In the summer of 1914, the bourgeoisies and imperialisms which had prepared their arsenals for the imminent conflict were also able to harvest the fruits of a very intense work of propaganda and ideological intoxication of the proletariat, carried out in each specific national context.
The dictate was clear: internationalist principles and class struggle, which in times of peace and relative stability of capitalism could be tolerated, became unacceptable as the conflict between bourgeois interests reached the culminating moment of war.
The unity of all workers against common class oppression, beyond national divisions and barriers, could be used as a convenient slogan, to be flaunted when it could do no great harm to capitalist interests, their states and their homelands; but it was to be promptly abandoned when the homeland called for mass mobilisation, for the partitioning of international markets and the sharing of spheres of influence between powers.
The German workers were told that they had to defend the homeland of Kultur and the achievements of national socialism, against the backward Tsarist tyranny and the imperial arrogance of Britain and France.
The Russian workers were told that the war was against the barbaric Germanic militarism.
The British proletariat was told that it had to side with the birthplace of parliamentary democracy and defend the self-determination of “poor Belgium” against the brutality of the Central Empires.
The French working masses were given the task of protecting the homeland of freedom against the Huns.
Subsequently, Italian workers and peasants were thrown into the immense carnage in the name of completing the national unification.
Ultimately, it was the American proletariat’s turn to sink into the mud of the trenches, in the name of the young star-spangled democracy.
All bourgeoisies, all imperialisms had their arsenal of “progressive” reasons to bind the exploited class to the national cause, to demand its blood. There was no capitalist nation, no imperialist centre involved in the conflict that did not present itself as attacked, threatened, unjustly provoked, legitimised by the most sacred justifications for military confrontation.
The important thing, what they all had in common, was the denial of the overall imperialist character of the war.
Today, in the face of the precipitation of the Ukrainian crisis, are we to conclude that the confrontation no longer has that imperialistic nature? Were Russia, the European powers, the United States imperialist subjects yesterday, in the First World War, but not today?
Are we to accept once again that proletarian internationalism is a high-sounding, rhetorical phrase to fill our mouths with in peacetime, and to be rejected and prostituted when the war of the bourgeoisie calls the proletariat to arms?
The shameful betrayal by which socialist parties abdicated in front of bourgeois imperatives at the dawn of the Great War is always just around the corner.
The necessity, the vital need to reaffirm authentic, coherent proletarian and revolutionary internationalism, will always be denied, mystified and clouded by the most infamous sophisms, the most subtle distinctions and the most disgusting distortions.
Even in the name of a pretended “concrete internationalism” – which is only as concrete as its opportunistic stench – attempts will be made each time to establish which imperialist robber is “to blame” for the conflict, which is the aggressor and which the attacked, which marauder is all in all “preferable” or which is the most “execrable”. The only “diplomacy” that these “internationalists” do not know how to, or do not want to, affirm is that of the working class, which is always the attacked on every front of the imperialist war, which has no bourgeois raiders to defend or prefer, having to fight them all.
Today as yesterday – and we say this without any ridiculous smugness – there will be few of us against a hostile world of declared class enemies and devious fake friends. In spite of everything, we claim the task and the honour of holding the flag of the only proletarian internationalism, the one without other “adjectives”, without compromises or concessions. We wield the red flag of the only war to whose call we can respond “present!”: the war of the exploited against the exploiters, the war against the war of capital and imperialism, against all the raiders involved in this further partition between the bourgeoisies. It is the only way to make our contribution to keeping hope alive, to ensuring that the crucial alternative – socialism or barbarism – is still open, capable of resolving itself in a great movement for the liberation of the working class and of all humanity.
February 23, 2022
Prospettiva Marxista – Circolo internazionalista “coalizione operaia”