Socialist Studies Socialist Studies


Our world is one of never-ending wars. Currently there are wars and conflicts in many countries of the Middle East: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya; in the Indian sub-continent over Kashmir; in many parts of Africa; and potential conflicts brewing in South America, Asia, and even Western Europe. The world’s longest running war still continues in the ‘armed truce’ between North and South Korea, more than half a century after the Korean War was brought to a stop. This relic of the post-1945 Cold War between the Soviet Union and the USA still persists long after the Cold War officially ended, and long after the Soviet Union was dissolved. And now Trump and Kim, a client of China, threaten each other aggressively with all-out thermonuclear war, like teenagers playing a dangerous game of Chicken or Dare.

In many wars and civil wars, the conflicting interests of the ‘Great Powers’ have led to ‘proxy wars’. Given the overwhelming size of the Russian and American nuclear arsenals, the Cold War stand-off made their deterrence policy – Mutually Assured Destruction, nicknamed MAD – far too suicidal and dangerous for a head-on confrontation. So the whole world became their battleground as a series of ‘proxy wars’ have been fought out by a number of client states using weaponry and other military support from the Big Powers.

Korea is a case in point. In 1949-1950 when the Korean War was starting, the United Nations Commission reported (Sept. 1949) that the major cause of the conflict was “the worldwide antagonism between the Soviet Union and the USA” (the SPGB pamphlet THE SOCIALIST PARTY AND WAR, 1950, p95). On both sides politicians argued their real concern was for peace – it was always the other side who were the aggressors.

When we turn to the statements of the Governments and parties justifying their attitude on the Korean war we see on all sides how high-sounding pacific sentiments can serve as a cover for the determination to wage war where capitalist interests are at stake. They are all against war, but... The American and British [Labour] Governments are in the war because, so they say, unless they stop Russian aggression now a third world war is inevitable. “By accepting this fresh challenge he had every hope that a world war could be averted. That was the only way to preserve peace” (Mr. Herbert Morrison... Times July 3rd 1950). To which the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Gromyko, retorts:-“The U.S. Government ... demonstrated that, far from seeking to consolidate peace, it is, on the contrary, an enemy of peace... The U.S Government ... is gradually impelling the country step by step towards open war.” (DAILY WORKER, July 5th 1950).

That first Korean War also showed up the futility of expecting the United Nations to guarantee peace: “No event of the post-war years has so forcibly exposed the illusion of abolishing war through the United Nations” (THE SOCIALIST PARTY AND WAR, p. 95). In a chapter on Futile Efforts to Prevent War (p55), we argued that:

The Governments that meet in United Nations have behind them national capitalist groups which have real and vital conflicts of interest. The conflict does not disappear when they get together in a large group any more than when the diplomats of rival Powers get together in a small group.

The devastated cities of Syria, the disastrous Iraq wars; Afghanistan and Libya; the millions of hapless refugees: the consequences of US militaristic reactions to the 9/11 terrorist attacks have contributed to political instability and increased nationalism and authoritarianism in the US and Europe. Putin’s policies in Chechnya, Georgia and most recently in eastern Ukraine indicate a return to the Soviet era post-war ‘sphere of influence’ is likely, so the Baltic states like the Ukraine have drawn closer to the US and Nato.

The War of Words

It may be that the most deadly weapons of all are words: the propaganda which justifies warfare as being an inevitable heroic struggle between the forces of Good against Evil. For instance:

Quoting a declaration by the Bishop of Rochester about the need “to fight Godless materialism with aggressive evangelism”, the Daily Mail (July 3rd 1950) had the following in a leading article:- “In those six words he summed up the reason for the war in Korea. In every war the Right is on your side – whoever you may be – and the Wrong is on the other... We are engaged in a fight of Christian civilisation against Communist materialism...” (THE SOCIALIST PARTY AND WAR, p98).

As we argued in a more recent pamphlet WAR AND CAPITALISM (1996, 2000, 2005), the real reasons and causes of a war have nothing to do with the rhetoric and political propaganda used to justify it:

... 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 dictatorships in the world? Instead of going to war, capitalist governments are much more likely to sell them weapons.

Every war it seems can be justified. Arguments used include the claim that this war is ‘self-defence’ – but Socialists argue the working class have no country to defend. Or about ‘freedom and democracy’ – but these cannot be defended by bombs and bullets. Or the ‘other side’ are evil monsters for using banned weapons, such as chemicals and nerve gas like sarin – the US used napalm and dioxins (Agent Orange) in Vietnam, and DU (depleted uranium) in Iraq. The US remains the only state to have dropped atom bombs on cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1945). Genocide or ‘ethnic cleansing’ has been commoner than the UN would have expected – think of the Partition of post-war India, the expulsion of Palestinians from the new state of Israel, the Serb-Croat conflicts of Yugoslavia in the 1970s, etc.

The well-meaning diplomats at the UN try to draw up and enforce rules for conducting warfare in a more or less civilised manner. But when war is involved it seems that ‘Queensberry rules’ just cannot be enforced. Even international agreements banning torture are brushed aside, as at Guantanamo, the notorious US offshore prison.

The only real answer to war rhetoric is working class class-consciousness. With this comes the knowledge that wars are not fought in our interests, and that the world over the working class has a common interest in ending capitalism and establishing Socialism.

The link – competition, waste and war

Over 100 years ago, William Morris explained in a lecture HOW WELIVE AND HOW WEMIGHT LIVE (1884), of how capitalism’s commercial and business competition was the real cause of international wars.

... understand that our present system of Society is based on a state of perpetual war... it is this war of the firms which hinders the peace between nations...

Only by understanding how we are exploited through the wages system can workers unite and work for the overthrow of this wasteful and war-mongering capitalist system. To put an end to wars we need to get rid of the cause of wars – i.e. the worldwide competition between capitalist firms and between rival nation-states, and the exploitation of the world’s workers in this system of production for profit.

As we argued in 1950 (SPGB pamphlet THE SOCIALIST PARTY AND WAR, p. 94), and as we had argued in 1914 and 1939, and too many times since:

War can solve no working class problem. It cuts across the fundamental identity of interest of the workers of the world, setting sections of this class at enmity with each other in the interests of sections of the capitalist class.

Socialism is completely opposed to war and to what war represents. At the same time it is the only solution to the conditions that breed war... coercion does not solve problems but only breeds fresh ones, and war is an attempt to coerce. Above all war is one of the means employed by the ruling class to maintain their privileged position at the expense of the subject class

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: |