The question of armed struggle, the issue of peaceful and non-peaceful road to socialism, has been discussed on a number of occasions by various Marxist intellectuals. For some time, the question was thought to be well-settled. However, the 20th Congress of the CPSU specifically brought this question once again to the forefront by raising the proposition of “peaceful road to socialism”. This question remains to be significant for all the revolutionary parties: how to blend peaceful struggle with the non-peaceful one, the legal one with the illegal one, the parliamentarian path with the non-parliamentarian one?
Before moving ahead with the discourse, it’s worthwhile to notice that Communists must not have any prejudice towards any form of struggle. Whichever path efficiently leads to the desired results–the development of the class-consciousness of the masses giving way to establishment of dictatorship of the proletariat–is correct. Communists don’t arbitrarily prefer one form of struggle over another. This was also the stance taken by Lenin: “Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle.” (Lenin, Guerrilla Warfare, 1906)
The question of peaceful transition to socialism was discussed by the Fredrick Engels in the early days of formulation of Communism in the “Principles of Communism”. Engels, in very clear and concrete words, presented the Marxist view on the question of violence:
“It would be desirable if this could happen, and the communists would certainly be the last to oppose it. Communists know only too well that all conspiracies are not only useless, but even harmful. They know all too well that revolutions are not made intentionally and arbitrarily, but that, everywhere and always, they have been the necessary consequence of conditions which were wholly independent of the will and direction of individual parties and entire classes.
But they also see that the development of the proletariat in nearly all civilized countries has been violently suppressed, and that in this way the opponents of communism have been working toward a revolution with all their strength. If the oppressed proletariat is finally driven to revolution, then we communists will defend the interests of the proletarians with deeds as we now defend them with words.”
So, the question of violence has to be discussed and solved while giving maximum consideration to the concrete conditions of the prevailing epoch. Engels has presented the most fundamental outline of Marxist approach to the question of violence. Violence is not a product of subjective desires of a group of people; it’s an outcome of the measures adopted by the ruling class in order to suppress the “development of proletariat”, a consequence of the attitude of the ruling class in response to the the raging class consciousness. The attitude of the ruling class towards the sharpened class conflict determines whether the communists should adopt violence or nonviolence as their form of struggle. Moreover, the response of the imperialism to the progress of revolution in a country or region also plays a consequential role. The example of Salvador Allende of Chile, whose pro-people party was constitutionally elected to the government, and later brutally crushed with the help of CIA, should be highlighted here.
In the 20th Congress of the CPSU, Khrushchev gave the general line of peaceful transition to socialism of the non-socialist world through bourgeois parliamentarianism. The line was criticized from both inside and outside the party.
Pravel Yadin, Soviet ambassador to China, and a member of Central Committee of the CPSU, wrote an article for the World Marxist Review in 1958 where he discussed the proposition of “peaceful transition to socialism” in the specific case of India. Yadin pointed out the increasing control of Western monopoly capital over India and the inability of the Nehru regime to extend genuine reforms that can alleviate the problems of poverty prevalent in India.
Yadin drew a crucial conclusion from the analyses of the Indian case. He, much in line with the Marxist position, stated that whether or not there would be a peaceful transition is dependant on the conduct of the Indian bourgeoisie. In case the Communists are prevented from taking power through peaceful means, they have no other option but to resort to violence.(You might have noticed that Yadin’s article was not published in Pravda, which shows that it didn’t conform with the position of the leadership of CPSU).
Outside the Soviet Union, Chairman Mao elaborated the Marxist standpoint on the question of violence and criticized the 20th Congress:
“The vanguard of the proletariat will remain unconquerable in all circumstances only if it masters all forms of struggle–peaceful and armed, open and secret, legal and illegal, parliamentary struggle and mass struggle, etc…. Communists would always prefer to bring about the transition to socialism by peaceful means. But can peaceful transition be made into a new world-wide strategic principle for the international communist movement? Absolutely not.”
(Mao, A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement, 1963)
From there, Mao gave the following instructions to his comrades around the world:
“The proletarian party must prepare itself for two eventualities–while preparing for a peaceful development of the revolution, it must also fully prepare for a non-peaceful development.” (Ibid.)
The question of “peaceful transition” also became the bone of contention in the Indian communist politics as the Indo-China border conflict during the early 60’s sharpened the differences between the revisionist and anti-revisionist forces. At that time, CPI fully endorsed the 20th Congress thesis of the peaceful transition and, accordingly, supported the Nehru government, more or less, unconditionally. The CPI (M), on the other hand, invoked the resolution passed in the 1951 Congress of CPI, which entailed:
“It is the reactionary ruling classes who resort to force and violence against the people and who create the issue of whether our creed is violence or nonviolence. Such an issue is an issue of Gandhian ideology which, in practice, misleads the masses and is an issue of which we just steer clear. Marxism and history have once and for all decided the question for the party and for the people of every country in the world long ago. All actions of the masses in defense of their interests to achieve liberation is sacrosanct. History sanctions all that the people decide to do to clear the debris of the decadence and reaction that blocks their path of progress and freedom.”
(Political Revolution, 1951. Reprinted in Calcutta Congress of CPI (M), 1965)
A revolutionary party, which upholds armed struggle as the only means of struggle, ignores the availability of any peaceful measures that have the potiential to contribute towards raising the class-consciousness of the masses. Such a party is very likely to degenerate into left-revisionism. The ultra-left that held the banner of armed struggle as the only form of struggle committed a number of errors that created unnecessary hurdles in the progress of the socialist movement. Therefore, no ultra-left party was able to successfully over-turn the rule of capitalism or pose itself as a consistent potent challenge to the progress of imperialism.
Similarly, a party which upholds peaceful struggle as the only form of struggle exposes itself to very probable and likely violent aggression of the ruling classes. In order to protect itself from the violent aggression of the rulers, such a party would either have to resort to violence or accommodate programs that hamper the socialist struggles and compromises on the party program. In the latter case, the party is very likely to degenerate into right-revisionism. A right-revisionist party ignores that imperialism is willing and ready to crush genuine opposition with the help of force.
A Marxist-Leninist Party must master the peaceful struggle and strive for a peaceful change. They should attempt to exhaust the peaceful means in order to raise the class-consciousness of the masses. A Marxist-Leninist Party must also appreciate the likelihood of the violent aggression of the ruling classes and must, therefore, safeguard its capability, organizational and material, to take the road of armed struggle to address the transgression of the ruling classes.
In the words of Bhagat Singh:
“Use of force justifiable when resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity: non-violence as policy indispensable for all mass movements. So much about methods.”
(Bhagat Singh, Why I am an Atheist, 1930)