May 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
So the self-appointed guardians of democracy, America, Britain, and France have launched their much-anticipated air attacks upon Syria to punish that state in pursuit of their conviction that it had used chemical weapons.
The Socialist Party sympathises with all our fellow workers who are the victims of this brutal war and many others. When this war ends the final death toll among civilians will be hard to establish, much less to attribute the cause of the killings. The devastation is a testament to the dangers and horrors of modern warfare. The Syrian dictatorship is one of many equally savage regimes in the region: Saudi Arabia, for example, is engaged in a prolonged war with rebels in Yemen that is seeing misery piled upon misery. Israel has snipers shooting down unarmed protestors in Gaza.
The reality is that the horrors of modern war are not to be laid on the shoulders of a religion nor an ideology, nor even on specific individuals. The justification for armed conflict can always be found when military, political and economic needs demand it. The Western capitalist bloc stirred up a civil war in Syria and now they are reaping the whirlwind. It is a continuation of the same battle for control of the Middle East and its oil resources that has gone on ever since the end of the Second World War, with crisis after crisis and war after war.
When hostility breaks into open warfare, each side's ruling class does even more terrible things to the other side, destroying its towns and slaughtering its people. This gives the belligerent countries even more propaganda points to make. Each side claims that it only started fighting in the first place because (in some miraculous way) it could see what barbarous actions its enemies were guilty of in the war. In other words, the propaganda of each hostile country claims that it only went to war because of the atrocities committed during the war on the other side. The truth, however, is exactly the opposite. It is not the atrocities which lead to war; it is the war which leads to the atrocities. What happens, over and over again, is that a government, reacting to the pressures inseparable from private-property societies, treats some of its citizens very badly. Then the government gets into a war against other states; only to realize that its previous ill-treatment of this or that minority has simply provided a ready-made fifth column for the enemy.
When the nuclear-equipped superpowers come up against each other directly, we have every reason to be fearful for the future of humanity. War is competition for profits (either via trade routes, mineral wealth, resources or areas of influence) writ large, and to safeguard its future profits, its control of world resources the world's greatest and largest military power is accumulating an unimaginable array of weaponry.
The Syrian regime may win in the short term through sheer mediaeval brutality, but you can’t run a modern state without a sophisticated infrastructure and a working-class trained to run it. And that inevitably gives capitalism its Achilles heel, and workers their ultimate weapon against war itself. If you want to have done with brutal dictatorships like Syria's, it's a waste of time to go to war: others will spring up everywhere. Get rid of capitalism, the fertile soil which produces endless numbers of dictators and atrocities.