The opposition of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to war is not that of the pacifists. The pacifist - unless he seeks the overthrow of capitalism - accepts the competitive social system which necessarily breeds bitter rivalries and perhaps thinks at the same time that the rivalries can be settled by amicable discussion at the peace council table. Our attitude should be distinguished from that of the pacifist, who holds that when a majority of non-socialists reject war then wars will cease. We think this is false. As the collapse of the previously popular Peace Pledge Union in 1939 shows, pacifists are as prone as anyone to fall for war propaganda and go out and die for their masters. The weakness of the anti-war movement is that the majority want nothing more than a return to capitalist "peace" rather than the overthrow of the system that causes war. Socialists do not object to the war on pacifist grounds, but on class ones.
The Socialist Party has always maintained that capitalism and war are inseparable. There can be no capitalism without conflicts of economic interest. Most people do not take the socialist view. Our attitude and the workers’ real interest calls for not merely anti-war, but anti-capitalism. As long as we live under the market system, the conditions that give rise to wars will always exist. War in the modern world has the potential for destruction of the whole human race. The working class - the propertyless majority - have no interest at stake in supporting any war at any time for any reason. War is but an extension in its more extreme form of the never-ending conflicts of capitalism. Until the workers cease to respond to the call of false nationalist sentiment they will remain what they are - wage slaves in peace, cannon fodder in war. The wheels and cogs of capitalism are oiled by human blood.
We do not call for people to love one another (though we are not opposed to that, of course!) but rather we appeal to the workers of this and other countries to recognise their common class interest and to organise consciously and politically to gain the political power necessary to dispossess the owning class – to strip them of their right to own the means of life – and to put in its place a system of common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production – socialism. The workers of all lands, by similarity of their class position, by poverty and their common suffering from the evils of capitalism, should be bound together in furtherance of their mutual interest in resisting the encroachments of the capitalists and in replacing capitalism by socialism. What we advocate is a war on war to be waged on the battlefield of ideas. The only war that need concern us is the class war between the parasites who possess and the workers who produce over the ownership and control of the Earth's resources.
Violence demeans, debases and dehumanises us. To throw down one evil, corrupt system using the very same policies and tools of that system is to replace one monster with a necessarily greater one. The means must be in harmony with the end. Violence is bound to corrupt both the users and those upon whom it is used It is clear that any solution resulting from violence or confrontation is not lasting. It is only through peaceful means that we can develop better understanding between peoples. Though lies and "spin" may deceive people temporarily and the use of force may control human beings physically, it is only through proper understanding, fairness and mutual respect that they can be genuinely satisfied and creative.
The class struggle is violent. That's just a straight forward fact. The struggle for socialism must be waged as peacefully as possible, because it is not in our class interests to get involved in a war with the state. But that's different to saying that the revolutionary process will be an entirely peaceful affair. Where electoral procedures exist which allow the expression of the majority will, it would be dogmatic in the extreme to refuse to use such an apparatus. Basically, the party has always stated they will use the limited democratic process where ever possible. Where democratic means are not available any resistance by the capitalist class will have to be confronted by the means available at that time. Unlike the pacifists who are always faced with a moral dilemma, socialists have no such qualms. Violence of a class nature would have to be dealt with in some shape or form. It follows when all else fails, unfortunately there is only one answer - violence. Ours is the old Chartist slogan "peacefully if we can, forcibly if we must."
However, after the majority have democratically declared their intention to abolish capitalism, it is just conceivable that a minority might take up arms to prevent the introduction of the new social relations in some small localities sometimes called a pro-slavery rebellion. In such circumstances the majority may democratically decide to use force. Socialists are not pacifists. We are not a pacifist organisation, although some members may indeed be pacifists.
Statement on the Party's attitude to violence adopted at 1978 Annual Conference