Left in Crisis
Nationalist “Peace Movement”
or Internationalist Class War?
Defend Russia and China Against the Imperialist War Drive!
Defeat the U.S./NATO Ukraine Proxy War Against Russia!
Stop Arms Deliveries to Kiev with Workers Action!
In Germany most of the left have become “NATO socialists,” so that the only “peace” protests that aren’t in reality pro-Ukraine war mobilizations have been led by rightists or by populist Sahra Wagenknecht, shown here at 50,000-strong Berlin antiwar demo on February 25. The former Communist recently quit the social-democratic Left Party to found her own, non-socialist bourgeois electoral party.
Turmoil in the left internationally over the imperialist proxy war against Russia over Ukraine has not only led many left social democrats, including pseudo-Trotskyists, to become “NATO socialists,” it has also shaken the Stalinist milieu. In Germany, the Kommunistische Organisation split down the middle, with one side denouncing “Russian imperialism” while the former leadership has taken a soft pro-Russia stance in the war. The latter held a “Communism Congress” in Berlin in early October, attended by several hundred people, where our comrades of the Internationalistische Gruppe distributed the article translated below as a leaflet.
The disarray and all-round crisis in the left triggered by the Ukraine war, as we have previously noted, have led the overwhelming majority of the left to side, openly or de facto, with Ukraine. This is notably the case in the Left Party (Die Linke), where the leadership and party celebs like Gregor Gysi loudly denounce the Russian invasion and refuse to oppose the delivery of military equipment to Ukraine, as left-wing dissidents also declare that they oppose “Putin’s War.” While the leadership replaced the party program’s plank for “dissolution” of NATO with the even more meaningless call for “overcoming all military alliances” such as NATO, none of the four “left” countermotions at the Die Linke’s June 2022 congress opposed NATO itself, only its “eastward expansion” or the “escalation” of the war by this imperialist military alliance.1
The pseudo-Trotskyists, most of them in or around Die Linke, almost all belong to this camp, some demanding “all NATO troops out of Eastern Europe” as a fig leaf to hide their betrayal (a little late, as there are already a good dozen East European member countries of NATO). We say “pseudo” because the opportunist policies of these groups are the exact opposite of Trotsky’s intransigent struggle against imperialism. But in the Stalinist milieu – which generally refers to itself as “Marxist-Leninists” or simply “communists”2 – a bitter split is underway between those, led by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), who denounce Moscow’s invasion (while dutifully distancing themselves from NATO), and on the other hand, those who focus on the struggle against U.S./NATO imperialism, for the most part softly siding with Russia.
In Germany, where the DKP (German Communist Party)3 takes the latter position while the MLPD (Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany) and various KPDs support a “third camp” position, the dispute has led to a formal split in the Kommunistische Organisation (KO). The KO split off from the DKP and its youth group in 2017 accusing its former party of revisionism for seeking a “peaceful transition to socialism.” For purposes of political geolocation, using their own self-descriptions, one could say that KO-ZL (Central Leadership) belongs to the anti-NATO camp, while KO-“ML” (Marxist-Leninist) belongs to the neither-Moscow-nor-NATO “third camp” and rages against “Russian imperialism” – a position that is quite definitely neither Marxist nor Leninist.
In early January , when the two factions held simultaneous counterposed special membership congresses, KO-ZL decided “against taking a position on the Ukraine war at this time.”4 This non-position soon proved untenable, not least in the dispute with the “other KO.” How, after all, can one pose as a communist without offering concrete guidance on the most burning issue of the day? So in the pacifist Easter Marches,5 the KO-ZL raised demands such as, “For the Defeat of NATO – in Ukraine and Worldwide!” and “Stop the War Against Russia – NATO Out of Ukraine!” They also raised “Germany Out of NATO – NATO Out of Germany!” and as an overall slogan, “For Building an Anti-NATO Peace Movement in Germany!”6
The article lamented that “pacifism was in the forefront” in demo calls and speeches, which is to be expected in a “peace movement.” It also regretted that “central figures and groups of the old peace movement have defected to the NATO camp,” that “almost all” the demo calls begin with “rejection of Russia’s war of aggression in violation of international law,” that “the demand to stop arms deliveries is missing” and that “space in the peace movement” is given to those who would support NATO’s war. All this is natural enough, as a peace movement is based on the existing social order, i.e., on the grounds of German imperialism. As we have written:
“The fact is that pacifist rhetoric often leads to military action, much as the Social Democracy in 1914 suddenly forgot its ringing antiwar resolutions with the outbreak of the imperialist World War I, and as can be observed with the pacifist German left today.”
–“German Left in Lockstep in ‘Changed Times’”
And, of course, it is well known that Lenin did not call for a “peace movement” in World War I, but rather for transforming the imperialist war into a civil war against the bourgeoisie.
On May 1, comrades of KO-ZL in Frankfurt am Main were violently attacked and their banner with the slogan “Stop the War Against Russia – No Arms to Ukraine” was grabbed by security squads of the “revolutionary” May Day demonstration, among them supporters of “red” groups (Young Struggle, Kommunistischer Aufbau and Aurora7). For its part, the KO-“ML” immediately distanced itself on Twitter from the banner slogans. A few days later in Duisburg, the same forces again tried to remove the KO-ZL banner, which this time also included the slogan “For the Defeat of NATO.” These incidents illustrate how third-camp leftists serve as the shock troops of the “NATO socialists” against those who oppose the imperialist warmongers. And KO-ZL’s refusal to buckle only underscores the urgent need for a program of revolutionary class struggle against imperialism.
“Germany Out of NATO”: Slogan for a Nationalist Peace Movement
Contingent of KO-ZL at “revolutionary” May Day 2023 march in Frankfurt, Germany, calling to “Stop the War Against Russia” and for “No Arms for Ukraine.” A demonstration security squad violently attacked the KO contingent and grabbed the banner. “Third camp” leftists act as shock troops for the “NATO socialists” against those who oppose the imperialist war on Russia.
Imperialist war is an acid test for all would-be revolutionary tendencies. As a year and a half of “peace demonstrations” over the Ukraine war has shown, having a few hypocritical criticisms of NATO only serves to camouflage the left’s capitulation to the imperialist military alliance. So in a statement issued on August 30, KO-ZL sought to further concretize its positions on the war. In addition to demands to stop the war against Russia and not to supply arms to Ukraine, it repeated the slogan “Down with NATO – Germany Out of NATO, NATO Out of Germany!” and added a new one, “Disarm German Imperialism: Expropriate Rheinmetall & Co.!” (Germany’s largest arms manufacturer). These demands pose the question: who should stop the war, who should put a halt to arms deliveries? And concretely, who is supposed disarm, or expropriate whom? It’s the famous question first posed by Lenin: Kto-kogo, who - whom?
As Leon Trotsky pointed out in the Transitional Program (1938), “‘Disarmament’? But the entire question revolves around who will disarm whom. The only disarmament that can avert or end war is the disarmament of the bourgeoisie by the workers.” Yet, the KO-ZL article in advocating expropriation/disarmament, with no mention of the working class, is clearly raising this slogan as a demand on the government. The idea that the imperialist bourgeoisie would disarm itself makes no sense at all, and blatantly contradicts the Marxist analysis of the nature of the capitalist state. And if Rheinmetall were to come under “public ownership,” would that somehow reduce the power and threat of German imperialism? Obviously not. These slogans do not provide a basis for mobilizing the power of the working class against the imperialist war drive. Instead, they are a diversion from that necessary task.
The same is true of another of the above-mentioned slogans. A KO-ZL discussion article (June 16), “Germany out of NATO?”, explains that this slogan was frequently used by KO and by “many organizations in the peace movement, including the DKP.” But to what end? The article actually raises a number of strong arguments against the slogan, such as: “German monopoly capital is pushing for world power and, in order to do so, will sooner or later also adjust its attitude toward U.S. imperialism and NATO.” Raising the demand would favor sections of the German bourgeoisie “which are increasingly pushing for autonomy, and want to develop the European Union into an independent military instrument. It is a position against U.S. imperialism, but not against German finance capital. De facto, the U.S. would be declared the main enemy.” Quite right!
The author (Max) notes that the slogan is in line with “‘sovereignist’ representatives of social democracy,” such as Oskar Lafontaine (we would instead classify him as a bourgeois populist) with his book Ami, It’s Time to Go! – Plea for the Self-Assertion of Europe (2022). The article also cites a trenchant analysis of the nationalist peace movement of the 1980s:
“German nationalism burgeoned almost imperceptibly among masses that had not previously been amenable to outright reactionary aspirations. Huge ‘peace’ rallies indicted the U.S. and the Soviet Union and acted as a cover for the main enemy at home, which kept on continually destabilizing the DDR [East Germany] in the name of fostering ‘German-German relations’.”8
–Erika Wehling-Pangerl, in Neues vom Hauptfeind [News from the Main Enemy] (2012)
And that is what happened with the annexation of the DDR in 1989-1990, when the Social Democracy with its Ostpolitik (Eastern policy) served as a “Trojan horse” of German capital, camouflaging its reactionary “drive to the East” under pacifist phrases. Reunified capitalist Germany was then in a position to wage a land war in Europe – the imperialist attack on Serbia in 1999, under the Red-Green government9 – much more effectively than a Christian Democratic government could have. Today, Social Democratic Party (SPD) chancellor Scholz is targeting the Western Balkans as he ramps up the profile of Germany as a superpower in Europe.
Not a “Multipolar World,” But World Socialist Revolution
KO at the May Day demonstration in Berlin. But who should stop the NATO war against Russia and arms deliveries to Ukraine, and how? For revolutionary class struggle against the imperialist warmongers!
The discussion article claims: “‘Germany out of NATO’ is not currently advocated by the administrators of German finance capital.” True, but that may be different tomorrow. Everyone knows that the economic war of attrition against Russia is at the same time a U.S. economic war against Europe under the domination of France and Germany, and this is not limited to sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Whole sectors of German industry are no longer competitive without access to cheap Russian gas. The forces for a political about-turn are ready to take off. KO-ZL itself warns:
“But right-wing forces, such as the [fascist] Free Saxons and the [fascistic] AfD (Alternative for Germany), who like to present themselves as resolute opponents of NATO, want to lead the peace movement down the wrong path. Their criticism of NATO turns out to be for an independent German great power policy that is no longer inclined to subordinate itself to U.S. interests. This includes arming the Bundeswehr [the German army] as well as a ‘sovereign’ path to bloody world domination by German imperialism.”
–“Stop Air Defender 2023 – No to War Means No to NATO!” (June 12)
The slogan “Germany Out of NATO!” plays into the hands of the AfD, just when it is necessary to fight this fascistic party as a misleader of the East German masses, which it is trying to divert into the dead-end of a völkisch (ethnic German) nationalist opposition to NATO.
According to the KO-ZL article, “It is in the interest of the German working class that Germany withdraw from NATO, weakening it and narrowing the Federal Republic’s aggressive room for maneuver.” Not at all. History has already answered this question. In 1959-63, France under de Gaulle partially withdrew from NATO. NATO was not weakened by this. France eventually returned and became the vanguard of anti-Sovietism in the 1980s. We see something similar occurring today. Upon his return from Beijing, French President Macron warned against becoming a “vassal state” of the United States and called for European “strategic autonomy.” However, this did not stop him from increasing French arms supplies to Ukraine, nor did it diminish the oppressive nature of French imperialism in Africa, for example.
A (highly unlikely) German withdrawal from NATO would neither diminish the aggressiveness of German imperialism nor its longstanding “drive to the East.” The view that the imperialist assertion of world domination could be weakened in a “multipolar world” as envisioned by the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) is a pure illusion, like the pacifist claptrap about complete “disarmament.” It resembles the Bernstein/Kautsky dream of a gradual reform of capitalism.10 Even intermediate capitalist countries like Russia are subject to imperialist economic blackmail, for example through U.S./European Union/NATO sanctions. The imperialist stranglehold can only be broken by an international socialist revolution.
The pseudo-leftists who refuse to defend Russia and China against imperialism are seduced by the siren song of “human rights imperialism.” The whole “human rights” business was invented at the onset of the imperialist Cold War as a weapon against the Soviet Union, and is now being blasted out at top volume in defense of the Ukraine regime that arose out of the fascist/nationalist 2014 coup. Yet Lenin insisted as a condition for parties to join at the time of the founding of the Communist International:
“not only to expose open social patriotism: to systematically demonstrate to the workers that without a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism no international arbitration, no ‘democratic reorganization’ of the League of Nations will be able to save mankind from new imperialist wars.”
–“Conditions for Admission to the Communist International” (July 1920)
Revolutionary Marxists are not pacifists. We do not build “peace movements” which, as Trotsky wrote in June 1917, turn into pro-war movements, as is the case with the pro-Ukraine “peace” demonstrations today. Genuine communists intervene in “antiwar” movements as a revolutionary opposition to the reformist/bourgeois popular-front leadership, whether of individual celebrities (Sahra Wagenknecht11) or ongoing organizations (Friko12), in order to bring to the masses the program of class struggle against imperialist war through workers action.
How to Fight Against the U.S./NATO
Leninism/Trotskyism vs. Stalinism
Internationalist contingent at the May Day 2023 demonstration n New York City.
The war against Russia by the U.S./NATO imperialists – and in fact by all the imperialist countries, large and small – poses the issue point-blank: Is today’s capitalist Russia imperialist, as the third-camp opportunists (imitating warmongers like German chancellor Scholz) claim today? Already when it left the DKP, the Communist Organization pointed to this crucial question as something it had to investigate. Six years later, it still has no answer. We Trotskyists of the League for the Fourth International, on the other hand, examined the matter in detail in 2014, and based on the criteria laid out in Lenin’s Imperialism and on an analysis of current economic data, gave the Leninist, scientific verdict: post-Soviet Russia is an intermediate capitalist regional power.13
The war over Ukraine inevitably poses the question: Leninism/Trotskyism vs. Stalinism, and more fundamentally, class struggle vs. class collaboration. Slogans like “Stop the War Against Russia” and “No Arms to Ukraine” – while they don’t line up on the side of the imperialists as the “NATO socialists” do – are, explicitly or implicitly, raised as calls upon the bourgeois government. Likewise with the demand “Germany out of NATO.” The policy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in World War I was to mobilize the working people in revolutionary struggle against their “own” imperialist bourgeoisie. So today we call for defending Russia and China and for defeating NATO’s proxy war over Ukraine, and at the same time call for workers revolution against the capitalist rulers, both in Kiev and Moscow, and against the imperialist warmongers of the NATO countries.
No national/reformist “peace movements” will achieve that, because they are necessarily built on the basis of class collaboration – i.e., popular-front politics. In fact, although sentiment against the Ukraine war and its consequences is growing, the absence of massive protests against the NATO war is due to the fact that most of the left has lined up with the warmongers, and there is no potentially governing faction of the bourgeoisie available to lead such demonstrations into “safe” channels. That is why the biggest antiwar actions today are led by right-wing forces, as was the case with the 100,000 people who took to the streets in the east on 3 October 2022, “German Unity Day,” with slogans protesting the anti-Russian sanctions and high gas prices and against arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Italian Workers Show the Way –
Stop Arms Deliveries to Ukraine with Workers’ Action!
Dock workers in Genova, Italy called strike and demonstration on February 25 to block arms shipments to Ukraine. 10,000 protesters came out. International proletarian solidarity actions such as this deal a sharp blow to imperialism.
Revolutionary Marxists who follow the teachings of Lenin and Trotsky – of the October Revolution of 1917, which proclaimed itself the prelude to international socialist revolution – look to mobilizing the power of the workers movement to smash the imperialist war drive, not to an amorphous bourgeois peace movement pleading to the warmongers to please stop the war. Thus we call for workers actions against arms deliveries to Ukraine. And there have been such actions. On February 25, the Autonomous Committee of Dockworkers (CALP) in Genova, Italy, supporters of the USB “rank-and-file union,” shut down the port and organized a demonstration of 10,000 people who marched through the docks calling to block arms shipments to Ukraine, to lift sanctions against Russia, and for resistance to “NATO’s war.”
Even before that, on 14 March 2022, workers at the airport in Pisa, Italy (also affiliated with the USB), discovered an arms shipment to Ukraine disguised as humanitarian aid and refused to load the cargo. Dockworkers from nearby Livorno and about 2,000 people flocked to the airport in solidarity with their action. Elsewhere in Europe, the Greek KKE has organized rail blockades against NATO arms shipments, even though this reformist, social-patriotic party has labeled Russia “imperialist.” In the United States, the Internationalist Group, the section of our League for the Fourth International, played an important role in initiating and carrying out the May Day 2008 dockworkers strike against the imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Early in the history of the Communist International, the French Communist Party (PCF) organized a campaign in defense of the Berber uprising led by Abd el-Krim in the Rif region of the French colony of Morocco, which led to a general strike in France against the war on 12 October 1925 (with up to 1,000 PCF and militant workers arrested). Later, in 1949 and 1950, dockworkers in Marseilles refused to load munitions for French forces waging an imperialist war in Vietnam. And earlier still, in January 1918, thousands of industrial workers in Kiel and up to 400,000 metal workers in Berlin went on strike against German participation in WWI. In those strikes, workers councils were elected in Germany for the first time, which later played an important role in the German November Revolution of 1918.
So such workers actions have been led by leftists of various tendencies, though they are not in themselves a panacea. The Revolutionary Shop Stewards, mainly supporters of the USPD (Independent Social Democratic Party), who in 1918 led the German workers councils, subsequently played a contradictory role in the development of the revolution, not least in the bloodily suppressed “Spartacus Uprising” in January 1919. But without those prior class mobilizations, there would have been no revolutionary events, whose outcome depended on forging an effective leadership of the struggle by a revolutionary communist leadership.
The Internationalistische Gruppe at the Lenin-Liebknecht-Luxemburg demonstration in Berlin, January 15. “Defeat the Imperialist War Drive and the U.S. / NATO Proxy Regime in Kiev,” “Defend China Against Imperialism and Counterrevolution,” “SPD / Greens: Butchers of Yugoslavia, German Imperialism Out of Ukraine and the Balkans, For a Revolutionary workers Party!”
After the recent split, the Kommunistische Organisation (ZL) is at a crossroads. Its hesitation to formulate a position on the Ukrainian war is indicative of the political confusion that has gripped almost the entire left over the past year and a half, but whose roots lie much deeper. The traditional Stalinist-reformist recipe for a nationalist popular-front “peace movement” has manifestly failed, while the pseudo-Marxist-Leninists (as well as not a few pseudo-Trotskyists) openly turn Lenin’s teaching on imperialism on its head in refusing to stand on the side of the targets of the U.S./NATO imperialist war. Their cynical distortions are proof that their revisionism is a deliberate choice in favor of the real imperialists.
The various “pseudos” all lead to a dead-end. For those who seek to play a revolutionary role in the coming class battles, addressing the question of Stalinism vs. Trotskyism is essential. Return to the road of Red October, the road of Lenin and Trotsky, for international socialist revolution! ■
- 1. See the article “German Left in Lockstep in ‘Changed Times’” The Internationalist No. 69-70, January-May 2023
- 2. We use the term “Stalinist” with respect to the various “ML” groupings not because of glorifying Stalin – some do, some don’t – but because their policies are based on Stalin's anti-Marxist dogma of “building socialism in one country” (leading to its logical corollary, class collaboration in other countries by means of the popular front).
- 3. The DKP was the traditional pro-Moscow Stalinist party in West Germany.
- 4. “Report on KO Extraordinary Membership Congress,” KO-ZL, 8 January.
- 5. Going back to the 1960s and ’80s, since the capitalist reunification of Germany in 1989-90 there have been yearly pacifist marches on Easter weekend, with differing themes according to current events. Following the outbreak of the Ukraine war, in addition to the official march, in 2022-23 there have been “alternative” Easter marches that explicitly do not criticize German arms deliveries to Ukraine.
- 6. KO-ZL Statement, 5 April.
- 7. Smaller Mao-Stalinist groups.
- 8. The SPD sought to “peacefully” pave the way for counterrevolution in the East German deformed workers state by promoting “German unity” through making the DDR dependent on economically stronger imperialist West Germany.
- 9. The coalition of the SPD and the Green Party that governed Germany from 1998 to 2005.
- 10. Both the openly reformist Eduard Bernstein and the “orthodox” Karl Kautsky put forward programs in pre-WWI German Social Democracy focusing on reforms eventually leading to socialism. As opposed to this, see Rosa Luxemburg’s Reform or Revolution (1900) on how revolutionaries intervene in struggles for reforms under capitalism, linking this to the fight for socialist revolution.
- 11. Sahra Wagenknecht, who started out as a spokesperson for the Communist Platform (Kommplatt) of the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor to the East German Stalinist ruling party), took up the banner of left populism inside (and outside) the Left Party, from which she just resigned to form her own Sarah-Wagenknecht-Alliance (BSW).
- 12. The Peace Coordination, the traditional umbrella group for pacifist demonstrations in Germany since 1980.
- 13. See “The Bugbear of ‘Russian Imperialism’” (May 2014), The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015.