Source: A review from Fourth International, New York, Vol. 3 No. 4, April 1942, pp. 102–107.
Transcription/XHTML Markup: Ted Crawford and David Walters.
Proofreader: Einde O’Callaghan (August 2015).
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On March 15, 1942, a grotesque ceremony took place in London. At the Holford Square tenement in which Lenin forty years ago lived for a time in exile, a plaque was unveiled in his honor, draped in the Red Flag and ... the Union Jack. High officials of the Churchill government surrounded Soviet Ambassador Maisky and his wife as she unveiled the plaque. “Here some of his best works were written,” Ambassador Maisky said, according to the press. “Here he developed many of the ideas that led to the creation of the USSR.” Nobody disrupted the affair by telling what those ideas were.
This obscene ceremony is aptly characterized by Lenin’s own words in State and Revolution:
“ During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes have visited relentless persecution on them and received their teaching with the most savage hostility, the most furious hatred, the most ruthless campaign of lies and slanders. After their death attempts are made to turn the revolutionaries into harmless icons, canonize them, and surround their names with a certain halo for the ‘consolation’ of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping them, while at the same time emasculating and vulgarizing the real essence of their revolutionary theories and blunting their revolutionary edge.”
During 1917–1920 Churchill tried to bury Lenin beneath the ruins of the young Soviet republic; today Churchill collaborates with Stalin in trying to turn Lenin into a harmless icon. Maisky is the appropriate ambassador for this work: he was Minister of Labor in the anti-Soviet Samara Government in the years when Churchill led world capitalist intervention against Lenin.
Lenin died in January, 1924. During the next four years the Stalinist bureaucracy seized control of the USSR and of the Communist International. At the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, in 1928, a permanent Program was adopted; it was a Stalinist document, which Trotsky submitted to exhaustive criticism in The Third International after Lenin. But Stalinist degeneration had not yet reached the point of openly calling upon the workers in imperialist countries to support “their” governments if allied to the Kremlin; on the contrary the Program still had to repeat some Leninist formulations on the question of war; it states:
”The Communist International must devote itself especially to systematic preparation for the struggle against the danger of imperialist wars. Ruthless exposure of social chauvinism, of social imperialism and of pacifist phrase-mongering intended to camouflage the imperialist plans of the bourgeoisie; propaganda in favor of the principal slogans of the Communist International; everyday organizational work in connection with this in the course of which constitutional methods must unfailingly be combined with unconstitutional methods; organized work in the army and navy – such must be the activity of the Communist Parties in this connection. The fundamental slogans of the Communist International in this connection must be the following: ‘Convert imperialist war into civil war’; defeat the ‘home’ imperialist government; defend the USSR and the colonies by every possible means in the event of imperialist war against them. It is the bounden duty of all Sections of the Communist International, and of every one of its members, to carry on propaganda for these slogans, to expose the ‘socialistic’ sophisms and the ‘socialistic’ camouflage of the League of Nations, and constantly to keep to the front the experiences of the war of 1914-1918.” (Handbook of Marxism, International Publishers, 1935, p. 1040.)
Incidentally this is still officially the Program of the Communist International.
But perhaps the rise of fascism to power in Germany changed the character of our epoch so it was no longer, as Lenin termed it, “the epoch of imperialist wars, proletarian revolutions and colonial uprisings”? Now it was an epoch of war between fascism and democracy? Stalin dared not say anything of the sort in 1934 in his lengthy Report to the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was clear that a second world war was coming; how did Stalin characterize it:
“In this connection the victory of fascism in Germany must be regarded ... as a symptom of the fact that the bourgeoisie is no longer able to find a way out of the present situation on the basis of a peaceful foreign policy, as a consequence of which it is compelled to resort to a policy of war.
“Thus, you see that things are moving towards a new imperialist war as a way out of the present situation.
“Of course there are no grounds for assuming that the war can provide a real way out. On the contrary, it must confuse the situation still more. More than that, it will certainly unleash revolution and put in question the very existence of capitalism in a number of countries, as was the case in the course of the first imperialist war. And if, notwithstanding the experience of the first imperialist war, the bourgeois politicians clutch at war as a drowning man clutches at straw, it shows that they have become utterly confused, have reached an impasse, and are ready to rush headlong over the precipice.” (Handbook of Marxism, pp. 920–921.)
But perhaps all this was said on the assumption that the “democracies” would be siding with Germany in the coming war and there was an alternative policy if the “democracies” were fighting Germany? This question was dealt with specifically by the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1934, in a pamphlet by R.F. Andrews, and it said:
#8220;Supposing Fascist Germany attacks the USSR, are you in favor of the workers supporting the British or French Government in an attack on Fascist Germany?
“UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES! ...
“Such action would help the German capitalists to represent the war as one of self-defense. It would strengthen British capitalists and weaken British workers, it would put British imperialism in the event of victory in a favorable position for attacking the USSR, it would mean suppressing the inevitable revolt in India and the Empire.
“On the contrary, by supporting the workers in their struggle against exploitation, profiteering and oppression in wartime – a struggle which is unavoidable in any case – and developing it into a struggle against the war itself, the British workers would undermine Hitler’s own front, which would be the most effective assistance British revolutionaries could give to the USSR in such circumstances.” (The Labour Party and the Menace of War)
A year later this anti-war principle was formulated even more definitively in the leading editorial of The Labour Monthly edited by R. Palme Dutt, the most authoritative Stalinist publication in the English language. Condemning “the attempts to preach the obligation of the working class to subordinate itself to the leadership of the League of Nations,” the editorial proclaimed:
“What is our answer to these ‘left,’ ‘pacifist,’ ‘democratic,’ ‘anti-fascist’ arguments in support of future imperialist war? Our answer remains the Leninist line, the line or international socialism from Marx and Engels, from Stuttgart and Basle up to today. We need more than ever to warn the workers never to become entangled in the lines of imperialist policies, but to judge every question of war and peace solely from the standpoint of the working class revolution. The workers under capitalism have no fatherland; their only fatherland is so much of the territory of the globe as they have conquered and made their own, today the territory of the Soviet Union. The participation of the Soviet Union in the League of Nations no more transforms the character of the League of Nations than the participation of a Communist in Parliament transforms the character of Parliament ... The false comparison of the position of a working class which has not yet conquered power, which has not yet overthrown its capitalist class, with the position of a working class which has conquered power and has now to maneuver in a capitalist world (and has to maneuver only because the workers in the other countries have not yet overthrown their capitalists) is the favorite fallacy of reformism to confuse the issues and conceal its own capitalist policies ...
“Must we then let the Nazis ‘walk over us,’ demand the trade union leaders with great heat. Must we not ‘defend our country’ against Fascism’? Is not pacifism in such conditions equivalent to surrender to Fascism? The revolutionary answer is clear. We hold nothing in common with the pacifist position. We do not for a moment exclude military defense against Fascism – on one condition and one condition only, namely, that we have a country to defend. We shall defend Workers’ Britain, as an integral part of the World Workers Republic, of the future World Soviet Union, against Fascism with every means in our (power. Let the exploiting class in Prance make way and surrender power to the workers’ united front, and the French workers will defend Workers’ France against every attack, as they defended the Commune, against the combined French-German ruling class. But until then we shall fight our own exploiting class; we shall not let ourselves be dragged into warring for one set of masters against another; we shall raise the slogan of fraternisation with the German workers and soldiers. Is this ‘unpractical’? On the contrary, it is the only practical line. For such fraternisation, such fight of the British workers against British Imperialism, will more rapidly undermine the shaking Nazi regime in Germany, will hasten the German revolution, than any ‘union sacrŽe’ of the trade union leaders with British Imperialism, which will only strengthen the Nazi hold, confirm the Nazi propaganda of the vanity of working-class internationalism, and prolong the war. This is the Leninist line, which remains the only line for the working class in any imperialist war.” (The Labour Monthly, January 1935)
One could ask for nothing clearer than these quotations: they indicate the extent to which, as late as 1935, the Stalinist parties paid lip-service to Lenin’s line on war in the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution.
Then, May 15, 1935, came the Stalin-Laval communique and in it this pregnant sentence: “M. Stalin understands and fully approves the policy of national defense undertaken by France by maintaining her armed forces at the level necessary for security.” “Monsieur Stalin” was not then a government official, but General Secretary of the Communist Party. His endorsement of France’s war plans subsequently became the open line of all the Communist parties toward the “democracies.” How appropriate that this began with a joint statement of Stalin and the “democrat” Laval! Lenin’s “epoch of imperialist war, proletarian revolutions and colonial uprisings” was proclaimed to have been transformed into an epoch of “democratic wars against fascism.”
However nearly five years of this new epoch ended not in a democratic war against fascism but in the Stalin-Hitler pact which, freeing Hitler from a second front in the East, enabled him to mobilize all his forces for war against the West, a war which (after a few days of insistence that the pact made no change in their policies) was characterized by the Communist parties of Britain, France, etc., as an imperialist war which they would not support. It was in the name of Leninism that this new policy operated, but it was a policy which has been aptly characterized by our French comrades as “defeatism without revolution.”
The invasion of Greece (begun by the Italians October 28, 1940, completed by the Germans April 27, 1941) and of Yugoslavia (begun at the end of March 1941 and completed in six weeks) produced in the Comintern press condemnation of ... Britain for dragging the small countries into the imperialist war.
From September 1939 until June 22, 1941 the Communist parties proclaimed again that this was the “epoch of imperialist war, proletarian revolutions and colonial uprisings.” The colonial peoples of the British and French empires were exhorted to win their independence arms in hand. These tag-ends from Leninism were to hide the nakedness of the period of collaboration under the Stalin-Hitler Pact.
The epoch of imperialist war and proletarian revolutions abruptly ended, by Stalinist computation, on June 22, 1941. As James W. Ford put it in The Communist, October 1941:
“When the war broke out in 1939 it was clearly imperialistic. It was unmistakably a struggle to determine which group of powers was to dominate the world ... The strength of the Soviet Union gave stimulus to the peoples of Western Europe in their struggle for national independence against fascism [i.e., after Hitler subjugated them with the aid of the Stalin-Hitler pact – F.M.]. In desperation the Nazis treacherously violated the non-aggression pact and ruthlessly attacked the Soviet people on June 22. Thus a new phase of the war entered, changing all the relation of forces and the character of the war.”
It is interesting to note that it took the Communist Party of Britain, busily engaged in rabidly condemning the imperialist war aims of the Churchill government, two weeks to make the switch. As late as the July 5, 1941 issue of World News and Views (formerly organ of the Communist International, now published in England without reference to organizational connections), R. Palme Dutt wrote:
“But the British imperialists by no means wish to see a victory for the Soviet Union, with its liberating consequences for Europe. They count, instead, on the basis of the weakening of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, on establishing their own domination in Europe, and eventually to return to their ultimate aim of crushing the Soviet Union. There is no room for illusions on these ulterior aims of the imperialists.”
However, Dutt quickly transferred this correct characterization of British (and American) imperialism into an individual accusation against Moore-Brabazon, Minister of Aircraft Production, who had been indiscreet enough to say just that about the Soviet Union in a speech, and the very concept of British imperialism disappeared from the Stalinist press.
What makes a war imperialist? Stalin and R. Palme Dutt told us not so long ago, repeating Lenin’s thought. Warring for one set of capitalist masters against another is imperialist. The workers under capitalism have no fatherland. Imperialism is the latest – and last – stage in the unfolding of capitalism. Any war conducted by an imperialist power – i.e., the great capitalist powers, ruled by finance capital and holding the colonial peoples in subjection either by direct rule or by dollar diplomacy – is an imperialist war. The participation of the Soviet Union in the war no more transforms the character of the war of the imperialist nations than the participation of the Soviet Union transformed the character of the League of Nations. The British-Soviet pact no more changes the politics of Britain’s war than the Hitler-Stalin pact changed the politics of Germany’s war. War – Lenin never tired of repeating Clausewitz’s formula – is the continuation of politics by other means. And the politics of an imperialist power is always imperialist. Lenin’s sharpest condemnations of Kautsky were directed at his attempts to characterize imperialism as but one of several policies which the capitalist powers might pursue. Imperialism, Lenin answered, is not merely a policy; it is a social, economic and political stage of capitalism, the latest and last; an epoch which determined the character of all pecific policies of capitalist states. Lenin branded Kautsky as a traitor for implying that capitalist powers could pursue an alternative to imperialism. The Stalinist assertion that defense of the Soviet Union requires that the American and British workers support “their” imperialist governments in the war is refuted by the fact that for 18 years after the establishment of the Soviet Union no one dreamed of proposing such a policy.
These truths penetrate into the ranks of the Communist Party in spite of the totalitarian regime. Its Acting National Secretary, Robert Minor, complains of “adulteration of the point of view of the revolutionary working class by admixtures of pacifism and opposition to war ‘in general’ and blames it with utter brass on “ignorance of the history and the theoretical basis of our movement among even honest sympathizers or members of our Party itself.”
To calm these doubters, Minor tells them that Lenin himself predicted just such a “war for national liberation” as the “democracies” are now waging! Such is the thesis solemnly offered by Minor to the “honest sympathizers or members of our Party” who are now “stumbling,” in an article entitled Lenin on the Junius Pamphlet, in the October 1941 Communist, the gist of which Minor has since repeated in numerous articles and speeches.
Minor’s thesis is stated as follows:
“By the Hitler war, Europe and the whole world are ‘thrown back for several decades,’ and against this hideous reaction, ‘wars of national liberation’ have become inevitable on the part of all nations of the world and all states capable of defending their national independence.”
If “all nations of the world” are now capable of waging wars of national liberation, this is obviously no longer the epoch of imperialist war and proletarian revolution. Proof? Minor adduces the fact that in August, 1916, Lenin wrote that “to picture world history as advancing smoothly and steadily without sometimes taking gigantic strides backward is undialectical, unscientific and theoretically wrong.” Minor then pours vituperation on Trotsky and others who allegedly claim that history always moves forward.  This paves the way to falsifying a quotation from Lenin in order that Lenin’s thought that strides backward are possible within the epoch of imperialism is identified with the Stalinist claim that this is no longer the epoch of imperialism!
Here is Minor’s deliberate forgery:
“It should be noted that Lenin states this carefully as a question of scientific principle: that ‘gigantic strides backward’ do occur in history and are in accord with the laws of motion of society. At an earlier time, during the World War, he referred to the matter, saying: ‘We are dealing here with large historic epochs; there are and there will be, in every age, individual, partial, backward and forward movement ...’ (The Imperialist War) ... The ‘temporary step backward’ has eventuated.”
Minor does it very neatly – a quotation from Lenin and a reference to the book from which it comes. The reader is not provided by Minor with the page number from the 402 page The Imperialist War and no wonder! For Minor’s “quotation” is deliberately faked to give exactly the opposite idea from that which Lenin wrote!
Minor’s “quotation” comes from page 125 of The Imperialist War and the extent of his deliberate falisification of Lenin’s thought will be clear only to those who read that article; entitled Under A Stolen Flag, it is an attack by Lenin on the Menshevik, A. Potresov, for using the “stolen flag” of Marxism to cover support of the imperialist war.
Lenin condemns Potresov for dragging the proletarian movement backward; “he drags it back to the slogans and ideology of the old bourgeois democracy, to the dependence of the masses upon the bourgeoisie,” Then, to show the falsity of thus going backwards in policy, Lenin shows that we live in an entirely different epoch from that in which Marx lived. The second sentence of the following passage is the one which Minor “quoted” – but notice that Lenin is referring to the possibility of developments backward which, however, he insists, would not determine our policy; our policy is determined by the fundamental character of our epoch! Lenin writes:
“ We are undoubtedly living on the borderline of two epochs, and historic events of the greatest importance that are taking place before our eyes can be understood only if, in the first place, we analyze the objective conditions of the transition from one epoch to the other. We are dealing here with large historic epochs; there are, and there will be in every age, individual, partial, backward and forward movements; there are and there will be various deviations from the average type and average tempo of the movement. We cannot know how rapidly and how successfully the various historic movements of a given epoch will develop, but we can and do know which class occupies the centre of one or the other epoch, determining its main contents, the main direction of its development, the main characteristics of the historic circumstances of that epoch, etc. Only on this basis, i.e., by taking into account, in the first place, the fundamental distinguishing features of the various ‘epochs’ (and not individual episodes in the history of individual countries) can we correctly determine our tactics; and only the knowledge of the fundamental features of a given epoch can serve as a basis for understanding in greater detail the peculiarities of one or the other country ...
“The usual division of historical epochs, many times quoted in Marxian literature, is this: (1) 1789–1871; (2) 1871–1914; (3)1914 ... The First Epoch, from the great French Revolution to the Franco-Prussian War, is the epoch” of the rise of the bourgeoisie, of its full victory ... The Second Epoch is the epoch of the full domination and decline of the bourgeoisie, an epoch of transition from the progressive character of the bourgeoisie to reactionary, even rabidly reactionary, finance capital. This is the epoch when there are being prepared and there slowly gather the forces of a new class of modern democracy [the proletariat – F.M.]. The Third Epoch, which is just beginning, places the bourgeoisie in the same position as that in which the feudal lords found themselves during the First Epoch. This is the epoch of imperialism and imperialist convulsions resulting from the nature of imperialism ...
“In place of the struggle of rising capital striving towards national liberation from the remnants of feudalism, there has come the struggle of the most reactionary finance capital against the new forces, the struggle of a power that has exhausted and outlived itself, that is headed downward towards decay. The bourgeois-national framework of states, which in the First Epoch was a support to the development of the productive forces of humanity then in the process of liberating itself from feudalism has now, in the Third Epoch, become a hindrance to the free development of the productive forces. From a rising, progressive class the bourgeoisie has become a sinking, decaying, internally dead, reactionary class. The rising class – on a wide international scale – has become an entirely different one.” (The Imperialist War, pp. 125–129.)
After reading this passage, a reader, unfamiliar with the Stalin school of falsification, will rub his eyes as he realizes Minor’s conscious misuse of a sentence out of a passage – and an entire book – which teaches exactly the opposite of Minor’s doctrine.
Why is it treason to the working class to support an imperialist state in war? Lenin answers: because the bourgeois-national state has become a hindrance to the free development of the productive forces. Lenin’s answer applies to 1942 even more than to 1914 – after the permanent world crisis of 1918–1939. Imperialism is not a spigot, turned on and off by Stalin’s twists and turns; it is the economic, social and political character of our epoch, and determines the character of any war conducted by the imperialist powers.
Minor’s forged quotation about “backward movements” is merely the atmospheric setting for something much more grandiose – “proof” that Lenin and other Marxists were able “to describe accurately 25 years ago the main conditions under which we are fighting now in a war which they then said would justifiedly be supported by the workers and peoples of the world and by the revolutionary party of the working class.” His “proof” is a section from an article written by Lenin in August 1916, entitled, On the Junius Pamphlet.
This monstrous falsification of Lenin, really breath-taking in its scope, demonstrates anew the extent to which Stalinism shares Hitler’s precept: “the grosser the lie the more readily people believe it.” But we must try to cleanse these Augean stables.
During 1916 Lenin found himself in conflict with an important section of the Bolshevik leadership – Bukharin, Pyatakov and others – and with some of his closest international allies in the Zimmerwald Left – the Dutch and Polish revolutionists – on the national question. The main question immediately at issue was the connection of the slogan of national liberation for oppressed nationalities with the coming revolutions in the “prison-houses of peoples,” Russia and Austro-Hungary; in reaction against the national-chauvinism of the Pilsudski socialists, the revolutionary socialists of Poland, led by Rosa Luxemburg, mistakenly rejected the slogan of national liberation, and out of similar circumstances came the similar mistake of the others. Lenin, firmly keeping to the forefront the importance of colonial uprisings against imperialism and of revolts of small nations against imperialist domination, sharply defended the Bolshevik position on the national question – the issue, indeed, nearly led to a split in the Bolsheviks abroad.
Preoccupied with the struggle within the Bolsheviks and the Zimmerwald Left on the national question, Lenin devoted two pages to it in the course of his article, warmly hailing the famous Junius pamphlet, The Crisis of Social-Democracy, the first illegal revolutionary pamphlet to appear in Germany during the war. Junius (Rosa Luxemburg) had written at one point; “In the epoch of imperialism there can be no more national wars.” Her mistake, said Lenin, is “to lose sight of the national movements against imperialism,” and to show the possibility of national wars against imperialism he gave three examples, which are worth describing because they exemplify Lenin’s method on the national question and they will show how deliberately false is Minor’s “quotation.”
Very significant for today is Lenin’s insistence that a war waged by a colonial or semi-colonial country against an imperialist power can remain a progressive war – such as China’s war against Japan – in spite of China having imperialist “allies.” Lenin writes:
“Every war is a continuation of politics by other means. The continuation of the national-liberation politics of the colonies must necessarily be national wars on their part against imperialism. Such wars may lead to an imperialist war of the present ‘great’ imperialist powers, but they may also not lead to this-it depends on a number of circumstances.
“To take an example: in the Seven Years War, Britain and France were fighting for colonies; that is, they were waging an imperialist war (which is possible on the basis of slave rule or of primitive capitalism just as much as on the contemporary basis of highly developed capitalism). France was vanquished and lost a part of her colonies. Several years later there began a national-liberation war of the North American States against Britain alone. France and Spain, who still owned a apart of the present United States, were led by their hostility to Britain – that is, by their imperialist interest – to enter into a friendly agreement with the States that were rebelling against Britain. French troops fought along with the Americans against the English. We thus see a national-liberation war, in which the imperialist co-operation [with the colony – F.M.] appears merely as a secondary element without serious significance ...” (Lenin, On the Junius Pamphlet, first printed in English in The Labour Monthly, Jan. 1935)
It is clear here that Lenin gives no credit for progressiveness to the imperialist powers which for “their own imperialist interests” would be supporting such a war as China’s war against Japan. Here is the essence of Lenin’s method on such wars. That method, applied to the present war, characterizes the war of China and the Soviet Union, non-imperialist countries, as progressive, while the war of the imperialist powers on both sides remains reactionary. Contrast this Leninist method with the Stalinist claptrap whereby – presumably by osmosis or contagion – imperialist allies of non-imperialist countries are whitewashed into progressives!
In the above example Lenin was considering the great colonial and semi-colonial countries like India, China and Persia, fighting their main imperialist oppressors where it was possible for the imperialist co-operation with the colonial country to be “merely a secondary element.” In Europe, however, as the example of Serbia showed, the small capitalist countries are swallowed up in a general imperialist war so that the national element then “has no serious significance compared to the basic imperialist rivalries.”
But, added Lenin, thinking particularly of the coming break-up of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, opening the way to national independence for the Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Letts, Finns, Poles, etc., there may be occasions when the national struggles for liberation by these small peoples may not be submerged in a general imperialist war:
“The imperialist era has made the present war into an imperialist war; it will necessarily (until the advent of socialism) produce new imperialist wars; it has made the politics of the present great powers essentially imperialist – but this ‘epoch’ in no way excludes a national war, e.g. on the part of the small (even though annexed or nationally subjected) states against the imperialist powers, in the same way as it does not exclude large scale national movements in Eastern Europe ... In the event of the ‘great’ powers being thoroughly exhausted in the present war, or in the event of a victory of the revolution in Russia, national wars are quite possible and may even be successful. On the one hand, the interference of the imperialist powers would not necessarily take place in every case. If, on the other hand, it is decided ‘off one’s bat’ that a war of a small state against a giant is hopeless, then we must answer that a hopeless war is also a war. Besides that, the appearance of certain phenomena inside the ‘giants’ – for instance the outbreak of a revolution – may change a hopeless war into a very hopeful one.” (idem)
Lenin’s thought here is too unambiguous to permit of Stalinist “interpretation”: the exhaustion of the imperialists or the Russian revolution can provide conditions for an isolated war of national liberation of a small nation against an imperialist power, but if a general imperialist war breaks out “the national element ... has no serious significance compared to the basic imperialist rivalries.” By this criterion it is clear how anti-Leninist is the claim of the Stalinists that Britain’s allies, Greece and Yugoslavia (the latter an imperialist state oppressing the Croats), were fighting “national-liberation” wars against Germany.
Lenin was writing this article in the dark days of August 1916, when the European proletariat was dormant; it was conceivable that the war might end without a revolutionary upheaval. In March 1916 Lenin wrote: “It is possible, however, that five, ten and even more years will pass before the beginning of the socialist revolution.” In January 1917 he said: “We, the older men, will perhaps not live long enough to see the decisive battles of the impending revolution.” Under certain conditions, if no revolutions come, said Lenin, there might even be a national war in Europe:
“... if the European proletariat proved to be powerless for twenty years; if the present war should end with Napoleonic victories and the subjection of a whole series of national states that are capable of life; if non-European imperialism (mainly Japanese and American) should also hold out for twenty years, without going over to socialism, for instance, as a result of a Japanese-American war, – then a large-scale national war in Europe would be possible. This would mean for Europe a retrograde development of several decades, and is improbable. But it is not impossible, since it is non-dialectical, non-scientific, and theoretically incorrect to imagine world history as progressing smoothly and accurately forward, without occasional enormous retrogressive steps.” (idem)
Fortunately for humanity, the “improbable” did not occur. The European proletariat did not prove to be powerless for twenty years; on the contrary the October revolution destroyed capitalism in one of the key countries of world imperialism, the Soviet Union survived and its weight in Europe and the post-war wave of revolution made impossible any attempt by France to establish a Napoleonic domination of the continent. Otherwise it is conceivable that, over a period of twenty years (note Lenin’s emphasis on how long such a development would take) victorious France, with an absolutely free hand in Europe, permanently occupying the Ruhr and stripping Germany of its industries and economic resources (as well as its colonies) could have reduced Germany to the status of a non-imperialist nation (its finance-capital structure would have been wiped out). And after twenty years, with the old German capitalist class gone from the scene, a new generation in Germany whose bourgeoisie would have been equivalent to the bourgeoisie of a semi-colonial country might have, in alliance with other subjugated nations on the continent, conducted a war of national-liberation in Europe. This is an example of the “improbable” but “not impossible” perspective had no revolutions come during or after the first imperialist war.
But revolution did come, and henceforth Lenin never gave any place in his thoughts to the possibility of such a national war in Europe. Lenin lived for six years after the October revolution, perhaps the most fruitful years of his life. It is no accident that Minor and the Stalinists have to dig back to 1916, before even the February revolution, for something in which Lenin concedes even the possibility of such a national war in Europe! No amount of combing will find anything of the sort in Lenin’s writings between February 1917 and his death in January 1924.
Now, having described what Lenin had to say on national wars against imperialism in his August, 1916 articles, we are in a position to measure the monstrosity of the Stalinist falsification of that article.
“In this article Lenin, with startling accuracy, sketched the possibilities and even foretold as probable a great national war in Europe in connection with the rise of a dictator-conqueror of the Napoleon type – provided that certain conditions were to come about. The reader will see what the conditions were, as forecast by Lenin. Among them are: if the war of 1914–1918 were to be concluded in such a way that ‘the proletariat of Europe proved to be powerless for some twenty years’; and if that were to result in ‘victories of the type of Napoleon’s and the enslavement of a number of vital national states’; if ‘extra-European imperialism’ held out for twenty years; and if there should come a victorious revolution in Russia. If these conditions were to come about, said Lenin, a ‘great national war’ – i.e., a just war in defense of national independence, would be possible.
“The occurrence of the first three of these conditions ‘would be a development of Europe backward by some decades,’ said Lenin ...
“The ‘temporary step backward’ has eventuated. By the Hitler war, Europe and the whole world are ‘thrown back for several decades,’ and against this hideous reaction, ‘wars of national liberation’ have become inevitable on the part of all nations of the world.” (The Communist, Oct. 1941, p. 881, my italics – F.M.)
Let us list the main Stalinist forgeries in this fabrication of Minor which follows the Hitler-Stalin precept that “the grosser the lie the more readily people believe it.”
Forgery No. 1: Of Lenin’s examples of different types of national wars cited above, Nos. II and III are mutually exclusive: the existence of one excludes the other. III was based on what might happen if there were no Russian revolution and II is based on the perspective of a Russian revolution – II and III could not both happen. But in order to connect together the “great national war” of a revolution-less Europe with the not-to-be-denied Russian revolution, Minor, deliberately committing a forgery,’ puts together as a single set of conditions Lenin’s mutually exclusive conditions for II (revolution) and III (no revolution)!
Forgery No. 2: Example III – a great national war in Europe – could happen only if, in addition to the absence of any successful revolutions, there would be a Napoleonic domination of Europe for “some twenty years,” says Lenin, i.e., long enough to wipe out the imperialist structure of a country like France and reduce it to semi-colonial character. This, of course, did not happen after the first imperialist war. This has not happened and could not have happened in the two and a half years since the second imperialist war began – if nothing else, the time that has elapsed is too short for such a process: both Vichy and De Gaullist France are imperialist powers retaining colonial empires, the governments-in-exile are fighting both to recover their own imperialist interests (Holland’s great colonial empire, Yugoslav oppression of the Croats, Czech oppression of the Slovaks and the Sudetens, etc.) and as satellites of Anglo-American imperialism. And the war is still unfolding – to be ended, we are certain, by proletarian and colonial revolutions far greater in scope than the revolutionary wave of 1917–23. The task of the masses in the occupied countries is not “national war” – wars can only be fought by states and armies – but revolution against Nazi domination. To apply to this situation in Europe Lenin’s hypothesis of what could happen after “some twenty years” of Napoleonic domination of Europe can only be done by a Stalinist falsifier.
Forgery No. 3: To Lenin the possibility of a great national war in Europe was “improbable” even in the dark days of 1916, and he never referred to it again after the February revolution. Minor falsifies this to mean that “Lenin, with startling accuracy, sketched the possibilities and even foretold as probable a great national war in Europe.” Lenin wrote “improbable”; Minor simply changes it to “probable”
Forgery No. 4: Even if this improbable situation became reality, Lenin never said that imperialists if allied to a non-imperialist country thereby become capable of fighting progressive wars. As we saw by his example I, China’s war against Japan does not make Anglo-American imperialism’s war against Japan progressive, any more than Spain and France’s war against England became progressive because they were allied to the American colonies. Lenin makes this absolutely clear. It would be a “national war” only for the semi-colonial countries. Minor deliberately falsifies Lenin to mean that “wars of national liberation have become inevitable on the part of all nations of the world.”
Forgery No. 5: Minor pretends that the Marxist-Leninist tradition is that, in a national war, it is the duty of the proletariat to collaborate with the bourgeois government, vote for its war budgets, etc. This is precisely the same falsification of Marx’s teachings concocted by the social-chauvinists during the first imperialist war.
Here is what Lenin had to say on the real Marxist tradition toward national wars and its falsification by the social-chauvinists:
“The policy of the social-chauvinists, their justification of the war from the bourgeois standpoint of national liberty, their acceptance of the ‘defense of the fatherland,’ their voting for war appropriations, their participation in the cabinet etc., etc., is a direct betrayal of Socialism ...
“The Russian social-chauvinists refer to Marx’s tactics in the war of 1870 ...
“All these references are an abominable distortion of Marx and Engels’ views ... The war of 1870–71 was historical progressive on Germany’s side up to the defeat of Napoleon III ... Even at the beginning of the war of 1870–1871 Marx and Engels approved of Bebel’s and Liebknecht’s refusal to vote for military appropriations; they advised the Social-Democrats not to merge with the bourgeoisie, but to defend the independent class-interests of the proletariat.” (The Imperialist War, p. 228.)
Thus the class struggle was to go on even in a national war, for Marx and Engels, and for Lenin. According to the Stalinist falsification of Marxism-Leninism, however, Bebel and Liebknecht – who correctly considered a vote in favour would he a vote of confidence for the bourgeois government – should have been shot as “fifth columnists” for refusing to vote military appropriations in a national war.
There were many who wanted to do just that to Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht; “millions looked upon every Social-Democrat as having played the part of a murderer and a vile criminal in 1870; the Socialist had been in the eyes of the masses a traitor and an enemy,” recalled Liebknecht, “so it was no small thing at that time to swim against the current. But what is to be done, must be done. And so we gritted our teeth in the face of the inevitable. There was no time for fear ... Certainly Bebel and I never for a moment thought of the warning. We did not retreat. We had to hold our posts, come what might.”
“They stuck to their posts,” Rosa Luxemburg adds, in the Junius Pamphlet, “and for forty years the socialist movement lived upon the moral strength with which it had opposed a world of enemies.”
The millions who wanted to lynch Liebknecht had at least the excuse that they were not socialists but under bourgeois influence, and that it was a national war for the unification of German The Stalinists, joining the howling bourgeois pack, want to lynch revolutionary internationalists during an imperialist war – in the forged name of Leninism.
But the revolutionary internationalists fear neither the imperialists nor their Stalinist murder-gangs. Following Lenin, we take our motto from Liebknecht in 1870: against the current.
1. Minor’s “quotation” from Trotsky is of course faked:
“Is it not possible that Mr. Trotsky was right in saying that what Hitler is doing is to bring about the ‘national unification’ of Germany, in saying that ‘Bismarck only half fulfilled this task, leaving almost intact the entire feudal and particularist rubbish,’ and failed to centralize Germany! If, as our latest books tell us, history moves only forward, then is it not possible that Trotsky spoke the truth in saying ‘Both these tasks fell to Hitler. The leader of fascism came forward in his own fashion as the continuator of Bismarck’.“
Minor wisely does not cite his source; his “quotation” is from Trotsky’s A Fresh Lesson: On the Character of the Coming War, in the Dec. 1938 New International. What Trotsky actually wrote was:
“The leader of Fascism came forward, in his own fashion, as the continuator of Bismarck, who in his turn had been the executor of the bourgeois bankrupts of 1848. But this is in the long run only the superficial aspect of the process. Its social content has radically changed. From the progressive factor that it was, the national state has long since been transformed in advanced countries into a brake on the development of productive forces. Ten million more Germans within the boundaries of Germany do not alter the reactionary nature of the national state. For Hitler it is not at all a question of ‘unifying Germans’ as an independent task, but of creating a broader European drill-ground for future world expansion.”
In short, Trotsky wrote the opposite of what Minor’s “quotation” attributes to him.
Such is the Stalin school of falsification.
Last updated on: 21 August 2015