[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #8, Feb. 21, 1975, pp. 5-8.]
LOOKING at war from the historical materialist view or from the historical idealist view is an important content in the struggle between the Marxist and the revisionist military lines.
What is war and how is it produced? On the basis of the fundamental theories of Marxism-Leninism, the great leader of the Chinese people Chairman Mao has clarified these questions very profoundly. He pointed out: “War is the highest form of struggle for resolving contradictions, when they have developed to a certain stage, between classes, nations, states, or political groups, and it has existed ever since the emergence of private property and of classes.” (Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War.) This thesis of Chairman Mao’s incisively points out that war is the product of private ownership and class society, the highest form of class struggle and a phenomenon peculiar to class society.
Hand in hand with the criminal activities of the Soviet revisionist renegade clique in attacking the Marxist theory of war, Lin Piao explained the source of war by the abstract theory of “human nature” and left out the class nature of war in his vain attempt to negate fundamentally the Marxist view of war. This was in line with the views of Confucianists in the past. Confucius (551-479 B.C.) babbled that by nature men helped one another when they were happy and went at each other when they were angry and that war resulted from men’s anger and existed side by side with mankind. According to this view, when men glared at each other, abused or physically pushed one another and came together for a fight, Confucianists considered all of this the beginnings of war.
Contrary to the Confucianists, Shang Yang (?-338 B.C.), an exponent of the Legalist school which represented the interests of the newly rising landlord class, pointed out more than 2,000 years ago: In the society of ancient times men had worked together and the fruits of their labour were evenly distributed, so there was no war at that time. Later, when “the strong conquered the weak and the more populated bullied the less populated” among the states, punishment was used to consolidate internal rule and war was used against other states. The Legalists looked at war as a social phenomenon and regarded it as a product of human society when it developed to a certain stage. This view was a scathing criticism of the reactionary Confucian fallacy that explained war as coming from man’s natural character. Of course, owing to their class and historical limitations, the Legalists did not and could not reveal clearly the class origin leading to war. Only after the birth of Marxism was it possible to give a historical and scientific explanation of war.
Engels pointed out: The materialist conception of history “explains all historical events and ideas, all politics, philosophy and religion, from the material, economic conditions of life of the historical period in question.” (“Supplement on Proudhon and the Housing Question” in The Housing Question.) The historical materialism of Marxism holds that the reason for all social phenomena must be found in a given society’s material life and economic relations and not in men’s minds. War is a continuation of politics which is the concentrated expression of economics. The only reliable method for studying war is to start with an analysis of the economic base, class contradictions and political relations. The level of the productive forces in primitive communal society was very low. There was no private property and no class exploitation and oppression, and therefore no war. Though inevitably there were fights with weapons and conflicts between groups or clans, these were not expressions of class struggle.
With the growth of the productive forces and the emergence of private ownership, class antagonism between the ruled and the ruler evolved and the state apparatus, an instrument for class rule, appeared. The exploiting class relied on the state apparatus to suppress the exploited class by force and the latter took up weapons to oppose such suppression. It was only then that war, the highest form of class struggle, mounted the stage of history in human society. Private ownership and class exploitation lead to war which is a product of class society—this is the only correct theory of the origin of war and its nature.
Chairman Mao has said: “For several thousand years since the emergence of classes, the life of mankind has been full of wars.” (On Protracted War.) These wars were fought between classes, nations, states or political groups. But, in the final analysis, all were sparked by class contradictions and class struggle and were a continuation of the politics of the related classes. By attributing war to man’s nature and describing it as an eternal phenomenon coexisting with mankind, Lin Piao, Confucius, Mencius and their like tried to negate the objective law that war emerged with the formation of classes and will disappear with the elimination of classes. Their views are utterly absurd in theory and, politically speaking, extremely reactionary.
Today we are in the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. Imperialism is the hotbed of war in modern times. Since it is monopoly capitalism, imperialism is characterized by seeking maximum profits and hegemony to enslave the world. To attain this, the imperialist countries are bound to intensify their exploitation of the working class and other working people in their own countries and step up their oppression and exploitation of the colonies and semi-colonies, as well as engage in sharp struggles among themselves for a redivision of markets, colonies and spheres of influence. This makes the basic contradictions inherent in imperialism increasingly acute with each passing day, which will. inevitably lead to war in the end.
The contention, for world hegemony between the two superpowers—Soviet revisionism and U.S. imperialism—has become sharper than ever today and threatens the independence and security of other countries. Wherever their contention reaches, the situation becomes intensified. This creates big unrest in the world. As long as there is imperialism and social-imperialism and as long as there is contention for hegemony between the two superpowers—the Soviet Union and the United States, there is bound to be war of one kind or another. By peddling the idea that war is caused by man’s nature and negating the class origin of modern wars, Lin Piao defended the all-over evil imperialist system and absolved the two superpowers of their crimes of launching aggressive wars in their contention for world hegemony. This fully exposes his counter-revolutionary revisionist renegade features.
Chairman Mao has pointed out: “History shows that wars are divided into two kinds, just and unjust. All wars that are progressive are just, and all wars that impede progress are unjust. We Communists oppose all unjust wars that impede progress, but we do not oppose progressive, just wars. Not only do we Communists not oppose just wars, we actively participate in them.” (On Protracted War.) This is the correct differentiation of the nature of war and the fundamental attitude towards wars held by Marxists. In examining any war, we must keep an eye on its political aspect and make a class analysis, finding out which class wages the war, the continuation of which class’ politics it is and which class’ interests it serves. In this way we can pronounce it a just or an unjust war and determine our support or opposition.
Starting from removing the class origin from war, Lin Piao obliterated the difference between just and unjust wars. He wrote on a scroll what Confucius and Mencius trumpeted—“He who relies on virtue will thrive and he who relies on force will perish,” hung it in his room, took it as the gospel and did all he could to distort and vilify the revolutionary violence of the revolutionary class.
Both “virtue” and “force” in class society have clear-cut class contents and are subservient to the political line of a certain class. Marx said: “Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.” (Capital.) Engels said. Force “is the instrument with the aid of which social movement forces its way through and shatters the dead, fossilized political forms.” (Anti-Duhring.) To maintain their rule, all decadent, reactionary exploiting classes rely on force; the new emerging revolutionary classes also need force to seize political power and overthrow the rule of the exploiting classes.
Towards the end of the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.), Chin Shih Huang (259-210 B.C.), who represented the interests of the new emerging landlord class, could not without the use of force have unified China, put an end to the chaotic situation caused by rival ducal states, founded the autocratic and centralized feudal state and completed the transition from slavery to feudalism throughout the country. (See “Chin Shih Huang—The First Ruler to Unify China,” Peking Review, No. 50, 1974.) Similarly, the transition from feudal society to capitalist society was also brought about through the use of force. The revolution to substitute proletarian dictatorship for bourgeois dictatorship and socialism for capitalism is a revolution aimed at thoroughly eliminating the exploiting system, and this must be done through a violent revolution.
Chairman Mao has pointed out that “revolutions and revolutionary wars are inevitable in class society, and without them it is impossible to accomplish any leap in social development and to overthrow the reactionary ruling classes and therefore impossible for the people, to win political power.” (On Contradiction.) Lin Piao stubbornly took the stand of the landlord and capitalist classes and venomously used the words “he who relies on force will perish” to madly attack the revolutionary violence of the proletariat. This meant his complete betrayal to Marxism-Leninism.
Lin Piao and his diehard followers put on the hypocritical mask of opposing all wars, raised a hue and cry about the horrors of war and maligned all wars as “disasters” of mankind, regardless of their nature. These were identical with the shouting of Mencius (390-305 B.C.), the No. 2 man of the Confucian school, in the Warring States Period that “the fields are strewn with dead bodies in a war to seize land; cities are strewn with dead bodies in a war to seize cities.” They all tried to scare the masses of the people and turn them into lambs willing to be slaughtered by the reactionary rulers. This, of course, was a fruitless effort. Struggle entails sacrifice, and revolution has to pay a price. Human society advances and develops in big storms, and the revolutionary people never look at war from a pessimistic viewpoint. They know that only through revolutionary war can the road leading to the birth of a new system be blazed and can society continue its progress and enter communist society which has no classes and no exploitation.
Did Lin Plao, Confucius, Mencius and their like really oppose all kinds of war? Certainly not. Under the signboard of “opposing all wars,” they opposed just revolutionary wars and promoted unjust counter-revolutionary wars. This was exactly what Confucius did. When he heard that the State of Cheng’s slaveowners carried out a bloody suppression of the slaves taking part in an uprising, he was beside himself with joy and shouted “excellent.”
Lin Piao even outdid Confucius. While attacking the people’s revolutionary war for “killing people indiscriminately,” Lin Piao hiding in dark comers recruited deserters and renegades, set up a self-seeking clique, organized fascist special task forces and plotted to launch an armed counter-revolutionary coup d’etat. He tried to assassinate Chairman Mao, put down the revolutionary masses and found a fascist Lin dynasty. Though they engaged in “glib talk about benevolence and righteousness,” Lin Piao, Confucius and other reactionaries like them would not lay down their butcher’s knives for a moment. Par from relinquishing force, they only wanted counter-revolutionary violence to restore the old order, and not revolutionary violence to propel history forward.
Lenin put it well: “All oppressing classes stand in need of two social functions to safeguard their rule: the function of the hangman and the function of the priest.” (The Collapse of the Second International.) Political cheating and suppression by force are the two counter-revolutionary tactics of all reactionary exploiting classes by which they rule over and enslave the people, and these classes cannot exist for a single day without counter-revolutionary force.
On the question of war, whether to uphold the Marxist class viewpoint, affirm the progressive historical role of just wars and therefore firmly support and assist just revolutionary wars or under the cover of phoney slogans of “peace” oppose just revolutionary wars while actually upholding counter-revolutionary unjust wars—this is one of the fundamental differences between Marxism and modern revisionism represented by the Soviet revisionist renegade clique.
Chairman Mao has taught us: “The banner of mankind’s just war is the banner of mankind’s salvation. The banner of China’s just war is the banner of China’s salvation.” (Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War.) Just revolutionary wars can speed up the death of decadent things and accelerate the growth of new-born things. They not only can deflate the enemy’s vicious arrogance but also cleanse the dirt in the revolutionary ranks. Revolutionary forces are always educated and tempered and continuously grow and expand in the course of war. The victory of the Chinese revolution was won through protracted revolutionary war; we should uphold just revolutionary wars and oppose unjust counter-revolutionary wars at all times.
Lin Piao’s views on the origin and nature of war are diametrically opposed to those of Marxism. This decided that he had to sing an entirely different tune from that of Marxism on the question of how to prevent and eliminate war. He spread the Confucian preachings of “benevolence and righteousness” and “doing away with war,” and blared that as far as imperialist aggression was concerned, war could be prevented and averted by just adopting the methods of “harmony is to be prized” and “taking forbearance as the best choice” and through the influence of “benevolence” and “loyalty and forbearance.” These are out-and-out words of national betrayal and surrender.
Chairman Mao has taught us: “War, monster of mutual slaughter among men, will be finally eliminated by the progress of human society, and in the not too distant future too. But there is only one way to eliminate it and that is to oppose war with war, to oppose counter-revolutionary war with revolutionary war, to oppose national counter-revolutionary war with national revolutionary war, and to oppose counter-revolutionary class war with revolutionary class war.” (Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War.) We Communists stand for the elimination of war. We support just revolutionary war and, when necessary, take an active part in this kind of war in order to prevent and eliminate counter-revolutionary war with revolutionary war.
Many historical facts have proved: Seeking peace through compromise and concession can only inflate the enemy’s reactionary arrogance and court still bigger disasters of war. Fighting tit for tat and matching the sword with sword is the fundamental method to prevent and eliminate counter-revolutionary war. In our war to resist Japanese aggression, the national traitor Chiang Kai-shek issued an order of “absolute non-resistance” after the “September 18th Incident”* and handed the northeast to Japanese imperialism. He hoped that this would be an exchange for peace. But the “July 7th Incident”** took place six years later. Still Chiang Kai-shek refused to put up active resistance and he turned over north China to the enemy under the illusion that the enemy would be satisfied and would not cross the Yangtze River. But a little more than a month later, Japanese imperialism launched a large-scale attack against Shanghai on August 13, 1937 and further occupied large tracts of our land.
Contrary to Chiang Kai-shek’s line of surrender and compromise, the Communist Party of China and Chairman Mao led the people of the whole country to persevere in struggle and the war of resistance and oppose compromise and surrender. After fighting heroically and arduously for eight years, they finally defeated Japanese imperialism and won great victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan. After the War of Resistance, Chiang Kai-shek frantically tried to seize the people’s fruits of victory. With one sword in his left hand and another in his right, he tried to squeeze out every ounce of power and every ounce of gain from the people. We gave him tit for tat, took up swords too and fought for every inch of land. It was precisely because we adhered to this correct principle that we won the great victory of the Chinese revolutionary war.
Lin Piao’s so-called prescription for preventing and eliminating war and attaining “peace” was not invented by this self-styled “military expert of genius” but was something collected from the garbage bin of Confucius and Mencius. The reactionary Confucianists of the past consistently advocated the fallacy that “in the application of the rites, harmony is to be prized.” For instance, Mencius held that so long as they had the hypocritical benevolence, righteousness and virtue advocated by the Confucianists, they would be invincible under heaven.
Countering reactionary Confucianist preachings, the Legalists emphasized farming and military affairs and considered them the fundamentals of a country. Shang Yang said: “It is right to conduct a war in order to eliminate war.” Here he clearly advocated using the revolutionary war of the new emerging landlord class to oppose the counter-revolutionary war launched by the slave-owning class. This Legalist view containing elements of simple dialectics was in sharp contrast to the reactionary Confucian view of eliminating war by “benevolence and righteousness.” History is a mirror of reality. We can see more clearly the ultra-Rightist nature of Lin Piao’s counter-revolutionary revisionist view of war by linking it with the struggle between the Confucian and Legalist schools.
According to the historical materialist view of Marxism, since war emerged with the birth of classes, it will of course be eliminated with the extinction of classes. The elimination of classes and exploitation means removal of the social origins of war. Only then will war leave the stage of human history as a historical antiquity. To spread the fallacies of “harmony is to be prized” and “taking forbearance as the best choice,” Lin Piao wanted us to lose our vigilance and give up our arms in the face of imperialist and social-imperialist aggression so that he could realize his counter-revolutionary ambition of surrendering to Soviet revisionism and becoming its puppet emperor.
The present world situation is characterized by “great disorder under heaven.” Countries want independence, nations want liberation, and the people want revolution—this has become an irresistible historical trend. But imperialism and social-imperialism are frantically engaged in arms expansion and war preparations and the danger of a new world war still exists. Under these circumstances, we should never believe the mythology of so-called “lasting peace” or “a generation of peace” and we must enhance our vigilance a hundredfold.
As to war launched by imperialism and social-imperialism, first we oppose it and secondly we are not afraid of it. If they insist on imposing war on us, we will never be cowards trying to exist at the expense of principle, but will resolutely stand up and fight heroically. A just war will certainly defeat an unjust war and a revolutionary war will certainly eliminate a counter-revolutionary war. The only correct road of eliminating war is to defeat imperialist aggression by a just revolutionary war.
_______________* On September 18, 1931, the Japanese “Kwantung Army” in northeast China seized Shenyang. Chinese troops in Shenyang and elsewhere in the northeast (Northeastern Army) carried out Chiang Kai-shek’s order of “absolute non-resistance” and consequently the Japanese forces rapidly occupied the provinces of Liaoning, Kirin and Heilungkiang.
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