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Marxism and War

In order to conduct an effective struggle against war, it is first necessary to understand the causes of war, and this is only possible if we grasp the class interests behind wars. Lenin explained long ago that capitalism means war.  In the present epoch of capitalist decline this is truer than when it was first written. The global crisis of capitalism expresses itself as general instability - economic, political and military. This is the starting point for Marxists, and must be understood by all class-conscious workers and youth. Imperialist war is the continuation and sharpening of the predatory politics of the bourgeoisie. The struggle of the proletariat against war is the continuation and sharpening of its class struggle. The beginning of war alters the situation and partially the means of struggle between the classes, but not the aim and basic course.

Trotsky described the outbreak of WWI in his autobiography My Life:

"Buchanan, the former British ambassador to St. Petersburg, speaks with exaltation in his memoirs of 'those wonderful early August days' when 'Russia seemed to have been completely transformed.' There is similar exaltation in the memoirs of other statesmen, although they may not embody the self-satisfied fatuity of the ruling classes with the completeness of Buchanan. All the European capitals were having equally 'wonderful' days in August. They were all entirely 'transformed' for the business of mutual extermination…

"…The people whose lives, day in and day out, pass in a monotony of hopelessness are many; they are the mainstay of modern society. The alarm of mobilization breaks into their lives like a promise; the familiar and long-hated is overthrown, and the new and unusual reigns in its place. Changes still more incredible are in store for them in the future. For better or worse? For the better, of course what can seem worse to [the average worker] than 'normal' conditions?

"I strode along the main streets of the familiar Vienna and watched a most amazing crowd fill the fashionable Ring, a crowd in which hopes had been awakened. But wasn't a small part of these hopes already being realized? Would it have been possible at any other time for porters, laundresses, shoemakers, apprentices and youngsters from the suburbs to feel themselves masters of the situation in the Ring? War affects everybody, and those who are oppressed and deceived by life consequently feel that they are on an equal footing with the rich and powerful. It may seem a paradox, but in the moods of the Viennese crowd that was demonstrating the glory of the Hapsburg arms I detected something familiar to me from the October days of 1905, in St. Petersburg. No wonder that in history war has often been the mother of revolution.

"...Like revolution, war forces life, from top to bottom, away from the beaten track. But revolution directs its blows against the established power. War, on the contrary, at first strengthens the state power which, in the chaos engendered by war, appears to be the only firm support and then undermines it..."

To approach war from a purely sentimental or pacifist standpoint is a futile exercise. It would be like a doctor who, instead of providing an accurate diagnosis and appropriate medicine, limited himself to weeping tears over the patient's symptoms. The patient may be grateful for this display of sympathy, but will not derive much benefit from it. Wars cannot be prevented by the United Nations or by pacifist appeals for peace. War can only be prevented by mass action and by the revolutionary struggle against imperialism and capitalism.

As Trotsky explained about imperialist war at the outbreak of WWI:

"The forces of production which capitalism has evolved have outgrown the limits of nation and state. The national state, the present political form, is too narrow for the exploitation of these productive forces. The natural tendency of our economic system, therefore, is to seek to break through the state boundaries. The whole globe, the land and the sea, the surface as well as the interior has become one economic workshop, the different parts of which are inseparably connected with each other. This work was accomplished y capitalism. But in accomplishing it the capitalist states were led to struggle for the subjection of the world-embracing economic system to the profit interests of the bourgeoisie of each country. What the politics of imperialism has demonstrated more than anything else is that the old national state that was created in the revolutions and the wars of 1789-1815, 1848-1859, 1864-1866, and 1870 has outlived itself, and is now an intolerable hindrance to economic development."

Every true socialist, every class-conscious worker and trade unionist, every young person who wants to fight for a better world, must join in the most active and militant struggle against unjust imperialist war. It is necessary to create the broadest possible mass movement against imperialism and militarism. It is necessary to oppose the monstrous aggression against the people of Iraq and elsewhere by all means at our disposal.

We must fight against the war, but we must do so with the correct methods, tactics and policies: the tactics of the workers' movement, the policies of socialism and internationalism that links the struggle against world imperialism with the perspective of the socialist transformation of society at home and abroad.

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