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Fight Against War

John West

The Struggle Against War

Pacifism No Aid, But Helps the Militarists –
Only Through the Class Struggle Can War Be Fought

(February 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 8, 2 February 1935, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Ed. Note: This is the second in Comrade West’s series of four articles. The remaining two – The League Against War and Fascism and The United Front and War – will follow in the next two issues of the New Militant.)

* * *

Even a brief study of the nature and causes of modern war proves that war is an essential part of capitalism. The inner conflicts of capitalism lead and must lead to war. All Marxists, and in fact many pseudo-Marxists or even liberals, accept this conclusion.

Nevertheless, there have been the most serious misconceptions in following out the consequences of this conclusion so far as they apply to the struggle against war.

The most serious mistake made in the attempted struggle against war comes from the wide-spread belief that this struggle is somehow “independent” of the class struggle in general, that a broad union of all sorts of persons from every social class and group can be formed around the issue of fighting war, since – so the reasoning goes – these persons may he all equally opposed to war whatever their differences on other points. War is thus lifted from its social base, considered apart, from its causes and conditions, as if it were a mystic abstraction instead of a concrete historical institution. Acting on this belief, attempts are made to build up all kinds of permanent Peace Societies, Anti-War Organizations, Leagues Against War, etc.

To End War We Must Remove Cause

This kind of attitude, is about as effective as it would be for doctors to treat the high fever in acute appendicitis by putting the patient in an ice-box. The only way actually to get rid of the high fever is to remove the cause of the fever – that is, to take out the diseased appendix. The same thing is true for war: the only way to get rid of war is to remove the cause of war.

Putting screens around the rotting supports of a building will not improve its foundations. It will, in fact, do just the opposite – it will divert people’s attention from the need for new foundations, and therefore make it all the more likely that the building will collapse.

War is not the cause of the troubles of society. The opposite is true. War is a symptom and result, of the irreconcilable troubles and conflicts of the present form of society, that is to say, of capitalism. The only way to tight; against war is to fight against the causes of war. Since the causes of war are part of the inner nature of capitalism, it follows that the only way to fight, against war is to fight against: capitalism. But the only true fight against capitalism is the revolutionary struggle for workers’ power.

It therefore follows that the only possible struggle AGAINST war is the struggle FOR the workers’ revolution.

Marxists must be absolutely clear on this point. There is no “separate” or “special” struggle against war. The struggle against war cannot be divorced from the day-to-day struggles of the workers so far as, in their historical implications, these lead toward workers’ power. No one can uphold capitalism – whether directly, as an open adherent of the capitalists, or indirectly, from any shade of liberal or reformist position – and fight against war, because capitalism means war. Only a revolutionist can fight against war, because only a revolutionist takes the road to the overthrow of capitalism.

To suppose, therefore, that revolutionists can work out a common program “against war” with non-revolutionists is a disastrous illusion.

Any organization based upon such a program is not merely powerless to prevent war; in practise it acts to promote war, both because it serves in its own way to uphold the system that breeds war, and because it diverts the attention of its members from the real fight against war. There is only one program against war: the program for revolution – the program of the revolutionary party of the workers.

Socialized Economy Will End Contradictions

The workers’ revolution can and will eliminate war because, by overthrowing capitalist economy and supplanting capitalism with a socialist economy, it will remove the causes of war. Under socialism there will no longer exist the basic contradictions that lead to war. The expansion of the means of production, under the ownership and control of society as a whole, will proceed in accordance with a rational plan adjusted to the needs of the members of society. Socialism will remove the limits on consumption, and hence permit the scientific and controlled development of production. Thus, under socialism, war will disappear because the causes of war will have been removed.

Peace Plans and Pacifism

Since this is the basic nature of the struggle against war, the attitude of a Marxist toward any “official” bourgeois “peace plans” is self-evident. The World Court, the Washington Treaty, the Kellogg Pact, the League of Nations, whatever their pretensions, are actually expressions of the irreconcilability of the imperialist conflicts.

Far from being instruments of peace, they are, in fact, part of the preparation for imperialist war, stamping grounds where the great powers can jockey for the most advantageous position for the start of open conflict. If at times they seem to settle a war situation “peacefully”, this is only because the interest of the dominant powers is against an immediate outbreak. Postponement serves only to assure a greater conflagration when the time comes. They serve, in point of fact, as additional means whereby the great powers can carry out their imperialist aims.

This is above all true of the League of Nations, which was formed to preserve the Versailles Settlement (that is, formed as an instrument of aggression against, and subjugation of. the defeated nations) and as a pact of imperialist unity against the post-war revolutionary drive of the workers, and which is utilized now to maintain French hegemony on Continental Europe and the world position of France and England. How meaningless it is, is well enough illustrated by the withdrawal of Germany and Japan at the first real issue.

The League will keep peace as long as peace is to the interests of the powers that control the League. It is into this den of imperialist robbers (as Lenin called it) that Stalinism has led the Workers’ State!

But if Marxists must separate their position sharply from official bourgeois peace plans, they must distinguish themselves no less clearly from all forms of pacifism. The revolutionary struggle against war – the struggle for workers’ power – is at an opposite pole from pacifism. A Marxist is against any and every war undertaken by the capitalist state of course, just as the Marxist is the implacable enemy of the capitalist state – the political representative of the class enemy – on every occasion.

But it is the business of the Marxist, upon the outbreak of imperialist war, to work to turn that war into a class war, a war of the masses under the leadership of the working class for the overthrow of the capitalist state and the establishment of the rule of the working class.

Likewise, it is the business of the Marxist to support actively the revolts of colonies against their imperialist oppressors, and the uprisings of all oppressed and exploited races and nations, since these are directed against the power of the imperialist states – just as he supports strikes and any other manifestations directed against the capitalist class or its government. War is not an abstraction; wars are a social institution, concrete historical phenomena. The final aim of Marxists includes the elimination of wars of all kinds. But they know that this can be accomplished only through one particular kind of war – the class war – since only through the class war can capitalism be overthrown and the causes of war thereby removed. This requirement is due not to the wishes of Marxists but to the actual historical situation.

Pacifism Aids War

Marxists must, therefore, expose and seek to prevent all kinds and forms of pacifism – all theories and organizations, that is, based on a mere “anti-war” program.

Pacifism is not merely powerless against war – since it is not based on genuine social organization nor a clear analysis of the causes of war. In practice it aids war: by spreading illusions about the nature of war and the fight against it; by shifting the energies of honest opponents of war to a fictitious fight against it; by sugar-coating the realities of capitalist society and thus making them – including war – more palatable; by subordinating the working class to middle class individuals and ideas; by preparing the betrayal of the masses in the next war, when outstanding pacifist leaders will decide in the crisis that, this war is different – is for democracy, culture, God, or what not – and call for support of the government.

No, the pacifist way is not the way to fight war. In the struggle against war, properly understood, every militant demonstration, every broad mass labor defense fight, every well-led strike, every step in the workers’ advance to power, is worth a thousand Peace Leagues.

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