A Haunting Spectre

Between 1976 and 1978 our comrade Sam Leight, of the World Socialist Party of the US, broadcasted regularly on a local radio station in Tucson, Arizona. He has now selected a number of these broadcasts and published them as a 230-page paperback book entitled World Without Wages. All the basic aspects of the socialist case — capitalism, socialism, class struggle, materialist conception of history, economics, trade unions, war, religion, racism — are covered in a style easy to read and understand, even if, inevitably in a selection of this sort, there is a certain amount of repetition. To give an idea of the book’s merit and style we publish below a broadcast on the question of war.

A spectre is haunting the world. Unfortunately it is not the spectre of communism which, like its synonymous term socialism, exists only within the minds of a small minority. The spectre to which we refer is the dread of world-wide nuclear warfare. The possibility of an “international holocaust” which can threaten the survival of the human race cannot, and should not, be ignored. New evidence is available daily, through the media, showing clearly how war and capitalism are inseparable; that the potential for World War III is ominously becoming more pronounced.

It becomes the social obligation of every adult to study the situation, not superficially but in depth. One should disregard the mind bending distortions of the defenders and reformers of the system. They invariably never focus attention on prime causes but are constantly creating false enemies and bogus issues. Meanwhile the real culprit, capitalism, is protected from proper scrutiny and deserved condemnation.

It is beyond the capabilities of political parties or individual leaders, irrespective of their talents or good intentions, to properly control the system they so staunchly defend. The emergence of one crisis upon another, in an unending stream, not only proves this point but is indicative of a society whose very core performs in an anti-social manner. The basis of capitalism is large scale production of commodities for sale and profit, through the employment of wage labour by the ruling, owning class. This is the foundation that determines a complex array of insoluble social phenomena, creating an environment unmistakably hostile to the welfare of those forced to survive in the labour market. And it is precisely in the market place of the capitalist that the seeds of war are implanted, eventually to reach their ultimate maturity.

Commodities must be sold in order for profits to be realised. Markets are forever imperative, both domestic and foreign; trade routes, spheres of influence and boundaries must be protected; and new areas of investment and exploitation are always being sought. Wars occur over these material issues when negotiations between states, each representing their own ruling capitalist class, reach an impasse.

The technology of modern nuclear warfare, together with its horrendous consequences, places the whole of mankind squarely within the same arena. To a degree this occurred in World War II; but with the subsequent development of atomic warfare the destructive capabilities that can be unleashed are monumental in comparison to all previous conflicts. A government report issued in January 1978, in its assessment of the impact of a major nuclear war between the two main superpowers, finds that at a minimum the United States would have 140 million fatalities and the Soviet Union 113 million.

You do not have to search beyond this point to find adequate cause for supporting, with your every fibre, the case for socialism. For the case for socialism is the case against capitalism. How can one logically justify at this stage of so-called social progress, when the fate of millions, if not of all humanity, hovers in precipitous balance, serious questions about the practicality of socialism, the bogy-man myth of human nature objections, or the impossibility of socialist comprehension by the majority, and so forth? We will naturally continue to deal with these arguments, as and when they are put forward, just as we have done for the past 70-odd years. But when a system actually creates its own gigantic coffin, which can at any time engulf us all, and when there awaits a logical alternative — socialism — then we say our case has been vindicated on this one score alone.

We have, of course, much more to offer when we urge for the speedy elimination of capitalism — all the major social evils are spawned by the system. But the war issue alone adequately substantiates our position; all the rest, this in no way detracting from their equal importance, just adds so much more grist to the mill.

The doomsday clock keeps ticking — only the establishment of socialism will cause it to stop.

The consideration of nuclear war creates a scenario which abounds in the complexities of military technology and political evaluations that combines present reality with future speculation. We can take inventory of the gigantic nuclear stockpile; review the past, and mourn the incineration of 200,000 Japanese at the end of World War II, acknowledging that nuclear warfare is no longer an academic issue but history. We can ponder on probabilities, formulate attitudes. One important fact should be recognised. Wars, whether they be termed conventional or nuclear, cannot be prosecuted without the support of the majority of the working class. It is true that a nuclear war could be instigated without formal working class approval; but working class acceptance of capitalism is a tacit authorisation, given by them to the ruling class and their representatives, to administrate the system. The consequences, whatever they may be, must be accepted as part of the deplorable political contract initiated at the voting booths, when the workers sanction capitalism’s continuation.

The manufacture of nuclear warfare, together with its allied technological implementations, has for years preoccupied the two major superpowers. As each power produces some new horror, conveniently symbolized — ICBM’s, Minuteman III, the new MK-12A, or the Soviet SS 20, SS19, successors to the SS18 and SS 19, or the contemplated US mobile MX — one power vies with the other for equality or ultimate superiority. For fiscal 1979 the Pentagon proposed a $128 billion military budget; even if this is pared to $125 billion as has been counter-suggested, either figure would be a record. And the military of the United States and Soviet Union will unceasingly offer their own brand of “plausible” reasons for the continued madness, with seemingly no slackening of tempo. The very existence of such an arsenal, notwithstanding the popular, overly-optimistic theory of mutual deterrence, provides the constant risk of the destructive instruments being utilised.

Attitudes towards nuclear warfare can vary not only within governments but between governments. For example, it can be conjectured that at some time the Soviet Union’s self-appraisal of their capabilities of “winning” a strategic nuclear war might be at variance with those held by the United States. The deterrent perceived, and hoped for, by the United States may not be sufficient to dissuade an act of aggression by the Soviet Union against the United States, or for that matter vice versa. Many factors could influence such a decision: an evaluation, either rightly or wrongly, of substantial superiority in some given military area at any particular time; a calculated acceptance of limited casualties and destruction, which for example could be offset by new territorial gains in Europe, or elsewhere: an assessment by the Soviets of their advantageous civil defence capabilities, which apparently at present far exceed those of the United States; and lastly the always prevalent temptation of a first strike. These possibilities can be expanded, amended and debated. However, the mere fact that they are available for contemplation is in itself a social tragedy.

China must also be considered a nuclear power. They have already detonated nuclear bombs, have an extensive civil defence system, and the Soviet Union’s arms race takes cognisance of their so-called communist rivals. In addition approximately 35 other nations can be expected to have nuclear capability within the next few years, not to mention increasing hazards from terrorists and other maniacal movements.

The social significance of this deplorable example of capitalism’s threat to man’s security and survival cannot be under-estimated. We find ourselves threatened by obliteration from forces potentially uncontrollable, that are rapidly increasing with an alarming magnitude. Society is at present entrapped within a volatile system capable of unthinkable human massacre. All the antagonisms that capitalism produces, inclusive of, but not limited to, war can only be removed when the working class throughout the world recognise the cause and fully understand the solution.

One does not need to search far for supporting evidence to show that under capitalism war is inevitable. War is an integral part of the system, inescapable from its function, and society is guaranteed its presence as long as capitalism continues. The unknown factor is whether the violence will become world-wide and nuclear at any particular time. Certainly the history transpired since World War II would imply that this possibility is most strong.

The director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in May 1977, stated that since September 1945 there has not been a single day in which the world was free of war. In fact, 12 wars were being fought on any average day. The casualties, he said, since the end of World War II, run into the tens of millions with the armed forces of more than 80 states fighting on the territory of more than 70 states. His summary of the war situation was based on the research of Hungarian Professor Istvanhkende, who estimated 133 wars between 1945 and 1976, elevating to the status of a war guerrilla attacks that cover a considerable part of the country in which they operate. We suggest that this information, the validity of which we have no reason to doubt, coupled with public knowledge and experience, verifies beyond dispute that war and capitalism are bonded together in an unbreakable social mould that in the modern world cannot be separated, one from the other.

In September 1977 the prestigious Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released its annual report on the possibilities of a nuclear war. The institute concluded: “The probability of a nuclear war is steadily increasing”. This depressing conclusion, reported the institute, “is virtually inescapable given, given the consequences of advances in military technology and the spread of nuclear capability”.

In a lengthy report by the Bookings Institution under contract to the Pentagon’s Advanced Projects Research Agency, as reported January 1977, the United States since 1946 has made 19 conspicuous nuclear threats, flexing its military muscles in more than 215 different incidents, often with notable success, to obtain foreign policy objectives. The most serious US nuclear threat came in 1962, over the Soviet missiles in Cuba. In 1973 the US put strategic forces on alert when it believed Russia was preparing to invade Israel during the Yom Kippur war. Again, in August 1976 the US alerted a variety of forces, including B52 nuclear bombers in an incident related to North Korea.

As reported in February 1977 some US intelligence experts believe the Soviet Union is spending about $1 billion a year on civil defence — 12 times the current US budget. This they say is cause for concern because they fear the “balance of terror”, a so-called psychological deterrent to nuclear war, would be toppled if the Russian population were protected and Americans were not.

The US Defence Civil Preparedness Agency, Department of Defence, in February 1977, published a pamphlet entitled Protection In The Nuclear Age. I quote from the introduction:

  Potential aggressors can deliver nuclear warheads accurately on targets up to 8000 miles away. Despite continuing efforts to achieve and maintain peace, a nuclear attack upon the US remains a distinct possibility.

. . . I now imagine myself huddled in a Fallout Shelter. In the distance I hear ominous explosions. Some mad, quixotic notion, over which I have no control, impels me to engage an obstinate old friend, sitting beside me, in political banter. “You wouldn’t settle for socialism, would you?” As the detonations grew louder and closer I could hear his reply. “Please don’t talk to me about socialism — certainly not now. And as I’ve told you before — it’s not practical. Don’t you understand — it’s not practical”. And at that precise moment the lights went out!

Samuel Leight