|International Communist Party
Marxism discards as inadequate and abstract the evaluation of the pacifists and anarchists that all wars should be opposed because they are murderous and brutal. For us, in conformity with the doctrine that we see as a red thread running from Marx and Engels to Lenin, we make the justification or condemnation of a given war depend on its fundamental historical significance. The refusal to take up the rifle, as an expression of struggle against militarism and war in general, is abstract and metaphysical since the whole fact of being against the war in the first place, arises from historical motivations, not moral ones. The abolition of war, in itself, is no slogan of ours. War is one of the decisive factors within the stages of the capitalist cycle in its ascent and decline: to abolish war then means nothing if not the arresting of that cycle before the revolutionary solution is arrived at.
The epoch opened up by the great French Revolution of 1789 can be subdivided schematically into periods, with each sub-division corresponding to a different type of war and a different attitude on the part of Marxism.
First period: from the French Revolution to the Paris Commune, 1871. This is the period of national wars of liberation, characterized essentially by the casting off of the feudal, absolutist and foreign yoke. These were progressive wars, and Marxist support for them did not derive from the fact that they were defensive or patriotic, but due to their revolutionary nature, useful in that modern capitalist organisation spread, i.e. wars of aggression like those of Napoleon on feudal countries were historically progressive.
In 1871, there is the great historical turning point about which Marx comments: all national governments are confederated against the proletariat. In Europe, the period of the wars of national unification draws to a close with the Paris Commune. Can there then still be progressive and therefore justifiable wars today? In 1951 we affirmed that there could be, perhaps, but outside Europe; in addition, as with Lenin, we specified that the correct criterion for categorising types of war, and establishing whether a war is just or not, is the social one anyway, and not the juridical one of aggression or defence, invasion or resistance, conquest or liberation.
The second runs from 1871 to 1914 with the latter year marking the outbreak of the First World War and the fall of the Second International (we must register though another emblematic date indicated in the texts of Lenin, and ourselves, as 1905, in which, with the Russian Revolution and the imperialist development of capitalism, a third period of wars and revolutions commences). This second period is the one of so-called peaceful development of capitalism, of the domination of the bourgeoisie and of its decadence – the concentration of economic and political power in financial; revolutionary assaults are conspicuous by their absence, the socialist movement prepares and gradually gathers its forces, gaining in extension as the great European parties emerge. Marxists, in this period, concern themselves entirely with the consolidation and development of this process, their attitude to war deriving from its possible consequences on the forward march of the latter. Engels substitutes, for the preceding criterion of support for progressive bourgeois wars, the defence of the party of socialism, menaced by the victory of feudal Russia; there must be no more alliances with the national bourgeoisie henceforth, but only conditional help, given from a position of full independence by the socialist movement: war must be conducted by "revolutionary means" and the socialists, with that aim in view, would not hesitate to take power if in a position to do so.
In the early 1890s, Engels, whilst forecasting a generalized war, still hoped there would be delay before it broke out because of the movement’s immaturity: a revolution arising out of the war would be unlikely because of the threat of Russia, the great reserve of all European reaction, ready to suffocate any revolutionary attempt at birth in alliance with the now conservative bourgeoisies. The best possibilities in the event of war would be linked to the defeat of Russia, followed by a revolution there would break the feudal regime: and such would be consequently verified in October 1917.
The war of 1914 is totally different in character being of an imperialist type, that is, a war which is no longer fought between nations, but between capitalist States for the sharing-out of wage-slaves and markets. With imperialism, the parabola of capitalism (revolution - progressive reform - reaction) has sunk to rock bottom. No longer are there national interests for Marxism to defend from feudal reaction, but only internal enemies to defeat. By 1914 Tsarist Russia is a historical remnant, however, despite wishing for its defeat, social-democracy cannot use it as a reason for supporting the German bourgeois government, and the rallying-cry must be: work to make both sides fall together. Revolutionary communists must guide the immediate struggle of the proletariat against all governments in order to transform the imperialist war into a civil war, so as to effect the revolutionary seizure of power.
To these two types of war (progressive bourgeois and imperialist) Lenin adds a third: revolutionary war, namely, war between a State in which the proletariat has won, and States in which capitalism still holds sway. Marxism not only doesn’t exclude such a war, but holds it to be progressive and necessary: such a war may arise as a defensive one against an invasion by a capitalist State, or as a war of attack against a State that is still bourgeois so as to support and foment the communist revolution. In both cases, the national aspect must not be taken up on pain of relapsing into ill-starred and retrograde positions, (even if only one proletarian State exists); rather the internationalistic aspect of the military conflict between armies of enemy classes should be taken up, inasmuch as such a war is part of the world civil war between proletariat and bourgeoisie.
Two imperialist wars have devastated the world, and in both cases social traitors have attempted to give the proletariat a "Marxist" explanation to inveigle them into drawing up ranks behind other people’s banners. Thus these people called the first world war "defensive". To this, the international left fractions, with Lenin, Liebknecht and the Italian Left, hit back insisting that by the watchword "defensive war", Marxists meant to indicate (even back in 1870) those wars that developed the capitalist form, whilst the war in 1914 was an imperialist one between fully-fledged capitalisms, thus it was treachery to speak of defence of the fatherland in any country whatsoever. The second world war will be passed off by the social traitors as a war of the first type, of national liberation, and as a war of the third type, proletarian revolutionary, thereby implicitly seeing in the bourgeois-democratic regimes the diffusers and defenders of socialism, versus the Germans.
Hence the social-chauvinists of 1914, and the arch opportunists of 1939
and 1941, were a long way indeed from stripping war of its patriotic,
nationalistic and false revolutionary disguises so as to classify it,
marxistically, in the category of imperialist war, to do so would
necessarily have led them, as it did consistent socialists, to the only
viable tactic admissible: that of revolutionary defeatism on all fronts.
2. Inevitability of Imperialist War
Once the world market has been formed, and the restricted spheres of life and the circles of influence characteristic of precapitalism are dissolved into one economic magma of the production and sale of goods; once the markets of the whole world are saturated and the latest arrivals are squeezed into their corner of the market; in short, once the epoch of imperialism has been entered upon, wars of encroachment inevitably occur, with plunder and brigandage on both sides, for the division of markets and the subdivision and new distribution of finance capital’s spheres of influence, and just as inevitably, States and nations are brought into submission to the great powers as a consequence.
Could the bourgeois governments and their leaders prevent war? No, there is no possibility that they could either provoke or prevent it. Even were it admitted that they don’t personally want war to break out, or that they don’t find it opportune to precipitate it, their intentions have little effect: the oligarchy of big capitalism, who they represent and on whom they depend, is constrained to act in production, industry, commerce and finance according to inexorable economic laws which lead to war. War is not a policy of a certain bourgeois stratum or party, it’s an economic necessity.
On the other hand, what about the interclassist pacifist movements, the "partisans of peace", the "doves" of every variety, could they not prevent war? Being non-proletarian movements, they express merely the small-minded petty-bourgeois desire to maintain the advantages that capitalism still has on offer to them, all at the expense of the European, and above all, the extra-European proletariat. History teaches that such movements liquidate themselves in the event of war in order to embrace the false justifications of their own bourgeoisie: ’restore the Peace! Take up arms to fight the "enemy"!’.
Within the limits set by capitalist production, and with the instruments
on offer from the political system which supports it, imperialist war
cannot be avoided: only an historical counter-power which opposes this
system, namely the proletarian class guided by its party, can establish
the one possibility of prevention, for only by razing the global structure
of capitalist power to the ground can humanity be spared its horrors,
above all, that of war. Only in a socialist world, in a non-mercantile,
non-capitalist, non-statist society – the first true beginning of human
history – will war no longer have reason to exist.
3. Avoidability of Imperialist War
If war remains inevitable within the confines of capitalism and doesn’t lead to the Universal Peace prophesied by idiots, mystifiers and traitors, we will affirm with Marx and Lenin that war between men will come to an end only through supranational classist revolution, which, by abolishing the causes of war, will abolish war itself.
Therefore, when Lenin and ourselves, affirm that war is inevitable, we do not mean this in an absolute sense, but that it cannot be avoided by a vague ideological movement of proletarians, and the poor and middle classes in combination; over such a movement war will pass like a steam-roller, meeting with no resistance. Generalized war is historically avoidable, but only in the sole condition that it is opposed by a movement of the waged class, with the latter expecting war not in order to replace it with peace, but, possibly with war reborn, in order to bring the down fall of decrepit, vile capitalism.
When Lenin established that the last imperialist stage of capitalism
leads to war, he did not believe that a whole succession of world wars
would take place, but expected that as the first one emerged, the
proletariat, at least in Europe, would rise up and put a stop to it. His
formula was: transform the imperialist war into civil war. The socialists
of the "Second International" were aware of this, but did not put into
practice as they fondly imagined that they could prevent the war merely
through peaceful developments arising from the general strike against
mobilisation on every side of the frontiers. But not even this aim was
achieved (and it would still have been insufficient) since all the workers
parties would march to the national war. We needn’t expect a confession of
errors, or a fundamental rethink on Lenin’s part, since in the field of
evaluation of historical events over time, revolutionary optimism, from
Marx onwards, has played a role of no little importance – though not as
daydreams, but grounded in real possibilities – but Lenin had to specify
that not one, but a series of imperialist wars would come about: he did
not indicate a specific deadline, but established the necessary conditions
for reversing the character of the war: from the imperialist to
civil, to revolutionary proletarian. He lashed out at the pretence of
being able to stop the war with a strike, even if it was general
and unlimited: something quite different was, and still is required, which
set out from an organisation with deep roots in the proletariat and in the
army, emanating from the broadly based and influential class party based
on sound theoretical, programmatic and tactical positions; one unified
organism which could lead the proletarian seizure of power with the aim of
demolishing the putrid society of capital.
4. From Proletarian Reformism to
In every instance where an acute crisis in capitalist society occurs, opportunists of every stripe, without fail, openly draw up on the side of bourgeois interests, and every time, they shamelessly and unrepentantly reveal that their historical role is that of infiltrators of the proletarian movement, aiming to achieve the programme of bourgeois preservation, camouflaged under a programme for working class emancipation.
The collapse of the Second International was caused by the prevalence of opportunism in the party. The path was cleared for this collapse; by denying the socialist revolution and placing in its stead bourgeois reformism; by negating class struggle and the necessity of transforming it, at determined moments, into civil war; by preaching class collaboration; by ceding to chauvinism in the name of patriotism and defence of the fatherland; by ignoring and denying the fundamental thesis of socialism previously enunciated in the Communist Manifesto, i.e., that the workers have no fatherland; by aligning themselves with petty-bourgeois hypocrisy in the struggle against militarism, instead of recognising the need for revolutionary warfare by proletarians of all lands against the bourgeoisie of all lands; by transforming the – then – admissible use of parliament and bourgeois legality into the fetishism of this same legality, and forgetting the necessity of illegal forms of agitation and organisation in periods of crisis.
Lenin speaks of the collapse of opportunism and, in apparent contradiction, of its triumph. The collapse of the Second International was the doctrinal and tactical collapse of opportunism since welfare for all by means of reforms was not achieved and peace was not safeguarded; the Second International had exhausted its historical task in the so-called "peaceful" period of capitalist development. In 1914 it was subjected to the historical test of imperialist war: healthy forces were present and the presuppositions – tactical included – for transforming the imperialist war into civil war had been decreed at the International Congresses of Stockholm, Copenhagen and Basel, but the leadership was in opportunist hands, and the party foundered giving a tragic and definitive historical demonstration of the fallacy of the reformist path. It was a betrayal which was justified with pseudo-socialist arguments and shabby theoretical sleight-of-hand, especially on the part of the influential German party which maintained that the 1st world war was a just war because it was conducted with the aim of overthrowing tsarism.
However, there was no immediate reorganisation into a revolutionary International, a process which would require years, and in this, unfortunately, lay the triumph of opportunism: the proletarian masses would march to the aid of their own bourgeoisies and there was no revolution in Europe. To the break in theory, there corresponded the practical victory of opportunism as proletarians, as yet with no leadership from the Communist International, were split up and driven to slaughtering one another by the governments and bourgeoisie of every country, ably flanked, we may add, by the social-traitors themselves, who by dint of their zealous patriotism, were suddenly wheeled on in military uniforms.
In the 2nd Imperialist war, once again we find this: theoretical victory of Marxism, theoretical defeat of opportunism along with its practical triumph. After the war and in the current fetid inter-war period, the proletariat is chained to the bourgeois chariot. Those parties which aspire not so much to breaking those chains, but at most to a less severe, or at any rate not worse, prison regime, are nothing but shifty turnkeys. Theirs is a deceitful mirage having the sole aim of turning proletarian energies towards the salvation of the national economy today, and of the fatherland in the not too-distant future. They are the degenerate offspring of an already degenerate Stalinism, parties which have thrown out Marxist theory, programme and tactics, but which still adorn themselves, and the bleached sepulchres, with communist phraseology.
The inevitable and definitive collapse of opportunism, due to an already
historically confirmed theoretical bankruptcy, will not come about of its
own accord, but only when the proletariat reappears on the stage of class
struggle in strength, organised and guided by its party: the renegades
will then openly rise up in defence of the bourgeoisie and become the
first obstacle which will need to be thrown down in the development of the
5. The Communist Movement in Opposition
to Crisis and War
The communist attitude towards imperialist war derives from its general stance towards capitalism: it wants it totally destroyed. Economic crises, and the wars that result, are levers that can be grasped in order to overthrow it. Marxism doesn’t anticipate capitalist peace and welfare in perpetuity since both constitute the necessary premises of ever-deeper crises and ever-more destructive wars. Communism wants peace, certainly, but not of the ephemeral kind maintained by opposing armies equipped like never before, and ready to be hurled against one another or against insurgent proletarians within each country; it wants real peace; the organic kind which will only be possible in the classless society won by the international revolution.
The economic crisis is expected by Marxism. This crisis, or the revival which follows it, by provoking a worsening in the conditions of the working class, may drive the latter to react by organising on the Union level and by encouraging its combativity; it could also create the conditions for a quantitative growth of the party, and for an extension of its influence on the working class. Precisely because it implies the possibility of a return to the historical scene by the one class hostile to capitalism, the economic crisis is eagerly anticipated by the party; unlike the bourgeois, who fear it both because of the possible proletarian revolt and the ruin of the middle classes.
The imperialist war is also anticipated by Marxism. These wars originate from the irremediable, and eventually intolerable, persistence of the international economic crisis, which allows for no other solution inside the capitalist mode of production but the inhuman destruction of commodities and proletarians. Imperialist war wipes the slate clean for capitalism, if only temporarily, by establishing a new equilibrium and division of world markets. On the ruins of these markets, a euphoric start can be made to a new half century cycle of plunder.
The war crisis goes through various phases: the period of preparation,
its outbreak, development and the immediate post-war period. The
revolutionary party will seek to take advantage of economic crises and
wars alike, throughout their various phases, in order to attempt the
overthrow of capitalism.
6. Long Wars don’t Favour Revolution
The revolution will issue from the third world war if an upsurge in the class movement has occurred before its outbreak. Either a war between states will start up and follow its course, or civil war will break out, the bourgeoisie is overthrown, and the war doesn’t happen.
Our movement was led to the above-mentioned indications, evaluations and perspectives on future historical development, by weighing up the experience of two world wars. The proletarian world party encountered the first one still showing signs of opportunist influences within it; these influences were vigorously fought by the Left minorities, but for these to be unmasked, the class would have to pass through the inferno of war in order to see the gradualists and reformists revealed as butchers in the service of the bourgeois fatherland. The proletariat did what it could, in various countries, sometimes heroically – but this was insufficient due to the lack of political guidance.
Victory there was in Russia, but October was born out of the combination of two singular conditions: the survival of a feudal regime and a series of military defeats. Also there existed the indispensable presupposition for the success of the revolution – a party. This party, strengthened by the experience of 1905, the general trial of 1917, and with a sound Marxist foundation, was able to apply the correct tactics by profiting from the war situation and the defeats of the tsarist army, that is, by advocating revolutionary defeatism. Victory there was, but isolated because the cycle in Europe, unable to come full circle in such a short time, would be broken: thus, condemnation and defeat of the social-traitor parties, recovery of the proletariat from having joined in the fratricidal war, rebirth of the movement in the historical centres of capital, ruin of the imperial bourgeoisies, whether vanquished or victorious.
The Second war arrived, certainly not unexpected by our Fraction, but this time it came in the wake of the harsh defeat of the proletarian movement, crippled from 1926 onwards by the degeneration of the Third International, and the victory of Stalinism and the world counter-revolution. In such conditions not only were proletarian energies dispersed and leaderless, they were directly pressed into the service of one bourgeois front against the other, as in the famous partisan blocs.
The crises of the two post-war periods were accompanied by historical conditions which prevented the still magnanimous proletarian struggles from developing in a revolutionary direction. The founding congress of the Third International took place in 1919; the second, even more significant for its theoretical and programmatic attestations, took place in the following year when the formation of national sections was yet to be completed: too late, not only with regard to the possibility of exploiting the state of war for revolutionary ends, but also with regard to the immediate post-war period, still racked with numerous social crises and ferment. The bourgeoisies of various lands had plenty of time to attack strikes and uprisings head on by using the social-traitors. Meanwhile, the Red Army didn’t succeed in taking Warsaw, an event which would probably have ignited the revolutionary flame in Central Europe. The Soviet Union remained isolated and the revolution collapsed internationally.
The situation at the end of the second world war was even less favourable as counter-revolutionary attitudes, behaviour and decisions, both of the class enemy and the opportunists, became ever more pronounced: the victorious bourgeoisies decided on the military occupation of the defeated countries, stifling the communist revolution at birth; there is an absence of strong vanguards in a position to repudiate political coalitions, at the same time, the degeneration of the offspring parties of the International – communist no more – reaches its lowest ebb.
The outbreak of war must therefore find a revived proletarian movement already in existence and a party firmly based on Marxist positions; these are the best conditions which History can make available, and it falls to the proletariat to know how to profit from them.
A war which doesn’t ignite the victorious revolution from its very outset, or at least, from very early on, could be stepped up more easily and run its full course, breathing new life into a capitalism in its death throes: for the cadaver which still walks, the capitalist system, the definitive blow must be delivered before new blood is transfused to it from proletarian veins, that is, before it is rejuvenated in the inhuman destruction of war and in the consequent economic renewal of "reconstruction".
War, in itself, both resolves the crisis of capitalism and gives it a new lease of life. Insofar as war is the greatest expression of the crisis due to the contradictions innate in capitalism, and profoundly shakes the unitary systems of production that are the national states, it can provide the decisive push towards revolution. Inasmuch as war is the one option open to the imperial juggernauts for overcoming stagnant conditions and levelling out the tendentially falling curve of the rate of profit, and since war violently reorders the international market to the complete advantage of the victors – but also of the vanquished – it constitutes the solution for the conservation of the present mode of production. There are no other prospects.
In principle we could also admit the possibility of the destruction of the human species which gives us all the more incentive to prepare for communism.
Why we affirm that the proletariat must try to cut off the war at its inception is this; a long war sees us driven back objectively and subjectively; the more war develops, the less the possibilities are of countering it with revolution.
This evaluation, being of a general nature, has no implications in the tactical field where revolutionary defeatism, in every country, and on every front, remains the case.
The party will persevere, both in propaganda and its activity, within the limits allowed by the relations of force between the antagonist classes, it will persevere in its defeatist tactic in legal and illegal work in the army, aiming thereby to better exploit any possibility which the war, as it develops, may still hold out. In fact, even in the post-war period of capitalist regeneration, we don’t exclude situations of international instability between vanquished and victors and of internal social crises, especially in the defeated countries, which the party may be able to use for the proletarian onslaught.
As always, Marxism doesn’t make prophecies about the future, but expresses the conditions. It is a science which registers the laws which link events together, and we have never claimed that individual events can’t roam about in a vast field of variability; this applies to past events just as much as to the future, and it is possible to be mistaken about the latter as much as the former. If conditions are different, events will be different.
In any event, the party’s duty will always be to indicate, among the various possibilities that exist, the one which is most favourable. Our prediction, rather than prophecy, of 1956 remains unchanged. We wrote: «The post-war decade of advance in world capitalist production will continue for some years yet. Then, inter-war crisis, analogous to that which broke out in America in 1929. Social slaughter of the middle classes and of bourgeoisified workers. Revival of a movement of the world working class, with every ally rejected. New theoretical victory of the old theses. Single communist party for all the states of the world. Towards the end of the twenty year period, the alternatives for a difficult century are; third war of the imperial juggernauts – or international communist revolution. Only if the war doesn’t run its course will the emulators die!» (Programma Comunista, 10/1956).
The predicted twenty post-war years are more than double that now, due to
the slower pace in the progression of capitalist production, but the
alternatives which were put forward for the latter years of this
"difficult century" remain the same.
7. The Party’s Tasks in Different
The party anticipates the occurrence of certain conditions, key-periods and factors that will precipitate the capitalist crisis (leading inevitably to war) which will allow the party to extend its influence on an ever-more combative proletariat. In relation to this possibility, a delay in the outbreak of the war could possibly be more favourable, but such a consideration will not drive us into the arms of humanitarian and interclassist pacifism. Engels expressed similar hopes too. At that time a revolutionary development of the proletarian movement was not, in principle and praxis, in contrast with the presence of socialist parliamentary delegates, and with activity conducted, even in the temple of bourgeois democracy, aiming to constrain the State to make choices less unfavourable to the working class, and especially to use parliament as a tribune for revolutionary propaganda. A war against Germany, seat of the most advanced units of world socialism, could have retarded this development. It wasn’t reformism: Engels gave open warnings to the bourgeois State, keeping alive in the proletariat the consciousness that barricades, in due time, would be put up.
In the situation as it stands today, the renewal of the movement in a revolutionary direction will be observed in widespread proletarian defensive reaction, in the rebirth of classist union organisms and in a noticeable influence of the party on the class and on its economic organisations where the party aims, first of all, to get the class to spit out all those ideologies and programmes based on democratic action and on the utilisation of bourgeois institutions.
In these historical conditions, preparation for and outbreak of war could offer the greatest revolutionary possibilities. In a situation become economically and socially explosive, the threat of sending proletarians to the front might very well kindle social war. Obviously, the party would not for this reason cease its opposition to capital’s war.
The cry "you draw first" thrown by Engels at the bourgeois, meaning: you will be answered with weapons to overthrow you, could in given moments be paraphrased by us as the challenge: make the gesture of conscription, and the proletariat will rise up, conquer power and end your war. The process is more complex than it might appear from the battle cry: imperialist war will be transformed into civil war wherever possible, as in some countries power would pass into the hands of the proletarian party; the epoch of revolutionary wars would commence.
Certainly such a challenge could not be thrown down today: if draftcards and missiles were unleashed now, the prospects would be problematic. But the party, however reduced in dimensions it is today as a matter of historical necessity, would, in such an instance, not limit itself just to registering facts and interpreting them; rather, as always, by deciphering them it would strive to discern possibilities, however minimal, offered by a third war that had been unimpeded at its commencement by the proletariat – that is, a proletariat still insufficiently organised and still largely influenced by traitors.
The party in wartime, whilst it knew that the objective and subjective conditions which make revolution and the seizure of power possible were non-existent, did not renounce its tasks while awaiting better times, but proposed, once again, the pivotal points of the programme and the correct tactic, potentially translatable into unambiguous slogans. An example of this may be found in our Platform of 1945, drawn up whilst the war was still in progress. In the situation of that time, armed proletarian forces were present, few in number but significant, however, they were in the service of opportunism and the class enemy; the party’s forces were dispersed and its influence on historical events was nil. The primary need was its reconstitution on a firm theoretical and programmatic basis; and this was the principal task of the Platform. However, in addition, there was no hesitation about setting in place the characteristic cornerstones of tactical orientation alongside those of theory; above all, so as to avoid "disorderly and unanticipated last minute reactions" becoming the regular response to "future" situations. Whilst forecasting that the trajectory of the curve of class struggle would be downward, there was no exclusion in principle of the process: reconstitution of the party, its strong influence on the class, and change in direction of the proletarian struggle. To this end, the party established certain tactical points which were framed unequivocally within the context of revolutionary defeatism. This it was necessary to do despite there being no practical application either in the present, or in the post-war cycle, which we characterise as harsh police control imposed on proletarians by the victorious armies in the conquered countries and by the national bourgeoisies, aided by Stalinist opportunism.
For the first world war, in drawing up balance-sheets of the past, we came to conclude that it was not so much a matter of having missed the historical "bus", as the fact that in that difficult span of years which ran between August 1914 and the early twenties, the bus of proletarian power never went by. In spite of this, the Left, initially a current, then organised into a fraction in the Socialist Party, and finally at the head of the Communist Party of Livorno, was not mistaken due to excessive optimism or voluntarism (provided it makes sense to talk of ’mistakes’). In fact, by giving battle inside the Socialist Party, the Left was indicating to the party and to the proletarian masses the correct way to make the assault on the bourgeois citadel, which was by contrasting to the "old" reformist antimilitarism with the "new" classist and revolutionary version, defending the tactic with Lenin, in an unequivocal expression, was to call revolutionary defeatism.
Later on the Left, in years when the ebb of the revolutionary wave was manifestly obvious, didn’t cease to point out – even from a critical position inside the Communist International – the correct tactic to apply in completely capitalist Europe, drawing lessons more from the bloody defeats in the West than from the brilliant victory in Russia.
In the third world war, if the more favourable prospect is not realised,
i.e., revolutionary response either preceding the war or occurring at its
first signs – the party, shunning any voluntarism, will make itself an
active force within the limits imposed by historical conditions and the
relations of class forces. This will be done with its critique, its
propaganda and its indications on tactical matters: not changeable, not
"new" with respect to "new" events, but already established and well-known
to the militant structure of the party.
8. Defencism and Intermediatism
The attitude of our movement to imperialist wars is inscribed in the tactic codified by the Left and by Lenin, refuting, above all, the slogans which, whilst assuming a revolutionary guise, or pretending to preserve alleged socialist conquests, are nothing other than ways of conserving the bourgeois order.
«The "defencist" aspect of opportunism lies in its assertion that the working class, in the present social order, while being the class which the upper classes dominate and exploit, runs the risk of seeing its conditions generally worsened in a hundred and one ways if certain characteristics of the present social order are threatened. Thus dozens and dozens of times we have seen the defeatist hierarchies of the proletariat call on it to abandon the classist struggle in order to help to defend, in coalition with other social and political forces on the national or world stage, the most varied postulates: liberty, democracy, the representative system, the fatherland, national independence, unitary pacifism, etc., etc. In so doing, they throw out the Marxist theses according to which the one revolutionary class, the proletariat, considers all these forms of the bourgeois world to be simply armour which capitalist privilege dons every now and again; the proletariat knows that in the revolutionary struggle it has nothing to lose but its chains. This same proletariat, transformed into the manager of an allegedly precious historical legacy, into a saviour of the failed ideals of bourgeois politics, ’defencist’ opportunism handed over, more miserable and enslaved than ever, to its class enemies in the ruinous crisis that unfolded during the first and second imperialist wars».
Equally, we reject all intermediatism, «a term by which we mean the pretence of indicating, as a main and preliminary objective, the application of the strength and effort of the revolutionary proletariat, not to the overthrowing of its class oppressors, but to realising certain conditions in the present society’s mode of organisation, which would offer it a more favourable terrain for later conquests». «In the complementary (to "defencism") guise of "intermediatism", opportunist corruption no longer advocates just the negative aspect of safeguarding advantages which the proletariat enjoys and which it may lose, but appears also under the more evocative guise of suggestions about preliminary conquests which might be achievable by acting on situations from which it would be easier to take a leap towards its main conquests – all this, be it understood, with the obliging and whole-hearted assistance of the more modern and fully-developed part of the bourgeoisie and its parties». «The Marxist vanguard party, having for its essential task the accurate decipherment of the development of conditions favourable to the maximum of class action, must dedicate itself during the whole historical course to develop and lead that action to victory, not to construct its intermediate conditions».
Therefore in case of war the party, considering neither the maintenance
or the restoration of conditions of peace among the States, or the victory
of one military front over the other as presuppositions worth defending;
nor regarding such events as intermediate steps to conquer on the road
towards socialism, will not suspend its classist struggle until Communism
is obtained, nor will it make alliances with any bourgeois strata or
parties over these objectives.
9. Revolutionary Defeatism
«The Marxist recognizes: there have been progressive wars; but in 1914, as in 1939, we were confronted, NOT by a war of progress, but simply by a conflict between imperialist exploiters; the duty of all socialists was to struggle against ALL governments in ALL countries; furthermore: Marxism declares the impossibility of putting an end to wars without the abolition of class societies and the victory of the socialist revolution».
This last passage, drawn from the draft of one of our writings of 1951, «is the first of the theses on pacifism, and is the most important. It destroys any possibility of Marxism-Leninism entertaining movements which have as their goal the suppression of war, disarmament, arbitration or juridical equality between nations (Wilson’s League, Truman’s U.N.O.). Leninism doesn’t say to capitalist powers: I will prevent you making war, and I will strike you down if do; it tells them, I know very well that as long as you haven’t been overthrown by the proletariat you will be drawn into war, whether you want it or not, and I will profit from this situation by intensifying the struggle to overthrow you. Only when this struggle is victorious in all States will the epoch of war come to an end. As new wars loom, if in place of Marx and Lenin’s dialectical criterion (as much in doctrine as in political agitation), there is substituted the plebeian exploitation of the masses’ naivety with regard to the sanctity of Peace and Defence, it is nothing more or less then to work for opportunism and for betrayal. Against the latter, Lenin applied himself to construct the new revolutionary International super hanc petram, on this rock: CAPITALISM AND PEACE ARE INCOMPATIBLE. We dedicate to today’s pacifist the lapidary thesis of the Third Congress (the 33rd, on the Tasks of the Communist International): Anti-revolutionary humanitarian pacifism has become an auxiliary force of militarism».
We affirm that «we are for, it is clear, the complete contemporary validity of Lenin’s doctrine on war, which is nothing other tan Marx’s doctrine, expressed at its historical birth after the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune in which the revolutionary wars of liberal unification came to a close: every national army is henceforth confederated against the proletariat!».
At the outbreak of European conflict in 1914 «the bourgeois were answered
that proletarians have no fatherland, and that the proletarian party
pursues the goal of breaking up the internal fronts, with wars offering
good opportunities to do so; that it doesn’t see historical development in
the greatness or salvation of nations; that in international congresses if
was already engaged in smashing up all war fronts by starting where best
it could». «Marxists certainly don’t decline to analyse particular wars,
but whatever their estimation may be, wars can only turn into revolution
on condition that the nucleus of the international revolutionary class
movement, completely separate from government policy and from movements of
the military staff, survives and doesn’t put theoretical and tactical
reservations of any kind between itself and the possibility of defeatism
and sabotage of the dominant class’s political, state and military
organisations in war». The true tradition of the revolutionary wing, which
converged after the war in the Bolshevik International, is linked to the
directive of not renouncing the struggle against the bourgeoisie’s power
and the forces of the State, even when these are engaged in war and tried
by defeat, and to the spreading of a possible international revolutionary
action without taking any account of the possibility of shifting the
military equilibrium in favour of the enemy». «Lenin stated it
explicitly: our task can only be fulfilled through the "transformation
of the imperialist war into civil war"». «From the time of the First
International congresses of present century, wars between capitalist
States are no longer seen by Marxist as a phase of development to be
completed with the support of socialists, wherever they may occur, but as
a "chance to overthrow bourgeois power through the social war of
classes". With this concept and this duty betrayed on so many sides,
Lenin hammered away relentlessly to set it back in place, and with him,
the entire Marxist Left. The war is wholly imperialist; it has no
progressive sides and aspects to it; proletarian sabotage of all States
from "behind the lines" must be advocated». «As in Paris Commune, in
Leningrad too the Revolution was won by marching in the opposite direction
to the war front, firing not on the foreign enemy in the military and
national struggle, but by turning the same men and the same weapons
against the internal enemy, against the government of capital, against the
class power of the bourgeoisie; "by turning the national war into a
10. Against Indifferentism
In the event that the party is not situated historically to overthrow the system by revolution (proletariat absent or defeated) but with the praxis of defeatism and the "internal enemy" still applying, it will establish which of the various possibilities would be lesser evil, i.e. alliance of two imperialist groups in war, victory of one, or victory of the other. As regards the second word war, we reckon that the lesser evil would have been the ruin of the capitalistically stronger and tougher monster of Washington. The general condition of inter-capitalist power relations are not much changed today and, as the condition deriving from the defeat of the more ordered and powerful countries is more favourable to the revolution, in the case of a third war, the defeat of America would remain the lesser evil.
This thesis does not involve any relapse into an intermediatism of another kind: it’s certainly not a matter, as the supporters of indifferentism in this field imagine, of pressing the American button or the Russian button, thereby renouncing – even were it possible to do so – pressing the button of world revolution. Vacuous a pompous indifferentism, with regard to the inhuman forces unleashed in wars, has always been decisively condemned by all revolutionary Marxists, from Marx to Lenin to the Left of Italian and international communism. «Lenin was extremely well aware of the fact that Marx and Engels, in condemning the wars from 1854-1855 up to 1870-1871, nevertheless sided continuously with a particular belligerent once war had broken out». However, Lenin notes that up to that time, Bebel and Liebknecht voted on the advice of Marx and Engels against war credits, in contrast to their successors of 1914 in the Reichstag, who, in the middle of imperialist epoch, fraudulently glossed over the fact that feudal Russia was nonetheless still on its feet, and its collapse was necessary. This necessity didn’t mean that an alliance should be made with the Kaiser in Berlin, or that the renegade Plekhanov should make an alliance with the Tsar in Petrograd. Only a bourgeois and a cretin, says Lenin, doesn’t understand that, in every country, revolutionaries work for the defeat of their own government. And history has shown that these can come crashing down, one after the other.
And in fact, it’s also documented that in the imperialist war of 1914 Lenin opted for a certain solution. When, in agreement with the German delegation, he travelled from Zurich in the sealed railway-car, naturally enough, he was perceived by everybody as "the notorious Prussian agent Vladimir Lenin". Later on it became evident who had got it right, the Prussian agents, or the revolutionary agent; and the same after Brest-Litovsk. Russia and Germany would both eventually collapse.
Marx it was who coined the expression, the "best result" of war, and we – as usual – only repeat it, whilst it was Lenin who gave us the concept of the "lesser evil" in the outcome of wars, of application also, be it well understood, to the modern and exquisitely imperialist ones in which support to any belligerent government is open betrayal. In a text for the Russian party on 28 September, 1914 he said: «In the present situation we cannot establish, from the point of view of the international proletariat, which of the two groups of belligerent nations’ defeat would be lesser evil for socialism». Indifferentism, therefore, is already dead and buried; the two outcomes of the war, to which on both sides we oppose defeatism and revolution, will, if the present powers remain standing, have different effects on later historical development; what then is the more favourable solution from the revolutionary viewpoint? «For us Russian social-democrats (the party’s name had not yet been changed) there can be no doubt that from the viewpoint of the working class and the labouring masses of all the people of Russia, the lesser evil for socialism would be the defeat of the tsarist government».
We recapitulate, for the moment treating a third war as certain. War 1, 2
and 3. On both sides of the front, the commitment of revolutionary
communist parties is, as always: no support to governments, as much
defeatism as practically possible. War 1. The best denouement for the
revolution is that Russia and England fall flat on their backs. The first
point was certainly borne out, the second not: victory of capitalism. War
2. The best result is that England and America go to the wall.
Unfortunately this doesn’t happen: a great victory for capitalism. War 3.
The best result is for America to fall flat on its back. Someone could
line up arguments for the opposite thesis, that it’s better for Russia to
take a tumble, given that, whilst America is the arch-conserver of
capitalism, Russia is the arch-destroyer of revolutionary communism. The
first gives oxygen to its patient, the second immobilizes his Marxist
"grave-digger". An obviously cretinous thesis is: it doesn’t matter who
11. Theses on Tactics
1) The party’s tactics on imperialist war rest on Lenin’s doctrine of
revolutionary defeatism, of unreserved, even unilateral
sabotage of the war, so as to transform it into civil war against its own
government to enable the seizure of power and the installation of the
proletarian dictatorship. The opportunists had reservations during the two
wars, but they all added up to the same effect: of driving the proletariat
to the slaughter for the defence of the class enemy’s interests.
One of these ’reservations’ was their call for defeatist action on the hostile fronts to be simultaneous. This was an extreme position in appearance, but in fact impossible to bring about, and became a condition for the renunciation of revolutionary action and support of the war conducted by their bourgeoisie. Rather what was needed was to foresee and prepare action favouring the defeat of their government even in one country alone.
If, starting out from a position of unfavourable progress of the class struggle, the party judges revolutionary upsurge as a general impossibility, such a possibility has never been absolutely excluded, since we don’t rule out the possibility of particular favourable conditions occurring during some phase of the war, i.e. during preparation, outbreak, development, end and immediate post-war. Either way, it doesn’t change its tactics, as these are safeguards both on the party and even on the possibility of a classist revival itself.
2) The party, whilst condemning legalitarian pacificism in principle, warning the proletariat that it would be impotent and uncertain of its future if it knelt at the altar of Fatherland and Defence, encourages the feeling that exists amongst proletarians and soldiers against the effects of war, found likewise within the movement and demonstrations against war, but channels it towards defeatism and the revolutionary goal. It will be aiming, both directly and by means of its influence on the defensive economic organisations of the class (within which it exists as a fraction) to propagandise against the war and its effects and to mobilize the class against it. For the party, for communists, participation alongside other parties in organisms not of a strictly economic type, is to be excluded: examples of these being committees for peace, disarmament or friendship between peoples and such like. The party will not embarrass the proletariat by admitting that, without a revolutionary movement it will still be possible to maintain peace. Capitalist peace would arrive eventually, sure, but only after its war cycle, with all its destruction, extermination and plundering had drawn to a conclusion and even then, it would already be carrying in itself the seeds of future war between the dominant classes of various countries. Lasting peace can only be conquered by civil war against one’s own government and bourgeoisie, and the revolutionary war between States with proletarian dictatorship and States still having bourgeois dictatorship.
3) The party denounces as sheer illusion the request for the disarmament
of States; it substitutes for consignment to a people’s militia, that of
the proletarian militia, and affirms the necessity of the
military-technical preparation of the class and that of legal work and
infiltration in the bourgeois army, with insurrectional aims.
Our watchword is not that of the refusal of military service as defended by petty-bourgeois movements.
4) The strike and the union organisation are the primordial tools of the
proletarian class struggle. Only the economic struggle for immediate
economic improvements succeeds in shaking the most backward of the
exploited masses as well, in giving them a real education, and, in a
revolutionary period, in transforming them in a short time into an army of
revolutionary fighters. An extended and combative workers’ defensive
movement is a determining factor in the insurrectional process, and the
breakdown of discipline and infiltration of communist propaganda among the
In the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 in Russia, the intertwining of economic strikes with political strikes, the close link between these two forms of strike, ensured the movement’s success. For the proletariat to succeed in completely expressing its own class strength for the seizure of political power, it’s necessary that vast spontaneous class movements, of resistance and attack, both economic and political, of civilians and soldiers are disciplined, controlled and led by the revolutionary party, which, for its part, concentrates all these energies into the struggle for the supreme object of the seizure of State power. This is a complex dynamic which must be studied and foreseen by the party, as in extreme situations, it becomes literally the Headquarters of the revolution. The question is obviously complicated by the fact that the various partial aspects of the movement influence one another reciprocally and differently in their convergence and orientation; none of these though can achieve the goal in isolation, but only in the welding of the general class movement to the will and the certainties of the party.
5) The party considers certain reactions to war as inadequate, even if
engaged in with the sole purpose of averting war so as to extend and
spread insurrectional forms, these reactions against war may be
instinctive, individual or collective class reactions, in the form of
refusal of military service, flight, evasion or desertion. Such reactions,
of individuals or masses, even if spontaneous, express the refusal of the
proletarian to send his own flesh to the imperialist butcher, but, in
themselves, they can only lead to the laying down of weapons and the
dispersion of those proletarian forces which must constitute the armed
strength of the revolution. The splintering of the military units and the
abandonment of the front will be strongly supported by the party with the
aim of the passage of those forces onto the internal front, organised and
disciplined for the civil war against their own government. By its action
and its propaganda, the party will incite soldiers not to throw down their
weapons, but to keep them firmly in their grasp in order to be able to
point them, at the right moment, at the internal enemy.
Only through its legal and illegal intervention in the army – with the aim of organising communist cells, then of units – can the phenomenon occur of either, part of the bourgeois army passing over to the banner of the revolution, or its neutrality in the social conflict being obtained. Concomitantly there may be a great expansion of the phenomenon, ample and spontaneous in the first war, of fraternisation between soldiers of hostile armies, which the communists must set out to organise by going beyond its primary form of the military strike.
6) Another position we refute derives from a mistaken interpretation of an unrenounceable classical Marxist position. It claims, on the basis of an evaluation of the ’lesser evil’ among possible bourgeois solutions to the war crisis, that a corresponding and active tactical posture necessarily follows, i.e., if the conditions in the immediate term are judged unfavourable for the proletarian revolution’s success, the party would have to favour, or not hinder, the victory of one bourgeois front over the other to ensure better conditions after the war for the renewal of the class struggle. This is the path of betrayal, which under the most disparate forms of intermediatism to the salvation of the capitalist system.
7) In case of war, the attitude of the party to opportunism remains
unchanged, in fact, the battle against it and its organisation must be
accentuated, because the war may allow it a better left camouflage by
calling on proletarians to join in the war in defence of goals already
attained with the goal of reaching more advanced stages on the road to
Even if the war succeeds in breaking the uniformity of opportunism’s posture in certain countries, this does not in itself constitute a weakening of opportunism. Its influence on the working class will increase or diminish in relation to the greater or lesser following of the communist party in the class. This regrettable opportunist influence will be even more significant if, as in the second world war, it succeeds in its ploy of directing armed proletarians against their own government, not in order to substitute it with proletarian dictatorship, but with the other bourgeois governments, passed off by the opportunists as progressive so as to ensure a lining up on either the pro-Russian or pro-American front.
In the first world war the Second International, dominated by opportunism, collapsed, and the international Left, with Lenin, oriented towards the re-foundation of the world proletarian organisation. However, the collapse did not suffice to eliminate the old organisation’s bastardizing influence, since the foundation of the Communist International and its national sections came late in the day. The second war broke out with the revolutionary marxist party absent from the historical scene, and opportunism, under the cloak of Stalinism, could present itself in false communist garb and even ordain sudden changes of front with impunity, drawing the proletariat once again to the sacrifice, to the advantage of the class enemy.
Confronted with a third world war, we must be clearer still, if that is possible, about discerning "centrist" organisations, which, at crucial moments, will stop all their twisting and turning about in order to swell the ranks of patriotism and the unione sacra.
8) The party foresees the necessity of revolutionary war after the
seizure of power in one or more countries. This means that its task will
be to organise the Red Army to the extent that it is able to defeat the
internal bourgeois armies and to face those of the bourgeois States. It
will be the hour of the just war for the defence of the proletarian
dictatorship, and for the extension of the revolution into countries still
under the domination of capital, all the while, maintaining close ties
with the class struggle led in those same countries by the world communist
This, and only this, will be the last of the wars in the millenary cycle of humanity divided into classes.