Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Anne Fletcher

Defeat Pacifism in the Anti-war Movement


Published: Workers Herald, Vol. 1, No. 3, January 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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1-2-3-4 We Won’t Fight in Exxon’s War. Stop Imperialist War. Once again, these chants are being heard in the streets of the U.S. as the imperialist war machine gears up for another round of slaughter of the world’s working class and oppressed peoples. At the same time as these anti-imperialist slogans are heard, we also hear the thin, reedy voices of the liberal bourgeoisie raised in their chants of No More War and All we are saying, is give peace a chance. Clearly, two lines have emerged. One line leads to the international struggle against imperialism, for national liberation and socialism. The other leads to the disarming and slaughter of workers and revolutionary masses and their continued exploitation by the worldwide imperialist system. Recent events in New Orleans offer some stark examples of the application and consequences of these two lines in the actual struggle.

In March 1980, the first “anti-war” demonstration in New Orleans in many years took place. It was sponsored by a loose coalition of forces, dominated by pacifists, Trotskyists and the ACLU. This group adopted the name New Orleans Coalition Against Registration and the Draft or NOCARD. At the very outset the lines were drawn between the pacifists who sought to make this a movement against all war and the revolutionaries who insisted that only imperialist war be fought against and that the just revolutionary wars of oppressed people be supported. The pacifists predominated and the march took place under their leadership. Chanting No More War, the bourgeois organizers of the march led about 75 protesters down the sidewalks adjoining Canal Street in downtown New Orleans. Fearful of marching in the streets without a legal permit, the parade leaders even insisted on ordering the “protest march” to stop at every “Don’t Walk” sign, in order to avoid jay-walking tickets. To try to cover up this shamelessness, these same leaders would shout Hell no we won’t go even as they cowered at the street corner, waiting for the green light. This pitiful and ridiculous spectacle would be comical were it not for the fact that these misleaders actively seek to derail and attack the building of a revolutionary resistance movement with far greater fervor than they direct against the ruling class.


At the rally held after the “march,” speakers attested to the “horrors of war,” spoke of soldiers committing suicide in the face of the Vietnam War, and urged young men to become pacifists and conscientious objectors to avoid the draft. The audience and participants were 95% white, overwhelmingly students and intellectuals, in a city which is over 50% Black and majority working class. Strains of that mournful dirge, All we are saying, is give peace a chance, wafted through the air as the parade “organizers” congratulated themselves on this quiet and peaceful gathering. Revolutionaries at the march chanted slogans against imperialist war to the discomfiture of the pacifists. They distributed leaflets calling for an end to imperialist war, for support for the just wars of liberation, and open resistance to the draft, combined with organizing inside the military. These leaflets met with a warm response, in a particular from several Black Vietnam veterans who already clearly understood the differences between just and unjust wars. The events of this march confirmed the correct view that absolutely no ideological bloc could be formed with the opportunists who promote pacifism rather than revolutionary resistance to imperialist war.

In July, 1980, draft registration began, 19-20 year old men were required by law to sign up for compulsory military service or face five years in jail and $10,000 fines. In New Orleans, as in many cities throughout the country, plans were made to organize protests to this latest effort at militarization and imperialist war preparations. The bourgeois pacifists “protested” registration by standing inside the post office and, in hushed tones, “counseling” young men to follow their “conscience.” The youth were advised by these liberal bourgeois to protest by writing on their cards the words “conscientious objector” as they signed up – or to refuse to give their social security number on the grounds that to do so would violate their “privacy.” These sham “anti-war organizers” were so fearful of straying beyond the bounds of bourgeois legality that they would not even urge the youth to refuse to register and to actively oppose the draft. To urge resistance to the draft laws is a crime, subject to the same penalties as the resistance itself. These cowardly “protesters,” who were so scared of jay-walking, are obviously not going to risk endangering their own careers by organizing actual resistance to imperialist war. In fact, in New Orleans they ran ads and radio spots emphasizing the penalties for refusing to register, thereby enhancing the intimidation that the government was using.

In order to successfully lead the struggle against imperialist war and combat the bourgeois pacifist schemes and lies, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the causes and nature of war under imperialism. War is an inevitable result of the capitalist system which is based on competition and exploitation, on private rather than social ownership of the means of production. During the current period of imperialism all contradictions which give rise to war are sharpened. Competition among the imperialist powers for markets, natural resources and territory gives- rise to inter-imperialist wars. At the same time resistance by the proletarians in the capitalist countries and the masses in the oppressed nations to exploitation and oppression gives rise to revolutionary wars which the imperialists try to suppress with all their military might.

Since war is inseparable from capitalism it follows that the “abolition” of war is possible only through the overthrow of capitalism, the building of socialism under the dictatorship of the proletariat and the ultimate elimination of classes and class exploitation. But this goal can only be achieved by force, by an armed proletariat. That is why Marxist-Leninists must combat the bourgeois pacifists who would disarm the proletariat under the guise of general disarmament.

In contrast to the bourgeois pacifists, the Liberation League, a local anti-imperialist organization led a militant picket line outside the post office, openly urging youth to resist and to refuse to register. Several young men who had come to register joined the picket line with great spirit and loudly chanted their opposition to imperialist war. Leaflets were distributed exposing the imperialists’ schemes, calling for the building of a broad resistance movement against imperialist war and pointing out the necessity for support of just wars. Similar activities have been announced by the League for January 5, 1981, when the next mass registration period begins.

The cowardly acts of the bourgeois pacifists are not restricted to New Orleans and are certainly nothing new to the workers’ movement. With the growth of opportunism in the working class movement, various parties of the Second International betrayed workers throughout the world by supporting their “own” bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries in the first imperialist world war.

Pacifism is a particular form of bourgeois ideology which finds ready acceptance from certain strata of the petty bourgeois. The influence of this ideology among the intellectual strata reflects the instability of the middle class. It fears being destroyed by the bourgeois, yet is more afraid of revolutionary power in the hands of the working class. They pray for class peace and dream of disarmament. The New Orleans pacifists are particularly easy to criticize and expose due to their obvious cowardice.

But pacifism comes in different forms. There is “official” pacifism, behind which the capitalist governments mask their maneuvers, such as Salt II, detente and disarmament. There is the pacifism of the Second International, which still exists today but is embellished with socialistic or Marxist phrases. “Radical” or “revolutionary” pacifism flourishes in the U.S. among those social-democrats who admit the danger of war, but seek to combat this danger by meaningless phrases against war. These pacifists, including the CPUSA, frequently lay stress upon the destructiveness of modern weapons of war, such as the atomic bombs, in order either to prove that protracted war is impossible, or to demonstrate that it is impossible to transform imperialist war into civil war. The most common refrain of these pacifists is that with “one push of the button” it will all be over with, so why even attempt to organize for revolution? The other form of pacifism which has been influential in the U.S. is that which is based in the church movement. All of these forms are easily identifiable in the “anti-war” movement in the U.S. today, as they were in the struggle against the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The design of all of these forms is the same: to oppose the building of a genuine anti-imperialist movement and to throttle and smother the influence of the revolutionary forces. The Communist International identified these “various shades of pacifism” in 1928, when the same arguments as we hear preached today were being advanced in opposition to the revolutionary movement. The Struggle Against Imperialist War and the Tasks of Communists; Resolution of the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International provides invaluable instruction to revolutionaries everywhere. As it states:

The first duty of Communists in the fight against imperialist war is to tear down the screen by which the bourgeoisie conceal their preparations for war and the real state of affairs from the masses of the workers. This duty implies above all a determined political and ideological fight against pacifism, [p. 12]

As pointed out, some of the shades of pacifism will come cloaked in more militant form. As the danger of war comes closer, these “radical” pacifists become more dangerous. They issue slogans such as No More War and Boycott War. These slogans have the effect of spreading confusion and idealism among the workers. As national jingoism becomes stronger, the bourgeois pacifists oppose organizing the workers towards the only true form of resistance, which is armed resistance and the transformation of imperialist war into civil war. The pacifists oppose revolutionary war to fight against imperialist war. Their call for No More War is in fact a call to disarm the workers and oppressed peoples (both ideologically and militarily) from fighting for their liberation and for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The bourgeois pacifists are a valuable aid to the fascists. In World War II pacifists refused to fight against Hitler fascism.

In order to build a genuine anti-imperialist war movement it is our duty to expose these false leaders with their pie-in-the-sky Utopias. Any conciliation with the liberal bourgeois on this question will have grave consequences. In New Orleans, as in other cities, this battle must be waged consistently and with determination.