E. Belfort Bax

War and Markets

(1 May 1898)

War and Markets, Justice, 1st May (May Day Special) 1898, p.7.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In the last (1897) May Day number of Justice I pointed out how the soldier of the capitalist era had become, like the workman of the capitalist era, the mere adjunct of a machine – of the latest improved pattern war-engine. I further drew attention to the analogous change which had taken place between the soldier of an earlier period and the soldier of our time to that between the handicraftsman of the Middle Ages and the machine-tending, factory-proletarian of to-day. Once the “free and independent” handicraftsman of the art of war, who, if one master did not please him, felt himself free to serve another, the soldier has become the abject mechanical slave of the modern army machine, precisely in the same way as the workman from the independent guildsman has become the slave of the mechanical processes of the factory. My object in these few lines is to call special attention to the manner in which the function of the new military machine – in other words, of the modern army and. Navy – as been reduced to that of forcing outlets for the products of the modern factory- that complex machine of modern industry and keeping it supplied with fodder, i.e., raw material. Modern wars, in short, have within a couple of generations become exclusively wars of commerce. There is an increasing disinclination manifesting itself between capitalist States (and all European nations and their offshoots are now capitalist States) to fight each other. The struggle between them has, from a military, .become an industrial one. But so much the more has the military power of these States been ruthlessly used to force savage and barbaric peoples, helpless as they are, into the circle of the world-market of modern commerce. The pretence of humanity, patriotism, religion, &c., is already too played out to deceive anyone any more. All who are not wilfully blind recognise that the one object of all modern wars is the material `gain of the capitalist class.

A striking illustration of this is furnished by the present Spanish-American struggle. The pretence of humanitarian sentiment has, of course, once more been trotted out. The interests of civilisation and humanity required that America should intervene and rescue Cuba from the Spanish yoke. The real interests that move the humanitarian patriotism of the American nation is a sugar ring with tobacco in the background. It requires little discernment to see that this is the root of the chivalrous patriotism which glories in fighting, a nation possessing not one twentieth part of the wealth or one fourth the numbers of the aggressor. Here we have, it is true, two States belonging to the circle of modern capitalist civilisation fighting each other, which is certainly a change from the accustomed slaughter of “niggers” by European powers. But the distance between the respective stages of capitalistic development of America and Spain makes the contest unequal enough !in any case. What the ultimate consequences of the struggle for the near future of Europe may be does not concern us here, and if it did we could merely offer more or less probable surmises on the subject. But as an illustration of our contention as to the purely commercial nature of modern war, the following considerations may serve :-

The wealth of Cuba consists partly in. tobacco, but, for by far the largest part, in the products of the sugar-cane industry. Before the insurrection Cuba produced a million tons of sugar annually – i.e., more than any other sugar producing country. In 1881 the United States consumed nearly a million tons, in 1980 over a million and a-half, while in 1894 the importation had reached over two millions! While the American people are the largest consumers of sugar in the world, the States themselves produce comparatively little. So that when last year the importation fell to under a quarter-of-a-million, in consequence of the insurrection, it was natural that those interested in the sugar industry should cast greedy glances on the land of the raw product. There is, indeed, not the slightest doubt that American capitalists could with little difficulty double or even treble the maximum output under the old regime before the insurrection.

Now, if the Americans took over Cuba, it has been calculated it would be worth to the country a revenue of nearly three millions sterling, the bulk of which sum is now paid to various foreign countries for the raw product. Thus the American markets would be freed and an American sugar ring would, without doubt, rapidly acquire an effective monopoly of the sugar supply, not only of the home market, but of the European markets as well, just as Rockefeller has now of the European oil market. Such is the true inwardness of the Spanish-American struggle – and, as before said, a little consideration will show that similar aims are at the root of all other modern wars.

But yet, notwithstanding these plain facts, notwithstanding the obvious interests of the exploiting capitalist which modern international “questions” alone subserve, the working classes still allow themselves (at least the non-socialistic section of them do so) to be gulled by the goose-cry of patriotism, not to speak of other goose-cries which are sometimes also not without their effect. That it is easy for any designing capitalist clique to make catspaws of the modern proletariat under almost any pretence is evidenced by every Parliamentary election that takes place. It is, therefore, not specially to be wondered at that they should be moved, on occasion, by appeals to their patriotic sentiment. That it should be so easy, that proletarian human nature should be so ineffably gullible might be incredible were we to confine ourselves to political life alone, and forget the bottomless gullibility of human nature generally in other spheres of interest. Yet of this fact the perennial effectiveness of the confidence trick should suffice to keep us in ever present remembrance.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 23.6.2004