Response to Peace and the State, Leonard Cherlin

I would like to start by giving my definition of the State: The State is the political organization of society. It is the means for enforcing the will, as declared in a system of laws, of those who at any given moment control society. It is designed for the primary purpose of coercing people to do certain things and to refrain from doing certain other things. It is an instrument for the application of force, or, as it is more usual to say, for enforcing law and order.

The State cannot be separated from the actual society on which it is based. Consequently, although the State tends to set itself above classes, it cannot remain aloof from them and their struggles. It serves the dominant class or classes, and as the representative of these classes, its function is to resolve in their favor the social, economic and political conflicts, both national and international, which are inevitable to such societies.

Now, to define war: War is the armed struggle between States or between social classes, e.g. civil wars. There are just and unjust wars. Just wars are fought to repel aggression, or, to win freedom from exploitation. Unjust wars are waged to perpetuate and/or assert the domination of an exploiting State and to enrich it through enslaving other countries and peoples.

Just wars are distinguished from unjust wars by the progressive or reactionary, liberating or aggressive, aims of the belligerents.

Any war that is waged by a people for the sake of freedom and social progress, for liberation from exploitation and national oppression or in defense of its State’s sovereignty against an aggressive attack, is a just war.

Conversely, any war unleashed by the State with the aim of seizing foreign territories, enslaving and plundering other peoples, is an unjust war.

The determination as to whether the war waged by each of the belligerents is just or unjust is indissolubly linked with the classification of wars into types. The main types of wars in this epoch are:

  1. Wars between opposing social systems.
  2. Civil wars between contending classes within a State.
  3. Wars between colonialists and the peoples fighting for their independence.
  4. Wars between contending imperialist States.

The moral reality of war may be divided into two parts. War must always be judged twice; first, with reference to the reasons the contending parties have for fighting, secondly, with reference to the means they adopt. We can say that a particular war is just or unjust and we can say that the war is being fought justly or unjustly. These two sorts of judgment are logically independent. It is perfectly possible, and probable, for a just war to be fought unjustly and for an unjust war to be fought in strict accordance with the rules.