Revolutionary defeatism

Revolutionary defeatism

A tactic that is the only possible internationalist response to any war or conflict between two bourgeois or bureaucratic factions in the decadence of capitalism. It consists of the denunciation of both parties ("the enemy is in your own country") and the corresponding call to turn the war into revolutionary civil war, that is to say, into class war ("war on war").


The outbreak of the first imperialist war that took place on a world battlefield in August 1914 marked a point of no return in the development of imperialism. Capitalism showed that it had found a limit to its geographical expansion from which any extension of the scope of national markets would necessarily become a conflict between states. On the other hand, the conditions of economic growth during the war and in the reconstruction, over piles of corpses and ruined cities, and by states structurally marked by militarism, increasingly totalitarian states, clearly indicated that the dissociation between development and economic growth was already a world reality. Capitalism no longer allowed the free development of productive forces. It had entered its phase of decadence.

In decadence all wars between two bourgeois factions are reactionary, since what is historically the order of the day is the overcoming of capitalism. There can be no progressive capitalism, no rising capitalism in a single country... because the global, systemic conditions make it impossible. In fact, any conflict between states is necessarily imperialist, whoever is formally the "aggressor", since in reality all national capital loses the possibility of expanding, of reaching new markets with their corresponding sales and investment opportunities. National capital is constrained within the borders it created in its day to develop, there is a permanent tendency to crisis and a hunger for markets that, unable to be satiated, transforms the organization of national capital and its relationship to the state.

Imperialism has completely buried the old bourgeois democratic program; the expansion beyond national borders (whatever the national conditions of the annexed countries were) became the platform of the bourgeoisie in all countries. If the term "national" remained, its real content and function have become its opposite; it acts only as a miserable cover for imperialist aspirations and a battle cry for their rivalries, as the only and ultimate ideological means of gaining the support of the masses of people to play their role as cannon fodder in the imperialist wars.

Rosa Luxemburg. The Crisis of Social Democracy, 1916

The European states are sending one after another their own workers to die and slaughter other workers en masse in a war of extermination that expresses the extent to which over-accumulation has been reached and to what extent the markets, both national and colonial, were becoming insufficient at an accelerated rate for each and every national capital. The war is global because capitalism no longer "fits" in the national market, because capital has entered into acute contradiction with the national state.

War precipitates the break between the left and opportunism within the International. With one excuse or another - the war for France would have only a defensive character, for Germany the aim would be to put an end to the tsarist feudal regime, etc. - practically all the big socialist parties are closing ranks around the war effort of their bourgeoisies. The SPD parliamentary group votes en bloc to approve the war credits. Only Karl Liebknecht votes against it and is prevented from reading his argument, from incorporating it into the order of business and from publishing it in any newspaper.

My vote against the War Credits Bill today is based on the following considerations: This war, desired by none of the peoples involved, has not been waged for the welfare of the German people or any other. It is an imperialist war, a war for the distribution of important territories of exploitation for capitalists and financiers. From the point of view of arms rivalry, it is a war provoked jointly by the German and Austrian war parties, in the darkness of semi-feudalism and secret diplomacy, in order to gain advantages over their opponents. At the same time the war is a Bonapartist effort to disorganize and split the growing working class movement.

Karl Liebknecht. Vote against war credits, 1914

When Lenin, in Zurich, reads the Vorwarts, the official newspaper of German social democracy, supporting the war and the credits, he thinks that the copy he holds in his hands is a forgery created by German military intelligence. The collapse of the International is total and it is time to leave it for dead.

The betrayal of socialism committed by the majority of the leaders of the Second International (1889-1914) means the political and ideological bankruptcy of this International. The main cause of this bankruptcy lies in the effective predominance of petty-bourgeois opportunism, whose bourgeois character and danger have long been pointed out by the best representatives of the revolutionary proletariat of all countries. The opportunists have long been preparing the bankruptcy of the Second International by denying the socialist revolution and replacing it with bourgeois reformism; by denying the class struggle and its indispensable transformation, at certain moments, into civil war, and by advocating class collaboration; by advocating bourgeois chauvinism under the names of patriotism and defence of the fatherland; and by omitting or denying the fundamental truth of socialism, already set forth in the Communist Manifesto, that the workers have no fatherland; by limiting itself in the struggle against militarism to the petty-bourgeois sentimental point of view instead of recognizing the need for war by the proletarians of all countries against the bourgeoisie of all countries; by turning the unavoidable use of bourgeois parliamentarism and bourgeois legality into a fetishism of this legality and forgetting that, in times of crisis, clandestine forms of organization and agitation are forced.

Lenin. Tasks of the Revolutionary Social Democracy in the European War, 1914

The revolutionary social democracy, the left wing of the Second International, is being set in motion under a hitherto unknown level of general repression. They are few, very few, fighting against an atmosphere of warmongering hysteria promoted by the media and protected by the strictest censorship.

The absurd slogan "hold on" has hit rock bottom. It only takes us deeper and deeper into the vortex of genocide. The class struggle of the international proletariat against international imperialist genocide is the socialist mandate for this hour.

The main enemy of each people is at home!

The main enemy of the German people is in Germany. German imperialism, the German war party, German secret diplomacy. This enemy at home must be fought by the German people in political struggle, cooperating with the proletariat of other countries whose struggle is against their own imperialists.

Karl Liebknecht, The Main Enemy is at Home, 1915

To turn the weapons against the real enemy, to transform war into revolution. When Lenin launches the first characteristic slogans of "revolutionary defeatism" they sounds surreal in the midst of the oppressive environment of patriotic hooliganism.

To make broad propaganda, extending it both to the troops and to the theatre of military operations, of the socialist revolution and of the need to direct the weapons not against our brothers, the wage-slaves of other countries, but against the reactionary and bourgeois governments and parties of all countries. To organize compulsory clandestine cells and groups among the troops of all nations to carry out this propaganda in all languages. To fight relentlessly against the chauvinism and "patriotism" of the petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie of all countries without exception. Against the leaders of the present International, who have betrayed socialism, to appeal compulsorily to the revolutionary consciousness of the working masses, who bear on their shoulders the whole weight of the war and, in most cases, are the enemies of opportunism and chauvinism.

Lenin. The Tasks of Revolutionary Social Democracy in the European War, 1914

There is no internationalism without revolutionary defeatism

Since the First Imperialist World War, it is impossible to assert internationalism without putting revolutionary defeatism into practice.

[The] revolutionary meaning [of internationalism is the] Solidarity of the world proletariat as unity against international capitalism. Solidarity in both ideas and deeds, directed against nationhood and patriotism in the first place, including the colonial countries.

There can be no higher interest than that of the world proletariat, not even that of a country where the revolution would have triumphed. The internationalists fight with equal viciousness against the two contending sides in the local imperialist wars (Vietnam) as well as in the wars of a world character and point to the respective partials and propagandists as traffickers in human flesh.

They propose and strive to organize the action of the exploited, on the front and on the rear, against their respective governments and military commanders. All national defense - even in its degree of resistance - masks exploitation and oppression. The immediate enemy is, for each proletariat, in its own country; hostility against it to the maximum is a prerequisite for unleashing the struggle of the proletariat in other countries and undertaking, together, the destruction of capitalism throughout the world.

Therefore, the internationalists reject as reactionary the slogan: "No interference in the internal affairs of another country". It is intended to prevent solidarity and collective action by the proletariat in the various countries, while it advocates constant economic interference by the great powers in the affairs of the small ones and often entails their military intervention: local wars, invasion of Tibet, Santo Domingo, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, Cuba, plus the gigantic arms trade. The proletariat of any country has, more than the right, the obligation to intervene in the struggles of the proletariat of any other country.

G. Munis."A lexicon of contemporary political trickery, compared to the revolutionary lexicon.", 1970 defeatism