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War and the Workers

John West

War and the Workers

VI. The Agents of Betrayal

The fight against betrayal on the war issue is not, of course, a mere battle of ideas. Our ideas must be clear on the question of war, but that is never enough. The ideas must be translated into action. Betrayal does not descend from the skies. It is carried out in practice by men, by powerful individuals and great organizations. The fight against betrayal is therefore necessarily – the struggle against the betrayers. There must be no illusions on this score. We must not be confused by pseudo-“moral” notions about the “sincerity” and “good intentions” of “opponents of war”. The effect of the actions of the betrayers, if they are successful, is literally to lead the working class to capitulation to the enemy and to slaughter. The struggle against the betrayers must be bitter, intransigent, unceasing. Our aim must be to smash utterly the influence of the betrayers and the organizations whose positions constitute betrayal. Nothing short of this is enough.

As to the outright pacifists – the Leagues for Peace and Freedom, the World Peaceways, the Councils of Churches for Peace, the broken down liberals – the problem is clear enough. We must aim to isolate them, to prevent their ideas from gaining any hold among the working class and its allies, and we must destroy the influence which these ideas have gained.

But it has already been made clear that the most dangerous of the betrayers are those within the working class itself. It is against these that the great struggle must be waged, for so long as they hold the allegiance of the working class, betrayal will succeed.

2. The Second International

The parties of the Second International engineered the great betrayal in 1914. Nothing fundamental has altered in their position since that time. They remain, as they were, ready to hand over the workers to the imperialist governments when the war starts. Their whole course of action, not only on the war question but on every other, is to weaken the revolutionary struggle of the workers, which in turn is the only genuine struggle against war. The keynote of their policy everywhere: compromise with – that is, capitulation to – the state; which means, capitulation to the chief instrument of the class enemy. Since this is the constant guide to their day-by-day activities, they could scarcely be expected to cease compromise in the greatest crisis of all: the war crisis.

Throughout the world, social-democrats of all shades support the rottenest types of pacifist organizations. Only recently they have swung behind the ridiculous and illusion-breeding plan of the International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom to secure 50,000,000 signatures “against war”, and have praised this campaign as a great blow to war. Prominent Socialists in every country are conspicuous members of every pacifist organization.

During the development of the present crisis, the Socialists everywhere have supported the League of Nations, as the instrument to solve the present crisis. They have been vigorous advocates of League and governmental sanctions. The meeting of the Executive Committee of the Second International held in August officially endorsed this policy, going so far as to call on the British government to close the Suez Canal.

In England, the British Labour Party, affiliated to the Second International, has throughout played into the hands of British finance-capital by supporting government sanctions, and now finds itself with no policy for the coming elections fundamentally differentiating it from the Conservatives. It is significant that almost the only criticism of this course from within the Labour Party comes from a purely negative, pacifist, do-nothing direction. In France the Socialist party has held the same position, and has become the staunchest defender of the capitalist “republican” regime.

The recent Dan-Zyromski-Bauer resolution on war, presented for “discussion” to the parties of the Second International, completely upholds the policy of governmental and League sanctions, endorses the League as an instrument for peace, and justifies support of “democratic” governments in a war against Fascist governments.

In some countries, notably the United States, “left” Socialists are objecting to the position on war which is being officially taken by the parties and leaders of the Second International. The “Militants” in this country have criticized the advocacy of sanctions, the Dan-Zyromski-Bauer resolution, etc., from what looks on the surface as a position close to Marxism. How far from Marxism it is in actuality is revealed by noticing the positions which the same Militants take on particular issues: They enthusiastically praise the A.F. of L. Convention resolutions which hailed the League and demanded “sanctions” by the US government. They praise and push the “50,000,000 signatures against war” campaign. They hail the Socialist NEC resolution on war (October, 1935) which, while rejecting sanctions and a “reformed” League of Nations. They praise to the skies Norman Thomas’ new book on War, which fails to meet a single one of the central issues in the revolutionary struggle against war. They speak lightly of a possible “general strike” at the outbreak of war, without pointing out that such a strike would be a revolutionary act, presupposing a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary party prepared to take power – all of which are extremely unlikely at the beginning of a war, when the capitalist state is normally at its most powerful and its most desperate. And, finally, the Militants nowhere draw the necessary conclusion that the revolutionary struggle against the Second International and its parties and its leaders, whose official position of betrayal on a world scale has been clearly unfolded.

On the question of war, a position which is correct or approximately correct in the abstract, on the surface, is never enough. It must be correct in the concrete, on particular issues, before it amounts to anything more than juggling with words. This is a disastrous weakness of many of the leaders of the left Socialists in this country. What are we to say when they come out with Marxist-sounding phrases, and then support actively the “united front” Student Mobilization for Peace (November 8, 1935), a united front that was actually a patriotic rally, having as its chief speakers throughout the country not merely social-patriots, but open chauvinists like President Robinson of City College, New York? It should be obvious that Marxists can never form “united fronts for peace” with betrayers and agents of the war-makers. Their duty on all occasions is to expose and attack the betrayers. What are we to say when these Militants are not merely silent about the illusions of pacifism, but actively propagate pacifist ideas and, especially, build up pacifist organizations? When they not merely accept but even formulate proposed government neutrality legislation? When they take no steps to purge the ranks of their own party of the hard and brazen social-patriots in its Right wing? We can only conclude that their “Marxism” is no more than a red veil, hiding beneath it weakness, equivocation, or outright capitulation to the war-makers.

There is only one conclusion to be drawn about the Second International and its parties. They are rotted to the core. They prepare – they already announce their preparation – only for a repetition of the betrayal of 1914. The struggle against war is inconceivable apart from the struggle against the Second International.

3. The Third International

The Seventh Congress of the Communist International, held during the summer of 1935, during the course of the development of the present war crisis, stamped officially the repudiation of Marxism by Stalinism, and above all announced the betrayal by Stalinism on the war question. The Seventh Congress signed, sealed, and delivered the workers under Stalinist influence to the war-makers.

This is not a development of the moment. Once started on the course of sacrificing the interests of the world proletariat to the bureaucratic dream of building a socialist Utopia within the national boundaries of the Soviet Union, Stalinism could not end short of capitulation to imperialism. In the place of the Marxist struggle for the extension of the revolution, Stalinism substituted diplomatic maneuvers to preserve “peace” by preserving the status quo. And to carry out this policy successfully meant the complete subordination of the sections of the Communist parties became propaganda agents and border patrols of the Soviet Union, not the revolutionary vanguard of the working class within their respective countries. Their chief occupation became not the struggle for power but the singing of the praises of their master. The Franco-Soviet Pact and its accompanying memoranda showed to the world that the duty of French Communists was no longer to fight the French bourgeoisie, but to uphold the French bourgeoisie if only it would give a paper promise to preserve the Soviet boundaries. When the imperialist League of Nations was tottering from the withdrawals of Japan and Germany, Stalin, instead of helping to drive the last nail in its coffin, entered the League, bolstered its waning authority with the prestige of the workers’ state, and prolonged the League’s fatal ability to disorient and weaken the masses and the revolutionary struggle against war.

Throughout the development of the present crisis, the Communist International and its sections everywhere have been persistently pro-League and pro-sanctions, thereby doing their part to serve the ends of British and French imperialism. Stalinism is the great source of the distinctions between “good, peace-loving, democratic” capitalist nations and “bad, war-loving, fascist” nations, and has drawn the appropriate conclusion – to support war undertaken by the former – “if only they are on the side of the Soviet Union”.

Stalinism has gone far beyond even the social-democrats in lining up with the most degraded types of pacifists – from Father Divine to officers of the DAR to cousins of the Pope – if only they will shout “Peace!” and say no word of criticism against “the peace policy of the Soviet Union”. The Communist parties have built up throughout the world the pacifist, anti-revolutionary Leagues Against War and Fascism.

In France, the Communist party in the People’s Front has blocked the workers’ struggle for power, and has taken the road of defense of the French state both externally (against Hitler) and internally (against the pro-German wing of the French bourgeoisie, and likewise against the revolutionary assault of the Marxists) in return for Laval’s promises to Stalin. In England, the Communist party has taken its place alongside the Labour Party in support of the international policy of the British imperialists. In this country, the Communist party demands more strongly than the Socialist party the passing of US government neutrality-sanctions.

The Communist party has already made clear that it proposes to act as the agent of finance-capital in enlisting the working class in the coming imperialist war within any nation that may be, or may pretend to be, “friendly” to the Soviet Union. The Communist International offers such services as a juicy bribe to aid Stalin in making alliances. The CI prepares, that is to say, to turn the working class in countries allied to the Soviet Union over to the imperialists.

The conclusion, as in the case of the Second International, is inevitable: the revolutionary struggle against war poses as a fundamental task the struggle against the Communist International and its national sections, demands the destruction of Stalinism.

War and the Workers

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Last updated: 16.2.2005