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Answer to a Letter of 30 January, from Col.-Professor RasinOn Clausewitz and the questions of war and the art of war
February 23, 1946
Dear Comrade Rasin,
I have received your letter of 30 January on Clausewitz and your short thesis on war and the art of war.
1. You ask if Lenin's standpoint on the judgement of Clausewitz is no longer valid.
In my opinion the question is wrongly put.
By putting the question in such a way one could believe that Lenin had analyzed the science of war and the works of Clausewitz, judged them from a military viewpoint, and had left us a number of guidelines on military questions. Putting the question in such a way is wrong because there are no such "Theses" of Lenin on Clausewitz's teachings on the art of war.
Unlike Engels, Lenin did not believe himself to be an expert on military matters, - neither before the October Revolution, nor in the period up to the end of the Civil War.
During the Civil War, Lenin abjured us young comrades on the Central Committee to study the art of war thoroughly. He unhesitatingly declared that it was too late for him to become a military expert. This explains why Lenin, in his judgement on Clausewitz and his remarks on Clausewitz's works, does not touch upon solely military aspects such as questions of military strategy and tactics and their relation to each other, the relation between attack and retreat, defence and counter-offensive and so on.
What was Lenin's interest in Clausewitz and why did he acknowledge him?
Lenin acknowleged Clausewitz who was not a Marxist, and who was recognized as an authority in the field of military theory because in his works he confirmed the known Marxist theory that there is a direct relation between war and politics, that politics can engender war and that war is the continuation of politics by force. Here, Lenin needed Clausewitz to prove that Plekhanov, Kautsky and others had fallen once more into social chauvinism and social imperialism. He further acknowledged Clausewitz in that he confirmed the Marxist viewpoint in his works that under certain unfavourable conditions, - retreat is as justifiable a military action as is attack. Lenin needed Clausewitz to disprove the theory of the "left" Communists who denied that retreat could be a justifiable military action.
In this way, not as a military expert, but as a politician, Lenin used the works of Clausewitz, and was mainly interested in those questions in the works of Clausewitz which showed the relation between war and politics.
Thus, as successors of Lenin, there are no restrictions on us in the criticism of the Military doctrine of Clausewitz, as there are no remarks of Lenin that could hinder us in our free criticism.
Thus, your judgement, on the article of Comrade Meshtsherjakov (in "Wojennaja Mysl," No. 6/7, 1945), which criticises the military doctrine of Clausewitz, regarding it as a "Revision" of Lenin's judgement is completely unjustified.
2. Do we have reason at all to criticise the military doctrine of Clausewitz? Yes, we have. In the interests of our cause and the modern science of war, we are obliged not only to criticise Clausewitz, but also Moltke, Sclieffen, Ludendorff, Keitel and other exponents of German military ideology. During the last thirty years Germany has twice forced a bloody war on the rest of the world and twice has suffered defeat. Was this accidental? Of course not. Does this not mean that not only Germany as a whole, but also its military ideology has not stood the test? Obviously. It is well known that the military of the whole world, also our Russian military, looked up to the, German military authorities. Is it not time to put an end to this undeserved respect? Absolutely. So, this can only be done by criticism, especially from our side, especially from the side of those who have won the victory over Germany.
Concerning Clausewitz, as an authority in the field of military authority, he is of course out of date. On the whole, Clausewitz was a representative of the time of manufacture in war, but now we are in the machine age of war. Undoubtedly the machine age of war requires new military ideologies. Thus, it would be ridiculous to follow the teachings of Clausewitz today. One cannot make progress and further science without a critical analysis of the antiquated theories of well known authorities. This applies not only to the authorities in war theory but also to the Marxist classics. Engels once said of the Russian Commanders of 1812, that Gen. Barclay de Tolley was the only one of any relevance. Engels was of course wrong, as Kut-usov was of greater importance by far. Nevertheless there are people in our time who did not hesitate to defend this wrong judgement of Engels.
In our criticism we must not be guided by single remarks and judgements from the classics, but must be guided by Lenin's well known guideline :
"We do not regard the theory of Marx as something final and untouchable; on the contrary, we are convinced that it has laid the foundations of that science that the Socialists must develop in every direction if they do not want to fall bad behind the times. We are of the opinion that the Russian Socialists must find their own interpretation of Marxism, as this theory gives only general guidelines, the application of which in detail is different in England than in France; in France, different than in Germany; in Germany, different than in Russia." (Lenin Works, Vol. 4. Moscow 1946. Pp 191-192. Russian Ed.)
Such an attitude is for us even more necessary concerning the authorities of war theory.
3. Concerning your short thesis on war and the art of war, I have to restrict myself to general remarks because of their surface character. The thesis contains too much philosophy and abstract statements. The terminology taken from Clausewitz, talking of the grammar and logic of war hurts ones ears. The question of the factional character of war theory is primitively posed. The hymns of praise to Stalin also pain the ears, it hurts to read them. Also, the chapter on counter-offensive (not to be confused with counter-attack) is missing. I am talking of the counter-offensive after a successful but indecisive enemy offensive, during which the defenders assemble their forces to turn to a counter-offensive and strike a decisive blow to the enemy and inflict defeat upon him. 1 am of the opinion that a well organized counter-offensive is a very interesting method of offensive. You, as an historian should be interested in this. The old Parthens were already acquainted with such a counter-offensive when they lured the Roman Commander Crassus and his army into the interior of their country and, turning to counter-offensive, destroyed him and his troops. Our brilliant Commander, Kutusov, executed this when he destroyed Napoleon and his army by a well prepared counter-offensive.
("New World," No. 7, April 1947, pp. 23 - 25)