want the war, you must declare. We want the freedom of Russia. (…) Down with the war, down with the tsarist government! Long live the revolution![23]


In another leaflet, distributed in autumn 1914, they called the workers to organize themselves and get arms for the coming struggle. [24]




Trotsky continues the Revolutionary Struggle against Imperialist War




Later, after the Stalinist bureaucracy transformed the Communist International into a revisionist force, Trotsky and the Fourth International continued to struggle for a revolutionary defeatist program against the imperialist war. Shortly before the beginning of World War II, Trotsky stated:


Defeatism is the class policy of the proletariat, which even during a war sees the main enemy at home, within its particular imperialist country. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a policy that locates the main enemy outside one’s own country. The idea of defeatism signifies in reality the following: conducting an irreconcilable revolutionary struggle against one’s own bourgeoisie as the main enemy, without being deterred by the fact that this struggle may result in the defeat of one’s own government; given a revolutionary movement the defeat of one’s own government is a lesser evil.” [25]


Furthermore, Trotsky emphasized that the workers’ movement will be only prepared for the struggle against imperialist wars if it already learns opposing ”its” imperialist state in times of peace.


The defense of the national state, first of all in Balkanized Europe – the cradle of the national state – is in the full sense of the word a reactionary task. The national state with its borders, passports, monetary system, customs and the army for the protection of customs has become a frightful impediment to the economic and cultural development of humanity. The task of the proletariat is not the defense of the national state but its complete and final liquidation. (…) A “socialist” who preaches national defense is a petty-bourgeois reactionary at the service of decaying capitalism. Not to bind itself to the national state in time of war, to follow not the war map but the map of the class struggle, is possible only for that party that has already declared irreconcilable war on the national state in time of peace. Only by realizing fully the objectively reactionary role of the imperialist state can the proletarian vanguard become invulnerable to all types of social patriotism. This means that a real break with the ideology and policy of “national defense” is possible only from the standpoint of the international proletarian revolution.” [26]


It was during the years 1914-16 that the category “defeatists” and “defeatism” emerged. Initially it was used by the opponents of the Bolsheviks who accused them of “unpatriotically” advocating defeat (in Russian: „porashenzy“ – “those advocating defeat”). Their social-patriotic enemies were called “Oboronzy” – „those defending the fatherland“. In addition, the category “defeatism” was also used (including by the Bolsheviks) to describe a wide-spread mood in the society of lacking support for the war-efforts of the ruling class.


The Bolsheviks picked up this category and positively identified with it. Grigori Zinoviev, who edited together with Lenin the central organ of the Bolsheviks during World War I published in Swiss, wrote in a programmatic article in October 1916: “It is impossible to be a consistent internationalist in the imperialist war 1914-16 without being a ‘defeatist’.[27] Later, the Bolsheviks, the Communist International and the Fourth International used the category “defeatism” or “revolutionary defeatism” more systematically.


It is also worth pointing out that the Bolsheviks’ strategy of defeatism could build upon statements of earlier Marxists. Gregory Zinoviev noted that Jules Guesde, a pioneer of Marxism in France, advocated “defeatism” on both sides when Russia and Britain came close to war over Afghanistan in 1885.


In 1885, Jules Guesde rejoiced at the threat of war between Russia and England in the hope that a social revolution would emerge from such a catastrophe. When Guesde acted in this way, when he called on the proletariat to make use of the war between two giant powers to hasten the unleashing of the proletarian revolution, he was much more of a Marxist than at present when, along with Sembat, he carries on the tradition of the “great pacifist orator Jean Jaurès.”[28]


Guesde published at that time an article entitled "Long Live War" in which he characterized Britain and Russia as “equally oppressive, although in different ways”. Guesde explained that whichever of the two governments is defeated, it will be a good thing “for us”, i.e. for socialism.


Russia’s defeat would mean the end of Tsarism, the political liberation of Russia. (…) And the first result, the inevitable result of a political revolution in Petersburg will be the liberation of the German workers. (…) Britain’s defeat would have no less and no less advantageous consequences. (…) it could liberate Ireland from the state of siege (…) while Sudan – and consequently Egypt – could liberate itself (…). Soon after the first misfortunate of England, the separation of the biggest and most exploited colonies would begin … [29]


Zinoviev summarized Guesde’s approach: “The war between England and Russia could accelerate the solution, the end of the bourgeois social order. But – whose victory and whose defeat is desirable? England or Russia? I wish for the defeat of both. [30]


A few years later, the Communist International summarized the experience of the revolutionary struggle against the imperialist war. In a programmatic statement, adopted by the ECCI in March 1922, it listed the following measures as appropriate in the anti-militarist struggle.


Proceeding from these facts and considerations, the enlarged Executive of the Communist International declares that the only effective defence against the threatening danger of war is a proletarian revolution. . . . The assembled representatives of 36 nations therefore consider it the duty of all communist parties to prepare ideologically and organizationally for the most intense revolutionary class struggle to avert war. As means to this end they suggest:


1. Systematic education of the working masses, including youth, on the causes and character of wars.


2. Bringing before the court of the broadest masses all problems and decisions concerning foreign policy, armaments, etc.


3. Well-organized legal and illegal propaganda among the forces and armed formations of every kind to enlighten them on these questions.


4. Imbuing the proletariat with the resolve to prevent the transport of troops and army supplies by all means and at whatever cost, should imperialist war break out.


5. Strengthening the revolutionary will of the broadest masses to fight against the outbreak of imperialist war by street demonstrations, general strikes, armed uprisings.. . .


6. The creation of legal and illegal bodies to work for the execution of these tasks.


7. The creation of legal and illegal bodies and institutions to ensure unified and energetic international co-operation of communists in those countries between whom contradictions are most acute.” [31]


In the same spirit did the American Trotskyists define the tasks for revolutionaries in preparing for imperialist war: Meanwhile, in carrying on the daily struggle, it is the duty of the Marxists to prepare for the war crisis. To this end, they must constantly expose the war plans of the imperialist powers; they must resist the militarization of the masses; they must make clear to the working class each step in the progress toward war; they must combat the patriotic war propaganda; they must help strengthen, ideologically and materially, the organizations of the workers, so that these will not be crushed at the outbreak of the war. And they must everywhere and at all times expose the misleaders and the betrayers in the fight against war, from whatever camp—those who make ready, by a thousand and one devices, to turn over the workers to the war-makers. [32]


These tactics have not lost in validity since then!


[1] Eleanor Marx Aveling, Marx’s daughter, aptly summarized her fathers’ view of Tsarist Russia as being “the greatest enemy of all advance, the greatest stronghold of reaction.” (Karl Marx: The Eastern Question. A Reprint of Letters written 1853-1856 dealing with the events of the Crimean War, Edited by Eleanor Marx Aveling and Edward Aveling, Swan Sonnenschein & Co, London 1897, p. ix)

[2] Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: German Foreign Policy and the Latest Events in Prague (in: Neue Rheinische Zeitung 12 July 1848), in: MECW Vol. 7, p. 212

[3] See on this, in addition to the two collections of Marx’s writings on this subject mentioned above, e.g. Karl Marx: Die Geschichte der Geheimdiplomatie des 18. Jahrhunderts. Über den asiatischen Ursprung der russischen Despotie, Berlin, Olle & Wolter, Berlin 1977; David B. Rjazanov, Karl Marx über den Ursprung der Vorherrschaft Rußlands in Europa. Kritische Untersuchungen, in: Karl Marx, Die Geschichte der Geheimdiplomatie des 18. Jahrhunderts; M. Pokrowski: Geschichte Russlands von seiner Entstehung bis zur neuesten Zeit, C.L.Hirschfeld Verlag, Leipzig 1929; M. Pokrowski: Russische Geschichte, Berlin 1930; Paolo Dalvit: Die Außenpolitik im Klassenkampf. Die Position von Marx und Engels zum Krimkrieg; Hanno Strauß: Von Engels’ „Panslawismus“ zu Marx’ „Geheimdiplomatie“. Eine Herleitung politischer Ambitionen; both essays have been published in: Marx und Russland. Beiträge zur Marx-Engels-Forschung Neue Folge 2012, Argument, Hamburg 2014, pp. 9-20 resp. 83-104

[4] V. I. Lenin: A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism; in: LCW Vol. 23, p.38

[5] On the Russian-Japanese War in 1904-05 see e.g. John W. Steinberg, Bruce W. Menning, David Schimmelpenninck, Van Der Oye, David Wolff, Shinji Yokote (Eds.): The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective. World War Zero, Vol. I and II, Brill, Leiden 2005 and 2007; J. N. Westwood: Russia against Japan, 1904-1905: A New Look At the Russo-Japanese War, State University of New York, 1986; Evgeny Sergeev: Russian Military Intelligence in the War with Japan, 1904–05. Secret operations on land and at sea, Routledge, New York 2007; Rotem Kowner: The Impact of the Russo-Japanese War, Routledge, New York 2007; Josef Kreiner (Ed.): Der Russisch-Japanische Krieg (1904/05), V&R unipress, Göttingen 2005

[6] V.I.Lenin: The Fall of Port Arthur (1905), in: LCW Vol. 8, p. 53

[7] V.I.Lenin: The Autocracy and the Proletariat (1904), in: LCW Vol. 8, p. 28

[8] V.I.Lenin: The Fall of Port Arthur (1905), in: LCW Vol. 8, p. 53

[9] See on this e.g. Akashi Motojirō: Rakka ryusui: Colonel Akashi's Report on His Secret Cooperation with the Russian Revolutionary Parties during the Russo-Japanese War. O. Fält and A. Kujala (Eds.), Studia Historica 31, Helsinki, 1988; Dmitrii B. Pavlov: Japanese Money and the Russian Revolution, 1904-1905, in: Acta Slavica Iaponica, No. 11 (1993), pp. 79-87

[10] See Julius Martow: Geschichte der russischen Sozialdemokratie (1918/26), Erlangen 1973, pp. 93-95; see also Dmitrii B. Pavlov: Japanese Money and the Russian Revolution, p. 82

[11] V.I.Lenin: The Fall of Port Arthur (1905), in: LCW Vol. 8, pp. 52-53

[12] See e.g. the Recollections of the Old Bolshevik Shklovsky: "I may testify that the fundamental slogans of Lenin's tactic in the imperialist war had been formulated by him in Austria during the first few days of the war, for he brought them to Berne completely formulated. And further! I have every reason for stating that this tactic had matured in Lenin's head probably on the first day of the war. My arrest on the third or fourth day of the war may serve as a proof of this statement. ... My arrest was caused by a telegram from Vladimir Ilich [Lenin] addressed to me which was intercepted by the Swiss military authorities. In this telegram Lenin suggested that I should get in touch with our comrades in Paris for the purpose of organizing the issue of war leaflets and proclamations. This indicates that there was not a moment of doubt or vacillation on the part of Vladimir Ilich and that on the first day of the war he was already thinking of a war against war, i.e., of turning the imperialist war into a civil war. On about the second day [after Lenin's arrival in Berne] a meeting was held in the forest ... where Ilich spoke on the attitude toward the war this being the only possible subject of discussion for us at that time. A few days later, i.e. on September 6 or 7, a more intimate meeting was held in my apartment; at this meeting Ilich presented his theses on the war." (G. L. Shklovsky: Recollections (1925), in: O.H. Gankin and H.H. Fisher: The Bolsheviks and the World War, Stanford University Press, Stanford 1940, p. 143)

[13] We note, as an aside, that the criticism of Lenin’s strategy of revolutionary defeatism which has been articulated by various Marxists (in the broad sense of the word) after World War II, for example by people like Hal Draper or Brian Pearce, is completely unfounded. The first was a pseudo-Marxist academic, the second a scholar who did valuable work as translator of numerous works of Trotsky and others from Russian into English. Contrary to their accusations, neither did Lenin initially saw defeatism as a strategy only valid for Russia, nor did he later relativize or even drop defeatism. In this sense, we agree with the reply of Cliff Slaughter (Lenin and the Imperialist War of 1914-1918, in: Fourth International, Vol. 4, No. 3, November 1967, pp. 81-88). Brian Pearce elaborated his views in the essay Lenin and Trotsky on Pacifism and Defeatism, in: Labour Review, Vol. 6 (1961), No. 1, http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/History/Pearce.html. Hal Draper revisionist attack on Leninism is called: The Myth of Lenin’s “Revolutionary Defeatism” and was initially published in the Shachmanite journal New International in 1953/54, http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1953/defeat/index.htm.

A much superior and accurate presentation of Lenin’s program of defeatism has been published by Roman Rosdolsky in his work Studien über revolutionäre Taktik. Zwei unveröffentlichte Arbeiten über die II. Internationale und über die österreichische Sozialdemokratie (Verlag für das Studium der Arbeiterbewegung, West-Berlin 1973; this work was later translated into English with the title Imperialist War and the Question of Peace and can be read online here: https://www.marxists.org/archive/rosdolsky/1978/impwarqpeace/index.htm). Rosdolsky has been a Ukrainian Trotskyist and an excellent Marxist scholar (see e.g. his work on the pre-history of Marx’ Capital). Nevertheless, even his thoughtful study is not free of weaknesses as he relativizes Lenin’s defeatism in cases when one Great Power could conquer the whole country of its rival.

[14] Quoted in Alfred Erich Senn: The Russian Revolution in Switzerland, 1914-1917, University of Wisconsin Press, London 1971, p. 33

[15] Shklovsky reported from the trial of the Bolshevik deputies to the Duma: "From Deputy Petrovsky's testimony at the trial of the Bolsheviks it was revealed that these theses were also adopted by seven of the largest concerns in Petrograd." The editors add in a note: "In Russia these theses were mimeographed and sent to various large party organizations. Apparently they were discussed and adopted by the workers of a number of factories in Petersburg during the second half of September 1914; they were sent to Kamenev, in October they were discussed in Moscow, according to police records. They were discovered also in Baku. ... Samoilov recalls that in the middle of September 1914, immediately on his return from abroad, he presented the point of view of the Bureau of the Central Committee Abroad at a meeting of party members in Ivanovo-Voznesensk." (ibid, p. 144)

[16] V.I. Lenin: The Defeat of one’s own Government in the Imperialist War (1915); in: LCW 21, p.275

[17] V. I. Lenin: The European War and International Socialism (1914); in: LCW 21, p. 20

[18] V.I. Lenin: The War and Russian Social-Democracy (1914); in: LCW 21, p.34

[19] V.I. Lenin and G. Zinoviev: Socialism and War (1915); in: LCW 21, p.299

[20] V.I. Lenin: The Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. Groups Abroad (1915); in: LCW 21, p. 161

[21] V.I. Lenin and G. Zinoviev: Socialism and War (1915), in: LCW 21, p.313

[22] Quoted in Lenin: Sämtliche Werke, Band XVIII (Der imperialistische Krieg 1914-15), Verlag für Literatur und Politik, Wien 1929, p. 493 (our translation) See also e.g. Olga Hess Fisher, H.H. Gankin: The Bolsheviks and the World War; the Origin of the Third International, Stanford University Press, Stanford 1940; Barbara C. Allen: Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937. Life of an Old Bolshevik, Haymarket Books, Chicago 2015, pp. 56-75; Alexander Shlyapnikov: On the Eve of 1917 (1923), http://www.marxists.org/archive/shliapnikov/1923/eve1917/index.html; W. Astrow, A. Slepkow, J. Thomas (Eds): Illustrierte Geschichte der Russischen Revolution 1917 (published in 1928, reprinted by Verlag Neue Kritik, Frankfurt am Main 1970), pp. 73-82

[23] Alexander Shlyapnikov: On the Eve of 1917 (1923)

[24] See the historic notes in W.I.Lenin: Sämtliche Werke Band XVIII, Wien-Berlin 1929, p. 493. This leaflet is also mentioned in Shlyapnikov’s recollection.

[25] Leon Trotsky: A step towards social patriotism (1939), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1938-39, p. 209

[26] Leon Trotsky: War and the Fourth International (1934); in: Trotsky Writings 1933-34, pp. 304-305 (Emphasize in the original)

[27] Gregory Zinoviev: Der ‚Defaitismus‘ früher und heute (1916); in: Lenin/Sinowjew: G. Sinowjew / V. I. Lenin: Gegen den Strom, Verlag der Kommunistischen Internationale, Hamburg 1921, p. 442 (our translation)

[28] Gregory Zinoviev: Pazifismus oder Marxismus (Böse Folgen einer Losung.), in: G. Sinowjew / V. I. Lenin: Gegen den Strom, Verlag der Kommunistischen Internationale, Hamburg 1921, p. 119 (In English: Pacifism or Marxism (The Misadventures of a Slogan), in: Spartacist English edition No. 64, Summer 2014, http://www.icl-fi.org/english/esp/64/zinoviev.html

[29] Quoted in: Gregorij Sinowjew: Der Krieg und die Krise im Sozialismus, Verlag für Literatur und Kritik, Wien 1924, p. 475 (our translation)

[30] Quoted in: Gregorij Sinowjew: Der Krieg und die Krise im Sozialismus, Verlag für Literatur und Kritik, Wien 1924, pp. 475-476 (our translation). See on this also: Edgar Hardcastle: Socialists and War (on Boris Souvarine), Socialist Standard, August 1932, https://www.marxists.org/archive/hardcastle/1932/socialists_war.htm

[31] Communist International: Theses on the Fight against the War Danger (1922), in: Jane Degras: The Communist International 1919-1943. Documents Volume I 1919-1922, p. 332

[32] John West (James Burnham): War and the Workers (1936), Workers Party Pamphlet, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/burnham/1936/war/index.htm; see also: A Manifesto against Imperialist War! The Executive Committee of the Fourth International (World Party of the Socialist Revolution) September 1938, in: Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, p. 171-176