[Book] Ted Grant Writings: Volume One


Resolution on military policy[1]

[Original document, WIL pre-conference, August 1942]

Capitalism in decline is accompanied and characterised by wars and revolutions. The defeat of the post-war revolutionary movements in Europe and the East has made it possible for the capitalist class to plunge the world once again into the nightmare of modern war and militarism. This is evidence of the complete impotence of capitalism; it underlines the inability of the capitalist class to organise society on a peaceful basis and harness the economic laws and productive processes in the interest of humanity as a whole. For the second time within twenty-five years capitalism has plunged humanity into the bloody maelstrom of universal war. Out of the last war the only victory that was gained by the proletariat was the Russian revolution. In all other countries the revolutionary movements were defeated principally because of the failure of the leadership. Because of this failure capitalism has been able to plunge the world into the Second World War.

The decay of capitalism during the past twenty-five years has manifested itself above all in the rise of fascism. The tearing up of the Versailles Treaty by Hitler in 1935 inaugurated a new era of super militarism which was to lead to the period in which the entire peoples and resources of the world would be directly or indirectly engaged in war.

All the major problems of capitalism, all social problems will now be solved by force and clash of arms. To protect its right to exploit the peoples; to protect its right to retain control of the means of production, the capitalist class has been compelled by the inexorable logic of its system to extend its militarism over the entire circumference of the earth. Gone is the period of small, select professional armies, separated by artificial barriers from the mass of the people. The entire populations, male and female in the metropolitan states, are drawn into the vortex of capitalist militarism and war. The present impasse in which mankind finds itself can only be ended by the victory of the proletarian revolution. This is an elementary task if humanity is to survive with its cultural achievements of the past centuries and not be plunged into a period of the most degenerate form of barbarism.

The new war comes in circumstances which are by no means a mere repetition of those of the first holocaust. This applies above all to the question of power. If conditions were ripe in Russia in 1917 for the proletarian Revolution in 1917, they have become incalculably more so in other countries in the intervening quarter of a century. The question of power is placed on the order of the day for Britain no less than for the rest of Europe and the world. As the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International puts it.

“The economic prerequisites for the proletarian revolution has already in general achieved the highest point of fruition that can be reached under capitalism. The question of power is raised today against a background of universal militarism and in conditions which are not merely a repetition of those of the First World War, but are a profound extension and development. The revolutionary party must perforce take this into account; its policies must likewise be not a mere repetition, but an extension and development.”

The question of “democracy versus fascism” has nothing to do with the present battle. The existence of competing groups of capitalists who strive for world markets is the basic cause of the present conflict and not at all the so-called “ideology” of nations. In the interests of their class, capitalist democrats become fascists on the morrow. German and Italian fascism have many allies in the camp of the “democracies”. Polish, and other European fascists have found full freedom and accord within the “democratic” ranks.

The defeat of the Popular Front regime in Spain at the hands of fascism had already unmasked the deception, that a successful war against fascism can be conducted under the leadership of capitalist democracy. The war in Europe and the crushing victories of Hitler, actively aided by the greed and cowardice of the whole class of bourgeois democrats, has consummated the exposure. The sell-out of the French ruling class; the miserable capitulation of Laval and Pétain; the role of Churchill and the British ruling class—who were aware of the negotiations of the French capitulation, but kept silent—all this served to shatter any illusion that [capitalist democracy is really capable of waging a struggle against fascism][2]. The capitalist “democrats” are willing to sacrifice millions of lives of the duped workers and toiling people but they are resolute in their refusal to sacrifice one inch of their territory or one ounce of their property in the interests of the “nation” as a whole. In the final analysis, to save themselves from the wrath of their own masses, they are prepared to call in the fascists in one country after another; to retain the control of their property in their own hands, they pass over to the enemy.

No less complete and devastating has been the crushing of the reformist illusion of a peaceful and gradual progress within capitalism and its gradual transformation into a socialist society. All organisations which based themselves on this conception have been shattered in Europe by the onward rush of fascism ad reaction. At best these organisations of the working class—the traditional Labour and trade union organisations—were based on peace. The first test of imperialist war has shattered them as living functioning organs. Parties of a centrist or a pacifist nature, whose most extreme and “revolutionary” [statements] were protests against the horrors of war, but which do not base themselves on the revolutionary struggle to end the system which gave rise to war—these parties were shattered when the first test came. Mere protests against the war are futile and cannot take the workers a single step forward in the struggle against fascism, militarism and war. The working class requires a positive programme which bases itself on war as the characteristic feature of the present epoch, and takes this as a starting point for practical actions, which must lead to the taking of power and transforming the war into a genuine struggle for the liberation of the peoples of Europe and the world from Hitler or another form of oppression.

The British workers found themselves becoming not only militarised, but facing a fascism armed to the teeth which had succeeded in conquering the whole of Europe. The rise of fascism and its recent gigantic military victories have not left the British workers unmoved. They have no wish to become part of Hitler’s “new order”. The unending chaos and incompetence of the capitalist class both in the industrial and military spheres has caused a highly critical mood to spring up among the masses. This mood has not been at all for “peace” with Hitler. It has on the contrary been aimed towards a more vigorous and a different sort of prosecution of the war. It is this desire of the masses for a genuine struggle against fascism that the Labour and communist parties exploit to chain the workers to accept “national unity” with the capitalist class. It is, however, only [in] the absence of a non-pacifist alternative with a loud enough voice, that the second and third internationals have succeeded in keeping this mood within the narrow cracking banks of the chauvinist channel.

For a revolutionary party to come before the workers with a programme of “peace” would mean that such a party would condemn itself to complete isolation from the masses. On this basis it would not win the sympathy of the masses but their hostility. The workers do not want to see a victory for Hitler; this is testified by the results of peace programmes in by-elections where pacifist candidates invariably lose their deposits. If a programme of power is to be put forward in present day circumstances it cannot be pacifist—it must be military.

Even in Russia in 1917 a purely negative answer on the question of the defence of the country, against foreign conquerors could not, as Trotsky has pointed out, win the masses “who did not want a foreign conqueror”. Once Lenin had recognised that power was not a perspective of the more or less distant future but was on the order of the day, his propaganda in relation to the war became more positive. No longer was there merely refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland but measures were advanced which, said Lenin, “cannot be introduced without transforming the predatory war into a just war, without transforming the war waged by the capitalists in the interests of the capitalists into a war waged by the proletariat in the interests of all the toilers and exploited”. How much more is it necessary today to advance such measures and such a policy of transforming the imperialist war into a just revolutionary war.

The apologists for American and British imperialism, the Stalinists and the social democrats, as well as the pacifists and centrists of various shades, lie prostrate or stand aghast before the onrush of Hitler’s gigantic machine. These apologists for capitalism, agents of the class enemy within the ranks of the workers, sew the seeds of pessimism and defeat within the ranks of the working class. Undermining proletarian independence, sabotaging the class instincts on the part of the workers, thrusting them into the stifling and treacherous embrace of the ruling class, they call upon the workers to accept its militarisation and its military programme[3]. A successful defence of the rights which the working class still retains and the genuine struggle against fascism whether from within or without can only be waged by the struggle for the conquest of power by the working class. The Fourth International ceaselessly explains to the workers the necessity for class independence, the necessity to place no hope or confidence in the struggle “against fascism” in the ruling class, but ceaseless tries to win the majority to the idea of transforming the war into a struggle for their socialist emancipation[4].

World War II has posed the question in an even more categorical manner than the last: which is to prevail—the dictatorship of the capitalists or the dictatorship of the proletariat? The reformist programmes have been destroyed one after another, but the programme of Leninism and Trotskyism has stood the test; when the workers of conquered Europe rise again, the programme of the Fourth International will head their armies. In this programme too the masses of the East and the Americans will find their liberation. In contrast to the pessimists who preach defeatist adaptation to their imperialist masters, WIL is based upon the unassailable optimism in the future of the working class. It prepares the workers not only for the seizure of power and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but for the defence of the victorious proletarian fatherland from external reaction and fascist aggression, as well as the liberation of the European masses from fascism and capitalist reaction.

War and militarism, which crushes all other organisations and disrupts all other programmes within the ranks of the working class, has provided a new test for the programme and cadres of the Bolshevik current. In line with the new period, WIL adapts its programme and tactics to the new conditions imposed upon the working peoples. The present period in Britain is characterised by the organisation of the wider sections of the working class into the military machine. Our programme must therefore take this into consideration as the point of departure. We present to the workers their own class programme, independent of and counterposed to that of the ruling class.

Pacifism, which characterised the attitude of the majority of the socialist internationalists in the last war, was responsible for isolating the revolutionaries from all the currents of the revolution in the decisive section of the armed forces. In the present period when the greatest masses in the history of Britain are organised in the army, navy, air force and Home Guard, a pacifist policy on the part of the revolutionary party would be sterile and lead to impotence in the face of great events. Essentially proletarian in the composition of our organisation, pacifism has nowhere reared its head as a tendency in our ranks or tinged the individual members of our cadres. Thus the unity and solidarity within our ranks has made it possible to adopt a clear and unambiguous attitude toward the problem of militarisation; has made it possible to fully assimilate the military policy of our international movement.

The imperialist war is not our war. The militarisation of capitalism is not our militarisation. In the same way as we oppose the exploitation of the workers in the factories and workshops, so we oppose the exploitation of the workers by the capitalist military machine. Just as we opposed the preparations of the imperialists for war before it broke out into open conflict, so we oppose the war today and the class which conducts it. But the war is here. We did not choose the arena: once confronted with this objective situation we base our programme on it.

Only with the mass of the workers will it be possible to conquer power and establish the socialist revolution. In this period the masses in the armed forces are to play a decisive role. Just as we seek to take over control of the industrial organisation of the country in the interests of the proletarian revolution, so we seek to take over control of the military machine. The capitalists seek at all costs to retain control of the armed forces—in the final analysis this is the main instrument of their rule. To maintain control they have centred all power in the hand of a caste of aristocratic and bourgeois professional officers. They have deliberately created a mysterious cult out of military theory and military strategy. Money is lavished on select schools to train their sons in the arts of military leadership. All this with the object of keeping the masses in ignorance of military theory and retaining control of the military machine. Bourgeois privilege, partly hidden in civil life, is unmasked in all its most reactionary features in the bourgeois military machine.

Meanwhile three years of military defeats for British imperialism has succeeded in raising the class character of the officer caste before the workers [and] has succeeded in exposing their incompetence as military strategists. All sections of the population are now discussing strategy and the “blimp” characteristics of the officer caste. Trained in working class and democratic organisations and conceptions, the working class queries the dictatorial methods and caste system of the Higher Command. In such a situation an independent military policy for the workers is essential. Such a policy must strive to organise the workers on their own class lines within the military machine. It must simultaneously seek to organise the workers into independent proletarian military organisations, controlled and officered by the working class and by workers’ organisations[5].

Our proletarian military policy is a decisive question which separates our tendency from all other parties of the working class. It is an independent military policy designed to supplement our general political policy for the seizure of power.

In the first place our programme seeks to defend the interests of the workers in uniform from the exploitation of the bourgeois state and its officer caste. We demand the abolition of the dictatorial military regulations, which were framed in a period of semi-feudalism, and their substitution by laws based upon genuine democracy. Abolition of life and death powers of the officers over the worker soldiers; abolition of court martials and the rigorous punishments which they enforce. We demand that all the privileges of the officer caste be abolished. The treatment of officers as equals except in line of duty.

We demand an adequate wage based upon industrial conditions and accepted trade union standards. No financial victimisation of the soldier worker by the bourgeois state.

We demand the setting up of state-financed schools, controlled by the trade unions and labour organisations, where workers can be schooled the arts and tasks of military technique and strategy. No appointed officers by the bourgeoisie, but election of officers from the ranks.

All the time we seek to break down the last barriers which separate the worker soldier from his industrial brother: full civil rights for the military to participate in politics and to be represented in all the democratic bodies of the nation. We demand that the Home Guard be dissolved into a workers’ militia embracing the whole of the population, male and female. Only such a military force can guarantee the working class against invasion, only such a force can guarantee the population against Pétainism.

All the time we seek to propagate and legislate our military programme. We demand that Labour conduct a struggle for the implementation of these demands in Parliament and country.

The Fourth International is the only international workers’ party equipped with a scientific Marxist programme. Our tendency alone retains an unshakeable confidence in the working class and its socialist future. We alone are ready to meet the capitalist class in the period of universal militarisation on its own ground. In Britain, it is our party alone, Workers’ International League, which seeks to organise and lead the proletarian struggle for power on the conditions of today.


[1] This resolution, drafted by Ted Grant, was presented to the WIL pre-conference but deferred to the internal bullettin for further discussion. We have checked this version with a previous draft. All changes have been identified in the footnotes.

[2] We include this line that was deleted in the final resolution, we presume accidentally.

[3] In the first draft this sentence was followed with: “and in so doing they lay the basis for the victory of fascism whether of the Anglo-American or German variety.”

[4] In the first draft, this sentence was followed with: “It is not a question of a refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland, but of conquest of power by the working class and the defence of the proletarian fatherland.”

[5] The following sentence was deleted in the final version of the resolution: “Just as in times of peace we stood for the active formation of workers’ defence corps to defend the working class organisations and rights from fascist and reactionary violence, so in war times we stand for the defence of our rights from fascist attack from within or without, and this can only be undertaken under the control of the workers themselves.”