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50 Years Ago: The Verdict of History

Millions of words will be published this month about the world's first Great War. Few of them will be complimentary.

Over the last fifty years the war has come under a detailed scrutiny. The official propaganda has been exposed as a mass of blatant lies. The leaders, worshipped at the time, have been shown up as incompetents. The motive behind the war has been pronounced as a naked economic struggle. The popular verdict seems to be that the war was a ghastly mistake, which would never have come about if the world had been run by cleverer, more humane leaders.

In the manner of historical fashion, this verdict may one day be modified, and men like the late Earl Haig become restored to favour. The millions of killed and wounded may be ennobled into heroes whose lives were not wasted, but who suffered for a worthy cause. Historians may decide for us that we should be grateful the war was fought.

But whatever historians may decide, whatever historical fashion may decree, facts are facts. And the facts of the First World War have not changed.

In the first place, it is true that the war was a stupid and futile business. War always is. But it was not a mistake.

Whatever incidental errors may contribute to its horror, war in the modern world does not happen by accident. If it did, then the massive armed forces which all countries always maintain are mistakes. Weapons—nuclear and otherwise—are mistakes.

In fact, all these things are quite logical, once we have accepted the basic condition of the existence of the capitalist social system. We live today in a world in which a minority own the means of producing and distributing wealth. This minority—the capitalist class—are always in competition among themselves for economic advantage.

They compete for markets and for fields of important raw materials and minerals. They anxiously guard the trade routes which connect them with their markets and material resources abroad.. They are always trying, with their economic conferences, their tariff walls, their international trading clubs, to protect what spheres of influence they have and to expand into others.

Here is the root of war.

(from editorial, Socialist Standard, August 1964)