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John G. Wright

How Much Longer Can Capitalism
Stand War Strain?

(21 February 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 8, 21 February 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The second world war is already in its thirty-second month. The arena of military activity is truly world wide, encompassing the five continents and all the seas. Far from envisaging a swift termination of this colossal conflict, all the belligerents are forecasting and planning for long term warfare. Decisive military decisions are being postponed further and further into the future. It goes without saying that the governments on both sides are ready to fight to the bitter end. The question naturally arises – are there objective limits to the duration of the war?

If one were to gauge the question by the experience of the first world war, then the answer would be in the affirmative. The war of 1914–1918 demonstrated that with the then existing alignment of forces, world economy as a whole could not withstand the strain of more than four years’ major warfare. In the thirty-third month of the war the imperialist chain was broken at its weakest link, namely, the former Czarist empire. Approximately twenty months later came the collapse of German economy.

In what respects is world capitalism better equipped to wage protracted warfare today than was the case in 1914–1918?

Position of Capitalism Has Deteriorated

From the general economic standpoint – and this is decisive in the last analysis – the position of all the capitalist nations as a whole has not improved, but on the contrary has gravely deteriorated since 1914. As is well known, world imperialism entered the first world war at the peak of its development and power.

The present conflict is being waged by countries whose economy has suffered the ravages of almost a quarter of a century of economic depression, crises and decay. While draining the economies of the respective belligerents, the first war was waged under conditions When the advancement of two major sectors of capitalist world economy were still possible. The economy of the United States expanded at an unprecedented rate precisely in the period of the first world war. The same phenomenon but on a far lesser scale was to be observed in Japan.

No such advancement is possible at present. The basic productive forces of the major imperialist powers, which had already been weakened, are being diverted to an ever greater extent into military channels, and this acts to accelerate the process of deterioration.

Condition of World Market Then and Now

The condition of the world market has a profound bearing on the conduct of the war. Thruout 1914–1918 the colonies, although gravely affected by the hostilities, were left virtually intact. While Germany and her allies were barred from the world markets, the Allied powers were able to draw upon them. The economic progress registered by the United States and Japan helped bolster up capitalist world economy.

The situation today differs not only quantitatively but qualitatively from that in 1914–1918. The world market was shattered even prior to the outbreak of the war. With the collapse of Singapore and the establishment of Japanese supremacy for the period immediately ahead in the Western Pacific, it is impossible to talk any longer about the “world market”. The effects of this condition must be felt by all the capitalist nations without exception.

Despite the tremendous advantages on their side, the victorious Allies were unable to prevent their world system from snapping at its weakest link in the first world war. As a matter of fact, it was only the intervention of the United States which prevented the complete collapse of Europe in general and France in particular after the termination of the war.

Supreme Crisis Approaching

Furthermore, the second war is far more costly in terms of money, men and machinery. The suffering of the masses in Europe already surpasses that of 1914–1918, The unprecedented strain under which world economy is. tottering finds its reflection in the unprecedented speed of events. In the period immediately ahead this tempo can only increase.

Can the capitalists today prevent the weakest link of their system from snapping? They believe they can. And on this they base their perspective of a war which will terminate sometime in the distant future. In our opinion this task is insoluble under capitalism. Far from having incalculable time at their disposal, the contending governments are drawing closer and closer to the supreme crisis of the second world war. And in our opinion this crisis can only be a revolutionary one.

We leave it to crystal gazers to speculate just what country will experience the fate of the Czarist empire in 1917. The task of scientific prognosis is to determine the trend of the developments. The time table of the development of the second world war does not depend on the intentions or will of the present rulers of the world. They will not be able to forestall the impending collapse of their system at its weakest link or links.


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