Marx and Engels Wrong on War
We are a Marxist party but we recognise that the conditions of the time, when Capitalism was relatively young and Feudalism had not yet been completely swept away, led Marx and Engels into a false position on war in the course of pursuing their pioneer work. It was a time when freedom was in chains, when the barricade seemed to be the answer to oppression and when war took on a somewhat different aspect from what it does today. The road of the pioneer is difficult; those who follow profit by his work and his errors and have a wealth of experience to help them.
The Bolsheviks and their followers, however, were not Marxists. They threw overboard Marx’s fundamental tenets and borrowed a few of his views (the erroneous ones) that helped them in their struggle for dictatorship. They did not profit by the work of Marx; they only sought to profit by his name. Marx relied on the workers; they spurned the workers.
Those who continue to hold nineteenth century conceptions about the possibly “progressive” nature of war are refusing to learn the bitter lessons of experience. They fail to see that the instrument of war that served the rise to power of the capitalist minority cannot be used to achieve the emancipation of the working class. Socialism is held back by the lack of understanding in the ranks of the working class.
Armed force cannot make up for the backward political development of the working class. With the development of the technique of destruction war now means the wholesale destruction of human life by atom bombs. It is the supreme irony that some who claim to seek to save the human race by achieving Socialism should be able to contemplate pursuing that aim through the mass destruction of human life.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain will continue on its way loyal to international Socialism in the sure knowledge that it is the duty of all who seek Socialism to oppose war.
From “The Socialist Party and War” (1950)