The inter-imperialist war in Ukraine

– From Luxemburg, Pannekoek, Gorter and Lenin to “Council-Communism” –

German, Dutch, Spanish

Fredo Corvo

The escalation of the war in Ukraine by the Russian invasion has led to all kinds of positions in the “democratic West” among those who call themselves “leftists”, which has surprised some. In this, the “Left” largely unthinkingly follows the views of the mass media and the “social” media: it condemns the Russian invasion as an attack, an act of aggression against Ukraine. Ukraine is presented as a developing nation, a young democracy. Of course, the heroic defense of this David against the brutal Goliath must be supported by us, with aid packages for the refugees and eventually with arms supplies.1

As the war progresses, contradictions emerge that people begin to ask questions about:

  • The Ukrainian state defends its national independence but rejects the national independence of the breakaway Russian-speaking territories. It even happens that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are prevented from speaking their language.
  • Putin fights against Ukrainian fascism but behaves like a fascist and has fascist admirers in the West. On the other hand, it has emerged that a fascist battalion has been incorporated into the Ukrainian army.
  • Russia sends conscripts on a so-called peace mission. Ukraine is separating men “fit for military service” from their wives and children fleeing the war.
  • China supports Russia in the UN Security Council, the United States, and the countries of NATO and the EU support Ukraine financially and with weapons and military trainers.
  • Putin hoped that the war would replace Zielinski with a pro-Russian president. Biden revealed that he hoped that this war would lead to Putin being replaced by a pro-American president.

Such contradictory facts raise questions. War propaganda on both sides twists and turns to answer. This is also true of the Left in the West.

Workerism and the current war

The astonishment at their adherence to a de facto democratic war propaganda is greatest and perhaps most honest among those leftists who, in their ever-present “workerism” or even populism, no longer have explicit theoretical roots in the old workers’ movement.

These currents mentioned above start from what the workers or the (common) people are thinking and doing at a given moment, even if under the crushing influence of bourgeois ideology and, above all, the capitalist reality of exploitation and oppression, in this case also that of a terrible war. By realistically linking their political positions to this everyday consciousness, they are unable to put forward the insights that come from the notion of the working class as a class with a historical future that includes a new mode of production and a society without war, violence and a state, communism. The revolutionaries who do this are accused by them of “sectarianism.” There are no such leftists in the small and petty-bourgeois Netherlands, nor in Flanders, as far as we know. But in England, they are called Angry Workers of the World; in Germany Wildcat, Kosmoprolet and Communaut. Like those they call sects, these groups organize themselves as microscopic minority organizations. While the sects have a programmatic basis in which they summarise their lessons from past class struggles, the workerists organize on the basis of some vague positions, sometimes even without any positions at all. The lessons learned by the Communist Left.2 from the First and Second World Wars, from the Cold War, and the so-called wars of national liberation and other regional wars waged directly or by intermediary states between imperialist powers are unknown to the workerists, and they do not want to think about them. With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, they stood speechless or put forward bourgeois nonsense, and often they were at odds among themselves if they dared to have an internal discussion. In particular, the failure of these workerist groups to take a clear position on the current war is a harbinger of a similar failure in a pre-revolutionary situation, where a significant minority of militant and class-conscious workers are organizing independently and demanding a clear position from the revolutionaries.

The bourgeois left participates in the war

This article will not discuss the bourgeois left organizations that emerged from the old labor movement, social democracy, and Bolshevism in all its forms (Stalinism, Maoism, Trotskyism). Suffice it to say that they all fall back on their positions for one camp or the other in the First World War (Social Democracy) and / or the Second World War (Social Democracy on the side of the Allies, Bolshevism on the side of the Soviet Union). The defense of the Soviet Union from 1939 to 1945 was justified by the myth that it was a socialist or a bureaucratized workers’ state. Since the People’s Republic of China broke away from Russia in the 1960s, then aligned itself with the USA, and is now again aligned with Russia, since the implosion of the Soviet Union and its imperialist bloc, the organizations that have their ideological roots in Bolshevism have been reaching for the many twists and turns of the Comintern under the guise of Lenin’s right of self-determination of nations and Lenin’s theory of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. And today, Stalinists, Maoists, and Trotskyists are drawing on this ideological legacy of Bolshevism to side either with Ukraine or with Russia or take place somewhere in the trenches between the two. Lenin’s Collected Works are for these Pharisees, as the works of Marx and Engels were for the Kautskys and Cunovs, the treasure trove from which they can fish at will for quotations encouraging the workers to participate in this umpteenth inter-imperialist massacre.

Proletarian internationalism in the First World War

The Left’s support for the Ukraine or Russia ignores Lenin’s real position in the First World War, that of proletarian internationalism against any involvement in that war. In his practical politics from 1914 to 1918, Lenin took much the same stand as the other left socialists who later called themselves communists, Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Rühle, Bordiga, Pankhurst, Pannekoek, and Gorter.3 This stand, which became known as proletarian internationalism, can be roughly summarised as follows:

  • With the complete division of the world into capitalist spheres of influence among the colonizing countries, the First World War represents a definitive turning point in the history of capitalism.
  • All countries that participated in the war, directly or indirectly (through “neutrality” like the Netherlands and Switzerland or openly as suppliers of credit and/or arms like the USA until April 1917), acted out of imperialist considerations, i.e. they strove to make the most of the capitalist redistribution of the world that resulted from the war.
  • The “defense of the fatherland” called for by most parties of the Second International is merely the slogan they use to call on the workers of the various countries to massacre each other for the interests of capital.
  • The following applies to the working class in all countries:
    – the enemy is in their own country,
    – (class) war against (“inter-imperialist”) war,
    – no class peace, but the continuation of the workers’ struggle until the revolution,
    – even if this leads to the defeat of “one’s own” country in the war (revolutionary defeatism),
    – the transformation of the imperialist war into a proletarian world revolution.

The difference between Lenin and the other left socialists, the later communists, some of whom were to belong to the Communist Left, was that Lenin limited his proletarian internationalism to the First World War. For the others, the First World War was a historical turning point that put an end to any possibility of national wars.

Imperialism, a word with many meanings

Why should we continue using the term imperialism when it is so abused? Some Marxist currents and theorists argue this. There are various reasons for avoiding the word imperialism, which we will not discuss here. The point is that by not using the term, the word, the theoretical and, therefore, extremely practical differences between different substantive meanings of imperialism remain unclear. It is to these differences in content that we must turn to look at the problem of the present war in Ukraine – and the wars that will follow – from the point of view of the working class. The appeal of these word deniers to the dictionary for a definition they do not accept, their reference to the origins of the word, from the Greeks and Romans to Hobson’s Imperialism (1902), cannot justify their ignoring the various specific meanings of the word. This is primarily because of the importance of imperialism for Lenin and other Marxists who insisted on yet another concept in 1914-1918: proletarian internationalism, which is avoided, slandered, or falsified then as now.

But shouldn’t we then return to Marx, who did not use the word imperialism, but did use the term war? That is entirely possible. And if we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, let’s use the fierce polemic during the First World War between the social democrats on one side, who supported the war of their bourgeoisie by quoting Marx, and those on the other side who referred to Marx and said: “The enemy is in our own country.” Yes, then we are back to imperialism, which took on a special meaning during the First World War. In all the meanings that opponents of “defense of the fatherland” give to imperialism, there is a common view of the development of capitalism since Marx.

Marx argued that competition is “the form of existence of capital,” and the more capitalism develops, the more competition must develop. Marx hit the nail on the head in his critique of Proudhon when he said that capital reproduces itself in competition, in monopoly, and in the competition of monopolies.4 According to Marx, the international development of capitalism has reached a point where imperialism is necessary. Imperialism is the policy that all states and capitals must pursue. At the same time, and not coincidentally, capitalism is characterized by big capital. Big capital necessarily competes on a large scale and with large resources. Therefore, militarism is an expression of the established and irreversible tendency of developed capitalism always to compete and adapt to competition by seeking strategies by which it can try to occupy a better position than its competitors. The very title of Lenin’s most important work, Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), shows that he agreed with Luxemburg, Gorter, and Pannekoek on this point.

However, Lenin, as we shall see, from his standpoint of the right of nations to self-determination, insists on the possibility of there being “imperialist countries” and “dominated countries” in certain circumstances. This leaves open the possibility of support to bourgeois groups. His opponent within Russian social democracy, Rosa Luxemburg, rejected the existence of such a right of nations because it would hand the workers over to their bourgeoisie. The history of Poland and Ukraine tragically confirmed her position after the revolution in Russia.

Rosa Luxemburg and imperialism

Rosa Luxemburg’s particular position at the time on the question of national war and the right of nations to self-determination was fed by her conviction that the views prevailing in Russian, Polish and German social democracy on this point had been overtaken by capitalist development. In her dissertation The Industrial Development of Poland (1893), she showed that Poland had become an integral part of the Tsarist Russian Empire in economic terms, thanks to the large Russian market. Outside the Russian Empire, capitalism had no future in Poland, and the workers struggle with it. This underpinned their refusal to support the independence of a Polish nation-state,5 defended at the time by other social democrats with reference to the views of Marx and Engels.6 Liebknecht, Kautsky, and Plekhanov argued that Marx wanted an independent Poland and a strong Turkey to weaken Russia. Thus these Marxists of the orthodox ‘center’ of the party made what was for Marx a historically limited position into an irrefutable doctrine.7 The orthodox equation of proletarian and bourgeois interests was even more serious on the nationality question. From the correspondence between Marx and Engels, which did not appear until after Luxemburg’s death, it is clear that strategic and thus changeable considerations in fact dictated their conception of Poland. Thus Engels wrote to Marx on 23.5.1851:

The more I reflect on history, the clearer it becomes to me that the Poles are une nation foutue [a doomed nation], to be used as a means only until Russia herself is swept up in the agrarian revolution. From that moment on, Poland has absolutely no raison d’être [reason of existence).8

Luxemburg considered the common view that proletarian internationalism was only possible on the basis of Polish national independence to be outdated by the industrial development of both Russia and Poland and the accompanying possibility of social revolution. The “Russian” and, at the same time, “Polish” revolution of 1905 proved Luxemburg right. Encouraged by its historical confirmation, Luxemburg set to work to extend her thesis to the historical obsolescence of national wars that could drive the development of capitalism on a global scale. She developed a theory of imperialism and the economic crisis or accumulation of capital that heralded the historic passing of the capitalist mode of production and thus the beginning of a period of social revolution.

Rosa Luxemburg already pointed out the importance of expanding the world market to continue the growth phase of capitalism in her struggle against revisionism. Based on this idea, she developed a theory of capital accumulation and imperialism to better understand the stage of social revolution.9 Luxemburg’s theory of imperialism is consistent with the following statements by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848):

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries …

… how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.10

This aspect of the long-term and world-historical development of capital only comes to the fore in “Capital” when Marx discusses revolution. Capital analyses the contradictions inherent in capitalism and hardly how these can be temporarily overcome through the expansion of the capitalist world market:

In the account of the objectification of the relations of production and their independence from the agents of production, we do not go into how the interrelationships through the world market, its conjunctures, the movement of market prices, the periods of credit, the cycles of industry and trade, the alternation of prosperity and crisis, appear to them as overpowering natural laws dominating them mindlessly and assert themselves as a blind necessity to them. This is so because the actual movement of competition lies outside our plan, and we have only to represent the inner organization of the capitalist mode of production, in its ideal average, so to speak11

Luxemburg, on the other hand, in 1913, in The Accumulation of Capital, focussed on imperialism, i.e., the expansion of capitalism into non-capitalist areas. Therefore, she first had to clarify the theoretical presuppositions of capital:

We have seen that Marx consistently and consciously assumes the theoretical presupposition of his analysis in all three volumes of capital the general and exclusive domination of the capitalist mode of production. (…) This presupposition is a theoretical stopgap – in reality, there was and is nowhere a self-sufficient capitalist society with the exclusive rule of capitalist production.12

Rosa Luxemburg criticizes Marx’s abstraction of the world market because, as she writes in the preface to The Accumulation, it hinders the description of the objective historical limitation of capitalist production and the practice of contemporary imperialist politics and its economic roots. To this end, it focuses on the extended reproduction of total social capital in Volume II of Capital. I leave this complicated (and controversial!) economic question aside here to concentrate on the main social, political and historical aspects of Luxemburg’s theory of imperialism:

When the Marxian scheme of extended reproduction corresponds to reality, it indicates the exit, the historical limit of the accumulation movement, that is, the end of capitalist production. (…) From this arises the contradictory movement of the last, imperialist phase as the final period in the historical trajectory of capital.13

Rosa Luxemburg wrote in 1913, a year before the outbreak of the world war: “This is not to say that this must pedantically reach its final point. Already the tendency towards this final goal of capitalist development expresses itself in forms which shape the final phase of capitalism into a period of catastrophes”. (ibid. p. 391/2). It does not predict an objective end of capitalism for which the working class can wait with folded arms. The catastrophes brought about by capital would “make the rebellion of the international working class against the rule of capital a necessity even before it has yet economically encountered its natural self-created barrier.” (ibid. p. 411)

Five years later, after the First World War had wrought unprecedented carnage and Europe lay in ruins, Rosa Luxemburg had to conclude that the class rule of the bourgeoisie had forfeited its right to existence.14 In the party program of the Spartacus League, during the German revolution, Rosa Luxemburg refers to a passage from the Communist Manifesto:

The words of the Communist Manifesto flare like a fiery menetekel above the crumbling bastions of capitalist society: socialism or barbarism! 15

This statement is nowhere to be found literally in the Communist Manifesto. Marx and Engels write: “Society suddenly finds itself relegated to a state of momentary barbarism” caused by the periodic trade crises. Marx and Engels also point out – see above – that these crises of capitalism can be overcome by expanding capitalism on a world scale. Rosa Luxemburg concludes that the contradiction between productive forces and relations of production, once this contradiction has become global, is insoluble. The progressive period of capitalism is over, and the period of social revolution has begun:

The World War confronts society with the choice: either continuation of capitalism, new wars, and imminent decline into chaos and anarchy, or abolition of capitalist exploitation.

With the conclusion of world war, the class rule of the bourgeoisie has forfeited its right to existence. It is no longer capable of leading society out of the terrible economic collapse which the imperialist orgy has left in its wake. …

Only the revolution of the world proletariat can bring order into this chaos …16

After the murders of Luxemburg and Liebknecht in 1919, committed at the instigation of the SPD government, the party leadership was taken over by Paul Levi. In 1920, the minority (!) excluded the majority of the KPD(S) because of its positions against participation in elections and against the trade union movement, which had been transformed into a state organ. The excluded majority formed the KAPD, which in its founding program quotes Rosa Luxemburg’s statement Socialism or Barbarism and explicitly makes the First World War the boundary between the progressive period and the period of social revolution:

Today, it is not a question of the periodic economic crises which were once a part of the capitalist mode of production; it is the crisis of capitalism itself; we are witnessing convulsive spasms of the whole of the social organism, formidable outbursts of class antagonisms of an unprecedented pitch, general misery for wide layers of populations …17

In the Manifesto, however, Marx had only spoken of a period of social revolution connected with the periodic crises.

In the German and Dutch communist left, different economic explanations were used for the beginning of this historical watershed of imperialism: the saturation of markets by Luxemburg or the fall of the rate of profit by Grossmann/Mattick. Thus imperialism was linked to the existence of a period of decadence or decline of capitalism, which would also be the period of social revolution. This link was generally shared by the Comintern and the Italian Communist Left.

  • The only exception was Anton Pannekoek. Pannekoek always opposed the idea of capitalism’s mechanical or purely economic collapse. To this end, he challenged the theoretical foundations of both the Luxemburg crisis theory and the later Grossmann/Mattick theory. Pannekoek assumed that capitalism would be able to save itself from any periodic crisis. An end would only be reached with the exhaustion of raw materials or “more likely” with the absence of an industrial reserve army in the capitalist development of Asia. None of these phenomena occurred, but the destruction of nature already denounced by Pannekoek did.18 Nor, according to Pannekoek, did imperialism have economic causes. In his view, imperialism resulted from the dominance of big capital in the iron and steel industry combined with the power of the banks imposed on all capital.19 Pannekoek thus separates the era of imperialism from the existence of a period of decline of capitalism and/or the beginning of a longer period of social revolution. It should be noted that capitalism has not yet collapsed either because of the saturation of the world market or because of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

But let us return to the subject of this article. Luxemburg made clear her conception of imperialism in the Guiding Principles on the Tasks of International Social Democracy (1915-1916):

9. Imperialism, as the last phase in the life, and the highest point in the expansion, of the world hegemony of capital, is the mortal enemy of the proletariat of all countries. But under its rule, just as in the preceding stages of capitalism, the forces of its mortal enemy have increased in pace with its development. It accelerates the concentration of capital, the pauperization of the middle classes, the numerical reinforcement of the proletariat; arouses more and more resistance from the masses; and leads thereby to an intensified sharpening of class antagonisms. In peacetime, as in war, the struggle of the proletariat as a class has to be concentrated first of all against imperialism. For the international proletariat, the struggle against imperialism is at the same time the struggle for power, the decisive settling of accounts between socialism and capitalism. The final goal of socialism will be realized by the international proletariat only if it opposes imperialism all along the line and if it makes the issue: “war against war” the guiding line of its practical policy; and on condition that it deploys all its forces and shows itself ready, by its courage to the point of extreme sacrifice, to do this.20

Lenin and Luxemburg largely agreed on their characterization of imperialism as the final phase and highest unfolding of the political world domination of capital. Lenin, however, insisted on the theoretical possibility of national wars. This is reflected in his criticism of Luxemburg’s Theorem 5 of the same guiding principles in the following extract, which makes clear his view that some countries are imperialist and others – under certain circumstances – are not:

The first of Junius’ erroneous postulates, the first is contained in the International group’s thesis No. 5: “In the epoch (era) of this unbridled imperialism, there can be no more national wars. National interests serve only as an instrument of deception, to deliver the masses of the toiling people into the service of their mortal enemy, imperialism….” This postulate is the end of thesis No. 5, the first part of which is devoted to the description of the present war as an imperialist war. The repudiation of national wars in general may either be an oversight or a fortuitous over-emphasis of the perfectly correct idea that the present war is an imperialist war and not a national war. But as the opposite may be true, as various Social-Democrats mistakenly repudiate all national wars because the present war is falsely represented to be a national war, we are obliged to deal with this mistake.

Junius is quite right in emphasizing the decisive influence of the “imperialist background” of the present war when he says that behind Serbia there is Russia, “behind Serbian nationalism there is Russian imperialism”; that even if a country like Holland took part in the present war, she too would be waging an imperialist war, because, firstly, Holland would be defending her colonies, and, secondly, she would be an ally of one of the imperialist coalitions. This is indisputable in relation to the present war. And when Junius lays particular emphasis on what to him is the most important point: the struggle against the “phantom of national war, which at present dominates Social-Democratic policy” (p. 81, Junius’ pamphlet), we cannot but agree that his reasoning is correct and quite appropriate.

But it would be a mistake to exaggerate this truth; to depart from the Marxian rule to be concrete; to apply the appraisal of the present war to all wars that are possible under imperialism; to lose sight of the national movements against imperialism. The only argument that can be used in defense of the thesis: “there can be no more national wars” is that the world has been divided up among a handful of “Great” imperialist powers, and, therefore, every war, even if it starts as a national war, is transformed into an imperialist war and affects the interests of one of the imperialist Powers or coalitions (p. 81 of Junius’ pamphlet).21

This argument that the world has been divided into spheres of influence of capitalist states since the First World War is indeed an essential part of the view of both Rosa Luxemburg and Gorter and Pannekoek that imperialism is a policy of all states. On the other hand, Lenin keeps open the theoretical possibility that certain nations could escape this division of the world by imperialism through their national liberation struggle.

Anton Pannekoek and imperialism

Pannekoek’s view of imperialism is in The Collapse of the International, which appeared in Dutch in August 1914 and was translated into German and English. It was the very first text against war participation, written by a member of the former left opposition within social democracy. In Part III of this article, Pannekoek describes imperialism as “the politics and ideology of modern big capitalism” which have won over the entire bourgeoisie and exerts its influence deep into the working class.22

Lenin received the article with enthusiasm, not because of Pannekoek’s concept of imperialism, but because it highlighted the death of the Second International and the need for a new one, a Third International. Lenin wrote to Shlyapnikov on 27.10.1914 about Pannekoek’s article:

The only one who has told the workers the truth – though not at full volume and sometimes not quite cleverly – is Pannekoek, whose article we have forwarded to you (please send the translation to the Russians). His words that it “no longer has any meaning” when now the “leaders” of the International, pushed to death by the opportunists and by Kautsky, come together and seek to “glue” the break – these words are the one and o n l y socialist words. That is the truth. Bitter but the truth. And the workers need now more than ever the truth, the whole truth, and no dirty diplomacy, no frivolous “gluing together”, no whitewashing of evil by rubber resolutions.23

Remarkably, in this letter, Lenin speaks only of the “betrayal” of Kautsky, and Troelstra24 and their shift to “defense of the fatherland.” Pannekoek, on the other hand, discusses in his article the causes of this “betrayal” of the leaders, the obsolescence of parliamentary and trade union tactics, the new tactics of the mass movements, the need for the masses themselves to act:

The period that is now beginning in the workers’ movement will be the period of the masses and their actions. This struggle must emerge from the new capitalist world that will emerge from the war, with its more violent development, its sharper class differences, its stronger pressure on the masses. Perhaps at first the bourgeoisie will still triumph haughtily, the proletariat will appear more powerless, socialism weaker than before, as it did after 1871, when the then new method had to grow here and there from small beginnings; perhaps the new struggle will also soon emerge, spontaneously and half unconsciously, from the misery of the war. But certainly the proletariat will begin its struggle anew, differently, more energetically, with newer science and knowledge, undermining capitalism in gigantic movements. Then a new International will arise, more solid, deeper, more powerful and more socialist than the one that has now collapsed. In the ruins, high above the flames of the terrible world conflagration, we, the revolutionary social democrats, raise the banner of the new, coming internationalism.25

This difference between Lenin and Pannekoek was expressed in the KAPD’s struggle in 1920 for mass action against the “leader’s tactics” imposed by the Bolsheviks on the affiliated communist parties of other countries through the Third International. This leader tactic was based on the continuation of the old social-democratic means of struggle but under a different, under Bolshevik leadership.

In the English version of the same article, The Collapse of the International, which Pannekoek published in the New York magazine The New Review, his description of imperialism in the same Part III is slightly different. Imperialism here means the policies and theories that comprise the spirit and nature of modern capitalism. Then follows, as in the Dutch version, a description of what we also call colonialism, the development of which leads to the following situation: Each government strives to conquer or control the largest possible part of the earth for its bourgeoisie, that it may be in a position to protect the interests of its capital there. Each government, therefore, strives to secure the greatest possible amount of world power and arms itself against the others in order to impart the greatest possible weight to its demands and to force the others to recognize its claims. So we see each European nation striving to become the center of a world-empire consisting of colonies and spheres of influence. This policy of “imperialism” controls nowadays to a greater or lesser extent, the political life of all nations and the mental attitude of the bourgeoisie. 26

Pannekoek omits to explain that the European nations, in their separate pursuit of colonial empire, finally waged an inter-imperialist war against each other in Europe itself in 1914. Lenin will have agreed with the assertion that imperialism is a policy of big capital and European nations. Pannekoek does not address Lenin’s question as to whether certain nations could escape imperialist policy. It was Herman Gorter who elaborated on this vital point.

Herman Gorter and imperialism

In the first chapter of his pamphlet Imperialism, the World War and Social Democracy, published in the Netherlands in 1914, Gorter outlines how imperialism develops from colonialism.

The enormous increase of capital, which was brought about by the growth of the forces of production in the nineteenth century, gave birth to imperialism: the striving of all-powerful states to conquer new territory, especially in Asia and Africa.

Just as in the economic field, free competition has given way to the monopoly of the syndicate and the cartel, so in the political field, every powerful capitalist state strives for the monopoly of land ownership and the exploitation of foreign countries. [3]

The first awakening of the new imperialism, its first act, was the occupation of Egypt on the part of England. Then came the war of Japan against China, Japan conquers Korea, the war of America against Spain, America takes Cuba and the Philippines, the war of the English against the Boers, the expeditions of the European states against China, the war of Japan against Russia.

Meanwhile, the world had been divided up. Hardly any unoccupied land remained, not even in Africa.

Then, one after the other, the crises broke out. The powers desired each other’s possessions.27

Gorter points out that all the main states involved in the conquest and control of the colonies and the seas formed alliances, which fought each other in the world war. Therefore it was nonsensical to speak of a defensive war, as all the bourgeois and social-democratic parties and journals did to make their participation in the war look nicer than it was (new edition, p. 5).

Lenin received in Switzerland, shortly after the publication of Imperialism …, a copy he tried to understand with the help of a German-Dutch dictionary. According to his information, he had succeeded in doing so by 30-40%. In May 1915 Lenin wrote:

A thousand times right is the Marxist Gorter when, in his pamphlet Imperialism, the World War and Social Democracy, published in Holland (p. 84), he compares the “radicals” of Kautsky’s ilk with the liberals of 1848, who were brave in words but traitors in deeds. 28

As with Pannekoek’s article The Collapse of the International, Lenin’s enthusiasm is mainly due to Pannekoek and Gorter’s condemnation of the “treason” of Kautsky and similar leaders. A condemnation to which Gorter’s pamphlet devotes many pages, as well as the revolutionary mass action which Gorter opposes to the leaders’ policy:

Revolutionary mass action “means that the masses finally wake up. It means that it prepares to act without leaders, or at least without their participation meaning much. It means that we are taking a step forward as big as the working class has ever taken.

It means that we are very close to our final goal.

There is no other road for the proletariat to socialism.

The masses must now begin to act for themselves, and the masses must come.

The development of capitalism into the trust, the big bank, the imperialist parliament, and the imperialist government wants it. It cannot do otherwise.

And the masses have already come in the last decades since imperialism came.

Despite all the pretense and all the promises and all the agreements with the bourgeoisie, despite all the deception of the workers, despite all the efforts on the part of the trade union officials and deputies to do the work from above alone, the masses have taken the task into their own hands.

In Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England, Holland, France, and Belgium, in Italy and Spain, in Austria and Russia, the proletariat itself, employing general and mass strikes, through protest and demonstration and critical strikes, utilizing economic and political strikes, using strikes by whole populations of workers or their groups, has shown that it has felt the new development.29

As late as 1916, in a footnote to the article The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Self-Determination of Nations, Lenin criticized Gorter for rejecting the principle of the right of nations to self-determination in his “splendid” pamphlet on imperialism:

In some small states not involved in the 1914-1916 war, such as Holland and Switzerland, the bourgeoisie is vigorously exploiting the slogan of the right of nations to self-determination in order to justify participation in the present imperialist war. This is one of the motives which prompted the social democracy of such countries to reject the right of self-determination of nations. They justify the correct proletarian policy, namely the rejection of “defense of the fatherland” in the imperialist war, with the help of incorrect arguments. You get in theory a mutilation of Marxism and in practice a kind of small-state parochialism, the ignoring of hundreds of millions of a population subjugated by big-state nations. Comrade Gorter is wrong when he rejects the principle of the right of self-determination in his splendid pamphlet Imperialism, the World War and Social Democracy. But in practice, he quite correctly applies this very principle when he demands the immediate “political and national independence” of the Dutch Indies and castigates the Dutch opportunists for refraining from making this demand and from fighting for the same.30

One should note that Gorter’s demand for Dutch independence was not a call for the proletariat of the Dutch East Indies to support its “own” national bourgeoisie. Later history has also shown that Sukarno, as the leader of Indonesian national self-determination in World War II, pursued an imperialist policy by siding with Japan, which intensified the exploitation and oppression of the Indonesian proletarians and poor peasants during its occupation of Indonesia.

In the same article, Lenin distinguishes in thesis 6 three types of countries concerning the right of nations to self-determination:

  1. the main capitalist countries in Western Europe and the United States of America. Here the bourgeois, progressive national movements were abolished long ago.
  2. Eastern Europe: Austria, the Balkan countries, and in particular Russia. Here, especially in the 20th century, developed bourgeois-democratic national movements and intensified the national struggle.
  3. The semi-colonial countries such as China, Persia, Turkey, and all the colonies with a total population of about one billion people. Here the bourgeois-democratic movements have hardly begun and are far from being completed.

This distinction, however, plays no role in Lenin’s attitude to the First World War; Lenin merely wanted to keep open a theoretical possibility that, according to Gorter, has been overtaken by the development of imperialism. This is not to say that Gorter denies the existence of national movements in Eastern Europe, nor that national liberation movements could arise in semi-colonial or fully colonial countries. Nor does Gorter claim that the aims of the bourgeois revolution have been achieved in all countries. The point is, as we have already seen in Lenin’s critique of Junius/Luxemburg: that the world is divided among a handful of “great” imperialist powers and that therefore every war, even if it begins as a national war, is transformed into an imperialist war and affects the interests of one of the imperialist powers or coalitions.

In the words of Gorter:

(…) imperialism rose – the striving of powerful states for territorial expansion. Imperialism, which, apparently with a national tendency, apparently fighting only with the proletariat of its nation, but in reality, because all states are imperialist, all are at war with each other, and all are fighting for world power, is fighting as a whole against the entire proletariat of the world.

And in response to this, to this first joint action of world capital against the world proletariat, the first international action of the proletariat must now begin.31

(bold by FC.)

Lenin wanted to keep open the possibility of national self-determination to weaken Russian tsarism, which ruled its empire like a prison of nations. Moreover, Lenin and Trotsky saw the revolution in Russia as a bourgeois revolution carried out by the proletariat, or rather by the proletarian party. They derived this idea from statements by Marx about the 1848 revolution in Germany, for example, in the Communist Manifesto.32

In the meantime, more than 100 years have passed. The First World War was followed – as predicted by Pannekoek and Gorter – by a Second World War. Then came the Cold War and the proxy wars that the great powers have been waging with each other through other countries and national liberation movements ever since. Every so-called “national” war, every war of national liberation, has turned out to be an inter-imperialist war that the great powers wage with each other through smaller states and movements that aspire to become states. Even before the open struggle begins, the latter subordinate their “people,” especially the working class, to the national capital, from taxation to militarisation and death. Not only during the struggle but even in advance, they secure the financial and military support of larger states in return for serving their immediate and future interests. This too is imperialist policy, the imperialism of the “oppressed nations,” the accommodation to the division of the world into capitalist spheres of influence, and the effort to impose one’s own capitalist interests in every conflict. Imperialism is the policy of all states and states in the making, not just that of certain dominant states. It is above all the Trotskyists, Stalinists, and Maoists who, despite centuries of experience with the anti-working class character of “oppressed nations,” cling to Lenin’s numerous distinctions between oppressive countries and oppressed nations, imperialist and non-imperialist countries.

But even those who do not base their theory on this left-bourgeois “Leninism” or even explicitly call themselves anti-Leninists and at the same time want to work on the basis of what the workers or the (ordinary) people think and do at a given moment, have to get bent out of shape concerning the current war in Ukraine to determine, which country is the aggressor and which is defending itself, which people have a right to self-determination and which do not, and what this right to self-determination means, what diplomatic, financial, military support from countries not directly involved in the war means, especially the policy of their “own” country, what annexation means, what neutrality means, even what peace means. These people and groups are also receptive to all kinds of “concrete” and subtle analyses of the differences between countries. They may consider an internationalist position based on the positions taken by Luxemburg, Pannekoek, and Gorter in the First World War to be “simplistic.” This is especially true of workerist groups in Germany, the land of “contemplative” materialism and “critical critique.” For the sake of brevity, I refer those who raise this objection of simplification to the analyses, also very concrete and subtle, made by Gorter in his pamphlet on the imperialist policies of various countries in the First World War. I do not want to overwhelm the reader with a reproduction of this information.

Lenin and imperialism as the highest stage

For Lenin, the Bolsheviks lacked a theory of imperialism that could serve two different purposes:

  1. a rejection of the defense of the fatherland in the First World War.
  2. the use of the right of nations to self-determination specifically to weaken tsarism, generally to weaken the great powers.

To this end, Lenin wrote in Switzerland in the spring of 1916, Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism. A popular outline. It was published in book form only in mid-1917 in Petersburg. When writing it in 1916, Lenin considered the tsarist censors so we can find no clear statements on the world war in this text. He relies mainly on comments by bourgeois theorists about the tendency to form cartels and monopolies. Lenin occasionally tries – in vain – to relativize the absolute contrast between a period of freedom-loving private capitalism and a subsequent phase of dominating and parasitic monopoly capitalism. But this does not prevent him from performing a “dialectical” magic trick with which Lenin hits – incidentally, completely unconsciously – a third, future target of Bolshevism:

3. state monopolist capitalism as the basis of “socialism,” and specifically state capitalism run by the party.

In Chapter VII, as a summary of the preceding, the following formulation is found, which serves this third aim:

Imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental characteristics of capitalism in general. But capitalism only became capitalist imperialism at a definite and very high stage of its development, when certain of its fundamental characteristics began to change into their opposites, when the features of the epoch of transition from capitalism to a higher social and economic system had taken shape and revealed themselves in all spheres. Economically, the main thing in this process is the displacement of capitalist free competition by capitalist monopoly.33

As Jan Appel later showed in his critique of Lenin’s The State and Revolution, Lenin borrowed his state capitalist views from the reformism of German social democracy, in particular Hilferding’s theory.34 In Imperialism the Highest Stage, Lenin repeatedly quotes Hilferding.

Then in Chapter VII Lenin attempts to give “a definition of imperialism that will include the following five of its basic features:

(1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life;

(2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital,” of a financial oligarchy;

(3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance;

(4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves and

(5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed. Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.” 35

Note that in point 5, Lenin says that the territorial division of the world is complete. Earlier, he had conceded that this was the decisive argument for Luxemburg’s thesis: “National wars can no longer exist”.36

At the same time, Lenin points out that this is an economic definition, which he will later supplement with a historical definition.37 This occurs in Chapter VIII, where Lenin explains:

One of the shortcomings of the Marxist Hilferding is that on this point he has taken a step backward compared with the non-Marxist Hobson. I refer to parasitism, which is characteristic of imperialism. …

For that reason, the term “rentier state” (Rentnerstaat), or usurer state, is coming into common use in the economic literature that deals with imperialism. The world has become divided into a handful of usurer states and a vast majority of debtor states.38

While Hilferding described the function of finance capital in the capitalism of his time, Lenin added Hobson’s negative assessment. The fact that he described monopoly capitalism in its “dirty-Judaical manifestation” – which Marx accused Feuerbach of doing 39 – did not bother Lenin in the least. After all, this qualification went down well in largely anti-Semitic Russia. In the use of terms like “usurer” and “parasitism” it is clear that Lenin wanted to accommodate the “great majority of debtor states,” as he points out in Chapter IX in formulations that would pass tsarist censorship. In Chapter X is summarised:

Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination and not for freedom, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or most powerful nations — all these have given birth to those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism. More and more prominently there emerges, as one of the tendencies of imperialism, the creation of the “rentier state”, the usurer state…. 40

Finally, in Chapter X, Lenin can reveal his visionary view of the place of imperialism in history, of dying capitalism, including the state-capitalist development of the Soviet Union:

We have seen that in its economic essence imperialism is monopoly capitalism. This in itself determines its place in history, for monopoly that grows out of the soil of free competition, and precisely out of free competition, is the transition from the capitalist system to a higher socio-economic order. …

From all that has been said in this book on the economic essence of imperialism, it follows that we must define it as capitalism in transition, or, more precisely, as moribund capitalism. It is very instructive in this respect to note that bourgeois economists, in describing modern capitalism, frequently employ catchwords and phrases like “interlocking”, “absence of isolation”, etc.; “in conformity with their functions and course of development”, banks are “not purely private business enterprises: they are more and more outgrowing the sphere of purely private business regulation”. And this very Riesser, whose words I have just quoted, declares with all seriousness that the “prophecy” of the Marxists concerning “socialization” has “not come true”! …

When a big enterprise assumes gigantic proportions, and, on the basis of an exact computation of mass data, organises according to plan the supply of primary raw materials to the extent of two-thirds, or three-fourths, of all that is necessary for tens of millions of people; when the raw materials are transported in a systematic and organised manner to the most suitable places of production, sometimes situated hundreds or thousands of miles from each other; when a single centre directs all the consecutive stages of processing the material right up to the manufacture of numerous varieties of finished articles; when these products are distributed according to a single plan among tens and hundreds of millions of consumers (the marketing of oil in America and Germany by the American oil trust)—then it becomes evident that we have socialisation of production, and not mere “interlocking”, that private economic and private property relations constitute a shell which no longer fits its contents, a shell which must inevitably decay if its removal is artificially delayed, a shell which may remain in a state of decay for a fairly long period (if, at the worst, the cure of the opportunist abscess is protracted), but which will inevitably be removed.41

Lenin presents a theory of imperialism that, despite his admitted division of the world into capitalist spheres of influence, allows for an entirely arbitrary distinction between the “genuine” imperialist countries and the countries they oppress. As was common in his time, Lenin associated imperialism with an assumed period of decline or transition of capitalism. Considering production and distribution as already socialized in the cartels and monopolies (and especially in the German war economy, which Lenin did not mention for reasons of censorship ), limited socialization, replacing private ownership of the means of production with state ownership, would be sufficient to begin a supposed socialism:

… For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely a state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly..42

The domestic and foreign policies of the Soviet Union and the “oppressed nations”

In her posthumously published The Russian Revolution, Luxemburg pointed out the disastrous consequences of the right to secede from the nations oppressed under tsarism. Instead of behaving as Lenin and co. expected, as loyal allies of the revolution in Russia, these nations aligned themselves with German imperialism as the mortal enemy of that revolution. The self-determination of nations delivered, among others, the workers of Poland and Ukraine to their bourgeoisie.43 Then the Bolsheviks tried to win Poland back for “their” Russia through military action by the Red Army. This failed. In the case of Ukraine, it succeeded. From 7 November 1917, Stalin, as People’s Commissar for Nationalities, with the approval of Lenin and Trotsky, forcibly bound many independent “nations” to Russia.

The first result of the right of nations, was the counter-revolutionary encirclement of revolutionary Russia with a ring of small states ruled by the extreme right. To give just one example: Nationally independent Poland was ruled by Józef Piłsudski, a former party member of Luxemburg, who advocated national dependence for Poland against her.

When the Bolsheviks realized around 1920 that the Soviet Union could not break out of its isolation through a proletarian revolution in Germany, they began to seek cooperation with the German generals. Karl Radek had started to make contacts from his German imprisonment during the workers’ uprising in the Ruhr against the Kapp Putsch. Presumably, with Moscow’s approval, the KPD joined the Bielefeld Agreement, which disarmed the Red Army that the workers had formed in the Ruhr. Thousands of revolutionary workers were subsequently massacred by the Reichswehr and the Freikorps, later giving rise to National Socialism.

From then on, the Bolsheviks arbitrarily applied the right of peoples to self-determination and the distinction between imperialist and oppressed peoples to every aspect of Russian foreign policy. Their initial rejection of the Hamburg “national Bolshevism,” which advocated cooperation with the German generals and the Soviet Union in the defense of Germany against France and England, gave way to its approval. Suddenly the Comintern discovered that the Treaty of Versailles had made Germany a debtor nation oppressed by the imperialism of France and England. The KAPD and the GIC have extensively documented this betrayal of proletarian internationalism by the Comintern and its affiliated communist parties. For a summary of the case of Germany up to the Hitler-Stalin pact in World War II, see Russia and The Great Defeat of the German Working Class in 1933.44

For the reorientation of Russian foreign policy towards the East since 1923, see The Development of Soviet Foreign Policy.45 This policy had disastrous consequences for China’s communists and revolutionary workers, who were massacred in 1927 by the bourgeois Kwo Min Tang, which Moscow had imposed on them as an ally. See in the above text, Part 2, the chapters On the Road to the East and The Massacre of the Chinese Workers’ Revolution.

At the end of the 1930s, the GIC was faced with what position to take towards the approaching Second World War: Should the European workers defend Russia? 46 The answer to this question confronted the GIC with its own (in my view, incorrect)47 view that the revolution in Russia was a bourgeois revolution, similar to the French Revolution of 1792, albeit with some differences. In striking agreement with Lenin’s view in Imperialism as the Highest Stage, the GIC argued that Russia …

was heavily exploited by the tsarist government as an agent of West European capital. The Russian revolution was, at the same time throwing off the debt burden of this capital. Lenin and the Bolsheviks knew big capital above all as colonial capital exploiting foreign peoples; therefore, their sympathy was with all the other peoples of Asia, also plundered, and they called on them – Persia, China, India – to fight against oppressive, mainly British, capital. Thus, Russia became the vanguard of a worldwide struggle of Asia’s colonial or semi-colonial peoples against European colonial capital. They identified the struggle of the West European and American workers for communism with this struggle.48

Against this identification of the struggles of workers in the West with those of workers and plundered peoples in the East, the GIC pointed out the differences in character and objective:

  • Destruction of capitalism and elimination of all exploitation as opposed to the expulsion of foreign capitalism to become exploiters themselves and harvest the fruits of exploitation.
  • The perfection of the high level of production technology in the most developed countries through self-organization of the producing population, in contrast with a first start with the new technology in poor primitive production in liberated colonial countries.
  • The workers’ victory means a fusion of production and the producing peoples into an international world unity. Victories of the Asian peoples in their struggle against world capital mean victories of nationalism, the founding of new nation-states.

From these differences, the GIC drew the following conclusion:

The workers need all their strength for their own task, their own liberation, and in doing so, they will ultimately do the greatest service to the liberation of the whole world. Much more than if they tried to build or support new classes of exploiters in the East.49

The GIC refused to take sides with Russia or any other camp during World War II. This was one of the main reasons why many former members of the GIC, which was disbanded after the German invasion in 1940, joined the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front, which was also a proletarian internationalist.

Conclusion

Lenin was able to adopt a proletarian internationalist position in the First World War by recognizing, initially to Luxemburg, that all countries participating and neutral in that war were motivated to secure their share of an already capitalistically divided world. In doing so, he made the reservation that, however, in other situations the right of nations to self-determination could still apply. In Imperialism, the highest stage, Lenin succeeded in 1916 in saving the right of self-determination with a vulgarising explanation of the role of finance capital. The world is said to be divided into imperialist and non-imperialist countries. At the same time, it succeeds in presenting capitalism as in decline and state-monopoly capitalism as the socialization of the means of production, which only need a Bolshevik government to be considered socialist.

In contrast, the KAPD and the GIC and their theoreticians Gorter and Pannekoek, each with their weaknesses, held that the First World War was the turning point towards imperialism, since all states – including those in the process of being founded – used their working class in the bloody struggle to redivide the world. Imperialism is the search by all the larger and smaller national capitals for a way to get the best possible space for themselves in the only way possible in a capitalist divided world, namely by entering into economic and military alliances with other smaller or larger national capitals.

Lenin’s theory of imperialism can be used – and has been used – to defend both Russia and Ukraine, both Ukraine and the breakaway Donbas republics, both the USA and the NATO and EU countries, both China and Russia, in short, all countries as victims of imperialism or as imperialists themselves.

The theory of imperialism of the German-Dutch communist left, for which Gorter laid the foundation in his 1914 pamphlet, makes it possible to apply proletarian internationalism since the First World War to the slaughter now taking place daily in Ukraine:

  • The war in Ukraine results from the division of the world into capitalist spheres of influence.
  • Russia and Ukraine are directly involved in the war. All other countries are indirectly affected. The most powerful countries in the background are the United States and China, which are gearing up for a Third World War as a declining and rising world economic power. All countries, even the less powerful, are trying to make the most of the capitalist redistribution of the world that is the result of this war in Ukraine and the inter-imperialist wars that will follow.
  • The “defense of one’s own people” that both Russia and Ukraine call for is merely the slogan they use to call on the workers of their countries to massacre each other for the interests of capital.
  • For the working class of all countries, the following applies: the enemy is in one’s own country, (class) war to (inter-imperialist) war, no class peace, but a continuation of the workers’ struggle to revolution, even if this leads to the defeat of “one’s own” country in the war (revolutionary defeatism), the transformation of the imperialist war into the proletarian world revolution.

Amsterdam, 8-4-2022

Afterword

After the publication of the above article, I received a comment on the fragment where the text states that there have been no ‘national wars’ since WW1. This fragment may be misunderstood as a denial of the reality of the formation of new national states. Obviously, there have been new states since 1914. The point is that these states are formed in the determinant and irreversible context of capitalist imperialism. None of these new states have represented what used to happen in the period before 1914: in national wars, the interests of developing capitalism were being settled against the pre-capitalist relations of the past.

A national war is a war for the defense of a nation or for its historical emergence. In the imperialist period, a national war did not lose its national characteristics, but they are determined by the imperialist character of the capitalist domination of the world.

After the First World War, when nations were victorious in a national war (and even in skirmishes and pacts, it was not all exclusively wars), what won was not capitalism over the pre-capitalist past, but one bourgeois side against the other, all within capitalist imperialism.

It may be confusing to declare that there were no national wars after the First World War. Its social-historical character changed since imperialism irreversibly determined that change.

For not understanding this, Bolshevism condemned itself to the infamous Leninist policy of defending some nationalist bourgeoisie, which it described as progressive and non-imperialist – anti-imperialist was the term they coined – but Rosa, Gorter, and Pannekoek had got it right. Bordiga and co. did not, they took some steps forward, but it took them a long time to see it more clearly, trying to find an excuse for Lenin and co.

F.C. 9-5-2022

Notes

1 In order not to tire the reader unnecessarily, the further use of inverted commas is largely dispensed with

2 The Communist Left consisted of the early opposition within the communist parties and within the Communist International, which was soon dominated by the foreign policy interests of the Bolshevik government of Russia. The main left wings were the Italian, also called Bordigists, and the German/Dutch (KAPD, Gorter and Pannekoek). The latter espoused a theory of imperialism that differed considerably from Lenin’s. The Italian Left was more in line with Lenin and stayed longer in the Comintern than the KAPD

3 It is beyond my knowledge and interest to go into all the details – if not the twists and turns – of Lenin’s views, as some comrades in Italy do, faced with doubts and even class betrayals within Bordigism. See for example: Circolo Internazionalista “coalizione operaia”. For a refutation see: Aníbal, Critical evaluation of the text of the Circolo internazionalista “coalizione operaia”

4 Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Chapter Two: The Metaphysics of Political Economy

5 Peter Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (1965), Kapitel II, S. 113

6 With thanks to Aníbal, I refer as an example to Engels’ letter to Kautsky of 7.2.1882, MEW, Bd. 35, S. 269.

7 Peter Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (1965), Anhang 2, Die nationale Frage, S. 813/814

8 MEW, Bd, 27, S. 266. Quoted by Peter Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (1965), Anhang 2, Die nationale Frage, S. 810. Several references there to the strategic approach of Engels in particular

9 The section on Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of imperialism is taken from my 2016 text on Fasen in de ontwikkeling van het kapitalisme. I deleted fragments that defended the theory of the decadence of capitalism. I now consider this view untenable and wrong from the start. See: Capitalism is coming to an end. But how?

10 Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Ch. 1

11 Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Band III, MEW Bd. 25, S. 839

12 Luxemburg, R, Gesammelte Werke Band 5, Berlin 1975, S. 297

13 Luxemburg, R. Gesammelte Werke Band 5, Berlin 1975, S. 364

14 Rosa Luxemburg, What Does the Spartacus League Want? (December 1918)

15 Ibidem

16 Ibidem

17 Program of the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD), May 1920

18 Anton Pannekoek, The Destruction of Nature (1909)

19 Anton Pannekoek, The economic necessity of imperialism. (1916). See in more detail Pannekoek’s rejection of several economic crisis theories in: Pannekoek, The theory of the collapse of capitalism (1934)

20 Junius (ps. Rosa Luxemburg), Theses on the Tasks of International Social-Democracy (late 1915)

21 Lenin, The Junius Pamphlet (1916)

22 Anton Pannekoek, De ineenstorting van de Internationale (1914), p. 5 (in Dutch language)

23 Lenin Werke Bd. 35, S.143, Berlin 1979. Lenin Collected Works, vol. 15, Moscow, 1966, p. 168

24 Pieter Jelles Troelstra (1860-1930) was a founding member of the SDAP (Sociaal-Demokratische Arbeiders Partij) in the Netherlands. He pushed the left-wing out of the party, which then founded the SDP (Sociaal-Demokratische Partij) in 1909. Prominent members were Pannekoek and Gorter

25 Anton Pannekoek, De ineenstorting van de Internationale (1914), p. 9/10

26 Anton Pannekoek, The downfall of the International, in The New Review, p. 11/12. Here, Pannekoek does not mention the necessity of exporting capital

27 Herman Gorter, Het imperialisme, de wereldoorlog en de sociaaldemocratie (1914). A total of three editions of this version appeared. Gorter rejected a German translation by Pannekoek because Pannekoek would have made too much of it his own pamphlet. Augusta de Wit would then have translated the first edition into German (1915), relatively poor. Gorter rejected a translation from German into English by the International Socialist Review. This version might have appeared on marxists.org. The version referred to by Gorter’s biographer De Liagre Böhl appeared after the war in Munich in 1919. (Source: SUN edition, p. 127/131). This last German translation is correct and has recently been republished. Here we always quote from this new edition

28 Lenin, Die Sophismen der Sozialchauvinisten (1915). Lenin Werke, Bd. 21, S. 176. One may find the quotation from Gorter in the new edition of Gorter’s brochure on p. 88/9

29New edition of Gorter’s brochure, p. 61/2

30 Lenin, The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Self-Determination. Theses (Vorbote 1916). Lenin Works, vol. 22,. Because the footnote no. 3 quoted here is missing in Lenin Works, it has been translated from German, Lenin, Die sozialistische Revolution und das Selbstbestimmungsrecht. Thesen (Vorbote 1916). Lenin Werke, Bd. 22, p. 153

31New edition of Gorter’s brochure,p.61/2

32 I gave a critique of this idea of “permanent revolution” in The fatal myth of the bourgeois revolution in Russia

33 Lenin, Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chap. VII. Imperialism as a special stage of capitalism

34 GIC, Marxism and state communism. The withering away of the state. Besides, Pannekoek, even before 1917, repeatedly criticized the state and communal capitalist tendencies of reformism, cf. Staatsmonopol und Sozialismus (1911)

35 Lenin, Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chap. VII. Imperialism as a special stage of capitalism

36 Lenin, The Junius Pamphlet (1916)

37 Lenin, Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chap. VII. Imperialism as a special stage of capitalism

38 Lenin, Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chap. VIII. Parasitism and decay of capitalism

39 Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, thesis 1

40 Lenin, Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chap. X. The Place of Imperialism in der History

41 Ibidem

42 Lenin, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It (September 1917)

43 Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution (1918). The quotations relevant here were reproduced by GIC in the article Die Ideologie des Nationalismus, Radencommunisme, November 1939. See also the recently published book with translations into German, Rätekommunismus 1938 bis 1940, edited by Thomas Köningshofen, p. 323

44 Published in Radencommunisme, June 1939. German translation in Rätekommunismus 1938 bis 1940, herausgegeben von Thomas Köningshofen, p. 229

45 „Die Entwicklung der russischen Außenpolitik von 1917-1935“ / [Marxistisk Arbejder Politik, Dänemark]. – In: Internationale Rätekorrespondenz : Theoretisches und Diskussionsorgan für die Rätebewegung.  – Ausg[abe] der Gruppe Int[ernationaler]. Kommunisten, Holland. – 1935, Nr. 13 (Oktober). In the reissue of the whole Internationale Rätekorrespondenz 1934-1937 / Gruppe Internationaler Kommunisten (Holland), p 253

46 February 1939 published in Rätekommunismus 1938 bis 1940, p. 146

47 See FC, The fatal myth of the bourgeois revolution in Russia

48 Rätekommunismus 1938 bis 1940, p. 148

49 Ibidem, p. 149

4 Comments on “The inter-imperialist war in Ukraine

  1. Pingback: Ukraine: Charles Reeve leans on Michael Roberts, Trotsky, and Lenin | Left wing communism

  2. Pingback: Der zwischenimperialistische Krieg in der Ukraine – Arbeiterstimmen

  3. Pingback: THE IMPERIALIST WAR AROUND THE UKRAINIAN “FAULT LINE” | Left wing communism

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