The Meaning of Disarmament

Among the numerous claims and promises made by the various parties in the recent election those relating to peace and dis­armament held a prominent place. During the last War, representatives of the Liberal, Labour and Tory parties held office in coalition and assumed responsi­bility for making the machinery of warfare as efficient as possible. They now have just sufficient contempt for the memories and intelligence of their supporters to ask them to trust them to see that there is no more war.

The emptiness of their claims and promises, however, is enhanced by recent developments in the art of warfare. The aeroplane and the chemical factory threaten to render all previous weapons obsolete. In the issue of “International Concilia­tion” for March, 1929 (Carnegie Endow­ment, 44, Portland St., Worcs., Mass., U.S.A.), sufficient evidence is provided to show that even the wholesale scrapping of armies and navies, as hitherto under­ stood, along with tanks, battleships and other special forms of armament, would still leave in the hands of the master-class means of destruction more deadly than any yet developed. This particular issue is entitled, “Chemical Warfare—its Pos­sibilities and Probabilities,” and treats the whole subject historically and scientifically with a minimum of sentiment and an entire absence of sensationalism. The authorities for statements made are, in the main, responsible chemical and military experts, with no obvious axe to grind in scaring the populations of the world at large.

Chemical methods of attack and defence are not in themselves new. Stink bombs were used in the Middle Ages and were apparently such terrible things that an Aus­trian chemist suggested that “Christians should only use them against Turks and unbelievers.” Even the Greeks used pots of pitch and sulphur for smoking out their enemies. Modern science and the development of Capitalist industry have, however, increased the effectiveness of this arm beyond recognition. In fact, it is (ironic­ally enough) upon the basis of the tragic experiences of the workers engaged in the mining and chemical industries that the knowledge of the war-time value of certain gases has been established; and it was the advanced state of these industries in Germany (not some peculiar Hunnishness) which enabled and impelled the German military command to use this knowledge. Needless to add that, in spite of Hague Conventions, the Allies were not slow in imitation.

It is this close relationship between chemical warfare and normal peace-time industry, coupled with the slight distinc­tion between a commercial aeroplane and one adapted to military requirements, which reduces all talk of disarmament under Capitalism to sheer childish prattle. According to Brigadier-General Lord Thomson, Air Minister in the British Government:—

The next war will be fought in the air, it will consist of aeroplane raids above the great cities, and the primary attack will be against civilians, including women and children.

Against these incendiary, explosive and poison gas bombs will be used. No defence that has as yet been devised will prevent the death of thousands of persons in any city thus attacked, and the organised life of any great metropolitan centre would be brought to a standstill for days and weeks. (p. 130.)


During December, 1928, Dr. Hilton Ira Jones announced, in Chicago, the dis­covery of a new poison more deadly than any heretofore known, called cacodylisacyanide.

War, he said, will never again be fought with shot and shell. It is so much cheaper to destroy life wholesale with this new gas. It may be manufactured at the rate of thousands of tons a day, and it costs much less than powder and cannon—yet it will destroy armies more quickly and effectively. (p. 140.)

In face of these developments, the workers may well ask themselves what safeguards they possess from the potential horrors of another war. So far, none of the Governments have proposed the aboli­tion of chemical factories and aeroplanes, and judging by past experiences, their scraps of paper hold good only so long as it suits the convenience of the contracting parties to observe their provisions.

The author of the pamphlet goes so far as to make the statement on page 125, that, “Statesmen will always be power­less unless the people are awakened.” She has not yet grasped the simple fact that the reverse is true, i.e., that the power of “statesmen” rests upon the political ignorance and passivity of the major por­tion of the “people,” the working class.

Warfare is in fact the supreme ex­pression of the power of the modern State, and only when the workers conquer that power can they hope to put an end to warfare.

It is just here, at the crucial point, that the pamphlet fails. The author appreciates and emphasises the fact that technical disarmament is impossible in any complete sense, e.g., “the very fundamentals of our civilisation—coal, salt, air, etc., can produce poison gases” (p. 181), but can only suggest “the peaceful settlement of international disputes” (p. 189). She never attempts to deal with the causes of these disputes, or show how they are capable of peaceful settlement.

Modern states exist because of the con­flict of interests in modern society. This conflict is due to the capitalist ownership of the economic resources of society. The international capitalist class is divided into competing groups endeavouring to secure control of the raw materials, trade routes and markets of the world. The most powerful of these groups use the machinery of the various States as weapons in the struggle. Two factors enable them to do this : their control of the States in question, backed up by the unconscious political sup­port of the workers in the various countries.

It is not only in conflict with each other, however, that the capitalist groups are pre­ pared to use lethal weapons. In all these conflicts they sacrifice the lives of the workers, and it is against the workers in the last resort that the modern States are armed.

The workers are a propertyless class, and constitute a standing menace to the security of property.

The State is the guardian of the interests of property against the producers.

Among the “peace-time” uses of poison gases the author mentions the following : “Tear gases, such as chloracetophenone, can be used on mobs, escaping jailbirds and other trouble-stirring individuals” (p. 180), thus clearly recognising that it is against its own subjects, as well as against external enemies, that the State needs arms.

The solution of the conflict lies not with an amorphous “people” but with a working-class, organised to emancipate itself, internationally. In the place of capitalism, with its economic chaos and political strife, it will establish a social order based upon the common ownership
of the means of life and their democratic control in the interests of a class-less community.

E. B.

(Socialist Standard, July 1929)

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