The “Phoney” War
The war to-day presents many puzzling features. The absence of big offensives on the front, an unexpected freedom from aerial attacks on big cities, these are factors which must have taken many by surprise. To complete the confusion one need only recall the diplomatic and political manoeuvres during the two or three years prior to the outbreak of the conflict, the pact signed at Munich between Chamberlain and Hitler, the “Anti-Fascist” policy of Stalin and his Yes-men, the Communists. Yet the position is by no means contradictory when a careful analysis on Socialist lines is applied.
We must bear in mind, however, that a complex stage has been reached in the development of World Capitalism, a complexity which is both quantitative and qualitative. History does not repeat itself and 1939 is not 1914; twenty-five years have changed the world, economically and politically, and a similar alignment of forces are yet facing different problems.
Where is this change most clearly marked ? Undoubtedly in the sphere of economics. The productive factors, the means for churning out goods of all kinds, have developed to an extent which can only be realised by those who can grasp the significance of that fundamental antagonism within the present world economic order, the clash between the private or Class ownership of the productive forces and Social production.
What Capitalism Means
The Class nature of ownership is most apparent in the highly-developed parts of the world. In Britain, the U.S.A., France, Germany, Japan, and other smaller countries, the economic cleavage of the population into property-owners and property-less is brought into bold relief by the giant stature of the productive machine. The combines and trusts with their millionaire oligarchies tower unmistakably over the mass of working people, while so-called “middle class” elements are made to look pathetically ridiculous in their attempts to pose as a balance within this vicious social inequality.
In .the more backward countries (particularly those not subjugated by one or the other of the above-mentioned powers) the economic line-up is not so distinct, or assumes a different form. But again there is the contrast between wealth and poverty, and whilst, for example, a country like Russia cannot as yet boast of its millionaires, it hides a poverty perhaps more abject than that of many other European lands. In any case, the more highly-developed countries are a faithful vision of what is yet to come elsewhere.
So here is a world of teeming fertility, of tremendous productivity, of ever greater potentialities, but little of it belongs to those who work on it; the coolie and the peasant, the miner and the clerk, the mechanic and the bricklayer, whatever the colour of their skin or the expression of their tongues, theirs is to work and obey lest even their meagre existence is taken from them. And the grasping hand of a tiny minority holds the colossus of world-production in its possessive clutches.
People who want to understand the modern world and why it erupts periodically into wars must forget the Hitlers and Stalins, the Chamberlains and their ilk, they must tear away the political coverings with their smoke-screens of propaganda. Then they will see the process of production, the only basis of life, the making and growing of food, the milling and the mining, yes, and the moulding of guns. For the class that owns the world does not want to lose it, they quarrel with each other for bigger slices of it, and, finally, they are afraid of having to give it up altogether.
It is in this social setting that we have to consider the position of powers in conflict.
Shorn of their political trappings, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, etc., are merely the geographical incarnations of national capitalist enterprises competing with each other for commercial supremacy.
Poland, Czechoslovakia, Finland, the Colonies, and other parts of the European continent, represent so many means to the one end of capitalist production—profits.
What are the essentials required by capitalists in their hunt for profits ?
Firstly, they must have access to raw materials (minerals, oil, etc.).
Secondly, a working class willing to labour for them, and
Thirdly, an entry to markets where they can unload their goods at a profit.
In all three essentials the British and French Empires are a good first and second, whilst Germany is a bad third.
The reasons for this are historical and need not concern us here. Nor need we explain why Russia has been left behind in economic development and is now forced to combine a brutal imperialism with a belated spurt to bring her productive forces in line with capitalist needs.
The purpose of this article is to expose the mercenary nature of this war, which the Allied governments and their supporters claim is being fought for “principles of international justice,” “rights of small nations,” “freedom,” etc., but which Hitler argues is aimed at the “destruction of the German nation,” the “existence of the German people,” or “British self-aggrandisement.”
All of which may be good propaganda with which to get factory-fodder to become cannon-fodder—but what are the facts ?
The expansion of German capitalism on the Continent threatens the nerve-centre of the British Empire—the British Isles.
For centuries it has been British policy to prevent any power or group of powers on the Continent becoming so strong as to dominate Europe, threaten England and her sea routes. Hence the old British policy of the “Balance of Power.”
France, too weak to maintain her position on her own and offering little, if any, commercial rivalry to Britain (for the present, at any rate!) forms Britain’s link with the Continent.
It was German capitalism that menaced British supremacy in 1914, as it does to-day. Because a weak Germany cannot survive in the centre of Europe—it would split into a dozen provincial fragments—German big business welcomed the militaristic nationalism of Adolf Hitler, whose verbal hysteria and brutal excesses against opponents, including Jewish capitalists, fooled the unthinking millions into the belief that here was a heaven-sent saviour who would put an end to the system that meant poverty for them.
As Hermann Rauschnmg shows in his brilliant work, “Germany’s Revolution of Destruction,” the sadist psychology of Nazi-ism, appealing to the worst elements in Germany, the “lumpen-petit-bourgeoisie,” unfortunately only too numerous, was actually acclaimed as “revolutionary.”
The working class everywhere have still to learn that violence in language and method are often used by movements that are most reactionary.
The British capitalists at first welcomed Hitler. Quite a few of “Our Betters” became his open admirers. The growing rapprochement between pre-Hitler Germany and Russia had not pleased our rulers, and they expected that Adolf Hitler, Bolshevik hater No. 1, would put an end to that. For a time it seemed as if they were not to be disappointed. German Communists went to jails or were shot, together with many Jews, Social Democrats and trade unionists.
But a growing section of the British ruling class had come to doubt Hitler’s policy as outlined in his last will and testament, “Mein Kampf.” Supported by the Labour Party and the Communists, they began to shout about the danger to the British Empire. None of them shouted louder than the Communists, who, when it comes to making a noise, always give their pay-masters at Moscow good value for their money.
But the majority of British capitalists still held back, hoping to divert or limit German expansion.
It was the seizure of Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, that finally converted our rulers to the view that German expansion must be stopped by force of arms.
Here is no record of a growing indignation at brutal excesses, or the crushing of small nations, but a policy based purely on the self-interests of British and French world-power, a power acquired by the same forcible aggression practised to-day by Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Japan.
Two main arguments are presented in order to obtain working-class support for this war : —
(1) That the workers’ standard of living is bound up with the maintenance or increase of the national boundaries of their respective countries.(2) That this war is a struggle against a particularly obnoxious and reactionary regime, whose removal would mean the release and triumph of progressive and democratic ideas.
The obvious reply to the first argument is to point to a number of smaller countries, such as Denmark, Norway or Sweden, whose economic and social level of working-class life compares favourably with that of any other European country, including Britain.
Wages are determined by social and economic factors mainly independent of a country’s size
The French workers did not get higher wages when their masters collared Alsace-Lorraine, nor the Germans less.
The second argument is just as fallacious as the first. But its appeal to the more alert section of the working class makes it more dangerous. We share their hatred for dictators and the cruelties of their oppression.
But the removal of reactionary governments by means of a war does not ensure progress or democracy. For it ignores the mass-mentality that alone can help them to power. Let Hitler be overthrown to-morrow and you are still left with millions of Germans whose minds cannot as yet grasp the advantages of free expression of political views. Bombs and bayonets can never be the means of enlightenment. War does not make Democrats out of Fascists.
Can the War be Stopped?
For all these reasons, the Socialist Party opposes this war, as it opposed the last war, for its butchery, its bestiality and the added hardships it brings to working men and their families, whose struggles for existence are already a crying indictment of a world where the powers of production are only equalled by the powers- of destruction.
The overwhelming majority of the working class do not see things our way, however little enthusiasm they may have for the war. True, there are a number of small movements, who, for various reasons, are opposed to the war. The Fascists, through their kinship with Hitlerism, the Communists, because of their allegiance to Moscow, both proclaim their love for peace to a credulous population. There are pacifists, whose genuine opposition springs from religious or humanitarian grounds, and the I.L.P., who now claim, despite recent overtures to the Labour Party, to be making a Socialist appeal.
There is not the space here to deal with them in detail.
None of them take the stand of the Socialisl Party of Great Britain, whose case is based on an understanding of the social system that causes wars.
Nor can there be any comparison for consistency.
If Hitler or the Allied Powers finally decide on the initiative and turn their war machines on to full blast, it may well be that the masses, goaded into desperation by the horrors and chaos, will revolt and so bring to an end the conflict.
In this country, at any rate, such an event seems very unlikely.
A well-established and experienced ruling class such as ours knows only too well how far they can go without breaking completely the main pillar supporting their social and political structure, the British working class.
Such a revolt is more probable in Germany, where the regime is less stable and may become unpopular with the German capitalists themselves. One thing is certain. Revolt against war itself can have no lasting achievement. The Bolsheviks came to power out of the chaos and discontent caused by the last war and we have lived to see this very Party lead the Russian masses into a new era of aggression and invasion, which may well end in Russia herself being involved in a world conflagration.
The time is past for any half-measures. Capitalism has reached a desperate pass. Since 1918, not a year has gone without bringing to the world further travail in the shape of wars, persecution, mass unemployment, and an economic crisis whose magnitude brought governments toppling from their seats of power.
When in 1931 the world’s Press blared forth that humanity’s dilemma was “over-production”—a crisis of “Too much of everything”—they let the capitalist cat out of the bag.
For here is the clue to the social riddle. The productive forces are the titans whose struggles to free themselves from the chains of capitalist ownership are convulsing society. Social harmony is impossible within the framework of this economic discord.
That is why the attack on War and the War-Makers must be aimed at World Capitalism itself.
The Socialist Movement alone can point the Way to Peace.