From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the two world wars the Socialist Party of Great Britain alone took the position of opposing them because, as our 1914 Manifesto stated, “no issue was involved which justified the shedding of a drop of working-class blood”. Members of other organizations refused to fight for religious, humanitarian and political reasons; none shared our stand based solely on working-class interests.
“Join the professionals" is the punch line of the advertisements which try to sell us the advantages of life in the modern Army. For once we have no argument with the ad-men; war is no longer a matter for part-timers. It is a socially organized, socially pervasive act planned, organized and carried out by highly trained people.
All over the world, states reserve a large — in many cases the largest — part of their budget to their armed forces. This means that a large part of the knowledge, the skills and the material resources of those states is diverted into organizing and producing a powerful machinery of destruction.
The more “advanced" countries vie with each other in turning out the weapons with the fastest, most obliterative effect; some of the results of this contest have an awesomeness which would once have seemed appropriate only to the wildest nightmares of science fiction. But this is reality — nuclear weapons and methods of biological warfare, to name only two which we know of, are there — waiting.
If they are ever let go a large part of the settled world would quickly be wiped out. This very fact has been in part responsible for something of a change in the style of warfare. How long ago was it, that hostilities opened only after a declaration of war? Did America and China ever admit that they were at war in Vietnam?
Nowadays the great nation states and power blocs of capitalism are in perpetual manoeuvre for advantage against each other, pushing out in a series of minor conflicts (if Vietnam can be called minor) with their ultimate threat held in reserve.
The spectacle of modern society, with all its capacity to provide abundance for its peoples, wasting valuable resources in this way while it still has problems of famine and poverty, has provoked a great many theories about the cause of war. "Human nature" is one of them — war is simply an extension of an individual’s irritability. Munitions manufacture is another — men like Krupp have a vested interest in the continuing use of weapons. Sometimes the explanations have a tenuous connection with the truth — for example Lord Boothby writing in The Times (20 May 1968) " . . . they (the Central Bankers) were primarily responsible for the Second World War.”
In fact none of these explanations comes near the root of the matter. This can be done only by examining war as an aspect — along with human behaviour, munitions firms, bankers — of capitalist society.
Capitalism is a social system with the characteristic that its wealth is produced primarily for sale. But selling, as any supermarket bears witness, is a matter of competition. If we expand the point, we can see capitalism is a system which divides the world into a number of competing units; on one scale these might be supermarkets competing for customers in the High Street, on another they are states and alliances which clash over exploiting markets or getting access to things like oil.
A state is a coercive machine which enforces the interests of a particular group of capitalists, a particular group of the ruling class. Wherever these capitalists have interests, their state machine will protect them and if possible expand them.
Since capitalism is an international system, most states have interests outside their own frontiers. Lonrho, for example, has large investments in Africa; the oil companies have the same in areas like the Middle East, the Far East, the North Sea.
Provided all goes well the customary exploitative operations of capitalism can be carried on with no more disturbance than need be caused by the expected double-dealing of commerce, banking and so on. It is when the competition gets too fierce — when a new ruling class in Africa threatens to take over foreign investments, when the Icelandic fishing interests grab a bit more of the seas, if the carve-up of the North Sea (which was an example of original robbery) were to be upset by some latecoming state — that force is brought to bear.
Then the armed forces — the Professionals — take over the argument from the businessmen and the diplomats. This is war. The tragedy is that the people who are most directly involved in the hostilities, and who pay the price in terms of suffering, have nothing to gain or lose in the struggle. In the dispute over the Icelandic fishing grounds it is the owners of the trawler fleets and the food combines on both sides who stand to gain, not the fishermen or the sailors in the gunboats. These men have no ownership in any of the means of wealth production, including the seas, yet they are the ones who suffer through the cod war and some of whom may sometime be killed in it.
In larger wars millions of workers die or bear an untold burden and at the end of it all their basic situation remains the same as before. None of their problems has been lessened, let alone solved. They are still exploited and degraded in service to the ruling class and to the demands of capitalism. They still suffer poverty and a host of related social malaises.
The wars of capitalism solve no problem simply because they aim only to readjust the balance between clashing interests. To abolish war we must go for its roots, not tinker with the superficialities of those interests. We must strike at the basis of capitalism. But to do that means to abolish the system and to replace it with Socialism, a world order in which all human interests are in harmony and the conflicts of capitalism a black memory.