International Working-Class Security – Dismantling the Global Military-Industrial Complex (July 2019)

We are living through a pre-world war crisis when there is no existential, military threat to the security of working people.  A global military-industrial complex (GMIC), dominated by the United States, lies at the heart of this paradox. So-called, advanced industrial societies now pour over two trillion dollars a year into the black-hole of armaments, not to protect national security but to maintain elite power and global access to resources. Public investment that should be used to build a post-carbon economy, where the means of production are owned and controlled by working-class communities is, instead, swallowed up by giant arms corporations to feed private profit. This is in direct conflict with the interests of working people who, wherever they live in the world, face the real, existential threat of irreversible climate change.

An essential element of this privileged access by the GMIC, is to project rivalry and conflict between the major powers as inescapable. Domestic populations are fed the same propaganda by  political leaders and a compliant media, that the ‘enemy’  build up of armaments is overtly aggressive, while their own is purely defensive. Unrelated issues such as terrorist acts, state-sponsored killings of exiled political opponents and alleged foreign interference with computer networks, are conflated into a generalised and continuous threat through which to infiltrate the poison of militarism. And all in the name of that gigantic fraud, national security. Stripped down to its essential elements, this is simply the requirement that state institutions maintain the power and wealth of their countries’ capitalist elites and legitimise their exploitation of working people.

The manufactured threat level is at heights not seen since the Cold War, demanding total and unquestioning support for increased military confrontation abroad and an authoritarian, surveillance state at home. Nominal commitments to international disarmament are pushed further and further back as long-term objectives, meaning that they have, effectively, been abandoned. 

When working people and their political representatives challenge elite power and call for a radical overhaul of security and economic policy in favour of disarmament and arms conversion to socially-useful production,  they are either dismissed as politically naive, or  worse, a threat to national security as enemy stooges and even enemy agents. Should it be necessary, these authoritarian, capitalist states now have in place an unprecedented security apparatus based on sophisticated mass surveillance systems and draconian emergency powers to monitor, arrest and detain anyone they characterisise as political subversives.

At least the Cold War had the pretence of an irrevocable, ideological struggle between two superpowers as a smokescreen for the grotesque waste of resources on armaments. Now, there is a sick parody of 19th Century ‘great power’ confrontation, through which these capitalist states, reflecting the interests of their respective giant arms corporations, can maintain their privileged access to the allocation of public resources. At its heart is Western capitalism’s obsession with dominating access to Middle East oil and gas, when from a working-class security perspective on preventing irreversible climate change, they should be kept in the ground.

The international consequences of Western intervention in the Middle East have been disastrous. Invading Iraq led to hundreds of thousands of deaths,  the destruction of basic infrastructure and terrible sectarian violence. Political chaos and the emergence of extremist groups has been used to legitimise further military interventions and long-term occupations, as in Afghanistan. Capitalist resource wars which are diametrically opposed to the interests of working people are propagandised as inevitable power struggles wrapped up in the hollow rhetoric of protecting freedom and democracy.

The GMIC as a system, therefore, functions at two levels, firstly, the domestic, where it requires a stable political base for the long-term research, development and manufacture of complex weapons systems and, secondly, the international, where it feeds on highly unstable confrontations. These include the Middle East, particularly Iran’s control over its oil resources and access to the Persian Gulf; the Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russia; and territiorial disputes with China over islands in the South China Sea.

Either by deliberate escalation or miscalculation, the result may well be a major conventional war,  or  a nuclear war involving the deaths of hundreds of millions.  And even if the ultimate nightmare is avoided, working people are trapped in this complete perversion of security at a time when their communities desperately need a massive investment programme to build a post-carbon economy or face environmental catastrophe.

Since the very birth of a working-class movement, disarmament and internationalism have been central to the vision of  peace and social justice. A prime example was the mass opposition mobilised in both Europe and the United States against the build up to World War One, representing a serious challenge to capitalist imperialism and militarism. Trade unions have also, throughout their history, campaigned for arms conversion, including the inspirational example of the Lucas Aerospace workers in the 1970s. Shop stewards from several sites around the country developed an alternative plan, arguing that their skills and the company’s industrial and technological base could be used to manufacure a range of products with social benefit in areas like medical equipment, public transport and environmental products

The crisis today is the greatest ever facing working people because it combines the real threat of a capitalist world war with that of environmental and economic collapse. This waste of public resources on armaments is, quite simply, unacceptable. Our creative potential, both human and technological, has to be released for the construction of a post-carbon economy that lies at the heart of a future based on socially-useful work and ecological balance in the 21st century.

Donald Trump’s presidential victory under the rallying call, ‘America First’, has led to greater international tension and increased confrontation between the United States, Russia and China. Trump is generally regarded as an unstable populist, well outside the mainstream of US politics. His crude, nationalist rhetoric has stripped away some of the more long-standing, ritual incantations about collective security through alliances and the higher moral purpose of the United States. But far from being a decisive break, the Trump administration’s programme represents continuity with long-term strategic objectives to maintain US military supremacy and access to resources.

The United States has a global, military presence through an array of overseas bases, carrier fleets, nuclear and conventional forces for full-scale war, and special operations for covert warfare, all supported by an extensive satellite and computer-based intelligence and communications network. It is responsbile for half of all military expenditure in the world, at an estimated $1.2 trillion, followed some way behind by China at $231 billon and and Russia at $135 billion. 

As with previous Republican administrations, notably Reagan in the early 1980s and Bush in the early 2000s, Trump has substantially increased arms expenditure, while welfare provision and public spending in the civil sector, such as environmental protection, have faced savage cuts.  Essentially, there has been a broad consensus on security policy across the Republican and Democratic leaderships, even if the latter have attempted to maintain public investment in the civil sector while supporting continued high levels of military spending.

The institutional power of these elite groups has led to the growth of the first, and largest Military-Industrial Complex (MIC), based on specialised arms corporations and the accumulation of sustained profits from lucrative military contracts. A revolving-door between senior corporate management, the Department of Defense and the Pentagon provides long-term continuity for follow-on generations of increasingly complex and expensive weapons programmes. Through corporate restructuring and consolidation, a handful of military-industrial behomoths, led by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, effectivley monopolise US arms procurement and dominate the lucrative arms exports markets. These corporations are, essentially, industrial extensions of the Department of Defense. 

Russia and China have responded to the expansion of US military power with increased military expenditure and their own versions of the MIC, albeit on a smaller scale. In Russia’s case, after the collapse of the former Soviet Union’s economy in the 1990s, both Yeltsin and Putin oversaw a rapid  privatisation of state industries benefiting a capitalist oligarchy in the energy sector, but also  aerospace and shipbuilding in which the arms industries play a key role.  

The situation in China is complicated by the army’s direct ownership of some areas of military production, alongside state ownership and private corporations. There have also been some attempts in both countries to encourage  diversification across related, civil products, as a way of buttressing arms corporations against fluctuations in demand. But the fundamentals of the MIC remain both in China and Russia; the consolidation of giant arms corporations, high and increasing levels of military expenditure for the benefit of capitalist elites, institutional support for the cycle of weapons modernisation, and aggressive arms exports policies. 

The GMIC’s domination of the international system has never been greater. Working people must endure the real threat of war while it consumes vast quantities of non-renewable resources that make it a major contributor to climate change. Yet, that very vulnerability to disruptions in access to oil and other scarce resources, essential in the manufacture and operation of military equipment, is used by the GMIC as a national security threat to further extend its institutional power.  The interests of the GMIC are contributing to the ecological destruction of the planet and are in diametric opposition to those of working people. If we are to avoild catastrophic climate change, an absolute priority of working-class politics is to dismantle the GMIC and redirect public investment into a long-term programme for the construction of  a post-carbon economy.

The UK could play a decisive role in building a new international, working-class security framework but is in the peculiar position of military-technological subservience to the United States, while maintaining a smaller MIC of its own. Political elites from the mainstream parties insist that the UK retains the status of a major power but this is delusional, an ersatz imperialism.

The obvious example is nuclear weapons, as the UK is totally dependent on the United States for Trident missiles, provided under a leasing arrangement. Although nuclear warheads and submarines are manufactured in the UK, they rely on US designs, while US satellites control missile trajectory and targetting. As far as the United States is concerned, the UK’s Trident submarines, far from being an independent deterrent, are a small, if useful, element of the US fleet, that can be factored into its own deployment schedules and ease pressure on operational and maintenance demands. 

In conventional weapons systems, the UK has also had to cede technological leadership to the United States, particularly on the 5th generation fighter aircraft, the F35, manufactured by Lockheed Martin. A small element of the work is subcontracted to BAE Systems at its factories in Lancarshire,   for the short-take off and vertical landing variant (STOVL) that the UK is purchasing. 


This desperate attempt to maintain the status of a world power is punitively expensive for a medium-sized economy. The government’s response to continuing funding crises has been to reduce the number of weapons platforms for each new cycle of procurement, leading to fewer ships, planes and submarines.  In effect, the loss of just one major naval vessel would be so disastrous that the UK can only deploy its forces as part of a larger, US-led fleet. Nor does this take into account the on-going technical problems of integrating ever-more complex weapons and electronic systems into traditional platforms, leading to serious technical failures and  expensive repair and maintenance work. 

What was striking over the last decade of steep austerity cuts to public services, such as the thirty percent reduction in local authority funding,  was how the arms procurement budget remained stable and protected. The MoD’s budget is set to increase in real terms and now stands at £42 billion a year. But, even with this increase, the funding crisis is set to continue given major programmes like follow-on Trident and the F35, costing £40 billion and £30 billion respectively. Already there are siren calls that the MoD will require further increases over the next decade to maintain this ersatz imperialism, with some militarists proposing an arms budget of £60-70 billion a year.

The UK’s MIC is dominated by BAE Systems with an effective monopoly over nuclear and conventional submarine construction, surface vessels and fighter aircraft. Other significant companies include Rolls Royce, manufacturing engines for fighter aircraft, ships and submarines, and Babcock Engineering for maintenance and servicing. BAE Systems is by far the largest, a major global arms corporations generating a substantial part of its revenue from the United States, where it owns a range of arms manufacturing sites, as well as multi-billion pound arms sales to Saudi Arabia and to othe authoritarian governments in the Middle East. Ninety-five percent of its revenue is through military production, and its corporate influence over government policy is pervasive. 

BAE assiduously promotes itself as a ‘national champion’ with advanced technologies and a skilled  maufacturing workforce. Disarmament and cuts to military expenditure are represented by the company as an unmitigated economic disaster that would lead to mass unemployment and the loss of high-technology, manufacturing capacity. Indeed, the presence of the GMIC has become such a seemingly permanent feature of advanced, industrial economies that it is almost impossible to imagine it being dismantled, and certainly not without severe disruption. 

Yet those same economies experienced a massive conversion programme at the end of the Second World War, and on a much larger scale than anything required now. The UK alone demobilised two million armed forces personnel and transferred one-and-a-half million workers from military to civil production as companies returned to civil manufacturing.  Instead of the much-feared recession, a combination of savings accrued through the war spent on consumer goods, and an active government programme through nationalisation and public investment, created the conditions for what was effectively, full employment. 

By comparison, the total number of UK jobs directly generated now by MoD contracting is estimated at 85,000, with another 55,000 through arms exports. Partly, this reflects a sustained restructuring and consolidation of manufacturing capacity with steep job losses in the arms sector from over 300,000 in the mid 1980s. These have been carried out, in the main, by BAE itself, closing a number of manufacturing sites and reducing employment at its remaining facilities. 

Assuming an initial reduction of 50% in arms procurement, including the cancellation of Trident and the F35, as well as a ban on arms exports, around 15,000 jobs would be directly cut  each year, over a five year period, with the main impact in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, around Preston in Lancarshire, Derby in the Midlands, and Plymouth in the South West.  Crucially, the government,  as at the end of the Second World War, can implement an arms conversion policy, investing in renewable energy production and energy efficiency programmes that more than compensate for job losses in the arms sector. 

Public investment would locate new manufacturing capacity in regions that had seen the worst effects of de-industrialisation, while workers previously employed in the arms sector would be offered retraining for new, post-carbon industries. Disarmament, therefore, represents not only an economic opportunity but an economic necessity, if the UK is to achieve the target of zero-carbon emissions. A priority would be to rapidly expand off-shore renewable capacity, particularly combined wind and wave power arrays, and to re-orient public R&D from military to civil priorities, including battery-storage technologies to deal with fluctuations in energy production, and new, local energy distribution networks.

However, the traditional model of site-based arms conversion that has been carried on from the Second World War no longer applies. While many companies simply went back to their pre-war, civil manufacturing in the 1940s, the emergence over the last seventy years of giant arms corporations, has created what are, effectively, industrial extensions of defence ministries with specialist industrial and technological characteristics for the integration of complex weapons and communications systems on large military platforms.This has no equivalence in the civil sector and makes a traditional conversion model both problematic and expensive in terms of plant restructuring. 

But, as envisaged in the Lucas Shop Stewards Alternative Plan and other conversion initiatives,  there are a whole host of civil technologies that could benefit from a transfer of resources to civil manufacturing, including energy, public transport, and medical equipment. Here, many of those arguments resonate with recent, left-wing, policy initiatives on bringing major utilities back into public ownership and on developing an expanded renewable energy programme, either through nationalisation or through other forms of local and worker-controlled industries. The key issue is not to attempt the provision of equivalent work within arms corporations but to utilise a range of skills for these new publicly-owned industries and to enhance the power of working people to organise production for socially-useful purposes.

At the international level, the threat from climate change has stimulated the labour movement and environmental groups to campaign for exactly that sort of radical restructuring of energy production. The Just Transition/Green New Deal agenda has put forward a compelling case that all fossil fuels should be kept in the ground if we are to avoid irreversible climate change. Recognising that a post-carbon economy would involve major job losses across the extraction and processing industries, it calls for a partnership approach between governments and industry in order to generate new manufacturing capacity in renewables and to guarantee employment for redundant carbon-economy workers. 

There are various proposals for funding this including increased public borrowing, carbon taxes, higher taxation on the rich and government bonds. As yet, though, there is still no full appreciation of the revolutionary scale of economic restructuring required, nor how arms conversion and public ownership are absolutely vital if the power of both the giant arms and energy corporations is to be ended and a post-carbon economy achieved. At least 3% of global GDP has to be invested in renewables and energy efficiency programmes annually over the next twenty years if we are to achieve the Just Transition. That level requires virtually the complete transfer of public expenditure from armaments to the civil economy.

The GMIC  will respond to any serious threat of conversion by arguing that it is already diversifying into the civil sector, which, in its terms, simply means the acquisition of civil industries while maintaining arms production and the cycle of arms procurement. Similarly, the major energy corporations will cite their investment in renewables as a sign of changing corporate strategies, while at the same time, planning for long-term investment in fossil-fuel extraction on the basis of increased overall energy demand in the global economy.

It is absolutely vital to recognise the scale of the challenge that international, working-class security represents to this system. The whole structure of the GMIC and of the giant energy corporations has to be dismantled. In its place, based on explicit political and economic goals of eliminating carbon emissions and of global disarmament by 2030, would be a new, post-carbon industrial base owned and controlled by working people.

Arms conversion, therefore, is the necessary interface between international, working-class security and a working-class economy that liberates public resources wasted on armaments. Indeed, it will be impossible to achieve any of the major goals of a radical, working-class economic agenda without disarmament and arms conversion as the bedrock of that sustained, global  public investment programme.

The United Nations is not fit for purpose and has failed in its primary objective, to achieve global disarmament. Perversely, the UN is now a creature of the major powers and acts as a smokescreen for militarism under the guise of arms control. The UN’s moral bankruptcy is best symbolised by its continued endorsement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signed as long ago as 1968 with the intention, not simply to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, but to create the conditions for  their elimination. 

Instead, the NPT has consolidated the nuclear dominance of the United States and Russia, responsible for over 90% of all deployed nuclear missiles in the world. A vast modernisation programme is underway, ranging from research laboratories developing a new generation of warheads, to ballistic missiles and submarines that will be operational into the late 2020s. At the same time, the United States has used a combination of sanctions and military threats against smaller countries deploying or having the capability to deploy nuclear weapons. It can, therefore, claim  justification under international treaty obligations, not only to modernise its own, vast nuclear weapons infrastructure, which it has not intention of dismantling, but to threaten the obliteration of smaller countries it consider to be enemies for having a potential, nuclear-weapons capability 

UN militarism is also institutionalised through the preferential status of the major powers as permament members of the Security Council. The USA is the leading arms exporter, followed by Russia, China, the UK and France, with the main recipients being various authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia. Despite widespread international condemnation of its bombing campaign in the Yemen, no effective UN arms sales embargo can be achieved. On the contrary,  as well as increased arms sales, the major powers have extended their technical support  to authoritarian states, in order to maintain good relations and the prospects for future sales. 

All of this reflects the overarching power of the GMIC, institutionalising militarism through the United Nations, propping up authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records, and fuelling regional arms races that generate immense profits, while, all the time,  undermining any potential for peace and long-term security.

But none of this is inevitable. There is a clear precedent for a contemporary disarmament framework, demonstrating how progress can be made quickly and decisively given the political will. During the 1980s, the Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev put forward a series of peace initiatives that were intended as a radical break with the failed model of arms control. Crucially, Gorbachev viewed disarmament as a process that required both unilateral initatives and mulitlateral agreements to create the necessary momentum. 

Firstly, he withdrew Russian troops from other Warsaw Pact countries in East Europe and agreed a treaty with the United States on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Weapons Forces (INF) in 1987, that required  a much larger reduction of land-based missiles by the Soviet Union. These were intended as confidence-building measures for the main goals of comprehensive nuclear disarmament and the dismantling of the military blocs, both the Warsaw Pact and Nato, by the end of the century.

Gorbacheve represented a new generation of Soviet leaders at what could have been a crucial historical juncture. Their view was that the Cold-War arms race had become a grotesque waste of resources when investment was desperately needed for domestic economic renewal around civil manufacturing and to support international development. But what became known as the common security agenda was never seriously addressed by Western leaders. Instead, the United States used the collapse of the Soviet Union to consolidate its clear military supremacy, expanding Nato membership to countries directly bordering onto Russia itself. 

The continued military confrontation in Europe has been used by Putin as legitimation for reconstructing Russia’s arms industries and is a major factor in the dynamics of the GMIC. Nevertheless, the Gorbachev peace initiatives of the 1980s and early 1990s serve as a significant reminder that a comprehensive disarmament agenda, linked to peaceful economic reconstruction, is achieveable given the political will and vision.

The United Nations should be dismantled and with it the corrupting influence of arms control regimes that simply extend the power of the GMIC. Instead, there would be a working-class security architecture with clear goals for comprehensive disarmament and arms conversion by 2030. As a dynamic process, it would avoid the byzantine complexities of treaty negotiations and generate both direct and indirect initiatives. The closure of an overseas base and the removal of the occupying forces of a major power can lead directly to the removal of  conventional forces from an adjacent border, or, indirectly, to the cancellation of a major weapons contract.

No formal agreements or treaty obligations are necessary when disarmament is a sustained process of cuts to military expenditure and a growing programme of arms conversion. The fundamental objective of a working-class security framework will be to construct a post-carbon economy with major industries under public ownership, providing skilled employment and improved quality of life for all working-class communities. The UK can immediately cancel its major nuclear and conventional programmes and close all US air-force and electronic spy bases, including Lakenheath and Menwith Hill, as the first stage in the dismantlement of Nato and a European-wide, arms conversion programme.

The stakes could not be higher. When a category six hurricane slams into a major, industrial conurbation, or a massive storm surge overwhelms the flood defences of a coastal city, working-class communities will be the ones worst affected. Apart from the minimum, emergency state support to re-establish basic provision, they will be left to fend for themselves by governments claiming that they simply  don’t have the resources for further assistance.  These will be the same governments spending billions  to preserve the vested interests of the GMIC under the pretence of national security.

The real, existential crisis facing working people is irreversible climate change. As long ago as the 1970s, environmental scientists were warning about the potential impact of increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Their main concern was how higher temperatures could lead to the melting of the ice caps and to greater threats of flooding and other extreme weather events.  Those warnings proved prescient but underestimated both the speed and scale of change.

Perhaps only in the last five years have we begun to appreciate the truly terrifying consequences. Evidence from a variety of sources demonstrates how climate change, far from being under control, is accelerating, as man-made emissions from the use of fossil fuels combine with natural feedback mechanisms to release further carbon into the atmosphere. Within the lifetime of that 1970s generation we could witness irreversible climate change and the complete breakdown of major ecological systems. Capitalism’s insatiable appetite for non-renewable resources will have destroyed the planet’s capacity to sustain life and any semblance of human civilization.

Yet governments continue to pour vast public resources into the black hole of the GMIC, the very same resources that are vital to create a post-carbon economy owned and controlled by working people. According to the GMIC, while disarmament is desirable, competition between the major powers is inevitable and, with it, the perpetuation of a global arms race. Conveniently, the protection of national security is synonymous with guaranteed  profits for giant arms corporations.

The greatest irony is that conflict between the major capitalist powers centres on access to oil and other non-renewable resources, the use of which is destroying the planet and need to be kept in the ground. The GMIC is also a vast consumer of those resources in its own right, and uses its vulnerability to any disruptions in access as an issue of national security. So, there is an ever-present threat of global war to feed a diabolical, military machine that, if it doesn’t blow us all to kingdom come, will finish us in the mire of ecological destruction.

Working-class internationalism represents the one fundamental challenge because it exposes the class interests at the heart of militarism and contrasts the stranglehold the GMIC has on public resources for warfare with a radically different concept of security that prioritises the needs of working-class communities everywhere in the world.

The construction of a new economy based on ecological balance and social justice will be the greatest transformation in the history of industrial society. It requires both the dismantling of the GMIC and a massive and sustained programme of public investment in the civil infrastructures of renewable energy, energy efficiency, housing, transport and agriculture. Nothing on this scale has been achiveved before, except perhaps in reverse, during World War Two, when the global, industrial capacity was converted from civil to military production. But even this comparison fails to capture the scale of the challenge facing us. The conversion from a military to a post-carbon economy will take higher levels of investment and needs to be sustained over decades.

Working-class communities have never faced a greater internal enemy than the GMIC. It combines the influence of militarism as a cultural norm infecting every level of society, with the coercive power of the surveillance state. The GMIC will represent any working-class security programme as a grave threat to national security. Emergency powers will be invoked, including mass arrests and detentions in what will, effectively, constitute a coup d’etat. When a international, working-class mandate is threatened in this way, it will not be possible to rely on the normal channels of political representation. Only mass action and civil resistance can secure victory, drawing on the traditions of demonstrations, occupations, and strikes, up to and including a general strike.

The obvious rejoinder is that the institutional framework for mass action no longer exists because of the decline in trade-union membership and the fragmentation of left and centre-left political parties. But there has also been a resurgence of radical, working-class politics around the world following the fincancial crash and recession of 2007/08. The contrast could not be starker between ordinary working-class people, facing austerity cuts to public services and stagnant wages, against the massive state intervention to save financial institutions from collapse and to protect the assets of the rich elites.  As the gap between working people and the elites becomes a gaping chasm, millions of working people increasingly frame politics in terms of class interests and class struggle.

The support for left, political parties and anti-austerity agendas is clear, as in the UK under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, Bernie Sanders challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination in the United States, and Jean-Luc Melenchon with France Insoumise. A new generation of politicians around the world is confident in describing itself as democratic socialist and in advocating policies like the Green New Deal. But there is a real danger that any radical agenda will be dissipated into a series of compromises that leave the institutional power of capitalist elites intact.

The challenge is to transform what could best be described as the Great Discontent of working people, experienced over the last ten years, into an international, working-class movement determined to overthrow a capitalist system that is leading us to ecological catastrophe and global war. Far from being a utopian pipe-dream, a radical, left agenda prioritising disarmament and arms conversion is a necessary and urgent political imperative. 

Just as it would have been totally unacceptable during the Second World War, to have continued with the production of private luxury cars, when those resources were needed for the war effort, it will be totally unacceptable now, to continue with armaments production when manufacturing capacity is needed for working-class security in the face of the existential threat from irreversible climate change. And just as any individual capitalist who attempted to continue the production of luxury goods during the Second World War would have faced imprisonment, such penalties must be available against the GMIC. 

Any political, military and industrial elites that continued to threaten the use of weapons of mass destruction and violated the mandate of the international, working-class community are, by definition, war criminals, and should be brought to justice under an International Workers Tribunal.

There will be difficult issues around the speed, scale and implementation of disarmament and arms conversion programmes such as the closure of large arms production facilities, nuclear decommisioning and environmental clean-ups. But the demoblising of armed forces personnel and the redeployment of arms workers at the end of the Second World War, as well as the  base closures and re-use programmes in Europe at the end of the Cold War, demonstrate that none of these represent insurmountable obstacles.

Humanitarian crises caused by environmental disasters are, unfortunately, inevitable. Working-class communities may need protection from the threat of armed attack and support must be available, including protection by military personnel. This may take the form of an armed, International Brigade made up of working-class volunteers able to respond quickly. But the vast bulk of humanitarian funding will be for civil reconstruction around the provision for working-class communities as they recover. Any production for military equipment will be a very small proportion of overall manufacturing capacity, distributed across the global economy and open to public inspection both directly and through on-line, technical documentation. 

Intense debates are inevitable  over what constitutes a radical, left agenda once the GMIC has been dismantled. And quite rightly too. No one has a magic formula or blueprint for the most fundamental reconstruction of the economy ever carried out in human history. At present there are three main models: continued growth,  steady-state and de-growth. Under a growth model, public investment in  renewable energy and energy-efficiency programmes replaces carbon-based energy sources to match future projections for increased consumption. The steady-state economy emphasises the need to balance consumption with the carrying capacity of the planet’s finite, material resources; while a de-growth model looks to a post-industrial future through extensive re-wilding and ecological restoration, where production is localised and the economy is self-sustaining around the basic material needs of working-class communities.

This barely touches the range of debate on the left about our economic futue, nor does it extend into the vital issues around workers control and the impact of automation and robotics. The distribution of necessary work, reductions in the working week, and the enhancing of technical skills in areas where workers want to maintain control over the production process, all open up a set of issues as to free time and autonomous space for cultural, social and industrial activities.

A full and rigorous debate is needed in what must be a richly engaging and constructive exercise in direct democracy, where public investment decisions are made by working-people and where workers control and ownership are prioritised. But within that debate it must also be possible to find a consensus on how to deal with the present emergency, by leaving fossil fuels in the ground and prioritising working-class security through investment in renewables, energy efficiency technologies, public housing, and public transport, all of which directly enhance the quality of life for working people.

It was a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, who at the height of cold-war paranoia in 1953 made his famous ‘Cross of Iron’ speech, condemning the threat of war between the United States and the USSR and the burden of military expenditure on both countries:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched and every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone, it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern, heavy bomber is a modern brick school in 30 cities. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people…This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

It’s time to dismantle the iron cross of war and build a working-class peace.

July 2019