Faced with war and the acceleration of the crisis of capitalism, revolutionaries have a historic responsibility

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The attitude of communists in the face of war has always been a clear class frontier between the camp of the proletariat and the camp of the bourgeoisie. Confronted with an unparalleled descent into the barbarism of war, with the ceaseless torrent of nationalist propaganda and the shameful lies of bourgeois pacifism, genuine revolutionaries have not bargained with the political principles of the workers’ movement, they have not hesitated to mount an unfailing defence of proletarian internationalism. When the proletariat was betrayed in the eve of the First World War and led into the trenches by Social Democracy, the revolutionaries, who had remained loyal to internationalism, though small in number, made no concessions to the calls for a “Sacred Union” against “German militarism” on one side or “Tsarist autocracy” on the other.

On the contrary! When the chauvinist hysteria was at its height, including in the ranks of the proletariat, they came together, in spite of many confusions among them, at Zimmerwald in 1915, then at Kienthal the following year. The revolutionaries who were clearest about the new situation opened up by the war, the Zimmerwald left, and the Bolsheviks in particular, waged a bitter struggle in these conferences to clarify the road ahead and to hold high the banner of internationalism and autonomous proletarian struggle: the working class has no camp to choose and must not align itself with any other class. The only possible way to stop the war was the independent struggle of the proletariat on the basis of its specific interests!

During the Second World War, the atrocious height of several decades of counter-revolution, the revolutionary forces, those of the communist left, although scarce and dispersed, never stopped denouncing the war and intervening within their class to affirm, in an extremely difficult context, that it had to develop its struggle against all the imperialisms. There again, revolutionary organisations did not wait with folded arms until the proletariat mobilised en masse against the war. Rather they tried to act as a determined spearhead in the defence of internationalism, putting forward the necessity to overthrow the capitalist system, even though, in the context of the Second World War, the proletariat was absolutely unable to carry out this titanic task.

Following in the footsteps of our predecessors, several revolutionary organisations, including the ICC, distributed a “Joint Statement” in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, beginning with the words “The workers have no country! Down with all the imperialist powers! In place of capitalist barbarism: socialism!”

Those who see no further than the end of their noses will not fail (and have not failed) to pour derision on this appeal by a handful of small, inaudible organisations unknown in the working class. We have no illusions about this; we know perfectly well that only a tiny part of the class has had access to this statement, that its influence in the proletariat is restricted to a very small minority.

But we also know where we come from, we remember the lessons of Zimmerwald, of Kienthal, and of the combat of the communist left during the Second World War: the “handfuls of small, inaudible and unknown” organisations were able to take up their responsibilities, conscious of the need to regroup revolutionary forces on the basis of serious political clarification, in order to carry out a determined intervention in the proletariat on the clearest possible basis. As the “Joint Statement puts it: “Today, in the face of the acceleration of imperialist conflict in Europe, the political organisations based on the heritage of the Communist Left continue to hold up the banner of consistent proletarian internationalism, and provide a reference point for those defending working class principles.

That’s why organisations and groups of the Communist Left today, small in number and not well known, have decided to issue this common statement, and broadcast as widely as possible the internationalist principles that were forged against the barbarism of two world wars”.[1]

This is the task that consistent revolutionary organisations must take on today! It’s not a question of looking at past history from a balcony and commenting sagely on the state of the world: revolutionaries are fighters not academics! Neither is it a question of rushing into an artificial political agitation, of inventing an influence in the working class and sweeping away its immense difficulties with the power of our words and the correctness of our positions. Such an immediatist approach can only lead to demoralisation or, even worse, to the most shameful opportunism, making concessions on our principles in order to gain an influence which we don’t have and can’t have in the present situation.

But, right now, even if it is not yet in a position where it can fight directly against imperialist war, the proletariat has shown its ability to raise its head in response to the consequences of the war and the economic crisis. For several months now, the proletariat in the United Kingdom has been in struggle. Of course, the bourgeoisie, its left parties and its trade unions, are doing all they can to channel the workers’ anger and lead it into the dead-ends of sectionalism or electoralism, identity-based protests or inter-classist movements. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of workers have come out onto the streets to express their anger, to discuss, and refuse to keep their heads down. And this in a country which has not seen significant struggles for 40 years! In many other countries, anger is growing, there are more and more struggles against inflation, lay-offs and the “reforms” of the bourgeoisie. These struggles are a ferment for the development of class consciousness. It is thus up to revolutionaries not only to defend the autonomy of the class struggle against the traps laid by the bourgeoisie, but also to show the link between the attacks hitting the proletariat in all countries and the historic crisis of capitalism, of which war is a caricatural expression as well as a powerful accelerator[2]. The more revolutionaries are armed politically to defend this orientation, the more their influence will be really decisive, in the first instance among workers searching for class positions.

Because the other lesson from the experience of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences is the necessity to construct the revolutionary organisation. Without the world party of the proletariat, without this most conscious and determined part of the working class, there can’t be a victorious revolutionary struggle against the crisis and the wars of capitalism. At Zimmerwald and Kienthal, as within the communist left, revolutionaries, despite their difficulties, their confusions, sometimes their errors, have always tried to confront their points of view, to defend the necessity to debate the divergencies within the proletarian camp.  At the conferences of 1915 and 1916, in spite of profound disagreements, they did not hesitate to come together and publish a Manifesto to put forward what they had in common: proletarian internationalism!

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Editorial, International Review 169