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R. Fahan

The Politics of Incineration

Notes on Bombs, Men and Ideas

(March 1950)

From New International, Vol.16 No.2, March-April 1950, pp.75-85.
Transcribed & marked up up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


Question: What is morality?

Answer: Morality is that which liberals accuse Lenin of rejecting, and in the name of which they find it possible to support the construction of the H-bomb.


The root of the crisis is political. If Western capitalism had a dynamic program with which to win the confidence of the masses of people in Europe and Asia, it would not be catapulting down the bomb alphabet.

Perhaps the most important political statement made since the war was Churchill’s remark in Boston last spring that only the atom bomb stood between Western Europe and the fate of Russian “communizing.” No capitalist spokesman has ever made a more total admission of the political, intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the system he defends; a more complete acknowledgment that its essential means of existence is sheer force. Churchill was saying what has since become quite clear: the capitalist West has no means short of war with which to stop the growth of Stalinism; it can contain here, suppress there, but Stalinism, with its usurped “revolutionary” dynamic, has the distinct political advantage. The more H-bombs the West builds, the more will Stalinism thrive politically.

What has failed is not some vague thing publicists like to call the “conscience of humanity” but the specific anti-Stalinist policy of the bourgeois powers. By dint of a tremendous effort, they temporarily stopped the Russians in Berlin – only to have China conquered by Mao. The expansive possibilities for Stalinism in Asia are at the moment very great: it is bleeding French imperialism to prostration in Indo-China, it is creating havoc in Burma, it is badly disrupting Malaya, Britain’s last Pacific base. In the meantime, Stalinist strength in Western Europe, while possibly in decline, is not decisively less than two or three years ago. It still has the support, albeit less active, of great sections of the French and Italian workers, and though it cannot now take power in these countries, it could fatally disrupt them in case of war. In Germany the Stalinists are beginning to regain strength through a demagogic campaign, for national unity. The rest of the world? A headline in the New York Times tells the story: “Brazil Reds Busy, Though Outlawed – Social Conditions, High Living Costs Seen as Fertilizer for Underground Movement.” Only in the United States have the Stalinists taken a serious beating – and great consolation indeed it must be to the State Department that Eugene Dennis will sit in jail while Mao rules China.

In their muddled and inarticulate way, the workers of Europe and the masses of Asia are determined never to accept the old world. Stalinism they take to be a new world, or perhaps a slightly tarnished version of it. So long as there seems no dynamic alternative, they will continue to accept Stalinism. It is a fact completely damning to the “official” anti-Stalinists that they have not succeeded in breaking the Stalinists’ hold on any large section of their followers, and that the Stalinists have lost support among the masses only as a result of their own policies in Eastern Europe.

The bourgeois world is trapped in the insoluble contradiction that its inability to win enthusiastic, devoted political support in Europe and Asia, which is quite a different thing from accepting US dollars, drives it to relying ever more heavily on the techniques of military domination, whicb in turn alienate the masses of Europe and Asia even more. For remember: thus far the only nation that has used the A-bomb and announced the intended manufacture of the H-bomb is the US. This is the dialectic of disintegration in which Western capitalism is trapped; and from it there are only two ways out: a surrender to socialism, to conceive which is preposterous; or war, to conceive which is not at all preposterous. The decision to manufacture the H-bomb signifies, above all, the failure of a society. For a society that can survive only by reliance on weapons of mass incineration will not survive.


What is so curious, and so nauseating, about the discussion whether the H-bomb should be made or used is that to all practical purposes the A-bomb is now regarded as quite “normal.” But we do not propose to accept any such notion nor do we propose to forget the fact that an official body of the US government has itself declared the use of the A-bomb unjustified by military requirements.

President Truman, by comparison with whom Nero seems conscience-stricken, has said:

“I made that decision [to use the A-bomb] because I thought 200,000 of our young men would be saved by making that decision and some three or four hundred thousands of the enemy would be saved ...”

This commendable humanitarianism is first called into question by the fact that 125,000 people were killed by the A-bomb. To slaughter so many people because others might in the future be killed if they were not slaughtered, is in itself a pretty dubious piece of morality. (I constantly refer to morality in this article because I have recently been reading the works of David Shub.) But suppose it can be shown that there was no military need for dropping the A-bomb – what then becomes of the humanitarianism of our drowsy leader?

We are indebted to Jack Brad in Labor Action for publicizing a little-known report of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, an official government commission. The reader will understand why I reprint some of the excerpts from that report.

The survey, extraordinarily sober in language, reports that invasion was not the military alternative to atomic bombing of Japan.

By destroying his [the worker’s] dwelling, by causing him and his family to evacuate burned-out cities, by disrupting and overtaxing transportation facilities, by arousing his fear to report to a place of work which he knew was a bombing target, by making his purchase of food and daily necessities more difficult and finally by lowering his “morale” – in other words by employing the methods of the Wehrmacht over Coventry, of incendiary indiscriminate bombing, such a condition of general paralysis had been wrought that the economy was grinding to a standstill. (My italics – R.F.) The responsible leaders in power read correctly the true situation and embraced surrender well before invasion was expected. (My emphasis – R.F.)

By “early 1945 ... the enemy’s principal problem was to give expression to its political decision to end the war.” In May, 1945, the Japanese approached the “neutral” Russians, asking them for “Russian intercession to end the war.” Whether the Russians communicated this proposal to the US is not known, but it is almost inconceivable that they did not. (If the Russians did not, incidentally, the US would have a tremendous propaganda point against them, for their possible failure to do so resulted in the murder of 125,000 people; but then the fact that the US has not even tried to make this point suggests that it was aware of the Japanese feeler.) The Russians turned down the Japanese proposal for reasons that are obvious: they were not yet in the Pacific war, and a too-hasty peace treaty would have excluded them from the spoils.

With a frankness exceeding the requirements of official morality, the Strategic Bombing Survey continues:

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs did not defeat Japan, nor by the testimony of the enemy leaders who ended the war did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender. The emperor, the lord privy seal, the prime minister, the foreign minister and the navy minister had decided as early as May of 1946 that the war should be ended even ff it meant acceptance of defeat on Allied terms.

And further:

Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to November 1, 1946. Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated. (My emphasis – R.F.)

Every decent human being should engrave these words in this mind: they show that the US stands guilty of having been the first power to use the atom bomb at a time when there was no military justification for doing so.

A footnote: it may be asked whether the US was aware of these facts at the time. The overwhelming probability is that it was: Did not the Russians receive peace proposals from Japan? Was not the famous Sorge spy ring, by American boast, privy to the innermost political circles of Tokyo? Was US Intelligence so inept as not to know the dominant political temper of the Japanese leaders? Will the defenders of Truman plead ignorance as an excuse for mass murder?


The liberal mind is a beautifully compartmentalized affair: it admires morality and lives by expediency. All too many liberals have no conception of the relation of an abstract moral standard to what is felt to be the press of necessity; they do not understand that precisely when necessity is invoked must it be most thoroughly measured against the larger moral standard. In their discussions of whether to manufacture the bomb, they first weep over the moral horror of it, and then pass to that compartment of immediacy where they sadly urge that more and larger bombs be made. Consequently, they implicitly confess that there is really no moral consideration involved in the actual decision: there is only preliminary moral dismay. But this puts them in the position which Richard Shufflebarger of Martinsville, Ind., a private citizen of admirable intelligence, has neatly pointed out in a letter recently printed in the New York Times:

Some have suggested that in this course [making the bomb] we have no freedom of choice, therefore no moral responsibility. If we have no moral responsibility for our actions, then by what right do we pass moral judgments on Stalin?

This strikes one as the most interesting question of the year.


The problem that haunts the popular mind is this:

“To manufacture the H-bomb is terrible, to conceive of its use is even more terrible, but if ‘we’ do not make it and then the Russians do, they will have the world at their mercy; but since we do not want the Russians to have the world at their mercy, we must ourselves make the bomb.”

Aside from the fact that this argument ignores the distasteful consequences of “we” having the world at “our” mercy, it actually does pose the dilemma of those who think in terms of identification with the US government. If one’s thinking is circumscribed by the power struggle between the US and Russia, and if one supports the US in that struggle, then clearly one must regretfully conclude that the US should make the bomb. (However, the argument cuts two ways, and one wonders whether the tyros of “orthodox Trotskyism” on the lower-right-hand corner of whose program there is still inscribed in 3-point type “the defense of the Soviet Union” will urge Stalin to manufacture the H-bomb to prevent capitalist encirclement – with the proviso of course that they could defend the workers’ fatherland more effectively than the so-evidently “timid” Stalin ...)

That support of the US vis-à-vis Russia, in however critical form, must logically lead to support of making the H-bomb (a conclusion from which the consistent New Leader does not hesitate), shows to what an extremity of political bankruptcy and moral desperation any involvement with status quo politics reduces one. If one accepts the dilemma as real, then one must choose between two courses, both of which will probably lead to the mass destruction of humanity.

The greatest crime of the bourgeois and Stalinist worlds is that they prevent political solutions to political problems: ultimately both rely on force or the threat of force in their struggle with each other, though the Stalinists, through their usurpation and corruption of the socialist dynamic, have also at their disposal powerful political weapons. This is the dead-end of the “lesser evil” policy – not only to face the prospect of mass murder but also to approve the preparations for it. The H-bomb makes ridiculous all talk of socialist “critical support” of the US, for it clearly shows that the only outcome of a new war would be the extermination of populations and the death of modern civilization.

To those who say that the H-bomb must be built because the survival of the American nation is as much a moral problem as the survival of humanity, Max Lerner has replied:

“I do not deny that there is the moral problem of American national survival. Of course there is. But the whole point is that in a world where either we or the Russians would be willing to use instruments of mass extermination, neither could survive morally; and in the end neither could survive physically.”

I predict that when the Last Judgment comes and the prosecuting attorney reads off the long, long list of Lerner’s political stupidities, someone will offer this above paragraph and the celestial jury will say, “All right, for that let him sneak into heaven.”


What then of the advocates of “preventive war”? One can readily picture the brass in the Pentagon who curse the course of history and mutter to each other: “We should have dropped the bomb before the Russians got it; that would have been the clean and easy way of doing it. Now we’re stuck.” But these minds, which cannot be said to be superior to that of James Burnham, have never been able to understand the consequence of a “preventive war” – that it would rally Europe solidly behind Stalin; that it would drive the Russian masses into the hands of Stalin; and that it would antagonize large sections of US public opinion. Thus, in an odd way, politics does take its revenge on mere force, for it forces the advocates of force to rely on politics, which they rightly suspect and for which they know, and again rightly, that they have no true vocation. In a world of horror there are still a few minor compensations of observation.


The only political response from bourgeois circles to the H-bomb that even shows an effort to think is the speech of Senator McMahon of Connecticut. It is a speech of evident sincerity, and his phrase that the US would be “incinerated” in the case of a new war is worth remembering. And he at least understands what the pathetic mediocrity who sits in the White House serenely pronouncing his faith in “man’s higher nature,” does not understand: that the solution to the crisis can only be political.

“Let me warn,” says McMahon, “that building hydrogen bombs does not promise positive security for the United States; it only promises the negative result of averting for a few months or years, well-nigh certain catastrophe.”

So far as it goes, we must support any proposal to use American resources to reconstruct devastated areas of the world, while insisting that national sovereignty in those areas hot be threatened. But the ultimate emptiness of McMahon’s proposal is that it has no political content. The world shall be reconstructed with US aid – good. But under whose control? Who shall rule this world? Shall the Chinese Stalinists be allowed or helped to consolidate their power? Who shall control Germany? Indo-China? These are the real problems of the struggle between the US and Russia, and even if the McMahon plan were carried through with maximum effectiveness, it would not in the slightest solve these problems.


But there is one point in McMahon’s speech that is of great importance. Even, he says, if the “cold war” continues indefinitely without erupting into a hot one,

... it would undermine and corrupt that which we prize more highly even than the absence of hostilities: I refer to liberty. How is it possible for free institutions to flourish or even to maintain themselves in a situation where defenses, civil and military, must be ceaselessly poised to meet an attack that might incinerate fifty million Americans? ... Consider, too, the restrictions on freedom already brought about by the atomic bomb and by its pressure upon us to accept loyalty checks, espionage counter-measures, and widening areas of official secrecy ... To stay alive we will find ourselves more and more compelled to imitate the totalitarian rival. (My emphasis – R.F.)

This is a passage that might well be pondered by those theoreticians of the “new liberalism,” such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who see a gradual enfoldment of one New Deal euphoria into another, as well as by those who look to a passage into the liberal paradise greased by the lubricants of “mixed economy.” We even go so far as to call it to the attention of Walter Reuther whose response to the H-bomb has been to suggest that we adhere to the Christian way of life. The Christian way of life having been defined by the Vatican as support of the H-bomb, we suggest that Reuther, as a self-proclaimed architect of the future, try again.


In the meantime, the scientists mourn. They are the most conspicuous and pathetic victims of that process of mental atomization that has inflicted American intellectual life. For decades they have been notoriously indifferent to politics, notoriously and proudly confined to their “specialty.” Now their specialty has erupted into their faces, leaving them with the sour splatter of guilt. But it should not be imagined that this guilt has produced very much heroism.

What shall the scientists do? We leave aside for the moment the question of what they should do as human beings, though they are now belatedly recognizing that they are human beings. What shall they do as scientists in relation to their scientific work? And here one hears a variety of conscience rumblings, but with little effect.

One scientist, Norbert Wiener, has offered a consistent answer: the use of the atom bomb, he has said, is unjustified in any terms; he refuses to have anything to do with the manufacture of such weapons; and he will not place his very great talents at the disposal of those who make the bombs. Harold Urey, in the New Leader of February 11, says simply: “The H-bomb must be built.” He regrets it, of course, as who does not, but ...

Then the 12 leading atomic scientists who published a statement after the H-bomb was announced, have this to say:

Few of the men who publicly urged the President to make this decision can have realized its full import ... No nation has the right to use such a bomb, no matter how righteous its cause. This bomb is no longer a weapon of war but a means of extermination of whole populations. Its use would be a betrayal of all standards of morality ... To create such an ever present peril for all the nations in the world is against the vital interests of both Russia and the United States.

I think all the data necessary for determining what should be the course of the individual scientist is available in the above statement: if the H-bomb should not be used in no matter how righteous a cause; if it can no longer even be called a weapon of war; if it betrays all standards of morality; and if (precipitous anticlimax) it is even against the interests of the powers that will manufacture it – then by what conceivable argument can the scientists say that Norben Wiener’s stand is incorrect. How can they justify their continued participation in the manufacture of such weapons?

To this view I may anticipate two objections:

  1. It is impossible to distinguish between scientific work dedicated to the H-bomb and scientific work of a general theoretical nature, for the latter is the basis of the former. This is partly true, and it would be quixotic to urge scientists to cease being scientists. So long as they do their work, their discoveries can be used for destruction or creation. But there is clearly a distinction between a scientist whose theoretical discoveries, perhaps in the form of mathematical notations, make possible the H-bomb, and the scientist who then uses these notations to make the bomb.
  2. The problem of what the individual scientist should do is not a political problem, but a personal one; your proposal verges on conscientious objection: the scientist would do best by becoming a socialist. That scientists should become socialists goes without saying, but what they should do as men; what should they do as scientists? I am not at all frightened by the accusation of pacifism, which at the moment seems to me one of the few conceivably honorable positions. But I am greatly concerned with the kind of argument that says the course of action for an individual is not the concern of a political movement. We are not called upon to give advice to scientists, and it would be absurd for us to issue slogans telling them what to do; but we have every right, and in fact every obligation, to have firm opinions on the question. In the present world, as of course in every other, what is important is not merely what one says or believes, but also what one does. The position of Norbert Wiener makes clear that he at least refuses to invent devices that are “no longer a weapon of war but a means of extermination of whole populations.” As such, he is performing what I take to be a highly moral act – and I see no reason (at least I hope I don’t) for the suspicion with which some socialists view the word “moral.” To say that atomic energy can be used for either good or bad purposes is true; but in question is what the scientist should do when it is used for bad purposes. And in such a situation, merely to say that he should become a socialist is, I think, sheer cant.

A footnote: The United Press of February 16 reports:

“Explosion of the first hydrogen bomb might cause the world and all in it to disintegrate in less than a minute,” Dr. Allan Munn, one of Canada’s foremost physicists, said today. He continued: “I would have preferred to see nobody make the H-bomb ... My sympathy, however, is with the US in its decision to go ahead with production.”

If what Dr. Munn says is true, then there is not even the “if-we-don’t-do-it-first-Stalin-will” justification for the H-bomb, for while it is conceivable that Stalin wants to rule the world there is no particular reason to suppose he wants to blow it up; consequently, no reason to suppose that he, or anyone else, would employ the H-bomb. Hence, why make it? Unless it is that the moral superiority of “our” blowing up the world first is self-evident ... Dr. Munn qualifies as one of the great political realists of the age, the James Burnham of the atomic scientists.


The mindless prattle for “world government” continues. What is so false about the Federalist movement is not that it seems far from achieving its aims (an objection that would hardly be tasteful for socialists to make), but that its aims are, by their very nature, impossible of realization and internally contradictory. A world government, we are told, would eliminate the danger of atomic war. Perhaps. But which of the two contending power blocs will dominate that world government? Is there any reason to suppose that one side will voluntarily surrender its sovereignty to the other, and in the absence of such a surrender would not world government be little more than (a) a mere consolidation of one side, or (b) a joke? The World Federalist movement is a mere expression of good wishes, which would not necessarily, in this grim moment, be so bad were it not thoroughly committed to persuading and cajoling the governments in power, were it not thoroughly permeated with the psychology of accepting the status quo. It is here that the important difference between the US World Federalist movement and the French movement symbolized by Garry Davis is seen: the former is committed to the cementing of the governments in power, the latter, however confusedly, to resisting the governments in power. In that distinction is the essence of politics.


A new alignment, it seems to me, is being enforced in politics. On the one side stand all those who, for whatever reason, favor the politics and the production of the H-bomb: it would be idle to deny the many different motivations behind their agreement, but it would be naive to deny that what binds them – acquiescence in the means of mass incineration – must ultimately overwhelm their differences. On the other side stand all those who, for whatever reason, oppose the manufacture and the politics of the H-bomb: the independent socialists, the pacifists, and the scattered handful of radicals who have not become Social-Democrats. I believe that this is the fundamental political alignment of the day, that the H-bomb has become the fundamental touchstone of one’s political position and human qualification. This – and not one’s theoretical views about the nature of the state or the role of Bolshevism, or the permissibility of violence or the “dictatorship of the proletariat” – is what splits the world in two: politically, intellectually, morally. And if we socialists, handful that we are, must stand alone with another handful of pacifists and radicals, so be it. The general theoretical differences between ourselves and the pacifists remain; in other circumstances those differences will seem more significant than they do today. But now the central fact is that only we and they have spoken out against this means of mass incineration; and I propose that, so far as is practically possible and without blurring our differences in motivation, we should speak together.

One of the things we socialists must say, I am convinced, is that under no conceivable circumstances would a socialist society, even if locked in struggle with a capitalist or Stalinist enemy, use H-bombs. We are not pacifists and we recognize, for example, that if a socialist government were attacked by a counter-revolutionary reaction, that government would have the right to use force in self-defense. (Incidentally, how one must restrain oneself on this question of force: consider the sheer ugliness of the spectacle of people who denounce the almost bloodless assumption of power by the Bolsheviks and yet approve the murder of 125,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki ) But while recognizing the permissibility of force in certain circumstances of self-defense, one cannot conceive that a socialist government could condemn the population of an enemy city, say, to total extermination: such methods would only besmirch its claim to political and moral superiority. Force used in self-defense by a socialist government would, in any case, be a mere last resort and by no means a major one; for we are convinced that such a society would have its program, its ethos, its achievement as a major rallying point.

In the absence of such an unqualified declaration, we would be in no moral position to condemn the H-bomb: we could still condemn the society that leads to its use, but not the use of this particular weapon. Yet everyone feels, and rightly, that there is something “different” about atomic weapons, and surely this common feeling is not without foundation. The objective of war is, or until recently has been, to destroy the enemy’s army; the only possible objective of atomic bombing is to destroy populations. Admittedly, there are intermediary means of warfare which tend to combine the two, but there is a clear difference in consequence between a rifle or machine-gun which kills the soldier of an invading army trying to destroy a socialist state and the atom bomb which destroys a city. The former socialists may, at times, find themselves forced to use; the latter, they never should.

But is this distinction valid in theory? One can readily imagine a pacifist saying:

“How absurd. Do you really think that in principle there is any difference between one man killing another with a rifle bullet on the battlefield and an H-bomb killing 250,000 people in a city? On what moral ground can you claim the latter to be ‘worse’ than the former?”

There is much point to this argument, I think, and we must grant that in terms of that general moral standard by which we should like to be able to live and by which we hope to mold the society of the future, the atom bomb is not morally superior to the rifle bullet. But the distinction holds nonetheless. Pacifism is based on an absolute standard of values to which socialists adhere: our vision of the good society is one as committed to non-violence as that of the pacifists. However, we do not believe, as do the pacifists, that the means to achieve this end can be qualitatively equivalent to the end itself: were that possible, there would be no distinction between means and end, there would be no need to move towards the end, for the end would already exist in the means employed. The means is a tense connective between the undesired present and the desired end: it must be realistic enough to make possible effective action within the present, but it must be sufficiently tinged with the ideal qualities of the end to make certain that, in fact, the end is reached. This, I think, is the general justification for the possible use of force in certain sharply delimited situations: it cannot be a justification for the use of atomic weapons, for these weapons destroy not a demarcated enemy, but humanity itself.


Are there at present any proposals or slogans that socialists might propose or support vis-à-vis the H-bomb? I would suggest two, but with the preliminary warning that their possible effectiveness is highly limited. The major criterion for such proposals is simply this: do they direct the masses of people against the two power blocs that threaten human incineration? If they do, then they are desirable, regardless of their limitations, their “impracticability,” or their departure from “traditional” socialist slogans.

I think we should support the demand put forward by the atomic scientists that the US government issue a statement declaring that it will not be the first to use the H-bomb. The utility of such a demand, or for that matter such a promise, is obviously limited; but the fact that the US might not adhere to such a promise should be no deterrent to raising the demand. On the contrary; for even as the demand is raised, it should be pointed out that the US bears a heavy responsibility for having been the first to drop the A-bomb. The only known instance of both sides in a war agreeing not to use a weapon is with regard to poison gas, and that for the obvious reason that poison gas may be as harmful to those who employ it on a battlefield as to those against whom it is directed. At the same time, it should be noted that poison gas was not used in bombing raids against cities, where it would certainly have been extremely “effective.” If then, in qase of another war, there were a covenant not to use atomic weapons, for reasons similar to the agreement not to use poison gas, that would surely be a valuable thing for humanity – though it is admittedly difficult to imagine such a situation. In the interim, the demand for a government declaration not to drop the H-bomb may become a popular one; we should propose its extension to all atomic weapons; and so long as it results in the slightest flicker of revolt against the war-makers, we should support it.

In Europe particularly and perhaps too in the United States, socialists should consider the advisability of raising the following demand: that all nations simultaneously engage in atomic disarmament and that this disarmament be checked, not by the UN which is nothing more than a grouping of the nations themselves, but by representatives of the mass-popular organizations, such as the free trade unions, helped by scientific specialists able to provide the information these representatives are not likely to have themselves.

To some people, concerned with piety rather than politics, this may seem a retreat to the slogan of “disarmament” which the movement has always rejected. But it is necessary to think of these things in some sort of context. When Lenin rejected the slogan of disarmament in the years after the first world war, he did so, among other reasons, because it would breed “pacifist illusions” among the masses and because, he said, it was necessary to prepare for the assumption of socialist power. But that situation does not exist today: there is nowhere in the world the slightest immediate possibility for the assumption of socialist power, as there was in 1920, and the existence of “pacifist illusions” among the European masses would today hardly be a catastrophe. Lenin feared “pacifist illusions” at a time when they might be counterposed to mass revolutionary activity, at a time when the bourgeois governments were themselves talking a good deal about disarmament.

But today the great danger in Europe is, not the illusion of pacifism, but the illusion of passivity. The great danger is that the masses of Europeans will feel themselves helpless and hopeless victims of a war they never made, and will relapse into fatalism, as in part they have. Therefore, today to raise a slogan such as the one I have suggested might perhaps be a means of stirring them from passivity. That is the significance of the Garry Davis movement. People who take a totally negative attitude toward the Garry Davis movement because Davis is not a socialist or because of his alleged intellectual insufficiency, show that they understand absolutely nothing about politics. The significant question is: does Davis’ movement cause discomfort to both groups of warmakers? does it attack both sides? does it represent a stirring among people who begin to feel that perhaps they may yet determine their own fate? That is the way to judge such movements, and correspondingly such slogans as I have proposed. Today the pacifism of the masses, to the degree that it exists, is a healthy instinctive reaction against the murder-plans of the rulers. We must work with such tendencies, encourage them, educate them – and learn from them. I italicize this last phrase because all too often the assumption of many Marxists has been that they can learn from no one but themselves. The events of the past two decades, among them the collapse of the large, organized Marxist movement, should teach us otherwise.


Even at their best, even if greeted enthusiastically by large numbers of people, such slogans are only of limited significance. For it is possible that we are entering a period beyond slogans, a period in which the fundamental social responses are merely acquiescence or resistance. The Marxist movement has always been susceptible to a fetishism of slogans, an assumption that if only the “correct” slogans were put in the editorial box of a well-or-badly-written newspaper, then all would be on the way to being well. In any case, as we approach the ultimate convulsion of modern society, “slogans” are of increasingly minor significance. For society drives humanity to some situations that cannot be remedied by partial actions, and in which it is necessary to say: our only solution is to change the world.

And why not? What else is there? It is very possible that there will be no way of preventing the powers from beginning the war toward which they move; but if that is so, let it be said that there were some men who, in the sea of blood, did not acquiesce. More than personal honor and integrity are at stake, but if that were all it would surely be enough.

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