Revolutionary Defeatism Today: Some Questions Answered

In preparation for a public debate they are organising, the Péntek esti kísértetjárás collective in Hungary has sent us a set of question about revolutionary defeatism. We share our answers here, as they are a concise elaboration of our perspectives for today.

1. According to you, what is the relevance of revolutionary defeatism today?

The war in Ukraine, and now the war in Gaza, has brought the question of how revolutionaries respond to war to the foreground. To us, the answer is clear: proletarian internationalism, revolutionary defeatism, no war but the class war!

We live in the epoch of imperialism. Capitalism is now a global system and wars are a means for the redivision of the world and its resources among the great powers. In times of economic crisis, as competition between capitalist states intensifies, military solutions become the preferred approach. The destruction of capital that wars bring also has the potential to restore profitability to the system. 50 years after the end of the economic boom that followed the Second World War, the ruling class is running out of options and capitalism needs a new lifeline. It is in this context that we are seeing the formation of alliances of convenience, behind which plays out the clash between the USA and China for world supremacy.

No national project can escape this framework. "The small nations, the ruling classes of which are the accomplices of their partners in the big states, constitute only the pawns on the imperialist chessboard of the great powers, and are used by them, just like their own working masses, in wartime, as instruments, to be sacrificed to capitalist interests after the war." (R. Luxemburg) As such, any talk of national liberation, of the right of nations to self-determination, is now a historical oxymoron. Revolutionary defeatism, by which we mean opposing imperialist war with class war, is as relevant today as it was a century ago.

2. How can we apply it in the countries of capitalist war and peace?

Internationalist activity – agitation, propaganda, intervention in the class struggle, etc. – is, for obvious reasons, much more difficult in times of war than in times of peace. This is why internationalists need to get organised in the here and now and not wait until it is too late.

There are different constraints in terms of what is possible in times of war and in times of peace, but the need for an internationalist organisation to exist as a revolutionary reference point to the wider working class is a constant. The history of our political tendency provides some examples. In the darkest period of the Second World War, in exile and in prisons, our political ancestors remained in touch, and when the time was right, they were able to form the Internationalist Communist Party (PCInt) and intervene in the mass strikes that broke out in Italy in 1943. It was the only organisation formed in the war to oppose both imperialist blocs and certainly among the few that did not betray working class interests.

3. How can it get out from the “bubble” of the milieu of the movement groups? How can it be a common practice of the proletariat today?

We can't wave a magic wand and suddenly attract the masses, especially after almost a century of Stalinist counter-revolution and four decades of class retreat in the face of capitalist restructuring. In the recent strikes against austerity around the world there are signs that the worm is beginning to turn. However, revolutionary workers scattered around the world in tiny organisations who oppose the social democratic lies of the left wing of capitalism (from Stalinists, Maoists and Trotskyists) still have a mountain to climb. Our message may largely fall on deaf ears now, just as the anti-war message of the Zimmerwald Left did in 1915 but the direct and indirect consequences of imperialist war and capitalist crisis will over time make it relevant to wider and wider layers of workers.

In the meantime we need to draw together all genuine proletarian forces who understand the lesson that only the working class by its own efforts can save humanity from devastation whether via imperialist war or climate change (whatever other differences they have historically had). The situation is too critical for useless polemics. We need to organise together to be ready to present to the future class movement a coherent response to both declining living standards and the threat to life on Earth itself. This is why the ICT has launched the No War but the Class War (NWBCW) initiative, which seeks to encourage the formation of local committees of internationalists from different political tendencies. The hope is to set a precedent now for how we can relate positively both to each other and to the working class at large. We have suggested the following five principles as a starting point for joint activity:

  • Against capitalism, imperialism and all nationalisms. No support for any national capitals, “lesser evils”, or states in formation.
  • For a society where states, wage-labour, private property, money and production for profit are replaced by a world of freely associated producers.
  • Against the economic and political attacks that the current war, and the ones to come, will unleash on the working class.
  • For the self-organised struggle of the working class, for the formation of independent strike committees, mass assemblies and workers’ councils.
  • Against oppression and exploitation, for the unity of the working class and the coming together of genuine internationalists.

These committees, where they already exist, have attempted to bring the internationalist message to protests and picket lines, wherever the working class takes up the struggle. We don't expect immediate success, the road ahead is long and there will be many setbacks. But the message has already reached those beyond the narrow confines of our own political tendency, and that's a start.

4. Shall we deliver the message to the proletariat as something “coming from the outside”? Or shall we instead map and investigate ourselves as part of the proletariat, this way creating mutual relationships and organizing ourselves?

Revolutionaries don't come from Mars. Most of us emerge from the ranks of the working class, and it is our lived experience which initially starts us off on our search for an alternative to capitalism. But, of course, "the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas" (K. Marx). As such, in our workplaces and communities at first we inevitably find ourselves in a minority. This makes it all the more important that those of us who have rejected capitalist ideology don't withdraw into isolation. We have to come together in a political organisation, in which we can critically reflect on class struggles of the past and present, and then work towards making revolutionary perspectives more known among wider layers of our class. And that means intervening in all its struggles, trying to link immediate demands to the historical programme of communism. In this sense, communists are the revolutionary element within the class, not "outside" it.

On a historical note, the articulation of communist ideas required the ability to read and write. As such, in capitalism's early days, when working class literacy was very low, that task often (but not always) fell down to individuals coming over from other social layers, who embraced the workers' cause as their own. Today, in much of the world, this is less of a barrier.

5. Can we speak about revolutionary defeatism without communism?

No. We have to be clear that, as long as capitalism exists, wars will continue. Only working class revolution, which completely transforms the international social and economic order, will be able to bring about a world without war. Revolutionary defeatism implies the fight for communism, and it is opposition to imperialist war today – bringing the revolutionary perspective to the wider working class, exposing the links between the drive to war and the economic and political attacks on workers, encouraging the self-organisation of the class struggle, etc. – that helps to create the conditions for the eventual overthrow of the capitalist system.

Internationalist Communist Tendency
10 June 2024
Thursday, June 13, 2024


I queried the idea off hoping for the defeat of a particular side. ( the one in which one operates, one's "own") but as is defined here; "Revolutionary defeatism, by which we mean opposing imperialist war with class war, is as relevant today as it was a century ago" I think it is accurate.