I. The Validity of Leninist Policy
This Conference declares that the policy of revolutionary defeatism as laid down by Lenin during the First World War is entirely applicable to the present conflict. No new factors have arisen which can justify a departure from this fundamental proletarian policy towards Imperialist War.
The view that the rise of fascism constitutes a new factor warranting the abandonment of the policy of revolutionary defeatism and the adoption of a defencist policy is a manifestation of petty-bourgeois ideology and is irreconcilable with the profession of socialist internationalism. The policy of revolutionary defeatism is applicable in all belligerent imperialist powers irrespective of the state form—whether fascist or democratic.
The existence of the Soviet Union warrants only tactical changes. It cannot justify an abandonment of the basic expression of the class struggle in war time—the policy of revolutionary defeatism.
II. The Fundamental Premise of Revolutionary Action in War Time
The policy of revolutionary defeatism constitutes an assurance that there will be no capitulation to bourgeois ideology. It guarantees that the struggle for socialism will be carried on unaffected by fears of it facilitating “national disaster.”
The fear of “National disaster” is the main weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie for the maintenance of its hegemony in war time for it is the source of all opportunist (chauvinist) deviations, hence the Leninist axiom—“A revolutionary class in a reactionary war cannot but desire the defeat of its own government” constitutes the premise of every truly revolutionary action in war time.
Such a desire and only such a desire is compatible with genuine class struggle. Revolution in war time is civil war, and the transformation of war between governments into civil war is on the one hand facilitated by military reverses (defeats) of governments, on the other hand it is impossible really to strive for such a transformation without thereby facilitating defeat.
The desire of defeat must not be relinquished even where it is clear that such defeat carries with it the military victory of the enemy bourgeoisie. Defeat, even though it be by a “fascist” country, demoralises not the proletariat but the bourgeoisie hence such a defeat constitutes not an aid but an obstacle to the victory of fascism.
Fascism can in no wise be imposed by an army of occupation. Fascism is based on the demoralisation of the working class and the destruction of its organisations and must not be confused with a military dictatorship. The demoralisation of the proletariat which is the fundamental condition for the victory of fascism can derive only from its failure to achieve socialism after a favourable opportunity has presented itself. Then and only then does the “initiative” pass to the frenzied petty bourgeoisie—which acting as agents of the big bourgeoisie, vents its despair—in the form of hate, upon the proletariat. Under a military occupation the petty bourgeoisie is more inclined to direct its hate against the foreign army, not against the proletariat. Fascism can only be “home grown.” Nor is the victory of democratic imperialism in any way other than that of disintegrating and demoralising the bourgeoisie whose power is exercised through a fascist state, conducive to the restoration of “democracy.”
In the conditions of imperialist war the distinction between decaying democracy and murderous fascism disappears in the face of the collapse of the entire capitalist system. From the point of view of the British Workers the victory of German Imperialism is preferable to the victory of “democratic” Britain and conversely from the point of view of the German workers the victory of Britain is preferable to the victory of “fascist” arms. The class conscious proletarian sees in such victories only the defeat and humiliation of his own exploiters which he ardently desires.
The proletarian does not regard imperialist war as simply a war between governments hence he does not consider that to desire the defeat of one’s own government is the same as desiring the victory of the “enemy” government. In a war between governments he is neutral, but imperialist war is a manifestation of the class conflict within society consequently he is not neutral towards his own bourgeoisie, he is not impartial towards the military fate of his own oppressor but desires the defeat of his own ruling class—the class which directly exploits him.
To his own bourgeoisie he is related by the fact of direct exploitation, to the enemy bourgeoisie he is related on the one hand by the fact of it being the enemy of his own bourgeoisie in a war between governments, and by the fact of it being the oppressor of his class brother—the proletarian of the “enemy” country. Thus his only real enemy (sole enemy if allied countries are excluded) is his own bourgeoisie, in relation to the imperialist war he is neutral to the enemy bourgeoisie (desiring neither victory nor defeat), but of course desires its defeat by his brother proletarian. Thus also is it impossible for the proletariat to strike a blow in war time at the enemy bourgeoisie without striking at the proletariat of the “enemy” country and aiding its own bourgeoisie.
International action in war time is directed solely against one’s own bourgeoisie.
Lenin’s axiom is the prerequisite for serious revolutionary action, not because revolution is impossible without military defeat, history proves only that defeats are more advantageous to the revolutionary proletariat than victories, but because the proletariat and in particular the vanguard of the proletariat is rendered impotent unless it desires the defeat of its own government.
III. Application of the Policy of Revolutionary Defeatism
Revolutionary defeatism counterposes to the bourgeois necessity of achieving victory the necessity of the proletariat desiring the defeat of its own government. To the bourgeois lie that the enemy country is the cause of the war it counterposes the concept of our own bourgeoisie bearing to us sole responsibility for the war and its effects. To hatred of the enemy—fraternisation, to imperialist war—civil war for socialism. The task of the revolutionary party is to destroy the influence of bourgeois ideology upon the masses and to impose a socialist ideology upon the struggles of the proletariat. In war time the most pernicious and dangerous illusion is defencism. Defencism is a manifestation of nationalism—revolutionary defencism of national socialism. It is an insuperable obstacle to fraternisation and the achievement of international socialism. Hence the substitution of defeatism for defencism is of vital importance. The destruction of the elements of chauvinism can be accomplished only by counterposing the class needs of the masses to the national needs—the needs of the bourgeoisie.
The defencism of the masses is mixed with many progressive sentiments and class instincts. The development of these features into a socialist consciousness cannot be accomplished simply by supporting the progressive features for to the masses they are inextricably mixed with the defencist illusions, but only by counterposing the one to the other.
Failure to bring the class features into opposition to the nationalistic features means to give a “left” covering to patriotism. This is the role of charlatans. Attempts to capture the leadership of the workers on any other basis than that of revolutionary defeatism will lead to social-patriotism, to the destruction of the Revolutionary Party. This is not to say that the masses can be won to the banner of the Fourth International on the slogans of “turn imperialist war into civil war,” etc., but slogans which are evasive and ambiguous with regard to the proletarian attitude to the war are a betrayal of socialist internationalism.
The value of all slogans, demands, etc., must be measured by the extent to which they enlighten the masses, destroy bourgeois ideological influence, raise socialist consciousness. During an imperialist war—especially prior to the revolutionary upsurge this means above all the raising of the internationalism of the workers. Therefore it is necessary to patiently explain the nature of the war, its incompatibility with working-class interests, and the necessity of fraternisation with the workers in the “enemy” country on the basis of class struggle each against his own ruling class. At first the Revolutionary Party can expect only to swim against the stream, but on its ability to do this depends its whole future. If it makes the smallest concession to defencism and fails to correct it, it is irretrievably lost.
IV. Revolutionary Defencism
Revolutionary Defencism constitutes an attempt to reconcile the socialist tasks of the proletariat with the bourgeois task of resisting defeat. It is an expression of petty-bourgeois ideology. Revolutionary Defencism seeks to present the revolution as a means of defeating the imperialist enemy, or of opposing defeat of one’s own country by the enemy. The socialist revolution is not a means of solving bourgeois national problems, but of resolving the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeois nationalist problems of the imperialist belligerents were solved nearly a century ago. The policy of revolutionary defencism might possess some justification in a colonial war, at least if undertaken in a spirit of internationalism, but its application to an imperialist war is nothing but the policy of the social-chauvinist Kautsky, the “internationalism” of which serves only to justify the working class in every country with the defence each of its own fatherland. It is a betrayal of international socialism.