A Socialist Labor Party Statement—

Why Capitalism Can’t Freeze the Arms Race

"To improve national and international security, the U.S. and the Soviet Union should stop the nuclear arms race. Specifically, they should adopt a mutual freeze on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons and of missiles and new aircraft designed primarily to deliver nuclear weapons. This is an essential, verifiable first step toward lessening the risk of nuclear war and reducing the nuclear arsenals."—Text of the nuclear weapons freeze proposal. (Minor variations have been made by some state campaigns.)

The events of the last year have rekindled widespread public concern about the threat of nuclear war. The push by the United States for a massive expansion of its nuclear strike force, its pursuit of a "first strike" capacity, its plan to deploy new, more versatile and destructive missiles in Europe and elsewhere, the propaganda by spokespersons for the Reagan administration and the Pentagon that a nuclear war might be survivable and winnable, and the aggressive Soviet response to these developments have generated spreading fear and growing opposition to the nuclear arms race.

In Europe, the opposition manifested itself last fall in the form of huge demonstrations for nuclear disarmament, some attracting hundreds of thousands of people.

Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign

Though such large and active numbers are not yet in evidence in the United States, opposition to the arms race is growing rapidly in this country. A major focal point of that opposition is the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, a campaign to get the United States to adopt the above proposal calling for a bilateral freeze on the arms race.

Though this campaign was formally launched only about one year ago, the proposal has been ratified by the legislatures of six different states. Recently, it was approved by the vast majority of participants in town meetings in Vermont and New Hampshire, and has been endorsed by municipalities in several other states. Drives are under way to place the proposition on the ballot this fall in four more states for a referendum vote.

Further testifying to the growing sentiment for the proposal is the fact that more than a million people have signed petitions supporting it. And a Gallup Poll last year indicated that 72 percent of the population would support a bilateral nuclear arms freeze.

In addition, 17 senators and 122 members of the House of Representatives, perhaps influenced in part at least by the growing public sentiment for a freeze, have sponsored a resolution in both houses of Congress proposing their own version of the freeze proposal.

Pluses and Minuses

The rapidly growing support for the freeze proposal has both positive and negative aspects. It is a positive development insofar as it represents an awareness of the growing danger of nuclear war and the perilous foreign policies being pursued by the present administration. Not only is the freeze campaign itself a public expression of opposition to the arms race, it is serving to stir up and mobilize additional opposition by raising public awareness of the nuclear arms race and by helping to refute various myths being propagated by the Reagan administration: that the United States is "behind" in the arms race; that the current expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is needed to close an alleged "window of vulnerability"; that nuclear war could be "limited," or survivable," or "winnable"; etc.

On the other hand, the freeze proposal has definite limitations. It is, therefore, imperative that workers have no illusions regarding its potential effectiveness or even regarding its chances of being effectively implemented. For despite the commendable intentions and efforts of its framers and most of its supporters, the freeze proposal, bluntly stated, is not an adequate response to the dangers posed by the arms race.

For one thing, even if it could be implemented, it would not affect the 50,000 nuclear warheads currently in the arsenals of the two superpowers. Nor would it eliminate the material and economic conflicts pushing the two superpowers ever closer to resorting to the use of these weapons. In short, while a nuclear freeze could possibly slow the headlong rush to a nuclear confrontation, it would not end the danger of a nuclear holocaust that could destroy all humanity.

The advocates and organizers of the freeze campaign are aware of these limitations, but they argue that the freeze should be viewed as a "first step" toward real nuclear disarmament. According to the campaign's initial strategy paper, the freeze proposal was conceived as a "limited, realizable objective."

Limited Focus

In other words, the freeze campaign is premised upon a political concept that underlies many issue-oriented movements: limit the focus of the movement to a "single issue," a "low common denominator" that many people could readily agree with, in order to enlist the "broadest possible support." The reasoning behind this strategy is that it is better to have more people supporting a limited objective than to have fewer people supporting a more comprehensive goal.

It is precisely because of its limited focus that the freeze concept could win the support of liberal politicians who are nonetheless totally committed to the preservation of U.S. capitalism and who may intentionally or otherwise co-opt the movement by pushing meaningless, ineffective legislation.

The resolution introduced in Congress illustrates the point. Not only is that congressional proposal for a freeze watered down and more vague than the original, it is a nonbinding resolution and will not make any change in actual policy. It calls for the superpowers "to decide when and how to achieve a mutual and verifiable freeze" on testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons. This "when and how" provision renders the concept meaningless. Even Ronald Reagan probably would support a nuclear arms freeze after the United States has gotten far enough "ahead" in the arms race and acquired a "first strike" capability.

In essence, then, the liberal politicians in Congress, without seriously impeding the U.S. nuclear arms buildup, could serve as a lightning rod by channeling much of the opposition to the arms race into support of useless electoral efforts or legislative proposals.

Political opportunism has already begun to invade the freeze campaign itself. In California, for example, the campaign coordinator for the freeze effort is Harold Willens, a capitalist millionaire. In a recent position paper printed in the San Jose Mercury News, he sought to justify the freeze proposal on the proimperialist grounds that it would enable the United States to save money and to use its technology to beat the Japanese and "become competitive in world markets once again." He also applauded President Reagan's START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) concept, stating that it "could save the nation" and that it is basically in harmony with the freeze objective.

No doubt many of those actively involved in the freeze campaign would disown Willens' views and statements. Yet Willens' views are just the kind of deluded and opportunistic thinking that the campaign invites with its "low common denominator" approach.

Realities of Class Rule

There is a more fundamental weakness in the freeze campaign that should be noted. It cannot and will not be implemented under the existing social system. The U.S. ruling class simply will not agree to a nuclear arms freeze unless it has achieved a decisive lead in the arms race, in which case the Soviets would not agree to a freeze. The history of disarmament efforts down through the years attests to that.

The nuclear arms race, like militarism generally, is an inherent byproduct of class-divided society. Mad as the stockpiling of nuclear arms is, it is no mere "aberration" in the prevailing competitive world. Rather, it is the ultimate recourse to which the capitalist United States and the bureaucratic statist U.S.S.R. look to protect their imperialist interests from one another and from other imperialist rivals. And because each considers arms superiority vital for the protection of the interests of its ruling class, the arms race cannot be legislated away.

Thus, the freeze campaign cannot stop the arms race, because it does not address the cause of the arms race. The campaign is based upon a reformist strategy of trying to limit the effects of the arms race through electoral action and political pressure.

The unspoken assumption behind this strategy is the false notion that the U.S. government is an instrument responsive to the people, and that if the majority of people want a freeze, then the politicians in office will implement it or be replaced by politicians who will.

However, the U.S. political state does not work that way. Political democracy cannot function under an economic dictatorship. In capitalist society, the capitalist class owns and controls the means of producing the goods and services needed to live. Through their economic power the capitalist class controls the political state and those who, in the final analysis, determine the policies and conduct the affairs of the various departments of government.

That is why, no matter what promises politicians make to workers, once elected to office the "mandates" they follow are those that serve the interests of the capitalist class. It is relevant to recall, for example, that in 1976 Jimmy Carter promised to work toward "zero nuclear weapons." As president, however, he later gave his blessing to the MX and cruise missiles, the Trident submarine and the placement in Europe of the new missiles that are now the subject of negotiation. He also issued Presidential Directive 59, which made pursuit of a first-strike capacity an official policy.

The Imperialist Arms Race

Massive political pressure from the working class can sometimes force concessions from the capitalist political state. But the nuclear arms race is too vital, too central to capitalist-class interests for a reformist strategy to succeed in ending it.

Driven by the profit motive and world market competition, the U.S. capitalist class is irresistibly impelled to seek domination of other nations—as markets, as sources of cheap labor, as areas for profitable investment, as sources of natural resources, or because of their strategic locations. It is to protect and serve these material interests that the U.S. government practices imperialist policies, setting up and/or supporting repressive, proimperialist governments throughout Central America, South America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

The U.S.S.R. has similarly sought imperialist domination of other nations' economies. Thus, it has intervened in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa in pursuit of its interests. The nuclear arms race is a product of this imperialist rivalry. Both sides value nuclear weapons not only as the ultimate defense of their respective established spheres of influence, but also because they each wish to gain a decisive advantage over the other in order to be able to force the other to back off when their vital interests clash. When in the past the United States held a clear advantage in nuclear arms, it was able to force the U.S.S.R. to back off at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956, the Lebanon showdown in 1958 and during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. It is to regain such an advantage that the United States is striving for a first-strike capability.

In sum, the imperialist interests of the two ruling classes are the motive force behind the arms race. Consequently, there is no way to halt the arms race and the threat of nuclear war short of abolishing capitalist class rule in the United States and bureaucratic statist class rule in the U.S.S.R.

In short, the way to stop the arms race and prevent nuclear war is to build a classless, socialist society, which would eliminate the compulsive ruling-class interests that foster imperialism, militarism and war generally.

Socialism means social ownership and democratic worker control of the economy. There would be no separate class of people that owned and controlled the economy, and thereby benefited from exploitation of others and had material interests antagonistic to the rest of society.

More specifically, in socialist society democratic associations of workers would control the policies governing their own workplace. They would elect accountable and removable representatives to ascending administrative councils in each industry and to a national planning council, or "All Industrial Congress." Those elected to such positions would not have any special privileges, nor any powers beyond those delegated to them by the workers' associations. They would simply be charged with planning and coordinating the economy to meet the needs and democratically determined goals of the workers' associations.

In socialist society there would be no motive or compulsion to control other nations' economies or exploit other nations' workers. There would be no compulsion to imperialism, or to militarism, or to war, nuclear or otherwise. Indeed, socialist society would have a stake in helping workers come to power in other nations, and in helping to genuinely develop, not plunder, the lesser developed nations. The eventual objective would be a global cooperative commonwealth. With economic competition abolished, socialism would usher in lasting world peace.

(Reprinted from The People, April 1982)

Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • www.slp.org • socialists@slp.org

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