From the Arsenal of Marxism
Pacifism as the Servant of Imperialism
by Leon Trotsky
Transcribed for the Trotsky Internet Archive, now a sub-section of the Marxist writers Internet Archive, by J J Plant and HTML markup by David Walters in August of 1996. Transcribed from Communist International, English Edition, No. 5 New Series. No translator is credited. No date is provided although it clearly dates from the period of the Provisional Government of mid-1917.
There were never so many pacifists in the world as now, when in all countries men are killing one another. Every historical epoch has not only its own technique and its own political form, but also a hypocrisy peculiar to itself. Once peoples destroyed each other in the name of the Christian teaching of love of humanity. Now only backward governments call upon Christ. Progressive nations cut each others throats in the name of pacifism. Wilson drags America into the war in the name of the League of Nations, and perpetual peace. Kerensky and Tseretelli call for an offensive for the sake of an early peace.
Our epoch lacks the indignant satire of a Juvenal. In any case, even the most potential satirical weapons are in danger of being proved powerless and illusory in comparison with triumphant infamy and grovelling stupidity; which two elements were unfettered by the war.
Pacifism is of the same historical lineage as democracy. The bourgeoisie made a great historical attempt to order all human relations in accordance with reason, to supplant blind and dumb tradition by the institutions of critical thought. The guilds with their restriction of production, political institutions with their privileges, monarchistic absolutismall these were traditional relics of the middle ages. Bourgeois democracy demanded legal equality for free competition, and for parliamentarism as the means of governing public affairs. It sought also to regulate national relations in the same manner. But here it came up against war, that is, against a method of solving all problems which is a complete denial of reason. So it began to advise the people in poetry, in philosophy, in ethics, and in business methods, that it is far more useful for them to introduce perpetual peace. These are the logical arguments for pacifism.
The inherited failing of pacifism, however, was the fundamental evil which characterizes bourgeois democracy. Its criticism touches only the surface of social phenomena; it has not the courage to cut deeper into the underlying economic facts. Capitalist realism, however, handles the idea of perpetual peace based on the harmony of reason, perhaps more pitilessly than the idea of liberty, equality and fraternity. Capitalism, which developed technique on a rational basis, failed to regulate conditions rationally. It prepared weapons for mutual extermination which would never have occurred to the dreams of the barbarians of medieval times.
The rapid intensification of international conditions, and the unremitting growth of militarism, knocked away the ground from under the feet of pacifism. But at the same time, these same forces were giving pacifism a new life before our very eyes, a life as different from the old one as a blood-red sunset is from a rosy dawn.
The ten years which preceded the war were the period of what has been called armed peace. The whole time was in reality nothing but an uninterrupted war, a war waged in colonial lands.
This war was fought out upon the territories of backward and weak peoples; it led to the partition of Africa, Polynesia and Asia, and prepared the way for the present war. But, as there had been no European war since 1871, although there had been quite a number of small but sharp conflicts, common opinion among the petty bourgeois had been systematically encouraged to look upon an ever-growing army as a guarantee of peace, which would gradually bear its fruits in a new organization of popular international law. As for the capitalistic governments and big business, they naturally saw nothing to object to in this pacifist interpretation of militarism. Meanwhile world conflicts were in preparation and the world catastrophe was there.
The opposition between capitalistic national states has just the same economic basis as the class struggle. If we are ready to assume the possibility of a gradual toning down of the class struggle, then we must also assume the gradual toning down and regulation of nationalistic conflicts.
The guardian of democratic ideology, with all its traditions and illusions, was the petty bourgeoisie. During the second half of the nineteenth century, it had become completely transformed inwardly, but it had not yet disappeared from the scene. At the very time when the development of capitalistic technique was permanently undermining the economic role of the petty bourgeoisie, universal franchise and compulsory military service were giving it, thanks to its numerical strength, the appearance of a political factor. Where the small capitalist had not been crushed out of existence altogether by big business, he was completely subjugated by the credit system. It only remained to the representatives of big business to subjugate the petty bourgeoisie also in the political field, by taking all its theories and prejudices and lending them a fictitious value. This is the explanation of the phenomena which were to be observed in the last ten years before the war, when reactionary imperialism was growing to such a terrific height, while at the same time the illusive blossoming of a bourgeois democracy, with all its reformism and pacifism took place. Big business subjugated the petty bourgeoisie to its imperialistic ends by means of its own prejudices.
France was the classic example of this two-sided process. France is a country of finance-capital supported upon the basis of a numerous and generally conservative petty bourgeois. Thanks to foreign loans, to the colonies, and to the alliance with Russia and England, the upper strata of the population were dragged into all the interests and all the conflicts of world capitalism. Meanwhile, the French petty bourgeoisie remained a provincial to his very marrow. He has an instinctive dread of geography, and all his life long he has had the greatest horror of war, mainly because he usually has only one son, to whom he will leave his business and his furniture. This petty bourgeois sends a bourgeois radical to represent him in parliament, for that gentleman promises him that he will preserve peace for him by means of the League of Nations on the one hand and of Russian Cossacks, who will chop off the Kaisers head for him, on the other. The radical deputy arrives in Paris from his circle of provincial lawyers, not only full of the will to peace, but also with only the vaguest of notions as to the position of the Persian Gulf, and without any clear idea of why or for whom the Baghdad Railway is necessary. These radical pacifist deputies provided from their midst a Radical Ministry, which immediately found itself entangled up to the ears in the meshes of all the previous diplomatic and military obligations undertaken by all the various financial interests of the French Bourse in Russia, Africa and Asia. The Ministry and Parliament never ceased intoning their pacifist phraseology, but at the same time they were automatically carrying out a foreign policy which finally brought France into the war.
English and American pacifism, despite all the variety of social conditions and ideology (despite also the lack of any ideology as in America) carry out essentially the same work: they provide an outlet for the petty bourgeois citizens fear of world-shaking events, which after all can only deprive him of the remnants of his independence; they lull to sleep his watchfulness by useless notions of disarmament, international law, and arbitration tribunals. Then, at a given moment, they hand him over body and soul to capitalistic imperialism which has already mobilized every means necessary for its end: i.e., technical knowledge, art, religion, bourgeois pacifism and patriotic Socialism.
We were against the war, our deputies, our Ministers, were all against the war, cry the French petty bourgeois: Therefore, it follows, that we have the war forced upon us, and in order to realize our pacific ideals we must pursue the war to a victorious end. And the representative of French pacifism, Baron dEstournel de Constant, consecrates this pacifist philosophy with a solemn jusquau bout !war to the end!
The thing which above all others the English Stock Exchange required for the successful conduct of the war, was a pacifist like the liberal Asquith, and the radical demagogue Lloyd George. If these men are running the war, said the English people, then we must have right on our side.
And so pacifism had its allotted part to play in the mechanism of the war, like poison gas, and the ever-rising pile of war loans.
In the USA the pacifism of the petty bourgeoisie showed itself in its true role, as the servant of imperialism, in an even less disguised manner. There, as elsewhere, it was the banks and the trusts which really managed politics. Even before the war, owing to the extraordinary development of industry, and of the export trade, the USA had been steadily moving in the direction of world interests and of imperialism. But the European war drove on this imperialistic development at a feverish pace. At the very moment when many pious people (even Kautsky) were hoping that the horrors of the butchery in Europe would fill the American bourgeoisie with horror of militarism, the real influence of the events in Europe was proceeding, not on psychological, but on materialistic lines, and was leading to the very opposite results. The exports of the USA, which in 1913 had totaled 2,466 millions of dollars, rose in 1916 to the crazy height of 5,481 millions of dollars.
Naturally the lions share of this export trade was allotted to the munitions industry. Then came the sudden threat of a cessation in the export trade to the Entente countries, when unrestricted submarine warfare began. In 1915 the Entente had imported American goods up to thirty-five millions, while Germany and Austria-Hungary had barely imported as much as fifteen millions. Thus, not only a diminution of the gigantic profits was indicated, but the whole of American industry, which had its basis in war industry, was now threatened with a severe crisis. It is to these figures that we must look for the key to the division of sympathies in America. And so the capitalists appealed to the State: It is you who started this development of war-industry under the banner of pacifism, it is now up to you to find us a new market. If the State was not in a position to promise the freedom of the seas (in other words, freedom to squeeze capital out of human blood) then it must open a new market for the threatened war industriesin America itself. And so the requirements of the European slaughter produced a sudden, catastrophic militarization of the USA.
This business was bound to arouse the opposition of the great masses of the people. To conquer this undefined discontent, and transform it into patriotic co-operation was the most important task in the domestic politics of the USA. And it was by a strange irony of fate that the official pacifism of Wilson, like the opposition pacifism of Bryan, provided the most powerful weapons for the performance of this task, i.e., the taming of the masses by militaristic methods.
Bryan hastened to give loud expression to the natural dislike of the farmers, and of all the petty bourgeoisie to imperialism, militarism and increase in taxation. But at the very time when he was sending off wagon-loads of petitions and deputations to his pacifist colleagues, who occupied the highest places in the government, Bryan was also using every effort to break away from the revolutionary lead of this movement.
If it comes to war, thus, for instance, Bryan telegraphed to an anti-war meeting held in Chicago in February, then, of course, we shall support the government, but up to that moment it is our most sacred duty to do everything that lies in our power to save the people from the horrors of war. In these few words we have the whole program of petty bourgeois pacifism. Everything that is in our power to prevent war, means to provide an outlet for the opposition of the masses in the shape of harmless manifestos, in which the government is given a guarantee that if war comes, no hindrance will be put in its way by the pacifist opposition.
That indeed, was all that was required by the Official pacifism personified by Wilson, who had already given plenty of proofs to the capitalists who were making the war, of his readiness to fight. And even Mr. Bryan himself found it enough to have made this declaration, after which he was content to put aside his noisy opposition to the war; simply for one purposethat of declaring war. Like Mr. Wilson, Mr. Bryan hastened over to the other side of the government. And not only the petty-bourgeoisie, but also the great mass of the people, said to themselves: If our government, headed by a pacifist of such world-wide reputation as Wilson, can declare war, and Bryan himself can support the government on the question of war, then surely this must be a righteous and necessary war. This explains why the pious, Quakerish kind of pacifism, indulged in by the demagogues who led the government, was so highly valued by the Stock Exchange and the leaders of war industry.
Our own Menshevik, social-revolutionary pacifism, despite the difference in outward conditions, played in its own way exactly the same part. The resolution on war, which was adopted by a majority of the All-Russian Congress of Workers and Soldiers Councils, is founded not only on the common pacifist prejudices concerning war, but also on the characteristics of an imperialistic war. The Congress declared that the first and most important task of revolutionary democracy was the speedy ending of war. But all these assumptions are only directed towards a single end: so long as the international efforts of democracy have failed to make an end of war, so long must Russian revolutionary democracy demand with all its strength that the Red Army shall be prepared to fight whether defensive or offensive.
The revision of the old international treaties makes the Russian Congress dependent upon voluntary understandings with the diplomacy of the Entente, and it is not in the nature of these diplomats to liquidate the imperialistic character of war, even if they could. The international efforts of democracy leaves the congress and its leaders dependent upon the will of the Social-Democratic patriots, who are tied and bound to their imperialistic governments. And this same majority of the congress, having first of all led itself into a blind alley with this business of the quickest possible ending to war, has now landed itself, where practical politics are concerned, in a definite conclusion: the offensive. A pacifism which rallies the petty-bourgeoisie and brings us to the support of the offensive will naturally be most warmly welcomed, not only by Russians but also by Entente imperialism.
Miliukov, for instance, says: In the name of our loyalty to the allies and to our old (imperialistic) treaties, the offensive must inevitably be entered upon.
Kerensky and Tseretelli say: Although our old treaties have not yet been revised, the offensive is inevitable.
The arguments vary, but the policy is the same. And it could not be otherwise, since Kerensky and Tseretelli are inextricably bound up in the government with Miliukovs party.
The Social-Democratic, patriotic pacifism of Dan, like the Quaker pacifism of Bryan, are, when we come to actual facts, equally in the service of the imperialists.
It is for this reason that the most important task of Russian diplomacy does not consist in persuading the Entente diplomacy to revise something or other, or to abrogate something else, but in convincing them that the Russian revolution is absolutely reliable, and can safely be trusted.
The Russian ambassador, Bachmatiev, in his speech to the Congress of the USA on June 10th, also characterized the activity of the Provisional Government from this point of view:
All these events, he said, show us that the power and significance of the Provisional Government are growing every day, and the more they grow the more capable will the government be of throwing out all disintegrating elements, whether these come from the reaction or from the agitation of the extreme left. The Provisional Government has just decided to take all possible means to achieve this end, even if it has to resort to force, although it does not cease to strive for a peaceful solution of its problems.
One need not doubt for a moment that the national honor of our Social-Democratic patriots remained undisturbed while the ambassador of the revolutionary democracy eagerly proved to the American plutocracy that the Russian government was ready to pour out the blood of the Russian proletariat in the name of law and order. The most important element of law and order being its loyal support of Entente capitalism.
And at the very moment when Herr Bachmatief was standing hat in hand, humbly addressing himself to the hyenas of the American Stock Exchange, Messieurs Tseretelli and Kerensky were setting the revolutionary democracy by the ears, in assuring them that it was impossible to combat the anarchy of the left without using force, and were threatening to disarm the workers of Petrograd and the regiment which supported them. We can see now that these threats were delivered at just the right moment: they were the best possible guarantee for the Russian loan from America.
You see, now, Herr Bachmatiev might have said to Mr. Wilson, our revolutionary pacifism does not differ by a hairs breadth from the pacifism of your Stock Exchange. And if they can believe Mr. Bryan, why should they not believe Herr Tseretelli?