Editorial from the March 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard
When he announced, last month, his intention to retire from the House of Commons, Mr. Harold Macmillan looked back upon the achievements of his premiership in his way: “The thing I set myself to do almost from the beginning . . . was to make at least the beginning of better relations between East and West.” These words give an insight into the pessimism with which the politicians necessarily regard the prospects for peace in the world. Rarely indeed can they offer anything better than “the beginning of better relations” between rival nations.
Although the big parties promise almost anything by way of better houses, schools, hospitals, social services, and so on, none of them is prepared to stick its neck out to the extent of professing to be able to abolish war. At the most, they say that peace and disarmament in our time is a remote possibility—something we might have if apparently insoluble problems like Berlin can be solved, or if apparently intransigent adversaries like the Chinese can be pacified, or if apparently persistent crises like Cuba, Korea and Suez can be prevented.
This pessimism is general among the capitalist parties. Although all of them strike some sort of an attitude over the Bomb, they all agree that in some form Britain must have it. Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s speech at Bury, in which he proclaimed his government’s determination to bargain for international influence through its nuclear weaponry, was a precise enough statement of Conservative policy. (How many Labourites remembered that Home’s speech echoed Bevan’s famous plea, in 1957, against being sent naked into the conference chamber?)
The alternative which the Labour Party have now to offer is to get rid of an independent British Bomb because, among other things, it is too expensive, and to rely upon the supply of nuclear weapons from the United States. This was how The Guardian reported Mr. Harold Wilson’s statement on this issue in the House of Commons on January 16th last:
“. . . Britain should cease the attempt to remain a nuclear Power since it neither strengthened the [Anglo/American] alliance nor made adequate use of our resources.”
And later in the same debate:
“We believe there should be much closer cooperation in NATO for deciding ... on circumstances in which a bomb should be dropped.”
A nice way of putting it. How likely is it that such “circumstances” will arise? At present, apart from minor incidents, the world exists in uneasy peace. But the elements of a future war are still there, needing only another insoluble crisis to fuse them into an almighty explosion. If a hot spot like Cuba or Berlin were to take the world over the Brink, there is no doubt that all the capitalist parties would forget their minor differences and squarely support the war, even if it were fought with what they call the ultimate weapons.
Is the situation, then, hopeless? Is Peace In Our Time an Impossible dream?
To answer these questions we must look at the basis of capitalist society. We live today in a social system in which the means of producing and distributing wealth are owned by a small minority of the world’s population. This basic condition leads directly to the production of wealth with the one object of making a profit. Mr. Enoch Powell, M.P., recently put it this way: “The duty of every management was to conduct the business in a way which was likely to maximise the return on the capital invested.” (The Guardian, 29/1/64.)
But running a business to “maximise the return on the capital” means searching ceaselessly for the markets where the products of the business can be sold. It means struggling for access to cheap and plentiful sources of raw materials—for oil fields, copper mines, rubber plantations. And. because all businesses everywhere want to maximise their returns, it means that the world is split into rival nations and groups of nations. Sometimes they take their rivalry into the conference chamber. Sometimes they take it onto the battlefield.
But wars cannot, of course, be fought without weapons. It is futile for CND, and similar organisations, to demonstrate against a particular type of weapon—or indeed against war itself—at the same time as they support the social system which produces war. The futility bears its fruit in the splits which have characterised the anti-nuclear movement of late, and in the changes in attitude like that of Bertrand Russell, who is now prepared to accept something less than total renouncement of the Bomb: " . . . while our ultimate aim should be the transference of armed force to an international authority, we should welcome partial measures leading in this direction—as, for example, the lessening of military budgets . . . (The Guardian, 29/1/64.)
To end war we must end capitalism. Nothing less will do.
This could be a straightforward matter—everything that is required for it is present, except for a knowledge of, and desire for, Socialism on the part of the working class. The evidence which testifies to the validity of the Socialist case on war is massed all around us. It points clearly to one conclusion.
We can have Peace In Our Time—if we want it