International Communist Party Against Capitalist Wars

On the tread of time
The Shameful Lie of “Defencism”

(from Battaglia Comunista, issue 5 of 1951)


According to the reformists and “minimum program” parliamentarians who led the European working masses at the beginning of the century, the socialists “did not deal with foreign policy” and had no ideas on the question of war between states. Of course, until war dominated the scene and the field, “they were against all wars”, and on this subject they could not express more than the generic “pacifism”, such as was cultivated by the bourgeois or anarchists.

This attitude was a worthy predecessor for the policy of “support for all wars” in which the main European socialist parties were ruined when the cyclone of 1914 was unleashed. Then the scoundrels of opportunism, who had become allies and ministers of the bourgeois imperial powers, began to sophisticate and cheat on the fact that Marxism “did not condemn all wars” but conceded to some of them: this was of course the case with their country’s wars, like the one advocated in Germany by Scheidemann & C., in France by Guesde & C., in Austria by Renner & C., in Belgium by Vandervelde & C., in Russia by Plekhanov & C., in Great Britain by Macdonald & C., in Italy Mussolini &… well, nobody.

Lenin, with the same mental rectitude and the same absence of demagogy and posturing, works tirelessly to put things right, from 1914 to 1917 in the most solitary shadows, from 1917 onwards in the dazzling limelight.

The first concern of the great revolutionary is to reconnect solidly the treatment of the question to the foundations of socialist doctrine and politics, to its texts as well as to its background of struggle.

The continuity of the “thread” is Lenin’s first concern. He himself, who was the greatest scholar of the “most recent phase of capitalism” in its economic and social unfolding towards imperial forms, shows above all that only for the traitors was it a question of “unexpected prospects”, of “unforeseen situations” which suggested and authorized “new analyses” and “new methods” of socialism.

It was precisely the maniacs of updating – a quack fixation typical of bourgeois intellectuals – and of revisions, which had meant to correct Marxism from the extreme right like the Bernsteins, or from the false syndicalist extreme left like the Jouhaux, who were the first to pass into the chauvinist camp.

The path we have traced with Engels concerning the wars in Europe, in the fundamental historical developments studied by Marxism no less carefully than the economic and productive developments, we find it reconfirmed with absolute certainty in all the Leninist writings, the basis of the international programmatic reorganization, since the 1915 theses on "The Principles of Socialism and the War of 1914-1915".

After discarding the abstract and insufficient evaluation of philanthropic pacifists and anarchists, for whom all wars (and we certainly think so too) are barbaric and bestial, Lenin retracts the doctrine on “The historical types of war”.

The absent-minded and forgetful – nothing to be hoped for by the erasers on the serial conversions and retroversions of past careers – can reread and reflect. Tirelessly, we repeat.

“The Great French Revolution ushered in a new epoch in the history of mankind. From that time to the Paris Commune, from 1789 to 1871, one of the types of wars were wars of a bourgeois-progressive, national-liberating character. In other words, the chief content and historical significance of these wars were the overthrow of absolutism and feudalism, the undermining of these institutions, the overthrow of alien oppression. Therefore, those were progressive wars, and during such wars, all honest, revolutionary democrats, and also all Socialists, always sympathised with the success of that country (i.e., with that bourgeoisie), which had helped to overthrow, or sap, the most dangerous foundation of feudalism, absolutism and the oppression of other nations”.

Even with regard to such wars Lenin is keen to establish very well the meaning of the Marxist “approval” or “justification”, and to explain with what scope it was said to be support for wars of “defense” or “for the fatherland” in terms only partly suitable. In fact, those wars were often times wars “of aggression” or “invasions”. We read this without colored glasses, in Engels; we do the same in Lenin.

The first “praiseworthy” wars are those of France against the coalitions, but it must be established that Marx, Engels and Lenin (and we who modestly repeat it for their sanctimoniously failed pupils) include in the same (group of wars), considered useful because they spread throughout Europe the modern capitalist organization, both the first wars of the sans-culottes, which exalted the poets for the character of defense, at the same time, of the Revolution and of the French soil trampled by the invading armies, and the wars of Napoleon, which were wars of aggression and invasion of the feudal countries.

And in fact: “the revolutionary wars (note the definition: revolutionary in the sense of the bourgeois revolution, but still revolutionary) waged by France contained an element of plunder (sic) and conquest (sic) of alien territory by the French, but this does not in the least alter the fundamental historical significance of these wars, which destroyed and shattered feudalism and absolutism in the whole of old, serf-ridden Europe”.

For that reason, then, the Marxists “justified” those wars. Therefore, they did not apply the puerile method: who is the aggressor, the invader, the devastator? This one is wrong, we are “against his war”; even worse, we enlist for the war against him. Id est, we would be recruited by Dumouriez at Valmy, by Blücher at Waterloo....

Those who reasoned in this way, respectable because they never claimed to be Marxist, were for example Garibaldi, who “forgetting Rome and Mentana” and the Bonapartist bullets, ran to the Ardennes to defend France in 1870 when he saw it invaded by the Prussians.

How instead is such a war seen by the Marxist? Does he support Bonaparte or Bismark? Never. We saw Engels’ analysis. Now Lenin’s: “In the Franco-Prussian War, Germany plundered France (annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, war indemnity in billions of the time), but this does not alter the fundamental historical significance of this war, which “liberated” tens of millions of German people from feudal disintegration and from the oppression of two despots, the Russian tsar and Napoleon III”. Lenin spelled for us the analysis by Engels, the latter was as little impelled to his invective by German patriotism as the former could be by Russian patriotism. Both equally guided by the reasons of the development of class and socialist movement, they openly consider as “liberating” wars that had the character of devastation, pillage, invasion, conquest and depredation: these are their words.

Here Lenin’s examination comes to the dilemma “Aggressive and Defensive War”. And he explains clearly: in that period 1789-1871 which left “deep marks and revolutionary memories” the proletarian struggle had not been able to struggle for socialism, but had to support the efforts of the bourgeoisie to liberate itself from feudalism. “By “defensive” war Socialists always meant a justified war in this sense”. The emphases are Lenin’s, who adds: “(W. Liebknecht once expressed himself precisely in this way)”.

The great young revolutionary had, almost single-handedly, to sustain the polemic against all the Marxists of German social democracy who crossed over to the dirty alliance with the Kaiser in 1914. These did not fail to oppose the Marxist predictions on the “war of races, a war with the combined Slavonian and Roman races” and the threat of Russian despotism, the same, they said, as in 1870. They advocated the extreme solution of “defencism”. It is well known how the war came to a head: the assassination of the Austrian Archduke in Serajevo, the mobilization of Austria against Serbia, the immediate response with the Russian mobilization; the Tsar’s armies clearly began the offensive, not in the direction of Vienna and the Carpathian ramparts, but through the Baltic plains towards Berlin: therefore Germany mobilized “in its own defense”: militarily, according to the logic of its plans, it threw itself towards the Rhine. France, therefore, mobilizes in her own defense as well: they were all defending themselves, these slaughterhouse governments! The most hypocritical of the Tartuffes of history also mobilized: England chose to defend little Belgium, through which the German forces were passing. And in the same autumn of 1914 history recorded two great halting battles, two “defensive” victories: Foch on the Marne, Hindenburg on the Masurian Lakes. Socialist ministers in Berlin and Paris were lined up for “national defense”. The social-traitors in Berlin wanted to crush Liebknecht (and when they were in power they shot him, while the Kaiser had only put him in jail) with the Marxist argument of “defensive war”. Agent provocateur of the Tsar! they shout at him: we throw in your face the address of the First International on the war of 1870 written by the hands of Marx: “On the German side, the war is a war of defence... With deep sorrow and grief we are forced to undergo a defensive war as an unavoidable evil... The German working class have resolutely supported the war... It was the German workmen who, together with the rural laborers, furnished the sinews and muscles of heroic hosts...”.

Karl Liebknecht, whose preparation as a theorist or his heroism as a fighter against an entire mass of drunk-on-patriotism demagoguery cannot be remembered with greater admiration, made it clear that the political use of the term “defensive” war, and the usual quotation of detached passages, should not obscure the clear historical reason and evaluation of the bases and social effects of wars, and that after the war of 1870, having reached the goal, indicated in those same texts, of “the independence of Germany and the liberation of it and of Europe from the oppressive nightmare of the second empire”, a goal that justified the war also as an invasion of conquest and plunder, a very different historical period had opened. If, therefore, even before the distinction between war of defense and war of aggression was false, because the social and historical character of the “distinction” between such and such war was quite different, in 1914 it is a completely different matter, the savage contest between imperialist groups for the exploitation of the world, and the socialists no longer see wars to support, or fatherlands to defend, on this side or on the other side of the Rhine or the Vistula.

Lenin not only considers it of the utmost importance to clarify this point, but he wants to establish with documents that such a view was that of the true Marxists, even before the European War of 1914 and until the opening of that new period of dominant capitalism throughout Europe.

He establishes again with examples of “possible” wars at the date 1914, which of them might appear “progressive” and justifiable. He clarifies this (and here the easy-going ones must read cum grano salis as always when Marxists advance historical hypotheses and do not analyze concrete events) in order to prove that in none of the States of Europe in 1915 can we talk about a “just war”, and that in any case the criterion is a social one, not about whether it’s a war of aggression or defense, invasion or resistance, conquest or liberation.

Lenin’s example is this: if a country has no local government, but is under the political domination of another foreign country near or far, then it would still be the case today to justify its war. But mind you, this is not, was not at the date 1915, the case neither for France against Germany – which we consider to be settled forever under a capitalist regime since 1871 – nor vice versa and not even for Germany against Tsarist Russia! Here are the cases Lenin supposes: Morocco against France, India against England, Persia and China against Russia, since these are colonies or semi-colonies where the lack of national autonomy prevents the modern development of society. But Lenin immediately adds: they would be just and defensive wars (in the sense that they aim to dislodge a foreign conqueror) but this is regardless of which of the parties started the war. And as long as the system of predominance is “in order” it is clear that these hypothetical just wars could only be insurrections, uprisings, and therefore attacks on the occupying foreign military forces.

In Europe, therefore, the period of the wars of national settlement closes in 1871: historically there could perhaps still be some more, but outside Europe. The 1914 war falls into the type of imperialist wars, and is compared by Lenin to a dispute, not between slaves and oppressors, but between “a slave-owner who owned 100 slaves warring against a slave-owner who owned 200 slaves for a more “just” distribution of slaves”. To disguise this turpitude the bourgeoisie deceives “the peoples by means of “national ideology and the term “defence of the fatherland” in the present war between slave-owners for fortifying and strengthening slavery”.

We will not repeat once again the features of the analysis of imperialism. Let us recall a few points which are useful to demonstrate the continuity of the Marxist evaluation in the period in question, after 1871, and well before Liebknecht, Lenin and the other socialists who fought tenaciously against the war. It is about unmasking social-patriotism in all its shame.

Lenin referred to the example of the Paris Commune, which was expressly recalled by the Manifesto of the Second Socialist International at the Basel Congress of 1912: “transform the governments’ war into a civil war”. Who of the great historical turning point takes note “ad horas” is Karl Marx himself, in the classic concluding passage of the address of May 30, 1871. “The highest heroic effort of which old society is still capable is national war; and this is now proved to be a mere governmental humbug, intended to defer the struggle of the classes, and to be thrown aside as soon as that class struggle bursts out in civil war. Class rule is no longer able to disguise itself in a national uniform; the national Governments are one as against the proletariat! ”.

Marx therefore saw the future war between national states, which the previous period had defined and settled, provoking class war, and the proletariat responding to the challenge of the national governments. The renegades of Marxism, in Berlin and in the other capitals, could only respond with the deception of national war by lowering the red flag and declaring the class struggle suspended, joining the ranks of the national bourgeois armies.

Lenin accused them of having betrayed Marxism in all its explicit manifestations from 1871 to 1914, and he was right.

Jules Guesde, who so wretchedly invalidated the points he himself made before, head of the Marxist left in France, in 1899 (En garde) lashed out against socialist ministerialism, both in peace and in the event of a war “hatched by capitalist brigandage”; Kautsky, who ended up in the same way, in 1908 (Der Weg zur Macht: The Road to Power) declared the peaceful era over, and opened the era of wars and revolutions. Basel, Lenin notes, reiterates both the historical concept and the concept of action. He recalls the latent conflicts in Europe, all of brutal dominance on all sides: Austro-Russian in the Balkans, Anglo-French-German in Africa, Austro-Italian in Albania, Anglo-Russian in Central Asia, and so on. Lenin comments: “the idea of defending the fatherland [is] theoretical nonsense and a practical absurdity. The big sharks are fighting each other to gobble up other peoples’ ‘fatherlands’”. But “Recognition that a war is being fought for national liberation implies one set of tactics; its recognition as an imperialist war, another. The Basel Manifesto clearly points to the latter. The war, it says, “will bring on an economic and political crisis”, which must be “utilised”, not to lessen the crisis, not to defend the fatherland, but, on the contrary, to “rouse” the masses and ‘hasten the downfall of capitalist rule’”. Lenin recalls that the Manifesto said that “the ruling classes fear the proletarian revolution as a consequence of a world war”, and he linked this not only to the Commune but to the great Russian revolution of 1905 that came out of the Russo-Japanese war.

Uninterruptedly, consistently, from Marx to Lenin, the socialist revolutionaries have never followed the bourgeois figure of the “war warden”, as dumb as he is impotent, but they have prepared themselves to be, in the revolutionary sense, opposed to that of super-imperialism, the “war profiteers”.

Lenin erected the doctrine of defeatism and led it to a resounding historical victory.

When this was only a distant prospect, he, answering the question: defeatism against which side? was able to write: “Only a bourgeois, who lives in the faith that the war ordered by the governments will inevitably end as a war of the governments, and who desires this, finds ridiculous and crazy the idea that the socialists of all the countries at war should desire the defeat of all their governments”.

When the proletarian parties were, by treachery, made to “desire” the victory of certain governments, and to fight for them, the forces of world revolution were ruined.

In Marxist and Leninist doctrine, as we have shown, it remains established that, with regard to both wars of national liberation (1792-1871) and imperialist wars, the distinction between historical types of wars has never gravitated to the acceptance of the notion that every war of defense is justified. In the first period Marxism justifies as historically useful some wars, generally offensive, in the second it disavows both offensive and defensive wars, that is, it expects historical usefulness not from a given outcome of the wars, but from the successes of internal revolutionary defeatism, which it preconceives and hastens wherever possible.


Once the criterion of “defense” has been expelled from the evaluation of wars made by Marxists in the two periods, questions arise concerning the wars which have come and may come later, that is, in the period following these historical facts: the First Imperialist World War, the Russian Revolution; the failure of the Second International, the foundation of the Third.

We have in other articles of the “On The Thread of Time” series seen the point of the proletarian “revolutionary” war. After the bourgeois revolution there were wars of the States, to prevent the feudal regime from being restored from abroad, and then to attack it at home; will the proletarian revolution present a similar process?

A first attempted application of this hypothesis was even made by the Russian opportunists after the fall of the Czar in February, and the first revolution which brought the bourgeois democratic parties to power; they pretended that proletarian opposition to the anti-German war would cease. We showed how the Bolsheviks liquidated that trap. But the problem arose again when the Bolsheviks took power and the German army advanced with the purpose of overthrowing the revolution. On that occasion Lenin fought the “leftist” thesis of Bukharin, who was passionately for the revolutionary war; he explained that a reactionary war had been inherited and it had to be liquidated by leveraging German proletarian defeatism. Red Russia apparently knelt down with the famous peace of Brest-Litowsk, but German militarism soon collapsed: the Ludendorffs admitted that it was for internal political reasons that, after considerable strategic successes, they saw the Western front destroyed in November 1918, and had to capitulate without the enemies having won a major battle or violated the German border.

Only the imbeciles circulating today, however, can attribute to Lenin the definition of provocative to the theory of revolutionary war. Lenin in principle never ruled out its historical possibility: between 1918 and 1920 Russia waged authentic revolutionary wars, both defensive against foreign invasions led by the French and the British, and a war of aggression against White and bourgeois Poland.

But the undoubtedly Leninist theory of revolutionary war entails these conditions: that there be an effectively proletarian State – that it be led by a red army as Lenin announced it at the Second Moscow Congress: proletarian armies arise everywhere, and the communists of all countries work to form one army!

Given these conditions, the revolutionary war is not only possible, but it is “legitimate”, since it coincides with the world civil war, and it can arise as resistance to a capitalist invasion in the proletarian country, as well as and above all – and only then will its victory be possible – as a war of attack on world capitalism.

The wars of the States for the national settlement were revolutionary for the victory of the bourgeoisie, insofar as this class, economically and socially, is conditioned by national independence – a war can be revolutionary for the victory of the proletariat, insofar as the war, economically and socially, is conditioned by internationalism.

However, we have a third “type” of war, in which, in the light of Marx’s and Lenin’s method, is, as in the other two, fallacious and counter-revolutionary to apply the criterion of “defencism”.

We have gone through the second world war, and it has been pretended not to identify it with the “imperialist” type; and to “justify” it as a war against Germany and its allies. At the same time it was labeled as a war of the first type, of “national liberation”, and as a war of the third type: proletarian and revolutionary. The Stalinists have pretended, in both falsifications, to be always followers of Marxism-Leninism, and at the same time they have made common use of the defencist argument, claiming that it was a matter of repelling Germanic aggression.

Now, any other Marxist classification which isn’t exactly just that of the Second World Imperialist War immediately falls into absurdity, for reasons even more powerful than those which, in the critique of the First War, made the progressive and the defensist explanations put forward by the social-patriots of the various countries fall.

Judging it as a war of national liberation? Those wars had been considered progressive by the Marxists because and only because they were a necessary step towards the diffusion of capitalist production and the abolition of feudal bonds and institutions. This argument has nothing to do with a generic acceptance and worse apology of the alleged conquests of the bourgeois revolution on the juridical level, such as liberty, democracy, equality of citizens, already disqualified by proletarian socialism since its first formulations. Now, if Mussolini and Hitler had undermined those vaunted conquests, they had not thereby overturned social history by fifty years, and not only had they not eliminated, but they had no intention of eliminating industries, machines, railways, banks and all the rest of the capitalist productive apparatus; rather, they had exalted its cycle, which we have long known to be beastly and slaver. Pure buffoonery then, to apply to Mussolini what was applied to Napoleon III, to Hitler what was applied to the Czar. Therefore, if it was necessary to apply defeatism to the wars of these leaders, it is not necessary to approve and support the wars of their enemy governments.

Judging it as a defensive war? We have seen that this criterion never guided the non-traitor Marxists. If, for a moment, in Italy in 1922 and in Germany in 1933, “the Middle Ages had been put back in power” and a new risorgimento was necessary, a hypothesis for pissing hens, then the offensive would have been sacrosanct.

It was said that it was Hitler who attacked Poland through Danzig, after a series of overwhelming of Austria and Czechoslovakia “tolerated” by the British and French. Why, then, if the defense and independence of nations is paramount and sacred, did the Russian army not move against the German one, and instead promptly moved against the Poles in agreement with the invader for a partition?

Judging it as a proletarian war? In order to keep up such a lie, it would be necessary to admit that the regimes of France, England and America, bourgeois capitalists and imperialists at the time of the First War and of Lenin, as well as bourgeois and imperialists still today in 1951, had had a strange parenthesis, not from 1939, but from 1941 to 1945, and had committed all their industrial and military potential to spread the socialist regime in the world, preventing the Germans from bringing it down!

Today the Stalinists recognize that the policy of American capitalism, not only against Asia but also against Europe, is a policy of imperial aggression, and they prove it with the same arguments that allowed us to establish it in Wilson’s time against the lie of the just war and the league for peace. Lenin’s writings, always quoted by us, are searched on the distant origins of the conquering imperialism of the United States, from 1898 onward, the last but most tremendous in the series of imperialisms of the white peoples. After Lenin’s death, would these basic characteristics, linked to a deep, long economic and social process of the American productive machine, have allowed an intermediate phase of struggle for freedom, for the repression of aggressors, even for the defense of the socialist country?

Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be invoked in the socialist and Marxist field to artfully attribute to the second world war a character like those of the progressive bourgeois wars prior to 1871. It was an open imperialist war. Every effort to create within the bourgeois States a solidarity of war with the governments of one of the camps was an irreparable counter-revolutionary effort, an irrevocable conferral of potential to the powers of the imperialist victors.

The misunderstanding about the deployment of the Russian State, although it can be explained by the influence of the traditions of Lenin’s revolution among the masses all over the world, had no other effect than to aggravate the crumbling of the revolutionary potential, if compared to what the solidarity of the first world war produced.

This second wave of opportunism cannot be sustained by the adulteration of Marxist traditions about “useful” wars. It could not but fall back into the most despicable pre-Leninism, and it did so by bringing to the forefront the expedient of defencist hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy to which only another is equal: the pacifist one.