Louis C. Fraina

Revolutionary Socialism

Socialism and the War

WAR, particularly a general world war, tests the capacity of all whom it affects. The world war is a war that has thrown into the crucible of change all ideas and institutions; and out of this molten mass is emerging a new order.

This epochal character of the war is appreciated much more by the representatives of capital than by the representatives of the proletariat. Imperialism recognizes that all it cherishes is at stake; it recognizes that its future depends upon its action in this war, and its capacity to adapt itself to the new conditions that are developing. The old slogans, the old policy of Capitalism are being adapted to circumstances as they arise; it is inflexible in its class attitude during the war, and flexible in its attitude toward new problems, studying these problems, realizing that new conditions impose new measures. There is a ferment of ideas, a passionate activity, among the representatives of Imperialism, who appreciate the universal scope of the problems of the war. But, unfortunately, this attitude does not generally prevail among the representatives of the proletariat. Socialism itself is not in tune with the new rhythm of things. Socialism, on the whole, has during the war abandoned its class attitude. Socialism has met a real and humiliating defeat; and instead of recognizing this defeat as a defeat, in the spirit of men and of rebels, the tendency is either to explain away the defeat or hail it as a great victory. Instead of an appreciation of new conditions and new problems, the dominant Socialism smugly adheres to its old slogans and policy, the old tactics that directed Socialism straight to disaster. The great problems of a new epoch are compressed in the petty formulæ of yesteryear, – perverted formulæ, formulæ that have become a corpse which exhales the poisonous stench of death. This attitude is particularly apparent, largely dominant, in American Socialism; the war is used for purposes of petty political advantages, and there is no appreciation, no attempt to appreciate, the revolutionizing importance of the war in its relation to Socialism.

The world war is a revolutionary factor. The war is transforming the world economically, socially and politically. Its importance has a dual character its influence on immediate events, and the ultimate changes and reconstruction it imposes upon the Socialist program and Socialist action. This process of transformation preceded the war and will continue after peace is concluded, the significance of the war being the circumstance that it has brought these preceding factors of transformation to a climax and powerfully accelerated their onward development.

The war marks the definite, catastrophic end of an epoch of Capitalism. It is not the end of Capitalism, as the petit bourgeois Socialist fondly imagines, – the petit bourgeois Socialist, who sees the end of Capitalism in any and all things except the dynamic struggles of Socialism and the proletariat. The old competitive Capitalism, the Capitalism of laissez-faire, of democracy and liberal ideas, has emerged definitely into a new epoch, the epoch of Imperialism. This transformation carries with it the alteration of old values and institutions, – an alteration being accomplished by Capitalism, but not, as yet, by Socialism.

Precisely as the nations at war are not battling for the mere division of territory or particular advantages, but for general power, so the transformation being wrought by the war is not measured in particular facts or institutional changes, but in the general line of development of Capitalism, and of the revolutionary proletariat: a new epoch, and a new alignment in the social struggle.

War develops out of the class struggle, and the class struggle develops in and through war. While bringing with it the collapse of Socialism as an organized movement, the war has simultaneously demonstrated, in a new way and emphatically, that the proletariat holds the future of the world in the hollow of its hand. Class antagonisms have been sharpened, while officially and apparently they have been modified through national unity; and Capitalism has shown its utter incapacity to preserve and promote civilization and progress. Moreover, the Russian Revolution has projected upon the stage of history the new revolutionary class in action, the class of the revolutionary proletariat. The Socialist conception of the proletariat as a class that will engage in the revolutionary struggle against Capitalism, and overthrow Capitalism, is no longer simply a theory, but a fact. Capitalism is a-tremble with apprehension at the accomplished fact of a proletarian revolution, and the danger that lurks in the awakening consciousness of the international proletariat.

Other factors than the Russian Revolution indicate the potential supremacy of the proletariat. The discussions of the war’s military strategy emphasize the fact that the life of a nation, including its military power, lies in the workshops. The mobilization of the strictly military forces depends upon the mobilization of industry and the whole civil population. The: greater the industrial power of a nation, the greater its military power. Nor does the strength of a nation consist of its wealth, but of its productive capacity, – which means in the industrial proletariat. H.L. Gantt, an efficiency expert and shrewd observer of things industrial, says: “Soon after the breaking out of the war it was recognized that the life of a nation was to depend not upon the wealth it had stored up, but upon its productive capacity.” Which is to say that wealth is simply a symbol, productive capacity the fact dominating all other facts. The war would have been over in short order if it depended upon the accumulated wealth of the belligerents; but it does not: it depends ultimately and in an economic sense upon the productive capacity of a nation, upon its industrial resources and the proletariat. Even a purely financial transaction such as a loan is not a transaction in wealth, but is based upon a nation’s productivity, – a lien upon the future labor of the workers. The proletariat is dominant, economically; all the wealth in the world would shrivel into nothing, and Capitalism collapse, should the proletariat use its economic dominance in its own class interests and against the ruling class.

But while the war has proven the supremacy of the proletariat, and its latent revolutionary energy, the representatives of the proletariat during the war have been seduced by Imperialism. They have acquiesced in reaction, they have acted against the proletarian class.

One of the most interesting and significant events of the war is the mobilizing of labor and Socialism consciously into the service of Imperialism. Governments have calculatingly and as a policy used labor and “Socialism” in their activity, used them to inculcate in the workers the ideology of “carry on!” is, in a measure, indicates the power of the proleletariat; but it equally indicates that the dominant unionism and Socialism are betrayers of proletarian interests.

This government mobilization of the dominant unionism and Socialism against the revolutionary proletariat was a decisive development of the war. In the oncoming reconstruction of Socialism, this development will be a determining factor. All through the war dominant Socialism acted against fundamental Socialism, betrayed the proletariat, entered the service of Imperialism. The proletarian revolution in Russia had to dispose of its own moderate Socialism before it could dispose of the bourgeoisie; and after the proletarian revolution became an accomplished fact, the counter-revolution against the Soviet Republic was organized and directed by moderate Socialism. But not alone in Russia : in all other nations, moderate Socialism acted directly and aggressively against the proletarian revolution in Russia; intrigued against the Soviet Republic and the Bolsheviki. The proletarian revolution in Russia was a victory not only against Capitalism, but against moderate Socialism, and moderate Socialism, appreciating its coming disastrous defeat, united with Imperialism against the Workmen’s and Peasants’ Republic, against the revolutionary proletariat. Its attitude toward revolutionary Russia is the final, inescapable indictment of the infamous attitude of moderate Socialism during the war. Prior to the Russian Revolution, moderate Socialism might have justified its betrayal of trust; after, its attitude constitutes an indictment overwhelming in its force, terrible in its spirit, and inescapable in its proof. Socialism has been definitely split; a new and irrevocable formulation is necessary of fundamental Socialism.

The defects and betrayals that have characterized the dominant Socialism during the war were equally existent before the war, if less apparent. The International did not collapse during the war; it collapsed before the war, the war simply registering and emphasizing the collapse.

There is no complete break between war and peace – each is the expression of fundamental economic and political forces. The war marks a new epoch in Capitalism only in this sense, that it is the sharp, definite, catastrophic expression of forces operating in society during peace, and that precipitated war. Through war these forces are becoming dominant forces, where previously they were latent or only in process of development. The assumption, accordingly, that war marks a complete break with the preceding era is without a shred of historic truth. In other words, to understand adequately the politics and economics of Capitalism during war, its development and tendencies in the peace era preceding must be borne in mind ; and to understand the conflict of policy in the Socialist movement during the war, we must appreciate the fact that it is a continuation and a catastrophic expression of an identical conflict before the war. The form may change, the fundamental issues in dispute are identical, sharpened and emphasized by events.

Socialist policy, whatever apparently startling changes it may show, is not at all a breaking with the immediate past; the break with the revolutionary purposes of Socialism was made years ago. Socialist policy during the war is a direct result of the policy of yesterday, and can be considered only in that light. Peace and war – they are fundamentally identical, and each requires the same general course of revolutionary Socialist action.

The really great changes produced by the war, as developments of a previous tendency at work in society, are economic and political, not military. Nor do these changes affect simply the temporary mobilization of labor, industry and government for purposes of war. Their scope is larger and more permanent. The changes are not simply technical, but social and political; they do not consist in temporary adjustments of institutions and power, but in a radical alteration of their character. Moreover, the social-economic relations of classes are being revolutionized, and consequently their economic and political power, including the means of expression of their class interests. Prior to the war this alteration was being accomplished; it is being completed by the pressure of the war.

The dominant fact in this war is Imperialism. Imperialism is the animating and unifying tendency of all events; and Imperialism is itself the cause and effect of the tremendous changes that are being wrought in the economic, social and political structure of Capitalism.

The facts of contemporary political development are incomprehensible unless related to Imperialism. And it is a mistake of the first importance to consider Imperialism simply in relation to war. The international aspects of Imperialism – the export of capital, the struggle for investment markets, raw materials and undeveloped territory, and war – are not alone important; the decisive factor is the alteration of class relations and class power that Imperialism produces in each particular nation. The internal and international aspects of Imperialism are one, develop and supplement each other. To consider Imperialism in its international aspect alone is to misunderstand its nature and to cripple our power of fighting effectively against it and for Socialism.

Not the least vital feature of Imperialism is its influence on Socialism. If the social-economic and class relations of Capitalism are being altered by Imperialism, it means that Socialism must necessarily undergo a tactical transformation and reconstruction in order to adapt itself to the new conditions.

The war and Imperialism pose the problem: either Imperialism and war, or Socialism and the new order.

The war marks the violent efforts of Capitalism and Imperialism to break through the multiplying contradictions of a decaying class system. That is the general formulation of the problem. Specifically, and more important, the problem assumes this form: either the proletariat must repudiate moderate Socialism and accept revolutionary Socialism, or Imperialism will become impregnable, and drag the whole world through a new series of wars irresistibly on toward the collapse of all civilization.

Last updated on 14.10.2007