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International Socialism, Summer 1963


Notes of the Quarter

Defensism or Defeatism


From International Socialism, No.13, Summer 1963.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Sino-Indian border war was fought six months ago. As regular readers will have noticed from our Notes in IS11 and IS12, and from the RSP’s reply printed on a later page, it raised issues of fundamental import to socialists the world over. Partly in order to clarify more of the issues involved, partly to demonstrate the similarity in approach adopted by revolutionary socialists scattered as far apart as Britain and the United States, and partly in answer to the RSP’s contribution, we are presenting a few extracts from a long polemical piece by Hal Draper directed at the “India defensists” within the American Left. We have confined ourselves to his more general comments and conclusions – “we” in the ensuing paragraphs refers to the Independent Socialist League, its forerunners and its subsequent deposits in the Socialist Party. – Editor

It is perfectly clear by now that the importance of the India-China conflict, and the political positions it has evoked, does not centre about either India or China. The underlying issue is defencism in World War III and not in India alone.

There was no ‘Chinese invasion’ in October. After years of hassling over the border, it was the Indian government which killed negotiations and moved into military action to throw the Chinese out of the disputed areas. It was India which publicly announced it was taking the military offensive, to attack the Chinese, and publicly built up its armed forces to go into action. Since this was made known in the Indian press as early as September, there is no mystery in the fact that the Chinese were able to prepare by building up their own forces, to a far greater extent than the Indians had judged possible. It is quite possible that the Chinese anticipated the openly proclaimed Indian attacks by moving first against the India corps being assembled. In this sense it is quite true that the question of who-fired-the-first-shot is of no decisive significance. (But we shall see that it is not the ‘first shot’ which is of importance.)

Let us return to the underlying question: the political methodology which says that we support a war, or take sides in a war, depending on our political position on the social and political character of the regimes involved.

The issue has an interesting history. In 1939 when World War II broke out, the leadership of the Socialist Workers’ party (in the United States – ed.) took the position we must defend the Soviet union in the war even though we condemn the Soviet Union’s invasion of Finland and Poland. They feely admitted that it was Russia which had done the attacking. As can be imagined, the air was filled with marxistical demonstrations that we do not base our policy on ‘who fired the first shot’ but on the nature of the regimes. At this time the Soviet-defensists and Trotsky were stating that it ‘makes no difference’ that Russia had invaded Finland-Poland, not the other way round. Historically, they explained it is Russia that is defending ‘its workers’’ state, etc., etc. Since Russia is a workers’ state, therefore ‘regardless of who fired the first bullet’ it is socially preferable to its enemy and we choose sides on this basis.

This methodology makes unnecessary any concrete analysis of a war. It would be worth while at this point renewing one’s acquaintance with Lenin’s World War 1 polemics against the social-patriots precisely on this ground, with his emphasis on the need of a concrete analysis of a given war, rather than any supra-historical position.

Notice next the static nature of this methodology. Barring revolution, the social nature of a regime remains pretty much the same for a whole era. Time and again, the revolutionary Marxists have supported or opposed war by the same type of regime, depending on the concreteness of the issue. For example we supported war in the 1930s by one of the most reactionary regimes in the world: Ethiopia. In the 1930s, we supported an imperialist regime in war: the Spanish Loyalist Government against Franco. When Mao’s China invaded and took over Tibet, we supported Tibet’s struggle for independence. Yet this was a struggle by a regime, the antediluvian hierocracy of the dalai lama, which was fantastically reactionary from every point of view (economics, politics, democracy, etc.).

What is the methodology on the war which explains all this? There is one, and only one mode of approach which underlies the third camp policy on all these questions from the question of Russian-defencism in 1939 to Tibet-defencism today. It is this, in bald summary: War is the continuation of politics by other, forceful, means. Our position on a concrete war is based on our position towards the politics of which it is the continuation. This is the key which turns all the locks. All we have to d is apply it. The question it asks is: Of what politics is this war the continuation? It does not ask: ‘Who fired the first shot?’ The analysis must take account of everything that can be discovered about what led up to the first shot; what political decisions were made by whom, when and where; in brief, what actually happened on the outbreak of war. The question of the nature of the regimes, which must be rejected as the decisive issue, now takes its place as one of the data; it conditions (for one thing) the possible range of answers to the question. The nature of the regime sets up possibilities; concrete political analysis determines what possibilities are the realities.

The question of who-attacks-whom or who-invades-whom is one of the important pieces of evidence entering into the concrete analysis of the crucial questions. This is not at all synonymous with the other question of who-fires-the-first-shot. In 1939 the different views that were taken on the question of defense of the Soviet Union arise because it was the Soviet Union that attacked, instead of being attacked. This fact had to be accounted for politically and the whole Third Camp line was developed in the exploration of this question. Again, in the case of Tibet, why did we consider that on the Tibetan side it was the politics of defense of its national existence against China? Surely one of the big pieces of evidence was the fact that it was the Chinese who attacked.

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