The No War but the Class War Initiative

The following document was agreed by the International Bureau of the ICT on 21 May. There is nothing like an imperialist war for revealing the real class basis of a political framework, and the invasion of Ukraine has certainly done that. The response of the Capitalist Left (Stalinists, Maoists, Trotskyists, etc.) has either been outright support for one or the other of the imperialist fronts (NATO or Russia), or a fake pacifism which hides the same positions. It has deeply divided anarchism between true internationalists who materially identify with the working class, and moralist defenders of the “independence of Ukraine” who cannot see that behind Ukraine stands NATO, and the losers are the working class everywhere. The pro-Ukraine anarchists cannot see that this war is in Ukraine but not just about Ukraine. For them it is simply about a bigger power taking over a smaller power, when in fact it is the latest round of a crisis-ridden system’s developing global conflict which will engulf not only the present actors but the entire world as the real fight for hegemony between China and the USA deepens. The suffering of Ukraine follows similar conflicts further afield, but this one indicates that the options for global capitalism have narrowed as the stagnation of the system has no clear economic solution.

The Communist Left across the world has remained solidly behind the international interests of the working class and denounced this war for what it is. For our part, the ICT has taken the internationalist position a stage further by trying to work with other internationalists who can see the dangers for the world working class if it does not get organised. This is why we have joined in with the initiative to develop committees at a local level across the world to organise a response to what capitalism is preparing for workers everywhere. We are only at the start of this work and not all internationalists have yet joined it. Many have not understood what is at stake and some have not understood that we need to pave the way to practical organisation now while we still can and before it is too late. The following document is not only a balance sheet of what we have experienced after one year of No War but the Class War (NWBCW), it is also a clarification of what it is about and hopefully will go some way to banishing doubts and misunderstandings.

What It Is and What It Is Not

Before the war in Ukraine started we were warning that new imperialist tensions were already growing across the world.(1) Two months later the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, and everything that has happened since has only confirmed our original analysis that this is not just about Ukraine but about the threat of generalised war. Fifteen months on, the current war has only deepened the fault lines in the global capitalist order.(2)

It has led to an open conflict between the USA and its allies against Russia. This followed the USA arming Ukraine from 2014 on, in response to the Russian seizure of Crimea and the setting up of pro-Russian entities in Luhansk and Donetsk. This programme of rearmament became a serious threat to the separatist provinces, and led to the invasion, which in turn has led to even more Western weapons arriving in Ukraine to bolster its resistance. As we have written elsewhere, this has unleashed a new and unstoppable arms race which is not confined to this theatre of war.(3) The USA has missed no opportunity to condemn the ambitions of China and both sides have stepped up hostile manoeuvres in the South China Sea. And whilst Putin has united the West in NATO, the sanctions regime against the regimes in Russia, China and Iran has driven them all closer together.

The war in Ukraine has thus become a defining moment which threatens to become critical for humanity. Given that workers are the only class which has the global presence and the ultimate power to stop the headlong drive into the abyss that capitalism is engaged in, it is time to try to raise the political awareness of workers everywhere as to what the stakes are. Lower living standards today are only the warm-up act for the heavier blow of generalised imperialist war tomorrow. The working class for the last four decades has been a class to whom history has just happened. It needs to transform itself from the object of capitalist games into the subject of a struggle for a new society. This was why, in April last year, the ICT launched its appeal(4) for genuine internationalists in all political organisations, or none, to form local committees under the banner of NWBCW. The first local committee made up of CWO members and others, whether in organisations or not, was formed in Liverpool in March last year(5) on the basis of the five principles below:

  • 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.

Since then a number of committees have been formed on a similar basis in places across the world including Glasgow, Paris, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Miami, Turkey and South Korea, some with ICT members and some without. To have seen so many arising so quickly was very heartening but we are not deluding ourselves that all we are building here is anything more than a framework for an international intervention. As we wrote in our original appeal we have a longer view:

It is inevitable that ... some workers will come to recognise the dead-end of capitalist existence before others. It is imperative that the former organise politically on an international level in order to offer a clear way forward. This will not come about immediately, especially not after decades of decline in workers’ struggles in the face of the capitalist onslaught. However, the situation today in Ukraine is a warning of what governments have in store for workers everywhere and we need to respond, not only to daily exploitation, but to the political plans of “our” leaders. In the current situation of humanitarian disaster we have no illusion that a movement of the class can arise soon, even if history has now taken a new and desperate turn. We need to build something together opposed to both exploitation and war. Even if the current crisis in Ukraine ends up in some patched up deal, this will only sow the seeds for the next round of imperialist conflict.(6)

We were also aware that any new initiative would face new problems and that setbacks would be inevitable. The first problem came from the fake internationalism of various opportunists of the Capitalist Left (Stalinists, Maoists, Trotskyists, etc.) who will adorn their documents with NWBCW images or slogans but emptied of any internationalist content.(7) They are flying “under a false flag” (ours!) but can only do so by hiding their real politics which is to support the “underdog imperialism” of “oppressed peoples” (in short, nationalist struggles) or any state opposed to the USA. There is no nation or national struggle which the working class can support today.

The second problem has been those who signed up to NWBCW without understanding what it really was about, or rather, who saw it as the extension of their previous radical reformist activity. This happened in both Portland and Rome(8) where certain elements saw NWBCW as something to immediately mobilise a class which was still recovering from four decades of retreat, and which was only just beginning to find its feet in the fight against inflation. Their immediatist and ultra-activist perspective only led to the demise of those committees.

Nor is NWBCW anything like the factory groups of the original Internationalist Communist Party (PCInt) conception in the 1940s. These were, and are, organisations made up of members and close sympathisers of the PCInt. They were originally called “union factory groups” because they were designed to fight politically inside the unions, which by this time had been integrated into the state apparatus to institutionalise the wage fight, and keep it within the bounds of capitalist legality. Unions had by then long since ceased to be “schools of socialism” (Marx) and now had become managers of negotiations with the exploiters, always within the legal bounds the state used to constrain any strike movementt. Any permanent economic organisation of the class was therefore doomed to become just another arm of the existing status quo (which is why rank and file unions also end up going down the same road in the end). However, millions of workers were enrolled in them and this could not be ignored. The solution was to politically and organisationally oppose them in the factory in these groups. They thus became the weapons of the PCInt in the struggle. They were not attempts to organise the class but attempts to organise communists in the class, in resistance to the conformism of the unions. In the 1980s the restructuring of industry and the new composition of the class led to the idea of workers in different workplaces coming together in “territorial” groups where the possibility of organisation was greater.

But these were, and are, tools of the PCInt (and by extension the ICT). NWBCW is not in the same category as it is not confined to ICT members but tries to bring together internationalists from different traditions to build an international network of committees to organise and propagandise against the effects of the capitalist crisis in all its aspects. Its task is thus to link today’s fall in the standard of living to the future threat of a more general war. NWBCW will face practical problems (and as we have noted, already has had them in some places) and groups will rise and fall, but our commitment as internationalists to it as a long term perspective will not change. As we have said many times before, NWBCW will only take proper shape as part of a larger class movement.

NWBCW committees are also not simple struggle groups since these arise from particular struggles in the workplace. The latter are organs created in the struggle for the struggle and are open to all. They are not created from above, they have no membership cards, no platform, or even a list of basic points of agreement (like those of the NWBCW committees). They are open to every worker and those who want to take part in the struggle. They are like other unitary organs of the class such as mass meetings, strike committees, workers’ councils, etc. They are organs within which those seeking to expose the capitalist system have to fight, to widen the basis of the struggle.

One of the problems of workers’ struggles currently is that they are episodic (a struggle now here, now there) and when the struggle in a particular section dies down they disappear. NWBCW can offer a longer term purpose by focussing on the bigger picture of where capitalism is taking us. NWBCW is an attempt to build a wider initiative (while we are still free to do so) in the sense that it reaches out to other internationalists to build a network in anticipation of wider struggles to come (and it won't really take off unless, and until, they arrive).

NWBCW is thus openly political, and some comrades have compared it to the anti-war and anti-capitalist spirit of the Zimmerwald Left of 1915. This arose in opposition to the main Zimmerwald Manifesto which did not mention that the fight against war was also a fight against the system that engendered imperialist wars. We can thus say that NWBCW shares this aspect of the Zimmerwald Left (which would later become the basis in 1919 for the foundation of the Third International). However, we should not carry this historical comparison too far, as the context in which we operate is vastly different to our ancestors at Zimmerwald over a century ago. Back then, the First World War had been going for almost a year when socialists met at Zimmerwald. They were trying to repair the damage done by the betrayal of the Second International’s social democratic parties leadership which had largely supported their “own” governments (with only the Russian, Polish, Bulgarian and Serbian parties calling for a revolutionary opposition to the war). That betrayal was all the more massive because the Second International at the time regrouped millions of workers across the world, and had passed resolution after resolution that it would prevent imperialist war by striking against it everywhere. Today our task is not to try to give a new lead to a decrepit movement, but to bring an old and tested working class anti-war position to any new movement that does arise.

It is clear that not all internationalists yet understand the seriousness of the current path capitalism has embarked on, and remain stuck in the polemics of the past. As a result they have deeply misunderstood what NWBCW stands for. We don’t doubt their sincerity as internationalists, and thus will not respond to their polemics which are the same old ones we have heard so often. There are some issues on which we have to agree to disagree if we are to forge a real anti-capitalist movement for the future and trust to material reality bringing revolutionaries together as we face an increasingly desperate system.

At the same time, NWBCW is not a regroupment scheme as it does not ask for total political agreement but just an internationalist position as per the five points above (which recognises that NO state anywhere can be supported whether it is a great imperialist power or a wannabe underdog imperialist country – they are all fighting for a national stake in the global capitalist order). Obviously we understand that participation in a positive movement with a clear aim will stimulate political discussion and encourage exchanges which enlarge and deepen the movement but the question of political regroupment in a future international will only arise once a real class movement has started, and that is not in our gift. Only a wider class movement will pose new challenges to revolutionaries and render past differences obsolete – this will then potentially pave the way for a more fruitful political process which will see internationalists working towards the creation of a cohesive international organisation capable of providing programmatic guidance in the class war against a system that has long since lost its usefulness. It is thus not only an initiative for the here and now but an orientation for the whole period to come.

However, for the ICT, NWBCW is, in one sense, part of our tradition. It is in line with the Appeal for a United Proletarian Front the PCInt put out in 1944.(9) It was open to all "proletarian and non-party political formations" who accepted the internationalist position of opposing both sides in the Second World War. It concluded with two basic organisational provisions:

  1. On the basis of these positions, workers (what political label they use does not matter) should spread the call of our party, and, having debated and clarified and accepted the ideas which are its justification, they should make themselves the initiators of the first contacts and the first organic groupings in the workplace. After all, the workers have clearly demonstrated that they are now masters in the art of organising themselves in defiance of the bosses and their fascist servants. The workers’ united front brings together and cements the forces destined to fight on the class barricades against the war and its leading political forces, both fascist and democratic.
  2. Its greatest and most urgent task is to prevent workers from being plagued by war propaganda, to unmask imperialist agents disguised as revolutionaries, and to prevent the spirit of struggle and sacrifice that animates the proletariat from being exploited for the aims of the war and its continuation, even under the banner of democratic freedom.

Today No War but the Class War makes the same appeal to all genuine internationalists who can accept the five basic positions at the top of this article to set up their own committees, or join existing ones, so we can build a fight against all the threats the trajectory of capitalism poses to our continued existence.

International Bureau of the Internationalist Communist Tendency
May 2023


(1) See: Ukraine and Taiwan: Flashpoints in an Uncertain Imperialist World

(2) The latest expression is in the 2023 May Day Statement of the ICT but there are many other articles on our site such as this one from our North American comrades: US Ramps Up Anti-Chinese Aggression Amidst Maneuvers Over Ukraine

(3) See: One Year Since the Invasion of Ukraine: On the Road to World War Three?

(4) Our original appeal is here: No War but the Class War - A Call for Action

(5) See: No War but the Class War: Statement from NWBCW Liverpool

(6) See: No War but the Class War - A Call for Action

(7) A classic though more sophisticated example from Italy is this one: No to Imperialist War. But in Britain the Stalinist YCL will also sometimes use it even though their position is entirely pacifist and does not link the fight against war to the fight against capitalism (at the same time avoiding criticism of Russian imperialism).

(8) A fuller account of the Rome Committee is to be found at: Sul Comitato di Roma NWBCW: un'intervista

(9) See: 1944 Appeal of the Internationalist Communist Party for the Creation of a United Proletarian Front Against the War

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

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