Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, July 1941


Joachim Brust

Bolshevism and the Struggle for Peace


From Fourth International, Vol.2 No.6, July 1941, pp.182-185.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The following article was written before the latest flip-flop of the Communist Party. The article remains important, however, to demonstrate two propositions: (1) That the “anti-war” line of the Communist Party during he period of the Hitler-Stalin pact was a pacifist counterfeit and not a genuine policy of struggle against imperialist war; (2) That the Stalinist “anti-war” line had nothing in common with the Lenin-Trotsky policy of struggle against imperialist war. – THE EDITORS.

Stripped of all verbiage the current Stalinist “struggle” against war comes down to this: the war is an imperialist war; in the center of the struggle must be placed the “struggle for peace,” – a “People’s Peace.” There are many workers who sincerely oppose the war and who incline to accept the Stalinist line as one of genuine struggle. The Stalinists try to pass it off as the program of Lenin. Nothing could be more false.

But did not Lenin characterize the last war as imperialist? Didn’t he forecast that other imperialist wars would follow? Of course he did. It is impossible to conduct a struggle against war without understanding its character and without designating it correctly. This war is an imperialist war. It does not at all follow, however, that any one who calls the war imperialist is thereby automatically engaged in a life-and-death struggle against it. There are people today who concede that the war is imperialist and yet support the “democratic” imperialists.

Like every problem, the problem of fighting war has two sides – the negative and the positive. It is least difficult to understand the negative or passive side of any given problem. For example, the Stalinists recognized – on paper – that Nazism was a grave danger to the German labor movement. So did the Socialsts. Both called-again, on paper-for a struggle against the Nazis. In other words, so far as the negative aspect of Fascism was concerned, they were in agreement; but neither side was capable of advancing or carrying through a positive program of struggle against Hitler. As a result, the German workers who followed these two political machines were caught off guard and crushed by the Nazis.

Now, important as it is, the characterization of the war as imperialist constitutes only one side – the negative or passive side – of the struggle against the imperialist war. It is not hard for demagogues to utilize it for their own ends.

The formula: “This is an imperialist war” is acceptable, not only to many isolationists, petty bourgeois “anti-imperialists” and pacifists, but also to fascists. Hitler and Mussolini seize many opportunities to proclaim loudly that this is an imperialist war – on the part, that is, of Churchill and Roosevelt.

It cannot be repeated too often: the recognition of the character of the war as imperialist far from guarantees a real struggle against it.

It should not be forgotten that the reactionary – imperialist – character of the war of 1914-1918 was recognized long in advance of its actual outbreak not only by Lenin and the Bolsheviks but by the entire Second International. At several – international Congresses – Stuttgart in 1907, Basle in 1912resolutions and manifestoes against the impending imperialist war were passed by overwhelming majorities. The German Socialist Party, the pillar of the Second International, adopted a special resolution against imperialism at the Chemnitz Convention in 1912. It was introduced by Kautsky’s henchman Haase and passed by all votes against 3, with 2 abstentions. This did not at all prevent the German Socialist leadership from displaying even greater unanimity in supporting the war.

They betrayed the struggle. They proceeded to deny that World War I was imperialist. Kautsky declared brazenly when the hostilities began that the war was different from the one that had long been forecast by the International.

What facilitated this betrayal was the fact that the positive program of the Second International like that of the Stalinists today did not go beyond a “struggle for peace.”

Prominent social patriots, Bernstein, Vandervelde, etc., posed throughout the war as “internationalists” and fighters for peace. The notorious Scheidemann, Noske’s colleague and one of the murderers of Liebknecht and Luxemburg, wrote an entire pamphlet in praise of peace, “Long Live Peace! (“Es Lebe der Frieden!”). Still worse, pacifism – this most virulent political poison – infected the ranks of the labor movement at the time to such an extent that with the exception of Lenin and his friends the oppositional wing of the internationalists did not go beyond a “struggle for peace.”

Lenin’s Fight Against the “Peace” Slogan

This historical fact is recorded in the pages of Against the Stream,; which was written during the last war by Lenin and Zinoviev and which expresses the line of Bolshevism. In an article dated December, 1914, Zinoviev wrote:

“Even among those socialists who have not deserted to the camp of the chauvinists and who wsh to remain socialists and to fulfill their duty ... there is as yet far from a complete and unanimous acceptance of the slogan of civil war (i.e., turn the imperialist war into a civil war). A new slogan is being frequently advanced In the ranks of these socialists. In the opinion of these comrades the slogan for the workers at the present time must be the demand for peace above everything else. It is alleged that the workers of all countries can now unite on this slogan. It (the slogan of peace) is concrete and clear, and the masses. can easily be rallied to it. Furthermore, this slogan, they maintain, is revolutionary because the demand will be for a democratic peace, i.e., a peace without annexations and indemnities, a peace with disarmament, a peace drafted under the supervision of people’s representatives, and so on. And finally, they say, this slogan Is also eminently practical because It can be advocated legally with socialist motivations even under the existing restrictions of free speech and free press; and because it cannot fail to attract the masses of non-proletarian population who suffer under the burdens of war. Such a position seems to us to be absolutely false.” (Against the Stream, Fourth Russian Edition, 1925, pp.34-35).

Is there a single semi-serious argument advanced by the Daily Worker in favor of a “People’s Peace” which goes beyond the “peace” socialists’ position summarized by Zinoviev?

In the eyes of Lenin, this slogan of “peace” was absolutely false.

The participants of Zimmerwald made attempts time and again to force the slogan of peace to the forefront. Lenin fought this irreconcilably.

In a circular letter issued to the Zimmerwald Groups off September 27, 1915, it had been stated that in the event the war continued much longer it would be the duty of all internationalists “to carry out the decision of the Zimmerwald Conference by inviting the working class to unite its forces and to fight actively for peace.” The circular had further insisted that there must be a “concrete and detailed formulation of the proletariat’s international point of view with regard to various peace proposals, and peace programs.” “The continuation of the war,” explained the document, “will also create new situations toward which we shall have to define our attitude if we do not wish to betray or renounce our aim, namely, the carrying out of a unified action for peace.”

In his reply to this circular letter, Lenin warned:

“Any struggle for peace which is not connected with a revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat is really a pacifist phrase of the bourgeoisie which is either sentimental or which deceives the people. We cannot and must not pose as ’statesmen’ and compose ’detailed’ programs of peace. On the contrary we must explain to the masses that without developing a revolutionary class struggle any hopes for a democratic peace without annexations, violence, robbery, are a deceptions. – The masses must not be lulled with hopes that peace may be attained without the overthrow of imperialism.” (Pravda, Sept. 6, 1925, English text in The Bolsheviks and the World War, Hoover Library Publication No.15. p.356).

These lines were written more than twenty-five years ago.

They seem to have been written yesterday and directed against Browder-Minor and Co. who now pose – on orders from the Kremlin – as “statesmen” and who compose “detailed” programs of a “People’s Peace,” and are in this way deceiving their followers.

The slightest yielding to pacifist illusions makes a real struggle against the war all the more difficult. In submitting proposals for the Kienthal Conference, Lenin wrote in February 1916:

“The ‘peace program’ of socialists as well as their program of ‘struggle for the cessation of war’ must proceed from an exposure of the lie concerning ‘democratic peace,’ of the peaceful aspirations of the belligerents, etc., the peace program which the demagogic ministers, the bourgeois pacifists, the social chauvinists and the Kautskyans of all countries address to the peoples at present. Any ‘peace program’ is a deception of the people and a hypocrisy if it is not based first of all upon an explanation to the masses of the necessity for a revolution and of the support, co-operation and development of the revolutionary mass struggle ...” (Lenin, Collected Works, Third Russian Edition, vol.XIX, page 61).

The “Peace” Arguments Against the Bolsheviks

The decades of relatively peaceful evolution of capitalism on the continent of Europe prior to the first world war took their toll – as has been stated – even among the most advanced sections of the European vanguard, represented in the majorities of Zimmerwald and Kienthal. The slogan of transforming the imperialist conflict into a war for social emancipation appeared in their eyes as “unrealistic.” Living on memories of the past they were unable to accept Lenin’s analysis, namely, that the first imperialist war would either end in the overthrow of capitalism on the world arena or usher in an entire epoch of recurring imperialist conflicts.

The most imposing argument was that the Bolsheviks erred in “ignoring” the mass movement and mass desire for peace. What Lenin proposed, however, was not to ignore this movement but to utilize the yearning of the masses for peace in order to educate them politically concerning the only way out of imperialist war. The revolutionists, taught Lenin, participate in any and all mass movements in favor of peace in order to advocate their own program and point the road to revolutionary action and solution.

Not only the Kautskyans (the social pacifists), but the majority of those who participated in Zimmerwald and Kienthal, merely posed the “demand” of peace, and left unanswered the question of who would achieve this peace, and how it would be done. To them it was merely a question of ending a particular war. The real problem, however, was and remains that of ending imperialism and all the wars which must necessarily arise from imperialism.

It was Kautsky who erected an entire theoretical system on the foundation of pacifist illusions. Kautsky’s theory of “super-imperialism” argued that a long and uninterrupted period of peace was possible under capitalism. The imperialists, he claimed, after emerging from the war – with the aid of the Second International – would see the error of their ways, arrive at an agreement among themselves, parcel out the world among the super-trusts, etc. This new world order would function under compulsory courts of arbitration (the League of Nations!); there would be general disarmament; secret diplomacy would be abolished, economic crises and all other evils curbed. The task was to patch up capitalism as best the socialists could (and did!) and thus, according to Kautsky’s pious wishes, gradually and painlessly. bring about the introduction of socialism. What a miserable Utopia!

The betrayal of the Second International was justified by Kautsky on the grounds that the International was an instrument of peace and not war.

In a pamphlet, Internationalism and War, he advanced the formula that in, time of war it was necessary to wage a struggle for peace, reserving the continuation of the class struggle exclusively for peace-times (“Kampf für Frieden, Klassenkampf in Frieden”).

Kautsky’s ideas were drawn to their logical conclusion by Max Adler, an Austro-Marxist, who wrote a pamphlet Principles or Romanticism (Prinzip oder Romantik) in which he declared:

“The entire internationalism of the social democracy must and will remain a Utopia unless it makes the idea of peace the central point of its program of domestic and foreign policy ... Socialism after the war will either become organized international pacifism or it will cease to exist altogether.”

“The idea of peace must become our central slogan!” (“Die Friedensidee zum Mittelpunkt!”) Kautsky-Adler first unfolded this banner. Today the Stalinists are trying to deceive the workers by passing off this program of social pacifism as the line of Lenin!

Contrast Between Leninism and Stalinism

In his theses on the war adopted by the Bolsheviks at the Berne Conference in September 1914, Lenin wrote:

“Pacifism and an abstract preaching of peace are some of the ways to fool the working class. Under capitalism, particularly in its imperialist stage, wars become inevitable ... At present, the peace propaganda, which is not accompanied by an appeal to the revolutionary activities of the masses, is only apt to disseminate illusions, to demoralize the proletariat by an insinuation of confidence in the humanitarianism of the bourgeoisie and by making it a toy in the hands of secret diplomacy of the belligerent countries. In particular the idea that a democratic peace is possible without a number of revolutions Is absolutely false.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Third Russian Edition, vol.XVIII pp.127-128).

Lenin repeated this central idea in dozens of articles: “The idea that a democratic peace is possible without a number of revolutions is absolutely false.”The original and most fervent proponents of this absolutely false idea during the last war were the followers of Kautsky, the chief proponents of this same false idea today are the Stalinists.

In a certain sense it is possible to explain “objectively” the treachery of the Kautskyans. Just before the first World War engulfed mankind, capitalism seemed to be at the peak of its powers, far from senile, bourgeois democracy and its parliamentary institutions appeared well night eternal. On the continent of Europe no major wars had been fought for more than forty years – since the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. It was this that made it possible to dupe the masses with the illusion that the first imperialist slaughter would really be the last one (the “war to end all wars”). It was this that provided the bankrupts of the Second International with a semblance of “realism.”

But what can be said for the position of the Stalinists?

Kautsky maintained that the imperialists could remain indefinitely at peace; Stalin amplified this Utopia to read that the imperialists can be not only at peace among themselves but also at peace with the Soviet Union. It would be possible to proceed with the building of “socialism in one country” without any direct danger of war. Stalin expressed the assur, ance many times that the Soviet Union could remain at peace (this was when he still used to talk for publication).

In an interview with Eugene Lyons (N.Y. Telegram, November 24, 1930) Stalin said: “It is possible, and the best proof is that they have lived peacefully side by side since the conclusion of our civil war and the intervention period.”

In an interview with Walter Duranty (N.Y. Times, December 1, 1930) Stalin reaffirmed his previous declaration, “They have not fought for ten years which means they can coexist.”

Just as the temporary equilibrium between the imperialist powers in the decades prior to the first war was interpreted by the Kautskyans as “proof” of the possibility of a prolonged and stable equilibrium of imperialism, so Stalin translated the temporary equilibrium between the Soviet Union and its imperialist environment to mean that a stable peace was possible, if only the maneuvers of the Kremlin were cynical and unscrupulous enough. It is precisely because Stalinism left the grounds of Marxism-Leninism in its theory of “socialism in one country” that the Kremlin’s “struggle” against war assumed from the beginning one kind or another of pacifist masquerade. The reactionary nature of Stalinism was clearly revealed by the behind-the-scenes participation of the Comintern in impotent and perfidious movements for peace. First this was done in the guise of “Anti-Imperialist Leagues.” Then came the “Peace Congresses” (Amsterdam-Pleyel, etc).

What was Lenin’s attitude toward “Peace Congresses,” and “peace mobilizations”? Didn’t the Soviet Government under Lenin participate in “disarmament” negotiations, etc? Did Lenin change his views on this subject after the termination of the Civil War and the establishment of the temporary equilibrium between the Soviet Union and the capitalist world?

There exists an important historical document which provides irrefutable evidence on this point. In his letter of instructions to the Bolshevik delegation to the Peace Congress at the Hague in December 1922, Lenin wrote:

“It seems to me that if we will have at the Hague Conference a few people able to make speeches In one or another language against war, the most important thing they can accomplish is to refute the idea that the participants in the Conference are opponents of war, or that they understand how war may and can burst upon them at the most unexpected moment, or that they have the least knowledge of the means to employ against war, or that they are in any way capable of adopting an intelligent and sensible path of struggle against the war.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Third Russian Edition, vol.XXVII, p.375)

Thus, after the war, Lenin’s line remained the same as it was during the war: Bolsheviks must utilize every opportunity to advance their own line against all pacifist illusions. The participation of Bolsheviks in any “Peace Congress” or “peace mobilization” should be only for the purpose of exposing its utter futility and fraud.

Stalin’s policy has been just the opposite. He has clutched at every illusion of pacifism, no matter how discredited, in order to “struggle” for peace. In an interview with Duranty (N.Y. Times, December 25, 1933) Stalin said: “If the League (of Nations) is even the tiniest bump somewhat to slow down the drive toward war and help peace ... we shall support the League despite its colossal deficiencies.”

After Hitler’s assumption of power, the League of Nations was depicted by Stalinism not as the “tiniest bump” but as a bulwark of peace. And each pact that Stalin made with the “democratic” imperialists was hailed as a great blow against war and fascism, as any participant in the defunct “Leagues Against War and Fascism” will readily recall.

The complete bankruptcy of the policy of “People’s. Fronts” brought about the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact and the outbreak of the Second World War, which will embroil the Soviet Union sooner or later. It was in good measure as a cover for the alliance with Hitler that the Kremlin resurrected the slogan of “opposing” the imperialist war. Essentially, however, the current line of the Kremlin is the latest adaptation of Stalino-pacifism to wartime conditions and the alliance with the Nazis. It is as far removed from Bolshevism as was Kautsky’s line in the last war.

* * *

The Bolshevik Way Out

Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky did not simply “think up” their ideas. Every principle in their teachings has been dictated by the actual course of history and of the class. struggle in society. Every principle reflects and expresses the historical needs of the working class. The genius of these great thinkers, teachers and leaders of the working class was expressed in this, that they were able to discover, formulate and apply the laws of this struggle and its development in advance of its crucial stages. They were the ones who supplied living answers to the burning issues. In this is the secret of the power of Bolshevism (Marxism-Leninism-Trotskyism).

Every program other than that of Bolshevism has led’ and can lead mankind only to disaster and defeat. This has. been verified time and again, especially by the events of the last two decades. Of all the defeats suffered in recent years, by far the gravest is the Second World War which has been unleashed by the imperialists only thanks to the policies of’ Stalinism and of the Second International. The payment for these policies is now being exacted in terms of the incredible destruction of material wealth and the productive forces, in terms of the lives of tens of millions of workers and peasants, their wives and children. Bolshevism alone points the way out.

During the first World War, Bolshevism proved itself the only tendency in the world labor movement capable of conducting a genuine struggle against war. The true meaning. of this struggle can never be blotted out from the annals of history. Without that struggle the victory of October could’ have never been gained in Russia in 1917.

It is impossible to conduct a struggle today without thoroughly learning and assimilating the lessons of the struggle waged by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The Third International under Stalin has trampled every one of these lessons underfoot.

The Bolsheviks did not merely oppose the war. Nor did they confine their struggle to attacks on the social patriots, the open supporters of both warring imperialist camps. One of the great lessons of this struggle is that the fight against social patriotism is inseparable from the fight against soda! pacifism, and every variety of the program of “struggle for peace.”

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Trotskism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

Last updated on 13.9.2008