The Problem of War
(From Prometeo, n. 83, 1st January 1933)
Towards the New Sacred Union
(From Prometeo, n. 108, August 1934)
For the Archives of the Left we present two articles: the first, titled “The Problem of War”, appeared in “Prometeo” in January 1933; the second is a 1919 leaflet by Karl Liebknecht, republished here, with a clear and comprehensive foreword, by our Fraction in August 1934.
The two articles, one written in the aftermath of the end of World War I, the other on the eve of World War II, are united by the same revolutionary concern: that of saving the proletariat from joining the “Sacred Union” with its own national bourgeoisie, the main tasks entrusted by the class enemy to traitors, old and new, of the working class.
The Marxist, dialectical, catastrophic, revolutionary doctrine rejects the possibility of a peaceful and painless transition from the present class-divided society to socialism; this doctrine of catastrophe has been, in the course of various counterrevolutionary waves, polluted by bourgeois notions that the capitalist mode of production might be susceptible to an evolution that would take into account social demands and adapt to the expectations of the working-class masses.
It is natural that this second notion is not the result of political naivete, but, on the contrary, it’s an intelligent work of bourgeois “entryism” in the proletarian ranks in order to transform that body which had come up to accomplish the overthrow of the capitalist regime and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship into a coefficient of bourgeois balance and conservation.
Consequently, the main necessity for the revolutionary communist party becomes that of conducting, in the doctrinaire field, a radical battle against all kinds of democratic and petit-bourgeois ideology and, by the same token, declaring the irreconcilable antithesis between the proletariat, the bearer of a new doctrine, new systems and new institutions, against the whole democratic mechanism proper to the capitalist system.
All these concepts are found enunciated in Liebknecht’s vigorous article, the same ones that inspired the writing of “Prometeo”. The article took its cue from the Peace Congress held in Amsterdam on the initiative of the petit-bourgeois pacifists and intellectuals Barbusse and Romain Roland. He was placed in the chair “of the non‑sodden gathering the former pipist deputy Miglioli, an emeritus acrobat in keeping his feet in two stirrups and putting both hands in two purses, that of the Comintern and that of the Diocese, if the former runs dry” (Prometheus, 9/18/1932).
The colorful outline of the Congress included other prominent figures among whom stood out the Stalinist Munzenberg (former revolutionary, former international youth leader, former left‑wing internationalist); the right‑wing Indian nationalist Patel; General Baron Schoenaich; professional men of letters and politicians, some sporting the ribbon of the Legion of Honor in their buttonhole. The Moscow-inspired press, although it used different words, confirmed that the composition of those attending was exactly as we have described it: there were delegates from the “honest” intellectuals opposed to the war, the bourgeois and pacifist elements disgusted with “the hypocrisy of the pacifism of the League of Nations”, representatives of the “revolutionary nationalist” movements, those accredited by the Second International and those of the Third. The conference ended with a document of purely sentimental aversion to war that was unanimously approved, including by the anarchists.
The Communist Left has always been very clear that it is not a question of drawing a furrow between the proponents and opponents of war, for among the enemies of war one must well distinguish (and here, yes, draw a clear separation!) those who wish war not to happen because it would upset their reformist, pacifist, Christian, humanitarian schemes; from those who, on the contrary, stand against war because they oppose it with the war waged between classes for the conquest of political power.
Having made this distinction, knowing how many are on our side and how many in the opposite takes on secondary importance compared to maintaining, with stubborn consistency, our theses. And it is for this reason that the Prometeo article concluded with the following statement: "Our Fraction, at the cost of remaining isolated, of appearing to be a mere sect, maintains and will maintain on the terrain of the struggle against the war the implacable revolutionary intransigence against everything and everyone because it is convinced that only in this way does it contribute presently to the reconstruction of the proletarian front against the capitalist monster and is convinced that revolutionaries will not be long in realizing the rightness of these positions, which are an indispensable basis for a real and effective strengthening of the revolutionary struggle”.
The problem of war, for the Left Fractions, takes on a special importance and we thus have an obligation, a duty, to specify the fundamental character of war and the methods and possibilities for fighting against it.
As disciples of Marx and Lenin, we consider that war is a chronic disease of the capitalist regime. In fact, the natural evolution of Capital, having monopolized all the internal resources of the States, in order not to slow down the march for the accumulation of “profit” is led to go outside national frontiers to seek new sources, new possibilities with the conquest of new markets, not hesitating to break all obstacles in its path.
Just as within capitalist States the blood of wage earners must serve the accumulation of capitalist profit, in wars the same blood must serve the maintenance and conquest of new markets.
The fact that in the imperialist period the whole world is divided into spheres of influence or domination by the different capitalist States, all subject to the same needs, the same necessities, they’re led to try to violently change these “spheres of influence” by means of arms. Within the States, the contradictions between what the means of production allow and the needs of the entire population create misery, hunger, unemployment and form the preconditions for the triumph of the proletarian revolution. War is an infamous and illusory attempt to restore the broken balance, with blood, hunger and misery.
Having established this criterion, which is fundamental for us, defined by Lenin as the period “of wars and revolutions”, that war, like hunger and unemployment, are the product and consequence of the capitalist regime, it becomes clear that for us, for the proletarian class, that the only way to fight effectively against war is to intensify the class struggle, the struggle against the capitalist regime.
Only the triumph of the proletarian revolution can mean the abolition of war, as it will mean an end to the exploitation of man by man.
With these general considerations, the problem of the anti‑war struggle becomes more precise and the task of revolutionaries appears clear and glaring: to place themselves at the exclusive service of the working class, to strengthen the instruments of struggle it possesses, on the directive of defending the integral interests of the proletarian class.
Having thus resolved the general problem of the struggle against the war, it remains to specify the simplest way in which our Fraction conceives, on the basis of the above lines, the actual struggle against the war. Through this clarification one can easily understand the reasons for our hostility to the Amsterdam Congress.
It is well known that for communists the fundamental classes of capitalist society are two: proletariat and bourgeoisie; there are middle strata which we guard against neglecting and underestimating, but already the Communist Manifesto of 1848 and all the acquired experience of proletarian struggles, teach us that these strata tend between the two extreme poles, either toward the proletariat or toward the bourgeoisie depending on whether the latter or the proletariat appears stronger and more resolute in the struggles and class battles.
While the bourgeoisie owes its strength to the power it holds in its hands, to the administrations, police forces, monopoly of the press, divided into a multitude of parties ostensibly fighting each other, the proletarian class owes its power to the trade union organizations for the defense of its immediate interests and its chances of victory to its vanguard – the communist parties – which educate it, direct it in the correct revolutionary line in the battles toward the conquest of power.
It is clear from this premise – having already established that war is the child of the capitalist regime, the struggle against it must take on the character of a struggle against the regime itself, and not an apparent protest in the name of some abstract humanity or an interclass morality that have no basis in the inexorable logic of the class struggle, which is not periodic but permanent with more or less acute phases – that the struggle against the capitalist regime can only be conducted by the proletarian vanguard: by the communist parties.
It is therefore up to the communist parties to take over the leadership of an anti‑war agitation.
The Communist International has the task and duty of promoting an international congress with the “problem of war” on its agenda.
Such an approach, besides rallying the proletarians of the whole world, if done seriously, would not fail to move large strata of the middle classes to the proletarian side, on its methods, for its goals.
If then the communist parties, through the powerful leverage of their trade union fractions, would exert serious and continuous pressure within the trade union organizations, raising the need for trade union unity, and while waiting for it to be imposed by events, would agitate in the core of the proletarian class the necessity of the united front among the various trade union centers for the defense of the immediate interests of the working masses – within which the struggle against the war and the defense of the victims of proletarian struggles imprisoned in capitalist jails, particularly in Mussolini’s jails – we would witness a mighty regrouping of revolutionary forces which could not only prevent the war, but would create favorable conditions for the destruction of the germ that causes the war in the first place: the capitalist regime.
Are we on this path with the Amsterdam Congress? Are we actually following in its footsteps? No, between the anti‑war struggle conceived according to the Amsterdam initiators and the communist, Leninist, let us say the word, conception, there is an unbridgeable gulf.
Under the pretext of the “united front from bellow”, the Amsterdam Congress was organized “above the parties”. To comply with this clause the Communist parties, as such, were absent, and they allowed the rank-and-file organizations to participate not to sabotage as Lenin had taught us at the Hague Congress, but to help the Congress, from which can be deduced an abdication of the proletarian vanguard in the face of a problem of such great importance as that of war, and in the most favorable, but no less dangerous hypothesis, a glimpse is left for the masses to fight against the war on different grounds than communist interpretation, i.e. other than the degree of the experience of the last war and particularly the triumph of the October Revolution.
One is against the united front among the trade union centers, under the pretext that the reformist leaders are at this point part of the bourgeois State and that they are social-fascists, but in Amsterdam one is united front with the German generals, with bourgeois deputies like Bergery, with Italian careerists like Miglioli, with the Indian nationalist bourgeoisie (Patel), etc.
Isn’t it characteristic that Racamond, secretary of the CGTU finds it incompatible to be confused with Jouhaux, secretary of the CGT and instead finds himself speaking at public rallies alongside a Herriottist deputy by the skin of his teeth, like Bergery, on the basis of working together against the war?
Meanwhile under the cover of this hybrid embrace, one forgets the real work against the war, the work for the strengthening of trade union organizations and the revolutionary vanguard, indeed one allows these petty-bourgeois literati like Barbusse and co to sneak into the midst of proletarian organizations by taking the initiative in congresses, trade union conferences, etc.
Is it possible that abdication, misunderstanding can go so far without the revolutionaries, the rank-and-file militants of the communist parties realizing that they are marching headlong toward catastrophe, toward the annihilation of the revolutionary forces?
In the anti‑war struggle, revolutionary intransigence is the trial by fire of revolutionary militants: Lenin reminded us of this when he wrote about the anti‑war congress to be held in the Hague in 1922: “It seems to me that if we will have a few people who are able to make speech, es against war in various languages at the Hague Conference, then our most important job will be to refute the idea that those participating in the conference are real opponents of war, that they understand how war may and can burst upon them at the most unexpected moment, that they have the least comprehension of the means of combating war, or that they are in any way capable of undertaking an intelligent and effective course in combating war.”.
Ten years have passed since Lenin gave these directives and today we find ourselves with the exact same task, except those who were supposed to go to the congress for a speech, in Lenin’s spirit, meant to expose this sort of cheap petit-bourgeois pacifism instead find themselves promoting the penetration of bourgeois ideology into the very heart of the proletarian class.
Our Fraction, at the cost of remaining isolated, of appearing to be a mere sect, maintains and will maintain on the terrain of the struggle against the war the implacable revolutionary intransigence against everything and everyone because it is convinced that only in this way does it contribute presently to the reconstruction of the proletarian front against the capitalist monster and is convinced that revolutionaries will not be long in realizing the rightness of these positions, which are an indispensable basis for a real and effective strengthening of the revolutionary struggle.
«It’s not possible to exchange a fraternal handshake with social-traitors. We mustn’t unite with them, but rather fight them!» (Karl Liebknecht, 1919)
We reproduce below an article by Karl Liebknecht where he deals in a precise and concise manner with the problem of workers’ unity which even then was the topic of the most outrageous speculation of every sort by all opportunists. Even then, while the masses were waking up from the stupor into which the last carnage had plunged them, the social-patriots and the social-pacifists tended under the mask of unity to prevent the development of the revolutionary movement in order to impose by corruption and violence the maintenance of order and social peace.
Even then Liebknecht and the small group of Spartacists were already raising the cry of alarm against such maneuvering and in one lapidary sentence symbolized the independent nature of the class party of the proletariat.
“Unity with traitors means defeat”, Liebknecht asserted even then. And this statement had no contingent value, but it expressed the imperious need for the proletariat to forge its class party on the basis of the principles of Marxism, the only condition that can lead the working masses to victory.
Today, after 15 years of struggle, after the formation of communist parties and the Communist International, after the revolutionary movements victorious as in Russia, or defeated, as in countless other countries, after the political current which had openly gone into the camp of traitors in 1914 by making a bloc with the respective imperialisms has revealed itself during the workers’ insurrections as the accredited executioner of capitalism, today the uniform of this unity waved then by the Dittmanns and Noskes is taken up by Stalinism and all the currents gravitating around it, and presented as the only lifeline in the face of the dangers of the coming war.
In fact, the motives behind the failure and liquidation of the communist parties cannot be sought in the alleged unitary instinct of the exploited masses but rather in the repeated defeats of the world proletariat in this last decade. It is precisely these defeats that have brought about a kind of panic in the masses logically leading to a progressive shrinking of political visibility, thus making them believe that the reasons for these defeats could only derive from a split in the workers’ ranks, and that, consequently, as a first stage it was urgent to move on to the reconstitution of the united party of the proletariat. It is inevitable that in the stages of decomposition of the workers’ movement the most regressive instincts will take over, as this also occurred moreover in 1914, but the task of the communists does not consist in going along with these retrograde parts of the masses, but rightly in marching against the current, in order to safeguard the ideological heritage of the communist vanguard, thus raising to the height of this historical task the most advanced strata of the proletariat.
It is in Lenin’s footsteps that even today the working masses can find their way again, and these footsteps indicate precisely that it is not in confusing revolutionaries with traitors that weapons for the proletarian revolution (the only means that can prevent the coming war) can be forged, but in the fiercest struggle against them and against all those conciliatory currents that stifle the current environment by advocating their “contingent” adaptation.
The centrism which had taken its strength and body from the proletarian defeats and had developed at the same rate that the proletariat regressed, today as this process approaches its end, openly assumes the character inherent in its nature by openly proclaiming the liquidation of the parties and thus abandoning the ideological heritage which is the fruit of so many years of struggle and experience of the proletarian class.
Against these liquidatory and openly counter-revolutionary forces rise up the scattered groups of the Left Fraction to whom falls the task of preserving the banner of the revolution intact, marching even against the prevailing moods of the masses, but which allows, in spite of everything, to defend the historical interests of the whole class and thus to establish the indispensable premises of the inevitable victory of tomorrow.
This was the way of Lenin and Liebknecht, this was the way of the scattered Bolshevik groups during the war and of the Spartacists, we will follow it because only it and it alone can lead toward victory.
To the priests of unity, to the promoters of the pogroms against the heretics of the new “Sacred Union” that is being reconstituted in view of the inter-imperialist war, the revolutionaries, the communists, hereby declare the most implacable war to unmask them once and for all from the hypocritical and demagogic phraseology that still covers their faces.
To the unity of demagoguery, phraseology and betrayal, let us oppose the regrouping, the strengthening of the Left Fractions, to which comes the task as of today of keeping the banner of communism intact.
* * *
Karl Liebknecht, 1919
“I do not know any more parties, I only know Germans”. This false word marks the beginning of the world war.
The confusing watchword of the sacred union of all classes had darkened the brains in all peoples, immersing even broad strata of the proletariat in patriotic intoxication, full of enthusiastic rage, full of bellicose fury and deadly madness.
The consciousness of the proletarian class found itself swept away like a weak dam by the storm tide. Now, only the class struggle of the proletariat against imperialism could have spared the world that horrible massacre. Surrendering the popular masses to the clutches of the blood drinkers, the sacred union was nothing but mass murder, the misery of millions of beings, the devastation of culture, madness and hell. The chauvinist politicians and the social peace apostles of social-democracy were the most fiery and the most cynical propagandists of mutual slaughter among peoples.
As for those who raised voices of warning and accusation against the bad shepherds of the proletariat, they were treated as party-wreckers, bad citizens and persecuted as traitors to the fatherland.
“We no longer know of parties in socialism, we only know socialists”, such is the word that resounds everywhere now that the power of the World War is shattered. The banner of a new social peace is hoisted; a new fanatical hatred is sown against all who oppose this new fury of unity. And this time again, it is the Scheidemanns and co who shout the loudest.
They find a docile echo particularly among the soldiers. This is not surprising. A large portion of these are not proletarians, and the state of siege, censorship, and the beating into their skulls have limited their outlook.
The mass of soldiers takes a revolutionary attitude in the face of militarism, war and the openly declared representatives of imperialism; but in the face of socialism, this mass is still indecisive, due to the ambiguity of an as-of-speaking unclear position. A large part of the proletarian soldiers, as well as the workers, believe the revolution is over; now, it would only be a question for these to realize peace and demobilization. They wish for rest after so much toil and suffering.
They do not perceive that the “revolution” that has been made, one may say, under government tolerance, is nothing but the collapse of the autocratic forms, left on behalf of the “Mad Year” (1914), that this is nothing but the completion of the bourgeois revolution. They forget that political power will only remain in the hands of the proletariat to the extent that the proletariat knows how to use it to bring its historical task to a successful conclusion: the abolition of all class economic privilege. They must equally understand that all other problems posed by the war, mobilization and economic reconstruction can no longer be solved unless the proletariat continues toward its final goal with a determined and firm march. The problem of social revolution contains and summarizes all this.
The problem of unity likewise is but a secondary aspect.
Unity? Who’d favor and work for it more than us!
The sort unity that makes the proletariat strong because it accompanies its historical mission! But not all unity strengthens our ranks. The unity between fire and water only extinguishes one and vaporizes the other. Unity between the lamb and the wolf abandons the lamb to the wolf’s mercy. Unity between the working class and the bourgeoisie sacrifices the working class. Unity with traitors means defeat.
Only forces oriented in the same direction find themselves strengthened by unity. Forces acting in the opposite direction are shackled and paralyzed with unity.
To unite kindred forces, such is our task. To unite antagonistic forces together in such a way as to prevent and divert the explosion of subversive forces in society, such is the task of the present apostles of unity, as was the task of the preachers of sacred union during the war.
Our criterion is action. Acting together supposes a commonality of path and destination. Anyone who agrees with us in the goal and method of immediate action is welcome among us as a comrade in arms. Solidarity, union in spirit, feeling, will and action – that is the only real unity.
Unity in words is but an illusion, self‑deception and disillusionment.
They, the priests of unity, aim only to end the revolution before it even begins. They only aim at pushing the movement into the channels of conciliation in order to preserve capitalist society. They only aim to deprive the workers of all power by strengthening the State, the product and arbiter of class contradictions. They want to maintain the economic domination of one class, while we remain as if in a drugged stupor by phrases about unity. They attacked us because we obstruct their design, because their interests are opposed to ours, as to any honest and true emancipation of the working class, which is only achievable by universal social revolution.
Can we be united with those who are nothing but the armored defenders of the crumbling regime’s “socialism”?
Can we unite with those without associating and sacrificing ourselves to their plans? Can we unite with them? Must we do so?
Such a union would be a crime against the proletariat. To unite with them would mean abandoning socialism and the Workers’ International.
It’s not possible to exchange a fraternal handshake with social-raitors. We mustn’t unite with them, but rather fight them.
The working masses alone are the executors of the social revolution. A clear class consciousness, a clear understanding of their historical mission, a clear will to go through with decisive action inspired by these concepts: such are the qualities without which the workers can never complete their mission. Destruction of all mystifications of unity in words, unmasking of all half‑truths and all self‑interested apostles, unmasking of all false friends of the working class: such is the first commandment of the workers’ struggle today more than ever. Only with intrepid criticism can a clear view develop, only with a clear view is the unity of thought and purpose, of designs and understanding realized; and it is from this unity alone that workers can draw the strength to create a new social order.