Felix Morrow

An Answer to the Latest Hue and Cry
Against the Marxist Position on the War

(24 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 81, 24 October 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It is very hard to find a conscientious opponent of the revolutionary movement, remarked Lenin, and especially hard to find one among the centrists – those who stand between the brazen reformists and the revolutionists. At first thought, Lenin’s remark may appear self-righteous, but all experience testifies that it is a simple truth.

A current example is the pro-Anglo-French resolution adopted Oct. 4 by the American Labor Party leadership. Those who wrote it – the needle trades bureaucracy and the Social Democratic Federation – on the whole make no bones about the meaning of the resolution. The real purveyors of confusion among the resolution’s proponents are the “left wing”: the Norman Thomas Socialists and the Lovestoneites. Their vote for the resolution being in flagrant contradiction to their official anti-war stand, they are compelled to defend the resolution deviously and dishonestly, whereas the brazen war-mongers of the Social Democratic Federation can defend it for what it really is.

Instead of attempting to answer our sharp criticism of their cowardly capitulation to the trade union bureaucrats on this important question, the Thomasites and Lovestoneites have now raised a hue and cry against the Trotskyist position on – the inevitability of American participation in the war!

In their indignant protests they are careful to leave unsaid what our complete position is: that American participation is inevitable if the workers permit the democratic-imperialist government to remain in power. But that is only part of what they leave out.

What Is the Marxist Tradition?

Since the very beginning of our movement (and before that, in the Communist International of Lenin and Trotsky) we have predicted the inevitability of the present war, and the inevitability of American capitalism’s participation in it. Yet now is the first time that the Lovestoneites (I can’t speak for the Thomasites, who never troubled much about theory) object to this theory. Up to yesterday, in fact, the Lovestoneites (first as adherents of the Communist International, then as an opposition faction, then as an “independent Communist” tendency) avowedly and explicitly adhered to the same theory! When did they abandon it? Not anywhere explicitly, until they began to attack us for holding it.

To establish by documentation that the theory in question was a fundamental tenet of Leninism would not, however, impress the Thomasites, who were never Leninists, nor the Lovestoneites, who have abandoned the fundamentals of Leninism. It is more to the point, therefore, to remind them that the theory of the inevitability of war under capitalism does not begin with Bolshevism. Before the revolutionary years of the Third International, that theory was a fundamental tenet of the Second (Socialist) International. One has but to recall the resolutions adopted by its various congresses. The Stuttgart (1907) resolution, for example, says, after describing the imperialist character of modern capitalism:

“Wars, therefore, are part of the very nature of capitalism; they will cease only when the capitalist system is abolished ...”

The indignation of Messrs. Thomas, Bertram Wolfe and Lovestone should, therefore, be directed against the entire Marxist tradition on war. All their terms of reproach – “false in fact,” “deadly poison to any real anti-war struggle,” “fatalism, defeatism,” etc. – should be directed against the delegates from all countries in the Stuttgart congress, who voted for this doctrine. True, there were those in the international Socialist movement who, even then, disagreed with the doctrine. Strangely enough, these dissidents did not include the real fighters against war – Lenin, Liebknecht, Luxemburg, Trotsky. For some reason which we should like our critics to explain, the real, the revolutionary fighters against war, were so little poisoned by the fatalistic theory to which they adhered, that their fight against the war put an end to it – by revolution, in Russia and Germany. No, to be blunt, those who opposed the theory of inevitability as “fatalistic determinism” – the Fabians in England, the right wing of the Social Democracy in Germany and France, etc. – were precisely those who first accepted the War, who became chauvinists.

Our Theories Are a Guide to ACTION!

Are we saying that the Thomasites and Lovestoneites will be chauvinists when America enters the war? We can only say, in answer, that we do not see how those who succumbed, on Oct. 4, to the pressure of the ALP bureaucrats, will be able to withstand the far more powerful pressure of the American capitalist government when it enters the war.

For us, the theory of American imperialist participation in the war (our critics concede that this already is the program of the American capitalist class and its government) is not a dogma,but a guide to action. Our strategy and tactics flow from this fundamental perspective.

Just a few examples:

1. Our immediate task is to arouse, to organize, to educate, as many workers as possible in a spirit of utterly irreconcilable opposition to the war, not only before the war – when it is easy enough – but during the war. It is with this purpose in mind that we fight for a popular referendum on war, against Roosevelt’s proposal to lift the embargo, against conscription, etc. Our motivation for opposing Roosevelt’s proposal is fundamentally different from the motivation of the isolationist Senators. We fight it because we are irreconcilable opponents of the war. They fight it because they consider that particular step inimical to the interests of American capitalism today. Simultaneously, they support Roosevelt in his armament program, in his declaration to defend one of the belligerent nations, Canada, in his hostility to the war referendum, etc. Their opposition to the lifting of the embargo serves, therefore, merely as a cover for the war preparations of American imperialism which they support. They are demagogic exploiters of the anti-war sentiments of the people. To build them up as anti-war fighters is to aid and abet war preparations, to help them delude and mislead the masses. But this is precisely what the Thomasites and Lovestoneites do.

They Capitulated on First Major Test

2. “War is the continuation of politics.” Those who serve capitalism in peacetime will serve it in wartime. The labor bureaucracy, inextricably linked to the fortunes of capitalism, will support the war. That is why we do not give a moment’s credence to the hypocritical pacifist remarks of a William Green or John L. Lewis, and excoriate every move they make in support of war preparations. But the Thomasites and Lovestoneites, with the servility which characterises them, play up every pacifist remark of Lewis and Green, and play down – conceal – the whole course of the AFL and CIO bureaucracy in support of Roosevelt’s war plans. Read the last few issues of the Workers Age and The Call, see their reports of the AFL and CIO conventions on the war question – and contrast them to the reports in the Socialist Appeal.

3. Irreconcilable opposition to the war-mongers in the labor movement – that is absolutely indispensable in the real fight against war. But the Thomasites whitewash their war-mongering, Judas-goat brothers in the Second International, and the Lovestoneites whitewash their brothers, such as the impotent, cowardly Independent Labor Party of England. The first major test in this country came on the ALP resolution; the Thomasites and Lovestoneites capitulated.

There Is a Real Difference

4. From our conviction that American participation in the war can only be prevented by a socialist revolution, we draw the same conclusion as we draw from our conviction that in this epoch of capitalist decline only irreconcilable class struggle can win any concessions for the workers: we try to be the hardest fighters every step of the war. Only those can call our theory “poison” or “paralyzing,” who have themselves in reality given up (if they ever held it) the perspective of a socialist revolution.

This is enough to indicate what the real issue is between us and the Thomas-Lovestone camp. We are separated from them by an entirely different conception of the struggle against, war.

We are more than anxious to make this crystal-clear.


P. S. The latest issue of the Workers Age is not content with falsifying our position on war once more; it adds a new difference, on the Russian question, blandly putting into my mouth remarks which only a Stalinist could make. I brand Bertram Wolfe – who heard my own, actual remarks at a symposium in which he participated – as a deliberate liar. In the next issue I shall deal with his falsification of our position on the Soviet Union.

Last updated on 15 February 2018