Movement Must Raise Awareness Of The "Shell Game" Arms Negotiations

By Bob Fink | 1985-04-01 12:00:00

WHAT ARE WE TO EXPECT in the current arms control talks? Will they lead to disarmament? The general sociological rule in these matters is that such talks, like the stock market, are not the thing that primarily shapes reality, but are a reflection of the reality.

History may be affected by such talks, but history is made as a result of the pressures, conflicts and movements of masses of people, who are themselves motivated by social and economic realities.

So, if these talks between the US and the USSR succeed, it will only be due to continuing mass pressures against the leaders of the nations involved. If mass pressures fail to materialize, the true leanings of heads of government, especially in the US, will be toward the status quo.

Presidential candidate Adlai Stephenson noted in the 1950s that, for the USSR, the arms race is an economic blight which prevents quotas (for consumer goods) and income from being raised, and that there is always a discontented rumbling in the population -- often exploding in the way we've seen in Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia and within the USSR. This pressure moves the USSR to seek release from the crushing burden of the arms race. Although not "legitimized" by free speech and press, the pressure remains.

On the other hand, fear of 'imperialism' and of the West has been used as the pillar to maintain the power of the bureaucracy, which always claims that democracy is a 'luxury' not affordable in times of 'siege' and while there is a need for 'military preparedness' and 'unity.' If disarmament proceeded quickly, it would remove the bureaucracy's main excuse for keeping its stranglehold over the Soviet and Eastern European peoples. Its very rule would be questioned.

The US and NATO know this, and realize that if this bureaucratic mold was ever stripped away, a far more democratic and appealing but nevertheless socialist phenomenon would emerge in its place (like Solidarinosc with its workers' rule and control of the workplace). This would be less easy for the West to oppose than the current dictatorships. Capitalism's stability would therefore be less secure in that eventuality.

Stephenson also noted that, unlike the Soviets, the Western world's corporations have great profits to earn by continuing the arms race with its no risk investment, guaranteed obsolescence and government renewals of hefty subsidies and contracts.

The only counter-pressure on the NATO regimes has been the world-wide peace movement, and this has caused some schizoid reactions even among "hawks." The US Republican Party has split, as we can see from Barry Goldwater's stated opposition to Star Wars research. Goldwater, once a leading hawk, says he also opposes the MX, and that we have "enough" weapons. Our recent Canadian federal election witnessed many NATO supporters becoming pious about peace--and even a 'freeze' -- on 'paper,' but not to include cruise tests.

Although such empty advocacy of peace is a shell game, the fact that governments are playing the game at all comes from the pressure of the worldwide peace movement. But the fact that it is a shell game indicates that the pressure is not enough. NATO nations (including the US) still refuse to pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons, as the Soviets have pledged. While talking peace at Geneva, the US administration is now arming their new action-oriented anti-terrorist group with 'small' nuclear weapons, and Reagan continues his commitment to space weapons.

While publicly condemning terrorism, the 'investigation' by Reagan into the CIA handbook which advocates assassination -- under the term 'neutralization' -- has resulted in the renewal of the handbook, except for one paragraph about hiring known criminals for anti-terrorist jobs.

As long as the international peace movement continues to separate anti nuclear issues and anti-intervention issues, the public's awareness on a mass scale of the current shell game will be dimmed, and false hopes will be substituted for mass protest and unity in

Economic Conversion Movement Needs Inclusion of Justice Issues


Economic Conversion: Revitalizing America's Economy By Suzanne Gordon and David McFadden, eds., Harper and Row, 1984. 256 pages, paperback, $17.50.

AT FIRST GLANCE, President Reagan's plan for restoring America's economy has worked. He has produced jobs and lowered inflation and interest rates by re-arming America. These results seem to support the arguments that government intervention in the military sector, that a military Keynesianism, is critical to the renewed strength of the US economy.

There is, however, a growing movement, with its own body of literature, that argues to the contrary--that military spending is precisely the main cause of the depletion of American industry and the loss of industrial competence.

Economic Conversion: Revitalizing America's Economy, edited by Suzanne Gordon and Dave McFadden, is the most recent contribution to the growing literature which details the negative impact of military spending on a national economy.

The book's primary contribution is the challenge it presents to the Reaganomics' argument that military spending produces jobs and stimulates a nation's economy. Robert DeGrasse and Seymour Melman outline how increases in military spending have paralleled a depletion of civilian industry and infrastructure. In the steel industry, for example, the US, which formerly dominated the world market, now imports 15 to 20 percent of its requirements from the highly efficient steelmakers in Japan and Western Europe. Foreign cars, mostly Japanese, comprise 27% of automobiles driven in the US. The military side of the economy may be doing well because of government support, but the civilian sectors are no longer able to fulfill their own nation's needs. The authors of the book agree that "by 1980, it is clear, the US industrial economy had suffered a debacle."

The struggle against militarism and military production is a labour concern. A number of chapters highlight how it is in labour's self-interest, because of its interest in preserving jobs, to struggle against a militarized economy. Examples are given of particular attempts to convert specific industries as models for labour and peace activists wishing to do likewise in their own locale. The traditional fears that conversion will jeopardize workers' immediate livelihood are dealt with through chapters providing insights into how concrete "nuts and bolts" conversion plans involving the workers, community and government may take place.

Two chapters on the conversion activities in England and in Western Europe are particularly exciting because they offer the most tangible evidence that conversion is an achievable goal. The attempts to convert Lucas Aerospace has drawn international attention. Within Great Britain, the Lucas struggle has challenged the labour movement and the Labour Party to work on conversion strategies and con version legislation, the peace movement to address the issue of jobs, and various levels of government to initiate regional conversion councils that support plant by-plant conversion efforts. The efforts in Europe, most notably in Great Britain, serve as inspiration around the world.

Despite its strengths, however, the book does not deal with a number of issues and concerns that need to be addressed before a fuller understanding of the basis of militarism and a viable conversion strategy can be developed. For example, none of the chapters deal with the global causes of the present level of militarization in the world. While some chapters imply some kind of global analysis, what is explicitly examined most seriously is the internal US sources of the military-industrial complex. Chapter 11 on "Can Business Become a Participant" could have dealt with the transnational corporations, the new international division of labour, the rise of the national security state, oppression in the Third World and Pentagon interventionism. The militarization of the US is not solely the result of domestic politics; it is also meant to freeze a particular global economic order.

Does the economic conversion movement align itself with the anti-intervention movement? The chapter on business suggests that it is in business' self-interest to promote conversion, and the following chapter on coalition building notes that "somewhere between 1/ 3 and 1/ 2 of the Fortune 500 corporations are sponsoring some kind of worker participation scheme." However, if economic conversion is merely an attempt to achieve, or re-achieve, world dominance through industrial re-organization rather than through the current military means, then there is cause to be fearful of The movement's success.

From a Canadian perspective, economic conversion looks different. While economic conversion for Americans may mean revitalizing their economy so that they again can be at the "top," our experience of a vitalized American economy has been that it penetrates our economy more intensely, causing uneven and incomplete industrialization, increased regional disparity and added unemployment and inflation. The main stream of the economic conversion movement needs to be challenged to be more inclusive of global justice issues in its conversion efforts.

The linkages between different movements addressed by economic conversion proponents in the book are primarily between the peace and labour movement, and to a lesser extent include the environmental movement. In his chapter arguing for building broader coalitions, it is interesting that Geiser does not encourage networking with the women's and black communities, even though feminist and anti-racist analyses can contribute to a broader justice vision for conversion proponents. Marion Anderson, with her studies on black and women's employment in the dcfence industries, has noted how military spending has particular negative effects on these constituencies; this could be the start for greater analytical work. The conversion movement must not be primarily a white and male issue.

In summary, Economic Conversion: Revitalizing America's Economy provides what I will call a partial, medium-range strategy for linking the peace and labour movements against militarism. That is, in the medium-range the book provides grounds for an alliance between peace and labour and possibly with those nationalist sectors of business that oppose the internationalization of capital. In the present milieu of Reaganomics and Pentagon Power, this is a radical step in itself.

Peace Magazine April 1985

Peace Magazine April 1985, page 9. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Bob Fink here

Peace Magazine homepage