SPGB Socialist Opposition To War - Trade and Capitalism’s Wars.
Trade and Capitalism’s Wars.
There are a number of factors about trade and capitalism’s wars.
Capitalism is not just a collection of manufacturers and traders. First and foremost it is a collection of 195 nation states each with its own armed forces to protect its privileged class against its own working class and other states.
Second, not all conflicts within capitalism end in war. Sometimes a powerful country might exercise control over a weaker country merely by threatening war.
Third, there are usually divided interests within the capitalist class itself. One such conflict is between import and export capitalists each of them pulling in different directions.
Fourth, trade conflicts are not only about export markets but are also about import markets.
And fifth, while all capitalists generally support a government at war with another country sometimes sections of the capitalist class are deeply opposed to the war. Interests in the circles around Lord Rothermere (DAILY MAIL), particularly in the Tory Party, have been deeply opposed to both the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Interests around the Liberal Democratic Party and the Green Party were also opposed to the war.
War in capitalism has a seeming paradox. Simultaneously people are all for war and against it. How does this come about?
Some academics and politicians have said that It is people’s natural fear and hatred which makes war possible. This is an erroneous statement. Those who put forward this proposition put the cart before the horse.
People - and by “people” we mean a sizeable portion of the working class who in fact have no interest in capitalism’s wars - support war because of government propaganda which is reinforced by the media and the Church. Government propaganda tries to create fear and hatred among the population where none had formerly existed. Governments going to war deliberately create an environment of fear and hatred.
If the proposition that people are innately violent was true why, outside war, is the day-to-day relations between people generally peaceful with violence and murder only a minority occurrence. And why is it that the military have to depersonalise recruits to make them kill and even then only a small percentage are able to carry out the function of professional killers?
And another question can be put against this proposition. If it is human nature that seeks outlet in war why did the governments in two world wars have to conscript 90% of the armed services against their will? If it was in people’s human nature to kill the armed forces would have had no difficulty finding willing recruits. Why did the government have to drag the working class into the armed forces to kill and be killed?
That people were naturally war-like was a specious argument used by politicians like Mussolini. He used to go around Italy saying that it was people’s violent passions that had to have an outlet in war. This view of human behaviour was ridiculed by an Italian cartoonist. He showed Mussolini in a big hall berating an audience saying that they were all violent and needed a war as an outlet for their passions. The cartoonist showed the hall filled with sheep. Of course, in the real sense of the word workers are sheepish in their behaviour like Orwell’s two minutes of hate in 1984. When politicians like Mussolini whip up hysteria for war most workers allow themselves to be led to the slaughter.
One thing you will be told by governments who go to war is that they are peace-loving and do not want war but the other side is aggressive and wants war. The same is true of conservative historians like Andrew Roberts who, when commenting recently on the First World War, it said was all the fault of the beastly Germans for invading Belgium and forced good-old Britain to enter the war to support the underdog (DAILY MAIL 13.11.2010).
Let us recall William Shakespeare who wrote of “This happy breed of men, this little world. This precious stone set in a silver sea”, (RICHARD II Act ii, Scene 1). How does British capitalism stand up to the claim of being a peace loving “other Eden and “demi-Paradise” surrounded by a sea of envy?
A casual count of wars Britain has been involved in since the beginning of the 19th century runs to over 35, the list including several wars in Afghanistan, conflict with Argentina over the Falklands, the Boar Wars, the Crimea War, India, Korea, an Opium War against China, the Suez War, the First World War, The Second World War, war against Serbia, war against Iraq, a war against the US, and wars against the Zulus. Does it really mean that this peaceful country where we happen to live has had to deal with so many violent countries hell bent on war? Is British capitalism a benign oasis surrounded by evil governments and individuals who want to attack the “British way of life”?
We could pick out many wars for scrutiny. Let us chose the Zulu wars since the war of that name was made famous by the actor Michael Caine and the battle of Rorke’s Drift; a film constantly shown on television to please assorted nationalists, racists and the politically stupid so they might rejoice in the “glory” of the British Empire.
However Socialists can ask a very serious question. What did the Zulus ever do to people living in Britain? Nothing whatsoever.
This is the reality of the situation. Zululand had become a powerful kingdom under the rule of King Shaka in the early 19th century, but by 1870 European colonial expansion was starting to hem it in. The British were expanding from the south in Natal and the Boers, Dutch settlers were expanding from the west in the area known as the Transvaal which the British were to annex in 1877.
The British had seized their South African colonies during the Napoleonic Wars but these possessions had been beset with problems due to violence between the British, the Boers and local African kingdoms. The British plan was to unite black and white under their rule, but first the Zulu kingdom had to be removed. And this is precisely what the British did through the use of violent aggression and superior technology; the Enfield rifle versus the iklwa spears; it is just not cricket.
Of course the same argument is used by other capitalist governments to justify going to war. Donald Rumsfeld used this excuse about how the US being a peace loving democracy never intended to invade Iraq for its oil.
This is what Donald Rumsfeld said:
“We don't take our forces and go around the world and try to take other people's real estate or other people's resources, their oil. That's just not what the United States does. We never have, and we never will. That's not how democracies behave”. http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/weekly/aairaqioil.htm
No one believed him and it is doubtful Rumsfeld did himself.
A Divided World Capitalism
Capitalism is an international social system of class exploitation but it does not unite the 195 capitalist countries of the world. There is no “international community” only a world divided into competing nation states. Take Ireland, to steal a march on its rivals it has a far lower corporation tax to attract capitalists to its country. Russia asserts pressure on adjoining countries with its control of gas supplies. A cabal of victorious governments at the UN assert their will on weaker countries and so on. To believe, like the Labour government once believed, that a government could and should have an “ethical policy” is just fantasy politics.
Marx and Engels set the scene in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO when they wrote:
“…the bourgeoisie finds itself in constant battle at all times with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries”
So why does capitalism cause conflict among all these countries?
The simple reason is that the capitalist class in all countries are in conflict with each other. You have to start with the way in which capitalist countries came into existence. Marx and Engels called it “Political centralisation”
This is how they put it:
“The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier and one customs-tariff” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO).
A capitalist country when it establishes itself tries to bring into its orbit large exploitable populations, raw resources, access to food and an easily defended frontier. All the other capitalist countries try to do the same some more successfully than others.
The process of the development of the nation state can be seen in the history of the 19th century particularly with the unification of states to create Italy and Germany. The reverse also takes place with the dissolution Empires as in the case of India and Russia in the 20th century where India broke up into three separate counties; India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and with the break-up of the Soviet Union the Russian Federation and a myriad of other sovereign countries including Georgia were formed.
Wars often take place when countries form themselves into separate nation states. This was the case with Yugoslavia which broke up into warring countries with its attendant civil wars and genocide. Some conflicts are going on in established nation states like the nationalist struggle of the Basque province in Spain where a nationalist ruling class wants independence. Similarly there is a national movement in Kashmir and Sri Lanka. There was a recent attempt by French speaking Canadians in Quebec to form an independent State. Then there are the Kurds spread over a number of countries who want their own nation state. However, as soon as these states are formed the conflict continues.
The conflict within and between nation states arise out of their capitalist character. They all represent class social systems of exploitation in which class relations and the class struggle dominate. All capitalist countries are committed to the production of commodities for sale for profit. They all have a price system, a wages system and employers and employees. These countries have a working class employed for wages and salaries who do not own the means of production and distribution which includes factories, communication and transport systems and distribution points like warehouses and so on. The means of production are owned by the exploiting class. The working class produce all the social wealth but do not own the means of production nor do they own the products of their labour.
And in all countries of the world you get inequalities of wealth. This applied to countries like Russia which misleading claimed it was “Socialist”. Soon after the Bolsheviks came to power Lenin put into practice the policy that everyone should be paid the same. However, as Marx pointed out, you cannot run capitalism on that basis.
Marx stated that:
“The cry for an equality of wages rests, therefore, upon a mistake, is an insane wish never fulfilled…Upon the basis of the wages system the value of labouring power is settled like that of every other commodity; and as different kinds of labouring power have different values, or require different quantities of labour for their production, they must fetch different prices in the labour market. To clamour for equal or even equitable retribution on the basis of the wages system is the same as to clamour for freedom on the basis of the slavery system”
(WAGES, PRICE AND PROFIT, Selected Works Vol. 1 p. 426).
After a year Lenin had to drop the policy and revert to what had existed previously.
With regards inequality in Britain some 35 years ago in 1976 the Labour Government commissioned a comprehensive study of the ownership of wealth. The study has never been replicated. The Royal Commission of Income ascertained that the total accumulated wealth of the UK. 1% of the adult population owned 25% of all accumulated wealth. 55% of the adult population owned 50% of all accumulated wealth. And the top 20% owned 855 of all accumulated wealth. The poorest 80% were left with 15% of that total. It is to protect this privilege class position that armed forces are set up to protect property owners from their own working class and from foreign capitalists. Each government in the world has to tackle the same fundamental issue.
The problem of raw resources is a particular problem all governments have to face. If the raw resources are not within their own frontier governments have to secure them either by trade or force which usually means war. Wars today are usually fought over oil and gas supplies, mineral reserves and even access to water.
Some Fallacious Economic Theories about the Cause of War.
There are a number of fallacious theories about the cause of war, none of which are Marxist.
The first one is the simplest to deal with.
There are those who say that capitalists have to export what they produce because there is insufficient purchasing power in the home market, so commodities have to be exported and someone forced to buy them.
The theory is easily refuted.
In 1986 British capitalism exported £78,000 billion (£53,000 billion in 2009) of exports to other countries. The theory leads us to believe that capitalists had to export this £78,000 bn of exports because no one in the UK could buy them.
However, it raises the following question.
Who was it in the UK who bought £85,000 bn of imports in 1986 (71,000 billion in 2009)? Who bought them in and how did importers find anyone to buy them? Since, according to the theory, every country lacks purchasing power to who were these £78,000 bn of exports sold to?
According to the theory all the 195 countries have no purchasing power they are all exporting with no one to buy these exports because they cannot find people to buy these commodities at home.
The US and Russia only export about 10% of their total production, for the UK it is 30% and for some other countries more than 30%. Do we suppose that the US with its greater production power than the UK is affected more by selling to its home market? The theory just does not make sense.
This theory first made its appearance in J. M. Keynes’s GENERAL THEORY published in 1936. From 1944 to the 1970’s the Tories, Labour and the Liberals were all staunch supporters of Keynes and committed Keynesians.
It was Keynes who put forward the above theory as an economic cause of war. However, not one politician or advocate of Keynes makes reference to the theory. This is odd given that Keynes was and is still held in high esteem. All we can do is offer the feeble explanation the theory deserves that since the theory was set out in the last chapter of Keynes’s book his supports never got there and it remained unread. They were perhaps more interested in what he wrote in other chapters.
This is what Keynes’s said. He said that the chief economic cause of war was lack of purchasing power in the home market caused by government financial policy. If the government adopted the right financial policy, so Keynes believed, there would be no more wars.
What Keynes wanted was the government to ensure through fiscal policies there was no unemployment and that all workers were earning wages. This would allow workers to buy all the commodities produced by capitalists in Britain. Capitalists would not be under pressure to export commodities and there would therefore be no conflict with other foreign capitalists.
This economic theory of war put forward by Keynes is nonsense.
Governments cannot stop the trade crisis by creating jobs and ensuring full employment. No government has ever abolished unemployment. Governments have masked unemployment as in Russia under the Bolsheviks or conscripted workers into the armed forces as Hitler did in Germany in the late 1930’s. What no government can do is create full employment and end the trade cycle.
Capitalism, as Marx showed, goes through a continuous trade cycle; it move through a period of expansion with high levels of employment and rising wages; then an economic crisis followed by a trade depression in which unemployment rises and then an up-turn once capitalists believe they can make a profit again.
Governments cannot do anything about the trade cycle and periodic periods of high unemployment. So as far from a practical point of view to abolishing war the theory has no basis.
In fact Keynes met the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt when Roosevelt was introducing the New deal in the US and Roosevelt was persuaded to apply Keynesian policies to the US economy. Six years after Roosevelt came into power the unemployment rate was 19%. So the Keynesian theory was wrong.
The final argument against this theory is that under capitalism there can be no deficiency of purchasing power. The combined incomes of workers, the self-employed and the capitalists all have sufficient purchasing power to buy what is in the market. Marx dealt with this in the case of simple and expanded reproduction in CAPITAL VOLUME II, (chapters 20 and 21, Penguin ed. 1992)
Of course you have to understand what purchasing power means –if you have money you have the power to purchase a commodity, but as Marx pointed out, just because the capitalist class, say, have the power to purchase something they do not have to.
Marx explained why in the first volume of CAPITAL when he dealt with what was called “Say’s Law” named after the French economist J. B. Say. Say said that there was a law of capitalism that every seller brings a buyer to the market. This would leave capitalism in equilibrium and harmony; every capitalist who has got money can rush out and buy some more commodities and the person who he has bought from can do the same. Capitalism would then have steady growth and there would be no more “boom and bust”.
What Marx said was this: although a capitalist might have money and go on to buy more commodities he may choose not to do so. If enough capitalists choose not to buy and the time difference is too great there will be a crisis and subsequent trade depression with high levels of unemployment.
The reason why the capitalists who have got the power to purchase commodities choose not to do so is that they cannot see any profit in it. They create cash mountains choosing to invest their capital in government bonds, property, gold, paintings and finance. Why should capitalists want to borrow from the banks in a depression when they can lend them money? This is the answer to those who say if the banks lent to industry production would start moving again.
Marx pointed this out nearly 150 years ago. So this is what can be said about the present 2.45 million unemployed. If and when capitalists see an up-turn in the market they will start employing workers again. But it will not happen until then and there is nothing governments can do about it. Depressions take their own course.
Another problem in Keynes’s theory is that there is just as great pressure to import commodities as there is to export them. J. M. Keynes failed to see this because he was obsessed with this notion of shortage of purchasing power.
But if a country needs raw resources and so on it has to pay for them with exports. Initially the pressure on the government is to get the imports it needs and pay for them eventually by exports or it has to use force by colonisation, annexation or war. It was Engels who pointed out that it was the search for gold that led the Portuguese to Africa. It was not the issue of exports but imports which led to the conquest by Britain of India.
Keynes also forgot that the capitalist class are always divided by most issues. Some capitalists want inflation, others deflation and some a stable currency. Likewise with importers and exports; importers like a high foreign exchange rate and the exporters like a low exchange rate. If the exchange rate of say £1 = $1 went up to £1 = $2 the imports from the US would be twice as cheap. It would be good for the import capitalists but devastating for the export capitalists. And if the exchange rate went from £1 = $1 to £1 to 50 cents it would help the exporting capitalists at the expense of the importing capitalists.
In 1986 the Bank of England bought $4000 bn in order to keep the value of the pound up. This was good news for the importing capitalists but bad news for the exporting capitalists who wanted the exchange rate to come down. The CBI leadership at their conference in 1986 supported the export capitalists and urged for the exchange rate to come down and passed a resolution to this effect. However, the delegates at the conference turned it down and the CBI was forced to reverse its decision to lobby the government to lower the foreign exchange rate of the pound. Fourteen years later the reverse is true; the government wants a low pound to help the export capitalists although there are other countries like the US also trying to devalue their currency to help their own export capitalists.
This is capitalism behaving naturally; conflict at the heart of different interests within the capitalist class. And this conflict also extends to war. Take the example of the period between the start of the French Revolution in 1789 and the end of the Napoleonic War in 1815. In Henry de B Gibbins INDUSTRIAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND (1890) he cited the example of the merchants and factory owners who wanted war with France and Pitt was forced into action against the government’s interests which were at that time in favour of agricultural interests.
“…Pitt was forced into action by the capitalists, who now were equal with the land-owners as the two ruling powers of England” p. 172 Period V Ch. 3 Wars, Politics and Industry).
The interest of the capitalists was to see France ruined while the landed property interests were against the French revolution and the rise of the bourgeoisie there.
The Crimean War was a different. Here the manufacturers and the merchants did not want a war but the politicians wanted the war to prevent Russia moving south a case of the executive of the capitalist class overriding the interests of individual capitalists. The government wanted to hold Russia in check because the Russians wanted to break-up Turkey and get control of the Dardanelles and the Mediterranean.
The Boar War was also unpopular with the capitalist class and politicians like Lloyd George carried out virulent campaign against participation in the war. He based his attack firstly on what were supposed to be the war aims – remedying the grievances of the migrant workers and in particular the claim that they were wrongly denied the right to vote, saying "I do not believe the war has any connection with the franchise. It is a question of 45% dividends”
At the outbreak of the First World War half the cabinet were opposed to the war and it was the group around Winston Churchill with interests in securing the Empire who wanted war with Germany. He took a longer term view of the interests of the capitalist class as a whole.
Although Lenin did more harm to the advancement of Socialism than anyone else he did make a useful comment about war. He said that the world was divided into two types of bandits; fat and satiated bandits and hungry thin bandits. As a description of world capitalism it is quite good.
In 1914 Britain was no longer at war with Russia but formed a triple alliance along with France against Germany. Russia wanted to be in this alliance because it could see the Berlin to Baghdad Railway would give Middle East oil to Germany It would give Germany access into the Dardanelles and bottle-up Russia in the Black Sea.
Britain and France had already formed an alliance against Germany with the signing of the Entente Cordial in 1904. However Joseph Chamberlain, the Tory leader, along with Cecil Rhodes had a different plan; they did not want British capitalism to become an ally of the French. Instead they wanted to align British capitalism with Germany against France and then bring in the US into a triple alliance. Chamberlain said that with such an alliance “We could impose peace on the world”. In fact war took place in 1914 between Britain and France against Germany with the US joining against Germany a few years later in 1917.
Earlier on mention was made of the war between Britain and the Zulus. This brings us on to the Boar war which followed. In 1886 there was the discovery of gold fields resulting in a flood of immigrants, some 100,000, in a few years mainly from Britain, Australia and New Zealand. The Boars did not want to give the immigrants any political rights particularly voting rights. The conflict between the British Government and the Boars was dressed up as one about democracy but it was at heart a conflict over the gold fields of the Rand.
Similar disputes existed elsewhere in the world.
France and Germany had a history of conflict over the region of Alsace-Lorraine. There were wars in 1870, 1914 and 1940 principally because the region was rich in iron ore and was needed for the rapid development of their respective iron and steel industries.
The Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was over the need to secure oil, gas and copper deposits.
The need for raw resources as a cause of war in capitalism is a far more valid and rational explanation than the one given by governments about defending “democracy” and the need to see off “evil tyrants”.
There are two other popular economic fallacies for the cause of war.
The first argues that the capitalist class has a very high interest in war. There is of course some element of truth in this but only some. However the holders of this theory state it is because the capitalists make a profit by producing armaments. And it is true that some capitalists make a high degree of profit in producing armaments.
But the capitalist class has a vested interest in avoiding war and for a very good reason; and that is because the financial cost of the war falls onto the capitalist class. In war it is the property of the capitalist class which is destroyed.
The statistician, Professor Bowley noted that the wealth and property of the capitalist class in Britain came down between 1914 and 1924. They lost property and foreign investments.
Theoretically old fat bandits do not want war but capitalism will not let them rest. There is always some expanding capitalist nation like Germany in 1914 taking a chance on winning the war and getting out of it rewards like territory rich in ore, oil, gas or whatever.
Another theory for the economic cause of war is that war could be run at no cost because the victors would make the losers pay in repatriations. Lloyd George used to go around the country from 1914 onwards stating that they should hang the Kaiser and make Germany pay for the war. Both did not occur. After the war with Germany the initial sum agreed upon for war damages in 1919 was 226 billion Reichsmarks, later reduced to 132 billion. In sterling at the time, this was the equivalent of £22bn. The reparations were finally paid off in 2010. In between there was another world war after which the US gave loans to West Germany to build its industries.
However only a fraction of the money for reparations went to Britain whose own ruling class had to carry the burden of the war’s cost. And money was lent to the Weimar Republic by the US, Britain and France to stop it collapsing into anarchy much as the US did to West Germany and Japan after the Second World War. In 1945 a divided and defeated Germany was in no position to pay reparations and Britain had to obtain sizable loans from the US, one of the last affairs J.M. Keynes arranged before he died in 1946. The cost of war is so great t that this explanation can be ruled out.
Finally there is the fallacy that capitalist countries go to war to escape a depression. Those who take this view argue that governments go to war to distract the workers’ attention from the economic problems at home. Again there is a small element of truth. In the Second Labour government Snowdon made violent speeches accusing various European countries of greed but it came to no actual conflict.
Again there is the question of the Falkland War. Leopoldo Galtier and his Junta had problems in Argentina and as a diversion invaded the Falklands expecting no war. Argentina was going through an economic crisis and there was growing unrest against the military junta. Throughout 1981, Argentina saw inflation climb to over 600%, GDP went down to 11.4%, manufacturing output was down to 22.9% and real wages fell by 19.2%. If Galtieri thought the invasion would turn attention away from domestic problems he misjudged the situation because the British government, who had been in dispute with Argentina over the Falkland Islands since the early 19th century, had seen the Falklands as a strategic outpost worth defending. In the end the Junta in Argentina collapsed shortly after Britain regained the Falkland Islands.
As an explanation of the cause of war the theory does not hold water. There was no depression before 1914 or 1939 in Britain but war still took place. The Labour government in 1950 went to war with North Korea at a time when there was not only no depression but there had been 5 year’s shortage of labour and unemployment relatively low. The Labour government under Blair went to war with Afghanistan and then Iraq during an economic boom.
Disarmament under Capitalism?
What chance has capitalism got to disarm? None whatsoever.
The first Peace Conference was held in Vienna 1815 by the victorious powers that had defeated Napoleon. They tried to ensure peace by trying to re-establish the old order throughout Europe before the French Revolution. It was a wholly conservative policy swept away by the Revolutions of 1848 and the development of capitalist nation states at predicted by Marx and Engels in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.
Another attempt at disarmament at disarmament was initiated by Frederic Passey, a French economist and politician, whose aim was international peace. He believed that free trade would draw nations together in a common enterprise, which would lead to disarmament and the abandonment of war. He founded the first French Peace Society in 1867 but three years later Germany invaded France.
The problem with the free traders is that history has passed them by. Free trade was an impracticable idea and although capitalist politicians bow in its direction they act as practical politicians knowing that the world in which they have to function as the “executive of the bourgeoisie” requires force to secure raw resources, trade routes and spheres of influence. Capitalism is a social system in which the countries of the world are in effect ready for a war by having to constantly engage in armament production and periodic use of the armed forces. It is not possible to set the clock back or impose on capitalism utopian ideas of a world in which each country produces and exports to their strength.
In 1899 major capitalist countries agreed to a Peace Conference in The Hague. There has been a war in every year since they first met.
Then there is the failure of the League of Nations and the United Nations to prevent war. In fact the United Nations from the conflict in North Korea onwards has engaged in war. The United Nations is far from being united but is a form for power blocs and the strongest nation states to impose their will on weaker nation states.
A specious argument once used by the Labour Party was that if you voted for it at the general election when in power they would guarantee peace. Keir Hardie at the second Hague Peace Conference in 1907 claimed that disarmament would end poverty. In 1914 The Labour Party supported the War. The Labour Party went on to support war against Germany in 1939 plus several wars in between 1914 and 1939 as well as from 1945 including more recently the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To demonstrate what a sham the claim that the Labour Party is the party of peace, in June 1986 the Tory cut the defence budget by £280 million and Instead of applauding this action by the Tories the Labour opposition were violently against it.
There was a belief by Randolph Churchill in 1885 that the build-up of small armaments by capitalist countries would result in peace and he resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1886 when the Ministers at the head of the army and navy wanted to increase the budget for the armed forces. His son, Winston Church believed the opposite, that large scale re-armament would ensure peace which he actively pursued against Stanley Baldwin’s administration. Both Churchill’s were wrong. Whether countries have large or small armaments they all get involved in war. The Swiss had a small army but it did not stop them shooting down German aeroplanes which invaded their air space. Ironically their fighter planes had been bought from Germany. And it was only the way the war went against Hitler that prevented Germany invading Switzerland despite her supposed neutrality.
In fact disarmament conferences are not about disarmament but about saving money. This was one of the reasons given by the Tsar of Russia in setting up The Hague Peace Conference.
The 1899 Peace conference in The Hague passed a number of resolutions to prevent war; only one held and that was preventing countries dropping bombs out of balloons; 15 years later they were being dropped by aeroplanes over Polish British, French, Russian and German cities.
The Failure of CND
What of The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) that claims that it has a special case because the nuclear bomb threatens human existence itself? Well its objective to remove nuclear weapons from capitalism has been a total failure. Far more countries have got nuclear weapons than in 1958 and they have become more destructive.
CND began in 1958 from the flawed premise that if Britain did not have nuclear weapons it would not be attacked. It is a curious idea that a country only gets attacked if they threaten some other country. All capitalist states are out for raw resources; if a country is weakly armed and has reserves of plutonium another country wants it will leave itself open to be invaded.
CND conveniently forget that when the US dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that Japan at the time had no nuclear weapons. However, Japan was working on producing the atom bomb as were the Germans but lacked the technology to go beyond laboratory experimentation. If Japan had produced the atom bomb in 1945 they could turn round; as Iran and North Korea want to do today –and say to the US and Britain that if you attack us we will use the atomic bomb on New York or London.
CND are unlike other peace organisations in that they are not against war itself. In 1985 they had a Christian non-pacifist as Chairman. And what of conventional wars? Counties that had weapons of mass destruction used them against other countries with terrifying consequences; take World War One which was a war with no nuclear weapons; 8.5 million were killed and 21 million were wounded. When the Germans attacked Russia in 1941 more people were killed by conventional weapons at Stalingrad than the entire populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 put together.
CND are misleading workers in this particular argument. Peace movements who argue that war can be removed from capitalism but still support the capitalist system find themselves in an irreconcilable contradiction. CND is made up of members from the Liberals, Tories and Labour –all supporters of capitalism –if they are supporters of capitalism, despite their good intentions they will not get rid of war.
There can never be a peaceful capitalist country. And changing names also changes nothing; the old buildings in Whitehall still have the legend Ministry of War and The War Department because they are listed buildings and the words cannot be obliterated even though these ministries are now referred to as the Ministry of Defence. Nevertheless the function of the Ministry has not changed with its name.
Only the Establishment of Socialism can end war
This brings us on to the policy of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
The SPGB has been consistently opposed to capitalism’s wars on the grounds that workers’ interests are not served by capitalism’s wars.
The SPGB opposed both the First and Second World Wars on the grounds that they had nothing to do with the interest of the working class. Two Manifestoes were published setting out the Socialist position on both wars; the first was published in the Party’s official journal the Socialist Standard in September 1914, and the second in the issue for October, 1939.
As we stated in the pamphlet “THE SOCIALIST PARTY AND WAR”
“These statements not only expressed the S.P.G.B.’s attitude to the wars now past. The principles behind them endure and the statements represent the Party’s attitude to wars that may arise in the future” (p. 75 1950).
The capitalist class and their politicians use the armed forces for their own purpose and not in the interest of the working class.
As Benjamin Franklin once said;
“There was never a good war or bad peace” (Letter to Josiah Quincy 1783 Wiki-quotes)
The SPGB never supposed that you can stop war by merely opposing war. It has always been the Party’s case that to get rid of capitalism’s wars the working class has got to get rid of capitalism.
Throughout the SPGB’s history it has seen capitalist states presenting different types of faces; imperialist and anti-imperialist, monarchists and republics, all varieties of Christian religion, Islam, Hindu and Buddhist, even atheist.
There have been those countries which have claimed to be “Socialist” but they were nothing more than capitalist countries with an exploitive wages system, ruling class and armed forces no different to other capitalist countries ready to use force to protect the interests of a privileged minority; internally against their working class and externally against other capitalist countries.
The free traders believe that free trade would bring permanent peace; it hasn’t any more than protectionism has.
The League of Nations and the UN have both failed to prevent war.
There is only one thing which has not been tried. There has never been socialism in the world. With socialism there will not be any more war; there will be no armed forces for the propertied class to protect its property; there would not be production for sale and profit; no markets; there would be no need to protect raw resources, trade routes and spheres of influence; the world would not be divided into separate capitalist nations fighting each other; there would not be government exploiting different languages and religions and there will be no conflict capitalists and workers because there will be no profit system and an exploiting capitalist class.
Socialism will be organised world-wide on the basis of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society. Production would be solely and directly for use. The function of production would be to make goods available to all society. There would be free access.
To achieve socialism requires foremost, the winning over of the working class to an understanding and acceptance of the socialist case. It is a socialist principle that you cannot contemplate socialism being run except by socialists.
Socialism is not possible until a socialist majority democratically gain control of the machinery of government and the means of production. A socialist working class have got to take conscious political action within a principled socialist party to get democratic control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces.
This means a socialist majority has to gain control of parliament and Local Councils. This is the only way for the capitalist class to be disposed and establishment of socialism. And in ridding the world of war and conflict: “Socialism will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race and sex” (Clause 4 DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES OF THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN. 1904).
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.