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  • Michael Laxer

"During a reactionary war a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government"



During a reactionary war a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government...


...A revolution in wartime means civil war; the conversion of a war between governments into a civil war is, on the one hand, facilitated by military reverses ("defeats") of governments; on the other hand, one cannot actually strive for such a conversion without thereby facilitating defeat.


The reason why the chauvinists...repudiate the defeat “slogan” is that this slogan alone implies a consistent call for revolutionary action against one’s own government in wartime. Without such action, millions of ultra-revolutionary phrases such as a war against “the war and the conditions, etc." are not worth a brass farthing...


The opponents of the defeat slogan are simply afraid of themselves when they refuse to recognise the very obvious fact of the inseparable link between revolutionary agitation against the government and helping bring about its defeat...


An understanding on revolutionary action even in a single country, to say nothing of a number of countries, can be achieved only by the force of the example of serious revolutionary action, by launching such action and developing it. However, such action cannot be launched without desiring the defeat of the government, and without contributing to such a defeat. The conversion of the imperialist war into a civil war cannot be “made”, any more than a revolution can be “made”. It develops out of a number of diverse phenomena, aspects, features, characteristics and consequences of the imperialist war. That development is impossible without a series of military reverses and defeats of governments that receive blows from their own oppressed classes.


To repudiate the defeat slogan means allowing one’s revolutionary ardour to degenerate into an empty phrase, or sheer hypocrisy.


What is the substitute proposed for the defeat slogan? It is that of “neither victory nor defeat”...This, however, is nothing but a paraphrase of the “defence of the fatherland” slogan. It means shifting the issue to the level of a war between governments (who, according to the content of this slogan, are to keep to their old stand, “retain their positions"), and not to the level of the struggle of the oppressed classes against their governments! It means justifying the chauvinism of all the imperialist nations, whose bourgeoisie are always ready to say—and do say to the people—that they are “only” fighting “against defeat”...


On closer examination, this slogan will be found to mean a “class truce”, the renunciation of the class struggle by the oppressed classes in all belligerent countries, since the class struggle is impossible without dealing blows at one’s “own” bourgeoisie, one’s “own” government, whereas dealing a blow at one’s own government in wartime is...high treason, means contributing to the defeat of one’s own country. Those who accept the “neither victory-nor-defeat” slogan can only be hypocritically in favour of the class struggle, of “disrupting the class truce”; in practice, such people are renouncing an independent proletarian policy because they subordinate the proletariat of all belligerent countries to the absolutely bourgeois task of safeguarding the imperialist governments against defeat. The only policy of actual, not verbal disruption of the “class truce”, of acceptance of the class struggle, is for the proletariat to take advantage of the difficulties experienced by its government and its bourgeoisie in order to overthrow them. This, however, cannot be achieved or striven for, without desiring the defeat of one’s own government and without contributing to that defeat...


...Those who stand for the “neither-victory-nor-defeat” slogan are in fact on the side of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, for they do not believe in the possibility of international revolutionary action by the working class against their own governments, and do not wish to help develop such action, which, though undoubtedly difficult, is the only task worthy of a proletarian, the only socialist task." - Lenin, The Defeat of One’s Own Government in the Imperialist War, 1915

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