Friday, February 29, 2008

Capitalism and War

Yesterday I attended a Socialist Worker Student Society meeting at King's College London, with Alex Callinicos speaking on 'Capitalism and War'.

Callincos's lead off, arguing that the logic of capitalism inevitably leads to wars, was extremely bland, and furthermore failed to explain why war is inherent to capitalism. Instead, he simply gave various examples of the argument that 'big capitalist powers have a record of launching wars, ergo capitalism means war'.

Unsurprisingly, the result of this argument-by-correlation was that many confused members of the audience asked questions along the lines of "surely it's not just capitalism that causes war, but also religion and national conflicts" while others said that war had always existed. Since Callinicos had neither said that war is the logical product of class societies, nor argued that other oppressive ideas such as nationalism and religious chauvinism are rooted in class exploitation, he was forced to backtrack by these in fact rather facile questions and start again from scratch. Bizarrely, he angrily tore into one student who had said that there had always been conflicts, telling him "you should think twice about coming to a meeting and saying that before you've studied it".

This was pathetic, as was his speech about how for the majority of human history people had lived in egalitarian "primitive communist" societies where there was no war and all lived happily, and then extrapolated from this that "class is in fact a marginal factor in human history". Of course, even though it is true that class societies have existed for only fifteen thousand years or so, the large majority of humans in history have lived in class society, and "primitive communism" is certainly not what we are fighting for. In any case, it was silly of Callinicos to get drawn into such sophistry rather than try and talk about how class impacts other factors as well as class's relationship with imperialism.

Indeed, I posed the question of how it was possible to fight against imperialism on the level of supporting the ruling class of Iran against the United States (and its own working class), given that it is far from anti-capitalist. Its relationship with imperialism is contradictory - much as Iran faces sanctions and threats, its regime is willing to implement IMF reforms and support the occupation of Iraq in the hope of grabbing its slice of the pie. Disingenuously I also asked if he could 'expand' on the issue workers', women's and student's struggles in Iran, which he had neglected to mention.

Callinicos in fact has no perspective whatsoever for working-class opposition to imperialism, as he demonstrated when he responded (at the second time of asking), telling me that while he supports "petitions for democracy" in Iran, the fact that the Iranian government is not consistently anti-imperialist is no reason for the USA to invade it (!) Interrupting, I repeated my question about whether Callinicos supports strikes in Iran and the imprisoned students, but he again ignored the question - clearly, for him "petitions for democracy" and supporting "reformists" within the elite is sufficient.

Therefore, we had a meeting on 'Capitalism and War' where the SWP speaker said that war was the result of capitalism - yet then told his audience that rather than opposing capitalism or supporting working class struggle, we should simply devote our efforts into Grand Old Duke of York demo-building in "solidarity" with the rulers of Iran.


Renegade Eye said...

Bush today answered a reporters question, saying the war helps the US economy.

It's difficult seeing a straight line between capitalism and war, when you have politician's who have a hatred for government, and try to bankrupt it.

Dave said...


I doubt he did that and I doubt he believes that either, I think it was your interpretation of it.


David Broder said...

Dave, why not give some evidence for your suggestion (and what it relates to...)