the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist
“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx
Sep 2, 2022
The following is a translation of an article appearing in issue #226 of Lutte de Classe, the political journal of Lutte Ouvrière, the French Trotskyist organization, with which Spark is in solidarity.
The War in Ukraine accelerated the militarization of Europe. Tragedy for the Ukrainian and Russian populations, who have already paid for this war with 30,000 deaths, the war is a bonanza for the militaries and the arms merchants. In Europe, it is the first since 1945 of what the militaries call a “high-intensity” war, along a front stretching 1,000 kilometers [over 600 miles]. It is allowing the chiefs of the militaries to test their materiels and to validate or adapt their doctrines for using them. The war offered an unexpected market for the arms merchants who were called on to furnish ammunition and missiles, drones or tanks, which this war has destroyed in enormous quantities. It accelerated the increase in military budgets of all the States.
The rise in global military spending was underway before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to the latest report by SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, published on April 25, military spending in the world exceeded the two trillion dollar mark in 2021 for the first time, with 2.113 trillion dollars, or 2.2% of global GDP. This is the seventh consecutive year of increased global military spending according to the report, which notes: “Despite the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, global military spending has reached record levels.”
While Russia, portrayed as the sole aggressor and warmonger, has increased its military budget in 2021 to 66 billion dollars and 4% of its GDP, it ranks only fifth in the list of the world’s biggest spending powers, behind the United States, China, India and Britain.
As for the U.S., not only is it first among all the powers, it actually spent more than the next nine countries put together. And Biden’s budget for this new fiscal year (2023), which Congress had already authorized at 817 billion dollars, has been added to twice by Congressional votes to increase, with important Democrats, together with Republicans, calling for still bigger increases.
Britain, spending 68.3 billion dollars on its military, is up more than 11% from the year before. After Brexit, Boris Johnson increased investments in the military, especially for the navy. Shortly before his resignation, he declared his goal was to restore British imperialism as “the leading naval power in Europe,” leaving the other imperialist powers on the continent trailing in Britain’s wake. He was one of the first European leaders to go to Kiev to show his support for Zelensky. A whole host of British politicians are pushing for even faster increases in military spending in the coming years. For example, Nile Gardiner, a former Thatcher aide, told the Daily Express in March, “Defense spending should double from two to four percent [of GDP] in the coming years if Britain is serious about becoming a world power again.”
Johnson strengthened his military cooperation with the U.S. through various channels. These close ties between British and American imperialism were exemplified by the AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and United States) alliance against China. This alliance has resulted in Australia’s 128-billion-dollar order for eight nuclear-powered submarines from the two. Australia’s military spending, already up by 4% in 2021 compared to 2020, is set to increase again. The same aggressive Western policy toward China, plus American pressure, has pushed Japan to spend seven billion more in 2021 on its military, the largest increase since 1972.
According to the SIPRI report, by 2021—that is, before the war in Ukraine started—eight European NATO members had increased their military spending to 2% of their GDP, something the United States has long demanded of its allies. With 56.6 billion dollars (51 billion euros) spent in 2021, France moved from eighth to sixth place among states for their arms spending. The 2019–2025 military programming law had already provided for a budget of 295 billion euros over six years, to reach more than 2.5% of GDP in 2025.
The war in Ukraine therefore broke out within the context of a generalized increase in arms spending, which it can only accelerate and reinforce.
For the military general staffs and experts, the war in Ukraine is not a tragedy—just a formidable testing ground for the materiels of war and the conditions in which they will be used. Each episode—the thwarted offensive of the Russian armies at the beginning of the war, the withdrawal from the north of Ukraine, then the offensive in the Donbass, and the methodical destruction of cities—is studied in order to draw the maximum lessons, as are the various ways of using artillery, drones, the air force, communication and intelligence resources. For the past six months, thousands of experts and engineers at Thales, Dassault, Nexter, MBDA (ex-Matra), Naval Group or their American competitors at Lockheed Martin, Boeing or Northrop Grumman, have been studying in detail how this war highlights “the digitization of the battlefield, the need for guided munitions, the crucial role of the space sector, the increased use of drones, robotization, cybersecurity, etc.” (Les Échos, June 13, 2022). These experts, counterposing their viewpoints and their technological solutions, took advantage of the huge Paris arms and security trade show at the beginning of June that brought together 1,500 arms dealers from all over the world. It was, so it was said, a historic record!
The lessons of the war in Ukraine are not only technological. As the newspaper Les Échos wrote on April 1, 2022, “war between large states is back in Europe.” This war has little in common with “the ‘small wars’ such as those in Bosnia or Kosovo, nor operations carried out against terrorist groups (Al Qaeda, Daesh) or collapsed states (Libya, 2011) outside of Europe.” For the military, the war in Ukraine is no longer “a sample war but a mass war,” both in terms of the number of soldiers killed or wounded in combat and the amount of ammunition fired and equipment destroyed.
Between February and June, according to estimates made despite the censorship and lies of each side, the war may have caused 30,000 Russian and Ukrainian deaths, several hundred a day. Ukraine reminds us that war is butchery, that the fighting constantly demands its cannon fodder, with soldiers rotting and dying in trenches, burning in tanks, or being killed or crippled by shells and missiles. Their “high-intensity” war is all about death, both military and civilian.
Preparing people’s minds to accept “dying for our democratic values” – another variation of “dying for the fatherland” – is one of the objectives of the propaganda spewed by Western governments, which laid the groundwork for the war in Ukraine.
In terms of equipment, the Russian armies have lost several hundred tanks. The United States and its allies provided Ukraine with tens of thousands of Javelin or Stinger ground-to-ground or ground-to-air missiles, at $75,000 each. One week after the beginning of the Russian invasion, retired colonel Michel Goya, author of books on contemporary wars, wrote: “The French army would have no major equipment left after forty days” (combat vehicles, artillery pieces, etc.). The conclusion all these people draw is obvious and unanimous: We need “more numerous, more heavily equipped forces [which] will require increased defense budgets” (Les Échos, April 1, 2022). In fact, for years, ministers and parliamentary leaders have been working to increase military budgets, draining ever more public money into the military or security industry.
The war in Ukraine, with the spectacular increase in military budgets that it has accelerated, has provided a windfall for arms dealers. At the same time it intensified the war that these industrialists wage among themselves. The German Chancellor’s announcement, at the end of February, of a 100-billion-euro loan to bring the Bundeswehr “up to standard”—in other words, to rearm Germany—triggered controversy in the European Union. The French newspaper Les Échos of May 30 noted with displeasure: “The German army has announced a shopping list as long as your arm, which will essentially benefit American industries: purchase of F-35s from Lockheed Martin, Chinook helicopters from Boeing, P8 aircraft from Boeing, anti-missile shields from Israel, etc.” Much to the chagrin of French patriots or Europhile militarists, the American military-industrial complex will benefit far more from German orders than will the various European merchants of death.
This has been the case since the birth of the European Union: there is no common “European defense” because there is no single European imperialism, with a single state apparatus defending the fundamental interests of a European big bourgeoisie. There are competing European imperialisms, representing national capitalists, with complex economic interests, sometimes common, often opposed. British imperialism is more linked with the U.S. than are the other European powers, and very much oriented toward its vast ex-colonial empire. French imperialism has developed its armies and its navy to ensure its control over its ex-colonial territory, especially in Africa. German imperialism for decades hid behind contrition for the Hitler years to justify limiting its military spending, instead placing itself under the aegis of NATO and the United States. It used the large sums saved to push its investment and economic control into Central and Eastern Europe.
Military and diplomatic interventions are merely a continuation of commercial and economic negotiations and rivalries. There was nor could have been a common European defense strategy.
The ongoing rivalries between Dassault, Airbus, BAE and Safran have prevented the construction of a European combat aircraft. The preponderance of the United States in NATO and its major role in Eastern Europe and in the war in Ukraine further strengthens the possibility that the American military-industrial sector will win most of the future contracts. The American manufacturers already sell 54% of the world’s military equipment and account for 29% of military exports. The windfall of future spending will sharpen appetites and rivalries.
Of course, the various European authorities are scrambling to try to avoid giving up all the ground to the Americans. For example, the European Commissioner for Trade and former French Minister of the Economy, Thierry Breton, has just released six billion euros to speed up the launch of 250 low-orbit communication satellites, which are essential for a European communication and intelligence network. Until now, the various European armies have been dependent on the United States for their military intelligence, including on European soil.
To this day, each European country sends its own weapons to Ukraine, more or less compatible with each other, according to its own schedule and political will. The battlefields of the Donbass are used as a demonstration ground for the French Caesar self-propelled artillery, the merits of which are regularly praised on the television news, and the older German Gepard or more recent Leopard tanks. The only joint intervention by the European Union has been the release of a funding package to finance arms deliveries to Ukraine, amounting to 5.6 billion over six years, from which each Member State can draw. This is a way of making it easier for the less wealthy EU countries to send arms to Ukraine. With the hypocrisy common to war-mongers, EU leaders have called this package the “European Peace Facility”!
To move from “sample warfare” to “mass warfare,” weapons production must change scale. To speak only of them, the famous 155-millimeter Caesar cannons are produced in small numbers, a good dozen per year, in the Nexter factories in Bourges, for the sum of five million euros per unit. In order to deliver a dozen to Ukraine, the government had to take them from the French army, which has only 64 left in service. To put things in perspective, note what the French army ordered for 2025, just before the start of the war in Ukraine (according to Hervé Grandjean, the army spokesman): “200 Leclerc tanks, including 80 renovated, 135 Jaguar armored vehicles, 3,300 light armored vehicles, 147 reconnaissance and attack helicopters, including 67 Tigers, 115 maneuvering helicopters, 109 155 mm cannons and 20 tactical drones in particular.” In three months of war in Ukraine, more than 600 Russian tanks have been destroyed or put out of service. The tanks of the various armies have neither the same characteristics nor the same value, but the comparison gives some idea of what has happened in Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine will allow the military to obtain more expensive toys. The generals have received the unconditional support of the president of the Court of Auditors, the ex-Socialist Pierre Moscovici, who averred: “the ability of the armies to conduct a high-intensity combat over time has not yet been restored.” In his July 14 speech, Macron confirmed a three billion euro increase per year to the army’s budget. But to re-equip European armies en masse, production capacities must follow. On June 13, Le Monde headlined: “The Ministry of Defense is thinking of requisitioning equipment from the civilian sector to replenish its weapons stocks,” and gave as an example: “The State could ask a small precision mechanics firm that does not work for the Defense sector to make itself available to an arms manufacturer to speed up its production rates. And as always, the State is preparing to take charge itself of the production capacities of certain Defense small and medium enterprises, for example, by paying for machine tools.” The head of the UIMM, the union of metallurgy bosses, is now Eric Trappier, the CEO of Dassault. Capitalists are never so well served as by themselves.
Producing more military equipment on a massive scale will cost tens, even hundreds, of billions of euros per year. It will not be enough to cut the health or school budgets still further. The sums involved will be on a completely different scale. In order to cope with this, governments will have to take on debt on a larger scale. European governments may not yet have explicitly decided on such a shift toward mass production of military hardware, but the most lucid of their intellectuals are preparing the ground for it. The economist and banker Patrick Artus envisaged the transition to such a “war economy” in Les Échos on April 8. Artus sees three consequences from this transition: an increase in public spending financed by the state budget deficit with the support of central banks; high inflation due to the high demand for energy and metals because of the increase in military and infrastructure spending; and finally, the breakdown of interdependence between the economies of the various countries due to the disruption of supply lines.
Even before the European economies become “war economies,” public spending in the service of the capitalists is constantly increasing, inflation is back in force, aggravated by speculation on shortages or difficulties in the supply of this or that raw material. The capitalist economy is at a dead end. It is unable to overcome the contradictions that plague it, and it once again is confronted with the limits of the solvent market and competition between capitalists, which engender rivalries between imperialist powers; with the destruction of resources; and with its genetic incapacity to plan their rational use in the service of humanity. The race to militarism is inexorable, because it is the only answer to this impasse that the big bourgeoisie can conceive of. This does not depend at all on the political color of those who run the governments. Militarism is in the genes of capitalism.
More than a century ago, Rosa Luxemburg noted that militarism had accompanied all phases of capitalist accumulation: “It is for capital the preeminent means for realizing surplus value.” In all periods of crisis, when the rivalry between groups of capitalists to appropriate markets and raw materials becomes tense, when the solvent market shrinks, militarism has always represented an ideal “field of accumulation” for the capitalists. It is a regular, almost unlimited and protected market: “The armaments industry is endowed with an unlimited capacity for expansion, [...] with an almost automatic regularity, with a rhythmic growth.” (The Accumulation of Capital, 1913). For society as a whole, militarism is an immense waste of labor power and resources, and a headlong rush to generalized war.
For the workers, militarism is first of all a large-scale theft of the fruits of their labor. The mass production of material of mass destruction means more and more crushing taxes for the working classes, which will reduce their purchasing power; it means closed hospitals, overcrowded schools, understaffed teachers, degraded transport, and a state budget crushed by the burden of the debt. For young people, militarism means a return to military service, whether voluntary or forced; it means being drawn into nationalism; it means watching the war in Ukraine being used to restore “a sense of tragedy and history,” as Thierry Burkhard, head of the army’s chiefs of staff, put it.
The ultimate evolution of militarism is generalized war with the general mobilization of millions of combatants, the militarization of production, the methodical destruction of entire countries, cities, infrastructures, immense productive forces, and countless human lives. The war in Ukraine, after those in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, gives a small glimpse of this barbarity. The only way to avoid even greater barbarity, which would strike all the countries of the planet, is to wrest the leadership of society from the capitalists.
A year before the outbreak of the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg concluded her chapter on militarism with this observation: “At a certain stage of development, there will be no other way out [of the contradictions inherent in capitalism] than by the application of socialist principles. The aim of socialism is not accumulation, but the satisfaction of toiling humanity’s wants by developing the productive forces of the entire globe. Socialism is by its very nature a harmonious and universal system of economy.” Neither Rosa Luxemburg, nor Lenin, nor any of the leaders of the Second International who remained Marxists—that is to say, communists, revolutionaries and internationalists—were able to prevent the outbreak of the world war and the transformation of Europe into a gigantic bloody battlefield. But this war brought about the greatest revolutionary wave in history, in which the insurgent soldiers, workers and peasants put an end to the war and seriously threatened the domination of capital over society. The way out is on that side.