Is a Third World War Inevitable?

The threat of immediate nuclear annihilation appears to have receded but war itself, and the threat of a future nuclear nightmare, is still as real as ever.

During the 1980s the anti-bomb reformers were everywhere. We were on the edge of a nuclear holocaust, they warned. And like reformists everywhere and at all times, they urged us to shelve the aim of abolishing the profit system, because unless we banned the bomb we would be left with no society at all. The 1990s has witnessed the end of the so-called Cold War, and with it the demise of CND. The number of reformers calling for bombs to be banned is very small This is curious, for as any observer can see, we now live in a world in which horrific wars are killing vast numbers of people. In the old Yugoslavia the death toll is incalculable; the killing is being done with “good old” conventional weapons of the kind which CND did not seek to abolish. Now that these reformists whose limited aim was to remove one kind of bomb from the arena of capitalist profit-killing are less fearful of a coming nuclear war might we expect them to attend to the big issue of abolishing the very social system which necessitates warfare? We note with regret that as the numbers of CND’s membership has fallen there has been no transfer of its ex-activists’ energies to the cause of social revolution, Indeed, many of them have settled into the avowedly pro-market (and pro-nuclear) ranks of New Labour.

The cause of war remains. We said during the 1980s that the root of the conflict was not which side had which weapons or whether one side pretended to be communist while the other pretended to be democratic. As in the 1960s when CND had its first burst of support and in the 1930s when war was supposed to be between “bad” dictators and “good” democrats (including Stalin), the root of militarism lies within the drive for profit which is inherent to world capitalism. Sections of the capitalist class will inevitably fight – or, more accurately, send their hired or conscripted workers to fight and die—in their struggle to conquer markets, control trade routes and win for themselves exploitable populations or territories. Every war in the history of capitalism is ultimately rooted in that struggle, whatever ideological rhetoric may be used to cover up the sordid cause of war, The threat and existence of periodic warfare is endemic to capitalism. There will never be peace under this system.

Selling arms

As the Berlin Wall came down and naive fools were rushing around screaming about a New World Order and peace dividends arising from the end of the arms industry there was a build-up to what could have become a third world war commencing in the Gulf states. It is easy now to forget just how close the Gulf war was to becoming a bloodbath for both sides, involving nuclear weapons had Israel been hit by Iraqi chemical weapons. The dangers have far from gone away since then, British and US ministers are rushing around the world right now like psychopathic maniacs, offering weapons to every stinking dictator with the money to buy them. The tedious soul-searching following the arms-to-Iraq scandal serves to conceal the fact that even if the British had not sold arms for use against their own army in the Gulf war, they most certainly have armed fascistic dictators ranging from the Saudi Royal Family (which hangs its critics in public) to the genocidal Indonesian regime (which killed one-in-three of the people in East Timor) to the Chinese state-capitalist dictators (who massacred workers in Tiananmen Square, just as the British had done before at Peterloo). Meanwhile military dealers from the ex-Soviet states are on the prowl, flogging nuclear technology and expertise to every tin-pot dictator with a taste for global expansion. And this is capitalism at peace; in reality it is the system gearing up for the prospect of its next world war.

Now that war is off the reformists’ agenda of “immediate issues” we are expected to ignore the fact that we are living in a world ruled by a minority which has interests which are fundamentally antagonistic to the majority of us and that we are surrounded by enough nuclear weapons to blow us all up not once, but many times over. Home Office figures have been published which state that a single blast from a 200-megaton nuclear attack on just one city would kill 26 million people. “It could be you,” as the slogan says—in fact—when the capitalist thieves fall out and start to press military buttons you have several million times more chance of dying for capitalism than winning the lottery so that you can live it up under capitalism. Which odds will your money be on?

Workers may be urged to forget about the possibility of war and distract themselves with lottery numbers and royal divorces, but those who rule this system know that future war is far from improbable. That is why they continue to plan for how to deal with civilians in the event of a nuclear bomb; for example, the advice sent to Local Health Authorities from the No.2 Home Defence Regional Committee of the Home Office addresses itself to the problem of how to find enough drugs to provide for the possible lack of the availability of sufficient anti-depressants after the next war, suggesting that “marijuana is an effective substitute and can be cultivated in Britain. It may therefore be worthwhile to suggest to your local Chief Constable that the cultivation of marijuana is a desirable activity and in order to maintain proper legal control it should be grown in the back gardens of police stations.” (Next time the cops want to know what that illegal plant is doing in your greenhouse perhaps you could tell them that you were only trying to help the war effort.) Like so much to do with capitalism, it would be funny were innocent and defenceless people not the victims of what is an essentially sick joke.


But are workers who vote for capitalism so innocent? Well, yes, for in the majority of cases they do so out of ignorance. Few people would knowingly place themselves and their children and friends at such an awful risk. There will certainly be no referendum before the next world war commences. It will occur, as has every war before it, when the business of making profits runs out of control and those with power can see no way forward for themselves than to try to re-carve the market in accordance with their own profit hunger. If they fight with nuclear weapons the benefit will be that it will all be over relatively quickly, with those left living probably envying the dead. If the next world war is fought with those “friendly” conventional bombs, which CND always went of its way to exclude from its reform demands, the prospect of ongoing brutalities of the kind witnessed painfully for ten years in Iran and Iraq and for five years in the old Yugoslavia could engulf the whole planet with rival armies of bombers, snipers and medal-bearing thugs making the IRA at its most reckless look like a primary school gang.

Reformists must answer not only for raising demands which can never be obtained within capitalism, but for dropping any interest in raising consciousness connected with those demands when a new, more attractive reform issue becomes more popular. CND had no chance of ever ridding capitalism of nuclear weapons. It has been years since their last major rally or demonstration, yet still the bombs lie waiting to be used. What CND could be credited with, as reformers of various kinds could be over the years, is raising the alarm about a serious problem within society. But whatever credit socialists might have been tempted to give CND for its warnings about war turn into contempt when it becomes clear that CND served merely as a popular reform distraction when governments could not conceal the fact that nuclear war was on the agenda, only to disappear and turn their attention to other futile activities, such as the “greening” of capitalism, once the government propagandists decided that the war alert was off.

It is not the honest socialist way to sound the alarm only when workers are hearing it. Our warning stands, regardless of fashion. We make clear with whatever energy we can to whoever will listen: If you support capitalism, however tacitly, whatever its form may be, you are supporting a social (dis)order which will not only exploit you, but will kill you and your children if commercial needs so dictate. A vote for capitalism, whoever rules it, is to hand over the matches to your class enemies so that they may, should they think it in their interest to do so, set fire to your homes, your lives and your families. Expecting the profit-mongers to act with responsible respect for human life is like electing the Mafia to run the streets and then complaining about violence and corruption.

Is it inevitable that we must drift towards more wars? Under capitalism, the answer is unequivocally yes. But it is far from inevitable that capitalism must continue. It has not been here for ever, any more than private property relationships have, and as soon as a majority of the working class choose to end it we can remove simultaneously the inherent threat to our future which the profit system poses. Will you commit yourself to building the movement to end production for profit and establish production solely for need? Don’t spend too long thinking about it, for it is quite literally a question of life and death.

Steve Coleman



1 comment:


imposs1904 said…


    Hat tip to Rob S. for originally posting this article on the Socialism or Your Money Back blog.

    July 27, 2015 at 8:12 AM

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