Richard Branson has joined with others in a new venture called Global Zero whose intention is to rid the world of nuclear weapons over coming years. It seems a honourable venture, but for anyone that has studied history it is more like deja vu all over again.
States do not fight wars because they have weapons, nuclear, chemical or otherwise. Just the opposite is the case. They build arsenals because they fight wars! Moreover, it has always been the case that the main demand for disarmament, especially in periods of rising tension, has come from those that have the most developed means of producing weapons, and the biggest stockpiles of weapons. That might seem surprising, but a simple consideration of the facts shows why it isn't.
In every war throughout history the decisive weapons have been those developed in the course of the war. Every War begins with the use of the weapons that were used at the end of the last war, and ends with the weapons that will begin the next. It is no surprise that states with large stockpiles of legacy weapons see an advantage in trying to get all their potential adversaries to get rid of their weapons, for the cost of getting rid of their own old stockpiles. After all, they know that their productive and scientific industries will before hostilities begin provide tem with the basis of creating newer, better weapons than those they have so generously given up.
Countries such as Pakistan, India and other less developed states might have difficulty in cranking up production of such weapons when they have given them up, but does anyone really beleive that within weeks of a non-nuclear world entering another War, the US or any other advanced economy would not already have new, more deadly nuclear weapons ready to hurl at its opponents?
No, the threat of nuclear annihilation cannot be removed by such, no doubt, well-meaning ventures, it can only be removed by getting rid of the causes of such wars, not the weapons they are fought with. That means getting rid of Capitalism, and its most warmongering manifestation - Imperialism.
As, I have said before the situation we are in now is almost a clone of the situation that existed at the end of the 19th century, a situation that led Frederick Engels to identify that the world was headed inevitably towards a World War between the competing Capitalist powers. Throughout the 19th Century, Britain had strode the World like a colossus. Its economic power was unbounded, and on the back of that economic and industrial power rested its military hegemony. The 19th century saw booms and slumps within the world economy, and saw the emergence of the 50 year Long Wave cycles analysed by Kondratiev in the 1920's. But, the overarching power of Britain meant that the natural drive to war that stemmed from them at their point of conjuncture, as the Long Wave Boom came to an end, was mitigated, and constrained to minor conflicts. The overarching power of the US sicne World War II has played the same role, which is why the end of the last Long Wave Boom in 1974 did not lead to such a War.
But, by the end of the 19th Century, when the new Long Wave Boom began in the late 1880's, Britain's hegemony was lost. New more dynamic economic powers such as France, Germany, and the US had emerged that challenged Britain's supremacy. As Engels describes, the Germans had effectively infiltrated British manufacture and marketing, and used their contacts and knowledge to win for themselves markets away from Britain. A general prosperity meant that the scramble for markets and sources of raw materials was conducted largely within the confines of economic competition. Prosperity meant that competition for necessary raw materials could be fought out by simply paying a higher price, whilst still being able to make a handsome profit.
It is when the Long Wave Boom ends around 1914 that the strains that this creates become intolerable. It has been becoming increasingly impossible in the dying years of the boom to simply pay higher prices and still make handsome profits. Eventually no profits at all. In order to continue economic competition will no longer suffice. Britain, no longer the dominant economic power remains the dominant military power, and uses its military power to make up for its declining economic power, uses it to maintain its grip over its colonies, its protected sources of supply, and markets. Its competitors demand a share for themselves. War becomes inevitable. The same pattern can be seen now. The US has long since lost its position as the world's most powerful economy. It remains the largest economy, just as was Britain, but not most powerful. Even its size has largely been a mirage, a bloated, obese body gorged on cheap credit. But like Britain, it remains the most powerful military force, and its actions in Serbia, in Iraq and so on, demonstrate that it is more than prepared to use that military power to further the interests of US Capital, of creating strategic US positions around the world to maintain its control over important resources, and markets ready for when economic competition has to give way to the logical extension - military competition.
In the run up to WWI there was no shortage of people, particularly in Britain that proposed disarmament, and other pacifist slogans. Almost, to a man, the same people when War was about to break out sided with their own ruling classes and backed their side in the War. Even the socialists, the supposed Marxists - though they were nothing of the kind - who had organised hug Conferences, and demonstrations against the War, caved in. Only a few - the Zimmerwald Left - refused to be dragged along. But, in opposing the War, they still did not allow themselves to be dragged along by the kind of Pacifism that Branson's venture epitomises, and which shamefully most of the so called revoluitonary Left also advocates today. They made clear that Imperialist War was the necessary and inevitable consequence of Capitalist competition. It was not possible to prevent such wars by reformists measures, by street demonstrations, Parliamentary motions or other such devices which sought to control the actions of the Bourgeois State. As Leon Trotsky put it, workers can only control the actions of the State if they control the State.
But, the necessary conclusion from that is that such wars can only be prevented if workers take control of the State, and that means they have to overthrow Capitalism itself. It was necessary not to oppose the War by pacifist measures, but for socialists to become the best soldiers to fight alongside their fellow workers and explain this to them, and thereby ultimately to show that the answer to War was to turn their guns on their own rulers. That was to be revoluitonary defeatists, to advocate not the military victory of your opponent, but the revolutionary overthrow of your own rulers using the very weapons they had put at your disposal. In 1917, the Russian soldiers having done that to the Tsar, shouted across th trenches to their German comrades, "We have done our bit to end this War, by throwing out our Tsar. Now you do the same and throw out your Kaiser, then we can all go home."
Yet, despite the terrible tragedy of WWI with the loss of life of tens of millions of working people that simple lesson was not learned. In the run up to WWII it was not only the pacifists and reformsists that advocated the same kind of disarmamanet, and anti-war Conferences and demonstrations. Those who were supposed to be the heirs of Lenin and the Zimmerwaldists were at the forefront of such diversions. To his credit Trotsky opposed such moves. He called on socialists to engage in military training, to attempt to bring it under Trade Union control, to be the best soldiers and so on, and to build revolutionary nuclei within the armed forces so that at some point during the War, just s had happened in WWI, the forces would become available for a revoluitonary overturn in one or more of the contending adversaries countries. Yet, even within the ranks of the so called Trotskyists, certainly in the ranks of those that veered between the Trotskyists and the Stalinists and reformists, this posiiton was not at all universal.
Today, it is not at all so. The statism that infects the whole of the Left almost without exception leads to the kind of Pacifist nonsense that suggests that War can be stopped by Public Opinion, by mass demonstrations, by Conferences, or even by limited strikes. The implication is that the foreign policy of the capitalist State can be controlled by the working class, just as the implication is given that Workers can exercise "Workers Control" over capitalist property nationalised by that State without the working class being on the verge of ovethrowing it. The whole history of the twentieth century shows it cannot.
Workers can only exercise control over property when they themselves own that property, and even then the bouregoisie will try to use its State to frustrate even that. Less still can they control the State and its actions unless they own that State, unless it is their State. If the working class - indeed humanity as a whole -is to avoid a catastrophe on unimaginable scale when the current Long Wave Boom ends around 2020-2025, that lesson has to be relearned, and relearned quickly.