Thursday, November 1, 2018

Peace: In The Hands of The Workers (1914)

From the November 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow Members of the Working Class,—

To-day is being waged the greatest military struggle of all history. The flower and manhood of the five greatest races of this continent strive with all the resources which science has placed in their hands to slaughter their fellows. You are told by our masters’ Press that the German soldiers do not know what they are fighting about, or even who their enemies are—but do you know these things either ?

Many reasons for the war have been given, but only the Socialists have given the true reason.  It is this :

In every advanced country the improvements in machinery and methods enable the workers to produce far more wealth than is needed to maintain them in working efficiency. Of this wealth all beyond what Is essential for the upkeep of the workers’ efficiency is retained by the masters.

As machinery improves, this surplus grows greater, and presents to the masters this ever-increasing problem : Where can they find a market for it ?

Here we have the cause of the present struggle.  It is commercial rivalry and nothing else.

Fellow workers, 600 years ago the means for producing wealth were very crude, yet a man could produce enough to keep his family and himself for a whole year by twelve weeks labour. What vast strides have been made since then in the instruments of labour, and how many times has been doubled the fertility of our toil! Yet the late Campbell-Bannerman said that “about 30 per cent. of the population is living in the grip of perpetual poverty.”

What, then, has been the effect of this remarkable increase in the fertility of human labour, if it has not lifted those who labour above the pinch of poverty ?

The effect has been this: The workers have had to become the wage-slaves of those who own the machinery, factories and the like. What they produce, then, passes out of their hands. It belongs to their masters. They have lost control over the product of their toil, and it becomes their bitterest foe.

If the workers in the Middle Ages produced more than they required, they could store it for a niggard season, leave it to rot in the fields, or take things easy and produce less. It could not hurt them because it belonged to them, and they had full control over it. To-day, however, the wealth which the workers produce in excess of what is essential to enable them to go on working, belongs to their employers. It accumulates until the markets are glutted and the warehouses full, and then it throws its producers out of work because no buyers can be found for it. And not only this : it faces the masters with the problem of finding an outlet for it in the World Market, and so the workers from whom it has been stolen are called upon to shoulder rifles and go and shoot their fellow workers in other lands in order that this stolen wealth may be taken to, and realised or sold in, the markets of the world.

Centuries of progress in “the arts of peace,” generations of the march of science and the “conquest of the forces of nature,” while they have enabled our masters to heap up gigantic wealth, have brought only starvation and misery to the workers. The good things of life can be produced with ease and abundance, but under the present system they result only in murder and chaos.

The remedy is for the WORKING CLASS to take over the whole of the means of production and distribution, in order that what they produce may belong to them. They will then have control of the product of their hands and brains, and will use it for its logical purpose—to satisfy the needs of those who produce it.

When the workers have ceased to be plundered, there will no plunder for a class of plunderers to make war over, and peace will be the portion of humanity at last.



Editorial: The First World Slaughter (2018)

Editorial from the November 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

The First World War was a classic ‘imperialist’ war. Although billed by one side as a war against ‘Prussian militarism’ and by the other as against ‘Russian barbarism’, it was basically a war for a re-division of the world amongst rival imperialist powers.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century Britain and France had consolidated colonial empires in Africa and Asia, providing them with protected sources of raw materials, markets and investment outlets. As a late-comer that had only become a unified state in 1870, Germany had to be content with bits and pieces here and there and wanted ‘a place in the sun’ commensurate with its industrial and trading strength – a place that could only be obtained at the expense of Britain and France.

In the Balkans, the Hapsburg and Tsarist dynastic empires had long been vying with each other for control and influence over the successor states to the crumbling Ottoman Empire. It was in fact an incident in this strategic rivalry that sparked off the war – the assassination on 28 June 1914 of the Austrian Crown Prince by a Serbian nationalist. Austria declared war on Serbia. Its ally, Germany, joined it. Within six weeks Germany and Austria were at war with Russia, France and Britain. So began over four years of mass slaughter and destruction in Europe on the altar of capitalist interests, with skirmishes in the Middle East and Africa.

The media are now whipping us up to celebrate the ending of this mass slaughter in the glorious victory of the morally justified side – Britain and France, who not only retained their empires but extended them at the expense of the Ottoman empire and taking over Germany’s colonies. Germany lost everything and the Austro-Hungarian empire was broken up. But it didn’t settle the matter. Twenty years later capitalist Germany had a second, more desperate and aggressive go at trying to re-divide the world at the expense of capitalist Britain and France.

There are two lessons to be learned from this.

First, that capitalism is a war-prone economic and social system. Built into it are conflicts of capitalist interest over sources of raw materials, investment outlets, markets, trade routes and strategic areas and points to protect these. Hence the First World War, the Second World War, and all the lesser wars in between and since.

Second, those who did the fighting, killing and destroying, and died or were maimed, have been mere cannon-fodder in these wars. They were duped or conscripted to kill and destroy for interests other than their own.

Knowing what the war was really about – and having opposed it at the time – we in the Socialist Party are not taking part in the celebrations. We will however be remembering the millions who died or were maimed fighting for capitalist interests; the millions of civilians who died as a result of the privation and disease brought about by the war; and the buildings, infrastructure and historical sites destroyed. Capitalism has a lot to answer for.