Martin ShawDialectics of War
Critique of Sociology and Military Theory
The fear of war hangs over society. This is almost literally true, for it is not the invader in the streets but the warhead exploding on us which dominates our nightmares. The descent of the intercontinental missile is a symbol of the external character of war: a danger which appears from completely outside the everyday social relations in which most people live, confronting them with absolute obliteration. This sort of war seems far removed from society, even from the activities of the considerable part of society professionally concerned with war, that is the armed forces and armaments workers. They are too reassuringly human, sharing as individuals the mundane economic troubles and social anxieties of their fellow citizens, to fully represent the awfulness of the threat to life on earth.
Yet the existence of these social groups reminds us that war is something which is prepared within society. Just as an immense concentration of human activity in the Soviet Union produces the missiles, which could destroy us, so a comparable social organisation here produces similar missiles aimed at them. Western democratic societies, especially in Europe, may be among the least overtly militaristic which civilisation has produced, but we harbour the most murderous weapons ever created, and we devote the greatest resources ever provided by any society, outside actual war, to producing and maintaining them. The isolation of missile bases in the countryside, away from centres of population, is another physical symbol of the disjunction of nuclear militarism from our urban-industrial world. But it is a disjunction which is more apparent than real, since the nuclear weapons systems originate in that society and, if they are used, will return to it with a most terrible vengeance.
Nevertheless the role of war, and war-preparation, in the modern world presents us with an essential paradox. How is it that a society that has created such potential for human liberation — in technology, human cooperation, and ideas —can produce at the same time and with the same means such appalling danger? The conflict of these two sides of our society must ultimately be resolved, in practice as well as in theory. However obvious this point is from a simple human point of view, it has not proved easy for thinkers to grapple with, any more than it has been easy to overcome the conflict in the real social and political world. Most thinkers about society have not been able to grasp the huge problem which war poses for our understanding of society in general: they have marginalised it, treated it as exceptional, abnormal, etc. Most thinkers about war, on the other hand, have tended to treat it as if it were a self-contained process, certainly depending on society for its resources, but ultimately operating according to its own laws. Although the more intelligent of them have recognised the implications of modern warfare for society, they have generally dealt with them much too obliquely, for fear perhaps that these implications would simply topple the whole edifice of military thought and practice.
The problem of war and society can therefore be seen as a dilemma, the horns of which have been tackled separately by social and military theory, but the heart of which has rarely been exposed. The aim of this book is to confront this dual problem, of how society has changed war and how war has changed society, as a unity. One writes ‘has changed’ because it is important to understand the problem historically, to see the processes that have created the present situation. But it is this problem, the danger of nuclear war in our time and the social institutions which sustain that danger while being distorted by it, which gives the argument its coherence and direction.
This book takes its premises from both social and strategic thought, while criticising both. On the one hand, it argues, with such social theory as has considered war, that war must be seen as a social activity related to the whole complex of social life and organisation. On the other, it agrees with strategic writing that war must be seen as a very unique social activity, with its own character and logic that cannot be reduced to any ordinary social dynamic. The relationship of war and society is portrayed as one of constant tension. It is argued that there are dialectics of war and society that, while they grow out of other social contradictions, fundamentally alter the social process as a whole. The dialectics of war not
only threaten to displace the dialectic of social change that has been considered by a whole tradition of social analysis: they posit the danger of a fundamentally different end to human history. If we are to avoid this end, we need to understand the processes that are producing it, and to grasp the contradictions that offer some rational basis for optimism about the outcome.
This chapter is devoted to exploring this theoretical issue: first by a discussion of how social science has failed to grapple with the nature of war itself and second by a critique of
strategic theory, which is more interesting in its treatment of this problem, but has generally abstracted it too much from its socio-historical context.1 In conclusion, a proposal will be made as to how the relationships between war and society should be understood in general terms. This will lay the foundation for the historical treatment in the middle chapters, which discuss how the tension of war and society has worked through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and for the final chapter which focuses again on the politics of war and peace in the nuclear age.
The failure of social theory
For virtually all schools of social thought, wars are exceptional phases of social life, abnormal phenomena that interrupt the fundamental social patterns. On this point there is no serious disagreement between, say, a functionalist sociologist like Talcott Parsons, for whom society is essentially consensual and harmonious, and a Marxist theorist of modes of exploitation and class struggle. War is as much a disturbance of the ordinary pattern of capitalist development and class conflict as it is of the self-equilibriating social system.
Warfare is recognised as a social activity. Most social theorists would accept the anthropological arguments that war, while near universal, is nonetheless a social rather than a biological or psychological product. Some sorts of warmaking in ‘primitive’ societies are indeed so ritualised and minimally violent that they are readily accommodated under the rubric of routine social life.2 Ritualisation, routinisation and regulation are also recognised to be part of the process of war-preparation and even of war-fighting right up to the present day. The rituals of tribal warfare are echoed in the medieval codes of chivalry and even in the arcane pursuit of war-limitation by nuclear strategists.3 Routinisation is evident in the bureaucratisation of warfare: military institutions are models or reflections, according to one’s analysis, of the general form of social organisation in our time. Regulation, although woefully inadequate to the goals of preventing or controlling war, is subscribed to in principle by all states. It is evident in the plethora of international laws, conventions and institutions, although these are of dubious practical value.
Despite a wide acceptance of the social character of war, it is equally widely excluded from the basic models of modem society that are on offer in social science. The concept of‘industrial society’ which has informed mainstream sociology from Saint-Simon, Comte and Durkheim onwards was defined by contrast with the military hierarchy of feudal-agrarian society. It was proposed by Comte, for example, in the belief that a rational, scientific social organisation of labour — the basic sense of ‘industry’ — must imply peace. It has 1ong since been proven that this optimism was utterly misplaced: but the concept of ‘industrial society’ has survived, minus the assertion of pacificism, as a de facto model of a warless society. Sample any sociological textbook and you will look in vain for a discussion of war among the institutions of industrialism.5 Where early nineteenth-century theory explained war away (with superficial historical justification, as it turned out, since the end of the Napoleonic Wars ushered in a century without general conflicts), late twentieth-century theory, which ought to confront a war-ridden century, largely ignores the uncomfortable facts.
The model of ‘capitalism’ derived from Marx offers no more direct, basic recognition of war than that of ‘industrial society’. Marx too assumed — indeed articulated — the nineteenth-century separation of civil society and the state. The Marxist theoretical edifice was built on the autonomy of the mode of production from the state: everything to do with the state, international relations, even international trade, was abstracted from Marx’s basic model. Capitalism was the ‘pure’ mode of production par excellence: however sullied by the historical survival of less pure modes, it was tending towards a direct social conflict between labour and capital. Change would arise from the dialectic of class struggle, springing from the contradictions of forces and relations of production in the capitalist mode. War was seen by Marx as very much a secondary phenomenon, determined perhaps by the economic base (in ways which we shall discuss later), but providing little more than an external influence on social development. Later Marxism confronted the twentieth century experience of war by adapting the model, to theorise about the state, imperialism and nationalism. These code words have entered the wider sociological parlance, generally permitting their users to skirt round the problem of war by examining the wider economic, political and ideological relations: rarely the social process of war itself. The classical Marxist tradition on this point has been reconstructed in a narrowly orthodox way. Lenin’s theoretical conservatism, which separated imperialism and the state, has become the focal point of subsequent debate, rather than Bukharin’s more radical model which saw these as fused under the impact of world war.6
Where the main body of social science recognises the problem of war, it invariably translates it into one of ‘militarism’. The distinction between war, the actual conflict, and militarism, the preparation and ideology of war, is a crucial one, without which there can be no understanding of the relationship between the two. War-preparation is, in appearance, an ‘ordinary’ social activity, integrated institutionally into all the structures of society — economic, political and cultural. It can, it seems, be analysed in these terms, without reference to its ultimate ends. War itself, on the other hand, is a wholly exceptional, abnormal affair, at best an intrusion into the social structure which may temporarily suspend its usual workings. Seen in this way, it is no surprise that while social science has had some thoughts on militarism, which can be linked to capitalism, imperialism, nationalism and the state, it has had all too few on war. It has been reluctant to admit that at the heart of the social institutions of contemporary capitalism lurks a destructive potential of the kind which modern warfare represents. It is as if a principle alien to social-scientific thinking threatens to distort the whole development of society: not just at some future date when the whole structure is vaporised, but now as the processes of war-preparation insinuate themselves into social life.
The heart of this problem is the premise of rationality. Mainstream social science has been built on an axiom that people will seek to fit means to ends: what does not satis1~r this model is a residue of the traditional, the sentimental, in the end the ‘irrational’. This idea dominates economics, politics and sociology. When formulated, as for example by Max Weber, it has been criticised in a number of ways: the irrationality of the choice of ends; the effect of irrational factors on the choice of means; and (relevant to our discussion) the irrational effects of conflicts between opposing ‘rational’ actions.7 But the criticisms have hardly upset the persistence of the basic assumption, which has simply been qualified or redefined, for example by Marxists for whom the agents of rational action are primarily classes, and its ends determined by class interests. The problem is that war is seen by social science as a means, governed by ends which are determined in economic, social and political life. But war, as a means, has unique characteristics, which are becoming more and more contradictory to the ends for which it might be waged; and it has its own logic and rationality that can impose themselves on society. War appears not only to be escaping from the control of rational social interests, but also to be taking society with it. The attempt to treat war, or the preparation for it within society, under the rubric of social rationality reaches a point where it breaks down under the recognition of what war has really become.
The limits of strategic thought
Strategic thought might appear to be dominated by the same assumption of rationality. After all, it was Clausewitz who wrote: ‘War is nothing but the continuation of policy by other means —an idea that endeared him to Lenin and others in the Marxist tradition. Certainly, modern strategic thought is based on the belief that armed force can be an effective instrument of political policy, and fears, above all, the argument that this is no longer true in the nuclear age.
Clausewitz himself provides us with the basis for criticising this notion. War’s function as an instrument of policy was only one element, alongside primordial violence and the play of chance: together these composed the ‘remarkable trinity’ in his definition. The essence of war as a means was the actual process of fighting, and all the other activities of war — the business of war-preparation, which has become such industry in our day — were devoted to this end. In fighting, the destruction of the enemy’s force was the primary goal, achieved in a single great battle or ‘slaughter’. 8
Clausewitz was at great pains to emphasise this ‘destructive principle’ of warfare. It constituted his view of the very nature of war: it was ‘an act of force’, and there is no logical limit to act of force’. 9 The resort to force — or, more precisely, violence, or indeed to killing, the ultimate destructive action human beings against each other — was a total commitment. Once two powers were set in violent motion against each other, there was no limit until one had destroyed the other capacity for resistance, and subordinated it to its will.
War was, of its nature, total and absolute: this was Clausewitz’s crucial insight, which has caused so many problems in modern strategic theory. True, it was greatly qualified, and rightly so. Clausewitz stands out in strategic thinking partly for the acuteness of his social and historical awareness. He wished to highlight how it was that the involvement of the people, as a result of the French Revolution, had intensified military conflicts, compared to the much more limited affair of the eighteenth century. He emphasised, on the other hand that war was never a self-contained activity, and that it w restricted by the circumstances in which it was fought. In F famous concept of ‘friction’ he crystallised the idea that, while war might tend towards the total, there were in practice all sorts of constraints on this tendency (geographical, technical, logistic). Real war always fell short of the ‘ideal’ of a total contest force.
Friction, as much as the totalising tendency of force, is something inherent in war itself. But it clearly depends greatly on the general socio-economic, technological and logistical conditions of warfare. This is something we can the more clearly now that technology has overcome so the sources of friction in previous wars. As Michael Howard points out, Clausewitz prophetically envisaged a situation which friction was eliminated:
If war consisted of one decisive act, or a set of simultaneous decisions, preparations would tend towards totality, because no omission could ever be rectified. The sole criterion for preparations which the world of reality would provide would be the measures taken by the adversary, so far as they are known; the rest would once more be reduced to abstract calculations.’0
Howard rightly comments that this is ‘a depressingly accurate description of contemporary nuclear strategy. . . all [the] internal constraints on "absolute war" have been removed and its complete realisation has for the first time become a practical possibility’."
Clearly, immense social changes lie behind this achievement of the potential for absolute war. The development of modern industrial capitalism, state systems, technology: these are the preconditions. But such sociological explanation should not detract from the central point. War has reached in theory, if not yet in practice, the inner limit which Clausewitz so brilliantly defined for it: the total and instantaneous destruction of the ‘enemy’ (which becomes, of course, mutual destruction). In reaching this limit, war also negates itself. If there are no longer internal constraints, and war becomes absolute destruction, it becomes invalid as a means of policy. Discriminating ends require discriminating means.
Modern strategic thought clearly recognises the dangers that, as war approaches this inner limit, military force becomes unusable. Much of modern strategy can be seen as an attempt to avoid redundancy. Essentially it has taken two forms: the attempt to rehabilitate strategy first as a means of war-avoidance rather than war-fighting and, second, by envisaging limited wars short of total nuclear war. Both these responses recognise the theoretical limit of all-out nuclear war: the first by accepting it, and hence displacing the goal of military preparation from war itself to ‘deterrence’; the second by recoiling from it to levels at which policy goals and friction become meaningful again. Both these responses, which in practice tend to overlap, are in the end evasions of, rather than solutions to, the crisis of war.
This is most obvious in the case of the ‘deterrence’ response. On one level, of course, deterrence is rational: states are indeed inhibited by the awesome destructive power with which they face each other. For so long as this is the case, deterrence may ‘work’. But on another level, the concept is patent nonsense, and at its worst sheer political sophistry. There can be no general distinction between deterrence and warfighting, since the enemy is only deterred if it believes in our willingness to use our weapons. The credibility of the ‘deterrent’ is as much a matter of will as of technical capacity, as the development of strategy and weaponry has shown in the past. The crisis of the crude deterrence of ‘mutually assured destruction’ was precisely that because of the undoubted destructive capacity of strategic missiles, willingness to use them was dubious. The logic of deterrence demanded more limited weaponry, because it was more credible that this would be used. This development — the US strategy of ‘flexible response’ and the corresponding gradations of strategic, intermediate and battlefield nuclear weapons — was not a transition from ‘deterrence’ to ‘warfighting’. It was, rather, a demonstration that warfighting was always inherent in deterrence: that they are two sides of the same ‘strategy’. It was also a demonstration that the business of strategy cannot seriously be redefined as one of war-avoidance.
Concepts of ‘limited war’ are sometimes advanced as part of a ‘deterrence’ posture, but also — more honestly — with some indication of a belief that such wars can actually be fought. In one sense this is obviously true: there is still considerable scope for conventional wars in the Third World, both between local states and between such states and the Northern powers. But this ‘space’ for war expresses the relative backwardness of the Third World, and its incomplete incorporation into the superpower conflict. And while militarisation is in one sense increasing the scope for war, in a more general perspective the limits of war are appearing: first because of the nuclearisation of the Third World, and secondly because of the linkages between local and superpower conflict. Although local conflicts may be fought, and may in fact remain limited, it is becoming less possible to say categorically that they will be. The risks are rapidly increasing.
The real argument about limited war concerns direct conflict between the superpowers. Two sorts of limitation can be envisaged, by geography and weaponry, although in practice the limitations are likely to coincide. In either case, limitation will depend not just on arbitrary attempts to restrict the ‘damage’ of war, but on an understanding or convention of war as a form of conflict resolution.12 No such understanding has been successfully proposed, still less agreed, between the superpowers. It seems preposterous to think that it could be: that given the immense destructiveness of even a conventional war in Europe, let alone a limited nuclear exchange, such a war could be restricted to preconceived levels of response by rational political decision. It is historically true that even the wars that were most obviously limited, by political circumstances and goals as well as weaponry, have tended to surpass the limits initially foreseen for them. It is impossible to believe that such a global confrontation between over-armed powers, into the avoidance of which so much has been invested, could ever be restricted if it should take place. Even if theoretically conceivable, this would be unlikely in practice, especially now that nuclear technology has created the conditions — and hence also the necessity — for a ‘disarming first strike’. Escalation, which is virtually a law of war, would very probably turn out to be instantaneous, not gradual.
The social dialectics of war
Neither the deterrent nor the limited-war versions of strategic theory can divert attention from the main issue: that the means of war have outstripped any rational use for them. The problem with strategic theory, however, is that even when this conclusion is reached, it can offer us no way out except to prove the finality of the outcome in the actual use of nuclear weapons.The dialectic of war, considered in isolation, simply comes to a self-negating full stop. War can only be abolished, in these purely military terms, when nuclear immolation removes the means and agents of war from the face of the earth. And there must remain the suspicion that even this will not be final: that in the twilight world of the ‘aftermath’, the brutalised survivors will mock strategic theory with an internecine struggle for survival.
To pose the matter at all constructively we must re-integrate military theory with social thought. As the more historically minded strategic writers have understood — but the nuclear planners must needs forget — war has developed in the context of society, as one social activity among many. War can only be understood in the context of the totality of social relations. The idealised dialectic of military theory, which has expressed the active (in reality, destructive) inner character of war, needs to be transformed by a materialist social history which can show how war has arisen from and returns to society.
Strategic theory, even at its most sociological, has generally seen these relations — society—war—society — in terms that are too linear. In explaining that war expresses social purposes, and necessarily affects society, the strategist may too easily conclude that society must be incorporated into the battlefield. Indeed this doctrine is sometimes advanced by revolutionaries, who wish war to be a social struggle rather than a narrowly professional military activity. When formulated as a general proposition, however, the notion that war must involve ‘an invasion of the fabric of the opponent’s social order’ (as one recent academic strategist has suggested)’3 assumes frightening overtones in the nuclear age. If society is indeed the battlefield, then society may simply be destroyed when technology makes this feasible. A sociological ‘translation’ of strategic theory is not enough: its only virtue is to clarify the social consequences of military concepts.
What is required is an altogether more dialectical concept of the relations between war and society, which understands the contradictory nature of this relationship, as of society itself. War does not express the common purposes of ‘society’ as a whole, but arises out of particular relationships and institutions in society. Warfare has been, almost continuously in known history, a major part of the development of social conflict and contradictions. Anthropologists suggest that war is amain cause (and effect) — if not the only one — of the formation of social classes and states.14 In large scale historical civilisations, warmaking has invariably been a core function of privileged social groups and state institutions. A dialectic of military expansion and the constant need for slaves governed the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.’5 The feudal social hierarchy of medieval Europe was closely defined by military obligations. In most pre-modern societies, the linkages of warfare and the socio-economic order are clearly defined, expressed in the dominant ideology and immediately recognised by the historian.
Onlyin early industrial capitalist societies is there an apparent separation, not just of warmaking, but of the entire range of state activities and institutions, from the mode of economic life. Production, as Marx argued, was initially freed from the extra-economic constraints of feudal society. For the first time, it became relatively pure commodity production, production of exchange values rather than (directly) of use values. Warfare was no longer one of the purposes of socio-economic activity, but a purpose of the highly distinct sphere of political life. The ‘optimistic theory of industrial capitalism’ (as Mann calls it) 16 incorrectly concluded from this institutional separation that warfare was a historical residue, unlikely to coexist for long with industrialism. The Marxist theory, more realistically, drew attention to the social linkages between the differentiated spheres of production and the state. Marxist theorists have argued that the class which owns the means of production thereby rules politically as well; or, in a more sophisticated version, that the nature of competitive capitals concerned with production of exchange values implies that the capitalists must constitute themselves as a class in a distinct political sphere, in order to carry out those necessary social tasks which they cannot carry out as individual capitals. Warfare is, of course, one such task, although why it remained ‘necessary’ in industrial capitalist society is a question which Marxist theory has hardly answered. In general, it has seen war as an extension of the competitive struggle between capitals: but the question of why the struggle between capitals takes the form of war between states requires an analysis of the system of territorial states. This system pre-dated capitalism, although of course it has been modified by it.17
The territorial aspect of the state, so fundamental to its very constitution, as non-Marxist definitions have suggested, is often neglected in the attempt to link the state to the internal class division of national societies. This external side of the state’s functioning, connected to its role in an international system of states, is an essential feature in any attempt to link industrial capitalism and warfare. It is not possible to argue simply that capitalism itself requires warfare. It is possible to argue that capitalism historically has presupposed a system of nation-states, in which warfare is the ultimate form of conflict. Capitalism has greatly altered both the state system and warfare; and, at the same time, that the workings of the state system, and especially warfare, have fundamentally affected the nature, workings and forms of capitalism. Whether capitalism, considered from the standpoint of pure theory, requires either a state-system or war, is in this sense irrelevant: ‘capitalism’ is a historical abstraction from a world society structured by a system of states and warfare.
Mary Kaldor has suggested we can analyse the ‘mode of warfare’ in society as something analogous, but never reducible, to the mode of production. Warfare is a social activity which may have a role in terms of the socio-economic and political systems, but which has its own specific character and ends. The ‘mode of warfare’ should be distinguished from the ‘role of warfare’. Using Clausewitz’s suggestion — which appealed to Marx and Engels — that battle is to war what cash payment is to commodity exchange, Kaldor regards warfare as a rational, goal-oriented social activity loosely comparable to the system of production for profit. The comparison is limited, however, in quite crucial ways. First, battle — actual war as opposed to war-preparation — occurs so much less frequently than cash payment. Commodity values are realised thousands of times per second: military values may be untested for decades. Kaldor considers that this leads to considerable distortion of the mode of warfare, above all in the nuclear age when the use of weapons becomes self-defeating.
Secondly, the mode of warfare can never reproduce itself, but is always parasitic on the mode of production. However much war and war-preparation may be carried on for their own ends, they depend on the mode of production for their resources. ‘Because armaments do not re-enter the production process, the entire cost of armaments — cost of production plus mark-up — represents a deduction from surplus-value earned elsewhere in the economy’. War is therefore an ‘a priori burden on and potential interruption to the process of capitalist accumulation. This tension between warfare and capitalism explodes periodically in war.’18
By contrast, then, with Marxists, who see warfare as necessary — almost ‘functional’ — for capitalism, Kaldor sees its distinct logic as a problem for capitalist accumulation. The
enormous demands of the mode of warfare, in the context of a permanent arms race, distort the economy and accentuate crisis. The absence of actual war makes the mode of warfare ever more artificial, overblown and rigid, which increases the pressure for war simply to test the military plans: and yet war as a means is so obviously self-defeating. No sectors of capital can actually have a rational interest in nuclear war: some may pursue war-avoidance to the point of becoming allies of peace movements suggests Kaldor, although she still seems uncertain of this.1~
The dialectic of war is therefore seen, at its simplest, as leading to an opposition between war and society. War grows out of society, feeds upon the enormous growth of productive resources brought about by industrial capitalism, and will ultimately destroy not only that particular system but every form of human society. But as I have already suggested, the simple terms, ‘war and society’, or even ‘war and capitalism’ must be broken down. Each term in these pairs is highly complex: the very concept of an opposition between the two terms is increasingly misleading. While war appears to be a relatively discrete social activity, apart from society, imposing its requirements on the socio-economic system, in reality the two are closely integrated. To theorise about the ‘mode of warfare’ as distinct from the ‘mode of production’ may be necessary, in order to establish the specific requirements of warfare by contrast with those of commodity production. But to take this analytical distinction for a separation in reality is mistaken. There is no more than a partial disjunction between the two, since society (and specifically production) has been incorporated into warfare, and correspondingly warfare into society (and production). However much the requirements of warfare (in the abstract) may appear to conflict with those of production (in the abstract), in reality the tension to which Kaldor refers is muffled.
The dialectic of war and society should not therefore be seen in terms of such a simple opposition. The integration of the two means that we must modify the terms: we are talking about the role of socialised warfare in a militarised economy and society. We can no more understand the contradictions of society outside its military frame than we can those of warfare apart from its insertion in society. The integration is neither perfect nor complete, but it is fundamental to both.
The solution to the dilemmas of military theory is only to be found when this is recognised. The theoretical limit of nuclear war cannot be evaded with the deterrent or limited war options; but neither can we wait for nuclear weapons to achieve the self-negation of warfare. The answer to the problems is to recognise that ‘friction’, virtually eliminated from the actual fighting of wars by the achievement of the capability for instantaneous total immolation, has been transferred back into war-preparation. The very elimination of friction from warfighting increases the friction affecting war preparation. This is true in two senses. First, the unlimitedness of nuclear war inhibits governments both directly — in that they recognise the self-defeating nature of it — and indirectly, in that the catastrophic outcome for society creates popular pressure against war. Secondly, the nature of the economic and technical resources required for the arms race at its limit creates a new form of friction. A tension with the requirements of civilian production inhibits all but the most powerful states from full participation in it, and creates economic contradictions in the military efforts of all states, even the superpowers.
Of course, these constraints on war-preparation, and on the conversion of war-preparation into warfighting, are not absolute. Understood only in the military sense, as ‘friction’, they offer no solutions, only a delay. It is only if forces exist in society which are capable of understanding the limits to war, and of acting to prevent it, that answers can be found. There is no solution in continuing to ask: How can wars continue to be fought? but only in asking: How can we create the conditions in which they will never be fought again?
At this point, it is obvious that military theory must give way to social theory, but only to a social theory which has recognised the immense impact of the military problem in society. Simply to identify the ‘ordinary’ socio-economic contradictions is not enough: we must examine how war and militarism have permeated the structure and processes of society, including the forces and movements often seen as offering solutions. The integration of warmaking and socio-economic development has long since passed the point at which war can be considered an ‘extraneous’ factor. Unless we are able to understand how war has moulded society in the twentieth century, we shall be unable even to glimpse the possibility of a solution to the problem which war now poses.
In this century, the spectre of military totalitarianism has frequently haunted society. The prospect of a ruthless, totally manipulative regime, bent externally on total domination and internally on political repression, has seemed the greatest danger and evil of our time. Because Western — and even Communist — states are some way from this model (and they manifestly are), because 1984 was not realised in 1984, the real role of militarism in our society has often been under-emphasised. The absence of the most overt forms of militarism belies the role of a subtler form. It can be shown, I believe, that there are general and long-term tendencies transforming industrial society as a consequence of its mode of warfare. The nature of these tendencies and the different forms they take is the subject of the greater part of this book; but first it is necessary to discuss how warfare itself was transformed by industrial capitalism.