The “Waste” of Armaments


Some of the brethren have been rejoicing lately over certain statements anent “our” growing expenditure on “our” navy, and are elated because Liberal “statesmen” and others have promised to “overhaul our expenditure on armaments.” So much twaddle has been talked about spending “our” money that a little hard thinking on this much over-rated question becomes necessary.

I say a little thinking because it is easily seen that to restrict the expenditure on armaments would not ensure that the cash thus saved would flow into the pockets of the workers.

The champion of the European Unity League (an international organisation existing in Piccadilly), one Sir Max Waechter, D.L., J.P., informs us through the daily Press that “the British Empire spends on her army and navy about £100,000,000 per year,” and that “approximately 500,000 white officers and men are kept under arms.” “If,” says Sir Max, “we estimate again that these could on an average earn about £100 a year, we find that the preservation of peace costs us about £150,000 annually.”

“With this amount,” the gallant knight goes on, “we could rapidly abolish the slums, rebuild our towns, resettle the country, improve education, and could vastly increase the prosperity of the people.”

Very vague, that term, “the people.” If the WORKING CLASS is meant, our D.L. etc. would find it somewhat difficult to persuade the masters who control this expenditure to spend it in the workers’ interest.

“Wages are higher in America and Australia,” says our peace advocate, “partly because wealth is not drained away by the mad race for armaments.” But is the American or Australian worker the better off for the increased money wage ? There are slums in the great cities of the United States, whilst unemployment and poverty are rampant in both countries. And if money wages are higher, so, too, is the cost of living.

In the usual language of the scare-mongers we are told that “the nations of Europe and European civilisation itself threaten to break down under the burden. The people are groaning nnd muttering. Dissatisfaction is spreading apace. The tension is rapidly approaching breaking point.” “The nations” are apparently contemplating “a great war” in order to avoid bankruptcy ; “European civilisation is in danger of being overwhelmed,” and so on.

True, indeed, is it that the workers of Europe are “groaning and muttering,” and so, too, are

the workers of America. The iron heel of capitalism falls as heavily and grinds as surely on one

continent as on the other. It grinds us cruelly in peace as in war, in “prosperous” times as in periods of “depression,” and the load of misery and toil that is saddled upon working-class backs is as heavy whether kept there with big armies and navies or with small ones.

The expenses of armaments falls not upon the workers. They are robbed of the wealth no matter whether it be spent on the “harem” of a Yankee millionaire or the armaments of a capitalist State. And if the predicted bankruptcy refers to the capitalist, how does the E.U.L. account for the fact that, while England’s yearly expenditure on armaments has increased by about 8 ½ millions in nine years, annual taxed incomes have grown by 283 millions in the same period ? Is this a sign of bankruptcy ?

And, Sir Max, if with this enormous increase of profits “slums” have not “been abolished, and towns rebuilt,” upon what sort of reasoning are we to suppose that the amount saved from ”bloated armaments” would be spent “to benefit suffering mankind by combating poverty and disease ” ?

Says Sir Max : “Peace is proving more costly than war . . . The nations of Europe are rushing into bankruptcy and revolution.” Expenditure on armaments is waste, and waste causes poverty ; yet while the E.U.L. is to stop all this, “every statesman, every soldier, and every patriot can join the League. He can be a member of the League and yet, without inconsistency, advocate the strengthening of Army and Navy.”

Queer logic, indeed !

Of course, the peace-loving Liberals are in the van, and with blatant effrontery the party largely responsible for the enormous naval increases, and who started Dreadnought building, are carrying out a programme of increased expenditure and at the same time rallying supporters to the standard of “Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform.” The explanation is easy. Home Rule is beginning to smell; the insurance swindle is in a state of decomposition, and the benefits to be derived from the nebulous land campaign are not visible to the naked eye.

As might be expected, that “Labour” daily, the “Daily Citisen,” is in full agreement with Lloyd George and what he describes as “the overwhelming extravagance of our expenditure on armaments.” They are also, no doubt, in full agreement with Sir John Brunner, President of the National Liberal Federation. The Labour crowd usually are very friendly with this owner of chemical hells. The last deal they made together did not come off. The Labour leaders backed the “Brunner Bill,” which was to introduce our children to the delights of the Brunner factory at a tenderer age. Now that Brunner has appealed to all Liberals and Liberal associations to “all who subscribe to that good old Liberal doctrine of Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform,” to pass resolutions calling for reduction in “our” navak expenditure, the Labour leaders, as good Liberals, will doubtless oblige.

And Brother George—what has he done that has so powerful an effect on these “independent” labourers ? He spent his Christmas at Criccieth, and during his few days of leisure “two subjects have been closely studied.” One subject to which he has given a passing thought is that little matter of the land, the other “is the armaments problem as it affects this country and the other great European powers.”

One would have thought that enough to occupy “a few days of leisure,” but our forceful Chancellor found time to “tramp over the Welsh hills and discuss very frankly to his visitors.”

And what did Brother George say ? Nothing very startling. He “thinks that it is the most favourable moment for us to overhaul our expenditure on armaments that has presented itself for at least twenty years ” ; that it seems to him “that we can afford just quietly to maintain the superiority we possess,” and that “if we maintain that standard no one can complain.”

Not much encouragement here to the possessors of the “good old Liberal doctrine.” When the good old shibboleth was enthusiastically preached the Liberals were out of office, since then, in office, they have increased the expenditure to such an extent that the “scare-monger Tories” turn green with envy. They were going to reduce expenditure on armaments ; now, after extending the bloated estimates (peace-loving George increased naval expenditure almost 50 per cent, during his term of office as Chancellor of the Exchequer), they will maintain the present standard (which means building two ships to somebody’s one), and this is hailed as a return to the “good old Liberal doctrine.” And to maintain an expenditure which is described as “organised insanity” is a policy that commends itself to P.S.A. Labourites.

But what is the cry of Brunner & Co. ? Do they want to abolish “our naval supremacy ” ? Are they keen on the abolition of a standing army trained to kill ? Is this an attempt to put into effect the instruction of “Gentle Jesus,” or do they want to save their pockets ?

Says George : “Some means of lightening the rates must form an essential part of the programme of both political parties in the immediate future,” as “the burden of the local rates are becoming more than the business men can bear.” And he continues, “the burden of the rates is interfering with our industry.” Sir John wants “to send a message of relief to British taxpayers.” They realise, of course, that all-round increase of armaments leaves none the stronger, and they want to stop it.

A fighting force ia necessary to capitalism, but it fliches some of the surplus and the profit-mongers roar. Bat what has this to do with the worker, who is supposed to be represented by the “Daily Citizen” and the Labour crowd?

Let the vote-catching Lib Labs preach armament reduction in the constituencies where the instruments of war are manufactured. There the working class voter knows that to reduce expenditure on armaments is to throw men out of work. The vast sums spent in the mad race to get warships afloat are waste, but waste means bread for those engaged in the production of the wealth which is wasted.

Mr. H. Samuel, speaking in Yorkshire, told us that “all expenditure on armaments is waste — as much waste as if the money were spent in employing men to dig a hole and employing others to fill it up again.”—(“Daily Chronicle,” 16.1.14.) Imagine how horrified the unemployed labourer would be to be paid for digging holes and filling them up again—at the expense of the rates, too!

One can understand the concern of the “business man,” who is “bearing the burden,” but why should the Labour crowd object ?

They ape the capitalist economist and prate of “useful work” for the unemployed, forgetting that if the work to be done is useful, and therefore necessary, the unemployed only get jobs at the expense of those who would otherwise do the work. The Salvation Army has shown the folly of “useful” work as a cure for unemployment. Booth & God employ broken carpenters at their “elevators,” pay starvation wages, and throw trade unionists out of work.

Abolish waste and the capitalist will have less expenditure to meet, i e., less wages to pay, and the worker, who lives by wages, will be worse off. Is this why the Labour tail of the Liberal dog is so ready to wag ?

Within this most absurd of foolish systems, waste is a blessing to many of the workers. True, expenditure on armaments is “organised insanity,” but the social order is neither sane nor inspiring. The greater part of our lives is wasted. It has been calculated that with modern machinery two hours of labour daily would suffice for the material wants of all. With the sane re-organisation of society such as the Socialist advocates, the elimination of waste would hurt none and would benefit all. For the saving of effort in the production of the social necessities would not mean “unemployment,” but either greater wealth, or more leisure.

It is only when class distinctions are swept away, when idle parasites have been wiped out and there is no slave class to be repressed and no robber class to repress them, that reduction of armaments can be accomplished. Until that day arrives—the day when the forces of war, controlled by an enlightened working class, will be used to abolish war and the instruments of war forever—the workers may accept the fact of increasing expenditure on. armaments with philosophic calmness, born of the knowledge that waste is at their masters’ expense, and from the workers’ point of view is good.


(Socialist Standard, March 1914)