From the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard
There are politicians in every land who tell their Parliaments and peoples that they can see a bright future before the country; and millions of ordinary men and women who go on with their jobs and their family concerns believing it to be true. The politicians talk like this, whether or not they have confidence in their own words, because it is expected of them, it is their trade. And the millions who accept it at face value do so because they know no better and because they trust their politicians. But anyone who reads and thinks about world affairs knows that it is an uncertain hope, not a probability. They know that the governments are desperately preparing for the possibility of a third world war that would, if the latest scientific weapons are used, destroy great cities and centres of industry, and lay waste whole countrysides with unheard of loss of life.
Those who know this react in different ways. Some give way to despair, others resign themselves to what seems to them to be unavoidable. Others again put what trust they can conjure up in United Nations or in political parties or religious bodies that preach peace in a tormented world.
The solution to be aimed at
The kind of solution that must be found if the human race is to find security, and civilisation is to survive, has been seen more or less clearly by many people. The solution must include the abolition of armaments and war and the peoples of the different nations, large and small, must leant how to live peaceably together. So far so good, but how is this to be brought about? Clearly the mere holding of international conferences and the making of speeches in favour of peace is not enough. We have had them in plenty for a long time and the hatreds and tensions only become worse. What, then, is the nature of the problem? Is it one that will respond to appeals to men's good nature and humanitarian sentiments, and their “sense of justice"? The answer has to be an emphatic no, for the evils and cruelties are not in the main perpetrated by consciously or wantonly evil and cruel men, but by people who believe their motives to be above reproach and who find themselves forced into actions they deplore by forces beyond their control. When war breaks out those who carry out the orders to kill and destroy feel fully justified by their patriotism and their belief that they are fighting for their country[s survival against the aggression of the enemy. Patriotism for them justifies and ennobles every vile action.
The first step to understanding the problem is to face up to the fact that the mass of people in the “enemy” countries feel themselves to be just as fully justified in their patriotism. All the warring armies and peoples believe they are fighting in a just cause. How, then, are they to be reconciled? Can it be done, as some believe, by individuals preaching reconciliation and non-violence ?
The Case of Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi was an individual who became known universally as a believer in non-violence. With some back-slidings but with a large measure of consistency, he tried to persuade the Indian independence movement to accept his teachings and he cherished the belief that by so doing they would build up a nation that would be an example to all and in particular to Western civilisation, with its trust in armed force. Before his death by assassination he was to see India divided into two countries facing each other at war over Kashmir. He who had hoped his fellow-countrymen would accept his view that "a society’s civilisation should not be judged by its power over the forces of nature, nor by the power of its literature and art, but by the gentleness and kindness of its members towards all living things,” was to confess his failure. Not many months before he died he said: “There was a time when India listened to me. To-day I am a back number. I have no place in the new order where they want an army, a navy and an air force, and what not I can never be a party to all that.”—(Times, 29/9/1947.)
Why it Failed
Gandhi and those who shared his illusions may not have understood why he failed, but Socialists understand it. The reason can be found in a circumstance that he, in his blindness, regarded as an incidental, of no importance. His speeches were full of talk about an India of peasants and handicraftsmen, but his movement was mainly financed by Indian “big business.” He thought he was doing one thing but his movement and its capitalist backers were in fact doing something else; they were making India into a great capitalist State, to take its place alongside the other capitalist powers. Western and Eastern, America, Britain, Russia, and the rest. His was a beautiful dream that other men used for their grim reality.
Capitalism—enemy of the human race
Capitalism must have armies and navies and air forces and the nationalism and patriotism that go with them. Capitalism cannot disarm, and while the world remains capitalist there can be no peace and no reconciliation between the nations. Preaching "non-violence" and “universal justice” in a capitalist world is useless because all who accept capitalism—most of them without having started to recognise what sort of thing it is—are firmly convinced that the trading activities of their own particular country are thoroughly right and necessary. They no more think of questioning the efforts of their own government to capture overseas markets, hold strategic territories and trade routes and acquire sources of raw materials, than they question the internal trading activities and rivalries of manufacturing companies.
The Socialist questions and condemns them all; they are all part of the capitalist social system that Socialists aim to replace by Socialism.
Capitalism rests on the basic fact of the exploitation of man by man. of the working class by the capitalist class. Rent, interest and profit, all forms of income from property ownership, are the proceeds of the “legalised robbery" of the wage and salary earning class that produces the wealth of the world for others to own. International competition that leads to war between the nations is an inevitable product of world capitalism, which in turn rests on class division and class struggle within the nations.
All who want to rid the world of war and cruelty, want and insecurity, must turn their thoughts and efforts to international action to rid the world of the social system known as capitalism, a system that has outlived its usefulness to mankind and the continuance of which now threatens the very existence of the human race.