III. War and Industry

Submitted by GrouchoMarxist on May 13, 2012

We have seen in the preceding chapter that industrial rivalries and the desire of acquiring new markets for the export of home-made products are the chief cause of wars in modern times. Let us now see how in modern industry the States create a class of men interested in turning nations into armies, ever ready to hurl themselves at one another.

There are now, as we know, immense industries giving work to millions of men, and existing for the sole purpose of producing war material. It is, therefore, entirely to the advantage of these manufacturers, and of those who lend them the necessary capital, to prepare for war, and to fan the fear that war is ever on the eve of breaking out.

We need not concern ourselves with the small fry — with the makers of worthless firearms, trumpery swords, and revolvers that always miss fire, such as are to be found in Birmingham, Liège, etc. These are not of much account, although the trade in these firearms, carried on by exporters who speculate in “Colonial” wars, has already attained a certain importance. We know, for example, that English merchants supplied firearms to the Matabele when they were about to rise against the English, who were forcing them into serfdom. Later on, there were French manufacturers, and even well-known English ones, who made their forcing them into serfdom. Later on, there were French manufacturers, and even well-known English ones, who made their fortunes by supplying firearms, cannons, and ammunition to the Boers. And even now we hear of quantities of firearms imported by English merchants into Arabia, which some day will cause risings among the Arabian tribes, bring about the plundering of a few British merchants, and consequently British “intervention to re-establish order,” to be followed sooner or later by “annexation.”

However, such facts need not be multiplied. Bourgeois patriotism is already well known, and far more serious cases have been witnessed recently. Thus, during the war between Russia and Japan, English gold was supplied to the Japanese (at a very high rate of interest), in order that they might destroy Russia's nascent sea-power in the Pacific, which gave umbrage to England. But at the very same time the English colliery companies sold 300,000 tons of coal at a very high price to Russia, to enable her to send Rojdestvensky's fleet to the East. Two birds were killed with one stone: the owners of the Welsh collieries made a good business out of it; the shareholders and the directors of the Welsh colliery companies, taken from the nobility, the clergy, and the House of Commons — every self-respecting company has representatives of these three classes on its board of directors — increased their fortunes; and, on the other hand, the Lombard Street financiers placed money at 9 or 10 per cent. in the Japanese loan, and mortgaged a substantial part of the income of their “dear allies” as a security for the debt.

These are but a few facts among thousands of others of the same kind. In fact, we should be apprised of fine things done by the ruling classes if the bourgeois did not know how to keep their secrets! Let us, then, pass on to the next category of facts.

We know that all great States have favoured, besides their own arsenals, the establishment of huge private factories, where guns, armour-plates for ironclads of lesser size, shells, gunpowder, cartridges, etc., are manufactured. Large sums are spent by all States in the construction of these auxiliary factories, where the most skilled workmen and engineers are to be found gathered together, ready to fabricate engines of destruction on a great scale in case of a war.

Now, it is perfectly evident that the direct advantage of those capitalists who have invested their capital in such concerns lies in keeping up rumours of war in order to persuade us that armaments are necessary, and even spreading panic if need be. In fact, they do so.

If the chances of a European war sometimes grow less, if the ruling classes — though themselves interested as shareholders in great factories of this kind ( Anzin, Krupp, Armstrong, etc.), and in great railway companies, coal mines, etc. — require pressing in order to make them sound the war-trumpet, they are compelled to do so by Jingo opinion fabricated by means of newspaper, and even by preparations made for insurrections.[2]

In fact, does not that prostitute, the Press, prepare men's minds for new wars? Does it not hasten on those wars that are likely to break out? And in this way does it not compel the Governments to double, to treble their armaments? For example, did we not see in England, during the ten years preceding the Boer War, the great Press, and especially the illustrated papers, artfully preparing the people's minds for the necessity of a war, in order to “arouse patriotism”? To this end no stone was left unturned. With much noise they published novels about the next war, in which we were told how the English, beaten at first, made a supreme effort, and ended by destroying the German fleet and establishing themselves in Rotterdam. An English nobleman spent large sums of money that a patriotic play might be acted all over England. The play was too stupid to pay, even in second-rate theatres, but its production played into the hands of those money-makers and politicians who intrigued with Rhodes in Africa that they might seize the Transvaal gold mines and compel the black natives to work in them.

Forgetting the past, these self-styled “patriots” even went as far as reviving the cult of England's sworn enemy, Napoleon I., and since then the work in this direction has never ceased. In 1904-5 they almost succeeded in driving France, governed at that time

by Clemenceau and Delcassé, into a war against Germany — the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Conservative Government, Lord Lansdowne, having promised to support the French armies with an army of 50,000 men, to be sent to the Continent. Delcassé, having attached undue importance to this ridiculous proposal, very nearly launched France into a disastrous war.

In general, the more we advance with our bourgeois State civilisation, the more the Press, ceasing to be the expression of what may be called public opinion, applies itself to manufacturing warlike opinion by the most infamous means. The Press, in all great States, is controlled by two or three financial syndicates, which manufacture the public opinion needed for the promotion of their enterprises. They own the large newspapers, and the lesser ones are of no account. They are to be bought at such low prices!
But this is not all. The gangrene spreads far deeper.

Modern wars no longer consist of a mere massacre of hundreds of thousands of men in a few great battles: a massacre of which those who have not followed the details of the great battles during the last war in Manchuria and the atrocious details of the great battles during the last war in Manchuria and the atrocious details of the siege and defence of Port Arthur have absolutely no idea. Yet the three great historical battles — Gravelotte, Potomac, Borodino (near Moscow) — each lasting three days, and in which there were respectively 90,000, 100,000, and 110,000 men killed and wounded on both sides, — these battles were child's play in comparison to modern warfare, as we saw it in Manchuria.

To-day, great battles are fought on a front, not of five to ten miles as before, but of thirty-five to forty miles; they no longer last three days, as was the case in the just-named great battles, but seven days (Lao-Yang) and ten days (Mukden); and the losses are 100,000 and 150,000 men on each side.

The ravages caused by shells, thrown with accuracy of aim at a distance of three, four, or five miles, by batteries the position of which cannot be made out, as they use smokeless powder, are unimaginable. The guns are not fired haphazard any more. The position occupied by the enemy is divided mentally into squares two-thirds of a mile wide, and the fire from all the batteries is concentrated on each square successively, in order to destroy everything to be found there.

When the fire from several hundred pieces of ordnance is concentrated on such a square, there is no space of ten square yards that has not been struck by a shell, not a bush that has not been cut down by the howling monsters sent nobody knows whence. Seven or eight days of this terrible fire drives the soldiers to madness; and when the attacking columns, after having been repelled eight to ten times in succession, nevertheless gain ground by a few yards every time, and finally reach the enemy's trenches, a hand-to-hand struggle begins. After having hurled hand-grenades and pieces of pyroxyline at one another (two pieces of pyroxyline tied together with a string were used by the Japanese as a sling), Russian and Japanese soldiers rolled in the trenches of Port Arthur like wild beasts, striking each other with the butt-end of their rifles and with their knives, and tearing each other's flesh with their teeth.

The working classes of the West know nothing of this terrible return to the most atrocious savagery which modern warfare brings forth; and the middle class who know it take care not to tell them.

We were told that smokeless powder would render wars impossible, to which we replied that this was sentimental nonsense. We now know that with the return of modern warfare to the hand-grenade, the sling, and the bayonet, war has returned to the most barbarous aspects of olden days.

However, modern wars do not only consist of massacres, of massacre brought to the pitch of rage — of a return to savagery. They also cause the destruction of human labour on a colossal scale, and we continually feel the effect of this destruction in time of peace by the increase of misery among the poor, running parallel with the enrichment of the rich.

Every war destroys a formidable amount of all sorts of goods, including not only the so-called war material, but also things most necessary to everyday life and to society as a whole: bread, meat, vegetables, food of all kind, beasts of burden, leather, coal, metal, clothing, and so on. This represents the useful labour of millions of men during decades; and all this is wasted, burnt, gutted in a few months. Even in time of peace it is wasted, in anticipation of coming wars.

As this war material, these metals, and these stores must be prepared beforehand, the mere possibility of a new war brings about in all our industries shocks and crises that every one of us feels. You, and I, all of us, we feel their effect in the smallest details of our life. The bread we eat, the coal we burn, the railway ticket we buy, the price of each article depends on rumours relating to the likelihood of war at an early date — rumours propagated by speculators on a rise in the prices of all this produce.

The great industrial crises which we have lately lived through were certainly due — as we shall see in our next issue — to the anticipation of wars.