April 1917: The United States of America Goes to War
By François Forgue, published in "La Vérité (The Truth)" No. 82, 688 Old Series.
Notes are numbered and produced after the article.
April 1917: The United States of America goes to war against Germany and the powers linked with it. With the direct entry into the conflict of the most powerful state outside of continental Europe, the war indeed became a World War not only in terms of its stakes but through its participants.
Viewed strictly in terms of military operations, on the eve of the US intervention the Western Front remained in deadlock: nether camp appeared capable of bringing about a decisive breakthrough. To the East, the revolution that had begun in Russia had straightaway overthrown tsarism; the new government was giving assurances that it would continue with the war on the side of the Allies, but would it be able to?
The first detachments of the American Expeditionary Forces arrived in France as early as May. The US war industry, which was operating at full capacity, no longer had the European conflict simply as an outlet: it was now a direct component part of the conflict. However, several months were needed before the US forces became operational, to use the accepted phrase. But in the spring and then the autumn of 1918, American troops played an important role in defeating the last of Germany’s big offensives. The US contribution tipped the scales in the military situation.
The US’s military engagement cost the lives of 116,000 young Americans — as with all of the belligerent countries, most of them were blue- and white-collar workers, farmers and students. This figure may appear low when compared to the losses suffered by Germany (1,800,000), France (1,600,000) and Great Britain (800,000), but it underlines the fact that trench warfare resulted in terrible carnage; the American contingent had taken up position in just a limited part of the front, and that for only a few months.
If we were to limit this brief and necessary factual report to the figures, we would be missing the main point.
Why did the United States intervene? What is the historic significance of that intervention?
US imperialism and the establishment of imperialism at the world level -
The French statesman Raymond Poincaré referred to 1917 as “the terrible year”. The Russian Revolution had begun with the overthrow of the imperial regime — an uprising by the workers and peasants against the war, poverty and autocracy. In the army as all over the country, it was embodied in a network of committees of workers, peasants and soldiers (the soviets); in October 1917, it was to result in the establishment of the first workers’ government.
Activity by the masses against the war and the system that had caused it developed everywhere: mutinies on the Western Front and the Italian Front, and strikes in Germany, France and Great Britain.
The US military intervention was straightaway a directly counter-revolutionary intervention against the peoples and workers of every country.
The intervention confirmed the reactionary and imperialist character of the conflict that was underway. The two opposing camps were fighting for the same goals of pillage and exploitation. But more precisely, what was the significance of this intervention for young US imperialism itself, and what changes would it bring about for the world imperialist system?
Lenin wrote in December 1915: “Needless to say that there can be no concrete historical analysis of the present war, if that analysis does not have for its basis a full understanding of the nature of imperialism, both from its economic and political aspects.” (1)
How did Lenin summarise his conception of imperialism? He wrote: “Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.” (2)
Just before giving this concise definition, Lenin pointed out: “Imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental characteristics of capitalism in general. But capitalism only became capitalist imperialism at a definite and very high stage of its development, when certain of its fundamental characteristics began to change into their opposites (. . .).”
The way in which the capitalist mode of production developed in the United States was a component part of that worldwide process. Every study that addressed the question of imperialism at the time it was constituted — the empirical descriptions of the changes that were underway, like the attempts to address the question in Marxist terms, i.e. in relation to the class struggle and the perspective of the proletarian revolution — referred to what was happening in the United States.
In the very first pages of Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin noted that “During the last fifteen to twenty years, especially since the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the economic and also the political literature of the two hemispheres has more and more often adopted the term “imperialism” in order to describe the present era.” (3) As the 19th century drew to a close, US capitalism and the US state were already draping themselves in “the need to bring democracy” in order to install their rule using the worst forms of violence. It was in Cuba that Pershing — who in 1914 was to command the US forces in France — first came to fame. The carving-up by force of the colonial possessions of the big powers, that characteristic trait of imperialism which was to be the root-cause of the First World War, was the motivation for US policy 15 years earlier, with regard to Spain. The emergence of the United States as a world power was a constituent element of imperialism at the world level.
In the United States itself, the period that followed the Civil War was a period of frenzied development in every sector of the economy. Between 1860 and 1884, coal-extraction rose from 14 million to 100 million tons; between 1880 and 1910 steel production increased 25-fold. This period also saw the spread of the railways. There were already 330,000 kilometres of railtrack in 1890; in 1911 this had risen to 540,000 km. We will not review here the bloody epic of the building of a modern economy across the country-continent, the reign of the “robber barons”. In order to carry out this titanic task, the number of loans had to increase tenfold. The banks brought the developing branches of industry under their control and guaranteed them in order better to control their concentration; during the 1890s, the majority of the rail companies merged into six networks, four of which were completely controlled by the Morgan bank. The banks themselves underwent the same process of concentration, as pointed out by Bukharin: “In the United States there are only two banks of such importance: The National City Bank (the Rockefeller firm) and the National Bank of Commerce (the Morgan firm).” (4)
Lenin pointed to the United States as a country where concentration was increasing: “Almost half the total production of all the enterprises of the country was carried on by one-hundredth part of these enterprises! These 3,000 giant enterprises embrace 258 branches of industry. From this it can be seen that at a certain stage of its development concentration itself, as it were, leads straight to monopoly“. (5)
It was in reference to US firms — Standard Oil, the United States Steel Corporation — as well as German examples that Lenin specified his definition of the concentration of the monopolies: “The concentration of production; the monopolies arising therefrom; the merging or coalescence of the banks with industry — such is the history of the rise of finance capital and such is the content of that concept.” (6)
This epoch of tempestuous developments was also a period of violent class struggles.
If one of the conditions of capitalism booming in the United States had been the destruction of the slavery system through war, one of the necessities for the stability of the system of capitalist exploitation had been the crushing of the revolutionary movement of the Blacks in the South, who for the first time in the history of the United States were in the majority in some state assemblies and were posing the question of radical land reform. It was this process that was to form the basis of widespread racial segregation.
It was at the moment when this veritable counter-revolution was completed in 1877 that the state placed its means for repression at the service of the railway magnates to crush a strike-wave which had been started by the railworkers but which was actively supported by broad sectors of the population.
It was again the railworkers who entered into struggle in 1884. In 1885-6, there was the huge movement for the 8-hour day which culminated in Chicago on 1 May 1886 and was smashed through bloody repression, notably accompanied by the conviction of six of the movement’s main organisers following a provocation involving a bombing. The latter decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th were marked by intense class conflicts, especially in the mines. It was during this period that the labour organisations that succeeded the Knights of Labor, which were to play a predominant role in the class struggle, were formed: the American Federation of Labor (AFL) set up in 1886 and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), founded in 1905 (7).
The particular characteristic of the development of capitalism in the United States during the second half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th was that its expansion — in the course of which some of the characteristics of imperialism emerged — occurred mainly within national borders as they had been defined at the time, including through previous conquests (e.g. the Mexican War, 1846-8). In order to consolidate its empire, US capitalism needed to expand, hence the war in Cuba and the Philippines, and the incursions into Central America and Mexico. But these imperialist thrusts had a secondary impact on the economy: the domestic market remained the determining factor.
At the turn of the century, the United States became the most powerful industrial power in the world. In absolute figures, its coal production, for example, was higher than in all other capitalist countries, and the same was true for steel production. Although American capital was exported in large quantities to Mexico and Latin America, the United States remained above all a country where foreign capital was invested. British capital in particular realised large profits from its financing of the building of the railways.
Although a big industrial power — the world’s leading power in certain sectors — the United States did not yet challenge the domination of the world market exercised by the old capitalist powers, notably Great Britain. But everything about its development headed towards challenging the basis on which the world market was constituted. War would provide the occasion — and the form — through which these imperialist tendencies would impose themselves.
"The master of the capitalist world" -
The main outcome of the First World War — which had clearly turned into a “civil war” — was the victory of the October Revolution under the direction of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky and the establishment of the first workers’ state.
On 28 July 1924, ten years after the start of the war, Leon Trotsky delivered a speech on the “Perspectives of World Development“. (8) He spoke of the United States at that time as “the central figure in the modern history of mankind” and emphasised that “whoever wishes or tries today to discuss the destiny of Europe or of the world proletariat without taking the power and significance of the USA into account, is in a certain sense drawing up a balance-sheet without consulting the master. For the master of the capitalist world — and let us firmly understand this! — is New York, with Washington as its state department. We observe this today even if only in the plan drawn up by the experts. We observe that Europe, which only yesterday was so powerful and so proud of her culture and her historical past — we observe that in order to get out from under, in order to crawl out on all fours from those fearful contradictions and misfortunes into which Europe has driven herself, she is compelled to invite from across the Atlantic a general by the name of Dawes (. . .) [to draw up] a precise prescription concerning the regulations and dates of Europe’s restoration.” (9)
It was during this speech that Trotsky defined the wishes of US capitalism with regard to the European imperialisms using his famous and often-quoted formulation: under the hegemony of American capitalism, “Europe will be permitted to rise again, but within limits set in advance, with certain restricted sections of the world market allotted to it. (. . .). If we wish to give a clear and precise answer to the question of what American imperialism wants, we must say: It wants to put capitalist Europe on rations.”
This had nothing to do with a programme aimed at establishing a peaceful balance, a harmonious division. “This American “pacifist” programme of universal bondage is by no means a peaceful one. On the contrary, it is pregnant with wars and the greatest revolutionary paroxysms. (. . .) The indicated era of pacifist Americanism is laying the groundwork for new wars on an unprecedented scale and of unimaginable monstrousness“, Trotsky added.
These lines first appeared in 1924. It would be misleading to yield to temptation and see them by analogy as a key which on its own would allow us to understand today’s developments, almost a century later, just as it would be pointless to indulge in academic exercises aimed at evaluating, after the event, the validity of this or that forecast.
The onward march of the international class struggle had already changed many of the facts ten years further on: the crisis of the whole capitalist system, certainly adding to the decline of Europe but also hitting the leading capitalist power itself with unparalleled force; the rise of fascism in the face of the threat of social revolution; the degeneration of the state that resulted from the Russian Revolution; the political counter-revolution waged by Stalinism, etc.
The Second World War, its consequences, the revolutionary upheavals it generated, the situation created by the survival of an imperialist system in decay, the collapse of the USSR whose foundations had been undermined by the bureaucracy, all constituted a new situation in which the United States nevertheless remained the leading imperialist power.
What is striking above all is the degree to which the issues raised by Trotsky have in no way been resolved and have retained all of their importance. The world capitalist system has only been able to survive by preserving and enhancing the major role played by the United States. There has not been any new factor, redistribution of roles or change in the hierarchy within the capitalist system:
“This Babylonian tower of American economic might must find its expression in everything, and it is already expressing itself, but not yet fully by far“, Trotsky said in 1924. Is this not exactly what was imposed via the catastrophes that have punctuated the history of the preservation of the capitalist system? And are not the obstacles facing US capital rooted in the generalised crisis of the capitalist system itself?
The amazing expansion of American capitalism, its manifest power acquired in the very first years of the 20th century, the degree of concentration that was achieved in the US, the role of the monopolies and the role of finance capitalism, all required that in order for the United States to become fully-formed as an imperialist power, its combative diplomacy and its recourse to military aggression should no longer be exercised first and foremost at the regional or continental level. In order to become the leading imperialist power in the full sense of the term — realising the potential offered by the development that had brought it thus far — the American imperialist state had to assert its rights through war.
When President Wilson — who on several occasions had repeated that the United States would remain neutral — asked Congress for its approval for entering the First World War (which Congress granted by a large majority) he justified it by defending the right of US citizens to sail on merchant ships in the war zone. In fact, this was an affirmation of free trade in a sophisticated form.
Once again, the main issue is stated in Europe and America. After detailing the stages on the path of imperialism to which the United States had deliberately committed (the Spanish-American War of 1898, the detaching of the province of Panama from Colombia and the construction of the Panama Canal), Trotsky wrote:
“The decisive signpost along this road was the war. As you will recall, the US intervened in the war toward the very end. For three years the US did no fighting. More than that, two months before intervening in the war, Wilson announced that there could be no talk of American participation in the bloody dogfight among the madmen of Europe. Up to a certain moment the US remained content with rationally coining into dollars the blood of European “madmen.” But in that hour when fear arose lest the war conclude with victory for Germany, the most dangerous future rival, the United States intervened actively. This decided the outcome of the struggle. (. . .) America avariciously fed the war with her industry and avariciously intervened in order to help crush a likely and dangerous competitor“.
“War is the health of the state” -
“War is the health of the state“. This is the title given by American historian Howard Zinn to a chapter in his book A People’s History of the United States. It was the title of a book by an American writer, Randolph Bourne, published during the First World War.
On the eve of the war in 1914, Zinn points out, the United States was suffering a serious recession. During his 1912 presidential campaign, Wilson stated: “Our domestic markets no longer suffice, we need foreign markets.”
The outbreak of the war in Europe constituted a drive-wheel that benefited the whole of the US economy. US industries became the main suppliers of war materials to the Allies: the massacre that was underway offered an endlessly renewable outlet for the means of destruction supplied by the Americans. In April 1917, the United States had sold more than US$2 billion’s worth of goods to the Allies. To appreciate the significance of this amount, we should bear in mind that during the same period, private investment in the United States amounted to US$3.5 billion. Howard Zinn notes: “With World War I, England became more and more a market for American goods and for loans at interest. J P Morgan and Company acted as agents for the Allies, and when, in 1915, Wilson lifted the ban on private bank loans to the Allies, Morgan could now begin lending money in such great amounts as to both make great profit and tie American finance closely to the interest of a British victory in the war against Germany.” (10)
More generally, it was in the crucible of war that US imperialism re-invented itself, undergoing the transformation that would see it become the world’s principal factory, its principal depot for commodities and its central banker, as Trotsky explained in Europe and America.
Immediately, there was prosperity, accumulation of profits linked to the war and “good health” for the exploiters, which also meant good health for their state.
The war would of course be good for the state in yet another sense. We referred in the first part of this article to the intensity of the class struggle in the United States. The years leading up to the outbreak of the First World War were marked by an upsurge in the activity of the working class in all fields, an upsurge in struggles for demands which sometimes resulted in clashes with the state apparatus and which in every case signalled a broadening and deepening of trade union activity. This was the case over the course of several months, including after the United States’ entry into the war.
The revolutionary trade union organisation Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was to play a decisive role in these conflicts. It was the IWW that led the big strike by textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912 — a strike that could not be broken through attempts to divide or recourse to police repression (the town of Lawrence was placed under siege and the trade union leaders were jailed). The IWW turned the strike, which involved nearly 30,000 workers, into a national issue. Another strike began in early 1913, in the silk industry in Paterson, New Jersey. There again, police repression and solidarity demonstrations turned it into a national event.
Other strikes did not succeed in having the demands met. But they were significant, not only because they evidenced the workers’ combativity and wish to organise, but also because they marked the IWW’s entry into the most crucial of industry’s sectors, sometimes also drawing AFL trade unions into joining the strikes. This was the case in Akron, Ohio, following a spontaneous movement that began in the big tyre-pressing factories, and with the strike at auto-manufacturer Studebaker in Detroit.
We could also include in the list of significant conflicts the strike the by iron ore miners of the Messabi Range in Minnesota, which involved 6,000 workers in 1916. There, the powerful United States Steel Corporation had to give way, and was forced to agree to an 8-hour working day and a wage-rise across the board of around 10 percent.
The trade union leader Eugene Debs, who was the moving spirit of the big Pullman Strike in 1894, has become one of the main representatives of the Socialist Party. Under his leadership, the party developed widely, and in the 1912 presidential election Debs stood as a candidate and received nearly one million votes, doubling the result he obtained in 1908.
The capitalists and their political representation, their state, demonstrated their concern in the face of this surge of the socialist labour movement. Just before Wilson became President, a strike broke out in the mines in Colorado run by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation, owned by the Rockefeller family. Very quickly, the bosses turned to violence; strike-breakers were brought into the mines under the protection of armed men who attacked the strikers, killing several of them. In April 1914, after eight months of strike, Rockefeller called out the National Guard, who attacked the strikers’ encampment, killing 26 people. Many miners then took up arms in turn. Finally, federal troops had to be called in, and a conciliation commission was set up.
What appeared at the time as a “messy moment” was to become the norm. the United States’ entry into the war gave the State the opportunity to engage in a violent and bloody offensive against the labour movement, amounting to a preventive civil war.
In June 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act. In the name of taking action against espionage, this repressive law in fact put into question the most fundamental of democratic rights enjoyed by US citizens, including their right to have an opinion and to express it — at least as far as the war was concerned.
The new law “had a clause that provided penalties up to twenty years in prison for “Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall wilfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall wilfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the US“.” (11)
As one can gather, an article or a speech explaining the causes of the war, even if it did not involve any slogan, could fall under the Act. Randolph Bourne, the author of the book War Is the Health of the State, was obliged to undergo its rigours.
Howard Zinn quotes one example of the application of this law which demonstrates all of its arbitrariness but which also displays unintended humour. The maker of a film entitled The Spirit of ’76 was sentenced to 10 years in prison under this law because, the judge said, the film tended “to question the good faith of our ally, Great Britain“. The film was based on the American Revolution of 1776 and depicted atrocities committed by the British colonial troops! (12)
But where the Espionage Act was used most liberally was against the labour movement, combined with activities by “extra-legal” militias that involved attacks, kidnapping and lynching.
Although Samuel Gompers and most of the AFL leadership agreed to participate in the war effort, the government was not able to enlist the support of the Socialist Party or the IWW.
Just after the declaration of war, the Socialist Party held an emergency conference in St. Louis which described the declaration of war as “a crime against the people of the United States“. Without giving slogans opposing recruitment and then conscription, the IWW condemned the United States’ entry into the war.
Initially, the government was counting on attracting volunteers, but after six weeks only 73,000 volunteers had enlisted. It needed to pass a law bringing in conscription.
Throughout the United States, thousands of socialist activists, trade unionists and pacifists were arrested. More than 900 people were convicted under the Espionage Act. There were hundreds of “incidents” where groups of “outraged patriots” broke up meetings, trashed offices and injured or killed labour activists.
In the case of the IWW, a real manhunt was unleashed across the country. Daniel Guérin summarised the situation as follows, in Où va le peuple américain? [Where Are the American People Going?] (Paris: Julliard, 1950-1): “The entry of the United States into the war unleashed fierce repression against the. All of the combined forces of capitalism, the public authorities and veterans used as fascist militias were employed in crushing them (. . .). Thousands of IWW members were arrested and given long prison sentences.”
The American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon, who before being one of the founders of the Communist Party of America had been a IWW organiser, shared this view. He even thought that the disorganisation produced by the repression and the need to concentrate every effort on solidarity between prisoners had hindered the discussion on the Russian Revolution which would have allowed the majority of the IWW to move towards the Communist International.
The same policy of repression was unleashed on the Socialist Party.
Thus, its most popular leader, Eugene Debs, was convicted for having delivered a speech against war in Canton, Ohio, on 16 June 1918, recalling that “Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder” (see the excerpts from this speech featured separately in this article). He was charged under the Espionage Act on the basis that his words could incite his audience to resist the draft. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He appealed, and his appeal was heard by the Supreme Court in 1919. The war had ended. Nevertheless, the sentence was upheld. That 66-year-old man then spent three years in a federal penitentiary under strict conditions, before being freed by presidential order. (13)
Physically worn-out, Debs died in 1926. During the final phase of his life, he did not play the role he could have. In the name of unity between “all socialists”, he came out in favour of a utopian reconstitution of the Socialist Party on the same basis as just before the war — he refused to go further down the path of the “Bolshevism” he had begun to draw on in his Canton, Ohio Speech. His evolution cannot be separated from the consequences for the whole of the American labour movement of the wave of reaction generated by the war. All the restrictions on the right to organise and the right of expression — decreed in the name of the state of war — were maintained for years afterwards. They provided the “legal” basis for a reign of terror directed against Communist, anarchist and trade union activists, against Blacks and against immigrant workers during the 1920s, as means of discouraging a new upsurge by the working class in the world and in the United States itself, expressed most notably in the Seattle General Strike of January 1919.
Through its participation in the first global conflict, US imperialism created the conditions for the global role it was to play. In direct terms, the United States’ going to war met counter-revolutionary objectives, forming part of the “conversion of the imperialist war into civil war” (14), but in the camp of the counter-revolution. Occurring in 1917, after the Russian Revolution had begun to erupt and at the time when the first mutinies were occurring at the Front and strikes were breaking out in Britain, Germany and France, it was a counter-revolutionary operation.
At the same time as US imperialism was using war to begin to impose itself as the leading imperialism, it was led to play the role of main guarantor of the world order against the revolution. In order to play that role, it first had to carry it out in the United States itself, against the American working class.
- – - – - – - – - -
Excerpts from the anti-war speech given by Eugene Debs on 16 June 1918
(“The Canton, Ohio Speech”) [Debs speaking in Canton, OH]
“Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. (. . .)
And here let me emphasize the fact — and it cannot be repeated too often — that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace. (. . .)
Yes, my comrades, my heart is attuned to yours. Aye, all our hearts now throb as one great heart responsive to the battle cry of the social revolution. Here, in this alert and inspiring assemblage our hearts are with the Bolsheviki of Russia. Those heroic men and women, those unconquerable comrades have by their incomparable valour and sacrifice added fresh lustre to the fame of the international movement. Those Russian comrades of ours have made greater sacrifices, have suffered more, and have shed more heroic blood than any like number of men and women anywhere on earth; they have laid the foundation of the first real democracy that ever drew the breath of life in this world. And the very first act of the triumphant Russian revolution was to proclaim a state of peace with all mankind (. . .).
Here we have the very breath of democracy, the quintessence of the dawning freedom. The Russian revolution proclaimed its glorious triumph in its ringing and inspiring appeal to the peoples of all the earth.
(. . .)"
[The full speech is available here on the Marxists Internet Archive]
(1) Introduction to Nikolai Bukharin’s Imperialism and World Economy [http://www.marxists.org/archive/bukharin/works/1917/imperial/index.htm].
(2) Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chapter VII: “Imperialism as a Special Stage of Capitalism“ [https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/ch07.htm].
(3) Preface to the French and German editions, July 1920 [https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/pref02.htm].
(4) Imperialism and World Economy, Chapter IV [https://www.marxists.org/archive/bukharin/works/1917/imperial/04.htm].
(5) Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chapter I: “Concentration of production and monopolies” [https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/ch01.htm].
(6) Op. cit., Chapter III: “Finance Capital and the Financial Oligarchy” [https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/ch03.htm].
(7) The Knights of Labor was one of the first national organisations of a trade union nature formed just after the American Civil War. It retained the character of a society whose members were initiates, but addressed all workers. It was to play an important role after 1876. The AFL organised the workers on the basis of craft unions. For decades it was to be the main trade union organisation in the United States. By refusing to organise unskilled workers or those in insecure jobs — the mass of immigrant workers — and by rejecting Black workers, in practice it limited its activity to the labour aristocracy. Its main leader, Samuel Gompers, would give his name to what was referred to as “business unionism”: Gomperism .
The Industrial Workers of the World, which stood for revolutionary trade unionism, called for the setting-up of trade union organisations based on the branches of industry. They would be in the vanguard of organising millions of immigrant workers, and through their activity they prefigured what was to become the Congress of Industrial Organisations (CIO).
(8) The speech was published the following month as The Premises for the Proletarian Revolution. This and a second speech were published together in February 1926 as the pamphlet Europe and America [https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1926/02/europe.htm].
(9) Charles Dawes had been appointed by the US government as head of a committee of experts with the job of overseeing the economic reorganisation of Europe following the end of the First World War.
(10) A People’s History of the United States, Chapter 14.
(12) Ibid. Zinn points out a further irony: “The case was officially listed as U.S. v. Spirit of ’76.”
(13) President Harding commuted Debs’ sentence to time served.
(14) See V I Lenin, Socialism and War, Chapter 1 [https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/s+w/ch01.htm#v21fl70h-299].
"100 Years After World War I (Special Double Issue)"
of "La Vérité (The Truth)",
Presented by The Organizer Newspaper [http://socialistorganizer.org/100-years-after-world-war-i-special-double-issue-of-la-veritethe-truth/]:
We are proud to announce the publication of a Special Double Issue (No. 82, 688 Old Series) of La Vérité/The Truth, the theoretical magazine of the Fourth International. This Special Issue includes 11 articles on the meaning of 1914 and its lessons for today.
We are including below the Table of Contents of this issue (published in two parts), the Introduction, and one article dealing with the United States by François Forgue titled, “April 1917: The United States Goes to War.”
We urge our readers and supporters to order a copy today of this Special Double Issue (76 pages) for $10, includes postage.
Please send your check, made payable to The Organizer, to P.O Box 40009, San Francisco, CA 94140.
* * * * * * * * * *
LA VERITE/THE TRUTH No. 82 (688 Old Series)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
* 1914-1918: A Chronology with Commentary by Henry Halphen
* The Root Causes of the Collapse of the Second International by Lucien Gauthier
* Lenin, Imperialism and War by Daniel Gluckstein
* Lenin and Revolutionary Defeatism by Jean-Jacques Marie
* The Balkan Wars (1912-1913), the Labour Movement and the Fight for the Balkans-Danube Federation by Dominique Ferré
* Fraternisation and its Significance by Pierre Roy
* * * * *
* The Labour Movement in France Before and at the Start of the War by Jean-Marc Schiappa
* “A War for Colonies . . . Conducted with the Help of Colonies” by Olivier Doriane
* April 1917: The United States of America Goes to War by François Forgue
* The Unfortunate Peace of Brest-Litovsk: The Dilemmas Facing the Russian Revolutionary Party by Michel Sérac
* War and Revolution: The United States of Europe (Leon Trotsky)
* * * * * * * * * *
This special issue of La Vérité-The Truth is entitled: “Another point of view on 1914“. One hundred years after the outbreak of the imperialist war, there is no shortage of commemorations: newspaper articles, reviews, films, radio and TV programmes.
All over the world, the event is being commemorated in ways which, to varying degrees, develop a common theme: the horrors of the war are behind us, and the more or less obscure reasons that led to it have faded away. The idea is that the peace reached between the belligerents, and in particular between France, Germany and the big European powers, opened a new era. This chorus of self-congratulation is dominated by the presentation of the European Union as a supposed instrument for moving beyond all antagonisms.
In this special issue of La Vérité-The Truth we want to offer to workers, to activists, to the youth, to all those who are committed to the cause of the workers’ emancipation and the independence of the working class, to all those who are genuinely and sincerely committed to the cause of peace and the peoples’ sovereignty, the opportunity of addressing the topic from a different point of view. The facts speak for themselves: in the elections to the so-called European Parliament (25 May 2014), the European Union was massively rejected by the peoples in most of the 28 countries that comprise it. That rejection was expressed particularly through massive abstention and condemnation of the parties with their roots in the Second International, which for decades have been committed to a so-called “European project” that is nothing more than a factor of poverty and destruction.
Peace guaranteed by the European Union? The workers of Greece, Portugal and Spain, who have been subjected to the destructive plans of the troika (European Central Bank, European Commission, International Monetary Fund), obviously have a different point of view, one that they have expressed on this occasion, just as they have expressed it through several class movements in the recent period by rising up in their millions to say: “Out with the troika’s plans!”. Peace made possible by the European Union? The events in Ukraine show how the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, using their diktat of pillage as a threat, jointly precipitated the crisis of disintegration in a country ruined — like every one of the countries of the former Soviet bloc — by its expulsion of all international division of labour within a world ravaged by the crisis of decay of the world imperialist system.
Peace guaranteed more generally by the dominance of the big imperialist powers at the global level? Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, not to mention the various imperialist military interventions in Mali or the Central African Republic, provide the answer. As do the threats to the sovereignty of nations (Algeria in particular), the continuing pillage of the natural resources of South Africa and the super-exploitation of its workers, as the South African miners and their organisations fight back despite the government’s acts of repression, carrying out the demands of the multinationals.
All around the world, the rule of imperialism in crisis continues the pattern set in 1914, with wars of pillage and wars of conquest, with the dismantling of nations, with the sovereignty of those nations put into question. Is Lenin’s formulation of imperialism as “reaction all down the line” not extremely relevant today?
It is from this point of view that we must re-examine the significance of 1914. This issue of La Vérité-The Truth deliberately adopts the viewpoint of those internationalist workers who immediately made the link between the struggle against the war and the struggle against the failed system of private ownership of the means of production, between the struggle against the war and the struggle against the betrayal of the opportunist leaders of the Second International, who rallied to social chauvinism. It is from this point of view that we think it important to open the discussion and reflection on the burning topicality of what was posed in 1914 by a handful of internationalist militant activists, who remained faithful to the working class at a time when their leaders sought to force the labour movement into embracing chauvinism.
This issue of La Vérité-The Truth contains eleven contributions which adopt different angles of attack. Some of them concentrate on facts, others on analysis, yet others on theoretical developments made necessary by the struggle against imperialism. In these convergent forms and within a common framework, we want to open a discussion. That common framework is the framework of the members of the Fourth International, who want to use it to help the workers understand the mechanisms that link August 1914 to October 1917, as part of the same struggle that links one century to the next: the struggle for the independence of the working class, for the Workers’ International, for putting an end to the failed system of private ownership of the means of production. This is the discussion we wish to open in this way. It is up to you, our readers, to pursue it.