Friday, June 21, 2024

Editorial: War—But With Whom? (1950)

Editorial from the June 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a popular theme with writers on war to discuss after the event how each war could have been avoided if only the government had taken action to stop the aggressor in time. Thus Sir Duff Cooper in an article in the Daily Mail (16/5/50) tells the British people that “had they been willing to listen to Lord Roberts before 1914 or Mr. Churchill before 1939, it is possible that two world wars might have been avoided.” His present theme is that Russia is not the only danger to world peace for within a short time Germany may again have recovered sufficiently to become an equal or greater menace. The fact that he recognises the existence of more than one potential enemy reveals the fallacy of the whole of his case for stopping war by timely action; for it must be obvious that a government cannot take a decision unless it knows with which Power it may be at war and with which Power it may then be in alliance. Sir Duff Cooper's list of warning voices is not complete; to it should be added those who expected war with Russia in 1919, or with France in 1923, or with America at various times of tension. Where all such arguments go astray is that they fail to see that while the world remains capitalist all Powers are potential enemies. From which it follows that the capitalists and the capitalist politicians are always divided in their judgment about which rival Power is the greatest menace. Before 1914 there were influential British groups which favoured an alliance, or at least a “deal,” with expansionist German capitalism and it was a similar division of opinion that produced the Chamberlain policy towards Hitler.

At the present moment most British and American Statesmen see Russia as "the only militaristic and aggressive Power in the world,” but others, like Sir Duff Cooper, taking a longer view, see a renascent Germany as “the enemy,” and in truth nobody can be certain that these discords may not be overshadowed by others in the course of a few years. Under the Russian threat France, Britain and Holland now welcome American Military Aid to hold colonies in Asia, and the investment of American capital in colonies in Africa but if and when the Russian threat diminishes the encroachment of American capitalism may appear as the more dangerous menace.

Each school of thought can produce supporting arguments. While the People (7/5/50) featured the threat to British exports from “the growing menace of cheap goods made in Germany and Japan” the Sunday Empire News of the same date was warning its readers that “countries behind the Iron Curtain are flooding world markets" with all sorts of goods at cut-throat prices.”

The British Government, through the Foreign Under-Secretary, Mr. E. Davies, declares its view that at present German exports do not constitute a serious menace to British export trade (Daily Telegraph 16/5/50); but Mr. Davies' further statement that German exports would have to be increased many times before they represented “a threat equivalent to the German pre-war export rate” shows that he has not forgotten the alarm British exporters felt in the years immediately before the second world war. What happened then may happen again as German production increases.

A more understanding view used to be expressed by Sir Stafford Cripps who told an audience of co- operators at Ilkeston, Derby, on 17 September, 1944: “A return to open competition between the nations will inevitably lead to another and even more disastrous war” (Daily Express 18/9/44). Having now forgotten what he once knew Sir Stafford Cripps has in recent years been the Minister primarily responsible for the drive to flood world markets with British exports at prices below those of foreign competitors. He was responsible for the devaluation of the pound in September, 1949, with the specific object of lowering British export prices but now he cannot see that in the eyes of foreign capitalists this is “economic aggression" which will in due course produce its harvest of international enmity, retaliatory action and eventual threats of war.

The former Sir Stafford had a better grasp of the relationship between capitalism and war but at that time he was not finally committed to the effort of the Labour Government to put British capitalism on its feet again. He still cherished the utopian notion of a world capitalism pruned of aggression through the now moribund United Nations.

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