From Fourth International, Vol.1 No.6, November 1940, pp.172-174.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The Lovestonites have been engaged in reexamining their attitude on the war. Revolutionary Marxists are accustomed to such a procedure, its purpose in their case being to strengthen the strategy and tactics of the working class to meet new turns and developments in the class struggle. But this is emphatically not the aim of the “Independent” Labor League of America. The voluminous discussion carried on in the Workers Age reveals this group shifting over the helm so as to ride more comfortably with the stream. Far from being concerned with the political independence of the working class in the most acute phase of the class struggle, the Lovestonites engage in giving their “independent” reasons for half-hearted support to one imperialist side as against the other. Reasons aside, this has been the ideological procedure of the petty bourgeois radicals from the very outset of the war. The “Independent” League is merely the latest to fall in step and it is not yet in full stride. It has first to pass through that uncomfortable period in which the old uniform is properly cast aside and the new one donned.
It was Bismarck who said: “To accept ‘in principle’ means in the language of diplomacy to reject in actuality.” This applies with perfection to the Lovestonites. Principles above all, but not now! We stand by our principles, but we must face the actuality. Marxist analysis is correct, but we must not be rigid about applying it in the next six months. Let us dip into this muddy well S. Meffan writes (July 20):
“I quote this because I believe traditional Marxist analysis can be applied to the present world situation, but that most traditional socialist cure-all slogans might as well be thrown in the ash-can.”
That is, the doctrines we accepted for years must now be cast aside. The situation has changed and they have become “cure-alls.” Meffan obligingly illustrates with the Leninist heritage of the first imperialist war of which the present one is the continuation. Revolutionary defeatism, we are told, is not a principle but merely a tactic which cannot be applied now. At bottom this can only be interpreted as meaning that the working class must not attempt to seize the power during the war. The very way in which Meffan poses the problem (and this applies to all the Lovestonites) shows the dependence of these petty bourgeois ideologists on the capitalist class and its aims and actions. “So the question is, I repeat: Under what conditions can the socialist movement benefit most or suffer least?” That is, victory of the Allied capitalists or the fascist imperialists. How can we suffer least? That is the momentous decision involved in their whole discussion. Like all the others Meffan starts with an account of the reactionary nature of the imperialist war, the aims of both sides, the fact that an allied victory would also result in a totalitarian society—but not to the one and only genuine brand of Hitler totalitarianism!
“Socialists would have a much better chance in a Europe run by a harassed (!) ALLIED dictatorship than in a Europe run by Hitler’s well-oiled Nazi machine.”
And Meffan believes seriously that he is using the method of Marxism when he at the same time ignores all the lessons (the cure-alls) learned at such cost in the past. Every single great event of the past period warns the working class that to tail behind any section of the capitalist class is to do so at the risk of utter rout and defeat. The capitalist system in decay poses before us one all-embracing problem: what independent course must the workers in each country pursue to save civilization by ridding the world of capitalism. All that the Lovestonites can ask is which of the capitalist countries decay less rapidly and must therefore be supported—or not resisted! Under which regime will we suffer the least—the sum total of the independent politics of Lovestone and Co.
The complete perversion of Marxism is seen in the wind-up of Meffan’s argument. Apparently the war has reached the stage, for the Lovestonites, where the power is no longer in the hands of the national capitalist class but in the hands of “the people.” (We will see this also in Lovestone’s brainstorm.)
“What of England? I believe the slogan of revolutionary defeatism has no meaning there any more than in France. I do not know exactly what socialists in England are doing, but in line with this article it would seem that revolutionary defense (if we must have a slogan) should be the order of the day.”
In a feeble attempt to sugar-coat this monstrous idea, Meffan explains that he means the advocacy by the workers of the sort of peace only possible if the workers had the power. The Independent League would thus tie the working class to the capitalists even to the extent of covering up the real aims of those actually in power, their imperialist robber aims, with the aims of the workers. Revolutionary defensism by the workers of their exploiters in the seats of power!! This is the aim held in common with the Labor Party ministers who dragoon the proletariat to fight the war for the imperialists.
The same issue of Workers Age contains an article by the POUMist Gorkin. There is a spicy piquancy in its utterly correct condemnation of the Popular Front in France, in view of the fact that Gorkin participated so actively in the Popular Front in Spain which betrayed not a potential but an actual revolution. With painstaking accuracy we sum up Gorkin’s article: “We must hold fast to our principles but we must not act according to them.” He himself places the two in violent contradiction:
“We cannot fall into either of two errors: an underestimation of present-day realities in the name of principles, or a lapse from principles under pretext of present-day realities.”
The principles must continue to exist and to make their way—but not in this world! Gorkin tells us:
“The only possible peace is a socialist peace, and this can be attained only by the revolutionary destruction of capitalism.”
If this were meant for anything more than a decent piety, he would have to add that the only way to achieve this is not by a passive, fatalistic, “lesser evil” policy but by active, independent, positive revolutionary politics on the part of the workers and their leaders, particularly where they still have their own class organizations. If Hitler appears so powerful today, it is only because as yet there exists no organized force inside Germany to combat him. What does Gorkin propose? A peace today would mean a Hitler peace.
“The proletariat can, therefore, neither desire nor support such a peace which would seal its fate of slavery and postpone the hour of its revolutionary emancipation.”
How combat a Hitler peace?
“Six months or a year more of war would undoubtedly weaken their (Hitler and Mussolini) regimes, despite past victories, and would place the Italo-German proletariat in a position to initiate their own revolution, coincident with the revolutionary struggle in France (written before the final collapse of France) and in the colonies.”
A short six months will now suffice Gorkin. And what preparations are necessary in this brief space of time? None. The only remaining organized proletarian forces must show the German workers what can be done by playing possum and not moving an eyelash. We must leave to the English bourgeoisie (and socialists) the task of holding on so that the workers can benefit from a Hitler defeat.
“We must not from near or far (!) solidarize ourselves with British imperialism and with the war it is conducting against German-Italian imperialism. This imperialist war, today like yesterday, is not our war. But in the present situation, we must not systematically oppose its continuation. Nor can we oppose the shipment of war materials from America to England. Everything which will contribute to the weakening of the power of Hitler and Mussolini and to the liquidation of the material conditions and the moral effect of their victory is progressive, revolutionary.”
If it is progressive, nay revolutionary, why not whole-heartedly support it? Gorkin proposes to leave the task of downing fascism to the English bourgeoisie, and on top of that not to give them any active help. The answer?
“This, of course (of course!), does not represent a betrayal of our principles and of our political line, which we must maintain with the greatest firmness.”
What political line does Gorkin mean? Firm opposition to the class enemy, the main enemy, the one at home? No, that is to be postponed—for six months only! We have always preferred the outright ‘principled’ opportunists to the hypocritical, completely bankrupt variety. But since everything in this world is relative, Gorkin is almost principled compared to some of his confreres.
To see class collaboration not in shame-faced but in brazen form, one has to read the ignominious Herberg. The same Herberg, we must remind the reader, whose principles permitted him knowingly to condone the bloody frameups against the Russian Bolsheviks by Stalin (until they were exposed against Herberg’s opposition) on the ground that these frame-ups would be forgotten in a century or two when the Revolution would be acknowledged to have been a tremendous step forward. Unbelievably Herberg revives the old Lovestone theory of American exceptionalism. We thought this so well buried that it would have been indecent on our part to disinter it. Here is its present form, after all the years of crisis.
“If we (who?) can so reorganize our economic and social system as to provide jobs for those who are able and willing to work, opportunity and a future for the youth, and a measure of security, welfare and freedom for all, we will have no reason whatever to fear the advent of fascism in this country no matter what happens in Europe.”
Herberg is talking not about the socialist era after the revolution but about American capitalism in 1940.
“If America manages to keep out of the blood-bath in Europe it may still be able to play a powerful part in saving the world from utter ruin after the war.”
The “independent” policy of Herberg thus consists in advising, calling upon the American capitalists to utilize their power and their system for the true benefit of the masses. After Hitler demonstrates that the fraud of autarchy was merely preparation for imperialist war, Herberg proposes that the United States take over this fraud from Hitler and establish its own economic system free from the rest of the world. Herberg suggests that the ruling class here give up its imperialist aims. His is a voice unhappily lost in the wilderness. This ruling class is entering upon a new stage involving the most gigantic arming ever seen to prepare for imperialist adventure. Today the course of America is clearly charted; the United States will surely enter the imperialist war, unless the workers take the power away from the capitalists in the interim, be it six months or two years. Short of that, the United States threatens to become as totalitarian as any of the states of Europe. Here as elsewhere only the workers can defeat fascism by defeating their own capitalists and taking power. Lovestone propounded; his theory of exceptionalism on the eve of the greatest economic crisis ever experienced; Herberg proposes it anew on the eve of American entry into the imperialist war. This pleasant theory enables Herberg to make a division of labor. The workers here must see to it that America stays out of the war. But Herberg graciously approves the efforts of the English socialists in furthering the cause of national defense. Herberg will not permit his own capitalist government to lend any aid—he will leave that to the socialists of England. Such is the internationalism of this Lovestonite.
Jay Lovestone’s attitude distinguishes itself from that of Gorkin only in being more demagogic and hypocritical. Part of the essence of Marxism consists in distinguishing clearly between the aims of the capitalists and those of the workers in each situation, and advocating those policies which will further the aims of the workers as against those of their exploiters. All that Lovestone does is to jumble together the aims and tasks of the capitalist imperialists with those of the proletariat, a process that leads only to lulling the working class into passivity.
“What we want most as a result of this war is the social revolution.—But what we fear most is a Nazi victory with its total destruction of all democratic rights and labor organizations, with its liquidation of the national independence of many countries.”
In mathematics we call this kind of reasoning finding the least common denominator; namely, defeat of Hitler.
“Our categoric opposition to a Nazi triumph does not mean that we should dedicate ourselves to the cause of an Allied imperialist victory. Our resolute opposition to a Nazi triumph does not mean that we look forward to an Allied victory as the solution of the basic problems—”
To arrive at a least common denominator Hitler is endowed with exaggerated power, as is the case with all petty bourgeois ideologists.
“A Hitler triumph would totally preclude the likelihood of a social revolution, while a Nazi debacle would offer fertile soil for a proletarian revolt—despite any desires, maneuvers or moves to the contrary by the Allied ruling classes.”
The soil remains quite fertile for revolution under Hitler, but the task becomes more difficult and requires more time, no doubt. But Lovestone proposes to utilize the remaining democracy and the remaining legal organizations of the workers in England, for the purpose not of guaranteeing a victory for the workers by preparing for the taking of power, but rather to assure a victory for Churchill. This wily capitalist meantime prepares behind the scenes to maintain capitalism, whether in victory or defeat. Already he shows his fangs to the Laborites in parliament. If he is victorious, he will hand the Laborites their dismissals and will clamp down on their constituents with the best brand of totalitarianism. If he is defeated he has prepared beyond question for the same kind of military dictatorship that appeared in France after defeat, and which was prepared for in advance. Finally, should the workers threaten Churchill with downfall at home, he will make every effort to hand England over to Hitler for preservation of the capitalist system. Isn’t it clear that any support to the Churchills leads the workers into a trap, an impasse? This is the era of the decay of capitalism, says Lovestone. Yet, the bourgeoisie, despite themselves, can play temporarily a progressive role. In this case the English and French bourgeoisie would play the progressive role of overthrowing Hitler—for the working class! Lovestone winds up with a gem of thought—he advocates a “belated and thin” victory for the Allies. We will not embarrass him by asking him what a belated and thin victory looks like. Nor are we told who is to keep it thin and how. No doubt to keep the victory properly thin Lovestone will not permit the United States to join in the fray. He thinks American capitalism should stay out of the war, in order to preserve the labor movement here and the legal conditions under which it still flourishes.
“Our enemy is at home.” Quite correct, says Lovestone. But there are also other enemies of the working class, in this case the Nazis, more dangerous at the moment. Only after defeating this enemy will the workers be able to turn later on their “final” enemy. Lovestone then reminds us of Marx’ attitude in the Franco-Prussian War and Lenin’s on the defense of Kerensky against Kornilov. The analogy with the Franco-Prussian War let us dismiss at once as specious. The age of creation of national unity and national states in order to strike the finishing blows against feudalism and to permit capitalism to grow, is long past. In the present resumption of the first World War we witness a phase of the death agony of capitalism. Not a single feature of the imperialist war is progressive. As to the Kerensky analogy it is sheer fraud. With far more justice than is the case now, Kerensky tried to argue that if Russia were defeated in the war, it might mean defeat for the revolution and the restoration of czarism by the Germans. Lenin demonstrated for all time that the most certain way to preserve the revolution was to carry it thru to completion and to establish the workers’ power firmly, despite defeat in the war. If this applied in backward Russia, how much more it would apply in advanced England. Can anyone doubt for a moment that the surest blow at Hitler would be a proletarian revolution in England or any other country? In the Kornilov affair there was involved not an imperialist war between Kornilov and Kerensky (the true analogy is with Kerensky and the war), but a civil war with the workers playing an independent role. Even while “defending” Kerensky, Lenin and Trotsky prepared openly to overthrow Kerensky by strengthening the Soviets and arming the workers. In what way does Lovestone pursue a course of strengthening the dual power of the workers?
Does it make a difference who wins the war? To American capitalism the difference is so great that they plunge headlong into arming to the teeth in fear of a Hitler victory. To English capitalism a Hitler victory would bring bankruptcy. If Hitler loses then German capitalism is rendered impotent and bankrupt. Who will impose totalitarianism on the English workers if England is defeated? We repeat: behind the scenes Churchill is already preparing to do this whether in defeat or victory. Tomorrow English capitalists will combine with Hitler to enslave the workers. If England wins, Churchill will perform the same service for German capitalism. Behind the question there lurks in reality a substitution. What worker would not prefer a democratic regime to a fascist one? Is there a difference between democracy and fascism? Of course. But is the imperialist war a war between democracy and fascism? Squirm as he will, Lovestone answers basically: Temporarily, yes. In short he equates the imperialist war with an ideological war. Having done so, he seizes on every pretext to make it so. Churchill, you see, is arming the entire British people for defense. This puts a new face on matters.
“In a conflict between an armed British people—the decisive majority of which is the working class—and the savage Nazi bandits, no self-respecting, no class-conscious worker can doubt or hesitate for a moment where he stands or whose victory he wants.”
This is nothing more than a way of psychologizing the idea of an ideological war between democracy and fascism. We are for the arming of the entire British people, including those in the colonies, but we are unalterably opposed to the use of these arms to further the interests of the imperialists. We shall expose every attempt to call the war of the capitalist governments over imperial plunder a war of one imperialist government against “the people” of the other.
Basically there is nothing new in all the arguments of these shabby opportunists. They say they are not for English imperialism, only against German. The social chauvinist David used precisely the same expression in voting the war credits to the Kaiser in the last war. He was “not for the war, but against defeat,” in order to preserve the German labor movement. How well it was preserved by the social democrats we know. Lenin devoted himself to combatting this form of working class betrayal in the last world war. He said:
“The petty bourgeois viewpoint differs from the bourgeois one—outright justification of imperialist war—in that the petty bourgeoisie renounces annexations, ‘condemns’ imperialism, ‘demands’ from the bourgeoisie to cease being imperialistic while remaining within the framework of world imperialist relations and the capitalist structure of society.”
This applies to all the defenders of bourgeois democracy today, including the Lovestonites. Their present attitude is merely the bridge to their attitude tomorrow. If it was correct for the English socialists to aid their government, how much more correct it will be to aid the United States government in a war with Hitler if England is defeated. The working class can find no solution of its problems of life and death along this path. Support to the “democratic bourgeoisie” in this war means support to the narrowing down of democratic rights to the point where there is no longer any difference between the democratic and the fascist country. The way to preserve democratic rights is for the workers to defend these rights against their own bourgeoisie, their own main enemy. Only the proletarian revolution can bring about the doom of fascism, whether in Germany or elsewhere. The task of defeating Hitler remains the task of the workers, not of the bourgeoisie.
Last updated: 24.12.2005