The Class Nature of War

From a talk by Harvey Jackins at an RC workshop in Germany, in January 1983

I want to add some perspective to our discussions and discharge about the Second World War. I’m very pleased that the German RCers here began to face their own history and terrors and discharge their hurts, including their guilts. What happened last night is exactly what we have wished for. People who have been talking to me since, however, have indicated a great deal of confusion that I may be able to clarify. I did not realize until after the discussion that I’m the only person here who was an adult during World War Two. Everyone else at this workshop was a small child during the war or was born afterwards. I think this gives me some perspective that those who came later lack. I was already a grown man and a leader before World War Two. I was called up for military service three times. Although, for different reasons, I never served, I spent a good part of the war outfitting naval ships and sailing on them with Navy crews on “shakedown” cruises.

World War Two was not an isolated evil incident. Given the kind of societies that existed, it was inevitable that World War Two would occur. World War One had been “inevitable” before that, and so have the numerous upheavals and depressions between the wars and the many terrible wars that have occurred since in Korea and Vietnam and Lebanon and El Salvador. Wars are inevitable as long as this oppressive society in its aggressive and moribund stages dominates the world. Someone here has said that the Third World War is already going on [happening] and the firing of the missiles will mark the end of the war, not its beginning. If we take that view, then World War Three as it is at present has been inevitable from the nature of the society in which we live.

The events that the German RCers began to take responsibility for and discharge on last night were not the kind of events that could only occur with one ”evil” individual like Hitler and one population corrupted by complacency and terror, such as the parts of Germany were that supported him. (Harvey is asked to repeat.)

The role that Hitler and the German people played was not the result of policies that occurred only with Hitler and only within this country (Germany). I would in no way excuse the German people from examining these events and taking responsibility for the future; but for the rest of us to think that this alone deals with what happened in World War Two would be a terrible mistake. There is no national group of people in the world that does not have to do this kind of examination.

Within every country there were and are individuals and groups of individuals whose policies were and are made up of the same kind of patterns that motivated Hitler. Such kinds of individuals and groups of individuals are prominent and powerful in the ruling classes of every country. They were present in the ruling classes of all these nations before World War Two, and they continue up to today. In every country these powerful groups seek to promote racism, genocide, war, and destruction. They do this not because they were not good human beings to start with—they were conceived and born just as good and dear and human as the rest of us—but because the conditioning of the oppressive society converted them into this monstrous role.

Hitler was of little importance until money from U.S. and English financiers had supported him for many years and allowed him to present himself impressively to the most reactionary German rulers as a possible agent for them. The financiers behind the Ku Klux Klan in the United States and the ones behind the National Front in England are functionally just as evil and just as inhuman as Hitler and his supporters. They operate under different national and cultural banners, but their content is equivalent.

Without a class analysis of our societies, World War Two and the threat of World War Three cannot really be understood. The oppressive society converts young people who are destined to be rulers into conditioned automatons able to be concerned only about profits. If profits, or bigger profits or faster profits, require war, slaughter, and genocide, then the machine grinds on, heedless of human values. Intelligence is constrained only to excusing, justifying, or “glorifying” the madness, not to interrupting it.

The atrocities committed by the Third Reich are inexcusable, inhuman, and horrifying and will forever remain a warning to all people. But my own proud country, the USA, tried to wipe out the Native peoples ruthlessly. Only the courage and vigor of the Native peoples of the U.S. and Canada have kept them from being wiped out completely.

The atrocities committed by the British Empire are beyond belief. The rubber workers working in the Congo on Belgian King Leopold’s estates had their hands cut off if they did not gather sufficient rubber. And all this is only recent history, which is much less vicious than the history of all countries a few hundred years ago.

The ruling classes of all societies are at continual war with their own populations. Prisons, armies, police, courts, and laws are used to legitimize the robbery that is carried on daily. Wars, when they occur, are always eagerly sought by the ruling class of a country as a pretext for robbing the population of its own country more deeply than usual. There are big profits to be made and big power to be seized by having a war. Of course the ruling classes always hope they will be able to rob even more deeply the people of the opposing country if they can conquer them.

War brings no real advantage to the humans underneath the patterns of the ruling classes that push for war. As human beings they suffer deeply too. Their humanness is destroyed, their sons are killed, and their lives are disrupted. But the patterned roles into which they have been conditioned by the society allow them no choice; they must act this way, they must defeat or be defeated in the endless competition that is the theme of their patterned lives. The occasional individual who rebels is labeled a traitor and severely punished. Many people from the ruling classes of all countries have given their lives in trying to oppose the policies of the class. Their small numbers have joined the thousands of working-class people, farmers, and middle-class people whose lives have also been given in struggling against war and for humanness.

The destruction committed by the Third Reich armies was terrible, but in the same war U.S. and British bombers senselessly destroyed whole populations of German cities, deliberately creating fire storms that could sweep all the populations to death. It was businessman President Truman who launched the atomic bombs that wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The record of all the powers in Korea and the role of the United States in Vietnam are long successions of atrocities. In each country the ruling class uses war as a tool for the deep exploitation of its own nation’s people first, and then, if it is successful in the war, of the people of the other countries.

I welcomed the marvelous discharge and communication of Christine last night. She faced up to all the issues that every German must face. But if we do not get beyond “We Germans” in this respect, we will not get far. We must look beyond “We United Statesers” or “We British” or “We Netherlanders.” There is a class structure in all these countries. Though the ruling-class individual’s humanness is ruined by that society, that individual’s role is very different than the role of the working-class person or the young person.

The German working class fought against Nazism. They did not always fight skillfully or wisely; they made serious tactical and strategical blunders; but as a class they fought for a long time, and many of their leaders gave their lives in the struggle. This has been true in every country. If we do not understand that war is never a war primarily against other nations but primarily against the common people in the home country, we cannot effectively put a stop to it.

War impoverishes everyone except a small ruling clique in each country. The common people have the strength to stop a war any time. Only instilled confusion keeps us thinking that we are a national body, instead of the highly oppressive class structure that is the reality. Only this and the patterns of powerlessness have kept us from stopping wars that firmly. We, the working class, farmers, intellectuals, and middle class, and the owning-class individuals who have transcended their class position to join us, must come to understand the class nature of war, or we can once again be led by the nose, in the name of patriotism, to our own destruction.

The Second World War arose as an almost purely imperialist war. A series of events made it eventually necessary for ordinary people to support one side against the other, but only because many opportunities to prevent the conflict had been missed repeatedly up to that point. The Nazi movement could have been wiped out easily almost any time in the previous years.

I do not think it likely that any future war between great powers can possibly be a people’s war on either side. I think we must take a firm decision that we, the common people, will be at war with our own warmakers to deprive them of their powers, or all our fine slogans and our big demonstrations will amount to very little.

Wars mean profit. To end war I think that we must put at the heart of our programs the ending of profiteering through arms, the ending of the armaments race. We may have to change the society completely to bring this about, but that may occur anyway. It is becoming increasingly clear that our societies are in such disorder, so close to final collapse, that we cannot even have clean streets without a basic change in society. We cannot have schools where it is safe for teachers to teach without a basic change in society. We cannot have clean air or water without a change in society. The smallest problems are rapidly becoming insoluble except through a complete change in society. I would like to suggest to all Co-Counselors that once in a while they have a session on what a really decent, rational society would be like and what is one small step that each could take toward bringing it about. I think you will find this in very close accord with our goal for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Also, we will not become or remain discouraged or confused by the great number of tasks that we must perform. The truth is that we have only one task, and that’s to live well and intelligently, whatever that takes. We will eliminate nuclear arms while we eat our breakfast. It will be all one job.

Thank you for listening so attentively.

Harvey Jackins

Reprinted from “Past Wars and the Danger of Future Ones,” on pages 301 to 306 of The Reclaiming of Power

(Present Time 187, April 2017)


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00