Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Avoiding World War 3 (1985)

From the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in an epoch which will either be looked back on as a nightmare from which the human race had to escape, or will not be looked back on at all. Since the Second World War. not a single day has passed without there being a major war taking place somewhere in the world. Over twenty-five million people have died in these wars and each conflict has had its own individual history of human tragedy and suffering: Kenya, Vietnam, El Salvador, Sudan, Chad, Pakistan, Lebanon, Algeria, Nigeria, Ireland, the Falklands . . . the list seems endless. Most recently, in the Gulf War between Iraq and Iran, over a quarter of a million people have been slaughtered in four years.

We have witnessed the greatest increase in the forces of destruction ever: a single nuclear bomb can now release more explosive power in seconds than was released during the entire Second World War. World military spending has increased by twenty-seven per cent in real terms since 1972, to reach 620 billion dollars a year. This means that about one million dollars is being spent on the killing industry every minute. The amount spent on cancer research is less than one per cent of the 52 billion dollars spent annually on military research, while the British military research budget of £1.8 billion is sixteen times the budget of the Medical Research Council. The British government spends about £2 million an hour (£17 billion a year) on "defence" — in other words, the powers of destruction.

The mass suicide for which these weapons are designed has reared its ugly head several times in recent years. Take, for example, this report from the Observer (7 September 1980):
  Three times in less than a year NORAD (North American Air Defence Command) computers have detected a nuclear attack which was not actually taking place. On each occasion the crews of B52 nuclear bombers raced to their aircraft for take-off and the crews of intercontinental missiles began preliminary launch procedures.
For all of its talk about security through "deterrence", the government clearly does not trust its own propaganda; they have developed detailed plans about what will happen when, rather than if, war breaks out, Home Office Circular ES 1/81. quoted in Civil Defence Review 35/2.85/3. states that "for planning purposes, it should be assumed that there may be as little as seven days' warning of an attack and the basic essentials of plans should be capable of implementation in 48 hours". The East Anglia Regional Health Authority, meanwhile, have drawn up a plan for health services in time of war, including an 18-page appendix on herbal remedies for use in the absence of conventional drugs — juniper for cystitis, mistletoe for hypertension. The same report advises that for protection from fall-out we should wear home-made thick overalls or "heavy rubberised clothing" with "a plastic bag over the head with a hole for a medical or improvised gauze" to provide head protection (Guardian, 17 August 1981). This insulting rubbish is intended to give us some kind of reassurance about a future catastrophe which is on the cards.

On a less farcical note, we have the ominous tones of the government booklet, Protect and Survive:
 If a death occurs while you are confined in the fall-out room, place the body in another room and confine it as securely as possible. Attach an identification . . .
And, with the advice to end all advice, the Home Office Circular ES 8/1976. which was sent to the chief executives of Councils, but merits study by us all:
 When radiological conditions permitted movement, district and borough London controllers should assume that one of the priority tasks for their staff in areas where survivors were to continue residing, would be to collect and cremate or inter human remains in mass graves . . . once the initial clearance of corpses has been completed, there would be still a problem of several weeks, and perhaps months, of an above average rate of dying from disease and radiation effects. Nevertheless, a return to the pre-attack formalities should be the objective in the longer term.
(Quoted in E. P. Thompson, Protest and Survive, 1980)
The government, then, is anxious that, as soon as possible after an orgy of nuclear devastation. we should get back to the very formalities which would have led to such a tragedy in the first place. If we are going to avoid a Third World War, we must start by looking at the nature of those formalities. How is it that present-day society generates war as sure as night follows day?

There are many dubious theories held about what wars are fought for. Politicians of various kinds will tell us that wars are fought for freedom, justice, democracy and so on. For most of us. however, our conditions of life have to be defended in a struggle which is far from the battlefields or weapons silos. Wars are not fought over the level of our wages, rents or mortgages. They are not fought over high political or theological principles. Wars in the modern world have a basically economic cause, which relates to the power of a minority in each of the states of the world. Much window-dressing is used to convince the cannon-fodder that our lives are being laid down for something more noble than the commercial interests of our bosses, or the sordid privileges of the Kremlin bureaucrats. But there are occasional moments in which we hear, from the horse's mouth, just how the interests of the small, property-owning class drag us all into the nightmare of modem warfare.

We live in a society in which we are bombarded from an early age with the idea of the nation. We are said to be "British". And yet, for most people in Britain, this just happens to be the place in which we sell our ability to work in order to survive. The amount most of us truly own could be fitted into the barrel of one gun. A newspaper advert for army officers states that "Your part will be to prepare for a war everyone prays will never happen . . .  it will be difficult to remember that you are still protecting your country and all you love most". It will indeed be difficult to remember that it is "your" country: according to government figures, the richest 3.2 per cent of people in Britain today possess 84 per cent of listed shares, 91 per cent of private companies, and 88 per cent of land. So much for the property- owning democracy.

The flag-waving of nationalism is not just childish pomp and pride. The countries for which we are asked to kill are not ours. Those who do have a stake in the nation are those who own it: the class of employers, landlords and investors referred to politely as "the business community". And what are they in conflict over? They are quarreling — at the conference table where possible, over the battlefield and our dead bodies where necessary — about the dividing of the spoils which are derived from the productive work of the majority. There are four main bones of contention between the various national groupings of capitalists.

Employers only receive profit if they sell the goods we have produced for them. In trying to sell goods, they are in competition with one another. States look after their local capitalists in this respect, by organising import controls and other ways of turning trade to the advantage of some capitalists at the expense of others. These moves are always backed up by force. In March 1939, the Conservative Minister of Overseas Trade, speaking not about opposing dictatorship or defending democracy, said: "We are not going to give up any markets to anyone. Great Britain is strong enough to fight for markets abroad". Similarly, the United Nations US Ambassador Andrew Young was quoted in 1977 as saying:
  My approach to Africa is in some ways like the Japanese approach to Asia, and my approach is not necessarily humanitarian. It is in the long range interest of access to resources and the creation of markets for American goods and services.
Raw Materials
Just as important to capitalists, in their pursuit of profit, is the need to gain and defend sources of minerals and other raw materials. This applied in the nineteenth-century Franco-Prussian wars over the coal and steel of Alsace-Lorraine, and inspired the British invasion of Afghanistan in 1897 as well as the Russian repeat performance of this some eighty-three years later. It is also a factor in the war between Iran and Iraq: the Majnoon Islands contain about seven billion barrels of oil. Speaking on ITV's Weekend World on 8 March 1981 in defence of the Rapid Deployment Force, the then Minister of Defence, John Nott, stated: "we have crucial minerals and in fact our oil supplies to defend". Needless to say, the majority of viewers had no mineral wealth at all to defend. Even more revealing was the following admission, made in 1963 by Kennedy’s Undersecretary of State. U. Alexis Johnson:
  What is the attraction that South-East Asia has exerted for centuries on the great powers flanking it on all sides? Why is it desirable, and why is it important? First, it provides a lush climate. fertile soil, rich natural resources, a relatively sparse population in most areas, and room to expand. The countries of South-East Asia produce rich exportable surpluses such as rice, rubber, tea, corn, tin, spices, oil and many others . . .
Thirdly, there is the constant struggle between the various states of the world, whether private- or state-capitalist, over the control of the earth itself, divided as it is into artificial fragments by national boundaries. Since the Second World War, for example, there has been an almost constant series of border disputes between India, China and Russia. This aspect of how the capitalist world system generates war was let slip in a speech made by Lady Olga Maitland of Women and Families for Defence when she was debating against the Socialist Party at Islington Central Library on 19 January 1984:
  Britain is a country which must show that we have the resolution to defend ourselves because we are a vital piece of real estate in Europe.
Trade Routes
Finally, in order to sell their goods and realise their profit, the capitalist class of the world have to be able to transport goods and materials freely. The Suez Canal crisis of 1956 in which Egypt was in conflict with Britain, France and Israel, was a conflict over a vital trade route. Similarly, in 1981 when the US Defence Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, was seeking to stress to the Japanese section of the ruling class the military obligations they owed to their American counterparts. he pointed out that "the USA helps to protect the vital sea lanes upon which Japan depends for its global trade" (Guardian, 29 April 1981).

What must we conclude from all of this evidence? These conflicts over the sources which yield profit are of no real concern to the working-class majority in society, to people who have to live on wages, salaries or the dole rather than on rent, interest or profit. It is the capitalist system of society, which exists throughout the world today, which causes war through its relentless and competitive drive for profit.

Of course, these economic factors leading to warfare have to operate through the agency of human consciousness, with all its complications. The many popular rationalisations of war suggest that religion or culture are leading us to the battlefield. These are often the concepts employed by governments to persuade individual workers to flock to a mass suicide, but they are not the root cause of the conflict. Having recognised that it is the system of production for profit which causes war. we have no option but to seek to replace it with a system of production for use. The capitalist class do not, in general, profit from war, but their system is beyond even their control. When the market dictates they invest in weapons to protect their investments, they have no choice but to follow where their share prices lead.

For this reason, movements like CND which hope to persuade governments of capitalism to operate this murderous system in a more gentle way, are doomed to failure. Indeed, the policy of gradual reduction of armaments has already degenerated into total compromise, as shown by the CND leaflet, Questions and Answers About Non-nuclear Defence. This advises a "non-provocative" conventional defence policy using "troops with interceptor aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles rather than long-range bombers" and giving "anti-tank missiles priority over tanks". So much for the "Peace" Movement. The Labour Defence Spokesman, Denzil Davies, has recently echoed this "peaceful" militarism, stating that the Labour Party is "totally committed to the defence of Britain" (Guardian, 7 August 1984).

Let those who have a material stake in British capital rise to its defence. For the rest of us — about ninety-five per cent of the population here — our interest lies in defending ourselves against the daily onslaught of capital, as represented by our bosses. The global time bomb we are sitting on can only be defused if it is put under the democratic control of the world community. The only true Peace Movement is one which stands for the abolition of all weapons, through the abolition of the social system which has made them necessary. We can talk seriously about the prospect of permanent world peace only on the basis of transforming social relationships. This is a practical proposition; to hope for the competition in the market place between rival gangs of robbers to be carried out without murder is an idle dream. At the moment we are human commodities, watching our lives being bought and sold on the labour market. But we can use the power of conscious co-operation to reverse the current trend towards a collective suicide. The only way to avoid war is to create a socialist society. Think about it. But not for too long.
Clifford Slapper

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