September 14, 2019

The Defeat of the Home Government in an IMPERIALIST WAR - Lenin (1928 Translation)

(Note: The following article by Lenin, is reproduced from. "The Social-Democrat," No. 43, July 1915. In view of the approaching commemoration of the 14th" Anniversary of the beginning of the World War, we believe it raises just the fundamental questions that every militant and Communist worker must be clear upon if we are to avoid repeating the terrible mistakes of 1914-18.-ED1TOR.)

From "The Communist " Volume 7, August 1928

A revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government in a reactionary war

This is axiom. Only deliberate adherents to reactionary wars or impotent social chauvinist lackeys would dispute it.  Among the former, for instance, is Semkovsky of the Organising Committee (No. 2 of its Izvestia), and among the latter should be included, Trotsky and Bukvoyed and Kautsky in Germany. "The desire for the defeat of Russia", wrote Trotsky, is “an uncalled-for and absolutely unjustifiable concession to the political methodology of social-patriotism, which would replace the revolutionary struggle against the war and the conditions causing it, with an orientation which is extremely  arbitrary in the present conditions and which proceeds along the line of the lesser two evils” (Nashe Slovo No. 105).

Here is an example of pompous phrases with which Trotsky always defends opportunism. The “revolutionary struggle against the war” is merely an empty and purposeless utterance in which the heroes of the Second International are past masters, especially if the revolutionary action is not meant against the home government  in time of war. It is only to ponder over this in order to understand it. Revolutionary action against the home government during the war  undoubtedly, indisputably means, not only to desire the defeat of the government, but actively to bring about such defeat. (To the "understanding  reader”:  this does not mean “that it is necessary to blow up bridges”, organise unsuccessful military strikes, but generally to assist revolutionaries  to defeat the home government .)

Trotsky contents himself with uttering these high sounding phrases, and fails to see the real point at issue. He seems to imagine that to desire the defeat of Russia means to desire the victory of Germany.

(Bukvoyed and Semkovsky openly express this "idea", or rather "lack of idea", from which they suffer common with Trotsky.) and in this Trotsky sees the expression of  the “methodology of social-patriotism"! For the benefit of  peoplewho are unable to think, the Berne resolution (Sotsial Demokrat No. 40) explained, that in all imperialist countries the proletariat must now desire the defeat of its own government. Bukvoyed and Trotsky preferred to avoid this truth, while Semkovsky (an opportunist who by his naive repetitions of bourgeois wisdom, brings more benefit  to the working class ) Semkovsky prettily lisped “the piece of  nonsense that either Germany or Russia must win” (Izvestia No. 2).

Take the example of the Paris Commune. France was defeated by Germany but the workers were defeated by Bismarck and Thiers! If  Bukvoyed and Trotsky had done a little thinking, they would have realized that they have adopted a point of  view of  governments and the bourgeoisieconcerning war i.e., they both cringed before the “political methodology of social-patriotism”, to use high flown language of Trotsky.

Revolution during war is  civil war; and to  convert the war between governments into a civil war is, , facilitated on the one hand by military setbacks ("defeats") of the governments; and on the other hand, it is impossible to strive to bring about this conversion without at the same time helping to bring about the defeat.

The chauvinists ( the O C and the Chkheidze fraction)cross themselves at the very mention of the “slogan” of defeat, because it alone implies a consistent call for revolutionary action against one’s own government in wartime. Unless such action is taken, millions of revolutionary phrases about war against “the war and the conditions, etc." are not worth a brass farthing.

He who desires to refute the “slogan” of defeat of the home government in imperialist war must prove one of the following three things:

(1) that the war of 1914-15 is not reactionary war, or

(2) that a revolution stemming from that war is impossible, and

(3) that corresponding and inter-acting revolutionary movements in all the belligerent countries are impossible. The last point is particularly important for Russia, because it is the most backward country, and the one in which the  socialist revolution is impossible immediately. Precisely for this reason,  the Russian Social-Democrats had to be the first to advance the “theory and practice” of the “slogan of defeat ” and the Tsarist government would have been right when it said that the agitation conducted by the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Fraction —the sole example in the International, is not merely parliamentary opposition but real revolutionary anti-government agitation among the masses against the home government—that this agitation weakened Russia’s “military power” and helped to bring about its defeat. This is a fact . İt is absurd to shut one’s eyes to it.

The opponents of the defeat slogan are simply afraid of themselves when they refuse to recognize the very obvious fact of the inseparable link between revolutionary agitation against the government and helping bring about its defeat. 

Can we expect in Russia, a revolutionary movement in the bourgeois- democratic sense which corresponds and  cooperates with  the  socialist movement in the West? Not a single socialist has publicly expressed  any doubts concerning  this during the last ten years, and the movement among the Austrian proletariat after October 17, 1905, proves in practice that it is possible.

Ask any Social-Democrat who calls himself an internationalist, whether he sympathizes with the Social-Democrats of the various belligerent countries coming to an agreement concerning joint revolutionary action against all belligerent governments. Many of them will reply that it is impossible, as Kautsky replied in the (Die Neue Zeit, October 2, 1914), and by that completely betrayed his social-chauvinism. İn the first place this is a deliberate and howling untruth, which contradicts universally known facts and the Basle Manifesto. On the other hand, if it were true, then the opportunists would be quite right in many respects!

Many will reply that they sympathize with such an idea.In that case  we shall say: if the sympathy is not hypocritical, it is absurd to believe that, in order to carry on this war, it is necessary to have some “formal” agreement; the election of representatives, meeting for negotiations, the signing agreements, and selecting the day and hour! Only people of the type of the Semkovskys could think the thinglike that. Agreements concerning revolutionary action even in a single country, let alone in a number of countries, can be reached only by the force of the example , by  serious revolutionary action, by actually setting to work and developing this action. However, such action cannot be launched without desiring the defeat of the government, and without contributing to such a defeat. The conversion of the imperialist war into a civil war is impossible, any more than a revolution is possible to be “made”. It develops out of a number of diverse phenomena, aspects, features, characteristics and consequences of the imperialist war. That development is impossible without a series of military reverses and defeats of governments that receive blows from their own oppressed classes.

To reject the defeat of the home government slogan means to convert revolution into empty phrases, or sheer hypocrisy.

What is offered to us as a substitute to the slogan of defeat ? The slogan “neither victory nor defeat” (Semkovsky in Izvestia No. 2; also the entire Organising Committee in No. 1).

But this transfers the question to the plane of  war of governments (who, according to the substance of the slogan should remain in their old position, “preserve their conditions"), and not the fight of the oppressed classes against their governments! This is a defense of the chauvinism of all the imperialist nations, whose bourgeoisie will  always say—and always will tell to the people—that they are “only” fighting “against defeat”. “The sense of our August 4 vote is; we are not for war but against defeat," wrote David, a leader of the opportunists, writes in his book. The Organising Committee, together with Bukvoyed and Trotsky, go wholly over the side of David when they defend the slogan of “neither-victory nor-defeat”.

İf  this slogan is well pondered over, it will be found to mean “civil peace”, the abandonment  of the class struggle of the oppressed classes in all belligerent countries, for class struggle is impossible without delivering blows against the "home"  bourgeoisie, and "home" government, and to rain blow s upon home government in wartime is (for the information of Bukvoyed ) high treason; is  helping to bring about the defeat of the country. Those who accept the “neither victory-nor-defeat” slogan can only pretend hypocritically to be in favour of the class struggle, for "breaking the civil peace"”; in fact, they reject the independent proletarian politics and wholly subordinate the proletariat of all belligerent countries to the bourgeoisie: they protect their imperialist governments against defeat.

The only policy of breaking the "civil peace" not in words but in deeds, of acceptance of the class war, is  the policy that the proletariat shall take advantage of the embarrassment of the home government and the home bourgeoisie to overthrow them. This, cannot be achieved or it is impossible to strive towards this,if  the defeat of home government is not desired and nothing is done to bring this defeat.

When, prior to  the war, the Italian Social-Democrats raised the question of mass strikes, the bourgeoisie,quite rightly  from its point of view replied: that  would be high treason, and you  would be dealt with as traitors." That is true, and equally true is that fraternisation in the trenches is high treason. Those who, like Bukvoyed, write against “high treason”,  or like Semkovsky write against the “collapse of Russia”, actually adopting the bourgeois, not the proletarian point of view. The proletariat in one country cannot deal a class blow against its government  (in deed) stretch out its hand to his fellow proletariat in the  “foreign enemy” country without committing “high treason”, without bringing about the defeat of its Government, and the collapse of its imperialist state.

Those who support the slogan of “neither victory nor defeat” are conscious or unconscious chauvinists; or at best compromising petty bourgeois, certainly an  enemy to proletarian policy, an adherent of the existing ·governments, and of the present-day ruling classes.

We will·examine the question from still another aspect. War cannot but rouse the masses to a state of great excitement, which disturbs their customary somnolent mentality. And with conformity to these new disturbing emotions, revolutionary tactics are impossible. In what channels do these sentiments flow mostly? 

(1) Horror and despair. This gives rise to increased religious emotion.. The churches begin to fill again and the reactionaries rejoice. "Where there is suffering, there is religion," said the arch-reactionary Barres, and he is right.

(2) Hatred for the “enemy”.This is an emotion that is deliberately aroused and inflamed by the bourgeoisie ( not so uch by the priests) which alone obtains economic and political advantage from it.

(3) Hatred towards the home Government and the home bourgeoisie. This is the sentiment of the class-conscious workers who, on the one hand, understand that war is "the continuation of politics" of imperialism and retaliate to this by "continuing" their hatred towards their class enemy, and, on the other hand, understand that the slogan "War against war" is but a phrase without hatred against home government and home bourgeoisie if their defeat is not desired and one who is not hypocritically an  opponent of a civil (i.e., class) peace" cannot but strive to rouse hatred against home government and the home bourgeoisie!

The advocates of the slogan "Neither victory nor defeat" actually are on the side of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, have "no faith" in the possibility of international revolutionary action of the working class against their Government, and do not desire to aid the development of such action-a task which is indisputably a difficult one, but the only socialist one and one worthy of the proletariat. Particularly the proletariat of the most backward of the belligerent countries, especially after the shameful treachery of the German and French social-democrats, should have come out in the person of their party with · revolutionary tactics, which, how-ever, are impractical without "helping to defeat" the home Government, but which alone can 'lead to the European revolution, to the stable peace of socialism and to the emancipation of mankind from the horrors, the misfortunes, the savagery, and barbarism which now reign. 

July 26, 1915.

From "The Communist " Volume 7, August 1928