Revolution or War n°24

(May 2023)

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Pacifism Ready to Intervene against Workers’ Struggles Faced with Imperialist War

To date, the expressions of pacifism in the face of the imperialist war in Ukraine are still marginal. Certainly, the weakness of proletarian responses – despite a dynamic of reactions and struggles against the deterioration of living conditions, in particular due to inflation – explains this fact. The bourgeoisie has not yet had to use on a large scale the counter-fire of pacifism to prevent and divert any proletarian class movement against the consequences of the present war and especially of the generalized one to come. For all that, it prepares itself for it. Already, it sets up, in a preventive way, and through the left and leftist political forces, pacifist committees, launches pacifist petitions and even already organizes street demonstrations. This was the case in Germany on February 25 when 50,000 demonstrators marched in Berlin on the call of a former leader of the leftist party Die Linke, Sahra Wagenknecht, and a well-known feminist, Alice Schwarzer, in support of a Manifesto for Peace. [1] This was the case in the United States on March 18, in Washington in particular, at the call [2] of a multitude of leftist and environmentalist organizations, including Answer Coalition, but also local sections of Black Live Matters, the Socialist Party of America, numerous Trotskyist and Stalinist groups, and even... the former bassist of Pink Floyd, Roger Waters! In Europe and from December 2022, an international appeal called Stop the War [3] was launched, gathering several hundred members of leftist organizations, Trotskyist in particular, and trade union delegates, mainly in Germany, France, Spain, Italy... but also in Africa.

The first one calls “ ... on the [German] Chancellor to stop the escalation of arms deliveries. Now! He should lead a strong alliance for a ceasefire and for peace negotiations on the German as well as on the European level. Now! Because every day lost costs up to 1,000 more lives - and brings us closer to a 3rd world war.” (Manifesto for Peace from Germany)

For the second and “to preserve humanity, we must stop this march to barbarism. Putin’s war, like that of Nato implemented by Zelensky, is not our war. We are not at war with the Russian people, nor with the Ukrainian people. We want peace for the Russian people and for the Ukrainian people. We sound the alarm: this escalation can lead to a global catastrophe. We will not be complicit in it. We call on all workers and militants in Europe to join forces to stop this deadly spiral and this butchery and for an end to the war and an immediate cease-fire!” [4]

The fact that these appeals have not yet received much response does not detract from the need, on the contrary, to denounce without delay, and as clearly and frontally as possible, these “modern” expressions of pacifism in the face of imperialist war. In order to arm the proletarians and revolutionaries of today against this danger, we will recall the position of the revolutionary workers’ movement on this question, a position that has always been internationalist and revolutionary – the one not going without the other – of which Lenin was undoubtedly one of the best defenders. The following excerpts were written in January 1917, one month before the outbreak of the revolutionary process in Russia, which was to continue until the October workers’ insurrection and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The same one that imposed the end of the war in Russia. The same one that gave the signal and the impulse to the international revolutionary wave, to the strikes in the factories and to the mutinies in the armies, in Germany in particular, that imposed the stop of the generalized imperialist war.

Bourgeois Pacifism and Socialist Pacifism [5] (Lenin, January 1st 1917)

Strikes and demonstrations initiated by textile workers women in St. Petersburg, February 1917: beginning of the Russian Revolution and struggle against the imperialist war. "The slogan "Bread" is discarded or covered by other formulas: "Down with autocracy! " and "Down with the war! " (Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution)

Those who repeat the general, meaningless, non-committal, goody-goody desires of pacifism are not really working for a democratic peace. Only he is working for such a peace who exposes the imperialist nature of the present war and of the imperialist peace that is being prepared and calls upon the peoples to rise in revolt against the criminal governments. (…)

The congresses of the French General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du Travail) and of the French Socialist Party have just been held. The true significance and true role of socialist pacifism at the present moment were quite definitely revealed at these congresses.

This is the resolution passed unanimously at the trade union congress. The majority of the ardent chauvinists headed by the notorious Jouhaux, the anarchist Broutchoux and... the “Zimmerwaldist” Merrheim all voted for it:

“This Conference of National Corporative Federations, trade unions and labour exchanges, having taken cognisance of the Note of the President of the United States which ‘invites all nations now at war with each other to publicly expound their views as to the terms upon which the war might be brought to an end’,

- requests the French Government to agree to this proposal;

- invites the government to take the initiative in making a similar proposal to its allies in order to speed the hour of peace;

- declares that the federation of nations, which is one of the guarantees of a final peace, can be secured only given the independence, territorial inviolability and political and economic liberty of all nations, big and small.

The organisations represented at this conference pledge themselves to support and spread this idea among the masses of the workers in order to put an end to the present indefinite and ambiguous situation, which can only benefit secret diplomacy, against which the working class has always protested.”

There you have a sample of “pure” pacifism, entirely in the spirit of Kautsky, a pacifism approved by an official labour organisation which has nothing in common with Marxism and is composed chiefly of chauvinists. We have before us an outstanding document, deserving the most serious attention, of the political unity of the chauvinists and the “Kautskyites” on a platform of hollow pacifist phrases. In the preceding article we tried to explain the theoretical basis of the unity of ideas of the chauvinists and the pacifists, of the bourgeois and the socialist reformists. Now we see this unity achieved in practice in another imperialist country. (…)

Is it not ridiculous to talk of the “economic liberty of all nations, big and small”, and yet not say a word about the fact that, until the bourgeois governments are overthrown and the bourgeoisie expropriated, this talk of “economic liberty” is just as much a deception of the people as talk of the “economic liberty” of the individual in general, of the small peasants and rich, workers and capitalists, in modern society? (...)

Bourgeois nationalists always and everywhere flaunt “general” phrases about a “federation of nations” in general and about “economic liberty of all nations, big and small”. But socialists, unlike bourgeois nationalists, always said and now say: rhetoric about “economic liberty of all nations, big and small”, is disgusting hypocrisy as long as certain nations (for example, England and France) invest abroad, that is to say, lend at usurious interest to small and backward nations, billions of francs, and as long as the small and weak nations are in bondage to them.

Socialists could not have allowed a single sentence of the resolution, for which Jouhaux and Merrheim unanimously voted, to pass without strong protest. In direct contrast to that resolution, socialists would have declared that Wilson’s pronouncement is a downright lie and sheer hypocrisy, because Wilson represents a bourgeoisie which has made billions out of the war, because he is the head of a government that has frantically armed the United States obviously in preparation for a second great imperialist war. Socialists would have declared that the French bourgeois government is tied hand and foot by finance capital, whose slave it is, and by the secret, imperialist, thoroughly predatory and reactionary treaties with England, Russia, etc., and therefore cannot do or say anything except utter the same lies about a democratic and a “just” peace. Socialists would have declared that the struggle for such a peace cannot be waged by repeating general, vapid, benign, sentimental, meaning less and non-committal pacifist phrases, which merely serve to embellish the foulness of imperialism. It can be waged only by telling the people the truth, by telling the people that in order to obtain a democratic and just peace the bourgeois governments of all the belligerent countries must be overthrown, and that for this purpose advantage must be taken of the fact that millions of workers are armed and that the high cost of living and the horrors of the imperialist war have roused the anger of the masses.

(Lenin, Bourgeois Pacifism and Socialist Pacifism)