Anarchist arguments for participation in imperialist war

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The following article was written by a sympathiser of the ICC who has been actively contributing to the discussions on the libcom discussion forum to defend the positions of the communist left.

Many anarchists were genuine militants of the working class fighting alongside and with the proletariat in its many struggles over the last centuries. Today there are elements amongst anarchism seeking clarification and a move towards a clearer working class perspective. However, there are numerous disparate elements that call themselves anarchists who, from their very incoherence, have a role in tail ending and supporting the campaigns of the ruling class. Two particular threads on the discussion forums entitled “1939 and all that” [1] and “How do you explain the Nazi obsession with the Jews?” demonstrate how, mainly through the ideological mystification of anti-fascism, these anarchist elements are led to defend democracy, Stalinism and imperialism and thus take up a position against the working class. When the ICC, in the tradition of the communist left, denounces both sides in the second imperialist world war, there are many accusations about the ICC “passing judgement from on high”, being “abstract”, “looking back with hindsight”, as if it was forbidden for revolutionaries to take a clear, intransigent position, to look at the global analysis and to look and learn from the history of the class struggle. And this from incoherent individuals with their anti-fascist fantasies about supporting the “lesser evil”, living in the present with no continuity. As if it wasn’t the task of revolutionaries to look back, not to judge from on high, but to look at what revolutionaries said at the time, revolutionaries with whom the ICC claims heritage and continuity  [2].

There is a minority of attempts from individuals on these threads to analyse what Nazism meant. But they are generally divorced from the class struggle and in some cases blame the workers in Germany – the first victims of the Nazis who were subsequently regimented by its terror and massacred by the million – for the rise of the Third Reich. What does unite the majority – while they can each ignore the excesses and absurdities of their fellow anarchist individuals - is the implicit and, in some cases, explicit support given to democracy and Stalinism, usually by way of anti-fascist ideology.

Nazi Germany – not an aberration from, but a full expression of, the decadence of capitalism

The anti-fascist campaign of the bourgeoisie has run for two generations now. Massive resources are given over to its dissemination every day of the week, year in year out: books, newspapers, cinema, theatre, television and schools. Nazism is put forward as an ‘aberration’ from capitalism, as an expression of pure evil alien to capitalism, and the Jewish genocide is put forward as a unique expression of this evil. This lie is taken up by many individuals on these threads: it was a choice between “capitalism and fascism”, “a war against fascism” rather than “for capitalism”, “glad capitalism won the day”, “not a fight for [capitalism] but against fascism”, “don’t give a fuck if it means siding with imperialism” (to fight the Nazis), “anti-fascism [can be] against fascism and capitalism”, “Nazism not capitalism because it was irrational”, “Hitler needed removing [that’s not] endorsing capitalism”, “Fight a real anti-fascist war”, and so it goes on. According to the majority of the posts Nazism was an aberration and the democratic capitalist state and its anti-fascist front is our only line of defence.  The support for democracy and Stalinism in fighting what they see as something much worse – Nazism –  couldn’t be clearer.

Nazi Germany and the totality of WWII was a full expression of capitalism’s decadence and the position of the communist left was to maintain its cornerstone internationalist position and the refusal to support either of the two imperialist camps even, or especially, in this period of counter-revolution. This is the position the ICC defends today. But the posts from the anarchists on these threads, far from seeing the Second World War as the culmination of an ideological and then physical crushing of the working class, instead see it as a ‘progressive’ episode where one side, one imperialist bloc had to be supported against the ‘evil’ Nazis, ie. the Stalinists and the democracies through anti-fascism.

The major democracies, especially Britain, were involved in the build up of the Nazis and Hitler in the early 1930s through diplomacy, the direct provision of arms, trade, credit and political support. Britain and America wanted Germany, weakened by the defeat of WWI and struggling to survive in the face of deepening economic crisis, built up to act as their policeman in Europe. Nazism was fully expressive of capitalism’s tendency to greater state control and the Nazi regime was backed by the major capitalist concerns in Germany such as, Krupp, Heinkel, Messerschmidt, IG Farben, as well as the major German banks. Despite its specificities, the roots of the Third Reich are firmly implanted in the soil of state capitalism and are in no way ‘unique’ or expressive of an aberration, arising only on the back of the defeat of the working class and the machinations of the major imperialist countries.

It is very useful for all capitalist states to maintain the myth of the “evil” of Hitler and the Nazis, particularly as this covers up and deflects their own role in fomenting wars and the war crimes they have perpetrated over the 20th century. No revolutionary denies the genocide of the Jews; but this cannot allow us to make out there is a common interest with our democratic and Stalinist exploiters and oppressors, which is precisely the role of the anti-fascist mystification peddled on these two threads. And the Allies, certainly by 1942 and probably earlier, knew very well about the unfolding Jewish genocide and didn’t lift a finger to prevent it. As for genocide and massacres, the Nazis could never match the crimes of Stalinism and democracy. Stalin’s regime was responsible for at least 20 million deaths of its own people and racial minorities prior to WWII. Britain invented concentration camps and the gas bombardment of civilians. Hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Dresden, Berlin, Tokyo, to name just three, by constant aerial bombardment by chemical and explosive weapons. Not forgetting the atomic bombs dropped on a defeated Japan and aimed at civilians. Then came the deaths of Germans through starvation and disease between 1945-49, estimated from 9 to 13 million (while Nazi torturers, ‘experimenters’ and rocket scientists were given a comfortable welcome in the countries of the Allies). The crimes of democracy and Stalinism, the number of innocents killed, up to, during and since World War II in various inter-imperialist conflicts, would take too long to detail.

Nazism was no ‘aberration’ from all this, only inasmuch as capitalism itself has become an aberration for the whole of humanity. The destructive dynamic of capitalism expressed by all sides in and since WWII takes on a more irrational force which even acts contrary to its profit motive – a sure sign of a system in decadence. That imperialist war no longer makes any economic sense is shown by the war in Iraq, where US oil requirements could have been secured for a small fraction of the cost of the war so far [3]. It is the decadence of the capitalist system that drives imperialism, from WWII to the current war in Iraq. It is absolutely essential to strip these wars of their phoney humanitarianism, and the ‘progressive nature’ which is their ideological justification, and see them for what they are: not progressive or fighting a greater evil as our anarchist anti-fascists would have us think, but wars between gangsters to carve up a place in an increasingly aberrant system.

Anti-fascist and empty anarchist moralism supports imperialism

It was the disappearance of the working class as a fighting force, as a threat to the bourgeoisie, that led to the major democracies building up German militarism under Hitler. Fascism’s victory in Germany and Italy was the end product, not the cause of the proletariat’s defeat. Anti-fascism equals national unity and was an ideology particularly used by Russian Stalinism and its vassals abroad; it’s an ideology in which the working class must identify with its exploiters and butchers. The fascist bogeyman was thus used by the French CP (with the anarchists playing the pacifist card). In imperialism’s run up to WWII the CP in Spain broke strikes and shot down workers with the anarchist CNT mobilising the workers for defeat by participating in the Spanish state before Franco finished off their dirty work. The British CP, strong in the trade unions, participated fully in mobilising the workers for war and identified the German workers as enemies. Though it’s been well used by both, the ideology of the British and American bourgeoisies was not so much anti-fascism as the defence of “freedom and democracy” (much the same as in Iraq today); as such, it was the other arm of the anti-fascist front. WWII was not a war against ‘evil’ – a number of alliances were possible between France, Britain, the USA and Germany from the mid 1930s to the early 40s, but a war of competing imperialist interests. These same ideologies have been used by states and their leftist and anarchist apologists for campaigns ‘at home’ and wars abroad ever since.

One of the recurring themes from the anarchists on these two threads is that at least anti-fascism – often in the form of the Resistance – “did something” to save lives during WWII (unlike the ICC, they add). Support for the Resistance is useful for the anarchists because it gives them the illusion that they are not supporting the major imperialisms. Their view that the Resistance “did something to save lives” is nothing but a phoney moralism – the moralism of the bourgeoisie. They go further and say that the Resistance movements were somehow an expression of the working class. Nothing could be further from reality. The very weak Resistance movement early on in the war was mainly supported by the Free French exiles in Britain and the Stalinists in France for the “Liberation”, ie, the coming capitalist carve up. But workers were later sucked into it by the Stalinists, left and leftists on the basis of the “Victory of Stalingrad”. The Resistance [4] was just another pawn on the imperialist chessboard aimed at either supporting the war effort of this or that faction or demobilising any real resistance of the working class to the coming capitalist ‘peace’. Prior to the Stalingrad “turning point” the workers had remained hostile to the terrorism – and the Nazi terror it provoked – of the largely petty-bourgeois Resistance movement. This sentimental moralism of the anarchist posts about “saving lives” has nothing to with the solidarity, struggle and sacrifice on a wider and deeper scale that belongs to a revolutionary class. In fact the actions of the Resistance probably cost more lives than it saved and if it saved any, they would count for nothing in the face of the dozens of millions slaughtered by the Nazis, and by the anti-fascist democrats and Stalinists alike.

A keynote of the majority of the anarchist posts on these threads is that anything is better than Nazism, “we are better off here in Britain”, “we have free speech and a certain amount of freedom”. This is thinly veiled (and sometimes not so thinly veiled) nationalism and patriotism. The refusal to confront the crimes of Stalinism – and particularly democracy – and instead denounce the ICC when the latter points these out, can only result in support for the bourgeoisie and its rotting system.
Baboon, December 2005.


[1] See also ‘Anarchism and the patriotic resistance’ in World Revolution no. 287, September 2005.

[2] For example, see ‘Anti-fascism, a formula for confusion’, Bilan 1934 in International Review no. 101, Spring 2000 and ‘Anti-fascism justifies barbarity’, L’Etincelle, June 1949 in International Review no. 88, Winter 1997.

[3] It’s been reported that Saddam Hussein, left intact after 1991 with carte blanche from the US to wipe out the Shias and Kurds, approached the US three times in the late 90s desperate to do a deal.

[4] For more on the Resistance see ‘50 years of imperialist lies’ in International Review no. 78, Autumn 1994.

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