‘Disarmament and War’ (1916) by V.I. Lenin from The Militant. Vol. 6 Nos. 41 & 42. September 2 & 9, 1933.

Written by Lenin in October 1916 is Swiss exile and first published in the his short-lived Geneva-based Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata No. 2, December 1916.

‘Disarmament and War’ (1916) by V.I. Lenin from The Militant. Vol. 6 Nos. 41 & 42. September 2 & 9, 1933.

One of the main arguments in favor of disarmament is that, and it is not always directly expressed: We are against war, in general against any war, and the most definite, clear and unequivocal expression of this view of ours is the demand for disarmament.

We have dealt with the incorrectness of this argument in an article on the Junius Pamphlet, to which we refer the reader. Socialists cannot be against every war, without ceasing to be socialists. One must not let himself be blinded by the present imperialist war. For the imperialist epoch, just such wars among the great powers are typical, but democratic wars and insurrections too, are absolutely not impossible, such as for instance wars of oppressed nations against their oppressors, for their liberation from oppression. Civil wars between proletariat and bourgeoisie, for socialism, are inevitable. Wars between victorious Socialism in one country against other countries, bourgeois or reactionary are possible.

Disarmament is the ideal of Socialism. In Socialist society there will be no wars, consequently disarmament will be realized. But he is no Socialist, who expects the realization of Socialism without the social revolution and the dictatorship. Dictatorship is state force, which supports itself, immediately, upon force. Force in the twentieth century – as in the epoch of civilization in general – is neither the fist nor the club, but the army. To take disarmament into our program would mean to say: We are against the use of arms. In that there is to be found just as little Marxism as if we were to say We are against the use of force!

We want to point out that the international discussion on this question has been carried out mainly, if not exclusively, in the German language. And in German, two words are used, the distinction between which is hard to reproduce in Russian. One is (Abruestung) “disarmament”, and is used, for instance, by Kautsky and the Kautskyans in the sense of limitation of armaments. The other is (Entwaffnung) “total disarmament”, and is mainly used by the Lefts in the sense of abolition of militarism, in the sense of abolition of every militarist (warlike) system. We are speaking in this article of the second demand, which is prevalent among some revolutionary Social-Democrats.


An oppressed class, which does not endeavor to learn how to use arms and to possess arms, would only deserve to be treated like slaves. Without becoming bourgeois pacifists or opportunists, we must not forget that we live in a class society, and that there is not and cannot be any other way out of it than the class struggle and the overthrow of the power of the ruling class.

In every class society – whether based on slavery, serfdom or, as at present, on wage labor – the oppressing class is also armed. Not only the present standing army, but also the present militia – even in the most democratic bourgeois republics such as Switzerland is there arming of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. This is such an elementary truth that it is scarcely necessary to spend much time on it here. It suffices to point to the use of the army (including the republican-democratic militia) against strikers, a phenomenon which is the same in all capitalist countries without exception. The arming of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat is one of the most important, most fundamental, and most significant facts of capitalist society in the present period.

And in the face of such a fact it is proposed that the revolutionary social-democrats set up the demand for total disarmament! That means the same as the complete rejection of the standpoint of the class struggle, the rejection of every thought of revolution. Our slogan must be: Arm the proletariat, to conquer the bourgeoisie, to expropriate and to disarm it. This is the only possible tactic for the revolutionary class, a tactic which arises out of the whole objective development of capitalist militarism and is prescribed by this development. Only after the proletariat has disarmed the bourgeoisie, can it throw all weapons onto the ash-pile, without being disloyal to its world-historical task; and the proletariat will undoubtedly do this, but only then, and in no case before.

If the present war produces fear union; the reactionaries, the Christian-socialists and the weepy petty-bourgeois, only horror and fear, only aversion to any use of weapons, to blood, death, etc., then we must say: Capitalist society is and always was terror without an end. And if the present war, the most reactionary of all the wars of this society, is preparing an end in terror, then we have no occasion to fall into despair. In its objective meaning the “demand” for disarmament – or, more correctly, the dream of disarmament at a time when before the eyes of the whole world, through the forces of the bourgeoisie itself, the only legitimate and revolutionary war, that is the civil war against the imperialist bourgeoisie, is being prepared, is nothing but an expression of just such despair.

If anyone says that this is a visionary theory, we want to remind him of two world-historical facts: the role of the trusts and of factory work for women on the one hand, the Commune of 1871 and the December insurrection of 1905 in Russia on the other.

It is the bourgeoisie’s affair to develop trusts, to drive children and women into the factory, to ruin and skin them alive there, and condemn them to the worst misery. We do not “demand” such a development. We do not “support it”, but we struggle against it. But how do we struggle? We know that trusts and factory work for women are a progressive step. We do not want to go backward, to handwork, to capitalism without monopoly, to home-work for women. Forward through trusts and the rest, and over them, to Socialism!

These considerations, which take into account the objective course of the development, can be applied with suitable changes to the present militarization of the people. Today the imperialist bourgeoisie is militarizing not only the whole people, but the youth too. Tomorrow perhaps it will go on to the militarization of women too. To this we can only say: So much the better! So much the faster is it going ahead! And the faster it goes ahead, the nearer we are to the armed insurrection against capitalism! How can the social-democrats let themselves be intimidated by the militarization of the youth, if they have not forgotten the example of the Commune? This is no “visionary theory”, no dream, but a fact. And it would be very bad in fact if the social-democrats, in spite of all economic and political facts, were to begin to doubt that the imperialist epoch and the imperialist war must inevitably lead to a repetition of such facts.

A bourgeois witness of the Commune wrote the following in an English newspaper in May 1871: “If the French nation consisted only of women, what a terrible nation it would be!” Women and children over 13 fought at the time of the Commune alongside the men. It cannot be otherwise in the future battles for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. The proletarian women will not stand by passively and see how the well-armed bourgeoisie shoot down the poorly-armed or unarmed workers. As was the case in 1871, they will take up arms, and out of the present intimidated nations – or more correctly, out of the present workers’ movement, which has been disorganized by the opportunists more than by the governments – there will develop, sooner or later, but with absolute certainty, an international union of the “terrible nations” of the revolutionary proletariat.

Now militarization embraces all of public life. Imperialism is a bitter struggle of the great powers for the division and redivision of the world, and therefore it must lead to further militarization in all countries, even in the neutral and the small countries. But what will the proletarian women do about it? Will they only curse at every war and every phase of militarism and only demand disarmament? Never will the women of an oppressed class, which is truly revolutionary, content themselves with such a miserable role. They will say to their sons:

“Soon you will be grown up. They will give you weapons. Take them and learn the craft of war. This knowledge is necessary for the proletarian – not in order to shoot at your brothers; the workers of other countries, as happens in this war and as the betrayers of socialism are advising you to do – but in order to fight against the bourgeoisie of your own country, in order to put an end to exploitation, to poverty and to wars, not with pious wishes, but through victory over the bourgeoisie and through their disarming.”

If anyone rejects such propaganda, particularly in connection with the present war, he would do better not to use big words about international social-democracy, about the struggle against war.

The adherents of disarmament are opposed to the point in the program on the “arming of the people” for this reason among others, that the latter demand is supposed to lead more easily to concessions to opportunism. We have already examined the most important part: the relation of disarmament to the class struggle and to the social revolution. Now let us examine the question of the relation of the demand for disarmament to opportunism. One of the most important reasons why it is unacceptable is precisely the fact that it, and the illusions created by it, inevitably weaken and take all force from our struggle against opportunism.

There is no doubt whatever about the fact that this struggle is the most important question on the agenda of the International. A struggle against imperialism, which is not indissolubly connected with the struggle against opportunism, is nothing but an empty phrase or a swindle. One of the main deficiencies of Zimmerwald and Kienthal, one of the main reasons for a possible fiasco (failure, or collapse) of these germs of the Third International, lies precisely in the fact that the question of struggle against opportunism was not even openly posed, not to speak of a decision on this question in the sense of the necessity of a break with the opportunists. Within the European movement opportunism has conquered – for the time being. In all the larger countries two shades of opportunism have been formed: first, an honest, cynical and therefore less dangerous social-imperialism, that of Messrs. Plekhanov, Scheidemann, Legien, Albert Thomas, Sembat, Vandervelde, Hyndman, etc.; and second a concealed form, of the Kautskyan type: Kautsky-Haase and the “Social-Democratic Co-operative Group” in Germany; Longuet, Pressemane, Mayeras, etc. in France, Ramsay MacDonald and other leaders of the “Independent Labor Party” in England, Martov, Tscheidse, etc. in Russia, Treves and other so-called “Left reformists” in Italy.

The sincere form of opportunism is frankly and openly opposed to the resolution, and to the beginning revolutionary movements and outbreaks, it is in open alliance with its government, no matter what different forms this alliance may take, ranking from participation in the ministry up to participation in the war committees of industry. The concealed opportunists, the Kautskyans, are more harmful and dangerous to the labor movement, because they hide the defense of their pacts with the government behind fine-sounding and also “Marxist” phrases and pacifist slogans. The struggle against both these forms of the prevailing opportunism must be carried out in all fields of proletarian policy: parliamentary trade union, strikes, the army, etc. But in what does the most important peculiarity consist, which distinguishes both forms of the prevailing opportunism?

It consists in the fact that the concrete question of the connection of the present war with the revolution and other concrete questions of the revolution are passed over in silence, are veiled over or are treated with reservations as to police prohibitions. And this is done – irrespective of the fact that, before the war, unofficially on innumerable occasions and officially in the Basle Manifesto the connection of precisely this coming war with the proletarian revolution was pointed out.

The main defect of the demand for disarmament consists precisely in the fact that in it all the concrete questions of the revolution are evaded. Or are the adherents of disarmament in favor of an entirely new kind of unarmed revolution?


We go on. We are in no way opposed to the struggle for reforms. We do not want to ignore that dismal possibility, that if the worst comes to the worst, mankind will live through yet another imperialist war, if, irrespective of the numerous outbreaks of the ferment among the masses and their discontent and irrespective of our efforts, the revolution fails to develop out of this war. We are in favor of a program of reforms, which is directed against the opportunists too. The opportunists would be only too happy if we were to leave to them alone the struggle for reforms, and betake ourselves to the misty distances of some “disarmament” in order to save ourselves by flight from the sad reality. “Disarmament” is just that, a flight from ugly reality, but absolutely not a struggle against it.

A propos: one of the main deficiencies in the posing of the question, for example of the defense of the fatherland, among certain Left wingers, lies in the fact that the answer is not concrete enough. It is theoretically far more correct, and practically far more important, to say that in the given imperialist war the defense of the fatherland is a bourgeois-reactionary swindle instead of setting up “general” theses against “every” defense of the fatherland. This is not correct, and also does not “hit” the immediate enemies of the workers within the workers’ parties, the opportunists.

In the question of the militia, in working out a concrete and practically necessary answer, we should have said, “We are not for a bourgeois, but only for a proletarian militia”. And therefore “Not a penny and not a man”, not only for the standing army but also for the bourgeois militia, even in such countries as the United States or Switzerland Norway, etc. And all the more so, because even in the freest republican countries (for instance in Switzerland) we see the Prussianization of the militia, the prostitution of the militia for the purpose of mobilization against strikers. We can demand: selection of officers by the people, abolition of all military law, equal rights for foreign workers with the native-born (this is an especially important point in such imperialist countries as Switzerland which exploit foreign workers more and more shamelessly and leave them without rights) and moreover: the right, let us say, for each hundred inhabitants of a given country to create free associations for the study of the art and science of war, with free selection of instructors and payment of the work of the instructors out of State funds, etc. Only under such conditions could the proletariat acquire the knowledge of war for itself and not for its slaveholders, and the interests of the proletariat unquestionably demand such knowledge. The Russian revolution has shown that every success, even if it is only a partial success, of the revolutionary movement, as for instance the conquest of a certain city, of a certain factory district, a certain part of the army, will inevitably force the victorious proletariat to realize just such a program.

Finally, it is a self-understood that one must not fight against opportunism with programs alone, but by inflexibly seeing to it that they are carried out. The greatest and most fatal error of the now bankrupt Second International lay in the fact that its deeds did not correspond to its words, that the habit of the conscienceless revolutionary phrase was cultivated (see the present relation of Kautsky and his partners to the Basle Manifesto). If we approach the demand for disarmament from this point of view, we must first of all raise the question of its objective meaning.

Disarmament as a social idea – that is, as one whose origin is due to a certain social situation and which can have an influence on a certain social milieu, and which does not merely remain the caprice of an individual or of a circle – has evidently arisen from the special, unusually “calm” conditions of existence of a few small states, which have stood aside from the bloody road of the war for a fairly long time, and hope to continue to remain on the side. In order to be convinced of this, it is sufficient to visualize the line of reasoning of the Norwegian adherents of disarmament: “We are a small country, we have a small army, we can do nothing against the great powers (and therefore they are powerless to resist being forcibly drawn into an imperialist alliance with one group or another of the great powers!), we want to continue in peace in our little corner and carry on our little corner politics and demand disarmament, compulsory courts of arbitration, eternal neutrality, and the rest” (“eternal” neutrality – like that of Belgium, evidently?)

The petty effort of the small states to remain on the side – the petty-bourgeois wish to remain at all costs far from the great battles of world history – and to use their relatively monopolistic position to remain in an ossified passivity – this is objectively the situation which can obtain a certain success and a certain circulation for the idea of disarmament in a few small states. It is self-understood that this effort is reactionary and rests on illusions alone, since imperialism is drawing the small states after all, in one way or another, into the whirlpool of world economy and world politics.

We can illustrate this by the example of Switzerland. The imperialist situation prescribes for it, objectively speaking, two directions for the labor movement. The opportunists are trying to make an alliance with the bourgeoisie, to make Switzerland a republican-democratic monopoly federation, to make money out of the tourists of the imperialistic bourgeoisie, and to be able to use this “peaceful” monopoly position all the more profitably and all the more quietly. In practice, this policy of the alliance of a small privileged layer of workers in a small country, itself in a privileged position, with the bourgeoisie of its own country, is opposed to the masses of the proletariat. The genuine social-democrats of Switzerland are trying to use the relative freedom of Switzerland, its “international” position (as neighbor to the countries of the highest civilization), as well as the circumstance that Switzerland, thank God, does not speak its. “own independent” language but three world languages for the broadening, consolidation and strengthening of the revolutionary alliance of the revolutionary elements of the proletariat of all Europe. “Let us help our bourgeoisie to remain in the monopoly position of dealing in the quietest manner possible in beauties of the Alps, for a long time to come; perhaps then a few pennies will fall off for us” – this is, objectively speaking, the content of the policy of the Swiss opportunists. “Let us help the alliance of the revolutionary proletariat among the French, the Germans and the Italians to overthrow the bourgeoisie” – that is the object-content of the policy of the Swiss revolutionary social-democrats. Unfortunately this policy is still only inadequately carried through by the “Lefts” in Switzerland, and the excellent and the excellent decision of its party congress in Aarau in 1915 (recognition of the revolutionary mass struggle) for the time being still remains on paper. But that is not the question now.

The question which interests us can be posed in this way: Does the demand for disarmament correspond to the revolutionary direction among the Swiss social-democrats, or not? Obviously this is not the case. Objectively speaking, the “demand” for disarmament corresponds to the opportunistic, narrowly-national, line of the labor movement, limited by the horizon of a small state. Objectively speaking, “disarmament” is the most national, the specifically national, program of the small states, and in no way an international program of international social-democracy.

N. Lenin

P.S. In the last issue of the English magazine, The Socialist Review (September 1916), the organ of the opportunistic “Independent Labour Party”, we find on page 287 the resolution of the Newcastle Conference of this party – “refusal of support to any conceivable war of any conceivable government”, even if this war should “nominally” be a defensive war. And on page 205 we find in the editorial the following statement, “We do not approve the insurrection of the Sinn-Feiners (the insurrection Ireland in 1916). We do not approve of any armed insurrection altogether, just as we do not approve of militarism and war no matter what kind of form it may take”.

Is it still necessary to prove that these “anti-militarists”, that such adherents of disarmament, not in small state, but in a great power, are the worst kind of opportunists? And yet they are perfectly right in theory, when they regard the armed insurrection as being also “one of the forms” of militarism and of war.

October 1916

There have been a number of periodicals named Socialist Appeal in our history, this Socialist Appeal was edited in New York City by the “Left Wing Branches of the Socialist Party”. After the Workers Party (International Left Opposition) entered the Socialist Party in 1936, the Trotskyists did not have an independent publication. However, Albert Goldman began publishing a monthly Socialist Appeal in Chicago in February 1935 before the bulk of Trotskyist entered the SP. When there, they began publishing Socialist Appeal in August 1937 as the weekly paper of the “Left Wing Branches of the Socialist Party” but in reality edited by Cannon and other leaders. Goldman’s Chicago Socialist Appeal would fold into the New York paper and this Socialist Appeal would replace New Militant as the main voice of Fourth Internationalist in the US. After the expulsion of the Trotskyists from the the Socialist Party, Socialist Appeal became the weekly organ of the newly constituted Socialist Workers Party in early 1938. Edited by James Cannon and Max Shachtman, Felix Morrow, and Albert Goldman. In 1941 Socialist Appeal became The Militant again.

PDF of issue 1: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/themilitant/1933/sep-02-1933.pdf

PDF of issue 2: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/themilitant/1933/sep-09-1933.pdf

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