XX. Revolutionary Defeatism in Conflicts between Imperialist States: Programmatic Components (2)





The task of educating and preparing the working class for the coming period of rabid chauvinism is not and must not be a purely literary task. It must be implemented in relation to various concrete, practical aspects of the political struggle.




The Issue of Sanctions of one Great Power against Another




One form of inter-imperialist rivalry is sanctions imposed by one Great Power (or a group of Great Powers) against another (or another group of Great Powers). Currently such sanctions have been imposed by the U.S. and the European Union against Russia since the annexation of the Crimea and the beginning of the civil war in the East of the Ukraine. In response, Russia has retaliated with sanctions.


We have seen similar developments in the period before the Second World War. For example, the League of Nations (the predecessor organization of the imperialist-dominated United Nations) imposed economic sanctions against fascist Italy after the latter’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.


Socialists have to oppose all kind of sanctions against imperialist rivals. Naturally, we don’t do so out of sympathy with the Great Power affected by such sanctions. We oppose them because they are an instrument of economic aggression, of imperialist warfare by non-military means. Imperialist sanctions against rivals are the first step to military aggression. They serve to ideologically manipulate the domestic population, to rally them behind the Great Power(s) and to wipe up hostility against its or their rival.


The American Trotskyists warned aptly in a pamphlet published in 1936, in the light of Italy’s invasion in Ethiopia and the resulting sanctions of the League of Nations against Italy, against the dangers of support for such imperialist sanctions: “But sanctions are war measures. They include withdrawal of financial credit, embargoes on trade, various forms of boycott. To enforce them genuinely would require a blockade of the country against whom the sanctions were invoked. The probable, the almost certain outcome of such a blockade, as history has so often proved, is war—since the blockaded nation cannot accept such a measure peacefully without surrendering political sovereignty. (...) In both cases, support of sanctions to be applied by capitalist governments (whether or not these are League members) is in effect support of these governments themselves. This means that such support necessarily leads to a betrayal of the revolutionary struggle against war, and the revolutionary defense of Ethiopia, which is always a struggle against the capitalist governments and the bourgeoisie whose governments they are. (...) Marxists, then, reject and expose as betrayal any and all advocacy of League or governmental “sanctions.” [1]


This does not mean in any way that the international working class should remain passive in face of reactionary attacks of a given Great Power. To take the example mentioned above, revolutionary Marxists mobilized for international solidarity with the liberation war of Ethiopia and advocated workers sanctions against Italy. Such sanctions consisted of boycott actions organized by trade unions and other proletarian organizations around the world against trade with Italy, against shipment of oil or weapons, etc. A similar boycott campaign was attempted in 1933 against Germany after Hitler came to power.


To quote again from the pamphlet of the American Trotskyists: “Naturally, however, this does not mean that they take a passive, hands-off position in the present crisis or in any other. Marxists are not neutral in the dispute between Italy and Ethiopia. They are for the defeat of Fascist Italy and the blow to imperialism which such a defeat would be; and they are therefore for the victory of Ethiopia. But they propose to aid in such defeat and such victory not by appealing to capitalist governments and the imperialist League for their assistance and sanctions; but to the working class to apply its proletarian “sanctions”. Only sanctions which are results of the independent and autonomous actions of the working class are of any value in the revolutionary struggle against war—since only these separate the class from the state and the class enemy, and only these build the fighting strength of the workers, which is alone the road to workers’ power and thus to the defeat of war. Mass demonstrations, strikes, labor boycotts, defense funds for material aid to Ethiopia, refusal to load munitions for Italy, revolutionary agitation for Marxism as it applies to the war crisis, these are such sanctions as the working class must make use of. But these will be ineffectual in the immediate crisis? They are romantic and utopian? If so, then the revolutionary struggle is itself ineffectual, romantic and utopian. Perhaps such sanctions will not “solve” the present crisis. But they, and they alone, will help steel the class, materially and ideologically, for the struggle to come—the struggle for workers’ power, which is, in the end, the only solution. [2]


However, as Trotsky explained at that time there is an important, indeed decisive, difference between imperialist sanctions and workers sanctions. The first is an instrument of the imperialist bourgeoisie of a given Great Power in the service of its expansionist goals against rivals. The second is an instrument of the international working class by its own methods and for its own goals.


Trotsky emphasized this difference in a polemic against the Stalinists: ‘‘Most dangerous of all, however, is the Stalinist policy. The parties of the Communist International try to appeal especially to the more revolutionary workers by denouncing the League (a denunciation that is an apology), by asking for ‘workers’ sanctions,’ and then nevertheless saying: ‘We must use the League when it is for sanctions.’ They seek to hitch the revolutionary workers to the shafts so that they can draw the cart of the League. (…) The truth is that if the workers begin their own sanctions against Italy, their action inevitably strikes at their own capitalists, and the League would be compelled to drop all sanctions. It proposes them now just because the workers’ voices are muted in every country. Workers’ action can begin only by absolute opposition to the national bourgeoisie and its international combinations. Support of the League and support of workers’ actions are fire and water; they cannot be united.’’ [3]


Likewise, Trotsky explained in a polemic against the centrist “London Bureau” that revolutionaries must resolutely break with any organization which tolerates such “pro-sanctionists”: “The struggle against war, properly understood and executed, presupposes the uncompromising hostility of the proletariat and its organizations, always and everywhere, toward its own and every other imperialist bourgeoisie. Yet among the announced adherents of the London Bureau congress are to be found such notorious supporters of the League of Nations (i.e., imperialist) "sanctions" as the Italian Socialist Party, which is presumably to organize a common struggle against war with opponents of these "sanctions," such as the British ILP claims to be. A prerequisite for the proletarian struggle against war is not unity between pro-"sanctionists" and anti-"sanctionists" but the ruthless separation of them.” [4]


In modern history we have seen cases of international popular solidarity campaigns against particularly reactionary states which provoked global hatred because of their crimes. One example for this was the international campaign against Apartheid in South Africa until 1994. In the last years we have seen the emergence of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the reactionary Apartheid state Israel as a reaction to the brutal oppression of the Palestinian people. Likewise, most Muslim states refuse to entertain any economic or diplomatic relations with the imperialist Israeli state.


The RCIT critically support such sanctions imposed by semi-colonial countries while pointing out their limitations. In case of imperialist states imposing such sanctions we are aware that these are not the same as reactionary sanctions of imperialist states against rivals or against insubordinate semi-colonies. However, as Marxists we advocate workers and popular sanctions against such reactionary forces like the Zionist state. This means workers actions to stop trade and military aid for Israel, consumer boycott, academic boycott, etc. Hence we critically support the BDS campaign against Israel despite its limitations.




Global Trade War and Internationalist Tactics




In the past few months we have seen the emergence of a Global Trade War between the Great Powers. Initiated by the Trump Administration, the Global Trade War – in particular between the two biggest powers U.S. and China – threatens to severely disrupt the world economy as they are imposing an increasing number of protectionist measures against another.


Again, such protectionism is not without precedence. As we have shown above, the Great Powers – like Germany, France, Russia, the U.S. etc (with the exception of the most powerful imperialist state at that time, Britain) – imposed high tariffs against each other in the two decades before World War One.


As we have explained in our statements and articles, the Global Trade War is not a purely economic conflict between two or more powers. It is inextricably linked with political and military tensions. It is inevitable connected with political and ideological mobilizations of chauvinism. It is, in the historic sense, a struggle for world domination and the prelude to World War III.


The Marxist classics always pointed out the interrelation of the economic, political, and military conflicts between the Great Powers. In an article published in 1911, Rosa Luxemburg wrote:


From this same standpoint the tasks of the Social Democrats with regard to the declarations of the kind made by the British Government can only be to show up the idea of a partial limitation of armaments, in all its impracticability, as a half-measure, and to endeavour to make it clear to the people that militarism is closely linked up with colonial politics, with tariff politics, and with international politics, and that therefore the present Nations, if they really seriously and honestly wish to call a halt on competitive armaments, would have to begin by disarming in the commercial political field, give up colonial predatory campaigns and the international politics of spheres of influence in all parts of the world – in a word, in their foreign as well as in their domestic politics would have to do the exact contrary of everything which the nature of the present politics of a capitalist class state demands. And thus would be clearly explained what constitutes the kernel of the Social Democratic conception, that militarism in both its forms – as war and as armed peace – is a legitimate child, a logical result of capitalism, which can only be overcome with the destruction of capitalism, and that hence whoever honestly desires world peace and liberation from the tremendous burden of armaments must also desire Socialism. Only in this way can real Social Democratic enlightenment and recruiting be carried on in connection with the armaments debate.[5]


Karl Radek, a leading collaborator of Lenin since 1914 and later of central figure in Trotsky’s Left Opposition against the Stalinist bureaucracy in the 1920s, also emphasized in a study about imperialism that failure to recognize the imperialist character of a tariff conflict will result in failure to struggle against imperialism as such.


Whoever does not regard imperialism in its connection with the cartelisation of industry and the protective tariff-policy, i.e., as a necessary result of the last phase of capitalist development, will easily succumb to the temptation of underestimating imperialist antagonisms.[6]


Like in all other confrontations between imperialist Great Powers, Marxists must not lend support to any imperialist camp. The conflicts between the imperialist states – be in on the economic, political, or military field – require one and the same program of revolutionary defeatism and anti-imperialism. Consequently, revolutionaries must oppose the Global Trade War as we stated in our joint statement with a number of other revolutionary organizations:


In view of a looming global trade war, socialists call the workers and popular organizations around the world to act decisively on the basis of the principles of international working class solidarity. Such principles are valid in times of peace and war, in case of economic sanctions as well as in case of military aggression.


* No to a global trade war! Oppose Great Power jingoism in West and East! Against militarist saber-rattling! In imperialist states, socialists say: “The Main Enemy is at Home!” In case of sanctions or a trade war between the U.S., China, European Union, Russia, Canada, Japan, or other powers, socialists in all countries involved must oppose such sanctions. (…)


* Neither imperialist globalization nor imperialist protectionism! Against all Great Powers and capitalist corporations in West and East! For international solidarity and joint cross-border struggle in defense of the interests of workers and oppressed![7]


Naturally, this does not mean that Marxists support in any form imperialist globalization. No, the workers movement must oppose all forms of domination by imperialist monopolies – whether in the form of globalization or in the form of protectionism. Naturally, this was different in the epoch of rising capitalism when the bourgeoisie still was a historically progressive class. In this epoch, Marx and Engels advocated free trade and opposed tariffs. [8]


However, with the transformation of capitalism into its stage of monopolism, i.e. the beginning of the imperialist epoch, the tactics of the revolutionary workers movement also changed accordingly. Free trade and protectionism became increasingly interwoven and were just different forms of imposing the domination of the imperialist monopolies against the oppressed peoples or against their rivals. While Marxist support measures of semi-colonial countries defending themselves against the domination of imperialist monopolies, they do not lend support to any camp in conflicts between imperialist corporations or powers.


For the same reasons Marxists can not support either camp in the so-called Brexit conflict, i.e. the question if Britain should remain in the European Union or leave it? The RCIT and its predecessor organization has always emphasized that both the imperialist national state (like Britain) as well as an imperialist state federation (like the EU) are two forms of imperialist political rule. As it is well known, the British ruling class is deeply divided between a faction which wants to stay and another one which wants to leave the EU. The later wants to keep a favorable trade agreement with the EU but also orientates more towards closer political and economic relations with other Great Powers (like the U.S.).


As we have elaborated in various pamphlets and statements, Marxists must not lend support to any of these two imperialist camps. They must not fight against imperialist protectionism and nationalism by “critically” supporting imperialist globalization and imperialist supra-national institutions like the EU, WTO, IMF, etc. Both represent reactionary forms of imperialist exploitation. Imperialist nationalism is only one form of the inherent drive to expansion of imperialist monopoly capital; imperialist globalization and creating of empires (like the EU) is another form.


As a matter of fact, imperialist globalization and imperialist protectionism are only relative opposites. In modern capitalism, there exists no absolute protectionism (i.e. full autarky). There are only different variations of international trade. The productive forces are developed to such a degree that insularity is simply impossible. At the same time, one should have no illusions about globalizations. Even in the past two decades – the highpoint of globalization – a number of “trade barriers” continued to exist between the imperialist nations (e.g. environmental regulations, safety regulations, etc.). We will not speak at this point about the trade agreements between the imperialist powers and the semi-colonial countries which were always disadvantageous for the latter. [9]


An actual example for the relativity of the contrast between imperialist globalization and imperialist protectionism is the recently renegotiated NAFTA agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Initially Trump withdrew from NAFTA with big fanfares. Later, a modified version of NAFTA was agreed with some more advantageous conditions for U.S. imperialism. [10] It would be nonsense to see a qualitative difference between these two versions of trade agreement.


Socialists must not lend support to any of these forms of imperialist expansionism. Supporting Brexit or Remain is equivalent to supporting one of these two forms of imperialist political rule. Both are impermissible for revolutionaries. This is why the RCIT has always advocated a revolutionary, independent, defeatist position directed against both political forms of imperialist rule.


Such a tactic based on the principle of proletarian independence goes back to the standpoint of the Marxist classicists. For them it was a fundamental axiom that the working class cannot support any of the two factions of the monopoly bourgeoisie in the epoch of imperialism – neither those who favor free trade and the internationalization of production nor those who advocate protective tariffs and the promotion of the nation state market.


Rudolf Hilferding, an Austrian Marxist, who in 1910 published a groundbreaking book on the emergence of finance capital (later he became an ideologist of reformism), wrote:


While capital can pursue no other policy than that of imperialism, the proletariat cannot oppose to it a policy derived from the period when industrial capital was sovereign; it is no use for the proletariat to oppose the policy of advanced capitalism with an antiquated policy from the era of free trade and of hostility to the state. The response of the proletariat to the economic policy of finance capital - imperialism - cannot be free trade, but only socialism. The objective of proletarian policy cannot possibly be the now reactionary ideal of reinstating free competition by the overthrow of capitalism. The proletariat avoids the bourgeois dilemma - protectionism or free trade - with a solution of its own; neither protectionism nor free trade, but socialism, the organization of production, the conscious control of the economy not by and for the benefit of capitalist magnates but by and for society as a whole, which will then at last subordinate the economy to itself as it has been able to subordinate nature ever since it discovered the laws of motion of the natural world. (…) It is precisely in those countries where the policy of the bourgeoisie has been put into effect most fully, and where the most important social aspects of the democratic political demands of the working class have been realized, that socialism must be given the most prominent place in propaganda, as the only alternative to imperialism, in order to ensure the independence of working class politics and to demonstrate its superiority in the defence of proletarian interests.” [11]


In his book on imperialism, Lenin approvingly cited this quotation from Hilferding, and added:


Kautsky broke with Marxism by advocating in the epoch of finance capital a ’reactionary ideal‘, ’peaceful democracy‘, ’the mere operation of economic factors‘, for objectively this ideal drags us back from monopoly to non-monopoly capitalism, and is a reformist swindle. Trade with Egypt (or with any other colony or semi-colony) ’would have grown more‘ without military occupation, without imperialism, and without finance capital. What does this mean? That capitalism would have developed more rapidly if free competition had not been restricted by monopolies in general, or by the ’corrections‘, yoke (i.e., also the monopoly) of finance capital, or by the monopolist possession of colonies by certain countries? Kautsky’s argument can have no other meaning; and this ’meaning‘ is meaningless. Let us assume that free competition, without any sort of monopoly, would have developed capitalism and trade more rapidly. But the more rapidly trade and capitalism develop, the greater is the concentration of production and capital which gives rise to monopoly. And monopolies have already arisen—precisely out of free competition! Even if monopolies have now begun to retard progress, it is not an argument in favour of free competition, which has become impossible after it has given rise to monopoly. Whichever way one turns Kautsky’s argument, one will find nothing in it except reaction and bourgeois reformism.[12]


The same position was later defended by Trotsky in his polemics with British reformists:


"One of the pretty clear reactionaries inside the British Labour Party, Dr. Haden Guest, a chauvinist, a militarist and a protectionist in parliament, mercilessly poured scorn on his own party's line on the question of free trade and protectionism: MacDonald's position, in Guest's words, has a purely negative character and does not indicate any way out of the economic impasse. That the days of Free Trade are over really is absolutely obvious: the break-up of Liberalism has also been conditioned by the break-up of Free Trade. But Britain can just as little seek a way out in protectionism. For a young capitalist country just developing, protectionism may be an unavoidable and progressive stage of development. But for the oldest industrial country whose industry was geared to the world market and had an offensive and conquering character the transition to protectionism is historical testimony to the beginning of a process of mortification, and signifies in practice the maintaining of certain branches of industry that are less viable in the given world situation, at the expense of other branches of the same British industry that are better adapted to the conditions of the world and the home market. The programme of senile protectionism of Baldwin's party can be countered not by an equally senile and moribund Free Trade policy but only by the practical programme of a socialist overturn. But in order to tackle this programme it is necessary as a preliminary to purge the party both of the reactionary protectionists like Guest and reactionary free traders like MacDonald." [13]


Such an approach is still valid today when revolutionaries are faced with the Global Trade War, Brexit and other forms of Great Power rivalry.




Wars between Great Powers respectively their Proxies




As we already stated above, revolutionaries must not lend any support for one camp in a military conflict between Great Powers. They advocate the slogans of “The main enemy is at home”, “Defeat of their own country is the lesser evil” and the “Transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war”. Where possible, they must vote in parliament against all measures supporting such a war. They must prepare themselves to face repression by the state and, hence, to work underground under illegal conditions. They should agitate against the war – by legal as well as illegal means – at workplaces, neighborhoods, among the soldiers, in schools and universities, etc. Where possible, they should advocate fraternizations between the troops and call for mass actions in protest against the war.


Based on these principles, Marxists took a defeatist position in World War I in both imperialist camps – the Entente powers (Britain, France, Russia, USA) – and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria, Ottoman Empire). During World War II, the Marxists – in the person of Trotsky and the Fourth International – took a similar position in the war between imperialist Germany and Japan on one hand and imperialist Britain, France and USA on the other hand. (In the war between imperialist Germany and the degenerated workers state USSR however, as we mentioned above, the Fourth International called for the defense of the later. Likewise they supported the liberation struggle of the colonial people against their imperialist masters.)


Today, we see conflicts between the U.S. and the EU vs. Russia, the U.S. vs. China, Japan vs. China etc. While these conflicts have not escalated into a full-blown war until now, it is clear that the inner logic of global contradictions inevitable points in the direction of new big wars including, eventually, a World War III. Lenin’s warning stated at the beginning of WWI remains valid:


Imperialism sets at hazard the fate of European culture: this war will soon be followed by others, unless there are a series of successful revolutions. The story about this being the “last war” is a hollow and dangerous fabrication, a piece of philistine ‘mythology’[14]


As we have elaborated in past works, situations can exist where countries act as proxies of imperialist powers albeit they themselves are some form of semi-colonial state. In World War One, for example, Serbia (a semi-colonial country) didn’t play an independent role in its war with Austria-Hungary but rather acted as a proxy for the Entente powers. Hence, Marxists took a defeatist stand in Serbia – like in the other participating states.


Recently, we saw a certain similarity in the conflict between China and India. While the former is an imperialist power and the latter a semi-colony (albeit also a regional power given its huge size), the RCIT advocated nevertheless a defeatist position on both sides. We did so, as we explained in our pamphlet, because if India would enter into a conflict with imperialist China, it could only act under such circumstances as a proxy for US imperialism. [15] The same has been the case in the conflict between the Ukraine and Russia when they clashed in the Kerch Strait in November 2018. [16]




Siding with the “Lesser” (Imperialist) Evil?




A consistent defeatist program must advocate fundamental opposition against all imperialist states. It must avoid supporting, siding with or opposing less one Great Power in relation to its rival. Various pseudo-socialist organizations do so by arguing that all forces should be supported which oppose the strongest imperialist power, i.e. the U.S. Such an approach has nothing to do with Marxism and independent socialism. It is rather bourgeois geopoliticism or social-imperialism – the foreign policy equivalent to the reformist poplar-front strategy on domestic level. We characterize such an approach as bourgeois geopoliticism because it means defining the world situation and the tasks of the struggle not from the point of view of the international class struggle to advance the cause of the working class and the oppressed peoples but rather from the point of view of reordering the world to the disadvantage of the old Great Powers (U.S., EU and Japan) and to the advantage of the new Great Powers (China and Russia).


Marxists have always emphasized that it would be illegitimate for trade unions to make an alliance with a company exploiting 10,000 workers against another one which is exploiting 20,000 workers just because the latter is bigger (and hence the more powerful enemy). Likewise, socialists can not lend electoral support for a candidate of a smaller bourgeois party against a candidate of a larger bourgeois party. It is even less permissible to form a popular-front alliance with some liberal forces against more right-wing parties.


Such principles also apply on an international level. Socialist can not side with one Great Power against another just because one has conquered less sphere of influence until now than the other.


Let us suppose that two countries are at war in the epoch of bourgeois, national-liberation movements. Which country should we wish success to from the standpoint of present-day democracy? Obviously, to that country whose success will give a greater impetus to the bourgeoisie’s liberation movement, make its development more speedy, and undermine feudalism the more decisively. Let us further suppose that the determining feature of the objective historical situation has changed, and that the place of capital striving for national liberation has been taken by international, reactionary and imperialist finance capital. The former country, let us say, possesses three-fourths of Africa, whereas the latter possesses one-fourth. A repartition of Africa is the objective content of their war. To which side should we wish success? It would be absurd to state the problem in its previous form, since we do not possess the old criteria of appraisal: there is neither a bourgeois liberation movement running into decades, nor a long process of the decay of feudalism. It is not the business of present-day democracy either to help the former country to assert its “right” to three-fourths of Africa, or to help the latter country (even if it is developing economically more rapidly than the former) to take over those three-fourths.[17]


It is the task of working class to defeat the imperialists; such a task can not and must not be delegated to another Great Power, as Trotsky pointed out: But they are absolutely wrong in thinking that the proletariat can solve great historical tasks by means of wars that are led not by themselves but by their mortal enemies, the imperialist governments.[18]




The Poverty of Pacifism




A widespread but impotent answer to imperialist war is pacifism. In its most general form it counterposes appeals for peace and non-violent methods against military conflicts. As such, this is a thoroughly petty-bourgeois program. History has proven that all fundamental solutions for social conflicts included the use of force. Defending Greece against Xerxes huge army and navy 480-479 BC, destroying the oppressive Roman Empire in 476, defending Vietnam against the Mongol invasion 1258-88, liberating China from the Mongolian occupants by the Red Turban Rebellion in 1351-68, the American Revolution against the English colonial administration in 1775-83, the French Revolution 1789, the abolition of slavery in the U.S. in 1861-65, the Russian Revolution 1917, the destruction of the Nazi Third Reich in 1945, the destruction of the British and French colonial empires from Africa and Asia, to name just a few examples – not a single of these historical progressive steps would have been possible without violence!


Furthermore, it is bloody nonsense to imagine that capitalism could exist without conflicts, tensions and wars. It is a system based on class antagonism and competition. Such tensions inevitable must repeatedly provoke wars, as the U.S. Trotskyists already pointed out in a pamphlet published shortly before the beginning of World War II.


Marxism points out that so long as capitalism endures, wars will come, that war under capitalism is not an "accident" or an "exceptional event" but an integral part of the very mechanism of capitalism. War is just as much a part of capitalism as are economic crises. You cannot have capitalism without having periodic crises and you cannot have capitalism without periodically having wars. The causes which bring about wars, the inescapable need for every advanced capitalist nation to attempt to expand its markets, gain cheaper sources of raw materials, find new outlets beyond the internal market for capital investment, can none of them be eliminated without eliminating capitalism itself.[19]


Preaching non-violent methods in contrast to the necessary measures to achieve liberation is in the best case naïve and helpless day-dreaming, in the worst case utter betrayal against the liberation struggle of oppressed people and against historical progress of humanity! As Trotsky put it: “It is impossible to fight against imperialist war by sighing for peace after the fashion of the pacifists.[20]


Discussing the problem of pacifism more concretely, one has to make certain differentiations. First we have to differentiate between the honest pacifism of the masses and the factitious, hypocritical pacifism of the professional politicians and their hired academics. The former represents confused consciousness of the masses but contains a progressive wish to get rid of the plague of militarism and imperialist war. Naturally, revolutionaries have to explain pedagogically the short-comings of such a view but, at the same time, they have to try to relate to such hopes and utilize them for the advance of the collective struggle of the masses.


Pacifism of bourgeois politicians and phrase-mongering left-wing intellectuals is something different. Revolutionaries have to denounce them sharply and explain to the popular masses the objectively reactionary role of such frauds.


Pacifism in its pure form – consistent refusal of all forms of arms and violence – rarely exists. It is rather an exceptional phenomenon of honorable but harmless simpletons a la Bertha von Suttner. The more widespread form of pacifism is a rather inconsistent, “pragmatic” one. Such “pragmatic” pacifists do neither oppose the existence of armed police (or even an army) nor do they oppose state repression against “radical elements”. They only oppose wars before they start (usually, they become defender of the fatherland once the war has begun) or if the oppressed people in a colonial country use of force against the imperialist occupation forces.


Again, revolutionaries can afford to deal rather with irony in the case of the harmless muddleheads of the Suttner kind. However, they must vehemently denounce the treacherous “pragmatic” pacifists who are nothing but dangerous servants of imperialism.


Marxists do not deny the legitimacy of using the slogan of peace under certain conditions in their agitation. However, the question is how this is done. Calling for peace can be useful if it is combined with advocating class struggle methods against the imperialist war efforts, if it is combined with calling to turn the arms against the ruling class, if it is combined with a strategy to transform the imperialist war into civil war. This also means that revolutionaries sharply reject counter-posing an imperialist “peace” to imperialist war as this could only mean the temporarily cessation of military conflicts in order to prepare the next round of imperialist war.


However, the fundamental necessity remains for Marxist to explain the necessity to fight war with war, occupation war with liberation war, imperialist war with civil war. Preaching peace as such is no strategy, it is only confusing the consciousness of the masses. Gregory Zinoviev explained this idea very aptly in the Bolshevik’s central organ during World War I:


“Die Friedensidee zum Mittelpunkt”—“The idea of peace at the heart of our slogans”! Now they say that—after the first pan-European imperialist war has broken out! This is what you have learned from events!


Nicht Friedensidee, sondern Bürgerkriegsidee”—not the idea of peace, but the idea of civil war—this is what we are tempted to shout at these great utopians who promise such a meager utopia. Not the idea of peace, but the idea of civil war, citizen Adler! This will be the central point of our program.


The problem is not that we failed to sufficiently preach the idea of peace before the war; it is that we did not preach the idea of class struggle, of civil war, enough or seriously enough. Because in wartime, the recognition of class struggle without a recognition of civil war is empty verbiage; it is hypocrisy; it is deceiving the workers.[21]


Yes, we are by no means principled pacifists; we are absolutely not opposed to all wars. We are against their wars, we are against wars of the oppressors, against imperialist wars, against wars whose goal is to reduce countless millions of workers to slavery. However “Social Democrats cannot deny the positive significance of revolutionary wars, that is, non-imperialist wars and, for example, those that were waged between 1789 and 1871 to overthrow foreign oppression and create capitalist national states out of fragmented feudal lands or wars that may be waged to safeguard conquests won by the proletariat in its struggle against the bourgeoisie” (see our resolution on pacifism in Sotsial-Demokrat No. 40).[22]


A few years later, the Communist International summarized the dangers of pacifism in the following way: Imperialism is the capitalist reality, bourgeois pacifism the capitalist illusion. Pacifism is as incapable as bourgeois social reform of overcoming the contradictions, the evils, and the crimes of capitalism. But it will introduce dissension and uncertainty into the ranks of the bourgeoisie, the middle and petty bourgeoisie, and hence weaken the class enemy of the proletariat. Communists must take advantage of any such weakening by using the opportunity of every bourgeois pacifist initiative to lead the working class into struggle, in the course of which they will learn that militarism and imperialism cannot be abolished by the gradual triumph of reason and love of peace. . . . This conviction will counteract any crippling and debilitating effects of pacifism on the revolutionary militant energy of the proletariat, a danger associated with bourgeois pacifist propaganda. . . . The mists of pacifist sentimental hopes must not obscure the recognition that the bourgeoisie rule and exploit thanks to their command of the means of production of life and the means of production of death. The proletariat must take possession of both to liberate themselves from exploitation and bondage. Since they are kept from their freedom by force of arms, they must conquer it and defend it by force of arms.” [23]




The Slogan of Disarmament




The struggle against imperialist war and militarism necessarily includes the struggle against all military budgets as well as against every measure of armament of the imperialist state. However, such a necessary tactic in the class struggle must not be confused with support for a bourgeois strategy of disarmament as a way to avoid wars. In fact, it is a well-known method of the strongest imperialist powers to call for disarmament treaties in order to keep their military advantage against any emerging rival. In the end, as we can see today, all those treaties could not avoid the armament of the Great Powers, the emergence of new ones and the global arms race.


Paul Lensch, a leading representative of the left wing in German Social Democracy before World War I, formulated quite aptly in 1912: “The idea of a limitation of armaments is foreign to our programme as well as to our theoretical literature. Up to now, it was considered a reactionary swindle or ridiculous pacifist babbling.[24]


In the same spirit wrote Trotsky, in a declaration for an anti-war congress in 1932: The pretense of "disarmament" has and can have nothing in common with the prevention of war. The program of "disarmament" only signifies an attempt–up to now only on paper–to reduce in peacetime the expense of this or that kind of armaments. It is above all a question of military technique and the imperialist coffers. The arsenals, the munitions factories, the laboratories, and finally, what is most important, capitalist industry as a whole preserve all their force in all the "disarmament programs." But states do not fight because they are armed. On the contrary, they forge arms when they have to fight. In case of war, all the peace limitations will fall aside like so much chaff…. It is pure charlatanism to attempt to distinguish between defensive and offensive machine guns, tanks, aeroplanes. American policy is dictated in this also by the particular interests of American militarism, the most terrible of all. War is not a game which is conducted according to conventional rules. War demands and creates all the weapons which can most successfully annihilate the enemy. Petty-bourgeois pacifism, which sees in a 10 percent, or 33 percent, or 50 percent disarmament proposal the "first step" towards prevention of war, is more dangerous than all the explosives and asphyxiating gases. Melinite and yperite can do their work only because the masses of people are poisoned in peacetime by the fumes of pacifism.[25]


Furthermore, one has to ask: who controls if such disarmament treaties are implemented?! Take for example the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its purpose is primarily to stop semi-colonial countries from acquiring nuclear weapons so that they can not defend themselves against attempts at intimidation by Great Powers. Developments in recent years have demonstrated this very clearly. Israel is well known to possess unofficially up to 200 nuclear missiles. But no one cares and no one would punish the Zionist state for its violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Now, compare this to the reaction of the Great Powers when North Koreas attempts to build nuclear weapons! The UN Security Council imposes one sanction after the other against Pyongyang. The Trump Administration threatened to wage war against the small country. What an example of imperialist hypocrisy! When Israel, a close ally of Western Great Powers, violates the treaty, it has no consequences at all. When North Korea attempts to do the same, it is threatened with annihilation!


It is the task of Marxists to explain the popular masses that any illusions in imperialist treaties on disarmament are completely misplaced and that the only solution is that the working class takes the whole arsenal of weapons in its own hands, i.e. that it overthrows the ruling class and takes the power!




International Courts of Arbitration and United Nations




Another confusing slogan, in the same spirit of petty-bourgeois pacifism, is the call for International Courts of Arbitration and United Nations in order to solve conflicts between Great Powers. The UN, as well as its predecessor organization – the League of Nations –, has always been nothing but an instrument of the Great Powers. The UN can not make any binding decision against the veto of one of the Great Powers U.S., Russia, China, France or Britain. Hence, it will only impose decisions which are congruent with their political class interests. In other words, it will not and can not make any decisions against the imperialist interests.


The most obvious example is the case of Israel and the Palestinians rights of national self-determination. Since decades, one UN General Assembly (which is the annual plenary assembly of all states) after the other adopts a resolution which condemns Israel and supports the creation of a Palestinian state. However, this has no consequence at all because U.S. imperialism and its allies stand behind the Israeli settler state and support it under any circumstances.


And if the U.S: agrees on joint measures one can take it for granted that it is against the interests of the oppressed people. See e.g. the U.N. decision in 1947 to support the creation of the colonial settler state Israel which resulted in the expulsion of the native Palestinian population; or the decision to support the imperialist war against North Korea in 1950; or the decision to impose sanctions against Iraq in 1990 which resulted in the U.S. war in January-March 1991; or the hunger sanctions against North Korea in the past years.


The smart politicians of the ruling class have been always aware of the true nature of such institutions already long ago. Kurt Riezler, a German diplomat and close advisor of Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg wrote in a book published shortly before the outbreak of World War I: “By and large, the instrument of International Courts of Arbitration only serves to avoid the outbreak of unwanted wars, which could result from unforeseen incidents and which are not relevant for national vital interests.[26]


Trotsky’s sharp denunciation of the UN predecessor organization was completely appropriate and remains valid until today: “The League of Nations is the citadel of imperialist pacifism. It represents a transitory historical combination of capitalist states in which the stronger command and buy out the weaker, then crawl on their bellies before America or try to resist; in which all equally are enemies of the Soviet Union, but are prepared to cover up each and every crime of the most powerful and rapacious among them. Only the politically blind, only those who are altogether helpless or who deliberately corrupt the conscience of the people, can consider the League of Nations, directly or indirectly, today or tomorrow, an instrument of peace. (...)[27]


Hence, Marxists must always oppose any appeals to the UN. Such appeals can only create misplaced illusions in an imperialist institution. They must systematically denounce the UN and call the popular masses to fight themselves for liberation instead of hoping for help from such Great Power instruments.


Our assessment formulated in the RCIT program remains completely correct: “The Bolshevik-Communists fight everywhere against bourgeois militarism and imperialist war. We categorically reject the policy of the pacifists, social democrats and Stalinists appeals for disarmament, to UN mediation, peaceful coexistence between states and the promotion of nonviolent resistance. The rulers with their talking shops as the UN or its hypocritical international courts can never abolish war from the world. This can only be achieved by the working class and the oppressed peoples themselves through the uncompromising class struggle – including the armed struggle. That is why we advocate a military training of the working class one under its own control. In imperialist wars, we reject any support for the ruling class. We advocate the defeat of the imperialist state. Our slogan is that of Karl Liebknecht: “The main enemy is at home”. Our goal is to transform the imperialist war into a civil war against the ruling class.[28]


[1] 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 Maurice Spector: Sanctions and the Coming War (1935), New International, Vol.2 No.7, December 1935, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/spector/1935/12/sanctions.htm

[2] John West (James Burnham): War and the Workers (1936), Workers Party Pamphlet, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/burnham/1936/war/index.htm

[3] Leon Trotsky: Once Again the ILP (1935); in: Trotsky Writings 1935-36, p. 201; see also Leon Trotsky: Open Letter To A British Comrade (1936); in: Trotsky Writings 1935-36, p. 295

[4] Leon Trotsky: Resolution on the Antiwar Congress of the London Bureau (1936), in: Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, p. 99

[5] Rosa Luxemburg: Peace Utopias (1911), in: Richard B. Day and Daniel Gaido (Ed.): Discovering Imperialism. Social Democracy to World War I, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden 2012, p. 447, online: https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1911/05/11.htm

[6] Karl Radek: Our Struggle against Imperialism (1912), in Richard B. Day and Daniel Gaido (Ed.): Discovering Imperialism, p. 551. We note in passing that albeit the Bolsheviks – compared to the German left before 1914 – were superior in fighting against revisionism and in drawing conclusions from this, there is nevertheless a lot which can be learned from the experience of Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Radek, Mehring and others. See on this e.g. Kurt Mandelbaum: Sozialdemokratie und Imperialismus (1928), in: Kurt Mandelbaum: Sozialdemokratie und Leninismus, Rotbuch Verlag, Berlin 1974

[7] Joint Statement: Global Trade War: No to Great Power Jingoism in West and East!

[8] See e.g. Part V in Rudolf Hilferding: Finance Capital. A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development (1910), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1981.

[9] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South

[10] See on this Joe Nocera: This Map Shows Why Trump Couldn't Kill Nafta, 1. Oktober 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-10-01/virginia-and-canada-forged-deals-through-nafta?srnd=premium-europe; David Fickling: Globalists Will Love Trump’s New Nafta Deal. Despite the fanfare, the agreement doesn’t change much. 1. Oktober 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-10-01/globalists-will-love-trump-s-new-nafta-deal?srnd=premium-europe; Jenny Leonard, Josh Wingrove, Jennifer Jacobs, and Andrew Mayeda: Trump Clinches Rebranded Nafta as Canada Joins Pact With Mexico, 1. Oktober 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-01/u-s-canada-agree-to-nafta-replacement-that-will-include-mexico?srnd=premium-europe.

[11] Rudolf Hilferding: Finance Capital. A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development (1910), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1981, pp.366-367 (our emphasis)

[12] V. I. Lenin: Imperialism. The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) ; in: LCW Vol. 22, pp. 289-290 (our emphasis)

[13] Leon Trotsky: Where is Britain Going? (1925), in: Trotsky’s Writings on Britain, Vol. 2, New Park Publications, London 1974, pp. 115-116

[14] V. I. Lenin: The Position and Tasks of the Socialist International (1914) ; in: CW Vol. 21, p. 40

[15] See on this Michael Pröbsting: The China-India Conflict: Its Causes and Consequences. What are the background and the nature of the tensions between China and India in the Sikkim border region? What should be the tactical conclusions for Socialists and Activists of the Liberation Movements? 18 August 2017, Revolutionary Communism No. 71, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-india-rivalry/; see also: Alan Boyd: Why the Quad can’t get it together, November 20, 2018 http://www.atimes.com/article/why-the-quad-cant-get-it-together/

[16] See on this e.g. Military Escalation between Russia and Ukraine at the Kerch Strait. Down with the Reactionary Warmongering on Both Sides! Emergency Statement of the RCIT and the Marxist Group "Class Politics" (Russia), 28 November 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/military-escalation-between-russia-and-ukraine-at-the-kerch-strait/

[17] V. I. Lenin: Under A False Flag; in: LCW Vol. 21, pp.143-144

[18] Leon Trotsky: A step towards social patriotism (1939), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1938-39, p. 211

[19] James Burnham: How to fight war – Isolation, Collective Security, Relentless Class Struggle? (1938), SWP Pamphlet, p. 14

[20] Leon Trotsky: Lenin on Imperialism (1939), in: Trotsky Writings 1938-39, p. 167

[21] 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. 116 (In English: Pacifism or Marxism (The Misadventures of a Slogan), in: Spartacist, No. 64, Summer 2014, http://www.icl-fi.org/english/esp/64/zinoviev.html

[22] 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 No. 64, Summer 2014, http://www.icl-fi.org/english/esp/64/zinoviev.html

[23] Communist International: Theses on the Fight against the War Danger (1922), in: Jane Degras: The Communist International 1919-1943. Documents Volume I 1919-1922, pp. 331-332

[24] Paul Lensch, Eine Improvisation, in: Neue Zeit 30 (1912), quoted in English: Richard B. Day, Daniel F. Gaido (Eds): Discovering Imperialism: Social Democracy to World War I, Historical Materialism Book Series Vol. 33, Leiden 2012, p. 563

[25] Leon Trotsky: Declaration to the Antiwar Congress at Amsterdam (1932), in: Writings 1932, S. 151-152

[26] J. J. Ruedorffer: Grundzüge der Weltpolitik in der Gegenwart, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Berlin 1914, p. 167 (our translation). Ruedorffer was the pseudonym of Kurt Riezler.

[27] Leon Trotsky: Declaration to the Antiwar Congress at Amsterdam (1932), in: Writings 1932, S. 151

[28] RCIT: The Revolutionary Communist Manifesto, published in 2012, p. 62; online on the RCIT website at www.thecommunists.net/rcitmanifesto