The Coming Congress Against War

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 13 June 1932

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 4, 1932, New York 1973, p. 113-117]
Keywords : Pacifism

Dear Comrades:

I have before me the June 4 issue of the Paris journal Le Monde [The World]. Le Monde is published by Barbusse and serves at the present time as the central organ for the convocation of the "great antiwar congress." On the third page of this journal there is an excerpt from an appeal by Romain Rolland and Henri Barbusse. The character and spirit of the appeal are sufficiently clear from the following words: "We call upon all people, all groups, regardless of their political affiliations, and all labor organizations — cultural, social, and trade union — upon all forces and all mass organizations! Let all join us in the International Congress of War against War."

Then follows a passage from a letter addressed by Rolland to Barbusse: "I am wholly of the opinion that the congress should be open to all parties and nonpartisans on a common basis of sincere and determined struggle against war." Further on, Rolland expresses his agreement with Barbusse that the first place in this struggle should be occupied by the working class. Still further, we read the first listing of those who have joined the congress. It consists of radical and semi-radical French and German writers, pacifists, members of the League of the Rights of Man, and so forth.

This is followed by a maxim from the well-known Emile Vandervelde. "Everywhere war gives birth to … explosions of revolutionary dissatisfaction on the one hand and rabid reaction of fanatical nationalism on the other. It is of the utmost necessity that the Internationals closely unite their forces in order to prevent war."

Finally after these words by Vandervelde quoted from the [Belgian] socialist journal Le Peuple of May 29, 1932, we read a quotation from the central organ of the French Communist Party, I'Humanité, of May 31, 1932: "Reply 'Present!' to the call of Romain Rolland and Henri Barbusse for participation in the international congress at Geneva."

In the last issue of La Vie Ouvrière, the central organ of the Unitary General Confederation of Labor [CGTU], there is an article in which complete agreement is expressed with the call made by Rolland and Barbusse.

The picture is now perfectly clear. The French Communist Party and the trade-union organization led by it stand behind the initiators of the congress. Behind the Communist Party stands the Comintern.

What is involved is the danger of a new world war. In the struggle against this danger, it is necessary to also utilize fellow travelers who are or who even may only appear to be the most honest and determined among the petty-bourgeois pacifists. In any case, however, this is a question of third-rate importance or less.

The call for a struggle against war, you would think, should be brought by the Comintern and Profintern before the eyes of the international proletariat. The most important problem is to successfully win over the working masses of the Second and the Amsterdam Internationals to our side.

To accomplish this, the policy of the united front can be of great service. The last session of the Executive Committee of the Second International pronounced itself against Japan and "for the defense of the USSR." We know the extent and the value of this defense insofar as the decision of the leaders is concerned. But the very fact that this decision was adopted is an indication of the force of the mass pressure (the crisis and the danger of war). The Comintern was duty-bound in these circumstances to develop the policy of the united front on an international scale, that is, to propose to the Second and the Amsterdam Internationals openly before the world proletariat a definite, carefully considered program of practical measures against the war danger.

But the Comintern is silent. The Profintern is silent. The initiative is surrendered to two pacifist writers, one of whom — Romain Rolland — is undoubtedly a great writer and a prominent person, but a man who is not engaged in politics, and the other — Barbusse — is a pacifist and a mystic, a Communist or one expelled from the Communist Party, but at any rate an advocate of the complete fusion of the Communist parties with the Social Democracy. "Join us," say Rolland and Barbusse. Answer "Present!" I'Humanité joins in the refrain. Is it possible to imagine anything more monstrous, more capitulatory, and more criminal than this crawling of official communism before petty-bourgeois pacifism?

In Germany it is declared impermissible to apply the tactic of a united front to the mass organizations of the workers, with the aim of exposing their reformist leaders. At the same time on an international scale a united front is being applied, with its first steps turned into a booster campaign for the worst in the gallery of reformist traitors. Vandervelde is surely "for peace." He figures that it is more advantageous and convenient to serve in the ministry of his king in time of peace than in time of war. And so the insolent platitudes of this social patriot, whose signature if I am not mistaken appears on the Versailles peace treaty, are made into a program for the huge antiwar congress. And I'Humanité gives its support to this treacherous and pernicious masquerade.

In Germany it is a question of preventing a fascist counterrevolutionary pogrom which immediately and directly threatens not only the working class but also its reformist organizations and even its reformist leaders. For the Social Democratic gentlemen, it is a question of salaries, of government privileges, and even of their own hides. One must be in a state of complete bureaucratic idiocy to refuse to utilize correctly and thoroughly in the interests of the proletarian revolution the great, acute contradictions between fascism and the Social Democracy.

On the question of war, however, it is an entirely different matter. War does not at all constitute a direct threat to the reformist organizations, particularly to their leaders. On the contrary, experience has shown that war opens up heady careers for the reformist leaders. Patriotism is precisely the thing which most closely ties the Social Democracy to its national bourgeoisie. If it is possible, even inevitable, that the Social Democracy will be forced in some form or other, within certain bounds, to defend itself against fascism when the latter will seize it by the throat — and it will seize it — the possibility that the Social Democracy of any country would conduct a struggle against its bourgeoisie when war is declared, even if against the Soviet Union, is entirely excluded. The revolutionary campaign against war has as its particular and specific aim the exposure of the deceit and the decay of Social Democratic pacifism.

But what does the Comintern do? It prohibits the utilization of the absolutely real and deep antagonism between the Social Democracy and fascism on a national scale, while it attempts to grab hold of the illusory, hypocritical antagonism between the Social Democracy and its imperialist masters on an international scale.

While in Germany the united front is altogether prohibited, on the international arena the united front is from the very beginning given the decorative cover of a deliberately deceptive and rotten character. Exploiting the idealistic naivete of the entirely sincere Romain Rolland, all the fakers and dirty careerists, retired Social Democratic ministers and candidates for the post of minister, will declare "Present!" For this gentry the congress will serve as a sanatorium where they will improve their somewhat tarnished reputations in order to sell themselves at a higher price. This was the way the participants in the Anti-Imperialist League acted. We are faced with a repetition of a Kuomintang and an Anglo-Russian Committee on a world scale.

There are pedants who doubt that we are correct in defining the international Stalinist faction as centrist. Those who have been poisoned by ill-digested texts are incapable of learning from living facts. Here you have ideal, classic, universal centrism in full bloom: its nose turned to the right, its tail still strongly inclined toward the left Draw a line uniting its nose with its tail and you will find the orbit of centrism.

History is at a breaking point. The whole world today is at a breaking point. And centrism is at a breaking point. In the USSR the Stalinists continue to babble about the abolition of classes in five years as they simultaneously restore the free market The ultraleft tail doesn't know yet what the wise opportunist head has decided. In the field of cultural matters, the policy has been given a sharp turn to the right A silent turn, to be sure, without any commentary, but all the more threatening for that reason. The same process occurs in the policies of the Comintern. While the unlucky Pyatnitskys are still chewing the remnants of the ultraleft cud, the Manuilskys have already been ordered to turn their heads to the right, without regard for their backbones. Never before in the nine years of its activities has the epigone school revealed its lack of principle, its poverty of ideology, and its trickery in practice in so naked and shameless a manner as this.

Bolshevik-Leninists! The symptoms of a great historical turning point are accumulating on the world arena. This is bound to affect the destiny of our faction. We are already charged with tasks of truly great historical significance. The struggle against war means above all a struggle against pacifist masquerades and centrist-bureaucratic fraud. We must launch a merciless campaign to expose the contradictions of the Stalinist apparatus, whose bankruptcy in the impending great events is inevitable.

The defense of the USSR is not a parlor phrase which the not always disinterested friends of the Stalinist bureaucracy repeat. The international defense of the USSR is becoming more and more dependent on the international revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. When the life and death of millions are at stake, the greatest clarity is needed. Nobody today renders better service to the class enemy than the Stalinist apparatus which, in the struggle for the remains of its prestige, sows confusion and chaos everywhere.

Bolshevik-Leninists! You will be charged with an enormous task. Weeks and months are approaching when all revolutionists will have to show their worth. Carry the ideas of Marxism and Leninism into the ranks of the advanced workers. Help the international proletarian vanguard extricate itself from the strait jacket of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which has lost its head. What is involved is no small matter: it is the fate of the USSR and the world proletarian revolution.

Leon Trotsky