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John G. Wright

C.P. Distorts What Lenin Said
on Junius Pamphlet

The Stalinists Are Using What Lenin Wrote in Defense of
Self-Determination In 1916 to Justify Their Position on the War Now

(20 December 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 51, 20 December 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

During the first World War the social democrats tried to justify their support of the imperialist war by ascribing their false position to Marx and Engels. The Stalinists in repeating today the treachery of the Second International are resorting to a falsification of Lenin’s teachings.

In August 1916, Lenin reviewed a pamphlet by Junius, i.e., Rosa Luxemburg; and in the course of this review he criticized certain errors contained in her pamphlet. Extracts from Lenin’s review have been reprinted, with an “introduction” by Robert Minor, in the October 1941 issue of The Communist, the “theoretical” organ of the American Stalinists, who, as is well known, are maintaining the thesis that the present war began as an imperialist war, but has been transformed into a national war. They have seized upon Lenin’s review because in it he deals with the theoretical possibility of all sorts of transformations, including the transformation of imperialist war into a national war.

In the Daily Worker, the Stalinists do not attempt to justify their position on the war by anything but accepted social-patriotic arguments. However, when Stalinist rank and file members or sympathizers begin to question the correctness of the Stalinist war line, they are referred to the article in The Communist, and in particular to Minor’s introduction, for the “Leninist” answer to their doubts and questions.

Lenin on Junius’ Error

The central passage from Lenin’s article on which the Stalinists erect their fabrication reads as follows:

“It is highly improbable that this imperialist war of 1914–1916 will be transformed into a national war ... Nevertheless, it cannot be maintained that such a transformation is impossible: if the European proletariat were to remain impotent for another twenty years, if the present war were to end in victories similar to those achieved by Napoleon, in the subjugation of a number of viable national states; if imperialism outside of Europe (primarily American and Japanese) were to remain in power for another twenty years without transition to socialism, say, as a result of a Japanese-American war, then a great national war in Europe would be possible.” (Lenin’s Collected Works, Third Russian Edition, vol. XIX, p. 182)

Before we show how the Stalinists fraudulently utilize this quotation, it is necessary to explain why Lenin discussed in 1916 this question of the theoretical possibility of all sorts of transformations.

The Question of Self-Determination

One of the central planks in the program of Bolshevism, is the support of national wars and the advocacy of self-determination for all oppressed nationalities. This Leninist position played a crucial role in the triumph of the Russian revolution; and it is destined to play an equally important role in the struggle for world socialism.

During the last war, a group of German, Polish, and Russian internationalists who opposed the imperialist war held an erroneous position on the question of self-determination and national wars. The theoretical basis for their position was the contention that under imperialism, national wars were “impossible.” This premise was written into the program adopted by them (Thesis No. 5 of the International Group adopted by Luxemburg, Mehring, Radek and others). Lenin pointed out that this position was inconsistent with the Marxist method. In October 1916, in a letter to N.D. Kiknadze, Lenin explained why he dealt with this issue as follows:

Possibilities and Facts

“The discussion concerning ‘possibilities’ was in my opinion introduced incorrectly from the standpoint of theory by Radek into thesis 5 of the International Group. Marxism takes its stand on the soil of facts, and not of possibilities, Marxism must accept as the premises for its politics only clearly and incontestably demonstrable facts. That’s what we do in our resolution. When in its place people proffer me an ‘impossibility’, I reply: this is incorrect, non-Marxist, banal. All sorts of transformations are possible. And I adduce an historical fact (the wars of 1792–1815). I adduce for the sake of illustration something similar to it at the present time (under the conditions of a development backwards).

“In my opinion you are confusing the possible (and I did not begin the discussion on this point) with the actual, when you express the opinion that the admission of a possibility permits one to alter one’s policy. This is the height of illogical reasoning. I admit the possibility that social democrat (Marxist) can be transformed into a bourgeois, and vise versa. This is an incontestable truth. But does it follow from this that I would now accept a certain bourgeois, say, Plekhanov as a social democrat (Marxist)? No, it does not follow. But what about the possibility? Let us wait until it becomes transformed into reality. That is all there is to it. Precisely from the standpoint of ‘methodology’ (about which you write) it is necessary to differentiate between the possible and the actual. All sorts of transformations are possible, even that of a fool into a wise man ... but actually such transformations are very rare. And because of the mere ‘possibility’ of such a transformation, I shall not cease considering a fool as a fool.” (Lenin’s Collected Works, Third Russian Edition, pp. 237–238)

In 1941 Robert Minor brazenly declares that: “in this article Lenin, with startling accuracy, sketched the possibilities and even foretold as probable a great national war in Europe.” (Communist, October 1941, p. 880)

Minor’s Distortions

“The reader,” continues Minor, “will see what the conditions were, as forecast by Lenin. Among them are: If the war of 1914–18 were to be concluded in such a way that ‘the proletariat of Europe proved to be powerless for some twenty years,’ and if that war were to result in ‘victories of the type of Napoleon’s and the enslavement of a number of vital national states’, if ‘extra-European imperialism’ held out for twenty years, and if there should come ... a victorious revolution in Russia. If these conditions were to come about, said Lenin, a ‘great national war’ – i.e., a just war in defense of national independence, would be possible.” (idem)

In other words, the Stalinist falsification consists not only in claiming that all of Lenin’s “conditions” had been fulfilled, but in adding, as Minor does, the successful accomplishment of the Russian revolution as one of the necessary conditions for the transformation of the imperialist war into a national war!

As every school child knows, the first imperialist war did not terminate in “victories of the type of Napoleon’s.” Nor did he European proletariat remain “impotent.” On the contrary, the Russian workers, the vanguard of the European working class, accomplished under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky the first victorious proletarian revolution and established the workers’ state in one-sixth of the world. This victory opened, as Lenin pointed out, a new epoch in world history. Instead of retrogressing, society moved forward after the imperialist war of 1914–18.

It is by such brazen falsification of history that the Stalinists try to turn Lenin’s “possibility” not only into a “prediction” but into reality!

Applied to Present War

If one were to apply to the present war, the conditions set down by Lenin for the transformation of the imperialist war of 1914–1916 into a national war, one would then have to make the following “provisions”: 1) not only would the European and world proletariat have to remain impotent “for another twenty years” but also the imperialists would first have to destroy the Soviet Union; 2) the second World War would have to terminate in victories of “the type of Napoleon’s”; and “extra-European imperialism” would have survive for “another twenty years without a transition to socialism.” We readily grant that this is not impossible. But this is as yet a far cry from the existing objective situation.

The Soviet Union still stands, despite the ruinous leadership and policies of Stalinism. The second World War far from having terminated in “Napoleonic victories” for either side, holds out the immediate prospects of a prolonged stalemate. The prospects of Japanese imperialism, not to mention the German or Italian variety, are none too bright despite the initial victories. World imperialism as a whole is in the grip of its greatest crisis. The European – including the Soviet – working class has yet to say its last word.

It is in these conditions that the Stalinists are advising the working class – the advanced class in modern society – to turn its face not to the future but to the past, in other words, to capitulate without a struggle. This has nothing in common with Marxism and Leninism. We repeat what Lenin said to Kiknadze, “What about the possibility? Let us wait until it becomes transformed into reality.” And until then? Until then we continue to base our policies not on “possibilities” but on reality.

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