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Fight Against War

John West

The United Front and War

(February 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 10, 16 February 1935, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Ed. Note: This is the last in Comrade West’s series of four articles on war.)

* * *

The firm understanding that the fight against war is the fight for workers’ power and a socialist society is the key to all the “anti-war” activities of Marxists. It is the Marxist, participating actively and constantly in the class struggle, who is carrying on the only genuine and effective fight against war. All the fine phrases and noble sentiments and even the deep sincerity of pacifists are powerless against war, when not actually of aid to the war-makers.

The knowledge that this is true is hard for many, even for some Marxists, to accept. Surely, they feel, there is something important in common between us and the non-revolutionary millions from both the working class and the middle class who oppose war. At least we agree in our opposition to imperialist war, in our realization of its barbarous cruelty and horror, and in our earnest wish to put an end to it. Can we not all unite on this basis, leaving other differences aside? Thus we may not only have greater forces to defend ourselves against war and its destruction, but we will come into closer contact with these others and win them gradually to our side on other questions.

Unfortunately, this feeling is mistaken. Whatever the appearances, Marxists have in fact nothing in common with these “war-opposers”. The reason for this is mat the war-opposers do not really oppose war at all. They do not, because they do not oppose the causes of war, and are not willing to take steps to remove these causes – that is, take revolutionary steps Their “opposition to war”, there-lore, is in the last analysis only a screen to satisfy their consciences.

An Entry to the Minds of Pacifists

However, this is not the whole story There is one advantage which even a vague feeling of opposition to war, so long as it is sincerely held, gives, and this is of great importance to the growth of the revolutionary movement. It provides what might be called a psychological meeting point between Marxists and non-Marxists. in the resolve to end imperialist war, pacifists and Marxists share in common an idea. This gives Marxists, if they make proper use of it, an entry to the minds of pacifists. It gives them an audience, a chance to say: “You believe you are opposed to war. Very well, we will take you at your word. If you are opposed to war, you must want to get rid of the causes of war. We will show you what the causes are ...” And Marxists can go on to demonstrate how real opposition to war must lead to a revolutionary position.

Many persons have come to a revolutionary position after starting with a feeling against war. And many more will do so, if Marxists make an intelligent and clear approach to them. The logic of an anti-war stand, if carried out, must lead to the revolutionary movement. Too much should not be expected: economic interest, the powerful propaganda on the other side, will, in the majority of cases, prevent pacifists from accepting the full logical conclusion. But not in all cases. And Marxists cannot afford to neglect any avenue of approach.

War Issue Base for Agitation

Thus the “war issue” is correctly a powerful base for Marxist education and agitation. This is particularly true in approaching intellectuals, professionals and others from the middle class, whose alliance with the revolutionary movement often follows more from psychological and moral considerations than from immediate economic interest. A factory worker who wants security and a better standard of living can be shown how only a workers’ state can provide them. A teacher or writer honestly against war can be shown how only socialism will eliminate it.

It is, therefore, correct and necessary for Marxists to participate in “Conferences against War” Their business at such conferences is, of course, not to form permanent “alliances against war”, not to tell pacifists that “we are all engaged in a common fight”, but to present openly and unequivocally the Marxist, analysis of war and the fight against war, and to show why all other analyses are wrong. It is likewise important to speak and write about the Marxist position on war as widely as possible, before both working class and middle class audiences. For example, this is often an excellent opening for the statement of the revolutionary position before meetings of trade union or unemployed league members.

Making Marxist Position Clear

The Marxist position, moreover, should not be left in the abstract. It is the duty of Marxists at all times to expose concretely the war plans and maneuvers of the imperialist governments. Immediate analyses of treaties, “conversations”, armaments, “war games”, exchange and tariff struggles, border encounters, arms limitation conferences, naval races, etc., must be given by the Marxist, press, in order to make clear to the working class the exact progress of the war danger, and to pierce through the fogs of the “peace talk” of the capitalist statesmen.

Such agitational and educational efforts are all part of the fight against war. Nevertheless, none of them includes anything in the nature of a “united front against war’’. Even a conference against war participated in by several parties and organizations is not a united front. A united front is constituted when several parties or other groups set up machinery to carry out certain specific activities in common.

We have already seen that there is no such thing as a “programmatic” united front, either against war or on any other matter.

It is moreover true that no united front of any kind can be constituted against war in general. This follows from the fact that only the revolutionary party is actually against the whole social institution of war – and it cannot have a united front with itself.

Application of the United Front

Is any sort of united front possible in the fight against war? The truth is that the application of the united front is more limited in the fight against war than in any other phase of the revolutionary struggle. It could not be otherwise. The fight against war is too deadly and sharp. In the face of it only the firmest Marxist position can stand up. The last war proved this beyond question. Before the war crisis, not. only the bourgeois “internationalists” and the pacifist organizations but the great Social-Democracy itself collapsed. Any compromise whatever with the capitalist state – and only the Marxist position does not compromise – means weakening when the state is confronted with a war situation.

However, there remain certain possibilities for united front activities, and these should not be neglected. For example: If a revolutionary crisis arises in Cuba, the question of United States intervention will be immediately raised. It is quite feasible that a broad united front, including both, working class and middle class organizations, should be formed to fight intervention. Or, in the case of a war between Japan and the Soviet Union, a united front, might well struggle to prevent the sending of munitions and supplies to Japan. There would be dangers, however, even in such a united front. It might be utilized to support entrance of the U.S. government into the war, against Japan. Since the U.S. would enter only for its own imperialist ends, and could not properly defend the Soviet Union, Marxists would be required to oppose the U.S. government in such an eventuality as implacably as in any other war. The defense of the Soviet Union can come only from the working masses, not from the capitalist state.

United front agreements might be properly formed on other occasions to support colonial struggles, whether of U.S. colonies or of others – to prevent U.S. capitalists from aiding the imperialist home countries. But in a major war crisis any united front would inevitably be a narrow one. At the start of a major war crisis, the capitalist state is at its strongest, seeming to rise above internal conflicts and sweep the whole nation into its embrace, as at the entry of the U.S. government into the last war. The strength and very existence of the state are bound up with the war, and an act against the war becomes an act directly against the state. The act against war is almost automatically a revolutionary act. And only the Marxist party is consciously prepared to advocate a revolutionary act.

This is the reason for the deceptiveness of the slogan, “a general strike at the outbreak of war,” put forward by socialists and even pacifists. A general strike at the outbreak of a major war would be a revolutionary strike; only those who are prepared to carry it through to the revolutionary transfer of power to the workers can genuinely advocate it. It pre-supposes, furthermore, a tremendously advanced working class, ripe for power, and without this would either evaporate or go quickly down in the uselessly spilled blood of the strikers. The imperialist state, staking its existence on its greatest gamble – imperialist war – is scarcely going to give up and accept defeat from abroad because of pressure at home – unless the pressure at home is a revolutionary force which is itself prepared to defeat and overthrow the state.

But though the united front is thus strictly limited in the fight against war, narrowly understood, the analysis of war shows that actually every successfully carried through united front is an advance in the flght against war. This is the answer to those who say that we must have an approach to the middle class and to middle’ class minded workers; and conclude therefrom that we must, build pacifist Leagues to publish pacifist literature and make pacifist, speeches. By no means. Marxists approach all groups with their own Marxist program intact. Marxists join them, where it advances the cause of the workers, in common action.

United fronts to defend civil liberties, to protect workers’ rights, to resist vigilantes, to free class war prisoners and defeat lynchings by courts or mobs, to force through a workers’ security program, to build an effective non-partisan labor defense league – these are united fronts broad enough to include all groups who are honest in their protests against the excesses of capitalism and their desires for a better social order.

These, moreover, provide in action approaches to the middle class and to the working masses, without at the same time capitulating to the illusions of a middle class program. And these, properly understood, like every advance in the workers’ movement toward power, are real and genuine actions in the fight against war.

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