The Harbinger of War

Peace talk is the harbinger of war: the louder the talk the nearer the war. When governments are protesting their peaceful intentions and pacifists are loud in their denunciation of war, one can be sure that a war is in the offing.

Between the wars of the present century a collection of peace organisations sprouted up, flourished, spread and propagated until the outbreak of the next war withered them up and they shrivelled to insignificance. Again, today, we are confronted with a batch of them. There are peace committees, peace councils, peace unions, peace societies, peace conferences and all the conglomeration of organisations that go to make up the “peace movement”.

The attitude of the majority of peace organisations is that war is wicked, that it is immoral, a crime against society. This approach to the problem of war is largely emotional, and, because it is rooted in emotion, the “peace movement” is doomed to futility. It attracts the sentimental and not the understanding opponents of war.

The very same sentiment that will urge a man to support a peace organisation will drive him to support a war. The prospect of war with its slaughter and suffering is, undoubtedly, vile and revolting. It is understandable that any human being should brand it as immoral and seek to oppose it. But a prospective enemy is always portrayed as a vile and vicious beast, revolting atrocity tales are circulated and he is proclaimed the enemy of all decency, morality and of civilisation in general. Whether the foe be called a Boer, a Hun, a Fascist or a Communist, he is caricatured as a destroyer of all that genuine peace-loving people hold dear. The sentimentalists turn their attention from the horrors of war to the new horror that is presented. The emotional seeker after peace is asked, “What would you do if a German, or a Korean or a Russian were to rape your sister or to murder your mother?” and immediately he becomes an equally emotional war-time flag-wagger. The same arguments that he previously used against war he can now use against the prospective enemy. So the peace organisations fade.

Prior to the 1939-45 war a group of pacifists, some of whom were members of the Society of Friends, published a booklet entitled “The Roots of War”. In this booklet they quoted from “Conscription and Conscience” by J.W. Graham:

“At the outbreak of the Great War 90 per cent of the peace movement disappeared like snow before the summer sun and 32 per cent of the available young men in the Society of Friends joined up.”

That referred to the 1914-18 war. The position did not change before the last one. During 1935 millions of people signed a Peace Ballot. Four years later most of them had forgotten all about it or would have justified their support of the impending war with similar arguments to those that they had previously used in favour of peace.

The pacifist solution to the problem of war is to urge everyone to resist war service and conscious support of war efforts. The argument is, if everyone refused to participate in war there could be no war. True. But one could as readily say that if everyone refused to be unemployed there could be no unemployment. The logic is sound, but the premise is false. A widespread refusal to participate in war will not, and cannot spring from the sloshy soil of emotionalism. It must have its roots in an understanding of the cause of war, the purposes for which wars are fought and a recognition of worldwide class interests, irrespective of nationality, language, colour, sex or any other sectional division. When the majority of workers realise that they have a common interest with those whom they are sent to kill and that the real enemy is the social class that sends them to do the killing, then there is prospect of an end to war. Until then, mere sentiment will no more stop future wars than it has staved them off in the past. Sentiment is the hotbed from which grows patriotism, racial prejudice, hatred of foreigners and national bigotry, all of which can be suitably fertilised by propaganda, religious teaching, martial music, etc.

Practically all of the peace organisations make great play of declaiming against instruments of mass slaughter such as the atom bomb. They seldom direct any opposition to killing by bayonetting or rifle sniping. The individual methods of killing are selective and are usually confined to the soldiers in the front line of battle, but the instruments of mass destruction are not selective, they do not discriminate between the soldier and the civilian, male and female, the old and the young, god worshipper and atheist, Liberal and Labourite, or, what is more important, between worker and capitalist. Radioactivity is no respecter of persons.

If the opposition is to killing, why direct it at one particular instrument of destruction even though it may be the most spectacular. Is death less objectionable when due to disembowelling by a bayonet than when it is caused by disintegration by Gamma rays? Such specialised opposition to the instruments of mass destruction suggests a desire to escape the consequences of modern war rather than a desire to eliminate the evil of war itself. It suggests a fear rather than an indignation.

All such opposition to mass killing, atom bombs, as well as to war propaganda and armament manufacture, is opposition to the effects of war and not to war itself. The peace organisations, admirable as their intentions may be, are useless for the purpose of preventing war. War is a product of social conditions and those conditions must be examined for its cause before it can be eradicated. Socialism alone has the solution that can end war for all time.

There is another approach to the war problem that would be humorous were it not that so many workers are deluded by it. There are those who claim that by the superior might of an associated group of nations, would-be aggressors can be scared away from war. This is the line taken by the majority of governments today. Armaments are piled up by blocs of states in order to intimidate other blocs and thus crowd the world with snarling fighters who are all afraid to start anything for fear of getting a licking. The whole argument is, of course, sheer nonsense. The League of Nations was based on this idea, just as is U.N.O. today. The League of Nations could not intimidate Italy when it invaded Abyssinia, nor could it prevent the last world war. The existence of U.N.O. did not prevent the war in Korea nor will it prevent the greater war that is looming ahead. Atlantic Pacts, the grouping of Western powers, Russia and Oriental alliances are all of the same order. The increased military might that results from an alliance between a number of states is heralded as a force for peace. Bunkum! It is just so much increased strength when the war starts. The smallest and weakest of nations are driven to war by the force of capitalist competition, even against mightier competitors. Military strength may defer but cannot prevent the ultimate use of military force to settle international conflicts.

This “peace by force” argument goes hand in hand with the well propagated idea that it is always the other fellow who is the villain. No government ever admits that it is the aggressor. Each capitalist state protests that it is pining for peace but that others will not leave it alone. Various opponents arise with martian expression to disturb the peace. Once it was the French, then the Germans and the Turks, now the Russians. In each of those countries the aggressor is some other nation. Britain claimed that Hitler was warlike and started the last war, Russia attacked Finland to safeguard itself against aggression, Hitler and Mussolini wanted peace but warmongering Britain was aggressive. “Please sir, it wasn’t me, it was that other boy.” So they hoodwink the emotional pacifists and wean them away from their peace organisations into an all-out war effort.

The Communist-inspired peace conferences, likewise, have nothing to offer. The acrobatics of the Communist Party during the last war are still fresh in our memory. Always the policy is in line with the foreign alliances of the Russian Government. If Russia and Britain are allies, the Communists are patriotic enthusiasts. If Russia is in the opposite camp, it is a war of capitalist imperialism against the workers of the East, and the Communists are anti-war. Any protestations of peace coming from the Communist Party indicate the requirements of the Russian Foreign Office. The indication now is that Russia is not yet prepared to face a war. But the fighting pacifist speeches at the peace conference attract a lot of well-intentioned but sentimental pacifist workers.

High profits and low wages indicate that the workers are producing a lot of wealth that does not come back to them in their weekly wage packets. It is in the scramble to acquire profit that capitalist groups come into conflict with one another. Certain necessities to modern civilisation such as petroleum and rubber are only to be obtained from particular parts of the world. Their production and sale offers great profit. National capitalist groups jostle for control of these areas. They argue, they enter into diplomatic relations, they place their case before U.N.O. and they build armaments against the day when they must fight for survival. If one group gives up the struggle even for a short while it is swamped by its rivals. Constant alertness is vital and a preparedness to resort to arms when the national economic life is being strangled which, for the capitalist, means when his profits are being diverted into someone else’s pocket.

There is no working-class interest to be served in any capitalist war. They are not worth the shedding of working-class blood. But the workers must not be pacific. There is a war to fight, a war against those who would maintain the existing system of production for profit. The class war. That calls for a very determined and fighting working class, not a sentimental pacifist one. The question of morals or the evil of war does not enter into it. Where there is a conflict of interest there must be a readiness to fight. If we object to fighting then we must remove the conflicting interests. If we remove the capitalist class we shall have solved the problem of all wars, international as well as class. But we shall not remove the capitalist class with sentiment and talk about morality.


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