1914, 1944, 2014: Capitalism means war
Our rulers just can’t get enough of war.
A whole year of ‘commemorations’ of World War One, with opinion divided among them about whether this was a Good War or a Bad War. The right wing tends to argue that this was a Good War. The Kaiser was Bad, and had to be stopped. And Britain’s empire was, on the whole, a Good Thing, which had to be defended. The left wing can then pose as very radical, and say, this was a Bad, Imperialist War.
A week or more of celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 1944, with royals and presidents hob-nobbing in northern France on the big day. This time left and right are united: this was a Good War. The US and the British were definitely the Goodies, and the Germans were the Baddies. The Goodness of the war is proved by the fact that it made the world safe for Democracy.
When it comes to the First World War, the left can quote authentic revolutionaries like Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg and tell us that capitalism, at a certain stage in its historical development, inevitably turns to imperialism and war to prolong its survival past its sell-by date. But they mysteriously forget all this when it comes to the Second World War, which was to all intents and purposes the same war fought by the same imperialist powers as the conflict that ended only 20 years previously. The magic of ‘anti-fascism’, of ‘Nazism is the greater evil’, wipes away what marxism tells us about the real nature of capitalism, and the barbarism of Auschwitz and Treblinka justifies the barbarism of the aerial obliteration of Hamburg, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In opposing the First World War on the basis of working class internationalism, the revolutionaries who went on to form the Communist International insisted that if capitalism in decay was not overthrown by proletarian revolution, it would drag humanity into a deadly spiral of wars which would threaten its very existence. History has proved them right: the Second World War – which revolutionaries opposed for the same reason – plumbed even greater depths of horror than the First. The “Cold War” that immediately followed wiped out millions in proxy wars between the two superpowers, with the sword of nuclear annihilation hanging over mankind’s head. The break-up of the two imperialist blocs after 1989 did not bring peace, but a growing war of each against all that has swept across Africa, the Middle East, and, with the war in ex-Yugoslavia, to the gates of Europe. The great powers, reacting to the break-up of their spheres of influence, have since 1989 intervened militarily even more often than during the Cold War, but as we can see in Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan, they have only accelerated the plunge into chaos.
Today the ruin that is Syria, the permanent massacre that is the Congo and Central Africa, the growing tensions between the USA and Japan and China in the Far East, the descent of Ukraine into an imperialist ‘civil war’ fuelled by both Russia and the western powers – all this is testimony to the fact that the rulers cannot have enough of war, that their system needs it, feeds on it, fuels it, even if this murderous addiction will also lead to capital’s own destruction. Hence all the efforts of all the ruling classes of the world to stir up the poison of patriotism, to make the exploited of the world identify with their exploiters and wave the national flag, which is always the flag of capitalism and war.
For the working class, to identify with our rulers, to march in their parades, leads to suicide. To understand our identity with all the exploited of the world, to unite in struggle against the capitalists’ call for sacrifice in the national interest, to carry on that struggle against the capitalists even when they go to war, to oppose the national flag with the flag of the international revolution – that is the only hope for a world without war.