The Nature and Origins of War: The Social Democratic Concept

скачать Автор: Yemelyanova, Yelena N. - подписаться на статьи автора
Журнал: Social Evolution & History. Volume 19, Number 2 / September 2020 - подписаться на статьи журнала


The article considers the issues of war and peace in terms of the social democratic concept. It focuses on the evolution of socialists' views on the issues of origin of wars, their role in state-building and in history, on the means of attaining peace, models of political power and creation of international systems. A comparison is made between the views of theoreticians of the European socialism and positions of modern authors and the leading schools of international relations (concerned with political realism, liberalism and neo-Marxism).

The author concludes that the social democratic concept, based on the understanding of war close to that of the school of realism, has been developing, in the aspect of post-war world order, towards liberalism. Recognizing the immense role of wars in the evolution of humankind, theoreticians of socialism sought to work out a model of a global community in which eternal peace would reign supreme.

The social democratic theory has significantly contributed to the philosophy of war, not only becoming a core of neo-Marxism, but also enriching with some provisions the theory of political realism and liberalism.

Yelena N. Yemelyanova, Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences more


From ancient times, the issue of war and peace has worried humankind and it remains relevant until present days (see Rieber 1991; Vivekanandan 1997; Jarstad and Sisk 2008; Hartmann and Heuser 2002). In this connection, it is essential to realize the nature and origin of wars in order to find the ways to prevent them.

What is a war? What are its essence and typology? What are its causes? What role do wars play in shaping states and developing the humankind? What are the means of stopping wars and attaining peace? Different scientists have long sought to find answers to these questions.

We will dwell on the social democratic theory with its outstanding proponents Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Georgiy Plekhanov, and Franz Mehring. Let us compare their approaches and consider the current viewpoints.


Following the German general Carl von Clausewitz, who was much in line with Realism theoretical paradigm in international relations, and then Friedrich Engels and Karl Kautsky, the classics of Marxism, most theoreticians of social democracy believed that war is a military continuation of foreign policy by forcible means, when peaceful means do not work anymore (see Kautsky 1917: 22; Lenin 1980: 269).

Georgiy Plekhanov considered wars as a class struggle. ‘As early as the classic antiquity, the class struggle could assume a form of an international conflict. Economy of the current civilized world, international in its essence, makes this conversion of the class struggle still more understandable’ (Plekhanov 1917: 57). Plekhanov regards the winners as exploiters and the losers as the exploited.

In his works Vom Wesen des Krieges (On the Essence of Wars) and The History of Wars and Military Art, Franz Mehring accentuated, more than other theoreticians of Marxism, the economic factor of wars. He wrote that wars are conflicts of different interests that cannot be resolved peacefully. A war is a mass of historic controversies that have become so acute there is no other way to settle them (Mehring 1914: 193–201). At the same time, Mehring agrees with Clausewitz that war is a continuation of a policy to bring an enemy under one's control by other, forceful, means (Ibid.).

Further on, a definition close to this was given by the theoretician of political realism Raymond Aron. He defined the essence of war as ‘a crisis between several actors, when one of them seeks to achieve
a goal which another actor considers incompatible with his goals’ (Aron 2012: 205).

Thus, the Marxist definition of war came very close to the theory of realism.

The New Philosophical Encyclopedia interprets the essence of war in modern terms that are rather different from the Marxist version, ‘War is an organized armed struggle between states, nations and social groups waged by a special social institute (army) with economic, political, ideological and diplomatic means employed’ (The New Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2010: 425). Professor Nikolai S. Rozov defines war in the following way, ‘A war is a stage of a societal conflict with organized mass violence (an array of engagements) or destruction performed by two or more political communities or coalitions of such communities’ (Rozov 2009: 29).

In this case, the emphasis is on the perception of war as an armed conflict. Without generally rejecting the Marxist interpretation, the Russian researchers significantly expand it. Thus, Professor Oleg Belkov asserts that war is 1) a society's state other than peace; 2) the peculiarity of this state implies that a society both subjects and is subjected to armed violence; and 3) acts of war are ensured and supported by political, diplomatic, economic, information, ideological and psychological means of effecting an opponent (Belkov 2019: 122).


Ludwig Gumplowicz, one of the proponents of the military theory of the state's origin, proceeded from the assumption that the causes of war root in the human nature itself. Every human seeks self-preservation and growth of his or her wellbeing, which drives him or her to acquire ever more benefits. The same drive for self-preservation and wellbeing generates a lust for power and desire to spread it over other peoples, which makes up the basis of an aggressive policy pursued by social groups. Also, they obey the chief evolutionary law of nature – the survival of the fittest.

Analyzing Gumplowicz's theory, Karl Kautsky in his work The Materialistic Understanding of History notes that the causes of wars are different at each historical stage. However, they are all linked to a definite economic method of production and a struggle for extra resources relevant to this method.

In Rosa Luxemburg's opinion, the main cause of wars was the struggle for resources in the situation of a low level of production. In her work ‘Introduction to Political Economy,’ Luxemburg wrote that the causes of war in primitive societies rooted in human total dependence on nature. Under conditions of undeveloped production and shortage of foodstuffs for the growing population, the tribes periodically were driven to wars.

In such cases, the issue was decided by a brute struggle, war, and its result often meant the eradication of one of the contending parties, or more frequently, the establishment of a system of exploitation. It was not devotion to abstract principles of equality and freedom that formed the basis of primitive communism, but the pitiless necessities of a low level of human civilization, the helplessness of humanity in the face of external nature, which forced them to stick closely together in larger alliances, and to act methodically and collectively with respect to labor and the struggle for life as an absolute condition of existence. Yet it was also the same limited control over nature that confined planning and action with respect to labor to a relatively quite small area of natural pasture or reclaimable village settlements, and made this unsuitable for collective action on a larger scale. The primitive state of agriculture at that time did not allow for any larger cultivation than that of a village mark, and for this reason presented strict limits to the solidarity of interests. And finally, it was the same inadequate development of labor productivity that also generated periodic conflicts of interest among the various social alliances, thereby making brute force the only means to solve such conflicts. War thus became a permanent method for solving conflicts of interest between social communities, a method that would prevail through to the highest development of labor productivity – the total domination of man over nature – that will put an end to material conflicts of interest between people (Luxemburg 1960: 181–182).

A logical continuation of the social democrats' concept is the conclusion that, with a method of production which needs no struggle for extra resources and which overcomes dependence on nature, wars will disappear.

Modern researchers suggest many new versions

One of the classics of neo-Marxism, Immanuel Wallerstein regarded the causes of wars globally, in terms of the global economy, as peripheral states' desire to change their production pattern and thus change their place in the world division of labor, which is brutally resisted by the center and becomes a source of military tension in the inter-state structure (Wallerstein 2001: 390).

Both social democrats and neo-Marxists consider economic reasons as decisive.

The American researcher Robert L. Carneiro believes that the causes of wars could be the following: harsh natural restrictions, concentration of resources, and social constraints (population density) (Carneiro 1970: 733–738; 2012: 5–30). Joyce Marcus considers that already with the emergence of human communities the causes of wars were in rivalry (Marcus 2012: 74–78).

Raymond Aron, a representative of political realism, argues that the causes of wars lie in the fact that international system has no center (Aron 2012: 183). Wars are inevitable because of a conflict between national interests and errors in decision-making on the part of statesmen, who have to act under the impact of circumstances and surroundings (Aron 2012: 184–187).

Liberals believe that the causes of wars lie in deficiencies of the system and in sovereign states' aspiration for dominance as well as in policies pursued by dictatorships.

When systematically analyzing the causes of military conflicts, some current investigators point out the following factors: a drive for all-embracing power, a desire to acquire resources, an intention to raise the prestige, certain demographic phenomena, inevitably arising geo-economic and socioeconomic misbalances (Rozov 2009: 34), ideological and religious reasons and others. Today, the notion of war is essentially wider than in the early twentieth century.


1. The Impact of Wars on State Formation

Gumplowicz, who was Kautsky's contemporary, relates the state formation to the conquering of weak tribes by strong ones and establishment of domination over them. Classes emerge when conquerors and prevailing tribes form a superior class while the conquered become the inferiors.

In many ways, Kautsky disagreed both with Gumplowicz and Engels. He tried to combine two approaches: the military theory of state and Marxism. With reference to formation of a state and the role of wars in this process, Kautsky comes closer to Gumplowicz. He asserted that a state emerged not in the wake of dissolution of a community, isolation of nobility from it, their usurpation of power, the division of labor and emergence of classes, as Friedrich Engels proposed, but as a result of seizure of some tribes by others. The state, as an executive body, appeared in the course of conquests.

Kautsky believed that the first phase of history – slavery – had emerged before formation of states. Whereas Engels believed that slavery stemmed from the advancing division of labor inside the community, Kautsky asserted that slavery originated not from the division of labor in communities, but emreged after wars with alien communities (see Kautsky 1931: 69–70). Wars contributed to emergence of slavery, since most slaves were seized during military actions. The more men fit for war a family had, the richer it was.

The second phase of history is associated with conquest of some tribes by others and imposition of a tribute on the conquered.

Unlike Gumplowicz, Kautsky believed that a state is, nonetheless, a product of economic development. The division of labor and emergence of classes occurred not within communities (this process was neither excluded nor considered principal) but at the inter-tribal level. The nomads seized the lands of more advanced but less mobile sedentary societies. The winning tribe became a dominating class, while the conquered tribe turned into the exploited group. Thus, the division into classes proceeded not within a community but outside of it. The victors left the existing agricultural system unchanged; they only imposed a tribute on the conquered peasants, without increasing their labor productivity (see Kautsky 1931: 83).

Kautsky relates the third phase to the merger of tribes and emergence of a single state.

Exploitation appears not only exclusively due to the state; the slave labor and plunder of alien tribes had been practiced before emergence of a state. However, the exploiters and the exploited appeared in a community (which did not include the slaves) only as a result of a formation of state, a result of a forced integration of the conquered tribes into a single large society supervised by the victors (Ibid.: 144–146).

Kautsky regarded slavery as the first form of exploitation and the payment of tribute by an independent community as the second. A state, in his opinion, is the third form of exploitation, and its supreme and particularly fierce version. Here the exploiters' existence completely depends on exploitation which is their sole source of subsistence (Ibid.: 117–118).

As a state emerges, it seeks expansion, absorbing weaker states and tribes.

Kautsky points out the following goals of a military policy at this stage: the dominant class's desire to expand territories and increase the number of the exploited and its profits, a struggle for new lands and slaves and a violation of the border by the neighbor.

Other theorists of socialism, including Rosa Luxemburg, Gregoriy Plekhanov and others, adhered to the middle position. Recognizing the role of war in the progress of the humankind, they still singled out dissolution of a community as the key factor in establishment of a state.

In some of his works on materialistic understanding of history Plekhanov (1956a, 1956b, 1956c, 1956d), pointed out the following causes for establishment of a state: dissolution of a community, geographical environment that affected the division of labor, the development of work tools, and emergence of property and classes. ‘More or less significant territorial alliances merge into entities called states due to, again, the accomplished changes in property or as a result of new needs of the public production process’ (Plekhanov 1956a: 639).

In her work ‘Introduction to Political Economy,’ Luxemburg, using the example of the Inca Empire, partially confirms Kautsky's theory. Incas were conquerors and the peculiar feature of their state was that their relations with the conquered tribes were those of exploitation. The conquerors collected the quitrent and сorvée duties which were equally divided among the conquered. ‘In a way, we see here two opposing social strata whose internal structure was communistic but who related to one another as the exploiters and the enslaved’ (Luxemburg 1960: 180–181).

This idea was also corroborated in works of contemporary scientists. Leonid Grinin regards this period as an early state. He justifiably noted that the early state' apparatus is built upon the community (Grinin 2006b: 7).

In addition to external factors that destroy the community, Luxemburg points out internal causes. They are the increasing labor productivity that generates private property; new forms of labor organization that require improved management; and trends in primitive societies for gradual transformation of public duties from elective to hereditary. ‘As time goes by, in certain families the heredity of office had to inevitably lead to formation of … petty aristocracy who had turned from the society's servant into its master’ (Luxemburg 1960: 216). All these processes result in the emergence of inequality, exploitation and classes.

Luxemburg generally concludes that communities dissolved for economic reasons, the major one being that they did not any longer meet the needs of new forms of production. Violence was only a means of passing over to a new social order.

Thus the primitive communist society eventually collapsed everywhere, because it had fallen behind the economic progress and had to give way to new and more advanced forms. This development and this progress have to exist for a long time by foul means of a class society until it, too, is overcome by subsequent developments and its follow-on progress is terminated. Here, again, violence is just a servant of an economic progress (Luxemburg 1960: 224).

Thus, according to Luxemburg, the economic factor plays a crucial role in state formation, while wars – the secondary.

In modern historiography, most researchers assert that state formation is determined by a number of factors. But some scholars, including the proponents of the military theory of origin of state, believe that wars had played a very important role in this process. Leonid Grinin considers that ‘among the factors that abruptly change living conditions, the war, conquest, acquisition of more efficient arms and danger of being conquered play, indisputably, a critical role’ (Grinin 2009: 832). In 2012, there was an interesting discussion in Social Evolution & History journal about the role of wars in state formation and historical process. In his new article, Robert L. Carneiro essentially supplemented his earlier theory (Carneiro 2012). He believes that wars play the leading role in state formation (see also Guidi 2012; Sneath 2012; Grinin and Korotayev 2009; Feinman 2012; Lozny 2012; Marcus 2012; Wason 2012). Carneiro believes that the population growth stirred up wars for new lands and more resources. New in his theory is the statement that in addition to wars there was another factor that contributed to state formation – a leader's role. A leader brought the tribes together for wars. On this basis, chiefdoms appeared and then, under demographic pressure and wars for new lands and other resources, states were formed (Carneiro 2012: 17).

Other researchers believe that wars play only a secondary role (Claessen 2012, 2017; Barry 2012; Carmack 2012; Gibson 2012) both in the formation of a state and its evolution. They consider that a crucial role belongs to traditions, culture, religion, etc. Henri Claessen proves that politogenesis is affected by a number of factors (among which the military one is not the most important), namely: 1) population growth; 2) wars; 3) conquests; 4) ideology (especially ideology of kinship); 4) surplus production; and 5) influence of the existing states (see Claessen 2017: 30).

In concluding paper of that volume, Leonid Grinin and Andrey Korotayev noted the value of viewpoints of all participants of the discussion and presented their own generalizing concept. A war, they believe, plays an important role in state formation. However, in each individual case a combination of factors was unique and not in all cases the military factor prevailed (Grinin and Korotayev 2012: 197–198). Wars speed up the process of state formation. But other conditions are also required, for instance, large population (fairly stratified), a certain level of political culture and ideology. If some factors are missing to launch the society transformation, the process of state formation may never start. The creation of more complex polities could be accelerated not only by a war, but also by a threat of war, population growth, migration or creation of new settlements when a specific social system acquires certain benefits (e.g., getting a trade monopoly for some essential resources), the growth of wellbeing, contacts with significantly more advanced societies, etc. (Grinin and Korotayev 2012: 197–199). Pointing out the multi-linear character of complex state formation, Grinin and Korotayev suggest introducing the notion of an early state and its analogues. Along with territorial states that emerged as a result of conquests, there were also city-states (e.g., in Ancient Greece), which were federations of communities (Grinin and Korotayev 2012; Small 2012). Such analogues of states were created due to the concentration of population and resources and not necessarily in the wake of wars. Under such circumstances, the demographic pressure could be not only a cause of war but also an important factor per se stimulating development of new management methods, including methods for the formation of state entities (Grinin and Korotayev 2012: 202).

2. Wars in Evolution of States

Ludwig Gumplowicz considers the chief law of history to be the formula ‘the strong defeats the weak; the equally strong form a union for being stronger than a third one, equal in strength when they are apart’ (Gumplowicz 1895: 81). Gumplowicz does not consider the community-state-empire development scheme to be correct, since he believes that communities are part of a state. An empire consists of states and is not a single state. According to Gumplowicz, it is language and socio-psychological features that bring people together in a state.

He singles out the following laws of state development that are based on war: 1) a drive for power at the neighbors' expense; 2) a war against other states for an access to sea; and 3) a war over state borders (Ibid.: 71).

The principle of struggle between various social groups (estates, classes, and communities) for domination in a state also prevails in a state's internal life. ‘There is always antagonism and interaction between at least two social groups: the rulers and the ruled’ (Ibid.: 75). This struggle is the driver of progress (Ibid.: 76).

Gumplowicz regards the entire historical process as the conquering of the weak by the strong, leading to creation of even larger states; the development of culture by the winners and the division of labor in support of their own interests; and the gradual transformation of the winners into a dominating minority and the defeated into an oppressed majority. Yet, Gumplowicz supposes that during the twentieth century the influence of the masses grew and they started to demand their share of benefits in life and culture (Gumplowicz 1895: 81).

What impacts the decision-making in war and peace? According to Gumplowicz, when making a decision the leaders are guided by the people's opinion which is based on both their personal self-interests and common goals (Gumplowicz 1895: 81). This is the cause of constraints on some individuals' will addressing society's aspirations. The mechanism of decision-making in foreign policy proposed by Gumplowicz is a precursor of modern political realism, which asserts that, in addition to personal interests, the state leaders have to take the account of the opinion of their advisors as well as society in general.

According to Kautsky's concept, a war is an inseparable part of historical process and its driver. Following the founders of Marxism, Kautsky still believes that a pre-capitalist state is an apparatus for the oppression of the majority by a minority and that wars are a continuation of foreign policy pursued by the powers-that-be. A state emerges in the course of predatory wars. The Oriental states, as well as those far from seas, cropped up as a result of conquests. The city-states near the sea appeared as defensive fortifications against sea robbers.

Kautsky regards the historical process in the following way:

From the very outset, a state is and must be larger than a primitive community on whose conquests it builds itself. Thanks to this, it subsequently creates more expansive economic regions that start to closely cooperate with one another which leads to creation of cities, separation of industry from agriculture and, finally, emergence of arts and science (Kautsky 1931: 605).

The expansion of a state nearly always depends on its military power. A state may expand to an extent determined by the conquerors' strength and ability to keep the conquered populace under control and protect borders against invasions (Ibid.: 126).

The base of the Oriental states, city-states and medieval states was a military force available to the state power, primarily the conqueror tribe, because it is primarily this force that brings different regions together, turning their association into a state (see Ibid.: 435–436).

According to Kautsky, war is only a continuation of foreign policy and so its monopolization by the ruling class creates a situation when the issues of war and peace are exclusively in its hands. The same applies to performance of functions in military matters and defense organizations.

From the very outset, a state relies on its ruling class' ability to wage a war. Even in cases when a state had emerged quite peacefully, without struggle and bloodshed, the peaceful condition was maintained exclusively by voluntary recognition of its military supremacy. The ruling class relies primarily on this supremacy both in the country and abroad. Therefore, it places a great deal of focus on the military both by maintaining and improving its military power and by creating such military organizations from the conquered populace that would be not disobedient rebels against the ruling class but a submissive tool in its hands (Kautsky 1931: 262–263).

Once a state is established, a reverse process starts. A conquered populace constantly seeks to rebel and separate from the state. This is the cause of national wars. The state connections are supported only by the ruling class' military force (Ibid.: 436).

Kautsky regards a nation and ethnicity as a language commonality. At the same time, he does not reject the understanding of a people or a nation, proposed by Otto Bauer, as ‘commonality of fate and culture can also develop a common character’ (Ibid.: 238). However, the language is considered the primary factor (Ibid.: 438).

The essence of national wars is in that the struggle waged between separate nationalities in a state that has not yet turned into a completely national state and is still an nationalities’ state is exclusively a struggle over
a language; it revolves around which language should dominate in the state and, hence – an all-important issue – which linguistic community ought to prevail and exploit in the state. This struggle becomes understandable only if we consider nationality as a language commonality (Ibid.: 438–439).

The transition to a capitalist state was also due to a war, a civil war, that is a revolution. Kautsky wrote that, ‘Just like a state itself results from military actions, so upheavals in correlation of forces in it always arise from the use of armed force. Modern democracy itself had appeared so. It was born by a civil war of the English revolution…’ (Kautsky 1931: 427).

Following a triumph of democracy over absolutism, a new political and economic order has become essentially different from the previous ones.

A political system of a democratic society represents the governance in the interest of the majority and it is exercised via elections and parliament. Whereas the previous means of production were based on non-economic coercion and needed military compulsion, capitalism is based on an economic interest of private owners and free hired workers having no property and selling their labor capability. The capitalist system of production needs no coercion mechanism. Police alone suffices. An army is replaced by universal conscription. Unlike Gumplowicz, who believed that wars are inevitable in human society, Kautsky believed that the industrial capital and modern democracy can create a type of state in which wars can be eliminated.

Kautsky singled out three types of wars: predatory wars; just offensive and defensive wars; and prestige wars (Kautsky 1931: 136).

During his lifetime, Kautsky observed the states' aspiration for expansion. However, he believed that predatory wars under democracy are harmful. Pursuing its national interests, a winning state infringes on the conquered peoples' right to self-determination. A war results in dictatorship (Ibid.: 441). Kautsky recognized that in his contemporary society of industrial capitalism it was possible to establish dictatorship. The dictatorship, according to his later views, is one of the root causes of wars. In this case, the proletariat should stand up to democracy even with arms in their hands, if needed.

He wrote, ‘The current Bolshevik regime rests on military power inside and outside the country. In no way does it promote the peoples' comprehensive self-determination’ (Ibid.: 442). Kautsky envisages self-determination of peoples within the Soviet Union through elimination of the Bolshevik dictatorship. At the same time, focusing on elimination of Bolshevism, Kautsky underestimated fascism. He believed that that movement had not any wide social basis and that it represented the minority.

He proposed settling the question of adjusting the borders established by the Versailles Treaty at the League of Nations (Kautsky 1931: 442).

Under democracy, Kautsky changed his attitude to national liberation wars since a modern democratic state is not based on violence.

Now it is not a state that forms a nation, but a nation that forms a state. Absolutism conquered and brought together, without popular consent, various regions speaking different languages. Moreover, those regions were normally regarded as princes' private property that was inherited and given away as dowry. Absolutism strove to impose a single language on those regions, the same law and the same economic policies.

A reverse process takes place under democracy. Democracy seeks to bring the regions with such population under a single state-controlled and self-regulated entity, so that the people would feel they belong to a single nation due to a common language and other connecting elements. A government should emerge from the population itself. A language of these people must be used at court, in schools and in the army (Kautsky 1931: 440).

Kautsky believes that colonies have no need for national liberation wars either. Given that colonizers foster industries there and the proletariat grows, it may shortly establish a democracy, eliminate the colonial dependence and unite the whole nation. These processes play a positive role in the development of colonies.

Here we do not speak about a predatory colonial policy that provides ample grounds for conflicts between many modern states. We will not dwell on this, because here we are only outlining the general trends. This colonial policy is aimed against states without capitalist industry, without modern democracy and without national self-awareness (in modern sense of the term). As it happens, however, the world is more or less partitioned. So, in colonial regions, the capitalist industry is rapidly developing due to the European and now also the American capital’s ability to expand. That is why the growth of the aboriginal capitalist class there is disproportionately slow, while the aboriginal proletariat, capable of fighting, willing to fight and greatly inspired by national democratic trends, grows disproportionately fast. These trends will soon become so strong, they will irreparably destroy any conquerors' opportunity to dominate and exploit. The masses unite against alien exploiters easier than against their own oppressors (Kautsky 1931: 443).

So Kautsky regards the historical process as a progressive movement from simple to more complex forms. This movement, in addition to economic factors, is accompanied by different wars: aggressive wars (at the stage of formation of chiefdoms, states and empires), revolutionary wars and civil ones (during the transition from the Middle Ages to absolutism and then democracy). National wars accompany the humankind's whole history. It is only in a democratic state that wars can be prevented when power turns from the minority's tool to coerce the majority into a normal function for the benefit of the majority.

According to Plekhanov, history is driven by a class struggle provoked by controversy of interests. The public order is shaped by a specific form of ownership. The basis of international relations is formed, among other things, by ‘economy that determines both actual (not only external) grounds for inter-tribal and international relations but also their results’ (Plekhanov 1956b: 640). ‘Each stage of development of production forces corresponds to its system of armaments, military tactics, diplomacy, and international law’ (Ibid.).

Plekhanov touches the subject of cultural mutual influence between peoples. He notes that only a nation standing at a higher level of cultural development can influence another nation (Ibid.: 658).

Plekhanov indirectly recognized Kautsky's military theory when he stood up for his country's position in the First World War. He believed that it is essential to determine the assailing party. An aggressor strives to establish its superiority over the attacked country. This assertion corresponds to Kautsky's understanding of the war. Plekhanov maintained that Germany and all classes of the German society, including the proletariat, acted as an aggressor in that war. So Russia, if conquered, would be hurled far back both politically and economically (Plekhanov 1917: 25–26). So, while Germany and its allies acted as exploiters, Russia and the Triple Entente could end up as the exploited (Ibid.: 60). Plekhanov regarded wars as a class struggle on a global scale. Under such circumstances, the defense of Fatherland, he believed, is similar to the struggle against enslavers and thus, was absolutely justified.

Both Kautsky and Plekhanov took the part of the right-wing Social Democrats while Luxemburg and Mehring remained in the left-wing camp.

In her work ‘The Social Reform and Revolution,’ Luxemburg asserts that the role of wars in history before the epoch of imperialism was progressive, since they promoted the origin of a new society. Militarism is justified when a more developed state conquers a less developed one. Wars helped the states to emerge. Militarism played a progressive role, when the capitalist society had come to replace the feudal one. The situation changed in the twentieth century. Capitalism triumphed all over the world and militarism lost its progressive role.

If we survey the history not in terms of what it could have been and what it should be, but what it was really like, we shall have to say that a war was an inevitable factor of capitalism development. Everywhere – in the United States of Northern America, Germany, Italy, the Balkan states, Russia and Poland – the wars were either conditions for or a trigger of a capitalist advance, whether they ended in a victory or a defeat. As long as there were countries that needed to overcome their internal fragmentation or an isolation of natural economy, the militarism played a revolutionary role in terms of capitalism. At present, however, here too the situation is different. Militarism does not have to open up new countries for capitalism. Given that the global politics have turned into an area of acute conflicts, it is now about not just the opening of new countries for the European capitalism, but rather Europe's mature controversies that have spread to other parts of the world, threatening to break loose there (Luxemburg 1959: 39).

For the class of capitalists, ‘militarism became a necessary factor in three aspects: firstly, as a means of struggle between the competing “national” interests and the interests of other national groups; secondly, as an essential application of both financial and industrial capital and, thirdly, as a tool for class domination inside the country against the working people. However, none of these interests have anything to do with the development of the capitalist method of production’ (Ibid.). Militarism, according to Luxemburg, has turned from the engine of capitalist progress into disease of capitalism (Ibid.: 39). Thus, Luxemburg considers as progressive and revolutionary the wars that lead to a change of one formation for a more developed one and proves the need for a revolution (i.e., a civil war) under imperialism. Simultaneously, she condemns imperialistic wars.

She also believes that coercion and class struggle are drivers of history.

Since the formation of a class society, the class struggle has been the chief content of history. The winning of political power has always been the goal of all arising classes, an initial and a terminal point of any historic period. We observe this in peasants' prolonged struggle against monetary capitalism and patricians in ancient Rome, in patricians' struggle against bishops, in artisans’ struggle against patricians in medieval cities, and in bourgeoisie's struggle against feudalism in modern time (Luxemburg 1959: 69–70).

Franz Mehring's historical evaluation of wars proceeds from the point of how the victory of certain interests contributes to the historical progress (Mehring 1999: 488). Therefore, it would be wrong to classify wars as just defensive and unjust offensive. Every war is aggressive. Everything depends on which wars are more progressive. Also, Mehring points out revolutionary wars.

He is more inclined than other socialist theoreticians to regard the historical development as states' struggle for economic and national interests. Mehring calls the wars waged by France during 1792–1815 the bourgeois revolutionary wars. Their cause was the struggle with England for the world domination and, simultaneously, the struggle of ‘the bourgeois civilization with feudal barbarism’ (Ibid.: 498).

Mehring perceives the causes of the First World War also in the collision between national and economic interests: 1) the conflict between Germany and France over territories; 2) England's fear for its colonies and Germany's invasion of them; 3) the collision of Russia's and Germany's interests in the Balkans; Russia's protection of Slavic peoples in the Balkan peninsula; 4) Russia's need for the Bosporus and Dardanelle straits. In addressing its eastern problems, Russia meets tough resistance of Germany. So Mehring concludes that for Russia the way to Constantinople is through Berlin (see Mehring 1914: 193–201).

Mehring disagrees with some scientists' opinion (Ranke at al.) that foreign policy determines the domestic one. The domestic and foreign policies impact each other.

All Marxists regard history as the progressive development of a lower economic formation into a more advanced one. History is driven by economic development and class struggle. However, wars and coercion also play an important, even crucial role in the transition from one stage to the next one, as Kautsky asserts, since they support the transition to a more progressive economic and political order and promote progress. At the same time, many experts believe that in the twentieth century, the wars partially or fully lost their progressive function. Later Kautsky rejected all types of war. Vladimir Lenin and the communists Luxemburg and Mehring condemned unjust, from their viewpoint, imperialistic wars and welcomed civil, revolutionary (Yemelyanova 2015: 145–148) and national liberation wars (Idem 2016: 176–181), which they considered just.

Modern scientists classify the types of wars in a way close to Marxist, though without a class approach and substantially modified. This classification sums up the achievements of other studies on international relations. So Professor Nikolay S. Rozov points out conventional (regular) and occasional (planned and unplanned) wars. Among the latter one can single out planned predatory wars (they can correspond to offensive wars in Marxist terminology – Ye.Ye), restoration wars aimed at retention rather than seizure of territories (defensive – Ye.Ye.), planned and unplanned separatist liberation wars (national liberation movement – Ye.Ye.), internal civilian and external international wars that arise in the wake of an international conflict (Marxists would refer the latter to imperialist wars – Ye.Ye.) (Rozov 2009: 31).

As for the question if a war is a driver of history, most historians share the opinion that the evolution should be regarded as an interaction of several factors (Claessen 2017: 32; Grinin and Korotayev 2012).

Henri J. M. Claessen and Toon van Meijl give priority to ideology (Claessen 2012; van Meijl 2012). Leonid Grinin, Andrey Korotayev, and Robert Carneiro consider that wars play an important role in the evolution of humankind. They accelerate historical development (Grinin and Korotayev 2012: 198; Carneiro 2012). Grinin singles out three stages of state evolution:

a) early, insufficiently centralized states, often with undeveloped administrative and political structure, politically organizing societies without a distinct social and class structure;

b) developed, i.e. established centralized states of the late antiquity, the Middle Ages and the modern period; politically organizing societies with a distinct social stratification; and

c) mature states of the industrial era, politically organizing societies in which social estates gave way to the classes of bourgeoisie and hired workmen (or similar social groups of the socialist ‘nomenclature’ and hired workmen), and nations have been formed (Grinin 2009: 832).

Each stage has an appropriate level of military organization, for instance, an early state had a popular and feudal militia instead of professional army. In a developed state, the mechanism of control, coercion and management is more sophisticated. ‘Certain autonomy of a state and army apparatus emerges that acts increasingly as some abstract mechanism of service for the people’ (Grinin 2009: 833). A mature state, as a rule, has a permanent armed force (Idem 2006a: 60).

One of the signs of a mature state is existence of national links, the awareness of national unity and emergence of new symbols and notions of this unity like a nation, national interests, and supreme interests (Idem 2006b: 30).

Another problem is how the evolution proceeds. Is it a straight path?

Robert L. Carneiro believes that the evolution proceeds from origination of chiefdoms to creation of a kingdoms and then unification of kingdoms into empires (Carneiro 1970: 737). Wars play an important role in this process. As it happens, the evolution implies both unifying and disintegrating processes. Centralization takes place where the center is strong and consolidated while the periphery is weak. Disintegration starts where the periphery grows stronger and more sophisticated while the center weakens.

Dmitri M. Bondarenko, Andrey V. Korotayev, and Leonid E. Grinin in a number of their works (Bondarenko, Grinin, and Korotaev 2004, 2006; Korotayev, Bondarenko, and Grinin 2012) convincingly prove that unification and political decentralization are two processes of the evolution. The political decentralization is not a regress; it is often followed by the growth (not decline) of the general socio-cultural system (Bondarenko, Grinin, and Korotayev 2006: 21). At the same time, Grinin and Korotayev note the multi-linear nature of evolution, the difference of forms, the complex system of drivers and the causes of poligenesis (Grinin and Korotayev 2012: 193).

Claessen in his work ‘Evolutionism in Development’ writes:

It has been found that a mutual intensification of all processes and their results takes place in all the evolutionary processes under study. It should be pointed out that this mutual intensification may and does operate in both directions. The organization tends to increase in size and complexity, where the reverse connection is positive. Stagnation is observed and a state falls into decay or even disintegrates, where the reverse connection is negative. Obviously, the social evolution has no any set course. This point of view runs counter to the generally accepted conviction that the evolution must be regarded as a permanently increasing sophistication. It seems that everything here must be clear enough. Sophistication implies that there are more, than ever before, people organized in communities; the labor productivity has grown immeasurably; the technology has reached greater heights. This is true to a certain extent, but there are reasons for not considering the increased sophistication as a cornerstone of the social evolution. Firstly, there are many options leading to increased sophistication. The growth of productivity was regarded as evolution. Bargatsky has convincingly shown that in a number of cases it is the reduction of subsystems that enables development of the system's upper levels. In other words, if the center fails to decrease the subsystems’ sophistication, the power balance in the system will be unstable (Claessen 2017: 29).

Claessen notes the cyclic nature of the development of states, when unification (prosperity) is replaced by decline and disintegration. Both processes are a part of the evolutionary process and, we should add, were often accompanied by aggressive and national liberation wars. The twentieth century, however, has supplied examples of peaceful change of the world order.


Kautsky considered that his contemporary democratic system, the League of Nation, created conditions for preventing wars. Kautsky believed that became possible because in the modern democratic state the economic relations inside the state and relations with neighbors were not based on compulsion, as it used to be in previous eras (Kautsky 1931: 444).

The transition to the next stage of historical development will proceed peacefully. The struggle for social community will not necessarily become revolutionary. In a modern democratic state it can be peaceful. This will happen ‘when workers' party wins over the popular majority. If such a country practices universal conscription, then – especially when the period of military service is short – the bulk of the army will also side with the new regime’ (Kautsky 1931: 474).

Kautsky was against a minority's seizure of power via civil war, and introduction of socialism ‘from above, through the state's control of economy and society, as the Bolsheviks did. Kautsky believed that, if conditions are not ripe for socialism and a majority of the population does not support it, socialism has no chance to take root (Kautsky 1919: 215; 1925a, 1946).

The leader of social democracy noted that international forces unite at the transnational level. The proletariat also needs a transnational unification.

As the capitalist production market increasingly becomes global, the economic life of each country becomes increasingly dependent on the global market, as capitalists organize themselves in the form of international cartels and the capitalist governments become aware of the need for the League of Nations, so the proletariat in each country loses its ability to successfully wage the class struggle without a close union with proletariats of other industrial countries. The Socialist International turns into a need for the proletarian class struggle… (Kautsky 1931: 537).

However, it is necessary not to introduce socialism but promote the development of economy and society, so that socialism itself would grow on the prepared ground. The forms and shapes of the socialist society may vary with environmental, historical and social conditions (Ibid.: 538).

Kautsky perceives the socialist state as an ideal consolidated state, not a pool of anarchic communities since anarchism seeks to divide a state into prehistoric communities. Kautsky believes that a democratic state, conversely, brings all the parts close together (Ibid.: 605). Kautsky maintains the idea of state socialism.

The national states that function without an apparatus of compulsion will also exist in the socialist state.

The state, thus understood, will not decline or die away following destruction of classes. It will triumphantly resist all anarchic trends towards the state disintegration, even if such trends become forceful (Ibid.: 605).

Kautsky agrees with the liberal Franz Oppenheimer in what a socialist state should be like. He quotes Oppenheimer's work ‘The State’ (1907) as writing the following:

The tendency in the state's development seeks indisputably to destroy its essence: the state stops being ‘a deployed political tool,’ turning actually into ‘an association of free citizenship.’ Even though the external form remains essentially a form of a constitutional state, the administration is exercised via officials. The maintenance of the statehood, in its previous form, disappears; there appears an economic exploitation of one class by another. Given that as a result of this no classes or class interests will exist, the bureaucracy of the future state will be able to perform as an ideal and dispassionate safeguard of common interests, an ideal which the modern democracy so painstakingly seeks to approach. ‘The State’ of the future will turn into ‘a society’ regulated on the basis of self-governance (Kautsky 1931: 607–608).

According to Kautsky, the state ceases to be an organization overseeing a society, turning into an organization subordinate to it. As the capitalist mode of production expands to the global market, the notion of society becomes ever more identical to the notion of humankind (Ibid.: 608). Kautsky believes that the transnational issues will be regulated by the League of Nations, whose majority will be constituted by democratic elements. They will turn from a tool of the state's policy into an agency that settles all issues from the democratic positions and in the interests of the world community.

Kautsky wrote that the League of Nations in the long run may be won over by elements capable of converting it from a tool of states' policies into an efficient tool against such policies, a tool for the international unification of peoples, and a tool for the peaceful settlement of their problems, as well as the settlement of economic issues, given that they are determined by international factors (Kautsky 1931: 609–610).

The resources, for instance, oil, extracted by states should be transferred to the League of Nations. This would eliminate the principal cause of wars – the struggle for resources (Ibid.: 610). However, Kautsky's theory has nothing to do with planned economies. At the same time, the leader of international socialism deemed it necessary to eliminate the inter-state borders and transfer some of states' important functions to the League of Nations, which would then become in the future the society's supreme governing body.

‘The modern state is gripped by such a transformation that turns it into “a community of free citizens” or a new type of state. Therefore, the modern state, being in a permanent change, is a rather controversial entity. It is not any longer a completely old state, nor a state in a new sense’ (Kautsky 1931: 611). Kautsky proposes calling this new entity a workers' or socialist state. He supposes that in many ways it can be regarded as a return to classless democracy. However, these new social formations ‘will now be not the dwarf and isolated tribes with primitive technology and without any essential division of labor, but a society united in a single organization of the entire humankind that uses huge achievements of civilization and develops on the basis of a classless state’ (Ibid.: 612).

Such a new global government that controls collectivized strategic resources and transfers them, along with other functions, to the League of Nation, together with elimination of borders will prevent wars and ensure eternal peace since it per se will be the power of the majority. Actually, it will be not even a power but a control, since there will be no classes and exploitation of some groups by others. This idealistic notion fully complies with the liberal theory of international relations, signifying the start of integration of social democracy into the global economy.

Predicting many modern developmental trends, Kautsky at a mature age took up the positions of idealism. Time showed, however, that modern development is a much more complicated process. The single global community had never been formed.

Dmitri M. Bondarenko defines globalization as follows, ‘Globalization is an initial process of manifestation of the global civilization (culture) as a sort of “federation” of individual cultures and local civilizations (cultural commonalities) in consequence of a prolonged and multidirectional, inter-civilizational (inter-cultural) interaction’ (Bon-darenko 2017: 116). He argues that, ‘Due to emergence of post-colonial societies and rapid growth of migration in the global South – global North direction, the phenomenon of the nation changes, turning from a super-ethnic into an inter-ethnic event, leading to formation of a global transnational culture’ (Ibid.: 115). Thus, the processes of separation and integration go on in parallel.

At the same time, a further centralization is observed. At the current stage, a mature state experiences some transformations, including the restriction of sovereign rights. The right of war and peace is placed under international control. Many countries pass their right to defense to the global or regional community in exchange for other benefits (Grinin 2009: 836). The reality proved to be more complex than Kautsky predicted.

Unlike Kautsky and Bernstein, Rosa Luxemburg, a proponent of the left-wing social democracy, did not believe in a peaceful evolution from capitalism to socialism. She argues with Bernstein that her contemporary state peacefully turns into a social society and that by virtue of global control it ceases to be an exploiter. ‘This control functions not as a restrictor of capitalist property but conversely as its safeguard’ (Luxemburg 1959: 36). She did not deny that the developing capitalism considerably impacts the nature of a state, permanently expands its influence and supplements with new functions, especially in the field of economy, making imperative the interference with and control of its operations. Rosa Luxemburg states, ‘Thus a future merger of a state and society is prepared, which is a sort of a reverse transfer of a state's functions to the society. Accordingly, it is safe to say that a capitalist state develops into the society…’ (Ibid.: 36–37) And in further in the article she continues, ‘Formally, the parliamentary system serves for expressing – in a state organization – the interests of the whole society, that is a society in which the capitalist interests prevail. Thus, formally democratic institutions are by virtue of their content the tools of the ruling classes’ (Ibid.: 40).

Luxemburg asserted that production relations in the capitalist society are getting ever closer to those of the socialist one. For all that, however, its political and juridical relations build an ever higher wall between a capitalist and a socialist society. But the social reforms and the development of democracy will not breach that wall. Rather on the contrary, they will make the wall higher and stronger. ‘Only a hammer strike of the revolution, i.e. a seizure of political power by the proletariat can break down that wall’ (Ibid.: 42).

Luxemburg supports the struggle for reforms, but argues that a transition to the new formation is possible only via a revolution, that is a civil war.

Franz Mehring is also convinced that in a class society, wars are inevitable; so the capitalist civilization is essentially based on a conflict of interests. He comments ironically on Immanuel Kant's and enlightenment philosophers' illusions concerning the possibility to achieve a permanent peace in a parliamentary republic. Kant was sure that decisions on war and peace would be made by popular representatives who, unlike the feudal aristocracy of the Middle Age, are interested in peace (see Mehring 1999: 500–501). Mehring asserts that the capitalist method of production itself generates wars, which makes the eternal peace impossible.

Overall, following WWI, the right wing of social democracy recognized the Versailles Treaty and integrated into it. The left communist wing finally entered the world community only after WWII, becoming – as represented by the Soviet Union's leaders – one of the founders of the Yalta-Potsdam system.

In its turn, modern science seeks to answer the question on the possibility of preventing wars.

Kautsky's vision precedes philosophical views on this issue by the classic of neo-Marxism Immanuel Wallerstein who also regarded the movement to socialism as a continuous transition from global economy to global governance (Wallerstein 2001: 57). Thus, he considers the world socialist system, created after WWII, as a component of the world economy. The transition to the next stage will take place when states die away and the global economy is replaced by the global governance.

Today, social democracy perceives the problems of international conflicts in the new realities of globalization. The social democratic theory is becoming ever more abstract, while the search for solutions to problems is regarded as a steady and continuous process. The ‘Declaration of Principles of Socialist International’ adopted in Frankfurt-on-Main (1951) and supplemented in Stockholm (1989) confirms the thesis that peace in the world is the basic value. It can only be ensured by a system of collective security; the use of new arms control technologies; UN's actions and super-powers' extra decisions for peaceful settlement of conflicts; the East-West cooperation; joint environment protection as a global issue; provision of a social control over technological progress, etc. However, the current notion of social democracy in the post-industrial society is very vague (see Hamburger Program… 2007; Meyer 2005). Some European authors believe that it lacks a global project for the future of all social strata (Boll and Woyke 2009: 31–33). The Declaration contains the most general provisions like

The democratic socialism is an international movement for freedom, social justice and solidarity. Its goal is to achieve peace in the world which would ensure development of the basic values of democratic socialism and provide opportunities for each individual to live an ample life, fully realizing his potential with a complete guaranty of his human and civil rights in the democratic society (Declaration … 1989)

Representatives of other sciences about international relations would willingly agree with many provisions of today's social democrats (Gadzhiyev 2015; Orlov 2010).


Thus, according to social democracy theoreticians, wars played a huge role in the evolution, becoming – side by side with class struggle – a driver of social progress. The principal cause was the struggle for resources at all stages of humankind's development. In the context of restricted resources, the state, a product of wars per se, sought to expand by means of military force at the expense of other tribes and peoples. These processes of expansion and transition to a new stage of development and to a new formation were accompanied by class struggle and wars. The internal structure of the state was also based on the coercion of subjugated majority by the ruling minority. However, as the productive forces advanced and fairer distribution of benefits was practiced, compulsion in society and on international arena gave way to democracy and peaceful means of settling domestic and international conflicts. The state itself ceased to be a coercion mechanism, and by reflecting the interests of the majority through an international parliament, gradually turns into a global community.

Both Marxist trends (social democracy and communism) came theoretically closer together in the field of liberal concepts of international relations. It is possible to agree with Wallerstein that both trends in Marxism have integrated into the global economy and became its component.

Today, the search for answers to questions concerning war and peace proceeds at the level of generalizing various science schools of international relations. Many provisions of Kautsky, Plekhanov, Luxemburg, and Mehring were used by modern scientists as foundations for their theoretical research. Based on the understanding of war given by a realistic school of international relations, the Marxist concept comes close to the idealist one in the issues of the post-war world order. Neo-Marxism took up and developed many of Kautsky's ideas, for instance, the notion of a post-capitalist society and means of transition to it. At the same time, it supplies its own understanding of the modern international system. Neo-Marxism proposes overcoming the global conflict and the North-South opposition via the transition from the global economy to global governance and demise of the state.

Kautsky's statement about transnational common interests of different political forces in globalization precedes Raymond Aron's views about several levels of international relations (i.e. transnational, inter-state, and international). Kautsky's statement on dictatorship as one of the chief sources of wars and on international public organizations as important actors of international relations confirms with theoretical provisions of neo-liberalism.

It is also worth mentioning Nikolai Rozov's concept based on generalized achievements of several schools (including those of Marxism, neo-Marxism, and political realism), which offers a macro-sociological analysis of the issue of war and peace. Given that widely different types of wars stem from three main causes (power lust, an access to resources and prestige), it is necessary to find peaceful solutions to those problems by developing trade, promoting diplomacy etc. The cause of predatory wars is the absence or disturbance of power balance; consequently, peace can be achieved by establishing such a balance (Rozov 2009: 34). However, the philosopher believes that since that it is in human nature to permanently strive for success, a sentiment that drives to wars, wars will never cease.

The investigation of the nature and causes of wars, as well as of the ways to prevent them, still goes on. In this respect, the social democratic concept has made a significant contribution to theoretical provisions.


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