The dialectics of war and peace, culture of war, culture of peace


Regions where wars are raging are also regions where there is a strong movement for peace, as described in several cases in this month’s CPNN bulletin.

This is not new. During the 19th Century, In his extensive notebooks called the “Grundrisse”, Marx made a note that “War attains complete development before peace.” One may assume that he meant that there is a dialectical relationship between these two opposite states, and war inspires people to work for peace. Similarly, in the 20th Century, the historian, Quincy Wright, described in his Study of War how there has always been a “tendency for very severe war periods to be followed by movements for peace,” not only in recent times (League of Nations, United Nations), but going back to the Greeks and Romans. In fact, he states that “Anthropologists have pointed out that even primitive peoples, whose military equipment is very simple, may fight wars of steadily increasing gravity until there is a”war to end war” which, because of its extensive destrucitveness of life, is followed by a considerable period of peace.” Marx and Wright are describing the old dialectical model of war and peace in which periods of peace alternate with periods of war.

What is new, however, is the concept of the culture of peace, as adopted by the United Nations in the past twenty years. This provides a new and more profound perspective, the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace. Instead of considering peace as an interval between wars, the culture of peace seeks to change the very nature of our culture so that war no longer becomes an option.

The culture of peace approach is radical. It demands fundamental changes. After extensive study and experience at the level of the United Nations, I have come to the conclusion that the nation-state has come to monopolize and embody the culture of war to such an extent that it is incapable of promoting a culture of peace. Hence, it seems to me that we must reorganize society with a reformed United Nations based on representatives of local governments instead of states.

This approach is difficult to accept by educated people in the rich countries of Europe, North America and their allies, because they are invested in the state system. They have been educated to believe that progress can only be achieved through the state. Even the traditional peace movements associated with the left, radical as they may be, continue to believe that peace can be achieved through revolution or reform of the state, just as the revolutions in Russia, China, etc. promised to bring peace in their time.

For this reason, we should expect that the leadership for a culture of peace will come, not from the centers of power and higher education in the North, but rather from those who seek an alternative to the violence that destroys their lives in the global South. In the previous blogs, we have seen such leadership developing in Africa and Latin America, and this month’s bulletin recognizes initiatives in these regions.