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Fourth International, January-February 1951


Korea and Marxist Perspectives

War, Peace and Revolution


From Fourth International, Vol.12 No.1, January-February 1951, pp.13-14.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The following editorial translated from the current issue of Quatrième Internationale, the theoretical review of the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International published in Paris, deals with the broad historical perspectives arising from the Korean crisis. We publish it as a timely contribution to the discussion of the Asian revolution and its relation to the USA-USSR conflict, to which this issue of our magazine is largely devoted. – Editor.

* * *

Human thought, even at its most profound, is able to follow reality all too tardily and can hardly grasp all at once the whole of the infinitely rich and complex development of life itself. When history steps up its tempo of evolution, when this evolution does not proceed along a straight line but is rather choppy, full of abrupt turns and constantly confronting us with new situations, even revolutionary Marxists find it difficult, in their generalizations and theoretical forecasts, to seize all the twists of the actual historic process and the full wealth and originality of its content. The times in which we live, the whole period opened up in the course of the Second World War and its aftermath, serve as a first-rate illustration of this.

To be sure, we sensed the new and altogether unique character of this period compared with the whole past of capitalism. We were even the only ones to express and correctly define a series of fundamental characteristics of this period. But new events have constantly enlarged the historic scene, deepened its meaning and better illuminated its significance for us.

Only superficial, ridiculously near-sighted and limited minds can reproach us for abruptly changing our orientation and our tactics, for dropping from our ideological equipment! outmoded concepts which no longer correspond to the new reality, for adjusting our line to new conditions. We have done so to the extent that events themselves demand from us a wider and deeper understanding of the period we are living through, which is marked by swift and abrupt developments.

The Korean war was one of those events which suddenly reveal to the consciousness of revolutionists a whole series of changes that have entered into the situation but which were previously ignored by them or remained in the background of their minds. It was one of those events which can aid us to correct and render, more precise our revolutionary orientation. In this editorial we shall confine ourselves to bringing forward and stressing these fundamental modifications and their consequences.

The war in Korea has clarified the question of the relationship of forces between imperialism and the forces opposed to it in a far more vivid light by demonstrating that this relationship of forces is at present evolving to the disadvantage of imperialism. This is caused by the weight of the colonial revolution in Asia which is proving more deep-going and more decisive than anyone anticipated. The effects of this revolution fundamentally alter the conditions of stability and survival for the capitalist system in the whole world.

This colonial revolution has also had its impact on another and no less fundamental plane. By giving birth to a number of independent countries, and especially to the regime of Mao Tse-tung in China, it has introduced new factors in international politics, including the politics of that power bloc which has been led by the Kremlin. The same holds for the world labor movement.

The future development of China, raised to the rank of a major world power by its revolutionary intervention in the Korean war, will have a considerable and perhaps decisive influence on the question of a new world war, on the time of its outbreak, as well as on its outcome. It will have a similar influence on the further evolution of Stalinism.

The war in Korea has, furthermore, given a much more precise and clearer meaning to the Marxist concepts of peace, war and revolution and to their interrelationships, as well as to the strategy and tactics of the proletarian revolution.

The Korean war which is at one and the same time a civil war and an anti-imperialist war, a revolutionary war, provides a striking illustration of the nature of wars and revolutions in the imperialist epoch as defined by Lenin. In our time wars and revolutions succeed one another and become more and more closely combined to the extent that the relationship of forces between imperialism and the opposing revolutionary elements changes in favor of the latter.

The new idea particularly illuminated by the war in Korea is this: that the war, that every war waged at the present time by imperialism, is at bottom a war against the Revolution, and that a war launched, within the present relationship of forces becomes swiftly transformed into an international civil war, into a revolution.

Does that mean that this kind of war is to be desired? That it should be called for? That we must ignore and override the profound fears of war anchored in the hearts of millions of people throughout the world? To pose the question in this manner would show a complete lack of understanding for a situation which is developing outside of us, independent of our desires and our fears; and confuse a Marxist analysis, aimed at enlightening the vanguard, with the program designed to arouse the masses to revolutionary action.

The revolutionary vanguard must be alert to the concrete conditions in which the struggle for socialism is unfolding at present. These conditions are those of the entire epoch and of the present period of wars and revolutions which have become interlinked to so great a degree that “peace” is nothing but a brief interval, limited in space as well as in time, between two phases of a convulsive process that is fundamentally explosive and revolutionary. The peace for which the masses, who are terrified or tired of struggle, rightfully aspire, can come only after the culmination of the contradictions which impress their character upon this period. That kind of peace can come only through the victory of socialism on a world scale.

Pacifism was never characteristic of revolutionary Marxists, not because Marxists have any fondness for warlike sentiments, but because pacifism constantly runs counter to the entire course of contemporary reality.

The choice is not between “peace” and war. It is between revolution and war. And even this counterposing of alternatives is only relative. The colonial masses of Asia who wanted to throw off the imperialist yoke after the Second World War, could attain this aim only by means of civil and anti-imperialist war. That has been the price of “peace” in Asia.

As for the European proletariat which is at present disoriented and hemmed in between “Atlantic” capitalism and the dreaded perspective of Russian occupation in case of war between the two blocs, “peace” for them can only mean a neutrality with one of the two following alternatives:

  1. Neutrality with a continuation of the bourgeois regime, which would signify for the proletariat of Western Europe a truce in the class struggle and acceptance of the perspective of stagnation and crisis resulting from such a solution. All this – assuming that the European bourgeoisie is still capable of pursuing such a “neutralist” policy.
  2. Neutrality under a socialist regime in Western Europe, with the proletariat coming to power on its own steam by rejecting the Stalinist leaderships as well as control by the Soviet bureaucracy. Such a unified socialist Europe, grouping together Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain, would naturally be a force capable of holding out lor an entire period against both Yankee imperialism and the Soviet bureaucracy; capable of postponing the perspective of war, and of bringing about revolutionary transformations in each of the two blocs which could change the whole further course of history.

But such an eventuality would not be possible without severe struggle and civil war, and would very likely involve war as such against interventions by American imperialism as well as by the Soviet bureaucracy, both of whom would be interested in seeing that experiment fail.

Thus the most probable and the most realistic historic combination is counterposed to the concepts of “peace” and of “war,” each regarded separately or as one of two poles of an alternative. It is that of Revolution-War, that is, of revolution which is extended into war or of war which becomes transformed into revolution. These transformations are directly related to the extreme sharpness that the contradictions and the large-scale collapse of the capitalist regime have resulted in. Revolution, either before or along with a war, is on the order of the day, and nothing else.

This revolution is more permanent than ever before in history. Permanent in the sense that the struggle begun by the colonial masses against their ruling classes and against imperialism, by the proletariat against capitalism, by imperialism against the USSR, can no longer be halted. It will become deeper and wider, increasing its pace, embracing ever new forces, breaking down all equilibria, carrying off in its torrential sweep the foundation stones of all the decayed institutions and regimes, up to the moment of the final victory of world socialism. Stalinism, in its turn, in spite of episodic successes here and there, will likewise disintegrate during this whole period, which will be the most revolutionary known to history.

These perspectives do not settle all our tactical problems. They are nevertheless necessary. For the revolutionary vanguard, in order to orient itself correctly and to hold firm, has to raise itself to a certain historical level which brings adequate theoretical understanding. This is needed as an antidote to the lamentations of those petty-bourgeois preachers who predict the end of the universe resulting either from the war itself, as some view it, or, according to others, from the Stalinist domination of the world.

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