May 5, 2018

What Is Annexation?


We raised this question in a most definite manner in our theses (Section 7).The Polish comrades did not reply to it: they evaded it, insisting (1) that they are against annexations and explaining (2) why they are against them. It is true that these are very important questions. But they are questions of another kind. If we want our principles to be theoretically sound at all, if we want them to he clearly and precisely formulated, we cannot evade the question of what an annexation is, since this concept is used in our political propaganda and agitation The evasion of the question in a discussion between colleagues cannot be interpreted as anything but desertion of one’s position.

Why have we raised this question? We explained this when we raised it. It is because “a protest against annexations is nothing but recognition of the right to Self-determination”. The concept of annexation usually includes: (1) the concept of force (joining by means of force); (2) the concept of oppression by another nation (the joining of “alien” regions, etc.), and, sometimes (3) the concept of violation of the status quo. We pointed this out in the theses and this did not meet with any criticism.

Can Social-Democrats be against the use of force in general, it may be asked? Obviously not. This means that we are against annexations not because they constitute force, but for some other reason. Nor can the Social-Democrats be for the status quo. However you may twist and turn, annexation is violation of the self-determination of a nation, it is the establishment of state frontiers contrary to the will of the population.

To be against annexations means to be in favor of the right to self-determination. To be “against the forcible retention of any nation within the frontiers of a given state” (we deliberately employed this slightly changed formulation of the same idea in Section 4 of our theses, and the Polish comrades answered us with complete clarity at the beginning of their S. I, 4, that they “are against the forcible retention of oppressed nations within the frontiers of the annexing state”)—is the same as being in favour of the self-determination of nations.

We do not want to haggle over words. If there is a party that says in its programme (or in a resolution binding on all the form does not matter) that it is against annexations,against the forcible retention of oppressed nations within tile frontiers of its state, we declare our complete agreement in principle with that party. It would be absurd to insist on the word “self-determination”. And if there are people in our Party who want to change words in this spirit, who want to amend Clause 9 of our Party Programme, we should consider our differences with such comrades to he anything but a matter of principle!

The only thing that matter is political clarity and theoretical soundness of our slogans.

In verbal discussions on this question—the importance of which nobody will deny, especially now, in view of the war—we have met the following argument (we have not come across it in the press): a protest againsta known evil does not necessarily mean recognition of a positive concept that precludes the evil. This is obviously an unfounded argument and, apparently, as such has not been reproduced in the press. If a socialist party declares that it is “against the forcible retention of an oppressed nation within the frontiers of the annexing state”, it is thereby committed to renounce retention by force when it comes to power.

We do not for one moment doubt that if Hindenburg were to accomplish the semi-conquest of Russia tomorrow and this semi-conquest were to be expressed by the appearance of a now Polish state (in connection with the desire of Britain and France to weaken tsarism somewhat), something that is quite “practicable” from the standpoint of the economic laws of capitalism and imperialism, and if, the day after tomorrow, the socialist revolution were to be victorious in Petrograd, Berlin and Warsaw, the Polish socialist government, like the Russian and German socialist governments, would renounce tile “forcible retention” of, say, the Ukrainians, “within the frontiers of the Polish state”. If there were members of the Gazeta Robotnicza Editorial Board in that government they would no doubt sacrifice their “theses”, thereby disproving the “theory” that “the right of self-determination is not applicable to a socialist society”. If we thought otherwise we should not put a comradely discussion with the Polish Social-Democrats on the agenda but would rather conduct a ruthless struggle against them as chauvinists.

Suppose I were to go out into the streets of any European city and make a public “protest”, which I then published in the press, against my not being permitted to purchase a man as a slave. There is no doubt that people would have the right to regard me as a slave-owner, a champion of the principle, or system, if you like of slavery. No one would be fooled by the fact that my sympathies with slavery were expressed in the negative form of a protest and not in a positive form (“I am for slavery”). A political “protest” is quite the equivalent of a political programme; this is so obvious that one feels rather awkward at having to explain it. In any case, we are Firmly convinced that on the part of the Zimmerwald Left, at any rate—we do not speak of the Zimmerwald group as a whole since it contains Martov and other Kautskyites—we shall not meet with any “protest” if we say that in the Third International there will be no place for people capable of separating a political protest from a political programme, of counterpoising the one to the other, etc.

Not wishing to haggle over words, we take the liberty of expressing the sincere hope that the Polish Social-Democrats will try soon to formulate, officially, their proposal to delete Clause 9 from our Party Programme (which is also theirs) and also from the Programme of the International (the resolution of the 1896 London Congress), as well as their own definition of the relevant political concepts of “old and new annexations” and of “the forcible retention of an oppressed nation within the frontiers of the annexing state”.

Let us now turn to the next question. 
4. For or Against Annexations?

In S. 3 of Part One of their theses the Polish comrades declare very definitely that they are against any kind of annexation. Unfortunately, in S. 4 of the same part we find an assertion that must he considered annexationist. It opens with the following ... how can it he put more delicately?... the following strange phrase:

“The starting-point of Social-Democracy’s struggle against annexations, against the forcible retention of oppressed nations within the frontiers of the annexing state is renunciation of any defence of the fatherland[the authors’ italics], which, in the era of imperialism, is defence of the rights Of one’s own bourgeoisie to oppress and plunder foreign peoples....”

What’s this? How is it put?

“The starting-point of the struggle against annexations is renunciation of any defence of the fatherland....” But ally national war and any national revolt can be called “defence of the fatherland” and, until now, has been generally recognised as such! We are against annotations, but... we mean by this that we are against the annexed waging a war for their liberation from those who have annexed them, that we are against the annexed revolting to liberate themselves from those who have annexed them! Isn’t that an annexationist declaration?

The authors of the theses motivate their... strange assertion by saying that “in the era of imperialism” defence of the fatherland amounts to defence of the right of one’s own bourgeoisie to oppress foreign peoples. This, however, is true only in respect of all imperialist war, i.e., in respect of a war between imperialist powers or groups of powers, when both belligerents not only oppress “foreign peoples” but are fighting a war to decidewho shall have a greater share in oppressing foreign peoples!

The authors seem to present the question of “defence of the fatherland” very differently from the way it is presented by our Party. We renounce “defence of the fatherland” in an imperialist war. This is said as clearly as it can be in the Manifesto of our Party’s Central Committee and in the Berne resolutions[7] reprinted in the pamphlet Socialism and War, which has been published both in German and French. We stressed this twice in our theses (footnotes to Sections 4 and 6). The authors of the Polish theses seem to renounce defence of the fatherland in general, i.e., for a national war as well, believing, perhaps, that in the “era of imperialism” national wars are impossible. We say “perhaps” because the Polish comrades have not expressed this view in their theses.

Such a view is clearly expressed in the theses of the German internationale group and in the Junius pamphlet which is dealt with ill a special article. In addition to what is said there, let us note that the national revolt of an annexed region or country against the annexing country may he called precisely a revolt and not a war (we have heard this objection made and, therefore, cite it here, although we do not think this terminological dispute a serious one). in any case, hardly anybody would risk denying that annexed Belgium. Serbia, Galicia and Armenia would call their “revolt” against those who annexed them “defence of the fatherland” and would do so in all justice. It looks as if the Polish comrades are against this type of revolt on the grounds that there is also a bourgeoisie in these annexed countries which also oppresses foreign peoples or, more exactly, could oppress them, since the question is one of the “right to oppress”. Consequently, the given war or revolt is not assessed on the strength of its real social content (the struggle of an oppressed nation for its liberation from the oppressor nation) but the possible exercise of the “right to oppress” by a bourgeoisie which is at present itself oppressed. If Belgium, let us say, is annexed by Germany in 1917, and in 1918 revolts to secure her liberation, the Polish comrades will be against her revolt on the grounds that the Belgian bourgeoisie possess “the right to oppress foreign peoples”!

There is nothing Marxist or even revolutionary in this argument. If we do not want to betray socialism we must support every revolt against our chief enemy, the bourgeoisie of the big states, provided it is not the revolt of a reactionary class. By refusing to support the revolt of annexed regions we become, objectively, annexationists. It is precisely in the “era of imperialism”, which is the era of nascent social revolution, that the proletariat will today give especially vigorous support to any revolt of the annexed regions so that tomorrow, or simultaneously, it may attack the bourgeoisie of the “great” power that is weakened by the revolt.

The Polish comrades, however, go further in their annexationism. They are not only against any revolt by the annexed regions; they are against any restoration of their independence, even a peaceful one! Listen to this:

“Social-Democracy, rejecting all responsibility for the consequences of the policy of oppression pursued by imperialism, and conducting the sharpest struggle against them, does not by any means favour the erection of new frontier posts in Europe or the re-erection of those swept away by imperialism” (the authors’ italics).

Today “imperialism has swept away the frontier posts” between Germany and Belgium and between Russia and Galicia. International Social-Democracy, if you please, ought to be against their re-erection in general, whatever the means. In 1905, “in the era of imperialism”, when Norway’s autonomous Diet proclaimed her secession from Sweden, and Sweden’s war against Norway, as preached by the Swedish reactionaries, did not take place, what with the resistance of the Swedish workers and tile international imperialist situation—Social-Democracy ought to have been against Norway’s secession, since it undoubtedly meant “the erection of now frontier posts in Europe”!!

This is downright annexationism. There is no need to refute it because it refutes itself. No socialist party would risk taking this stand: “We oppose annexations in general but we sanction annexations for Europe or tolerate them once they have been made”....

We need deal only with the theoretical sources of the error that has led our Polish comrades to such a patent... “impossibility”. We shall say further on why there is no reason to make exceptions for “Europe”. The following two phrases from the theses will explain the other sources of the error:

“Wherever the wheel of imperialism has rolled over and crushed an already formed capitalist state, the political and economic concentration of the capitalist world, paving the way for socialism, takes place in the brutal form of imperialist oppression....”

This justification of annexations is not Marxism but Struveism. Russian Social-Democrats who remember the 1890s in Russia have a good knowledge of this manner of distorting Marxism, which is common to Struve, Cunow, Legien and Co. In another of the theses (II, 3) of the Polish comrades we read the following, specifically about the German Struveists, the so-called “social-imperialists”:

(The slogan of self-determination) “provides the social-imperialists with an opportunity, by demonstrating the illusory nature of that slogan, to represent our struggle against national oppression as historically unfounded sentimentality, thereby undermining the faith of the proletariat in the scientific validity of the Social-Democratic programme....”

This means that the authors consider the position of the German Struveists “scientific”! Our congratulations.

One “trifle”, however, brings down this amazing argument which threatens to show that the Lensches, Cunows and Parvuses are right in comparison to us: it is that the Lensches are consistent people in their own way and in issue No. 8-9 of the chauvinist German Glocke--we deliberately quoted it in our theses—Lensch demonstrates simultaneously both the “scientific invalidity” of the self-determination slogan (the Polish Social-Democrats apparently believe that this argument of Lensch’s is irrefutable, as can be seen from their arguments in the theses we have quoted) and the “scientific invalidity” of the slogan against annexations!!

For Lensch had an excellent understanding of that simple truth which we pointed out to those Polish colleagues who showed no desire to reply to our statement: there is no difference “either political or economic”, or even logical, between the “recognition” of self-determination and the “protest” against annexations. If the Polish comrades regard the arguments of the Lensches against self-determination to he irrefutable, there is one fact that has to be accepted: the Lensches also use all these arguments to oppose the struggle against annexations.

The theoretical error that underlies all the arguments of our Polish colleagues has led them to the point of becoming inconsistent annexationists.
5. Why Are Social-Democrats Against Annexations?

In our view the answer is obvious: because annexation violates the self-determination of nations, or, in other words, is a form of national oppression.

In the view of the Polish Social-Democrats there have to be special explanations of why we are against annexations, and it is these (I, 3 in the theses) that inevitably enmesh the authors in a further series of contradictions.

They produce two reasons to “justify” our opposition to annexations (the “scientifically valid” arguments of the Lensches notwithstanding):

First: “To the assertion that annexations in Europe are essential for the military security of a victorious imperialist state, the Social-Democrats counterpose the fact that annexations only serve to sharpen antagonisms, thereby increasing the danger of war....”

This is an inadequate reply to the Lensches because their chief argument is not that annexations are a military necessity but that they are economically progressive and under imperialism mean concentration. Where is the logic if the Polish Social-Democrats in the same breath recognise the progressive nature of such a concentration, refusing to re-erect frontier posts in Europe that have been swept away by imperialism, and protest against annexations?

Furthermore, the danger of what wars is increased by annexations? Not imperialist wars, because they have other causes: the chief antagonisms in the present imperialist war are undoubtedly those between Germany and Britain, and between Germany and Russia. These antagonisms have nothing to do with annexations. It is the danger of national wars and national revolts that is increased. But how can one declare national wars to be impossible in “the era of imperialism”, on the one hand, and then speak of the “danger” of national wars, on the other? This is not logical.

The second argument: Annexations “create a gulf between the proletariat of the ruling nation and that of the oppressed nation... the proletariat of the oppressed nation would unite with its bourgeoisie and regard the proletariat of the ruling nation as its enemy. Instead of the proletariat waging an international class struggle against the international bourgeoisie it would be split and ideologically corrupted...”

We fully agree with these arguments. But is it logical to put forward simultaneously two arguments on the same question which cancel each other out. In S. 3 of the first part of the theses we find the above arguments that regard annexations as causing a split in the proletariat, and next to it, in S. 4, we are told that we must oppose the annulment of annexations already effected in Europe and favour “the education of tire working masses of the oppressed and the oppressor nations in a spirit of solidarity in struggle”. If the annulment of annexations is reactionary “sentimentality”, annexations must not he said to create a “gulf” between sections of the “proletariat” and cause a “split”, but should, on the contrary, he regarded as a condition for the bringing together of the proletariat of different nations.

We say: In order that we may have the strength to accomplish the socialist revolution and overthrow the bourgeoisie, the workers must unite more closely and this close union is promoted by the struggle for self-determination, i.e., the struggle against annexations. We are consistent. But the Polish comrades who say that European annexations are “non-annullable” and national wars, “impossible”, defeat themselves by contending “against” annexations with the use of arguments about national wars! These arguments are to the effect that annexations hamper the drawing together and fusion of workers of different nations!

In other words, the Polish Social-Democrats, in order to contend against annexations, have to draw for arguments on the theoretical stock they themselves reject in principle.

The question of colonies makes this even more obvious. 
6. Is it Right to Contrast “Europe” With the Colonies in the Present Question?

Our theses say that the demand for the immediate liberation of the colonies is as “impracticable” (that is, it cannot be effected without a number of revolutions and is not stable without socialism) under capitalism as the self-determination of nations, the election of civil servants by the people, the democratic republic, and so on—and, furthermore, that the demand for the liberation of the colonies is nothing more than “the recognition of the right of nations to self-determination”.

The Polish comrades have not answered a single one of these arguments. They have tried to differentiate between “Europe” and the colonies. For Europe alone they become inconsistent annexationists by refusing to annul any annexations once these have been made. As for the Colonies, they demand unconditionally: “Get out of the colonies!”

Russian socialists must put forward the demand: “Get out of Turkestan, Khiva, Bukhara, etc.”, hut, it is alleged, they would be guilty of “utopianism”, “unscientific sentimentality” and so on if they demanded a similar freedom of secession for Poland, Finland, the Ukraine, etc. British socialists must demand: “Get out of Africa, India, Australia”, but not out of Ireland. What are the theoretical grounds for a distinction that is so patently false? This question cannot be evaded.

The chief “ground” of those opposed to self-determination is its “impracticability”. The same idea, with a nuance, is expressed in the reference to “economic and political concentration”.

Obviously, concentration also comes about with the annexation of colonies. There was formerly an economic distinction between the colonies and the European peoples—at least, the majority of the latter—the colonies having been drawn into commodity exchange but not into capitalist production. imperialism changed this. Imperialism is, among other things, the export of capital. Capitalist production is being transplanted to the colonies at an ever increasing rate. They cannot he extricated from dependence on European finance capital. From the military standpoint, as well as from the standpoint of expansion, tile separation of tile colonies is practicable, as a general rule, only under socialism; under capitalism it is practicable only by way of exception or at the cost of a series of revolts and revolutions both in the colonies and the metropolitan countries.

The greater part of the dependent nations in Europe are capitalistically more developed than the colonies (though not all, the exceptions being the Albanians and many non-Russian peoples in Russia) But it is just this that generates greater resistance to national oppression and annexations! Precisely because of this, the development of capitalism is more secure in Europe under any political conditions, including those of separation, than in the colonies.... “There,” the Polish comrades say about the colonies (I, 4), “capitalism is still confronted with the task of developing tile productive forces independently....” This is even more noticeable in Europe: capitalism is undoubtedly developing the productive forces more vigorously, rapidly and independently in Poland, Finland, the Ukraine and Alsace than in India, Turkestan, Egypt and other straightforward colonies. In a commodity producing society, no independent development, or development of any sort whatsoever, is possible without capital. In Europe the dependent nations have both their own capital and easy access to it on a wide range of terms. The colonies have no capital of their own, or none to speak of, and under finance capital no colony can obtain any except on terms of political submission. What then, in face of all this, is the significance of the demand to liberate the colonies immediately and unconditionally? Is it not clear that it is more “utopian” in the vulgar, caricature-“Marxist” sense of the word, “utopian”, in the sense in which it is used by the Struves, Lenches, Cunows, with tile Polish comrades unfortunately following in their footsteps? Any deviation from the ordinary, the commonplace, as well as everything that is revolutionary, is here labeled “utopianism”. But revolutionary movements of all kinds—including national movements—are more possible, more practicable, more stubborn, more conscious and more difficult to defeat in Europe than they are in the colonies.

Socialism, say the Polish comrades (I, 3), “will be able to give the underdeveloped peoples of tile colonies unselfish, cultural aid without ruling over them”. This is perfectly true. But what grounds are there for supposing that a great nation, a great state that goes over to socialism, will not he able to attract a small, oppressed European nation by means of “unselfish cultural aid”? It is the freedom to secede “granted” to the colonies by the Polish Social-Democrats that will attract the small but cultured and politically exacting oppressed nations of Europe to union with great socialist states, because under socialism a great state will mean so many hours less work a day and so much more pay a day. The masses of working people, as they liberate themselves from the bourgeois yoke, will gravitate irresistibly towards union and integration with the great, advanced socialist nations for the sake of that “cultural aid”, provided yesterday’s oppressors do not infringe on the long-oppressed nations’ highly developed democratic feeling of self-respect, and provided they are granted equality in everything, including state construction, that of, experience in organising “their own” state. Under capitalism this “experience” means war, isolation, seclusion, and the narrow egoism of the small privileged nations (Holland, Switzerland). Under socialism the working people themselves will nowhere consent to seclusion merely for the above-mentioned purely economic motives, while the variety of political forms, freedom to secede, and experience in state organisation—there will he all this until the state in all its forms withers away—will be the basis of a prosperous cultured life and an earnest that the nations will draw closer together and integrate at an ever faster pace.

By setting the colonies aside and contrasting them to Europe the Polish comrades step into a contradiction which immediately brings down the whole of their fallacious argument.

7. Marxism or Proudhonism?