The ISL Position on Wars (August 2009)

The 20th century marked the beginning of capitalism’s epoch of decay. Capitalism, just like any other socio-economic system which preceded it, has reached a stage in which it is no longer a system that develops the forces of production, but the very system that stands in the way of their development. The wars of this epoch reflect this characteristic in a terrifying manner.

The ISL does not believe that the capitalist system marks “the end of history” nor does it believe that capitalism has not yet outstretched its full potential. We support its overthrow and its replacement by workers’ states, leading the transition to a higher socio-economic system which would enable humanity to elevate its forces of production and standard of living into levels as-yet unimaginable: Communism – the highest stage of socialist society.

Like other socio-economic systems before it, capitalism had to fight itself into existence and must be fought out of existence. The revolutionary violence of its birth will be the major tool for its overthrow, unfortunate as it may be. The ISL strongly opposes all pacifist idealist notions, which fundamentally reject all forms of violence and make no distinction between oppressor and oppressed, a distinction which is key in Marxist thought. We hold those pacifist reformist ideas as historical non-possibilities that serve as a mask for those who serve imperialism, or who are merely spreading illusions about the capability of capitalism to conduct itself rationally and without contradictions or antagonisms resulting in acts of violence.

It must be said, however, that capitalism did not create wars. Armed bodies of people fought each other and within themselves for control over resources ever since humanity can remember itself. The difference between ancient wars and capitalist wars is the essential motive behind them – scarcity. Prior to this period, there simply were not enough resources to allow humanity as a whole to prosper and develop its means of production farther. Capitalism, however, has allowed the development of the means to abolish scarcity and has thus given humanity the potential to live in “world peace”. However the capitalist relations of production themselves stand in its way.

The highest and final stage of capitalism is characterized by imperialism – an epoch in which the boundaries of the old-fashioned nation-states are too small to contain the forces of production. As in the period of the primitive accumulation of capital, today the capitalists force themselves on underdeveloped nations for the purpose of extracting more surplus value by super-exploitation of “Third World” workers. With the creation of a world economy each imperialist struggles to become the only power which super-exploits, and thus they turn against one another with brute force resulting in what history calls a World War, but which is in reality an inter-imperialist war, with the “world” as its victim.

The 20th century witnessed two such major inter-imperialist wars that resulted in a holocaust unimaginable even by the most ruthless and bloodthirsty of medieval barbarians, causing the death of close to 90 million human beings! It is possible that the imperialists did not want a world war to happen; they all spoke of diplomacy, reasoning, and most of all, of peace. But in such an epoch of decay, the enchanted broom does not act any more upon the sorcerer’s commands. Instead of peace, diplomacy, and reason, we got weapons of mass destruction capable of ending human existence as we know it. Instead of progress and development, we got devastation, hunger, and epidemics with entire major cities and industrial complexes reduced to rubble and dust, artifacts of technology and knowledge lost to be dug out, as if they were archeological relics. In 1914 it was clear that capitalism had outgrown itself and changed from a mechanism of building into a mechanism of destruction, eating away at itself in a vicious cycle of destroying and rebuilding without any regard to the costs humanity has to pay as a result of this senseless psychopathic behavior.

In this epoch, humanity stands at the crossroads, having to choose between the overthrow of the social-economic system which no longer serves its needs, and facing its own extinction. A well-known phrase was coined by Rosa Luxemburg: “Socialism or Barbarism”, or as Lenin said: “In order for humanity to survive, imperialism must die”. So, for anyone who wants humanity to survive, the question at hand is:

Who, How and What Will Kill Imperialism?

Theorists like Karl Kautsky have envisioned that in a world in which the tendency of value is to centralize into the hands of fewer and fewer capitalists, eventually a global society will be created and ruled by a tiny elite of capitalists, “a holy alliance of imperialists”, joined together by their fear of global war. Those who observe reality through the glasses of idealism and formal logic will find it hard not to agree with this, and why not? It seems perfectly logical. But dialectical materialists know that reason and human consciousness can change reality only if material conditions allow it. The first and second world wars have taught us, at a terrible cost, another lesson in the seemingly irrational workings of history. As Lenin had predicted, the very conditions laid out by the capitalist system did not allow the imperialists themselves to put an end to war; the opposite would prove to be true.

Capitalism itself also contains the means for its abolition. Along with the bourgeoisie as a ruling class, it has created the working class, whose interests are inherently antagonistic to it. All other classes – like peasants, professionals or artisans – are constant factors of any class society and are not a unique phenomenon of the capitalist system. Therefore, if some bourgeois ruling classes of various nations have managed to climb up and become imperialists, the only class which has the interest and the ability to stop them from tearing this world apart with their inter-imperialist wars is the working class, and the only way for the working class to do so is by overthrowing the bourgeoisie as a ruling class, smashing the capitalist state’s apparatus, and replacing it with a working-class state’s apparatus as a necessary step in leading humanity on its way to a classless, stateless society with no possibilities of war.

The Correct Working-Class Policy Regarding an Inter-Imperialist War

So what should the working class do in the event of an impending world war, knowing that the power to stop it lies exclusively in its own hands? The leaders of the international working class party, the Second International, on the eve of the First World War, advised their supporters to support their own bourgeoisie, claiming that the bourgeoisie on the other side of the border were much worse. This is the classic “lesser evil” argument which continues to be the flagship of reformist arguments to this very day. It occurs often in history that following ‘lesser evil’ logic leads to much greater evil.

From a Marxist point of view, knowing that the interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole are antagonistic to those of the working class as a whole, supporting either side in an inter-imperialist war seems and is senseless. In case of an inter-imperialist war, the working class must act internationally, not only by not supporting either side, but rather by opposing all sides. This policy is called by Marxists “Revolutionary Defeatism”, named after the phrase coined by Lenin regarding imperialist Russia’s involvement in World War I: “Defeat is the lesser evil”. While this phrase has been open to much interpretation and misinterpretation, we agree with Trotsky’s understanding of the defeatist policy:

In those cases where it is a question of conflict between capitalist countries, the proletariat of any one of them refuses categorically to sacrifice its historic interests, which in the final analysis coincide with the interests of the nation and humanity, for the sake of the military victory of the bourgeoisie. Lenin’s formula, “defeat is the lesser evil,” means not defeat of one’s country is the lesser evil as compared with the defeat of the enemy country but that a military defeat resulting from the growth of the revolutionary movement is infinitely more beneficial to the proletariat and to the whole people than military victory assured by “civil peace.” Karl Liebknecht gave an unsurpassed formula of proletarian policy in time of war: “The chief enemy of the people is in its own country.” The victorious proletarian revolution not only will rectify the evils caused by defeat but also will create the final guarantee against future wars and defeats. This dialectical attitude toward war is the most important element of revolutionary training and therefore also of the struggle against war.[1]

The ultimate goal of the proletariat, should it fail in preventing the war to begin with, is to turn the world war into a worldwide civil war aimed to overthrow the bourgeoisie and capitalism. This policy is called by Marxists “the transformation of imperialist war into civil war”. As in any war under capitalism, the bourgeoisie rely heavily on the cooperation and support of the working class – it must work much more and much harder in order to feed the wasteful bourgeois war machine, and more importantly, it must outperform the workers of the “enemy nation”. A working class internationally conscious of its historical role in bringing down capitalism would then have the perfect opportunity to do so, since without the cooperation of the workers, not even a single bullet would fly, let alone an H-Bomb. The workers’ revolutionary opposition can result in a civil war that would bring about the end of bourgeois rule, and thus the capitalist phase of human history.

Revolutionary War

Revolutionary wars are wars waged between a progressive side, whose interest is in the overthrowing of an outdated mode of production, and a reactionary side, whose interests are in preserving it. Socialist revolutionaries would give their support to victory of the progressive side.

This position could be easily learned from Marx’s own position on the civil war in the United States between the free labor North and the slaveholding South:

The present struggle between the South and North is, therefore, nothing but a struggle between two social systems, the system of slavery and the system of free labour. The struggle has broken out because the two systems can no longer live peacefully side by side on the North American continent. It can only be ended by the victory of one system or the other.[2]

He [Lincoln] errs only if he imagines that the “loyal” slaveholders are to be moved by benevolent speeches and rational arguments. They will yield only to force. So far, we have only witnessed the first act of the Civil War — the constitutional waging of war. The second act, the revolutionary waging of war, is at hand.[3]

Once all outdated modes of production have been smashed out of existence by capitalism, it has concluded its revolutionary role. Today, when free competition has long ago given way to monopoly, and the struggle to create a global market of commodities has long ago given way to imperialist super-exploitation; Marxist revolutionaries’ support should lie with those elements which would hasten the fall of capitalist imperialism.

As we have established before, the working class should rise to become the leader and spearhead of the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist resistance. Should the working class of any nation succeed in overthrowing its own bourgeoisie and form a workers’ state, Marxists will defend it from any attack from the outside or inside of the given country and support its victory in any war against any class enemy – imperialist or not. The workers’ interests lie in battling the laws laid down by the current reactionary social production system, capitalism, and creating a new social mode of production which would operate without the need for states or classes – socialism. Therefore, the working class, in any armed conflict, is the progressive side, receiving our unconditional support.

The only country in history that, through revolution, managed to become a workers’ state was the Soviet Union in 1917. It managed to stay a workers’ state up until 1939 when the Stalinist counterrevolution finally completed the process of turning it back into a capitalist state in a statified form. The young workers’ state of 1917 was instantly attacked by several bourgeois imperialist armies, namely the Russian bourgeoisie (the White Army), Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Ottoman Empire, the far-reaching armed tentacles of imperialist countries like the U.S., the UK, France and Italy, and also non-imperialist reactionary bourgeois, peasant and petty-bourgeois armies. Marxist revolutionaries would have supported the workers’ state despite any bureaucratic deformations which plagued it at the time and which were eventually the cause of its internal demise.

World War II and the Rise of Fascism

On the eve of World War II, the USSR was no longer a workers’ state and would not have received any revolutionary support from true Marxists. Our position is that turning the country back into a workers’ state would have required a new civil war between the working class and its bureaucratic ruling class of exploiters – a social, rather than political, revolution. (This is contrary to the position held by Trotsky until his death in 1940.)

However, World War II was marked by the rise of a new enemy to the working class, a political enemy whose main target is the working class. By the use of brute force, it would try to deny it its most basic democratic rights, attempting to seal off any possibility of a working-class revolution. This enemy, so fierce it would strike fear even in the hearts of the bourgeois ruling class, would receive the notorious name ‘fascism’, after the Italian Fascist movement – the first of its kind to rise to power.

Naturally, fascism has terrified the workers throughout the world; millions of them were willing to take arms in hands and smash the fascist serpent. The bourgeoisie, in turn, would naturally pounce on this opportunity, when the eyes of the workers are focused elsewhere, and cynically demand “civil peace” from the working class – which in actuality means far-reaching capitulations – while accusing those who refuse to make them of refusing to contribute to the war effort, or even worse, of collaborating with the fascist enemy.

With regards to defeatism, the transformation of imperialist war into civil war was not as relatively easy in the second world war as it was during the first, since in the former it was easier for the bourgeoisie to sell to the workers the lie that this war was not just another imperialist war designed to further their own interests in weakening and eliminating imperialist competition, but was nothing less than a “war to save democracy!”

Marxist revolutionaries know that fascism is nothing but the uglier side of the same capitalist face, and that its rise to power is just a symptom of a bourgeois ruling class so intimidated by the strong working class and its impending revolution that it is willing to give the keys to its country to right-wing militants rather than give its place away to a more advanced mode of production of which it will no longer be the master.

Once again, as in any other imperialist war, regardless of the political character of the rulers of the different imperialist countries, our position would be both defeatism and the transformation of imperialist war into civil war. If anyone should make capitulations to save its skin from the fascists, it should be the bourgeoisie and not the working class. After all, it was they who gave it control under the cover of democratic slogans. Overall, the imperialist characteristic of a country is overwhelmingly more significant to us than its political character.

Trotsky writes aptly about the possibility of an inter-imperialist war and the correct proletarian attitude towards it:

If the proletariat should find it beyond its power to prevent war by means of revolution – and this is the only means of preventing war – the workers, together with the whole people, will be forced to participate in the army and in war. Individualistic and anarchistic slogans of refusal to undergo military service, passive resistance, desertion, sabotage are in basic contradiction to the methods of the proletarian revolution. But just as in the factory the advanced worker feels himself a slave of capital, preparing for his liberation, so in the capitalist army too he feels himself a slave of imperialism. Compelled today to give his muscles and even his life, he does not surrender his revolutionary consciousness. He remains a fighter, learns how to use arms, explains even in the trenches the class meaning of war, groups around himself the discontented, connects them into cells, transmits the ideas and slogans of the party, watches closely the changes in the mood of the masses, the subsiding of the patriotic wave, the growth of indignation, and summons the soldiers to the aid of the workers at the critical moment.[4]

For a working class which lives in a country plagued by fascism, here’s a summary of the correct tactics to counter fascism without forfeiting the class struggle:

1. The working class can trust no one to defend it from its political or class enemies. Therefore, in case of an armed onslaught upon it, revolutionaries would call the workers to arm themselves for the purpose of self-defense against the fascists.

2. A workers’ revolutionary party must send an infiltration force of propagandists into the army in order to win the support of as many soldiers as possible (most of them come from the ranks of the poor peasantry and the crisis-battered petty bourgeois) to the proletarian revolution.

3. A united front of action, temporary and tactical only, should be formed with all anti-fascist elements. The working class should strive to rise to the leadership of this united front, win as many anti-fascists to its side in the class war, and steer this movement towards the socialist revolution. Under no circumstances should the working class make any capitulations of its class interests to alien class elements, nor fall under their control. Keeping the working class an independent, self-emancipating fighting force is key to eliminating both the fascist threat and the capitalist ruling class responsible for its very emergence. 

The Lessons of the Spanish Revolution

An example of a civil war involving fascism is the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939. In this war a fascist army backed by Nazi Germany attempted to take over Spain. Unlike in Germany, the working class in Spain was not yet weakened by its traitorous leadership to the point where it had lost all will to fight fascism. A “popular front” consisting of many different and contradictory political and class elements was formed to fight fascism.

Trotsky wrote on this “popular front”:

A bloc of divergent political groups of the working class is sometimes completely indispensable for the solution of common practical problems. In certain historical circumstances, such a bloc is capable of attracting the oppressed petty-bourgeois masses whose interests are close to the interests of the proletariat. The joint force of such a bloc can prove far stronger than the sum of the forces of each of its component parts. On the contrary, the political alliance between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, whose interests on basic questions in the present epoch diverge at an angle of 180 degrees, as a general rule is capable only of paralyzing the revolutionary force of the proletariat.

Civil war, in which the force of naked coercion is hardly effective, demands of its participants the spirit of supreme self-abnegation. The workers and peasants can assure victory only if they wage a struggle for their own emancipation. Under these conditions, to subordinate the proletariat to the leadership of the bourgeoisie means beforehand to assure defeat in the civil war.[5]

Trotsky was right, and the popular front tactic proved to be disastrous to the working class and its revolution. Understanding that bourgeois “democracy” and totalitarian fascism stem from the same class interest in prolonging the death agony of capitalism helps Marxist revolutionaries to see right through all sorts of class enemy propaganda, be it bourgeois-liberal, reformist or centrist, and exposes its role in blocking the revolutionary power of the working class. The only way to win an anti-fascist campaign is to free the proletariat from the leadership of the bourgeoisie.

Wars and the “Third World”

Not all bourgeois countries have succeeded in becoming imperialist. Some, in rare cases, had achieved imperialism but lost it in war. These countries would most likely become the source of super-exploited labor and/or cheap natural resources for the imperialist countries.

The bourgeois classes of these exploited nations possess the same class interests as their imperialist counterparts and wish they could increase their own value beyond all bounds. Not having the military power and resources to exploit weaker countries, these bourgeois ruling classes would face very unfavorable options for achieving their interests of expansion.

One of those options would be to try and increase the exploitation rate of their own already super-exploited workers – a hard task, since super-exploited workers already receive just enough wages for mere survival, and to push them harder would result in a working-class united fight for survival, or even a revolution. In such cases, the correct position to take by Marxist revolutionaries is obviously to support the workers against the bourgeoisie.

A second option, which will be discussed in this article, is made possible by the fact that many of those exploited nations live within territories whose borders were hand-drawn by the imperialists themselves, creating significant national minorities. These minorities are either castes who act as a ruling elite or are, as in most cases, an oppressed and discriminated against national minority, perhaps refugees from neighboring war-torn “Third World” countries, and generally politically weaker than the ruling majority. The ruling bourgeoisie would have to exploit every opportunity to eat away at the remaining rights of these minorities, who happen in many cases to sit upon some valuable natural resources.

In such cases Marxists would take the side of the oppressed minority against the oppressors regardless of the class nature of its leadership. This position means joint tactical actions against a common enemy. However, and most importantly, Marxists would give no political support to any leadership whose interests are antagonistic to the working class, and under no circumstances should the working class surrender its own interests or capitulate any achievements to the bourgeoisie, nor give up on its military or organizational independence from it once achieved.

Marxists would also call for the working class of the oppressor nation to turn its arms against its own bourgeoisie and protect the rights of the oppressed nation, turning the national civil war into a revolutionary civil war.

A third option which the ruling class of an exploited nation has is to try to get a bigger piece of their own nation’s exploitation pie from their imperialist overlords. A refusal by the imperialists sometimes results in an armed conflict, or an ‘anti-imperialist war’. This turn of the bourgeoisie against imperialism may also be a result of inner pressures created by the dissatisfied super-exploited working class and peasantry. The ruling classes would then hope to succeed in diverting the anger of the masses from themselves to the imperialist nations. Any resulting capitulations by the imperialists would then be used to pacify the angry masses.

A non-imperialist nation engaged in a war against imperialism would be regarded by Marxists in the same manner mentioned above concerning an oppressed national minority, i.e., support for the victory of the oppressed, regardless of the class nature of their leadership, and without supporting any bourgeois or reactionary policies. Once again, the workers who live in the imperialist nation would be called to support the revolutionary defeat of their own bourgeoisie and the victory of the “Third World” nation against it.

Such support would be given even to the most hated ruling characters and regimes. For example, Trotsky had supported the Kuomintang, led by the butcher Chiang Kai-Shek, against the attacks of imperialist Japan:

In order to arrive at a real national liberation it is necessary to overthrow the Kuomintang. But this does not mean that we postpone the struggle until the time when the Kuomintang is overthrown. The more the struggle against foreign oppression spreads the more difficulties the Kuomintang will have. The more we line up the masses against the Kuomintang the more the struggle against imperialism will develop.

At the acute moment of Japanese intervention the workers and the students called for arms. From whom? Again from the Kuomintang. It would be a sectarian absurdity to abandon this demand under the protext that we wish to overthrow the Kuonintang. We wish to overthrow it but we have not yet reached that point. The more energetically we demand the arming of the workers the sooner we shall reach it.[6]

Anti-imperialism overshadows even our anti-fascist sentiments. While our anti-fascist strategies and tactics would apply regardless of the imperialist or non-imperialist character of any given country, we would support a non-imperialist country against an imperialist country, even if the former is ruled by fascists.

Trotsky has explicitly expressed this position in an interview with Mateo Fossa in 1938:

In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist 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 will 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 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 to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!

Imperialist Involvement in Third World Warfare

All of the above may seem like a well-worked scheme. However, in many cases the situation at hand is far from clean cut. The imperialists are well aware of the antagonism felt towards them in exploited countries. They would use a wide range of tactics to keep these nations fighting within and amongst themselves for scraps falling off their table.

In many situations where “Third World” countries are engaged in warfare with each other, there is one imperialist country or more involved in a direct or indirect manner, attempting to capitalize on the war and turn it to their own interests in the given region.

When no imperialist is involved, a war between two “Third World” countries will be regarded by us in the same manner mentioned above regarding an inter-imperialist war. We would call the working classes of both countries to unite against their own bourgeoisie and fight for the establishment of a workers’ state federation in the region, which would grant every oppressed nation the right to self-determination.

However, a non-imperialist nation that turns against an imperialist one often gives neighboring non-imperialist ruling classes an excellent opportunity to show their loyalty to imperialism and offer to do imperialism’s ‘dirty work’ for it by engaging in direct warfare against the rebellious country, hoping to expand its influence in the region and get a more favorable treatment from the imperialist bourgeoisie. The imperialists may get involved either directly by sending their own forces to aid their “Third World” allies, or indirectly by supplying arms and/or military consultation. A rival imperialist may like to get involved and aid the other side to further its own interests and/or weaken the former.

A war in which rival countries use other countries as an indirect way to fight each other is referred to as a ‘proxy war’. In such cases the magnitude and depth of imperialist involvement would determine which side, if any, would gain our support. A proxy war is meant to benefit one imperialist or the other, and so under no circumstances would Marxists prefer the interests of one imperialist to the other – we support none and oppose all. Therefore, any ruling class which ties its interests directly to the interests of imperialists would obviously get no support from Marxists who would rather see it defeated.

The key question regarding imperialist involvement is to what extent does the imperialist country directly control the “Third World” army, and to what extent does the latter act on its own will. Trotsky gave a rather extreme hypothetic example to demonstrate his position, with which we completely agree:

If Hitler tomorrow were forced to send arms to the insurrectionary Indians, must the revolutionary German workers oppose this concrete action by strikes or sabotage? On the contrary they must make sure that the insurrectionists receive the arms as soon as possible.[7]

In this hypothetical scenario, Hitler does not directly control the armed force to which he sends his military aid. Should a Third World army become directly controlled by an imperialist power, it would not receive any support from us.

The 2008 South Ossetia Conflict

An excellent case study which would help demonstrate the ISL’s position on this matter is the 2008 South Ossetia conflict. Georgia, which is a non-imperialist country politically supported by the imperialist U.S., has invaded the territories of the Ossetian and Abkhazian national minorities, which are politically backed by imperialist Russia. As retaliation, the Russians invaded Georgian territory.

Our position, in short, was to support the Ossetians and Abkhazians against the Georgian attack, but once the Russians invaded Georgia, we supported the defeat of imperialist Russia, without withdrawing our support from the right of the Ossetians and Abkhazians to self-determination and separation from either Georgia or Russia. We called for the working class of the region to unite and fight for a socialist federation of the entire Caucasus.

Most leftist groups around the world regarded this war as a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia, and either chose either side or opposed both, taking a pacifist position condemning all sides. These wrong positions resulted from the confusion over standing with the oppressed and giving political support to its leadership, and the confusion over direct and indirect military involvement; they also resulted from an inability or unwillingness to even tell the oppressor from the oppressed.

In our opinion, the political and indirect military support Georgia got from NATO and also from Israel, in the form of selling arms and military consultation, was not enough to label Georgia a country acting in the interests of its imperialist supporters. Rather, our impression was that this war was an act of defiance by the Georgian ruling class against its imperialist neighbor – Russia. Of course, we did not think this act should be conducted on the expense of the rights of national minorities, hence the support we gave the latter.

Our Position on Guerilla Warfare, Guerilla-ism, and Terrorism

As Marxist revolutionaries, we do not oppose guerilla warfare as a tactic in the service of proletarian revolutionary warfare, and as a section of the ‘regular’ workers’ army consisting of armed workers’ militias. We do, however, strongly oppose guerrilla-ism, which is the idealist belief that guerilla warfare could or should replace the proletarian army and achieve victory on its own.

The working class, especially under monopoly capitalism, is organized en masse more than ever before, with single factories employing hundreds and even thousands of workers. Breaking them all down into small semi-independent units makes no sense, of course. Calls of guerrillist nature usually arise in countries where the working class constitutes a minority of the general population (i.e. “Third World” countries), and are usually propagated by elements outside the working class, such as peasants and the urban petit bourgeois.  

Should elements from these classes express an interest in overthrowing the bourgeoisie, they must be led by the only revolutionary class under capitalism – the working class, no matter how small. The very core of Marxist thought stresses the centrality of the self-emancipating working class (with its own strategies and tactics) in overthrowing capitalism. Revolutions led by any other class just lead back to capitalism from the back door.

Regarding terrorism, the general definition of which is politically and emotionally charged and therefore disputed, Marxists define it as an aspect of psychological warfare whose aim is to instill fear and intimidation among both civilians and the military/police through the use of limited but concentrated violence.[8]

Terrorism is roughly divided into two kinds – state terrorism and individual terrorism. State terrorism is practiced by the ruling class against political and military rivals. State terrorism, like any other kind, does not distinguish between armed combatants and unarmed civilians, its goal being to create a smokescreen of illusions in the invincibility of the given state, its ‘all knowing, all seeing’ abilities through secret police and army intelligence, and its zero tolerance of any verbal or physical attack against it.      

The use of state terrorism by a given state signifies its relative weakness and its own fears for its survival, since both guerilla warfare and terrorism are the tactics of those who feel that their backs are against the wall. Our opposition to capitalist and imperialist states is regardless of the tactics they use against their enemies. In the same manner, when a workers’ state is forced to use state-terrorist tactics, we will not withdraw our support from it.

However, we categorically oppose the tactic of individual terrorism. Trotsky aptly explains this position:

In our eyes, individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission. The anarchist prophets of the ‘propaganda of the deed’ can argue all they want about the elevating and stimulating influence of terrorist acts on the masses. Theoretical considerations and political experience prove otherwise. The more ‘effective’ the terrorist acts, the greater their impact, the more they reduce the interest of the masses in self-organisation and self-education. But the smoke from the confusion clears away, the panic disappears, the successor of the murdered minister makes his appearance, life again settles into the old rut, the wheel of capitalist exploitation turns as before; only the police repression grows more savage and brazen. And as a result, in place of the kindled hopes and artificially aroused excitement comes disillusionment and apathy.[9]

Having said that, we must also clarify that the support we give to oppressed nations includes desperate or delusional individuals who decide to take part in such an activity, and regardless of the damage they cause for their own nation’s struggle. Let us take for example the episode of Herschel Grynszpan, a German-Jew who assassinated the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath as an act of revenge against the German government, which at that time deported German-Jews of Polish origin from Germany, among them Grynszpan’s family.

This attack, which could be labeled as individual terrorism, was later used as a pretext for the German government to issue the famous pogrom called ‘Kristallnacht’ against the German Jews in 1938. Grynszpan was then attacked by both the bourgeois and Stalinist press as a collaborator with Hitler, having served to him on a silver platter the pretext for the pogrom.

Trotsky however, though condemning individual terrorism, chose to defend Grynszpan:

We Marxists consider the tactic of individual terror inexpedient in the tasks of the liberating struggle of the proletariat as well as oppressed nationalities. A single isolated hero cannot replace the masses. But we understand only too clearly the inevitability of such convulsive acts of despair and vengeance. All our emotions, all our sympathies are with the self-sacrificing avengers even though they have been unable to discover the correct road. Our sympathy becomes intensified because Grynszpan is not a political militant but an inexperienced youth, almost a boy, whose only counselor was a feeling of indignation. To tear Grynszpan out of the hands of capitalist justice, which is capable of chopping off his head to further serve capitalist diplomacy, is the elementary, immediate task of the international working class![10]

Trotsky ends his article with the following paragraph, which would be the best expression of our message to guerillists and individual terrorists who act upon the burning desire to fight oppression, capitalism and imperialism:

In the moral sense, although not for his mode of action, Grynszpan may serve as an example for every young revolutionist. Our open moral solidarity with Grynszpan gives us an added right to say to all the other would-be Grynszpans, to all those capable of self-sacrifice in the struggle against despotism and bestiality: Seek another road! Not the lone avenger but only a great revolutionary mass movement can free the oppressed, a movement that will leave no remnant of the entire structure of class exploitation, national oppression, and racial persecution. The unprecedented crimes of fascism create a yearning for vengeance that is wholly justifiable. But so monstrous is the scope of their crimes, that this yearning cannot be satisfied by the assassination of isolated fascist bureaucrats. For that it is necessary to set in motion millions, tens and hundreds of millions of the oppressed throughout the whole world and lead them in the assault upon the strongholds of the old society. Only the overthrow of all forms of slavery, only the complete destruction of fascism, only the people sitting in merciless judgment over the contemporary bandits and gangsters can provide real satisfaction to the indignation of the people. This is precisely the task that the Fourth International has set itself. It will cleanse the labor movement of the plague of Stalinism. It will rally in its ranks the heroic generation of the youth. It will cut a path to a worthier and a more humane future.[11]

The ISL’s Position on the Wars in Our Region

The ISL members live in the territory currently controlled by the State of Israel. Since Israel is a product of the Zionist colonialist movement, we decided it would be appropriate to dedicate a separate chapter of this document to the wars resulting from the imperialist and Zionist involvement and presence in this region. In this chapter we will attempt to demonstrate how our positions towards the different kinds of wars are relevant to the region in which we are active.

Like any other colonialist enterprise, the Zionist one has created ethnic tensions between the Jewish and the Arab residents of Palestine, first under Ottoman rule and afterwards under British rule. These tensions, however, did not result in significant armed struggles up until the late 1920s. Before that period, the Zionists did not feel the urge to form a military force, not even a mere paramilitary organization. The colonialists relied on security services of the local population as hired guards and the Jewish guard society named “Ha’Shomer”.

In 1917, the Balfour declaration, stating that the British Empire sympathizes with the Zionist idea of establishing a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, was signed. From this point onwards the Arab population would go on the defensive, understanding that this “national home” for the Jews would inevitably come at their own expense.

The rising tensions, coupled with intentional Zionist provocations, would quickly result in violent clashes such as the Riots of 1920, the Jaffa riots of 1921, and the 1929 massacre in Hebron. These riots were ethnically directed against Jews in general rather then only colonialist Jews with expansionist aspirations. Most victims of those riots were non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Palestinian Jews, who used to live relatively peacefully side by side with the Arab Palestinians before the Zionist colonialist enterprise.

Our position regarding these riots would have been to oppose the Zionist colonialist enterprise and its provocative actions, but to also oppose the attack on the Jewish Palestinians who had nothing to do with Zionism. Our position was demonstrated well by countless Palestinian Arabs who chose to defend their Jewish neighbors from the rioters, although they opposed Zionism along with the rest of their people.

In 1936 the British imperialists announced their intention to divide Palestine between the Arabs and the Zionists (the “two state solution”), resulting in yet another armed clash. The 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine had already matured into an anti-imperialist struggle being directed against British imperialism and its backing of the Zionist movement. This revolt was led by the reactionary religious leader Haj Amin Al-Husseini, who was appointed by the British. Although the interests of this reactionary leadership of religious leaders and landowners were in the defeat of this rebellion, we would have taken the side of the Palestinian rebels without giving their leadership any political support.

The Communist Party, which at the time opposed the two-state solution and Zionism, made the tragic mistake of supporting the Mufti not only militarily but also politically, and the result was the defeat of the revolt and later on several attacks by the reactionary leadership against Palestinian trade unionists and workers.

The War of 1948

In November 1947, the UN announced its support to the two-state solution, granting the Zionists 55% of Palestine even though they were outnumbered by a 3 to 1 ratio. It was rejected by the Arabs, but the Zionists, including the previously anti-Zionist communist party already influenced by Stalinism, supported the partition plan and a new violent episode would quickly ensue. Jewish and Arab militias had begun campaigns to seize control over the entire territory of Palestine.

In 1948, with the withdrawal of the British forces from Palestine, neighboring Arab troops from Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia invaded Palestine, allegedly to aid the Palestinian people. In turn, the Zionist militias had already begun a massive occupation and ethnic cleansing campaign against the Palestinian Arab population.

In this war, as in 1936-1939, we would have supported the Palestinians against the Zionists, once again without giving any political support to the reactionary Palestinian leadership. The Communist Party, however, sided with the Zionists, mimicking the Stalinists in the Kremlin and claiming that the neighboring Arab armies were controlled by British imperialism, and that the Zionists were actually fighting an anti-imperialist war.

The timing and magnitude of the Arab armies’ invasion does raise some suspicions at the motives behind it. They were obviously partially controlled by the British, but so were the Zionist militias who already collaborated with them in the suppression of the Arab revolt in 1936-1939, and who now also enjoyed the aid of US nationals as pilots and other volunteers. Furthermore, these armies conducted themselves in a manner which was not designed to defeat the Zionists, but one which perfunctorily adhered to the pressure of the local masses by perhaps carving out additional pieces of land from the would-be Arab Palestinian state they allegedly protected. Evidence for this can be found in the fact that whatever territory these armies have managed to keep was not given back to the Palestinians but rather kept in the hands of the respective countries that invaded them.

Therefore, regarding the Arab invasion of Palestine, we would have welcomed any aid given to the Palestinians from outside. Should we have had comrades in the region, they would have sided with the Arab armies for the purpose of most effectively defending the Palestinians. They would also have worked to expose the Arab regimes’ traitorous schemes to the Palestinians and the Arab masses, and attempted to turn this war into a revolutionary war which would have created a Palestinian workers’ state from the river to the sea – a state where Jews and Arabs would be able to live together without discrimination and violent ethnic tensions.

The Suez Crisis of 1956

On 29 October 1956, Israel, The UK and France launched a combined attack against Egypt aimed at taking the recently nationalized Suez Canal. The invasion was stopped as a result of US intervention trying to assert its dominant position over the lesser imperialists. Also, rival imperialist USSR, which backed Egypt by selling it weapons, had invaded Hungary at that time, and the U.S. tried to win its propaganda war against it.

Our position regarding this conflict would have been to stand with Egypt against the imperialist attack without supporting the reactionary leadership. Should any imperialist country have chosen to send arms to Egypt, we would have welcomed this aid as long as the Egyptians were acting for their own interests in defending their country and not for the interests of the U.S. or USSR.

The main importance of this conflict lies in determining whether Israel should have been considered in 1956 as an imperialist state acting on its own will or just a close ally and subordinate of the imperialists. From the death toll of this conflict, one can easily conclude that the Egyptian forces, even after the Soviet aid, were no match for the Israeli invasion forces, Israeli casualties being 171 KIAs, a few hundred wounded and 4 POWs, while the Egyptian casualties were estimated at 1500, up to 3000 KIAs, thousands wounded and close to 6000 POWs.

However, a book by the Zionist historian, diplomat and secretary of the third Knesset, Nathaniel Lurch, claims that the Zionist state was forced to enter the conflict by the French, on whom it was economically dependent in those harsh times of financial crisis. Furthermore, while Israel managed to conquer the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, it was then reluctantly forced by the U.S. and USSR to withdraw its forces.

The War of 1967

If until 1967 the imperialist status of Israel could be disputed, then the 1967 war proved that Israel was already an imperialist country and should be treated as such by Marxists. Without any significant imperialist aid, Israel launched an attack on its neighboring non-imperialist countries with the purpose of expanding its territory and strengthen its position as a local power.

By winning the war, Israel tripled its territory, displacing close to 200-250,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and 80-110,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights. Soon after that, Jewish colonialists were sent to settle in the newly occupied lands, expanding further the Zionist colonization and ethnic cleansing campaign in the region.

This attack was severely criticized not only by the Arab world for obvious reasons, but by some imperialist countries as well. France went as far as imposing an arms embargo upon Israel, forcing it to rely on the U.S. for arms as well as focusing on its own arms production industry. Thus, Israel’s imperialist status was now well established. Our position regarding the ’67 war would have been a revolutionary defeat of Israel, regardless of the fact that the Arab countries were backed politically and militarily by the imperialist USSR.

The War of 1973

This war began with a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria against Israel. While enjoying brief initial success, this attack was eventually defeated, although it did cause a significant degree of demoralization in the ranks of the Zionists and proved that no imperialist is undefeatable. Realizing it, the Zionists agreed to sign a peace accord with Egypt, which in turn has shifted its alliance from the USSR to the U.S.

Regardless of the imperialist backing Egypt and Syria got from the USSR and the emergency aid Israel got from the U.S., which insured its victory rather than crushing defeat, our position would have been a revolutionary defeat of Israel, without giving the Arab regimes any political support.

It should be said, however, that should we have had comrades in Egypt or Syria, their mission would have been to expose the fact that neither of them went to war with the Palestinian problem at heart, and that under no circumstances did either of them intend to wipe out Israel, but merely gain back their own lost territories. Our message to the masses of the region is that the only way to defeat imperialism, Zionism, Israel, is by a working-class revolution against the Arab bourgeois regimes.

This was the last open war fought between the Zionist state and the Arab bourgeois armies of the region (i.e. large-scale war). The allegedly anti-imperialist bourgeoisie has come to terms with Israel and has increasingly turned to full or semi-cooperation with the interests of the western imperialists ever since the fall of the Soviet regime in 1991.

Israel Faces Guerilla Warfare

The Palestinians, on whose expense the Zionist state was established, have never got the chance to form a standing army, always fighting with poor weapons, smuggled, improvised, bought or stolen. Their armed resistance to the state of Israel and Zionist colonialism could be labeled as guerilla warfare since day one.

Since the defeat of Egypt and Syria in the ’73 war, the Palestinians were basically left to fight Zionism on their own. During the late ’60s through the ’70s the Arab regimes of Egypt, Syria and Jordan proceeded further and quashed or evicted almost all the Palestinian resistance movements taking refuge within their borders.

Without a revolutionary working-class leadership, guerrilla-ism and individual terrorism, with all of their problems, became the sole tactic and strategy of the struggling Palestinians, with the exception of occasional spontaneous or coordinated petty-bourgeois and working-class strikes that got quickly blocked and deflated by the bourgeois leadership.

The PLO, which rose to the leadership of the Palestinians, was an umbrella organization based on the aforementioned “Popular Front” rationale, which is not designed for victory but for defeat, with the bourgeois leaders ending up cutting a deal with the imperialist in exchange for quiet streets. It consisted of several factions, all using some sort of pseudo-socialist and leftist rhetoric, all seeing guerilla-ism as the only way to win back their stolen homeland.

Later on, in 1987, alongside a popular uprising called the ‘Intifada’, an Islamist faction called Hamas consolidated within the guerillist Palestinian liberation movement as an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and challenged the PLO leadership. This rivalry ended up in a recent civil war which we will discuss later in this document.

While condemning the focus on petty-bourgeois guerilla warfare as a replacement for working-class revolutionary warfare, and condemning the targeting of unarmed civilians, we support the victory of the Palestinian masses, regardless of their leadership, in their anti-imperialist struggle against Israel, without giving any political support to the reactionary ruling class and its representatives.

Israel’s Involvement in the Lebanese Civil War

Driven away from Jordan, the PLO leadership has settled in Lebanon. Lebanon, a “hand-drawn” state consisting of many religious and national factions, was then on the verge of a bloody 25-year inter-faction war. When in 1975 the war erupted, Israel did not take long to seize the opportunity and attempt to crush the PLO and the Palestinian struggle for self-determination with it.

In 1978 Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied the area south of the Litani river. Due to pressures from the UN, Israel withdrew its forces, keeping an occupied 19km wide “security zone”, and established a local fighting force under its control called the SLA, or the South Lebanon Army.

On July 17, 1981, Israel bombed an office building, targeting offices of the PLO, killing 300 civilians and wounding 800. This attack resulted in a lip-service worldwide condemnation and a temporary aircraft embargo imposed on Israel by the U.S.

On June 6, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon again, attacking PLO bases in Lebanon and heading straight for Beirut. But the eradication of the PLO was apparently not the only goal Israel sought in Lebanon. On the 16th of September 1982, Christian militias allied with Israel raided the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila massacring 328 to 3500 Palestinian refugees. The world was outraged, and Israel faced immense pressures to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.

The withdrawal of Israel to the “security zone” did not put an end to the PLO’s troubles. The Syrian government and its allied militias headed by ‘Amal’ attacked and destroyed several Palestinian refugee camps, attempting to complete the job Israel left unfinished and to eliminate the PLO’s presence in Lebanon.

Eventually the PLO was defeated and its influence dwindled in Lebanon as its leadership desperately sought a diplomatic way to cut a deal with Israel and save itself from extinction, eventually resulting in the Oslo accords of 1992. Yet the masses, Palestinian and Lebanese, still wanted the anti-imperialist struggle to go on.

In Lebanon, the reigns of this anti-imperialist struggle would soon be seized by an Iran-sponsored Shiite Islamist movement by the name of ‘Hezbollah’. After defeating its Shiite rival Amal, Hezbollah targeted the Israeli occupation of the southern part of Lebanon. After 20 years of occupation and bloody encounters with Hezbollah, on May 25th, 2000, Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon with the exception of an enclave called the “Shaba’a Farms”.

Six years of relative silence were broken by the 2006 Lebanon war when Israel invaded Lebanon again as retaliation for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on the Lebanon border; the war killed and wounded many civilians, leaving behind it heavily damaged infrastructure and causing yet another humanitarian crisis.

However, the Israeli government, which claimed that this attack would be the end of Hezbollah, suffered both a military and a political defeat, as it managed to achieve nothing but putting the Lebanese civil population through more massacres and devastation. The two soldiers were later returned in coffins in exchange for many Lebanese political prisoners.

As in any anti-imperialist struggle, we would have supported the Palestinian and the Lebanese militias in their struggle against Israel (and Syria) without giving them any political support and exposing their reactionary role to the masses.

The Palestinian Intifadas and the Birth of the ‘Palestinian Authority’

In 1987, disappointed with the PLO’s failures and defeats, and the betrayal of the Arab regimes, the Palestinian people spontaneously erupted in an uprising against the repressive Israeli occupation and colonization of the 1967 territories. The uprising included many spontaneous actions of all sorts of class traditions – from middle-class civil disobedience and boycotts, to working-class strikes, barricades and violent street clashes with the occupying troops by stone-throwing youth.

It didn’t take long for the PLO to seize limited control over the uprising and steer it towards failure once again. In the wake of the PLO’s weakness, rival Islamist factions were formed within the Palestinian liberation movement, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The Intifada, while not managing to create a revolutionary movement, did deal a heavy financial blow to Israel’s market, estimated at about 650 million dollars. In an effort to bring stabilization to the area while continuing the colonization and strangling of the Palestinian population in the 1967 occupied territories, the Israeli government decided to use the PLO’s reactionary character and offer its bourgeois faction a piece of the exploitation pie in return for stifling the anti-imperialist Palestinian movement.

The Madrid conference in 1991 and the Oslo accords of 1993 have allowed the PLO’s old leadership to ‘rise from the dead’ and assume limited control over a small part of the 1967 territories. The PLO promised the Palestinian people that the diplomatic way would lead to a Palestinian state with the ’67 borders, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital. Both Israel and the PLO were spreading new illusions and exhuming the old ‘two-state solution’, as if a solution which did not work when the land ratio was 55 to 45 in favor of the Zionists would actually work with an 80 to 20 ratio, increasing in favor of the Zionists with every new settlement.

As expected by Marxist revolutionaries, the Oslo Accords bloodily backfired, first with the Islamic factions expressing their will to continue the anti-imperialist struggle against Israel with a series of suicide bombings between the years 1993 to 2005 (when they stopped using this tactic, renouncing it in 2006). Then, in October 2000, after the “peace summit” in Camp David failed, and the butcher Ariel Sharon visited the Muslim mosques in the ‘Temple Mount’ in Jerusalem, a new Palestinian popular uprising and a new wave of violence swept the region – both inside and outside the 1967 borders.

The Islamic factions were joined in their fight against Israel by many PLO and ex-PLO rank-and-file members who formed new factions, broke away from the direct control of the PLO, and engaged in attacks against military and civilian targets, including religiously-inspired suicide bombings never previously practiced by Palestinians associated with secularist factions.

Israel in turn seized the opportunity to deal another deathblow to the Palestinian struggle for liberation. In 2002 the Israeli army invaded the West Bank and the city of Jenin and launched a campaign of devastation, killing at least 53 Palestinians, half of whom were unarmed civilians, wounding hundreds and destroying entire streets and quarters. Soon after the West Bank operation, Israel started constructing a separation wall as a further move towards the ghettoization of the occupied Palestinian population.

By unilaterally withdrawing its forces and civil settler population from the Gaza strip in 2005, Israel attempted to similarly seal off the Gaza Strip, preparing for a future onslaught.

In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian elections from Fatah – the largest faction in the PLO. As a result, several imperialist countries, including Israel and the U.S., imposed sanctions upon the Palestinians. Israel has tightened its siege of the Gaza Strip, creating a humanitarian crisis. The U.S. and Israel started to prepare rival Fatah for a military coup against Hamas, sending arms and providing training.

The resulting civil war of 2006-2008 gave victorious Hamas control over the Gaza Strip, while Fatah remained in control of the West Bank under the wings of Israeli protection.

In this war – in contrast to most leftists around the world who supported Fatah, took a pacifist position condemning both sides, or politically supported Hamas – we supported the victory of Hamas over Fatah, which had clearly become a subordinate bourgeois faction acting as a servant of imperialism. However, we did so, once again, without sparing Hamas our criticism for being a reactionary capitalist clerical organization whose assaults are directed against unarmed civilians, are which are used by the Zionists as an excuse for their massacring of unarmed Palestinian civilians. We also warned the masses that the class interests of the Hamas leadership are stronger than its anti-imperialist sentiments, and that it is vigorously seeking every opportunity to betray the Palestinian people and receive its own piece of the exploitation pie alongside or instead of the disintegrating PLO.

So far Israel has not given up on its ally and it keeps using Hamas as an excuse for its barbaric attacks against the Palestinians. A recent example is the 2008-9 Gaza massacre in which the Palestinians suffered heavy losses. However, once again, like in Lebanon 2006, the Zionists were politically and militarily defeated, still not being able to break the Palestinian will to fight, and unable to overthrow their elected leaders.

How much more could the Palestinians take? No one can tell. Without creating a revolutionary working-class alternative to the reactionary leadership, and with the expansion of the Zionist colonization of the West Bank, the barrel of gun powder upon which this region sits is getting closer and closer to blowing up and the Palestinians are moving further and further away from even their most humble of dreams.

The decaying capitalist system with its devastating crises gives the working class of this region plenty of opportunities to form such a leadership. The Internationalist Socialist League is here to provide this movement with our Marxist revolutionary scientific method – the only way to achieve a victorious socialist revolution.

[1] Leon Trotsky, “War and the Fourth International,”. June 10, 1934.

[2] Karl Marx,. The Civil War in the United States, 1861.

[3] Karl Marx. A Criticism of American Affairs, 1862.

[4] Leon Trotsky, ibid.

[5] Leon Trotsky. “The Lessons of Spain: The Last Warning,” 1937.

[6] Leon Trotsky, “A Strategy of Action and Not of Speculation, Letter to Pekin Friends, What are, at Present, the Chief Elements of the Political Situation in China?” October 1932.

[7] Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism: A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party. December 1939.

[8] From the Marxist Encyclopedia in: The Marxist Internet Archive –

[9] Leon Trotsky, “Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terror­ism,” November 1911.

[10] Leon Trotsky. “For Grynszpan: Against Fascist Pogrom Gangs and Stalinist Scoundrels,” 1939.

[11] Ibid.



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