J. Epstein

Pacifism and Communism

An Appeal to Pacifists

Source: The Communist Review, November 1923, Vol. 4, No. 7.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Translation: P. Lavin
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The working class desires peace and therefore it must wage the class war. It is necessary to destroy the power which incites the nations against one another; it is necessary to struggle against the causes of continual conflicts, and to put an end to the system by which the blood of the workers is turned into jingling gold.”—(Appeal of the Executive Committee of the Red International of Labour Unions, Moscow, April 15th, 1933.)

IN recent times there has been an increasing number of cases in which pacifists have taken up a strongly sympathetic attitude towards the Communist Parties. Not only is this attempt at a new orientation to be perceived amongst the ordinary members of pacifist organisations, but the discussion of principles in the directing circles of peace societies has had to take the form of choosing between purely pacifist and more or less Communist methods of attaining the pacifist object.

For this reason it seems to the writer of these lines that the membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain should recognise that it is opportune at this time (which more than any previous period demands an intelligible and honest position) to examine this problem of the highest importance—the problem of pacifism and Communism—from the standpoint of revolutionary Socialism, and to engage pacifists in discussion. I am well aware of the fact that limitations of space forbid consideration of all the philosophical, social, juridical and ethical problems which present themselves in this sphere. It is only possible in an essay of this kind to discuss, in the first place, problems of a purely political nature, and to make an attempt to solve them from the standpoint of Communism.

The ultimate aim of pacifist endeavour is to bring about a state of affairs in which war will not exist. And thus we are already at the heart of the problem of pacifism and Communism.

It must be understood to begin with that the characteristic of the ultimate condition of humanity—the absence of war—which is desired by pacifists is likewise a characteristic of the ultimate condition of humanity which is desired by Communists. (By “the ultimate condition of humanity” is here understood, of course, only the political goal which pacifists and Communists respectively have set themselves.) Every struggle against the Communists and their parties conducted with arguments which absolutely repudiate the social system desired by Communists denies the aims of revolutionary Communism, and is therefore in the highest degree a sordid struggle.

If we accept as given the fact that the ultimate aim of pacifists and that of Communists is to realise a condition of society in which there will be no more war, the more difficult part of our inquiry of course remains: to determine what are the divergencies of principle between the aims and methods of pacifism and those of Communism, where the reasons for these divergencies are to be sought, and what theoretical and practical possibilities exist for one of the two tendencies—pacifism and Communism—to convince the other of the righteousness and exclusive practicability of its policy.


First as to the divergencies of aim. Pacifism would be satisfied with a state of affairs in which there would be no war, i.e., with a state of affairs in which it would no longer be possible to compel a human being to kill or to be killed. In this formulation of the goal of pacifist policy (in which the emphasis lies on “would be satisfied”) we have already all the difference between the aim of pacifism and that of Communism. All other differences concerning the goal can be traced from that already pointed out. For if pacifism as a criterion of its aim is satisfied with a complete absence of war, it has to be said from the Communist standpoint that though this warless condition will indeed be consummated by the Communist form of society, that is not the only, nor, indeed, from the point of view of principle, the most important, viewpoint of Communist policy.

The goal of pacifism is a warless society, but under exactly the same form of production, in the same social and juridical conditions as at present. The goal of Communism is the Communist society, that is, a society without exploitation, the society in which the demand for the complete abolition of private property in the means of production will be realised. This (Communist) condition of human society consummates the condition of permanent warlessness.

We Communists know that in the sight of history we are the true pacifists, because we know that it is not sufficient to prevent an isolated war to-day or to-morrow. (Here it may be emphasised that we, in individual cases, participate in and support, as a matter of course, any policy calculated to prevent war.) But we know that it is not sufficient—even from the standpoint of striving only for the pacifist goal, it is not sufficient—to make prevention of individual wars the sole or even the chief line of active policy. War must be made impossible by destroying its deepest and best hidden roots.

Since Rosa Luxemburg’s time we know the connection between economy and bloodshed with the same exactitude that the medical man knows the process of the circulation of the blood. By her ingenious presentation (Accumulation, an Economic Explanation of Imperialism, Vol. I, and still more Vol. II, which is the completion of the part of “Capital” left in a fragmentary condition by the death of Marx), she, with the critical instrument of scientific Socialism, explained the social relations of mankind better than anyone else since the death of the great master, and showed that modern capitalism would be unthinkable if it were not constantly compelled, for the purpose of making accumulation possible, to conquer territories still unaffected by capitalism, to acquire new markets and colonies and the possessions of foreign and distant powers, and to subjugate and exploit the inhabitants of those areas. It is for the possession of these colonies, etc., that quarrels naturally arise amongst the “civilised” States which have long since passed under the capitalist form. These are the last links of the chain which leads from the first moment of “peaceful” exploitation to bloody war.

It is not, of course, the task of the present writer to show the complex mechanism of all the links of this chain (for that one must study Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Bucharin, and Lenin): the aim of this article is rather to ascertain what lines of practical policy are to be drawn from the results of scientific investigation already recognised as correct investigation conducted on the basis of historical materialism and scientific Socialism.


Here, however, we arrive at the problem of the divergencies of the methods of pacifist and Communist policy. They consist of the following: pacifism in its most radical form repudiates killing in any circumstances. Above all, killing in a civil war. If I have prevously made the assertion that we Communists in the sight of history are the true pacifists, and if I now speak of civil war with all its terrors (killing, complete suppression of the freedom of the Press, revolutionary courts, etc., in a word, of the dictatorship of the proletariat) without thereby becoming involved in the slightest contradiction, it can only be because the problem of killing in a civil war and the attainment thereby of the ultimate pacifist condition in the Communist society, on the one hand, and the problem of “not killing” and thereby perpetuating the existence of capitalist society as an unending progression of acts of killing, on the other hand, have long since attained the precision of an arithmetical proposition.

On the one side there is the continued existence of the system of private capitalist exploitation, and with it new wars, new international conflicts, economic crises, exploitation, incredible—but within the capitalist system, unavoidable—impoverishment of the masses, wholesale mortality through exploitation, epidemics, and all kinds of venereal and other infectious diseases—in a word, an unending progression of acts of killing of all kinds and by both warlike and, peaceful methods, killing of those who belong to the overwhelming majority of mankind—the working class—by those who belong to a ridiculously small minority which, in obedience to the law of concentration and centralisation, is becoming an ever smaller class of idle exploiters.

But what stands on the other side to the account of the social revolution and of Communism? At first blood, terror, oppression. This, of course, not the fault of the workers, but the fault of the capitalist class which opposes with violence the Socialist system of production. This obtains on a national as well as on a world scale. It is everywhere the same: the bourgeois possessing classes, do not voluntarily renounce one iota of their “rights” from any motive of rational perception (as a class they are not capable of this). The nobles, when they were the possessing class, treated the revolutionary bourgeoisie in exactly the same way. That belongs to the dynamic of history. Therefore the last page in the story of the old epoch which the revolution represents, is tike all its other pages, covered with blood. How could it be otherwise?

But this last page of the story of the old, completely anarchistic period will be the first page in the story of the new period, of the first period in history of whose system blood-letting is not a sine qua non. For the first time in history there will be an era—the era of Communist society—in which murder will be called murder, and in which there will be no pardon for mass-murders, simply because there will be no mass-murders, and in which there will be no pardon for smaller mass-murders or individual murders for the same reason.

We Communists are not satisfied with destroying the poisonous: fruit—war—which has hitherto been the only aim, conscious or unconscious, of the great majority of pacifists: we consciously kill the deepest roots of legal, collective mass-murder—capitalism.

We therefore appeal to all honest pacifists to consider carefully this train of thought: we ask them to examine and discuss it. They should test out these ideas, and if they find that they agree with them (as many pacifists actually do), they should have the courage to draw the conclusions therefrom. They should then seek to prepare for pacifism where the struggle for it (and also for the immanent goal of Communism) will be waged in a thoroughgoing fashion, with gaze directed not only to the present but also to the future.