The next war

Every time a war comes, it’s surprising. That doesn’t mean that the war, as such, is unpredictable—the Socialist Party of Great Britain has quite consistently predicted the wars that have happened since its inception—but simply that they aren’t quite the sort of war that’s expected. It always seems to be assumed that the next war will be much like the last, only bigger and better.

This assumption is usually wrong.

The 1914-18 war produced the first example of complete trench-warfare. Nobody expected that when the war began, and at first everyone was surprised, particularly the cavalry! As the war went on, both sides adapted themselves to the new situation. Trench warfare was accepted as the new norm.

When the 1939-45 war started, everyone was fully prepared—for trench warfare! The mightiest trenches ever constructed—the Maginot and Siegfried lines— were bristling with artillery, commodious and comfortable, well equipped with all the latest scientific devices. They were hardly used. The Blitzkreig had arrived on the scene. The enemy was advancing from behind, and the guns faced only forward! Everyone was surprised, particularly the fathers of the Maginot line! The blitzkreig, together with the increased use of air offensives, culminating in the devastation of the atomic bomb, became accepted as the new norm.

At the present time, everybody seems to be talking in terms of an all-out war between America and Russia, blitzkreig, atom bombs and all. But if we can get over our desire to be surprised, we can see that it may be different, simply because as things stand neither side stands much chance of winning such a war. Furthermore, it has been shown conclusively that the “winners” of such wars end up in hardly a better position than the “losers.” Again, anyone thinking of starting a war would much rather it took place on someone else’s territory, rather than on his own. He might otherwise suffer himself, and that would never do!

What may happen, then? Are we not to have a war at all?

It seems doubtful at this stage whether capitalism can do without a war of some kind going on. When it was feared that there might be a cease-fire in Korea,, the whole of Wall Street slumped in one afternoon.

But the kind of war that will take place may be the type that is now going on in Malaya, Indo-China and Korea, and which may start in Persia, various parts of Africa, some parts (later on) of India and Germany. That is, it will be the type we first became familiar with in Spain—a “Civil War” which is either fomented or used—or both—by great powers who have theoretically no part in it whatever. This has been dubbed a “limited liability” war, and this phrase expresses very well the capitalist nature of the proceedings.

It can take three forms: the one, where an oppressed colonial people revolt, through the medium of a nationalist movement, against the “mother country”; another, where the oppressed peasantry or proletarians revolt, via a freedom movement, against the ruling class of their own country; and the third, where one part of a country which has been, split away, goes to the rescue of their “oppressed” brothers in the other.

Now, each of these types of war has in it the power to elicit sympathy. But in reality our sympathy should be for them, rather than with them, because they are so palpably misled. Their nationalist movements, in which they place so much hope, are movements leading them towards a narrow capitalism in which capitalists of their own nationality will oppress them and exploit them quite as enthusiastically as the colonists—and probably more so. Their “freedom” movements, in which they believe so fervently, will only succeed in changing one ruling class for a fresher and more efficient set of masters. And the “oppressed brothers” who are “rescued” or “liberated” soon find that under capitalism there is no rescuer powerful enough to save them, no liberation by mere force of arms.

These things would be true even if the protagonists were left to fight things out themselves. But they’re not.

As soon as one of these little struggles starts, round through the air swing the Russian and American vultures, the Russians with words (and arms), and the Americans with money (and arms). And another “limited liability” war has started. Strangely enough, the most important ones always start where strategy would dictate, either for position or for raw materials. Not so much for markets, because war is itself a market, a market in which expensive goods are sold, in large quantities, to people who are forced to pay for them, willy-nilly. For position, because a big war (Russia v. America) may come, and both sides want to get in the most favourable position in case it does; for raw materials, for internal consumption, export of finished goods, and war production, all of which must be conducted at a profit—preferably of the handsome variety.

But the “limited liability” wars could carry on for fifty years before the big battle commenced, quite easily. There are enough oppressed people in the world, in one way or another, to keep a dozen armies busy for thrice that time. And, as we have seen it suits the capitalist book very well to have a war or two going on. It’s very stimulating to trade.

But what a trade! Imagine for fifty years, the workers pouring out their, sweat and toil, producing commodities, not for their own consumption, but for the destruction of life and wealth in other countries, in which process the commodities consume themselves.

As the poet says.—

“… and gun sales lead to more gun sales
they do not clutter the market for gunnery
there is no saturation … “

because no other consumers are necessary. The great problem of markets is solved! Solved by allowing millions of hours of socially necessary labour-time, embodied in bullets, shells, bombs, tanks, bombers and fuel, to expend itself in the shortest possible period, and in the process to destroy lives and wealth laboriously built up over many decades. What a society, in which labour time so spent is “necessary”! Nowhere better than here is the open antagonism between what suits capitalists and what suits workers more glaringly revealed.

Capitalism thrives (albeit a temporary and precarious thriving) on the prosecution of wars. In the years following the great slump of 1929-32, re-armament was the main stream on which capitalism floated to recovery—if you can call what happened in 1939 recovery. Workers don’t thrive on war. It’s workers who are driven to produce ever more and more, it’s workers who make sacrifices, it’s workers who die. Capitalism wants fifty years—or more if possible—of “limited liability” wars. Workers don’t. There is nothing they want less—except the big all-out atom war that’s always lurking in the background as a possibility. But it’s what they’ll get—if they don’t get wise and turn to Socialism. There is no answer to Capitalism, and no answer to the workers’ problems, inside Capitalism. Capitalism must burst apart and change to Socialism. But this can only come about if you, the workers, understand and want Socialism.

You see where Capitalism is heading. Workers! Let’s use our heads, and head for something different!


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