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New International, September–October 1934


John Hart

Arms and Capitalism

From New International, Vol. I No. 3, September–October 1934, pp. 72–73.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE recent and complete fiasco of the Geneva Disarmament Conference, in addition to the advent of Fascism in Germany, has made two things clear: 1. that the capitalist class is giving up the pretense that its contradictions can be solved otherwise than by war; 2. that the Soviet Union, whose strongest weapon against imperialist aggression is a militant working class foreign policy, has given up such a policy and is definitely trailing in the wake of bourgeois diplomacy.

The defection of the Soviet Union, while lending a certain weight to middle class pacifism through Litvinov’s “peace” pronouncements, has greatly weakened the organized working class struggle against war. On the other hand, the unprecedented cynicism with which the world press commented on the disarmament conference has greatly encouraged chauvinist agitators. The stage is set for militarists and armament manufacturers in all countries to carry on their activities more feverishly and more impudently than ever.

Liberals write and speak of the armament industry [1] as though it were a cancer on the body civilized; something that must be cut out, or at least be put under control. As usual they commit the error of identifying civilization with bourgeois rule. The development of this industry is part and parcel of the mechanical impetus afforded by early capitalism. Such development was rendered practical and necessary by the appearance on the field of the national armies following the French Revolution. But it is the growth of imperialism and the class struggle that have given armaments the position of decisive strategical importance which they hold today. Armament manufacturers are typical business men and invaluable members of their class, getting their profits how and where they can. There can be no question of moral distinction between the Rockefeller interests for whom Bolivian soldiers are being slaughtered, and the Du Pont, Colt and Curtiss-Wright Companies that advertize their machine guns and bombers to the Bolivian Government.

Knowledge of the activities of the arms manufacturers and of their connections is essential for a practical and militant struggle against war and Fascism.

Fascism has given the armament interests a new lease in life. The extreme nationalism of Fascist theory serves only to emphasize the international character of capitalism. Fascism needs guns. Let us see in what manner Germany is being rearmed.

The Skoda works in Czechoslovakia were bought by Schneider, the French arms magnate, after the war. Since then Skoda has been producing arms for the Little Entente and has been exporting also to more distant countries, notably Japan. But the Skoda Co. has also on its board of directors two Germans, von Arthaber and von Duschnitz, who figure prominently among the contributors to Nazi party funds.

Krupp is legally forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles to manufacture arms on German soil. After the war, however, Krupp brought a large part of his equipment to Holland, where, in conjunction with the Rheinmetall group, he controls a number of arms depots and factories under both French and Dutch names. Krupp controls also the Bofors Ordnance and Drydock Co. in Sweden. The Rheinmetall group owns the S.A. d’Armes de Guerre at Soleur in Switzerland, which is one of the most technically advanced arms factories in the world. This factory, with its 600-rounds-a-minute machine gun, has been selling not only to Germany, but to Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, and Italy as well. Another Ruhr group, controlled by Rochling, has factories in the Saar, which have been selling to both France and Germany. All of these groups have contributed heavily to Nazi party funds.

Thyssen, the head of the German steel trust, contributed three million marks to the Nazi presidential campaign of 1932. Through Hitler he has acquired great political power. Thyssen is also reputed to favor cooperation between the German and French steel interests. Hugenberg, an old co-director of Krupp, co-director also of Thyssen, has been the most open advocate of German expansion in the East.

These firms, by means of holding companies’ and interlocking directorates, are so constituted that they stand to gain in any imperialist war. But it is not difficult to see where the main urge for an anti-Soviet Franco-German alliance originates.

There are as well many internal sources by means of which Hitler is rearming Germany. It is well known that Germany has a most efficient commercial air fleet which can be transformed into a military one at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, the most famous airplane manufacturing firm, Dornier, is building bombing planes forbidden by the Peace Treaty, and is subsidized by the government. The I.G. Dye Trust is the most important firm to which the care of Germany’s supply of poison gases is entrusted.

The French press is corrupt even according to American standards. Schneider is the most important member of the French steel trust, the Comité des Forges. The Comité des Forges owns both Le Temps and Le Journal des Debats. Le Journal, which in the past has received direct contributions from agents of armament manufacturers, is also the paper which has been printing the most sensational exposures of German rearmament. Excellent weapons for chauvinist propaganda, with a warning that France must keep in trim! Schneider is helping to arm Japan, is arming the Little Entente, is helping to arm even Germany. But foremost, Schneider is arming France. He controls 128 French companies that manufacture all kinds of arms, from tanks to poison gas. He leads two important financial concerns, the Banque de I’Union Parisienne and the Union Européenne Industrielle et Financière. The main job of these banks is to make loans to governments which will enable them to purchase arms from him. Through the Comité des Forges, at the head of which sits France’s Morgan, François de Wendel, Schneider has an enormous and not very subtle influence in all high governing circles.

But should anyone decide at this point that to assassinate Schneider would be to save the world, he should not forget that steel magnates control also the manufacture of locomotives, steel rails, etc., and that the manufacture of arms is a comparatively small percentage of the national industry in any country.

Let us look at the United States. The Bethlehem Steel Corporation, which made an average yearly profit of 49 million dollars out of the war, has a special and inaccessible plant where armor plate, cannons, projectiles of every description are manufactured. Bethlehem Steel and the Morgan-controlled US Steel, which made a yearly war profit of 239 millions, are probably the greatest manufacturers of peace-time steel products. They get however the lion’s share of the government armament contracts, and the government is spending 200 millions yearly on new armaments. Their methods of salesmanship and politics are well illustrated by the notorious William B. Shearer affair in 1929.

Schwab of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation is one of the founders of the Big Navy League; Schwab and Morgan both sponsored the National Defense Week most enthusiastically. Secretary of the Navy Swanson is a Virginia gentleman in whose state are located the Newport News shipyards where some of the navy’s largest battleships are being built, notably the aircraft carriers Ranger and Yorktown. This company has also obtained the largest share of the 238 millions which the PWA assigned to the navy. And so on.

Volumes of documented evidence could be published, showing the connections between armament manufacturers and the government, between armament manufacturers and patriotic societies of every description. Charles Beard has published The Navy: Defense or Portent, in which he denounces the Big Navy League and its lobbying practises. Jonathan Mitchell in the New Republic for May 9 has exposed further navy scandals while strongly supporting the Nye-Vandenberg resolution for the nationalization of armament manufacture. But these gentlemen seem to overlook, or if they do not overlook, strongly support, the country’s most effective and important military preparations, namely the undisputably military character of the CCC camps, and the Military Procurement Division of the present administration. The Military Procurement Division is an extension of the National Defense Act of 1920, designed principally to consolidate the ties between business and government in time of war. It is estimated that already 12,000 factories have been “enlisted”.

The potential as well as the actual military value of the whole N.R.A. machinery is enormous, and the most “liberal” and “enlightened” members of the administration are highly conscious of this fact. It is no secret that Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Tugwell derived his inspiration of capitalist planning from Barnard Baruch’s war machinery of 1917–18.

From the point of view of the capitalist state, the NRA’s strikebreaking machinery, which is being perfected daily, invaluable in times of peace, is quintessential in times of war.

The present administration is leaving nothing to chance. Codes for the chemical industries have been smoothly and successfully negotiated by a former chief of ordnance of the Army, Major General C.C. Williams. This government is without a doubt the most efficiently militaristic one since 1918.

President Roosevelt himself has won his laurels from the steel magnates. Business is bad in the steel mills. Production is declining. Workers are being laid off in all sections except in the armament branches of the industry. There workers are being speeded up so feverishly that dreadful accidents are increasingly frequent. Schwab’s Big Navy League, on July 28, praised Roosevelt’s “forceful leadership” in promising to build the navy up to treaty strength in three or four years. Our revolutionary president is thoroughly to the League’s taste. Juicy orders are in the offing.

It would be impossible in the space of this article to list all tht war preparations that are going on. Du Pont, who made a yearly profit of 58 millions during the world war, as against 6 millions in the preceding years, is busy on the one hand in creating red scares, while with Colt on the other, he is selling munitions to Bolivia.

Then there is Vickers-Armstrong, the great British firm whose agents were convicted of espionage in the Soviet Union. Vickers’ annual bill for armaments is said by Arms and the Men to amount to about 100 million dollars. Vickers is selling also to South America, but mainly to Paraguay, whose government is defending the Dutch Shell Oil interests. The House of Commons has just approved an increase in the British air force of 1304 planes, while the army is being rapidly “modernized”. The arms manufacturing business is not languishing in Great Britain.

In the face of these tremendous war preparations the workers are being poisoned on all sides by pacifist and patriotic propaganda.

One of the main demands of practical pacifism is that all manufacture of arms be nationalized. This is to serve two purposes, to abolish the international traffic in arms, and to “take the profits out of war”. This in turn is to lessen the likelihood of war by rendering commercial chauvinist propaganda useless and give a sporting chance to such institutions as the League of Nations.

Nationalization has been suggested on various occasions, however, and nothing has come of it for the following reasons:

  1. Small nations can import arms far more cheaply than manufacture them. Nationalization would cut off their sources of supply. At all international conferences in which nationalization was suggested, the smaller bourgeois nations protested their “rights” to import arms. On the international arena they play a petty bourgeois role. Such a prohibition would leave them open to attack on two sides. On the one hand, they fear being at the mercy of the big imperialist powers. On the other, they fear revolutionists at home and they rightly point out that in the second instance foreign concessions would also be endangered. From the imperialist point of view, then, the present state of affairs is far more convenient: Let the local bourgeois government do the dirty work without any direct intervention except in cases of desperate emergency.
  2. It has been pointed out that nationalization would in no way prevent the traffic in raw materials, with its attendant advertizing evils.
  3. Patents are internationally sold and exchanged by manufacturers. Nationalization would make that impossible and might even aggravate the war situation. Nationalization could only be put into effect by international agreement.
  4. Imperialist governments would not cherish petty bourgeois prying and control, and the governments themselves, to whom the liberals appeal, have always been the ones to lead the fight against nationalization.
  5. Japan, where the industry is most closely controlled, can hardly be presented as the shining example of a peace loving nation.

It is most revealing of the pacifists’ sincerity when they wind up their pleas, as do both Beard and Mitchell, by crying “But nationalization would render more efficient the equipment of the army and the navy”!



1. The attention of the reader is directed to the following publications in which valuable data on armaments is available: Merchants of Death, by Engelbrecht and Hanichen; Arms and Men, by the editors of Fortune; Patriotism Ltd., by the Union of Democratic Control, London; The Navy: Defense or Portent, by Beard. – Ed.

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