C.L.R. James 1937

Doctrine and History for the Youth No.2


First Published: in Fight,Volume 2. No. 1. January, 1937, p. 16, signed CL Rudder;
Transcribed/Marked up: by Ted Crawford/Damon Maxwell.

What is our attitude to War? We say to the Youth that it is “Turn Imperialist War into Civil War.” I shall not attempt to explain it. Lenin has done so in words which are the simplest and clearest that we know stating our position. Here they are:

Every war implies violence against nations, but that does not prevent the Socialist from being in favour of a revolutionary war. The class character of the war – that is the fundamental question which confronts the Socialist who is not a renegade. The Imperialist war of 1914-18 is a war between two coalitions of the imperialŽist bourgeoisie for the partition of the world, for the division of booty, and for the strangulation and spoliation of small and weak nationalities. Such was the view of the war which was given in 1912 by the Basle Manifesto, which has since been confirmed by facts. He who abandons this point of view is not a Socialist; and if a German, under Wilhelm, or a Frenchman, under Clemenceau, says “I am justified, and, indeed it is my duty as a Socialist to defend my country if it is invaded by an enemy”; he reasons not as a Socialist, not as an internationalist, not as a revolutionary proletarian, but as a bourgeois nationalist. For this reasoning leaves out of sight the revolutionary class-struggle of the workers against capitalism, and abandons all attempt at appraising the war as a whole from the point of view of the world bourgeoisie and the world proletariat; that is, discards Internationalism and adopts a miserable and narrow-minded nationalist standŽpoint. My country is being invaded, all the rest does not concern me – that is what such reasoning amounts to, and this is why it is bourgeois-nationalist narrow-mindedness. It is the same as if somebody, confronted by an individual outrage, were to reason: socialism is opposed to outrage; therefore I prefer to be a traitor rather than go to prison. The Frenchman, the German or Italian who says – “socialism is opposed to outrage on nations; therefore I defend myself when my country is invaded” – this man is betraying socialism and internationalism, since he only thinks of his own country, places above all his bourgeoisie, without reflecting upon the international connections which make the war an Imperialist war, and his bourgeoisie a link in the chain of Imperialist brigandage. All Philistines and “yokels” reason just like these renegades, the Kautskys, the Longuets, the Turatis: “my country is invaded and I do not care about anything else.”

As against these, the socialist, the revolutionary proleŽtarian, the internationalist, reasons differently. He says: “the character of the war (whether reactionary or revoŽlutionary) does not depend upon who was the aggressor, or on whose territory the enemy is standing. It depends on what class is carrying on the war, and what is the politics of which the war is a continuation. If the war is a reactionary imperialist war, that is, is being waged by two world-coalitions of the imperialist predatory bourŽgeoisie, then every bourgeoisie, even of the smallest counŽtry, becomes a participant in the brigandage, and my duty as a representative of the revolutionary proletariat is to prepare the world proletarian revolution as the only escape from the horrors of the world war. In other words, I must reason, not from the point of view of “my” country (for this is the reasoning of a poor stupid nationalist philistine who does not realise that he is only a plaything in the hands of the imperialist bourgeoisie), but from the point of view of my share in the preparation, in the propaganda and in the acceleration of the world proletarian revolution.”

This is what internationalism is, and this is the duty of the international revolutionary worker, of the genuine socialist.” LENIN. – The Proletarian Revolution.

There is little to add to that today. The “Communists” say “that circumstances have changed” and they sing loud alarms about the growth of Fascism. Fascism is German capitalism, as the Kaiser’s government was GerŽman capitalism. The German worker is more oppressed by Fascism than he was by German militarism. That is undoubtedly true. But that is no reason why we should fight for British capitalism against German capitalism. We remain internationalists. There is the question of the U.S.S.R. We must defend the Soviet Union for we have to prevent the Workers’ State from sliding back to capitalism as it certainly will if it is conquered in war. But how do we do that? By joining with Baldwin or Duff Cooper or a Popular Front Government? Never. Not even if Colonel Harry Pollitt in full uniform asks us to do so. Any combination of workers and capitalists means that the workers will be deceived. The bourgeois will begin the war perhaps allied to the Soviet Union. But they know what happened after the last war. They know that revolutions will certainly follow this coming war, and they know that if the Soviet Union is still in existence after the war the workers will be inspired to sweep capitalism away. All of the bourgeois know this, British democracy and German Fascism. So that as soon as the war is at a stage where one side feels that it has the victorious position it will make an offer to the other side to come to terms at the expense of the Soviet Union. The bourgeois did it in the last war. They will do it in the next when the existence of the Soviet Union will be a far more dangerous example to the workers than it was at the end of the last war. The Fourth International principles demand that while Litvinov and Stalin can make alliances with the bourgeois and bargain and intrigue with them, we the revolutionary workers can only defend the Soviet Union by keeping up the class struggle and aiming to bring capitalism down. If capitalism goes on the Soviet Union must perish; so in peace and war we have to struggle to bring down capitalism. The position of Lenin remains unassailable.