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James Burnham

Marxism and Collective Security

(February 1938)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 9, 26 February 1938, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In their editorial notice preceding the debate between Earl Browder and Charles A. Beard, the editors of the New Republic write:

“No more important subject is before the American people today than the question of foreign policy usually described by the alternatives of ‘collective security’ and ‘isolation’.”

The current hearings on the naval appropriation measure before the House of Representatives Naval Affairs Committee are similarly being conducted in the light of this same alternative; “collective security” or “isolation.” Every speaker who has appeared before the Committee supports, with whatever personal modifications, one or another of these two policies.

Beard and Browder, also, throughout the course of their debate, assume that the choice is limited to these two policies. Neither of them makes any mention of any third possibility. Each of them takes for granted that if he can refute the position of his, opponent, then his own view is thereby proved.

Two Positions Fundamentally Related

This should serve to indicate that the two positions of collective security” and of “isolation,” in spite of the seeming contradiction between them, do in point of fact share important features in common. However great the gap between them may appear, they are in fundamental respects alike.

The two positions are alike, in the first place, in that neither analyzes the actual cause of modern war. Both argue merely on the surface, as if war were due to the wickedness of individual men, the effect of this or that law, or the success of some clever bit of diplomacy.

They are alike, secondly, in proposing a solution for “the problem of war” within the framework of capitalism. Collective security and isolation equally presuppose the continuing existence of capitalism.

Thirdly, they are alike in that each offers as its solution a program for adoption by the government of the United States: that is, each proposes as its answer to the war crisis a set of actions to be performed by an imperialist state.

Are Part of Preparation for War

As a consequence, both of these policies, both collective security and isolation, are in the ast analysis not programs against war at all, but are part of the preparation for war.

They act as part of the preparation for war in a number of decisive ways. For example, since both of them, and their advocates, presuppose support of the imperialist government of the United States, they aid in building up attitudes of loyalty toward that government; and thus, when the government goes to war, as it will, the same attitudes of loyalty will keep support behind it for the war.

Both policies, moreover, by hiding the true nature of war, of, the U.S. government, and of imperialism in general, spread disastrous illusions among the people, and divert any genuine struggle against imperialist war into a chase after impossible dreams.

Even more fatal is the fact that both of these policies, each in its own way, impotent to fight against war, serves to give moral justification to the war when it comes. This happens partly because, as the last war showed, the leading spokesmen, known publicly as “the leaders of the peace movement,” go over to open support of the war as soon as it starts. The masses reason: If these men, who lead the fight for peace, support the war, then it must be a good war; and, even if it is not, we cannot oppose it effectively without their help. But these policies themselves provide moral justification apart from the men who advocate them. The war will be propagandized as a lawless breaking of collective security, or a violation of neutrality and isolation; and thus the very fight for peace will seem to the masses to demand a war to enforce the “peace policy.”

Analysis of Capitalism Only Truthful Answer

Marxism, therefore, does not answer collective security by an appeal for isolation. Marxism, bases its answer to the problem of war squarely and bluntly upon a truthful analysis of the nature of; war and of capitalism. Any other basis must lead to lies, illusions, or demagogy.

Marxism points out that so long as capitalism endures, wars will come, that war under capitalism is not an “accident” or an “exceptional event” but an integral part of the very mechanism of capitalism. War is just as much a part of capitalism as are economic crises. You cannot have capitalism without having periodic crises, and you cannot have capitalism without periodically having wars. The causes which bring about wars, the inescapable need for every advanced capitalist nation to attempt to expand its markets, gain cheaper sources of raw materials, find new outlets beyond the internal market for capital investment, can none of them be eliminated without eliminating capitalism itself.

Every capitalist government, above all every imperialist government – including outstandingly the U.S. government – is therefore committed to war “as an instrument of national policy” by the very fact that it is a capitalist government. To ask it to renounce war is like asking a living man to renounce oxygen.

Struggle Against War Is Fight for Socialism

From these considerations, it follows that the struggle against war, the genuine struggle, is simply an aspect of the struggle against capitalism and for socialism. This is the truth of the matter, however unpleasant a truth it may seem. If capitalism necessarily brings about war, you obviously cannot get rid of war without getting rid of capitalism. To divorce the struggle against war from the struggle against capitalism is in reality to give up the struggle against war, so far as any possible effectiveness is concerned.

This simple truth is systematically obscured by both the ignorant and the conscious liars. So many persons wish to satisfy. their consciences by feeling that they are “working for peace”; but at the same time they do not wish to take the risk of working against capitalism. To these persons we must say: Deliberately or unconsciously you are fooling yourselves. Which do you really want – peace or capitalism? You cannot have both. If you are unwilling to give up capitalism, then your pretended fight for peace is a fraud, and a fraud which aids no one but the war-makers.

Fear of Workers Checks War Makers

The day-by-day class struggle of the workers, which by strengthening the working class is implicitly directed against capitalism, is thus a far more realistic means of checking the war preparations than all of the pacifism, isolation and collective security ever imagined. Fear of what the workers may do is the only real hindrance to the war-makers. They laugh at, and exploit to their own ends, the propaganda of isolation and collective security.

In the end, however, the overthrow of capitalism itself is the only conceivable means for stopping war. Socialism, and it alone, will end war because socialism and it alone will root out the causes of war. The program of the socialist revolution, when the question is finally and fully understood, is the only anti-war program.

Answer to War Is Socialist Revolution

This does not mean that it is impossible for revolutionary socialists to unite with, others not yet accepting their perspective to further certain specific objectives. Both concrete actions, such as boycotts and demonstrations, and even primarily agitational measures directed against specific moves of the war-makers (“Withdraw all U.S. Armed Forces from the Far East,” “Against the Naval Appropriations,” “All War Funds to the Unemployed”) can legitimately serve a limited purpose. But for the revolutionary socialists these must always be subordinated to the general perspective of the class struggle.

To Browder and to Beard, then, as to Roosevelt, the Marxists in the end give one short reply: The answer to war, the only answer, is the socialist revolution.

(This is the final article in the series of four by James Burnham on the New Republic debate over collective security between Charles A. Beard and Earl Browder.)

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