Marxian Economics Lecture 5 of 5 – Trade and Capitalism’s Wars. The Socialist Alternative



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Marxian Economics Lecture 5 of 5 –
Trade and Capitalism’s Wars.
The Socialist Alternative


27 September 1986, Opening remarks of Edgar Hardcastle known as Hardy – The Socialist Party of Great Britain

Edgar Hardcastle – The Socialist Party of Great Britain


Well Mr. Chairman and Comrades before I get down to the subject in detail, it may help to get things in proper perspective if I briefly refer to a few background factors. The first one which is most important, capitalism is not just a collection of manufacturers and traders selling commodities for profit. It is first and foremost a collection of a hundred and sixty independent states, sovereign states as they call them each with its armed forces to protect the privileged class against its own working class and against other states.

Secondly not all conflicts result in war, sometimes a powerful country will be able to exact terms from some weaker one merely by the threat of war and without actually going to war.

Thirdly and this is very much overlooked. There are usually divided interests inside the capitalist class in each country. One of them for example, I shall refer to later, is the conflicting interest between the export capitalists, the people who make profits by exporting commodities and the import capitalists who are working in the opposite direction. Each of them of course trying to influence the government to swing government policy in their direction.

Fourthly trade conflicts are not only about markets that is exports, they are equally about imports and how countries succeed in getting them.

Lastly on these introductory points, whilst sometimes all the capitalists are in favour of a particular war that their government is going to engage in, it can also happen that they are deeply divided and occasions have evenly happened when the capitalists are almost unitedly opposed to the war that their government is going to commit them to.

I now come to a seeming paradox about wars, I suppose everybody will agree, that nearly all the people in all the hundred and sixty countries in the world if they were asked would say that they want peace not war, yet when their governments go to war most of these people will be found supporting their government. The question is how does this come about? I have read a statement that says and I quote ‘it is peoples fear and hatred that makes war possible.’ Well of course they have got the cart before the horse.

When the government decides to go to war it calls in all its resources of propaganda usually backed by the political parties and the churches to try to create fear and hatred among the population where they did not already exist. As I say the fear and hatred that causes the war is the government going to war which deliberately creates fear and hatred. If the argument were really true, ask yourself a couple of questions, if human beings react violently against anybody who injures them why don’t the working class in all countries react violently against their exploiters who they know? Why do they turn their fear and hatred so to speak against foreigners who they in fact don’t know?

Secondly the question arises that if it is human nature that seeks an outlet in war, why is it that about ninety per cent of all the troops fighting in the two world wars have been conscripts? Why don’t the people just rush forward into battle? Why does the government have to drag them in against their will to go and get slaughtered?

There have been politicians who have used this argument, Benito Mussolini was one of them. He used to go round saying that peoples violent passions that have to have an outlet in war. Well Lowe the cartoonist did a quite telling cartoon on this. He showed a big hall with a packed audience and Mussolini bawling at them ‘its your violent passions that have to seek an outlet in war, war is your responsibility.’ But instead of Lowe showing the hall filled with excited Italians saying ‘yes we want war, give us war’, he got the hall filled with a lot of meek frightened passive looking sheep and this of course was the answer to Mussolini. But of course in the real world the workers aren’t sheepish to this extent. When somebody like Mussolini comes along and tries to whip our support for a war unfortunately most of the workers allow themselves to be led astray by people like Mussolini.

One thing you will find about all the governments who go to war, almost all of them use the argument that their particular government and their particular country are peace-loving and that it is the foreigners who are forcing war on them. As Shakespeare put it and I quote ‘this happy breed of men, the envy of less happier lands.’ All the governments will present their wars in this sort of picture.

Now how does British history stand up to this amiable picture of Britain’s wars. I jotted down a list of all the countries with which Britain has been at war. I got to twenty three and I am sure there are some that I have left out, there is in fact more than twenty three, and going through the list in alphabetical order, it starts with Afghanistan, America, Abyssinia, it goes on to the Boer Republics of South Africa, and then through China, India and so on and right at the end of the list in the alphabetical order you get Tibet and the Zulus. Now I ask you does it really sound sense that this peaceable lot of people living in the country where we happen to be have been surrounded all through their history by all these other countries filled with warlike people who keep on attacking the British way of life. I mean the Afghans and the Zulus, what did they ever do people living in London for example, the answer is of course it is a piece of nonsense.

But don’t get it wrong, this is the picture of British capitalism’s wars, but of course you get exactly the same picture if you look at the history of all the other countries, their record is just the same. Now capitalism is international but capitalism does not unite the hundred and sixty nations, it divides them and I start off with a quotation from Marx and Engels who set the pattern for all of this. Now I quote ‘the bourgeoisie finds itself in constant battle at all times with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries.’ So why does capitalism cause conflict among all these people? Why is it true that the capitalist class in all countries at all times in conflict with each other?

We can start with the way all of these nations came into existence and this also was dealt with by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto. They called it political centralisation forcibly engineered by interested capitalist groups and this is how Marx put it ‘in independent or but loosely connected provinces with separate interests, laws, governments and systems of taxation become lumped together into one nation with one government, one code of laws, one national class interest, one frontier and one customs tariff.’ That’s how these nations are formed, all of them, all hundred and sixty.

But this inevitably brings, as they’re forming one of these nations, it inevitably brings them into conflict with their neighbours. Because each of these groups try to set up a nation, try to bring within their frontier a sufficiently large population, sufficient means to produce food and other things that they will want for their industry and also all of them are trying to get an easily defended frontier which of course all their neighbours are trying to do the same and come into conflict with them.

There is always conflict about this and very frequently war. Look at the history for example in the nineteenth century, the wars that Italy was involved in, in the unification of Italy or when Prussia unified Germany they also got, had a series of wars with other people, Denmark and Austria and so on to set it up. Or look, in our own day, at India, look at the formation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with violent and bloody wars in the process of setting up these different countries and you can see the same conflicts going on now.

You can see the Basque provinces of Spain fighting to get their independence from Spain and you can see the Tamils in Ceylon, the Kurds at war with all the surrounding countries because there are Kurds scattered over four or five different countries in the Middle East. You’ve got Kashmir fighting the Indians over it and the national independence movements in Russia. You also had a few years ago the attempt by the French speaking Canadians in Quebec to break away from the Canadian Federation and the Sikh movement in India is trying to set up an independent Sikh state against the wishes of India were at present they are.

As soon as these nations are formed, the conflicts continue. The groups that have set up every one of these nations establish a class social system with the class relations of capitalism. They are all of them committed to the production of commodities, that is goods produced for sale to produce a profit, they all have a price system, they all have a wage system, they all have conflict, between the employers and the wage earners. They have a working class working for wages or salaries and not owning either the means of production and distribution, the land, the mines, the means of transport and so on, which are owned of course by the employers, the employing class, either by an individual capitalist, a company or in many instances by the government itself. The working class produce the wealth, they don’t own the means of production and they don’t own the products of their labour.

And in all countries you get inequalities of wealth. You may remember that soon after the Bolsheviks got power in Russia, Lenin put forward his plan for everybody in Russia to be paid the same wage. They were all to come down to the level of ordinary workers wage. Well of course you can’t run capitalism like that. It was dropped after a year and Lenin had the grace at the time to say that it was a step backwards, implying of course that they would resume their progress forward. Well that was about seventy years ago and of course they haven’t the slightest intention to go to revert to anything like that.

As regards the inequality of ownership in this country it was dealt with a few years ago by the Royal Commission on the distribution of income and wealth and in their report they found this about the total accumulated wealth of this country. That the richest one per cent of the adult population own twenty five per cent of it, about a quarter. That the top five per cent, the richest five per cent of the adult population own half the total accumulated wealth and the top twentieth, that is one in five of the adult population own eighty five percent of the accumulated wealth of this country. Leaving the poorest eighty per cent, the great majority of the population with only fifteen per cent of the total.

Now it is to protect this privileged class position that the armed forces are set up both to protect the property owners against their own working class and of course against foreign capitalists. The government in each nation then has to tackle its problem. All governments have to see to it that their population are more or less adequately fed and they therefore need food supplies. They need raw materials. They need sources of energy, coal or oil or something like that in order that industry can carry on. To the extent that these things are not available in their own frontiers although they will try to make them so at the beginning, they have to get them either by trade or by other means, other means frequently means forcible ones by going to war. Of course when their industries are established they are also looking for markets for its products, all of these are causes of conflict and sometimes of course of wars.

At this point there are people who will say ‘well yes that’s fine, that’s a description of America, Britain, France and Germany and so on, but what about the socialist countries in the world?’ Well of course there are no socialist countries in the world, there are some countries that choose to call themselves socialist, but in all of them, they have got these features of capitalism, they have all of them got commodity production, they have all of them got inequalities of wealth and income, they have all of them got a wage and salary earning working class that don’t own the means of production and distribution and don’t own the products and of course all of them got armed forces to protect this situation.

I now want to get out of the way some fallacious economic theories about the cause of war. I may say that none of these theories are Marxist. The simplest one is this, there are people who say that the capitalists have to export what they do export because there is no purchasing power available in the home market to buy those goods so they’ve got to send them abroad and try to get somebody to buy them outside this country. Well it is easily answered, last year British capitalism exported goods to the total of seventy eight thousand million pounds and this theory asks us to believe that the British capitalists had to send this seventy eight thousand million pounds abroad because there was nobody inside this country able to buy it.

Well it raises the question, who was it who bought the eighty five thousand million pounds of imports? Who brought all these imports into this country and what do they do with them. How do they find anybody to buy them? The answer is of course quite nonsense.

It comes up against the second problem, this, since according to this theory every country lacks purchasing power, to whom were the seventy eight thousand million pounds of British exports sold? Because by definition all the other hundred and fifty nine countries in the world themselves have no purchasing power and therefore can’t buy it.

They’re all of them in other words exporting stuff, trying to sell it abroad, with nobody to buy it abroad because they can’t find people to buy it at home. There is also one other aspect of it, America and Russia only export ten per cent of their total production. Britain exports around thirty per cent, that’s three times as much and there are some other countries that export considerably more than thirty per cent.

Well is it to be supposed that America for example with its vastly greater total production than Britain is less affected by this alleged shortage of purchasing power in the home market. Obviously it wouldn’t make sense.

Now there are several varieties of this particular theory which I won’t go into as some of them are rather complicated but there is one of them that is worth going into for a very particular reason.

It was the economist J. M. Keynes who put it forward in his book ‘the General Theory’ published in 1936. Incidentally, although the Tory party, the Labour party and the Liberal party, ever since 1944, or at least right up to the 1970s were committed Keynesians and Keynes put forward in his book this theory about the economic cause of war and it follows logically from Keynesian theory. I have never heard of a single Tory, Labour or Liberal politician refer to it and this seems rather odd. I can only suggest a rather feeble explanation. It happens to be in the last chapter of the book, maybe they never got that far, they decided to work on the earlier chapters.

But anyway, this is the theory. Keynes said that the chief economic cause of war is this deficit of purchasing power in the home market caused by government financial policy and he said that if the government adopted the right financial policy this cause of wars would be removed. And what he had in mind particularly was unemployment. What he was saying was that if the government had the right policy, the unemployed would all be earning wages instead of being on the dole and also that all the workers would be getting higher wages, so the whole working class would have a lot more purchasing power and that then they would be able to buy all the goods that are produced in this country and the capitalists would no longer be under any pressure to have to export things because Keynes says the pressure of having to export things abroad that brings the capitalists into conflict and that this is the economic cause of war.

Well, first answer to it is of course that the whole Keynesian theory is a piece of nonsense, governments cannot create jobs by any kind of government policy, no matter what it is. No government has ever created jobs, no government has ever abolished unemployment. Now it is quite true that as Marx pointed out, capitalism goes through a continual cycle. It goes through an expanding cycle when a very large number of the workers are employed. It runs into a crisis and then moves into a depression and in the depression unemployment leaps to peak levels as it has at the present time.

That goes on and governments can do nothing whatever about it and no government has ever succeeded in doing anything about it. So from a practical point of view the Keynesian argument about abolishing war just has no basis. Incidentally Keynes met Roosevelt when Roosevelt was introducing the New Deal in America in the 1930s and Roosevelt applied a Keynesian policy in America, it was just the policy that Keynes said the government should introduce. Well six years after Roosevelt came into power in America, unemployment in America was nineteen per cent, those were the official figures, which as you will realise is very much higher than it is in this country at the present time. Well if after six years of Keynesian New Dealism, unemployment is still at nineteen per cent it does suggest that the Keynesian idea is wrong as of course it is.

The final answer to all of these theories about that kind of economic cause of war is that under capitalism there is not and never can be any deficiency of purchasing power. The combined incomes of the capitalists, the self-employed and the workers are always sufficient to buy all of the goods that are on sale on the market if they wanted to do so. You have got to notice what this term means, purchasing power means power to purchase. If you’ve got money, of course you got the power to purchase something but as Marx pointed out, that although the capitalists have got power to purchase something they may choose not to purchase it. Marx was following up an argument put by a French economist J. B. Say. J. B. Say had made a famous statement that every seller brings a buyer to market. Say says that for every capitalist who has sold some goods in the market who has got some money, he can rush out straight away and buy some more goods and the man from whom he has bought them he has now got money, he can do the same and you therefore have industry practically bound to be busy all the time. Marx pointed out that although the capitalist who has sold goods and got money could go straight out and buy some more commodities, he may choose not to do so. And Marx said if enough capitalists choose not to do so, if the time gap between the sale and the purchase is too great, you get a crisis and its following depression.

I’m not going into this more at the moment except to point out that the reason why at certain stages the capitalists who have got the power to purchase don’t go out and buy the commodities in the market is that they can’t see any profit in it. I’ve used here before the example of the General Electric company of this country, when this crisis, the depression began in 1979, General Electric had fifteen hundred million cash mountain, in other words they had sold their commodities, they had collected the cash but they were not going out spending their money to buy more materials to produce more goods of their kind. They chose not to do so. They chose to lend the money to the government and banks and so on. Now they could have done so at any time. But incidentally by the way answers those people who mistakenly say that if only the banks would lend industry more money, the industry would get busy again and unemployment would disappear. Here you’ve got General Electric, they weren’t asking the banks to lend them money, they were lending money to the banks. Marx pointed this out a hundred years ago, the fallacious argument they used.

So you can say this about the present two and a half million unemployed, if and when enough British capitalists find that they can make a profit out of employing unemployed workers they will employ them but it won’t happen until then and there is nothing that governments can do one way or the other to influence it. It just takes its own course.

Now our next point I said at the beginning that the pressure to import is just as great as the pressure to export, the J. M. Keynes, a man I’ve already dealt with failed to see this because he was preoccupied all the time with this purely imaginary shortage of purchasing power in the home market. But if a country lacks supplies of essential goods such as food or oil or other things like this, they have to import them, they have to pay for them with exports. So you see, initially the pressure on a government in this situation is the pressure to import to try to get hold of the resources it needs and pay for them eventually with exports. But if it can’t get hold of them by trade, it gets hold of them of course by force by going to war, by colonising and this sort of thing. Now putting the thing the right way round was Marx’s colleague Frederick Engels who pointed out years ago that it was the search for gold that led the Portugese to Africa and it was not exports to India but imports from India that led to the conquest of India by the Portugese, the Dutch and the English. And he ended up by saying and I quote ‘nobody dreamt of exporting anything there. The exports came later.’

Now the second thing is to notice the point I already made at the beginning, the capitalist class are always divided about most issues about things like inflation, deflation and interest rates and one of the things they are always disagreed about is this conflict of interest between the exporters and the importers. The import capitalists for example want the foreign exchange rate of the pound to be high. The import capitalists, those are the people say who are importing goods from America or Italy or France and selling them in Britain want the pound exchange rate to be high. Let me explain it like this, suppose you start with the pound at the exchange rate that one pound equals one dollar. Now suppose it changed so that the pound became equal to two dollars. Then the British importers importing goods from America would then be buying their goods twice as cheaply as they were before. They would only be paying half the price in the American market, very good for them if the pound exchange rate went up. But it would be devastating for the export capitalists, again if the pound exchange rate went up from being equal to one dollar to being equal to two dollars, the unfortunate British exporters would now find that they couldn’t sell their stuff because the American buyer would now be having to pay twice as much for the same quantity of British exports.

Now the policy of the Thatcher government as you all know for several years has been in the direction of keeping the pound exchange rate high. She repeatedly makes speeches about it. She has led a delegation of European countries to Reagan a couple of years ago urging Reagan to take steps to help keep the pound high and every fall in the pound is greeted by quite a lot of the newspapers as you know a very sad thing and all the rest of it.

Now I am not suggesting that Thatchers only motive about keeping the pound high was to help the import capitalists the people who are importing goods to sell them in the British market, but nevertheless and of course it has been exceedingly good for them. Only a week ago, the bank of England announced that on the orders of the government they have raised a loan of four thousand million dollars, in other words they’ve borrowed dollars. And they are going to use it to buy pounds, to press the pound up, prevent it falling and as I say this is not good for British export capitalists. Three years ago the Confederation of British Industry which claims to represent all or the bulk of manufacturers in this country held a conference and the executive of the Confederation of British Industry took the export capitalist point of view. They wanted the pound exchange rate to be brought down, so they put that on the agenda for the conference, a resolution calling on the government to lower the exchange rate of the pound to help the export industry. Unfortunately for the executive the delegates at the conference turned it down flatly and it has taken two years for the Confederation of British Industries to carry on more propaganda and they have recently reversed that decision. They are now asking the government to lower the foreign exchange rate of the pound which the Thatcher government of course doesn’t want to do because it happens to take the opposite view. But here you get the sort of conflict between different sections of the capitalist class in each country.

But now what is interesting about this – this division of interests among capitalists also applies to war!

After the French revolution and Napoleon got power in France, wars went on, I don’t know for about twelve years or something like this, between Britain and France and some other countries and de B. Gibbins in his ‘Industrial History of England’ comments on it. I won’t quote at length but de B. Gibbins said it was the merchants and factory owners in this country that wanted the war with France. He says that it was in fact and I quote, he says ‘it was the merchants and manufacturers who forced Prime Minister Pitt into taking action.’ In other words, to go to war. Now fifty years or so later in the Crimean War you’ve got a very different situation. The Crimean War between Britain and Russia was nominally about the holy places in Jerusalem.

Well the British factory owners and merchants couldn’t care less about the holy places in Jerusalem but they couldn’t see that it had any relationship whatever to their profit making activities and all the historians agreed that the British capitalist class were almost solidly opposed to going into the Crimean war but the politicians the government took a very different view. The politicians took the view that they had constantly to take action against Russia that would prevent Russia moving south and so on. Of course they took it for granted that the Russian expansionist view was to get hold of India and endanger the British hold on India.

So you’ve got the government going to the Crimean war on this long term view of holding Russia in check and the merchants and manufacturers in this country taking a very different view of the whole matter. Russia among other things wanted to break up Turkey and this of course would mean that the Russians got hold of the Dardanelles and out of the Dardanelles and into the Mediterranean and this was an aim that the British ruling class for the sake of their empire didn’t want although the merchants and manufacturers couldn’t see it.

Or take the Boer War, the war between Britain and the two small farmer republics in South Africa about 1900. It was very unpopular with a large section of the capitalist class. And Lloyd George leading the liberals conducted violent campaigns against participation in the war. Or the First World War in 1914, when that war situation was developing, at least half the Cabinet in this country were opposed to participation in the war. A number of them by the way were Quakers and Neo-Quakers and had for years been preaching peace and so on and they could see no reason why Britain should get involved in the war. What actually happened was, you’ve got Churchill, Churchill taking a very different view, I mean Churchill was not a factory owner or anything like this, Churchill was an imperialist, with conscious all the time of the British Empire and the longer term views of the British capitalist class. Churchill gradually worked on these members of the cabinet, argued with them, one of the tactics he used every day would say to them ‘well you don’t have to make up your minds tomorrow even today you’ve got tomorrow and the day after you see’ and in the meantime events were moving with rapidity. One day he was in fact saying it’s too late now you’re in the war whereupon Lord Morley and John Burns the Labour leader resigned.

Or, I don’t Lenin had very much useful to say about war, but he said one very very useful thing about the First World War. What Lenin did, he treated the powers in the world, Britain, France, Spain, Russia and Germany and all the rest of them, he called them bandits. But he said there are two lots of bandits, first you’ve got the older and fatter bandits, the people who are gorged with colonies, don’t want them, don’t need any more and all they want is to be left alone, they don’t want war, they just want someone to leave them alone and they can keep out of it. But he said you’ve got the other lot, lean and hungry bandits, Germans and Italy who came along late and haven’t got all these rich colonies, they are determined to challenge the older and fatter bandits. And of course it was quite a useful way of looking at it.

In 1914, Britain and France were allied with Russia against Germany, the Russian interest in the war was the one I have already mentioned. The Russians could see that the German plan which they called the Berlin to Baghdad railway would not only open up Middle East oil to Germany but would bring Germany into the Middle East, give them control of the Dardanelles and bottle up the Russians in the Black Sea and so on so the Russians had that view of it. Britain and France took the line against Germany for other reasons.

But there is one interesting sideline on this, the entente cordiale with France was signed in 1904, a few years earlier, Joseph Chamberlain the Tory leader had got a different idea, Joseph Chamberlain and some other leading, Cecil Rhodes was another, they got together and they had a plan which was quite different, their plan was that Britain should not ally itself with France against Germany but get Germany into alliance with Britain against France. And they also proposed to bring America in, they said you know, if we’ve got a Triple Alliance, Britain, America and Germany we could conquer the world and then to use Joseph Chamberlain’s own words, ‘we could impose peace on the world.’ Which as you may realise has a more modern recollection, this was of course the Hitlerite Germany idea too, the play from a different angle. But apparently the Germans weren’t interested in it and the thing broke down so what might have been a war between Britain and France, Britain and Germany against France, ended up as a war between Britain and France against Germany.

It’s worth continuing this by having a look at the actually what was behind some of the wars. There was that Boer war I have mentioned. These two smaller farmer republics in South Africa had had their own wars against the Zulus for example. The Boers warred with the Zulus to conquer Zulu land. But the powers were not much interested in these Boer republics until, 1886 a discovery was made, the discovered on the rand, the biggest and richest gold fields in the world. Immediately there was a flood of people largely British, Canadians, Australians into the Boer republic. There were a hundred thousand of them moved in in a couple of years gold prospecting. Well the Boer government didn’t want this and they flatly refused to give them voting rights. Well of course this brings you right up to date, is Britain’s interest in South Africa about people’s voting rights? But of course it wasn’t the voting rights of the blacks, nobody worried about that, this was the voting rights of these immigrant white people into South Africa. In other words, the British government went to war with the South African Boer Republic ostensibly about democracy but of course what it was really was about the loot, the gold fields of the rand near Johannesburg.

Or take the wars between France and Germany, France occupied Alsace-Lorraine in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. In 1870 Germany went to war with France and got it back. In 1914, in the 1914 war the Germans were defeated and French got Alsace-Lorraine back again. In 1940 if I have got my dates right, Hitler seized it again and it took another war for France to get it back again. Now this I assure you was not concerned with the wishes of the population of Alsace-Lorraine. It arose out of the fact that it was very rich in iron ore which both Germany and France needed for the rapid development of their iron and steel industries.

Or take a recent war, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, I’ve forgotten precisely what official reason the Russia gave for doing it, but it has been reported, firstly that Afghanistan is rich in natural gas which the Russians want, but it has also been reported since then, that they have discovered in Afghanistan and the Russians are already developing it, the richest copper deposits in the world. Now this of course does make more sense than supposing that wars take place for the sort of reasons that governments give them.

There are two possible fallacies about war that call for notice. The first has been put in the statement that the capitalist class have a vested interest in war. There is a tiny, a very small element of truth in it, there is a small part of the capitalist class who make their profit by armaments but apart from that there is nothing in it. In fact, the reverse is almost true, you could almost say that the capitalist class as a class have a vested interest in avoiding war and for the very good reason that the financial cost of war falls on the only people who it can fall on, that is the property class and in war it is the property of the capitalist class that is destroyed in the vast destruction of modern war. Professor Bowley wrote a book about the First World War in which he showed, he analysed the wealth and income of the British capitalist class before 1914 and showed what had happened to it by 1924, it had come down very considerably. They were paying for the war, it was their property and their foreign investment that had disappeared.

So theoretically speaking you could get the situation were particularly older and fatter bandits don’t want war but unfortunately for them, capitalism won’t let them. There are always some expanding capitalist nations like Germany in 1914 prepared to take a chance on winning a war and getting out of it rich rewards that would make the thing worthwhile.

Now there used to be a idea that war could be run at no cost because the victors make the defeated pay reparations. Germany did it to France in 1870, they tried to do it in 1914, Lloyd George the Prime Minister used to go around saying two things ‘we’ll hang the Kaiser and we’ll make Germany pay for the war.’ Well they never hung the Kaiser and they never made Germany pay for the war, they said Germans have got to pay for the war but it ended up with Germany, with Britain, America, France lending money to Germany to save Germany from collapse, the Germans in fact never had to pay those reparations and the cost of modern war was so great and the destruction so great that you can rule it out of order.

There is another theory that you’re all of you met, it is that capitalism goes to war to escape depression. The idea is that the capitalist government with a lot of trouble at home, economic difficulties, all sorts, goes to war to distract people’s attention from it. It was very popular with the Communist party between the wars though I never heard them offering it as a reason why Russia got in a lot of wars. But here again there is a small element of truth in it. Occasions do happen where a government in difficulties will go in for a bit of foreign adventurism, even if it is on a small scale like making violent speeches denouncing a lot of foreigners. You remember that spate of denunciation of the gnomes of Zurich one time, and back in 1929 the second Labour government, you had the Chancellor of the Exchequer Snowden suddenly becoming popular with all the press because he was going round making violent speeches denouncing the greed and all the rest of it of various European countries, I’ve forgotten even what they were. But that is the sort of thing they do.

But as an explanation for serious war it just won’t hold water. There was no depression in this country in the four or five years before 1914, there was no depression in this country in the four or five years before 1939 so according to this theory why did they go to war? And the Labour government in 1950 went and got involved in the war with Korea. Not only was there no depression in this country in 1950 but the previous five years, there had been a continuous shortage of labour so again why did they go to war? Now the element of truth in this argument can be seen in the Falklands War but not in the sort of direction that it has in fact been used. The opposition in the Argentine parliament accused Galtieri of deliberately going into the Falklands war to distract attention from the desperate economic condition inside the Argentine. But Galtieri did not invade the Falklands because he wanted war or even thought that he was going to get involved in war, what Galtieri did, he’d been very badly advised, he had been led to believe that if the Argentines made a sudden swift attack on the Falklands, they’d have a walkover and that the Thatcher government would make loud protests at the United Nations and then do nothing whatever about it. Well he sadly misjudged the situation. It didn’t work out like that at all. But it is quite obvious that Galtieri never thought that he was going to get involved in a serious war, he thought that it was just going to be a bit of adventurism.

I now come to the question of disarmament. What is the chance of capitalism disarming through the various disarmament conferences? Well a short answer is that there isn’t the slightest chance of it. The first such conference was held in 1899 and since then there have been dozens. There were half a dozen between the wars and since 1945 they’ve been almost continuous and we’ve also had the League of Nations and the United Nations and they’ve done nothing whatever in that direction. There have I suppose been a few minor achievements by United Nations but you can see the futility of it in the Labour party which has always claimed that they above all parties were the party of peace.

In 1907 the first chairman of the Labour party Keir Hardie wrote about it. It was at a time when the Second International dissolvement conference was being held. Keir Hardie listed all the important questions that the Labour government would have to deal with and he said they would give priority to disarmament. They’d solve the disarmament problem first and then they’d go on to the other ones of poverty and unemployment and housing and all the rest of it. Well I don’t need to elaborate that point, since then the Labour party has been involved in two World Wars and a dozen others. It was a Labour government in 1950 which inaugurated the big increase of armament expenditure in this country. The reason they gave came out recently, they were afraid that Russia was planning an invasion of Western Europe.

It has also got a repercussion in June of this year. In the House of Commons, the Tory government announced that they were going to cut defence expenditure by two hundred and eighty million in each of the next three years, so what did the Labour opposition do, they didn’t say very good news, they had down an amendment which read like this, that the government’s actions were leading to damaging in Britain’s conventional defence responsibilities and Britain’s defence industrial base. They went on to say that among other things the government was endangering the British navy. They said that the British navy needs three new frigates a year and instead of guaranteeing that these would be provided the Tory government were creating a situation and I quote from the Labour opposition ‘in which Britain would soon be without to capacity to build its own warships’ and this is the party which claims that they were particularly the party of peace and so on.

One issue that has been constantly discussed among supporters of capitalism and it’s wars is whether a capitalist country should have big armaments or little armaments. There is one school which quotes the old saying if want peace you prepare for war. The other lot say ‘if armaments are too big you create fear in your neighbours, they get together and they may take preventative action and you’re involved in a war,’ which brings us to the Churchill family. Obviously Sir Winston Churchill belonged to the big armaments people, always Churchill was arguing for bigger armaments, but the strange thing is that his father didn’t. His father Lord Randolph Churchill in 1885 was Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Tory government which was planning an increase in armaments to meet the threat from Germany. Lord Randolph Churchill objected, he resigned and it ended his career.

He argued and what he said was is, he said the more heavily armed you the country is, the more likely it is to get involved in war. Now of course, they are both wrong. It doesn’t matter whether a capitalist country is heavily armed or lightly armed, they all get involved in war when the situation is moving in that direction. Another thing about disarmament conference, in fact the most important thing of all, disarmament conferences are not about disarmament, disarmament conferences are about saving money. And it started with the Russian government finding the burden of armaments more than they wanted to bear, invited all the countries, all the powers of Europe to a disarmament conference at the Hague in 1899 and I quote the invitation, it said ‘it was to secure a possible reduction of the excessive armaments which weigh upon all nations by putting a limit on the progressive development of the present armaments.’ They held the conference at the Hague, they passed a number of resolutions, dealt with some things like poison gas and one very interesting one, they dealt with the throwing of missiles from balloons, at least that is something we don’t have to worry about these days!

But the thing they did do they set up a permanent court at the Hague to deal with disputes between the nations, it is still there but nobody of course pays much attention to it.

Another supposed way to avoid war is the propaganda of the various peace societies. There have been scores of them, starting with the Peace society itself which was formed after the Napoleonic wars to guarantee that it would never happen again. Well of course it has been happening ever since. Some of these peace organisations have not been specifically to end war but to end the use of particular weaponry of wars like submarines or aeroplanes or bombing open towns or poison gas or germ warfare and of course the latest of all is the CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament who want Britain unilaterally to get rid of all nuclear weapons. Their argument is that nuclear weapons are in a special class because they threaten the existence of the human race itself. They were formed in 1958 that is twenty eight years ago and they particularly use this argument and say look we begin this movement for unilateral disarmament, the other countries will be impressed by their seeing what we are doing here, they will all fall into line and they will all agree to get rid of nuclear armaments. Of course it’s been a total failure, there are now far more countries have got nuclear weapons now than in 1928 and many more of them have got the capacity and the intention of getting them. And as regards the weapons themselves of course the collection of missiles in the world now is infinitely greater than it was in 1958 and infinitely more destructive.

CND has also the idea that in a war if this country has no nuclear missiles it will not be attacked by any of the countries with nuclear missiles. They have got the curious idea that you are only attacked if you threaten anybody. They don’t realise of course that what happens in capitalism, all the capitalist states the hundred and sixty odd are out for the loot and if they find a country that is weakly armed and I suppose has got some rich deposits of platinum or gold or something like then that is an attraction to them.

The CND people of course have forgotten that in 1945 when the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japs had not got any nuclear weapons in other words they were a nuclear free zone. It was not their fault by the way, they had been working on the atom bomb themselves but unfortunately for them they were months behind. I’ve no doubt whatever if at that point in 1945 the Japs had said to the Americans, the British and the Russians, a couple of hours after you drop those bombs on Japan we’ll blow up New York, Moscow and London, the bombs would not been have dropped on Japan, but I mean that is another question.

What is interesting about CND that unlike a lot of peace organisations they are not opposed to war as such, they are not pacifists. Their present chairman in an interview in the Sunday Telegraph 17th November 1985 described himself as a Christian non-pacifist, his founder of his church being the man who said, as legend said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’, but he went on to say that it is not realistic to argue that countries shall not have the means of defending itself. Now you see the choice of this word ‘defence’, it gives a certain gloss to this ‘look the wars we support will be wars to defend the people in this country.’ But of course the conventional weapons they’re talking about are the weapons of mass destruction to be used on all the other countries with which they happen to be at war.

World War One was so to speak a CND war, no nuclear weapons, not a whisper of a nuclear weapon, purely conventional weapons and what happened in World War One? In this country alone the number of people killed was at eight hundred and twelve thousand and the number injured was one million eight hundred and fifty thousand and if you take not only the allies but all the warring countries in the First World War there were eight and a half million people killed and twenty one million people wounded and this is what conventional non-nuclear war can be. In short the CND are misleading the workers in their particular argument and of course like all the peace societies which support capitalism and want to get rid of war, they are making the workers think that such a thing is possible when in fact it isn’t.

Politically of course CND every time they are challenged on it they boast, they say ‘look our members are Labourites and Liberals and SDP people and Tories’ in other words they are saying our members are supporters of capitalism. Well their members being supporters of capitalism of course whatever good intentions they’ve got they are not going to do anything whatever to get rid of war.

One change that has been brought about by the peace societies if you attach any importance to it, if you look up old records, this country used to have a Minister of War and a War Department, they’ve changed all that, he’s now a Minister of Defence and the Defence Department. But of course the functions have not changed, they’re exactly the same as they used to be.

I now come to the policy and actions of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in regard to war. We have consistently opposed capitalism’s wars and we have done so on the grounds that the interests of the working class is not served by capitalism’s wars, the capitalists have armed forces for their own purpose and they don’t set those armed forces in motion to serve the interests of the working class. You can say that from a working class point of view we can agree with the statement made by Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Franklin said ‘there never was a good war or a bad peace.’ Well that is okay from a working class point of view. But the Socialist Party of Great Britain has never supposed as have the peace societies that you can prevent war merely by opposing war. Our case has always been that the only way to prevent capitalism’s war is to get rid of capitalism.

During the history of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, we have seen in the world capitalist states presenting a variety of faces; capitalism administered by imperialists, and by professed opponents of war, monarchists and republicans, by men belonging all varieties of the Christian religion and all the other religions and also by atheists. We’ve seen capitalism run by a particular lot the zealots for free trade in this country in the middle of the nineteenth century who argued that if only you could extend free trade to all over the world, this itself would bring permanent peace to the world but of course it didn’t work.

And we have seen as I say all of the failure of all of the disarmament conferences and League of Nations and United Nations. There is only one thing we have never seen in the world, we have never seen socialism in the world. And how and why therefore would socialism obviate war? Socialism will not be a class divided society with a profiting class needing armed forces to protect its property and privileges, it will not have production for sale and profit, it won’t be seeking markets or seeking sources of raw materials or having to protect trade routes or frontiers. It will not be divided into separate capitalist nations fighting each other, it will not have governments exploiting differences of language and religion to stir up national hatreds. It will not have class conflict between owners and non-owners, between the capitalist class and the working class, it will be organised worldwide on a basis of common ownership of the means of production and distribution. Production will be solely and directly for use so that the only function of production will be to put things at the disposal of all the citizens of said socialist society on a basis of free access.



As regards the achievement of socialism, it involves first of all the winning over the working class to an understanding and acceptance of the socialist case. You cannot contemplate socialism being run except by socialists. So that even if it were possible to gain control of the machinery of government and the armed forces without the socialist working class to do it, it would serve no purpose whatever because you couldn’t introduce socialism.

Secondly the socialist working class have got to be consciously and politically organised to gain control democratically of the machinery of government and the armed forces. That is of course to gain control of parliament, the local councils and the rest of the machinery of the capitalist state. In that way and only that way, can the capitalist class be dispossessed and the road cleared for the establishment of socialism. In the words of our declaration of principles ‘socialism will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.’ It will also rid the world of war!


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