MCG top-pageEnglish homepageE-mail


Lenin's gOwn Wordsh(Part Five: Theories of the State, Nation and War)

17. Imperialist War and Opportunism

"War is the Continuation of Policy by Other Means"

geThe philistine does not realize that war is gthe continuation of policy [politics],f and consequently limits himself to the formula that ethe enemy has attacked us,f ethe enemy has invaded my country,f without stopping to think what issues are at stake in the war, which classes are waging it, and with what political objects.h (gA Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism,h Collected Works Vol. 23, p. 33)

gWar is the continuation of policyh is the famous definition of war by Clausewitz (a Prussian General of the early 19th century). According to Lenin this is the essence of war. Since war is the continuation of politics prior to the war, if the politics are imperialistic, the defense of the interests of capital, and the oppression of colonies and other countries, the war as the extension of these policies is the capitalistsf imperialistic war. The First [imperialistic] World War, was the continuation of decades of politics of the bourgeoisie and landowners, and was the inevitable outcome of their policies. On the other hand, struggles of national liberation are the continuation, by different means, of the political struggles of the masses against national oppression. This thesis calls on Marxists to examine each individual war historically and concretely. Marxists have nothing in common with pacifists who reject war in general, and instead defend wars that are progressive, historically speaking.

Imperialist War and Opportunism

gThe opportunists have wrecked the decisions of the Stuttgart Copenhagen and Basle congresses, which made it binding on socialists of all countries to combat chauvinism in all and any conditions, made it binding on socialists to reply to any war begun by the bourgeoisie and governments, with intensified propaganda of civil war and social revolution. The collapse of the Second International is the collapse of opportunism, which developed from the features of a now bygone (and so-called epeacefulf) period of history, and in recent years has some practically to dominate the International.

The opportunist have long been preparing the ground for this collapse by denying the socialist revolution and substituting bourgeois reformism in its stead; by rejecting the class struggle with its inevitable conversion at certain moments into civil war, and by preaching class collaboration; by preaching bourgeois chauvinism under the guise of patriotism and the defense of the fatherland, and ignoring or rejecting the fundamental truth of socialism, long ago set forth in the Communist Manifesto, that the workingmen have no country; by confining themselves, in the struggle against militarism, to a sentimental, philistine point of view, instead of recognizing the need for a revolutionary war by the proletarians of all countries,  against the bourgeoisie of all countries; by making a fetish of the necessary utilisation of bourgeois parliamentarianism and bourgeois legality, and forgetting that illegal forms of organization and propaganda are imperative at times of crises. The natural eappendagef to opportunism?one that is just as bourgeois and hostile to the proletarian, i.e., the Marxist, point of view?namely, the anarcho-syndicalist trend, has been marked by a no less shamefully smug reiteration of the slogans of chauvinism, during the present crisis. (gWar and Russian Social Democracy,h Collected Works Vol. 21 pp. 31-2)

These lines were written by Lenin just after the outbreak of war, and convey a strong sense of outrage. When the First World War began, at this most critical moment of world history, the leaders of the Second International betrayed the standpoint of socialism, voted in favor of military expenditures (only one or two parties besides the Russian Social-Democratic Party opposed this!), repeated patriotic, nationalistic slogans about the defense of the fatherland, justified an imperialistic war, and entered the cabinets of the bourgeois governments that were waging the war. When Lenin, who was in at the outbreak of the war, heard of the betrayal of the German Social-Democratic Party he thought that it was the work of propaganda by German counterintelligence. But when Lenin realized that the overwhelming majority of the German Social-Democratic Party, with the exception of a small minority of revolutionaries that included Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, had openly gone over to the side of the ruling class and were supporting an imperialist war his bewilderment and anger must have been intense. Lenin declared that the Second International is dead and should be cast aside like a soiled shirt, and he was determined to organize a new revolutionary communist international.

The betrayal carried out by the opportunists at the critical moment was no accident, but rather the inevitable outcome of their opportunistic politics up to that time. Setting aside their rhetoric, in practice they had replaced the struggle for social revolution with reformism and had been consistently tailing after and combining with the bourgeoisie. For them to suddenly awaken to the revolutionary standpoint of the proletariat at the moment of crisis, although possible in individual cases, could not have occurred on the whole. In place of proletarian internationalism, the opportunists advocated nationalism and xenophobia, encouraging the proletariat to murder each other.

Another characteristic of the outbreak of the First World War was the striking gconversionh of radicals (i.e. syndicalists), who even more than opportunists nakedly and shamelessly embraced xenophobia. The Frenchman Gustave Herve, who at a international congress of the International had formerly made a radical speech calling for ga general strike to be waged against war,h himself became the most extreme xenophobe after the outbreak of the war. This was no accident. The striking conversion of the radicals was the inevitable outcome of their essence as an amalgam of idealism and opportunism (this characteristic also appears typically in todayfs radicals). Despite the dozens of gproletarian partiesh of all shades in each country, the only one to truly uphold the socialist principles and internationalist standpoint of the proletariat was the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin and a minority of internationalist elements in other countries. It was therefore natural that they would appear as the leaders with the authority to lead the international workers movement in the next period.

On "Defense of the Fatherland"

"To recognize defense of the fatherland means recognizing the legitimacy and justice of war. Legitimacy and justice from what point of view? Only from the point of view of the socialist, proletariat and its struggle for its emancipation. We do not recognize any other point of view. If war is waged by the exploiting class with the object of strengthening its rule as a class, such a war is a criminal war, and 'defensism' in such a war is a base betrayal of socialism. If war is waged by the proletariat after it has conquered the bourgeoisie in its own country, and is waged with the object of strengthening and developing socialism, such a war is legitimate and 'holy.'" ("Left-Wing Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality," Collected Works Vol. 27 pp. 321-22)

The opportunists of the Second International prettified imperialist war in the following way. That is, the Social-Democrats in Germany said that the war was necessary in order to protect civilized Germany from savage Russia czarism, free the nationalities oppressed by czarism (according to the same logic used by Japan in the Second World War to justify the invasion of Asia by saying that it was to free Asian nations from the rule of Western imperialism), and crush this reactionary czarism. The French Social-Democrats, for their part, said that for the sake of the fatherland, liberty, culture and the republic, Social-Democrats must fight against German militarism and autocracy (of course, the French bourgeoisie was silent about the fact that they were also providing massive amounts of aid to reactionary Russia and developing capitalism there). Opportunists in all of the countries claimed that their war was a progressive one to free the nations gasping under the rule of barbarous autocracy, or a struggle to protect their own civilized countries, and in this way they abandoned proletarian internationalism and recognized the defense of the fatherland.

Lenin does not reject war to protect one's own country in general. The defense of one's own country can only be recognized from the perspective of the struggle for socialism, and there are two cases in which this can occur. The first case involves the movement for national liberation. This had already been achieved by the advanced countries in Western Europe, but for colonies and semi-colonies this was a struggle that was eminent. The second case is the struggle against invasion from the imperialist bourgeoisie of other countries after the proletariat has successfully overthrown the bourgeoisie. This struggle to "protect the fatherland" would naturally have to be recognized. Only in these two cases could the defense of one's own country be accepted (of course even recognition has certain limits). According to Leninism, other cases -- for example, what the present-day JCP calls the defense of the fatherland for a neutral Japan and "self-defense" -- would amount to the abandonment of internationalism of the proletariat and a slip into petty-bourgeois nationalism.

On Pacifism

gThe peace slogan can be advanced either in connection with definite peace terms, or without any conditions at all, as a struggle, not for a definite kind of peace, but for peace in general (Frieden ohne weiters). In the latter case, we obviously have a slogan that is not only non-socialist but entirely devoid of meaning and content. Most people are definitely in favor of peace in general, including even Kitchener, Joffre, Hindenburg, and Nicholas the Bloodstained, for each of them wants an end to the war. The trouble is that every one of them advances peace terms that are imperialist (i.e. predatory and oppressive, towards other peoples), and to the advantage of his gownh nation. Slogans must be brought forward so as to enable the masses, through propaganda and agitation, to see the unbridgeable distinction between socialism and capitalism (imperialism), and not for the purpose of reconciling two hostile classes and two hostile political lines, with the aid of a formula that eunitedf the most different things.h (gThe Question of Peace,h Collected Works Vol.21 pp. 290-1,)

During the First World War, pacifism appeared in a variety of forms. These included gabsoluteh Christian pacifism, which rejected war and arms in general (and therefore the arms and revolutionary struggles of the proletariat as well); the pacifism of neutral countries such as the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland who proposed disarmament, which they considered to be the expression of the most complete struggle against every sort of militarism and war; and the pacifism of Kautsyist petty-bourgeois intellectuals who fled from the reality of harsh imperialist war and embraced the illusory dream of a peaceful imperialism in the future. Moreover, towards the end of the war, when the bourgeoisie also began to yearn for peace, there emerged a pacifism that raised the slogan of a gjust peaceh and parroted the empty words of President Wilson.

In the passage above, Lenin says that it is reactionary to make an appeal for peace in general. The struggle for peace must be proposed under concrete conditions. For example, the call for peace within an imperialist war is meaningless unless it is connected to the movement of the revolutionary masses against capitalism, since the cause of the war is found in capitalistic monpolies. To call for peace without this means a prettification of bourgeois imperialistic pacifism. It is not only the proletariat, but also the bourgeoisie; exhausted from war, that desires peace, and there are also imperialists who are interested in the sort of peace that allows them to concentrate on the imperialistic interests of their own country. For this reason, the slogans for peace must be connected to slogans of revolutionary action aiming for socialism and subordinated to this, only those who carry out this deserve to be called socialists. Severing the issue of peace from the reality of imperialist war and proposing it in a general fashion, amounts to nothing but a shriek issued by the petty bourgeoisie. Marxists, moreover, do not adopt the absolute pacifist standpoint that rejects war in general, recognizing instead the necessity and progressiveness of a war carried out by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, as well as national wars of liberation against the rule of imperialism.

On Military Disarmament

gThe petty striving of petty states to hold aloof, the petty bourgeois desire to keep as far away as possible from the great battles of world history, to take advantage of onefs relatively monopolistic position in order to remain in hidebound passivity?this is the objective social environment which may ensure the disarmament idea a certain degree of success and a certain  degree of popularity in some of the small states. That striving is, of course, reactionary and is based entirely on illusions, for, in one way or another, imperialism draws the small states into the vortex of world economy and world politics.h (gThe Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution,h Collected Works Vol. 23 p. 86)

The slogan of military disarmament was proposed by socialists in small nations, such as the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland, and was connected to the demand for neutrality and an international court of arbitration. The content of this demand was to replace the section in the minimum program of Socialists about a gpeople's armyh or the arming of the masses, with a section on gmilitary disarmament.h It was extremely peculiar that such a demand would appear in the midst of an imperialist war. The actual content of the demand for disarmament boils down to the egotistical petty-bourgeois demand to live peacefully in an unarmed neutral country and not get involved in the trouble of an imperialist war or dispute (and this can be seen in the arguments of the Socialist and Communist parties in Japan today). In a letter to Kollontai, Lenin wrote that the demand for disarmament was gneither leftism nor revolutionary, but rather the philistinism of the provincial petty bourgeoisieh [translated from Japanese], severely criticizing, as stupid and cowardly, the idea that the revolutionary class should oppose the arming of the people on the eve of the proletarian social revolution.

<<Before  ||  Lenin Index  ||  Next>>

Zip:179-0074, 1-1-12-409 Kasuga-Chou Neriima-ku Tokyo Japan
tel/fax +81-03 (6795) 2822

E-mail to WPLL