We are publishing here our response to a message from the Anti-Militarist Initiative, a network mainly based in eastern Europe, which is part of a wider questioning of capitalism’s war drive in the wake of the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. A whole series of groups, most of them identifying with the anarchist tradition, have been issuing statements and calling for conferences to discuss “what is to be done” about the increasingly catastrophic perspectives opened up by these wars.
We welcome the fact that the AMI blog has published a number of the ICC’s articles on war and internationalism, including an interview with Marc Chirik on revolutionaries faced with the Second World War, and an article showing the profound divergences that the war in Ukraine has revealed within the anarchist “family”, between those seeking to take a clear internationalist stance and those openly advocating the defence of the Ukrainian state. In our reply, we encourage the AMI to elaborate further on the discussions going on in their ranks, and at the same time argue for the need to develop a global analysis which situates these wars in a historical and global context. This alone can enable us to understand the perspectives offered by the capitalist system, and above all the real possibilities for the class struggle and the intervention of revolutionaries faced with imperialist war. Without such an analysis, it is easy to fall into a sterile activism which can only end in demoralisation given its inevitable failure to deliver any immediate results.
From the ICC to AMI
Sorry for the long delay in responding to you.
You mentioned in your last correspondence that you are discussing:
1) Analysis of escalating conflict in the Mid-East
2) How to organize practical actions against the capitalist wars
3) How to change the inter-imperialist conflicts into a revolutionary
We would like to send you a few key points as a contribution to your debates.
1) Analysis of escalating conflict in the Mid-East
We have published several articles of analysis of the situation – in case you may not have seen them we put the URL links at the end of our reply.
From these articles we can highlight a few points.
The latest Mid-East war, which takes place at the same time as the war in Ukraine (which is soon reaching its third year) and rising tensions in the Caucasus and on the Balkans and elsewhere cannot be disconnected from the global confrontation between the US and China.
But while the US has faced several fiascos in the Middle East (Iraq-Syria-Afghanistan) and has decided to concentrate its forces on preventing China from becoming the world’s leading power (which would means toppling the US) the latest escalation in the Middle East comes somewhat as an “unwanted” war for the US.
In particular, the position of the US in the Middle East has been weakened by the way Israel has been proceeding (imposing the biggest ever exodus of the Gaza population and brutal retaliation through a scorched earth policy).
Also, the US has lured Russia into the war in Ukraine. Russia has been trying to reconquer its lost positions of the time of the existence of the two blocs. It can only do this militarily- as it had already shown through its fierce support to the Syrian regime. This Ukraine-Russia war is now posing increasing difficulties – because it has become a stagnating war, and supporting Ukraine has become increasingly unpopular in the US.
The rise of China has not only been through its enormous economic growth. This has always been accompanied by a long-term strategy of modernisation and expansion of its army; and its Silk Road projects reveal the scope of its ambitions, as well of course as its claim of wanting to integrate Taiwan into China and the policy of establishing a bigger presence in the South China Sea– all of which have been opposed by the Western countries. One project after the other aimed at counter-acting the Silk Road has been adopted by the EU, USA and India.
We can see there is a world-wide sharpening of tensions, engulfing more and more countries, and the latest Middle East war also shows an increasing loss of control by the US over its gendarme (Israel) in the region. With the unleashing of the First World War, the Second World War, the Cold War and its many proxy wars afterwards, militarism has become the mode of survival of the system and a real cancer eating at its heart.
This dynamic alone already shows that we cannot eradicate this cancer of militarism if the system is not overcome.
At the same time when the leading politicians and “experts” gathered in Dubai at the COP 28 conference, they showed that the ruling class is unable and largely unwilling to take the necessary measures to protect the planet. Leaving the destiny of our planet in the hands of the capitalist class means humanity is signing its death penalty – another urgent reason to overcome the capitalist system.
We will not go into the effects of the economic crisis, famine, the massive exodus of refugees we see in all continents, all of which are expressions of the same impasse that the system has driven humanity into.
In short: we cannot understand what is happening if we only look at one aspect, but we must see the totality and the interconnection between the different destructive components.
How do you see this link and this world-wide evolution? Can we understand events in one country by isolating them from the rest, or do we need to situate them in a global framework.?
What is your analysis? Which debates do you have amongst yourselves on this?
How do you see this link and this world-wide evolution? Can we understand events in one country by isolating them from the rest, or do we need to place this in a global framework?
We have also noticed that while several groups managed to take a clear position on the Ukraine-Russian war, rejecting support for both sides, a crystal-clear internationalist position against the war in Middle East has been avoided or much harder to take for some groups. One reason is that many groups still cling to the idea that there could be something progressive behind the formation of a Palestinian state. We defend the position of the Communist Left, which in continuity with the defence of internationalism at the time of the First World War also defended internationalism at the time of the Second, and against so-called national liberation struggles. The support for the formation of any new state in what the Third International called the “epoch of wars and revolutions” is a totally reactionary idea, only fostering more wars; we must stand for the abolition of all states. The survival of the planet – of humanity – cannot be assured by more states, but requires precisely the abolition of all states and the overcoming of all forms of nationalism.
This was the tradition of the Gauche Communiste de France and Marc Chirik, an interview with whom you published recently.
The question of “practical actions” against capitalist wars
We wish we could do something with an immediate effect against the war. Our indignation and outrage seeing the barbaric acts in Ukraine or in the Middle East understandably make us want to be able to stop the war machinery at once!
But we have to see that indignation is not enough and that it is not realistic to expect the working class to take immediate and decisive, efficient action against the war on a short-term basis. In order to be able to bring this and all the other wars to an end, we have to do nothing less than overthrow the system!
To understand the real scope of the challenge and the necessary solution we need to go back to history.
It is true that the insurrections and revolutions of the working class in 1905 or the First World War arose out of a reaction against the war. But the conditions of that war and those now are very different. In 1914-18 there was the mobilisation of millions of soldiers in the heartlands of capital; this is not the case now. The kind of weapons that were used in 1914-18 were cannons, increasingly tanks, and also some air-raids and chemical weapons (gas). But in the trenches there was still very a much a fight of “rifle against rifle”. The war stagnated, got entrenched, and there was still the possibility of direct contact (shouting between the trenches). So there could be fraternisation in the trenches after some time.
All this is not the case today. The weapons (bullets, missiles, drones, bombs, planes etc) can travel long-distances, so that the soldiers do not even see the enemy.
In the First World War there was eventually a massive mobilisation by the soldiers – not just desertions. From 1915, step by step. there were more and more protests in the streets and in the factories, because the war meant the intensification of labour, militarisation, enforced “social peace” in the factories, and above all hunger. Liebknecht gathered 60,000 workers in the Potsdam Square, and more and more street demos and wildcat strikes erupted – with the large numbers of women being drafted into the factories also playing an important role. The whole military front and the home front was breaking apart. In Russia, the workers began to fight against the officers and to fraternise; and there was also a reaction against the war by the many peasants who had been forcefully recruited. The human/social factor played a key role in the war machinery. Still from August 1914 until February 1917, then October 1917, three years of slaughter went by, and even the revolution in Russia could not yet stop the war on the other fronts. It was only in November 1918, with the outbreak of revolution in Germany, that things took a decisive turn to bring the World War to an end. The soldiers and marines of Kiel had been ordered to deliver the “last battle” against Britain, but the sailors realised that it would mean their deaths. So they had to fight directly for their lives, for their survival. The combination of a beginning of fraternisation at the military front and the eruption of struggles at the home front forced the bourgeoisie in Germany to react.
These conditions do not exist today. More and more soldiers are recruited in Ukraine and Russia, and there has not yet been any significant class reaction against the war – even if there has been a massive exodus of men from Ukraine and much more from Russia to escape forced recruitment. A massive open resistance against the war in Russia has still to come. At the moment it seems that there is not yet any major food shortage, or collapse of the economy. It is a specificity of the Russian situation that the Russian economy has been so highly dependent on oil and gas exports, so the sanctions by the West/USA have forced Russia to sell more to other countries – which has helped Russia to win time and has helped the Putin regime to avoid imposing a massive economic attack on the working class. But this gain of time is not likely to last forever and the reaction of the working class in Russia, which would be a key factor in opposing the war, remains an unknown, unpredictable factor. The working class in Ukraine is confronted even more with an omnipresent nationalism. Any resistance against the war is likely to be crushed by the Zelensky regime.
This is why we have to look at the working class in the West. Because the working class in the West cannot be mobilised for the war directly, – most workers would refuse having to sacrifice their lives for the war – and because the NATO countries have carefully avoided putting boots on the ground because they know the working class and maybe other parts of the population in the West would not support this. Thus the West has above all delivered the whole arsenal of weapons necessary to prolonging the war.
Paradoxically enough, the reactions in the US in the Republican party are very revealing. There is a rising opposition to continuing financing the war in Ukraine, because they say this would be at the expense of the US economy. They also feel that the working class is not willing to sacrifice its lives and go hungry for the war in Ukraine.
Another factor has to be taken into consideration. In Russia in October 1917 the working class managed to overthrow a relatively weak and at that time still isolated bourgeoisie. The White counter-offensive with the civil war only began a year later.
But the German bourgeoisie was a much more experienced and more powerful bourgeoisie and they were able to bring the war to an end “overnight” in November 1918, when the sailors of Kiel began to move and soldiers and workers‘ councils began to be set up, taking the road of the Russian Revolution.
So the German proletariat was facing a much more cunning, intelligent bourgeoisie, which got the support from the other bourgeoisies as soon as the proletariat began to raise its head in Germany.
Today the working class faces an increasingly rotten, decomposed capitalist class, but despite their rottenness they are more determined than ever to unite their forces if their deadly enemy, the working class, raises its head. And they can also count on the trade unions, the left parties etc. to sabotage the workers‘ struggles. Thus an immediate dynamic towards a radicalisation of struggles against the war cannot yet be expected.
How to change the inter-imperialist conflicts into a revolutionary class struggle?
Where does the key lie?
The key still lies in the hands of the working class.
We think that the workers in Britain, France, more recently in the USA, have begun to offer the proof. Driven by inflation or other strong attacks, the workers in many countries have begun to stand up and break a decades-long period of passivity and disorientation in the face of the unfolding of events. This is why we talk about a “rupture” in the class struggle.
And we think this capacity of the working class to defend its economic interest is the PRECONDITION for developing its strength, its self-confidence, through which the class can recognise itself, and understand clearly that there are two major classes opposing each other.
In this sense the economic defensive struggles are absolutely necessary. It is during these economic struggles, where the workers must learn to take the struggles into their own hands (which they have not done for a long time), where they must learn again to identify their real enemies (are these the migrants, the refugees – as all the populists and the right wing claim – or those who exploit them?) and their class brothers and sisters who can develop a class solidarity by uniting and taking up the struggles themselves.
And it’s through the economic defensive struggles the workers must again learn to discover that the problems are much more deeply rooted within the system and are not the fault of some rotten and greedy banker (as the Occupy Movement of 2011 tried to make us believe), and also that all the other threats to the survival of humanity are basically rooted in the system. So this process of politicisation needs the actual fire of the class struggle, but the discussions going on in different layers of the class can be propelled and catalysed by these open struggles.
Rosa Luxemburg insisted in November/December 1918 on the indispensability of much more pressure coming from the factories and economic struggles, once the “soldiers’ revolution” had the wind taken out of its sails by the decision of the bourgeoisie to end the war.
This has been the dynamic of the class struggle since 1905, when it became clear that political and economic struggles must merge together in one big stream: the mass strike.
And by coming together as a class through fighting for their economic interests, the working class can also block the destructive influence of all kind of divisive factors such as “identitarian” issues (around race, sexuality, etc). By being forced through its economic struggles to look for the solidarity of all other workers to oppose the state and be stronger than the capitalist class through the extension and unification of the struggles, the working class can play the role of a magnet in society, offering a perspective to all those oppressed by capital- not by dissolving itself in an anonymous mass of individuals, but by acting as a united force against the ruling class.
If we insist on the need for the class to develop its economic struggles, it is not that we are running away from our responsibility towards the war. But it is the only way to develop an efficient response. To believe an immediate solution can be found through some kind of minority “action” is a dead-end, and will ultimately demoralise those who take part in them.
It is indispensable to understand, as Pannekoek insisted in his famous book World Revolution and Communist Tactics of 1920, that the proletarian revolution is the first revolution in history which depends entirely on the collective, conscious and massive action of the working class. It cannot count on any other force than is own strength – its consciousness and its solidarity, its capacity for unification.
To create illusions about an easy and quick way out is misleading and demoralising. This is why we have rejected the Internationalist Communist Tendency’s scheme of setting up committees against the war. In our view these committees confuse the essentially political role that revolutionary organisations have to play in the face of imperialist wars. We have written several articles about this.
Shortly after the start of the Ukraine war, we also took position on this question in an article on Militarism and Decomposition, from which we quote here:
“8) In the past we have criticised the slogan of ‘revolutionary defeatism’. This slogan was put forward during the First World War, notably by Lenin, and was based on a fundamentally internationalist concern: the denunciation of the lies spread by the social-chauvinists who claimed that it was necessary for their country to gain a victory before allowing the proletarians of that country to engage in the struggle for socialism. In the face of these lies, the internationalists pointed out that it was not the victory of a country that favoured the struggle of the proletariat of that country against their bourgeoisie but, on the contrary, its defeat (as illustrated by the examples of the Paris Commune after the defeat by Prussia and of the 1905 Revolution following the failure of Russia’s war against Japan). Subsequently, this slogan of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ was interpreted as the wish of the proletariat of each country to see its own bourgeoisie defeated in order to favour the fight for its overthrow, which obviously turns its back on a true internationalism. In reality, Lenin himself (who in 1905 had hailed Russia’s defeat by Japan) first of all put forward the slogan ‘turn the imperialist war into a civil war’ which constituted a concretisation of the amendment which, together with Rosa Luxemburg and Martov, he had presented and adopted at the Stuttgart Congress of the Socialist International in 1907: ‘In case war breaks out nevertheless [the socialist parties] have the duty to intercede to bring it to a prompt end and to use with all their strength the economic and political crisis created by the war to stir up the deepest popular strata and precipitate the fall of capitalist domination’.
The revolution in Russia in 1917 was a striking concretisation of the slogan ‘transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war’: the proletarians turned against their exploiters the weapons the latter had given them in order to massacre their class brothers in other countries. This being said, as we have seen above, even if it is not excluded that soldiers could still turn their weapons against their officers (during the Vietnam War, there were cases where American soldiers ‘accidentally’ shot their superiors or lobbed fragmentation bombs into the officer’s tents), such facts could only be of very limited scale and could not constitute in any way the basis of a revolutionary offensive. For this reason, in our propaganda, we should not only not put forward the slogan of “revolutionary defeatism” but also that of ‘turning the imperialist war into a civil war’.
More generally, it is the responsibility of the groups of the Communist Left to take stock of the position of revolutionaries in the face of war in the past by highlighting what remains valid (the defence of internationalist principles) and what is no longer valid (the ‘tactical’ slogans). In this sense, if the slogan of ‘turning the imperialist war into a civil war’ cannot henceforth constitute a realistic perspective, it is necessary on the other hand to underline the validity of the amendment adopted at the Stuttgart Congress in 1907 and particularly the idea that revolutionaries have the duty t’o use with all their strength the economic and political crisis created by the war to agitate the deepest popular strata and to precipitate the fall of capitalist domination’. This slogan is obviously not immediately feasible given the present weak situation of the proletariat, but it remains a beacon for communist intervention in the class”.
As to what this means for the role of revolutionaries, who are necessarily a small minority, we have tried to develop this in our Joint Declaration against the war and our Appeal to the groups of the Communist Left, which you may have seen.
We would be glad if you would let us know about the discussions in your ranks, and we are of course eager to discuss with you directly. If you have any material you recommend that we read – please send it to us.
Hoping that soon we will get a direct exchange off the ground.
Waiting for your answer…and once again sorry for a late response.
The reality behind the bourgeois slogans, World Revolution 399
Report on imperialist tensions, International Review 170