[OPE-L:8456] Socialism and War

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Tue Feb 11 2003 - 22:01:21 EST

The Marxists Internet Archive just published online "Socialism and War"
by Duncan Hallas.  Would others not agree that this is a good time for
us to discuss Marxian political-economic perspectives on War?   Perhaps
if you reacted to the Hallas article, we could get such a discussion

Solidarity, Jerry

>                   -----------------------------------------
>                     Socialism and War
>                       Duncan Hallas
> (1982)
> We are not pacifists, we detest the Galtieri dictatorship, we dismiss the
> that the Argentinian seizure of the Falklands is progressive on
> grounds. Nevertheless we believe that, in a war between Britain and
> the defeat of British imperialism is the lesser evil. The main enemy is at
> None of these statements, perhaps, is so self evidently true as to pass by
> assertion. Let us therefore return to basics. What are the criteria by
> socialists determine their attitude to war in general and to a given war?
> excellent starting point is the opening passage of Lenin's Socialism and
> written amidst the slaughter of 1915:
> "Socialists have always condemned wars between nations as barbarous and
> Our attitude towards war, however, is fundamentally different to that of
> bourgeois pacifists (supporters and advocates of peace) and of the
> We differ from the former in that we understand the inevitable connection
> between wars and the class struggle within a country: we understand that
> cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and socialism is created;
> also differ in that we regard civil wars, i.e. wars waged by an oppressed
> against the oppressor class, by slaves against slave-holders, by serfs
> landlords and by wage workers against the bourgeoisie, as fully
> progressive and necessary. We Marxists differ from both pacifists and
> in tat we deem it necessary to study each war historically (from the
> of Marx's historical materialism) and separately."
> War is always "barbarous and brutal", often horribly so. Think of the
> the napalm, the defoliation, the atrocities perpetrated by US forces in
> or by the Khmer Rouge. War is always an evil and it generates other evils
> Therefore, goes the "anti-war in principle" argument, it should be
> regardless of circumstances. No more war.
> There is a healthy and progressive strand in this attitude and it is often
> connected with a rudimentary kind of class consciousness. "It's a rich
man's war
> but a poor man's fight," went the slogan of the opponents of conscription
in the
> American Civil War.
> I remember seeing, in an ordinary commercial cinema in Manchester a year
or two
> after the end of the Second World War, a showing of the classic anti-war
> All Quiet on the Western Front. At the point where one German soldier says
> another, "We should make the generals and politicians fight it out with
> the audience, a fair number of whom must have been ex-soldiers, burst into
> and spontaneous applause.
> That was a good spirit, a thousand times better than the patriotic flag
> of the Labour Party leaders then and now.
> But by itself it will not do. Marx and Engels and their followers
supported the
> North in the American Civil War. Some of them, mostly German exiles,
> voluntarily for the Union. And they were right. For in spite of the
horrors, the
> slaughter, the mutilations, frauds and the fortunes made out of war
> profiteering, the war for the destruction of slavery was a just and
progressive one.
> The judgement is political, which brings us to Clausewitz's classic
> "The war of a community - of whole nations and particularly of civilised
> - always starts from a political condition and is called forth by a
> motive. It is, therefore, a political act ... War is not merely a
political act,
> but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political
commerce, a
> carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly
> peculiar to war relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which
it uses."
> The peculiarity of the means is stated by Clausewitz with his
> brutal clarity and total lack of hypocrisy:
> "ar is therefore an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to
> our will."
> All of which is incontestably true and fundamentally important. One thing
> follows immediately. For revolution is precisely "an act of violence
intended to
> compel our opponent to fufil our will". It is much more than that of
course, but
> it is that or it is nothing.
> But we cannot stop there. Since, in any class society, the ruling classes
> invariably resort to force to defend their rule-the rejection in principle
> the use of force for political ends (not always, not usually, but in
> circumstances) is tantamount to abandoning the snuggle for fundamental
> change, for a classless society, for socialism.
> Further, because wars cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and
> socialism is established, the anti-war "in principle" position, if widely
> adopted by workers, guarantees the inevitability of future wars. The
> position, notwithstanding its humane impulses, is deeply conservative.
That is
> why we are not pacifists.
> But nuclear war, the threat of the nuclear holocaust, does that not alter
> position entirely? It alters it certainly, but it does not change the
> realities. There have been 100 or so wars since the United States Air
> dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all non-nuclear
(although some
> only just).
> Nuclear war between the superpowers has not happened because it is not in
> interests, rationally considered, of either of their ruling classes. That

is not
> to say that it cannot happen, merely to say that the holocaust, an ever
> danger, cannot be avoided by burying one's head in the pacifist sand. It
> only be avoided, in the end, by striking the nuclear weapons out of the
hands of
> the ruling classes - by revolution.
> From these most serious and weighty matters we turn to an affair that
would be
> farcical if it were not so squalid and potentially dangerous - the
Falklands (or
> Malvinas, if you prefer) crisis.
> Back in the 1730s a certain Captain Jenkins, a smuggler and a pirate
> to the Spanish authorities who then ruled much of South America, a
peaceful and
> eminently respectable merchant skipper according to his friends, was
arrested by
> the Spanish Guardia Costa and had his left ear lopped off in the scuffle.
> then equivalent of the Daily Mail and the Tory backbenches went into
> of hysterical rage.
> The outcome, the "War of Jenkins' Ear", had about as much to do with the
> as the "right to self determination" of the Falkland Islanders has today.
It was
> a transparent pretext. What was at issue was the slave trade, a highly
> profitable business in which British slavers came out on top through
various wars.
> There is, however, a difference. There was then a serious issue in dispute
> between the two ruling classes. The British bourgeoisie was determined to
> into the South American markets and the rulers of Spanish America in
Madrid were
> equally determined to keep them out.
> In the "War of Jenkins' Ear", Jenkins was simply an excuse. Had he never
> born, the outcome would have been the same, give or take a year or two.
But now
> the excuse has become the reason. What we have now is the war, if it
> into a war, of Thatcher's face (in the Chinese sense) and of Galtieri's
face too.
> There is no longer a rational, if predatory, cause of dispute. The
Falklands axe
> of no great significance. Pure prestige and internal politics are the
> force on both sides.
> True, there is talk of oil; but whether it exists or not is neither here
> there. After all, Thatcher's government is busy trying to "privatise" the
> British National Oil Corporation, foreign oil companies hold a good deal
of the
> North Sea and foreign multinationals operate freely in Galtieri's
> The claim on the British side that Thatcher is motivated by concern for
> people of the islands, that "the interests of the Falkland Islanders must
> paramount", is a masterpiece of impudent hypocrisy.
> Under British rule, the inhabitants of the Falklands have never even been
> allowed a freely elected local government with the powers of a town
council, let
> alone "self determination". Many of them are not even allowed security of
> of their houses but are forced to accept the tied cottage system operated
by the
> British Falklands Company which owns most of the useful grazing land. No
> consideration to the interests of the Falklanders had been given by any
> government until the Argentinian invasion. Moreover, both Thatcher's
> and Callaghan's before it have had secret negotiations with successive
> Argentinian governments about the future of the islands without any
> tcV the inhabitants, let alone the referendum now bruited about.
> In any case, the self determination argument is spurious to the core. A
> declining population of less than would make a respectable turnout at a
> division football match on an off day, and lacking any social, ethnic,
> linguistic, cultural or historical features of its own, cannot be
> regarded as a "national" entity. A far more plausible case could be made
> national self determination for the Western Isles or the Isle of Man. And
> more plausible cases would also be absurd and reactionary. For, as Lenin
> "If we want to understand the meaning of self determination of nations
> juggling with legal definitions, without inventing' abstract definitions,
> examining the historical and economic conditions of the national
movements, we
> shall inevitably reach the conclusion that self determination of nations
> the political separation of these nations from other national bodies, the
> formation of an independent national state."
> In the present case there is neither a national movement nor any
possibility of
> a national state. The self determination argument is a fraud perpetrated
to put
> a "democratic" gloss on support for Thatcher's military adventure.
> So far as the Falklands are concerned that is all that there is to be said
> to avoid misunderstanding, it is as well to point out that, in any case,
we do
> not unconditionally support the right of self determination. We do not,
> example, concede it to the Ulster Protestants, although they are
indisputably a
> historically formed self conscious group with quasi-national
characteristics. We
> reject the two nations theory for Ireland and we do so because its effect
> plainly reactionary and not at all on the basis of legalistic quibbling
> whether or not the Protestants do or do not have this or that "national"
> characteristic.
> The "anti-colonialist" pretensions of the Argentinian dictatorship are not
> better than the fraud of self determination. True, Argentina has some sort
> more or less plausible claim to the Falklands on historical and
> grounds and, certainly, the islands are a British colony. But these are
> forms and abstract claims.
> We support anti-colonial movements as movements of struggle by oppressed
> against their oppressors and we support them because, as Marx said, "no
> can be free if it oppresses other nations."
> None of this has much relevance to the Falklands. There is no Spanish
> population struggling against British imperialism. For Galtieri,
> "anti-colonialism" is a convenient pretext to divert Argentinian workers
> from their struggle against the dictatorship. The timing of the
> invasion was no doubt influenced by the rising tide of demonstrations and
> strikes in Argentina. "National unity" in support of a foreign quarrel is
> Galtieri's aim as well as Thatcher's and "national unity" means the
> subordinating of the workers to the bosses.
> We are irreconcilably hostile to both governments and both regimes. But we
> in Britain and not Argentina and therefore the British government, the
> state, is the main enemy for us.
> The Labour Party leaders, and even some Tories who enthusiastically
> the Pinochet coup in Chile, have discovered that the Argentinian regime is
> fascist. That, of course, changes everything! Strictly speaking, the
> dictatorship is not real fascism but let that pass. Also leave aside the
> It is the "left wing" variant of this argument that matters. In essence,
it is a
> very old one.
> In 1907 the Second International meeting in Stuttgart adopted the famous
> resolution on war which states:
> "The Congress confirms the resolutions of previous International
> against militarism and imperialism and declares anew that the fight
> militarism cannot be separated from the socialist class war as a whole.
> Wars between capitalist states are as a rule the result of their rivalry
> world markets... Further, these wars arise out of the never-ending
armament race
> of militarism, which is one of the chief implements of bourgeois class
rule and
> of the economic and political enslavement of the working classes.
> Wars are encouraged by the prejudices of one nation against another,
> systematically purveyed among the civilised nations in the interests of
> ruling classes, so as to divert the mass of the proletariat from the tasks
> its own class, as well as from the duty of international class solidarity.

> Wars are therefore inherent in the nature of capitalism. They will only
> when the capitalist economy is abolished ...
> In the case of a threat of an outbreak of war, it is the duty of the
> classes and their parliamentary representatives in the countries taking
> fortified by the unifying activity of the International Bureau, to do
> to prevent the outbreak of war by whatever means seems to them most
> which naturally differ with the intensification of the class war and of
> general political situation.
> Should war break out in spite of all this, it is their duty to intervene
for its
> speedy end, and to strive with all their power to make use of the violent
> economic and political crisis brought about by the war to rouse the
people, and
> thereby to hasten the abolition of capitalist class rule."
> Five years later, at the Basle International Congress, this was
> reaffirmed, the British Labour Party delegates voting with the rest.
> Two years after that, in 1914, the majority of the Labour and Social
> leaders in nearly all the warring states swallowed their words, abandoned
> class struggle in favour of national unity' and supported their "own"
> How did they justify this? Why, by pointing to the evils of the enemy
> of course.
> The German Social Democratic majority, the most apposite comparison for
> purpose, pointed to Russia. The tsar rules over the "prison house of
> they said. "He has most bloodily suppressed the movements of Russian
workers and
> peasants in 1905-07. His is the most brutal, backward and vicious state in
> Europe, the bulwark of European reaction for over 100 years."
> Of course all this was perfectly true. Tsarist Russia was every bit as
> vicious and reactionary as Galtieri's Argentina and a great deal more
> Moreover it had a long common frontier with Germany and the tsar's armies
> actually invading ethnic German territory in East Prussia.
> What did Liebknecht and Luxemburg and Mehring and Zetkin say in reply?
> said, "You are scoundrels, you are traitors. You have betrayed the German
> workers' movement and the international workers' movement. Tsarism today
is no
> different to what it was in 1907 and 1912 when you promised to oppose war.
> war, for Germany, is a 'real political instrument' of the German
> You have deserted to the enemy and this desertion will not stop at
> support for the war" - as was indeed proved in 1918-19 when these same
> "socialists" organised troops to shoot down German workers.
> In Liebknecht's immortal words, "The main enemy is at home." Not the only
> of course. "The tsar is an enemy but support for the Kaiser actually
> Russian workers' opposition to the tsar and since the struggle against
> militarism cannot be separated from the socialist class war as a whole",
> for our "own" government strengthens reaction everywhere.
> Lenin and Trotsky and Rosmer and Connolly and MacLean and Debs all said,
> appropriate national variations, exactly the same thing. All opposed their
> government and its war. And they were absolutely right. Support for "one's
> ruling class in such a war is tantamount to abandoning the struggle for
> socialism. For their war is a continuation of their politics by other
means. And
> so, exactly, with the War of Thatcher's Face.
> One good thing, at any rate, has come out of the Falklands crisis. The
> of the Labour Party leaders has proved decisively, conclusively and
> that the illusions of so many left wingers that there has been, since
1979, a
> real swing to the left by the Labour Party have as much substance as fairy
> Michael Foot, wrapping himself in the Union jack, and righteously
denouncing the
> government's neglect of British interests (and outdoing Denis Healey in
> process!) is one thing. The support and applause he got from the
> majority of Labour MPs are quite another. Not just the right but most of
> left MPs enthusiastically cheered him on. They collapsed into jingoism at
> first test. It did not take the courage of a Liebknecht or a MacLean to
> out against the Falklands expedition. Merely a modicum of principle and
> backbone. That, in the vast majority of cases, was more than the left MPs
> muster. What really matters is the spectacular demonstration of the lack
> elementary class hatred, the indispensable gut reaction against militarism
> war, on the Labour benches.
> Can any sane person now believe that this crew, even if reinforced by
> reselection and conference resolutions, could stand up to the bourgeoisie
in a
> real crisis where bourgeois interests are at stake? If you can t stand
> loud, clear, firm and, from the beginning, against a comic opera war in
> South Atlantic, you will never resist the immeasurably greater pressures
of the
> boss class against any attempt to impose economic policies they don't
want, let
> alone achieve socialism.
> Nor can too much be said in favour of Benn and the handful of others
> that unreconstructed right winger, Tam Dalyell) who did not back Thatcher.
> Benn's position is basically, "Let the United Nations settle it." The UN
is a
> club of governments. We know some of them: Thatcher's and Galtieri's,
> and Brezhnev's and so on, enemies of their own and every other working
> Benn's position, in fact, is not very different from such important organs
> bourgeois opinion as the Financial Times and the Guardian. It may well
gain him
> some credit, especially if the expedition proves a failure, but there is
not a
> spark of socialist internationalism in it.
> As to the Labour leaders as a whole, left, right and centre, we have been
> fortunate to have a foretaste of their conduct in any future Labour
government -
> cowardly, mean, chauvinist, grovelling before the ruling class.
> http://marxists.org/archive/hallas/works/1982/05/socwar.htm

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