Editorial from the September 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard
The capitalist social system continues in existence, not because it is efficient or beneficial or controllable. The very opposite is true: it exists because, in spite of the facts of experience, the people who suffer under it will it to continue.
This working class support for a society which relentlessly deprives them of the fruits of their labour, which represses and degrades them, is a continuing process. In almost their every action—in their acceptance of what they see as the need for people to be employed, for wealth to be produced for sale, for the world’s population to be divided into competing states—the working class stand up for capitalism.
At times this support may seem like mere acquiescence, as an apathetic and aimless inability to appreciate any alternative to capitalism. And at other times it goes beyond mere acquiescence, into a defiant support for capitalism in the face of all the evidence which points to the need for the system’s abolition.
One example of this is at election time when the workers crowd the polling booths with their heads full of promises from political parties which have clearly failed to fulfil the promises made in the past. At such time workers debate the “issues” of the election without regard to the fact that the debate is a sham and that the promises they are debating have little more chance of being kept than those they have debated in the past. When it is all over there are tens of millions of votes waiting to be counted, urging capitalism to carry on as before.
Another example is when the working class go to war. As the history of capitalism accumulates, the case in favour of workers laying down their lives in the system’s conflict grows ever weaker. Are there now any historians to defend 1914/18 as necessary and therapeutic for human society? Any to argue that after that massive blood-letting the world was any safer for peace, that any essential lessons had been absorbed?
Slowly, similar doubts are growing about 1939/45, although such was the emotional strength of the propaganda for that war that any reassessment will be necessarily drawn out. With more recent conflicts the process is not so slow; particularly in the case of Vietnam, which is now something of a dirty word.
Yet however weighty the case against their taking part in war, there can be little optimism that the working class will agree that they have no business (literally) in fighting in their masters’ struggles for domination in world capitalism. All over the world, workers are taking part in those struggles—American workers in El Salvador, Russian workers in Afghanistan, and British workers in Northern Ireland.
Even those movements which assert an opposition to war do so within limits that leave unchallenged the basis of capitalist society from which flows the cause of war and therefore of the horrific weapons —such as the neutron bomb—with which war is fought. This is a fundamental defect in the case of these organisations and in effect makes them supporters, and not opponents, of capitalism’s wars. And history teaches that when the crunch comes, when nations go to war, the support for the so-called anti-war movement proves fragile, even baseless.
There is in fact only one effective challenge to working class support for capitalisms’s wars and to their continuous backing for the capitalist system itself. That challenge is the socialist one, the challenge to the ideas—or rather to the misconceptions, the deceits, the distortions—on which that support is based.
Capitalist society is split into two classes—the capitalists who monopolise the means of life and the workers who, owning nothing apart from their working ability, are forced to sell that ability in order to live. It is the capitalists internationally who struggle for advantage in the competition over markets, raw material sources like oil fields, strategic places like Afghanistan. In these struggles only the capitalists stand to win or lose; the workers have no interests involved.
In war millions of workers die and suffer, killing and terrorising each other in their masters’ interests. At the end of it, when “peace” is declared, no working class interests have been served; the workers remain exploited, repressed, socially degraded. In a sentence, war solves no working class problems.
The interests of workers throughout the world is to refuse to engage in war, to recognise their common cause with workers in all other countries and to co-operate internationally to abolish the cause of war.
In a gloomy, menacing world the socialist challenge to the ideas of capitalism is the only sign of hope.