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January 2002 • Vol 2, No. 1 •

Moving Toward A Police State
(Or Have We Arrived?):
Secret Military Tribunals, Mass Arrests and Disappearances, Wiretapping & Torture

by Michael Ratner

This essay is based on an article written by V.I. Lenin, leader of Russia’s revolutionary socialist Bolshevik Party in July of 1915, one year after World War I (WWI) began. The article, “The Defeat of One’s Own Government in the Imperialist War,” appeared in the Bolsheviks central organ, the Sotsial Demokrat, and appears in Volume 21 of Lenin’s Collected Works. Today’s antiwar activists will find its lessons extremely helpful as a guide to an effective struggle for a world without war.

Prior to WWI all the world’s socialists had unanimously agreed to adhere to the manifesto passed at the International Socialist Congress in Basle, Switzerland in 1912. This manifesto stipulated 1) that the nature of the impending war was imperialist in the sense that it would inevitably be a competitive war conducted to further the economic interests of each warring nation’s capitalist class at the expense of the others, no matter who “started” the war. And 2) that “ socialists must take advantage of the economic and political crisis it will cause so as to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.”

In August of 1914, war broke out in Europe and with it came the end of socialist anti-war unity. Almost every socialist party, to one degree or another, came to the support of its own capitalist class, thereby abandoning the principle of international working class solidarity. Some simply failed to oppose the war. Others, while not openly defending the war, (and all the while praying for peace), certainly did not attempt to hasten the end of capitalist class rule. However, the Bolshevik Party was one of a few notable exceptions.

Lenin’s article came out one month before and in preparation of an “internationalist” socialist conference that was to be held in Zimmerwald, Switzerland to discuss opposition to the war. Lenin sought to use his article, among others, to promote the reestablishment of the revolutionary socialist anti-war position established at Basle three years earlier.

For a revolutionary struggle against national chauvinism

What he thought was needed was not just any kind of unity, but a unity for revolutionary struggle against national chauvinism. This amounted to the working class conducting an uncompromising struggle against the capitalist class as the only way to end the war and establish a new society, which would abolish exploitation. This new kind of society—called socialism—would eliminate wars and their cause forever by organizing society to meet the needs of humanity and not the profits of the few rich capitalists.

In his article, Lenin was intransigent in his insistence on preventing any adaptation to groupings holding positions that lent themselves, wittingly or not, to deflecting workers and students from building the kind of anti-war actions that could bring hundreds of thousands, even millions, of workers and their allies into the streets to oppose their own government’s war and prepare workers for power.

The political divide then, as now, was over what stand to take to the war. On the one side was Lenin’s Bolshevik party, which fought for the defeat of one’s own ruling class. That is to say, the real enemy and cause of one’s own nation being at war was at home and nowhere else.

Lenin, however, explained “that this does not mean ‘blowing up bridges,’ organizing unsuccessful strikes in war industries, and in general helping the government defeat the revolutionaries.”

In other words, this was a call for workers of all warring countries and beyond to struggle to stop the war and contend with their rulers over who shall run society. This was Lenin’s principled basis for unity among socialists.

On the other side were those reformist socialists who merely wanted unity with all those who either supported or defended the war in some covert way, all the while braying for peace. Some of these reformists voted to pay the costs of their government’s war efforts, disingenuously declaring they “voted not for war but against defeat.” Others opposed the war in general but were not prepared to act on their alleged convictions. That is, these pacifists were neither prepared to adopt the notion nor act on the basis that the enemy was at home. In so doing they opted not to organize anti-war actions against their own governments. These elements also opposed any open breach with the social chauvinists that defended the war. Among this broad group was the “Organizing Committee” which was the guiding center of the non-revolutionary Menshevik Party in Russia.

In the middle of these two groups sat the “centrists,” often referred to as “conciliators.” That is, they were seeking to reconcile the two above groupings. This was to be accomplished primarily by diluting the revolutionary defeatist perspective that said, “The enemy is at home.” Karl Kautsky of Germany was one in this category. He had been an advocate of voting for war credits “with reservations,” or abstaining from voting altogether, but under no circumstances voting against money for the war. His motto was “peace with no annexations.”

For Lenin, Trotsky later recalled, participating in conferences against the war, like the one held in Zimmerwald in 1915, was “not done to reach conciliation with the centrists, not to present hollow ‘resolutions,’ but to struggle for the principles of Bolshevism,” which alone were capable of mobilizing masses of workers and their allies to stop the war. And the foremost Bolshevik principle was the conviction that the fundamental struggle of humanity was the class struggle so that the number one enemy of each national working class was its own capitalist class.

The enemy of the working class is at home

This is also Trotsky’s legacy. Trotsky recognized the essential feature of Lenin’s “the war is at home” policy is that socialists take no responsibility for a capitalist war. Just as important, no blame can be shifted to others for a war. The workers and farmers on the other side of the trenches are not the enemy. The enemy is here at home. That is the watchword.

Moreover, given that war is the continuation of capitalist politics by other means, no responsibility can be taken either for capitalist peacetime politics or policy.

In today’s anti-war movement, broadly defined, there exists a component that raises a slogan that is very conciliatory in character in relation to the U.S. government and very much like the “neither victory nor defeat” slogan.

This conciliationist slogan is, “Justice, Not Vengeance.” It is often linked to the call for “an independent international tribunal to impartially investigate, apprehend, and try those responsible for the September 11 attack.” But, unfortunately, there is no such body anywhere in the world that has the military capacity to “apprehend and try” any suspects in someone else’s country—except of course the United States. (Just imagine if Cuba attempted to “apprehend and try” those in the United States that they suspected had committed terrorist acts against Cuba!)

Even though these same people also request that, among other things, there be “No War,” this is completely overshadowed by the fact that their call for “justice” diverts the antiwar movement’s focus away from bringing masses of people into the streets to demand that the U.S. government end its war on Afghanistan. This would also relegate the masses of people to the role of passive spectators as they watch the U.S. government and its allies with guns blazing, in its holier than holy quest to “bring those responsible to justice.”

In fact, this “bring them to justice” slogan serves as an alternative to demanding that the U.S. government end the war and bring our troops home now. In effect they are saying that the real enemy of the U.S. working class is somewhere else, not here at home.

Even though some socialists criticize this slogan on the grounds that the U.S. government can use it to justify its intervention in Afghanistan, they fail to acknowledge that this slogan is already being used within the antiwar movement to disorient and deflect the focus.

Bring the troops home now!

During the Vietnam War, many who depicted themselves as being for peace advocated that the U.S. negotiate with North Vietnam to end the war. They presumed that the U.S. imperialists had a right to tell the Vietnamese what terms would be acceptable to it. This call for negotiations was consciously counter posed to mobilizing mass demonstrations to demand that the U.S. government “Bring the Troops Home Now.”

During the Gulf war ten years ago, many peace advocates urged that the United Nations (imperialism with a blue helmet) “mediate the Middle East crisis.” Still others sought to have the Gulf antiwar movement change its slogan, “Bring the Troops Home Now,” to either “Withdraw All Foreign Troops”—a demand not only on the U.S. to withdraw from the Middle East, but on Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait or “Self-Determination for the People of the Middle East.” Both of these slogans were designed to place equal or more blame for the war on Iraq than the U.S.

Again, in 1999, the U.S. government and its NATO allies launched their devastating bombing war on Yugoslavia, which they justified by disingenuously claiming that Yugoslavia had to be destroyed to save the oppressed ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo from its oppressor. There was little mention at the time of the U.S. government’s goal of opening the country up to, and making it safe for, U.S. capitalist investment.

Then, as now, most liberals and many who consider themselves socialists diluted the healthy opposition to the U.S. war on Yugoslavia by directing equal fire at both the American and Yugoslav governments.

In this case, the liberals and some socialists were, at best, more opposed to one reactionary war (Yugoslavia vs. Kosovo) and less opposed, or even giving backhanded support, to a more devastating and politically reactionary war, the U.S. war on Yugoslavia.

Lenin once said, “To the socialist, it is not the horrors of war that are the hardest to endure—we are always for ‘a holy war of all the oppressed, for the conquest of their own fatherland’—but the horrors of the treachery shown by the leaders of present-day socialism.”

What all of these past negative examples have to do with today’s conciliatory slogan, “Justice, Not Vengeance,” is that they all point to an enemy of American workers anywhere but here at home. And when the enemy is recognized here at home, its crimes are dwarfed by what is perceived by such reformists as an even greater perpetrator of evil in another country. They all share the common feature of rejecting a clearly focused working class policy in response to U.S. wars.

This is in essence Lenin’s “The enemy is at home” message. It is also why he stated, “The struggle against imperialism that is not closely linked with the struggle against opportunism is either an empty phrase or a fraud.”





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