C.L.R. James

The Workers and Sanctions

Why the I.L.P. and the Communists take an opposite view

(October 1935)

Source: New Leader, 25 October 1935.
Transcribed: Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Why is the Communist Party for League Sanctions, while the I.L.P. is against?

Less than a year ago the theoretical position of the two parties on war was identical. On page 22 of What the I.L.P. Stands For, passed at the annual conference at Derby in April of this year, the I.L.P. called upon its members to expose the League of Nations as an instrument of Imperialism, to reject the idea of waging war for “democratic” countries against “Fascist” countries.

The I.L.P. warned the workers that, although the Soviet Union might be at Geneva and might even be the ally of a Capitalist State in the next war, the first duty of the working class would still be: refuse to collaborate with the capitalist class and try to seize political power. This was the only real defence of the Soviet Union.

Only Last Year

The Communist Party was saying the same thing and had said it for fifteen years. Harry Pollitt, in his pamphlet, Labour and War, published after the Southport Conference last year, tells us on p. 13, “There is no such things as defensive or aggressive wars under Capitalism.” On p. 15, “The argument is being used that if a Fascist Germany attacks Britain when there is a Labour Government in power, it would be our duty to defend Britain. It would be nothing of the kind.”

In The Labour Party and the Menace of War, published about the same time, R.F. Andrews says, “If Socialists ought to support the Soviet Union’s work in the League, for that very reason it follows that they should oppose the Labour Party’s conception of the League as a ‘collective peace system’.” On p. 22 he asks himself a hypothetical question: “But supposing Fascist Germany attacks the U.S.S.R., are you not in favour of the workers supporting British or French Governments in an attack on Fascist Germany?” And he gives the answer, in thick print: “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES.”

The French Pact

Had the present crisis developed late in 1934, or even early in 1935, the C.P. and I.L.P. would have been side by side. But in May 1935 Stalin and Laval concluded a military alliance, and together issued the notorious communique in which Stalin repudiated the Leninist doctrine of “the enemy is in your own country,” and gave his blessing to the doctrine of national defence. Eden went to Moscow; and before long the whole C.P. in every country had made not only a right, but an about turn.

Already at the end of April, Chemadanov, Secretary of the Russian Comsomols (the Young Communists), told the French Socialists: “If war comes against the U.S.S.R. and you make your revolution, you will be traitors.” (See the statement on the meeting issued by the Young Socialists of France). On May 17, Thorez, one of the leaders of the French C.P., said in reply to a straight question, that in a war between Hitler and the U.S.S.R. the French C.P. would not try to make the revolution, as such a war was not an Imperialist war but a war against the Soviet Union. (See L’Humanite, May 24). The I.L.P. not a month before had stated the exact opposite.

At Any Price

Then came the Seventh World Conference of the Comintern. The resolutions on war were one long attack on the “Fascist instigators” of war, and the last words were (in italics) “a call to toilers to work with all means at their disposal and at any price for the victory of the Red Army over the armies of the Imperialists.” At any price. Even at the price of sacrificing your revolution.

The present C.P. policy is, therefore, easy to follow. It is playing for the victory of the Red Army even at the cost of leading the French workers into war. British Imperialism and French Imperialism use the League as a cover for war preparations and preservation of their booty. The Soviet Union wants to use the League to preserve peace for as long as it can. It objects to the Imperialist proposals of the Council of Five, but it supports Sanctions. If it wants France and Czechoslovakia to help it against Germany through the League, it must show itself a good League member now. The whole situation is deplorable, but there is no help for it and we have to face it.

But what cannot be condoned is that the C.P. everywhere, instead of following its own class policy, is doing exactly what Litvinov is doing at Geneva. That is the beginning and the end of the whole business. The C.P. abuses the I.L.P. for not doing what it does and finds all sorts of confusing arguments. But the I.L.P. will remain true to the principles of Lenin.

The C.P. is in an impossible position. It cannot urge a sailor to blockade the Suez Canal, and then if the Italians attack tell that sailor to turn Imperialist War into Civil War. The working class will not stand for zig-zags of that kind.

No Solution at Geneva

The argument is advanced that Lenin made pacts. So he did. But he never ceased at the same time to urge the working class of those very countries to struggle for the overthrow of their own Capitalist class.

Let Litvinov do what he can for the Soviet Union at Geneva. I personally do not believe it will come to much in the end. That, however, is a matter of opinion. What is not to be disputed is that the greater the crisis the more the working class must guard its independence.

There is no salvation in Geneva for the workers none for Ethiopia, as the Ethiopians will find out before long. Any policy which turns the minds and hopes of the workers to that nest of corruption is misleading and dangerous. The I.L.P. will fight that policy to the end.

Last updated on 29 June 2020