For over seventy years the major world powers have had the capacity to wipe out humanity in a nuclear conflagration. So what were the factors that held them back from nuclear war in the past? And do they still apply in the new period in world relations that has opened up with the Russian invasion of Ukraine? CLIVE HEEMSKERK contributes to the debate.
The tenth five-yearly review conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), held in New York this August, opened to a sombre warning from the secretary general of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres.
Speaking of the most perilous situation since the cold war, he told the assembled representatives of the 191 UN member states who are signatories to the NPT that the world could be “just one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation”.
“We have been extraordinarily lucky so far”, Guterres went on, but “luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict”.
Such comments will deepen the understandable fears about the future of the planet, of young people in particular. To the threat of catastrophic climate change is added the risk of nuclear accidents – dramatized by the recent events around the Zaporizhzhia power plant in Ukraine – and premonitions of nuclear war.
The September meeting of the Socialist Party’s national committee discussed many facets of the class struggle gathering pace in Britain. Here we reproduce edited extracts on the monarchy, strike tactics and the Enough is Enough campaign from the introduction to the discussion made by the Socialist Party general secretary, HANNAH SELL.
For a moment the rising tide of class struggle in Britain was interrupted by the period of mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth. Long planned by the ruling class, Operation London Bridge deluged the country in a tsunami of media coverage celebrating the monarchy. The aim of the capitalist establishment has undoubtedly been to create the same level of support for King Charles III as existed for his mother.
It is already clear that this will not succeed. A large part of the continued relative popularity of the monarchy was tied to the Queen, who over seventy years mainly managed to maintain the illusion that she was ‘above’ politics, and was associated with growth in working and middle-class living standards in the first decades of her reign.
However, while the monarchy has remained more popular than other institutions of British capitalism, support for it had already been hollowed out over recent decades. The latest figures from the National Centre for Social Research show the number who think it is ‘very’ or ‘quite important’ to have a monarchy has fallen to 55%, below 60% for the first time. At the same time their polling showed the highest ever level of support for the abolition of the monarchy at 25%; and at 31% among young people.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader who died this August, left a truly historical legacy. Aiming to reform bureaucratic rule he helped unleash forces that led to the complete collapse of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe. In an article first published in the March 2018 edition of Socialism Today (Issue No.216), PETER TAAFFE reviews a comprehensive study of Gorbachev’s life.
Gorbachev: His Life and Times
By William Taubman
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2017, £25
Mikhail Gorbachev was the gateman for the capitalist counter-revolution in the former Soviet Union (USSR) which liquidated the last elements of the planned economy, albeit managed and controlled by a bureaucratic, privileged elite. This resulted in an unprecedented collapse of the productive forces – science, technique and the organisation of labour – and, with this, the living standards of the masses in Russia and the other republics. Indeed, the economic catastrophe of Russia, the 15 republics of the former USSR, and Eastern Europe was greater than the capitalist crash and depression of the 1930s.
At the same time, it allowed the world capitalist class to conduct an unprecedented ideological campaign against the ideas of ‘socialism’, of collectivism and an alternative to the selfish profit-driven system. However, Gorbachev did not consciously set out to achieve this end, as this new biography makes clear. It was the consequence of his and others’ attempt at ‘reform’ from the top which unleashed forces from below he could not control and ended in the demise of the system they represented. We lived through the events recounted and some of our comrades, such as Clare Doyle and Rob Jones, witnessed them first hand, participating in some in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and Moscow respectively.
Continuing our Introduction to Marxism series, STEVE SCORE looks at the economic processes that operate under capitalism, a system of cyclical crises and contradictions which defies rational planning to meet society’s needs.
We live in a world where historically undreamt-of wealth exists, where technology has been developed in a way that was only envisaged in science fiction, where enough food, shelter and the basics of life could be generated to satisfy the needs of every person on the planet.
Yet in this capitalist world a great many people suffer hunger, malnutrition and preventable disease, and can’t get clean water or decent housing. Even in the richest countries millions live in poverty and insecurity. It is also a world where the methods of capitalist production are unnecessarily destructive of the environment.
Despite the aspirations of capitalist governments and hundreds of years of study by pro-capitalist economists it is crystal clear that they have no control over the economy and its repeated economic crises. Crisis is built into the DNA of capitalism.
The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy and the Jupiters, 1957-1963
By Philip Nash, University of North Carolina Press, 1997
Reviewed by Alison Hill
The Cuban missile crisis that gripped the world sixty years ago in October 1962 is usually cited as the nearest the United States and the USSR ever came to nuclear war.
According to US propaganda what forced the Soviet climb-down was superior US military might and the negotiating skills of president John F Kennedy. This book sheds a bit more light on the period and debunks some of the myths.
It also reveals that the Peter Sellers film Dr Strangelove, released in 1964, wasn’t completely fiction. With the declassification of secret cold war documents, we are now able to read exchanges like these, about the siting of medium-range ballistic missiles: