Editorial: Capitalism and the two world wars

The two world wars that disgraced human history in the 20th century were essentially wars to change or preserve an existing carve-up of the world between the leading capitalist states.

In the first world war Imperial Germany attempted to upset, by force of arms, the then existing imperialist division of the world which benefited in particular Britain and France. The second world war too – which broke out seventy years ago this month – was the result of Germany and Japan throwing off unfavourable treaties, territorial divisions and trading arrangements imposed by Britain, France and the United States. From this, historical perspective, it was a continuation of the first world war

In such wars it is the challenging powers that have to take the initiative and so appear as the “aggressors”, but only those completely taken in by the propaganda of the victorious powers (and of course the winners also win the right to impose their version of history) will believe that it was just Germany that was responsible for the first and second world wars. An objective examination of the situation shows that, apart from their “business war” aspects (over markets, raw materials and investment outlets), the two world wars were wars (on the one side) to try to change the existing imperialist carve-up of the world and (on the other side) to preserve it. What was responsible for these wars was the whole world system of capitalism with its competitive struggle for profits and its collection of competing armed states. No one state, or politician, or people can be blamed for them; they were the result of the “normal” functioning of the capitalist world system.

As socialism had been historically possible since the end of the 19th century humanity could have avoided them. Neither of them justified “the shedding of a single drop of working class blood”, as we declared in our anti-war manifesto in 1914, or as Harry Patch, one of the last survivors to have fought in that war, who died in July, put it, it was “not worth one death let alone all the millions”.

The “War to end all wars” did no such thing. Nor did its even bloodier sequel, World War Nº 2, which resulted in the division of the world into two imperialist spheres of influence, the US sphere and the Russian sphere, with a continuous series of local wars at the boundaries between the two, which lasted until the collapse of the Russian Empire twenty years ago this autumn. This collapse was hailed “the end of history” and there was talk of a “peace dividend”. Tony Blair of all people even declared shortly after becoming Prime Minister in May 1997: “Mine is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war”.. Empty rhetoric from a capitalist politician who was later to send British troops to kill and be killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect oil supplies and prevent another challenge to the powers currently dominating the world.

There will be wars, the threat of wars and the waste of preparing for wars as long as capitalism lasts. The only end to war is the end of capitalism – the socialist revolution.

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