The Anti-War Left 100 Years Ago vs the Anti-War Left Today

Thanks to Ben Norton for permission to reprint his article. It’s spirit is spot on.

He concludes with the question: ” “Dialectics”? What’s that?”

One might also ask of today’s pseudo-left: “Internationalist solidarity”? What’s that?

* * * *

When confronted with the obscene violence of World War I 100 years ago, the strategy of the leaders of the internationalist Left was to oppose both bourgeois sides of the inter-imperialist conflict and instead advance the cause of proletarian internationalism.

Today, the strategy of much of the “internationalist” “Left” is to simply support the side that’s not the West in a kneejerk reaction and dub it “anti-imperialism.”

World War I caused a major split in the global Left. Many of the leading revolutionaries—those of whom are now some of the most celebrated figures in the history of socialism—opposed the war outright. Yet more than a few parties supported the war. This disagreement led to the dissolution of the Second International, and later to the failure of the German Revolution.

Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Clara Zetkin formed Die Internationale—which later became the Spartacus League (not to be confused with the absurd Sparticist League of today), which in turn later became the Communist Party of Germany (KPD)—explicitly in order to oppose the pro-war Left, particularly the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which supported the war. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were imprisoned for their opposition to the war.

Lenin referred to the war as “the imperialist war” and condemned socialists who chose a side as “social-chauvinists.” US leftists steadfastly opposed the war, and Woodrow Wilson was even re-elected in 1916 with the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War”—although he reneged on his promises and plunged into the inter-imperialist violence.

If today’s “leftists” were alive then and endorsed the same logic they do now, they would have likely written off these leading leftist figures as “utopians” and “‘useful idiots’ of Western imperialism” and instead supported the Central Powers. After all, the Central Powers consisted of relatively eastern nations—the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Emirate of Jabal Shammar (in much of modern-day Saudi Arabia)—which were fighting the imperialist West—including the UK, France, the US, and more of the states in modern-day NATO.

Our day’s supposed anti-imperialists insist that we must defend the bourgeois, quasi-fascist regimes of Syria, Russia, and more against supposed “Western encroachment” (mimicking the “lesser evil” argument liberals love to wield to continuously re-elect neoliberal Democrats who were bought and sold on Wall Street on day one). Assad’s counterrevolutionary war of terrorism against his own population must be defended, they insist; Putin’s war in Ukraine must be supported, even though he himself is supported by and supports Europe’s neo-Nazi and other fascist groups.

This strange illogic leads to authoritarian “leftists” fighting in Ukraine literally side-by-side with Nazis, in defense of Russia. In 2015, a group of Spanish “communists” who returned from fighting on behalf of Russia in the war in Ukraine—which has left many thousands dead—were arrested. They had joined the pro-Russian so-called Donbass International Brigades (so named in a slanderous and ludicrous attempt to associate itself with the International Brigades from the Spanish Civil War). They received neither travel expenses nor a salary for their fighting. They proudly boasted that they fought aside both Nazis and “communists.”

“Half of them are communists and the other half are Nazis,” they explained. “We fought together, communists and Nazis alike … We all want the same: social justice and the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”

If today’s “leftists” are incapable of actually distinguishing leftists from fascists, one can only imagine their response to World War II. After all, the far-right, capitalist, racist tyranny of National “Socialism” presented itself as a “worker’s party.” Hitler exploited the popularity of socialism among the working class, in order to advance one of the most horrific campaigns of terror in human history. One can almost hear the same “leftists” today who claim “Actually, it was the rebels who gassed themselves, not Assad” saying, in the 1940s, “Actually, I think it was Jews who used the gas chambers against the Nazis.” “The allegations against the ‘legitimate government’ are just Western propaganda,” they would claim, in both cases.

Today’s “leftists” would have doubtless sided with the Ottoman Empire too in its crushing of the 1916-1918 Arab Revolt, disparaging it as a “Western-backed plot,” in the same manner in which they slander the Syrian Revolution now.

Just as many “leftists” today insist that Russia, Iran, and China are not actually imperialist powers because—although they are bourgeois capitalist nations engaging in imperial domination—their imperialism is not equivalent in magnitude to that of the world’s hegemon, the US, they would likely have supported the “lesser evil” of the Central Powers in WWI. (“Here’s a map of the world’s ubiquitous US military bases and here’s a map of Iran’s (lack of) military bases—see, proof Iran is not imperialist!” constitutes a common “anti-imperialist” argument today.)

Sure, the Central Powers may have been brutally oppressive bourgeois regimes—like those today of Assad, Putin, Ayatollah Khamenei, and more—but they were not the world’s leading imperialist powers, so they should have been defended. Muh “anti-imperialism”!

Today’s Left has absorbed the manichean, black-or-white Stalinist logic of the Cold War into their very beings.

“Dialectics”? What’s that?

2 thoughts on “The Anti-War Left 100 Years Ago vs the Anti-War Left Today

  1. I’m not so sure that Stalin dererves the credit for the kind of black and white, one sided and, wait for it, non dialectical thinking that characterises the left as described above (pseudo left sounds more accurate). While I am not suggesting that Ben is sheeting home responsibility to Stalin (it’s obvious he isn’t) the line highlights a problem that has crippled more than just todays left and that is its external focus. That is, everythings been crap for the past 100 years because of imperialism and for the past 70 we needn’t go past US imperialism, the bete noir we all need and can all blame. Amongst the anti imperialist forces, now led by right, US imperialism has become the modern equivalent of the medieval Anti Christ, a ‘title’ accorded the Pope more than most during the 16th and !7th centuries. Its power and frequency of use waned after the English Revolution and by the end of the 17thC had moved from the mainstream to the fringe. It is as telling as it is disturbing that the descriptor has made a comeback, being used and seriously believed in by Islamic fascists and other medievalist reactionaries, fine anti imperialists all. Dialectics has been turned on its head; rather than the internal contradiction being the leading or most influential factor, the one driving or holding back development (depending upon which aspect you look at) it is the external that trumps all else and which thereby justifies the embracing of fascism and other obscurantist ideologies. This is more than misguided, it is openly reactionary.

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