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Marxism-Leninism on War and Army - Social Nature and the Purpose of the army

Marxism-Leninism on War and Army
The army is an important element of the political superstructure of definite relations of production that have shaped in the course of history and form the objective social foundation, the economic basis of society. The armed forces of the exploiter state are a “military copy" of the socioeconomic structure and political system of the relevant exploiter society, which determines their purpose, and the principles underlying their development, training and education.

To understand the political purpose of the army in exploiter society we must look back at the historical process that led to the emergence of the state and to the formation of special detachments of armed people charged with the task of fulfilling its internal and external functions.
The Origin and Class Essence of the Army

The army emerged on the same socio historical basis that gave birth to war. The history of war, the state and the army is organically linked with the emergence and development of antagonistic societies. In pre-class tribal societies there were neither social inequality nor political relations between people. Under the primeval system there were no armies functioning as special military organisations. According to Engels “armed” force was at that time a “self-acting” organisation of the entire adult population charged with the task of seizing and defending the conditions necessary for the subsistence of the tribe. Such an organisation could serve neither as an instrument of oppression within the clan or tribe, nor as an instrument for the enslavement of other tribes.

With the disintegration of the primeval system and its tribal self-government, its “military” organisation, too, began to disintegrate. Together with the armed tribe there emerged detachments of the well-to-do elite, representatives of the tribal aristocracy, who formed the nucleus of the permanent troops. These detachments became the social prop, the instrument of the power of military leaders and the slave-owning tribal aristocracy. They were, in fact, the embryo of the army.

During the disintegration of the tribal system in Greece 189(the beginning of the first millenium B.C.) the armed forces were still organised as a people’s militia. Every phratry (a union of several close kins) had its military leader, who decided military questions with the participation of the tribal communities. At the same time the military campaigns increased the inequality of wealth between the members of the tribe, made the tribal elite richer, strengthened the power of the military leader and his troops. Relying on the economic domination of the class of big owners that had already emerged by then, the military leaders and the leaders of the tribe took the power into their hands. The state, the apparatus for the coercion and exploitation of the people, emerged in this way.

The exploiter class sets up armed detachments to strengthen its economic and political rule. These- detachments are maintained by the state and are obedient tools in the hands of the exploiters. These tools are directed against the people and serve as a means for the violent implementation of the policies of the ruling classes.

The decisive role of the army in the system of the emergent state power was determined by the slave-owning system’s main task, which is to ensure the violent exploitation of the slaves and their systematic replenishment by the seizure and subjugation of other peoples. From this sprang the two basic functions of the slave-owning state: 1) to keep the exploited masses in the country in obedience and 2) to subdue other countries and protect its own territory against foreign invaders. These functions, endemic in all exploiter states, determine the social nature and the purpose of their armed forces.

A distinctive feature of the army of an exploiter state is that it is isolated from the people and serves as an instrument for their enslavement. This was the case in slaveowning, as well as in feudal society. The feudal system initially emerged as a military organisation. The army of the feudal state was intended for waging predatory wars.

Capitalism transformed armed violence into a system. The development of the army and military science made spectacular advances in the early 19th century. The bourgeoisie renewed and re-equipped the army, made it an even stronger weapon of class rule within the country and of its annexationist policy in the international arena.

Being a state organ, the army in an antagonistic society always acts as an instrument for the implementation of the policies pursued by the ruling classes. The economic interests of the exploiters, expressed in the politics of the state, ultimately determine the social function and essence of the armed forces. In all antagonistic formations the army is created and developed by the ruling class for the purpose of strengthening the exploiter system and suppressing the masses, for the social and national oppression of the working people and for the plunder and enslavement of other peoples.

The socio-political functions of the army determine the composition of its commanding echelon and the method of recruitment and organisation. During the history of exploiter society the methods used for the manning of the forces changed considerably, at times they were made up only of the representatives of the ruling classes (for example, the knights in the Middle Ages), at other times they were extended and became a people’s militia (especially during liberation wars). At all times, however, the commanding posts were held exclusively by the ruling classes.
Social Functions of the Armed Forces of the Capitalist States

All bourgeois armies, irrespective of their social structure, serve as the principal means of asserting the economic and political rule of capitalists, as a means of suppressing the working people in the country and enslaving the peoples of other countries. Their internal and external functions are closely interlinked.

The internal function of the armies of bourgeois states is determined by the nature of capitalism and springs from it. The bourgeoisie uses various means to intensify the exploitation of the proletariat, and the social and national oppression of the working people. Chief among them was and remains coercion with the help of the army and the police.

The army serves as the internal prop of the capitalist system. Its main function is an inner-political one. “Everywhere, in all countries,” Lenin wrote, “the standing army is used not so much against the external enemy as against the internal enemy. Everywhere the standing army has become the weapon of reaction, the servant of capital in its 191struggle against labour, the executioner of the people’s liberty." [191•1

The reactionary role of the army within the capitalist state is combined with its foreign-political function of oppressing the peoples of foreign countries. The annexationist policy of capitalism is implemented by means of armed violence, the instrument for which is the army. Its main purpose is not to defend its own country, but to attack other countries in order to rob and enslave the working people. Defence is only derivative of the universal striving of the exploiters after attack. The weaker states, falling victim to aggression by a strong predator, are compelled to defend themselves.

Bourgeois armies always behaved savagely and inhumanly towards their own and other peoples. As early as the mid19th century the British troops heaped ignominy on themselves during the suppression of the popular uprisings in India and during the “opium” wars in China. Marx noted that in those wars “the English soldiery ... committed abominations for the mere fun ... mere wanton sports". [191•2 The same can be said of the behaviour of the US forces during their expeditions against the Red Indians and the suppression of the Philippino people’s liberation movement in 1899. Onesixth of the population of Lucon, the biggest and most densely populated island of the Philippino Archipelago, was annihilated. Mass executions and the torture of peaceful inhabitants aroused the indignation of the world public, and all progressives (including Leo Tolstoy and Mark Twain) protested against the atrocities perpetrated by the American troops.

While they are aggressive with respect to weak countries, bourgeois states have to defend themselves when they are attacked by stronger capitalist rivals. Under these conditions the armed forces may carry out the general national task of defending their country against foreign invaders. When the struggle is waged against aggression, for the national independence and state sovereignty of the country, the interests of the working people may in this respect coincide with those of the ruling classes, without, however, 192removing social antagonisms and the class struggle. Such wars do not change the essence of the army itself: a weapon of the bourgeoisie, it defends the country notably in the interests of the ruling class.

Hence, when studying such periods in the life of bourgeois armies we should bear in mind, first, that the function of the country’s defence is in sharp contradiction with the nature of the capitalist state and is determined by external circumstances—attacks by other aggressive states; second, that the struggle against the aggressor does not change the social nature and function of the armies of capitalist states, that of being a weapon for the oppression of their own people and for the enslavement of other countries. The social nature of the army can be changed only if the class content of the state is changed first.

The bourgeoisie and its theoreticians conceal the true social essence and the real purpose of the armed forces of exploiter society. Arguing that the capitalist army is made up of all the social layers of the population, bourgeois ideologists assert that it is an “extra-class” organisation, designed to carry out “general national" functions, and try to convince servicemen that the army acts in the interest of the whole people. A special “people’s" organisation, they say, it stands outside of politics and the class struggle. But the army comprises part of the state apparatus—of the political organisation of the ruling class—and the bourgeoisie does not at all intend to give up its command of the army. At the same time it endeavours to isolate the army from the people and to make it an obedient instrument of the state policy. In this the bourgeoisie runs up against deep contradictions, that between the people and the army, and that between the ranks and the officers within the army itself.

The bourgeoisie strains efforts to mitigate these antagonisms by confining the soldiers to their barracks in order to isolate them from the people, by resorting to cruel, stupefying drill, by brainwashing the personnel, and so on. It adopts a strict class approach to the manning of the troops, especially of the officer corps. The latter is formed of representatives of the ruling classes and holds not only a commanding, but also a dominant position. The relation between the officers and the rank-and-file reflects the class 193relations in exploiter society—the relations of domination and subordination. The officers train their soldiers and direct their actions in the interests of the ruling classes of bourgeois society. The officer corps is, as it were, the bearer of bourgeois ideology and politics. The allsided indoctrination of soldiers and sailors during their service in the armed forces makes them willing tools of the capitalist state.
Intensification of the Reactionary Role of the Bourgeois Army Under Imperialism

The development of capitalism and the further intensification of its contradictions have of necessity led to the numerical growth of the army and to a build-up of armaments in bourgeois states. While the slave-owning and feudal formations wars involved tens of thousands of soldiers, when capitalism was asserting itself they involved hundreds of thousands. Thus, only 136,000 people participated in the battle of Cannae on both sides, while in the capitalist epoch armies became many million strong. During the Fjrst World War about 50 million people were under arms, in the Second—110 million.

Analysing the development of capitalism, Engels noted that the final division of the colonies between the big capitalist countries, and the stabilisation of that division, had led to a major intensification of militarism. He wrote: “The army has become the main purpose of the state, and an end in itself; the peoples are there only to provide soldiers and feed them. Militarism dominates and is swallowing Europe." [193•1 The transition to monopoly capitalism triggered off a particularly violent growth of militarism. The military power of the imperialist states increased rapidly. The armies of France, Britain, Italy, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary grew from 2,111,000 men in 1869 to 13,184,000 in 1912. Military expenditure grew even more intensely. In Japan it increased 15-fold between 1875 and 1909, in Germany (1882–1908) almost three-fold, and in the USA (1875–1908) almost four-fold.

Lenin noted two trends in the development of militarism: it develops as a weapon in the hands of the ruling classes for the suppression of the proletariat’s revolutionary 194movement in its own country and as a military force for the solution of foreign-political tasks.

Imperialism intensifies political reaction in every way. The bourgeoisie abolishes democratic laws and takes recourse to arbitrary rule and coercion, and strives to suppress the growing revolutionary struggle of the working class by force of arms. Militarism becomes the main weapon of the bourgeoisie’s political rule and of the oppression of the proletariat. Enormous numbers of working people are drawn into the army where they are subjected to ideological and psychological indoctrination in order to strengthen the social hierarchy, the exploiter relations of domination and subordination. Lenin said that the bourgeois army is “the most ossified instrument for supporting the old regime, the most hardened bulwark of bourgeois discipline, buttressing up the rule of the capital, and preserving and fostering among the working people the servile spirit of submission and subjection to capital". [194•1

The growth of militarism falls in with the economic interests of the monopolies both within the country and outside it. The monopolists’ claims to world domination create the economic foundation for the flourishing of militarism in all capitalist countries. Under imperialism militarism acquires an all-embracing and particularly aggressive character. The militarists begin to dominate society and all of life in the capitalist countries is subordinated to the reactionary aims of annexationist wars. The armed forces are the instrument of the imperialists’ aggressive policies.

This purpose of the armies in the capitalist states became evident already during the First World War, when the imperialist predators frenziedly fought for the redivision of the colonies and the expansion of spheres for the application of capital. The purpose of the imperialist armies became even more reactionary during the Second World War, when the nazis wanted to strangle the first socialist state by armed force and to conquer world supremacy.

The First and the Second World Wars hastened the coalescence of the capitalist monopolies with the bourgeois state, while state-monopoly capitalism led to a further intensification of militarism. A close union has formed 195between the army big brass and monopoly capital, and between monopoly capital and the top leaders of the state. State leadership has increasingly fallen under the influence of reactionary generals and monopolies in war production. The state has become a committee for managing the affairs of the monopoly bourgeoisie, the armed forces—a weapon for the implementation of their imperialist politics.


[191•1] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 10, p. 56.

[191•2] K. Marx and F. Engels, The First Indian War of Independence, 1857–1859, Moscow, p. 92.

[193•1] F. Engels, Anti-Diihring, Moscow, 1969, p. 204.

[194•1] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 28, p. 284.
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