1940s >> 1947 >> no-515-july-1947

Book Review: “The Anatomy of Peace”

A very major war is followed by a spate of declarations and statements relating to its cause and purporting to provide for its future prevention. Such a book is the “Anatomy of Peace” by Emery Reves. It has been a great success in America and will probably be so in this country, particularly as it has been published in a cheap form. (Penguin books, 1s.)


The book is a restatement of World Federalism, an idea popular to-day with various political groups, notably those who are not faced with the actual task of administering the affairs of Capitalism.


After discussing at some length Capitalism, Socialism and Religion in the light of their relation to the problem of war and peace, Reves concludes that they have failed, and then proceeds to give a fairly adequate statement of the nature of war and peace from the Federalist standpoint.


The essence of the doctrine is stated in two propositions : (i) “War between groups of men forming social units always, takes place when those units—-tribes, dynasties, church, cities, nations—exercise unrestricted sovereign power; (ii)”War between these social units ceases the moment sovereign power is transferred from them to a larger or higher unit” (page 110). This is followed by the axiom “War takes place whenever and wherever non-integrated social units of equal sovereignty come into contact” (page 111).


To some extent the idea is a measure of the failure of previous attempts to solve the problem of world war, for as each succeeding war increases in intensity and in the area affected so the plans and schemes for its future prevention become more and more drastic.


After the first World War a League of Nations is thought to be the panacea, but it fails. The second World War sees the rise of the Federalist idea, revolutionary to the extent that it requires the surrender of National Sovereignty. A proposition certainly unacceptable to the world of 1919-1939.


Experience shows that political ideas often precede the necessary economic preconditions of their realisation, and this is an observation which is particularly apposite to such a book as the “Anatomy of Peace.” For whilst, superficially and as stated syllogistically by Reves, the fundamental propositions of World Federalism seem to be logical and require only the acceptance of humanity for their realisation, there is one all important factor which reduces the ideal to impotency. It is the factor of Capitalism, and for an illustration of the basic fallacy of Federalism Reves need not have gone further than the history of his own country America.


In 1861 America was engulfed in a civil war over, in its immediate aspects, the rights of the southern states to secede from the higher federal unit, the United States. Now that in itself knocks the ground from beneath Reves’ feet, for here is a case of a war between two groups existing within the orbit of a higher or larger unit. But why did this war take place? What force was at work which made nonsense of this principal of the “higher unit”? It was the force of economic conflict between two rival Capitalist groups, one exploiting slave labour, the other exploiting the seemingly expensive free wage labour.


If Reves says he is concerned only with wars between sovereign states, then he must explain the phenomena of sovereign states changing their line-up in different wars. 1914-1918 found America and Japan allies. 1939-1945 finds them enemies. Why? The factor of contact obviously has no bearing on this question of alignment.


Reves attaches great importance to the factor of “contact” between sovereign states, and yet he again appears to be unable to learn from the history of his own country. For since the time of Napoleon America has never been at war with Canada, yet they enjoy geographical, political and economic contact. Common economic interests have made the pursuit of war unnecessary and pointless, and this condition precludes many other contacting sovereign states from engaging in war.


Were it not for the chapters on Capitalism and Socialism the book would not deserve the attention of the Socialist movement, for there is nothing new in it, but there is much in these chapters which requires consideration and discussion.


He states that Capitalism has failed to produce freedom, and whilst it would be possible to quarrel with Reves’ idea of freedom it is not really necessary to the argument. What is important, however, is the idea that the purpose and function of Capitalism is to provide freedom. He sees Capitalism not as a system which has developed along inevitable lines, but as a system resulting from some preconceived set of principles which have been set into motion, one of them being universal freedom. He says for instance, “The purpose of mechanical industrial economy is maximum production of consumer goods” (page 45). This statement implies a motive for production guided by no other consideration than the satisfaction of human needs. If this were so, then the deliberate destruction of foods, the shelving of labour-saving devices, lockouts, cartels and any other of the restrictive practices of Capitalism would not occur. It is a half-truth. Maximum production is the motive of Capitalist production only provided it is compatible with maximum profit This is partially recognised when he says, “High tariff walls, export subsidies, exchange manipulations, dumping, cartels, the artificial creation of industries through government financing, etc., have completely distorted the free play of economic forces as understood by the classical theorists of the early 19th century”‘ (page 51).


Further he states the dominating motive of all economic activity outside existing national boundaries to be the determination to strengthen by all means the economic power of the nation states. Reves does not explain how or why the nation states are strengthened by external economic activity.


In the chapter “The failure of Socialism ’ Reves displays even less understanding. His confusion is shown most clearly when he is discussing the problem of Russia (it is notable that he does not distinguish between Socialism and the Bolshevist system). The following quotations will suffice to demonstrate his confusion :


  “Twenty years after the creation of the first Communist state based upon the principles of Marx, Engels and Lenin . . .” (page 66).
“To state that Russia’s development in the first 25 years of the Soviet regime has virtually nothing to do with Socialism and Communism is not to be interpreted as disparaging the positive achievements of the Soviet government . . . ” (page 67).
“Only in Russia has the Communist system been established . . . ” (page 88).


It is not surprising that he finds little difference between freedom, foreign policy and methods in Russia and elsewhere. Had he read Engel’s “Anti-Duhring” with greater care (he quotes from this book when dealing with the question of the State) he would never have fallen into the common error of supposing that state ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution is Socialism. State Capitalism, for that is the most suitable term for such a system, means wage-slavery; production for sale and profit; coercion by poverty; money; investments, in fact all the paraphernalia of Capitalism, often with the absence of political freedom.


In this chapter Reves is mainly concerned with the question of Socialism and the State, and, not unsuccessfully, he shows the divergence between the theoretical principles of Marxism on this issue and the actual course of events in Russia.


Strangely enough the development of the Russian social system displays once again the accuracy of Marx’s observation on the time lag between the idea and the conditions of its realisation.


Since Feudal Russia of pre 1917 had no virile bourgeois groups capable of assuming the role of harbingers of the Industrial Revolution, the revolutionary movement took on a predominantly proletarian form. Strengthened theoretically by Marxism this group, the Bolshevists were successful in overthrowing the existing ruling class. However, as anticipated by the S.P.G.B., the Bolshevists having achieved power were forced by the prevailing economic conditions to throw overboard most of the ideas of the nature of the Socialist revolution and its eventual development, and resort to the usual practices and methods required to administer the affairs of a class society. Since then their international propaganda machine has devoted most of its energies and resources to explaining away, by doubtful “dialectics,” this apparently contradictory development


We repeat, the preconditions of Socialism were not present in Russia in 1917 and the economic and political trends since that time have justified our original analysis, based upon the understanding of Marxist principles.


Reves’ criticism of Socialism from the theoretical standpoint can be reduced to two main arguments: (i) That the state is not the instrument of class oppression, 14 freedom,” he says, 44 is exclusively the product of the state ” (page 65), and (ii) that the common ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth is a fallacy insofar as it is claimed to promote the wellbeing of society.


He sees the state behaving as a policeman in civil society, settling the internal disputes of the nation, affording protection to the weak against the advances of the powerful and ruthless. Yet he also sees the nation states promoting terrible conflicts between themselves, oppressing and ravaging. The dual character of the state mystifies him. He does not see that the external affairs of the state are but the extension of those very internal practices which he admires so much. The state does perform certain humane functions within its domestic province, but in the main the motive is the maintenance of the fundamental status-quo. It reforms, it adjusts certain anomalies of the social order, but only to placate the increasing temper of the offended. To summarise our position, “The state is the public power of coercion. It makes and administers the laws, and it does so in the interests of the class which is economically supreme at the different epochs.”


The recent development of state power has mesmerised some into imagining that it is a self-motivated organism, beyond the control of any human group, a passionless machine. It is not. As any other social instrument it. is subject to human control, its forms of behaviour are determined by the group controlling it, and in modern society it acts in the interests of the Capitalist class whether controlled by avowedly Capitalist or alleged Labour parties.


On the question of ownership Reves uses the usual arguments that the diffusion of ownership in modern Capitalist society is so great that “it is managed more or less as a Socialist or state owned enterprise” (page 55). We do not quarrel with the idea that the relationships between owners and employees under state owned and privately owned industries are the same. But we do reject the notion that Socialist production can ever produce the same social relationships as Capitalist production. The reasons are obvious. Capitalist production is production for profit, and whether ownership of a particular concern is widely diffused or is in the hands of a small group, the motive is the same.


In any case, recent surveys of the distribution of Capitalist holdings, in America for instance, have shown that this wide diffusion of capital is a myth, and that the great bulk of capital is still in the hands of a numerically insignificant minority.


Reves’ proposition that if the total annual world production was divided equally among the members of the entire human race the result would be poverty is probably true. He also says: “In spite of our pride in the miraculous industrial achievements of the U.S., England, France and Russia, our production lags miserably behind existing scientific and technical potentialities” (page 57).


Reves, probably unknowingly, has hit upon one profound objection that the Socialist movement has against the Capitalist system. Capitalism we say has served its historical purpose, it has shown the way by mass production and the division of labour to potential plenty. To-day huge areas such as China and India stagnate and corrode. Great masses of society fritter away their energies pursuing tasks which in a rational society such as Socialism would be regarded as socially unnecessary and accordingly eradicated. The “not enough to go round anyway” idea is a malthusian throwback and would not concern a society properly organised for maximum production for maximum satisfaction of human needs.


In conclusion we say again if the working class dissipate their political energies by pursuing plans and schemes calculated to solve the problem of war by adjusting the political relationships of nation states, then they will be faced in the future with more war and all the horror and tragedy it brings. War is a product of Capitalist society and its conflicts, and the solution lies in the abolition of this system and its replacement by Socialism; there is no other way.

J. L.