Thursday, January 12, 2017

Socialism or Barbarism? (1948)

From the April 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is barely three years since the joybells of peace were ringing and yet already war is again casting its shadow over the world. Again and again we were told that peace was impossible until Germany had been reduced to a state from which it could not rise again to threaten the peace of the world. Well, Germany is certainly deep enough in the mire now, but in spite of that the spectre of war has again raised its ugly head.

So, after all, it is not Germany that was the criminal; the real criminal was, and is, the system of production and distribution under which goods are produced for sale. It is this system that breeds the struggle for markets, for trade routes, and for sources of supply. While this system lasts, war will always be the final resort between conflicting capitalist groups.

The present war threat is a result of the falling out of the victors in the last war, and is a scathing commentary on the emptiness of the brotherly sentiments with which the world was deluged at the end of the war by spokesmen of the allied nations. Modern capitalist conditions are a jungle in which competing groups are like tigers, always ready to spring when their booty is threatened; but unlike the tiger it is not the owners of the means of production who themselves appear in the heat of the battle, but the blind producers of the booty, the working class.

As Socialists we are opposed to war; Socialism cannot be obtained by war, nor by armed resistance to oppression, nor can it be helped on by either. Socialism signifies the acceptance of majority decisions, freedom to form and express opinions, rivalry without rancour, peaceful discussion and the amicable solution of differences, and the absence of violence in any form. In order to arrive at this outlook the workers must realise the fundamental identity of their interests all over the world as against the private property interests of the capitalists and the supporters of capitalist conditions, no matter what false colours the latter may masquerade under.

War has never solved, and will never solve, any working-class problem; it can only make the workers’ position worse in the long run. It brutalizes all those concerned in it, cheapens the feeling for human life, develops cynicism and replaces reason by force in the settlement of differences. The end of a war sees the carrying over into peace-time of the pitiless., brutal and destructive characteristics that were glorified during war-time. We are already experiencing this in full measure, just as we were doing after 1918.

Society develops, but that does not mean that it becomes less savage in its ways; in fact the more cultured society has become the more barbaric have been the means adopted by the ruling classes to retain and enlarge their privileges, and the more devastating have been the means devised to carry on warfare; and this is no less true of the Russian dictatorship, which has so often been falsely hailed as the harbinger of a paradise upon earth.

The present situation is a repetition of the previous ones with just a change in the sides taken up by some of the participants as well as the power they wield. Since the end of the war each of the leading powers has been jockeying for the most favourable place in the scramble for markets for the profit of its propertied class. This struggle has been complicated by the devastation left behind by the war as well as by the secret agreements that were entered into and the promises made to their respective workers to beguile them into the slaughter. In the meantime the great game of international bluff has been played with gusto, and Russia, the latest and one of the most unscrupulous bandits, has been accomplishing its imperialist designs by creeping southwards and westwards and threatening to exclude the other powers from important markets and sources of raw materials. In spite of all the boosting of the United Nations, capitalism knows only one final answer to the problem of trade rivalry—war, for which they are now preparing, and to the capitalists of the West Russia has taken the place Germany occupied for so many years as the principal enemy.

In our view war is not yet a prospect of the immediate future for many reasons. But where a situation is fraught with possibility of a resort to arms there is always the risk that some unforeseen circumstance may precipitate conflict even against the intentions of the participants; where there is a powder magazine a chance spark can bring catastrophe.

One of the most shocking aspects during the past year or so has been the fatalistic attitude of many workers who have accepted the coming of another war as something that is inevitable. It has not yet sunk into their understanding that without their active cooperation war in the modern world would be impossible. Yet another war, with the means of destruction now available, would be of such a devastating nature that the mind is appalled at the thought. The war that is now threatened bids fair to convey the world into one gigantic graveyard from which recovery would be difficult, if not impossible. But not a single Government spokesman can guarantee that there are any means available to avoid the coming catastrophe. So little value is the United Nations Organisation that the manipulations of Russia, America and the Western Union are carried on outside its councils!

One lesson the workers must learn, and that they must learn soon, that the development of society has now reached a stage where nothing but the establishment of Socialism can save society from collapsing into ruins. Capitalism is doomed by the fact that it inevitably produces wars; only by the replacement of the present order by the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production in the near future can society be saved. Failing this solution to the social troubles that afflict us the possibility of a complete social breakdown and a relapse into barbarism is a not impossible end to present social development. The future depends upon the workers understanding the source of social misery and taking the only course that can end it. That they will do so is our conviction in spite of the ugly shadows that are gathering.

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