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Pamphlet - War and Capitalism

Preface to 1st Edition

"The Socialist Party of Great Britain, like a voice crying in the wilderness, has always maintained that capitalism and war are inseperable. There can be no capitalism without conflicts of economic interest. From these arise the national rivalries and hatreds, the fears and armaments which may at any time provoke war on a terrifying scale"

This arguement, from our 1936 pamphlet, WAR AND THE WORKING CLASS, remains valid today.

In this pamphlet we discuss some of the arguements we come across. Many people believe wars are inevitable due to "human nature". Others tell us that a particular war is necessary and justifiable in terms of the "national interest".

The Socialist Party of Great Britain opposition to wars is on grounds of class - an old fashioned term, maybe. But it is a fact that most people live by selling their labour-power for wages or salaries.

Socialists argue that workers should not let themselves be dragged into wars caused by disputes between different sections of the capitalist class. As we stated in the 1936 pamphlet:
"There is only one safe rule for the working class to follow when urged by the capitalists to support capitalist wars. No matter what form the appeal may take, they should examine the question in the light of working class interests. Ask yourself the question: 'Have the working class of one nation any interest in slaughtering (and being slaughtered by) the workers of another?'; 'Have they any interest in suppoting one national section of the capitalist world against another?' ..."

The wages system constantly creates a surplus (rent, interest and profit); it is a system of class exploitation. Worldwide, there is a class division - opposing interestes between employers and employed, between Labour and Capital.

Socialists argue that workers should not let themselves be dragged into wars caused by disputes between different sections of the capitalist class. As we stated in the 1936 pamphlet:
"There is only one safe rule for the working class to follow when urged by the capitalists to support capitalist wars. No matter what form the appeal may take, they should examine the question in the light of working class interests. Ask yourself the question: 'Have the working class of one nation any interest in slaughtering (and being slaughtered by) the workers of another?'; 'Have they any interest in suppoting one national section of the capitalist world against another?' ..."

The answer, of course, is NO.

In this pamphlet we have reprinted the historic statements we made in 1914 and 1939, on the outbreak of war. The Socialist Party of Great Britain consistent, principled and uncompromising record of opposition to wars is unique.

We urge you, the readers of this pamphlet, to join us in working to end this system and replace it by a new society - one based upon common ownership of the world's productive resources, where democratic co-operation will replace cut-throat economic competition, the cause of war.

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Preface to 2nd Edition

Since this pamphlet was first published, wars have been as frequent as autumn showers. A reprint became necessary so we decided to update part of the text and to take account of the bizarre doctrine of 'humanitarian' war which has come into fashion.

Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the anarchy of capitalism has never been more evident, the need for Socialism never more urgent.

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1. War and the Working Class

Question: Why do wars happen, given that everyone you ask says they are against war, that wars only cause destruction and distress, and never solve any problems?

It is quite a paradox. Politicians all declare they detest war. Governments spend a small fortune on diplomacy in attempts to prevent wars. World institutions, like the United Nations, are funded at vast expense in order to prevent wars happening.

Wars are extremely destructive. They cause terrible waste - waste of human lives, waste of economic resources, destruction of whole cities. There are long-term consequences too: survivors who are disabled, or scarred mentally and emotionally by the trauma. The effects of war may handicap them for the rest of their lives. Decades afterwards, people are killed or crippled by land-mines.

The list is a long one, but you get the point. So the question is: who could possibly benefit from war?

Or, put another way, in whose interests are wars fought? to answer that we need to show how the capitalist system operates. It is the Socialist contention that modern wars are fought because of the rivalries between various sections of the capitalist class. War being the last resort to resolve these rivalries.

Capitalism is a system where competition, the law of the jungle, is the rule. At one level, there is commercial competition between companies. At another level, the capitalists of one country are in competition with the capitalists of other countries. They compete at every turn: to gain control of key raw materials or mineral resources, to economise on transport and distribution costs, and to organise production so as to produce their commodities as cheaply as possible. They spend a lot on advertising and marketing to ensure that customers will choose their products or services as against those of their competitors.

At times commercial competition heats up, boiling over into armed conflict - war. To find out in whose interests wars are fought you need to know what they are about - that is, what they are really fought over, not what the politicians say they are about.

The Socialist position is that every country, the whole world, is divided into two classes with opposing interests. There is the vast majority who own little except their ability to work, and there is the smal, but powerful, minority: those who own and control the land, factories, mines, oil wells, transport system etc. and the commodities produced.

So when wars break out, over raw materials, trade routes, or markets, it is obvious that they are being fought in the interests of some section of the capitalist class, not in the interests of the working class. Wars are fought over the employers' interest, not the workers'.

That is one reason why The Socialist Party of Great Britain has consistently declared that workers should recognise that they have no interests at stake which would justify getting involved in wars. We are also opposed to war because war propaganda is used to distract the working class from recognising their class interests. In wartime workers are bombarded with hyped-up propaganda about the so-called 'national interest' and the ideology of nationalism. Workers are urged to see the workers of other countries as the enemy, whereas their real enemy is the worldwide capitalist class.

In short, Socialists oppose war because we object to being forced to kill our fellow-workers in the interests of the employers, and also because war propaganda drowns the issue of the class struggle, the worldwide struggle of labour against capital.

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2. Propaganda - What They Say War is About

In order to persuade us that war is absolutely necessary, unavoidable and justifiable, governments use a number of fairly standard pretexts.

They tell us it is a question of 'national interest'. But since the majority of the 'nation' consists of people who own no oil-wells or goldmines, whose meagre assets are not the issue in any war, and who will be, at the end of the war, if they are lucky enough to survive, no better off after it than they were before, whichever side wins, this so-called 'national interest' is nothing to do with us. It is the commercial assets and interests of the capitalist class, our employers, which are at stake.

The same point can be made in answer to the arguement that this is a war in defence of 'our' country (the Motherland or Fatherland). We, the working class, do not own the country. If we did, we would hardly need to go to work for wages or salaries. Those who do own the country, including its mineral resources, industries, supermarkets, etc, are the capitalist class. They have something to defend; the working class do not.

Another arguement used to justify war is the claim that it is about the defence of democracy. Yet, curiously, the same government which is suddenly concerned about defending democracy was only yesterday doing deals with dictators.

Also, it should be noted that the very first casualty of war is democracy. In World War I restrictions on press freedoms were imposed. The Defence of the Realm Regulations (November 1914) was a catch-all law prohibiting any political activity except in support of the blood bath. After conscription came in, conscientious objectors were jailed, including some members of The Socialist Party of Great Britain. Again, in World War II, the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was imposed. Conscription was brought in before the war even started. So-called 'enemy aliens, including refugees and children, were held in internment camps, and many were deported.

Oddly, in a situation where the war was supposed to be about defending democracy and opposing dictatorship, Britain became a totalitarian one-party state as Labour MP's joined the Coalition Government which announced sweeping "special powers". Attlee, Lord Privy Seal, announced: "we are taking power over all persons and property" (HANSARD, 22 May 1940

There is an obvious contradiction: if the aim was to defend democracy, why destroy free speech? Why postpone the General Election? Why impose a one-party state? And why such a totalitarian regime? How can you defend democracy by stopping it?

We have had recent examples of this conflict between the stated aim and the actual practice. First, in the Falklands War: only one hand picked reporter was allowed to sail with the fleet, and all information was controlled by the Ministry of Defence. Then, in the Kuwait War, the Americans likewise imposed very strict control over media information. Only later did unpleasant facts leak out about 'collateral damage, the Gulf Syndrome, and the horror of the missile bombardment of civilians in bomb shelters. The TV and press reprting was heavily sanitised as regards Allied activities, heavily skewed against their opponents. The word for that is not news: it is propaganda.

It is worth noting here, just for the record, that Marx had a loathing of censorship:
"...the characteristic of the censored press is that it is a flabby caricature without liberty, a civilised monster, a horror even though sprinkled with rose-water" (Quoted from MARX AND SOVIET REALITY by Daniel Norman, 1955, p.54)

There is another point to make about this pretext that wars are about freedom or democracy. Remember that it is these freedom-loving governments and their friends in business which have sold arms, from guns to nerve gas, to these dreadful dictators. Britain, before the Falklands War, sold military and naval equipment to the Argentine junta, and trained their officers at Sandhurst. Likewise, the British government and British arms companies sold arms to Saddam Hussein. The same 'democratic' British government for years has recognised and funded the mass-murderer Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge as the internationally recognised representatives of Cambodia at the United Nations.

In short, politicians who claim that a war is a just one because it is about freedom and democracy are simply not to be believed. Democracy is not something they would go to war about. If that were the case, how come there are so many dictators in the world? Instead of going to war against a dictatorship, capitalist governments are much more likely to sell them weapons.

A governments real concern is the so-called 'national interest' - the interests of their capitalists. Only when these capitalis interests are involved do governments find it necessary to go to war.

The classic case was the Kuwait war. The basic dispute was about the amount of oil to be sold on world markets, hence about the price of oil. The USA 'national interest' coincided with the interests of the Kuwaiti ruling elite: the result being the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, followed by America and America's allies, going to war.

Sometimes the case is made that a war is one of 'self determination' or 'national liberation'. In most cases, such wars result in a dictatorship or a one-party state, often corrupt as well as ruthless. The workers remain, as before, the have-nots. The struggle was over who should profit from the country's raw materials, markets and labour force. Liberation was never the issue, only a pretext.

Just as wars are not fought to defend democracy, it is the politics of the pulpit to pretend that missile and bomb attacks can be a 'humanitarian' form of war. Likewise, the hyprocritical excuse offered by Labour Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, that the East Timor war was being fought "to pursue justice". Like other politicians, Cook and Blair are concerned with the business interests of the capitalists.

As soon as the dust has settled, British business will be competing for contracts in East Timor and Indonesia, just as they are or will be in Kosovo and Serbia. Already, in Kosovo, hordes of lawyers are busy - "all optimistic that a good war generates lots of profits for UK lawyers" (PRIVATE EYE, 17 September 1999). Construction companies, hoping for Serbian contracts to come, are anxious to avoid the Foreign Secretary's "ethicl" foreign policy being applied to the Export Credit Guarantee Department of the Department of Trade (DTI). The DTI is anxious to ensure that American and German firms should not get in first as they did in Croatia and Bosnia, allegedly creaming off the best of the business.

Whether such "humanitarian" wars will be more than a passing fad remains to be seen. Clearly politicians - the spin doctors of big business - are extremely ingenious in devising plausible and emotive rhetoric to win workers' support for wars fought over capitalist interests.

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3. Why Wars Happen - Some False Theories

The Human Nature Explanation

Possibly the most commonly held explanation of war is that humans are by nature aggressive, always have been, always will be.

This view was given a spurious respectability by the writings of pop scientists like KonradLorenz and Robert Ardrey in the sixties. Later, sociobiologists led by Edward O. Wilson took up the arguement:
"Are human beings innately aggressive? ... yes. Throughout history, warfare, representing only the most organised technique of aggression, has been endemic to every form of society, from hunter-gatherer bands to industrial states". (ON HUMAN NATURE, 1978 Penguin ed. p99)

The first objection to this is that, whilst aggression is triggered in individuals, wars are fought by governments. Modern armed forces do not favour violent aggressive behaviour. To handle complex weapon systems correctly requires cool calculation. The more sophisticated and complex the weapons, the less useful is spontaneous aggression.

Moreover, armed forces and weapons systems are expensive. They have to be budgeted and paid for out of taxation, with long-term calculations as to what is likely to be needed. Since most state funding comes from the pockets of the capitalists and their businesses, spending on the armed forces is limited to what the capitalist class thinks desirable or necessary.

War, in short, is economically and politically organised whereas aggression is a psychological state of mind. War and murder are not the same thing, and should not be confused.

An obvious objection to the claim that 'human nature is the cause of war is the fact that governments have to use conscription to force people into 'doing their duty'. Britain used conscription in both World Wars and, after 1945, in peacetime too. The USA used the draft to force selected men into the forces, especially in the Vietnam war. The Russian and Israeli governments still conscript young men for military service.

Why is conscription necessary? Surely our innate aggression should produce enough ready volunteers, eager to have a bash. Obviously there is something wrong with this theory, especially as, in all modern wars, there have always been some conscientious objectors and draft dodgers. Are such people not part of the human race.

The necessity for conscription reflects the fact that war is a dangerous, dirty business, even when dressed up in a fancy uniform with flags flying and bands playing. In 1936, we quoted Minister of War, Duff-Cooper:
"even the most combative human being... has no liking for the prospect of being blown up by a gun fired miles away, and thinking that his home and family might be destroyed by bombs dropped from the sky" (The Socialist Party of Great Britain pamphlet WAR AND THE WORKING CLASS, p8). How much more true this is now, when wars could be fought with nuclear weapons and inter-continental ballistic missiles.

Socialists argue that so long as we have a society based on competition and divided into competing nation-states, we must expect economic competition to lead to war. But we cannot blame human nature for this. 'Human nature' gets a bad press. It is blamed for every form of antisocial behaviour. But wars in the modern world result from economic competition - over mineral resources (oil, gold, uranium etc); over markets and spheres of influence, and over strategic trade routes. The cause of war is the economic system.

Religion and Ideology

Ideologies are essential to the system as a way of justifying war and persuading workers to get involved in killing each other.

Religion claims that God is "on our side", meanwhile the priests in the opposing countries tell their troops that God is on their side. Each side believes its cause is a just one: the enemy are the ones that are in the wrong.

Some religions even delude the fighters with the promise of going to Heaven as martyrs if they die on the battlefield. In the bitter war between Iran and Iraq even children were sent to the slaughter, egged on by this fanatical belief. not surprisingly, the casualty rate was horrific.

But religious differences are not the real cause of war. If that were the case, how can one explain the fact that in most countries, most of the time, Christians and Muslims live side by side peaceably. In other countries, Catholics and Protestants live peaceably side by side, although in Northern Ireland they are carrying on a timeless vendetta - an unresolved struggle for power.

There has to be another explanation for inter-communal conflicts than simply the fact that different groups follow different religions. We argue that the real reason is that in some areas there are conflicts of economic interests between the various groups leading to a struggle for power. To promote these interests, religious differences are hyped up, just as racism or nationalism is, in order to foster fear and redentment, division and hatred.

Socialists argue that ideologies like racism, nationalism and religion are useful propaganda to mobilise support for war. but they are not the cause of war. We urge workers not to fall for this sort of propaganda, not to let themselves be divided or drawn into wars fought in the employers' interests.
"War... solves no problem of the working class. victory and defeat alike leave them in the same position... They have no interest at stake which justifies giving support to war" (The Socialist Party of Great Britain, WAR AND THE WORKING CLASS, 1936, pp16-17)

The Overpopulation Theory

Sometimes the assertion is made that overpopulation is causing pressure on food supplies. Workers tend to fall for this, possibly because in working class everday experience many things are hard to get. being poor means coming up against problems of supposed 'scarcity most of the time.

This is particularly the case in a recession when jobs are scarce. When it is difficult to find the money to feed the family, the problem can be seen as one of a shortage of food, when really it is a shortage of cash. Likewise with housing: the rich never have a housing problem.

The fact that a population may be static or even declining, rather than increasing, will not be obvious. Likewise it is difficult for anyone to assess whether the population level is actually excessive in relation to (actual or potential) food resources.

In the Thirties, the governments of Germany, Italy and Japan all complained of overpopulation. Italy and Japan also lacked some key raw materials. These arguments were used to justify expansionism, the annexation and occupation of neighbouring countries. Paradoxically all three governments were trying to increase their populations, by government policies designed to raise the birth rate. This suggests that overpopulation was a mere pretext.

Another version is that overpopulation causes poverty by putting pressure on finite resources. In all countries, there are classes of rich and poor but the rich, unlike the poor, do not experience shortages. The size of the population is irrelevant.

However, in times of crisis and trade depression, politicians exploit workers' anxieties about poverty, housing and unemployment to whip up support for expansionist, militaristic policies. German workers' support for Hitler, with his ball for 'lebensraum' (living space) - ie the annexation of neighbouring countries - grew out of workers' fears of unemployment and poverty in the economic collapse during the final years of the Weimar Republic.

Racism, nationalism and xenophobia (hatred of foreigners) become significant political forces at times of recession and high unemployment. These economic conditions are a recurring feature of capitalism. They are caused, not by high or low levels of population, but by economic factors, particularly a falling rate of profit.

It is only possible for politicians to whip up such prejudices if workers remain blind to their identity as a class. As long as workers fail to see how the capitalist system exploits them, how their poverty is a reflection of their employers' wealth, and how that wealth, including the capital used to exploit them, is itself the unpaid labour of generations of wage-slaves: as long as workers fail to understand the society they live in, so long will unscrupulous politicians be able to stir up nationalist divisions and hatred.

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