The cause of conflict

Ask that ubiquitous, approachable fellow the Man in the Street about the reasons for war and the chances are that his reply will be one of many variations on the same theme.

He will probably say that wars are caused by greed, or belligerence, or power-lust, or simply by mistakes. The common theme is that wars are fought for ideological reasons and that with better people, or better ideas, or better leaders, they need not happen.

This does no more than lead us to the next question: what is responsible for the people, the ideas, the leaders, the mistakes?

The 1914-18 war, for example, can hardly be called a surprise or a mistake because Europe had been preparing for it, openly and directly, for about forty years, and under all sorts of leaders.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Germany was an expanding competitor to the established powers of Europe, who had already grabbed most of the markets and raw material sources known in the world.

Germany could expand in only one way — by force. That was the background to the arms race and the militarism of the early 20th century and to the great war which followed. The war of 1939-45 was a continuation of this same process, with the Nazis expressing the frenzied ambitions of the German ruling class.

The “peace” conferences after 1945 did not settle any disputes; they merely adjudicated and compromised between a multitude of opposing interests and so carved up the world that the stage was set—as it was in Indo-China and Korea—for the wars of the future.

There could really have been no other result. The world today—capitalist society—is based on the class ownership of the means of producing wealth. The world is divided into states and power blocs, the ruling classes of which are forced to dispute over access to markets, raw material fields, communications, etc.

That is why so many world powers stand guard over the oil of the Middle East, why the Suez Canal was once so sensitive a spot in world affairs, why the Russians and Chinese fought over the industry and communications around Vladivostock.

As long as capitalism lasts there will be a conflict of interests; in other words, war is caused by capitalism and cannot be avoided under that social system.

The tragedy of this is that the Man In the Street has no reason to go to war; his interests are not involved. Yet he is the one who does the fighting.

He does this because he can see no alternative, which brings us back to his replies to our original question. In fact, Socialism will abolish war because it will bring a community of interests; it will be a society without frontiers, without nations, without classes, without conflict.