Capitalism and War



Below is the second installment of excerpts from a talk given by Carole Seligman, the acting national secretary of Socialist Action, at the Socialist Action National Educational Conference, on Aug. 19, 1999.

In the first part of this series, which appeared in our September issue, Seligman discussed why capitalism leads to war, quoting the views of socialist leaders earlier in the century. A copy of our September issue can be obtained for $1 (including postage and handling).

The weapons producers are a key part of the U.S. ruling class. They play a direct role in determining U.S. foreign and domestic policy, including in the Balkans.

Six huge companies dominate the arms market in the U.S. and much of the world. They are Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman, Textron, Raytheon, Boeing, and McDonnell-Douglas. These are the producers of the weapons of mass destruction, the jets, the Cruise missiles, the tanks, and the depleted uranium bullets, rockets, and mortars that pierce the tanks.

Remember the $64 billion that the U.S. has budgeted for the F-22 fighter jets at $200 million each? The original justification for producing this new generation of fighter planes was made during the Cold War against the so-called Evil Empire.

Now, without that rationale, phony as it was, the new justification is that the U.S. is selling F-15s, F-16s (made by Lockheed) and F-18s (made by Boeing) to the new NATO allies, so the U.S. must produce a newer model capable of shooting down the ones they are selling now.

Air Force officials are already proposing overseas sales of the F-22, so, the cry will go up for the next generation of terrorist weapons of mass destruction. This is the mechanism of the war economy in which we live.

Lenin said that “disarmament is obviously utopian under capitalism.” This is even more true now than when he said it, because the arms-makers have assumed ever greater power and wealth.

Over half of the U.S. arms exports (many sold to governments who shoot down their own peoples or workers and peasants of neighboring countries) are paid for with our taxes.

The arms manufacturers are so “patriotic” that in five out of the last six wars where the U.S. has sent troops into conflict-Panama, Iraq and Kuwait, Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia, American forces faced adversaries that had previously received U.S. weapons, military technology, or training.

[Journalist Alan Nairn testified the last week of September 1999, before a Congressional sub-committee in Washington, D.C., about seeing loads of spent ammunition casings on the streets of Dili, capital of East Timor. He could read the name of the U.S. manufacturer on them. This ammunition had been supplied to the Indonesian military, and then to the militias, by the United States.]

During World War II, many of the wealthiest war profiteers, the very companies with controlling power in American society, joined in cartels with Nazi-run German industry, making agreements to limit the production and acquisition of vital war material (such as magnesium, tungsten carbide, and tetracene, for example.) This and many other forms of cooperation between the American and German biggest industries before, during, and after the war, was exposed by socialists and other honest people during the war.

Profit-making was the engine that drove all the major countries, except the Soviet Union, in fighting World War II-not saving the Jews and other persecuted peoples of the world! Albanian Kosovars will be learning this bitter lesson under occupation, that the NATO forces were not bombing them to save them, but to secure Yugoslavia-which, though moving towards capitalism, is still not a capitalist country-as a field for capitalist exploitation.

The war against Yugoslavia

The war against Yugoslavia was a war in which working people had nothing to gain. President Clinton wrote an Op-Ed piece published in The New York Times, May 23, called “A Just and Necessary War.” Like all war-mongers before him, he came up with justifications that we have heard throughout the war that the U.S. was intervening to save lives, to help refugees, to work for freedom and respect for minority rights, and to “pull southeastern Europe together.”

His rationale was a lie. Indeed, the Serb military and paramilitary were making war on the Kosovar Albanians; but helping the Kosovars was not the objective of the U.S./NATO campaign.

Since the bombing campaign has ended, facts about the nature of the intervention have come out that completely belie the “humanitarian” justification for this brutal war. Here is an excerpt from an article in the Aug. 6 New York Times called “Mines and NATO Bombs Still Killing in Kosovo”:

The danger from mines and unexploded bombs in Kosovo is far greater than previously thought, and casualties have soared to alarming levels, according to international aid agencies and mine-clearing organizations here.

By far the most dangerous are the volatile British and American-made cluster bombs, which have been found in almost every part of the province and have already caused some terrible accidents. Depleted uranium ammunition was also used in Kosovo, NATO has told those defusing the bombs and clearing the mines.

Just think, the U.S. has justified its war-making against Yugoslavia on the ground of humanitarian concern for the Kosovars, but they dropped 1500 cluster bombs, which are anti-personnel-that means anti-human-being-weapons, not to destroy tanks or shoot down planes, but to kill people! They dropped 1500 of these bombs on Kosovo during the two-month air war.

Each cluster bomb releases 150-200 smaller bombs-that is, 150,000 to 300,000 bombs dropped on Kosovo in two months, many of which did not explode when they were dropped and will explode when jolted or moved! The U.S./NATO used many out-of-date cluster bombs, making the number that did not explode when first dropped even greater danger for the returning Kosovar civilians from the bomblets of their so-called saviors.

There is an article in the Aug. 12 New York Times titled “UN Troops Now Under International Law.” This article reveals that U.S. methods in war, including the most recent wars the U.S. has conducted, are prohibited by international law. “Land mines, booby traps and other weapons of indiscriminate destruction are prohibited, as is … collective punishment.”

The whole NATO war against Yugoslavia was a war of collective punishment on the Serbian people and on the Kosovars as well, as shown by the use of cluster bombs, depleted-uranium coated bullets and the targets in Yugoslavia itself-civilian targets of bridges, factories, hospitals, a passenger train, a television station, a bus, power generators, potable water grids, a marketplace, the Chinese embassy. These ways that NATO conducted the war show that it was not motivated in the least by humanitarianism.

Another way to look at how U.S. war rationales fall apart under scrutiny is to see how the very system of imperialism itself was connected to this latest war carried out by the U. S. in our name. A speech given by Socialist Action leader Marilyn Vogt-Downey clearly lays out the background indispensable for understanding what happened in Yugoslavia and why we opposed that war:

It was with the utmost cynicism and abuse of the ignorance and compassion of the world working class that the NATO forces and capitalist powers claimed that this aggression was for the sake of the rights of the Kosovar Albanians or to promote democracy in Serbia.

In actuality, the world capitalist lenders and their organizations like the International Monetary Fund (which is dominated by U.S. finance capital) already bore central responsibility for the devastation of the economy of the former Yugoslavia.

The economic conditions imposed on Yugoslavia by the IMF beginning in the early 1980s wreaked havoc on the Yugoslav economy and caused a deep plunge in the living conditions of the workers there, as the IMF does the world over.

As a result, the economic and social crisis of Yugoslavia in 1991 was the worst the population had faced since World War II. Thus the NATO military attack on Mar. 24, 1999, was only a continuation by other means of imperialism’s war against Yugoslavia’s … economy that had been seriously building up for over 15 years. [See August 1999 Socialist Action.]

In order to understand wars in the age of imperialism, we must also understand the class war that wages relentlessly during “peacetime,” the warlike behavior of capital, such as the IMF, in the interval between wars.

President Clinton was more direct than his “Just and Necessary War” statement when he spoke about America’s need to have a strong economic relationship that “includes our ability to sell around the world.” Remember what those old socialists said about capitalism’s need to “sell around the world,” to find markets for their over-produced goods, and investments? Even this war is about that.

Socialist Action’s antiwar organizing

Our attitude towards U.S. wars is the same as that expressed by revolutionary socialist leaders earlier this century [see September 1999 Socialist Action] and their approach to war is our approach as well. That is, wars can be ended in the same way that other profound changes can be won, only by the social class with the power to actually replace the capitalist class as the rulers of society-the working class.

That is the basic idea behind Socialist Action’s approach to anti-war organizing, whether it was the Gulf war in 1991, or the U.S./NATO war against Yugoslavia in 1999, or the next war the U.S. killing machine engages in.

But people engage in political action only when they perceive their self-interest to be at stake. That is why the Vietnam anti-war movement became massive when the casualties (which were still tiny compared to the Vietnamese casualties) became unacceptable to the American people, who, because of the relentless organizing by the anti-war movement, the effective refutation of the U.S. “humanitarian” rationale for the U.S. war, could no longer justify the sacrifice of their sons, brothers, husbands, generation, for the war.

Thereal profound legacy of the 1960s and 1970s was the success of both the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement in gaining the respect, support, and participation of masses of the American people.

With this underlying framework-that is, that movements for social change can only be won by the social class with enough power to do so, and only when the working people feel their self-interest to be at stake – the task for the antiwar movement such as we attempted to build during the war against Yugoslavia was to appeal to the masses of American people on the basis of their self-interest.

Because American troops were in no danger during the war, the self-interest of working people to which we appealed was: (1) the moral grounds in opposing U.S. military action, and (2) the social expenditure involved in the war.

In San Francisco, where Socialist Action was able to help lead and strongly influence the anti-war movement, we were able to play a crucial role in getting the S.F. Labor Council to pass a resolution calling for the U.S. to end the war, stop the bombing immediately, end the intervention, and to stop acting as world policeman.

The significance of the resolution was that, in the name of the large labor organization, which formally represents tens of thousands of members, the most powerful antiwar arguments were made-moral opposition to the bombing of Yugoslavia, opposition to the allocations of billions of dollars for war as opposed to spending public resources for improving life here and in the Balkans, opposition to Milosevic’s persecution and denial of the right to self-determination of the Kosovars, and the statement that U.S. and NATO had never championed self-determination for the Kosovars and that the intervention was actually exacerbating the plight of the refugees.

The Ad-hoc Coalition to Stop the U.S./NATO war in the Balkans, at the urging of Socialist Action members, reprinted this resolution on the tens of thousands of flyers publicizing the two anti-war demonstrations it organized. In this way, we were able to influence the beginning movement to militantly oppose the U.S./NATO war without falling into the trap of covering up for Milosevic’s persecution of the Kosovars, a trap which other groups, such as the International Action Center (IAC), at the behest of the Workers World Party, did fall into.

Workers World is a party that politically supports Milosevic and covers for his persecution of the Kosovars by claiming that the persecution didn’t happen. The remnants of the Stalinist parties that covered for the Stalinist persecutions of the peoples of the Soviet Union also covered for Milosevic. Pacifica radio station, KPFA , played a large role in establishing this line within the antiwar movement by repeatedly playing the speeches of this line’s most clever advocate, Michael Parenti.

The independent verification of Milosevic’s policy of ethnic cleansing and paramilitary violence, including murder, made the IAC/ Stalinist approach immoral, wrong, and, a significant obstacle for building a mass anti-war movement. In contrast, the Ad-hoc Coalition set out an independent policy, embodied in the ideas of the Labor Council resolution, at the same time as building the largest street demonstrations possible.

The strategy we in Socialist Action adopted is a strategy based on the potential of the working class to rule society in its own name, not a strategy of reform and loyal opposition.

Our strategy was to engage in mass action-teach-ins and speak outs-all with the aim of building for mass demonstrations in the street. Our strategy is an internationalist one. That is, the Yugoslavian people, Serbs and Albanian Kosovars, are our brothers and sisters, and our government has no business bombing them.

We were for opening the doors of the NATO powers to shelter the refugees but unconditionally opposed to military intervention. Our attempts to build mass action were based on the policy we followed, with great success, during the Vietnam war.


Socialist Action supports the right of oppressed nationalities to determine their own destinies, including the right to separate from their oppressor nation. We support the right of the Albanian Kosovars to separate from Yugoslavia and set up their own independent nation or to unite with Albania. That question can only be settled by the Kosovars themselves.

For us, the most important issue in the U.S./NATO war against Yugoslavia was aggression of the U.S. and NATO forces against the peoples of the Balkans. The United States is the main enemy of oppressed nations in the world, both as an oppressor nation itself, and as a supporter and military supplier of other oppressor nations against oppressed groups.

One only has to look at the U.S. genocide against the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the slave trade, the continuous oppression of the Black nation within the United States, the U.S. support and funding of the Indonesian government’s murder of over 1 million people in 1965 and its murder of one-third of the Timorese people, its support and training of the Guatemalan military’s campaign of genocide against the indigenous people of Guatemala where over 200,000 have been killed.

The U.S. government does not, and cannot, support self-determination of oppressed nations. On the other hand, the U.S. may well use the argument of support for self-determination when it suits its regional policies, such as in the Balkans.

It would have been a terrible mistake for the U.S. antiwar movement to have called upon President Clinton to support self-determination in Yugoslavia for the Albanian Kosovars, because it would only have looked like a call for U.S. military intervention. It would have been indistinguishable from the actual policy of the U.S. and NATO. It would have been a trap.

Many social democrats in Europe and here fell into this trap. There was a massive teach-in with over 1000 people in attendance in Los Angeles during the war. Most of the speakers were anti-war, but a few tried to justify the war on the grounds of support for the rights of the Kosovars.

One of these pro-war speakers, a writer for The Nation magazine, spoke as a socialist and one who had opposed U.S. intervention in Vietnam. His main argument was that only the allies of World War II could save the Jews and there is an analogous situation today with the Kosovars.

But the Allies did not save the Jews. That was not even part of their goal in fighting the war. (After all, the U.S. government purposely hid what was happening to the Jews of Europe from the American people, and did not allow many Jews to immigrate here, even turning away ships filled with desperate refugees.)

No, the U.S. was after colonies, raw materials, and markets for their goods and investments, and that is where their main battles were fought.

The reason why we still have a world at war, preparing for new wars, armed to the teeth with weapons of horrific mass destruction, whose use was demonstrated by the U.S. at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is that the previous world wars left the capitalist system intact-ready to make war again.

I hope I have made the case that not only must we do everything in our power to fight against war, to unite all working people, all who want a better world and a better society, of peace, not only must we unite to fight against war, but in order to really end war for good, we must replace the social system that causes war, capitalism.

Sometimes, because of the level of war and violence that permeates our world, it’s hard to remember that humankind is a social species. We absolutely need to work together in order to survive. We are the most social species in terms of the long period we need to raise our young, in terms of how we feed ourselves and take care of our other survival needs, how we produce.

Our capitalist masters have managed to organize our labor socially but still divide us from each other, so that we can be fooled into hating each other enough to accept killing each other in wars, competing with each other for jobs, distrusting each other on the street.

Human solidarity is the answer to capitalist war, and socialism-a rational planned system of human cooperation through workers ownership and control over all industry -is the road to human solidarity. We truly do have nothing to lose but our chains.

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