On the Thread of Time
Imperialist War and Revolutionary War
("Sul Filo del Tempo", Battaglia Comunista, n.11, 1950)
Fundamental concept: two types of wars. Progressive bourgeois wars, of anti-feudal development, of national liberation; then imperialist wars. Date of separation between the two epochs of wars: 1871; Paris Commune. The movement of the world proletariat is brought to the level of the Revolution, it breaks with the Nation. Do we want to hear Lenin repeat the concept? Let us listen. "Resolution of the Bolsheviks Abroad," May 4, 1915.
“Pacifism, the preaching of peace in the abstract, is one of the means of duping the working class. Under capitalism, particularly in its imperialist stage, wars are inevitable. On the other hand, however, Social-Democrats cannot over look the positive significance of revolutionary wars, i.e., not imperialist wars, but such as were fought, for instance, between 1789 and 1871, with the aim of doing away with national oppression, and creating national capitalist states out of the feudal decentralised states, or such wars that may be waged to defend the conquests of the proletariat victorious in its struggle against the bourgeoisie.”
So Lenin, long before the Russian Revolution, added to the two types of wars a third one, which we will have to deal with, that of a war between a State in which the proletarian revolution has won, and States in which capitalism still dominates.
First, however, we mustn’t fail to complete the quotation, to the great embarrassment of that movement which reproaches the imperialists for believing in war, and beguiles with the thesis of the full possibility of peace, without prejudice to the political regimes of each country, not only between the powers of imperialist capitalism, but even between them and what is claimed to be a government of the proletariat.
“At the present time, the propaganda of peace unaccompanied by a call for revolutionary mass action can only sow illusions and demoralise the proletariat, for it makes the proletariat believe that the bourgeoisie is humane, and turns it into a plaything in the hands of the secret diplomacy of the belligerent countries. In particular, the idea of a so-called democratic peace being possible without a series of revolutions is profoundly erroneous.”
And now let us see, calmly. First, a reminder of the claim that the First World Imperialist War was a war of the first kind, of liberation. Then a reminder about the claim that the Second recent imperialist war was a war of the first kind, that is of progress and liberation, or of the third kind, in defense of a proletarian revolution. Finally, the serious historical question: will the possible third war be still and always of the first kind, as the repulsive quakers of the gangsterist capitalism of America will claim, or will it be of the third kind, as the Eastern Bloc will say?
The rectification of the proletarian historical position is inseparable in all three cases. The inversions, contradictions and historical reversals in such settings are unmistakable symptoms of the plague, to which unfortunately the Leninist vaccine was not enough: opportunism, precisely of those who (Lenin, 1915) try to make believe that the imperialist war has a progressive bourgeois meaning of national liberation. The power of dialectics allows us to define in 1915 the events of 1945....
The controversy of 1914 broke out. The social-chauvinists (one among them, that Paoloni, who unfortunately monopolized in Italy the so called two-bit propaganda for the social-democrats, actually nothing more than falseness) read the Communist Manifesto in this way. It says, yes, that "proletarians have no country".
But then they acquire it. When? Here’s the point. The text says, immediately afterwards, as follows:
“Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.”
Now, what does Paolo-musso-nennism (1) say? That this transition occurs with the granting of democratic institutions, that is, with the bourgeois liberal revolution! In Italy in 1914 we have a parliamentary state? And how! So the proletariat has the "political domain", it is already constituted in "national class", and therefore must run to war in the service of the bourgeoisie!
A long battle against democratic interventionism, and to show that the proletariat does not have the political domain until it has destroyed that of capitalism, is finally won, with Lenin’s contributions, when it comes to make those self-described (some in good faith) Marxists, that this domination occurs when the bourgeois parliamentary state is broken by armed revolution, and the workers’ dictatorship removes the right to speak politically not only from the bourgeois, but also from their Menshevik and Paulist servants. Not before.
In 1914 only the bourgeoisies are a national class, and the war is a war of who among them dominates, united as a class, enemies as nations. Instead, the wars of the first Leninist type (1789-1871) served so that the bourgeoisies could constitute themselves as a "national class" in the various countries. This fact was for Marxism "positive". Don’t forget: in this progressive and liberating process for bourgeois purposes, Marx, Engels and Lenin emphasized a hundred times the centralization of bourgeois nation-states on the ruins of feudal partition: there too, and for a century, they opposed the petty-bourgeois, utopian, anarchist and irredentist federalisms. Marxism explains those wars dialectically, the petty-bourgeois apologize for them with their literary and philistine ideologies.
In order for economic centralization to take full effect, the political victory of the various national bourgeoisies is necessary. In feudal regimes, the bourgeoisie is not a national class: in the proper sense, under the power of the aristocracy there are no true national forms and values, on the one hand because of the local feudal autonomies, on the other hand because of the extreme narrowness of the military and bureaucratic circles, while the church is supernational.
The national and "popular" state was born with the bourgeoisie, with its claims to represent the freedom and the claims of all classes, because of the need, in the interest of its economic and social development, to "set in motion" the great masses that it must direct and exploit.
But it’s the bourgeoisie that constitutes itself as a national class, not its wage slaves, and its soldiers in the wars of liberation. Following the theory of class struggle in the sense not of "Struve-Brentano" (i.e., of what Lenin derides as liberal Marxism) but as a struggle for dictatorship, it is well that we left-communists do not forget that the terms “nation”, “the people”, “democracy”, all correspond to collaboration between social classes, i.e., to the imprisonment of the proletariat within the limits of the capitalist state. Before 1848 in Germany and 1917 in Russia it had a precise dialectical and anti-bourgeois sense to threaten the bourgeoisie, which did not know how to constitute itself as a national class, with replacing it even in this task before the last feudal barriers, by taking over the revolution and the nation. In the capitalist countries which have been socially and politically established for a long time, where the great mass of all the lower classes do not matter compared to the protagonists of the struggle (the bourgeoisie and the wage-earning proletariat), we no longer have to go towards the Nation, neither with the bourgeoisie nor against it, but only towards the International.
Therefore, in 1914, and in the following years, we convinced the flabby opportunist opposer that the war was in no way progressive, but imperialist. How do we define the character of the imperialist epoch? Can this epoch be closed, after Lenin, in order to have other wars of a progressive type? The liberals would claim this, if they still had breath left, and boast against us a scientific victory, but those who do not claim such a victory against Marx and Lenin cannot do so. The definition is in fact the following (Antikautsky, self-citing from Imperialism):
“Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.”
Between World War I and World War II, did these characteristics simply wash out, or were they instead horrifically accentuated? What then could lead the second war, an enterprise of prey across oceans and continents, to be a war of the first kind, progressive, liberating?!
The opportunist, the chauvinist of 1939-45 is ready to invoke the alibi against history. In Germany, in Italy, elsewhere, the conquered parliamentary democracy has been the object of attack, suppressed and violated. Hence the holiness of the war, since it’s in order to restore it. Phew, so the war wasn’t imperialist after all, but was one of the first kind, righteously fought by the American and British progressives and liberators!
Now, in the Leninist analysis, what did that little matter of parliament being fucked and legality being violated ever change? Certainly not the economic and social characters, as we have now seen. Historically, the bourgeoisie was and has remained a "national class"; indeed, the national-social forms and state trade-unionism have only further highlighted this concentration. The forms of oppression and policing were already fully foreseen by the Marxists, with Lenin explaining Engels’ ostensible legalism in his later life: shoot first, bourgeois gentlemen! i.e. come out of legality, we will come out in turn for armed rebellion and red dictatorship! This dialectical order was reversed by the traitors: get out of your legality, gentlemen bourgeoisie, and we, fooled fools, will all give ourselves to the fight to put it back on its feet! Precisely because between the two world wars there were the German and Italian systems, but in reality universal, of modern capitalist power, the second war was more imperialist than the first. Lenin also knew this:
“the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is violence (his italics) against the bourgeoisie; and the necessity of such violence is particularly called for, as Marx and Engels have repeatedly explained in detail (especially in The Civil War in France and in the preface to it), by the existence of militarism and a bureaucracy. But it is precisely these institutions that were non-existent in Britain and America in the seventies, when Marx made his observations (they do exist in Britain and in America now)!”
Today, o bankrupters of chronology, and a 1918 “today”; one cannot be shameless enough to invoke this and other similar cornerstones of Marxism when, in 1942, one pretended to see imperialism only in Germany and Italy, and progressivism in the West! But who nevertheless had shaken the hand of the first in 1940!!!
Nor is it enough.
“Pre-monopoly capitalism—which actually reached its zenith in the seventies—was by virtue of its fundamental economic traits, which found most typical expression in Britain and in America, distinguished by a, relatively speaking, maximum fondness for peace and freedom.”
Lenin emphasizes this, lest some idiot believes that Engels and Marx believed that this was due to psychological or ideological reasons, which would be lacking in the German "barbarian" (which he would then be of the same race). But now, christ, we have to emphasize:
“Imperialism, on the other hand, i.e., monopoly capitalism, which finally matured only in the twentieth century, is, by virtue of its fundamental economic traits, distinguished by a minimum fondness for peace and freedom, and by a maximum and universal development of militarism.”
Can the followers of Stalinism ever shake off the responsibility for four, five years of blatant propaganda endorsing Western militarism as the champion of peace and freedom? Can such a policy, completely identical to that of the bourgeois liberals and democrats, be defended without the integral rejection of the vision of the economic and political characteristics of twentieth-century capitalism as established by Lenin?
The complete identity of the war policy of the Stalinists and that of, let us say, a Churchill or a De Gaulle or an Amendola and a Roosevelt (we disown those still alive) whom we all remember, were all "anti-feudalism", all "democratic revolution", does not make that little maneuver any less impudent. Convinced that they tried to "turn back the wheel of history" by claiming a return to bourgeois democracy, a return from imperial capitalism to pre-monopolistic capitalism (a return that would be just as "reactionary" as a return from liberal capitalism to feudalism in the 19th century), now they say that they’ve instead turned it forwards, feeding into militarist propaganda to liberalism, but only in bad faith, because the real purpose was to prevent the military victory of the armies which would have invaded Russia and destroyed the first workers’ state. This was well worth a series of "masses" celebrated with the democratic ritual, which they, the Stalinists, know as well as we do to be the most nonsensical gibberish conceivable.
This recent and horrendous war, therefore, wants to be everything but capitalist imperialism. It wants to run away from its own time, to escape from its own history, to make the keys of economic determinism, which turned so well in the hands of Marx and Lenin, pass for picklocks of lost ideologists. If one doesn’t say that it was the campaign of sentimental defenders of progressive democracy, generously handing out nuclear candies, then it pretends to be the revolutionary war of the world proletariat.
This second discriminating factor of the appalling massacre involves an arduous series of historical problems. Once we finally admit the capitalist-imperialist nature of the war, in which the defeated states of Berlin and Tokyo are characterized in an essentially Leninist way, above the racial and literary ones, as the same as the victors of London and Washington, who are finally called fascists in the newspapers which have the good luck of being printed a thousand times more than this one (we don’t know how to insult them worse than with the adjective bourgeois), it remains to classify the State and military power of Moscow.
It remains to reconstruct the position of the regimes of the victorious proletariat in the face of military attacks, in the historical examples which are at our disposal. The relationship between the Paris Commune and the Prussian army, while the civil war lasted, is a first example. Then, the history of the Russian Revolution. Immediately after February 1917, in Russia and outside, opportunism wants to leverage the fall of tsarism to transform despotic war into democratic war, and the slogan of “revolutionary national defense” is created. Lenin arrives with his historic April Theses, and the directive to end the war. Kautsky accuses him: the Mensheviks wanted the efficiency of the army and the Bolsheviks its disorganization. Lenin retorts:
“An imperialist war does not cease to be imperialist when charlatans or phrase-mongers or petty-bourgeois philistines put forward sentimental “slogans”, but only when the class which is conducting the imperialist war, and is bound to it by millions of economic threads (and even ropes), is really overthrown and is replaced at the helm of state by the really revolutionary class, the proletariat. There is no other way of getting out of an imperialist war, as also out of an imperialist predatory peace”. His italics, as usual.
The proletariat won, and had the red army, and waged war. But the 1918-1920 wars in Russia were revolutionary because they were waged against the two camps of bourgeois imperialism, the Entente and the Germans, even as they warred with each other.
From the polemic with Kautsky came the extreme centrist shame. The extreme right-wing social democracy joined, in France, that the cause of the Entente was progressive; in the German countries, for the same reason, that of the Empires. Kautsky, even more Jesuitical, found it right that everywhere the proletariat supported its own nation in the war. The Russian Revolution, on the other hand, fought at the same time against two world powers, chose none, and won.
What a revolution, which in a period of twenty years, has gone from the policy of admitting the deployment of the forces of the State and the "proletarian" parties first with one, then with the other imperialist counter-revolutionary camp!
Classic, tormented shadow of the renegade Kautsky! Greeting with a clenched fist!