Against Pacifism, For Revolutionary Defeatism!

Only a bourgeois who believes that a war started by the governments must necessarily end as a war between governments and wants it to end as such, can regard as “ridiculous” and “absurd” the idea that the Socialists of all the belligerent countries should wish for the defeat of all “their” governments and express this wish. On the contrary, it is precisely a statement of this kind that would conform to the cherished thoughts of every class-conscious worker, and would be in line with our activities towards converting the imperialist war into civil war.

V. I. Lenin, Socialism and War, 1915

It has been more than a year since Russia invaded Ukraine. Thousands of bodies litter the landscape as the war machine is in full swing on both sides. As the US and NATO continue funneling money into Ukraine, and as Russia maintains the offensive, workers are facing an escalation of conflict creeping up slowly around the world. China’s sabre-rattling of Taiwan, Nigeria’s plans to invade Niger, as well as the recent firefights between Armenia and Azerbaijan all spell doom for the world and the working class. And yet, despite bourgeois in-fighting, workers remain determined to cling onto nationalism, whether it be in the form of agitating for the armament of Ukraine, or for seeking peace via diplomacy with Russia. Both of these positions – defencism being the former, pacifism the latter – bargain on the level of conceding to the bourgeois state, and as shown to us time and time again, provide nothing for the workers but their continued subjugation to the dying system of capitalism.

But pacifism aims to promote peace! Diplomacy and de-escalation are meant to draw leaders of the world against this madness and towards demilitarisation! Except that at no point in history has this ever done away with the latent tendency towards imperialism – towards the accumulation of capital becoming so gluttonous that the only way to create more value when the ensemble production of the world is not enough, is to destroy it – through bombs, guns, and fire. Ever since World War I, pacifism has been nothing but the moral reflex of the bourgeoisie towards the preservation of their system, providing a sigh of regret to relieve the workers who are forced under threat of death to march to the front. Just as it fragmented true revolutionary organization of the workers then, so too does it rear its ugly head today.

Instead, there is only one clear alternative, one clear solution to this madness that continues to grip the world. Workers around the globe must assemble on an international platform and mobilise for the defeat of their nations as part of their revolutionary objective to overthrow capitalism once and for all! Workers must agitate against domestic war efforts through the combined strategy of strikes, stoppages, and slowdowns. Workers in Russia taking to the streets can cease the rain of hell upon their Ukranian comrades, but only if those Ukrainian workers do the same in turn, alongside workers in China, Taiwan, Niger, Nigeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc. As the Bolshevik Revolution has shown us, only the mass organisation of the working class can provide an effective opposition to war. In the same breath, its failures demonstrate the need for international cooperation, for any localized revolution will be doomed to fail.

Pacifism and defencism therefore grease the wheels of the bourgeois war machinery. If workers opt to pick their nation as the righteous one, the one for which they will march in step to fight for or to act as the diplomatic arm for, then all such efforts will yield nothing but disillusionment and their own destruction. As long as workers remain isolated, then no platform of revolutionary defeatism will ever take hold, and as such a necessary step is for workers to oppose pacifism and defencism. Neither NATO nor Russia, No War But The Class War!

Sunday, March 10, 2024


The desire for the defeat of one's own side at the hands of the other never really stirred any great enthusiasm in me. One side wins, one side loses, hardly seeems to be much to celebrate. NWBCW is not really about such an outcome, it is universally relevant, it is the universal call for building a global revolutionary reference point against war and the world wide system that spawns it. It does not depend on military success or failure of any particular faction of the ruling class. Do we really want X or Y capitalist mafia to come out on top? Not really, we want to bury capitalism everywhere as the only way out of the trajectory to the next round of imperialist war. I ask if the formulation of revolutionary defeatism is one we need to maintain. Lenin and the myth of revolutionary defeatism by Hal Draper | Workers' Liberty (

Hal Draper is always worth reading even if you don't agree with him but Workers' Liberty are going to be against "revolutionary defeatism" at any price since they support Ukraine in the current war. You should take more care with the sources you quote.

Try again...I notice that often times you read into my quoting a form of support, but I am not necessarily endorsing the source. In my mind, quoting FT/Guardian/BBC is not saying they are oracles of truth, similarly the Hal Draper artcle. Another issue, when I copied and pasted the source URL this would not replicate here. As you can see it came out as ...Lenin and the myth of revolutionary defeatism by Hal Draper | Workers' Liberty ( is not the same as what I copied. Unsure if you can see what I mean, but the original source was an URL. Hal Draper: The Myth of Lenin's "Revolutionary Defeatism" (1953/54) ( For example this link i have just pasted still varies from the original I just copied, yet does not mention Workers Liberty. I get the sensitivity re Stalino-Trotskyist sources, but again, a quote is not necessarily support. In this case I know othes have spoke about Drapers' work positively, I had no intention to even mention WL.

However, I think that the point is being missed here. The original article in my appraisal was uncritical about the defeatist position which to me is advocating a form of taking sides. So the issue remains, am I wrong to question the validity of such a formulation which seems to contradict our lack of support for any imperialist bloc or capitalist regime, or faction in or out of power; a fundamental plank of any revolutionary organisation which may aise in the future as today's potential revolutionaries wrestle with all the formulations which tie the working class to class society.

if any point is being missed it is your fault for introducing the views of those who do not share either your view or mine. AWL (Workers' Liberty) like Draper because they share his "Third Camp Trotskyist" view but the article is not about them or us - it is Draper debunking what he considers are all the myths Zinoviev put around about Lenin being the only anti -war revolutionary defeatist. As such it may have scholastic merit but is of no interest to us today. "Revolutionary defeatism" is a short-hand term for turning the imperialist war into a civil war but even in the Bolshevik Party in Russia Lenin had to spell out what that meant. Not only was it not just about the "defeat of one's own country" but about an international movement that would encompass all countries. When Shylyapnikov, who supported Lenin's internationalist position before he had even become aware of it, worried that it would mean only support for Germany. Lenin wrote to him that "the slogan must be changing the national war into civil war. (This may take a long time, it may and will demand a number of preliminary conditions, but the workj must be conducted along the line of such a change, in this spirit and this direction.) Not the sabotaging of the war, not undertaking sproadica indivuidual acts in thus direction, but the conduting of mass propaganda (and not only among “civilians”) that leads to the transformation of the war into a civil war." (Lenin's CW Vol XVIII p. 74 (1930 edition) You can find the full letter at but this older translation is clearer. Shlyapnikov agreed but still wondered how to make the idea "disgestible for the masses" (Barbara C Allen Alexander Shlyapnikov p.57). At the time (October 1914) it was almost academic as the Bolsheviks' entire Petersburg Committee (riddled with Okhrana spies) had already been arrested and a lot of the intelligentsy had disappeared on the outbreak of war so they had no-one left in Russia to write a leaflet (Shlyapnikov being out of the country too). In the end they began a long campaign against the war and its effects on the working class and the slogan used in most leaflets was "Down with the War!" (not just the paficist "no war" that we see amongst some (admittedly brave) Russians today). These played their part in 1917 (as it says in the Russian Revolution book). How the policy can be translated into practice has to be the nub of our discussion too. And it is, as you appear to be arguing, not so simple. We have already seen Stalinists arguing that they are following Lenin over Ukraine when they are really calling for the defeat of NATO and support for Russia they are just giving us one more example of fake internationalism which Dyjbas has already denounced on this site ( You also see it in some direct action outside Israeli arms factories in the UK by those who support Palestinian nationalism. However none of these are what the struggle is really about - and this is the preparation and propaganda for a class war against all nationalisms. I think you agree with that but citing sources that have other purposes in mind by those who actually support one side in the current conflicts now spreading across the planet can only confuse rather than clarify.

I thought I explained the WL bit, something about the tech on this page does not allow the posting of URLs. So reference to WL was not originally intended. but for the sake of clarity, it would have been better simply to write my piece and make no referece to Draper/WL which served no purpose other that further reading exploring the issue without being directly crucial.

As I see it there are possibly a couple of related ideas here. Firstly that it is better to kick the socialist process off where we are. Well, I would doubt that it would be better to initiate the process in many areas of the world rather than say USA or Europe, if indeed there is a direct link between a military defeat and the success of proletarian revolution.

I cannot see that any formulation based on defeat/victory has anything to contribute. Turning imperialist war into civil war does not require victory or defeat. And even if it does, there is no advantage in wishing any particular side be defeated ("one's own"). To me the revolutionary element - oppose war with revolution - does not require any particular outcome in terms of victory or defeat. Presumably if we follow such a line, revolutionaries on both sides are to be wishing the other side wins? Just as (I think Marx wrote) a sale is simultaneously a purchase...a defeat is simultaneously a victory, so if we have a global organisation, some of us are supporting one side's victory, some of us the other side's victory, yet we are all supposedly part of one organisation. I mean was not the historic original idea to make revolution in case war is declared? Not won or lost, simply started?

But if you think otherwise I am all ears, I do not doubt you are taking an internationalist position, but as I say "revolutionary defeatism" unless it means other than defeat/victory is not it.

Yes, Fight and Strike Against War: But Against All Capitalist Factions! sounds right.

It is not the technology that's the problem. What you wanted to refer to had no bearing on our discussion (and took us into someone else's discussion which was not even a class position) which is about how you implement an internationalist policy in the face of imperialist war. I tried to show (via the reality of Russian propaganda) that revolutionary defeatism may be the name given to the policy but it has to be implemented in a way that can make sense. You seem to think "revolutionary defeatism" is just defeatism - Lenin explained that it was not and only works at an international level which was why the Zimmerwald Left took the position it did.

I do not doubt the sincerity of your internationalist position. You may need a hammer and chisel here but I see no reason to speak of revolutionary defeatism if all we are taking about is revolution and defeatism is not relevant.

What do you make of the initial Lenin quote in the article? To me it is setting out the case for defeatism.

Turn the imperialist war into a civil war seems very different to "better that the enemy of our ruling class wins".

If defeat in war is not desired, then why not simply advocate revolution?

If that is the meaning of defeatusm - that the revolution topples the ruling class - then that is one thing, and that seems to me to be the marxist position.

If defeatism simply means prefering the opposing force wins, that is a different matter.

It seems to me that the call to support national liberation struggles follows the logic of the latter - a military defeat without revolution. But perhaps I am wandering off on a tangent...“Parties in countries whose bourgeoisie possess colonies and oppress other nations must pursue a most well-defined and clear-cut policy in respect of colonies and oppressed nations. Any party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists of its “own” country, must support—in deed, not merely in word—every colonial liberation movement, demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies, inculcate in the hearts of the workers of its own country an attitude of true brotherhood with the working population of the colonies and the oppressed nations, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples.”

I always assumed that defeatism referred to the immediate struggle to bring the war to an end. We can place the debates and slogans in their time and place. I will defer to Cleishbotham on the scholastics of Russian history. It is worth recalling that these debates occurred within social democracy, an international movement based on national workers' parties and national trade union federations. Any recourse to a 'national' perspective can be understood in the context that existed back then. We are not bound by a context that no longer exists.

The problem revolutionaries face today is different. The whole basis of revolutionary defeatism is based on the existence of an international movement that is pulling in the same direction, to end the wars and fight for a communist society, but sadly does not exist at the moment. This is what we want to see develop.

We have seen some small proletarian responses to the war: sabotage of recruitment centres, desertion, and the protest of soldiers' spouses and families. We can only swim in the stream provided by a wider movement of the class. We live in hope!

Tentatively I am going to say that in reality what revolutionaries face today is essentially the same and we are more aware of it. There is no national path on offer. Neither for revolutionary organisation nor for any actual revolution. Here I think I am on uncertain terrain, but the point seems to be that any initial revolutionary epicentre has very little time without escalation of the revolution and one way or another will go under.

No doubt war is a sharp expression of capitalism's contradictions, but we need no special line. Revolutionaries advocate revolution, the circumstances impact on the proletariat's receptiveness to the message. In all circumstance the revolutionaries support no bourgeois formation, in power or otherwise, in "peace", in war, in times of class quiet, in times of high struggle, the revolutionary position is prepare for revolution, organise for revolution, propagate revolution.

Thansk Android

You have hit the target with this comment

"The problem revolutionaries face today is different. The whole basis of revolutionary defeatism is based on the existence of an international movement that is pulling in the same direction, to end the wars and fight for a communist society, but sadly does not exist at the moment. This is what we want to see develop." This is why a Zimmerwald-type declaration made by loads of tiny groups is no longer enough (even if we all agreed on the internationalist content). We need to build ssomehting a lot more concrete than we have now. Local committees which bring all those who stand for an independent working class struggle against war and is genuinely internationalist (as opposed to all the twisted fakery of the Stalinists etc) may be a step forward (and although we have supported NWBCW we are not going to get hung up on the label). The collapse of Social Democracy in 1914 was such an enormous blow that its echoes still carry down the century and keep reviving in this or that reactionary support for supposed liberated areas that will only truly be liberated when we all are - from the nightmare that is capitalism today. How we translate revolutioonary defeatism into action acros the world working class is what the debate should be about, not about whether it is needed or not.

"How we translate revolutioonary defeatism into action acros the world working class is what the debate should be about, not about whether it is needed or not."One thought - despite the apparently radical veneer of the "Basle Congress in 1912, opposed the coming war as “an imperialist war” against which “the workers of all countries should set the force of the international solidarity of the proletariat.” and Lenin's enthusiasm: "Up until 1914, Lenin had paid homage to the German SPD as the “model of revolutionary social democracy” it strikes me that this in fact complements the reformist reality of the leading light of the Second International. "However, the Socialist International had been born in a period of upswing of capitalism. The tops of the movement came under the pressures of capitalism, which had a deeply corrosive effect, pushing the leadership in an increasingly reformist direction. While the leaders of the trade unions and the party began to accommodate themselves to the day-to-day struggle over reforms, the socialist revolution was put off into the distant future. These alien pressures began to reflect themselves through class compromise and adaption. The top layers in the unions and in parliament, raising themselves above the masses, increasingly adapted themselves to this new environment. While espousing the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and “proletarian internationalism” in words, in practice they had gone over to the nation state and reformism." By making a special case for war, by making war the condition for revolution, was the SDP at the same time making the case against revolution in times of "peace"? This has no marxist foundation as far as I know. Maybe just a speculative thought, and I think the formula of NWBTCW does not necessarily make revolution dependent on war or any military outcome.

Mutiny / Mutinerie

Mutiny is the bulletin of Klasbatalo. Mutinerie est le bulletin de Klasbatalo.