Yossi Schwartz, ISL the RCIT section in Israel/Occupied Palestine, 14.04.2022
Among other things, wars expose the political nature of organizations that claim to be Marxists but are swinging between reformism and revolutionary Marxism. Marxists call these organizations centrists. The Russian imperialist invasion of Ukraine has shown us that Reformism gives shelter to the innumerable shades of Centrism that pretend to be working-class revolutionaries. The Fifth International cannot be formed in any other way than by the struggle against reformism and centrism. By ideological struggle on one hand and flexible united front policy on the other.
As Trotsky pointed out “centrism in view of its organic indefiniteness is difficult to define precisely, being characterized much more by what it lacks than by what it holds” Nevertheless centrists have some common characteristics that Trotsky pointed out to them: “In the sphere of theory centrism is impressive and eclectic. It shelters itself as much as possible from obligations in the matter of theory and is inclined (in words) to give preference to “revolutionary practice” over theory; without understanding that only Marxist theory can give the practice a revolutionary direction.
In the sphere of ideology, centrism leads to a parasitic existence: against revolutionary Marxists, it repeats the old Menshevik arguments (those of Martev, Axelrod, and Plekanhov) generally without re-valuing them: On the other hand, it borrows its principle arguments against the “rights” from the Marxists.
The centrist, never sure of his position and his methods, regards with detestation the revolutionary principle: State that which is; it inclines to substitute, in the place of political principles, personal combinations, and petty organizational diplomacy.
It is not a rare thing for the centrist to hide his own hybrid nature by calling out about the dangers of “sectarianism”; but by sectarianism, he understands not a passivity of abstract propaganda (as is the way with the Bordiguists) but the anxious care for principle, the clarity of position, political consistency, definiteness in the organization.
Between the opportunist and the Marxist, the centrist occupies a position that is, up to a certain point, analogous to that occupied by the petty bourgeoisie between the capitalist and the proletariat; he courts the approbation of the first and despises the second.
The centrist swears by the policy of the united front as he empties it of its revolutionary content and transforms it from a tactical method into the highest principle.
Under the pressure of circumstances the eclectic centrist is capable of accepting even extreme conclusions but only to repudiate them later indeed. Recognizing the dictatorship of the proletariat he leaves plenty of room for opportunist interpreters: Proclaiming the need for a fourth international he works for the creation of the two-and-a-half international.” i
The RCIT has been fighting theoretically ideologically and politically since the beginning of the war to expose the political service various Stalinists and centrists that are social imperialists have provided to Western or Russian imperialism. We have pointed out that while some Stalinist and centrists support Russian imperialism by denying that Russia is an imperialist state, others support their own Western and Japanese ruling classes.
The US Stalinist party supports American imperialism, Japan Stalinist supports Japanese imperialists. The Israeli Stalinists support Russia by denying it is an imperialist state but claim it is a capitalist state with imperialist tendencies. The IMT of Woods supports Russian imperialism by arguing that Russia is a weaker state than the super imperialist US, so do the LIT-CI, the IBT, The Internationalist, Class conscious, the U.S. Peace Council, the United National Antiwar Coalition, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
We refer readers to a special page on our website where more than 50 RCIT documents on the current NATO-Russia conflict and the Ukraine War are compiled: ii
In this article, we deal with another right centrist – the International Socialist Alternative (ISA) which supports Russian imperialism by opposing the delivery of weapons to Ukraine. The ISA was until 1974 part of the British Militant together with Allan Woods. They are not alone in opposing the deliberation of weapons to Ukraine. So are the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the British IST.
On Monday, 11 April 2022 the international committee of the ISA, the highest body of this tendency between congress, issued a statement entitled “War in Ukraine, The New Era and the Crisis of Capitalism” dealing with the war. The statement correctly points out that Russia as well as US-NATO are Imperialists
“A key feature is clearly rising imperialist militarism accompanied by the whipping up of nationalism and a rapid break-up of the world into two imperialist-led camps in a new, not-so Cold War… Marxists today start from opposition to all imperialism, as did Lenin and Trotsky, and other internationalists a century ago. They explained how the emergence of imperialism and the dominance of finance capital is a phase of capitalist development, in reality pointing to how the forces of production have developed beyond the capitalist mode of production… We completely oppose Russian imperialism’s invasion of Ukraine which was preceded by Putin’s speech where he blamed the Bolsheviks for Ukraine’s existence and essentially denied the historic reality of the Ukrainian nation” iii
Correctly they also say:
“The leading role Zelensky has taken in the resistance against Russia’s invasion has made him a hero in the eyes of millions of Ukrainians as well as internationally, helped in no small part by western media propaganda. However, Zelensky is up to his neck with some of the country’s most powerful oligarchs and has spearheaded measures further impoverishing the majority of Ukrainians. He himself is the owner of offshore companies. Having already clamped down on workers’ rights to organize during his pre-war rule, one of his first measures once the war started was to impose martial law which includes a ban on the right to strike. While not ignoring the illusions that exist, we have to patiently explain that Zelensky and his regime are no friends of ordinary working-class Ukrainians.” iv This means no political support for the Ukrainian regime.
But then they write: “We support all workers’ action against the war and call for strikes and blockades to help prevent the delivery of arms or other equipment that will be used to kill and maim”[v]…. In Ukraine, we point to the right of workers to arm themselves through their own self-organization. We argue that, ultimately, such working-class forces would need to be mobilized not just to repel the invading army — the ranks of which could be reached based on a class appeal — but against the reactionary Zelensky regime as well as the far-right groups and militias which currently operate underneath it” vi
Thus, the ISA while calling for the working-class armed rebellion that may happen in the future against Russia and Zelensky’s regime opposes the delivery of weapons to Ukraine today because it is a reactionary regime.
This position has nothing to do with the positions of Marx, Engels, Lenin, or Trotsky who in the case of colonialists or an imperialist war against oppressed nations were for the delivery of weapons to the oppressed nation regardless of the nature of the political leadership.
Marx and Engels supported the Polish war against Russia even when the Polish uprising was led by reactionary leadership like general Romuald Traugut who before the uprising was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Russian army, where he won distinction in the Crimean War. The rebellion began on 22 January 1863 and lasted until 18 June 1864. It aimed at the restoration of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
In 1866 Engels wrote:
“Wherever the working classes have taken a part of their own in political movements, there, from the very beginning, their foreign policy was expressed in the few words – Restoration of Poland. This was the case with the Chartist movement so long as it existed, this was the case with the French working men long before 1848, as well as during that memorable year when on the 15th of May they marched on to the National Assembly to the cry of “dive la Pologne!” – Poland forever! This was the case in Germany, when, in 1848 and ’49, the organs of the working class demanded war with Russia for the restoration of Poland. It is the case even now; – with one exception – of which more anon – the working men of Europe unanimously proclaim the restoration of Poland as a part and parcel of their political program, as the most comprehensive expression of their foreign policy. The middle-class, too, have had, and have still, “sympathies” with the Poles, which sympathies have not prevented them from leaving the Poles in the lurch in 1831, in 1846, in 1863, nay, have not even prevented them from leaving the worst enemies of Poland, such as Lord Palmerston, to manage matters so as to actually assist Russia while they talked in favor of Poland. But with the working classes, it is different. They mean intervention, not non-intervention, they mean war with Russia while Russia meddles with Poland, and they have proved it every time the Poles rose against their oppressors. And recently, the International Working Men’s Association has given a fuller expression to this universal instinctive feeling of the body it claims to represent, by inscribing on its banner, “Resistance to Russian encroachments upon Europe – Restoration of Poland.” vii
Lenin wrote: “Theoretically, it would be wrong to forget that every war is but the continuation of policy by other means. The present imperialist war is the continuation of the imperialist policies of two groups of Great Powers, and these policies were engendered and fostered by the total relationships of the imperialist era. But this very era must also necessarily engender and foster policies of struggle against national oppression and proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie and, consequently, also the possibility and inevitability; first, of revolutionary national rebellions and wars; second, of proletarian wars and rebellions against the bourgeoisie; and, third, of a combination of both kinds of the revolutionary war, etc.” viii Lenin’s position is in support of the armed struggle of oppressed people against imperialism. Lenin did not write that revolutionaries should be against the delivery of weapons to the national liberation movement, when led by reactionary leadership.
Trotsky wrote on centrists who opposed the delivery of weapons to the people fighting imperialism:
“Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise, they would be no more than wretched trade unionists – not proletarian revolutionists At the same time, the French maritime workers, even though not faced with any strike whatsoever, would be compelled to exert every effort to block the shipment of ammunition intended for use against the rebels. Only such a policy on the part of the Italian and French workers constitutes the policy of revolutionary internationalism” ix
When Imperialist Italy attacked Ethiopia ruled by a reactionary king, Trotsky wrote: “It is with great astonishment that I read the report of the conference of the Independent Labour Party in the New Leader of April 17, 1936. I really never entertained any illusions about the Pacifist Parliamentarians who run the ILP. But their political position and their whole conduct at the conference exceed even those bounds that can usually be expected of them. I am sure that you and your friends have drawn approximately the same conclusions as we have here. Nevertheless, I cannot refrain from making several observations.1. Maxton and the others opine that the Italo-Ethiopian war is “a conflict between two rival dictators.” To these politicians, it appears that this fact relieves the proletariat of the duty of making a choice between two dictators. They thus define the character of the war by the political form of the state, in the course of which they themselves regard this political form in a quite superficial and purely descriptive manner, without taking into consideration the social foundations of both “dictatorships.” A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history; for example, Oliver Cromwell, Robespierre, etc. On the other hand, right in the midst of the English democracy Lloyd George exercised a highly reactionary dictatorship during the war. Should a dictator place himself at the head of the next uprising of the Indian people in order to smash the British yoke – would Maxton then refuse this dictator his support? Yes or no? If not, why does he refuse his support to the Ethiopian “dictator” who is attempting to cast off the Italian yoke?
If Mussolini triumphed, it means the reinforcement of fascism, the strengthening of imperialism, and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. The victory of the Negus, however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples. One must really be completely blind not to see this” x
“It is impossible to fight against imperialist war by sighing for peace after the fashion of the pacifists. “One of the ways of fooling the working class is pacifism and the abstract propaganda of peace. Under capitalism, especially in its imperialist stage, wars are inevitable.” A peace concluded by imperialists would only be a breathing spell before a new war. Only a revolutionary mass struggle against war and against imperialism that breeds war can secure real peace. “Without a number of revolutions the so-called democratic…No one is, of course, under compulsion to take his stand on the ground of Lenin’s teachings. But we, his disciples, will permit no one to make a mockery of these teachings and to transform them into their very opposite!” xi
Trotsky also wrote: “In Brazil, there now reigns a semi-fascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict wills the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case, I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to the national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts in the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks, one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!” xii
In a letter to Diago Rivera Trotsky wrote:
“I want to stop discussing in this letter only the Sino-Japanese War. In my declaration to the bourgeois press, I said that the duty of all the workers’ organizations in China was to participate actively and on the front lines of the present war against Japan, without abandoning, for a single moment, their own program and independent activity. But that is “social patriotism!” the Eiffelites cry. It is capitulation to Chiang Kai-shek! It is the abandonment of the principle of the class struggle! Bolshevism preached revolutionary defeatism in the imperialist war. Now, the war in Spain and the Sino-Japanese War are both imperialist wars. “Our position on the war in China is the same. The only salvation of the workers and peasants of China is to struggle independently against the two armies, against the Chinese army in the same manner as against the Japanese army.” These four lines, taken from an Eiffelite document of September 10, 1937, suffice entirely for us to say: we are concerned here with either real traitors or complete imbeciles. But imbecility, raised to this degree, is equal to treason.
We do not and never have put all wars on the same plane. Marx and Engels supported the revolutionary struggle of the Irish against Great Britain, of the Poles against the tsar, even though in these two nationalist wars the leaders were, for the most part, members of the bourgeoisie and even at times of the feudal aristocracy … at all events, Catholic reactionaries. When Abdel-Krim rose up against France, the democrats and Social Democrats spoke with hate of the struggle of a “savage tyrant” against the “democracy.” The party of Leon Blum supported this point of view. But we, Marxists and Bolsheviks, considered the struggle of the Riffians against imperialist domination as a progressive war. Lenin wrote hundreds of pages demonstrating the primary necessity of distinguishing between imperialist nations and the colonial and semi-colonial nations which comprise the great majority of humanity. To speak of “revolutionary defeatism” in general, without distinguishing between exploiter and exploited countries, is to make a miserable caricature of Bolshevism and to put that caricature at the service of the imperialists.
In the Far East, we have a classic example. China is a semi-colonial country and Japan is transforming, under our very eyes, into a colonial country. Japan’s struggle is imperialist and reactionary. China’s struggle is emancipatory and progressive.
But Chiang Kai-shek? We need to have no illusions about Chiang Kai-shek, his party, or the whole ruling class of China, just as Marx and Engels had no illusions about the ruling classes of Ireland and Poland. Chiang Kai-shek is the executioner of the Chinese workers and peasants. But today he is forced, despite himself, to struggle against Japan for the remainder of the independence of China. Tomorrow he may again betray. It is possible. It is probable. It is even inevitable. But today he is struggling. Only cowards, scoundrels, or complete imbeciles can refuse to participate in that struggle.” xiii
The ISA recognizes the right of self-determination of Ukraine on the ground of a general and absolute principle of the right of all nations to self-determination.
“We stand for the right to self-determination for all nations, and for the guaranteed rights of minorities” xiv
Revolutionary Marxists do not support the right of self-determination of all nations and all the times. Marx and Engels did not support the southern confederation in the war between the North and the South in the American civil war even though the south claimed it was a different nation. Marx and Engels did not support the right of self-determination of the southern Slaves that were controlled by Tsarist Russia. Lenin wrote that Marxists recognize the right of self-determination for oppressed nations. “The right of nations to self-determination means only the right to independence in a political sense, the right to free, political secession from the oppressing nation” xv
After the Bolshevik revolution when Poland fought against the revolution the Bolsheviks put the defense of the working-class revolution above the right of self-determination of Poland. Trotsky did not recognize the right of self-determination of the whites in South Africa. From their absolute and wrong position that Marx supports the right of self -determination to all nations, the ISA supports the Zionist’s right to self -determination. They call for a two-state solution that is the official line of western imperialists and of the reformist Hadash that sees the Israelis as innocent and also opposes sending weapons to Ukraine. Ofer Cassif (Hadash) said: “Targeting innocent civilians is not a fight against injustice, it is injustice itself. My condolences to the families of those killed and wishes for a complete recovery of the wounded. However, most of the Israelis support the repression of the Palestinians and cannot be considered innocents”. In addition, Cassif said: We are against war and the Russian invasion. However, I will not take sides in unnecessary wars that harm innocent civilians, strengthen those in power and enrich the masters of war”. “I do not support nationalists and persecutors of the communists in Ukraine, and no, neither do I support Putin and the Russian communist-hating nationalists. No to war – yes to peace.” xvi
This line of “No to war – yes to peace” led Hadash to be in the front line of supporting the shameful Oslo agreement that turned the Palestinian PA to be collaborators with Israel against the Palestinian resistance to the occupation of 1967 not to speak of the occupation of 1948.
Unlike them Lenin wrote about pacifism: “Let us now compare the facts, leaving (see, for instance, their weekly paper, The New Statesman), and that of the German Social-Democratic Party, including Kautsky, are identical. The same direct and indirect defense of social-chauvinism; the same combination of that defense with a readiness to utter all sorts of kindly, humane and near-Left phrases about peace, disarmament, etc., etc.” xvii
Thus, the ISA speaking from the opposite sides of their mouth while saying that they oppose the invasion of Ukraine by Russian imperialism supports Russian imperialism by opposing the delivery of weapons to the Ukrainian army by Western imperialism. The Western imperialists are sending some weapons to Ukraine for their own selfish class interests but the people of Ukraine need weapons to fight the Russian invasion. Furthermore, working class militias, when formed, will need these weapons.
[i] Leon Trotsky: Two Articles on Centrism (February/March 1934)
[vii] What have the working classes to do with Poland?
[viii] Lenin: The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution
[ix] Leon Trotsky: Learn to Think, a Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists (May 1938)
[x] Leon Trotsky: On Dictators and the Heights of Oslo A Letter to an English Comrade (April 1936)
[xiii] Trotsky: On the Sino-Japanese War(September 1937)
[xv] Lenin: The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination
[xvii] Lenin: British Pacifism and the British Dislike of Theory