When Carl von Clausewitz made the observation that wars are started by the defender, it wasn’t a mere sophistry. He was making a point that is very much worth thinking about today. To take the purest example of a war of aggression, which was Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in September of 1939, the point is that Hitler didn’t want war—Hitler wanted Poland. It was the decision to militarily resist the conquest that actually began the war.
The reason I think this is so important today is because I keep coming across statements to the effect of, “There won’t be a nuclear war because no one wants it.” This makes it sound like wars happen because national leaders wake up one morning and say, “Gee, I think I want to have a war.” If that’s how it happened, we’d be living in a Ghandi-esque paradise.
But Clausewitz was also right when he identified war as the continuation of politics by other means, and Marx was right when he identified politics as concentrated economics.
No, the ruling elite of the US does not want war with Russia or China. For that matter, neither does the ruling elite of Russia, nor of China, want war with the US. But capitalism is organized on the basis of nation-states, which means the interests of profit are fundamentally tied to the interests of nations. Russia does not want war, but neither are the capitalists of Russia willing to give up their remaining interests in oil pipelines and markets in Syria. The drive for profit cannot be separated from the drive to control geographic regions, and the minor detail that there are human beings living in those regions cannot, of course, be permitted to interfere with the accumulation of wealth.
The point is, it is not a question of individual, or even collective greed, it is simply how capitalism works. To give up control of markets, resources, and labor in various parts of the world is a threat to US economic interests. So long as production is based on the exploitation of labor for private profit, rather than common ownership based on human need, there can come a point where war is the only alternative to the collapse of a nation’s economy. In other words, there comes a point where the decision to attack another nation becomes, for the ruling class, the lesser evil. And the most horrifying thing is, from their standpoint, they’re right.
“No,” cries the US, “we don’t want war, we just need to control those regions.”
“But those regions are ours,” says Russia.
“And we need those,” puts in China.
Meanwhile countries like North Korea become terrified that they will be squashed in the battle of giants, and think to stake out their claim by demonstrating such aggression that no one will dare attack them, which sounds stupid, but really, what choice do they have? What choice do any of them have? They must have control of those regions, and if that country resists, or if another imperialist nation is unwilling to surrender its claims, that is war.
And so the brinksmanship begins. “If we posture enough, they’ll back down, and our interests will be advanced without fighting,” they all say. “Okay, I guess we need to show that we’re willing to use our military force, then they’ll be afraid of us and give us what we want.” “All it will take will be one or two tactical nuclear strikes, and they’ll know we’re serious.”
So say the major powers, and their various elites, willing to kill billions in defense of their interests. Meanwhile, as they play dice with human civilization, the propaganda machines in each country go to work, vilifying the individual leaders of other countries, accusing them of “human rights violations,” and social media fills up with chauvinism and pretexts. This is preparation for war, for a nuclear catastrophe that no one wants, and we’re living in it, because Clausewitz was right.
The fight against war must be a fight against capitalism; anything else is, in a word, futile.