Peace is impossible in decaying capitalism

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The society we live in, capitalist society, is once again marching to war: Serbia yesterday, Afghanistan and Iraq today, Iran or Syria tomorrow, and even more grave conflicts after that. This time around, it may not be towards one big World War, but towards more and more chaotic wars all over the world. But the threat is the same: the destruction of humanity, unless this system is overthrown.

In 1914, capitalist civilisation showed that it no longer had any useful purpose for mankind as it plunged Europe into the biggest imperialist slaughter the world had ever seen. In 1917-19, from Petrograd to Berlin, from Turin to Glasgow, the workers’ response was an international wave of mass strikes and revolutions. The Communist International outlined the perspective: either the victory of the socialist revolution in all countries, or an epoch of ever more destructive wars.

The revolutionary wave was defeated and the International died; but it had been right. Within 20 years, a new and even more horrifying world war began to ravage the planet. Even before this nightmare was over, the imperialist allies in the ‘anti-fascist’ camp were confronting each other for control of the globe. For the next 40 years, humanity lived under the shadow of a third and final world war between US and Russian imperialism, while millions died in their proxy wars under the guise of ‘national liberation’ struggles from Vietnam to the Middle East and Africa.

In 1989 the weaker Russian bloc, encircled by its US rival, collapsed like a house of cards; and we were told by George Bush Senior that a new world order of peace was on the agenda. Almost immediately, the former partners of the old US bloc were themselves fighting each other in proxy wars in Africa and the Balkans. America responded by launching massive displays of military force in the Gulf in 1991 and in Serbia in 1999. And since 2001, it has been engaged in the ‘war against terrorism’, whose real aim is to control the world’s main energy supplies and build a circle of steel around Europe and Russia.

In short: decaying capitalism means endless war. The history of the last 90 years shows that all talk of peace in this system is a lie. Peace is no more than an imperialist truce between wars.

Pacifism: a harmful illusion

If capitalism cannot make peace, then pacifism is a lie. Pacifism, the so-called anti-war movement led by those who selectively claim to be against this or that war, such as the present military adventure in Iraq, tells us that, through legal demonstrations and democratic elections, we can persuade the capitalist state to turn swords into ploughshares. It tells us that if we support this capitalist politician against that one - such as Kerry against Bush - we can reverse the slide towards war. It even tells us that we can serve the cause of peace by supporting certain imperialist powers - like France and Germany - against others, like America or Britain, or by getting America and Europe to work together in the framework of the good old United Nations (even George Bush is paying lip service to this idea today).

As we said: all this is a lie. Capitalism is not dragging humanity through the hell of war because it has the wrong leaders, but because it is a social system in profound and irreversible decay.

The struggle against war can only be a struggle against capitalism.

Many will reply: they are fine-sounding words, but in the meantime, what are we supposed to do? Surely pacifist demos are better than nothing?

The question is false. The struggle against capitalism is not some utopian ideal. It starts from the day to day reality of the class struggle, the workers’ fight to defend themselves against the growing attacks on their living standards. Against the effects of the same economic crisis which also pushes capitalism towards war. Of course the workers’ struggle must extend and unify and above all it must become openly political. But it is already there, and it grows stronger every time workers recognise their common interests as a class.

Pacifist campaigns only weaken the class struggle by calling on workers to see themselves as part of a democratic movement of respectable citizens. They obstruct the growth of class consciousness by claiming that peace is possible without revolution.

Faced with the extension of war across the world, the response of the working class in all countries can only be to refuse all the sacrifices demanded by the capitalist economy and its war drive; to fight for its own class interests against the national interest defended both by open warmongers and pacifists; to oppose the nationalist logic of war with the internationalist programme of world revolution and a world human community. WR 5.3.05

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