Source: The Communist, August 26, 1920
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
In one of the most illuminating chapters of Capital, Marx mentions, in a brilliant footnote, that the historians unwittingly admit the far-reaching power of material forces upon human development. This is particularly noticeable, he says, when they designate early periods of social evolution the stone age, the copper age, and the iron age, etc. Each epoch is thus named after the particular mineral from which the tools of production were manufactured. We do not say, and Marxism does not suggest, that minerals determine historical development. But minerals and their relations to the economic process of any period form one of the most influential factors in social causation.
Many of the hazardous maritime expeditions of the ancient Greeks and Phoenicians were boldly embarked upon in order to find minerals which lay far away from their shores. And it was whispered by certain gossips in Rome that imperial Cæsar lured on to the invasion of Britain in the expectation of finding valuable black pearls. The vast coal-seams of many districts in this country testify to the prevalence of black pearls in Britain. But, unfortunately for the great Roman, a conqueror may be as unlucky the date of his triumph as the unrewarded prophet whose virtue and wisdom is unhonoured in his own land. There was no point of contact between coal and the economic process in Cæsar’s time and this fact illustrates the relative worth and limitation of minerals as a factor in history.
With every extension in the rapidly expanding technique; with the evolution of the tool from the simple and crude stone flint to the modern complex machines which seem almost wizard-like in their manifold manipulations; with the growth of human needs from the mere animal wants of our primeval ancestors to the varied social demands of twentieth century humanity—there has proceeded an ever-increasing in-road upon the great and inexhaustible store-house of nature. This is but another aspect of the growing domination, by man, of the natural forces.
During the last generation an almost miraculous improvement has taken place in the tools of production. Side by side with the progress of the technical process an equally great development has taken place in the sciences of metallurgy, industrial chemistry and mineralogy. The ability to produce a good, high-speed steel is indeed one of the marvels of present day chemistry. Modern capitalist states have spent great sums in establishing scientific departments to carry on theoretical and practical research work in order to know which mineral deposits are necessary for modern production and also to know the geographical location of such deposits. In the allotting of territorial boundaries to small nations and backward races, capitalist statesmen are guided by the advice of mineralogists. The seeming inconsistencies of the much discussed Peace Treaty with Germany become intelligible when surveyed in the light of the geographical distribution of minerals. When the superficial Thiers consented to grant Alsace-Lorraine to victorious Germany in 1871, he imagined that Bismarck had made a very bad bargain. Thiers did not know that the cautious Bismarck only demanded these provinces after an expert commission of industrial chemists had presented a report showing that Alsace-Lorraine contained great potential mineral wealth. The desire of the French capitalists to regain their dear lost provinces was an important factor in the world-wide war. Germany, on the other hand, coveted the iron mines of the Briey valleys; those mines determined the tactics of Verdun. And while the contending armies successfully smashed Rheims cathedral, it is a notorious fact that the Briey mines, although in the firing zone, were untouched, it is rumoured, due to an understanding between the war chiefs of the German and French armies! Here we can grasp the importance of minerals as a force in international diplomacy, where we can appreciate the full significance of the statement made by the American Minister of the Interior, in presenting a report to the President regarding the mineral resources of the country, when he referred to them as the “foundations of power.”
As the economic process develops and extends it is inevitable that a greater and ever greater demand for minerals must take place. Until science can produce mineral deposits, by some medium which will eliminate our dependence upon nature for them, the human race must keep exploiting natural resources upon an ever extending scale. And if in ancient times, with their few wants, it was found necessary to explore distant lands to obtain certain indispensable minerals to feed the industrial machine, then try and imagine how much greater must be the modern demand for minerals. Due to the geographical distribution of mineral resources it is impossible for any single nation to be self-supporting to-day. Such deposits as platinum, for example, are practically confined to Russia. Few of the great industrial nations possess deposits of manganese ore, which is found in great quantities in Russia, Brazil, and India. With the use of new industrial processes certain minerals suddenly become very important. The feverish demand for a good high-speed steel made tungsten an important ore. The distribution of minerals in various parts of the world would not be a very serious affair were it not for one thing—imperialist-capitalism. The rapid development of engineering, the expansion of the metal trades, and the consequent stimulation of mining and the extractive industries have made the problem of minerals the most important point in international diplomacy. As the expansion of every capitalist State depends upon its access to minerals—the raw material of the economic process—we have now reached the stage where war is the normal condition—the indispensable condition—of capitalist expansion. This is the idea that lies embedded in the League of Nations. Our sentimental pacifists and emotional Labourists, unable to realise the casual connect between the economic process and the distribution of minerals, look to the League of Nations as an instrument of peace. It is nothing of the sort. The League of Nations is merely suspended warfare.
During the war, when several nations were cut off from their supply of mineral ores, industrial chemistry made many magnificent discoveries. New processes were worked out and many substitutes were found for certain valuable ores. But even the triumphs of science, by prolonging the war, only made the imperialist States even hungrier for minerals. Thus, since the armistice, the victorious States have flung their armies into different parts of the world. The League of Nations has not prevented these predatory wars, because it is only small countries or backward peoples who have been assaulted by the defenders of Belgium. Here we see the League of Nations in another light. While it is the means of achieving a peace, which is in reality only passive warfare, between the great imperialist Powers, it does not protect in any way those nations and races which are not part and parcel of the international robber gang. Thus Russia, because of its Soviet Government and its mineral riches, is the nation which is marked down by the League of Nations as the target of its armed animosity.
The fight to control the oil-bearing regions of the world, by the various imperialist States, is but a further indication of the impossibility of peace under capitalism. Just as coal determined the foreign policy of Britain at the opening of the 19th century, so oil is the motive power, in more senses than one, of modern international diplomacy.
The economic processes of capitalism lead, we repeat, to war. The political processes of capitalism, based upon its national and territorially structured State, cannot create peace. Peace can only come from an international Republic built up by a series of Federal Soviet Republics. Within that international system alone can the problem of the distribution of minerals and their relation to the economic process be peacefully solved. With the destruction of profits the aim of imperialism, and the cause of war, will be destroyed.
Is international peace and emancipation worth fighting for? If you think so the Communist Party needs you. It is the recruiting force, in Britain, for volunteers for the world revolution. It is the party which sharpens its revolutionary theory as a weapon to fight with. If you wish to end the war with Poland, if you desire peace with Ireland, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, etc., join the Communist Party. It is linked up, through the Third International, with the revolutionary workers of every land. In your district there is a local recruiting branch. Link up with the local regiment of Red fighters. Become identified with the British battalion! And you will then be in the international army that is moving forward to Communism and Peace!
“Seems that the various interests have the intention of bidding for all the best Russian oil lands they can even if the areas are in ‘Red hands.’”—“Petroleum Times,” August 8th, 1920.
“According to the official returns of the Custom House authorities the present has been quite a record week for the importation of petroleum products into the United Kingdom, for the total is in excess of 26,500,000 gallons, for approximately three times as much as our average pre-war consumption.”—Same journal, August 14th, 1920.