Declaration to the Antiwar Congress at Amsterdam

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 25 July 1932


[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 4, 1932, New York 1973, p. 148-155]
Keywords : Pacifism, Amsterdam

The danger of a new world war is becoming more apparent every day. The causes of this danger have been exposed in irrefutable fashion by Marxism.

The productive forces of humanity have long since outgrown the limits of private property and the boundaries of the nation state The salvation of humanity lies in a socialist economy based on an international division of labor. Under the influence of a conservative leadership, the proletariat failed to carry out its revolutionary task. The world war of 1914-18 was its retribution. The democratic champions of "peaceful development," the opponents of revolutionary methods, bear direct responsibility for the tens of millions killed and wounded in the imperialist slaughter.

The imperialist world has learned nothing and forgotten nothing in the fifteen years that have elapsed since then. Its internal contradictions have grown more acute. The current crisis reveals a frightful picture of the social disintegration of capitalist civilization, with clear signs of advancing gangrene. The salvation of humanity is possible only through the surgical action of proletarian revolution.

The ruling classes are floundering in this hopeless situation. Their financial difficulties and their fear of the people force them to seek a solution in arms-limitation agreements. On the other hand, by raising tariff walls still higher and increasing the restrictions on imports, the rulers are further constricting the world market, deepening the crisis, sharpening national antagonisms, and preparing new wars. The reformist parties, today as yesterday opposed to a revolutionary solution along the road of socialism, are once more taking on themselves the full weight of the responsibility for the misery of the crisis and the impending horror of a new war.

The contradiction between the productive forces and the boundaries of the nation-state has taken on its sharpest and most unbearable form in the old home territory of capitalism — Europe. With its labyrinth of borders and tariff walls, its swollen armies and monstrous national debts, the Europe of Versailles is a constant source of military dangers and war provocations. And it cannot now be united by the bourgeoisie — the class that has bled it dry and Balkanized it. For that, other means and other forces are required.

Only in czarist Russia was power wrested from the hands of the bourgeoisie. Thanks to its revolutionary leadership, the young Russian proletariat was able, for the first time in world history, to show concretely what inexhaustible possibilities are contained in a system of proletarian dictatorship and planned economy. The gigantic economic and cultural achievements of a backward country, which had been transformed into a country of the workers and peasants, point out the road to a solution for all of humanity.

We are now awaiting from the Soviet government the complementing of its second five-year plan by an extensive plan for economic collaboration with the advanced capitalist countries, which will open up a gigantic perspective of human possibilities to the masses, suffering under the burden of the crisis and unemployment Whatever the immediate practical results of such a plan, its power of attracting millions and millions of workers to socialism will be immense.

The social system in the Soviet Union today is, to be sure, still a long way from socialism. But its inestimable importance lies in the fact that it has started on the road to socialism. It will the more surely and quickly proceed to socialism the sooner the proletariat of the advanced countries seizes power from the hands of its bourgeoisie and creates the definitive premises of a new society, one that can be achieved only on an international basis.

The danger of a world war is a danger to the very existence of the first workers' state. No matter what the cause of the war may be, no matter where it may erupt, in its final stage it will inevitably turn against the USSR. The European and world bourgeoisie will not leave the scene without attempting a transfusion of blood from the arteries of the young workers' state into those of imperialism in its death agony.

In the last year alone, the flames of war threatened the frontiers of the Soviet Union both from the Far East and from the West At the same time that it is strangling the independence of China, Japan is constructing fortresses in Manchuria from which to strike at the Soviets. The antagonism between Japan and the United States cannot deter the militarists in Tokyo, for in a war against the Soviet Union in the future they will consider themselves to be in the vanguard of world imperialism. On the other hand, the coup d'état carried out by Hindenburg on Hitler's orders not only clears the road for a fascist regime in Germany but also opens up the perspective of a life-and-death struggle between a fascist Germany and the Soviet Union. Enormous events are approaching in Europe and the entire world.

Under these conditions the struggle against war is a struggle to save the lives of tens of millions of workers and peasants of the new generation which has grown up since the great slaughter, to preserve all the conquests of labor and thought, to save the first workers' state and the future of humanity.

All the greater is the task, therefore, and all the more necessary is clarity on the method of its solution. To condemn war is easy; to overcome it is difficult. The struggle against war is a struggle against the classes which rule society and which hold in their hands both its productive forces and its destructive weapons. It is not possible to prevent war by moral indignation, by meetings, by resolutions, by newspaper articles, and by congresses. As long as the bourgeoisie has at its command the banks, the factories, the land, the press, and the state apparatus, it will always be able to drive the people to war when its interests demand it But the propertied classes never cede power without a struggle. Look at Germany. When the fundamental interests of the propertied classes are threatened, democracy gives way to violence. The overthrow of the bourgeoisie is possible only with guns in hand: imperialist war can be stopped only by civil war.

We Bolshevik-Leninists absolutely reject and denounce the deceptive differentiation between a "defensive" and an "offensive" war. In a war between the capitalist states such a differentiation represents only a diplomatic cover to deceive the people. Capitalist brigands always conduct a "defensive" war, even when Japan is marching against Shanghai and France against Syria or Morocco. The revolutionary proletariat distinguishes only between wars of oppression and wars of liberation. The character of a war is defined, not by diplomatic falsifications, but by the class which conducts the war and the objective aims it pursues in that war. The wars of the imperialist states, apart from the pretexts and political rhetoric, are of an oppressive character, reactionary and inimical to the people. Only the wars of the proletariat and of the oppressed nations can be characterized as wars of liberation. After its victory the armed insurrection of the proletariat against its oppressors is inevitably transformed into a revolutionary war of the proletarian state for the consolidation and extension of its victory. The policy of socialism does not and cannot have a purely "defensive" character. It is the task of socialism to conquer the world.

It is from this that we derive our position with regard to all forms of pacifism: purely imperialist pacifism (Kellogg-Briand-Herriot, etc.), and petty-bourgeois pacifism (Rolland-Barbusse, and their partisans all over the world). The essence of pacifism is a condemnation, whether hypocritical or sincere, of the use of force in general. By weakening the willpower of the oppressed, it serves the cause of the oppressors. Idealistic pacifism confronts war with moral indignation the way the lamb confronts the butcher's knife with plaintive bleatings. But the task consists of confronting the knife of the bourgeoisie with the knife of the proletariat.

The most influential pacifist force is the Social Democracy. In a period of peace it's not stingy with cheap tirades against war. But it remains tied to "national defense." This is decisive. Every war, however it may begin, menaces each of the warring nations. The imperialists know in advance that the pacifism of the Social Democracy at the first roar of cannon will be transformed into the most servile patriotism and become the most important' reserve for militarism. That is why a most intransigent struggle against pacifism, unmasking its treacherous character, is the very first step on the road toward a revolutionary struggle against war.

The League of Nations is the citadel of imperialist pacifism. It represents a transitory historical combination of capitalist states in which the stronger command and buy out the weaker, then crawl on their bellies before America or try to resist; in which all equally are enemies of the Soviet Union, but are prepared to cover up each and every crime of the most powerful and rapacious among them. Only the politically blind, only those who are altogether helpless or who deliberately corrupt the conscience of the people, can consider the League of Nations, directly or indirectly, today or tomorrow, an instrument of peace.

The pretense of "disarmament" has and can have nothing in common with the prevention of war. The program of "disarmament" only signifies an attempt — up to now only on paper — to reduce in peacetime the expense of this or that kind of armaments. It is above all a question of military technique and the imperialist coffers. The arsenals, the munition factories, the laboratories, and finally, what is most important, capitalist industry as a whole preserve all their force in all the "disarmament programs." But states do not fight because they are armed. On the contrary, they forge arms when they have to fight. In case of war, all the peace limitations will fall aside like so much chaff. As far back as 1914-18, states no longer fought with the armaments which they had provided for themselves in peacetime, but with those they manufactured during the war. It is not the arsenals but the productive capacity of the country which is decisive. For the United States a limitation of armaments in Europe in time of peace is very much to its advantage because it allows it to demonstrate its industrial domination all the more decisively in time of war. The German bourgeoisie inclines toward a reduction of armaments in order to equalize the handicap in case of a new bloody conflict. General "disarmament" has the same meaning for Germany as naval parity with France has for Italy. The worth these plans will have depends on the combination of the imperialist forces, the state of their budgets, the international financial settlements, etc. The question of disarmament is one of the levers on the arena of imperialism in which the new wars are being prepared. It is pure charlatanism to attempt to distinguish between defensive and offensive machine guns, tanks, airplanes. American policy is dictated in this also by the particular interests of American militarism, the most terrible of all. War is not a game which is conducted according to conventional rules. War demands and creates all the weapons which can most successfully annihilate the enemy. Petty-bourgeois pacifism, which sees in a 10 percent, or 33 percent, or 50 percent disarmament proposal the "first step" towards prevention of war, is more dangerous than all the explosives and asphyxiating gases. Melinite and yperite can do then work only because the masses of people are poisoned in peacetime by the fumes of pacifism.

Without the slightest confidence in the capitalist programs for disarmament or arms limitation, the revolutionary proletariat asks one single question: In whose hands are the weapons? Any weapon in the hands of the imperialists is a weapon directed against the working class, against the weak nations, against socialism, against humanity. Weapons in the hands of the proletariat and of the oppressed nations are the only means of ridding our planet of oppression and war.

The struggle for the self-determination of nations, for all people, for all those who are oppressed and who strive for independence, is one of the most important aspects of the struggle against war. Whoever directly or indirectly supports the system of colonization and protectorates, the domination of British capital in India, the domination of Japan in Korea or in Manchuria, of France in Indochina or in Africa, whoever does not fight against colonial enslavement, whoever does not support the uprisings of the oppressed nations and their independence, whoever defends or idealizes Gandhism, that is, the policy of passive resistance on questions which can be solved only by force of arms, is, despite good intentions or bad, a lackey, an apologist, an agent of the imperialists, of the slaveholders, of the militarists, and helps them to prepare new wars in pursuit of their old aims or new.

The principal force against war is the proletariat It is only through its example and under its leadership that the peasants and other popular layers of the nation can rise up against war. Within the proletariat two parties are struggling for influence: the Communist Party and the Social Democracy. The intermediate groups (the SAP in Germany, the PUP in France, the ILP in England, etc.) cannot expect to play an independent historical role. On the question of war, which is the other side of the question of the proletarian revolution, the irreconcilable opposition between communism and social patriotism will reach its most acute expression.

Whoever attempts to put all the programs, all the parties, all the flags into one package in the name of pacifism, that is, of a superficial struggle against war in words, performs the greatest service for imperialism. On the question of war, no less than on all other questions, the Communist Party must seek to free the masses of working people from the disintegrating and demoralizing influence of reformism.

Le Monde, the journal of Barbusse, Gorky, and the other organizers of the antiwar congress, is conducting a sustained agitation for the fusion of the Communist and Second Internationals. For a struggle against war, Barbusse addresses himself in the same voice to Lenin and to Vandervelde. This serves only to falsify Lenin and rehabilitate Vandervelde We reject the policy of Barbusse and his followers and we condemn it as the most dangerous political poison. We believe that the Communist International and the Red International of Labor Unions committed a serious error by leaving the initiative for the call of the conference to the unprincipled and impotent pacifists.

We consider the fact that the USSR did not enter the League of Nations altogether correct, in tactics and in principle. It is all the more regrettable, therefore, that the Soviet Union has lent its authority to the Kellogg Pact, which is a complete fraud whose purpose is to justify" only such wars as correspond to American interests.

We also consider incorrect the tendency of Soviet diplomacy to embellish the policy of American imperialism and particularly its initiative on the question of disarmament We fully recognize the importance for the USSR of normal economic and diplomatic relations with the USA. But this aim cannot be achieved by verbal capitulations to the maneuvers of American imperialism, the strongest and most rapacious of all. We await from Soviet diplomacy a clear and public statement on the danger of war and the struggle against it It is necessary to loudly sound an alert to the people. The less Soviet diplomacy adapts itself to the maneuvers of the imperialists on this burning question, the more courageously it raises its own voice, the more ardently will the laboring masses of the whole world respond, the more closely will they align themselves with the USSR, and the more surely will they defend it against the rising danger.

At the same time we consider it our task to declare here openly: Now, in the face of the terrible danger that is drawing close, it is necessary at last to repair the crimes of the Stalinist bureaucracy against the revolution and communism; it is necessary to free the thousands of Bolshevik-Leninists, the organizers of the October Revolution, the creators of the Red Army, the participants in the civil war, the inflexible revolutionary fighters, from the prisons and exile. For the dictatorship of the proletariat and the world revolution, against imperialist war, they want to fight and they will fight with an energy incomparably greater than that of the parlor pacifists and the innumerable Stalinist bureaucrats.

The policy of the united front in the struggle against war demands special attention and revolutionary perseverance. The Communist Party can and must propose openly, without dubious intermediaries, that all the working-class organizations coordinate their efforts in the struggle against war. For our part the Bolshevik-Leninists propose the following points as a basis on which agreement for a struggle is possible, at the same time maintaining a complete guarantee of the independence of the organizations and their banners.

1. Renunciation of all hopes in the League of Nations and other pacifist illusions.

2. Denunciation of the capitalist "disarmament" programs, which serve to dupe the people.

3. Refusal of all votes to the capitalist governments for military budgets and conscription — not a man, not a cent.

4. Exposure of the fraud of "national defense," because the capitalist nation defends itself by oppressing and dividing the weaker nations.

5. A campaign for economic collaboration with the USSR on the basis of a broadly formulated program, with the mass organizations of the working class drawn into its elaboration and execution.

6. Continual and systematic exposure of the imperialist intrigues against the first and only workers' state.

7. Agitation against war in the war factories, among the soldiers and sailors. Preparation of revolutionary points of support in the war industries, in the army and navy.

8. The training of the Red Army not only in the spirit of a courageous defense of the socialist fatherland but also in the spirit of constant readiness to come to the aid of the proletarian revolution and of the uprisings of the oppressed people in other countries.

9. Systematic education of the laboring masses of the entire world in the spirit of the greatest devotion to the first proletarian state. Despite the unquestionable mistakes in the policy of the present ruling faction, the USSR remains the genuine fatherland of the international proletariat Its defense is the unflinching duty of every honest worker.

10. Indefatigable explanation to the workers of the whole world that a socialist society can be established only on an international scale, and that the real support of the USSR lies in the extension of the proletarian world revolution.