Editorial from the June 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
It does not need a detailed knowledge of modern war to be able to discern, in the present unstable international situation, some ominous parallels with the past.
There is, to begin with, the presence of oil—a vital mineral with its processing points and the trade routes to connect these with the markets. These things have been negotiated over, and fought over, for a very long time. The overriding interests concerned are those of the super powers—in this case America and Russia but with others such as Britain and China taking sides as they see their interests dictate.
Then there are the peripheral elements. As in 1914 and again in 1939 there are leaders on both sides who are represented as bogy-men. These people are used by the propaganda machines to induce a war hysteria among their people. In America, the Ayatollah Khomeini now occupies the role of the ruthless megalomaniac that was previously taken by the Kaiser, then Hitler, then Stalin. To the fanatical students of Iran, Carter is the embodiment of all the world’s possible evils. On both sides, workers are declaring their readiness to die to rid the world of the enemy's villain.
Keeping this hysteria on the boil are the incidents, some of more importance than others, that again are exploited by the propaganda machines in their own, selective way. To the west, the Russian move into Afghanistan was the intolerable rape of a small, peaceful, independent state. To the Russians, it was a necessary succour of a people threatened by the depradations of a counter-revolution. The hostages in the embassies in Tehran and in London have been similarly treated, cynically used to agitate the hysteria to fever pitch. Like the Hitler Youth, like the Kamikaze pilots, many Iranians now openly express their desire to die for their ruling class, comforted by the assurances of their religious leaders that a martyr for Islam goes straight to heaven.
This war fever is ugly, not just for itself but also for what it- springs from. Once again the world is in balance—after all the past assurances that capitalism could solve the problem of war with a little more good intention, a few more patient and skilful diplomats. This has happened many times, since the massive blood-letting of 1939/45 brought what has been described as peace. In 1948, in the dispute over Berlin, the two power blocs seemed likely to take the conflict onto the battlefield. The crisis over Cuba in 1962, when the world seemed to have no tomorrow, is fresh in many memories. Do we now have the elements of a similar conflict—in, say, Yugoslavia, where the death of Tito may be the occasion for the Russians to enforce a military remedy to this longstanding irritant to their East European design?
The Middle East is a sensitive spot because of the presence there of the great oil fields, on whose produce depend many of the industrial states of modern capitalism. But that is only part of the story; why, we should ask ourselves, should the world fight—even contemplate destroying itself—over a mineral which has so vital a role to play in its efficient working? If oil is essential to modern society, why can’t it be freely available to all?
The answer is to be found in the basis of the society which we live in. Capitalism is a social system which by its nature prohibits co-operation; free access to its wealth goes against its basic principles. It is a system in which the means of production and distribution are monopolised by a minority and used to produce articles for sale on a market with a view to profit. In order to make profit those articles have to be marketed in competition with those of rivals. It is this competition that leads to war in the modern world: in the last resort capitalism’s trade struggles to acquire or defend markets, territories rich in minerals and other resources and exploitable populations—and the trading routes to connect these—lead to armed conflict.
Although these struggles are carried on between rival groups of capitalists, they need to persuade the other class in society the working class actually to prosecute the struggle. It was workers who endured the mud and the slaughter of 1914/18; it was workers who died in the great battles of Europe and the Far East, and in the air raids of 1939/45. If there is a Third World War, it will again be workers who will suffer, who will be maimed and shattered and who—and perhaps in a nuclear war they will be the lucky ones—die in the fireball.
Yet there are no working class interests involved in the struggle. It is of no account to American or Russian workers who controls and exploits the oil of the Middle East, for whichever group of capitalists win the workers lose; their exploitation and poverty continue. Such is the evidence of history, of our own experience, of the millions who have died in the delusion that a better, safer world would emerge.
For the people who fight them, the wars of capitalism are a futile shedding of much blood. There is a greater task awaiting them: the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by a socialist society, in which the means of life will be the property of all. Socialism will be a co-operative society in which everyone will stand equally and there will be free access to the world’s wealth. It will be the constructive society. It is the only struggle worthy of working class energy—even of their sacrifice.