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War and the Workers

John West

War and the Workers

II. The Struggle Against War

Even such a brief study of the nature and causes of modern war is sufficient to prove 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 (or pretend to accept) this conclusion.

Nevertheless, widespread and disastrous misconceptions are held in following out the consequences of this conclusion so far as they apply to the struggle against war.

The most common mistake made in the attempted it struggle against war comes from the belief that this exists 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 be all equally opposed to war whatever their differences on other points. In this way, war is 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.

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

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 fight 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 over- throw of capitalism.

To suppose, therefore, that revolutionists can work out a common “program against war” with non-revolutionists is a fatal illusion. Any organization based upon such a program is not merely powerless to prevent war; in practice it acts to promote war, both because it serves in its own way to uphold the system t at 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.

The workers’ revolution can and will eliminate war be-cause, 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. Artificial economic barriers based on national boundaries will be removed. The expansion of the means of production, under the owner-ship 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 be done away with.

Since the victory of socialism, and this alone, will defeat war, every step on the path to socialism is a blow at war. In the struggle against war, properly understood, every militant workers’ demonstration, every broad mass labor defense fight, every well-led strike, and in general every advance of the workers toward power, is worth a thousand “Peace Leagues”.

Meanwhile, in carrying on the daily struggle, it is the duty of the Marxists to prepare for the war crisis. To this end, they must constantly expose the war plans of the imperialist powers; they must resist the militarization of the masses; they must make clear to the working class each step in the progress toward war; they must combat the patriotic war propaganda; they must help strengthen, ideologically and materially, the organizations of the workers, so that these will not be crushed at the outbreak of the war. And they must everywhere and at all times expose the misleaders and the betrayers in the fight against war, from whatever camp – those who make ready, by a thousand and one devices, to turn over the workers to the war-makers.

But in the war crisis itself, the Marxists do not suspend their struggle. On the contrary, the struggle becomes immensely sharper, the duties infinitely heavier. On the war question, Marxists are not “neutral”; they do not withdraw into a shell until the war disappears into the past.

One of the great aims of the revolutionary movement is the elimination of war forever from the world. But, as we have seen, this can be accomplished only by the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism – that is, by the victory of the working class in the class war. This requirement is due not to the wishes of Marxists, but to the actual realities of history. Thus, in struggling against every war undertaken by any capitalist power, Marxists cannot take a merely negative pacifist position of being against “war in general”. They are actively for the victory of the working class in the class war, since only through such victory can war in general be done away with.

Therefore it is the business of Marxists not to stand aside, but to support actively, in every possible manner, any armed struggle that is aimed against, and capable of weakening, capitalism: for example, the revolts of colonies against their imperialist oppressors, and the uprisings of all oppressed and exploited races and nations – just as Marxists support strikes or any other manifestations directed against the capitalist class or its governments.

And, similarly,. Marxists are not “neutral” in an imperialist war. Their duty is to lead the working class in delaying the outbreak of the imperialist war as long as this is historically possible, since imperialist war, besides murdering millions of the finest of the workers and the youth generally, makes incomparably more difficult the organization of revolutionary struggle. But when the imperialist war nevertheless, in the end (as it must), breaks out, the task of the Marxists is to work to turn the imperialist war, which ranges the peoples of one group of nations on the battlefields against the peoples of another group, into a class war, a war of the masses under the leadership of the working class and its party for the overthrow of the capital-ist state and the establishment of the rule of the working class. The Marxists fight, but within each country they fight not for the victory but for the defeat of their own government – not for its defeat by the opposing capitalist powers, but for its defeat by its own working class. The true enemy is at home: the class enemy and its political representative, the state. This is the enemy to be defeated, in every country. And this is the aim of the Marxists in the coming war – in every country, the overthrow of the class enemy, the setting up of the workers’ state, the joining together with the working class of the entire world for the defeat of finance-capital on an international scale, and the international victory of the working masses.

This struggle – the only true struggle against war – requires at every stage the utmost clarity and realism. Any illusion whatever weakens it mortally. Above all, the working masses of every country must understand who their enemy is. They must understand that the enemy is not the people of Germany, or France, or Italy, or Japan, or of any other nation against whom the home government may wage war, but that the real enemy of the masses of every country is the enemy at home – the bourgeoisie and the government of “their own country”. They must understand that any war which “their” country undertakes will be a war to serve the interests of finance-capital, no matter what noble talk about “democracy” or “peace” or “defense” or “collective security” is used to justify it. And therefore they must resist to the utmost any and every conception of patriotism, class peace, national unity, or support of the government for the conduct of the war. To such conceptions must be, at all times, opposed – struggle against the war, struggle to turn the war into a civil war for the defeat of the government and the bourgeoisie, and the achievement of workers’ power.

This is the only struggle against the coming imperialist war: the struggle on an international scale for the victory of the workers, for a world socialist society.

War and the Workers

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Last updated: 16.2.2005