Gregory Zinoviev

War & Leninism

Source: The Communist International, (New Series), No. 5
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Tenth Anniversary of the Imperialist War

THE attitude towards war constitutes one of the most important aspects of the doctrine known as Leninism. In regard to the principles involved in the attitude towards war, the concrete judgment about every war in particular, the view on the relation between wars and revolutions, the distinction between aggressive and defensive wars, the classification of wars according to different historical types, the view on national defence, the attitude towards pacifism, the attitude towards the defeat of one’s “own” country in the imperialist war—in all these problems Leninism said its word. In the handling of these problems, Leninism reached its highest point of perfection.

Immediately after the convening of the Zimmerwald Conference, approximately towards the first anniversary of the imperialist war, a pamphlet was published by Lenin and Zinoviev on “Socialism and War.” This pamphlet, inspired entirely by Lenin and mainly written by him, describes the attitude of Leninism towards war with the utmost terseness and lucidity, in the following manner.

Socialists’ Attitude Towards War

The Socialists always condemn wars between nations as barbarous and brutal. But our attitude towards war is different in principle from that of the bourgeois pacifists and anarchists. We differ from the former because we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within the country, we understand the impossibility of abolishing war without abolishing classes and without establishing the Socialist system, and also because we fully conceive the legitimacy, progress and necessity of civil wars, i.e., of wars by the oppressed class against the oppressors, by slaves against slaveowners, by serfs against their masters, and by wage labourers against the bourgeoisie. We differ from the pacifists and anarchists because we are Marxians and we recognise the need for a historical study (from the standpoint of the dialectical materialism of Marx) of every war in particular. In history there have frequently been wars which, in spite of all the horrors, brutalities, calamities and suffering inevitable in every war, were progressive wars, i.e., were useful to the development of mankind, by assisting in the demolition of particularly harmful and reactionary institutions (e.g., autocracy or serfdom) of the most barbarous despotisms in Europe (Turkey and Russia). From this standpoint we should consider the historical features of the present imperialist war. (The pamphlet was written in 1915.)

Historical Types of Wars in Modern Times

“The modern epoch in human history was opened by the great French Revolution. Since that time, until the Commune of Paris, from 1789 to 1871, one of the types of wars were the bourgeois-progressive, was of national-liberation. In other words, the principal feature and the historical meaning of these wars was the overthrow of absolutism and feudalism; undermining and overthrowing foreign oppression. For this reason in such wars, when they occurred, all honest revolutionary democrats, including all Socialists, invariably wished the success of that side (i.e., of that bourgeoisie) which was assisting in overthrowing or undermining the most dangerous shackles of feudalism, absolutism and the oppression of other nations. For instance, in the revolutionary wars of France, there was an element of pillage and annexation of foreign countries by the French, but this in no way changed the fundamental historical importance of these wars, which shook and demolished feudalism and absolutism of old, serf-bound Europe. In the Franco-Prussian war, Germany robbed France, but this did not change the fundamental historical importance of this war, which emancipated scores of millions of the German race from their feudal dismemberment and oppression by the two despots, the Russian Czar and Napoleon III.”

Difference between Aggressive and Defensive Wars

“The epoch of 1789-1871 left deep traces and revolutionary landmarks behind it. Prior to the overthrow of feudalism, absolutism and alien yokes, there could be no talk of the development of the proletarian fight for Socialism. Speaking of the legitimacy of ‘defensive’ war in regard to the wars of such an epoch, the Socialists had always in mind these very aims, which spelled the revolution against mediævalism and serfdom. By ‘defensive’ war the Socialists always understood a ‘just’ war in this sense (this was the very expression used by W. Liebknecht). It was only in this sense that the Socialists understood, as they do now, the legitimacy, progressiveness and justice of ‘national defence’ or ‘defensive’ war. For instance, if to-morrow Morocco declared war on France, India on England, China or Persia on Russia, and so on, these would be ‘just’ and ‘defensive’ wars, regardless as to who was the first aggressor, and every Socialist would wish for a victory of the oppressed and dependent states against their oppressors, the slave-driving and predatory ‘great’ powers.”

But imagine that a slaveowner, having 100 slaves, fights against a slaveowner who has 200 slaves, for a more “equitable” distribution of the slaves. It stands to reason that in such a case the application of the terms “defensive war” or “national defence” would be a historical falsification and common deception of the ignorant elements of the bourgeoisie and of the common people on the part of the astute slaveowners. It is in this manner that the nations are now hoodwinked by the modern imperialist bourgeoisie, who use the terms of “national” ideology and of national defence for the present war between slave-drivers for the strengthening and fastening of the chains of slavery.

The Present War is an Imperialist War

Nearly everybody recognises the present war (this was written in 1915) as an imperialist war, but this conception is mostly being distorted, or adopted in a one-sided manner, or the suggesting is smuggled in, that this might still be a bourgeois-progressive war of national-liberation. Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, reached in the twentieth century. Capitalism began to feel crowded in the old national states, without whose formation it could not have overthrown feudalism. Capitalism has become so concentrated that entire branches of industry are captured by syndicates, trusts and billionaire corporations, and nearly the whole surface of the earth has been divided between these “kings of capital,” either in the shape of colonies or by way of enmeshing other countries in a thousand threads of financial exploitation. Free trade and competition were substituted by monopolist aspirations, by the ambition to capture new lands for the investment of capital, for the export of raw materials and so on. From a liberator of nations, which capitalism was in the fight against feudalism, imperialist capitalism has become the greatest oppressor of nations. Capitalism has become reactionary instead of progressive, it has developed the productive forces to the extent that the human race will have either to embrace Socialism or to be doomed to long years of armed fighting by the “great” powers for the artificial maintenance of capitalism by means of colonies, monopolies, privileges, and national oppression of every kind.

With the same classical lucidity, Leninism gave the answer to the question: what is Social-Chauvinism.

What is Social-Chauvinism?

Social-Chauvinism is the advocacy of the idea of “national defence” in the present war. The logic of this idea is the rejection of the class struggle during the war, the voting of war credits, and so on. As a matter of fact, the Social-Chauvinists are carrying on anti-proletarian, bourgeois politics, because they are in fact advocating not “national defence” in the sense of fighting against alien yoke, but in the sense of the “right” of one or another set of the “great” powers to rob the colonies and to oppress foreign nations. The Social-Chauvinists repeat the bourgeois deception of the people, alleging that this is a war for the defence of liberty and existence of the nations, thus joining the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. To the Social-Chauvinist belong also those who justify and belaud the government and the bourgeoisie of one of the belligerent groups of powers, as well as those who, like Kautsky, recognise the equal right of Socialists in all the warring countries “to defend the fatherland.” Social-Chauvinism, being in fact the defender of the privileges, prerogatives, depredations and violence of “its own” (or of any) imperialist bourgeoisie, constitutes the total betrayal of all the Socialist convictions and decisions of the international Socialist congress of Basle.”

And Leninism draws the following conclusion: Social-Chauvinism is the acme of opportunism. By identifying itself with opportunism it called for a union of the workers with “their” national bourgeoisie, and a split of the international working class.

Leninism was much taken to task for its “defeatism.” Even some of the internationalists, on reaching this point, would turn their backs on Bolshevism and their faces to Social-Chauvinism. Nevertheless, Leninism, remaining true unto itself, said:

“The revolutionary class, during a reactionary war, cannot but wish the defeat of its government, cannot but see the connection between its military defeats and the facilities of overthrowing it. Only the bourgeois who thinks that the war that was started by the governments will doubtlessly be ended as a war between governments, and wishes it to be so, finds the idea ‘preposterous’ or ‘absurd’ that the Socialists of all the warring countries should wish for the defeat of all ‘their’ respective governments. On the contrary, just such an attitude would correspond to the innermost thoughts of every class conscious worker, and would coincide with the line of our activity which is directed towards the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war. . . The Socialists must explain to the masses that there is no salvation for them outside of the overthrow of ‘their’ governments, and that they should take advantage for this purpose of the very difficulties of these governments in the present war.”

Transformation of Imperialist War into Civil Way

Such was the fundamental slogan of Leninism in the period of the first world-wide imperialist war. This slogan would be advocated consistently and to the end only by standing with both feet on the ground of so-called defeatism.

Leninism, while hating the imperialist war with its whole heart, saw at the same time that this war was putting rifles into the hands of millions and millions of toilers.

While ridiculing maudlin pacifism, Lenin appealed to the people to take advantage of the fact that the arms were placed in the hands of the toilers, urging to turn these arms against the bourgeoisie and to proclaim the revolution.

At the very height of the imperialist war, Leninism at the same time emphasised that the Communists do not denounce national defence when country had become a Socialist, proletarian country. In his theses of 1915, i.e., two years before the passing of power into the hands of the Bolsheviks, at a moment when Bolshevism was still a persecuted political movement, and no one believed that the Bolsheviks would soon be in power, Leninism presented to the world an example of dialectical reasoning on the question of national defence. National defence for the capitalists—No! National defence for the workers who overthrow capitalism and took power into their own hands—Yes!

This dialectical reasoning was endowed with flesh and blood after the October of 1917, when under the banner of Leninism was born the Red Army, which defended and is defending the world’s first Socialist state.

Leninism does not tolerate revolutionary phrase-mongering. It particularly detests this kind of phraseology in the question of war. No one was more merciless in ridiculing and withering the anti-militarist phraseology of the anarcho-syndicalist spouters and the high-falutin’ promises of the Social-Democratic leaders as to arranging a general strike against war, and so on. The instructions to the Russian delegation to the Hague International Conference against war which Lenin wrote and which were recently published, give us a sample of the sober reasoning of the great revolutionary on the question of fighting against war.

“You want to fight against war, then you must learn to organise illegal revolutionary nuclei in the army in times of peace. Learn in times of peace to set up such organisations, let us say, among the railwaymen as will really be able at the very outbreak of war to hit the capitalists in the most vulnerable spot. You want to fight against war, fight then against the bourgeoisie in times of peace, refuse to vote military credits, do not enter into alliances with the bourgeoisie, build brick by brick your own independent revolutionary proletarian party. And should war break out after all, then teach the soldiers to fraternise in the trenches, conclude a ‘class truce’ with the bourgeoisie, carry on revolutionary agitation, and at the decisive moment hoist the banner of rebellion against war and against the bourgeoisie.”

Hence the ardent, implacable revolutionary hatred which Leninism bore for the counter-revolutionary leaders of Social-Democracy, who aided the bourgeoisie in waging the imperialist war. Scheidemann, Vandervelde, Renaudel, Thomas, Henderson, Austerlitz, and the rest of them, from the standpoint of Leninism, are not less guilty of the imperialist butchery than Ludendorff, Hindenburg, Foch, Poincaré and their ilk.

Ten years ago, the leaders of the Second International came out as the open drivers of the workers into the battle fields of the world butchery. The leaders of the Second International were, and are, therefore, the executioners of the working class.

We shall shortly celebrate the first anniversary of the outbreak of the imperialist war. The leaders of the Second International continue to carry on the same murderous policy of the imperialist war, only with different means. When the French Socialists, who played the part of lackeys of Herriot the “pacifist,” vote military credits for the Ruhr occupation, when the head of the Second International, MacDonald, builds new dreadnoughts and gives his benediction to the wholesale shooting of Hindoos, when the whole Second International, by praising the notorious Experts’ Plan, are again carrying out the grand deception of the people, what does it all mean if not the continuation of the perfidious and bloody Social-Democratic policy of 1914, in a different form and under different circumstances?

In order to conquer the bourgeoisie, the international proletariat must step over the dead political body of the counter-revolutionary leaders of social-democracy.

Get the bourgeoisie by the throat! At the same time, put your feet on the breast of the treacherous leaders of social-democracy! We, Communists, should say this frankly and unmistakingly to the advanced workers throughout the world.

July 7th, 1924.

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