From the December 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
Slowly the fighting machines have been built up for the war that so far has missed fire. The enormous waste of wealth and labour for purely warlike ends shows clearly the immense powers of production possessed by modern society, and it also shows how comfortably everyone could live if this vast productive power were used for the equal benefit of all instead of operating for the private benefit of a few.
Whatever veil of make-believe may be drawn over the war, at bottom its basis is the same as all other wars of modern times, a struggle for trade routes, markets and sources of raw materials. Those whose interests are at stake in this struggle, and who are responsible for the outbreak of war, are not the workers, but sections of the capitalist class, the owners of the means of production.
In 1914 we were beguiled with tales of a new world that must be built after the war, and assured that such a terrible catastrophe must not take place again. To-day we hear the same tale from politicians fortified with the same empty eloquence.
After the last war the real motives behind it became evident in the process of clearing up the mess. First, the victorious groups tried to put a stranglehold on the vanquished and plunder them of markets, colonies, and spheres of influence. But in time they found they were killing some of the geese that laid the golden eggs. Capitalism lives by the production of goods for sale; without sale the surplus labour wrung from the worker cannot be turned into income-bearing channels. Nations brought to the dust are poor customers for goods, so the vanquished nations had to be built up again by the aid of the victors. And herein lies the irony of the situation. In building up customers the allied capitalists were also building up future competitors and preparing the ground for another war. It must always be so. While capitalism lasts this endless movement in a circle will continue.
When war commences everyone and everything is brought under its influence; the most inhuman conduct is glorified on the ground that victory must he achieved, and hypocrisy flourishes on both sides. One example is sufficient to illustrate the almost childish hypocrisy. Germany, who claim that the Allies' ferocious blockade is starving women and children, lay mines and attack ships, indiscriminately killing passengers, some of whom are women and children. The Allies remonstrate strongly against Germany’s inhumanity—and tighten the starvation blockade where they can.
It is amazing to think that such things can be in a society the majority of which are workers who bear the sorrows of war but do not share the joys of victory. It is amazing to think that workers should accept as inevitable a condition that whisks them from their homes to the shambles in defence of—what? Their poverty-stricken conditions? That is really what it amounts to, in spite of the high- sounding panoply of ideals under which they march to the battlefield, blessed by the hopes and prayers of the clerical props of a ruthlessly commercial society.
But the war circle produced by capitalist greed is not really endless, for the exploited must one day awake to the source of their exploitation. The facts are simple and easy to grasp once the crusty spell of accepted fallacies is broken. Wealth is produced by the application of human energy to sources supplied freely by nature. The worker applies this human energy but the capitalist has monopolised nature’s resources and by the threat of starvation forces the worker into handing over the product of his labour. The worker receives back in wages what represents the keep of himself and his family. The capitalist takes the rest. No superior power has given the capitalist the right to monopolise nature’s resources. It was done originally by direct robbery through force of arms and has been retained by a hereditary legal fiction.
Here and there a few “cunning” or fortunate individuals have managed to climb out of the ranks, of the workers into that of the privileged, but time is making this climb more difficult.
The workers produce all the wealth, and, as they make up the vast mass of the population, they can alter social foundations so that a reasonable society can be built up, when they understand and desire to do so. The only form of society that is a suitable heritage from capitalism is one built upon a Socialist basis; that is, one rooted in conditions in which the whole of society’s man-power and woman-power will be organised for the free and equal satisfaction of social requirements on the principle of "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
Such a society would mean the end of war, and of poverty and of exploitation. It would enable each member to live a healthy and happy life, and would banish the fearful shadow of the future that darkens so many homes to-day.
To bring about that change in social conditions the principal thing needed is understanding of their real social position on the part of the workers. It is for that understanding that we are waiting; when it dawns the future will be bright with hope.