[OPE-L:5916] Re: the wages of war

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Sat Sep 15 2001 - 11:36:35 EDT

>It goes without saying (or does it?) that socialists should support
international working-class solidarity and oppose imperialist wars, but
what are the specific causal mechanisms which specially change wages during

This seems to be a very complex question.  Because imperialist wars these
days have many faces.  Do the ongoing air strikes against agricultural
villages in Iraq constitute an 'act  of war' although, of course, no war
has been officially declared (if so, do they throw up causal mechanisms
changing wages in Britain)?  Is genocide by deprivation warfare?  If it is,
how does the sanctions campaign against Iraq affect wages in the countries
who administer the embargo?  Does the sale of military equipment or
financial support to a country in a conflict region constitute an act of
war?  Are there implications for wages in the country supplying that
equipment and/or aid.  Does anyone have any ideas about *when* an
imperialist country is at war (or ceases to be)?  

Perhaps one might adopt a more limited definition of the term 'act of war'
and confine it to the uses of technology against selected targets with
specific tactical or strategic objectives (in which case no modern war can
last more than a few hours, or days at most).  In this limited sense, many
American's might justifiably consider themselves at war beginning when the
first plane hit the WTC - because an act of aggression has been committed
against them (on their soil at the cost of American lives) presumably to
achieve a tactical objective.  But if 'act of war' is used instead to
describe an incident embedded in a broad socio-political-economic context,
it can be argued with some justification that the USA has been at war for
decades (mostly unreported, mostly on other people's soil, mostly at the
cost of non-American lives).  

Ramifications for international solidarity?  Not if CNN and Rupert Murdoch
have the final say in defining what is an 'act of war' - and therefore
newsworthy.  [ps. did anyone watch footage of the Israeli invasion of South
Lebanon.  In Australia it appeared very briefly on SBS - the 'ethnic
channel' right at the end of the 6.30 'world news'].


At 08:51  15/09/01 -0400, you wrote:
>   It goes without saying (or does it?) that  socialists should support
>international working-class solidarity    change wages during wartime?   At
>least two mechanisms seem to be at  work:     (voluntarily or
>involuntarily) become part of the armed forces and as  the remaining
>workers are employed, especially  producing additional military goods. This
>      prolonged  period of 'full    Indeed, the meaning of what  'full
>employment' is can change during war-time if members of working-class
>families who  weren't traditionally part of the waged working-class  in the
>US during WW2  when large numbers of women became part of the   of the   
>has often  manifested itself in a condition of 'excess  demand' for 
>commodities which enter into the reproduction of  labor-power (as
>customarily understood): i.e.  there  tend to be 'shortages' of commodities
>that workers  can exchange   The  response,   is for capitalists to
>increase  the prices of those commodities. The result is  the frequently 
>observed phenomenon of 'war-time inflation' (of  course, other forms of
>'war profiteering' also  tend to    A consequence of this inflation  is for
>the living standards of workers to be  decreased during    Expressing this
>with more familiar  Marxist    below  the value of labor-power during 
>war-time.    Some might think that 'wage and price controls'  might be used
>to mitigate this affect. Yet, the experience -- at least on the several
>occasions  when 'controls' have been adopted in the US -- has been that the
>state has rigidly enforced wage  controls (e.g. a 'wage freeze' -- plus
>no-strike pledges -- during WWII) but has simultaneously  granted enough
>'exemptions' to the price controls such that the prices of commodities sold
> to the working-class (and to the capitalist class for luxury consumption)
>tends to increase.     The above is a relatively non-controversial 
>analysis -- although I'm sure there are those who could   Indeed, it might 
>   2) As a capitalist nation prepares for and enters  war, the state uses
>institutions -- such as the   and  religious institutions -- to drum-up
>support for a war.   bourgeois political parties tend to  unite behind this
>call for war and 'labor leaders' (sic) of trade unions support the calls
>for war  (indeed, much of the 'Left' in the 20th Century    and   very
>strong  (conservative) beliefs among the working-class.  I don't think it
>would be unfair to  say that more workers internationally identify
>themselves as citizens of a particular nation than as workers.     This has
>meant, in practice, that workers have  voluntarily agreed to war-time
>sacrifices 'for   The consequence of this  nationalism is a depression of
>wages below    This is a powerful stimulus to the economic growth of
>individual capitalist nations.     Examples of strikes during 'popular'
>wars are very  rare (e.g. the Montgomery Ward strike and the threatened
>coal miners strike during  WWII in the US). This reinforces   If, however,
>popular support for an imperialist war weakens (as happened  in some
>nations during WWI), then there is a heightened potential for increased 
>wages.   Of course, international working-class solidarity  and mass
>opposition to war would tend to mitigate against this trend and could lead 
>to (among many other things)  increased wages and bargaining power for
>workers.  Yet, promoting international working-class unity has proven in
>practice to be  more easily suggested than done. Indeed, sad to say,
>workers are often the most  ardent supporters of war -- even  though they
>are also the most frequent victims.  Many leftists will nonetheless 
>(hopefully) attempt to build anti-war movements but  such efforts are often
> (as internal  opposition to war is often criminalized) and tends to take a
>protracted period of struggle  to change the consensus about the war. Thus,
>eventually, there was mass  opposition to the Vietnam War in the US, but it
>took many years and sacrifices before  the anti-war movement gained   have
>ended before there is time for mass opposition  movements to grow. (*NB*:
>in the case of 'short wars', the first mechanism described  above is
>unlikely to happen. Indeed, it is doubtful whether there is sufficient 
>time for the second mechanism to manifest itself as a generalized
>depression of  wages either).   *Question*: Does a depression of wages
>below the  VLP during one period (conjuncture) imply that there are others
>periods (conjunctures)  in which wages rise above the   Or, should we
>conceive of the latter  possibility as an increase in the VLP      In
>solidarity, Jerry   

Nicola Mostyn (Taylor)
Faculty of Economics
Murdoch University
South Street
W.A. 6150

Tel. 61 8 9385 1130 
email: n.taylor@stu.murdoch.edu.au

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