Socialism’s foreign policy

International socialism, by virtue of its socialist and international character (that is, qua socialism and internationalism), can neither know nor tolerate any contradiction between its internal and external politics. Homogeneity and continuity of its internal and external politics are for it unconditional postulates. From each side it demands one and the same socialist, international, revolutionary spirit.

The task of socialist politics, supported by the class-conscious proletariat, is the following: to promote social development in the direction of the socialist order, etc., by means of proletarian class movement. In the moment of peripety 1 through the garde mobile this movement assumes the character of social revolution in the narrower sense. Social revolution is possible only if a decisive part of humanity is ripe for the socialist order. But this ripeness is the overripeness of the capitalist order, the completion of its social-developmentary task.

Does it follow, then, as superficial schematics sometimes imagine, that socialist politics must promote capitalist development so as to accelerate the emergence of necessary preconditions for social revolution?

The ripeness of society [for revolution] is not an absolute but a relative measure, even in an economic and technical respect. Whether society is ripe for the socialist order depends not only on the degree of its economic development, but on its overall social development in the broadest sense. Above all, on the degree to which the consciousness, insight, will, and active determination of the proletariat [has been developed], namely from the spiritual, moral, and psychic level of the working masses.

Insofar as this psychic factor does not arbitrarily drop out of the clear blue sky, but rather results from the masses’ entire respective living conditions, its measure is hardly determined by extrahuman or extrasocial powers. Man’s psychic faculties also include the capacity for self-movement within certain limits, the capacity to augment given faculties through systematic action within these limits. This applies to society as well as to the individual. Compare their education. And as far as these capacities exist in either case, however they may be objectively conditioned or determined, men are not prevented from exercising them within certain limits. Just as the freedom to examine, resolve, and act which various groups of men claim for themselves appears imaginary from the standpoint of social psychology, so too is the notion of individual free will from the standpoint of personal psychology. In the broadest sense of man’s psychic and spiritual nature, the effect of the powers of the human soul cannot be other than individuals and groups working together, counteracting, and interacting with each other, objectively entwined, although they seem to act independently of one another. In this convoluted process, teeming with self-deceptions — in which the overall social psychology, and from it the material social activity, finds complete expression — everyone has to act with all the forces and impulses of which they are capable for themselves and in relation to others, so they will contribute their part to the realization of the objectively required and determined processes of life for the whole of society.

To bolster the psychic factor, in order to hasten the possibility of socialist society — that is the specific task of socialist politics, its revolutionary task. By fulfilling this task, it helps create the conditions to systematically cultivate the germs and conditions of socialist society within the capitalist order, especially in political and economic terms. Dialectically, therefore, it has the effect of bringing society’s point of ripeness as near as possible.

It is often said of capitalism that the more it triumphs, the more it is its own gravedigger. This correct kernel of “catastrophe theory” is correct only because the counteraction [Gegenwirkung] increases, not only in equal ratio to it but in an even higher proportion. Such counteraction is neither in support of capitalist triumph nor its corybantic accompaniment, à la [Paul] Lensch, but is rather our task — the task of the struggling proletariat.

In the question of capitalism’s unfolding, in its capitalist essence, socialist politics is purely critical. But this critique is also creative in that it carves out and cultivates the faculties that are still in control [of this unfolding], which can be used by the socialist movement as still latent elements of its development.

The foreign policy of socialism is not merely the extension of its internal politics beyond national borders, which are from a socialist standpoint contingent. More than any other social principle, it is identical both in idea and practice to socialism’s internal politics. For the external as well as internal politics of socialism are equally rooted in international social contradictions. Socialism expresses the class interests of the international proletariat, of which each national proletariat is merely an isolated splinter. In the context of international class struggle, every national contest between the classes is merely a dependent subprocess. Which is to say that they are only special applications of essentially international socialist principles to the concrete forms where class antagonisms appear in detail and in their totality, either locally or overall, in the concrete conditions of class struggle (exhibited either specifically in the interior of individual states or generally over and above state borders).

From the primacy of the international over the national viewpoint, the primacy of external over internal politics follows in principle. The internal politics of socialism are thus only a special case of its external politics. And what imperialism says is therefore necessarily true of socialism, albeit in an opposite sense: “Victory inwardly and victory outwardly require one another.”

The aims of socialism’s foreign policy must be socialist, as must their means. Socialism seeks to promote social development in the direction of the socialist order, which must be international [in scope]. Promotion of this development occurs through all socially suitable faculties — the socialist faculties of a working class still opposed to capitalism on the basis of capitalist society. But it also occurs through the influence of the developmental power of capitalism itself: insofar as the socialist movement gauges the type and energy of the power that it casts against the opposing measure of imperialist power and its degree of antisocialist danger, in order to ensure as simultaneously as possible the ripeness of the capitalist regions most important for socialist transformation. The means of socialism’s foreign policy are the various forms and methods of the revolutionary class struggle.

No more than one of the internal there is a socialist instrument of the foreign policy of socialism that could be outside the class struggle.

Karl Liebknecht

translation by Walt Auerbach

1 Peripeteia or peripety refers to a sudden and dramatic shift of fortune, a device often used in literature.