A World Torn By War and the Socialist Alternative

Our world is at war. There are more armed conflicts happening today than at any other time in human history. Millions of refugees are fleeing wars. Millions of people are being killed. These wars are increasing poverty and hunger, destroying homes and cities, and promoting gangsterism and crime. And in the US, our government is about to mobilize hundreds of thousands of working class and young people to attack Iraq.

These wars consume vast amounts of the world’s resources and technological advances. The world’s total military spending is over $800 billion per year, $437 billion of which is spent by the US. Two-thirds of the world’s research scientists are working on military projects (Hopwood & Cock, Global Warning).

With all of the “progress” made during the 20thcentury, why is the world so torn by war? Why hasn’t human society moved forward? To answer this question, we must look at the underlying causes of war.

Bush’s Foreign Policy

White House warmongers are rapidly pushing the US toward war with Iraq. The “official” reason for this war drive is that Saddam Hussein is an “immediate threat” to the United States. In order to prevent war, we must go to war. In reality, the primary motive for Bush’s war drive is the assertion and expansion of US economic, political, and military interests in the oil-rich Middle East.

The Bush administration clearly outlined its military policies in the document “The National Security Strategy of the United States,” released on September 20. Throughout the document, the US asserts its “right” to first-strikes and unilateralism. “We will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively…Our best defense is a good offense…We cannot let our enemies strike first.”

The document also clearly outlines the true interests of the US government – creating a favorable economic climate for US big business. The document states: “We will promote economic growth and economic freedom beyond America’s shores.” It intends to do this by advocating “pro-growth legal and regulatory policies to encourage business investment…and free trade.”

But these policies are not fundamentally unique to Bush or the Republican Party. Overtly or covertly, it has always been the real policy of the US, and all imperialist nations. What is unique about the “Bush Doctrine” is its brazenness, its open declaration of the predatory aims of US imperialism.


Near the turn of the last century, around 1890, the global capitalist economy saw the rise of trusts and monopolies that soon controlled one industry after another, beginning with oil, banking, railroads, steel, and then spreading to all major sectors of the economy. Today we see monopolies such as Microsoft and the big media and telecommunication corporations.

The rise of finance capital that banks and financial institutions could export to other countries as the dominant sector of the economy opened up a period of monopoly capitalism, called imperialism.

These huge corporations and banks buy politicians and mass media outlets in their home country, and around the world, in order to promote and defend their interests. In the US, corporations fund and control both the Republican and Democratic Parties, and approximately 80% of all media outlets are owned by only 7 corporations.

In the epoch of imperialism, most wars have been the outcome of economic rivalries among the world’s great powers. Demands from big business for access to cheap raw materials or the removal of political barriers to new markets, can turn into political conflicts, or even escalate into war.

In a competitive market economy, privately owned corporations need continually expanding markets for their products. In order to out-compete their rivals, they must constantly strive to reduce labor and production costs. Therefore, it makes good “business sense” to pressure nations to weaken environmental and labor laws, lower taxes, sell off public services, reduce trade barriers, etc.

But not every government is willing to accept foreign domination or its resources being plundered for the benefit of foreign capitalists. Sometimes, economic and political pressure isn’t enough to achieve this, so imperialist governments resort to military means.

This was clearly outlined by Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist and free market advocate, when he wrote: “For globalization to work, America can’t be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is. The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technology is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

Revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg said that for the imperialist rulers to abandon militarism, they “would have to begin by disarming in the commercial and political field, by giving up predatory colonial campaigns, by abandoning the international politics of spheres of influence in all parts of the world – in a word…they would have to do the exact opposite of everything which the nature of the present politics of the capitalist state demands.” (The Road to Peace)

Ethnic Conflicts

Of course, nationalism and ethnic conflicts also lead to wars. However, an underlying cause of many ethnic wars today was the arbitrary division of Asia, Africa, and Latin America into nation-states by the former colonial rulers. The borders of these nations, and the governments that were put into power, were created for the benefit of the imperialist governments and the corporations they represented.

Capitalist domination by the western powers has resulted in the brutal exploitation and devastation of living conditions in the underdeveloped world. It is capitalism that created the poverty and oppression that motivates one ethnic group to blame its problems on another, and to fight over power and resources.

Our world is divided into two powerful classes: the super-rich owners of the corporations that promote war for their power, profits, and prestige, and the working and oppressed peoples of the world who are told to fight those wars.

The United Nations verified this in its 1997 Human Development Report that said: “The estimated cost of achieving and maintaining access to basic education for all, basic healthcare for all, reproductive healthcare for all women, adequate food for all and safe water and sanitation for all is roughly $40 billion a year, less than 4% of combined wealth of the 225 richest people.” $40 billion is only 10% of the US’s annual military budget.

It is the capitalist class and their imperialist governments who start wars in order to exploit the labor and resources of another country. Workers, whether in Iraq or America, have no interest in fighting workers of other countries.

The Struggle Against War – The Struggle for Socialism

In order to put an end to all armed conflicts, the workers of the world must unite to overthrow the capitalist system and the capitalist classes that rule over them. Capitalism must be replaced by an economy that is run by working people, for working people.

Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky made this point in a speech to the Anti-war Congress in Amsterdam in 1931: “The struggle against war is a struggle against the classes which rule society and which hold in their hands both its productive forces and its destructive weapons. It is not possible to prevent war by moral indignation, by meetings, by resolutions, by newspaper articles and by congresses. As long as the bourgeoisie has at its command the banks, the factories, the land, the press and the state apparatus, it will always be able to drive the people to war when its interests demand it.”

What kind of economic system could truly represent the common interests of workers in all countries – the vast majority of the world’s population? A socialist economy, where production and distribution could be planned out to provide a good standard of living for all people, in all countries. The big corporations need to be taken out of private hands, and put under public ownership to be democratically run by workers and consumers. By abolishing class divisions, we could provide an extremely comfortable standard of living for everyone, and there would be no more wars over resources because everyone would be well provided for.

In a democratic socialist society, not only would war become a thing of the past, but many of the world’s social problems could begin to be solved. If the $800 billion governments currently devote to military spending were instead used for the good of humanity, then poverty, oppression, and the resulting terrorism would become a thing of the past.

Justice #32, November 2002