Soviet Union (former) War as a Continuation of Politics
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
According to Marxist-Leninist theory, the essence of war is political. Lenin adopted the dictum of the nineteenth-century German strategist Carl von Clausewitz that war is a continuation of politics by other, i.e., violent, means. In contrast to Clausewitz, however, who understood politics as the relationship between states, Lenin regarded politics as class struggle within states. Lenin also believed that class struggle within states dictated the kinds of preparation that these states made for war, the declarations of wars between states, the conduct of wars between states, and the outcome of wars.
Contemporary Marxist-Leninist interpretation of war derived from Lenin's understanding of war as the outcome of class struggle. According to this view, noncommunist states were ruled by classes that were hostile to the "dictatorship of the proletariat" established by the Soviet Union and other socialist states. In particular, the Marxist-Leninist understanding of war attributed to the United States, as the most powerful representative of "imperialism" (the final stage of capitalism), the goal of altering the course of world development by destroying communism (the final stage of socialism). Marxism-Leninism assigned to the Soviet armed forces the task of preventing the destruction of communism by waging a defensive but victorious war with all modern weapons at their disposal.
In the 1960s, before development of the concept of limited nuclear war, Soviet strategists debated whether or not nuclear war could be a rational tool of policy because the widespread destruction it would cause could prevent it from promoting socialism's final victory. Some Soviet leaders, notably Nikita S. Khrushchev and the Soviet military theorists who shared his views, maintained that, considering the extremes of nuclear violence, nuclear war could not be a continuation of politics by means of armed force (see Evolution of Military Doctrine , this ch.). In the 1970s, Leonid I. Brezhnev claimed that whoever started a nuclear war would be committing suicide, and he asserted that the Soviet Union would never be the first to use nuclear weapons. In the 1980s, Soviet civilian and military leaders adopted a similar stance, repeatedly declaring that no victor could emerge in a general nuclear war and that it would lead to the destruction of humanity. These statements seemed to modify Lenin's dictum that war is the continuation of politics.
By contrast, the official position on war, as communicated to the military in consecutive editions of Marxism-Leninism on War and the Army, one of the fundamental works of Soviet military theory, has remained unchanged. The 1968 edition maintained that all wars, "even a possible thermonuclear one," are and will be "a continuation of politics by means of armed force." The most recent edition available in 1989, Marxist-Leninist Teaching on War and the Army, published in 1984, deemed a nuclear attack reprehensible but regarded as "just and lawful" the use of nuclear weapons either to respond to an enemy strike or to forestall an impending nuclear strike by an adversary. According to this edition, "nuclear missile war fully retains the general social essence of war" and is "a continuation of politics by other, violent means."
This apparent regarding of all weapons, no matter how destructive, as "just and lawful" means for the defense of socialism stemmed from Marxist-Leninist teaching on just and unjust wars. According to this teaching, wars waged by the Soviet Union and socialist states allied with it were a "continuation of the politics of revolution" and led to a revolutionary transformation of the world. Hence, in the Marxist-Leninist scale of values, all wars fought by socialist armies were both just and revolutionary. By contrast, all wars waged by "imperialists" were, by definition, unjust. Marxist-Leninist theory also asserted that all wars fought in defense of the socialist motherland were unconditionally just and could be fought with all modern weapons, including nuclear ones.
Data as of May 1989
NOTE: The information regarding Soviet Union (former) on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Soviet Union (former) War as a Continuation of Politics information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Soviet Union (former) War as a Continuation of Politics should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.