October 1, 2017

Marxism-Leninism on War and Army - Civil wars between Proletariat and Bourgeoisie

Class struggle is the law governing the development of class antagonistic societies. As it grows in scale and depth, it becomes a political struggle for the state power, and in definite conditions assumes its sharpest form—civil war. The reactionary forces attempt to suppress the revolutionary action of the masses and to preserve their rule by force of arms. They resort to violence, to civil war.

Civil war is the armed struggle between the antagonistic classes of a country, a struggle for the state power by means of violence. As regards its political content it may be progressive and just on one side, may be a continuation of the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed classes for their social liberation, and unjust on the other side, a struggle pursuing the counter-revolutionary aims of returning the reactionary class to power or of consolidating its political domination.
Socialist Revolution and Civil War

The revolutionary struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat includes the exertion of open political coercion on the exploiters, but does not necessarily involve armed struggle. Wars between states do not necessarily precede a socialist revolution nor are all revolutions accompanied by civil war. Armed struggle is not essential in all countries to establish the proletarian dictatorship and to implement socialist transformations in the economy and social relations.

Naturally, the capitalists do not renounce their class privileges and their political rule voluntarily. They fiercely resist the revolution. The intensity of the class struggle, its forms and methods of violence during the transition to socialism depend not so much on the proletariat as on the resistance offered by the exploiters, on whether or not the bourgeoisie resorts to armed violence. The proletariat attempts to use primarily peaceful means for the revolutionary change of the political system. Only when it has exhausted all peaceful means and encounters fierce resistance on the part of the reactionary classes, is it compelled to take to arms, to take up armed struggle. As early as 1871 Marx warned the bourgeois governments: “We shall act against you peacefully where this will be possible for us, by force of arms—when this becomes necessary." [108•1

In 1917, in his famous April Theses, Lenin advanced the slogan of the seizure by the working class of the state power by peaceful means, through the conquest of the majority in the Soviets. It was only after the July events, when the troops of the Provisional Government opened fire on a peaceful demonstration of workers in the streets of Petrograd, when the power was usurped by the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, when all hopes for a peaceful development of the revolution were shattered, that the transition of power to the Soviets became impossible without an armed uprising. The Russian proletariat, the first to raise the banner of the socialist revolution, could not avoid armed struggle between the classes. The exploiters, who endeavoured to restore the old system, rose in arms against the workers and the poor peasants. Under these conditions the socialist upheaval inevitably had to assume the character of a revolutionary civil war.

Specific features marked the birth of the new social system in Russia, but they should not be dogmatically extended to other countries, to the entire development of the proletarian world revolution.

History knows also of a peaceful transition of the state power into the hands of the working class. In March 1919 Soviet power was established in Hungary by peaceful means. It existed for over four months. This historical experience is particularly important to the revolutionary movement of the European proletariat.

In the past the possibility of a peaceful development of the revolution was the exception rather than the rule. The 109reactionary classes commanding the military and police forces within the country and relying on the assistance of other imperialist powers, prevented the peaceful implementation of revolutionary tasks. Now the considerably greater strength of the working class, the wider social basis of the revolution and the existence of the powerful socialist community, open up the possibility for a peaceful transition of some countries to socialism.

At the same time Marxists do not reject civil war in principle, under all conditions and for all capitalist countries. When the reactionary classes resort to open violence against the people, a rejection by the proletariat of civil war would be tantamount to a rejection of the struggle for power, a rejection of the revolution. In the new situation, too, the proletariat may find it necessary, under certain conditions, to use military means in the revolutionary struggle for the conquest of political power. Sometimes it is necessary to use arms also to suppress counter-revolutionary mutinies against the already established proletarian dictatorship, as was the case in Hungary in 1956.

The peaceful development of the socialist revolution does not exclude, but rather presupposes, the decisive crushing of all attempts by the reactionaries to restore the old regime. When the exploiter classes resort to military force to suppress the revolutionary actions of the working people, the civil war of the progressive classes against the reactionary forces becomes historically inevitable.

Such a situation can emerge in capitalist countries where the bourgeoisie commands a strong military-police apparatus and resorts to fascist methods in implementing its dictatorship. Under these conditions the advent of the working class to power will inevitably involve the violent overthrow of the capitalist dictatorship by means of sharp revolutionary struggle and civil war.
Main Kinds of Civil Wars

Civil wars have specific features, distinguishing them from other types of wars. It would therefore be erroneous to interpret the concept “civil war" too broadly, to include in it all armed actions by the people against their oppressors.

The concept “civil war" must not be used to include all armed clashes between workers and police or government 110forces. The armed resistance by demonstrators or strikers to troops attacking them is not yet a civil war. “...Civil war,” as defined by Lenin, “is the sharpest form of the class struggle, it is that point in the class struggle when clashes and battles, economic and political, repeating themselves, growing, broadening, becoming acute, turn into an armed struggle of one class against another." [110•1

Civil war can begin before the seizure of the state power by the working class, can attend its struggle for power and can flare up after the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship.

The revolutionary struggle of the working class and the working peasantry against the bourgeoisie and the semifeudal reactionary forces in the course of the general democratic revolution often turns into open civil war. In 1905 the development of the Russian revolution inevitably led up to a decisive armed struggle between the tsarist government and the vanguard of the class-conscious proletariat. The reactionary classes, who rose against the growing revolutionary movement, were responsible for it.

Armed uprising is a specific variant of civil war. In a directly revolutionary situation, when the proletariat attempts to seize the state power, the class struggle assumes a particularly sharp form. Military counteraction to the reactionaries—to the armed detachments of the bourgeoisie, the police and government troops—leads to an armed uprising of the working class against the political power of the bourgeoisie. It is generally supported by peasant uprisings and by mutinies in the army and navy.

Armed uprising is the most decisive instrument of political upheaval. To be successful it must have the support of the progressive class and rely on the revolutionary sentiments of the masses, embrace the country’s most important economic regions and political centres. The armed uprising is organised by the revolutionary party of the proletariat. A classic example of such an organisation was the armed uprising of the workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors, headed by the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin, in October 1917 in Russia.

Civil war of the masses, headed by the working class, for general democratic aims and against the armed violence of 111the reactionary forces of monopoly capital, is a specific kind of civil war in our epoch.

Such was the character, for example, of the civil war the masses in Spain waged against the forces of the bourgeoislandowner reaction when it raised a fascist mutiny against the Left Republican Government, which launched a programme of democratic reforms (1936–1938). The mutineers were overtly supported by the Italian and German fascists, and covertly by the monopolies and ruling circles of Great Britain, the USA and other imperialist countries.

Civil war for general democratic aims and against the most reactionary forces of society is possible in the less developed countries, where the domination of domestic and foreign monopoly capital intertwines with semi-feudal oppression by big landowners, who are setting up reactionary militaryfascist, tyrannic regimes (the Asian and Latin American countries).

In the developed capitalist countries the exacerbation of the contradictions between the majority of the nation, the people and the capitalist monopolies, often leads to the abolition by the reactionary monopoly bourgeois circles and the militarists of the remnants of bourgeois-democratic freedoms by means of reactionary coups. This can result in a general democratic revolution and civil war between the masses and the reactionary forces of monopoly capital.

While the seizure of power by the proletariat is a decisive defeat of the reactionary classes, it does not deprive them of the power to resist, and they do not stop their attempts to restore the overthrown system. Under definite conditions they resort to armed resistance and then the clash between the classes becomes a civil war. Under the political rule of the proletariat the aim of the working people in this war is to preserve and consolidate their political power. In the new conditions the working class has much greater political and military resources at its command than it had before the revolution—it is now able to rely on the state power and the nationalised economy.

An example of a civil war in defence of the proletarian dictatorship, against the attempt to restore capitalism, was the armed struggle of the Soviet working people against the counter-revolutionary forces in 1918–1920.

Social and Strategic Specifics of Civil War

Civil war is the most acute and decisive form of class struggle. Its purpose is to resolve the sharpest social conflicts. In such a war the antagonistic forces are particuiariy sharply demarcated: here, as distinct from wars between exploiter states of similar type, conciliation is excluded.

Civil war is distinguished by the extreme violence of the class battles, the specific means by which military operations are waged, the rapid change of the methods and forms of armed struggle in keeping with the concrete situation. ’I he main strategic principle of a class war is the offensive, active character of the military operations by the revolutionary forces. The founders of Marxism laid down this principle as applying to armed uprisings of the proletariat.

The uprising of the revolutionary classes is generally opposed by well-trained government troops, the armed forces of the bourgeois state, while the insurgent masses, or those who have joined the uprising, include a multitude of unorganised people. The number of those inert and vacillating, even though they hold sympathies for the insurgents, is even greater. Under these conditions the main task of the revolutionaries and their leading party is to take decisive, energetic action to ensure the moral supremacy of the insurgents, to imbue revolutionary passion in the inert and vacillating, and to draw the unorganised masses into active struggle under their leadership.

Once the objective conditions have matured and the class struggle has intensified to the utmost, the success of the armed uprising depends on the courage and the offensive spirit of the revolutionary masses and on their assuming the offensive. Defensive action spells death to every armed uprising. The founders of Marxism-Leninism warned never to play with uprising, but “once the insurrection has begun, you must act with the greatest determination, and by all means, without fail, take the offensive. The defensive is the death of every uprising". [112•1 Having caught the enemy unawares the proletariat must smash the forces of reaction by its courageous and resolute action and seize the state power.

The perfect mastery of strategy by the Communist Party becomes particularly important in open class battles. When the class struggle assumes the form of civil war, the Party becomes the headquarters of the revolution, the organiser of the armed storm, the leader of the revolution, its militant, warring party.

The class nature and revolutionary character of the Civil War in Russia made it necessary for the Soviet state to adopt an offensive military strategy. The political aims of the Civil War on the part of the working class—utterly to rout the armed forces of the class enemies—called for active resolute action. Only courageous offensive action could lead to the rout of the enemies of the revolution and establish conditions for the building of a new life.

These aims evolved the specific features of Soviet military strategy at that time: the combination of offensive operations with the unllagging pursuit of the enemy; the rapid change in the methods and forms of armed struggle; the use of various operational and strategic manoeuvres; the rapid regrouping and concentration of forces on the main sectors, etc. The offensive operations of the Red Army were closely coordinated with partisan action. The extensive partisan movement that flared up in the rear of Denikin’s and Kolchak’s armies and in the Soviet Far East, played a major role in the rout of the domestic and foreign counter-revolutionaries.

Civil Wars and Armed Interventions by Imperialists

A revolutionary civil war is often closely interwoven with the struggle against the armed intervention by foreign imperialists. The reactionary states frequently intervene in the internal affairs of other countries in order to support the counter-revolutionary forces and restore the old regime.

Interventionists often succeeded in strangling the revolution. Thus, in 1919, the Entente troops crushed the Soviet power in Hungary. In 1936–1939, the German and Italian interventionists fought in the Spanish Civil War, assisting the counter-revolutionaries and helping them to set up General Franco’s fascist regime. The revolutionary struggle of the Greek people in 1946–1949 was also defeated as a result of the armed intervention by the Anglo-American imperialists.

The imperialist powers intervene in the internal affairs of the revolutionary countries either by openly invading those countries or by helping to unleash a civil war in them, by supplying the counter-revolutionary groups with arms, ammunition, food, etc. Sometimes, as was the case in Russia in 1141918–1920, they support the domestic counter-revolutionaries and simultaneously resort to direct military intervention.

The Civil War in Russia was begun by domestic counterrevolutionary forces. But it assumed a wide scale when the foreign interventionists rushed to the assistance of the overthrown exploiter classes. Britain, France, the USA, Japan and other capitalist countries generously supplied them with weapons and equipment, and also landed their troops in Russia. The imperialists proclaimed a “crusade of 14 states" against the world’s revolutionary bastion. Soviet Russia could not expect state assistance from outside. The solidarity of the international proletariat was insufficient to prevent armed intervention by the imperialists. Yet, during the Civil War the international proletariat greatly assisted the Soviet people. It became the decisive reason for the collapse of the campaigns launched against Soviet Russia, in foiling the reactionary plans of the imperialists.

The imperialists not only sought to strangle the workers’ and peasants’ government and to restore the bourgeois system, but also wanted to deprive Russia of her state sovereignty, to dismember her territory and to enslave her peoples. Therefore, the Civil War of the working people for the preservation of the proletarian dictatorship was at the same time a patriotic war of the Soviet people against the world imperialist bourgeoisie. In this just war the working class, together with the working peasantry, defended the gains of the October Revolution and the state sovereignty of their country.

The changes in the balance of forces in the world in favour of socialism and democracy have greatly decreased the possibilities of the imperialists to interfere by force of arms in foreign countries. Yet this possibility has not been excluded. Playing the role of a world gendarme, the US imperialists constantly threaten to strangle the revolutionary movement of the working people in other countries by means of brute force.

This can’ be seen in particular from the ventures of the US aggressive circles against revolutionary Cuba. At first they attempted to strangle the revolution by establishing an economic blockade. Later, in April 1961, they tried to achieve this by direct intervention. The Cuban people smashed the interventionists. The venture of the US imperialists failed. But Cuba’s enemies are continuing their aggressive policies, are making preparations for new armed attacks. The socialist countries and all of progressive mankind closely watch the doings of the imperialists and are firmly resolved to fulfil their internationalist duty.

The US imperialists are conducting a war against the liberation movement in South Vietnam and pursuing aggressive aims against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

All this shows that the threat of armed interventions continues to exist. Any country whose peoples have risen in the struggle for socialism may become a victim of armed attack by the imperialists. That is why it is the duty of the international working class, by relying on the power of the world socialist system, decisively to rebuff the intervention of the imperialists in the affairs of the peoples of any country that has launched a revolution, and in this way to prevent the export of counter-revolution by the imperialists.


[108•1] Le Premiere Internationale. Recueil de Documents, Vol. II, Geneva. 1962, p. 202.

[110•1] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 26, p. 29.

[112•1] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 26, p. 180.