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Capitalism is war[1]
Two useless answers to war
War is inevitable under capitalism
What about today?
Pacifism or defeatism?

Capitalism is war

Prussian General Karl von Clausewitz called war «the continuation, on another level and with different means, of politics» (and one might as well add, «of the politics of preservation of capital»). Such a definition suits bourgeois society so well that it can even be reversed: politics is the projection, on a different level and with different means, of the condition of permanent (if generally subterranean) war. In other words, war is capitalism’s actual way of being and developing: war among individual capitals in everyday economic life; commercial war among combinations of capitals (and thus, in the long run, among States as well) for the possession of markets and the supremacy in vital sectors of production or in the supply of raw materials: diplomatic war initially, actual war afterwards, when those antagonisms which are inextricably linked to capitalism’s process of expansion reach a level of extreme tension and seek their «outlet» in organised, armed violence, in real war. Obviously, many different factors are necessary before the links connecting subsequent stages of a single process become apparent, thus destroying the well-built and widespread theories which proclaim that the balances reached in each of these stages can consolidate in a kind of «perpetual (if restless) peace».

It so happened that, before the outbreak of the Gulf crisis in 1990, war seemed «a thing of another time» – an illusion which was nourished by the end of the US-USSR bipolarism[2]. But the areas of vital importance to (not only) American capitalism: from the point of view of energetic supplies, and firstly of the safeguard of oil rent, its apportionment, and the gigantic network of interests grown on its basis. The area thus became a knot of insoluble contradictions on the economic or diplomatic level. And, immediately, the ghost of military confrontation (whose disappearance had so often been proclaimed) presented itself again. A conflict, which had initially seemed a peripheral, «Third-World» one, almost turned into a world one. And, well beyond the confrontation’s casual object, the (however remote) scenario of a world carnage (the third one!) loomed up on the horizon, with today’s major economic powers – US, Japan, Germany, Europe in general – as protagonists. The war issue was thus brought out again in the open.

Two useless answers to war

At the time, as usual, two fallacious answers to the perspective of a (however limited) war were proposed. One was a generic as well as powerless pacifism, made up of petitions, protests, and (obviously peaceful) demos, which called together all kinds of social forces – a pacifism which is incapable to reach even vaguely the heart of the matter and is ready to turn into its opposite whenever the sacred values of one’s own country (or the no less sacred interests of one’s own nation) are or seem harmed or even only menaced. This position is based upon the idea (which is today even more meaningless) that present-day wars can be divided in «just» and «unjust». And it easily changes to the sullenest interventionism – as history has repeatedly taught- whenever the imperatives of so-called justice require it.

The second answer is more directly linked to contingent factors – in this case, to the rapprochement of East and West and the rhetoric on the opening of a new age of peace. It consists in the call – made by all political parts – to those institutions which proclaim that they are invested with supernational roles and powers. and as such are able to impose The acceptance of an international, peacefully established order and thus to solve with diplomatic means any possible friction. This second answer is even more useless for two reasons. It wrongly views history in general and history of capitalism in particular as if it were adjusted and adjustable on the basis of rights, laws and agreements (but isn’t the «world order», now broken by this or that villain, itself the outcome of the interplay of forces and counterforces, whose center is occupied by the big imperialist powers?). In so doing, it forgets that there is more than just one of such self-styled supernational organisms. And each of them answers to the interests of this or that power or group of powers. The seven more industrialised countries (the famous G7) act as a kind of world economic committee, more or less in agreement on the inside, but generally united towards the outside. The UN’s security council acts as right-hand man of five permanent members of the same organisation, whose opinion, homogeneous as well as dishomogeneous, in turn determines what passes for the Assembly’s autonomous decisions. An indefinite number of regional and interregional organisms defends as far as possible the interests (anything but «ideal») of groups of powers belonging to specific areas. And so on…. The whole mechanism works on the basis, not of international codes of good behaviour, but of precise economic, political, military force ratio. And its ability, not so much to guarantee but to sanction a given «order» or «system of international law», comes from the degree in which one or more powers among the major ones manage to enforce their law, i.e. «might is right». Themselves the outcome of previous plunders and looting, they aim at maintaining that order. Neither in their origins nor in their aims, international law and the organisms at its head are peace instruments: they are war weapons.

War is inevitable under capitalism

According to marxism, not only it is true that in the capitalist era wars are a necessary and inevitable product of the ruling mode of production, and proletarian revolution alone can prevent its outbreak or violently interrupt its course. It’s also true that, in given periods (when the mechanism of capital accumulation is in crisis), war is the one extreme remedy to which bourgeoisie can resort in order to safeguard its own rule: through the mass distruction of capital, goods, and work-force – of men, in short, and of their hands’ products.

This does not mean the bourgeoisie goes to war on the basis of carefully considered calculations or of free decisions on part of their legislative or executive organisms. It is the existence itself of capitalism, its own life requirements, that set off the mechanism of confrontation – first the preliminaries, then a formal declaration of war, and finally its practical (ideological and material) carrying out. War does not break out «by chance», nor «by the will» of individuals or groups. It is the final outlet of an objective situation, which little by little develops in different sectors and finally explodes where and when the power relationships among the economies of the countries involved reach the breaking point.

Once invested, the capital’s first aim is to reproduce itself with a profit. Accumulation thus rules capitalism’s working cycle and forces to enlarge production and the related areas of sale beyond all limits. It is competition, in each phase of the accumulation process, that selects and then places one against the other first the individual capitals (to put it simply, the single capitalists) and then, as the needs of accumulation become tighter, the collective agents of production, the Ltds, the trusts, the multinationals. In a word: those enterprises which are actual or tendential monopolies and whose interests, in general, go well beyond national boundaries, but find both their political expression and their interests’ upholder in the national state – the great machine of organised force in their defence.

Now, while -from the technical point of view – the production process restlessly and limitlessly grows, receiving impetus from the volcanic character of commodity production, what on the contrary tends to shrink is the possibility of placing products on such conditions of «profitability» as to assure the carrying on of the accumulation process without interruptions and at the given conditions[3]. In this way, to what we called «the volcano of production» more and more is opposed what we called «the swamp» of a market which, instead of widening, stagnates[4]. Here is then the outbreak, within the capitalist economy, of the most violent among its contradictions. And the system in crisis resorts to extreme solutions on the ground of strength.

In the industrially most advanced countries, the entrepreneur class faces severe limits to the investment of accumulated capital either in the lack (or scarcity) of raw materials of local origin or of indigenous workforce, or of markets able to buy produced goods. Now, the supplying of non-local raw materials, the engagement of foreign workforce, the conquest of foreign markets are today processes that cannot be simply achieved by purely economic means or by the mere play of competition. They imply the constant effort to regulate and control the sale and purchase prices, and the gradually gained privileges, through state measures or interstate agreements. Economic expansionism thus tends to turn from commercial to monopolistic, and finds its most typical expression in its financial form, supported – if need be – by powerful military means. Be it the control of greatmining fields, or of masses to be proletarised, or of outlet markets able to absorb the products of capitalist industrialism, it is strength that decides the outcome of such rush towards profiteering, towards the control of the rule over wider and wider sectors of world economy. And the global expression of the crises and confrontations that follow is imperialism, which on the economic level manifests itself in the accumulation process (whose end is the monopolistic organisation of production and exchanges).

Through finance capital, the powers of the US, of Japan, Germany and other European and non-European countries rule today unopposed on the world economic scenario, ready to plunge into this or that adventure, to make this or that form of agreement, or, vice versa, to menace and finally assail each other, in order to react to the tendential (and, in times of crisis, real) fall of the profit rate. But this only happens if it is possible to conquer and maintain a position of strength against national and international competitors. And when two or more imperialist countries, with incompatible vital interests, collide, then the mechanism of military confrontation, so typical of capitalism and to it inevitable, gets moving. Its aim is not only the at least temporary overcoming of the crisis at the opponent’s expenses, and thanks to the conquest of more advantageous positions in the exploitation of resources and work of the defeated country or countries. Its aim is also (and above all) the revival of capital’s accumulation cycle, through the destruction on a large scale of commodities and workforce and the ensuing reconstruction orgy. And this aim is (this being the crucial point) common to friends and enemies, winners and losers.

What about today?

In the present phase, WWII’s great winners, United States and Russia, find it variously difficult to keep the economic and political (and thus military as well) predominance that they conquered by defying the opposing coalition We thus witness the de facto decline of the Yalta agreements, the crumbling of the Eastern empire, the unification of Germany, and at the same time the economic and political collapse of USSR and the (gradual and much less speedy) decay of the American power. Today much more than yesterday, the real competitors on the world market are, no more the American and Russian goods and capitals, but the American, Japanese and German ones (not to speak, of course, of the «minor» characters, no less potentially aggressive). They are the candidates to the role of protagonists, in a new scenario of imperialist confrontations, even if, for the moment being, the phase of formal alliance over Atlantic and Pacific oceans still lasts. Together with a thousand other vital issues, the problem sharply placed on the agenda by the Gulf crisis and the American intervention in the Middle East – i.e., the control of the energetic sources and of the financial flows of the oil rent, till now monopolised by the US, and the director undirect rule over their sources – will be at the center of the concerns of the imperialist groups, now allied to the US but already competing with them over the market that the fall of the Berlin wall has disclosed to the greed of the strongest. This will possibly be the first step of an escalation of tensions among today’s friends. First, the «opening» to the East and then the inclusion of the Gulf into the US’s «vital space» (extended in reality to almost the whole planet) tend to move the war incubation process from the local or regional level to a general and finally planetary one, through the «militarisation» of the economic disputes and the perspective that different political and military arrays than those come out of the Yalta conference be developing, not only in the already much troubled Middle-East area.

In the context of imperialism, given the unequal development – under its mark – of capitalist economy and the ensuing diverse stratification of social and political forces in the various countries, it is the antagonism among competing powers (however not fundamentally important) that functions as a detonator for a worsening of the tensions among States and within them. In the Middle-East area, the long time repressed needs of Iraqi capitalism have pushed on the stage of history and at the helm of the state apparatus those forces that best expressed those needs, in the present historical contingency. Saddam Hussein is no «barbarian» whose wings it is urgent to clip in the name of law and civilisation. He is the spokesman of material pressures that already were at the basis of the attack on Iran and are now at the basis of the invasion of Kuwait and of the ensuing rupture of the precarious balances in the area. The interests which here concentrate are enormous, and this set off mechanisms whose effects on the world capitalist powder-magazine (well beyond the region in itself) it is already today difficult to control and even more will be tomorrow. The weaving of all these factors, whether or not the US be able to get rid of (or drive) Saddam Hussein, will inevitably lead to a confrontation: not between superpowers on the one hand and one or more capitalistically minor or backward countries on the other, but between American imperialism which rules nowadays and other imperialist powers which till now have remained more or less directly at its suite on the political level, but, on the economical one, are on the way up, and frantically so.

Pacifism or defeatism?

These are all problems that the revolutionary marxists have settled once and forever. The solutions they advance distinguish them with absolute clearness from all political and social forces which deem possible and, what is more, effective a struggle on part of «humanity» against the regime and logique of monopoly, for a just distribution of wealth and supplies among the States, within the framework of a peaceful coexistence founded upon justice, if not even brotherhood.

For marxists, there is no therapy, no clinical operation, that can, within the capitalist mode of production, restrict and finally do away with imperialist confrontations. We cannot be pacifists or «against war». If we were, we would accept the possibility to do away with war before doing away with capitalism. In so doing, we would cooperate in even more subjecting the masses to capital (and thus to war), by diverting them from their historical class task. All propaganda for the safeguard of peace and against the «provocateurs» (who, according to such propaganda, would be responsible for all armed confrontations) not only has no real meaning, but marches against the ultimate aims of a real struggle to free the working class and with it the whole mankind.

Proletarians have no war front to side with, and must reject any appeal to do so in the name of individual freedom or political democracy, of equality among individuals or «socialism in one country», of human rights or «people’s law» – all catchwords whose only aim is to keep alive a mode of production and a society which drip blood from all their pores. The vicious circle of crises and wars, which forms the substance itself of capitalism, must be broken, and communist revolution alone can do it. To own this fact is the necessary premise even of the defence of the proletarians’ immediate working and living conditions – any pacifist stance, any support to national solidarity, leads to interclassism, and this breaks class unity in its struggle against capital.

But this struggle cannot be limited to the boundaries of one country: either it is international, or it loses its meaning, value, and force. Its first prerequisite is the rebirth of the class party, based upon revolutionary defeatism against bourgeoisie, with the final aim of the destruction of capitalism and the introduction of communism.

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  1. This article appeared on our Italian newspaper, «Il Programma Comunista», in January 1991, i.e. at the time of the Gulf War. [⤒]

  2. Be it noted that, for years and years, such a bipolarism was presented as a guarantee of general peace (a few occasional, peripheral outbreaks apart), under a sort of «balance of terror»! [⤒]

  3. See Karl Marx, «Capital», vol. III, Section III, chapter XV. [⤒]

  4. See Amadeo Bordiga, «Vulcano della produzione o palude del mercato?» (1954), in A. Bordiga, «Economia marxista ed economia controrivoluzionaria», Milano, Iskra Edizioni, 1976. [⤒]

Source: «Internationalist Papers», N° 2, 1993, translated from «Il Programma Comunista», January 1991

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