Lessons for the working class and people
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, which was the biggest conflagration known to man until that time. It involved more than 70 million combatants and left more than 16 million people dead, and wrought colossal damage on the world’s peoples. It was launched by the big imperialist powers of the time in their acute rivalry and contention over control of territories, markets and resources around the globe.
The war vividly confirmed the Leninist thesis that capitalism had evolved to its last and most parasitic stage of capitalism, the stage of imperialism, in which all the contradictions of capitalism had sharpened to the point where the only way out of the crisis was the proletarian revolution. It was in the context of this imperialist war and the objective conditions of that time, that the proletariat of Russia, led by the Bolshevik party of Lenin, rose in revolution, overthrew the rule of the bourgeoisie, and launched Russia on the road to socialism, thereby breaking the chain of imperialist plunder and aggression.
The present leaders of the big imperialist powers who gathered in Brussels earlier this year to commemorate the centenary of World War I, interpreted history, as is their norm, that was full of untruths. They all sought to cover up the real nature of the war. They tried to make out that the war was fought in defence of “democracy” and “freedom”. The British Prime Minister Cameron said: “Too often it has been dismissed as a pointless war, fought by people who didn’t know why they were fighting. … But that is wrong. These men signed up to prevent the domination of a continent, to preserve the principles of freedom and sovereignty that we cherish today.” This is turning truth entirely on its head. The war was launched by the imperialist powers for the aims of robbery and domination, while history has shown that it is the working class and communist forces who fought against the war who brought about freedom and emancipation for the working people and who fought for the independence and sovereignty of all nations and peoples. The imperialists want to falsify history in order to justify their own crimes against the people today.
By the beginning of the 20th century, all the contradictions of the world capitalist-imperialist system had sharpened. Capitalism had grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries. The contradiction among the different imperialist powers and their groupings for the redivision of the world had become acute. The old imperialist powers like Britain, France and Russia had carved up the world’s territories amongst themselves, while relatively newer imperialist powers like Germany contended with them for their “place in the sun”. The contradiction between the working class and the ruling bourgeoisie within the capitalist countries had also advanced. In many of these countries, communist and workers’ parties had grown in strength and the movement for socialism was gaining ground. From the beginning of the century, the struggle against imperialist domination and for national liberation had also started to take root in the various colonies and dependent countries. This was the context in which World War I broke out in 1914.
When the war broke out, Lenin and the Bolshevik Party in Russia took a principled Marxist stand against the war, in sharp contrast to the shameless opportunism of the leaders of several other socialist parties of the Second International, who parroted the line of the bourgeoisie of their own countries that this was a war “in defence of the fatherland.” The war hastened the downfall of reactionary tsarism in Russia through a revolution, but the bourgeois leaders like Kerensky who came to power in its wake refused to pull Russia out of the war. At this time, Lenin called for the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war against the bourgeoisie. The Bolshevik Party under his leadership boldly rallied the working class and masses of Russian people around the slogan of “Land, Bread and Peace!” They successfully carried out the proletarian revolution, putting an end to the rule of the bourgeoisie, taking Russia decisively out of the war, and launching it on the path of socialism. They showed through their action that the only real solution to imperialism and imperialist war is the proletarian revolution.
Lenin and Stalin taught the working class that as long as imperialism exists, the danger of imperialist war exists. Lenin showed that the law of uneven development of capitalist states under imperialism, meant that there would be repeated challenges to the dominant imperialist powers from newly arisen imperialist powers for markets and spheres of influence. This would necessarily lead to war. At the same time, the contention amongst the imperialists, their attacks on the rights of workers at home, and the workers and people of other countries, would sharpen all the contradictions of the system. These are the contradictions between the exploiters and exploited in each country, the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed peoples, and the inter imperialist contradictions. The sharpening of all these contradictions create conditions for the victory of the proletarian revolution in one or more countries, wherever the chain of imperialism is weakest. This is what happened in Russia during the First World War, where there was a communist party that led the working class.
The centenary of World War I this year is being observed at a time when once again there is furious contention among the major imperialist powers, led by US imperialism, to extend their hegemony all over the globe, to grab a greater share of the resources and markets and territories of other countries. The imperialist powers have set off the flames of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Ukraine, and other countries. They are raining bombs on those countries, deploying their troops and warships all over the place, arming and instigating all kinds of armed groups to fight against each other, redrawing boundaries, and doing everything possible to destabilize various states. It is clear that they are pushing the world towards another great global conflagration. They claim ad nausea that they are for peace, but they are actively instigating the geo-political division of Asia.
In these conditions it is extremely important that the working class and people of all countries draw the correct lessons from the war that was launched a hundred years ago. World-wide it is the capitalist-imperialist system that is the source of war and aggression. Imperialist wars are absolutely inevitable under monopoly capitalism. To put an end to predatory wars, the working class in each country must be organized to rally all the people for the overthrow of the capitalist system in their countries through the revolution. It is only the final defeat of capitalism and the establishment of socialism in its place that will usher in an era of lasting peace for mankind.