Revolutionary Defeatism

Why defeat matters more than victory…

Revolutionary Defeatism is a primary principle for anarchist internationalists. Acting locally and coordinating globally against imperialist war is the internationalist task and responsibility of social revolutionary militants and our class everywhere. But what does it mean? The term, coined in the first world war in 1915, was a response to the capitulation and collapse of the Social Democratic (Second International) movement in the face national chauvinism and defending their own nation states, despite their pre-war commitment to class unity and resistance.

Even some of the greatest revolutionaries struggled to be truly internationalist in conflict. Some favoured conditional support for their participants as a ‘defencist’ need to resist the greater ‘evil’ of the other side. For the anarchist communist Kropotkin that was Prussian militarism. For most of the German left, Slav autocratic barbarism. In much of Western Europe (including the British Labour Party) against both, in favour of the ‘progressive’ gains of democracy.

Internationalists recognised the global conflict remained between our class and that of the ruling class squabbling to defend their respective capitalist empires. Initially as tiny persecuted minorities, they were the clarion call in the wilderness.

The principle is once again being questioned in the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and for similar reasons, sadly even by some claiming to be revolutionary internationalists – see statements on our website and social media by our comrades on either side of the conflict lines upholding ‘defeatism’ despite slander, betrayal and persecution.

What makes the concept of defeatism so challenging? For some it is misunderstanding of the nature and importance of this as an internationalist position; for others on the left, being the liberal wing of capitalist democracy they simply take sides, but for most it is the instinctive moral drive to tell good from bad leaving them open to the power of state propaganda.

The horror of war projected from afar inevitably produces waves of anger, sympathy, compassion, and a sense of helplessness which is itself exploited by our bosses and their states to channel any possible awakening resistance into the dead end of charity. They manipulate us into false partisan choices in favour of one belligerent or the other. This is the true fog of war seeking to blind us from the what should be the obvious – The bosses on both sides are our enemy as the workers of both suffer and die awaiting our class solidarity in action.
Defeatism is not pacifism, it cannot afford to be whilst each rolling tank and falling bomb dismembers workers. It is not, as Lenin described it, merely to “…desire the defeat of ‘your own’ government, wish defeat, favour nothing less than defeat” ushering in the victory of the most militarised and brutal power. Revolutionary Defeatism is the active mobilisation of solidarity and defence of community against its forced militarisation and co-option, and resistance to the idea of a capitalist victory or a capitalist peace – the latter the bloody breathing space between blows.

This includes blowing away the fog to see revolutionary defeatism in action. In Ukraine and Russia, revolutionary comrades continue to recognise this as a conflict on the fault lines of global capital. They continue to work together opposing nationalist propaganda, coercion and militarisation naming the conflict for what it is, an attack on our class.

Here we must hammer this message home, not just opposing the war but taking up our own class struggles, enthusiastically refusing social peace and linking them in solidarity with our comrades in the global resistance. Strikes are happening everywhere – soon will follow the accusations of ‘the enemy within’ and traitors. Let them be right! Class war IS the peace movement, the war against all wars. There is no other non-binary solution, defeatism demands a single outcome, war or revolution! Our choice is unambivalently clear!