Against all war, economic and military
Socialists appreciate that the war over Iraq has drawn many workers into a political arena hitherto seen as boring and as impossible to influence from the outside. Workers once apolitical have been stirred into action by the lies, the tricks to curtail the democratic process, and the acts of violence, murder and destruction from their leaders. Where before, whether at breakfast, in the workplace, in a café at lunchtime or over dinner in the pub in an evening, we discussed our work, sport, TV, pop music, sex and the weather or our personal pursuits, over and above our everyday troubles in life, lately we’ve seen the war over Iraq come to figure in these discussions. Not satisfied with these usual outlets for our feelings, many have been attending the numerous anti-war rallies around the world and writing into newspapers, radio and television. Socialists expressed pleasure in seeing so many of our fellow workers in anti-war mood, and in such numbers.
But socialists are aware that in the workplace workers, anti-war campaigners and not, are soldiers in an economic war on behalf of the generals who own the businesses where we work. We thought it ironic that workers should be so strongly united in an anti-war outlook on a Saturday, and then, back at work on the Monday, would go to war with each other, united only in an effort to win the battle for production, sales or work over their anti-war friends engaged in a similar process for other generals. A common lament from the weary and dismayed proletarian soldiers in the American Civil War of the 19th century was, We are all Americans! We socialists have a similar cry to workers in both the commercial and military wars of today – We are all fellow workers! If non-socialist anti-war campaigners only knew it, the wars of commerce lie at the root of all the military wars.
Sadly not a common view among anti-war campaigners, but all the signs of war are readily available if one cares to look and reflect on our day-to-day activity for just a moment. Do not most of us work for a business to produce or sell products or provide some type of service in competition with those produced by our fellow workers who work in other businesses in the same field of activity? The products from one worker look almost identical to products from another, are made in similar environments by similar processes by workers who perform similar tasks in similar numbers and using similar tools. These commodities, whether we make them, sell or deliver them as a service, perform the same function, serve the same need, and sell for almost the same price. It is made clear to us, no matter where we work, in a supermarket, in a car or clothing factory, in a bank or a TV station, for example, that the company we work for, and by implication ourselves, are engaged in national (and international) rivalry with similar businesses all across the world. Every one of these businesses would if they could keep the whole market to themselves, and they struggle to get as much of it as they can in a game of competition – war by another name. And the obvious end result is that the task is overdone and thus a glut is produced.
Commercial conflicts are like military ones, with resources being trashed in a war for survival. And the ruin of products coincides with the dissipation of the human effort employed in their production as well as the squandering of the quantity of the Earth’s natural resources as ingredients for their production. Perishable commodities which cannot be sold at their intended price are jettisoned into the bargain basement saleroom and then, if necessary, churned back into the soil even before the needy workers, who produced them, are allowed to have them free. The owners of the businesses where we work care not a jot for the workers when their particular war is over and they are no longer needed, due to sickness, injury on the job, the employment of new technologies, improved methodology or bankruptcy, which brings on our redundancy and poverty.
War includes struggles between classes, class wars between capitalists and workers. In 19th-century France, a short civil conflict was fought between the bourgeois French National Assembly, and Parisian workers as republicans, known in socialist annals as the Paris Commune. In Britain, a civil war was waged between a feudal class and the rising bourgeoisie in the 17th century. A war can also involve rival sections within a particular class who compete for power, as in America, where a civil war was fought between rival members of the American bourgeois class in the 19th century. There is another type of civil war which socialists cite, where in the arena of commerce, battles are waged between corporations, assisted by their (home-based) state authorities, first within national borders then steadily growing in stature to a transnational arena.
The now universal culture of ‘market ideology’ is the primary influence on the behaviour of humans everywhere. The more power or money an individual or group can secure for themselves, the better their quality of life. To be effective in their pursuit of power and wealth, whether solely by the means of commerce, or upgrading their war to the military stage, they must be indifferent to the needs and plight of their competitors; otherwise, their ability to wage war is diminished.
Whether a war in society is within a nation or between nations, the causes of these wars between the protagonists are of a similar nature. While the circumstances surrounding each war may remain peculiar to the time and place (the extent of dictatorship/democracy, class structure, mode of production, laws, parochial cultures or ideas or religions etc), the pattern seems to be repeated all over the world. The owning class of one nation possesses something which that of another nation, or groups within a nation would like to possess. These could be land, foreign trade deals, cheap labour, talented labour and property (as businesses or complete/established industries), home markets, and a natural resource as marketable asset – oil, gas, coal, iron ore, gold, diamonds, water, etc. These are all requirements for success in making money, and with money comes power and influence for businesses and individuals. As no one country has been endowed with a complete set of resources, there will often be a need to plunder.
Wars in human society take place between nations when the dominant men and women within them (the capitalist class) pursue wealth or the means to create wealth in society, using the power of their state and their labour (workers) as battering rams to defeat their enemies, which are themselves comprised of their opponents’ state machinery and workers. And where a conflict occurs within the territory of one nation, outside influences are often brought to bear. If resources are up for grabs, the capitalist grabbing class join the fray to see what they can win.
Only socialists can claim to be the true anti-war campaigners. Fellow workers around the world participate in anti-war campaigns, which call for the end of military wars, but none that we know of make that connection, as socialists do, to the wider society and particularly, to its mode of production and guiding ideology which promote competition among all sections of society. In campaigning solely for an end to military wars, which are but a bloody climax to the wider commercial war, there can be no hope of addressing the problems of human society today as a whole.
Worse than thought: In the article on Terror last month we quoted a figure of 35,000 for the number of civilian deaths in Iraq since the Anglo-American invasion. Since then the medical journal, The Lancet, has estimated the number as being more like 100,000.