100 years since the start of the great imperialist slaughter!

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YESTERDAY, August 4th, saw the leaders of the major imperialist powers remembering the centenary of the start of the first great imperialist slaughter, the 1914-18 world war. This saw tens of millions of workers and colonial slaves organised to sacrifice their lives to see whether German or Anglo-French imperialism would rule the planet.

In popular bourgeois fiction it is depicted as a war that nobody saw coming, or as an ‘accident’ that arose out of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

This is a lie. The rival groups had been frantically rearming for the previous 25 years, and a conflict over the spoils of empire was only a matter of when.

It was however a shock, not least to the Socialist Second International, which had foreseen the war many years before and had carried resolutions as to how the various sections of the International should act when the hour struck.

However, on August 4 1914, the German socialist party (SPD) voted for war credits with only Liebknecht, Luxembourg and Mehring opposed.

Of the members of the Second Socialist International, only the Bolshevik members of the Duma voted against the war – all the rest keeled over to the enormous bourgeois pressure to support their own imperialist governments – the greatest betrayal in history.

Even Lenin and Trotsky were shocked. Lenin said he believed the copy of Vorwarts which reported the SPD’s support for the war to be a forgery produced by the German military. Rosa Luxemburg was paralysed with shock and is said to have contemplated suicide.

It was Luxemburg and Lenin, together with Martov, who had successfully proposed the motion at the 1907 Stuttgart Congress of the Second International which demanded that, in the event of war, socialists would ‘do all in their power to utilise the economic and political crises caused by the war to rouse the peoples and thereby to hasten the abolition of capitalist class rule’.

This resolution was re-affirmed on many subsequent occasions. Even as late as July 1914, the Executive of the German SDP was insisting that ‘No drop of blood of a German soldier may be sacrificed to. . . the imperialist profit-interests’.

An entire International, when tested by great events, keeled over and became recruiting sergeants for imperialism.

Lenin, however, used the war to deepen his knowledge of Marxism and imperialism, and consciously prepared for revolution.

In his work Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism, he analysed the monopolisation of banking and industry into great cartels that sought to rule the world, and fashioned state apparatus to do just that, defining the epoch of imperialism ‘as the highest and last stage if capitalism’. He wrote that ‘Imperialism is the eve of the proletarian socialist revolution.’ He consciously prepared for an eruption of the world socialist revolution which the war, the highest expression of the world crisis, was driving forward. Lenin fought for a revolutionary consciousness with his slogans that ‘The enemy is at home’ and ‘turn the imperialist war into a civil war’.

When capitalism broke at its weakest link in the Russian February revolution, Lenin was back in Petrograd by April. In his first speech after arrival he outlined his thesis.

This was that ‘Under the new government of Lvov and Co the war unquestionably remains on Russia’s part a predatory imperialist war. . . not the slightest concession must be made to “revolutionary defencism”.’

He again emphasised ‘no support for the provisional government’, and that it must be explained to the masses that the ‘Soviet of Workers Deputies is the only possible form of revolutionary government’.

He added that ‘We must take the initiative in creating a revolutionary international.’ The Bolsheviks rapidly grew in strength and in October took the power on behalf of the Soviets.

The October 1917 revolution was followed by the November 1918 revolution in Germany that brought the First World War to a halt – it was the revolution that did it, not bourgeois statesmen or pacifists. On August 4 2014 we must get ready to emulate Lenin as capitalism gears up for new wars and revolutions!