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George Breitman

On The 27th Anniversary of August 4, 1914

The “Socialist” Warmongers

Stalinists of 1941 Continue
Treacherous Traditions of 1914 ‘Socialists’

(2 August 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 31, 2 August 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

August 4th is the 27th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. It is also the 27th anniversary of another dreadful event – the vote of the German Social Democratic Party’s deputies in the Reichstag in favor of the war, followed by similar pro-war votes by the French Socialist Party, the British Labor Party, the Social-Democratic Party of Austro-Hungary, the pro-war Mensheviks of Russia.

The reformist and class-collaboration policies carried out by the leaders of these parties in peace-time thus produced a policy of supporting the war of “their” capitalists.

The “socialist” warmongers, by providing “good” reasons for workers to support the imperialist war, were helpful servants of the capitalists in World War I.

With the change of only a few words in their slogans, they or their sons and younger brothers are performing the same Judas functions for the imperialists today, in World War II.

In 1914 it was the parties of the Second International – socialists in words in peace time, recruiting sergeants in action for the imperialists in war time, who played the main role in rounding up the workers for the slaughter.

In 1941 the Second International repeats its inglorious traditions of 1914–18 but the parties of the Third International are challenging it for supremacy in the field of war-mongering.

Today capitalism has even less to offer the workers than in 1914. The decay of the system which can produce only war, fascism and unemployment has reached the stage where all can see and feel its degeneration.

“Socialist” War Slogans Haven’t Improved with Time

If the times have changed for the worse, so have the slogans and pretexts. As World War II is the extension of World War I on a wider and bloodier scale, so the arguments of the “socialist” warmongers of today are the extension of their arguments of 1914 on a lower and dirtier scale. In 1914 the “socialist” leaders on each side of the imperialist war supported their “own” capitalists. Their organizations had grown big, they had many members and newspapers and jobs. In the course of the years leading up to 1914 they had become opportunists.

The capitalists were willing to tolerate them as long as they would remain only a party of opposition – opposition, that is. within the framework of private property and profit. But in time of war, the capitalists need more than friendly opposition, they need “national unity,” that is, the assurance that the working class will unprotestingly play its role of providing the munitions of war in the factories and the cannon fodder on the battlefields.

Any party that tries to convince the workers that they have nothing to gain from imperialist wars and organizes the workers to put an end to the war and the system that creates the war, will meet the full fury of boss persecution, frameup and suppression. The “socialist” leaders, grown soft, did not want, by opposing the war, to jeopardize the gains they had made for themselves. Therefore they would not go before the workers and say the truth:

“This is an imperialist war. It is a war for the benefit of the employers and the monopolies. They are asking us to go to war to gain or protect foreign markets and colonies and sources of raw materials for them to exploit.” If the labor lead had [text missing] the workers would have answered “Very well, we must fight against this war, and you, our leaders, must lead us in this fight.”

The “socialist” warmongers cooked up slogans to justify their position.

In France, Russia and the allied countries they said, “This is a war against Kaiserism, which represents everything reactionary and anti-labor. Kaiserism must be destroyed before the workers of the world can go ahead to socialism.”

In Germany and Austria they said: “This is a war against Czarism, which represents everything reactionary and anti-labor. Czarism must be destroyed before the workers of the world can go ahead to socialism.”

The bosses, whom the worker had to fight every day for an extra crust of bread, would have had great difficulty in selling this line to the workers. Only the “socialist” leaders could do this for the bosses. In the name of a war for democracy, the “socialist” leaders drove the workers out onto the battlefield to die by the millions.

The War-Mongers Didn’t Destroy Czar And Kaiser

Both Kaiserism and Czarism were finally destroyed – but not by the imperialists, and not by the “socialist” war-mongers. They were overthrown by the workers, when they began to understand that the slogan of a war for democracy conducted by the imperialists was a fraud, when they turned away from the “socialist” leaders who had led them into the war. It was not the Allied armies that overthrew Kaiserism, but the workers of Germany; not the German armies which overthrew Czarism, but the workers and peasants of Russia. And when the Czar and Kaiser were overthrown by the independent action of the workers, the “socialist” misleaders who had told them to postpone their struggle for socialism until their own imperialists had won the war now told them to postpone it again.

In Russia, the “socialist” warmongers not only told the workers and peasants to postpone the establishment of a workers’ government that would put an end to the war, but also fought side by side with the capitalists to prevent or overthrow the workers’ government of Lenin and Trotsky In Germany they did the same.

The difference was that in Russia there existed a Marxist workers party, the Bolsheviks, which had grown up in struggle against the opportunism and warmongering of the “socialists,” and in Germany there was no such strong, experienced party. As a result, the socialists, Noske and Scheidemann, were able to help put down the German revolution while the Mensheviks were unable to hold back the Russian Revolution, which proceeded at once to stop the war.

When we look back now at the slogans of the first World War, we can see what dangerous lies they were. For the “war for democracy” led straight to fascism. The suspension of the class struggle by the German “socialist” leaders brought in at home a regime as reactionary and anti-labor as Czarism had ever been. In the name of democracy, the German “socialist” betrayers had first urged postponement of the fight for socialism, then they fought against the socialist revolution and murdered its leaders and thus they saved the capitalist system which was to destroy all democracy in Germany.

So in the end these “socialists” whose opportunist support of the war had been based on their desire to preserve their institutions, newspapers, labor banks and buildings, lived to see them all taken away, not by a foreign invader, but by that same capitalist class whose war they had supported and whose system they had saved.

Just as in 1914, the parties of the Second International are today supporting the imperialists on both sides of the war.

On the Nazi side are the Finnish, Norwegian, French, and Belgian “socialist” leaders, fighting now against “plutocracy” and for “a new order.” On the other side are the “socialist” leaders who were driven out of Germany and Austria, a small minority of the French “socialists,” the British Labor Party and the Social Democratic Federation of America.

Now they no longer merely postpone the struggle for socialism to a future date as they did in 1914: most of them have written it off the books for all time. All they want, they say, is democracy. If they could only get that back, and their little jobs and trade union posts and newspapers, how happy they would be. That kind of democracy would be socialism enough for them.

If the “socialist” warmongers are not as helpful to the imperialists as they were in 1914, it’s not their fault that they’re not. They try their best, they have tried to renovate their slogans and make them a little more attractive. If they are not as successful as in 1914, it is only because they have even less to offer the workers than they had then, and because the workers have learned a few lessons from the experiences of World War I.

Stalinists Are Now Most Useful War-Mongers

Although, the Stalinists are shouting many of the same slogans as the “socialists” at this particular stage of the war, their warmongering cannot be explained in the same manner as that of their brothers of the Second International.

They too were whooping it up for the war in Britain and the United States, and they too are rendering service to the imperialists in these countries. But their allegiance to the imperialist cause is for the benefit of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

In this way alone can one understand the shifts in Stalinist slogans. Two months ago their main emphasis in the democratic capitalist countries was against the war; that is, silence about fascism, and a policy of isolationism. Today the total emphasis is on the slogan against fascism: that is, support of the war and a policy of intervention. In Germany they made a shift too but in the opposite direction. In each case the slogans raised were calculated to help Stalin and his foreign policy.

For obvious tactical reasons the Stalinists present their slogans as dictated by the American national interests. Yesterday, for example, they said “Defend American democracy by keeping out of the war.” Today they say, “Defend America by aiding the Soviet Union and Britain.” In each case they really mean to defend Stalin’s interests by whatever policy they think will help him at the moment.

Supporting Imperialists Doesn’t Aid the Soviet Union

The Stalinists justify their warmongering by pointing to the need for defending the Soviet Union, a factor which did not exist in World War I. And certainly the Soviet Union, still a workers’ state despite its degeneration under Stalinism and therefore still a threat and challenge to the capitalist world, must be defended. The question is how.

Created by a proletarian revolution, the Soviet Union was able to withstand the combined civil war and imperialist interventions of 1918–21 by carrying on a revolutionary war and seeking to extend the October revolution. This was Lenin’s and Trotsky’s method of defending the Soviet Union!

Stalin, on the other hand, has pursued a policy of winning alliances and the “good will” of various imperialist powers. The price he pays for these alliances is nothing less than the chaining of the working class in the capitalist countries to the imperialist war machines. This is Stalinist method of defending the Soviet Union!

The Stalinists, by following this policy, not only don’t defend the Soviet Union, but contribute to its weakness and isolation. By subordinating the interests of the world working class to the defense of the interests of the Kremlin bureaucracy, they betray not only the world revolution but the defense of the Soviet Union as well.

Thus, though their motivations may superficially appear more revolutionary than that of the “socialist” warmongers, the Stalinists serve the interests of world imperialism.

As long as capitalism remains in power, the warmongers of the Second and Third International will continue to enjoy a certain amount of influence. But once the workers’ anti-war sentiments turn them in the direction of wiping out the system that creates war the “socialist” and Stalinist warmongers will be “swept away with all the other chaff, rubbish and treachery that constitute the by-products of capitalism.

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