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Is Clausewitz outdated? Stalin vs Mao

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Soviet cogitations: 831
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Jan 2008, 19:10
Ideology: Marxism-Leninism
Komsomol
Post 13 Feb 2010, 02:23
MAO:
If you comrades here already know materialism and dialectics, I would like to advise you to supplement your knowledge by some study of their opposites, that is, idealism and metaphysics. You should read Kant and Hegel and Confucius and Chiang Kai-shek, which are all negative stuff. If you know nothing about idealism and metaphysics, if you have never waged any struggle against them, your materialism and dialectics will not be solid. The shortcoming of some of our Party members and intellectuals is precisely that they know too little about the negative stuff. Having read a few books by Marx, they just repeat what is in them and sound rather monotonous. Their speeches and articles are not convincing. If you don't study the negative stuff, you won't be able to refute it. Neither Marx nor Engels nor Lenin was like that. They made great efforts to learn and study all sorts of things, contemporary and past, and taught other people to do likewise. The three component parts of Marxism came into being in the course of their study of, as well as their struggle with, such bourgeois things as German classical philosophy, English classical political economy and French utopian socialism. In this respect Stalin was not as good. For instance, in his time, German classical idealist philosophy was described as a reaction on the part of the German aristocracy to the French revolution. This conclusion totally negates German classical idealist philosophy. Stalin negated German military science, alleging that it was no longer of any use and that books by Clausewitz [4] should no longer be read since the Germans had been defeated.

Stalin had a fair amount of metaphysics in him and he taught many people to follow metaphysics.

4. Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), the well-known German bourgeois military scientist. Among his chief works is On War. For Stalin's comment on Clausewitz see Stalin's "Letter in Reply to Comrade Razin".

STALIN:
Answer to a letter of 30 January,
from Col.-Professor Rasin
On Clausewitz and the questions of war and the art of war
23 February, 1946

Source : Works, Vol. 16
Publisher : Red Star Press Ltd., London, 1986
Transcription/HTML Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2009
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.

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 en-, emy 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.

J. STALIN

("New World," No. 7, April 1947. Pp. 23 - 25)
Kamran Heiss
Soviet cogitations: 10005
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Jul 2008, 20:01
Ideology: Trotskyism
Philosophized
Post 14 Feb 2010, 22:55
I have no idea about military theory, but...

Quote:
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 love Stalin.

Quote:
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.


Even though he's a bit stupid at times.
"Don't know why i'm still surprised with this shit anyway." - Loz
User avatar
Soviet cogitations: 831
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Jan 2008, 19:10
Ideology: Marxism-Leninism
Komsomol
Post 15 Feb 2010, 06:39
Well basically Stalin's argument was that Lenin was not a military expert and so he turned to Clausewitz since he was the accepted military authority of the age. But that there is nothing inherently Marxist about Clausewitz.

After Stalin's death, Clausewitz was somewhat rehabilitated in the USSR, although they always denied the western Sovietoligists claims about just how influential he was.

There is a lot of dialectics in Clausewitz both in the role of Hegelian triads, and polarities. Also he comes out of the historicist intellectual climate of Hegelian Germany.

I see a lot of Clausewitz's influence in Mao's theory of people's war.
Kamran Heiss
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Soviet cogitations: 1201
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 09 May 2008, 14:59
Ideology: Other Leftist
Forum Commissar
Post 01 Mar 2010, 19:59
In my opinion, established governments are better served with Clausewitz and Mao's strategy is better for popular uprisings.

Of course, both are military writings so their are bound to be some similarities.

However, there are bound to be some areas of Clauseswitz's strategy that don't translate well into modern times. He wouldn't, for example, know how to fight with or against tanks. Relying on the military knowledge of old isn't a very good direction to go. I've always thought that expericence was a better teacher in times of war. Mao, I think, used his own experiences and philosophy and combined them with already established theories to formulate his own concrete ideas.

Remember that Leninism itself is derived from a critical look at Marxism derived from Lenin's own experiences and adapted to the times. Political strategy and military strategy are not so different. One must not be afraid to add to those tactics that ring true if they are no longer applicable.

Quote:
In this respect Stalin was not as good. For instance, in his time, German classical idealist philosophy was described as a reaction on the part of the German aristocracy to the French revolution. This conclusion totally negates German classical idealist philosophy. Stalin negated German military science, alleging that it was no longer of any use and that books by Clausewitz should no longer be read since the Germans had been defeated


Mao in this case is probably warning of the dangers of regarding some knowledge as negligible. Mao warns that getting your information from many different sources makes you flexible and more adaptable, something even Stalin agrees with.

Quote:
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.



This is largely subjective. I'm sure Engels and Stalin had much different tastes in old generals being that Engels was a 19th century German philosopher and Stalin was a 20th century Russian civil leader. The fact that Stalin had experience commanding an army may have altered his tastes as well.

In the end, both are probably right to a certain extent. Stalin is right when he says Clauswitz is outdated and Mao is right when he says that Clauswitz should still be studied. Clauswitz's therories have the potential to be improved. In the end, flexibility is the answer.
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