Tony Cliff

Marxism at the Millennium

Chapter 11
Capitalism and militarism

Turkey spends half of its state budget on arms. It has become a major military power in the region. Nowadays the government is pushing wage restraint and privatisation policies, while on the other hand spending huge amounts of money on tanks and helicopters.

During the last two weeks arms spending has become an important item of discussion even in the bosses’ papers. One columnist has written that “for every Turkish citizen there is only half an aspirin tablet (a cheap medicine for headaches) but three hand bombs. For every 10,000 people there is only one health centre but two tanks.” The Turkish army is the largest unit of NATO with the exception of the United States, although Turkey’s national income is much smaller than those of Germany, France, Britain or Italy.

The changing role of the arms economy

In different periods of capitalism the war industry played different roles. When capitalism was young and progressive the army played a subordinate role. But things changed when capitalism entered into its decline. In Germany in 1933 unemployment reached eight million. A couple of years later Nazi rearmament got rid of unemployment. This was followed by the same thing happening in the United States, Britain and other capitalist countries.

After the end of the war, the Cold War kept the standing army at a much higher level than in the 1920s and early 1930s, but of course much lower than in the war years. This was what we called at the time the permanent arms economy. It kept employment high, but it was full of contradictions. In 1956, in an article entitled The Permanent War Economy, I explained those contradictions. Spending on arms encourages full employment, but leads to a situation in which a country that spends a lot on arms would find itself unable to spend as much on retooling industry as countries that spend far less on de fence. This became obvious in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Cold War and spending on arms kept employment high. But countries like Japan and West Germany which were spending very little on defence, showed their ability to retool industry much better than the United States or Britain. West Germany and Japan won the competition in the car industry, electronics and other fields of the economy. The collapse of the dollar with the accompanying massive rise in the price of oil in 1973 forced the United States and Britain to cut their military budget drastically.

No simple relation between capitalism and militarism

It is true that militarism serves capitalism, but this does not mean to say that the generals have no interests of their own that they try to impose on society. If a capitalist, in defence of his interests, employs a gangster, this does not mean that the gangster has no interests of his own that he will try to impose on his master. The economy is the base, and the military and politics are in the superstructure. But the superstructure has an influence on the base. The Turkish generals are fighting to keep a massive army, far beyond what many of the Turkish capitalists would like. When the earthquake in north-west Turkey took place, the army rushed quickly to the scene, not with spades or bulldozers to remove the rubble in order to save the number of people buried alive, but they rushed to impose law and order using machine guns and tanks. The generals have their own agenda as regards the Turkish working class and the oppressed nationalities. They will try to impose their will on society.


Last updated on 12.12.2002