Preface to Rudolf Klement's Principles and Tactics in War
By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), June 2017, www.thecommunists.net
Note of the Editorial Board: Read Rudolf Klement's article here.
Below we reprint an article written by Rudolf Klement, one of Trotsky’s secretaries, who was at the time of its writing a member of the International Secretariat (IS) of the Movement for the Fourth International. Before we give some additional information on the background of this article, we would like to present some thoughts on the importance of this document.
Klement’s article is particularly valuable because it demonstrates a dialectical approach to the issue of war between states and classes. As the RCIT has discussed repeatedly, with the decay of capitalism, the resulting brutal offensive of the ruling classes and imperialist powers, as well as the accelerating rivalry between the Great Powers, have all led to a dramatic increase of democratic and national liberation struggles in addition to conflicts between various states.
On such a backdrop it is hardly surprising that the vanguard of the working class and the oppressed is increasingly faced with contradictory conditions. In addition to conflicts between two or more Great Powers, armed confrontation can also break out between different non-imperialist states in which both sides serve as the proxy of a Great Power. However, it is equally possible that only one side in such a conflict plays the role of a proxy while the other assumes a more independent position. Such conflicts between non-imperialist states can also involve one side attacking another because the latter supports democratic rights or a just war of liberation. Qatar’s being attacked by the Saudi-led bloc – encouraged to do so, in fact, by Trump– is a current example of this last case. (1)
The continuing Syrian Revolution – a legitimate democratic liberation struggle against the brutal tyranny of the Assad regime – is yet another relevant case. Here, on one side, is the Assad regime which receives massive support from Russian imperialism along with that given it by the Iranian regime. On the other hand, in Syria there is a heterogeneous mixture of secular and Islamist petty-bourgeois organizations, a number of which receive, to varying degrees, support from other states (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the US, etc.). (2)
The ongoing war in Yemen is another example of such a complex situation: In this case there is a just war of defense led by the petty-bourgeois Islamist Houthis, backed by Iran, against a Saudi-led coalition, which tacit support by Western imperialism. (3)
In the context of this introductory discussion, it behooves us to contemplate yet another entirely possible scenario: If, in the near future, US imperialism launches a war against North Korea, a small Stalinist bureaucratic workers’ state, the latter will most assuredly be supported by the emerging imperialist power China. (4) In such a situation, the RCIT would defend North Korea against the US, regardless of China’s support for Pyongyang.
By contrast, in situations like the civil war in Donbass in eastern Ukraine, in the autumn of 2014 a once legitimate popular uprising against the reactionary, pro-Western coup in Kiev was transformed into a proxy war between Western and Russian imperialism, thereby leading us to switch to a neutral position, where we had previously supported the Donbass rebels. (5)
In this brief introduction, we don’t intend to elaborate in detail our positions on these or similar conflicts, but rather refer readers to the numerous documents which wse have published in the past. For now, we only wish to draw attention to an extremely important theoretical problem: What stand should revolutionaries take in conflicts in which imperialist or reactionary forces intervene, in one way or other, on both sides?
Unfortunately many socialists answer this question in a mechanistic, simplistic way, automatically concluding that, because of the interference of imperialist and or reactionary forces on both sides, they are best advised to take a neutral position. While such a conclusion may be both correct and applicable in a number of cases (as our changed position on Donbass cited above illustrates) it can also be incorrect in other cases. As we have elaborated elsewhere in more detail, revolutionaries have to take into account the origin, history and driving factors (as well as secondary) of any given conflict, as well as the class nature of the different camps. (6)
If this is not done, Marxist analysis and the revolutionary art of elaborating tactics would be reduced to a mere tallying of pluses and minuses. However, in fact, reality is a "concrete totality, a unity of the universal and the particular" – to use the words of the distinguished Soviet philosopher of the 1920s, Abram Deborin. (7)
Hence, Marxists are obliged to undertake a concrete and dialectical study of any given conflict and to take into account all factors and their interrelationships. Hegel once noted in his Science of Logic that the universal must not be understood as a merely abstract but "as the universal which embraces within itself the wealth of the particular." (8) This is why a conflict or war has to be studied in all its aspects, with the general, fundamental, as well as its secondary, particular, characteristics. Such an approach must follow Lenin's dialectical method to study a thing or a process „from appearance to essence and from less profound to more profound essence.“ (9)
Those socialists who always take a neutral, abstentionist position in such complex conflicts and wars, mistakenly believe that such a line will ensure that they defend the independence of the working class. However, in fact, they only defend the working class' independence from reality by preventing it from advancing its own interests by participating in the concrete struggles between the social forces.
In contrast to such abstentionists, Marxists have to study concretely a given conflict or war and derive the appropriate tactics from it. Without such an approach Marxism is reduced to a sample of abstract truisms and a tactical passivity of waiting on the sidelines for better times, while in realty millions of workers and oppressed are fighting for their democratic and social rights against the ruling classes.
In conclusion, we repeat what we already stated some years ago: "It is true that imperialist powers have historically tried to utilize democratic struggles for their own ends and interfere in them. Such interference must be opposed by Marxist forces. But as Lenin said, in the epoch of imperialism the big powers will always try to interfere and utilize national and democratic conflicts. However, this fact should not lead Marxists to automatically adopt a defeatist instead of a revolutionary-defensist position in such conflicts. Rather, the position taken by Marxists should depend on which factor becomes dominant – the national, democratic liberation struggle or the imperialist war of conquest." (10)
(1) See on this Michael Pröbsting: Qatar-Gulf Crisis: Another Offensive of the Arab Counter-Revolution, 10 June 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/qatar-gulf-crisis/
(2) The RCIT has published numerous documents on the Syrian Revolution which can be viewed on the Africa and Middle East section of our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/. Our most important recent documents on this issue are:
RCIT: Syria: Condemn the Reactionary Astana Deal! The so-called "De-Escalation Zones" are a First Step towards the Partition of Syria and a Conspiracy by the Great Powers to Defeat the Revolution, 7 May 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/astana-deal/
Michael Pröbsting: Is the Syrian Revolution at its End? Is Third Camp Abstentionism Justified? An essay on the organs of popular power in the liberated area of Syria, on the character of the different sectors of the Syrian rebels, and on the failure of those leftists who deserted the Syrian Revolution, 5 April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/syrian-revolution-not-dead/
Yossi Schwartz: Raqqa: Defeat the US Imperialist Offensive! An assessment of the US/SDF/YPG war against Daesh, April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/us-offensive-in-raqqa/
RCIT: Defeat the Imperialist Invasion in Syria – Victory to the Revolution! Down with the American and Russian interventions! No to the imperialist plan to divide Syria! Down with the butcher Assad and his imperialist allies! 13.03.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/imperialist-invasion-in-syria/
(3) For the RCIT's analysis of the Yemeni Revolution we refer readers to:
RCIT: Yemen: Condemn the Massacre in Sana'a! Down with the Al-Saud Gang of Aggressors! 11.10.2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/yemen-massacre/
RCIT: Greetings to the Yemeni 'Socialists against Aggression', 15 July 2016, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/greetings-to-yemeni-socialists/
RCIT: Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Arab World: An Acid Test for Revolutionaries, 31 May 2015, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 36, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/theses-arab-revolution/
RCIT: Yemen: The al-Hadi Puppet Government Calls for an Imperialist Invasion! Victory to Yemen! Defeat the Al-Saud Gang of Aggressors! 8.5.2015, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 36, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/assault-on-yemen/
Yossi Schwartz: The War in Yemen, Iran and US-Imperialism, 20.4.2015, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 35, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/yemen-war-us-and-iran/
RCIT: Defend Yemen against the Al-Saud Gang of Aggressors! No to Sectarian Divisions and Civil War! For a Workers’ and Popular Government! Joint Statement of the International Secretariat of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) and the RCIT Yemen, 3.4.2015, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 34, www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/saudi-aggression-vs-yemen/
Mohammed Al Wazeer: Yemen Under Attack, RCIT Yemen, 15.4.2015, www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/yemen-under-attack
RCIT: Yemen: Down with the Price Hikes! For a “Second Revolution” to Establish a Workers and Fallahin Government! 3.9.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 27, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/yemen-uprising/
Yemen: The Mass Protests continue, Report from a Yemeni Supporter of the RCIT, 4.9.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 27, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/yemen-report-4-9-2014/
(4) For the RCIT's analysis of the conflict on the Korean peninsula we refer readers to:
RCIT: North Korea: Stop the War Mongering of US Imperialism! Down with the imperialist sanctions against North Korea! No political support for the Stalinist Kim Regime! 4 April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/us-aggression-vs-north-korea/
RCIT: New Imperialist Threats in East Asia: Hands off North Korea! 12.3.2013, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/defend-north-korea/
RCIT: No War against North Korea! Call for Protests on the Day when a War starts! 6.4.2013, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/no-war-against-north-korea/
(5) For the RCIT's analysis of the civil war in the eastern Ukraine we refer readers to:
Michael Pröbsting: The Minsk Agreement and the Civil War in the Ukraine, 20.2.2015, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/minsk-agreement/
Michael Pröbsting: The Uprising in East Ukraine and Russian Imperialism. An Analysis of Recent Developments in the Ukrainian Civil War and their Consequences for Revolutionary Tactics, 22.October 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/ukraine-and-russian-imperialism/
RCIT: After the Fascist Pogrom in Odessa: Advance the Struggle against the Counterrevolution in the Ukraine! Commemoration for the Fallen Fighters in the Struggle against the Counterrevolution! All Out for the International Day of Antifascist Solidarity on 8 May! 6.5.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 23, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/after-odessa-pogrom/
RCIT: Counterrevolution and Mass Resistance in the Ukraine, 17.4.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/mass-resistance-in-ukraine/
Joint Statement of the RCIT and the Movement to Socialism (MAS, Russia): Ukraine: Rivalry between Imperialist Powers escalates after Right-Wing Coup: Stop the Imperialist Saber-Rattling! 2.3.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 21, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/ukraine-war-threats/
MAS: Ukraine/Russia: The victory over the imperialist colonialism is impossible without the proletarian revolution! in: Revolutionary Communism No. 21, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/mas-declaration-5-3-2014/
RCIT and MAS: Right-Wing Forces Take Power in the Ukraine: Mobilize the Working Class against the New Government! 25.2.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 19, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/right-wing-coup-in-ukraine/
MAS: No to the Terror of the Bandera-Fascists! Stop the Repression against the Communists of Ukraine! 22.2.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 19, http://www.nuevomas.blogspot.co.at/2014/02/no-to-terror-of-bandera-fascists-stop.html
RCIT: “Ukraine: Neither Brussels nor Moscow! For an independent Workers’ Republic!” 18.12.2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 18, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/ukraine-neither-brussels-nor-moscow/
(6) Michael Pröbsting: Liberation Struggles and Imperialist Interference. The failure of sectarian “anti-imperialism” in the West: Some general considerations from the Marxist point of view and the example of the democratic revolution in Libya in 2011”, in: RCIT: Revolutionary Communism, No. 5; http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/liberation-struggle-and-imperialism
(7) Abram Deborin: Lenin als revolutionärer Dialektiker (1925); in: Nikolai Bucharin/Abram Deborin: Kontroversen über dialektischen und mechanistischen Materialismus, Frankfurt a.M. 1974, p. 125 (out translation)
(8) Georg F. Hegel: Science of Logic, Prometheus Books, New York 1969, p. 58
(9) V.I. Lenin: Conspectus of Hegel’s Book The Science Of Logic. Section Three: The Idea (1914); in: LCW 38, p.221
(10) Michael Pröbsting: Liberation Struggles and Imperialist Interference