A few months ago, Telegraph.co.uk, the online version of the well-known British daily newspaper, ran an article entitled “Male Sex Drive ‘To Blame for World’s Conflicts’.” A team of evolutionary scientists, led by a Prof. Mark Van Vugt, claimed to have found the ever-elusive root cause of all war: males!
According to Prof. Van Vugt and his team, the prehistoric human male’s drive to earn access to mates through violence towards outsiders led to the passing along of aggressive genes and behavior. Sadly, these genes have remained with us throughout history, driving us to continuously wage war with ever-deadlier weapons. Unfortunately for humanity, the intrepid scientists were unable to offer a solution.
This latest version of the “man the hunter” hypothesis to explain human behavior is a good opportunity to clarify the Marxist position on war and its causes. First, let us examine the methods of the bourgeoisie in analyzing such complex questions.
It may be easy to laugh at the broad claims made in the study referenced above, but they are perfectly in line with, and are products of, the bourgeois mode of thought and the place of science in capitalist society. Science does not raise itself above society; it exists in the real world, as part of the web of property and production relations we all live under.
Funding for scientific research generally comes from either the government or big capital. In the United States, about 64% of research funding comes from the private sector, with profits being the ultimate goal of such work. Every historical epoch is dominated by the ideas of its ruling class, those who own the means of reproducing and disseminating ideas. This phenomenon is clearly apparent in the “Male Sex Drive” study.
It is abundantly clear to anyone who has gone through years of history lessons in school that the academic representatives of bourgeois thought regard war (and the rest of history, for that matter) as a kind of tragic mystery. It seems to simply occur as the result of some historical accident or another, in a world dominated by “Great Men.”
In light of such a view, it is not surprising that many of these academic masters consider the tendency toward armed conflict as part of man’s inherent nature. With this assumption as their starting point, groups of scientists then search for what it is in our bodies that drives us to repeatedly slaughter each other on a massive scale.
Such conclusions leave little to no room for the differences between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, and this is not an accident. Formal logic and empiricism, the philosophical bases for bourgeois ideology, tend to view things on their own, in isolation, and classify them by differences and similarities in their being. Dialectical materialism, the philosophy of Marxism, understands that everything is affected by both internal and external relations and contradictions. Humans are both part of nature and removed from it. We are products of the process of evolution and the wild, but also creators of our own material surroundings.
Alan Woods, in Reformism or Revolution wrote, “The worker works with tools and the raw materials furnished by nature. With the aid of these material things, men have always transformed the world and controlled their environment. And by changing the world around them, men also changed themselves.” With every technological development come changes in how we organize ourselves as a species. With every leap forward, we carry with us detritus from the past; no process happens in a nice, even way, especially the history of humanity.
Therefore, if humanity manipulates its own material surroundings and is able to reach higher levels of productivity, what does this mean for our analysis of war? From the perspective of the bourgeois, who believe that capitalism has always been and always will be, war seems like a constant entity, only changing in scope and level of technology. War may be hell, but it is here to stay.
As Marxists, we do not accept such a viewpoint. As human society changes, so do its relationships, up to and including war. War always serves a purpose in a given society and, in the last analysis, this purpose is always related to the economic motor of that society. That is, war reflects the class struggle and the interests of a particular class.
For instance, it is not true that the wars waged by the Roman Empire were ultimately the same as the wars waged by Napoleon Bonaparte. Rome was a slave society, meaning that the main producing class, and generator of wealth, was the slave class. War was waged by Rome, ultimately, to gain access to more slaves. Napoleon and the First French Empire, however, ultimately represented the interests of the rising French and European bourgeoisie as against the interests of the feudal kings, lords, and the Church.
The Napoleonic Wars, for all the destruction they wrought, effectively destroyed the hold of feudalism throughout much of Europe, and sowed the seeds for the eventual coming to power of the bourgeoisie in Germany, Italy, and other European states. Therefore, every war must be studied historically and in its class context, rather than lumped together and lamented as the eternal tragedy of human nature.
Marxists are not pacifists. We regard war as barbaric and brutal, yet also recognize that wars can at times be necessary, and can serve a historically progressive role. Certain wars of national liberation and civil wars waged by an oppressed class against an oppressor class would fall into this category. The American Revolution and Civil War are two such examples.
In the last century, the bourgeoisie fought two World Wars, which it sold to the workers and peasants as “necessary evils.” In reality, these wars were the inevitable result of world capitalism and the scramble for markets and spheres of influence by the imperialist powers. Today, many proxy wars rage around the globe, as the big players, unable to go to war directly at this stage, use mercenaries and local forces as pawns to fight in their interests. The real losers, as always, are the workers and poor of the world.
The real causes of war are therefore to be sought in the class structure of society, not in so-called, unchanging “human nature.” As the military theoretician Clausewitz explained, war is the continuation of politics by other means. Foreign policy is the extension of domestic policy. If the profit motive is the aim of the ruling class at home, so too is profit its motive in its adventures abroad.
The lesson to be learned is that as long as class society continues, there will be war in the interest of the ruling class. Lenin, in Socialism and War wrote that, “[Marxists] understand the inevitable connection between wars and class struggle within a country; we understand that wars cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and socialism is created.” As Marxists, we believe that in a socialist society, in which class contradictions, the need for a coercive state, and competition over scarce resources, are withering away, war too will become a thing of the past. In other words, to end war, end capitalism!