he U.S. war machine and capitalist ‘democracy’

May 29, 2008

The military-industrial complex creates a revolving door where retired Pentagon officers get jobs with arms contractors. Here, a Marine Corps general promotes Lockheed Martin’s weaponry. Photo: Rodger Mallison

The threat posed to a formal, functioning democracy by militarism, or what has been called the “military-industrial complex,” is recognized not just by socialists, but by liberals and even some militarists as well.

In order to establish some credibility in anti-war circles, liberals frequently quote militarists about the danger of militarism. Most popular is the famous passage from President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Farewell Address to the Nation,” delivered two days before he left office in 1961. Eisenhower was the commanding general for U.S. forces during World War II.

“The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal Government.” In a continuing passage from the address, quoted endlessly by liberal critics of the war machine, Eisenhower warned, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence … by the Military Industrial Complex.”

Much less quoted by liberals is the part of Eisenhower’s speech where he declares that the development of the military-industrial complex was an “imperative need” for the United States in its international battle against socialism—what Eisenhower described in the same speech as a “hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method.”

What was an emerging trend in the late 1950s is widely recognized today as a dominant reality: institutionalized militarism.

Seven hundred U.S. military bases are located in 130 countries. The U.S. military budget is larger than the combined military budgets of the next 20 countries. In 1970, the Pentagon employed 22,000 companies as “prime contractors.” Today, the number is over 47,000, according to Nick Turse’s 2008 book, “The Complex.” The number of companies receiving sub-contracts from the prime contractors is over 100,000, Turse states.

In Congress, whatever military spending appropriations the Pentagon requests are always approved. The votes are either unanimous or near-unanimous.

The process of militarizing the globe is the single most expensive exploit in all of human history. It has destroyed countries, killed tens of millions of innocent people and enriched a tiny group of capitalists in the United States and other imperialist countries. All of this is championed by U.S. leaders as “spreading democracy.”

In the United States, the war business—the Pentagon and its associated big military corporations—is a controlling feature of society. The military-industrial complex is rooted deeply into the country’s economic foundation. Contemporary U.S. militarism, or the permanent military-industrial complex, took shape at the beginning of World War II. First developed as a response to the immediate needs of the looming war, it became a stable and permanent feature of the economic and political system in the 1940s and 1950s, whether the country was at war or “at peace.”

Military spending: Never say no

Every year the U.S. government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on military pursuits while diverting far less to social programs that benefit working-class people. In 2008 alone, the government allocated $517.9 billion for the Department of Defense. The actual amount spent is far higher.

Congress routinely approves “supplemental” or “emergency” funding measures that total hundreds of billions of dollars more for military equipment and the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, funding for these two occupations in Fiscal Year 2009 alone is expected to surpass $170 billion dollars, bringing the total spent to just short of $1 trillion.

In the months leading up to the 2008 elections, House Democratic leaders put together the largest Iraq war spending bill yet, a measure that they claim will fund the war through the end of the Bush presidency and for nearly six months into the next president’s term.

The annual budget requests by the Department of Defense do not include many costs inherent to waging imperialist war. Costs such as veterans care, military training and long-term housing for soldiers are omitted altogether. The budget refrains from funding secret operations carried out on foreign soil, or the development of new nuclear weapons and technology.

How do the additional military costs get funded?

Some are tucked into the budgets of different governmental departments. For example, the development and maintenance of nuclear weapons falls under the Department of Energy’s budget. This department maintains the tens of thousands of aging nuclear warheads while developing new, more sophisticated weapons.

One would think that the Department of Energy would be tasked with finding more sources of renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions to better sustain life. The department may give lip service to these goals—in press releases and on public web sites—but its main purpose is maintaining the military supremacy of U.S. imperialism.

Guaranteed profit

Trillions are spent to fund the U.S. war machine. Most of this money goes to privately owned corporations to produce goods and services that do not compete with other commodities seeking buyers in the capitalist “free market.” Profits are the driving motive of capitalism. Enriching the few and stealing from the many is required. So, every warplane, tank and cruise missile ordered by the government is ultimately paid for by U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Military commodities do not circulate as normal commodities, like food or clothing. For example, weapons will not be used for anything until it is time to destroy and be destroyed in a military conflict. They are not produced—and overproduced—in the same way as the rest of the capitalist economy. There is no real capitalist competition; the risk has been removed. The Pentagon guarantees that all costs will be recovered. Often, corporate profits are contractually based on a fixed percentage of the costs of production.

On the small scale, capitalists compete in the civilian goods and services market by constantly trying to lower costs in order to beat out the competition. On the bigger scale, corporate monopolies divide up whole markets, where prices are essentially fixed, in order to compete with other industrial conglomerates. However, lowering costs—especially labor costs—is seen by all capitalists as fundamental to the quest for increased profits.

On the other hand, the military-industrial complex has an interest in increasing the selling price while still holding down costs of production. That way, this sector of capitalists is guaranteed profit on the order of 6 to 8 percent of the cost of production.

Militarism and ideology

The political domination of Congress by the Pentagon exemplifies the pivotal role of militarism in the modern U.S. economy. But the economic role of militarism is just one of many components in the system that has been built up and safeguards the fortunes of the U.S. capitalist class.

The capitalist war machine permeates the social fabric of the United States, affecting the consciousness of millions of people. Institutions like public schools and service programs created by the government, as well as private cultural institutions, are shaped by ruling-class ideas.

Education is sacrificed at the altar of capitalist military expansion. Universities often must develop weapons or biological technology in order to receive funding from the U.S. government.

State university systems receive millions of dollars each year from the Pentagon. At the University of California Santa Cruz, for example, the school of engineering gets funding from the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency to increase military communications capabilities.

These schools not only aid the military industry through research, they also help recruit engineers, physicists and chemists to work at nuclear weapons and other laboratories. The University of California manages both the Livermore and Los Alamos nuclear laboratories under a contract with the Department of Energy that brings millions to the school system.

Ending militarism

Militarism cannot be reformed. It is intertwined with U.S. capitalism. Acting as a subsidy for corporations and as a mechanism for employment, both for those in uniform as well as those employed in dependent corporations, militarism is indispensable for the maintenance of a global empire of U.S. business and banking interests.

The military-industrial complex that Eisenhower described in his farewell address as an “imperative need” to combat the Soviet Union and communism is only getting bigger in 2008—even though the Soviet Union and most of the socialist camp governments no longer exist. The military-industrial complex no longer consists only of the Pentagon and industry; it now includes the major media corporations and universities.

Militarism has proved itself to be more than an emergency measure to defend capitalism from socialism. It has morphed into a pillar of the current social order. Eliminating the scourge of militarism will only happen as part of a revolutionary overturn in the United States.

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