Hal Draper


The Myth of Lenin’s “Revolutionary Defeatism”

VI. After Lenin: Revival and Reinterpretation

While Lenin abandoned the defeat-slogan in 1917, we have pointed out, he never himself set down his motivation for this change, and even outside his collected public and private writings it is not recorded that he ever explicitly re-examined his positions of 1914-16. The question of defeatism is not peculiar in this regard; the same thing is true of his position on the peace-slogan, and on the theory of permanent revolution. But for the six years of his life following the November Revolution, the defeat-slogan remained a dead letter, even in historical retrospect.

During this whole period we find only three mentions of the defeat-slogan in his writings and speeches. One is in his 1918 reply to the S-R Kamkov, which we have already quoted, where he mentions the defeat-slogan only in order to point out that it had been dropped “under Tseretelli and Chernov”. A second, also in connection with the Brest-Litovsk dispute, is the one we have quoted in the footnote on page 259 (Sept.-Oct., 1953 issue) [see Note 3*]. The third is the ambiguous remark in passing, in his Notes on the Question of the Tasks of Our Delegation at the Hague, December 4, 1922, in which he jots down notes for the guidance of the Bolshevik delegates to the Hague Peace Conference. Among these notes is the remark – “... first, explanation of ‘defense of the fatherland’. Second, in connection with the latter, explanation of the question of ‘defeatism’”. [124]

That is all, and the Notes are then concerned with quite other matters.

But during these six years, in his writings, speeches, reports, etc. there were numerous occasions when he harked back to the world-war period to summarize and re-analyze the position on the war taken by the different socialist tendencies – the social-patriotic right, the centrist shadings, and the internationalist left. In places too numerous to list, he revives “Turn the imperialist war into civil war”, “The main enemy is in your own country”, etc. But precisely in these contexts, there is no hint of recollection of the defeat-slogan.

But we know that defeatism was destined to become a prominent and oft-repeated “principle” of the Communist movement, continued as such by the Stalinists in their own way, and also continued as such by the Trotskyist movement. Obviously it was given a real revival at some point. When? where? how? why? and by whom?

1. The First Five Years of the C.I. – No Defeatism

This revival of defeatism did not take place while Lenin was alive, that is, during the first five years of the Comintern.

We are not in a position to state categorically that up to Lenin’s death, defeatism is never mentioned in the documents of the Comintern. The elimination of all possibilities in that tremendous bulk of material is a research task we have not been in a position to perform.

But a check of the resolutions and theses, major documents, and publications of the Comintern permits us to say very confidently: if anyone referred to defeatism at all, it certainly played no role in the program, policy and principles of the Communist International under Lenin.

The first four congresses of the Comintern (1919-1922) adopted a large number of long, detailed, analytical theses on all the major (and any number of minor) questions of revolutionary policy. These “theses” are not infrequently marked by discursive historical sections, moreover.

Especially at the Second Congress in 1920, the aim of these theses was not to make it “easy” for individuals or groups to adhere to the new revolutionary international but on the contrary: one of the main dangers, as the Bolsheviks saw it, was the tendency of all kinds of centrists and dubious elements to flock to the new banner, since the Second International was thoroughly discredited (even in the eyes of elements who fundamentally agreed with its politics!) and there were too many who were only too anxious to cover their pasts with present acceptance of the most “revolutionary” slogans, provided only they didn’t have to act like Communists. This was indeed the reason for the adoption by the Second Congress of the famous 21 Points of admission to the C.I.

Yet there is not a hint of any kind of defeat-slogan in any of the documents of the first four congresses of the Comintern.

By 1924 the International and many of its parties were considering the question of new over-all programs. Even at this date (which is after the period we are now discussing, as we shall see) the draft program for the C.I. presented by Bukharin ignores defeatism. Even at the Fifth Congress in 1924 the reports on the Program Question delivered by Bukharin and August Thalheimer ignore defeatism under the head of the war question. At the same time the Young Communist International, the German party and others were also developing new draft programs – without defeatism.

From the revolution up to Lenin’s death, books and pamphlets were issued which contained discussions of the war positions of the world-war period and Lenin’s ideas. Checking many of these, including a number by Zinoviev, we find no recollection of defeatism.

There was the monthly organ of the International, the Communist International. There is no lack of articles from 1919 to 1923 inclusive which review the war question, the world-war period, Lenin’s distinctive ideas, etc. Of these we have been able to check all but eight numbers, including all of the first year (1919) when the war question was freshest and all of 1923. Defeatism is not raised. [20*]

Even allowing for the hiatuses, then, one thing is perfectly clear: defeatism does not have the role which was later assigned to it. The modern myth has not yet been started.

2. How Zinoviev Revived Defeatism in 1924

The suspicion which this is bound to awaken in the minds of all who know the history of this period can be given strong documentary evidence to confirm it.

Defeatism was revived as a “principle of Leninisin” in the beginnings of the Stalinist counter-revolution, most specifically by Stalin’s partner in the “troika” which succeeded to Lenin’s leadership – Zinoviev.

The sign under which this “troika” of Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev took over was the struggle against Trotsky and “Trotskyism”. Defeatism was revived as one lever among others in this struggle. The ideological cover under which this anti-Trotsky coalition worked, created by Zinoviev, was the slogan of “Bolshevization” of the cadres of the Comintern. Defeatism was revived as one of the elements in this anti-Trotskyist “Bolshevization”.

By the time of Lenin’s death in January 1924 Stalin was already in control of the main levers of the party apparatus and Zinoviev, his accomplice, was the boss of the Comintern and public ideological mentor of the anti-Trotsky cabal. They were ready to go into high gear before Lenin’s body was cold. They had, in fact, had a rehearsal in the factional “literary discussion” over Trotsky’s Lessons of October.

The first time that we find defeatism recalled as a “principle of Leninism” in the pages of the Communist International is in the very first issue of that organ published after the death of Lenin! This number is, of course, mostly made up of articles on Lenin, his ideas, his role, etc. One of the most prominent articles among these is by Martynov on The Great Proletarian Leader. In it Martynov, yesterday a Menshevik and now a hatchetman for the troika who had joined the Bolshevik bandwagon with the NEP wave, loads his gun with the defeat-slogan and fires its shot openly and by name – straight at Trotsky.

This is what he wrote:

“Lenin was not the only one to protest against this treason [support of the war] at the very outbreak of the war; a similar attitude was taken by the internationalist minorities of the various socialist parties. But the slogans launched by Lenin at that time were so daring, I should say so defiant, that they contained a challenge not only to the social-patriots but also to all the internationalists ... He said: ‘In order to put an end to the imperialist war, it should be transformed into civil war. Those who will start the civil war may be menaced by defeat in the imperialist war, but we have no fear about that. Particularly to us Russian Social-Democrats, defeat in the war is the lesser evil!’ This ‘defeatism’ aroused the protests not only of social-patriots but even of all the internationalists, including the most Left ones, as for instance Comrade Trotsky. He [Lenin] was told: ‘You want Russia to be defeated, consequently you want Germany to win, and in this case it is social-patriotism inside out! You reason the same way as the social-patriots, but for another country, not your own!’ This accusation, as everyone can now see, was quite beside the mark ... Lenin knew and did not disguise the fact that if we start the revolution during the war, it will lead directly to our military defeat. But he knew more than that; he knew that the revolution started by us will spread also to Germany and that our defeat like the German victory will be short-lived. He therefore said: ‘Dare!’ and he was fully vindicated by history ... Lenin could see farther than his nose, and he therefore launched such slogans as appeared rather unreasonable to the other socialists.” [125]

There can be little doubt why, all of a sudden, after six years of silence, this article gives more space to the defeat-slogan than to any other idea in Lenin’s war position. [21*] A few issues later Zinoviev himself picked up the refrain which he had put Martynov up to launch, in an article on War and Leninism. Here too the sharp point of the reference is turned against Trotsky, anonymously this time, but the dig was lost on no one:

“Leninism was much taken to task for its ‘defeatism’. Even some of the internationalists, on reaching this point, would turn their backs on Bolshevism and their faces to social-chauvinism. Nevertheless, Leninism, remaining true unto itself, said ... [and here Zinoviev quotes the sentence on defeatism from Socialism and War, which just happens to be the pamphlet which he signed together with Lenin. The meaning is: This is how I, Zinoviev, stood at Lenin’s side while Trotsky was attacking him ... ].” [126]

This was the beginning.

It was not until the Sixth Congress that defeatism was canonized as an article of program for the Stalinist movement (by the Fifth Congress in 1924 the sly references were only getting under way). The resolution on The Struggle Against Imperialist War and the Tasks of the Communists at the Sixth Congress (1928) put defeatism almost at the head of “the political program of the Communists in an imperialist war”: “Defeatism, i.e., to work for the defeat of the home imperialist government in the war.”

We need not follow its further progress in the Stalinist movement as an article of faith. The more interesting question that comes up is the reaction to the revival of defeatism by Trotsky himself, who was its butt.

Obviously, the whole point of Zinoviev’s resuscitation of this old difference between Lenin and Trotsky was as a part of what he later confessed to be the “invention of ‘Trotskyism’” as an instrument in the power struggle being developed by the Stalin-Zinoviev group to oust Trotsky from the party leadership in spite of the fact that Lenin’s death left him the single most popular and authentic leader of the Russian Revolution. Every difference that Trotsky had ever had with Lenin was revived, and if defeatism has the distinction of being the very first one to be given the treatment after Lenin’s death, it was not the most important. As is well known, the theory of the permanent revolution, the peasant question, the dispute over the trade-union question, Trotsky’s “organizational” criticisms of the Bolsheviks before 1917, the conflict over Brest-Litovsk, etc., etc. – all of these were systematically recalled. Trotsky was not an “old Bolshevik” but a comparative newcomer to the Bolshevik ranks, in spite of his already pre-eminent position; and the leaders of the Thermidorean reaction struck the pose of “old Bolsheviks” who were defending historical Leninism against an old foe. Thus they threw up a smokescreen of old outlived differences in order to press forward their new revisionist line of national-socialism and bureaucratization.

On these artificially revived historical questions, Trotsky’s approach was quite rightly to minimize the significance of the differences. On some he openly admitted that he had been wrong and Lenin right, as on his pre1917 “organizational” differences. On others, as on the theory of permanent revolution, he fought back vigorously in defense of his views, while seeking to prove that the difference had never been as fundamental and irreconcilable as the Stalinists made out. But on defeatism – he “passed”, as they say in poker.

When Zinoviev and his henchman Martynov hastened, on the day after Lenin’s death, to bring up defeatism as their maneuver in this process, and openly direct it against Trotsky, they were hoping that Trotsky would bite. Trotsky did not. The conspirators had to go on to other red herrings.

3. Trotsky Sidesteps

But for himself, if not only for polemical purposes, Trotsky had to face the question in his own mind. He had always been against the defeat-slogan; when he joined the Bolshevik party in 1917 it was dead; for the next six years it remained virtually buried. He certainly had no reason to change his opinion on the issue. Now, along with the rest, its disloyal revival was tactically embarrassing, even though all political logic and truth was on his side. We have already said that he sought, within the limits of honesty and political clarity, to minimize his differences with Lenin. On this point, it would seem, he managed to convince himself, under the difficult circumstances, that there was no real difference at all.

We say “it would seem” so, because Trotsky nowhere has discussed this change of view through which he obviously went. In his book The Stalin School of Falsification (which consists mainly of documents from the late ’20s), the question of defeatism comes up only in one place, Trotsky’s speech of August 1, 1927 on The War Danger and the Opposition, at a joint plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission in the midst of the Stalinists’ drive toward his expulsion. The reference is enough to show that the “defeatism” question is being thrown at Trotsky’s head and that he is dodging it. Trotsky opens his speech with this point:

“Your theses assert that the Opposition allegedly holds some sort of Trotskyist formulation on the questions of war and defeatism. New fictions! Paragraph 13 of your theses is entirely devoted to this twaddle. So far as the Opposition as a whole is concerned, it can in no way be held accountable for my former differences with Lenin, differences which, upon these questions, were altogether secondary in character. So far as I am personally concerned, I can make here a brief reply to the silly insinuations.” [127]

But his brief reply turns out to be merely a citation of facts showing that since the revolution he, Trotsky, has often been assigned to write the war position of the party (he does not refer to the differences on defeatism of 1914-16). And then he continues:

“Now it suddenly appears, after my rejection of ‘economic defeatism’ in 1926 – an absurd and illiterate slogan advanced by Molotov for the English workers – that I had presumably parted company with Leninism. Why then did Molotov hide his silly slogan in his back-pocket after my criticism of it? ... Why then was it deemed necessary to exaggerate rudely old differences which, moreover, were liquidated long ago? For what purpose? For the purpose of covering up and camouflaging the actual palpable and current differences.” [128]

That is all. In the same book, Trotsky’s Letter to the Bureau of Party History (October 21, 1927) takes up some dozens of examples of the Stalin clique’s falsification of his political biography. The first two pages deal with the world-war period. “The organs of the Bureau of Party History”, he writes, “are trying at this late date to describe my work during the war as bordering on social-patriotism.” [129] As we have just seen, the Stalinists’ theses had devoted a whole paragraph to the “defeatist” difference in substantiation of this slander. But Trotsky does not mention it here. He cites various general testimonials to the fact that Lenin and the movement considered him to have taken a clear-cut internationalist position during the war.

Did, then, Trotsky come to agree with Lenin’s defeat-slogan? We have to judge by what he wrote in formulating the defeat-slogan in the ’30s, as theoretical leader of the Trotskyist movement. From this we must conclude that he convinced himself to accept the term – but that he never did accept it in the sense given to it by Lenin or anyone else. What happened is that he sought to reinterpret it in a peculiar fashion which not only deprived it of Lenin’s content but sometimes of any content whatsoever. If the history of defeatism has been one of confusion and muddle up to now, with this period of Trotskyist reinterpretation the muddle reaches awe-inspiring proportions.

4. Trotsky’s Formula in 1934

Trotsky, under the pressure of the Stalinist campaign against his Bolshevik bona fides, wishes to be “orthodox”, but he also wishes to write nothing that he does not believe. None of his defeatist formulations, therefore, comes within a mile of “wishing defeat”. Of Lenin’s four formulas, he sometimes paraphrases the one which is furthest away from “wishing defeat”, namely, No.4: do not stop before the risk of defeat. But in addition, and mainly, he developed for his purpose an ingenious formula of his own which had the advantage of sounding like the “lesser evil” formulation.

We find the latter in his theses War and the Fourth International (1934), under the heading “Defeatism” and Imperialist War. This is what he works out:

“Lenin’s formula ‘defeat is the lesser evil’ means not that defeat of one’s own country is the lesser evil as compared with the defeat of the enemy country but ...”

Pausing at this point for a moment, what we have is already rather peculiar. This meaning which is “not Lenin’s” is also not anybody else’s: whatever it might mean, which is moot, the counterposition was not “defeat of one’s own country” against “defeat of the enemy country”, but rather this: “defeat of one’s own country” is the lesser evil as compared with “victory of one’s own country”. And this was so indubitably Lenin’s conscious and explicit idea that it would be quite impossible to deny it. The peculiar thing that Trotsky does here is to invent a brand-new set of words in order to deny that Lenin ever said it – in which he is undeniably right since he has just invented it himself. Why? Perhaps because the necessary conclusion from Lenin’s actual formula is “wish defeat”, and this is the last thought that Trotsky even desires to suggest. [22*]

“[But, Trotsky continues, Lenin’s formula means] that a military defeat resulting from the growth of the revolutionary movement is infinitely more beneficial to the proletariat and to the whole people than military victory assured by ‘civil peace’.” [130]

Of course, we have seen that Lenin never indicated that he meant any such bowdlerized version at all. This is what Trotsky wants to mean, and he is trying to convince himself that it has some relation to Lenin’s slogan because he has managed to use the word “defeat” and the words “lesser evil” in close association. But let us see how Trotsky has juggled the words to get his effect.

“Military defeat resulting from the growth of the revolutionary movement is better than military victory assured by civil peace.” The italicized qualifiers are what do the trick. To see how little it actually says, let us put other terms into the same algebraic formula and note the effect:

“Hunger due to continuing a hard strike is better than getting a raise which is conditioned on the capitulation and destruction of the union.” This is obviously the analogous slogan of “hungerism”, which proves that “hunger is the lesser evil”. And there is no doubt that hunger is a lesser evil, as compared with an astronomical number of other evils. If this is all that is proved about “defeat”, then an open door is being kicked into splinters. But above all, the exercise in words does not convince us to “wish” hunger any more than to “wish” defeat. The case is, at it were, that we “continue the strike even at the cost of hunger”. [23*]

Secondly, however indubitable Trotsky’s well-qualified version may be in itself (in the case of defeat as in the case of anything else), such a formulation is no positive guide whatsoever on the war question, and this is fundamentally because it poses the question in terms of a defeat or victory of the government. For this reason it is not itself a “formula of proletarian policy` but, at best, a warning against a bad one. Trotsky here has fallen precisely into the methodological error of putting the question in the form of a choice between military outcomes on the government plane – the error which he saw so clearly in Lenin before he started to find “orthodox” formulations.

Thirdly, Trotsky limits his formula to “military defeat resulting from the growth of the revolutionary movement”. Lenin never did. Lenin was thinking in precisely the reverse terms: growth of the revolutionary movement resulting from military defeat at the hands of the enemy government. The hollowness of Trotsky’s attempt at a paraphrase could not be more apparent.

Therefore, also, this limitation of Trotsky’s does not make sense when we try to apply it to the formula “defeat facilitates revolution”. What defeat “facilitates”? – only that defeat “which results from the growth of the revolutionary movement”? Of course not.

Fourthly, and finally: Trotsky presents this set of words as a formula for defeatists. Yet it clearly applies also to situations in which we are defensists! Take, for example, Trotsky’s position on the Spanish civil war, in which he was for revolutionary defensism in the Loyalist camp against Franco. Yet, as a defensist he would have to say – and it would be politically important to say – that “military defeat which results from the growth of the revolutionary movement” is, at any rate, the “lesser evil” as compared with “military victory which is assured by” the Marxists’ abandonment of their revolutionary role and support to popular-frontism and the bourgeois-Stalinist government.

What this illustrates is that the truth which is contained in Trotsky’s formula is of so general a nature, in(Iced so fundamental a nature, that it applies not only in situations where we oppose war but even where we are supporting a progressive war. It is not a formula for “defeatism”; it is not even a formula for an anti-war policy without defeatism; it is a general formula for proletarian class independence.

It simply has nothing to do with defeatism. [24*]

5. How Trotsky Hung on to the Term Defeatism

In his 1938 theses on The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, Trotsky limits himself to a pious quotation in referring to defeatism:

“In this struggle [against imperialism and war] the basic principle is: ‘the chief enemy is in your own country’, or ‘the defeat of your own (imperialist) government is the lesser evil’.” [131]

But further down Trotsky is so intent on getting that “lesser evil” formulation in, that he commits an instructive boner. He takes up socialist policy in an imperialist war against a workers’ state and says:

“The defeat of every imperialist government in the struggle with the workers’ state or with a colonial country is the lesser evil.” [132]

But in this case he wishes the victory of the workers’ state on the other side of the lines, which is not any evil at all. [25*] But the phrase “lesser evil” has to be used somehow, as the badge of defeatism.

In 1939 Trotsky engaged in a particularly interesting exchange of views on defeatism with a group of Palestinian Trotskyists. His article A Step Toward Social-Patriotism [133] was a polemic against the idea being advanced by this group (just before the Second World War broke out) that defeatism would apply in the fascist war bloc but not in the democratic camp, even though the latter was considered imperialist too. In both we oppose the war, they said, but only in one of them are we “defeatists”.

Apart from Trotsky’s reply, this position of the Palestinians has great interest for us in itself. It is the first case we know of where serious thinking about Lenin’s concept of defeatism led a group in an objectively social-patriotic direction; where, so to speak, the social-patriotic potential in it was acted out in politics.

Their document said: “The general schema is defeatism in all imperialist countries ... Defeatism, according to Lenin’s definition and as it has been generally understood, signifies a desire for defeat and giving aid to the latter. Is that slogan applicable in any imperialist country in any war?”

No, they answered, it is not applicable in every war. These Palestinians are thinking specifically of the coming war with Nazi Germany. “Do we really desire the defeat of the democratic camp which is at war with Hitler?” they no doubt asked themselves, and they could not find it in them to say yes – while accepting the “generally understood” meaning of defeatism. There can be little doubt that the course of thinking through which they were going was “a step toward social-patriotism”, but the form it took with them was the development of a “theory” of one-way or one-sided defeatism (so to speak) – a “defeatist” anti-war line in one camp, a “non-defeatist” but still presumably anti-war line in the other camp.

Given the fact that this distinction was being drawn on the basis of accepting the defeatist methodology itself, and not through an emancipation from it, it could mean only that they were saying: Let us be completely against the war in the Nazi camp, but in the democratic camp we are against the war only in part, or only in a certain sense, or only with certain reservations. The latter part was naturally not thought-out, as it never could be, since it was essentially a mood of uncertainty poised between social-patriotism and a Third Camp line.

But, we see, they posed the question: Defeatism means we desire defeat – well, do we?

Trotsky’s reply sidesteps on this, the crucial point in meeting the real train of thought of the Palestinians.

“... they have in our opinion [Trotsky replied] given far too nebulous, and especially far too equivocal a definition of ‘defeatism’ as of some special and independent system of actions aimed to bring defeat. That is not so ...”

That is the only comment he makes on the formulation “desire defeat”, which, as he must have known, was Lenin’s standard formula. It was not the Palestinians only who were being equivocal or nebulous.

The rest of this passage from Trotsky’s reply continues as follows:

“... 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 which 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. Lenin did not say nor did he wish to say anything else. There cannot even be talk of any other kind of ‘aid’ to defeat.”

Certainly Trotsky in this period is no authority on what Lenin said or wished to say on defeatism. Ad hoc, while assuring the reader that he knows just what Lenin wished to say, he rings in an entirely new qualification, italicized to boot, “given a revolutionary movement”, which was no qualification in Lenin’s formulations. Otherwise Trotsky presents the claim (this time, anyway) that defeatism is merely the idea which we met under Formulation No.4.

6. Exegesis in the Trotskyist Movement

Trotsky’s course of dealing with the defeatist orthodoxy by “interpreting it away” is reflected in all the literature of the Trotskyist movement, which interprets it in virtually every conceivable fashion. [26*] About 1935-6 James Burnham’s pamphlet War and the Workers (signed “John West”, published by the Workers Party) gave a version which had been hovering on the fringes as the “authoritative” one:

“The Marxists fight, but within each country they fight not for the victory but for the defeat of their own government – not for its defeat by the opposing capitalist powers but for its defeat by its own working class.” [134]

This was a very “acceptable” formula since it obligingly made defeatism mean nothing special – nothing, except “the revolution”. The term is retained only as a ritualistic bow to the memory of Lenin and to the myth that no position on war is completely “revolutionary” without something called defeatism.

On the other hand, C.L.R. James’ World Revolution, written by a more conscientious ritualist, writes of 1914:

“Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg had early called for the new international, but Trotsky refused to accept Lenin’s uncompromising demand that each socialist should fight for the defeat of his own country.” [135]

It is amusing that, only a few pages before, James had devoted a long passage to summarizing Lenin’s position on the war – and had not even mentioned defeatism at that point! As is not uncommon in references to defeatism, he “remembered” the slogan only when it was a question of showing how much more “revolutionary” Lenin was than the other anti-war socialists, in line with the myth. In a sense, indeed, this reflects the role which the defeat-slogan actually did play with Lenin, who “forgot” it himself on more than one occasion.

In 1937 the program adopted by the foundation convention of the Socialist Workers Party formulated defeatism (without the term itself being used) as follows, as a variant of Formulation No.4:

“The SWP will advocate the continuance of the class struggle during the war regardless of the consequences for the outcome of the American military struggle ...” [136]

A good part of the movement, especially that part which had entered about this time and later, came to regard this formula as if it were the classic and canonical meaning of defeatism, or at least as particularly “authentic” in some sense. As mentioned before, the political concept embodied in this formulation and its like will be further discussed in another article; but as a definition of “defeatism” it was only one of the numerous tries.

The “defeatism” confusion came in for another working-out in 1939 when the outbreak of the Second World War, and Russia’s role in it, precipitated a fiercely fought political conflict in the SWP, a split, and the formation of the Workers Party (now ISL). The majority led by J.P. Cannon stuck with, and was stuck with, the “defense of the Soviet Union” in response to Moscow’s invasion of Poland and Finland. The minority led by Max Shachtman reacted to the war crisis with a Third Camp policy, rejecting the line of defense of Russia in the war.

“You are against the defense of the Soviet Union?” said the Cannonites. “Then that means you are defeatists in Russia. That means you wish the defeat of Russia by reactionary Finland and Poland. It means you wish the victory of imperialism against the ‘workers state’.”

This faced the anti-defensist minority with the task of defining defeatism. The situation was ironic. The Cannonites knew well enough that they had never considered defeatism to mean favoring the victory of the opposing side. Yet out of sheer demagogy – which was their main stock-in-trade as a substitute for political theory – they began to insist that defeatism meant just that. And little as they knew it, it happened to be basically true, as we have seen, in the sense that the defeatist tradition arose in this way. Yet – and such things were possible only in the Babel of ideas known as defeatism – these same Cannonites considered themselves to be defeatists with respect to American imperialism, and nevertheless indignantly rejected the idea that this put them in favor of the victory of an opposing imperialist camp.

In reply, the minority sought to make clear its belief that being a defeatist did not mean favoring the other side’s victory. In a document summarizing the minority’s position, War and Bureaucratic Conservatism, a new term was even coined to make the distinction: the kind of defeatism where you do wish the other side’s victory was tagged “military defeatism”; the kind of defeatism where you don’t, was left at “revolutionary defeatism”. The newly minted term thereupon entered into the labyrinth of ideas on the subject.

As for the meaning of “revolutionary defeatism”, the document asserted:

“Does revolutionary defeatism mean the defeat of ‘our’ army by the ‘enemy’ army – the American army by the Japanese, the British army by the German, the Italian army by the French? Not at all. It means the defeat of one’s ‘own’ government by one’s own proletariat.” [137]

In point of fact, from here on, at least in the Workers Party formed by the minority, more and more “defeatism” began to mean nothing more than “non-defensism”. Indeed, with the development of the movement’s Third Camp position on the Second World War, all reference to the term pretty much died out, since in this case the term was somewhat worse than useless. So thoroughly had the term been peeled of all significance, in the process begun by Trotsky.

It may be that in the minds of some comrades who thought about it at all, this may have been considered “tactical” – that is, “defeatism” was a “horrid word” (as Cremo cigars’ ads said about spit in those days). But in 1941-42 when the present writer gave a number of talks presenting the viewpoint of this article – namely, that defeatism was a jumble of political confusion in Lenin’s ideas and should be conscientiously buried – there was next to no dissent and certainly no suspicion of “softness” on the war question. [27*]

In September 1941 an article by Max Shachtman in Labor Action recommended, at any rate, dropping “the word out of our vocabulary”:

“Finally, it is necessary to have a little more clarity on the question of defeatism. You remember in the SWP dispute, the gifted Marxist, Cannon, explained to us that the Leninist theory of defeatism means that you PREFER the victory of the enemy to the victory of your own government. That is, you PREFER the defeat of your country by the enemy country, to the defeat of the enemy country by your country. Of course, Lenin never had such an idea, but trifles like that never bothered Cannon in his theoretical flights. I personally think that so much confusion has been introduced in the concept of defeatism that I doubt if we would be losing too much if we dropped the word out of our vocabulary.” [138]

And all in all, for the reasons mentioned as well as the actual line of attack on the war which the movement engaged in (to be touched on in our next article), this is just what happened. “Defeatism” fortunately played no part in our consideration of war policy all through the Second World War – not even as watered down, reinterpreted, emasculated or diluted by the reduction-process it had already gone through. And it stayed that way after the war was over.

7. Shachtman’s New Line

The picture seems to have changed recently in response to problems raised by the looming Third World War of the Western capitalist powers against the Russian empire. Most particularly, two articles in the New International for 1951 on Socialist Policy and the War, by Max Shachtman [139], have served to revive the old exegeses on “what Lenin meant” by defeatism in 1914-16, and this precisely in connection with the question: Will this “defeatism” apply in the next Third World War?

Obviously, from the point of view of the present article, this re-raising of the old confusions from their grave (or, if you will, suspended animation) cannot serve any useful purpose or make for clarity. That is the lesser concern. More than that, inherent in any such approach to the problems of the Third World War is an ambiguity which obtrudes despite the most flawless presentation of the issues of the war in every other respect.

This fundamental ambiguity arises from the following dual characteristic of Comrade Shachtman’s treatment of defeatism in his articles: He presents Lenin’s defeatism as the correct and necessary policy for 1914-16, but rejects it for the Third World War. (Likewise, for Lenin’s insistence on defeatism in 1914-16 as compared with his abandonment of defeatism after the March revolution.)

Now we have tried to show in this article that defeatism had no valid place in a consistent, thoroughgoing anti-war policy throughout the First World War, and it goes without saying, as a consequence, that it only disorients consideration of a concrete Marxist anti-war policy for the present war crisis. Contrariwise, there is a certain meaning (though an incorrect one) in the view that defeatism is just as valid today as in 1914-16 provided only that we “reinterpret” it properly, etc., etc. One view is to throw it out for both periods; one is to accept it for both periods.

But what is the meaning of the alternative, split position which Comrade Shachtman proposes, and which puts forward a brand-new variant on the whole defeatist confusion? Let us consider (a) his discussion of Lenin’s views in the First World War, and (b) his application of this discussion to today.

Comrade Shachtman devotes a relatively large amount of space to expounding Lenin’s defeatism during the war, and presumably this aspect of Lenin’s policy is included when he remarks (at the end of his first article) that there is no need “of adding anything to the justification of Lenin’s policy which was so richly supplied by the living events”. [140] If, on the other hand, this particular remark is intended only to apply to Lenin’s position of 1917, it is still perfectly clear that his acceptance of Lenin’s defeatism is entirely uncritical and approving. Indeed, at the beginning of his article he asserts that “We will dwell mainly upon Lenin’s position ... because the method he employed in arriving at his views remains the model for Marxists today”. [141] We have, on the contrary, seen that with regard to method above all. Lenin’s defeatism bears within itself a serious social-patriotic potential.

8. How Shachtman Explains Lenin’s Defeatism

What is Comrade Shachtman’s understanding of Lenin’s defeatism? He gives it, at one point, as follows:

“What if prosecution of the class struggle imperils the military position of the government, even to the point where it may be defeated by the enemy and lose the war? No matter. The class struggle must be continued in all countries regardless of the cost to the existing governments. This was Lenin’s famous (but not always very clearly understood) theory of ‘defeatism’ or ‘revolutionary defeatism’.” [142]

At this point, then, to Shachtman, defeatism is Formulation No.4: continue the class struggle despite the cost of defeat. (Shachtman adds: despite “the cost to the existing governments”, which is an excellent addition in many respects but which was not a qualification that was or could have been made by Lenin from his viewpoint.)

This defeatism, continues Shachtman, applied to all the warring governments.

Yet we find that the next solid page and a half of his article is devoted to quoting, in the same apparently approving vein, five passages in which Lenin put forward the quite different version No.1 of the “lesser evil” formula – which Lenin never applied to all the governments, but only to tsarist Russia.

This “lesser evil” formulation, Shachtman thus emphasizes, was at bottom based on the conception of the specially reactionary role which was “a hundred times worse than kaiserism” or the other governments, which therefore merited a “special Russian” policy by the socialists which could not apply in the other countries. We have seen the contradiction that this entailed and which Lenin never resolved except by abandoning the original motivation and shifting, from time to time, to other formulations.

But in the world of today this must remind us of what is going on today, when so many disoriented socialists (not to speak of others) are thinking of Stalinist Russia in precisely the way which formed the heart of the old Marx-Engels-Second International methodology on the war question of the pre-imperialist era. It was this same methodology which gave rise to Lenin’s “lesser evil” formula.

Comrade Shachtman’s treatment of this methodology is exactly as “split” in its thinking as Lenin’s, which he is following. He explains [143] that Marx and Engels used to ask: “The success of which bourgeoisie is more desirable?” He quotes Lenin’s analysis that this approach can no longer apply today in the imperialist epoch. (He could have added that the Marx-Engels approach, mechanically transplanted to a different epoch, had actually become the theoretical rationale of “Marxist” social-patriotism.) Yet, a couple of pages later, Comrade Shachtman writes the following:

“He [Lenin] was not blind, either, to the question raised in millions of minds: Whose victory will be the lesser evil from the standpoint of the working class? This question he answered, as it were, on two levels which were closely connected with one another.” [144]

The “two levels”, we find out in effect, refer to Lenin’s contradiction: the old “lesser evil” criterion does not apply “from the standpoint of the international proletariat” but it does apply to one country and one country alone, tsarist Russia. With this reference to “two levels” Shachtman accepts both sides of the contradiction, and therefore devotes the space he does to the “lesser evil” methodology

And so, like Lenin, he must contradict himself. Thus Comrade Shachtman introduces one of Lenin’s “lesser evil” passages with the remark that Lenin was “still making it clear that he was speaking not simply of the defeat of tsarism by the socialist proletariat but of its military defeat by Germany...”. [145] This, of course, is perfectly true, even though it is what most of the movement, including Comrade Shachtman, have denied for many years. Lenin’s “defeat is the lesser evil” meant defeat by the enemy camp. Yet we find Comrade Shachtman writing in a later article (reply to letter by Gordon Haskell in the September-October New International):

“The ordinary citizen, who can think only in terms of his present government winning the war or being defeated and crushed by the arms of the enemy – Russia, the Stalinists – comes to the conclusion that if the socialists are not for the victory of the government in the war, they are for its defeat by the enemy. And so, we regret to note, are some radicals who have misread Lenin badly and misapplied him worse.” [146]

The ambivalence is striking, above all in the context of the present war crisis. On the one hand, the idea is suggested (if not by Shachtman, then inherently by his course of argumentation): Stalinism is “a hundred times worse” than American capitalism, its rival; [28*] therefore its defeat is the “lesser evil”, and by its defeat we make clear that we are “speaking not simply of the defeat of [Stalinism] by the socialist proletariat but of its military defeat by [America]”.

And the “lesser evil” formula means we are for this defeat. Then we are for the victory of the war camp opposed to Russia? At this point Lenin used to protest indignantly, in all outraged sincerity, without ever discussing what is wrong with this perfectly necessary conclusion from his confused methodology. Comrade Shachtman does likewise in his reply to Haskell, just as cogently pointing out that all his other ideas leave absolutely no room for this conclusion.

This is one reason for what Shachtman describes as the “completely unexpected and just as completely unwarranted conclusion that some readers of my articles seem to have drawn”. [147] We can point out that he is in somewhat the same boat as Lenin, whose contradiction he duplicated; and we saw that Lenin was amazed, indignant or furious when the social-patriotic potential in his approach was pointed out to him by Karpinsky, Bukharin and others among his own comrades, by Trotsky and other anti-war political opponents, by Mensheviks and other pro-war political opponents. The first chided, the second attacked, the third sought to cover their own social-patriotic inclinations by gleeful exploitation of his mistake.

9. What Does Shachtman’s Position Mean?

But such a mistake today can be more serious than it was for Lenin. This is especially true when the duplication of Lenin’s confusion of 1914-16 is complicated further by the view that, while this defeatist confusion was correct for the First World War, it must be rejected in a war against Stalinist Russia.

This is Comrade Shachtman’s conclusion: “Socialist policy in the coming war, then, does not put forward any such slogans as ‘revolutionary defeatism’ ...” [148]

He makes the counterposition explicit: “We are not for suspending the class struggle of the toilers ... We are not for subordinating that struggle to the military triumph of imperialism, to the ‘victory’ ... But because we take this view, it does not follow for us that we are for the defeat of the American bourgeoisie and its arms by Stalinism. It is right here that we emphasize the difference between the first world war and the third. It is in this connection that I cited Lenin’s position in 1914 to show why it could not simply be repeated by socialists today, and his position in 1917 to show the extent to which it should be repeated today.” [149]

But when Comrade Shachtman formulates his “different” line for the Third World War, we find that every essential formulation in it should have held good in 1914 – if we look not at Lenin’s distinctive mistakes but at the anti-war line pursued by internationalists like Trotsky and Luxemburg. For example, Shachtman writes:

“We are not indifferent to who defeats Stalinism, because that involves how it is being defeated and what are the consequences of such a defeat; therefore we are not for support of capitalist imperialism in the war. By the same token, we are not indifferent to who defeats capitalism (in general) or our own bourgeoisie (in particular): therefore we are not for support of Stalinism in the war.” [150]

This is absolutely correct. Its analogue was absolutely correct in 1914 also, as Trotsky and Luxemburg always saw and Lenin did not. It was impossible for Russian socialists to “wish for the defeat” of their own oppressive regime by the imperialist enemy, Germany. It was equally impermissible for the German anti-war fighters to wish for the defeat of their own Prussianism by the imperialist enemy, tsarism. We add: just as it was impermissible for either to politically stand for the victory of their own bourgeoisie over the enemy imperialist. The Marxist alternative is to reject the whole victory-or-defeat dilemma with its “lesser evil” trap, in the consistent Third Camp fashion which characterized Trotsky and Luxemburg’s approach.

The same applies to Comrade Shachtman’s summary formulation (in his reply to Haskell) which he apparently considers to be peculiar to the Third World War:

“We do not for a moment suspend the class struggle, even in wartime. But, not being Stalinists and not being cretins, we do not prosecute it in such a way as to produce a defeat of the government by Stalinism. We are for the working class defeating the bourgeoisie in the class war and that is all we work for. We do not work for it in such a way as assures the defeat of the bourgeoisie by a reaction that would crush the proletariat itself ... Our position is: ‘The class struggle during the war must be “subordinated” not to the victory of capitalism, and not to the victory of Stalinism, but only to the victory of the independent working class over them both’.” [151]

Again, absolutely correct. Analogously, this was also the only consistent Marxist line in 1914-16, as far as it goes – and of course, in both cases it is primarily a warning against what not to do, and is not intended as a full positive statement on war policy such as is to be found in the ISL resolutions.

If “some readers” of Comrade Shachtman’s articles reacted differently, their reaction has to be understood in the light of this train of thought: (1) Defeatism, we “know” from Lenin, is the full, undiluted, uncompromising policy of anti-war opposition in un imperialist war which we do not support; (2) Shachtman admits this for 1914-16 but rejects this for the war against Stalinist Russia; (3) it is clear therefore that, somehow or other, he is developing a position which is not a full, undiluted, uncompromising anti-war position. QED.

10. On Lenin’s Motivation

This whole confusion of errors (on both sides) is given reinforcement by certain other points made by Comrade Shachtman on defeatism. Thus, he gives the reason why, he believes, Lenin abandoned defeatism in 1917 after March. The passage purports to paraphrase Lenin’s thought as follows:

“Precisely because the working class is now so organized that it can take all the power into its hands peacefully, it is necessary to abandon all talk of civil war, all talk about transforming the imperialist war into civil war, all talk about defeatism.” [152]

It is true that the slogan of “civil war” was dropped as a direct consequence of the opinion that a “peaceful” transfer of power was possible under the dual power of the Soviets. But not so for defeatism. Notwithstanding Lenin’s claims, which were no clearer on this aspect of the “defeat” question than on others, the connection he had seen between “wishing defeat” and “facilitating revolution” cannot automatically depend on whether the “revolution” is seen as peaceful or violent. We saw, indeed, that even in the period of 1917 when Lenin specifically gave up the hope of a peaceful transfer of power, his line on the war and defeatism did not change. Also, we saw the immediate influences which caused Lenin to give up defeatism, and more important, we expressed the view that he dropped defeatism not because of any thought-out deduction from any new set of conditions but because the fundamental errors of defeatism made the policy impossible when politics had to be acted out before the masses, and not just in polemical articles against political critics.

But what may it suggest to a reader when Comrade Shachtman claims (unwarrantedly) that the decisive motive was the possibility of peaceful assumption of power? In contemporary terms, it tends to establish a “principle” that defeatism (i.e., the “full” anti-war position) is valid only under a totalitarianism, whereas under “democratic” capitalism we must not hold a “full” anti-war position. It seems to suggest a kind of “one-way defeatism” such as was proposed in 1939 by the Palestinian Trotskyists, and which Trotsky quite rightly called “a step to social-patriotism”.

In another passage Shachtman purports to explain why Lenin originally adopted the defeat-slogan. “It was motivated by two considerations”, he writes, and he is entirely wrong on both counts.

“One was that it had to be and could be applied to all the warring countries. To dispute the ‘slogan’, wrote Lenin, it would be necessary to prove ‘that a revolution in connection with it [the war] is impossible’, or ‘that co-ordination and mutual aid of the revolutionary movement in all belligerent countries is impossible’.” [153]

This one is simply blankly irrelevant as a “motivation”. Lenin did not adopt defeatism because he was looking for something that would apply to all warring countries. The quotation from Lenin is one that we have already discussed, from the latter’s deplorable anti-Trotsky polemic, and it is somewhat more irrelevant here than it was there. In his article, at least, Lenin did not present these points as motivation: he said that “He who wishes earnestly to dispute the ‘slogan’ ... would have to prove” three propositions, of which Shachtman quotes two. (The remaining one is the proposition “that the war ... is not reactionary”.) But agreement with Lenin on all three propositions, and a dozen more for good measure, would not even get near motivating the specific defeat-slogan; it motivates only opposition to the war.

The other was that the proletarian classes could follow a policy of intensified class struggle against their own governments as the main enemy – a struggle that would be facilitated by military defeat and would at the same time contribute to military defeat of their own country – because even if such a defeat were to occur the country would not run the risk of being subjugated by the enemy. [154]

This “motivation” for defeatism was surely not Lenin’s, who does not present any such argument for defeatism, let alone any such motivation. This idea – that the warring countries themselves do not run the risk of being subjugated by the enemy since the war is really being fought over who shall rule over other peoples – occurs in Lenin only in connection with the argument that the war is imperialist in nature. Also, we ourselves referred to this idea in the Russo-Japanese War as supplying part of the reason why liberal-bourgeois elements were willing to embrace defeatism then. Finally we can add: although Lenin himself never linked this idea up with defeatism, and although it certainly was not his motivation, one can argue speculatively that it must have constituted an unrecognized precondition for his position. Zinoviev had come pretty close to making it explicit.

But, given all that, “some readers” may be led to wonder what conclusions are supposed to be drawn from this “motivation” as far as the present situation is concerned. Is it bound up with reasons for rejecting defeatism now while approving it for 1914? Does it suggest to them the idea that the U.S., being democratic and all, would not “subjugate” a defeated Russia, whereas a victorious Russia would “subjugate” a defeated United States – and that therefore “we have something to fight for” whereas the slaves of Stalin do not, for which reason they might as well go all-out against war and be “defeatists” while we cannot? And what relationship does this course of thinking have to another one, very well-known indeed, which uses the same methodology, but which comes to the conclusion not merely that there must be a difference in attitude toward the two war camps on the fine point of defeatism but that – for the same reasons – “we” must support war on this side while “they” must oppose the war on their side?

11. “One-Way” Defeatism?

The proposal for a “one-way” or “one-sided” defeatism raises another question: What exactly is the difference between a “defeatist” anti-war policy and a “non-defeatist” anti-war policy? We have already quoted Comrade Shachtman’s suggestion on this point, in his summary formulation: a “non-defeatist” policy means that we do not wish (seek to produce) the defeat of our own government by the enemy, specifically, by Stalinism. Now it is no wonder that “some readers” are confused, since virtually every comrade in the movement has been under the impression that this was also true of the defeatist position! True, Comrade Shachtman had casually remarked earlier in his article, in a participal phrase, that Lenin’s lesser-evil formula had involved defeat-by-the-enemy, but this passing mention of a basic point (even if noticed) could hardly be expected to outweigh some years of contrary “education” in the movement.

In view of this fact, in the context of an article where Lenin’s defeatism of 1914-16 is given a premier place as a component of his intransigent anti-war policy, it is not at all surprising that suspicions are awakened that this new talk of a “non-defeatist” policy entails more serious changes than the article seems to admit.

We wish to repeat and re-emphasize that all of this is an inherent and objective consequence of the confusion which is ineradicable from the defeat-concept of Lenin’s, and was not due to the otherwise excellent explanation by Comrade Shachtman of the bases of a socialist anti-war policy today. But we cannot afford to nourish the ambiguity and ambivalence which the defeat-slogan enforces. It is an untenable position, and like many another untenable position it gives rise to opposite errors as a way out. On the one hand it may encourage a tendency, in reaction, to cling to Lenin’s defeat-formulas in all their crudity, since at least these will “guard against social-patriotism” like a blessed medallion (which they will not); and on the other hand, as an equal and opposite reaction, it may encourage a tendency to push the objectively indicated conclusions from a “one-sided” defeatism to their politically disastrous end.

Bury the dead. The tradition of Lenin’s defeatism was born in a political mistake in 1904-5; it was revived in confusion in 1914, to be shelved without stock-taking in 1917; it was revived again in malice and reaction in 1924; it was turned into a hollow phrase by “explaining away” in the ’30s; it was ignored in the ’40s; and now in the ’50s any war policy based on it can only be disorienting or worse. It can only stand in the way of a clear, “full”, uncompromising Marxist anti-war position, the position of the Third Camp.




20*. With one exception which can be considered to “prove” the rule: in issue No.25 of 1923, the magazine reprinted a polemical exchange of articles that had appeared in the German organ Die Internationale between Thalheimer and a critic named Sommer, on policy with respect to the French invasion of the Ruhr. In this situation (which also evoked the notorious “Schlageter” speech by Radek heavily tinged with a sort of “national-Bolshevism”) Thalheimer’s articles did all but take a defensist position. In this context, one of the articles by Thalheimer which is reprinted mentions the defeatism of 1914-16 – in order to reject it now!

Not an exception to the rule but an example of it is an article by Karl Radek in the April-May 1921 issue, where the consequences of defeat are not painted as too happy. Radek wrote: “Not a proletarian revolution but Wilsonianism was the slogan of the working masses in the victorious countries. In the defeated countries on the contrary the thirst for peace and quiet predominated over all other proletarian feelings: a morsel of bacon was of more value than dreams for the liberation of mankind ...” and so on along the same lines. We do not cite this distorted picture, reflecting Radek’s tendency to journalistic subjectivity at its worst, as a contribution to history; but in order to point out: How far were Lenin’s formulas about defeat.

21*. Incidentally, this same Martynov, just six months before in the July 1923 issue of the Communist International, had written another article with a section on the world-war period. In this earlier article, not only is there no mention of defeatism but one of its main points is quite contrary in implication: during an imperialist war, as the Russian and German Revolutions proved, he says, “the widening of the scope of a revolution does far more in the long run to protect the country from foreign domination than does strengthening the old military apparatus, which, at any moment, is prepared to serve as an instrument of the foreign and native bourgeoisie against the working class”. If anything, it is the bourgeoisie which is being accused of a sort of “defeatism” here!

22*. There is also the minor point that Lenin never spoke of “defeat of one’s own country”, except in one slip. We should also remind the reader at this point that Lenin never proposed the “lesser evil” formula for international use. But in the attempt to be “orthodox”, Trotsky is here combining the well-known “lesser evil” phrase with the equally well-known fact that Lenin internationalized the defeat-slogan – perhaps without being aware of the fact that these two well-known features never come together in Lenin.

23*. Or try this: “Defeat of a socialist party [in an election] resulting from a revolutionary program is better than its victory assured by compromising deals, class collaboration, etc.” Then call this the principle of “electoral defeatism”, and you have Trotsky’s formula.

24*. In another section of War and the Fourth International (point 25), Trotsky has another mention of defeatism which is tell-tale: “In reality no possessing class ever recognized the defense of the fatherland as such ... Overthrown privileged classes always become ‘defeatists’; that is, are ready to restore their privileged position with the aid of foreign arms.” Note that here, in the most casual sort of way, Trotsky is identifying defeatism with support to the victory of the other side. Without going into the possible explanations that Trotsky might have given, we must admit that it is bound to be a little confusing ...

25*. It happens that this very same point is made (in a different connection, not as a criticism of Trotsky’s theses) by the article of W. St., Principles and Tactics in War, written the same year (New International, May 1938, p.146). The author was the then secretary of the Fourth International.

26*. As a curio, we mention the formulation used by the sect which split off from the Trotskyist movement, the “Oehlerltes”, in a pamphlet called The Workers’ Answer to Boss War. It is the one and only place where the full enormity of the defeatist concept is to be found set down in black and white: defeatism means “to work for the military defeat of their ‘own’ army by the ‘enemy’ army”.

On the other hand, this is as good a point as any to pay respects to Alfred Rosmer, who, in his great historical work Le Mouvement Ouvrier Pendant la Guerre, has a short passage which stands out in post-war Marxist literature as one of the few (if there are any others) that indicates the hollowness of the defeat-slogan as used by Lenin. As mentioned, Rosmer was a collaborator with Trotsky on Nashe Slovo during the war and his point of view no doubt stems from that period, “unreconstructed”. His first point is that there is no validity to Lenin’s claim that defeatism is necessary to a fearless and thoroughly consistent anti-war fight. Besides “I see clearly the dangers which it involves. The word ‘defeatism’ is very widely used during war. The press utilizes it unceasingly to scare and frighten. It is useless to reinforce this if it is not absolutely necessary. I will recall here a retort by Noah Ablett that I mentioned in 1915. When the Welsh miners went out on strike, all of chauvinist England rose up against them, crying: ‘You are helping the enemy! You are Germanophiles!’ And Noah Ablett, in the name of the miners, calmly answered, ‘We are not Germanophiles; we are the working class’. I believe that is the best basis, a sure and sufficient basis to carry on the working-class struggle against war and justify it in the eyes of all workers. ‘Defeatism’, even though preceded by the qualification ‘revolutionary’, puts the accent on defeat while we ought to put it on revolution.” (Pages 478-9.)

27*. At any rate, such was my impression at the time, and it is certainly a fact that I did not feel sufficiently exercised about the question to publish an article about it then. In retrospect, it would seem that the question hung on in a sort of suspended animation.

28*. This idea is emphasized by Comrade Shachtman: “Without hesitation or ambiguity, we can say that the only greater disaster that humanity could suffer than the war itself, which would be disastrous enough if it broke out, would be the victory of Stalinism as the outcome of the war.” (Page 198.) And again: “We repeat: no greater disaster can be expected in connection with the Third World War than the victory of Stalinism.” (Page 200.) The question, of course, is not whether this statement is true in itself, but whether it plays the same role in a political line as was played by Lenin’s motivation that “tsarism is a hundred times worse than kaiserism.”



Reference Notes

124. Lenin, Selected Works, vol.10, p.316, Notes on the Question of the Tasks of Our Delegation at the Hague, written December 4, 1922, not published.

125. Communist International (Eng. ed.), No.1. New Series; n.d. (c. February 1924); p.41.

126. Communist International (Eng. ed.), No.5, New Series; n.d. (c. June 1924); pp.6-7.

127. Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification, p.162.

128. Ibid., p.165.

129. Ibid., p.2.

130. War and the Fourth International, Pt.58, p.26.

131. The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, p.32.

132. Ibid.

133. New International, July 1939, pp.208-9.

134. John West, War and the Workers, p.13.

135. C.L.R. James, World Revolution, p.74.

136. Declaration of Principles and Constitution of the SWP, 1938, p.24.

137. Mimeographed document, War and Bureaucratic Conservatism.

138. Labor Action, Sept. 1, 1941, A Letter to a Comrade: On Some Aspects of the Russian Question.

139. New International, for May-June 1951, p.164, and July-August 1951, p.195; followed in the Sept.-Oct. 1951 issue, p.294, by an exchange between Gordon Haskell and Shachtman on the subject of the latter’s article.

140. New International, May-June 1951, p.174.

141. Ibid., p.165.

142. Ibid., p.169.

143. Ibid., p.186-7.

144. Ibid., p.168.

145. Ibid., p.170.

146. New International, Sept.Oct. 1951, p.300.

147. Ibid., p.296.

148. New International, July-Aug., 1951, p.205.

149. New International, Sept.-Oct., 1951, p.300.

150. Ibid., pp.300-1.

151. Ibid., p.301.

152. New International, May-June 1951, p.172.

153. Ibid., p.169.

154. Ibid.


Last updated on 25.9.2004