Click on title to link to the Karl Liebknecht Internet Archive's copy of German communist revolutionary Karl Liebknechts's seminal "Militarism And Anti-Militarism"Commentary
Here is something from a historical perspective on the question of youth and the military-Markin.
****Vanguard No. 857, 28 October 2005
Not One Person, Not One Penny for the Imperialist Military!
Marxism, Militarism and War
U.S. Out of Iraq Now! Down With the Imperialist Occupation!
(Young Spartacus Pages)
The following Young Spartacus article was issued in leaflet form on October 19 and distributed by the SYC at the “On the Frontlines” national “counter-recruitment” conference at UC Berkeley on October 22-23.
* * *
As the barbaric U.S. neocolonial occupation of Iraq drags on, hundreds of thousands rallied for an end to the occupation in Washington, D.C., L.A. and San Francisco on September 24. Hundreds of students in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., marched in “College Not Combat, Relief Not War” contingents. These contingents represented students around the country who have waged campaigns against military recruiters in high schools and on college campuses, broadly known as the “counter-recruitment” movement. These student protests have been motivated by opposition not only to the occupation of Iraq, but also to the “economic draft,” which drives many working-class, disproportionately black and other minority youth to sign up for the military, as well as opposition to the military’s anti-gay discrimination.
The U.S. rulers’ crusade against Iraq for more than a decade, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has exacted a huge death toll, primarily of Iraqis: over 1.5 million were killed by malnutrition and disease as a result of UN sanctions alone and several hundred thousand more during both wars and the occupation. While much sympathy in the U.S. is directed currently toward the almost 2,000 American soldiers who have died in Iraq, the starting point for Marxists is that working people must take a side in the war and occupation—against U.S. imperialism. Every blow, setback or defeat for the bloodiest imperialist power on the planet is a blow in the interests of working people around the world. Just as we stood for the defense of Iraq against U.S. attack during the war, today we stand for the unconditional, immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and for defense of the peoples of Iraq against U.S. attack and repression. Insofar as Iraqi forces on the ground aim their blows against the imperialist occupiers and their lackeys, we call for their military defense against U.S. imperialism. At the same time, we oppose the murderous communal violence against ethnic, religious and national populations often carried out by the same forces fighting the occupation.
While much of the activity around the “counter-recruitment” movement is directed at preventing individual youth from signing up for the military, the main campus organizers of many of the college protests, the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN), which is dominated politically by the International Socialist Organization (ISO), state: “We believe that it is not enough to convince people on an individual level that the military is a bad idea.... We need to build a movement that will force the military out of our school and our classrooms for good” (“College Not Combat: Get the Military Out of Our Schools,” CAN Web site).
The question is: Can you actually accomplish that? While it is a very good thing that student protests may succeed in temporarily kicking the military off campus, the reality is that recruiters and officer training programs like ROTC will keep coming back so long as the imperialist army exists. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, ROTC was kicked off over a hundred campuses, not only as the result of student protest, but especially because there was massive social struggle going on more broadly and because the U.S. imperialists were losing the war against the revolutionary Vietnamese workers and peasants. But over the years, ROTC was restored to many of these campuses again. As Marxists, our goal is not just to get ROTC and military recruiters off campus for now, but to win students to the struggle to organize the social power of the working class for socialist revolution to get rid of imperialist militarism, and the capitalist system it serves, once and for all.Revolutionary Anti-Militarism vs. Pacifist Delusion
The Spartacus Youth Clubs and the Spartacist League have initiated, led and participated in many protests to drive military recruiters and ROTC off campuses over the course of four decades. As we stated at an SYC-led protest against ROTC at UC Berkeley last April: “Military recruiters and ROTC are direct appendages of the military machine that exists to defend the American imperialist ruling class” (“SYC Leads Protest Against ROTC,” WV No. 848, 13 May). We understand that the military exists to carry out imperialist conquest abroad and repression against working people at home. We uphold the call raised by German Marxist Wilhelm Liebknecht: “Not a man nor a penny” for bourgeois militarism.
We vigorously defend all those who have been victimized by campus administrations and the cops for their actions against military recruiters, including most recently, student protesters at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts who on September 29 were assaulted by police while picketing an Army National Guard recruiting table in the school cafeteria. We also defend those organizations that have been victimized by the campus administration for organizing protests, such as the ISO and Students Against War at San Francisco State University.
As Marxists, we have a program for fighting against the imperialist military that is counterposed to that of the “counter-recruitment” movement, whose organizers range from religious and liberal pacifists to supposedly socialist organizations such as the ISO. The difference comes down to how you answer two fundamental and related questions: How do you successfully fight to end imperialist war? How do you fight to end militarism? We understand that you cannot end war, imperialist militarism or the economic conditions that force working-class and minority youth into the military without getting rid of the capitalist system in which these are rooted.
In contrast, the program of the “counter-recruitment” movement is to try to reform the capitalist system to be less militarist and imperialist. This is summed up in CAN’s “College Not Combat” pamphlet:
“We believe that the money that is going to fight the occupation of Iraq and the $4 billion spent annually on military recruiting should be spent on real educational opportunities and job funding. The best way to win that demand is to build a mass movement to get recruiters off our campuses for good.”
This strategy is entirely consistent with the politics of purportedly socialist organizations such as the ISO, Workers World Party (WWP) and Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which have sought to build an “antiwar movement” consisting of “peace-loving” people of all different classes to pressure the imperialist rulers to stop the war on Iraq, end the occupation and put resources into worthy endeavors rather than war. The main goal for such organizations is to reform the capitalist system, a system that can’t be made to serve the interests of working people and the oppressed.
The ISO, WWP and RCP’s program of pressuring the capitalists to make their system more humane serves to demobilize struggles of radical youth, workers and the oppressed. Preaching pacifist reformism, these groups are an obstacle to the development of revolutionary consciousness among those engaged in struggle. A resolution during World War I by a conference of exiled Russian revolutionary Marxists in Switzerland, including Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin, explained:
“Pacifism, the preaching of peace in the abstract, is one of the means of duping the working class. Under capitalism, particularly in its imperialist stage, wars are inevitable….
“The propaganda of peace unaccompanied by a call for revolutionary mass action can only sow illusions and demoralise the proletariat, for it makes the proletariat believe that the bourgeoisie is humane.”
—“The Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. Groups Abroad,” February 1915
It is precisely such pacifist duping that reformist “socialist” groups engage in by building antiwar and “counter-recruitment” movements based on calls such as “No to war!”, “War is not the answer,” “Hurricane relief, not war”—the preaching of peace in the abstract with no call for revolutionary action by the working class against the capitalist system. Such campaigns push the lie that imperialist militarism and war can be ended through means other than the overthrow of the imperialist order through proletarian, revolutionary, internationalist struggle.The Road to Peace Lies Through Class War
As the newspaper of the American Trotskyist youth organization of the 1930s from which we take our name stated:
“For the youth, as for other workers, it is imperative that he learns the class nature of society and of government and of warfare. When he learns these lessons he will have made headway in the fundamental question. Between classes there can be no peace till one or the other is vanquished. The workers have to understand that the road to peace lies through war: class war, class struggle.”
—“Disarmament and Pacifism,” Young Spartacus No. 3, February 1932
Imperialist war and militarism are the outcome of capitalist, class-divided society, in which a tiny minority of the population owns the banks and industry and amasses profit by exploiting the labor of the working class. The military is an integral component of the capitalist state, which consists also of the cops, the courts, the prisons—forces of repression and violence that defend the rule of the capitalist class against the working and oppressed masses.
The drive toward war is inherent in the capitalist system. In his classic work on the subject, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin laid out that imperialism is not some reformable policy, but the final stage of capitalism in its decay. Contending imperialist powers carve up the world into spheres of economic influence, as the nation-state proves too narrow and confining in terms of markets and the availability of cheap labor and natural resources. Imperialism is fundamentally an economic system backed up by massive military force to “settle” the inevitable economic rivalries between major capitalist states. These rivalries throw humanity into interimperialist world wars of massive devastation, such as World Wars I and II. The drive to control markets and spheres of exploitation also leads to predatory wars by imperialists against colonial and semicolonial countries.
Revolutionary Marxist Rosa Luxemburg in her 1916 Junius Pamphlet described the true nature of imperialist capitalism, as revealed at that time by World War I:
“Shamed, dishonored, wading in blood and dripping with filth—thus stands bourgeois society. And so it is. Not as we usually see it, pretty and chaste, playing the roles of peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, ethics and culture. It shows itself in its true, naked form—as a roaring beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as a pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity.”
While this barbaric system generates discontent among wide layers of the population, the only power that students have on their own is to register their anger through various forms of protest. However, there is a social force that has the power not just to protest, but to shut down the whole system we live under—the multiracial working class. Its social power derives from the fact that it has its hands directly on the means of production—the mines, factories, means of transport and communications—and can shut down production and capitalist profit by withholding its labor, by striking. One solid longshore strike during the Iraq war would have had a far greater impact on the U.S. government than many millions of peace protesters marching in the street. It is that kind of social power that students and the oppressed masses need to look to and ally with.
The working class not only has the social power but the objective interest to put an end to capitalist rule. The workers’ interests can never be reconciled with those of the capitalists who exploit them. The interests of working people and the oppressed can be served only by creating a socialist society where production is for human need, not the profit of a small layer of exploiters. It is only through class war, i.e., the struggle of the working class leading the oppressed against the capitalist order, that the economic and political roots of imperialist war and militarism can be destroyed. The destruction of capitalism will not happen spontaneously, but requires the intervention of a conscious Marxist leadership, a revolutionary workers party that fights for socialist revolution. It is such a party that the Spartacist League, of which the SYCs are the student-youth auxiliary, is dedicated to forging. Left Servants of Imperialism
If the idea of mobilizing the working class in mass struggle seems far-fetched to most youth in the U.S. today, it is because what they have seen of class war in their lifetimes has mostly consisted of a capitalist assault on workers, with very little working-class struggle in response. It is important to understand from a historical perspective not only that the class contradictions of this system will inevitably lead to future mass struggles by working people, but also that the power of the working class has been kept in chains by working-class misleaderships. Class struggle has been demobilized by the false ideology pushed by the trade-union bureaucracy and its left helpers: that the interests of labor and capital can be reconciled, that the overturn of this whole rotten, stinking system is impossible and therefore the best we can do is to negotiate “better” terms of capitalist exploitation for working people. As part of the struggle to uproot the whole profit system, a class-struggle leadership of the labor movement would fight for free, quality, integrated education for all, free health care, decent jobs and housing for all and against racial and sexual oppression.
The lie that working people and their exploiters can share a common interest is pushed in practice through the trade-union bureaucracy’s open support to the capitalist Democratic Party and the promotion of “antiwar” Democrats and petty capitalist Greens by ostensibly socialist organizations in the antiwar movement. Pro-imperialist trade-union bureaucrats who support the “war on terror” (in reality a war on immigrants, black people and labor) and the war and occupation in Iraq are clearly misleaders of the working class. More insidious are those who stand in opposition to the war but preach a program of capitalist reform, a program that is objectively for the maintenance of the system that breeds war—these are also misleaders of the working class.
Such left-talking misleaders are hardly a recent development in the history of the class struggle. Lenin’s trenchant polemics against two “servants of imperialism” during World War I, Karl Kautsky and Filippo Turati, fit today’s ISO, WWP and RCP to a tee:
“When socialist leaders like Turati and Kautsky try to convince the masses, either by direct statements…, or by silent evasions (of which Kautsky is a past master), that the present imperialist war can result in a democratic peace, while the bourgeois governments remain in power and without a revolutionary insurrection against the whole network of imperialist world relations, it is our duty to declare that such propaganda is a deception of the people, that it has nothing in common with socialism, that it amounts to the embellishment of an imperialist peace….
“Their [Kautsky and Turati] attention is entirely absorbed in reforms, in pacts between sections of the ruling classes; it is to them that they address themselves, it is them they seek to ‘persuade,’ it is to them they wish to adapt the labour movement.”
—“A Turn in World Politics,” January 1917
An example of how the ISO and WWP look to the capitalist class enemy, not the working class, is their promotion of cross-class liberal “antiwar” alliances, such as the strategy of working with Democratic and Green Party politicians to get city council resolutions (in New York) and ballot propositions (in San Francisco) passed against military recruiters in schools. Seeking to persuade the powers that be on the campus level, the ISO appeals to those who administer the colleges on behalf of the capitalists to stop violating their professed anti-discrimination policies and ban military recruiters. We call for a “yes” vote on San Francisco Proposition I as a basic statement of opposition to military recruiters in schools. However, it is not through propositions that you can fight to end imperialist militarism—only through working-class struggle. And working-class struggle must be independent of the capitalist class enemy, including the Democratic Party of racism and war. Revolutionary Politics and Military Defense of Iraq
The ISO, WWP and RCP’s refusal to call for the military defense of Iraq against U.S. and British imperialism in the lead-up to and during the war is yet another proof of their class-collaborationist orientation. Marxists are not pacifists. In his 1915 work, Socialism and War, Lenin summarized the attitude of Marxists to wars between imperialist powers and colonial or semicolonial countries:
“If tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia, and so on, these would be ‘just,’ and ‘defensive’ wars, irrespective of who would be the first to attack; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory over the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory ‘Great’ Powers.”
The Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Club applied this program of revolutionary defensism in the lead-up to and during the Iraq war, uniquely raising the slogans: “Defend Iraq Against U.S./British Imperialist Attack! Down With U.S. Imperialism! For Class Struggle Against U.S. Capitalist Rulers!” We took a side militarily with semicolonial Iraq against the U.S. imperialist invaders, while politically opposing Saddam Hussein’s bloody capitalist regime. While favoring the defeat of the U.S., we understood that given the enormous military advantage of the United States, the most effective means of opposing the U.S. war drive was international working-class struggle against the capitalists, especially here in the U.S.
Forthright military defense of Iraq was anathema to the ISO, WWP and RCP because their goal was not to mobilize working people on the side of the Iraqi people and for the defeat of the U.S., but to build a “movement” for pressuring the imperialists to end the war. In practice this meant uniting with liberals and capitalist politicians like Democrats Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who came out against the Iraq war not because they are opposed to U.S. imperialism but because they don’t think the war/occupation is the best way of advancing the interests of U.S. imperialism. That sentiment has grown among a layer of the ruling class who want to extract the U.S. from the quagmire the Iraq occupation has become. In addition to being the voice for a section of the ruling class who thought that an anti-Communist campaign against North Korea made more sense than going after Iraq, these “antiwar” politicians are doing their job for the capitalists of containing black and working-class anger against this system safely within the confines of bourgeois electoralism.
In a seeming about-face, the very organizations that steadfastly refused to call for the defense of Iraq during the war, i.e., when it counted, such as the ISO and WWP, are today cheering the “right to resist” the U.S. occupation forces. The ISO has suddenly discovered quotes from Lenin and Trotsky on the need to defend oppressed nations against imperialism. But what is really behind their shift in position is the hope that victories by the Iraqi “resistance” will augment support within the Democratic Party for withdrawal from Iraq. Just as the ISO and WWP practice class collaboration at home, they cheer on Islamic reactionaries and other forces as “anti-imperialists” in the neocolonial world. The ISO writes: “Even if it were true that the resistance was dominated by Baathists and hard-line Islamists, this wouldn’t be the central issue. Whatever the religious and political affiliations of the different resistance organizations and groupings, the main goal—the one that unites various forces of the Iraqi resistance—is ‘to liberate their country from foreign occupation’” (“Why We Support the Resistance to Occupation: Iraq’s Right to National Self-Determination,” Socialist Worker, 4 February).
In fact, the Iraqi “resistance” largely consists of disparate and mutually hostile ethnic, religious and communalist forces that aim much of their fire against rival civilian populations. When such forces do aim their blows against the occupation forces and their lackeys, we militarily defend them. However, in contrast to the ISO, we have stated: “We do not imbue the forces presently organizing guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces with ‘anti-imperialist’ credentials and warn that in the absence of working-class struggle in Iraq and internationally against the occupation, the victory of one or another of the reactionary clerical forces is more likely to come about through an alliance with U.S. imperialism” (“The Left and the Iraqi Resistance: U.S. Out of Iraq Now!” WV No. 830, 6 August 2004).
The class-collaborationist, anti-revolutionary program of groups like the ISO is defined by their visceral hostility toward those countries where capitalism has been overturned. The ISO supported every counterrevolutionary movement that sought to overturn the gains of the Russian Revolution and cheered the destruction of the USSR in 1991-92. Capitalist restoration has been a disaster for the working people of the ex-USSR, resulting in unprecedented devastation of living standards and the destruction of historic social gains for women and ethnic and national minorities. In opposition to the imperialist triumphalism that communism is dead, as well as the widespread view among radical youth that there is nothing about the Soviet Union worth replicating today, we understand that the 1917 October Revolution remains the model for social liberation. That revolution, led by V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, established the world’s first workers state, a beacon for all those struggling to liberate humanity. Despite later Stalinist degeneration, the USSR demonstrated the power of a planned, collectivized economy, providing free education, health care, inexpensive housing and jobs for all.
The destruction of the Soviet Union represented a world-historic defeat for working people around the world, removing the military and industrial power that stayed the hand of the imperialists and made possible victories like the overturn of capitalism in East Europe and in Cuba, North Korea, China and Vietnam. We followed in the footsteps of Leon Trotsky by fighting for the unconditional military defense of the USSR against imperialism and against the restoration of capitalism, while simultaneously fighting for working-class political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucrats. Unlike pacifists and the anti-Soviet ISO and RCP, we militarily defend the workers states, despite their Stalinist deformations, against the imperialists, which includes upholding their right to nuclear weapons. The Soviet bureaucracy’s nationalist, parasitic rule undermined the gains of the Russian Revolution, especially by renouncing the struggle for international socialist revolution. The anti-Marxist Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country” meant betrayal of revolutionary opportunities around the world and led ultimately to the final undoing of the Russian Revolution itself.Race, Class and Militarism
Reflecting the growing opposition among the U.S. populace as a whole to the occupation of Iraq was the outpouring this summer of support and sympathy for Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, who is for ending the occupation. Sheehan captured headlines for weeks with her encampment outside President Bush’s Texas ranch. Sheehan’s poignant protest exposed the capitalist rulers’ contempt for the overwhelmingly working-class and minority ranks of the military and their families, who are expected to unquestioningly obey “God and country” and provide the cannon fodder for the U.S. imperialist war machine.
Notwithstanding the working-class background of most U.S. troops, the imperialist armed forces are the instrument of American conquest and enforcers of the capitalist system of exploitation. Against those who in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have called to bring the troops home to help in the Gulf Coast, we say that the imperialist army is no friend of working people at home, either. There is a long and deadly history of the use of troops within the U.S. to suppress strikes, repress student antiwar protesters and crush upheavals of black people against entrenched racial oppression. And while National Guard troops sent to New Orleans have played a role in search and rescue actions that saved lives, they were sent mainly not to help the population but to impose reactionary “law and order.” Democratic Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco said as much when 300 members of the Arkansas National Guard were sent to New Orleans: “These troops know how to shoot and kill…and I expect they will.” They were sent to hunt down “looters,” desperate black people trying to find food and water, and imposed strict curfews, essentially martial law, forcing out those who didn’t want to leave and preventing journalists from even photographing the dead.
At the same time that Marxists are emphatic opponents of bourgeois militarism, we recognize the internal class contradictions of the military. As Karl Liebknecht stated in his classic 1907 work, Militarism and Anti-Militarism:
“Thus we are confronted by modern militarism which wants neither more nor less than the squaring of the circle, which arms the people against the people itself, which dares to force the workers...to become oppressors and enemies, murderers of their own comrades and friends, of their parents, brothers and sisters and children, and which compels them to blight their own past and future. Modern militarism wants to be democratic and despotic, enlightened and machine-like, nationalist and antagonistic to the nation at the same time.”
In addition to the class divide between the working-class ranks and the bourgeois officer corps present in all capitalist armies, the U.S. military reflects the deep-rooted racial oppression of black people in this country. The disproportionate number of black and minority youth in today’s volunteer army—driven to join in large part because they have no jobs and no future, or because it is the only way to afford college or learn a skill—represents an Achilles heel for U.S. imperialism. The American military reflects the racism, anti-woman and anti-gay bigotry of capitalist society in a concentrated way.
Because we uphold Liebknecht’s opposition to a single person or penny for the bourgeois army, we oppose volunteering for the army. We likewise oppose the reinstatement of the draft. The last time the U.S imperialists seriously considered reinstating the draft, during the height of their Cold War II drive against the Soviet Union in 1980, we agitated against the draft and in defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state. At the same time, we have no illusions that the U.S. imperialists won’t reinstate the draft when they need to, and they will eventually need to. “Individual Resistance”: A Losing Strategy
The “counter-recruitment” movement has drawn inspiration from soldiers, such as Camilo Mejia and Kevin Benderman, who have refused orders to serve in the Iraq war and occupation and sought to expose the horrors of imperialist war. They and several other soldiers have been court-martialed for their refusal to serve. We say: Free Kevin Benderman and hands off the other “resisters”! “Antiwar” reformists have placed great emphasis on these acts of individual resistance, promoting the idea that if more people were prevented from signing up for the military and more soldiers refused to serve it could throw a monkey wrench in the works of the war machine. This strategy is false because it seeks to paralyze a core component of the capitalist state through pacifist resistance.
It is precisely because the military is integral to the capitalist state that it has very repressive means for dealing with those who refuse to serve. Insubordinate soldiers can face discipline in military tribunals with punishments that include execution. As we wrote in “On Draft Resistance: You Will Go!”: “It would be approximately as easy to directly overthrow the government as to deprive that government of its armed forces” (Spartacist No. 11, March-April 1968). In other words, to talk about paralyzing the military as a repressive force means the prelude to revolution. Such a situation is possible only in the context of massive working-class and social struggle against the capitalist order. Marxists seek to organize for collective victory through proletarian struggle, not defeat through martyrdom in individual, moralistic acts of “resistance.” The key task today is to imbue the discontented, exploited and oppressed working masses with the consciousness that they can and must organize to struggle on the basis of their common class interests against the war-mongering capitalist rulers.
The logic of the strategy of individual resistance parallels the promotion of draft “resistance” during the Vietnam War. This is expressed by the youth group of the WWP, which supports the “No Draft, No Way” movement that advocates “refusal to be inducted into the military under any circumstances” (www.NoDraftNoWay.org). The duty of revolutionaries who are drafted is to go with the mass of working-class youth into the military. During the Vietnam War, as youth were chanting “Hell no, we won’t go!” we said, “You will go!” Our Spartacist article “You Will Go!” addressed antiwar activists:
“If you refuse induction, you will either go to prison, or you will flee the country. In both cases your body will be exactly where the rulers of the U.S. want it: removed from struggle and removed from contact with the youth who fight the wars….
“For prominent working-class leaders to dodge the draft earns them the disrespect of the workers and is a direct aid to the ruling class, as it removes them from any contact with the workers they claim to represent.”
Our article went on to explain: “The main argument for draft resistance is that it will hurt the U.S. war effort. But this is not going to happen. A few hundred middle-class, anti-war students might be diverted from military service, but the tens of thousands of black and white working-class...youth who are to be drafted will not respond to the anti-draft campaign.” It was with the perspective of influencing the working-class and oppressed ranks of the military with a socialist program that Spartacist supporters in the Army published several issues of an antiwar newspaper distributed to GIs during the Vietnam War called G.I. Voice.For a Class-Struggle Perspective
In fact, many of those who advocated draft resistance during the Vietnam War were students benefiting from the “College Not Combat” measure of the time: student deferments. We called for the abolition of the student deferment because it expressed class privilege, meaning that wealthy and petty-bourgeois youth who had the privilege of being in college didn’t get drafted, while poor and working-class youth did. More generally, the bourgeoisie uses its wealth and privilege to keep its sons out of combat. A prime example is George W. Bush, who avoided combat in Vietnam by taking advantage of family connections to get a safe sinecure in the Air National Guard.
Polemicizing against anarchists, Karl Liebknecht succinctly captured the difference between liberal and revolutionary anti-militarism in his Militarism and Anti-Militarism. Noting that “It [anarchism] lays great stress upon individual refusal to do military service, individual refusal to resort to arms and upon individual protests,” Liebknecht argued:
“Anarchism works here, first of all, with ethical enthusiasm, with the stimuli of morality, with arguments of humanity, of justice; in short, with all sorts of impulses on the will which ignore the class war character of anti-militarism, and attempt to stamp it as an abstract efflux of a categorical imperative of universal application….
“Social-Democratic [Marxist] anti-militarist propaganda, on the contrary, propagates the class-struggle and therefore it appeals on principle exclusively to those classes which, necessarily, are the foes of militarism in the class struggle.... It enlightens people to win them over, but it enlightens them not concerning categorical imperatives, humanitarian points of view, ethical postulates of freedom and justice, but concerning the class struggle, the interests of the proletariat therein.”
Military society is a reflection of civil society, and major shifts in the consciousness of the poor and working-class ranks of the military parallel such shifts in civil society. For example, many of the soldiers who carried out acts of rebellion against officers during the Vietnam War were black. This had much to do with the mass social struggle against racial oppression that was taking place back home. War often brings the class contradictions of society acutely to the fore—this was especially the case in the massive, seemingly senseless all-sided slaughter of World War I and in wars where the imperialists were losing to forces fighting for social revolution, such as Vietnam. This is why, as Leon Trotsky noted, “war is the mother of revolution” (Military Writings, Volume 1: 1918). War brings the contradiction between the interests of the capitalist rulers and those of working people starkly to light in a way that is often obscured in times of “peace.” It is only in a revolutionary situation that the bourgeois army will split along class lines. The role of revolutionaries in such a situation is to provide the program and leadership to struggling soldiers and working people for a successful overturn of capitalism. Bolshevik Revolution: Model for Today
The need for a revolutionary Marxist party to lead the fight for working-class power was demonstrated in both the positive and negative during WWI. This war brought to a head a historic split in the Marxist movement throughout Europe. The war was essentially fought to redivide world markets among the belligerent imperialist powers of Europe, and was completely unprecedented in the level of death and destruction—some 15 million people were killed. Nearly every socialist party that faced the challenge of World War I failed miserably. The most spectacular failure was the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) whose parliamentary deputies voted, on 4 August 1914, for war credits, i.e., in support of the war on the side of their “own” bourgeoisie. Within the Marxist movement throughout Europe there were some leaders who similarly capitulated to the intense pressures of patriotism and declared that socialists could stand for the “defense of the fatherland.” Breaking with the social-chauvinist SPD leaders in Germany, Karl Liebknecht voted against war credits in December 1914 and used his parliamentary post to agitate against the war and the social-chauvinists. The German bourgeoisie tried to silence him by drafting him into the military where he continued his agitation in his soldier’s uniform, and was imprisoned a second time for his agitation against militarism and war.
Tens of thousands of leaflets authored by Liebknecht and his comrades of the Spartakusbund were published with the ringing internationalist slogan: “The Main Enemy Is at Home!” Unlike a predatory war by an imperialist power against a colonial country, in a war between imperialist powers such as WWI the working class has no side. Liebknecht’s slogan paralleled Lenin’s demand that the working class turn the interimperialist war into a civil war against their “own” capitalist rulers. This cut across not only the social-chauvinism of leading European Social Democrats, but also against the social-pacifists whose only demands were for “peace,” i.e., for a return to capitalist stability.
In Russia, Lenin had fought since 1903 to build a hard revolutionary party with a clear program, and so, unlike the majority of the SPD, the Bolsheviks did not cave in to the bourgeois pressures around WWI. The social-chauvinists and social-pacifists in Russia were constituted in the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary parties. Lenin insisted on the necessity for revolutionaries to split with the opportunists within the Marxist movement over the question of the war. Lenin described opportunism as having the same content as social-chauvinism: “collaboration of classes instead of class struggle, renunciation of revolutionary methods of struggle, helping one’s ‘own’ government in its embarrassed situation instead of taking advantage of these embarrassments for revolution”
(Socialism and War).
In this same pamphlet he continued, “Today unity with the opportunists actually means subordinating the working class to their ‘own’ national bourgeoisie and an alliance with the latter for the purpose of oppressing other nations and of fighting for dominant-nation privileges; it means splitting the revolutionary proletariat of all countries.” It was this revolutionary intransigence that enabled Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party to lead the October Revolution in Russia, pulling Russia out of WWI. In 1917 rebellious soldiers took their stand with the revolutionary proletariat against Russian tsarism, capitalism and the war, signaling the collapse of the state and unraveling of capitalist rule in Russia. The Bolsheviks led these struggles toward the seizure of state power by the working class.
It was the lack of such a leadership in Germany that led to the defeat of the revolutionary wave between 1918 and 1923. The heroic leaders, Liebknecht and Luxemburg, having eventually split first with the SPD and then the Kautskyite centrists to form the German Communist Party, were shortly thereafter murdered by counterrevolutionary forces dispatched by SPD leaders in 1919. When a revolutionary crisis erupted in 1923, the German Communist Party had a vacillating leadership and was programmatically weak (see “A Trotskyist Critique of Germany 1923 and the Comintern,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 56, Spring 2001).
It is precisely the fight to expose the opportunists in the workers movement, and split the working class away from the false program these reformists offer, that is required to unshackle the power of labor today. Mobilizing that power is the critical factor in every struggle against imperialism, exploitation and the myriad forms of oppression engendered by the capitalist system. Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher powerfully summed this up in a 1966 speech addressed to New Left antiwar radicals during the Vietnam War:
“Unless you have found a way to the young age groups of the American working class and shaken this sleeping giant of yours, this sleeping giant of the American working class...out of the sleep into which he has been drugged, unless you have done this, you will be lost.
“Your only salvation is in carrying back the idea of socialism to the working class and coming back with the working class to storm—to storm, yes, to storm—the bastions of capitalism.”
—“On Socialist Man,” Marxism in Our Time, 1971
Labels: ANTI-IMPERIALISM, anti-militarism, anti-stalinism, antipacificsm, german communism, KARL LIEBKNECHT, karl marx