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Economic causes and consequences of the World War

E. Varga.

(Extracts without statistics)

I. Reasons.

In evaluating a world war, one very often makes the mistake of considering the war as an isolated, accidental phenomenon that could have been avoided if a more reasonable policy had been pursued.

But the truth is that wars are inevitable under capitalism and that a whole series of others preceded the world war. In the last fifty years before the World War there was, it seems, no such moment when a war was not waged in Washington or anywhere else on the globe.

Truth: these wars were economically somewhat different. These were predominantly wars against defenseless peoples in order to bring more and more territories under the control of the imperialist world powers. And a whole series of colonial wars thus contributed to the development of imperialist forms of capitalism.

The world war in economic terms is essentially different from the previous ones. Here it was no longer a matter of subordinating new regions to the regime of imperialism, but of the struggle of the representatives of imperialism among themselves for a new redivision of the exploited colonial and semi-colonial regions.


The development of capitalism has not been uniformed all over the world.

Several development centers can be identified. The center of gravity fell on Western Europe and was represented by England, France, and Germany. In addition to these states, Austria-Hungary and Russia were important as capitalist countries, and outside the European continent, the United States of America and Japan.

It was characteristic of the Western European core of capitalism that, in order to support its economy, it imported agricultural products and raw materials in large quantities, and in order to be able to pay for them, it exported industrial goods.

At the same time, these countries are increasingly becoming countries for the export of capital. An increasing part of the accumulated capital is beginning to be placed not in the country itself, and abroad, in order to exploit the higher rate of surplus value and the higher rate of profit in backward countries; at the same time it was also to counteract the tendency of the falling rate of profit). At the same time there was a strong concentration of production and centralization of property.

The economy of the imperialist countries, and with it the economy of the whole world, was in the hands of an ever- decreasing number of the biggest capitalists' enterprises in cartels, trusts and concerns made a small group of bosses, in cooperation with large banks, masters of the entire economic life of the country. With economic power, they, if not formally, then in fact, received political power. The big bourgeoisie controlled the state, directing its policy in the interests of its own pocket.

The growth of the upward curve of capitalism and the exploitation of the semi-colonies and colonies made it possible for the bourgeoisie of the imperialist powers to provide the industrial proletariat of their countries with its standard of living, which was rising slowly but steadily.

This fact explains why a significant part of the working class in the imperialist countries has separated from the general mass of the proletariat and has become a labor aristocracy. And this labor aristocracy served as the basis for revisionism and the approval of the colonial policy by the social democracy. It was also the economic basis for social patriotism and for the joint action of the industrial proletariat with its bourgeoisie during the war. The unity of the bourgeoisie in organizations of a monopolistic type and the actual seizure of the state apparatus by it gave it the opportunity to monopoly subjugate the internal markets of various countries.

High protective duties excluded foreign competition and allowed surplus production to be thrown onto the world market in comparison with the needs of the domestic market and sold on the world market at prices lower than within the country, and in many cases even at prices that only paid off the actual costs of production. Over time, the desire for monopoly domination extended to the outer regions and formed the basis of colonial policy; in particular, here it was about three different, but closely related things:

1) on the monopoly exploitation of raw materials and natural resources of the colonies. It must be noted here that in the period of the rise of capitalism, with favorable conjuncture, industry suffered almost constantly from a shortage of the most important raw materials, and the bourgeoisie of every imperialist state was keenly interested in securing its own sources of raw materials and enjoying them exclusively;

2) on the monopoly use of sales markets for the industry and

3) about new monopoly opportunities for capital investment.

The last point, as capitalism developed, acquired more and more importance, and was closely connected with the second point, since the deployment of new capital abroad, of course, took place mainly in the form of the export of means of production to less developed countries.

That phase of highly developed capitalism, which can be characterized by the striving of the bourgeoisie to expand the home market which it monopolizes by annexing less developed regions to it, we call imperialism.

This striving of the bourgeoisie of highly developed capitalist countries to conquer markets and dominate them monopoly was bound to lead to clashes, since most of the world was already divided into spheres of influence. This led to a sharp contrast between the interests of individual capitalist powers, which, in turn, in connection with the interests of the military industry, which had great political influence, led to severe conflicts between individual states.

Clash of interests between England and Germany.

Of all the capitalist states of Europe, Germany experienced the greatest upswing during this period. It increasingly competed on the world market with British industry. At the same time, Germany, as the youngest of the capitalist powers, was left almost without colonies during the division of the world. All that fell to her lot was the miserable remnants provided to her by England. Therefore, the German bourgeoisie felt left out and demanded a "place in the sun, providing it, in accordance with its economic development, with part of the regions of the world that have not yet been captured by capital for monopoly exploitation.

This aspiration of the German bourgeoisie led to huge armaments on land and, mainly, at sea. The latter were the main cause of the jealousy of England, who before that were the only ruler of the seas.

In view of the dominion of England on the seas, Germany was forced to seek spheres of influence mainly on the continent. Therefore, it directed all its efforts towards subordinating Eastern Europe and Asia Minor to German capital.

The construction of the Baghdad Railway, a direct rail line between Berlin and Baghdad, was the beginning of the takeover plans. But this could not but arouse the greatest anxiety in England since the final stage of this route on the coast of the Persian Gulf posed a threat to India. The economic line on which the world war flared up thus boiled down to the question of whether Western Asia would fall into the sphere of influence of Germany and or into the sphere of influence of England, or—in an even more general form— whether Germany will be recognized as an equal imperialist power on land and sea by England.

Clash of interests between Germany and France.

The second main contradiction is the interests of Germany and France, and it was about domination over Central Europe. The question was whether Germany would become the dominant power of the European continent at the head of the "United States of Central Europe" or whether the said role would fall to the lot of France, as had been the case throughout recent history, except for the period from 1871 to 1914. This question is connected with the problem of the Western European mining industry, coal, and iron.

Opposite interests of England and Russia.

The third contradiction was Russia's desire to gain access to the sea in the south, i.e. striving for Constantinople or the Indian Ocean. The traditional struggle between England and Russia on this issue was temporarily eliminated by Germany's desire to reach the Indian Ocean in the direction from west to east. Both rivals—England and Russia—united in order to get out of the way a new enemy, at that moment more dangerous for England—Germany.

Of the other great powers, Austria-Hungary was, economically and materially, wholly drawn into the sphere of German influence, while Japan and the United States, apparently, stood out for the time being from these major clashes of interests.

These economic contradictions led to the greatest war in world history.

Much has been written about the possibility of avoiding this war by a more prudent policy. Such a formulation of the question can be considered a rather idle exercise, it can only make sense if lessons can be learned from it for the future. Even before the war there was a strong pacifist trend, and some economists, like Norman Engel, for example, tried to prove that war was not profitable for the bourgeoisie.

The fallacy of this point of view lies in the fact that it operates with the concept of the common interest of the country or the bourgeoisie. In fact, the policy of countries with highly developed capitalism is determined not by the entire people and not even by the bourgeoisie, but only by a small group of the big bourgeoisie—heavy industry, big banks, cartels, trusts, and concerns.

The war ruined not only the sections of the population of various countries, but the groups of capitalists that were of decisive importance were greatly enriched. It is true, many human lives have been lost and the economic losses are enormous, which in general is a major economic loss, but the leaders of the capitalists have not suffered during this time.

At the present time, ten years after the World War, armaments continue at the same accelerated pace as before. And this is the best proof that the bourgeoisie did not learn the pacifist lessons from the world war.

Despite the fact that Germany is disarmed, millions of soldiers are constantly under arms, and the killing technique is being improved more and more every day. Just as idle is the question of who the attacker in the world war was.

Virtually all imperialist powers were preparing for a world war. In judging who attacked, it is important that everyone was preparing for war, and one can safely say about each side that it was the attacker.

II. Consequences.

The World War had profound consequences for the entire economy of the capitalist system. It laid the foundation for the crisis of capitalism, a colossal shake-up of the entire capital and social system. The war itself was an incredible squandering of valuables.

a) About 20 million men, fully able-bodied, were cut off from productive work and engaged in murder.

b) other millions were cut off from normal conditions of production and had to work for the defense.

c) In the theaters of war, the means of production and other values were destroyed on a huge scale.

d) It is extremely difficult to fix the reduction in labor productivity resulting from the impoverishment and malnutrition of workers.

In addition, one must also take into account war invalids, whose number, according to the International Labor Office, is 10 million. Based on this, one can try to calculate the damage caused by the war to production, as follows:

1) The value of the annual production of one person was on average 2,000 gold marks. If this number is multiplied by 20 million, i.e. on the number of participants in the war, then we will get 40 billion a year, and for the entire time of the war, i.e. in 41/3 years—170 billion marks in gold.

2) 10 million workers were employed in the war industry; in 45* years, at the rate of 2,000 marks each, this will amount to eighty-five billion marks in gold. To this we must also add a reduction in production by the population itself due to insufficient nutrition, as well as a reduction in living productive forces due to a decrease in the birth rate; The latter circumstance is only just beginning to show itself.

3) The immediate destruction caused by the war is difficult to account for. For France alone, they are determined at twenty-six billion marks in gold. To this must be added Belgium, East Prussia, Northern Italy, Serbia, Rumania, and Russia, as well as all the ships sunk—a total of approximately 200 billion gold marks.

In general, for all three points, it comes out round about 450 billion marks in gold.

4) The decrease in production, as a result of the impoverishment and malnutrition of the workers, cannot be accounted for at all. On the other hand, it was possible to achieve an increase in production by employing the entire reserve army of labor: women, children and the elderly were involved in the production process.

In addition, the decline in productivity is equal to 100 billion marks annually. The impoverishment due to war can be established in its natural form. Construction activity has completely stopped, and so far in many countries it has not yet been resumed. Annual items—furniture, clothes, etc.—are not renewed.

The land was exploited in a predatory way, no care was taken to provide adequate fertilizer to restore its fertility. Stocks of metals, manufactories and foodstuffs were depleted.

The capital invested abroad has been expended in acquiring food supplies and the most necessary raw materials and has been almost entirely spent. Most of the countries participating in the war, if they could, took out loans from neutral states and thus anticipated and consumed in advance the product of future production.

Uneven impoverishment in different areas.

In different countries participating in the war, impoverishment was different. It affected the central states most of all, which, thanks to the blockade, were cut off from the world market and depended almost exclusively on their own production.

In England and France, this impoverishment in terms of means of production and other valuables was less, because these states were able to use many of the capital placed abroad and received large loans.

And, conversely, America and its colonies were rich. The absence of European competition contributed to the strong industrialization of the overseas regions - this was facilitated by the lack of tonnage, as well as the transition of European industry to defense work, as a result of which it could no longer be an exporter, as before.

This industrialization of the colonial countries is a new long- term cause of the crisis of Western European capital, which is no longer able to feed its population on the export of industrial goods alone. That is why the capitalists are now in favor of emigration, and Malthusianism is beginning to flourish again.

The balance of power between the great powers.

Of the seven great imperialist powers, three failed after the war:

Russia, as a result of the revolution and the secession of the border states, which, in the imagination of the imperialists, should serve as a barrier against Bolshevism.

Germany, which was deprived of all possibilities for continuing to be considered a great world power (disarmament of the fleet and army, military control, annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, Holstein, Poznan, Upper Silesia, subjection to the economic control of the Entente—to the meaning of the project of experts). Thanks to this, Germany has already become a colony of the Entente, an object of imperialist exploitation.

Astro-Hungary was partitioned, which resulted in the Balkanization of all of central and eastern Europe.

England and France, thanks to the war, expanded and rounded their colonies. The power of England now extends from Cap to Egypt, and from Egypt to India. The French colonies have over one hundred million people.

However, the real winner is still not France and not England, but the United States, which, thanks to the war, has turned from a debtor into a creditor. The Entente countries owe America a total of 10.2 billion dollars (including Great Britain 4.1 and France 3.3), and before the war America's foreign debts were much higher than the capital she placed abroad. To this must be added the considerable quantity of American banknotes circulating in the Central European countries; for these tickets, the United States receives real benefits in one form or another from Europe.

In addition, this calculation does not yet include loans from private companies and commodity credits.

America's position as a creditor to the Entente gives it the opportunity at any moment to exert strong political pressure on the powers of Europe. Thanks to the war, the economic center of gravity finally shifted to the United States. This is primarily evidenced by the production of the most important raw materials: America's participation in world oil production from 65.3% in 1913 reached 72.4% in 1923; in the production of iron, from 39.7% to 61.6%, steel, from 40.1% to 61.6%. The same is true for most of the other commodities. The number of cars in America is 90% of the world contingent. Of the visible gold reserves, more than half are in the States themselves. In recent years there has been a period of high economic activity in the United States, while the crisis has continued in Europe.

The favorable conjuncture, from the beginning of 1922 to April 1924, was limited almost exclusively to the United States, not touching Europe at all. This shift of the economic center of gravity to America is not the result of the war alone; the war only underlined the trend that had existed before, arising from the presence in America of great natural wealth (coal, oil, copper). While in Europe especially the production of coal is only more and more expensive, in the United States the costs of production are falling. In addition, the mentioned trend is based on the enormous land wealth of the United States (only 15 inhabitants per square kilometer), cultivated with the latest technology.

Thanks to all this, Europe is forced to play, in comparison with the United States, a secondary economic and political role.

Changes in class relations.

Impoverishment in European countries is not universal and does not extend to the ruling groups of capitalists and large landowners; on the contrary, these groups snatched for themselves an even larger share of the diminished national wealth than they had before the war. More and more concentrated and centralized. After the war, the big bourgeoisie succeeded, mainly as a result of the depreciation of money, in expropriating the middle strata.

All expenses for the war, in the form of war loans and paper- monetary inflation, finally and completely fell on the broad circles of the population.

This affected rentiers, petty savers, owners of insurance policies, pensions, etc. most severely. Characteristically, the formation in Germany during the last elections of the "party of deceived savers" (the party of Guez). The impoverishment was masked by loans and paper-money inflation, and sometimes they even managed to turn it into an apparent enrichment, but this could only hide their impoverishment from the middle strata for a while.

The liquidation of state war debts, as well as private ones through inflation, was so beneficial for the bourgeoisie that even the bourgeoisie of the victorious countries seeks it, in an open or hidden form. And indeed, inflation gradually captures both the victorious countries (with the exception of the United States) and neutral states.

As a result of all this, a strong exacerbation of the class resistance into oracles. A small group of big capitalists are even more vehemently opposed and rising above the impoverished middle strata. At the same time, the strongest growth of trusts and cartels is observed. And monopolies without restraint seek to use to rob consumers.

The question of reparations.

The development of this question clearly reflects the entire crisis of capitalism. We can establish the following points:

1) Germany demands the comfort of payment to the allies for all their losses.

Result: the collapse of the currency, since in the end payments could only be made by increased exportation of goods or gold. But artificial barriers were placed on the export of goods, and payments from a considerable gold reserve could not be made for any length of time.

For a short period of time, Germany's solvency was extended by buying a paper stamp abroad, selling houses, shares, land, and other real values to foreigners.

2) Germany is unable to pay more. The Ruhr area is occupied, which marks the beginning of the struggle between French and British imperialism to turn Germany into a colony. France defeated Germany in this case but must submit to the economic pressure of England and America and cannot implement his plan for the division of Germany.

3) Report of the Commission of Experts. It marks the victory of England over the attempts of the French to dismember Germany. Strict and systematic control by experts should turn Germany into an Entente colony, for all the most important branches of production are subject to financial control. The burden of new obligations secured by pledges is placed on German industry. The taxation of the German railways with an annual tribute of almost a billion serves the same purpose. The welfare index was introduced with the aim of being able to increase payments in the absolutely improbable case if the national economy were to rise in Germany.

The meaning of all these measures is to stifle the growth of inflation and German industry for a long time. The main thing is to weaken its competition with British and French industry.

The period of the crisis of capitalism.

The years that have elapsed since the end of the World War have led to a state which we have called the period of the crisis of capitalism. Within the framework of this period, there is a change of crises and the rise of the conjuncture.


The burden is placed on the proletariat.

At the present time, almost all the hardships of the war are borne by the proletariat.

The first revolutionary war in 1918 prompted the bourgeoisie to make some concessions (an 8-hour day, social legislation, higher wages).

With the fall of the spontaneous wave of revolutionary ferment among the working masses, the offensive of capital against the gains of the revolution begins everywhere.

The offensive is characterized primarily by a systematic decrease in real wages in all European countries by 50-80% compared with pre-war times.

Wage cuts are accompanied by serious clashes. The decisive moment was the struggle of the British miners in the spring of 1921, which ended in complete defeat. In the autumn of 1923, the wages of German woodworkers were only 12% of the pre- war real wage, while the wages of other categories fluctuated between 15 and 45%.

Along with the reduction of wages, we see the desire of international capital to increase the working day, which in many cases has already been crowned with success.

Social-Democracy and a section of bourgeois economists expect from a new attempt to settle the reparations question on the basis of a project of experts to take a decisive turn towards an improvement in the economic situation in Europe.

These expectations are in vain: the experts' report signifies a continuation of deliberate and systematic attempts to

all the hardships of the war on the proletariat without a trace, since the middle strata for the most part have already been expropriated and, moreover, refuse to tolerate further robbery.

The success or failure of these plans depends on the combat readiness of the proletariat. In economic terms, the experts' report means a partial renunciation of reparation payments, but instead the transformation of Germany into a colony of the imperialist powers of the Entente, in order to artificially keep the development of German industry within the boundaries required by the interests of French and British industry.

This new solution to the problem will alleviate the acute crisis of capitalism in Germany, but will exacerbate the general crisis of the Western European industrial countries. The crisis will continue for a long time (if the victorious proletarian revolution does not put an end to capitalism). The contradictions of capitalism are becoming more and more dimensions.

The military preparations of the victorious countries against each other are on a forced march. Despite the shocking events of the world war, the big bourgeoisie is preparing for a new war. Under such conditions, bourgeois pacifism cannot prevent war.

War will be prevented only by a proletarian revolution.

The Attitude of The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party towards the war

Lenin Socialism and War

Socialists have always condemned war between nations as barbarous and brutal. But our attitude towards war is fundamentally different from that of the bourgeois pacifists (supporters and advocates of peace) and of the Anarchists. We differ from the former in that we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within the country; we understand that war cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and Socialism is created; and we also differ in that we fully regard civil wars, i.e., wars waged by the oppressed class against the oppressing class, slaves against slave-owners, serfs against land-owners, and wage workers against the bourgeoisie, as legitimate, progressive, and necessary. We Marxists differ from both the pacifists and the Anarchists in that we deem it necessary historically (from the standpoint of Marx's dialectical materialism) to study each war separately. In history there have been numerous wars which, in spite of all the horrors, atrocities, distress and suffering that inevitably accompany all wars, were progressive, i.e., benefited the development of mankind by helping to destroy the exceptionally harmful and reactionary institutions (for example, autocracy or serfdom), the most barbarous despotisms in Europe (Turkish and Russian). Therefore, it is necessary to examine the historically specific features of precisely the present war.

Historical types of wars in modern times

The Great French Revolution ushered in a new epoch in the history of mankind. From that time to the Paris Commune, from 1789 to 1871, one of the types of wars were wars of a bourgeois-progressive, national-liberating character. In other words, the chief content and historical significance of these wars were the overthrow of absolutism and feudalism, the undermining of these institutions, the overthrow of alien oppression. Therefore, those were progressive wars, and during such wars, all honest, revolutionary democrats, and also all Socialists, always sympathized with the success of that country (i.e., with that bourgeoisie), which had helped to overthrow, or sap, the most dangerous foundations of feudalism, absolutism, and the oppression of other nations. For example, the revolutionary wars waged by France contained an element of plunder and conquest of alien territory by the French, but this does not in the least alter the fundamental historical significance of these wars, which destroyed and shattered feudalism and absolutism in the whole of old, serf- ridden Europe. In the Franco-Prussian war, Germany plundered France, but this does not alter the fundamental historical significance of this war, which liberated tens of millions of German people from feudal disintegration and from the oppression of two despots, the Russian tsar and Napoleon.

The difference between aggressive and defensive war

The epoch of 1789-1871 left deep traces and revolutionary memories. Before feudalism, absolutism and alien oppression were overthrown, the development of the proletarian struggle for Socialism was out of the question. When speaking of the legitimacy of "defensive" war in relation to the wars of such an epoch, Socialists always had in mind precisely these objects, which amounted to revolution against medievalism and serfdom. By "defensive" war Socialists always meant a "just " war in this sense (W. Liebknecht once expressed himself precisely in this way). Only in this sense have Socialists regarded, and now regard, wars "for the defense of the fatherland," or "defensive" wars, as legitimate, progressive, and just. For example, if tomorrow, Morocco was to declare war on France, India on England, Persia, or China on Russia, and so forth, those would be "just," "defensive" wars, irrespective of who attacked first; and every Socialist would sympathize with the victory of the oppressed, dependent, unequal states against the oppressing, slave-owning, predatory "great" powers.

But picture to yourselves a slave-owner who owned 100 slaves warring against a slave-owner who owned 200 slaves for a more "just" distribution of slaves. Clearly, the application of the term "defensive" war, or war "for the defense of the fatherland," in such a case would be historically false, and in practice would be sheer deception of the common people, of philistines, of ignorant people, by the astute slave-owners. Precisely in this way are the present-day imperialist bourgeoisie deceiving the peoples by means of "national" ideology and the term "defense of the fatherland" in the present war between slave-owners for fortifying and strengthening slavery.

The present war is an imperialist war

Nearly everybody admits that the present war is an imperialist war, but in most cases this term is distorted or applied to one side, or a loophole is left for the assertion that this war may, after all, have a bourgeois-progressive, national liberating significance. Imperialism is the highest stage in the development of capitalism, reached only in the twentieth century. Capitalism now finds the old national states, without the formation of which it could not have overthrown feudalism, too tight for it. Capitalism has developed concentration to such a degree that whole branches of industry have been seized by syndicates, trusts, and associations of capitalist billionaires, and almost the entire globe has been divided up among the "lords of capital," either in the form of colonies, or by enmeshing other countries in thousands of threads of financial exploitation. Free trade and competition have been superseded by the striving for monopoly, for the seizure of territory for the investment of capital, for the export of raw materials from them, and so forth. From the liberator of nations that capitalism was in the struggle against feudalism, imperialist capitalism has become the greatest oppressor of nations. Formerly progressive, capitalism has become reactionary; it has developed the forces of production to such a degree that mankind is faced with the alternative of going over to Socialism or of suffering years and even decades of armed struggle between the "great" powers for the artificial preservation of capitalism by means of colonies, monopolies, privileges, and national oppression of every kind.

War between the biggest slave-owners for preserving and fortifying slavery

To explain the significance of imperialism, we will quote exact figures showing the division of the world among the so-called "great" (i.e., successful in great plunder) powers: [See p. 9 --Ed.] From this it is seen how most of the nations which fought at the head of others for freedom in 1789-1871, have now, after 1876, on the basis of highly developed and "overripe" capitalism, become the oppressors and enslavers of the majority of the populations and nations of the globe. 

From 1876 to 1914, six "great" powers grabbed 25 million sq. kilometers, i.e., an area two and a half times that of Europe! Six powers are enslaving over half a billion (523 million) inhabitants of colonies. For every four inhabitants of the "great" powers there are five inhabitants of "their" colonies. And everybody knows that colonies are conquered by fire and sword, that the populations of colonies are brutally treated, that they are exploited in a thousand ways (by exporting capital, concessions, etc., cheating when selling them goods, subordination to the authorities of the "ruling" nation, and.......so on and so forth). The Anglo- French bourgeoisie are deceiving the people when they say that they are waging war for the freedom of nations and for Belgium; actually, they are waging war for the purpose of retaining the colonies they have inordinately grabbed. 

The German imperialists would free Belgium, etc., at once if the British and French would agree "fairly" to share their colonies with them. The peculiarity of the situation lies in that in this war the fate of the colonies is being decided by war on the Continent. From the standpoint of bourgeois justice and national freedom (or the right of nations to existence), Germany would be absolutely right as against England and France, for she has been "done out" of colonies, her enemies are oppressing an immeasurably far larger number of nations than she is, and the Slavs who are oppressed by her ally Austria undoubtedly enjoy far more freedom than those in tsarist Russia, that real "prison of nations." But Germany is fighting not for the liberation, but for the oppression of nations. It is not the business of Socialists to help the younger and stronger robber (Germany) to rob the older and overgorged robbers. Socialists must take advantage of the struggle between the robbers to overthrow them all. To be able to do this, the Socialists must first of all tell the people the truth, namely, that this war is in a treble sense a war between slave-owners to fortify slavery. This is a war firstly, to fortify the enslavement of the colonies by means of a "fairer" distribution and subsequent more "concerted" exploitation of them; secondly, to fortify the oppression of other nations within the "great" powers, for both Austria and Russia (Russia more and much worse than Austria) maintain their rule only by such oppression, intensifying it by means of war; and thirdly, to fortify and prolong wage slavery, for the proletariat is split up and suppressed, while the capitalists gain, making fortunes out of the war, aggravating national prejudices and intensifying reaction, which has raised its head in all countries, even in the freest and most republican.

"War is the continuation of politics by other" (i.e., violent) "means"

This famous aphorism was uttered by one of the profoundest writers on the problems of war, Clausewitz. Marxists have always rightly regarded this thesis as the theoretical basis of views concerning the significance of every given war. It was precisely from this viewpoint that Marx and Engels always regarded different wars.

Apply this view to the present war. You will see that for decades, for almost half a century, the governments and the ruling classes of England, and France, and Germany, and Italy, and Austria, and Russia, pursued a policy of plundering colonies, of oppressing other nations, of suppressing the working-class movement. It is this, and only this policy that is being continued in the present war. In particular, the policy of both Austria and Russia, in peace-time as, well as in war-time, is a policy of enslaving and not of Liberating nations. In China, Persia, India, and other dependent countries, on the contrary, we have seen during the past decades a policy of rousing tens and hundreds of millions of people to national life, of liberating them from the oppression of the reactionary "great" powers. A war on such a historical ground can even today be a bourgeois- progressive, national liberation war.

It is sufficient to glance at the present war from the viewpoint that it is a continuation of the politics of the "great" powers, and of the principal classes within them, to see at once the howling anti-historicalness, falsity, and hypocrisy of the view that the "defense of the fatherland" idea can be justified in the present war.

The example of Belgium

The favorite plea of the social-chauvinist triple (now quadruple) entente (in Russia, Plekhanov, and Co.) is the
example of Belgium. But this example goes against them. The German imperialists shamelessly violated the neutrality of Belgium, as belligerent states have done always and everywhere, trampling upon all treaties and obligations if necessary. Let us suppose that all the states interested in the observation of international treaties declared war on Germany with the demand for the liberation and indemnification of Belgium. In such a case, the sympathies of Socialists would, of course, be on the side of Germany's enemies. But the whole point is that the "triple (and quadruple) entente" is waging war not over Belgium: this is perfectly well known, and only hypocrites conceal this. England is grabbing Germany's colonies and Turkey; Russia is grabbing Galicia and Turkey, France wants Alsace-Lorraine and even the left bank of the Rhine; a treaty has been concluded with Italy for the division of the spoils (Albania, Asia Minor); bargaining is going on with Bulgaria and Rumania, also for the division of the spoils. In the present war waged by the present governments it is impossible to help Belgium without helping to strangle Austria or Turkey, etc.! How does "defense of the fatherland" come in here? Herein, precisely, lies the specific feature of imperialist war, war between reactionary bourgeois, historically obsolete governments, waged for the purpose of oppressing other nations. Whoever justifies participation in the present war perpetuates imperialist oppression of nations. Whoever advocates taking advantage of the present embarrassments of the governments to fight for the social revolution champions the real freedom of really all nations, which is possible only under Socialism.

What is Russia fighting for?

In Russia, capitalist imperialism of the latest type has fully revealed itself in the policy of tsarism towards Persia, Manchuria, and Mongolia; but, in general, military, and feudal imperialism predominates in Russia. In no country in the world is the majority of the population oppressed so much as it is in Russia; Great Russians constitute only 43 per cent of the population, i.e., less than half; all the rest are denied rights as aliens. Of the 170 million inhabitants of Russia, about one hundred million are oppressed and denied rights. Tsarism is waging war to seize Galicia and finally to crush the liberties of the Ukrainians, to seize Armenia, Constantinople, etc. Tsarism regards the war as a means of diverting attention from the growth of discontent within the country and of suppressing the growing revolutionary movement. At the present time, for every two Great Russians in Russia there are from two to three rightless "aliens": tsarism is striving by means of the war to increase the number of nations oppressed by Russia, to perpetuate this oppression and thereby undermine the struggle for freedom which the Great Russians themselves are waging. The possibility of oppressing and robbing other nations perpetuates economic stagnation, because, often, the source of income is not the development of productive forces, but the semi-feudal exploitation of "aliens." Thus, on the part of Russia, the war is distinguished for its profoundly reactionary and anti- liberating character.

What is social-chauvinism?

Social-chauvinism is advocacy of the idea of "defense of the fatherland" in the present war. Further, this idea logically leads to the abandonment of the class struggle during the war, to voting war credits, etc. Actually, the social chauvinists are pursuing an anti-proletarian, bourgeois policy; for actually, they are championing not "defense of the fatherland" in the sense of fighting foreign oppression, but the "right" of one or other of the "great" powers to plunder colonies and to oppress other nations. The social-chauvinists repeat the bourgeois deception of the people that the war is being waged to protect the freedom and existence of nations, and thereby they go over to the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. In the category of social-chauvinists are those who justify and embellish the governments and bourgeoisie of one of the belligerent groups of powers, as well as those who, like Kautsky, argue that the Socialists of all the belligerent powers have an equal right to "defend the fatherland." Social- chauvinism, being actually defense of the privileges, advantages, robbery, and violence of one's "own" (or every) imperialist bourgeoisie, is the utter betrayal of all socialist convictions and of the decision of the Basle International Socialist Congress.

The Basle Manifesto

The manifesto on war that was unanimously adopted in Basle in 1912 had in view the very war between England and Germany and their present allies that broke out in 1914. The manifesto openly declares that no plea of the interests of the people can justify such a war, waged "for the sake of the profits of the capitalists" and "the ambitions of dynasties" on the basis of the imperialist, predatory policy of the great powers. The manifesto openly declares that war is dangerous "for the governments" (all without exception), notes their fear of "a proletarian revolution," and very definitely points to the example of the Commune of 1871, and of October-December 1905, i.e., to the examples of revolution and civil war. Thus, the Basle Manifesto lays down, precisely for the present war, the tactics of revolutionary struggle by the workers on an international scale against their governments, the tactics of proletarian revolution. The Basle Manifesto repeats the statement in the Stuttgart resolution that, in the event of war breaking out, Socialists must take advantage of the "economic and political crisis" it will cause, to "hasten the downfall of capitalism," i.e., to take advantage of the governments 'embarrassments and the anger of the masses, caused by the war, for the socialist revolution.

The policy of the social-chauvinists, their justification of the war from the bourgeois-liberation standpoint, their sanctioning of "defense of the fatherland," voting credits, entering cabinets, and so on and so forth, is downright treachery to Socialism, which can be explained only, as we will see lower down, by the victory of opportunism and of the national-liberal labor policy in the majority of European parties.

False references to Marx and Engels

The Russian social-chauvinists (headed by Plekhanov), refer to Marx's tactics in the war of 1870; the German (of the type of Lensch, David and Co.) to Engels' statement in 1891 that in the event of war against Russia and France together, it would be the duty of the German Socialists to defend their fatherland; and lastly, the social-chauvinists of the Kautsky type, who want to reconcile and legitimatize international chauvinism, refer to the fact that Marx and Engels, while condemning war, nevertheless, constantly, from 1854-1855 to 1870-1871 and 1876- 1877, took the side of one or another belligerent state once war had broken out.

All these references are outrageous distortions of the views of Marx and Engels in the interest of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, in just the same way as the writings of the Anarchists Guillaume and Co. distort the views of Marx and Engels in justification of anarchism. The war of 1870-1871 was a historically progressive war on the part of Germany until Napoleon III was defeated; for the latter, together with the tsar, had oppressed Germany for many years, keeping her in a state of feudal disintegration. But as soon as the war developed into the plunder of France (the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine), Marx and Engels emphatically condemned the Germans. And even at the beginning of that war Marx and Engels approved of the refusal of Bebel and Liebknecht to vote for credits and advised the Social-Democrats not to merge with the bourgeoisie, but to uphold the independent class interests of the proletariat. To apply the appraisal of this bourgeois- progressive and national-liberating war to the present imperialist war means mocking the truth.

The same applies with still greater force to the war of 1854-1855, and to all the wars of the nineteenth century, when there was no modern imperialism, no ripe objective conditions for Socialism, and no mass Socialist parties in any of the belligerent countries, i.e., none of the conditions from which the Basle Manifesto deduced the tactics of "proletarian revolution" in connection with a war between the great powers.

Whoever refers today to Marx's attitude towards the wars of the epoch of the progressive bourgeoisie and forgets Marx's statement that "the workers have no fatherland," a statement that applies precisely to the epoch of the reactionary, obsolete bourgeoisie, to the epoch of the socialist revolution, shamelessly distorts Marx and substitutes the bourgeois for the socialist point of view.

The collapse of the second international

The Socialists of all the world solemnly declared in Basle, in 1912, that they regarded the impending war in Europe as the "criminal" and most reactionary affair of all the governments, which must hasten the downfall of capitalism by inevitably calling forth a revolution against it. The war came, the crisis came. Instead of revolutionary tactics, the majority of the Social-Democratic parties conducted reactionary tactics, went over to the side of their respective governments and bourgeoisie. This betrayal of Socialism signifies the collapse of the Second (1889-1914) International, and we must understand what caused this collapse, what brought social-chauvinism into being, what gave it strength.

Social-chauvinism is consummated opportunism

During the whole epoch of the Second International, a struggle raged everywhere in the Social-Democratic parties between the revolutionary and the opportunist wings. In a number of countries, a split has taken place along this line (England, Italy, Holland, Bulgaria). Not a single Marxist has any doubt that opportunism expresses bourgeois policy within the working- class movement, expresses the interests of the petty bourgeoisie and the alliance of a tiny section of bourgeoisified workers with "their" bourgeoisie against the interests of the proletarian masses, the oppressed masses.

The objective conditions of the end of the nineteenth century exceptionally intensified opportunism, converted the utilization of bourgeois legality into subservience to it, created a tiny stratum of bureaucrats and aristocrats within the working class, and drew into the ranks of the Social-Democratic parties numerous petty-bourgeois "fellow travelers."

The war accelerated this development and transformed opportunism into social-chauvinism, transformed the secret alliance between the opportunists and the bourgeoisie into an open one. Simultaneously, the military authorities everywhere have introduced martial law and have muzzled the mass of the workers, whose old leaders have nearly all gone over to the bourgeoisie.

Opportunism and social-chauvinism have the same economic basis: the interests of a tiny stratum of privileged workers and of the petty bourgeoisie who are defending their privileged position, their "right" to crumbs of the profits "their" national bourgeoisie obtain from robbing other nations, from the advantages of their position as the ruling nation, etc.

Opportunism and social-chauvinism have the same ideological-political content: collaboration of classes instead of class struggle, renunciation of revolutionary methods of struggle, helping one's "own" government in its embarrassed situation instead of taking advantage of these embarrassments for revolution. If we take all the European countries as a whole, if we pay attention not to individuals (even the most authoritative), we will find that it is the opportunist trend that has become the chief bulwark of social-chauvinism, whereas from the camp of the revolutionaries, more or less consistent protests against it are heard nearly everywhere. And if we take, for example, the grouping of trends at the Stuttgart International Socialist Congress in 1907, we will find that international Marxism was opposed to imperialism, while international opportunism was in favour of it already at that time.

Unity with the opportunists means alliance between the workers and "their" national bourgeoisie and splitting the international revolutionary working class

In the past epoch, before the war, although opportunism was often regarded as a "deviationist," "extremist" part of the Social- Democratic Party, it was nevertheless regarded as a legitimate part. War has shown that this cannot be so in [the -- DJR] future. Opportunism has "matured," is now playing to the full its role as emissary of the bourgeois in the working-class movement. Unity with the opportunists has become sheer hypocrisy, an example of which we see in the German Social- Democratic Party. On all important occasions (for example, the voting on August 4), the opportunists come forward with an ultimatum, which they carry out with the aid of their numerous connections with the bourgeoisie, of their majority on the executives of the trade unions, etc. Unity with the opportunists actually means today, subordinating the working class to "its" national bourgeoisie, alliance with it for the purpose of oppressing other nations and of fighting for great-power privileges, it means splitting the revolutionary proletariat in all countries.

Hard as the struggle may be, in individual cases, against the opportunists who predominate in many organizations, peculiar as the process of purging the workers' parties of opportunists may be in individual countries, this process is inevitable and fruitful. Reformist Socialism is dying; regenerated Socialism "will be revolutionary, uncompromising and insurrectionary," to use the apt expression of the French Socialist Paul Golay.


Kautsky, the biggest authority in the Second International, gives us a highly typical and glaring example of how the verbal recognition of Marxism has led actually to its conversion into "Struveism," or into ''Brentanoism.'' We see this also from the example of Plekhanov. By means of obvious sophistry they rob Marxism of its revolutionary living spirit; to recognize everything in Marxism except revolutionary methods of struggle, the preaching of and preparation for such methods, and the training of the masses precisely in this direction. Kautsky, in an unprincipled fashion, "reconciles" the fundamental idea of social-chauvinism, recognition of defense of the fatherland in the present war, with a diplomatic, sham concession to the Lefts in the shape of abstaining from voting credits, the verbal claim of being in the opposition, etc. Kautsky, who in 1909 authored a whole book on the approaching epoch of revolutions and on the connection between war and revolutions, Kautsky, who in 1912 signed the Basle Manifesto on taking revolutionary advantage of the impending war, is now, in every way, justifying and embellishing social- chauvinism and, like Plekhanov, joins the bourgeoisie in ridiculing all thought of revolution, all steps towards direct revolutionary struggle.

The working class cannot play its world-revolutionary role unless it wages a ruthless struggle against this renegacy, spinelessness, subservience to opportunism and unexampled vulgarization of the theories of Marxism. Kautskyism is not a fortuity, but a social product of the contradictions within the Second International, a combination of loyalty to Marxism in words and subordination to opportunism in deeds.

This fundamental falseness of "Kautskyism" manifests itself in different ways in different countries. In Holland, Roland-Holst, while rejecting the idea of defending the fatherland, defends unity with the opportunists' party. In Russia, Trotsky, while also rejecting this idea, also defends unity with the opportunist and chauvinist Nesha Zarya group. In Rumania, Rakovsky, while declaring war on opportunism as being responsible for the collapse of the International, is at the same time ready to recognize the legitimacy of the idea of defending the fatherland. All this is a manifestation of the evil which the Dutch Marxists (Gorter and Pannekoek) have called "passive radicalism," and which amounts to substituting for Marxism eclecticism in theory and servility to, or impotence in the face of, opportunism in practice.

The Marxists’ slogan is the slogan of revolutionary social- democracy

The war has undoubtedly created a most acute crisis and has increased the distress of the masses to an incredible degree. The reactionary character of this war, and the shameless lies told by the bourgeoisie of all countries in covering up their predatory aims with "national" ideology, are inevitably creating, on the basis of an objectively revolutionary situation, revolutionary moods among the masses. It is our duty to help the masses to become conscious of these moods, to deepen and formulate them. This task is correctly expressed only by the slogan: convert the imperialist war into civil war; and all consistently waged class struggles during the war, all seriously conducted "mass action" tactics inevitably lead to this. It is impossible to foretell whether a powerful revolutionary movement will flare up during the first or the second war of the great powers, whether during or after it; in any case, our bounden duty is systematically and undeviatingly to work precisely in this direction.

The Basle Manifesto refers directly to the example set by the Paris Commune, i.e., to the conversion of a war between governments into civil war. Half a century ago, the proletariat was too weak; the objective conditions for Socialism had not yet ripened; there could be no coordination and cooperation between the revolutionary movements in all the belligerent countries; the "national ideology" (the traditions of 1792), with which a section of the Parisian workers were imbued, was their petty-bourgeois weakness, which Marx noted at the time, and was one of the causes of the fall of the Commune. Half a century after it, the conditions that weakened the revolution at that time have passed away, and it is unpardonable for a Socialist at the present time to resign himself to the abandonment of activities precisely in the spirit of the Paris Communards.

The example shown by the fraternization in the trenches

The bourgeois newspapers of all the belligerent countries have reported cases of fraternization between the soldiers of the belligerent nations even in the trenches. And the issue by the military authorities (of Germany, England) of draconic orders against such fraternization proved that the governments and the bourgeoisie attached grave importance to it. The fact that such cases of fraternization have been possible even when opportunism reigns supreme in the top ranks of the Social-Democratic parties of Western Europe, and when social- chauvinism is supported by the entire Social-Democratic press and by all the authorities of the Second International, shows us how possible it would be to shorten the present criminal, reactionary and slave-owners' war and to organize a revolutionary international movement, if systematic work were conducted in this direction, if only by the Left-wing Socialists in all the belligerent countries.

The importance of underground organization

The most prominent Anarchists all over the world, no less than the opportunists, have disgraced themselves with social- chauvinism (in the spirit of Plekhanov and Kautsky) in this war. One of the useful results of this war will undoubtedly be that it will kill both anarchism and opportunism.

While under no circumstances or conditions refraining from utilizing all legal possibilities, however small, for the purpose of organizing the masses and of preaching Socialism, the Social- Democratic parties must break with subservience to legality. "You shoot first, Messieurs the Bourgeoisie,'' wrote Engels, hinting precisely at civil war and at the necessity of our violating legality after the bourgeoisie had violated it. The crisis has shown that the bourgeoisie violate it in all countries, even the freest, and that it is impossible to lead the masses to revolution unless an underground organization is set up for the purpose of advocating, discussing, appraising, and preparing revolutionary methods of struggle. In Germany, for example, all the honest things that Socialists are doing, are being done in spite of despicable opportunism and hypocritical "Kautskyism," and are being done secretly. In England, people are sent to penal servitude for printing appeals against joining the army.

Regarding the repudiation of underground methods of propaganda, and ridiculing the latter in the legally published press, as being compatible with membership of the Social Democratic Party is treachery to Socialism.

Concerning defeat of "one's own" government in the imperialist war

Both the advocates of victory for their governments in the present war and the advocates of the slogan "neither victory nor defeat," equally take the standpoint of social-chauvinism. A revolutionary class cannot but wish for the defeat of its government in a reactionary war, cannot fail to see that its military reverses facilitate its overthrow. Only a bourgeois who believes that a war started by the governments must necessarily end as a war between governments and wants it to end as such, can regard as "ridiculous" and "absurd" the idea that the Socialists of all the belligerent countries should wish for the of all "their" governments and express this wish. On the contrary, it is precisely a statement of this kind that would conform to the cherished thoughts of every class-conscious worker, and would be in line with our activities towards converting the imperialist war into civil war.

Undoubtedly, the serious anti-war agitation that is being conducted by a section of the British, German and Russian Socialists has "weakened the military power" of the respective governments, but such agitation stands to the credit of the Socialists. Socialists must explain to the masses that they have no other road of salvation except the revolutionary overthrow of "their" governments, and that advantage must be taken of these governments' embarrassments in the present war precisely for this purpose.

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