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Lenin On Anti-Imperialist wars
Anti-Imperialist wars and dialectic connection to socialist revolutions
Download PDFTo a degree due to the lack of sufficient theoretical knowledge, yet largely consciously created confusion in the question of anti-imperialist wars, prevents some ML Revolutionaries from taking the correct stand against imperialist aggression. Lack of sufficient knowledge commonly results in generalizing the assessments made for a specific case or condition to every case, to every condition as a slogan. Labeling ISIS and other proxies in Syria as "progressive", "freedom fighters against the "regime"!", "defining the war as an "Imperialist war" so the "defense of fatherland" does not apply" etc. are some of the current examples of this confusion - either consciously or not. All these bourgeois revisionist assessments and confusion derive from the laziness towards reading classics, the preference of learning by rote and phrase making rather than studying the subject and applying the dialectic of Marxism.
In reference to this type of laziness and phrase-making practice, Lenin said "The itch is a painful disease. And when people are seized by the itch of revolutionary phrase-making the mere sight of this disease causes intolerable suffering. ..Truths that are simple, clear, comprehensible, obvious, and apparently indisputable to all who belong to the working people are distorted by those suffering from the above-mentioned kind of itch. Often this distortion arises from the best, the noblest and loftiest impulses, “merely” owing to a failure to digest well-known theoretical truths or a childishly crude, school-boyishly slavish repetition of them irrelevantly (people don’t know “what’s what”). But the itch does not cease to be harmful on that account" ( P20)
Taking Lenin's assessment on the stand against "imperialist wars" has been applied to all type of wars without making any assessment of the type of war in question. A stand without making a distinction between just and unjust, progressive,and reactionary, imperialist and anti-imperialist wars inevitably lands an honest Marxist Leninist on the side of counter revolution.
The consciously created confusion by the bourgeois revisionists, counter revolutionary Trotskyites stems from, or directly related to their "conclusion!" that “in the epoch of imperialism, there can be no more national wars", so "the anti-imperialist wars are a thing of the past".
In reality, for Marxist Leninists, anti-imperialist wars are not only inevitable in our epoch and vitally important, but a significant part of the socialist revolution in particular and in general - for the defeat of capitalism in a given country and in world scale.
"The struggle against imperialism in general," says Enver Hoxha, " and its tools in every country is one of the fundamental questions of the strategy of every communist party, and one of the decisive conditions for the triumph of any revolution, whether people's democratic, anti-imperialist or socialist. At the same time, its attitude to imperialism serves as a touchstone to evaluate the political and ideological position of every political force which operates either within the national framework of each country, or on an international scale. In other words, the stand towards imperialism has always been a line of demarcation which divides the genuine patriotic and democratic revolutionary forces, on the one hand, from the forces of reaction, counter-revolution and national betrayal, on the other hand." (P24)
That is why it is crucial to understand the different types of wars, their assessment, and taking the right stand in order not to fall in the bourgeois revisionist trap, not to side with the imperialists and become a mouthpiece for them. Comprehending the importance of anti- imperialist wars is crucial because the stand to these wars defines the difference between revolution and counter revolution, Marxism Leninism and bourgeois revisionism, communism, and anti-communism. And because the success of Anti-imperialist wars could play an importantrole in shortening the defeat of capitalism not only in any given country, but the defeat of capitalism on a world scale.
We should start the study of the question from the most cited assessment of Lenin by which most of the confusion arises - and abused: "The Defeat of One’s Own Government", "defense of the fatherland amounting to the defense of the right of one’s own bourgeoisie ".
Defense of Father Land - What is an imperialist war?
""the imperialist war, which is a predatory war conducted in the interests of the capitalists" (P41)If not all, most who do not make any distinction between wars quote Lenin's following assessment to support their claim;"From the point of view of the proletariat, recognizing “defense of the fatherland” means justifying the present war, admitting that it is legitimate. And since the war remains an imperialist war, irrespective of the country—mine or some other country—in which the enemy troops are stationed at the given moment, recognizing defense of the fatherland means, in fact, supporting the imperialist, predatory bourgeoisie, and completely betraying socialism. " (P49)And /or;"A proletarian cannot deal a class blow at his government or hold out (in fact) a hand to his brother, the proletarian of the “foreign” country which is at war with “our side”, without committing “high treason”, without contributing to the defeat, to the disintegration of his “own”, imperialist “Great” Power. " (P66)However, none of those who make this "quote" pay any attention to the key words in the paragraph, namely, " the present war", " imperialist war". Lenin, at these quotes, is speaking of the ML stand against the imperialist, aggressive wars, not defensive wars.
On his lecture "The present war " says Lenin, " is an imperialist one, and that is its basic feature. An imperialist war is quite a different matter. Socialists who fail to realise that the present war is imperialist, who fail to take a historical view of it, will understand nothing about the war." (P73)
Again, in Socialist Conference at Kienthal, he says; " The present war—precisely because it is an imperialist war insofar as both groups of belligerent “great” powers .." (P80)
And again at 2nd Socialist Conference, he says: The present war is an imperialist war, i.e., a war born of contradictions on the basis of highly developed, monopoly capitalism" (P92)
It is so obvious and apparently indisputable fact that he was talking about imperialist wars - wars between imperialists.
He clarifies the question of "defense of fatherland" in his various critique and writings. “In the era of imperialism”, he says, "defense of the fatherland amounts to defense of the right of one’s own bourgeoisie to oppress foreign peoples. This, however, is true only in respect of all imperialist war, i.e., in respect of a war between imperialist powers or groups of powers". And he continues; "The authors seem to present the question of “defense of the fatherland” very differently from the way it is presented by our Party. We renounce “defense of the fatherland” in an imperialist war. This is said as clearly as it can be in the Manifesto of our Party’s Central Committee and in the Berne resolutions.........The authors of the.. theses seem to renounce defense of the fatherland in general, i.e., for a national war as well, believing, perhaps, that in the “era of imperialism” national wars are impossible. " (P104)
He makes it clearer in his writing on Blancism;"The proletarian standpoint in this matter consists of a definite class characterization of war, and of an irreconcilable hostility to imperialist war—that is, to a war between groups of capitalist countries (no matter whether monarchies or republics) for a division of capitalist spoils." (P115)And concludes on his Reply to P. Kievsky"Defense of the fatherland is a lie in an imperialist war, but not in a democratic and revolutionary war." (P201)In his letter to Zinoviev Lenin says " We are not at all against “defense of the fatherland” in general, not against “defensive wars” in general. You will never find that nonsense in a single resolution (or in any of my articles). We are against defense of the fatherland and a defensive position in the imperialist war of 1914–16 and in other imperialist wars, typical of the imperialist epoch. But in the imperialist epoch there may be also “just”, “defensive”, revolutionary wars [namely (1) national, (2) civil, (3) socialist and suchlike.] " (P119)
Excluding bourgeois revisionist, for any Marxist Leninist, these quotes should clarify without any doubt that Lenin was NOT generalizing the “defense of the fatherland” attitude towards wars, but speaking only of the attitude towards "imperialist wars"
Anti-imperialist wars are a thing of the past? - Imperialist wars and anti-imperialist wars
For those who claim that “The era of national wars has passed," "it is a question of past”, Lenin, On Marxism and Proudhanism states otherwise. " Marx and Engels", he says, "did not live to see the period of imperialism. The system now is a handful of imperialist “Great” Powers, each oppressing other nations"...the main thing today is to stand against the united, aligned front of the imperialist powers, the imperialist bourgeoisie and the social-imperialists, and for the utilization of all national movements against imperialism for the purposes of the socialist revolution." (P122)
In his work, Imperialism and Revolution, Enver Hoxha takes the subject with its importance in socialist revolution."the linking and interlacing of the national-democratic, anti-imperialist, national liberation revolution with the socialist revolution, because, by striking at imperialism and reaction, which are common enemies of the proletariat and the peoples, these revolutions also pave the way for great social transformations, assist the victory of the socialist revolution. And vice-versa, by striking at the imperialist bourgeoisie, by destroying its economic and political positions, the socialist revolution creates favorable conditions for and facilitates the triumph of liberation movements.Therefore, when we draw the conclusion that the revolution is a question put forward for solution, that it is on the agenda, we have in mind not only the socialist revolution, but also the democratic anti-imperialist revolution." (P131)
Similarly, in his writing “Our Understanding of the New Era” Lenin says; " We give a correct Marxist definition of the relation between the “era” and the “present war”: Marxism requires a concrete assessment of each separate war. " and continues;At the beginning of the article the concept “era of imperialism” is distorted to make it appear that the national movement has been consummated in general, and not only in the advanced Western countries." (P133)On his critique of Junius’ pamphlet, Lenin takes up the issue extensively. Citing the quotes from the pamphlet, Lenin writes;"The first of Junius’ erroneous postulates, the first is contained in the International group’s thesis No. 5:“In the epoch (era) of this unbridled imperialism, there can be no more national wars. National interests serve only as an instrument of deception, to deliver the masses of the toiling people into the service of their mortal enemy, imperialism....”This postulate is the end of thesis No. 5, the first part of which is devoted to the description of the present war as an imperialist war. The repudiation of national wars in general may either be an oversight or a fortuitous over-emphasis of the perfectly correct idea that the present war is an imperialist war and not a national war. But as the opposite may be true, as various Social-Democrats mistakenly repudiate all national wars because the present war is falsely represented to be a national war, we are obliged to deal with this mistake.
“there can be no more national wars” is that the world has been divided up among a handful of “Great” imperialist powers, and, therefore, every war, even if it starts as a national war, is transformed into an imperialist war and affects the interests of one of the imperialist Powers or coalitions (p. 81 of Junius’ pamphlet)
The fallacy of this argument is obvious. Of course, the fundamental proposition of Marxian dialectics is that all boundaries in nature and society are conventional and mobile, that there is not a single phenomenon which cannot under certain conditions be transformed into its opposite. A national war can be transformed into an imperialist war, and vice versa.
Only a sophist would deny that there is a difference between imperialist war and national war on the grounds that one can be transformed into the other.
National wars waged by colonial and semi-colonial countries are not only possible but inevitable in the epoch of imperialism. .......... Every war is a continuation of politics by other means. The national liberation politics of the colonies will inevitably be continued by national wars of the colonies against imperialism.
National wars must not be regarded as impossible in the epoch of imperialism, even in Europe. The “epoch of imperialism” made the present war an imperialist war; it inevitably engenders (until the advent of socialism) new imperialist war; it transformed the policies of the present Great Powers into thoroughly imperialist policies. But this “epoch” by no means precludes the possibility of national wars, waged, for example, by small (let us assume, annexed or nationally oppressed) states against the imperialist Powers, any more than it precludes the possibility of big national movements in Eastern Europe"" (P139)
In "Military programme of the Proletarian Revolution" Lenin takes up the question again to clarify:
"""In Section 5 of the Internationale group these we read: “National wars are no longer possible in the era of this unbridled imperialism.” That is obviously wrong.
Junius, who defends the above-quoted “theses” in her pamphlet, says that in the imperialist era every national war against an imperialist Great Power leads to intervention of a rival imperialist Great Power. Every national war is this turned into an imperialist war. But that argument is wrong, too.
To deny all possibility of national wars under imperialism is wrong in theory, obviously mistaken historically, and tantamount to European chauvinism in practice: we who belong to nations that oppress hundreds of millions in Europe, Africa, Asia, etc., are invited to tell the oppressed peoples that it is “impossible” for them to wage war against “our” nations!
Thirdly, the victory of socialism in one country does not at one stroke eliminate all wars in general. On the contrary, it presupposes wars.
We must not allow ourselves to be led astray by words. The term “defense of the fatherland”, for instance, is hateful to many because both avowed opportunists and Kautskyites use it to cover up and gloss over the bourgeois lie about the present predatory war. This is a fact. But it does not follow that we must no longer see through to the meaning of political slogans. To accept “defense of the fatherland” in the present war is no more nor less than to accept it as a “just” war, a war in the interests of the proletariat—no more nor less, we repeat, because invasions may occur in any war. It would be sheer folly to repudiate “defense of the fatherland” on the part of oppressed nations in their wars against the imperialist Great Powers...
Theoretically, it would be absolutely wrong to forget that every war is but the continuation of policy by other means. The present imperialist war is the continuation of the imperialist policies of two groups of Great Powers, and these policies were engendered and fostered by the sum total of the relationships of the imperialist era. But this very era must also necessarily engender and foster policies of struggle against national oppression and of proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie and, consequently, also the possibility and inevitability; first, of revolutionary national rebellions and wars; second, of proletarian wars and rebellions against the bourgeoisie; and, third, of a combination of both kinds of revolutionary war, etc."" (P156)As we, unquestionably, understand from Lenin, the claims that the” National wars are no longer possible in the era of imperialism"," it is a question of past” etc. is wrong thus, anti-Marxist Leninist.How do we differentiate the wars?
Defining the war Types -Distinction between Defensive and Aggressive Wars
When "the war becomes truly forced upon us, it becomes a truly just war of defense". (P160)
In his work, Socialism and War, Lenin points out the different approaches and reasons for. He says;Socialists have always condemned war between nations as barbarous and brutal. But our attitude towards war is fundamentally different from that of the bourgeois pacifists (supporters and advocates of peace) and of the Anarchists. We differ from the former in that we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within the country; we understand that war cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and Socialism is created; and we also differ in that we fully regard civil wars, i.e., wars waged by the oppressed class against the oppressing class, slaves against slave-owners, serfs against land-owners, and wage-workers against the bourgeoisie, as legitimate, progressive and necessary.
We Marxists differ from both the pacifists and the Anarchists in that we deem it necessary historically (from the standpoint of Marx’s dialectical materialism) to study each war separately. In history there have been numerous wars which, in spite of all the horrors, atrocities, distress and suffering that inevitably accompany all wars, were progressive, i.e., benefited the development of mankind by helping to destroy the exceptionally harmful and reactionary institutions (for example, autocracy or serfdom), the most barbarous despotism in Europe (Turkish and Russian). Therefore, it is necessary to examine the historically specific features of precisely the present war. " (P166)Lenin follows by saying that " a proletariat who tolerates the violence by its nation against other nations cannot be a socialist';
Imperialism is the epoch of the constantly increasing oppression of the nations of the world by a handful of “great” powers and, therefore, it is impossible to fight for the socialist international revolution against imperialism unless the right of nations to self-determination is recognized. “No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations” (Marx and Engels). A proletariat that tolerates the slightest violence by “its” nation against other nations cannot be a socialist proletariat. ” (P166)In his article "A caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism", Lenin clearly explains the difference between defensive, aggressive, just unjust, reactionary, progressive wars. He asks the question; "How, then, can we disclose and define the "substance" of a war? " And responds;
"War is the continuation of policy. Consequently, we must examine the policy pursued prior to the war, the policy that led to and brought about the war. If it was an imperialist policy, i.e., one designed to safeguard the interests of finance capital and rob and oppress colonies and foreign countries, then the war stemming from that policy is imperialist.
If it was a national liberation policy, i.e., one expressive of the mass movement against national oppression, then the war stemming from that policy is a war of national liberation.The philistine does not realize that war is "the continuation of policy"
In short: a war between imperialist Great Powers, or in alliance with the Great Powers, is an imperialist war.
A war against imperialist nations is a genuine national war. .. "Defense of the fatherland" in a war waged by an oppressed nation against a foreign oppressor is not a deception. Socialists are not opposed to "defense of the fatherland" in such a war. "
To fall into negation of wars really waged for liberating nations is to present the worst possible caricature of Marxism. .....Rejection of "defense of the fatherland" in a democratic war, i.e., rejecting participation in such a war, is an absurdity that has nothing in common with Marxism." (P167)
Lenin on Marxist Attitude towards War says; "socialists have regarded wars 'for the defense of the fatherland', or 'defensive' wars, as legitimate, progressive and just" only in the sense of "overthrowing alien oppression". It cites an example: Persia against Russia, "etc.", and says: "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. " (P167)
Stalin, in his work, The Foundation of Leninism summarizes Lenin's approach;" Leninism proceeds from the following theses:"
a) The world is divided into two camps: the camp of a handful of civilized nations, which possess finance capital and exploit the vast majority of the population of the globe; and the camp of the oppressed and exploited peoples in the colonies and dependent countries, which constitute that majority.c) The revolutionary struggle of the oppressed peoples in the dependent and colonial countries against imperialism is the only road that leads to their emancipation from oppression and exploitation. " (P175)Defining the wars as imperialist wars - wars between the imperialist great powers- and as anti-imperialist wars - wars against imperialist oppression, exploitation and aggression - at the same time defines the revolutionary stand and counter-revolutionary stand to any given war. Revisionists often try to justify the aggressive imperialist war and side with the imperialists, under the pretext that the "character of national movement" waging anti-imperialist war is "reactionary".
Stalin explains ML attitude and gives clarifying example with the underlying principled reason:"The unquestionably revolutionary character of the vast majority of national movements is as relative and peculiar as is the possible reactionary character of certain particular national movements. The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican programme of the movement, the existence of a democratic basis of the movement. The struggle that the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist views of the Emir and his associates, for it weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism." (P175)Stalin goes further and says that a bourgeois national movement's bourgeois struggle against imperialism is a progressive, revolutionary struggle, while a struggle for "socialism" which is being waged on the side of imperialism is a reactionary struggle."For the same reasons, the struggle that the Egyptian merchants and bourgeois intellectuals are waging for the independence of Egypt is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the bourgeois origin and bourgeois title of the leaders of the Egyptian national movement, despite the fact that they are opposed to socialism;
whereas the struggle that the British "Labour" government is waging to preserve Egypt's dependent position is for the same reasons a reactionary struggle, despite the proletarian origin and the proletarian title of the members of that government, despite the fact that they are "for" socialism.
There is no need to mention the national movement in other, larger, colonial and dependent countries, such as India and China, every step of which along the road to liberation, even if it runs counter to the demands of formal democracy, is a steam-hammer blow at imperialism, i.e., is undoubtedly are revolutionary step." (P175)Stalin explains the reason by quoting Lenin;Lenin was right in saying that the national movement of the oppressed countries should be appraised not from the point of view of formal democracy, but from the point of view of the actual results, as shown by the general balance sheet of the struggle against imperialism, that is to say, "not in isolation, but on a world scale." (P175)"An imperialist war" says Lenin, "does not cease to be imperialist when charlatans or phrase-mongers or petty-bourgeois philistines put forward sentimental “slogans”" ..The proletariat fights for the revolutionary overthrow of the imperialist bourgeoisie; the petty bourgeoisie fights for the reformist “improvement” of imperialism, for adaptation to it, while submitting to it." (P49) As Marxists, "We are not pacifists. We are opposed to imperialist wars over the division of spoils among the capitalists, but we have always considered it absurd for the revolutionary proletariat to disavow revolutionary wars that may prove necessary in the interests of socialism." (P187)
Explaining the importance of anti-imperialist struggles, " The dialectics of history " says Lenin, "are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat, to make its appearance on the scene...We would be very poor revolutionaries if, in the proletariat’s great war of Liberation for socialism, we did not know how to utilize every popular movement against every single disaster imperialism brings in order to intensify and extend the crisis. " (P195)
As Enver Hoxha puts it bluntly "the stand towards imperialism has always been a line of demarcation which divides the genuine patriotic and democratic revolutionary forces, on the one hand, from the forces of reaction, counter-revolution and national betrayal, on the other hand." (P24)
The claims to justify and ratify the imperialist aggression - “in the epoch of imperialism, there can be no more national wars", so "the anti-imperialist wars are a thing of the past" and so the "defense of fatherland' is a bourgeois slogan" etc.- despite the prettified Marxist phrases used, are in fact bourgeois, counter revolutionary and anticommunist claims.
As we have seen from the quotes of Lenin's writings, anti-imperialist wars are not only vitally important, but a significant part of the socialist revolution in particular and in general - for the defeat of capitalism in a given country, and for the defeat of capitalism in world scale.
Erdogan AFebruary 20, 2020
ContentsLenin, Initial Variant of R.S.D.L.P. C.C. Proposals To The Second Socialist Conference – P92
Lenin, A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism, The Marxist Attitude Towards War and Defense Of fatherland – P167