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Socialist Appeal, April-May 1936, Volume 2 No. 4, Page 5-7
Transcribed and Marked Up by Damon Maxwell in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

What Shall Our War Program Be?

By Samuel Adams

THE imminence of war and the precedence it takes in the question of program for the workers’ movement is admitted by all sections of our Party, whether they be the extreme right wing reformists, or those who represent the ideas of revolutionary Marxism. That is not difficult to understand. War, representing as it does the extension of politics, is by its very nature the acutest form of the capitalist crisis, the means by which the critically-situated capitalist world hopes to issue from its present impasse. Bearing this in mind, it becomes clear that it is incumbent for our Party to set itself down to the task of examining the present war danger with a view of working out a complete and concrete program on the question of war and the tasks of the revolutionaries.

We have at hand the Resolution on War adopted at a recent Call conference and which is to be submitted to the Convention by the left wing. Information is present that some changes are to be made in it. If the resolution is to be changed, we hope that the contents of this article will bear acceptable suggestions to the revised resolution.

In the treatment of the war question, mere formal opposition to war no longer suffices. The program has to be concrete and real. It must not be afraid to state what is, to name names, to point the actual way out for the working class. Failure to do that. means to mouth again the age-worn platitudes of opposition to war, in order thereby the better to repeat the terrible crimes of 1914, when the working class movement was dismembered by its leaders first succumbing to social-patriotism and then directing the workers’ organizations into the hands of the war governments. Our Party needs a complete and concrete anti-war program also in order to begin now to train the youth organization, which is the heaviest sufferer of the war, in how to properly combat war and attendant militarism. This involves a training in fundamentals, that is, Marxism.

If we reject the theory of vanguardism (the concept that holds to the idea that the youth movement can lead the working class in the class struggle and to its final victory over capitalism, then it becomes all the more necessary for the Party to take in hand the political direction of the youth organization. It goes without saying, that such a direction has to be correct, and before the Party can be expected to politically direct the destinies of the youth organization, it must first give itself a thorough dosing of Marxism. We are compelled to recall at this point the conduct of the German and Austrian social democratic youth organizations. The former offered 700 of its units to the Kaiser for the purpose of prosecuting the war against the Allies and the latter adopted the leading slogan for the organization: “On to Paris!” It is clear that this would have been impossible, had not the Parties in these countries set the example by their support to the war by the Central European Powers. By and large, however, the International Socialist Youth Union remained loyal to the principles of Marxism, in the last war.

The resolution of the Call conference, while it is an elaboration over the section on war contained in the draft program adopted at Bound Brook, New Jersey, leaves out a number of important and decisive questions that are mentioned there, if only by a word or sentence. The present resolution is totally inadequate however, not only in what is omitted but also, in what it contains. In its present form it is strictly not a guide to the Party or the youth organization. It might be argued that the resolution is too short to permit of a detailed analysis or a thorough one. But there is nothing which compels us to confine ourselves to a short resolution, unless we already have a lengthy programmatic declaration. The size of the resolution would not be a point of complaint were its contents complete and correct, without necessarily amplifying ideas. Let us proceed to the resolution.

In the opening paragraphs the resolution contains strictures on the conception of “good” capitalists and “bad” capitalists; the idea that it is necessary for the working class to support the democratic capitalist nations against the fascist capitalist nations. Quite correctly it rejects this social-patriotic conception. But against whom does the resolution speak out? Apparently, against nobody.

Yet, this conception, which means sending the working class to slaughter in the name of the myth of defending democracy (under capitalist rule) against fascism, is part of the war program of the Stalinists, who make up no small part of the organized labor movement, and a number of social democratic parties and leaders, including so-called left wingers (Bauer, Dan and Zyromski). If this section of the resolution is to mean anything, it has to state the origin of this theory and its proponents. Without that, we are shadow-boxing, afraid to set up before the real opponents. The resolution should say: this theory is advanced inside the workers’ movement by the Stalinist International, by large parties in the social democracy, and by such leaders as Bauer, Dan and Zyromski. If “we are opposed to all programs which rely on war by capitalist states to overthrow fascist dictatorships,” then we must state whose programs we mean. Not only that, we must explain our opposition to this, as well as other forms of social-patriotism.

The resolution, warns against seduction at the hands of the League of Nations, since it is an instrument in the hands of Anglo-French imperialism. Quite correct. That has been the contention of Marxists since the inception of the League. But who champions the League of Nations? The imperialists? Quite correct! But we need no warning against them. “We are however, in need of a warning against the agents of such ideas in the labor movement. It is within the working class movement that this point of view is conjured up before us. Here again it is the Stalinists, and the right wing social democrats who are the champions of the League of Nations at a time when it exhibits its worst features. The resolution, however, is deadly silent on this question.

The same could be said about the matter of sanctions. Once again we find organizations (Stalinists, trade unionists, social democrats,) in the labor movement urging sanctions against, Italian fascism. The resolution, speaking out against the policy of sanctions because it is a weapon of one imperialism, or a set of imperialists against others, fails to explain why it is so acute a problem for the working class. It became such a decisive problem not only because in its application it would decisively, affect, the proletariat. But the more so, because sanctions were advocated by large sections of the labor and political movement of the workers. The resolution should have drawn the lessons of the plea for sanctions in the ranks of the working class by stating where it came from, how it arose, and how you can combat it.

The resolution speaks of the defense of the Soviet Union by the independent activity of the working class internationally. It speaks also of the necessity of remaining independent from soviet diplomacy. Why is it. necessary to say this? It remains unexplained in the resolution. If the resolution contains such. statements it ought to go on to explain what compelled them. It would have been necessary to show that the 3rd International has become subordinated to the diplomacy of the Soviet Union, which in turn is based on the nationalist conceptions of building socialism, held by the present Soviet regime. This same diplomacy desires to subordinate all working class activity in the world to its nationalist needs. If we find it necessary to declare that our international independent activity for the overthrow of capitalism must not be subordinated to Soviet Diplomacy, we should then state very definitely that we pose internationalism against nationalism, as it is represented by the 3rd International. We would have to show the ramifications of soviet diplomacy and how it effects the activities of the international labor movement. But here again, nothing is explained.

Should war break out despite anti-war efforts on our part, the resolution calls for a general strike to put an end to the war. To impose the general strike in a period of war requires the highest type of revolutionary organization. It means to bring you into sharp conflict with u ruling class which is organized to meet precisely such an eventuality by the use of armed forces. If the general strike is to mean anything in the way of stopping war, it implies the necessity of organizing workers to meet the resistance of the capitalist state by the same weapons: to meet the armed assault of the ruling class with the armed resistance of the working class. Clearly, here is involved the whole problem of the struggle for power. The general strike can be called not as the initial stage of the overthrow of the capitalist class but simply to stop the war.

The resolution says nothing of pacifism. The program should analyse this movement which threatens the working class with impotence preceding the war and then ties it to the chariot of the imperialist powers once the conflagration begins.

Revolutionary defeatism is referred to in passing. There is, however, no explanation of this great revolutionary tactic employed by the Marxists in the last war. A great deal of confusion exists here. The resolution does not trace the development of the tactic, cites no examples, and does not educate our movement in its significance. For our movement, the question of “revolutionary defeatism” (the resolution does not refer to it in exactly that form, and it does not necessarily have to use the two words so long as the concept is fully contained) is a comparatively new one and it is necessary to begin the education at once and without delay. Where would have been a better place to begin than in this resolution?

These random criticisms of the resolution are made with the aim of suggesting improvements for its final writing. The writer realizes that this is not a complete and finished criticism, but the important and decisive questions are posed. The war resolution ought to take up the following: the causes of war; the role of social-patriotism (the 1914 vintage and the Stalinist vintage of 1936), an attack upon national defense, the question of pacifism, the League of Nations, sanctions, revolutionary defeatism (with which is connected up the question of the general strike), the struggle for power, and finally and most important, the establishment of the worker’s state, by saying exactly what it is, how it will come into being, and what its role and function is.

In drawing up such a resolution these points have to be placed in their proper order. They have to be properly connected up with one another. As already indicated, they should be explained fully and concretely. You have to say what is. You cannot be abstract and vague. The resolution must be of such a kind that no variety of interpretations arc possible. It must be the kind of resolution that cannot be supported by Marxists, anti-Marxists, pacifists, social-patriots and the like. Such a resolution would be without any value whatsoever, because no resolution can satisfy all these elements standing antagonistic to one another. Our purpose must be clarity and not great confusion. As the resolution stands now, it will make confusion more confounded. And that is precisely what we must avoid.

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