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David Miller

Can We Stop World War III?

(Spring 1959)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.2, Spring 1959, pp.62-63.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Causes of World War Three
by C. Wright Mills
Simon and Schuster, New York. 1958. 172 pp. $1.50.

It may not be news, but at least it takes guts for a teacher to proclaim, in print, that the American people are being dragooned into war by forces inherent in the capitalist structure of our society. For this is the central point of this recent book by the gifted author of The Power Elite and many other volumes of analysis and criticism.

Unlike those earlier books which brought him fame, this is not an academic work but rather an eloquent, impassioned plea to intellectuals in America to recognize the mortal crisis of society today and to do their duty, namely, to formulate a comprehensive program for meeting the ever-present threat of war.

Mills begins by tracing the incompetence and impotence of the capitalist class in the face of the great problems of the day (war, and the industrialization of the underdeveloped areas of the world) to their source in imperialism (the need for markets, investments abroad, and armament spending to prevent depression). If this is so, reasons Mills, then the reactionary policy of the power elite is not due to stupidity. A reversal of line can only be achieved if it is at the same time a struggle against capitalism.

“We can not, I believe, struggle for peace as we might struggle for this or for that particular reform ... Our struggle for peace must at the same time be a struggle to develop and to acquire access to the means for our struggle. Our immediate and continuous fight, in short, must be a fight inside the US power system over who is going to determine the uses of this nation’s fabulous means of power and over the reshaping of these means into more democratically responsible instruments. A real attack on war-making by Americans today is necessarily an attack upon the private incorporation of the economy.”

It is in this context that Mills’ concrete peace program must be viewed. Despite a flair for dramatic formulations, there is little new in them. Essentially they call for coexistence; that is, negotiations, an end to atomic weapons, extensive aid to the backward areas under UN control, and the like. The uniqueness of the approach lies in the belief that this program can only be realized through a drastic change in the power relationships within the country. It is this aspect of his program which distinguishes him from the liberal and Stalinist conceptions. Questionable as some of his proposals may be in the abstract (for example, the suggestion that the Mideast oil be pooled, operated by a UN agency, with all profits to go to the Arabs), they become less objectionable when taken in the context of a United States and a United Nations so changed as to have become anti-capitalist – the opposite of what they are today.

Mills’ version of the coexistence thesis should be a focus for much debate among opponents of the cold war.

Revolutionary socialists have opposed the policy which the Kremlin calls “peaceful coexistence” because it really concerns a proposed agreement with the imperialist powers to freeze the status quo at the expense of the popular aspirations on all continents for freedom, independence and socialism. Mills seeks to meet this objection by linking his coexistence proposals to class-struggle domestic policies. They have the further striking advantage of all positive formulations, appealing in the most forthright and most easily comprehensible manner to those who simply and directly demand of the American government that it refrain from its war-like posture.

There are two regrettable, though subordinate aspects of the analysis which merit mention. In view of Mills’ profound understanding of the interdependence of peace and social change, this reader was disappointed to find only the most cursory reference on how to advance the struggle against capitalism. Nor is there any explicit reference to the socialist alternative to capitalism which Mills doubtless believes in. These omissions seem rather awkward, and even compromising.

Secondly, it is disappointing to find Mills persist here, as in previous works, in misrepresenting the socialist theory of social change, and in particular, the theory of the state. In practice, his own work is fully socialist in its conclusions. For example, his observation, “The state in which we live, in its personnel and in its persistent outlook, does indeed appear at times as a committee of the ruling circles of corporation and high military,” lies at the core of his entire argument. This is certainly the central premise of socialist politics as well. Yet he cannot refrain from imputing to Marxists a mechanistic determinism in which history is reduced to fate. This injustice is all the more deplorable at the hands of a man of intellect and courage, and a friend of the working class.

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