Editorial: Danger: diplomats at work
This year, which will see the fortieth anniversary of the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, began with what we were told was an auspicious event. In Geneva the Russians and the Americans met to open negotiations about opening negotiations about a future treaty on arms reduction. To be accurate, it was not the “Russians” and the “Americans” who met, in the sense that the negotiations concerned the interests of the majority of the people of those countries. It was representatives of the state powers of those countries, principally in the persons of Gromyko and Shultz, who went to Geneva — and in each case the state power exists to look after the interests of the owning, privileged class of the nation. So it was really the ruling capitalist classes of Russia and America who sent their representatives to talk about how they might reduce their respective capacities to destroy each other and much else of the world at the same time.
At such events it is common for the politicians concerned to make carefully calculated, coded gestures from which the commentators can dredge up a few apparent portents for the future. Such a gesture was Gromyko’s hesitant use of the English language to announce the Russian government’s attitude towards the negotiations. If this hardened man of the Kremlin was prepared to put himself out to master a few words of English, speculated the media, surely his government must be seriously committed to the fruitful outcome of the talks. Did those halting words signal new hope for this harassed world? There was much relief and praise for the assembled politicians; here, we were encouraged to believe. were high-ranking diplomats earnestly searching for a reduction in world tension, to ensure that there will never again be another Hiroshima. Clearly, this was what is called statesmanship and we should all be thankful for it. even if those same diplomats have in their time managed to stomach the needless death or the slaughter of millions of people.
But if this was statesmanship then it was a case in which its practitioners first organised the building up of a vast arsenal of globally destructive weapons, to the point at which a nuclear war in space is in prospect, before they tentatively began to explore how that arsenal might be reduced — or rather how it might be reduced without putting their interests at risk. This exploration allows the “statesmen” to pose as the saviours of humanity, if we can forget that they agreed to the build-up of the arms in the first place. And if we can forget that, whatever they might announce in their self-congratulatory communiques, they have no realistic hope or intention of exploring the elimination of nuclear weapons, nor of “conventional” arms, nor of the cause of war itself.
Even at that, the politicians have approached the matter with extreme caution. Shultz warned that “a long and arduous process lay ahead” and Gromyko said that the talks were “only a step compared to the immense tasks that are to be addressed in the course of the negotiations on space and nuclear arms . . .” The reason for this caution is obvious; there are vastly important interests at stake in these talks, expressed in the scale of the spending on armaments by the social class whose interests are represented by Shultz and Gromyko. There is good reason, if we accept the priorities of capitalism, for this spending for it goes to protect and expand the powers’ standing in the world’s economic, commercial and political conflicts. It goes to protect the capitalists’ markets and to conquer others for them; it goes to secure their hold on cheap sources of raw material; it goes to establish and maintain their grip on areas of domination such as the Russians have in Eastern Europe and the Americans have over much of the Far East. Expending huge amounts of energy and resources in protecting those interests is considered justifiable even though tens of millions die of famine each year, or of avoidable diseases, or rot in slums, or wither away through neglect and lack of medical care.
Capitalism is lavish with the means of destruction because it is a social system which must operate through competition and conflict; co-operation and harmony are foreign to its nature. The basis of this society—the class ownership of the means of production and distribution — ensures that wealth is produced as commodities, as objects and services intended for sale on the market as opposed to the satisfaction of human needs. Cheap production is important to the capitalist class because it can make their goods more competitive in the markets; thus they must always be concerned to find and exploit the most abundant fields of raw materials, as they have in the North Sea. Access to hungry markets is also vital to their interests for it is there that they can most easily sell their products, with a better chance of getting the highest price. These are aspects of that continuing competitive struggle which is responsible for the world’s armed forces and the weapons with which they fight, which are now capable of reducing millions of us to nuclear vapour.
There is no solution to this terrifying situation as long as the basis of capitalism is unchanged. But to change this basis would be to abolish the system and when we have done that there is only one society which can replace it. Socialism will be founded on the world-wide, communal ownership of the means of life. Its wealth will not be produced for sale, for the profit of a minority, but for the consumption and the benefit of the entire people of the world. Competition will be replaced by co-operation. There will be a full participation in all society’s activities. especially its productive work, and free access by all to its wealth. On that basis there can be no cause for conflict: common ownership and free access will bring a world of human harmony. And all of this will be organised and operated at the democratically formed will of the people.
That, in brief, is socialism. It is the only way to abolish the problems which at present plague the world and which hamper human progress. It is the only political objective worth the workers’ attention. Beside the certainty of the security and abundance of socialism, the false promises of capitalism’s leaders are as rancid crumbs. However the diplomats bargain and dissemble they cannot negotiate away the realities of capitalism. The world awaits its appropriation by the working class.