Gregory Zinoviev

Wars – Defensive and Aggressive

(4 August 1916)

Source: New International, Vol.5 No.4, April 1939, pp.111-117.
Written/First Published: 1916 (approximately) in The War and the Crisis in Socialism
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, 18 June 2006.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan.

Part II

The War of 1877-1878 As a Transition To a New Era

WE HAVE ALREADY SAID that the war of 1870-1871 was the last great national war in Europe to which – proceeding from the interests of socialism and of democracy – the criterion of the aggressive and defensive wars, in the historical sense of these terms, could be applied.

And the war of 1877-1878? Was it not a national war too? This question may be answered with a Yes and a No:

For the Serbs, Bulgarians, Rumanians, etc., it was a question of national independence and the war, for them, bore a national-emancipatory character. The echo of the national struggle was heard in all the events of 1876, 1877 and 1878 on the Balkan peninsula; national uprisings followed military clashes. On the other hand, however, all the events occurred under the sign of the imperialist race between Russia and England. These two Great Powers made the small Balkan peoples their tools, although it was a life and death question for the latter. This was most clearly discernible from the Berlin Congress. Imperialist England, basing herself on her sea power and exploiting the antagonism between Russia and Austria, forced Russia into a revision of the St. Stephano Treaty. To the Berlin Congress in 1878 – like a swarm of crows – rushed the diplomats of the European Powers, bent on chiselling the juiciest possible morsels for their governments. England obtained the Island of Cyprus, Russia took Bessarabia again and received Batum, Ardagan and Kars in addition. Austria obtained a protectorate over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bismarck, as “honest broker”, was promised various advantages for German trade in the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. Russia got most of all; the Sultan had to “cede” more than 30,000 square kilometers. It first became known later on that France was then secretly guaranteed Tunis by England. Thereupon, in 1881, France, with Bismarck’s permission and England’s tacit support, seized Tunis. Cyprus for Tunis, Tunis for Cyprus! The Bulgarians and Serbs were fighting for their national independence; that gave France cause enough for stealing Tunis in Africa! One of the best proofs that, as early as the war of 1877-1878, imperialist motives played an enormous role – at least among the principal stage-managers of the drama.

What has the struggle for genuine national independence to do with the imperialist raids which England and the other imperialist Great Powers undertook in this war?

The Bulgarian peasant of course put his heart and soul into this war. He was really fighting for national emancipation. The unheard-of pressure exercized by the Turks had called forth a strong national movement. The economic and cultural subjugation was especially aggravated by the pressure exerted in religious affairs. When the Bulgarian soldiers heard the church-bells of the field churches built by Karl of Rumania, they went into ecstasy. These church-bells were like manna from heaven to them.

The Turks had prohibited the Bulgarians for many years from having bells in the churches. To the Bulgarian peasants, the sound of the bells was a harbinger of emancipation from the Turkish yoke. But the real directors of the affair – the imperialists of England, France, etc. – had an interest in a quite different sound, the sound of money, of gold which was to be squeezed out of the traded-off territories. National unity in itself interested them very little. The result of the war was that the Serbian people was suddenly split into four parts: the Serbian parts of Turkey and Austria, Montenegro and its own land. The Bulgarians were divided into two parts. So were the Rumanians. The bourgeoisie of the Great Powers, without the slightest compunction, completely split up the small peoples who had joined the struggle for their national independence.

The war of 1877-1878 showed that even in so remote a corner of Europe as the Balkan peninsula, the Great Powers immediately intervene, and the elements of the national struggle are finally completely lost in their imperialist world struggle. The criterion of defensive and aggressive wars was historically outdated. A new era dawned in which, according to the whole state of things, such a criterion had lost all meaning. The war of 1877-1878 constituted the transition to this new era. In subsequent wars, the national element played a certain role. But this role was an entirely subordinate one. We are ready to admit that even in the war of 1914-1916 there are remote corners of Europe where the national element still plays a small role – the national element in the Austro-Serbian conflict. But that is only an episode, a small detail which alters nothing in the imperialist character of the war.

The diplomatic-strategical estimation of the wars of defense and aggression could never serve democracy as a criterion. The examples of the Italian and the Franco-German wars show that. So do the wars of the Twentieth Century. Examples: the Balkan war of 1912 (i.e., the war of the Slavic peoples against Turkey) and the second Balkan war of 1913 (i.e., the war of the Slavic peoples among themselves). If the criterion is applied from the diplomatic standpoint, entirely different results are attained. It was not the Turks who declared the war – the status quo was in their favor – but the Slavic peoples. Could democracy therefore take the part of Turkey, which was allegedly attacked? Of course not! In 1913, Bulgaria started the war, not Serbia. Bulgaria was – in diplomatic respects – the directly guilty party (we disregard here the role of Russia). Could democracy draw the conclusion from this that it must take the part of Serbia against Bulgaria?

With the beginning of the new era, the old yardstick has become obsolete also in historical respects. For the whole environment, all the conditions, have become different. Once Wilhelm Liebknecht maintained that in case of an aggressive war, democracy is under obligation to support those who are defending themselves; he compared the aggressive party with a simple thief and robber who breaks into someone else’s house to carry off something which the proprietor of the house himself requires. Now it is different. In the imperialist epoch wars are conducted by a whole series of consummate thieves and robbers for the division of the wealth (and lives) of third persons. There is nothing for honest people to do in this case but to find the shortest way of rendering harmless all these thieves, the whole gang. When two house-breakers are quarreling over the spoils – what honest man worries over which of the two was the first to violate the thieves’ code of morals? It is positively ridiculous to speak here of the criterion of a just war of defense ...

Modern Slaveholders

In a certain sense, all the wars of the non-European peoples, who have been turned into mere objects of imperialist policy, are “just” wars of defense. These peoples are divided arbitrarily. Dissections are performed on their living bodies. The European imperialists trade them off like cattle. The imperialist Great Powers of Europe divide whole continents among themselves.

When Wilhelm II, shortly before the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war, sent Nicholas II the famous telegram: “The Admiral of the Atlantic Ocean salutes the Admiral of the Pacific Ocean” – what did this mean politically? It meant that the German imperialists were proposing to the Russian Czar and the Russian imperialists to suppress all the peoples of Asia on the condition that the Czar and the Russian capitalists do not prevent the German imperialists from suppressing and exploiting all the peoples of Africa. It was a proposal to divide the slaves among the slaveholders.

The population of the colonies means nothing but beasts of burden to the gentlemen imperialists. A small example : In 1904 occurred the uprising of the Hereros in the Southwest African colony of Germany. The hapless native population could no longer stand the pain and torment to which they were subjected for years by the merchants of civilization sent by Wilhelm II. The German merchants plundered the population and reduced it to beggary. The German officers and gendarmes beat and killed the unfortunate Hereros – women and children were pitilessly mistreated – in the interest of maintaining “discipline”. When the Hereros rebelled, Wilhelm sent down new regiments. Half the male population of the colony was killed. The Hereros and their families were driven by the thousands into the burning, waterless desert, where they died of thirst ...

Ten years have passed since these inhumanities; the Germans feel the shortage of working forces in that colony – and now they are sorry: How “inexpediently” we acted, they say, why did we so senselessly murder off so much toiling cattle? One of the most prominent representatives of German imperialism, Paul Rohrbach, writes in 1915 in his book, Unsere koloniale Zukunftsarbeit, the following cynical words:

When the uprising [of the Hereros] broke out, its suppression was not left to the then Governor Leutwein and his experienced old officers. Instead a commander-in-chief was sent down who had no notion that – in the later word of Dernburg – the natives are the great economic asset of an African colony. A war of extermination was declared against the Hereros and something like half the people perished in the foodless and waterless desert. Likewise did all the cattle fall victim to the inexpedient [!] conduct of the war. Of course the rebels had to be punished and, above all, disarmed, but to exterminate half of them was as absurd as it could possibly be. The dangerous labor shortage now prevalent in Southwest Africa derives mainly from the conduct of the war of 1904-1905. It is responsible for the present slowing down of the economic development of the colony. (Paul Rohrbach, Unsere koloniale Zukunftsarbeit, Stuttgart, 1915, pp. 29f.)

Aren’t these the words of a slaveholder?

The imperialists of all countries treat the peoples who are the objects of their imperialist exploitation as slaves. Naturally the slaves rebel against their tormentors and naturally the strivings of these peoples for freedom and independence become stronger the more often they have the opportunity to conduct a war of defense against their oppressors.

The socialists must recognize these wars of the colonial peoples against their European imperialist rulers as just wars of defense. And that quite independently of who is the immediately aggressive party.

The Boer War from the Standpoint of Aggression and Defense

In 1877, the English imperialists declared the Boer Republic a part of England. For many years, they employed all sorts of violent measures until – basing themselves upon a petition of 2,500 (!) Boers who were supposed to have begged voluntarily for incorporation into England – the English imperialists decided to act more energetically. At first the Boers submitted. In 1881, however, they assembled enough forces and, under the leadership of Kruger, Praetorius and Joubert, they attacked the English army which suffered a heavy defeat. That was the first act of the Boer drama. The Boers began once more. On October 9, 1899, the government of the Boer Republic sent the English government an ultimatum consisting of four points:

  1. the conflict must be decided by a court of arbitration;
  2. England must withdraw her armies from the frontier;
  3. all reserves sent to South Africa from June 1 onward, must be recalled to England;
  4. the armed forces being sent on warships must not be landed anywhere in South Africa.

Without waiting for any of the formalities connected with the consideration of the ultimatum by the English House of Commons, the Boers attacked the English troops. They were the aggressive party and England, formally, the defender. And the English proclaimed to the entire world that their war was a just one, they had been assaulted, etc. In spite of this, the Boer war was a just war on the part of the Boers and the world proletariat took their part.

Why? Because the Boer people was fighting for its independence. [1] English imperialism, however, was fighting for the capture of the diamond fields discovered in Kimberley in 1867.

For decades the English imperialists had oppressed the Boers, exploiting them politically and economically. In 1896 the English representative in South Africa, Jameson, launched a cavalry attack upon the Boers, during which many innocent citizens lost their lives. He declared later that he was forced to act in “self-defense”. In reality, however, the English rifles had gone off a little sooner than was suitable for the plans of the English government. It was compelled to act as if is was dissatisfied with its representative. He was turned over to a court, given thirteen months in prison, but was then pardoned because of “poor health”. This was just as hypocritical a comedy on the part of the English imperialists as the famous telegram of sympathy which Wilhelm II sent the Boers on the occasion of the event. The English and the German imperialists played with the Boers like a cat with a mouse. Hence the war of the Boers against the English was outwardly a war of aggression – in reality, a just war of defense.

The Abyssinian War Considered from The Same Standpoint

Or a second example: Abyssinia’s war against Italy in 1896.

Since 1881, Italy had been taking over one Red Sea territory after another. The gold, ivory, rubber, coffee, cotton and other fields increasingly whetted the appetite of the Italian imperialists. On May 2, 1889, Humbert, King of Italy, succeeded in tying down Menelik to a treaty which brought Abyssinia into complete economic dependence upon Italy. In 1894-1897, Kassala already also belonged to the Italians, who then sold it to the English for cash money. The Italian imperialists felt themselves more and more “at home” in their Eritrean colonies. But in order to guarantee these colonies for good, the Italian Premier Crispi took care to strengthen constantly the Italian army stationed there. In 1896 he decided to increase it by 10,000 men. Thereupon Menelik, without waiting for the 10,000 new Italian soldiers, attacked the Italians with an army of 90,000 men and on March 1, 1896 inflicted a complete defeat upon them at Abba Kapima. In December the Italian-French-English treaty was signed, recognizing the independence of Abyssinia and establishing only the principle of the “open door”.

Thus Abyssinia was the first to declare the war on Italy in 1896. Outwardly, therefore, Abyssinia was the aggressive party, but in reality she was conducting a just war of defense against the Italian imperialists.

China and the Great Powers

Let us consider China. This country has especially excited the appetites of the Great Powers. Let us dwell upon her in some detail.

As a classic example of the wars of suppression of the period which directly preceded the imperialist epoch, there is the war which England conducted against China in 1840-1842 over the buying of opium.

English trade in China was a monopoly of the English East India Company. In the interests of its enrichment, the company adapted itself fully to the orders of the Chinese authorities; the latter looked down upon the “barbarians” from the West and were of the opinion that the “barbarians” had the right of trade in China only thanks to the special grace of the Son of Heaven. The English capitalists resisted such a conception of their rights.

On April 22, 1834, the monopoly of the English East India Company was abolished by the English Parliament (Wilhelm Schuler, Abriss der neueren Geschichte Chinas, Berlin 1912, p.128). England made an effort to acquire the right of free trade in China.

As early as 1834-1836, matters almost reached the point of military conflict over the question. England attempted to settle down in China; she had the conception that according to the prevailing international law the non-Christian peoples in general were not all equal. That is how a defender of English policy, Eitel, explains England’s conduct (The History of Hong-kong).

In this already tense situation, the conflict over opium trade played a decisive role.

The opium trade reached an enormous scope in China. At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, the number of annually imported opium cases reached 4,100, that is, twenty times as large as twenty years earlier. In 1820, 10,000 cases were imported, in 1830, 18,000 cases, in 1835, 30,000 (Loc. cit., p.134).

Against this trade in opium, which was most harmful to the Chinese population because it promoted dipsomania, sickness and degeneration, the Chinese government made emphatic protest. Smuggling was severely punished. The Chinese commissioner, Liu, confiscated and destroyed 20,283 cases in 1839. In spite of this, the Indian opium crop continued to be imported into China.

Liu proceeded to more incisive methods. He forced all Englishmen to withdraw to Honk-kong. And although Liu proposed quite acceptable conditions for the opium trade to the Englishmen in November 1839, England nevertheless decided to launch a war.

The war began. On January 26, 1841, the English occupied Hong-kong. The cruelty of the English knew no bounds. The Chinese offered desperate resistance to the “inferior beings against whom gods and men rebelled”. The Chinese would not allow themselves to be captured alive by the English. In Chinese camps about to be occupied by the English, the Chinese, before surrendering to the superior forces of the English, killed their wives and children and then committed suicide. The Chinese regimental commanders – officers and generals – preferred to do away with themselves, to burn on a funeral pile, rather than fall into the hands of the English. So great was the cruelty of the English and so great the hatred of the Chinese.

England of course triumphed over unfortunate China. The peace was signed in Nanking on August 29, 1842. The Island of Hong-kong passed into the hands of the English in perpetuity on the basis of the peace treaty. Canton, Shanghai and other ports were made free for English trade. The system of monopoly was abolished. England gained the right to send her consuls to China. China paid $21,000,000 for the destroyed opium, for war indemnity, etc.

Therewith began the great European expeditions against China.

The peace of 1842 improved the tense relationships between England and China only for a short time. China was unable to offer resistance to the assault of the European Powers. The impending partition of China was openly discussed in the European press. Napoleon III joined hands with the English imperialists. In 1856-1860, China was forced into a war against England and France. The hatred of England mounted higher. A conspiracy was uncovered in Hong-kong which aimed at poisoning all the Englishmen resident there. The plan failed only because the food (sandwiches) contained too large a dose of arsenic. So great was the embitterment of the Chinese. The English insisted upon an extension of their rights in China. They began a new war, bombarding and destroying whole cities. In 1858, they dictated to China the peace of Tientsin. England succeeded in having something like ten more Chinese ports opened up to English trade. The trade tariffs were altered in England’s favor, the right to send an English ambassador to China was recognized, China paid indemnities, etc. One of the points of the peace treaty (7.) read: the term “barbarians” may no longer be applied to any English subject. (Loc. cit., p.172.)

Such are the methods by which the imperialists restored their “honor” and thus did they retort to the notion about their “barbarism”. [2]

The second imperialist power acted in the same way. Atrocities which the Chinese committed against French officials were avenged by the French troops in such a way – just before the conclusion of the peace – that 200 castles and temples and a very valuable library were burned. Then they dictated a peace to the Chinese in Peking which was in harmony with that of Tientsin and in some points even worse.

In November 1860, General Ignatiev forced China not only to confirm the treaty of Aigun but in addition to cede the whole territory east of the Ussuri to Russia.

In 1880, Japan took possession of the Chinese island of Tsiukin.

In 1895, Russia extended her possessions in China still farther, and flirted with Korea; England took for herself Port Hamilton, an island South of Korea.

In 1884-1885, China was forced to fight against France which had stolen the whole southern part of Cochin-China. In July 1885, China signed the peace, promised not to interfere in the relations between France and Annam and paid a large indemnity.

In July 1886, Burma finally passed into English hands and in 1890 China was forced to recognize England’s protectorate over the Himalayan state of Tsikim. (Loc. cit., p.227.)

In 1894, the Sino-Japanese war broke out. The German imperialists were happy that the killing of two missionaries offered them a pretext: they threatened China with a war and thereupon received Kiaochow on a 99-year lease. Kiaochow for the heads of two missionaries. The German imperialists would not be averse to making such an advantageous deal every month. In 1899, Italy too attempted to squeeze something out for herself, but China had the strength to show her the door.

The imperialist Powers not only expropriated China, not only continued to regard her as an object of imperialist raids, but in addition they intervened in the domestic affairs of China, playing a counter-revolutionary role and supporting the Chinese reaction. There are ample instances of this.

At the beginning of the Fifties, an insurrectionary movement began in China which became known under the name of Taiping. This movement, which bore a somewhat religious character (it recalled the movement of the Anabaptists), was directed at the same time against the ruling Chinese dynasty. The movement continued to gain adherents and was borne from town to town. A regular state of war existed between the troops of the dynasty and the Taipings. The dynasty was preparing a most sanguinary defeat of the rebels. The troops of the imperialist Powers, however, deemed it their duty to support this bloody work. An especially sorry role was played by the soldiers of the noble Great Power, France, in the dispersal of the rebels from Shanghai in 1855. After they had surrendered, 1,700 rebels were executed, with the cooperation of the Great Powers. As reward, France demanded and received an extension of her settlements.

Russia also took part in the repression of the Chinese uprising of 1858 – as equivalent of her Amur undertakings.

But the Taiping movement lasted into the Sixties. The troops which had remained loyal to the Chinese government, found it increasingly difficult to put an end to the movement. The Chinese reaction found itself compelled ever more frequently to appeal to the European Great Powers. And they came gladly to its aid – naturally, not without corresponding “compensations”. In 1862, the English and French troops undertook to “purge” the 60-kilometer zone around Shanghai of the rebels. In February 1862, the French incorporated 900 soldiers, the English 1,000 into the Chinese regiments lead by Li Hung-chang. Together with him, they fought the rebels.

The tradition of this “counter-revolutionary” policy of the Great Powers in China was continued by imperialist Germany during the Chinese Revolution of 1911. In his book, officially marked for recognition by the German authorities, Schuler narrates that in the North of China, Tsingtao offered protection to all the highly-placed officials and the nobility who were able to save their lives and their possessions in this sure shelter. Curiously enough, the author complains that during the uprising the revolutionary Chinese press constantly fanned the hatred against the Germans because of their “alleged” support of the dynasty with weapons, munitions, etc.

Can one wonder after all this that the hatred of the European Powers is great in China? Can it be maintained – without hypocrisy – that Europe was forced to answer the outbreaks of Chinese fanaticism with “defensive wars”?

In 1899, the Ta Tin Tin (Society of the Great Knife) arose in China. In 1900, the secret league of the “Great Fist” (the English called the members of this society Boxers) arose which set itself the aim of fighting the Europeans and driving them out of China. There were excesses. The Chinese attacked the European consuls, killed, for example, the German consul von Ketteler, etc. Thereupon the European governments sent troops to China, which committed cruelties in comparison with which the deeds of the Boxers looked like innocent child’s play.

But what caused the Boxer movement? The fact that the imperialists of all countries fell upon China like a pack of hungry wolves.

In 1894, China conducted a war against Japan over Korea. The Japanese triumphed and dictated the peace to the Chinese in Shimonoseki. The European imperialists promptly interfered in the affair. The spoils of their Japanese companion left them no rest. After the Peace of Shimonoseki, Japan was allotted Formosa, Port Arthur and a billion in indemnity. Korea was to become independent. Russia, France and Germany united against Tapan. To throw sand in the eyes, it was stated that the intervention was caused by the declaration of independence of Northern China. In reality, both Russia and Germany felt only the lust for booty. In Germany too imperialism had raised its head. Germany decided to lay claim to Kiaochow ... On May 4, 1895, Japan was forced to return Port Arthur and Liaotung to China. For this “friendly service” the four Great Powers were rewarded as follows: Germany received Kiaochow on a 99-year lease, and it was taken over by the Japanese in 1914. Russia received Port Arthur on a 35-year lease, England “leased” Weihaiwei, France Kwang Chu-wan. [3]

Thus was China divided and plundered by the European imperialists. Naturally this caused a just indignation among the Chinese people, which adopted desperate methods in its defense from the robbers. No honest person can contend that the European governments conducted a just war of defense in 1900 during the Boxer war. And the fact that the consuls of the European governments were attacked by the Chinese, alters nothing of the facts.

The Island of Cuba

Wars conducted by peoples against imperialists upon whom they are dependent, are just wars of defense. Imperialist wars against colonial peoples are unjust wars of aggression. Wars that the imperialists fight among themselves have the aim of dividing or re-dividing slaves and are therefore to be condemned; neither of the two sides is conducting a “just war of defense”.

Let us consider as an illustration of the last case the war of Spain against the Island of Cuba and the war of America against Spain for the Island of Cuba.

The Island of Cuba was from times immemorial oppressed by Spain. In 1868-1878, a series of uprisings took place on the Island of Cuba. The Island was granted the same autonomy that all Spanish provinces possess. Beginning with 1881, Cuba sent 30 deputies and 14 senators to the Spanish Cortes. In 1888, slavery was abolished. In 1895, a new uprising broke out in Cuba; war began against Spain. Spain mobilized an army of 200,000 men which distinguished itself by inhuman cruelty. In spite of this Spain could get nowhere. Then America intervened in the situation. For the North American imperialists it was a question of preparing the United States for participation in the struggle for the Pacific Ocean coasts. In addition, the Americans had sunk large sums of money into various enterprises in Cuba. Above all, the large reserves of tobacco, coffee, sugar, etc., in Cuba, the Phillipines and Puerto Rico had long ago made the Americans restless. On April 23, 1898 Spain received an ultimatum from the President of the United States, McKinley. War breaks out between America and Spain. America triumphed and took from Spain (by the Paris Treaty of December 10, 1898) Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. The Monroe Doctrine [4] won and with it the moneybags of the American imperialists. Although America proclaimed everywhere that it was fighting for liberty and independence, it now refused to grant the Philippines freedom. In 1900-1901, uprisings broke out intermittently in the Philippines and were suppressed by the Americans with the bloodiest means. Cuba obtained her autonomy and a republican constitution in 1901; whereas the Philippines were permitted to convene a National Assembly only in 1907, and all its decisions must first be confirmed by America.

Now the question is: Who is the aggressor party here, who the defender? Who conducted a just war and who an unjust? The answer is clear: Both parties, both the Spanish and the American imperialists, conducted the unjust war of two slaveholders for the possession of slaves. It would be ridiculous to examine which of them was aggressor and which defender. Only the third party conducted a just war of defense – the oppressed peoples of Cuba and the Philippines who fought for liberty and independence – against the Spanish and American slaveholders.


In the ten years between 1895 and 1905 we see five great imperialist wars: the war between China and Japan for Korea in 1895, the war between America and Spain for Cuba in 1898, the war between England and the Boers for the diamond fields of Transvaal in 1899, the war between all Europe and China in 1900, because the Great Powers wanted to impose their railroads on China and enrich themselves at China’s expense, and finally the war between Russia and Japan for the right to exploit Manchuria in 1904.

All these bloody wars did not bring the victors any particular territorial expansion: Manchuria continued to remain with China, China formally retained her independence, South Africa constitutes a politically autonomous state, Cuba becomes an “independent” republic. In spite of this, however, the victors nevertheless carried off their spoils: railroads, loans, customs duties, concessions, etc., became the possessions of the imperialists of that “fatherland” which bought its victory with streams of blood.

A second typically imperialist conflict was the one over Morocco, which even before 1914 almost led to a world war.

The industrial race between German and English capital forced imperialist England to seek an alliance with her old foe, France. In 1903 Edward VII paid a visit to France. What was the real cause of this visit? At that time that German-French syndicate was almost concluded. The German imperialists sought a rapprochement to the French and were prepared to “cede” a part of the Bagdad Railway. The Germans needed French capital. The German-French syndicate was founded. Arthur von Gwinner, director of the Deutsche Bank, was named President. For Vice-President, Vernes, colleague of the Rothschilds in the Compagnie du Nord and the Compagnie du Midi, member of the Council if the Union Parisiènne Bank and the Banque Ottomane, member of the Salonica-Constantinople Railroad Company, etc. Behind M. Vernes stood Rouvier & Co.

Edward VII appeared in Paris as the agent of the English imperialist bourgeoisie, in order to prevent the Franco-German syndicate. He succeeded, and paid with Morocco. The French imperialists renounced all claims to Egypt and left it to the English, receiving from the latter – Morocco. Egypt for Morocco, Morocco for Egypt!

This machination was presented to the “people” as an “Entente cordiale” (a “hearty alliance” in which it was not so much the heart that played a role as the purse).

Because the French imperialists abandoned all cooperation with the German imperialists, the English imperialists left the former the monopoly over the railroads, the ports, telegraphic system, public works, etc., of Morocco.

The German imperialists, however, began brandishing their bayonets. They threatened to kindle a world war unless they received their share of Morocco. The conference in Algeciras found itself compelled to make certain concessions to the German imperialists. A certain percentage of the Moroccan loans was allotted to them and a sufficient sphere of influence for the import of capital, etc., guaranteed.

Although a peace is thus concluded, it is not of long duration. Europe is only a hair’s-breadth removed from a world war. Both the German and the French and English imperialists want this war. It is postponed, but only because Germany is not finished with her naval armaments, the French decide upon 3-years’ military service, etc. War may break out any day. Even then all the belligerents would have shouted that they had been attacked, that they are conducting a defensive war, etc. But in reality it would have become only an imperialist war, a war of a few cliques of finance capital for the not yet divided spoils.


Or let us take the Tripolitan war of 1911, which may be considered, along with the Turkish Balkan wars of 1912-1913, as the overture to the World War of 1914-916. This war is a classic example of how deceptive and useless the criterion of the defensive war can be.

In September 1911, Italy quite unexpectedly sent Turkey an ultimatum: Italy has displayed till now – in case you did not know it – a most unusual patience and moderation, but Turkey absolutely refused to consider the “legitimate Italian interests” in Tripoli. Hence “Italy finds itself compelled” to occupy Tripoli. Turkey had not yet found the time to reply to this ultimatum when, on September 30, 1911, the bombardment of the forts of Tripoli was begun by the Italians. This war too was of course declared to be a “just” war by the Italian imperialists. The whole apparatus at the disposal of bourgeois dominion was set in motion in order to evoke a patriotic spirit among the Italian people. And not without success. A genuine enthusiasm and spirit of enterprise gripped the whole Italian people who rallied unanimously around its king and his government. Even the larger part of the socialists (of the social-reformists, to be more accurate; Bissolati & Co. were expelled from the Italian Socialist party for this re-learning to the point of social-chauvinism) did not stand aloof from this enthusiasm and were ready for self-sacrifice. This is how the well-known historian of German foreign policy, Count Reventlow, describes the state of things in Italy at the beginning of the war for Tripoli.

And what was the actual meaning of the Tripolitan war, what was the real foundation of this whole affair?

The war was purely imperialistic, and the whole conflict was closely bound up with the race of two competing imperialist trusts.

From the moment when the rapprochement between England and France, directed at Germany, became noticeable, England began to feed Italy with promises. Right after Fashoda England promised Italy Tripoli. Now France was also prepared, for the pain it caused Italy in seizing Tunis, to “cede” Tripoli to Italy in the name of the “solidarity of the peoples of Romanic culture”. In 1899 and in 1902, England and France formally gave Italy a note for Tripoli. For the success of their imperialist trust, they had to distract Italy from the Triple Alliance at any price. To this end, the Italian imperialists had somehow to be bribed. They paid – as usual – with others’ possessions. Tripoli belonged neither to France nor to England. France had cast her eye upon it only because it lay in the vicinity of her own possessions.

After the “Entente cordiale” between the imperialists of England and France (1904), the Italian imperialists thought they already had Tripoli in their pockets. The “Entente cordiale”, however, was, as we see, concluded under the motto: Egypt for Morocco. Expanded, the motto read: For EgyptMorocco, for MoroccoTripoli.

After the conference in Algeciras (1906), at which Italy, in appreciation for promised Tripoli, already openly supported England and France against her “ally”, Germany, the imperialists of Italy were of the opinion that they had “honestly” earned Tripoli and considered themselves the masters of this colony.

When Italy declared war upon Turkey in 1911 because of Tripoli, the situation became a most difficult one for Germany. For Italy and Turkey were officially Germany’s allies. To come out against Italy meant for Germany, first, to push Italy still further to the Triple Entente, and secondly, it would immediately provoke a world war for which Germany was not yet sufficiently armed. To come out against Turkey meant to drive the Turkish “ally” into England’s arms, for the Turks had become convinced that Germany was unable to defend them and that their fate rested entirely in England’s hands. A most difficult situation. Imperialist Germany squirmed like an eel and finally enacted the comedy of neutrality. At this price, Germany bought the continued existence of the Triple Alliance with Italy’s participation – after Italy had taken Tripoli from the Turks.

The war for Tripoli was, as the reader sees, a link in the chain of imperialist conflicts. Turkey concluded peace with Italy at Lausanne on October 18, 1912, at a time when a new war had already begun in the Balkans. Here too the imperialist Great Powers were the stage-managers. The knot became ever more complicated until the inevitable occurred in 1914.

The Tripolitan war was a typical imperialist conflict, produced by the imperialist lust which has branded the whole epoch.

Now the question is: How far could the socialists and democrats get in these cases with the old criterion of defensive and aggressive wars? Italy was the aggressor. Did we therefore have to sympathize with the other party, recognize that Turkey was conducting a “just” war? In that case we would have been nothing but a plaything in the hands of German imperialism! Take the part of Italy? Then we would have become a tool of the other imperialist trust! Imperialist Italy stood with one foot in the camp of the Triple Entente, with the other in the camp of the Triple Alliance. The Italian imperialists stretched out their right hand to the imperialists of England and France, but continued with their left to hold the hand of the German imperialists. Who then was defending himself, who was the aggressor?

It was only an episode in a whole chain of imperialist policy of two trusts of states, both of which attacked the weaker and the unarmed, both of which divided the world and plundered whole continents. Only the national uprisings of the native population, directed at both imperialist coalitions, could be characterized as “just”. Of the two coalitions, however, neither conducted a just war. The theory of the defensive war is – when applied to this war – senseless, a hollow phrase. In reality it serves only the duping of the peoples by their imperialist governments, which have transferred the ideology of the national liberation wars to an entirely different era ...

That is how things stand with all the conflicts and wars of the imperialist period. In the collisions of the imperialist cliques of all these countries, there cannot be, from the historical standpoint, an aggressor party and a defender party. All of them attack those peoples whom they single out as their booty. All of them seek in imperialism their salvation from the socialist danger.

That is why it would be absurd to apply the criterion of “just” wars of defense to the imperialist wars of the Great Powers.

(To be concluded)

Aug. 4, 1916



1. This did not prevent the Boers from exploiting a part of the natives.

2. The European Great Powers illustrated their antipathy to “barbarism” in 1901 when they concluded a “peace” with China following the Boxer uprising. After this peace treaty, a number of Boxer leaders were beheaded. In addition, the Chinese government was forced by the “Great Powers” to abandon the corpse of the already dead leader Li Bing-hook to public disgrace. It is clear that where such things were demanded, Point 7 of the above treaty was absolutely essential ...

3. Only the poor Austrian bourgeoisie failed at that time to squeeze anything out of China. Austria was then occupied by other things. All her attention was directed at carrying out the policy of Count Andrassy. Austria was thinking only of conquests in the Balkans. But the German-Austrian bourgeoisie is bitterly angry to this day because Austria did not then exploit the opportunity to plunder China. See. e.g., Professor Otto Hoetzsch, Oesterreich-Ungarn und der Krieg, 1915, p.19.

4. The Monroe Doctrine is the doctrine of a President of the United States: North America must not permit any Power to have any possessions in the vicinity of the American coasts.

Last updated: 17.6.2008