Judd (Stanley) Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Henry Judd

Some Notes on the War Issue

Propositions Put Forward for Discussion

(November 1950)

From The New International, Vol. XVII No. 1, January–February 1951, pp. 45–51.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A correct position on the “War Question” has always been of the utmost significance for any socialist organization. It is unnecessary to emphasize this. The discussion in our press (in Labor ActionEd.) is proof of how close this most complex of all problems lies to the heart of every socialist. More important, it indicates how false it is to take it for granted that Marxism has solved this question once and forever, or that a routine presentation of traditional ideas suffices to answer the dissatisfied. This I believe, holds true for both the so-called “pro- and anti-war” advocates. The issue of the correct socialist position on war is with us and will remain with us for a long time to come. In one of the finest Marxist works on the war question – Trotsky’s famous set of theses entitled War and the Fourth International – the author states that the first prerequisite for a successful struggle against the war is “... the correct understanding of all the conditions of imperialist war and of all the political processes that accompany it. Woe to that party which confines itself in this burning question to general phrases and abstract slogans! The bloody events will crash over its head and smash it.” (pg. 30)

As is often the case, a fundamental discussion began around a comparatively isolated war situation which, however, directly or indirectly posed all the important elements needed to derive a correct position. Whether the Korean war is concluded by America’s act of isolating and crushing the Korean Stalinists, or whether the Korean war leads to similar wars which finally congeal into the dreaded World War III, we can already visualize with sufficient clarity the basic political and social issues at stake regarding which Marxism must attain clarity and work out an effective program. It is highly doubtful if this clarity and program exists today. The discussion in our press reveals a certain dissatisfaction which has important origins and cannot simply be dismissed as traditional social patriotic deviations. In part, the special features of the Korean episode which have made it particularly difficult for socialists to propose a “positive” program may account for this dissatisfaction. But the principal “special feature” – the complete absence of any independent, non-Stalinist or non- American labor or socialist movement within Korea – is hardly unique to that country. It is characteristic of the entire world. If Korea occupies the same preliminary world war role that Spain did before World War II, one has but to compare the Marxist program and analysis developed during these two events to see the difference. Perhaps a more important characteristic of the general dissatisfaction we have mentioned is inherent in the position itself, i.e., the question and doubt as to whether it is a position based upon reality or utopianism; whether its analysis is correct and concrete and whether it offers a perspective. Far from fearing such questioning and criticism, Marxism should welcome it. The socialist position on war has a long history and evolution; it must prove itself over and over again. Our political convictions must be renewed and tested in open controversy with our critics, particularly those who feel that while revolutionary socialists may hold one position publicly and “officially,” they have quite another position secretly and “personally.”

To begin with, there has been an amazing lack of concrete analysis of both the war question and the “international situation.” From the time that Marx analyzed in detail the foreign policy and diplomacy of Lord Palmerston and the Crimean War, and offered his advice to the effect that proletarian strategy and tactics demanded first hand knowledge of international intrigue and deviltry, the socialist movement has always devoted a considerable attention to such matters. In our press today we find little or no analysis of the myriad of factors, certain of which have definite influence upon both the tempo and nature of the war events, which complicate the world scene. The divided policies of American imperialism, for example, which cause a split behaviour in all American activities between the ultra-reactionary elements of the bourgeoisie (represented by Republicanism in politics and MacArthurism in military matters) and the liberal-imperialist wing of the bourgeoisie (represented by the Truman wing of the Democratic Party and the new Acheson-Marshall combine in military affairs) – neither the nature nor consequences of this division have been analyzed. The foreign policy of the Soviet rulers has been completely ignored, nor has much attention been paid to the various possibilities in which the war may present itself both to America or to socialists. For example, are we correct in assuming the quick overrunning of Western Europe by Stalin in case of war; or does the possibility of a “neutral” Western Europe, a truce between the Kremlin and the bourgeoisie of France, England etc. exist? Have the unstable relations between Stalinist Russia and Stalinist China an influence whose importance we have missed? Has the Russian strategy of isolating America on an international scale any chance of success? These are some of the questions largely ignored by us. By contrast, we note how the pamphlet of Trotsky on the war question begins with an elaborate and concrete outlining of the international situation, and the possible lines of development, at the moment of the pamphlet’s publication. While it is not the purpose of this discussion article to undertake that task, we believe it is a necessity.

The revolutionary socialist attitude toward imperialist war has more often than not been grossly misunderstood (by proponent and enemy alike), or over-simplified by such false formulations as “neutrality,” or “indifference” or an “equating of both sides.” We note that this same kind of treatment is rather widespread in the present discussion, particularly in the ranks of those who propose a reversal of our opposition to the war.

The essence of a socialist opposition to imperialist war is founded upon its “dialectic attitude,” in the words of Trotsky, to the relationship between war and revolution. (See Trotsky’s development of this position in War and the Fourth International). The validity of the whole position hinges on the realizability and possibility of a “growth of the revolutionary movement.” This is what differentiates the socialist position on war from a position of “defeatism” and all other positions. To justify a continuation of this position at the present time, with required modifications that we shall suggest, is equivalent to defending the socialist perspective and the continuation of a revolutionary movement. But this justification cannot rest upon a purely theoretical base; it must be concrete and responsive to the realities of the given situation. Put otherwise, there must be an examination of those different circumstances in which the problem of war and revolutionary perspective is posed now by contrast with the past.

Some of these differences are obvious and have often been noted – the division of the world into two blocs dominated by two great powers each of which, within its own bloc, is so powerful as to allow for little freedom of action or movement on the part of those nations enclosed in the bloc; the emergence of Russian Stalinism, and other Stalinist nations such as China, as full-fledged imperialist nations, properly understood, with programs of conquest; and, most important of all, the recognized absence, except for uninfluential grouplets, of an independent revolutionary and socialist movement steering its own course between the two blocs. There are other differences, but these are the most important to recognize.

Now, certain conclusions follow from this. First of all, our traditional definition of war in the capitalist world as being a “struggle for a redivision of the world” is not quite accurate. Not only because, by our own definition, a war between the American and Russian blocs will be principally a social war between two different forms of society, but also because the issue is one of complete control, not “redivision” of the world! The Wallace scheme for redividing the world between the two powers proved Utopian because “one world” is the real stake. In passing, we might note that this is what gives this potential war its essentially reactionary and imperialist stamp.

Secondly, the political and revolutionary struggle against Stalinism (defined by us as a new social form, anti-capitalist and anti-socialist) demands a different strategy than in past wars or war situation where, generally speaking, the anti-war struggle unrolled against capitalist society or one of its forms. The nature and “quality” of the enemy (Stalinism) presents us with a different situation from, let us say, that created by masses of workers and peasants organized in the opposing capitalist armies of the past.

Finally, and bearing in mind the suggested relationship between the war question and a revolutionary perspective, we must ask ourselves the concrete meaning of the admitted absence of any real “Third Camp” forces, unless we wish to make of this concept of an independent socialist force a threadbare fetish whose existence or non-existence has no bearing on our concrete tactics and strategy. We are suggesting that, actually speaking, the discussion of respective positions on the war question is simply another form of discussing the problem of how to revive and rebuild a socialist movement.

Unfortunately, much of the discussion – pro-war, anti-war – which has appeared in our press fails to consider either the changed situation, or the concrete situation. Comrade Shachtman’s article (Labor Action, 9-4-1950) excepted, one has the impression of re-reading an old polemic dating from World War I. On the one hand, we find the most illogical use of outworn analogies which neglect the fact that one cannot deduce a position from an analogy, but only use it for the purpose of supporting a position already presented. Furthermore, the only value of an analogy – such as the famous Franco-Prussian War etc. – is if it has significant elements in common with the existing situation. But all those who propose a position of political support in the event of war insist upon the “uniqueness” of the present situation which, they say, compels a change in a hitherto correct position! On the other hand, those who reject this political capitulation to the American camp – and I certainly agree with this stand – have not been particularly convincing, particularly in their efforts to fulfill that basic requirement of a Marxist position – the gap between the analytical, theoretical motivation and the actual, concrete perspective of the position proposed.

In part, this is due to a failure to grasp the essential fact that we now live under permanent “warlike” conditions, in which society and social life are shaped for “warlike” purposes. That is, a socialist group no longer faces the circumstances of 1914, let us say, where imperialist war was not a tactic or strategy of bourgeois society, but rather a gigantic and qualitative reversal of normal social life and could, therefore, be opposed by socialists more in the realm of theory, abstraction, principle etc. than in the realm of daily life. This was the natural day of a Jaurès, a Debs etc., but it has gone. A struggle over the issue of war today is an organic part of our common strategy and tactics, rather than a programmatic or “principled” issue. If we agree that the two great nations today (and tomorrow) exist primarily for the purpose of waging war on each other, in a thousand different ways, than we must also agree that socialists must accept this as their framework of existence, and attempt to develop their activity in accordance with this totally new situation. To those who hold the view that there is nothing else to do but support America, it is of little value to prove conclusively what they already acknowledge, nay, propose: that this means an end of the socialist movement, or what remains of it. What it is necessary to prove is that the revolutionary socialist movement not only justifies its existence (and not in the sense of historic abstractions, but in terms of our concrete problems), but that given a certain course of action and activity, it has a future and perspective! Let us try to make this more specific.

To accomplish this task, it is necessary to repose the problem of war and the revolutionary socialist movement in new terms. This requires the abnegation of our past terminology and formulations. Those formulas, slogans etc. of the capitalist-imperialist war epoch have not the same sense for us today, either orientation or practical value. They only serve to confuse our thought, and demagogically arm our opponents. But in abandoning this manner of posing the problem we are required to substitute another approach. We suggest the following tentative propositions:

  1. For the international socialist movement to live, progress and succeed, defeat of the worldwide Stalinist movement is an absolute requirement. As socialists, we are unconditional opponents of both national Stalinism, in its imperialist Russian form, and the international Stalinist movement which seeks to create a Stalinist world. This is the starting point of our thought and action.
  2. Just as fundamental to us as the struggle against Stalinism is the question of how, by whom and by what methods this struggle shall be led. It is on this issue that we separate ourselves from all other opponents of Stalinism, who do not recognize the existence of both a “reactionary” and a “progressive” form of combating Stalinism. We are concerned with a lasting, durable victory over Stalinism which goes beyond the dubious scope of a military victory. By no means is a military struggle against Stalinism (Russia) excluded, under the conditions of the subordination of such a military struggle to a progressive political and social program. Our opposition to the position of the “pro-Americans” is not that they propose a purely military program against Russia (such a program cannot exist), but that this is in combination with a reactionary political and social program (that of American imperialism).
  3. For, under the conditions of today, a war between America and Russia can only be evaluated as a reactionary war, waged by both or either side for its own version of “one world” rule. Given the social, political and economic nature of both regimes, their respective programs and aims, this war could not be understood in any other sense, regardless of local or momentary issues such as that of Korea. It is possible to conceive of a defensist position in such a hypothetical circumstance, as for example: A course and development of the war, in which Russian imperialism should succeed in isolating America from the world during the war itself by administering a series of defeats whose consequence would be a transformation of America’s role to one of a struggle for national survival and independence. Linked with this, to be sure, is the not-at-all excluded possibility that the American bourgeoisie, in its conduct of the war, may prove to be defeatist in reality; i.e., incapable of winning because of its manner of conducting the war.

I repeat that these are only hypothetical projections, but they are worth bearing in mind precisely because they illustrate a rejection of that demagogic claim of our opponents that we are “indifferent” to the fate of our country. On the contrary, it is our concern which refuses to let us place this fate in the hands of our bourgeoisie, and which must oblige us to have a flexible policy, guided by a concrete analysis of the actual circumstances and the “direction” of events.

The above propositions, representing at best a starting point for us, are largely negative in character, except for the first proposition which I have deliberately placed first. They explain why we reject political support to the present war; that we are neither “indifferent” nor “neutral” to the fate of our nation or other nations; that we have no confidence in our regime, etc. But is there another side to this position; is there a perspective? And what of the specific problem of those nations which are, more or less reluctantly, involved in one or the other bloc? What of Western Europe, or England, toward whose labor government we have a sympathetic and friendly attitude?

It is here that we are obliged to return to the basic thought of Trotsky concerning the relationship between a socialist policy on the war question and the growth of the revolutionary movement. Or, to put the problem more truthfully, the revival and recreation of a socialist movement! In our opinion, there is not the slightest contradiction between an opposition to the war on the broadest base conceivable, and the continuation of the fight to reestablish the socialist movement in terms of a renewed ideology, theory, strategy and tactics. In these terms, the participation and activity of socialists in any and all shades of progressive and democratic movements, which find their justification in the desire to defend or extend the existing democratic base of society, is the concrete and specific manner in which socialist opposition to war must express itself today. This means, among other things, that the real test of a socialist today is not so much his support of a pro- or anti-war position, but his willingness to support and assist any democratic, progressive tendency or current, no matter how slight or insignificant. But can we not be more specific about this “struggle for democracy”? Is it merely a question of daily, more or less indicated tasks?

It is that, and more. Obviously, this kind of a struggle must offer a perspective. If, for example, we can no longer oppose the rearmament of the British Labor Government on the old basis (and no one will contend that this rearmament is motivated by purposes of imperialist “reconquest” or profits, we assume), but must base our opposition to rearmament on the solid political ground that this is not the way to save England, that it can only lead to both military illusions and eventual disaster, we must at the same time offer a larger concept, related to our actual world and not simply the abstraction of “building socialism.” We would propose to call this a program for a popular victory over international Stalinism, based upon the activity of masses organized in their democratic institutions. In England, for example, this means a struggle for the deepening and extending of what has already been achieved by the existing government and not a retreat in the name of rearmament requirements. In other countries, the solid political core of the program for victory over Stalinism is the work to bring together and unify those scattered socialist forces which exist, with a broadening out of this activity by participation in those forms of democratic life that exist.

It may well be objected, isn’t this simply saying continue the struggle for socialism? Partly, yes, but it is placing this struggle within a new framework which we have already outlined. Furthermore, reality compels us to recognize unfortunately that there is little possibility of either halting the present disastrous rush toward war, or the war itself. Political and social life will then be expressed exclusively in terms of the conduct of the war and all problems related to it. Needless to say, it will be a long, complex and bitter struggle, filled with surprises and the unexpected. It is impossible to foresee what nuances and re-formulations in our political program will be required to achieve a popular, democratic, socialist victory over world Stalinism. But one thing is clear: a socialist position toward the war question is anything but a position of abstention from the social atmosphere which the war breeds. Issue by issue and detail by detail, we shall have to work out our way for bringing a lasting and progressive termination to the war.

November 1950

Isaacs Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 21 November 2018