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New International, August 1949


Paul Parisot

The Pacifism of the Masses

A Discussion Article on War and Socialist Policy

(May 1949)


From The New International, Vol. XV No. 6, August 1949, pp. 171–178.
Reprinted from No. 2 of Confrontation Internationale.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Peace is a new idea in the workers’ movement. Until the first years of the twentieth century, no trace of it can be found either in the basic documents or in the great debates of international socialism.

Quite the contrary. The post-1830 revolutionaries, notably Proudhon and Blanqui, inspired by the memories of the wars of the Great Revolution; of Valmy and the Year II, attacked Louis Phillip for his pusillanimous peace policy. War and revolution were intimately interlaced during the entire epoch from 1848 to 1850, during which Engels was a soldier.

The Communist Manifesto leaves even less room for war and peace since it expelled nations, battles, peace treaties, their dates and their heroes from the historical scene and substituted for them classes and class struggles.

Answering the objections which were made or would be made to the Communists, Marx and Engels did not feel the need to answer the accusation of desiring war or of not caring about peace. It is only in the third part of the Manifesto, criticizing petty bourgeois socialism, that Marx and Engels cite “the industrial war of extermination of the nations among themselves,” which according to the irrefutable demonstration of Sismondi, was one of the murderous effects of the machine and the division of labor. That is all there is in the Manifesto so far as war and peace are concerned.

In the preambles to the Statutes of the Workers International Association in 1866 Marx, under the pressure of his comrades, made room for truth, justice, morals, rights and duties but no one asked him to mention peace. Neither the Gotha program, on which Marxists and Lasalleans agreed in Germany in 1875, nor the Marxist program of Eisenach in 1869 speaks of war.

In all these texts, one finds approximately the same words:

Substitution of a popular militia for a standing army. (Eisenach)

The nation in arms. Substitution of a popular militia for a standing army. (Gotha)

Nothing more. In his famous criticism of the Gotha program, Marx does not for a moment treat the question. The Erfurt program, adopted in 1891, and which remained the program of the German Socialists, is, let us grant it, more explicit. It reads:

“... Education for universal military training. Militia in place of standing armies. Only representative bodies should be called upon to decide on war or peace. Settlement of all international conflicts by means of arbitration.”

And Engels does not make the slightest criticism or reservation on that point either in the Critique published in the Neue Zeit or in his letters to Kautsky. With the phrase “settlement of conflicts by means of arbitration,” however, “social pacifism” began to appear.

In the program of the French Workers Party, written by Guesde and Lafargue in 1879, under the dictation of Marx, there is still the same point in the nomenclature of Socialist political demands: Abolition of standing armies and general arming of the people.

When the Franco-German War of 1870 broke out, Marx defined his attitude in an address to the General Council of the International, dated July 23:

“If the German working class allows the present war to lose its strictly defensive character and degenerate into a fight directed against the French people, victory will be as painful as defeat.”

On September 9, in a new address concerning the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, Marx said this:

“The German working class energetically supported a war which it could not prevent; it supported it only for the sake of German independence and to free all Europe from the nightmare of the Second Empire. It is the workers who, together with the peasants, leaving at home their famished families, have furnished the flesh and blood of heroic armies. Decimated during the fighting by the battles, they continue to be decimated by the misery upon their return. They ask nothing but a guarantee which assures them that their sacrifice will not have been in vain, that they have won their freedom, that the victories they won against the Bonapartist armies will not be transformed, as in 1815, into a people’s defeat. As the first of these guarantees, they demand an honorable peace for France and the recognition of the French Republic.”

It can be seen that Marx and the International did not pose these problems as pacifists. On the contrary, they assigned a role to the proletariat in the wars of their times:

One would seek in vain for a chapter of extracts on war and peace in the selected writings of Marx.


What we call war or the fear of war stirred up the workers’ movement only begins with the nineties of the last century. The epoch of imperialism was beginning.

At first, the Marxists took a stand against any specific action and propaganda directed against war and militarism and for peace. That was the position of the Germans on the whole and, in France, Guesde’s position. It is true that the movement began to be concerned about the problems posed by the development of armaments and military training, chauvinism, diplomatic tensions. But it is the anarchists who formulated slogans which were taken over by the trade union movement, then by Gustav Hervé or Eduard Vaillant: Against War, Prepare for Revolution, General Strike Against War, Insurrectionary Strike, etc. And it is the Alemanists, reformists in no way distinguished for being more revolutionary, who are the first in the socialist movement to be concerned about anti-militarist propaganda and specific action against the war danger. (They invented the “soldier’s penny.”)

In What Sense Was Jaurès a Pacifist?

While diplomatic tension was rapidly worsening and intrigues which ultimately led to war were being concluded, the international socialist movement and particularly its French section fought an extremely vigorous campaign against the war. Jaurès lost his life in it. He had been its inspirer and organizer. What was the character of this campaign?

Upon returning from the Stuttgart Congress (1907), Jaurès, whose resolution (presented by Vaillant and himself in the name of the French section of the Workers International – SFIO) had been defeated, presented the decisions of the International Congress at a public meeting at Tivoli Vaux-Hall, endorsing the resolution he had fought against. Jaurès first showed that there was no essential opposition between his own thought and the thought of the left, notably of Lenin, Martov and Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote the last two paragraphs of this resolution. In his speech, Jaurès joined together a kind of pacifism which was current within the International to the conception which the left, had made prevail at the Congress. He declared that it is no longer necessary to try to distinguish between the aggressor government and the attacked.

“The aggressor,” said he, “the enemy of civilization, the enemy of the proletariat, will be the government which refuses arbitration and which will thereby force men into bloody conflicts.”

Such is the pacifist note. It is the note of a Western socialist convinced (and rightly so, we can say after the event) that war will not further the growth of socialism.

Opposed to Jaurès stood the revolutionary Marxists of Central and Western Europe, who saw in war the favorable opportunity for a proletarian uprising, for an overthrow of dynastic, bureaucratic and semi-feudal regimes and who, above all, thought of “utilizing with all their energies the political and economic crises created by war to agitate the deepest popular layers and to precipitate the breakdown of capitalist domination.”

How Jaurès Viewed Workers’ Role

Jaurès commented on this last part of the resolution in the following way:

“And then the International tells you that it is the right, the duty of the proletarians not to waste their energies in the service of a criminal government, but to keep the gun with which these adventurous governments will have armed the people and to use it not to shoot at workers, proletarians on the other side of the border, but to overthrow the criminal government by revolutionary means.”

When war came, in spite of the immense socialist campaign, when chauvinism broke out, Jaurès delivered a speech at Lyon-Vaise which later on was reproduced and secretly distributed by the Internationalists of the Committee for the Resumption of International Relations and whose authenticity the majority, committed to Union Sacrée, tried in vain to refute.

It was now July 25, 1914. From the first, Jaurès called for international worker solidarity:

“... I say that in the present hour we have terrible odds staked against us, against peace, against the lives of men, against which the proletarians of Europe will have to risk supreme efforts of solidarity.”

He showed how secret diplomacy and the system of collective security, of which the Franco-Russian secret treaty was the cornerstone, risked making war inevitable. He then justified as a patriotic attitude the socialist opposition to imperialist adventures, notably against the Moroccan venture.

“In so grave an hour, so full of perils for all of us, or all the fatherlands ... we have been branded as bad Frenchmen and we were those who cared for France.”

With his exact knowledge of the main features of the diplomatic imbroglio from which the war resulted, Jaurès attacked imperialist policy, particularly that of France.

“Each people appears throughout the streets of Europe with their little torch in hand and now here we are with the conflagration.”

He showed how solidarity in crimes makes each imperialist nation incapable of preventing the imperialist crimes of the other:

“The colonial policy of France, the cunning policy of Russia and the brutal will of Austria have contributed to creating this horrible state of things in which we find ourselves. Europe is struggling in the throes of a nightmare.”

But immediately Jaurès added that he still hoped:

“... in spite of all, because of the very enormity of the disaster which threatens us, that at the last minute the governments will regain possession of themselves.”

Is this sheer inconsistency or the sign that Jaurès was convinced that it was impossible for the working class to stop the conflict? It was rather the very imprint of Jaurèsism which expressed the unique role played by the petty bourgeoisie in France under the Third Republic, a role that Jaurès himself emphasized in an introduction to his Parliamentary Speeches:

“... the opportunity to utilize for the sake of the Socialist Party and the Workers’ movement, all the disagreements among the bourgeoisie, all the forces of freedom, or all the chances of less pressure that the democratic and revolutionary tradition of France bequeathed us.”

But Jaurès never stopped there. He was a realistic politician who looked things squarely in the eye. He knew that the chances of preventing war were almost nil. And he launched this sentence which the internationalists, after his death, brandished against the Union Sacrée socialists:

“Citizens, if the tempest should break out, all of us socialists should be concerned to escape as soon as possible from the crime our leaders have committed.”

And he ended with an appeal to the international proletariat and to “this international Socialist Party which represents at this hour the only promise in the storm of a possibility of peace or of a re-establishment of peace.”

His Ideology Not Truly Pacifist

Four days later the Manifesto of the Permanent Administrative Commission (CAP) of the French section of the Workers International was published. Jaurès wrote it. This text was a practical compendium and emphasized the main features of the Vaise speech. The CAP asked the government to assure a procedure of conciliation and mediation, rendered easier by the eagerness of Serbia to grant most of the demands of Austria. It asked the government also to exert pressure on its ally, Russia, in order to dissuade it from an aggressive operation.

These were the precise propositions which represented an attempt on the part of the Socialist Party to direct French policy toward an honorable and peaceful way out. But they were combined with an appeal to the militants and to the working class for a mass campaign whose aim was to intimidate the government, if possible, and prevent its entry into war.

In these texts, written during his last hours, as well as in the whole of his activity, particularly since the 1905 unification, one cannot find a truly pacifist ideology in Jaurès but rather a combination of the parliamentarian means which he accepted and used with an extreme earnestness, and the revolutionary means which he hoped to strengthen and make more efficient without having total and immediate confidence in them.

Leninism and Pacifism

During the war of 1914, among the socialist left, among those who had become the internationalist minority, Lenin developed the resolutions of the international socialist congresses into a theory of the struggle against war. Without attempting to state it or trace back the main stages of the regroupment of the revolutionary socialists from Zimmerwald (September 1915) to the First Congress of the Communist International (March 1919), it is necessary to indicate briefly what the attitude of Lenin and the Third International was in relation to pacifism.

Pacifism established itself in the very course of the war as a political current corresponding to the feelings of wide masses. Max Adler, Marxist of the Kautskian center, asserted as far back as 1915:

“After the war, socialism will become an organized international pacifism or it will not longer exist.”

The harsher and bloodier the sacrifices exacted from the masses became, the more this feeling penetrated a wide zone of the international socialist movement. The growing distinction drawn by the Bolshevik émigré leaders between their position and any concession to socialist pacifism can be followed in the collection of articles published by Lenin and Zinoviev in the Social Democrat between November 1, 1914, and October 1916.

Lenin’s revolutionary defeatism presented itself as the logical development of the extreme positions taken by the international socialist congresses. The proletarian-class struggle had to be pushed to its normal conclusion: the conquest of power. And this without consideration of the eventual military consequences of a transformation of the imperialist war into civil war.

Since any acceptance of national defense under the capitalist regime can only tie the proletarians to the war and divert them from their own revolutionary aims, military defeat resulting from the class struggle is a lesser evil. Through such a defeat the proletariat will be strengthened and will find the opportunity, as in Paris in 1917, to overthrow the bourgeois regime. No concession to the bourgeoisie, to its war, to its national defense – this is revolutionary defeatism.

Zinoviev wrote on the eve of Zimmerwald:

“The debate boils down to a problem of struggle against bourgeois influence in the workers’ movement, within socialism itself.”

He distinguished two positions. The first one, “without admitting pacifism in principle, is willing to consider this slogan (the slogan for peace) as being more compatible with actuality, as a slogan which must awaken the masses from now on, as a slogan which will have repercussions only during the last months preceding the end of the war.”

The second position constitutes “a whole system of foreign policy for socialism, to be continued after the war.”

It is rather interesting to notice that Zinoviev casts aside the first position as hardly serious and necessarily doomed to help the second one. In doing so, he lays the blame on Trotsky, whom he ranks in the first category. The central criticism of Zinoviev is the following:

“As a system, pacifism is a petty bourgeois and not a workers’ one. In wartime, it actually leads to Union Sacrée. It negates the transformation of imperialist war into civil war as an objective reality and as a task. The central socialist slogan must not be peace, but civil war. War has broken out because that was not so. The disgrace is that we did not know how to defend the workers’ movement against chauvinists and pacifists.”

And Zinoviev lays the blame on Jaurès:

“Is there anyone who can doubt that the French tribune, if the murderer’s bullet had not carried him away to his grave, would now be a member of the ministers’ cabinet, and would extol social chauvinism together with the whole French party?”

At the Zimmerwald Conference

Neither Lenin nor Trotsky ever wrote that. And Trotsky rather seemed to admit the contrary hypothesis. Meanwhile the French internationalists were preparing the Zimmerwald Conference claiming Jaurès for themselves and secretly distributing his Vaise speech. Zinoviev acknowledged that he found allies among the pacifist socialists. But he specified, concerning the Independent Labor Party, that it was a fellow traveler and not a firm ally, for it lacked a consistent socialist program.

In order to demonstrate that “the principle of pacifism has always been foreign to orthodox Marxism,” he enumerated the three kinds of wars admitted by Marxists:

  1. revolutionary wars;
  2. non-imperialist wars which, from 1789 to 1871, aimed at breaking foreign oppression and creating capitalist nationalist states;
  3. wars aiming to protect conquests realized by the proletariat in its struggle against the bourgeoisie.

Throughout this article he lays blame, although confusedly, upon Trotsky and the latter’s paper, Nashye Slovo, published in France, and tries to explain that the slogan of peace alone or of a democratic peace cannot be the slogan of revolutionists.

At Zimmerwald, Lenin had to adopt a position which is a marked retreat in relation to Zinoviev’s article. Not only did he sign a manifesto written by Trotsky in which the emphasis is put on peace, but the document he had written and had to abandon did not at all emphasize opposition to pacifism.

Upon returning from the conference, Lenin hailed the Zimmerwald Conference, in the Social Democrat, as a first step, but he defines its manifesto as inconsistent and timorous. His gravest reproaches were that it did not accuse the Union Sacrée socialists and the Kautskian center of committing the same lie that the bourgeoisie does concerning national defense in this war and that it did not speak clearly, openly and unambiguously about revolutionary methods of action.

As for the struggle for peace, Lenin considered that his thesis had in fact been taken over by the manifesto. After the Kienthal Conference, Lenin and Zinoviev grew more violent against social pacifism. As far back as 1915, they had explained that pacifism was all the more dangerous because the war was coming to an end.

Total Opposition to Pacifism

“At the end of the war, communism established itself in total opposition to official pacifism. Every historical epoch possesses not only its own method of action, its own political forms, but also its own form of hypocrisy, which belongs only to itself. In former times peoples assaulted each other in the name of Christ. The advanced nations throw themselves at each other’s throats in the name of pacifism. They drew America along in the war in the name of the League of Nations and of everlasting peace. Kerensky and Tzeretelli demand an offensive in the name of the ‘rapid conclusion of peace’.”

Thus spoke Trotsky in the midst of the Russian Revolution.

One of the 21 conditions for belonging to the Communist International obliged the Communist parties “to expose hypocritical and false social pacifism as well as self-confessed social patriotism. They must systematically demonstrate that without the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, no international arbitration court, no debate on the reduction of armaments, no ‘democratic’ reorganization of the League of Nations can preserve mankind from imperialist wars.”

It was admitted that the break between communism and every form of pacifism expressed more than an opposition of methods, namely, a class opposition between bourgeois influence in the workers’ movement and proletarian revolution.


Such is, briefly sketched, the attitude of the revolutionary workers’ movements in relation to war and pacifism.

We omitted St. Simon, who, alone among the inspirers of socialism, defined a pacifist program on the very aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, a program, besides, so brilliant that there are hardly any creations of modern international organizations which are not announced in it. But this program did not find any echo in the great workers’ tradition.

We did not speak of the socialists who, in all the countries, accepted the war and made their ideological and practical contribution to the victory of their fatherland, because they are of no concern to our topic. Only incidentally did we mention the tendency represented by Kautsky and the “Independents” in Germany, and in France by Longuet, which, without breaking with the patriotic majority, presented itself as pacifist. That tendency finally returned to the Second International, leaving the majority of its rank- and-file elements, above all, the workers, to the Communist International.

It is undeniable that up to the end of the previous World War:

  1. No pacifist tendency with a political platform of its own had established itself within the socialist movement;
  2. The most pacifist tendencies, such as that of Jaurès, expressed their preoccupation with influencing international bourgeois rivalries in a conciliatory direction every time that seemed possible. Resulting from parliamentarian practice, this tendency expressed itself most emphatically in France. During the war it brought some of its forces to the international left (Zimmerwald).
  3. The left anarchistic tendencies, which extol the insurrectionary general strike against war, were reabsorbed almost completely during the war of 1914 within the social patriotic position.
  4. Communism established itself in opposition to pacifism.

The Birth of Mass Pacifism

Despite appearances, the war did not end with a victory of the Leninist conceptions. Russia was and remained isolated. The power conquered by the Bolsheviks degenerated and brought Russian society, its leading party and communism as a whole into irremediable degeneration.

On the crucial point of anti-war struggle, the conception of Lenin and the Communist International, subordinated as it was to the perspective of the direct struggle for power, failed also. In effect, the theory of revolutionary defeatism played almost no role at all.

From then on, pacifism – although still unformulated and without having grown into maturity either within the workers’ movement or at its side – played a first-rate role. It had to be reckoned with.

It was only a feeling, but it animated millions of men who had undergone the trial of the war with a new meaning of the word: the destruction, on a vast scale, of economic and social riches, of human lives, of the familiar conditions of everyday life, appeared for the first time in history. Until then, not only had war taken place in limited areas, battlefields being restricted to a few miles, but the destruction was only accessory to the battle – a consequence of the use of arms. Even the most gruesome operations of the past had been but war methods with limited effects, or terroristic actions, aiming to subjugate a population, and not the absolute imperative of any military campaign.

In 1914, methodical destruction of the enemy, of his goods, his reserves, his industries and his morale was taught. Millions of men were used for it.

Pacifism, a mass pacifism, extraordinarily vigorous, diverse, confused and alive, responded to the carnage as an elemental and vehement protest.

The chauvinist wave of the first few weeks of the war was succeeded first in the trenches, then among the popular masses of the civilian population, by a new feeling. This transformation expressed itself most remarkably in Barbusse’s document Fire.

At the front, under artillery bombardments, during the long, gloomy hours spent in mud, excrements, blood and vermin, in the very core of the vast machine that was an army of many millions of men, the most sacred notions were repudiated and blasphemed. Social relations of servitude and injustice were cursed by men who went to die. This was an outburst of primeval democratism which sapped and swamped the chauvinism of the first moment.

Then an event happened to Lenin which he was far from foreseeing when he and Zinoviev wrote their war articles: pacifism brought him to power. The transformation of imperialist war into civil war identified itself in revolutionary Russia with a conscious and deliberate use by the Bolsheviks of the slogan: “Immediate Peace.” To give free rein to the pacifism of the masses sufficed to deprive the Russian bourgeois regime of its political basis, since the liberals, Social-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks could not live without Allied help, which was conditioned by prosecution of the war on the Russian front. For the Bolsheviks the problem was to transform the pacifism of the masses into a revolutionary force. This was done and was decisive in the civil war.

Pacifism Without Pacifists

After the war, after the great revolutionary upheavals, when capitalist society restabilized itself, the experience of the front was forgotten. But pacifism survived and became one of the permanent traits of the masses’ feelings. Everybody had to reckon with it.

Such a pacifism did not find a doctrine which could claim to represent and organize it. If it had, it would have been the most potent of political machines, but it was only an inexhaustible reservoir for all the leftist and extreme leftist movements.

Like the Russian Bolsheviks, the Communists of other countries used it in a wide measure for recruiting and influencing public opinion. Special organizations were built on this basis for veterans, women, etc. Demonstrations, and even a whole propaganda set-up kept the Communist parties in contact with pacifist currents born of the 1914–18 war.

This pacifism was the antidote – spontaneously secreted by large masses – to chauvinism, whose function had been to tie them by means of its war policy to the fate of their own bourgeoisie. In it, all non-privileged layers of the population were represented and unified. The petty bourgeois, brutally deprived of their meager privileges and thrown into the hell of war, contributed still more to it than did the workers.

Wooed and Utilized by All Sides

For its part, the bourgeoisie naturally hastened to capture for itself these new forces born of the war. Capitalist Europe needed peace, either to camouflage reconstruction of a military potential and prepare for revenge, or because it was anxious to maintain the diplomatic equilibrium which was threatening to break down at the first strain. Briand’s career after the war consisted entirely in using the pacifism of public opinion for the sake of the bourgeoisie of the “victorious” countries. His pacifism, based on the French regime’s inner weakness and its European responsibilities, out of proportion to its available means, culminated in the Briand-Kellogg pact of August 27, 1928, which included a renunciation of war. Thereby hope was asserted that international rivalries could be settled without recourse to war, the expenses of which would be borne by the former victors and in which the bourgeois regime in Europe would be threatened with submersion.

Although pacifism was utilized by every side and was inexhaustible, it never found between the two wars its doctrinal expression within the framework of a properly pacifist action. There were many attempts, the most notable of which in France were those of La Patrie Humaine and La Ligue Internationale des Combattants de la Paix, with its paper, Le Barrage. The courageous, stubborn and devoted men who exerted themselves in trying to gather the masses on the exclusive ground of pacifism failed because they only succeeded in winning over individuals. Their most successful demonstrations were ephemeral. In contradistinction, the Communist Party, from the Amsterdam-Pleyel Congress to the recent World Congress of the Partisans of Peace, has shown an unequalled cleverness.

And yet from 1935 to 1939 the Communist Party was, most of the time, suspect of bellicism and antagonized thousands of militants by its far-fetched nationalism. Nonetheless the legend of “Russia, the Camp of Peace” thrived. It has continued to do so up to the present. That is why an explanation is urgently needed.

The Reasons for Failure

Why did pacifism between the two wars remain, as a creation of the masses, a source of energy nourishing the existing political machines, and, as a social activity, a mere shadow?

It would be quite superficial to emphasize its, so to speak, elemental instinctive aspect, its conservative content in a profoundly biological sense, or to hold against it its vacillation between Briandism and social revolution, between individual conscientious objection and political action.

It is normal for it to have sprung up as an elemental revolt, and that, far from opposing it to socialism, draws them together insofar as their origin is concerned. The horror of killing and being killed is probably as radical a requirement of civilization as is the will for social justice from which socialism first proceeds.

Freud has said very well:

“The first and most important commandment which sprang from man’s hardly awakened conscience was: Thou shalt not kill ... It is precisely the manner in which the proposition ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is formulated which is of such a nature as to make us certain that we come from an infinitely large series of generations of murderers who, perhaps like ourselves, had the passion for murder in their blood.”

It is not the elemental character of pacifism that poses a problem, but its inability to evolve beyond this primitive stage. Again, if one thinks of its “conservative” aspect so much (it wants to preserve one’s own existence and that of others, wealth, the frame of social life ...) it is because it has not outgrown its childhood. Every revolutionary movement is born out of a claim to preserve, and safeguard, certain existing values.

As for the extreme confusion of means and aims which is contained in pacifism, it is the sign that it has not been able to develop, to break its ties with the world which generated it, to grow beyond its infantile utopianism or to reject reformist means. It is the sign and not the cause.

Finally, it is useless to look at pacifism itself, its heredity or its structure, for the secret of its stunted development.

As a political object, it expresses the inability of the workers’ movement to prevent war, to take into their own hands the fate of society. It develops as an attempted substitute for the workers’ movement in the historical tasks which belong to the latter.

As a new expression of the revolt of the masses against the specific plague of our epoch, it could win over the political majority, in the last instance, only as successor to the workers movement, only by bringing adequate answers to all the social problems posed by a world condemned to destruction.

If we were to witness such a succession and the advent of pacifism as a prevalent ideology among the laboring masses, the conclusions to be drawn would be infinitely grave. We would be obliged to confess that socialism as a general solution has outworn itself. In other words, that class society has a long future; that the revolutionary emancipation of the proletariat and the realization thereby of a classless society have proven impossible; that the whole mental structure which the social struggles of the last hundred years and Marxism have imposed upon our epoch is also outmoded.

Such a perspective is not valid, despite the partial substitution of the socialist form by the pacifist form as the ideology of large masses, which seems to happen from time to time. Even the present, in which this substitution is more important than ever, witnesses the coexistence, rather than the mutual exclusion, of the consciousness of class division and the need for surmounting it, a consciousness which reaches the proportions of universal truth and an impatience seeking an immediate remedy against threatening war on pacifist ground.

Lessons of a Revival

The vitality of basic pacifism and its sudden revival after the Second World War thus amount to a grave warning to the organized working class. But it is not enough to hear the signal. Many kinds of activists will reject the new wave of pacifism, will reject Garry Davis and the movement he has provoked, for they are certain they possess their own answers to each and every question of history. These people only show that they are already dead and buried.

A revival of mass pacifism for a period of several years at least is tantamount to a vast meditation. Revolutionists cannot look down upon that. They themselves must, for a long time, meditate upon the experience which has just taken place (and which draws the masses towards the Garry Davis myth), as well as on the orientation necessary for a new stage.

They must first observe how far Garry Davis’ action goes beyond any pacifist attempts of the past; that it presupposes a democratic solution to the social drama; that it advances absolutely new, positive themes, such as world citizenship, world Constitution, and even world Government; that it has been able to win over workers’ sections, which neither revolutionary syndicalism nor the various nuances of left or Marxist socialism had been able to tear away from Stalinism or to lead out of scepticism; that it has been able to build up among the rank and file a will against governments and their United Nations.

Better than that, that revolutionists must be careful, in the present scattered conditions of true socialist forces, not to oppose their own program, ideology and action to those of the pacifist revival and not to fruitlessly attempt to undertake to disintegrate it. It would be childish to serve up anew the old food, now cold and soured, to tens of thousands of people who did not find it to their taste up to now and who demand Garry Davis vitamins.

Such a movement, it is true, does not solve and, we think, will not solve any of the questions left in midair. Nevertheless, it already has taught some lessons. The first of them is that a revolutionary and democratic renewal is perfectly possible; that it is potentially present in the current of opinion created by Garry Davis. The second one is that audacity, novelty in methods and political themes do pay. There are many other lessons. But the last one is that neither Garry Davis nor his comrades (nor his opponents!) have answered clearly enough the problems posed by the contemporary social drama. There is still room for valid answers.

An Examination of Ideas

Garry Davis has not answered. At least he has given some form to the war anxiety and detected some of the necessary components of any answer. Mistrust towards governments, diplomacy and all remedies now administered to people; selection of democratic solutions; necessity to lift oneself above political routine.

Neither Garry Davis nor any pacifism will prevent war? This is an objection whose correctness needs no deepening. But the meaning of the present threat of war has need to be deepened. One of the merits of the pacifist revival is to fulfill in some way the function of making us forget ideas received. The depoliticalization of the masses makes possible the birth of inconsistent myths. If one admits that this depoliticalization does not constitute a final and irreversible evolution of decay, it calls forth and makes possible a re-politicalization on a new basis.

In effect, the ideas on war which are current even in the most studious circles of the workers movement rarely escape being distressingly useless. They date at least back to the time when Russia could be considered as an integral part of the revolution, when the United States had rivals worthy of some consideration in the capitalist world and when the workers movement acted with some efficiency as an agent of human emancipation. But times have changed. And it is far better that the masses learn to read somewhere else than in books of that time. As for the militants who claim to work for the reconstruction of a socialist movement, they have to reconsider everything.

Socialism and War Today

Socialism promised peace because it offered a regime with no cause for war, that is to say, in which capitalist contradictions were overcome and national rivalries for markets suppressed. More generally every regime, according to Engels, the primitive gens excepted, finds in war the means of capturing new labor power and thus strengthening the division of labor. Such is the function of war.

It remains true that socialism is the only remedy against war at the present level of productive forces and in the advanced condition of socialized labor. But if one considers the more general assertion of Engels, it applies pre-eminently to Stalinist Russia and not to America, for which strengthening of the division of labor at a high level implies, for example, the reconstruction of European economy.

Consequently, from a socialist point of view, the mystery of the present threat of war is not made clearer by repeating that the cause of any war is the existence of the capitalist regime. It is the disintegration of classic capitalism, and even imperialism, and not its development, as in the time of Jaurès and Lenin, which characterize our epoch. War in our time is a product of that disintegration. Concretely: the growth of war economy, the economic and social disintegration of Europe, the fading of democratic liberties, are three aspects of the general disintegration which first of all generate the danger of war.

This point cannot be treated seriously in a brief conclusion. It is enough to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that socialism today, in order to lay claim to playing any role, must first come to grips with the causes of the war danger. The degeneration of our whole society, however hideously it may have appeared for the last fifteen years, is not at all fateful. Our effort must be brought to bear on these three decisive factors: structure of production (in other words, the struggle to use the productive forces to satisfy the need’s of the masses); social reconstruction of Europe; defense of democratic liberties (their expansion and embodiment in basic social relations). Only if socialists are able to carry on that struggle seriously will they be able to say: this war is not ours.

Paul Parisot

May 1949

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