1980s >> 1983 >> no-941-january-1983

Keeping the peace

While politicians around the world, supposedly models of sanity and clear-headedness, organise arsenals of immense destructive capacity and busily equip institutionalised murder brigades, women at Greenham Common Peace Camp are demonstrating against the use of a particular variety of nuclear weapon. The authorities frowned on them, and had them arrested and imprisoned. Their crime, as they quietly made their limited protest in the shadows of the aggressive might of the state, was refusing to be bound over to keep the peace.

The only way that many of the hideous contradictions of our society can be explained away is by the use of a distorting double-think. The language we are taught encourages us to hold contradictory views about an issue. The word “scrounger” for instance, is reserved for members of the working class on the dole, rather than applied to the socially parasitic wealth owning class. In Orwell’s novel about totalitarian capitalism, Nineteen Eighty- Four, the slogan which stares at the proletariat from buildings and posters is “Ignorance is Strength. War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom”. This sort of doublethink is nurtured by a system based on contradictions. We are told that bombs are made to keep the peace, that we must butcher people en masse in a war to “protect our civilisation”. Military spending now totals close to £1,000,000,000 a day while UNICEF, trying hard to help children living in especially bad poverty, had a total income of £171 million in 1981. That is the equivalent of 4 hours 10 minutes’ military spending (World Military and Social Expenditures 1982). The money spent does not matter; it is the priority of resources in the profit-system which is telling. The number of people estimated to have starved to death last year was over 30,000,000, or a catastrophe on the scale of Hiroshima every other day. While people are dying in desperate need of food the productive powers of society are used not to satisfy this hunger but to produce the equivalent of 4 tonnes of TNT for every human being

Why does our society put such a priority on the production of the means of destruction? In order to answer this, we need to understand why war is a part of the pattern of social behaviour under capitalism. Wars are not fought because we have weapons. We have weapons because wars are fought. The notion that wars are fought because we are naturally belligerent has been refuted by the now almost universal need for conscription. People must have regimental discipline and bellicose aggression battered into them. It is not there naturally. As the working class becomes more literate and politically aware, the reasons proffered to justify each successive war have changed. We are well past the stage where wars were fought simply at the behest of the monarch, although there is a throwback from this in the idea of fighting for Queen and Country. The idea of fighting “a war to end wars” has lost considerable credibility since the war-torn years after 1918. They told us that World War 1939-1945 was fought so that the ruling class in Britain could protect democracy and oppose Hitler’s tyranny, but the ruling class have always been opposed to the idea of democracy if it meant them having to relinquish their power and privilege. Recently declassified wartime Foreign Office communications show that certain elements in the ruling class in Britain had a sympathetic approval of what Hitler intended for the Jews.

Wars are precipitated in modern property society because of the rival economic interests of sections of the wealth owning class around the world. They are fought over trade routes like the Dardanelles, Suez and more recently the Hormuz Straits. They are fought over raw materials and resources, like the American army’s battle in Vietnam and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and over markets. Competing groups of capitalists, ranged behind their respective executive committees in the form of state machines, vie with each other for the domination of areas where their goods can be sold. The real causes of a war are never mentioned by the official channels. In the Falklands war no one in the news media made much fuss about the quarrels as to which companies (English or American or Argentinian) were to eventually take control over the prospective millions of barrels of oil in the ocean basin around the islands. No one seemed to invite the shareholders of Charrington-Coalite, who own over half the land and half of the sheep, to go and fight for their company.

Any plan to end the threat of war must take into account that so long as we have a society divided into classes and nations, so long as we allow the anarchic method of production for profit with its periodic crises then for so long will there be wars and the constant threat of them. It is reasonable to expect that members of the capitalist class across the world will want to wield the most advanced and lethal weapons which are available.

The profit system operates on the basis of a minority ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth. In Britain, for instance, the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population own and control more of the accumulated wealth than all the wealth which could be collectively pooled by the poorest 80 per cent of us. (Final Report of the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth 1980) The top 13 per cent of the population own 90 per cent of the land and over 50 per cent of the housing. These figures are roughly the same world-wide, including the state-capitalist nations like the Russian Empire and Poland, where small minorities live in luxury off the backs of the majority who are workers.

Production of wealth is carried out only if a profit can be expected by those who own the work places and equipment and materials. That is why food is not produced and transported to the millions who are starving. That is why luxury office blocks are being built for businesses while there are in Britain alone over 50,000 registered homeless families. That is why there are prices on goods and services that we have to pay, even though it is we who are making the goods and providing the services. It is in this social and historical setting, a world divided into two classes and many nations, where rival economic interests are pitted against each other in a relentless drive to dominate areas of exploitation, that the problem of modern warfare arises.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has fairly limited objectives. It does not stand for an end of the need for wars. We recently read about the case of Gunner Jeffrey Clare who was dismissed from his artillery regiment in Germany for being an active CND member. (Guardian 24, September 1982) CND are spending some of their funds on legal advice to try and claim compensation for his dismissal and actually boasted of having 20 members in the armed forces. Among those paid up members of CND who were in the military services were “three sailors from the destroyer HMS Sheffield, whose membership cards went to the bottom of the South Atlantic when she was sunk by an exocet missile.” (Guardian, 24 September 1982)

Similarly, religious opposition to particular weapons is equally limited and inconsequential. A recent Church of England working party report came to the conclusion that a nuclear war would be really horrific and so not permissible by god (the supreme arbiter of ways in which workers can kill each other) but that the church would have to give its blessing to any war which was waged “as a last resort . . . for a just cause, without a direct attack on non-combatants. . . and only after a formal declaration” (The Church and The Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and Christian Conscience). The machine gun, napalm and bacteriological weapons then have been given the divine thumbs up, so long as the war is “just” and so long as it is played fairly. Christian generals are therefore reminded to provide an adequate formal declaration before they blow a city to smithereens.

Wars are fought for the interests of the wealth owning class. But it is we workers who are persuaded every time to do their dirty work for them, to fight their battles. Our antagonistic interests are fallaciously portrayed as being united, under the flag of nationalism; “We are all one nation, rich and poor”. And this lie is told to workers in all countries. This idea of nationalism is more powerful and influential than the most powerful nuclear weapon, as all it takes is a change in the prevailing ideas about the need for classes and war, and nations and then bombs can be dismantled and tanks melted down. The privilege of the wealth owning minority, bombs and nations are only in existence because certain ideas presently prevail. Change the ideas and the whole madness comes tumbling down.

Gary Jay