Nothing in human history is inevitable. We are not living and organising society according to any pre-ordained schemes. We are masters of our own history, not slaves of it. We can do what we choose. But you know that these are not the sort of ideas that we are encouraged to develop. On the contrary, we are encouraged to think of ourselves as slaves to the present order of things. This process of learning to believe that history has come to a halt, and that “you cannot change the way things are”, is often described as learning to “be realistic".
Where this point becomes particularly noticeable is in discussion about war. The society we live in produces war. There is a split between the minority who own and control the means of life and the majority of us who produce the wealth. A split, that is. between those who produce but do not possess and those who possess but do not produce. The economic rivalries among the wealth owners over market territories, areas rich in mineral resources and strategic locations on the trade atlas are often fought off the conference tables on the battlefields. Society based on competition and property is a war-producing society. This is the current state of affairs. We are born into a social setting where there are armies and bombs and Stock Exchanges and governments. But just because such things cluttered the world into which we were born is no reason for us to consent to them, nor believe that they are part of some “reality" which, although we can imagine it not existing, can never actually change.
Although another world war is not inevitable, if the present state of society is allowed to continue then it is a distinct possibility. The profit system is an unstable and volatile method of organising society, and armed to the back teeth as many states are, the recipe is being mixed for a nuclear exchange. Falling into the trap of regarding the way things are as largely unalterable, many commentators fortify the fallacy by using the language of inevitability.
Wintex-Cimex 83 is not a package ski tour, nor is it one of those instant relief nasal decongestants. W-C was the codename of a “paper” nuclear war game organised last month by NATO. This operation saw ministers from all over Europe frenetically telephoning each other and sending telex messages in rehearsal for a full-scale nuclear war. The fact that grown men and women are able to calmly and efficiently go through a paper rehearsal of what “on the night” would amount to a massive social carnage represents a hideous contradiction between our ability to plan and act co-operatively and what these abilities are actually being used for today.
The British Medical Association recently issued a report on the predicted state of Britain after a nuclear attack. The report paints a grim picture. Decaying corpses will litter the streets and millions of initial survivors — burnt, irradiated and starving — will die slowly and in agony. Doctors will not be able to help them and there will be no equipment or drugs to ease their deaths.
Food stockpiles within 10-20 kilometres of an explosion could be exposed to fallout. Farm animals are sensitive to radiation. But insects and vermin are much more resistant: flies, cockroaches and rats could proliferate, spreading disease . . . survivors would face epidemics of typhoid, cholera, typhus, malaria ... a full-scale attack would result in about 38.600,000 deaths and 4,300,000 casualties. . . (The Report of the BMA Hoard of Science and Education Inquiry into the effects of Nuclear War.)The doctors who composed this report after two years' research drew no political conclusions. But if we are capable of examining the dangers in this way then we are also capable of dismantling not only the weapons which menace us. but the social system which gives rise to them.
Apart from the socialist point of view, the responses to this issue are varied but all have the common thread of accepting the structure of society which produces the need for wars which produces the need for weapons. Peter Blaker is the Tory minister for the Armed Services. His recent response to the subversive noises about a peaceful world was to take a jab at "woolly minds in woolly hats”. If minds that desire a peaceful society and do not regard the production of bombs as a wise route to it are "woolly", one wonders what exactly predominates between the ears of Blacker? A solid lump of granite perhaps?
Another conservative with ideas to contribute to the debate about how to secure peace is Lord Hill-Norton. Admiral-of-the-Fleet Lord Hill-Norton last month proposed a plan to raise a 750,000 Dads' Army carrying their own weapons and defending the shores of England. “Defence”, remarked the Admiral, "begins at home”, which is of course something we will remember if it ever comes to the day when we have to whitewash our windows and hide under the table.
The reason organised peace movements this century, and before, have failed is that they have all consented to the power structure which creates war. War is neither democratically begun, nor democratically prosecuted. It is therefore facile to contend for wars to be fought on the terms of, say, the CND “no to cruise missiles”, or “no to trident”. These pleas, no matter from how many mouths they come, are lame. Apart from this, many of the phenomena which frighten people into CND to try and stop happening actually exist now: starvation of millions of people, lack of sanitation and hygenic water for thousands, riots, totalitarian regimes and military conflict all over the world.
As the Tory Party becomes increasingly associated with war-mongering policies and militarism there is a danger that the ideas of the Labour Party will be regarded as better and more beneficial to us. In fact the party under which the atom bomb was developed in Britain, and which recruited workers to fight for the bosses in two world wars, has not got any answers to the problem. The interests of workers and capitalists are diametrically opposed. The idea of nationalism has been supported by the ruling class because it deludes the workers into believing that within one territory. under one flag, they have a united interest with the bosses. Nationalism is divisive among workers and is used to help work up antagonism between workers from different places for them to fight the cause of their masters. Yet the Labour Party has always engaged in the promotion of nationalism. One recent example appears in the latest draft of their election campaign document, which will soon appear as part of their manifesto.
Labour is determined that our country shall play a full part in the struggle for peace . . . Labour will pursue and win international support for policies designed to stimulate trade, investment and growth and we shall work inside the appropriate institutions to end the financial chaos which now threatens the stability of so many countries.
It is not "our” country; it is theirs — the capitalists’. In Britain the top 2 per cent own 64 per cent of the land (Inland Revenue Statistics 1980) and the top 13 per cent own 91.3 per cent of all housing. Workers of the world have no country, we only have a class. We are not interested in “stimulating trade" or “investment". We do not wish to streamline the efficiency of our own exploitation. We want a new social system. We do not want to sort out the "financial chaos” of capitalism, and try to make the system run well. This system can, by definition, never work well for us. It is working well for the bosses which keeps this system going.
We want a system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of producing wealth. From each according to ability, to each according to need. Imagine it. All developments have at one time been merely ideas or dreams scoffed at by those who did not think historically. “The sun travels around the earth . . . the earth is flat . . . man will never fly . . . man will never split the atom . . . stand on the moon . . ." History is ripe for socialism and there are clear reasons for its urgent establishment.
The voice apologising for capitalism and defending "reality" grows quieter and less confident as we give up adjusting to fit painfully in with reality and start adjusting reality to suit our self-determined needs.