War atrocities used to justify… new atrocities

Printer-friendly version

“War is methodical, organized, gigantic murder. But in normal human beings this systematic murder is possible only when a state of intoxication has been previously created. This has always been the tried and proven method of those who make war. Bestiality of action must find a commensurate bestiality of thought and senses; the latter must prepare and accompany the former”
(Rosa Luxemburg, "The Crisis of Social Democracy", 1915)

The terrible clashes that are once again bloodying the Middle East confirm once again what the great revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg wrote while in prison in 1915.

The Hamas militiamen who, on 7 October 2023, committed atrocious crimes against Israeli civilians, women, children and the elderly, were only able to behave with such barbarity because they had been conditioned and systematically brainwashed by the Islamist organisation that runs the Gaza Strip.

Similarly, if today the vast majority of the Israeli population approves of the criminal bombardments and the ground offensive against the inhabitants of Gaza, which have already caused thousands of civilian deaths, it is because they have suffered a terrible trauma with the massacre of 7 October, but also because they too have been the victims of decades of conditioning by the Israeli authorities and the various parties of the bourgeoisie.

Today, with the war between the State of Israel and Hamas, we are once again witnessing the use by the various political forces which defend the perpetuation of the capitalist order of a method which the exploiting class has used on a large scale since the beginning of the 20th century to justify the barbarity of war: the highlighting of atrocities committed by the "enemy" to justify its own atrocities. And there is no shortage of examples throughout the 20th century, the century in which the capitalist system entered its period of decadence.

Certainly, war existed well before this period, as did the justifications by those who waged it. But the wars of the past had never taken the form of a total war, mobilising all the resources of society and involving the entire population, as became the case from 1914 onwards. And it was during the First World War that the propaganda needed to mobilise the broadest possible sectors of a country's population was taken over in an organised and systematic way by the governments of the belligerent countries.

Confessions from the defenders of the capitalist order

We have already published a very detailed article in our press on propaganda designed "with a view to systematic murder", to "produce an appropriate intoxication in normally constituted men", as Rosa Luxembourg wrote. We encourage our readers to read the whole of this article, "Birth of totalitarian democracy"[1] , published in 2015, from which we will only quote a few short extracts here.

In particular, this article quotes extensively from a book by Harold Lasswell published in 1927 entitled "Propaganda technique in the World War"[2] .

Here are a few passages:

The psychological resistance to war in modern nations is so great that every war must appear as a war of defense against a threatening and murderous aggressor. There must be no ambiguity about whom the public is to hate. The war must not be due to a world system of conducting international affairs, nor to the stupidity or malevolence of all governing classes, but to the rapacity of the enemy. Guilt and guilelessness must be geographically established, and all the guilt must be on the other side of the border. If propaganda wants to mobilize all the hatred of the populations, it must ensure that all the ideas in circulation place the sole responsibility on the enemy. Variations may be permitted under certain circumstances which we shall undertake to specify, but this theme must continue to be the dominant motif. The governments of Western Europe can never be perfectly certain that a class-conscious proletariat within the borders of their authority will rally to the clarion of war.

Propaganda “is a concession to the rationality of the modern world. A literate world, a schooled world, prefers to thrive on argument and news (…) All the apparatus of diffused erudition popularises the symbols and forms of pseudo-rational appeal: the wolf of propaganda does not hesitate to dress in sheep’s clothing. All the eloquent men of the day – writers, reporters, editors, preachers, lecturers, teachers, politicians – are drawn into the service of propaganda to amplify the voice of the master and to present a master voice. All is conducted with the decorum and trappings of intelligence, for this is a rational epoch, and demands its raw meat cooked and garnished by adroit and skillful chefs”. These “new chefs” must serve up the “raw meat” of unavowable emotion: “A new flame must quench the canker of dissent and temper the steel of pro-war enthusiasm” (Lasswell, op. cit., p. 221).

"To mobilize the hatred of the people against the enemy, it is necessary to represent the opposing nation as a menacing, murderous aggressor (…) It is through the elaboration of war aims that the obstructive role of the enemy becomes particularly evident. Represent the opposing nation as satanic; it violates all the moral standards (mores) of the group and insults its self-esteem. The maintenance of hatred depends upon supplementing the direct representations of the menacing, obstructive, satanic enemy with assurances of ultimate victory". (Lasswell, op.cit., p. 195)

Reading these passages, which illustrate and complement Rosa Luxemburg's lines in a remarkable way, might lead one to think that Lasswell was a militant fighter against capitalism. In fact, he was an eminent American academic who published numerous works on political science and taught this discipline from 1946 to 1958 at the prestigious Yale University. His 1927 book concluded by advocating government control of communication techniques (telegraph, telephone, cinema and radio) and he put his skills at the service of the American bourgeoisie throughout his life, particularly during the Second World War when he was director of research on communication and war at the Library of Congress (the main and prestigious library in the United States) at the same time as working in the army's propaganda services.

The war between the Camp of GOOD and the Camp of EVIL

As Lasswell's writings so eloquently express, the aim of each state waging war is to present the enemy it is fighting as the embodiment of EVIL in order to present itself as the eminent representative of GOOD. There are many examples of this in history from 1914 onwards, and we can cite just a few.

As our 2015 article put it, "Britain made the most of Germany's occupation of Belgium, not without a healthy dose of cynicism, since the German invasion merely forestalled Britain’s own war plans. Much was made of the most lurid atrocity stories: German troops bayoneted babies, made soup out of corpses, tied priests upside down to the clapper of their own church bell, etc."

The French bourgeoisie was not to be outdone: in a propaganda postcard, there is a poem in which a soldier explains to his young sister what a "boche" (a term used in France to designate a German and meaning "butcher") is.

"Do you want to know, child, what this monster is, a Boche?

A Boche, my dear, is a man without honour,

He's a sly, heavy-handed, hateful, ugly villain,

He's a bogeyman, a poisonous ogre.

He's a devil in soldier's clothing who burns down villages,

Shooting old men and women without remorse,

Kill the wounded, commit all kinds of looting,

Bury the living and strip the dead.

He's a coward who slits the throats of children and young girls,

Skewering babies with bayonets,

Massacring for pleasure, for no reason... without quarter

It's the man, my child, who wants to kill your father,

Destroying your homeland and torturing your mother,

He's the Teuton cursed by the whole universe."

This type of propaganda developed particularly in the wake of the fraternisations that took place at the front at Christmas time in 1914 between German, French and Scottish units. This poem makes it clear: there is no way you can fraternise with "monsters".

Subsequently, the accumulation of corpses on both sides was used by each belligerent state to justify the demonisation of the enemy. Each side praised the heroism and sacrifice of its own soldiers in the "necessary" task of stopping the "crimes" of soldiers from the other side. Killing human beings was no longer a crime if they wore a different uniform, but a "sacred duty in defence of humanity and morality".

This demonisation of "enemy" peoples in order to justify the barbarity of war continued throughout the 20th century and into the early 21st century as war became a permanent manifestation of capitalism's plunge into its phase of decadence.

The Second World War provides us with an example that is both enlightening and atrocious. For today's bourgeois propaganda, there was only one "Evil Camp": Nazi Germany and its allies.

The Nazi regime was the embodiment of the counter-revolution that had befallen the German proletariat after its revolutionary attempts of 1918-23. A counter-revolution to which the "democracies" of the "Camp of GOOD" had made their full contribution and which was completed by Nazism. Moreover, these "democracies" had long believed that they could get along with Hitler's regime, as evidenced by the Munich agreements of 1938. The atrocities committed by the Nazi regime were used by the Allies' propaganda to justify their own atrocities. In particular, the extermination of the Jews of Europe by this regime, the most concentrated expression of the barbarity into which the decadence of the capitalist system had plunged human society, constituted a massive argument, presented as "irrefutable", for the need for the Allies to destroy Germany, which involved in particular the murder of tens of thousands of civilians under the bombs of the Camp of GOOD. After the war, when the populations of the "victorious" countries learned of the crimes committed by their leaders, it was explained to them that the appalling massacres of civilian populations (in particular the bombings of Hamburg between 25 July and 3 August 1943 and those of Dresden from 13 to 15 February 1945 which, using incendiary bombs on a massive scale, mainly targeted civilians, killing a total of over 100,000 people) were justified by the barbarity of the Nazi regime. These same leaders organised massive propaganda on the - real - atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, and particularly the extermination of the Jewish population.[3] However, they were careful not to point out that the Allies did absolutely nothing to help these people, who were refused entry visas by most of the countries in the Camp of GOOD, which even rejected the Nazi leaders' offers to hand over hundreds of thousands of Jews.

The Communist Left's denunciation of the hypocrisy of "democracies

This immoral hypocrisy of the "democratic" bourgeoisie is very well demonstrated, with the evocation of proven historical facts, in an article entitled "Auschwitz ou le grand alibi" (“Auschwitz or the Great Alibi") which appeared in 1960 in No. 11 of the review Programme Communiste (organ of the  Bordigist International Communist Party) [4]. Here is the conclusion of this article, which we fully support:

"We have seen how capitalism has condemned millions of men to death by rejecting them from production. We have seen how it massacred them while extracting all the surplus value it could from them. We have yet to see how it continues to exploit them even after their death.

It was primarily the imperialists on the Allied side who used it to justify their war and, after their victory, to justify the infamous treatment inflicted on the German people. People rushed to the camps and the corpses, taking horrible photos everywhere and proclaiming: ‘Look what bastards those Krauts are! How right we were to fight them! And how right we are now to give them a taste of their own medicine!’ When you think of the countless crimes committed by imperialism; when you think, for example, that at the very moment (1945) when our Thorez was singing his victory over fascism, 45,000 Algerians (fascist provocateurs!) were falling victim to repression[5]; when you think that it is world capitalism that is responsible for the massacres, the despicable cynicism of this hypocritical satisfaction is truly nauseating.

At the same time, all our good anti-fascist democrats threw themselves on the corpses of the Jews. And since then they have been waving them under the nose of the proletariat. To make them feel the infamy of capitalism? No, on the contrary: to make them appreciate by contrast the true democracy, the true progress, the well-being they enjoy in capitalist society! The horrors of capitalist death must make the proletariat forget the horrors of capitalist life and the fact that the two are indissolubly linked! (...) If we show lampshades made of human skin, it's to make us forget that capitalism has transformed the living human being into a lampshade. The mountains of hair, the gold teeth, the body of the dead man that has become a commodity should make us forget that capitalism has turned the living man into a commodity. It is work, the very life of man, that capitalism has transformed into a commodity. This is the source of all evil. Using the corpses of capital's victims to try to hide the truth, using these corpses to protect capital, is the most infamous way of exploiting them to the bitter end.”

In fact, this article expresses what constitutes a fundamental position of the Communist Left: the denunciation of anti-fascist ideology, of which the evocation of the Shoah is a pillar, as a means of justifying the defence of capitalist "democracy". As early as June 1945, issue no. 6 of L'Étincelle, the newspaper of the Gauche Communiste de France, the political ancestor of the ICC, published an article entitled "Buchenwald, Maïdaneck, démagogie macabre"[6] which developed the same theme and which we reproduce below:

"The role played by the SS, the Nazis and their industrialised death camp, was that of exterminating in general all those who opposed the fascist regime and above all the revolutionary militants who had always been at the forefront of the fight against the capitalist bourgeoisie, whatever form it took: autarchic, monarchic or ‘"democratic’", whoever their leader: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Leopold III, George V, Victor-Emmanuel, Churchill, Roosevelt, Daladier or de Gaulle.

The same international bourgeoisie which, when the October revolution broke out in 1917, sought every conceivable means to crush it, which crushed the German revolution in 1919 with a repression of unprecedented savagery, which drowned the Chinese proletarian uprising in blood; the same bourgeoisie which financed fascist propaganda in Italy and then Hitler's propaganda in Germany; the same bourgeoisie brought to power in Germany the man it had designated as the gendarme of Europe; the same bourgeoisie today spends millions to finance the setting up of an exhibition on ‘The crimes of Hitler’s SS’     and the shooting and showing to the public of films on "German atrocities" (while the victims of these atrocities continue to die, often without care, and the survivors who return have no means of living).

This is the same bourgeoisie which, on the one hand, paid for the rearmament of Germany and, on the other, mocked the proletariat by dragging it into the war with the anti-fascist ideology; this is the same bourgeoisie which, having favoured Hitler's rise to power, used him to the last in order to crush the German proletariat and drag it into the bloodiest of wars, into the foulest butchery imaginable.

It is still the same bourgeoisie that sends representatives with wreaths of flowers to bow hypocritically at the graves of the dead it has itself created, because it is incapable of running society and war is its only form of life.


because the millions of deaths the bourgeoise has perpetrated in this war are only the latest addition to an already far too long list of martyrs of ‘"civilisation’", of capitalist society in decomposition.

It is not the Germans who are responsible for Hitler's crimes. In 1934, they were the first to pay for Hitler's bourgeois repression with 450,000 human lives, and they continued to suffer this merciless repression when it took place abroad. No more than the French, the British, the Americans, the Russians or the Chinese are responsible for the horrors of the war which they did not want but which their bourgeoisie forced upon them.

On the other hand, the millions of men and women who died slowly in the Nazi concentration camps, who were savagely tortured and whose bodies are rotting somewhere, who were struck down during this war while fighting or caught in a ‘"liberating’" bombardment, the millions of mutilated, amputated, shredded and disfigured corpses, buried under the earth or rotting in the sun, the millions of bodies, soldiers, women, old people and children.

These millions of dead are crying out for vengeance...
... and they are demanding vengeance not on the German people, who are still paying, but on the infamous and unscrupulous bourgeoisie, who did not pay, but profited, and who continue to taunt the hungry slaves with their appearance as overfed pigs.

The only position for the proletariat is not to respond to demagogic appeals to continue and accentuate chauvinism through anti-fascist committees, but the direct class struggle for the defence of their interests, their right to life, a struggle of every day, of every moment until the destruction of the monstrous regime of capitalism".[7]

Even today, the State of Israel (and those who support it) invokes the memory of the Shoah to justify its crimes. The atrocities suffered by the Jewish people in the past are a way of pretending that this State belongs to the Camp of GOOD, even when it takes its cue from the "democracies" during the Second World War to deliberately massacre civilian populations with bombs. And the atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October have enabled it to rekindle the flame in such a spectacular way that even in Israel the voices of those who previously denounced the criminal policies of this state have been silenced, and even swayed into the camp of all-out war.

At the same time, the enemies of Israel and those who support them, who for decades have made the oppression and humiliation of the Palestinian people their business, whether they line up behind Islamic flags or "anti-imperialist" flags, now find, with the massacres committed by the Hebrew state in Gaza, a shocking argument to justify their support for a Palestinian state which, like all states, will be the instrument of the exploiting class to oppress and repress the exploited.

To justify the barbarity of war, bourgeois propaganda has made massive use of lies, particularly since 1914, as we have seen above and continue to see. Take, for example, the myth of "weapons of mass destruction" used by the US government in 2003 to justify the invasion of Iraq. But this propaganda is even more effective when it can rely on the real atrocities committed by those designated as the enemy. And these atrocities are not about to disappear; quite the contrary. As the capitalist system sinks deeper into decay and decomposition, they will become more frequent and more abominable. They will, as in the past, be used by every sector of the bourgeoisie to justify its own and future atrocities.

Indignation and anger at these atrocities are legitimate and normal in any human being. But it is important that the exploited, the proletarians, are capable of resisting the sirens of those who call on them to fight and kill the proletarians of other countries, or to be killed in these battles. No war in capitalism will ever be the "war to end all wars" as the propaganda of the Entente countries claimed in 1914 or as President Bush junior claimed in 2003 when he predicted "an era of peace and prosperity" after the elimination of Saddam Hussein (in fact, the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis). The only way to put an end to wars and the atrocities they provoke is to put an end to the system that generates them: capitalism. Any other perspective will only preserve the survival of this barbaric system.

Fabienne, November 24, 2023


[1] The birth of totalitarian democracy International Review n°155

[3] The use of the atomic bomb by the American Camp of Good, which razed to the ground the cities of Hiroshima (6 August 1945 - between 103,000 and 220,000 dead according to various estimates) and Nagasaki (9 August - between 90,000 and 140,000 dead), could obviously not be justified by the extermination of the Jews by the Japanese authorities, but it still had to be given a "humanitarian" purpose. Indeed, according to the American authorities, it saved a million lives on both sides by hastening the end of the war. This is one of the most odious lies about the Second World War. In reality, even before the bombings, the Japanese government was prepared to capitulate on condition that Emperor Hirohito retained his throne. The American authorities refused this condition. They absolutely had to be able to use the atomic bomb to find out more about the "performance" of this new weapon and, above all, to send a message of intimidation to the Soviet Union, which the American government predicted would be its next enemy. For his part, Hirohito remained on his throne until his death on 7 January 1989, without ever being questioned by the American authorities, even though his personal involvement in the crimes committed by the Japanese armies had been clearly established. One last point of clarification: if the capital of Japan, Tokyo, did not receive an atomic bomb, it was because it had already been practically razed to the ground by multiple 'conventional' bombings (with the intensive use of incendiary bombs), particularly those of March 1945, which killed as many people as Hiroshima.

[4] This article is based in particular on the book "L'Histoire de Joël Brand" (Éditions du Seuil, 1957, translated from the German: Die Geschichte von Joel Brand, Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln-Berlin, 1956) describing the adventures of this Hungarian Jew who organised the escape of Jews persecuted by the Nazis. In May 1944, Brandt was asked by Adolf Eichmann to pass on to the Allies a proposal to 'deliver' hundreds of thousands of Jews, a proposal that was refused by the British authorities.

[5] Reference to the uprising of the population of Sétif on 8 May 1945, the very day the armistice was signed, which was put down with extreme violence by the French government, in which the "Communist" Party led by Maurice Thorez participated.

[7] The Tendance Communiste Internationaliste has published an article on its website THE INTERNATIONALISTS which deals with the same issues as our present article: Imperialist Hypocrisy in the East and West. It is an excellent article which we commend and encourage our readers to consult.




Capitalist barbarism