Socialist Worker


by Judy Cox
Issue No. 1847

'THE internationalisation of economic life makes it necessary to settle controversies by fire and sword.' That was how the revolutionary Nikolai Bukharin, writing in 1915, described the link between and the economic system and war. He was analysing imperialism, a word that has rightly been used to describe the US war against Iraq. Imperialism is not just a term of abuse or a description of empires.

It is a way of understanding a process of change in the capitalist system and of how the thirst for profit leads to brutal war again and again. Bukharin explained how, 'War is nothing other than the method of competition at a specific level of development.' Individual capitalists are locked into a system of competition for raw materials, markets and labour.

This never ending competition means companies drive others to the wall and swallow them up, becoming bigger in the process. By the early 20th century, the Russian revolutionary Lenin explained, 'the remarkably rapid process of concentration of production in ever-larger enterprises is one of the characteristic features of capitalism. 'Competition becomes transformed into monopoly.' Production bursts out of its national borders and becomes increasingly global. Competition for markets and raw materials begin to take place on a world scale.

The Great Powers compete economically, clash militarily and triumph through mass murder. Bukharin wrote, 'The capitalists partition the world not out of personal malice, but because of the degree of economic concentration which has been reached forces them to adopt this method in order to get profits.' Companies themselves, however powerful they are, cannot fight wars to secure their interests.

Oil companies like Shell and Exxon may be desperate to get their hands on Iraqi oil, but they don't have any tanks, aircraft carriers or marines. They need the armies of nation states to fight for them. Because production is no longer confined within one country, nation states have to increase their ability to dominate markets, production facilities and raw materials in different parts of the world.

'The fighting force in the world market thus depends upon the power of the nation, upon its financial and military resources,' Bukharin wrote. The corporations and the state become tied together. This link between capitalists and the state makes war inevitable.

As Bukharin wrote, 'Capitalist society is unthinkable without armaments, as it is unthinkable without wars. The existence of arms is not the prime cause and moving force in wars. On the contrary, the inevitability of economic conflicts conditions the existence of arms. This is why in our times, when economic conflicts have reached an unusual degree of intensity, we are witnessing a mad orgy of armaments.'

As well as fighting for important commodities, like oil, the imperialists have to fight to establish and maintain their strategic position in the world. Lenin wrote, 'An essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several Great Powers, the striving for hegemony, for the conquest of territory.

This can even be 'not so much directly for themselves as to weaken the adversary and undermine it'. This meant an era of war in which peace was just a breathing space between more conflict. No treaties or alliances can stop the march to further wars.

Lenin wrote, 'Any partition of the world could only be agreed on by all of the powers for a short period of time, since as some of them grow economically more quickly than others the military balance between the powers would shift and the stronger ones would dominate a larger share of the world.'

Imperialism remains a system of competition between the powers and of economic, political and military domination by a few powerful countries over the rest of the world. Far from being a dry description of wars in the past, it is the reality behind the dead children in Baghdad and the US occupation of Iraq.

There can be periods of relative peace which give the appearance that capitalists can settle their quarrels peacefully or through the intervention of a body like the United Nations. But as we have seen in recent years, at some point war re-emerges onto the agenda.

Our struggle is against each individual war but also against the system that produces them.

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What Socialists Say
Sat 19 Apr 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1847
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