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Fight Against War

John West

The League Against War and Fascism

(February 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 9, 9 February 1935, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Ed. Note: This is the third in Comrade West’s series of four articles on war. The last, The United Front and War, will appear in the next issue of the New Militant.)

* * *

During the past year and a half, the American League Against. War and Fascism (which is the counterpart of leagues organized in many other countries) has been presented to the American public as the means for fighting against and preventing war and fascism. Its success in enlisting popular support has not been conspicuous. Nevertheless, in a number of cities the League has made progress. After a temporary lapse in its activities, it has re-opened a vigorous campaign. What attitude are Marxists to take toward the League? It is essential to be clear on this, not merely so far as the League itself is concerned, but, with further reference to any organization of this type.

There are two different kinds of argument advanced in support of the League. The first, which is the position of the League itself and of its sponsor, the Communist Party, is that the League actually constitutes the most effective means for fighting war (in these articles I am not concerned with the fight against fascism). The second argument is put forward by those who maintain that the League, while not, in the final analysis an effective means for fighting war, should be supported because through it an “approach to the middle classes” is possible. On the anti-war issue, it is maintained, revolutionists can unite with members of the middle class and can, through this means of approach, gradually win them to alliance with the revolutionary movement.

Both of these arguments are profoundly and disastrously mistaken.

The argument usually heard against the League is that the League is dominated in a mechanical and sectarian manner by the Communist Party. Though this argument has some force, it is far from the root of the matter. Even if mechanically dominated by the Communist Party, Marxists would have to support and build the League if it actually were an effective instrument against war. We must analyse further.

The Fallacies of the League

To begin with, certain organizational features of the League must be kept in mind: (1) It is a permanent organization; (2) It permits and encourages individual membership; (3) It not merely advocates certain actions to be taken against war, but puts forward a program against war; (4) This program is in part political – e.g. it advocates, in a confused way, the abolition of “the profit system”.

A book would be needed to make clear all of the errors in the conception of the League. However, with these organizational features in mind, I shall outline certain of the chief fallacies.

1. The League, in spite of the pretentious language of its publications, is a pacifist organization.

Its fundamentally pacifist character can be seen at, once in the fact that the League attempts to isolate the struggle against war, to treat it as a “special” or “independent” struggle, apart from the revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a workers’ state. While it is true that in certain circumstances, united actions against war, involving various social groups, are possible, it is not and cannot be true that Marxists can under any circumstances unite in program against war with any other groups or individuals. We have already seen that there is only one program, for the struggle against war – the revolutionary program for the overthrow of capitalism; and to this program only Marxists can subscribe.

In addition to theory, the agitation and activities of the League make perfectly clear its pacifist nature. We find the same old pacifist hokum – loud yelps for “disarmament”, support of the “munitions inquiries”, “anti-war pledges”, calls for “congressional investigations”, and the rest. Broken down ministers and fake liberals find themselves immediately at home in the League, and are pushed as its most prominent members and speakers. Fight, the magazine of the League, publishes just the kind of pictures and articles that get across with the Women’s Club Peace Societies.

And like all pacifist organizations, the League is actually aiding the development toward war. It obscures the analysis of the causes of war, diverts the real struggle against war into harmless channels, provides a salve for middle class consciences troubled by the horrors of war, and prepares to leave the working class helpless – both ideologically and organizationally – when a war situation arises.

At that, time, the League, built upon the sands of vague pacifist sentiment instead of class organization, will be blown away by one puff from the capitalist state. Its preachers and liberals will take the stump for the government, recruiting the masses to the new war “to end all wars” or “defend the shores of our sacred land” or whatever it may be.

2. The League is a horrible parody of the united front as Marxists understand the united front.

The united front, properly understood, is a tactic whereby working class and at times certain middle class organizations, differing in program, nevertheless unite on certain specific actions upon which all are agreed, while retaining their full organizational and programmatic independence. There is no such thing as a permanent united front, nor a “united front in program”. How could there be? There is nothing in common between the Marxist program against war or on any other important issue, and the program of any other group or individual. The one possibility of “union” is on specific actions. Nor can a Marxist party join in a permanent united front, which would necessarily mean giving up organizational independence.

3. The League involves a complete misunderstanding of the relation of the working class to the middle class.

It does not represent a united front with middle class groups and individuals, but a capitulation to the middle class. The program, activities, and agitation of the League are precisely the program, activities, and agitation of middle class pacifism, and at a vast political distance from Marxism. In any correct united front with middle class individuals and groups, the working class goes ahead on the basis of specific actions immediately acceptable to both, but keeping its program intact, and demonstrating through the united front – not that an amalgamation, i.e. a compromise, can be reached between a middle class and a working class program, but that only the working class program, the revolutionary program, is able to solve also the middle class problems. In the League, the working class program against war surrenders to the middle class program. And, in addition, working class members are subordinated to middle class members.

4. The League, because of the kind of activities it engages in, and because of the political implications of its program, becomes a substitute for the revolutionary political party.

The political jargon of its program is the usual reformist twaddle, exactly in line with paragraphs from the platforms of Progressive Parties, Utopian Societies, Labor Parties, etc. Becoming an individual member of the League and building it is just like building any kind of reformist political organization.

Revolutionary Party Is First Task

War will be defeated only by the revolutionary struggle of the workers; and this struggle will succeed only under the leadership of the revolutionary political party. The business of a Marxist is certainly not to build up a reformist group – whose historical role, we ought to know by now, is to make smooth the road to war and reaction – but to build the revolutionary party. This is the only political organization a Marxist has any right to join or support. And to build the revolutionary party is his first and greatest task.

5. The League encourages a crowning confusion by linking automatically together “war and fascism”.

While it is true in a sense that “fascism means war”, it is a complete illusion to suppose that fascism is the cause of war. By emphasizing the relation between fascism and war, as the League does, it suggests that the war danger from non-fascist nations is remote. But it is capitalism that causes war. Fascism means war only in the tense that the triumph of fascism marks a deepening of capitalist contradictions which likewise indicates the nearer approach of war as an attempted solution. By linking fascism and war, the League plays into, the hands of the bourgeois propaganda that declares Hitler and Mussolini to be the war-makers, and “democratic” England, France, and the United States the defenders of peace. Thus is prepared the sell-out of the workers of England, France and the United States to the next war of their peaceful democratic governments.

Furthermore, this association of fascism and war fails to distinguish the great, differences between the tactics of the struggle against war and the struggle against fascism. This it is not the business of these articles to elaborate, but it is sufficiently indicated by the fact that fascism is incompatible with and involves the destruction of not only the revolutionary party but of all reformist parties, all independent trade unions, etc.; whereas war, as the last war proved conclusively, is entirely compatible with the continued existence of reformist parties and the trade unions.

Much more could be said about the confusions, errors, and deceits of the League. There is space now only to ask and briefly answer one final question: Where and why did an organization of this kind arise?

The Policy of Stalinism

The answer is not a matter of conjecture. We know the record. The Leagues (here and in other countries) are the conception of the foreign office of the Soviet Union. The American League was first proposed in this country by the representative of the Communist International, to a group of non-party individuals – even before it had been presented to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the U.S. Browder himself, when he was first told about it, before he had had a little chat with the C.I. representative, rejected it as “pacifist”. The League follows directly from the whole policy of Stalinism. The building of socialism in one country demands peace; peace will be secured by treaties and deals with capitalist governments, by joining the League of Nations, and, quite naturally, by pacifist propaganda.

Squarely opposed is the Marxist conception: The Workers’ State will be defended by the strengthening of the revolutionary movement in the capitalist countries. This will prevent intervention in the Soviet Union, because the capitalist states will not be able to risk intervention if a strong revolutionary movement can, with the aid of the Red Army, turn the war of intervention into a class war for the overthrow of the capitalist, state. And, when the revolutionary movement is sufficiently developed, it will take the offensive.

The Soviet Union is finally defended by attacking. The real building of socialism will be accomplished in the only way it can be accomplished – by the extension of the revolution. This is the only mode of “defense”. In any other direction lies disaster, and the world-wide triumph of reaction.

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