On the Thread of Time
Revolutionary Proletarian War
(from Battaglia Comunista, issue 12 of 1950)
The bourgeois revolutions were followed by a historical period of bourgeois “revolutionary wars”. Within each nation, within the borders of each State, the bourgeois revolution came from a class struggle and took the violent form of class warfare, of civil war, between men of the same country and the same language, who fought because they belonged to opposite social classes and for the conquest of power. But it is clear that, speaking of revolutionary bourgeois wars, here we are talking about real wars between armies of different States, each consolidated in power in its country.
Marxism has thoroughly treated the historical period of these wars in its complex aspects. Through it, the transition from feudal power and regimes to general capitalist political domination is completed in the world picture. But this cannot be reduced to the simplistic schemes dear to literati. Country A, by overthrowing feudal despotism, has made the great democratic and liberal (bourgeois, we Marxists say) revolution. In country B, the liberals, the patriots, are still groaning under the yoke of absolutism: A forms an army and goes to liberate them. Or: in B, the feudal regime sees this evil parade, and not only represses the movement of its internal revolutionaries, but leads an expedition to crush the revolution in A, as to be safer... The twists and turns of history have been much more complex than this. The same phase of imperialist wars characteristic of the present century originated with the great commercial wars of the eighteenth century, which were intermingled with the national wars: all of them “progressive” because they served the spread of capitalism, for which all literary positions are good: from corsair piracy to redemption crusades. The first bourgeois revolution is the British one, but it never gave itself to wars of liberation, but to wars of dominance, and even against France, which follows it in social transformation. The very victories of the feudal coalitions and of the Holy Alliances, and the ephemeral monarchical and aristocratic restorations, fit into the framework of the spread of capitalism in Europe and beyond; just as the invasions of the nomadic peoples in the Empire of Rome accelerated the formation of stable States and the landed economy. It is above all the great armies setbacks that break the knots of the old social and State organisms and open new and revolutionary opportunities.
This whole complex period, which Lenin sets between the dates 1792-1871, with its historical ebbs and flows, presents us with the historically closed set of “progressive bourgeois and national” wars, to which Marxists working in the twentieth century no longer have any historical debt to pay, after the rivers of proletarian blood they cost, from the Bastille to the Winter Palace.
Since the first international congresses of the present century, the war between capitalist States has been seen by Marxists no longer as a phase of development which must be carried out with the support of socialists, wherever that may be, but as a “chance to overthrow bourgeois power through the social war of classes”.
This concept and this commitment, betrayed on so many sides, was hammered time and time again by Lenin as to put it back on its feet, and with him all Left Marxism.
The war is entirely imperialist; it has no progressive sides and aspects; we must preach for the proletarian sabotage “behind the front” in all States. The most powerful defense of this historical thesis, welded to the most victorious example, comes from the only country that really still needed a progressive blaze. The defeatism of the Tsarist Russian war does not lead to blessing the war of the bourgeois States against Russia, on the part of the proletarian party, any more than it would have led to it if the enemy had been not Japan (1905) or Germany (1914), but democratic England, as it almost was the case in 1912.
From the very first day of the war Lenin aimed at overthrowing Petrograd, a result not only of his revolutionary doctrine but also of the living history of only three years later. He did not point a finger at the flag of the armies marching against the Russian army, but day by day, from the first to the last, in the dialectic of the same battle, he beat the hammer on the skulls of the pro-war socialists, whether they supported the Franco-English armies allied with the Tsar or the German armies which were his enemies.
Therefore, from the very part of the modern world from which could come the request and the exception to obtain a further delay, in order to throw itself on the progressive- bourgeois and democratic task of the war which had to liquidate the last feudal absolutist monarchy, comes the word of the historical end of the wars of progress and liberation, of the general imperialist war, to be converted everywhere into a proletarian war.
Therefore, the first world war did not succeed in being a “revolutionary war” in the historical sense of the bourgeois revolution, with the last motive it could find, the anti-Russian one, which was indeed rather less dirty than the anti-German argument.
In a few months the situation transformed, and in Moscow a democratic-bourgeois regime was followed by a proletarian one, while the World War raged on. It was clear that the changed historical character of the war would be invoked from many sides. Attempts were made to present it as a bourgeois revolutionary war; and shortly afterwards history posed the problem of the war “waged by a victorious proletarian state”, a war not excluded in principle by non-Fabian and non-pacifist Marxists, a war deliberately hypothesized by Lenin in 1915, in condemning to shame the misrepresentation of the character of capitalist war made by social patriots in the various countries of Europe.
When the first news of February 1917 arrived, and it became known that the revolution was flaring up from Moscow and Leningrad to the whole of Russia, the “experts” in politics, ever present in all times and holding the same fetid style, smiled condescendingly. Work of the British and French embassies! Did you not understand that the Czar with his reactionary nobility and his fierce police were preparing to betray our great war of freedom? To pass over to the side of the two similar despots of Vienna and Berlin? London and Paris provided in time to regain control of the situation, of the Russian army! All explained, in 1917, for those who every month have a new political formula, and who in 1914 ran, breeches in hand, to pray to the icons that the Czar’s army, by forcing the Germans to reverse the front to save threatened Berlin, would allow the desperate defense of the bulwark of all democratic fistulas, the Ville Lumière....
Not a few among the Italian Socialists, who had been restrained with our proud work of the bridle and sometimes with the whip from deviating from the anti-war line, attempted the diversion: the war has changed character! Two great historical facts: on one side of the Entente there is the free (?!) America, on the other side there is now a modern, civil, parliamentary Russia: the war is now fully aimed at the defeat of two reactionary empires: how can we not join it? While we revolutionary socialists in the West could do little more than sharply oppose these insidious manouvers with Cambronne’s motto, inspired above all by the decades-long esteem in which we held both the prospering democracy in America and the whimpering one in Muscovy, Lenin landed in Russia in April 1917. He disembarked from the German wagon, and the same experts sentenced: here is the countermove! Berlin cleverly mobilizes the extremist Lenin, with his emigrated Bolsheviks, to fool London, which has mobilized the moderates Lvov and Kerensky: the German legation in Bern has made a pact that will free Ludendorff’s General Staff from an enemy army. But Ludendorff wasn’t the one who had the last laugh, and neither were the experts.
Lenin. 1917 April Theses. A military stage of the World Revolution; one of its lapidary documents.
Thesis one: “under the new [provisional] government of Lvov and Co. the war unquestionably remains on Russia’s part a predatory imperialist war... and not the slightest concession to “revolutionary defencism” is permissible”. Take it and run. Almost everyone in the Bolshevik party, while opposing the policies of the bourgeois, populist, Menshevik parties, fell for the lie of national defense. In the theses Lenin – other than party democracy – alone or almost against everyone in the Central Committee itself, calmly, quietly, reverses a historical series of essential points. No Parliamentary Republic, but Republic of Workers’ Councils. In the countryside, center of gravity on the Soviets of workers. (In Russia, unfortunately, there were statistically few rural owners, and they had to yield in part to the Social Revolutionaries and the soviets of the small peasant owners: another issue). Change of the name of the party (to Communist), and of the program on these points: imperialism – the State question. Revival of a revolutionary International.
One of the great shocks of the historical underground. The masses, the militants, the same formally regular hierarchical organ of the party, see and follow with a delay. Not by miracle or magic, the head of one has formulated clearly, on the purest line of the class party. Many others have “voted” backwards; no matter, now they crinkle their eyes, and say firmly: it is so. Dishwashers of representative democracy: this is our mechanism.
But in these theses – let’s note, that they are for this point is not just programmatic, but also polemical and propagandistic, in our sense and not in that of the flunkies, since Lenin recommends: care patience and perseverance in enlightening the masses on this error of war “only as a necessity, and not as a means of conquest” – Lenin sets the conditions for the “consent” of the proletariat to a war “which would really justify revolutionary defencism”. These are: (a) that the power pass to the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants; (b) that all annexations be renounced in deed and not in word; (c) that a complete break be effected in actual fact with all capitalist interests (i.e., of internal and foreign capital).
Since the regime we have in Russia in April 1917 does not meet these conditions, the policy of the Bolshevik Party in the war will be: the widest possible agitation for these views in the fighting army. Fraternization (in the trenches, between the Russian and German proletarian soldiers, to sabotage both enemy war disciplines). The program, if the proletariat comes to power: “Suppression of the police, the army and the body of officials”.
Having thus done justice to the thesis that the war of the Entente after February 1917, by having Wilson and Kerensky in its ranks, had become, from a dirty imperialist war, a “just” war of progress, we can go further. The Russian proletariat and Lenin’s party went further. By implementing the “theses” point by point, they took power, eliminated the parliamentary republic, suppressed the police, the army and the czarist-bourgeois bureaucracy. This happened in October-November 1917, but the world war lasted one more year, and was also brought against the new Russian revolutionary State, Soviet and Bolshevik. What were the lessons of this historic experience? Did the imperialist war, whose mask of a “bourgeois revolutionary” war was irreparably torn off by Lenin, turn into a “proletarian revolutionary” war? What examples of such wars has the history of the international workers’ movement given?
We will go back a bit, to the exit of the period, so often mentioned, of the national wars. The Paris Commune, born in the “débâcle” of Bonaparte’s army and in the national catastrophe, born by wresting power from the Ckheidze, the Tsereteli of that time, who however were not warriors but “capitulards” found itself between two enemy forces: the French army of Versailles at the service of the bourgeoisie, the Prussian army, just beyond the forts of Paris, almost reaching an armistice. It had to be said: we didn’t want the Bonapartist war, we didn’t want the capitulation of Thiers and the republican bourgeoisie either: will we, the communard proletarians, make the revolutionary war to drive Moltke’s divisions out of French soil? Marx alluded to this question.
Thiers’ government tried to get Bismarck to take upon himself the military conquest of Paris and the direct repression of the insurrection multiple times. For his own ends, Bismarck did not believe in doing so, but placed among the conditions of peace and the withdrawal of the occupying troops the “pacification” of Paris. The bourgeois republic was forced to do this dirty deed with its own hands. The communard prisoners who fell into the hands of the Versaillais were immediately massacred; someone who managed to cross the double line of the military outposts was captured by the Prussians, but spared. Unforgettable pages for their revolutionary force are those in which Marx defends the reprisals of the communards, with the shooting of 64 hostages including the archbishop, and the burning of the bourgeois palaces of the boulevards, while the cannons of Thiers demolished the workers’ houses. The Prussians watched impassively. Marx brands them with shame. “There existed no war between Prussia and the Commune of Paris. On the contrary, the Commune had accepted the peace preliminaries, and Prussia had announced her neutrality. Prussia was, therefore, no belligerent. She acted the part of a bravo, a cowardly bravo, because incurring no danger; a hired bravo, because stipulating beforehand the payment of her blood-money of 500 millions on the fall of Paris”. Referencing these historical facts, Marx then came to two conclusions: the outlet of the proletarian insurrection could not be a war of a communard France against the Prussian army, nor should the Commune proclaim it – the outlet had to come out of the social war without quarter between the bourgeois of Versailles and the proletarian insurrectionaries of Paris; these fell, because all the governments of the bourgeoisie of all flags allied themselves in the counter-revolution: and always, since then, when the red menace rises, this has happened and will happen.
The great question for the working class of the world today, about the next possible general war, is (above all the hypocritical crusades to “prevent” it, mounted by all the forces that are preparing for it) whether the possibility of transforming it into a class war will arise; or whether we will have to listen to someone who will say, once it breaks out: I did everything to prevent it, now I must fight it as a “holy war”; come and fight it with me! Those who will speak in the name of the sanctity of a cause of democratically regulated, “free countries”, against those where “dictatorship” and “totalitarianism” rage, will play as a formidable “trump card” the effect of all the corruption suffered by the proletarian forces at the hands of the still hot anti-German and national-liberation crusade, of all the repulsive orgy of democratic and resistance preaching, in which Stalinism led the bowls of the bourgeois vomitorium.
The other few, who will preach the revolutionary sanctity of the defense of Russia, will claim in vain to be in the Leninist conditions of revolutionary national defense.
Against this nationalism and militarism with revolutionary pretensions, an evaluation of all the military situations connected with Russia must be made, both in the year remembered between the Bolshevik victory and the end of the war in 1918, and afterwards.
The answer of the Marxist dialectic is this: it may be that, in appearance, the next war sees against the Russian State a general coalition, and therefore it is much less evident than in the Second World War the transgression of the “rupture”, desired by the April Theses, with all the interests of Capital. But if today’s Russia were a proletarian power, it would not have been able, in the Second World War, to ally itself strictly and decisively with the interests of English and American capital, which for two centuries now have not diverged one line from the interests of world capitalism and of counter-revolution.