David Breen

Same Old Power Politics

(November 1955)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 5 No. 3, November 1955, pp. 2–3.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

EVER since the first Geneva Conference doves have been cooing in the Kremlin and the Capitol. Tito and Adenauer have become respectable in Moscow; McCarthy is no more respectable in Washington. Atom bombs are now “atoms for peace” while statesmen in East and West busily drown themselves in champagne. The atmosphere has changed; bureaucrats and capitalists are now pacifists. One can easily exaggerate the changes that have taken place. The Eastern bloc still has more than 10 million men under arms; the main members of the Western bloc are still spending more than 10 per cent of their national incomes on war budgets; Germany is still a problem in spite of Adenauer’s mission to Moscow; and H-bombs; are still being stock-piled on both sides of the iron curtain. But if the change in the international situation is not a fundamental one, nevertheless it is important. The Labour Movement must know what lies behind it. We must know why it is in the interests of the bosses in East and West to “coexist” at the moment and prepare for the time when they might change yet again. A feeling of false security is dangerous.

It takes to two patch up a quarrel, so there must be compelling reasons on both sides of the Iron Curtain for adopting the new fashion. As far as the East is concerned the main explanation is to be found in China’s tremendous appetite for industrial investments, China needs machines, not guns. The more the Sino-Russian bloc has to spend on arms the less there is to put into mines and factories.

Industrial problems

The industrialization of China is a tremendous problem. She started off the first Five-year Plan (1952–57) with 1.4 million tons of steel a year, no less than half of what the Russians had at the beginning of their industrialization in 1928. Yet although her industrial strength today is so much smaller than what Russia’s was thirty years ago, her commitments are many times greater. In 1928 Russia had a couple of hundred thousand men under arms; today China has 5 million serving for four years. In 1928 Russia spent only 2 per cent of her national income on defence; today China spends 7 per cent.

China needs peace in order to keep down her arms budget. She needs Russian machines to build up her industrial power. Russia needs peace in order to satisfy China’s demands. Both are prepared to make small concessions at least until the 700 or so “great projects’’ in China are complete around 1960.

Double deals

Concessions are always a two-way traffic. Russia could not have released over 600,000 soldiers were the American army not getting smaller. But the American army is getting smaller; the American arms budget estimates for the coming year have been revised downwards from 36 billion dollars to 33 billion dollars and are much less than the actual appropriation of 47 billion last year. The British forces have dropped by 60,000 men in the last two years while “defence” estimate for 1955–6 are over £100 million lower than last year’s. If we take into account the rise of prices, defence appropriations today are even lower than they were in the Gaitskell budget of 1951.

Pacifist employers

The British Employers’ Federation’s pamphlet, (Britain’s Industrial Future), gives some insight into the new pacifism. It expresses alarm at the fulness of employment and at the fierceness of international competition. Obviously if the capitalists could have a pool of unemployed to keep wages down and could invest more to meet foreign competitors they would be happier. Their factories are working overtime; they see an assured market and as willing to invest (as the motor car industry has shown recently) but in order to take full advantage of the situation they need workers and investment funds. Soldiers must be turned into workers, guns into machines and factory buildings and taxes into ploughed-back profits.

Profits count

For the British capitalist – as for his American, German, French and Japanese competitors – it does not matter whether he produce guns or butter so long as he produces profitably. When he can find a market for butter he gladly turns to the Government for arms orders. But when he can find a market for butter, arms production becomes a nuisance.

Arms and investments

While the British capitalists are putting 10 per cent of the national income into the arms budget and only some 5 per cent into new investments, the German capitalists with 15 per cent of their national income going into new investments every year might filch their market for ever. If the German capitalist class were to spend the same amount as the British on armaments everything would be in order, but who is there to see that it’s done and to inspect the books?

As it is, Herr Schaffer, the West German Minister of Finance, has said (Times, 2nd September 1955) that Germany would not devote more than 7 per cent of her national income to defence and that therefore it would take five years and not three to organise the twelve German divisions. The Japanese Foreign Minister, Shigemitsu, is also inclined to take things slowly. During his visit to Washington he spent most of his time haggling with the State Department about the size of the Japanese army. Dulles wanted 350,000 men as a minimum Shigemitsu met him with a maximum of 180,000 to be delivered only in 1958.

Luxury of army

Nobody seems to want an army. Of course, with a boom going on and every capitalist competing for the markets, arms production is a burden and, seeing that the Sino-Russian bloc has enough on its own hands at the moment and will behave well for the next few years, it may even be a luxury.

Added to the boom and strengthening its effect is the revolt in French Morocco. With the first whiff of powder in this area half the French army vanishes and NATO was left with a paper organization. The Western Powers still have to use their troops to sweep their own back yards before they can spare them for the luxury of war in Europe. They need time to do it.

New fashions in Power Politics keep up with new current interests of the ruling classes of East and West. When will the H-line be fashionable again? It is very difficult to say more than this: as China breaks the back of industrialization the Eastern bloc will become less prepared for comprise. With the first signs of general unemployment in the West the Communist bogey will once again be resurrected.

Class societies and war

Peace talks, disarmament are no more than an episode in the Cold War. We must exploit them to the maximum but must never forget that a capitalist peace is only one step short of a capitalist war. As long as the class societies of East and West continue to exist there can be no long-term guarantee that humanity will continue to exist.

Last updated on 16 February 2017