Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

National Wars

First Published: The New Masses, Vol. 57, No. 1, October, 1945.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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While I too do not agree with everything Mr. Bradford says in your August 28 issue, I believe your answer contains some grievous errors in regard to the national question and national wars. You say, in your editorial, “Report to Our Readers”: “This was primarily what Marxists call a national war (even though it contained elements of a class war as well as of imperialist war) because it embraced not the interests of the workers alone, but of all classes, including the bourgeoisie. If in the war of 1914-1918, Lenin was able to speak of its progressive national element as represented by the struggle of Belgium and Serbia – An element which would have justified, support of that struggle had it not been engulfed in the larger conflict of imperialist powers – how can we overlook the predominantly national character of the gigantic war against the Axis, in which the very existence and democratic achievements of large nation states were at stake?”

Herein you indulge in a bit of mechanical oversimplification which is hardly in conformity with Lenin’s and Stalin’s thesis on the national question. Quoting from Stalin’s Leninism, I think you should ponder the following:

“The question of the rights of nations is not an isolated question complete in itself; it is part of the general question of the proletarian revolution, a part which is subordinate to the whole and must be dealt with from the point of view of the whole question .... The revolutionary character of a national movement in the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or republican program of the movement, the existence of a democratic basis for the movement. The struggle the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of his country is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist views of the Emir and his entourage, for it weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism, whereas the struggle waged by the ’desperate’ democrats and ’socialists,’ ’revolutionaries’ and ’republicans’ like, for example, Kerensky and Tsereteli, Renaudel and Scheidemann, etc., during the imperialist war was a reactionary struggle .... Lenin was right in saying that the national movement of the oppressed countries should not be evaluated from the point of view of formal democracy but from the point of view of the actual net results obtained as shown by the general balance sheet of the struggle against imperialism, that is to say, not in an isolated way but on a world scale.”

Therefore, in the era of moribund imperialism, when the bourgeoisie of the big nation-states, the United States, Britain, etc., hate the very state and its form–bourgeois democracy–which they, as a class, ushered in in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century (1776, 1789) when the capitalist class as a class was historically progressive, how can you maintain that the bourgeoisie of these states was in this war to defend the nation, when this bourgeoisie has and is choosing fascism, to destroy the nation? It is entirely different with reference to oppressed nations and colonial peoples, where feudalism and semi-feudalism is the fact, and where these countries, because of the nature of world imperialism, have not even developed capitalism. But here too, as in China, for instance, large sections of the native bourgeoisie go over to the camp of the fascist imperialist invaders and oppressors. It can in no way, therefore, be concluded that the bourgeoisie of the big nation-states waged this war in the interests of national liberation at all. In doing this, you have unmistakably fallen into the trap of the Browder line again ....

The bourgeoisie of the great nations waged war against the Axis fascist bourgeoisie for two reasons: (1) to prevent the German bourgeoisie from redividing the world’s markets at their expense; (2) chagrined because the bourgeoisie of the Axis countries did not take on and take on alone, the Soviet Union. The fact that this helped, objectively, to destroy fascism comes not from the bourgeoisie in the great nation-states being in this period national liberators or fighters for national liberation, but from the contradictions of imperialism, the strength of the Soviet Union and the people’s movements in the occupied and colonial countries, and in the big nation-states themselves.

New York,
Merchant Seaman,
Waterfront Branch,
Communist Party.

Hold your horses (or whatever the nautical equivalent may be), Brother Sloan! Just where did we say that “the bourgeoisie of these states [the United States, Britain, etc.] was in this war to defend the nation”? Or that they waged this war “in the interests of national liberation”? Neither in the quotation Mr. Sloan cites from our editorial nor in any other part of it does any such statement occur. What we did say was that this was primarily a national war and not a proletarian war, and that the interests of all classes, including the bourgeoisie, were involved in the war. This doesn’t mean that the interests of all classes were identical or that big business was fighting to liberate the world from fascism. American big business, imperialist to the core, was in this conflict in order to get rid of dangerous imperialist rivals. And its reactionary pressure did a good deal of damage throughout the war – and after. But this doesn’t alter the fact that for different reasons and working in different ways both big business and the working class wanted to smash the military power of the Axis. Or, as Mr. Sloan puts it, the bourgeoisie “helped, objectively, to destroy fascism.” (Incidentally, we would qualify that statement since there is still much to be done before the economic and social roots of fascism are destroyed.) –The Editors.