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War and the Workers

John West

War and the Workers

III. Betrayal in the Struggle

Most people believe that they are opposed to war. Modern war is so terrible in its methods and results that only a small number of perverts or professional soldiers or completely ruthless financiers can support it in their minds. They must at least pretend to themselves that they are against war. But we have seen that wars do not result from what people wish and believe; and that being against war in the mind does not prevent people from acting in a way that helps bring war about.

The truth is that the most dangerous enemies in the struggle against war are not those who openly support war or are obviously in a position to benefit from war. The masses usually do not listen to, and are not deceived by, such persons. The really dangerous enemies are those who seem to be against war, who seem to be friends of peace. And of these, the most dangerous of all are the false opponents of war within the working class itself. These last are the betrayers in the full sense – they are the traitors.

It is necessary, therefore, to review first in a general way how the false struggle against war serves to betray the true struggle against war – the revolutionary struggle.

1. The League of Nations

The League of Nations was founded after the last imperialist war. The statesmen of the victorious Allies advertised it as the institution which would take the place of war henceforward in the world. It was to be “the collective guarantee” of peace. From then on disputes between nations were going to e settled in Geneva, not on the battlefield.

At once liberals, pacifists, and reformists took up the song. The League was hailed as the greatest stride forward toward peace in the history of the world. Everyone was told to support and aid the League, and to rely on it. Even when the reformists said that perhaps the League was not entirely satisfactory, nevertheless they announced that it was a step in the right direction, and should be supported and strengthened.

The attitude of the liberals and the reformists – including the reformists of the Socialist and Communist parties – remains the same up to the present day. In the Ethiopian crisis, we are once again told by them to look to the League.

Now, as at its foundation, only one force has ever told the truth about the League: the Marxists. What is this truth? Is the League, in any sense at all, an agency for peace?

The League was established by the Allies, after their victory over the Central Powers, as an integral part of the “Versailles system” – -that is, as an agency to enforce the peace terms dictated by Great Britain and France, with the consent of the United States. Thus, its real purposes were: (1) To enforce the Versailles Treaty, and ensure the hegemony of France on the European continent; (2) To protect the colonial empire of Great Britain, and to prevent any attempt by Germany to regain its colonies; (3) To make a temporary imperialist “united front” against the post-war threat of international proletarian revolution; and (4) to provide a legal and moral coloration for the next war which the dominant imperialist member states might undertake.

These were the real purposes of the League. How could it have been otherwise? The imperialist powers could not change their spots by joining a Society of Nations. The League did nothing, and could do nothing, to eliminate the conflicts of modern society – the causes of war. It was not, and could not be, an instrument of peace. It was, and remains, on the contrary, an expression of the intra-imperialist conflicts, not an agency to get rid of them. It is, in fact, part of the preparation for war, a stamping ground where the great powers can jockey for the most advantageous position for the start of open conflict. If at times it seems to settle a war situation “peacefully”, that is only because the interests of the dominant powers is against an immediate outbreak. Postponement serves only to assure a greater conflagration when the time comes. Like the Kellogg Pact, Naval Treaties, Disarmament Conferences, the League serves, in point of fact, as an additional means whereby the great powers can carry out their imperialist aims.

Every lesson of history since the foundation of the League serves to confirm this analysis. Whenever an international conflict rises above diplomatic maneuvering, it immediately and automatically goes outside the League framework – as in the case of the Chaco War, the Manchurian invasion, or German rearmament. The only alteration has been that the League is becoming an outworn instrument even to serve its original purposes. One great task for it, however, remains: to help provide a legal and moral coloration for the approaching imperialist war. This task it is carrying out in the present war crisis: as we shall see more at length later, under cover of the League, of the defense of “peace” and “collective security”, Great Britain is lining up her own working class and as much of the rest of the peoples of the world as she can, to serve her own imperialist purposes.

But what follows from this analysis of the role and function of the League? It follows that the struggle against imperialist war requires the most scathing exposure of the role of the League. Far from giving any support whatever to the League, far from creating any hopes in what it can do to preserve peace, the League must be shown before the masses as an instrument of imperialism, of the war-makers. Its “moral authority” must be, not bolstered, but smashed. Only thus can it be removed as an obstacle to the struggle against war.

What then must we say of those who promote these illusions about the League in the eyes of the masses? These brave liberals and false socialists and pious ministers – these Litvinovs and Blums and Browders? We must brand them, for this, as what they are – as betrayers. By binding the masses to the League, they bind them thereby to the controlling member states – they join them to the class enemy, and prepare, through the instrumentality of the League, to hand the masses over to the war-makers when the war, after suitable anointing by the League, begins.

2. Pacifism

When we speak of “pacifists”, we mean all those who believe that the struggle against war can be carried on “independently” of the class struggle in general, those who take a negative and defensive position – against war “in general” – and think that a union of all persons “honestly” for peace can be built up and can stop war. Pacifism has a great following, from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom to the Amsterdam-Pleyel Committee to World Peaceways, Inc. to the World League Against War and Fascism.

We have already seen the complete fallacy of the pacifist position as a means of preventing war. But it is necessary to go further. Not merely is pacifism powerless to prevent war. In the modern world it is, in effect, a means of preparing for war.

Harsh as this conclusion may seem to pacifists themselves, many of whom are personally sincere in their convictions, it can be proved by both theory and history.

Pacifism in any form aids the preparation for war because:

(1) It spreads illusions about the nature of war and of the fight against war (advocating disarmament, conscientious objection, naval treaties, the League, etc., as solutions), and thus prevents a real struggle against war, which can be based only on a true understanding of the nature and causes of war.

(2) Pacifism turns aside the working class from its struggle for power, the only genuine way to fight war. In this way it redirects the revolutionary struggle against war into “safe” channels – that is, channels safe for imperialism.

(3) Pacifism subordinates the working class – the only class which can lead the fight against war – to middle class ideas and middle class individuals (preachers, fake liberals, professional “anti-war agitators”), and thus weakens the class strength of the workers.

(4) Most dangerous of all, in the case of pacifism, is the fact that, by exploiting the desire of the masses for peace and yet completely deluding the masses about the character of the struggle against war, pacifism leaves the masses helpless when war actually comes. At that time, the middle-class and pseudo-liberal leaders of the pacifist movement and organizations for the most part go over at once to the side of the war-makers. They continue to shout that they are against war “in general”, but they find that this particular war is justified because it is “to make the world safe for democracy”, “to defeat militarism”, “to end fascism”, “to uphold the League of Nations”, or for some other noble purpose. Thus the masses who have listened to these leaders are bewildered; having had confidence in the pacifist leaders’ support of peace, they are confused into believing their justification of the actual war. The pacifist organizations, overnight, change from “anti-war” groups into fertile propaganda and recruiting grounds for the war. The experience of the last war in all countries proves this to be the same logic applies in the coming war to such organizations as the pacifist American League Against War and Fascism, with its front of pious liberals, ministers, women’s club presidents, and YMCA secretaries.

The problem of pacifism is particularly acute for the United States, because, among other reasons, a pretended pacifism – under slogans of “neutrality”, “splendid isolation”, “freedom from foreign entanglements” – is not only wide-spread among all groups of the population, but is more or less the “official” policy of the government. What meaning these slogans have was well shown in 1916, when Wilson was re-elected on the pacifist banner, “He kept us out of war” during the very time when the preparations for drawing the US into the war were being completed. The situation has not changed. Ironically enough, Roosevelt’s pacifist neutrality speech in California (August, 1935) was given the day before he reviewed the greatest naval demonstration in US history. The true US war policy is shown not by the phrases of the officials, but by their deeds. For example, the US spends more on armament than any other country in the world, and the strategic basis for the army and navy is throughout designed for a purely offensive war.

The struggle against war in the US must at all times resolutely expose the “neutrality policy” of the government, and must further demonstrate how this policy is actually used to cover up the preparation for the coming war. The myth of US isolation must be exploded. The causes of war are international, not confined to one nation or group of nations. The US can no more avoid being drawn into the imperialist struggle than her finance-capitalists can avoid the effects on their operations of the world market.

3. Social-Patriotism

The word “social-patriotism” became current during the last war. It is used to describe the betrayal of the revolutionary struggle against war by those within the working class movement itself. At the outbreak of the last war, the social democratic leaders in the warring nations went immediately over to the side of the war. This action they “justified” by saying that war was an “exceptional” event; that the working class must defend the “fatherland” (Germany) or “democracy” (England) for the period of the war, or, if it did not, all the achievements of the working class in building toward socialism (including the trade unions and the Socialist parties) would be crushed to pieces by the war machine, and the coming of socialism would be set back indefinitely.

Thus the social-democratic leaders declared “class peace”, and built up “national unity” to defend “their” country. And they became, literally, the recruiting sergeants of the war-makers within the working class. The workers, who would not have answered the call of the bourgeoisie, enlisted at the prompting of “their own” leaders.

This is the greatest of the betrayals. The complete falsity of the social-patriots’ justification of their position is sufficiently evident from the analysis of the principles of the revolutionary struggle against war. Social patriotism – whatever form it takes – is a means of binding the working class to the state and thus through the state to the bourgeoisie; its actual effect is to hand the working class over to the class enemy, the true enemy. The social-patriots are, in actuality, the agents of the class enemy within the working class. The most elementary duty of Marxists in the revolutionary struggle against war is to fight to the end against the social-patriots.

4. General Character of Betrayal

Betrayal in the struggle against war takes a thousand forms, depending upon the concrete circumstances of the threatened or actual war situation. It can never be treated in the “abstract”. A verbally correct position on war may be carried out in concrete issues as betrayal. In Section V, we shall see certain prominent forms which betrayal is taking in the present war crisis.

However, a few major principles underlie most forms of betrayal, and by them we can test positions on the war question: (1) Treatment of the struggle against war as a special struggle independent of the revolutionary struggle for socialism. (2) A merely negative attitude “against war”. (3) Refusal to support armed struggles – of colonies, suppressed peoples, etc. – which advance the cause of the workers and weaken the imperialist forces. (4) Advocacy of any form of class peace or class collaboration in a war situation. (5) Above all, perhaps, confusions on the nature of the state as the political instrument of the class enemy. Thus any war policy advocating “anti-war” actions (sanctions, defensive war against Fascism, collective actions by nations to defend peace or Ethiopia or the League or what not) by capitalist governments means necessarily betrayal, since the effect of such advocacy – no matter what “reservations” are made in words – is always to tie up the working class with the state, and through the state with the class enemy: that is, to disrupt, weaken, and disarm the revolutionary struggle against war, which can be carried on only and under all circumstances against the state and the class enemy.

War and the Workers

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Last updated: 16.2.2005