The Proletarian Revolutionary War (XLVIII)


The bourgeois revolutions were followed by a historical period of bourgeois "revolutionary wars". Within each nation, within the borders of each state, the bourgeois revolution came from class struggle and took the violent forms of class war, civil war, between men of the same country and the same language, who fought because they belonged to opposite social classes and for the conquest of power. But it is clear that, speaking of bourgeois revolutionary wars, here we are talking about real wars between armies of different states, each consolidated in power in its own country.

Marxism has dealt in depth with the historical period of these wars in its complex aspects. Through it, the transition from power and feudal regimes to general capitalist political domination is completed within the world framework. But one cannot reduce the matter to simplistic schemes dear to literature. Country A, by breaking down feudal despotism, made the great democratic and liberal revolution (bourgeois, we Marxists say). In country B, the liberals, the patriots, still groan under the yoke of absolutism: A forms an army and goes to free them. Or: in B the feudal power sees the worst-case scenario, and not only represses the movement of its internal revolutionaries, but it sends an expedition to level the revolution in A, and thus be safer... The interweaving of history has been much more complex. The same phase of imperialist wars characteristic of the current century originates with the great trade wars of the eighteenth century that are fragmented with the national ones: all "progressive", because they serve to spread capitalism, which are good for all literary positions: corsair piracy and the crusade of redemption. The first bourgeois revolution was the British one, but it was not a war to spread freedom, but a war of domination, and even against France, which followed it in its social transformation. The same victories of the feudal coalitions and of the Holy Alliances, and the passing monarchic and aristocratic restorations, fit into the framework of the spreading of capitalism in Europe and abroad; as the invasions of the nomadic peoples in the Empire of Rome accelerated the formation of stable states and the economy of land possession. Above all, it is the great downfalls of the armies that break the ranks of the old social and state aggregates, opening new and revolutionary outlets.

This whole complex period, which Lenin dates from 1792-1871, with its historical flows and reflows, presents the historically closed set of "bourgeois and progressive national" wars, to which the Marxists working in the twentieth century no longer have any historical debt to pay, after the rivers of proletarian blood that they cost, from the Bastille to the Winter Palace.

Since the first international congresses of the present century, the war between the capitalist states has been seen by the Marxists no longer as a phase of development that must be carried out with the support of the socialists, where it exists, but as "an opportunity to bring down bourgeois power with the social war of the classes".

This concept and this commitment have been betrayed from many sides, Lenin was hammering and hammering to restore it, and with him all Marxism of the left.

The war is entirely imperialist; it has no progressive sides and aspects; in all the states, proletarian sabotage "behind the front" must be preached. The most powerful defence of this historical thesis, welded to the most victorious example, comes from the only country that still needed a progressive blaze. The defeatism of the Tsarist Russian war did not mean to bless the war of bourgeois states against Russia by the proletarian party, just as it would not have meant that if the enemy had been not Japan (1905) or Germany (1914), but democratic England, as almost was the case in 1912.

Tending from the first day of the war to make Petrograd rise up, carried not only by the revolutionary doctrine but also by the living history of only three years later, Lenin does not bet a kopek on the flag of the armies marching against that of Nicholas Romanov, and day by day, from the first to the last, in the dialectic of the same battle, he strikes the hammer on the skulls of the socialists of war, whether they supported the French-English armies allied to the Tsar or those German enemies of the Tsar.

Therefore, it was precisely from the section of the modern world from which the request and the derogation for yet another postponement could come, in order to throw oneself on the progressive and bourgeois democratic task of the war that was to liquidate the last absolute monarchy, from which came the word of the historical end of the wars of progress and liberation, of the general imperialist war, to be converted everywhere into a working class war.

So the 1914-1918 war failed to pass as a "revolutionary war" in the historical sense of the bourgeois revolution, with the last motive it could find, the anti-Russian one, indeed somewhat less dirty than the anti-German one.

In the short span of a few months, the situation was thwarted, and Moscow was successively ruled by a demo-bourgeois and a proletarian regime, while the World War continued. It was clear that the changed historical character of the war would be invoked in many circles. It was attempted to present it as a bourgeois revolutionary war; and shortly afterwards history posed the problem of war "waged by a state of the victorious proletariat", a war not excluded in principle by the non-Fabian and non-pacifist Marxists, a war deliberately hypothesised by Lenin in 1915, while condemning the misrepresentation of the character of the capitalist war by the social-patriots of the various countries of Europe as a disgrace.

When the first news of February 1917 arrived, and it became known that the revolution was spreading from Moscow and Leningrad to the whole of Russia, the "experts" of politics, who at all times had the same foul attitude, smiled sardonically. The work of the English and French embassies! Did you not understand that the Tsar with his reactionary nobility and his ferocious police were preparing to betray our great war of freedom? Passing over to the side of the two similar despots from Vienna and Berlin? London and Paris have made sure in time to regain control of the situation, of the Russian army! Everything explained, in 1917, for those who every month have a new political formula, and that in 1914 ran, pants in their hands, to pray to the icons that the army of the Tsar, forcing the Germans to retreat from their frontline to save a threatened Berlin, would allow the desperate defence of the bulwark of all the democratic fistulas, the Ville Lumière...

Not few of the Italian socialists, who had been held back by fierce efforts of bridle and sometimes of whip from deviating from the anti-war line, attempted the diversion: the war has changed character! Two great historical facts: on the one hand there is the free (kill it!) America, on the other hand there is now a modern Russia, civil, parliamentary: the war is all aimed at the defeat of two reactionary empires: why not join it? While we Western revolutionary socialists could do little more than to oppose these insidious manoeuvres with the motto of Cambronne , inspired above all by the ten-year estimate we had of both the prosperous democracy in America and the whimpering democracy in Moscow, Lenin arrived in Russia in April 1917. He disembarks from the German sealed train, and the same experts judge: here is the counter move! Berlin skilfully mobilises the extremist Lenin, with his emigrated Bolsheviks, to fool London, which has mobilised the moderates Lvov and Kerensky: the German legation of Bern has signed the pact, which will rescue the General Staff of Ludendorff from an enemy army. But Ludendorff did not have the last laugh, and neither did the experts.

Lenin. Thesis of April 1917. A military phase of the world revolution; one of his lapidary documents.

First thesis. "In our attitude towards the war, which under the new government of Lvov and Co. unquestionably remains … a predatory imperialist war…, not the slightest concession to ...revolutionary defencism' is permissible." Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Almost everyone in the Bolshevik party, while opposing the politics of the bourgeois parties, populists, Mensheviks, threw in their hat for this bullshit of national defence. In Lenin's theses – separate from party democracy - alone or almost so, against everyone of the same Central Committee, he serenely, quietly, inverts a historical series of essential points. No parliamentary republic, but a republic of workers' councils. In the countryside, centre of gravity on the soviets of the workers. (In Russia, unfortunately, there were statistically few rural proprietors, and it was partly necessary to yield to the Socialist Revolutionaries and the soviets of small peasant proprietors: another subject). Change of the name of the party (into communist), and of the programme on these points: imperialism - question of the state. Revival of the International.

One of the great tremors of the historical foundation. The masses, the militants, the same formally regular hierarchical organ of the party, are late in execution. Not by miracle or magic, the head of one has spoken clearly, following on the purest thread of the doctrine of the class party. Many others have "voted" the other way round; it doesn't matter, now they are rubbing their eyes, and they say firmly: that's right. Rinse the plate of representative democracy: that is our mechanism.

But in these theses - we should also consider, for this point as well as for programmatic, polemical and propagandistic ones, in our sense and not in that of the toothpaste throwers , as Lenin recommends: thoroughness, persistence and patience in enlightening the masses on this error of a war "only as a necessity, and not as a means of conquest" - Lenin sets the conditions for the "consent" of the proletariat to a war "which would really justify revolutionary defencism". These are: (a) that the power pass to the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants aligned with the proletariat; (b) that all annexations be renounced in deed and not in word; (c) that a complete break be effected in actual fact with all capitalist interests (read: of domestic and foreign capital).

Since the regime that was in place in Russia in April 1917 did not meet these conditions, the policy of the Bolshevik party in the war was: to organise the widest propaganda of these views in the fighting army. Fraternisation (in the trenches, between the proletarian Russian soldier and the German one, for sabotaging both enemy war orders). The programme, if the proletariat comes to power: "Suppression of the police, the army and the body of officials".

Thus having done justice to the thesis that the war of the Entente after February 1917, with Wilson and Kerensky in its ranks, had transformed from a dirty imperialist war into a "noble" war of progress, we can move on. The Russian proletariat and Lenin's party too went further, implementing the "theses" point by point, taking power, eliminating the parliamentary republic, suppressing the police, and the bureaucratic Tsarist and bourgeois army. This happened between October and November 1917, but the World War lasted another year, and was also waged against the new Russian, Soviet and Bolshevik revolutionary state. What are the lessons of this historical experience? Was this imperialist war, from which Lenin forever snatched the mask of "bourgeois revolutionary" war, a "proletarian revolutionary" war? What examples of such wars has the history of the international labour movement yielded?

We will go back a little bit, to the end of the period, so often remembered, of the national wars. The Paris Commune, created in the "débâcle" of Bonaparte's army and in the national catastrophe, created by taking power from the Chkheidze, from the Tsereteli of that time, who were not warriors but "defeatists", found itself between two enemy forces: the French army of Versailles in the service of the bourgeoisie, and the Prussian army, just beyond the forts of Paris, on the basis of the armistice. It had to be said: we did not want the Bonapartist war, we did not want the capitulation of Thiers and the Republican bourgeoisie either: will we, proletarian communards, wage revolutionary war to drive Moltke's divisions off of French soil? Marx touched on this issue.

The Thiers government made various attempts to get Bismarck to take on the military conquest of Paris and the direct repression of the insurrection. To his end, Bismarck did not consider it necessary to do so, but put the "pacification" of Paris among the conditions for peace and the withdrawal of the occupying troops. The bourgeois republic was forced to do this dirty thing with its own hands. The communard prisoners who fell into the hands of the Versaillese were immediately massacred; some who managed to cross the double line of the military outposts were captured by the Prussians, but spared.

Unforgettable pages due to their revolutionary power are those in which Marx claims the retaliation of the communards, with the shooting of 64 hostages including the archbishop, and the burning of the bourgeois palaces of the boulevards, while the cannons of Thiers demolished the workers' houses. The Prussians assisted impassively. Marx stamps them with shame. "There existed no war between Prussia and the Commune of Paris. On the contrary, the Commune had accepted the peace preliminaries, and Prussia had announced her neutrality. Prussia was, therefore, no belligerent. She acted the part of a bravo, a cowardly bravo, because incurring no danger; a hired bravo, because stipulating beforehand the payment of her blood-money of 500 millions on the fall of Paris." On the basis of these historical references, Marx then came to two conclusions: the outcome of the proletarian insurrection could not be a war of a communard France against the Prussian army, nor should the Commune proclaim it - the outcome had to come out of the relentless social war between the bourgeoisie of Versailles and the proletarian insurgents of Paris; these fell, because all the governments of the bourgeoisie of all the flags were allied in counterrevolution: and always, since then, when the red threat arose, this happened and will happen.


The great question today for the working class of the world, about the next possible world war, consists (above all the hypocritical crusades to "prevent" it, assembled by all the forces that are preparing for it) in knowing if it will be possible to turn it into a class war; or if it will be necessary, once it has broken out, to listen to someone who will say: I have done everything to avoid it, now I must fight it like a "holy war"; come and fight it with me! Someone who will speak in the name of the sanctity of a cause of "free" and democratically regulated countries, against those where "dictatorship" and "totalitarianism" prevail, will play as a formidable "trump card" the effect of all the corruption suffered by the proletarian forces through the still warm anti-German and national-liberal crusade, of all the revulsive orgy of democratic and resistance preaching, in which Stalinism supported the basins of the bourgeois vomitorium.

The others, who will preach the revolutionary sanctity of the defence of Russia, will claim in vain to find themselves in the Leninist conditions of revolutionary national defence.

Against this nationalism, and militarism with revolutionary claims, an evaluation must be made of all the military situations linked to Russia, both in the year between the victory of the Bolsheviks and the end of the war of 1918, and afterwards.

The answer of the Marxist dialectic is this: it may be that, in appearance, the next war sees a general coalition against the Russian state, and therefore the transgression of the "rupture", wanted by the April Theses, with all the interests of capital, is much less evident than in the Second World War. But if today's Russia were a proletarian power, it would not have been able, in the Second World War, to ally closely and decisively with the interests of British and American capital, which for two centuries now have not diverged by a single line from the interests of world capitalism, and of counterrevolution.


[1] Pierre Jacques Étienne Cambronne was a general of the First French Empire. He was a main strategist of the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars. When called to surrender during the Battle of Waterloo, it is said that his reply was "La garde meurt et ne se rend pas!" ("The Guard dies and does not surrender!") or "Merde!" (literally, "Shit!", figuratively, "Go to hell!"). The latter became known as le mot de Cambronne ("the word of Cambronne") and was repeated in Victor Hugo's account of Waterloo in his novel Les Misérables and in Edmond Rostand's play L'Aiglon.

[2] Likely in the sense of "hucksters", referring to American soldiers after the Second World War who brought toothpaste to Italy. Dentifrice being a new thing at the time to many poorer people, the invasion by the Americans was thus framed as a liberation. In essence, it is a metaphor for the propaganda of the agents of capital.

Battaglia Comunista, No. 12, 1950
Translation by Libri Incogniti

(Italian Version)


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