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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Curly Capitalist Question 14 Capitalism and War

Anonymous has a good question

Trevor,you would accept that competition between firms and corporations is a fact of free market national capitalism. Many of these have states to protect their interests. But what happens when different nation states compete over resources. Is war not just an extension of this economic competition?

It is quite true that nation states do compete for resources and this may lead to war.

As a libertarian, I am in favour of nation states, but not as they are commonly known today.

Ideally the state's role should be confined purely to matters of justice and defence. There should be no economic role whatever for government. If the state was tiny, not at all involved in economic matters and strictly bound by a formal constitution, how warlike could it be?

If the power to declare war was limited to a tiny congress, that had to go to the voting public to raise a large army and to pay for it, how common would wars of aggression be?

Your question anon. addresses a common misconception about capitalism-that it is an aggressive system.

Yet all the evidence says that most wars are started by states that are burdened by some form of powerful centralised government (socialism, national socialism, monarchy, oligarchy, fascism, Theocracy).

Once the US was a semi-libertarian country. The power to declare war was limited to Congress. US foreign policy was Jeffersonian, semi isolationist and militantly against involvement in foreign wars and alliances.

Woodrow Wilson had to drag the US kicking and screaming in WW1. FDR had to have Japanese help to get the US into WW2.

After WW2, the US became more and more statist and more and more warlike. Under Bush, the constitution has become less and less relevant and the Neo-con oligarchy has assumed near dictatorial powers. They seem hell bent on starting WW3.

That is not capitalism, that is statism.

To sum up, free societies live by trade. Governments, especially tyrannical ones live by war.

If you want less war, seek less government. If you want peace and prosperity, limit government to the bare essentials. Allow private traders to build international trading networks that bind peoples into mutually beneficial and peaceful cross border commonwealths.

Peace through freedom.

7 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

Nice work.



Only capitalism can light the Dark Valley.

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

What about war to Liberate other countries from evil dictators? eg liberating Iraq. And if it is not a governments place to be involved in other countries problems, would you allow private armys to fight overseas?

10:03 PM  
Anonymous secret trev fan said...

Capitalism is the most bloody and warlike society in human history. The armies of Alexander the Great were a fraction of the number of dead in the Vietnam War. All the weapons possessed by the Crusaders of the Middle Ages could not do the damage in a week that a modern fragmentation shell can wreak in seconds. The 20th century in particular has seen enough people killed in wars to have depopulated the known world in previous eras.

Capitalism was born a murderous infant and its appetite for slaughter has grown as it has aged. The first capitalist state, England, had no sooner settled accounts with Charles I and the old order than it turned to butchering the inhabitants of its first colonies in Ireland and Jamaica.

The American settlers had barely thrown off the yoke of British rule before they set about annihilating the American and Canadian indians. Meanwhile the British had found fresh blood to let in India, Africa and elsewhere.

The French Revolution saved the country from the ancient oppression of the monarch and his nobles, but as soon as the capitalist class was secure NapoleonUs armies set out to create an empire, the last shreds of which French forces still fight to defend today.

As industry spread across the globe, these first capitalist states were joined by othersQGermany, Japan, Italy, RussiaQin their hunt for gold and slaves, oil and opium, markets, cheap labour and strategic advantage. The competition between them gave us the First World War. The same development of industry which led to the imperialist rivalries that sparked the war also ensured it was the most bloody which had ever been fought .

Weapons of mass destruction unimaginable before the development of industry now killed millions. Tanks and machine guns, gas and aircraft made this the first war in which the majority of dead were the victims of other soldiers, not of disease. The British alone lost 20,000 dead in a single day on the Somme and one million dead in the four years of war. And if capitalist industry caused the war it also had to keep the war going. Directed labour, censorship, conscription and the bombing of towns made this the first total war, a war fought at home as well as on the battlefield.

The First World War did nothing to solve the crisis that had produced it. The economic crises of capitalism continued and the latecomers to the imperialist contest still chaffed at the limits set by the older powers. The Second World War broke out just 20 years after the peace conference that was supposed to set up a new international order.

The intervening years had worsened all the obscenities which characterised the First World War. More lives were eaten up by more terrible weapons, culminating in the United States' use of the atomic bomb against an already beaten Japan. Civilians were more than ever the targets of warfare, as the carpet bombing of Dresden and other German cities by Britain testified. The Russians alone lost 20 million dead.

At the war's end the major powers dusted themselves down and once again began preparing for another. Spending on arms reached unprecedented levels. Nazi rocket scientists were quickly brought to the US and Britain to help perfect the weapons they had begun work on under Hitler. Within five years the Korean War was under way, at a cost of 1.5 million lives. Within a decade of its end the Vietnam War had begun, in which 55.000 US troops would die. The Vietnamese struggle for liberation eventually cost 2.5 million dead. many of them peasants murdered by US soldiers, carpet bombing and napalm attacks.

But Vietnam and Korea are only the two best known wars to have gripped the world since the peace celebrations in 1945. In fact the world has not been at peace for a single day since then. Over 80 wars have kept the generals and the munitions industry busy. The death toll is somewhere between 15 and 30 million people. Today some 40 countries are in the grip of war, or civil war or are being destabilised by their neighbours.

And the victims cannot simply be numbered by counting those killed by bombs and guns. Today some 13 million have fled their home country and another 16 million refugees have fled their homes within their country. It is a migration greater than the homeless hordes who crossed Europe at the end of the Second World War.

Even when no shot is fired, the incalculable billions poured into the arms industry mean that every day babies and old people, the sick and the homeless, the poor and the dispossessed die because the means to save their lives has been used up in weapons production .

So why is our system so bloody? Why does the carnage grow with each succeeding generation? Could there be a capitalist .system without war? The key feature of capitalism, as right-wingers constantly tell us, is competition. Competition drives the least efficient to the wall, we are told, so that only the most profitable survive. Firms, be they the corner shop or the Ford corporation, are constantly looking tor new customers or markets, for cheaper suppliers and to pay their workforces less than their rivals. "The national interest" is defined as the defence of "our" markets and RourS industry.

In the economic textbooks this competition is portrayed as entirely peaceful, conducted only through the impersonal operations of the market. In reality it has never been peaceful. The capitalists have never stuck to the rules either when they deal with their workers or with their rivals. Hired thugs will break up union meetings and the army will break strikes. The police and the law, the press and the courts have always been at the beck and call of the employers to ensure that wages stay low and unions stay cowed. From the Tolpuddle Martyrs through the General Strike of 1926 to the Great Miners' Strike of 1984, that is the story of the class struggle in Britain.

When it comes to dealing with their rivals, the major capitalists are equally unscrupulous. Industrial espionage, price fixing, cartels and monopolies are part of the everyday functioning of the system. So is violence. In the 17th century English privateers raided their Dutch and Spanish competitors. As soon as the British capitalists got hold of the state they built a navy to do the job professionally. In the 18th century the troops of the East India Company, eventually backed up by the state, subdued India and threw out the rivals to English capitalism. In the 19th century British troops and the British navy extended the empire throughout Africa, Asia and the West IndiesQall to ensure that British capitalists could gain access to cheap raw materials, new markets and cheap labour.

All the while, but especially from the end of the 19th century, British troops fought not only the people of the colonies but their rivals from other capitalist powers. However. over this period the economic competition between different capitalist firms had changed the nature of capitalism. As competition bankrupted the least profitable firms. their markets and factories were taken over by the more profitable companies. Consequently the average size of firms tended to rise. Capitalism ceased to consist of a number of different firms competing in each industry and became a system where one or two large firms dominated each industry. Indeed they often dominated more than one industry.

As the corporations grew they increasingly burst through national boundaries. International monopolies or oligopolies dominated international markets. And as the firms became larger they became ever more intertwined with the state and its armed forces. Multinational capital depends on the armed forces of the state to defend it from its rivals and from popular revolts in countries where it has profitable investments, just as it relies on the police to protect it from its workers at home.

As the corporations grew, the state came to take a much greater interest in their running. After all, if there are a dozen aircraft or motor car firms in a particular country the state will not worry if one of them goes bust. But if there is only one giant motor car or plane manufacturer in a country the state cannot look on with a disinterested stare as it goes to the wall.

This is particularly true of the arms industry. Capitalists have often favoured state ownership of all or some of the arms industry, just as Tories favour close government control of the police. Their functions are simply too vital to the capitalists for it to be left to the vagaries of the market.

So as the 19th century came to a close the interests of the state and of big business were more closely interconnected than ever before. The same growth in industry meant that new and more terrible weapons were now available to the state. As the means of production grew, so did the means of destruction they could produce. And, unlike the 17th century when the Dutch and the English were the only two capitalist states battling for colonial power, there were now a host of competing great powersQBritain, Germany, the United States, Japan, Italy, France and Russia.

Marxists called this system imperialism. It has dominated the fate of the 20th century as the globe has been divided and redivided among the competing powers. The Russian state, under Stalin and his heirs just as under the Tsar, has been a major imperialist power. The brief moment of light that was the 1917 revolution was snuffed out by competition with the other imperialist powers.

Industrialisation in Russia was carried out at the expense of the peasantry and the working class because Stalin was determined to build an economic and military machine that could match those of Germany, Britain and the US. Nothing makes this point so forcefully as the scene recorded by Churchill at the end of the Second World War.

The Tory leader who gave the order to shoot miners in Britain sat down with the butcher of the Russian Revolution to divide the spoils. Churchill wrote on a sheet of paper that Russia would have 90 percent of the say in Romania, Britain 90 percent in Greece and so on. RI pushed this across to Stalin", he wrote. "He took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down.S

That competition between the powers has never halted. Treaties and peace pledges have been broken. The League of Nations, set up to keep the peace after the First World War, failed to stop either the rise of fascism or the outbreak of a new world war. The United Nations, set up for the same reason after the Second World War, has either proved as impotent as its forerunner or has itself acted as a weapon of war. In whatever way the major capitalist powers have tried to regulate the military competition between them, they have always failed.

Competition, the drive to accumulate factories, banks and transport facilities faster than your rivals is at the root of war. It was so when capitalism was born and it is still so today, despite the fact that the consequences are more ruinous than they ever were. To rid society of war we have to rid it of the system that fosters war. To get rid of military competition we have to get rid of the economic competition that succours it. For the generals to be forced from the battlefield, the capitalists who arm them and on whose behalf they do battle must be forced from the factories and offices.

11:58 PM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

Peter-It is not the states business to free other peoples, only to preserve its own peoples freedom. If a foreign nation is harboring a threat eg The Taliban in Afghanistan harbouring Al Queada then they become a legitimate target. If the locals are freed in such a war that is a happy bonus.

To launch a war to free another nation that poses no threat to your own or your allies is wrong.

To me war is only justified in defence of ones own territory or that of one's allies.

Secret Trev Fan. Great essay, but we're talking about two different things. Re read my post. Your definition of capitalism and my definition are completely different.

2:59 AM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

Sorry Peter didn't answer the "And if it is not a governments place to be involved in other countries problems, would you allow private armys to fight overseas?"

That depends Peter. If you wanted to go and fight the Taliban, or the North Korean government-go for it. The only time a problem would arise would be if you were fighting a formal ally of NZ.

If you want to be a mercenary or freedom fighter though, don't expect the NZ government to spring you from some hell hole jail if you get captured.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Why is It ok for a government to help out the people of a country who are attacked by an external foe, but not one that is attacked by their own government. Why base your decisions of who you help on governments, which we all know are silly anyway.

10:07 PM  
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