Friday, 30 September 2005

Doves of Prey

In consideration of the recent “anti-war” protests in Washington, Christopher Hitchens decries the involvement of militant leftist groups that portray themselves as pacifists, and he castigates the press for being complicit in this description:
To be against war and militarism, in the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, is one thing. But to have a record of consistent support for war and militarism, from the Red Army in Eastern Europe to the Serbian ethnic cleansers and the Taliban, is quite another. It is really a disgrace that the liberal press refers to such enemies of liberalism as ‘antiwar’ when in reality they are straight-out pro-war, but on the other side [1].
Of these groups, Mr Hitchens censures in particular the Answer Coalition, a front-organisation of the Workers’ World Party, which, he tells us, is “the product of a split within the Trotskyist movement . . . the ones who felt that the Trotskyist majority, in 1956, was wrong to denounce the Russian invasion of Hungary” [2].
.....Mr Hitchens describes himself as an ex-Trotskyist, though judging by his recent hagiography of the eponymous “old man”, one should not assume that this self-description amounts to a full apostasy from the faith. With such intimate knowledge as he possesses, therefore, Mr Hitchens should not be surprised to find that Trotskyists pursue their ends by any means – whether by terrorism, war or the watchword of peace; for they follow the example as set by their founder:
[T]he revolution does require of the revolutionary class that it should attain its end by all methods at its disposal—if necessary, by an armed rising: if required, by terrorism [3].

The watchword of peace undoubtedly played an enormous part in our struggle; but precisely because it was directed against the imperialist war. The idea of peace was supported most strongly of all, not by the tired soldiers, but by the foremost workers, for whom it had the import, not for a rest, but of a pitiless struggle against the exploiters. It was those same workers who, under the watchword of peace, laterlaid down their lives on the Soviet fronts [4].
Mr Hitchens gives us to understand that there is a wholly different tradition of opposing war and militarism, at odds with this Trotskyite sham, namely that of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht; for they too directed their energies against the “imperialist” First World War; and if we were to be lured by the words of Mr Hitchens, we should think this opposition was in the spirit of principled pacifism and jolly picnics. It was not so, however:
Karl Liebknecht: Seize the quarters of your officers; disarm them immediately. Make sure that your officers sympathize with you. In case they do so, let them lead you. Shoot them immediately in case they betray you after they have declared themselves supporters of your cause.
.....Soldiers and marines! Fraternize! Take possession of your ships. Overpower first your officers. Place yourselves in communication with your comrades on land and seize all harbours and open fire, if necessary, on loyal groups [5].

Rosa Luxemburg: It is only the overcoming of war and the speediest possible enforcement of peace by the international militancy of the proletariat that can bring victory to the workers' cause [6].
Being against war and militarism in this tradition appears little different from being thereagainst in the tradition of the Trotskyists; for both traditions use pacifism as an expedience towards the fulfilment of the socialist state, and both are prepared to use ruthless militancy towards this end, should circumstances allow it. To paraphrase Mr Hitchens, I should say that it is a disgrace of definition that anyone could refer to such enemies of liberalism as “antiwar” when in reality they are straight-out pro-war, but on the other side.
.....It is no wonder that these traditions appear as one, however; for they are but strands in the poisonous tangle of Marxism, in whose very roots the meanings of peace, terror, militancy and principle are twisted. Engels, for instance, tells us that “[a]n end to wars, peace among the nations, the cessation of pillaging and violence - such is our ideal”[7], but also that “[t]he war of the poor against the rich will be the bloodiest ever waged” [8] and that “[t]he next world war will not only cause reactionary classes and dynasties to disappear from the face of the earth, but also entire reactionary peoples. And that too is an advance” [9]. Marx tells us that “there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terrorism” [10]. Lenin, for his part, is quite plain about the need for Marxists to be open to all expedient means by which socialism might be attained:
Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognises the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not “concoct” them, but only generalises, organises, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement. Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class-consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack. Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle [11].
It troubles me, therefore, that while Mr Hitchens finds it disgraceful for the liberal press to be complicit in false descriptions, he finds no similar disgrace in describing Leon Trotsky, Marxist-Leninist, founder of the Red Army, butcher of Kronstadt, and apologist for terrorism, as a “prophetic moralist” [12]; moreover, that he feels no shame in trying to slip us the lie that Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht stand in a different tradition. It is no wonder that Mr Hitchens wakes up every day “to a sensation of pervading disgust” [13]; for the stench of his own hypocrisy must be quite strong.
[1] Christopher Hitchens, “Anti-War, My Foot: The Phony Peaceniks who Protested in WashingtonSlate. 26th September 2005.
[2] ibid.
[3] Leon Trotsky, Dictatorship versus Democracy: A Reply to Karl Krautsky, 1922. Chapter 4. (English Translation of the Workers Party of America. Published online at The Leon Trotsky Internet Archives.)
[4] ibid., Ch. 7.
[5] Karl Liebknecht, “Call for Revolution” 1st November 1918, Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni, 1923. Online at (Primary Documents)
[6] Rosa Luxemburg, “The War and the Workers”, The Junius Pamphlet, 1916.
[7] Friedrich Engels, Letter to August Bebel, London, 13th Sept. 1886, Marx & Engels: Collected Works, Vol.47, p.487. Quoted online at the website of the Communist Party USA.
[8]. Friedrich Engels, The Conditions of the Working Class in England, Leipzig 1845 (Panther Edition, 1969, from text provided by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, Moscow), online at Ch. 13.
[9] Friedrich Engels, “The Magyar Struggle”, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 194, 13th January 1849. Online at
[10] Karl Marx, “The Victory of the Counter-Revolution in Vienna”, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 136, 6th November 1848.Translated by the Marx-Engels Institute. Online at
[11] V.I. Lenin, “Guerrilla Warfare”, Proletary, No. 5, September 30, 1906. Republished in Lenin: Collected Works, Vol. 11. Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965. p. 213. Online at
[12] Christopher Hitchens, “The Old Man”, The Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2004.
[13] Christopher Hitchens, Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays, Atlantic Books, 2004.


Anonymous said...

Maybe they are pacifists in the sense Clausewitz described: "The conqueror is always a lover of peace; he would prefer to take over our country unopposed."

They also seem to have an excessive enthusiasm for slaughtering their opponents once they've surrendered: the Kronstadt "mutineers" in the case of Trotsky; the entire Cambodian army in the case of Pol Pot. They probably claim "in the class war there must be no Geneva Convention", or some such glib justification. No way are they common or garden bloodthirsty maniacs...

dearieme said...

Marxists for Peace is rather like Christians for Sin.