Dilemma of Guns or Butter? : Rafale deal and the Capitalism-Militarism Axis : Shilpa Surendra Pratap Singh
“Guns will make us powerful, Butter only fat”. These words of Hermann Göring one of most powerful military official of Nazi Germany in defence of heavy military spending at the expense of increasing purchasing power of masses, has found resonance in posture and propaganda of Indian State with fascist tendencies. The totalizing and ‘enforced’ obeisance to sacrifice of armed forces, is throttled down upon working classes since 2014, to not demand better wages/living conditions but sacrifice for ‘Nation’. This obnoxious euphoria of Nationalism reached epitome of demagogy when viability of economic policies was evaluated on basis of abstract intention in spirit of national service rather than concrete outcomes, suffering of millions of workers due to demonetisation was thus pitted against sacrifice of Indian Soldiers at borders.
The above trends exhibiting alliance of Nationalism and Militarism are just small tip of an ice berg, the ice-berg being Capitalism. We have for long accustomed to believe in the lies of Bourgeois construct of ‘liberal pacifism’ which define capitalism as a realm of peaceful economic competition and treats militarism a separate aspect confined to political compulsions of foreign policy or else as an elementary aberration of international system. However, Militarism has never been incidental to foreign policy or independent of the sphere of Capital.
Militarism fulfils definite function in the history of Capital; rise of Capitalism in Europe was inherently tied to instrument of war. It has to be understood that colonial subjugation was possible only because of the weakness in instruments of the war of the non-capitalist societies in relation to the capitalist powers, rather than the primitive nature of their modes of production and primitive political structures as is often presented.
In addition to above function, Militarism has purely economic function in service of capital, “it is a pre-eminent means for realization of surplus value, it is in itself a province of accumulation”. (Rosa Luxemburg) —- wherein state extorts indirect taxes from workers, their consumption is curtailed and is partly transferred to hangers of capitalist class who have stake in defence provisioning. In Nazi Germany (1935) the surpluses of business upswing rather than being used to increase purchasing power of broad masses of population was allocated to armaments. (Michael Kalecki).
This takes us back to the Gun or Butter dilemma discussed earlier, The Gun or Butter dilemma is originally a neo-classical Idea, provides weight to construct of liberal pacifism— there exists a relationship and conflict between nation’s investment in military/ defence and civilian goods. And that choice between two entails zero sum game—militarism is detrimental to economic growth. However, burden of history proves otherwise, there exist a harmonious relationship between Economic growth and Militarism, and that they move together. (Note: Economic Growth is Growth of Capitalist class and a façade to normalize unequal distribution, as estimated by Thomas Piketty- “The rate of return on Capital invested by rich is much more than the rate of economic growth of several nations”.)
Capitalism is essentially a demand constraint system, in event of recession and its subsequent fallout, it depends upon the State investment to generate demand. When Great depression (1929) had hit the capitalist economies of world, under influence of Keynesian economics, a massive increase in military expenditure was undertaken which bailed many economies out of depression, as increase in military expenditure also percolates down to affiliated industries owing to build up of military industrial complex, thus expanding overall demand and job avenues in the economy.
It won’t be exaggeration to claim that Capitalism would not be Capitalism without Militarism. ‘Military Keynesianism’ has always rescued capitalism of its stagnation tendencies, besides enabling it to maintain strong military to unleash imperial war on the peripheries. It also had deep bearing on so called ‘Golden age’ of controlled capitalism in US, (Period Between end of Second World War and 1971) marked by great economic boom, rising wages, employment, improved living standard of working class. Capitalism being demand constraint system is always on verge of invisible crisis situations. The vivid memories among American policy makers of the role of military spending in stimulating economic boom in aftermath of great depression, and the challenge of Soviet Union provided impetus to sustain heavy military spending.
One of most important missing link here is Role of hangers of Capitalist class who have stake in heavy military spending- The Military Contractors, Defence Dealers, Manufacturers etc. And it’s their stakes, and lobbying strength which influences defence policy, strengthens Military Industrial Complex and never let the war machinery dry up. It’s interesting to note that there has been not a single conflict since American revolution where services of private military contractors have not been utilised. The lobbying strength of defence manufacturers is evident from the exceptional waiver given to India in form of Nuclear Deal, bypassing International norms, in order to exploit lucrative Indian market by selling Nuclear technologies which were on verge of market saturation.
The Golden age of America often called as “Democratic Socialism” by many — was not socialist in any sense of the term. It was built on edifice of logic of Capital accumulation, it rather tamed working classes as many trade unions succumbed to Economism, and supported heavy military spending, notwithstanding the fact that same provided ground for imperial wars against Vietnam and Korea and all other misadventures during and after cold war.
The End of History thesis exalted and claimed finality of this Capitalist democracy, and claimed history will not evolve henceforth. But then ‘History Repeats itself first as a tragedy and then as a farce’ (Karl Marx). And Fukuhama’s recent backtracking and call for ‘socialism’ is repetitive historical farce where Keynesianism in name of state regulation will be enforced to absolve capitalism of its criminalities by making state to pay.
There are some vague parallels between history of Great depression of 1929 and 2009 financial crisis which should draw our attention; the crisis of 1929, fuelled Beggar thy Neighbour kind of protectionism leading to rise of Aggrandizing Nationalism in Europe, the financial meltdown was primarily bailed out by increasing military expenditure, Nazi Germany was first country to bail itself out, riding on heavy military spending. The backwash of 2009 crisis hint at identical dynamics with that of 1929—- rise of aggrandizing xenophobic nationalism which is once again positing nation above people, the rise of right wing political forces, has led to increasing proclivities towards protectionism and Militarism, which is more about counteracting the stagnation tendencies of capitalism.
This brings us back to Gun and Butter dilemma, and the peculiar similarity between Nazi Germany and Neoliberal India i.e. Fascism (?)
Fascism is a moment in the crisis of Capital, As Gramsci analysed “Fascism as Passive Revolution of Capital” — it has some definite function to fulfil, it modernizes economy repressively by liquidating free organisation of working class and conscripting them into corporate economy, and seeks to achieve partial transition from competitive market economy to protectionist economy without a violent social upheaval. However, this transition doesn’t entail moving from private control to state control, rather a strong regimentation of economy to safeguard private interest and private control.
Indian Capitalism’s productive reproduction is based on narrow base of capitalist class i.e. Pinstripe Capitalists, who are basically junior partner allied with international imperialist networks. In aftermath of Global Slowdown, owing to slowdown in traditional economic avenues, Militarism emerges as a field of accumulation for Capitalist. Neo-liberal Indian state facilitated privatisation of defence in order to help them to foray into highly profitable defence sector. A stage was set for all this with launch of ‘Make in India’ and defence manufacturing being substantial part of it towards strengthening Military industrial complex in India on lines of US. This is the base over which superstructure of nationalism was erected to gain popular support for militarism, and to subverts the attention from systemic crisis tendencies of capitalism inflicting hardships on working classes .
The Rafale deal is classic case of handout given to the capitalist class to aid accumulation and bail them out of crisis at the expense of state exchequer as economic growth of nation is primarily their growth. Guns will not make nation powerful and great, but would rather fatten the coffers of capitalists. This not a cause we should sacrifice our butter for, rather organize and struggle and fight for equal distribution of butter which nourishes all fattens none—Socialism!
‘The aim of socialism is not accumulation but satisfaction of toiling humanity’s wants by developing productive forces of entire globe’ Rosa Luxemburg.