The following is translated from Spartakist No. 224 (Spring 2022), newspaper of the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, German section of the ICL.
The reformist left is in a massive crisis. With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the German bourgeoisie fully committed itself to NATO’s war campaign against Russia. Sending military aid to Ukraine and massively increasing the military budget represents a significant political shift for Germany. Die Linke, the German Communist Party (DKP), Communist Organization (KO) and pseudo-Marxist groups like the Revolutionary Internationalist Organization (RIO) and the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) are like deer in the headlights. They are shocked that their inveterate pacifism is now at odds with the government. The NATO bootlickers in Die Linke’s leadership—Gregor Gysi, Bodo Ramelow, Caren Lay & Co.—immediately lashed out at anyone who didn’t fall into line. Those who still want to hold on to Die Linke’s old program of “dissolving NATO,” like Sahra Wagenknecht’s supporters, are sitting between two stools. On the one hand, they condemn the “Russian war of aggression that violates international law” and want to support the Ukrainian government in line with the Social Democratic Party (SPD)/Green/Free Democrat (FDP) ruling coalition. But on the other, they are reluctant to just throw their pacifism overboard.
The reason for the reformists’ crisis is simple: for decades, their positions “against rearmament” and “against foreign deployment of the Bundeswehr (armed forces)” were compatible with the goals of German imperialism. In a period when the bourgeoisie was not making significant investment in the Bundeswehr, the demand for “disarmament” was not only completely harmless to the imperialist bourgeoisie but also a pacifist cover for its economic pillage of Europe. The “peaceful” policies of German imperialism over the past 30 years were focused on exploiting and subjugating the dependent countries of Europe—from Lisbon to Athens to Riga—through the European Union (EU) and the euro, expanding its economic and political dominance in Europe under the umbrella of U.S. imperialism. As an adjunct to NATO and a tool of German imperialism, the EU worked hand in hand with U.S. imperialism in subjugating the Ukrainian working masses and provoking Russia’s invasion.
Now the bourgeoisie has abruptly ended its cozy relationship with the reformists. With its “historic turn,” the German bourgeoisie is doing everything in its power to stamp out any criticism of NATO, no matter how tepid, in order to impose its war drive. Under this pressure, a crude and distorted class line is being drawn in the left between those who have adopted an openly pro-imperialist, pro-NATO orientation and those who refuse to just dump their old pacifism. The latter stand there like whipped dogs and have no answer. We have an answer: Throw the EU/NATO supporters out of the left!
Those who openly support the imperialists’ tools of exploitation and oppression have no business in the workers movement. Youth and workers who really want to fight against imperialism must arm themselves with a revolutionary program. To achieve lasting peace, imperialism must be overthrown through workers revolution. The struggle to drive the EU/NATO supporters out of the left will make it easier for us Marxists to show workers and youth that it’s not the NATO-lovers who are the real obstacle to the struggle against imperialism but the bourgeois-pacifist program of Wagenknecht, the DKP & Co. Their program necessarily leads to capitulation to the EU/NATO supporters. They peddle the lie that it’s possible to be on the side of the blue-and-yellow flag wavers and at the same time oppose arms deliveries to Ukraine. Between supporting imperialism via NATO and the EU and the program of socialist revolution there is no middle ground.
Pacifism disarms the workers, not the bourgeoisie. We have a revolutionary solution. As we wrote in our Spartacist supplement (see article): “There is only one progressive way forward in the war between Ukraine and Russia: to turn this war between two capitalist classes into a civil war where workers overthrow both capitalist classes. We call on the soldiers and workers of Ukraine and Russia: Fraternize! Turn the guns against your exploiters!” Here in Germany, this program must be tied to the struggle for workers revolution against German imperialism.
Leninism vs. Pacifism
The proletariat needs a revolutionary movement against war and imperialism. For that, the revolutionary Communist International of Lenin and Trotsky taught that it is necessary “to explain systematically to the workers that without the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, no international courts of arbitration, no treaties of any kind curtailing arms production, no manner of ‘democratic’ renovation of the League of Nations will be able to prevent new imperialist wars” (“Theses on the Conditions for Admission to the Communist International,” 1920).
Illusions in Peaceful Imperialism
Instead of this, Wagenknecht peddles Die Linke’s position of “dissolving NATO” to the working class as a program against war. Like the DKP, she stands for a “system of collective security” with Russia, an orientation the DKP also promotes with its slogans “Peace with Russia!” and “Germany out of NATO!” Of course, revolutionaries oppose NATO—but the program of Wagenknecht and the DKP seeks to make workers believe that German imperialism would be “more peaceful” if it were not part of the U.S.-dominated NATO military alliance but in a different alliance that includes Russia. This anti-American, nationalist program is nothing but an appeal for a different strategic orientation for German imperialism.
Every foreign policy of the German bourgeoisie necessarily has one single purpose: to further its class interests—that is, the exploitation of the working class and the subjugation of other nations. As Lenin emphasized in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916): “Peaceful alliances prepare the ground for wars, and in their turn grow out of wars; the one conditions the other, producing alternating forms of peaceful and non-peaceful struggle on one and the same basis of imperialist connections and relations within world economics and world politics.” An alliance between German imperialism and Russia would be just as reactionary as the current transatlantic alliance.
While the Wagenknecht/DKP vision of an alliance with Russia is only a distant glimmer in an uncertain future, the bulk of the left is capitulating to the supposedly “peaceful” alliance through which the German bourgeoisie currently asserts its interests: the EU. Anyone who wants to fight against imperialism must couple opposition to NATO with opposition to the EU. In contrast, in their main slogans on the Ukraine war, many reformist groups like Marx21, RIO and the DKP oppose NATO but not the EU. Thus they sow the illusion that German finance capital’s “peaceful” economic pillage through the EU is “progressive,” in contrast to the “militaristic” NATO alliance.
Of course, RIO, the DKP and “left critics” inside Die Linke always stress that they “oppose” the EU. The DKP characterizes it as an “instrument of German imperialism” while RIO criticizes the EU’s eastward expansion; for Wagenknecht the EU is “neoliberal” and she advocates a different alliance for German imperialism. What they all have in common is that they oppose the EU because of its reactionary policies, not out of principled opposition to German imperialism and all imperialist alliances. This is simply a reformist critique of imperialism. In contrast, we communists stand for revolutionary opposition to the EU based on opposition to imperialism: Down with the EU and the euro! For the Soviet United States of Europe, united on a voluntary basis!
All the reformists raise slogans like “No to war!” while some also call for “negotiations” and a cease-fire. As the military historian Clausewitz remarked, “War is merely the continuation of politics by other means,” i.e., a continuation of the policies followed by the belligerent powers and their ruling classes. As we say in our supplement, “No cease-fire or peace deal between capitalist robbers will address the causes of the war. Any such agreement will necessarily be directed against workers in Russia and Ukraine and prepare the ground for the next bloody conflict.”
A particularly pathetic example of such faith in imperialist diplomacy is the DKP’s support for the Minsk accord as a “peaceful” alternative to the war and their whining about its breach. The Minsk accord reflected German imperialism’s designs for Ukraine and Russia. Negotiated under the leadership of former chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, its aim was to keep Ukraine in German and American imperialism’s sphere of influence. Support for “peace” under the Minsk accord means support for the goals of German finance capital.
All reformist groups are against the rearmament of the Bundeswehr and demand, for example, “Billions for health care, education and the climate instead of war!” RIO (part of the Trotskyist Fraction-Fourth International, FT-CI) also demands, “Abolish the Bundeswehr!” Calling on the imperialists to “disarm” or abolish their army is completely utopian; the German imperialists, like every ruling class, need their army to maintain their class rule and assert their interests at home and abroad. The reformists’ call for a struggle “against rearmament” in the framework of capitalism is also reactionary because it deceives the workers and oppressed with hopes of lasting peace under capitalism.
As the Bolshevik-Leninists explained in the 1930s:
The disarmament campaign is a campaign for a different budget for German imperialism. Can it prevent war? No, obviously not. It wasn’t imperialist rearmament that caused two world wars but the irreconcilable contradictions in the capitalist system. Imperialism is not a reactionary policy of arms buildup and military interventions that can be replaced by a better, more progressive policy (e.g., funding for education) within the framework of capitalism. The imperialists adjust their military budgets according to their respective needs. Imperialism is a world system in which the planet has been completely divided among monopolies and a handful of capitalist powers like the U.S., Germany and Japan. This means sharpening interimperialist rivalries and continual struggle among these robbers to redivide the world. This will necessarily lead to new imperialist wars unless they are stopped by workers revolutions.
Just as changing the capitalist government’s budget cannot bring peace, neither can it meet the needs of the working class—in education, health care or any other area. Of course, the decrepit schools and hospitals need massive investment! But this cannot be achieved through the reformist program of juggling the numbers in the capitalists’ budgets.
The DKP has noticed that today’s peace movement is openly mobilizing for arms shipments to Ukraine...so against this they advocate building a movement modeled on that of the 1970s and ’80s. Now, as then, the reformists’ program of building a movement to achieve peace within the framework of capitalism is completely bankrupt and a dead end for the proletariat. At the initiative of SPD chancellor Helmut Schmidt, in late 1979 the U.S. imperialists decided to station nuclear-capable intermediate-range missiles in West Europe that were aimed directly at the Soviet Union and East Germany. We Trotskyists intervened at the time with the line: “Smash NATO! Defend the Soviet Union!”
Many workers and youth were rightly concerned that the imperialists would launch a nuclear war. But the German peace movement, led by the Greens, the churches and parts of the SPD and their reformist appendages, channeled these fears into nationalist anti-Sovietism and support for a more independent role for imperialist West Germany. This bourgeois program was against the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons and for capitalist counterrevolution. As revolutionaries, we were then and still are today in favor of the best possible weapons—including nuclear weapons—for the states where capitalism has been overthrown. This is despite political power being in the hands of anti-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracies. We stood for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union and for proletarian political revolution against the Stalinists. This is also our program today for China and the other remaining deformed workers states.
Wagenknecht and the entire reformist left summarize one of the central “lessons of fascism and German history” for the working class as: “Never again war!” It is around this slogan that they want to build their peace movement. What a fraud! Absolutely nothing was achieved through pacifist opposition to the two imperialist world wars. For the proletariat, there is one fundamental lesson from both world wars, which the Bolsheviks and German Communist Party founders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht insisted on: the only way the slogan “never again war” can be achieved is through workers revolution against the murderous German bourgeoisie.
“Russian Troops Out of Ukraine!”: A NATO Slogan
“The Alliance calls on President Putin to stop this war immediately, withdraw all his forces from Ukraine without conditions and engage in genuine diplomacy.” Which alliance is this? Perhaps RIO’s “antiwar alliance” or that of other pseudo-Trotskyists and the Maoist MLPD? Not quite—actually the quote is from NATO (“NATO’s Response to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine,” www.nato.int, 8 April). Calling for “Russian troops out of Ukraine” means adopting NATO’s main slogan. In the current war, this slogan means being for the victory of the reactionary Ukrainian government against Russia. Zelensky and his regime, those stooges of the imperialists, are not only acting as a battering ram against Russia on NATO’s eastern flank but also trampling on the national rights of the Russian and Russian-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine. A Ukrainian government victory would not liberate Ukraine but would further subjugate it to the imperialists through its entry into the EU and NATO.
To cover up this pro-imperialist line, these peaceniks use all kinds of orthodox formulas, most prominently Karl Liebknecht’s slogan “The main enemy is at home!” Pacifist misuse of the revolutionary Spartacists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, who advocated the overthrow of German imperialism by the working class during the First World War, is certainly not unique to the pseudo-Trotskyists. But it takes some chutzpah to repeat Liebknecht’s slogan while marching under the battle cry of one’s own imperialism. Liebknecht did not march under the battle cry “Jeder Schuss ein Russ’!” [“Every shot, one Russian!”] nor did he demand the withdrawal of the Russian army. He called on the working class of Germany to point their guns not at the Russian army but instead at the German bourgeoisie.
“Neither Putin nor NATO!” and “Russian Imperialism”
The various pseudo-Trotskyists in Germany are divided over whether Russia is imperialist or not. In practice, this does not pose an obstacle to their working together in the imperialist camp under NATO’s battle cry. A slogan that they can all agree on and have repeatedly marched under is, “Neither Putin nor NATO!” Again, this slogan is counterposed to Liebknecht’s program, i.e., that the main enemy of the working class in Germany is German imperialism—not Putin. It also equates the imperialist-dominated NATO alliance and capitalist Russia, a non-imperialist regional power. This slogan is nothing other than a pseudo-anti-imperialist fig leaf to cover for taking the side of the NATO-backed Ukrainian government.
The question of whether Russia is imperialist is not a historical-academic debate but has important programmatic implications. From his pro-imperialist standpoint, Wolfram Klein, chief theoretician of the pseudo-Trotskyist Sol (CWI/Committee for a Workers’ International), is conscious of this. He is downright apoplectic at the ICL’s revolutionary line that: “Should NATO or any imperialist power directly enter this war, it would be an obligation for any revolutionary to side militarily with Russia for the defeat of the imperialists, the main bulwark of capitalist reaction internationally” (Spartacist supplement).
In order to say that Russia is imperialist, Klein replies, “In 1914, did Germany dominate the world or was it a regional power? Did any country dominate the world in 1914? According to this logic, the First World War was not imperialist because it was a war between regional powers struggling to achieve global hegemony (while Great Britain had already lost its hegemony)” (Solidarität, “Der Ukraine-Krieg und die Linken” [“The Ukraine War and the Left”], 9 April).
Klein’s skewed equation of Putin with the German Kaiser (why not just equate him with Hitler!) is a plain and simple justification for his capitulation to imperialism. In contrast to the First World War, a NATO war against the economically backward and politically and militarily isolated Russia would not be an interimperialist war to redivide the world but a joint campaign by the imperialists to turn Russia into a nuclear battleground and bomb it back to the Stone Age. Russia in this case would be waging a justified defensive war against the imperialists. For this reason, it would be in the interests of the international working class to fight for the defeat of the imperialists. Russia’s reactionary war against Ukraine is also not a war for the redivision of the world but a regionally limited war in which Russia is trying to bring Ukraine back into its sphere of influence, oppressing it nationally—against the combined efforts of all the imperialists to keep Ukraine under their domination.
RIO and other organizations do not characterize Russia as imperialist but march under the NATO battle cry and alongside those for whom Russia is imperialist—Sol, Socialist Alternative, the MLPD & Co. We ask RIO and all other self-proclaimed “anti-imperialists”: Will you stand for the defeat of imperialism and for the military defense of Russia in the event of NATO military intervention against Russia?
RIO’s “Karl Marx Brigade” for Zelensky
In another desperate attempt to drape themselves in the cloak of “anti-imperialism,” most reformists like RIO oppose imperialist sanctions against capitalist Russia as well as arms deliveries to Ukraine. The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) and the Pabloites of the “United Secretariat” (ISO in Germany) are for arms deliveries. Echoing the SPD/Green/FDP government and the pro-NATO position of the Die Linke leadership, these consistent social-chauvinists expose the contradiction of the more “critical” pacifists around Die Linke. They screech: Anyone who agitates for Ukraine and the defeat of the Russian army cannot at the same time oppose arms deliveries. Indeed!
RIO talks about the need for an “independent program against the Russian invasion and imperialist NATO intervention” in order to give the impression that it does not stand on the side of the imperialists and their stooges. The pseudo-Leninist bombast from RIO & Co., their opposition to arms deliveries, their talk of “popular resistance” and the “independent mobilization” of the Ukrainian working class against Russia—all this is simply a cover for supporting the victory of the NATO-backed Ukrainian government against Russia. RIO merely opposes marching under Zelensky’s direct command, which means: The working class should form its own “Karl Marx Brigade” and, alongside the Ukrainian army and the fascist Azov regiment, fire on the Russian army.
In contrast, we are for revolutionary proletarian defeatism on both sides. The Ukrainian working class must fight against the Ukrainian government, united with their class brothers in Russia, who must come out for the revolutionary overthrow of the Russian bourgeoisie. To the working class in Ukraine and Russia, and to the German working class, the pseudo-Trotskyists of RIO & Co. have nothing to offer except subordination to NATO.
Should Workers Side with Russia?
Sections of the DKP as well as a minority of the Communist Organization, a split-off from the DKP, take a side with Russia. In the context of the anti-Russian pro-NATO campaign—and in contrast to the left that is marching under the NATO battle cry of “Russian troops out of Ukraine!”—this position could appear to be “anti-imperialist.” But it isn’t. The only way to defeat imperialism once and for all is international socialist revolution. Instead of fighting to win the workers of Germany, Russia and Ukraine to this program, these demoralized elements pin all their hopes on the army of the Russian bourgeoisie.
A Russian victory would simply perpetuate the cycle of reaction across the whole region. In contrast, a victorious workers revolution in Ukraine or Russia would be a real blow against the imperialists and would inspire workers around the world to sweep away their own capitalist rulers.
A Revolutionary Program Against Imperialism and War
Those who do not want to simply spout pseudo-orthodox phrases in the camp of their own imperialism but really want to struggle against imperialism must do this on the basis of a revolutionary program for the liberation of the working class. The Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), fights to build a revolutionary antiwar movement on the following basis:
Throw the EU/NATO supporters out of the left!
Down with all imperialist sanctions and embargoes against Russia! For workers action against arms shipments to the Ukrainian government!
Ukrainian, Russian workers: Fraternize! Turn the guns the other way, against your own rulers!
Instead of pacifism and disarmament: Not one man, one woman, one penny for the imperialist army! Disarm the bourgeoisie, arm the working class!
For the overthrow of German imperialism through workers revolution!
Down with the EU and NATO! For the Soviet United States of Europe, united on a voluntary basis!
International law is the law of the imperialists! Down with the UN, imperialist den of thieves!
For the unconditional military defense of the deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba against imperialism and counterrevolution! For proletarian political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy!
Break with the SPD and Die Linke! For a revolutionary multiethnic workers party that fights for a workers government! Reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution!