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Irving Howe

Thieves Fall Out Over War Spoils!

(18 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 11, 18 March 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The pall of powder smoke has hardly risen from the battlefields; the corpses of the Second World War – in their millions a gruesome monument to the inhumanity of capitalist civilisation – are not yet wedded to the earth to which they were so prematurely sent; and hunger – universal hunger, the universal accompaniment of war – grips and chokes the children of Europe as surely as if it were a deliberate murderer.

And yet this very world, wracked and torn and tortured by the aftermaths of the Second World War, learns in horror and in fright of the talk in diplomatic circles about a Third World War. Still in the terror of the Second World War, the war of let planes and buzz bombs, we feel the anticipatory terror of the Third World War, the war of the atoms.

The thieves of war are falling out!

The world is split into two opposing camps: American and British imperialisms with their satellite powers; and Russian imperialism with its dragooned satellites and Stalinist party agents.

Gone and forgotten are the noble words – they were never MORE than mere words! – which sent millions of boys to rotting graves; gone and forgotten is “democracy”; gone and forgotten is “peace”; gone and forgotten is that promise of the Atlantic Charter: self-determination for peoples.

Every land succumbs to the military and financial paws of the two great imperialist power blocs. Who can think of the promise in the Atlantic Charter of self-determination for peoples without laughter?

Self-determination for India? Britain will not permit it.

Self-determination for Iran? Russia and Britain and America will not permit it. Russia demands that it be allowed to rob oil from northern Iran if the American and British imperialists can do so from southern Iran. (And Stalin says, with the cynicism which he has learned by long observation of the way Allied imperialism treats its subjects, that he will discuss terms of payment TEN YEARS AFTER his exploitation of of the oil fields has begun.)

Preparations Begun

Will there be war tomorrow? Probably not. The powers are not yet ready. It takes time to prepare for a war, especially the war of the future. It takes time to recover from the effects of the one just ended. The talk in capitals and in the press is largely to intimidate opposing nations, to get populations at home jittery and inflame them with new nationalist prejudices.

But the preparations have begun. Just as the Second World War was the continuation of the first, so will the third be the continuation of the second – if the masses of people permit it to take place. All the squabbling now is merely the quarrel over the spoils of the Second World War!

The factories of Manchuria: shall these be seized outright by the Russian troops or shall American capital utilize them through a pliant Chinese government?

The oil fields of Iran: shall they pour their products into Russian barrels or continue to enrich American and British millionaires?

The granaries of Europe, the strategic outposts of the Mediterranean, the islands of the Pacific: which of the two mighty imperialist blocs shall rule and exploit them?

And as this indecent struggle continues over the spoils of a war which has left the world in tatters and in tears, Europe starves. The British announce that their part of occupied Europe will have to “get along” on 750 calories a day, exactly one-third of the minimum necessary for a satisfactory diet.

At the moment, the British seem to be at odds with the Russians. But the British no longer play a basically independent role. American imperialism is behind London, giving it support and allowing it to say aggressive things about Russia which it is not quite ready itself to say AS YET. Attlee carries the ball a little while for Washington; but if is Washington’s ball. Whoever wins, British imperialism is on the skids; it is doomed to be America’s poor cousin.

London and Washington will screech about democracy. Moscow will reply with its slogans. Both lie. They are quarrelling over the booty of the war: oil, natural resources, machinery, capital goods, land, strategic bases. That is the substance; the talk is camouflage.

No, there will not be war tomorrow or the day after or the month after. But the stockpiles are being replenished. The reserves of weapons – new and terrible ones – are being increased. The fundamental truth of our time is seen once again:

There can be no peace, no security, no freedom under capitalism or Stalinist imperialism. Each war bears in itself the imperialist seeds of another war. The quest for power, for plunder, for prestige; the struggle for economic domination; the search for markets for products and capital investment; the search for sources of raw materials and plunder continues. It is inexorable in our society. So long as capitalism and totalitarian Stalinism continue to exist, war .is inevitable. It may not come tomorrow, but come it will.

And that is the basic meaning of the present war scare, of the exchange of notes, of troop preparations. Each side is jockeying for position, jabbing in the war of nerves. If talk of war today is largely bluff, the continuation in power of those who indulge in that talk makes war inevitable.

Look about you – you who fought, you who sacrificed, you who worked – and see the outlines of the future. See a new, infinitely more horrible war slowly taking shape. For we are living in the shadow of the atomic bomb. It will destroy us, surely and quickly, unless we remove the despots and displace the decayed economic systems which use it against us.

Continue capitalism and we face the certain prospect of new war, mass destruction: the graveyard of civilization.

Build socialism and we face a new threshold for humanity: the control of atomic energy to give us undreamed-of wonders to enrich and case our life.

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