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Workers’ International News, March 1939


The Cost of Capitalism


From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.3, March 1939, pp.4-5.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


This year the combined military expenditure of the great Powers is expected to reach the breath-taking total of £2,800,000,000,000. Astronomical figures like this elude the grasp of the human mind. It is only possible to estimate its magnitude in comparison with the population of the entire world, which numbers approximately 2,000 millions. For every person alive to-day, white or yellow, or brown or black, savage or “civilised,” infant or aged, a sum of £1,400 has been expended for arms. If a family is assumed to consists of 5 persons, a figure near enough for our purposes, then arms expenditure amounts to £7,000 per family, a sum which would buy that family a freehold plot with a comfortable villa and yet leave enough for furniture, a car, a refrigerator and a host of other appliances of civilised life.

But instead, the enormous wealth of raw material and human labour which this sum represents, has been spent on million-pound battleships, tanks and bombers, submarines and machine guns, artillery and forts. Instead of increasing the scope and comfort of human life, this wealth is designed for the destruction of life and property. The coming world war is now accepted as one of the inevitable facts of existence, and humanity looks forward shudderingly to the swift approach of the catastrophe, bringing not only mutilation and death for the belligerents, but starvation and its train of epidemic and malnutritional diseases, social chaos, the disruption of home and civil life, disorganisation of industry, filth and vermin and venereal disease.

The bourgeoisie is itself appalled when it attempts to look into the future when the vast ammunition dumps suffer the inevitable explosion. But the paradox of declining capitalism lies in this, that it is only the insane arms race which is holding off the world slump which has begun to creep over international economy. British imports and exports continue in headlong decline. New capital issues, always a reliable indicator of economic tendencies, show a catastrophic drop in the past year; at the depth of the last slump, in 1932, they fell to £113 millions and the 1938 drop to £118 millions shows clearly what is in store for British industry. A fall from £171 millions in 1937 to £118 millions in 1938, with the prospect of further decline in the coming year, shows unmistakably that the last slump, with its mass unemployment and wholesale destruction of capital and products, was a picnic compared to the slump which is coming. If unemployment in Britain has not yet matched the United States official figure of nearly £10 millions, this is because “Government orders,” that is, arms manufacture, still absorbs an enormous proportion of labour, while recruiting for the armed forces accelerates week by week. The worker who would otherwise be queuing up at the Labour Exchange has been drawn into the barracks and the arms factory; his work, instead of making for construction and life, is turned into the preparation of destruction and death. ‘Put the arms programme holds off the most catastrophic manifestation of the slump, the leap in unemployment; the workers are not starving in multitudes to-day because they will be dying in multitudes to-morrow. And even if by a miracle the world war is postponed once again, the whole of humanity will be inevitably convulsed in the approaching world depression.

The British bourgeoisie, preferring to take its chances in the slump, hopes for a miracle. Through its mouthpiece, the National Government, it calls for “appeasement.” As markets continue to dwindle, as one country after another is gripped in the throes of economic paralysis, revolts are breaking out in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, in Palestine, India, Burma, the West Indies. The discovery of caches in Britain are symptomatic of the regeneration of revolutionary nationalist movements in the Empire. In India, the nationalists swing leftwards, in South Africa, Boer nationalism emerges from it; hibernation wearing a fascist mask. Convulsed internally, British Imperialism is confronted with clamorous demands by starving rival imperialisms and seeks to turn away their wrath with fair words about “appeasement.”

In the period 1924 to 1929, a policy of “appeasement” or “pacification” as it was then called, was successfully followed by the British government. The Dawes Plan and the Young Plan paved the way for the Geneva Protocol, the Treaty of Locarno, the Pact of Paris. Such diplomatic agreements were made possible by the fact that capitalism had succeeded in emerging from the post-war slump and embarked on a period of comparative stabilisation. But if a certain degree of pacification was then possible on account of the “boom,” the proposals for “appeasement” are made to-day in a period of decline.

Hitler and Mussolini ask to-day, concretely: “Out of your wealth of capital reserves, markets, colonies, what share are you prepared to give us?” And Britain and France answer, concretely: “None!” The deepening economic crisis prevents them from giving any other reply. And so the trade war reaches new depths of ferocity while the extra-diplomatic exchanges reach new levels of mutual abuse.

Hitler’s speech last month was interpreted on the Stock Exchanges to mean that a further short period of “peace” remains before the dreaded “next crisis, but that period will be marked by intensified commercial warfare carried on with the help of credit inflation and the further lowering of the standards of living of the German workers. By these means, German industry may prolong its hand-to-mouth existence and hope for miracles, but in embarking on increased arms production, Hitler, whatever his hopes, prepares realistically, for war.

Just as realistically, the British counter-preparations are made and no small part of these is the propaganda directed towards the workers seeking to portray the coming war as the defence of democracy against fascism. The voluntary character of “National Service” is contrasted with totalitarian conscription, and Chamberlain appeals to the worker to give the “service” as a sacrifice for the nation, to “defend democracy.”

When it was a question of supplying arias to the anti-fascist fighters of Spain, the so-called “democracies” of Britain and France deliberately aided Franco by means of the hypocritical non-intervention agreement, refusing arms and sabotaging the struggle of the Spanish workers. But now that the prospect arises of Italian troops remaining in Spain after Franco’s victory, France threatens to occupy Minorca and Spanish Morocco with the support of Britain. Spain was abandoned to fascism on the pretext that intervention would provoke a world war, but the “democracies” are now ready to risk starting that world war in defence of French and British imperialist interests. The cry “defend democracy” serves once again as it did in 1914 to mask the predatory aims of the imperialist bandits.

The National Council of Labour, in deciding to endorse co-operation with the National Service committees, again underlines the role of the Labour bureaucracy as the lackeys of imperialism, ready to act once more as bell-wethers in leading the working class into the imperialist slaughterhouse.

The only criticism of the Attlees and the Morrisons is that the arms speed-up is not efficient enough; the only criticism of the “Communists” is that ARP shelters are not deep enough. Both seek to outdo the capitalist class itself in their eagerness to make preparations to ensure the victory of British imperialism in the coming war. For the workers, neither “Communists” nor “Socialists” can show the way out.

Decaying capitalism, which to-day can provide only the alternatives of slump and war, places before the workers the prospect of dying in order to perpetuate the monstrous system within which masses starve. The only way out is the road of workers’ revolution; to find and to follow that road is the task of the workers’ vanguard, the revolutionary party of the working class.

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