Capitalism Means/Needs War*

…Anyone can understand that war and conquest without and the encroachment of despotism within mutually support each other; that money and people are habitually taken at will from a people of slaves to bring others beneath the same yoke; and that conversely war furnishes a pretext for exactions of money and… for keeping large armies constantly afoot…. In a word, anyone can see that aggressive rulers wage war at least as much on their subjects as on their enemies, and that the conquering nation is left no better off than the conquered.
-J.-J. Rousseau, “Abstract and Judgment of Saint-Pierre’s Project for Perpetual Peace,” 1756

When, when, Peace, will you, Peace?…
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?
-G.M. Hopkins, “Peace,” 1879

Counter-revolution by the center against the periphery
Blood on stone blood & stones
Thou shalt not get out from under world banks fish mouth silently
This is Moses & the prophets.
-Roland Wyser, “The Ashes of Tito,” 1999

Introductory: War?

Amid systematic obfuscation, I wish to recall Dorothy Dinnerstein’s great confession of faith:

…we must try to understand what is threatening to kill us off as fully and clearly as we can…. And… to fight what seems about to destroy everything earthly that you love-to fight it… intelligently, armed with your central resource, which is passionate curiosity-is for me the human way to live until you die. (viii)

I shall be unable here to go, as she did, into the murky psychic depths of what drives the lust to power, profit, and killing. These are initial soundings, to limn what is afoot.

The overriding question for today is: What may be workable, embodied answers to the present stunted rationality of wars, of the exchange-value rule of bureaucracy and army? How are we to delineate the new collective body, the new sensorium humanity needs for survival? For if we don’t at least guess at the alternatives, approximate them, try to forecast them, pave the way for them, help-however feebly-to make the alternatives possible or maybe bring them about, capitalism may well destroy all that humanity has achieved in the last 1000 years or longer. A radical change in reasoning is needed for us to use Marx’s great insight that no theory or method can be understood without the practice of social groups to which it corresponds.

We have to find our answers in action. As Vico argued, whatever we cannot intervene into, we cannot understand. But for action we need a clear horizon and possible vectors toward it. The horizon for our opposition seems clear: only use-values can stand up to capitalist unequal exchange. Ancient designations for the life-furthering use- values were compassion, indignation, and love; they are today gathered up into communism and poetry. We need also to realize that there is no poetry without communism, and no communism without poetry. All poets know this is their encompassing horizon, often in fantastic metamorphoses; few communists apart from Marx, Morris, Brecht, Césaire or Neruda have allowed their suspicion to flower. When sundered, what we get are caricatures which compromise the potential horizon of either.

My initial question on how to at least begin understanding the spreading blight of warfare in all of its forms, literal and metaphoric, may today be only answered fragmentarily, since it is one aspect of a consubstantial unholy trinity: mass murders, mass prostitution, mass drugging. For it is the case that by mass prostitution one could mean not only that of sexual services (in majority female) but also, as Balzac did, the prostitution of the mind (of intellectuals, in majority male), making death-bringing commodities seem sexy. It is also the case that drugging is the inflecting of the mind to momentary euphoria bringing death, so that one could definitely include in it the identical effects wrought without pharmaceutical substances, such as most PR and the prevailing Disneyfication of consumer virtues. And finally, mass murder could include all the victims of starvation and poverty-induced illnesses, as well as of the drugs. Here I concentrate on war only.

To begin with, I shall cull from my readings on war a provisional, operative definition: war is a coherent sequence of conflicts, involving physical combats between large organized groups of people, that include the armed forces of at least one state, which aim to exercise political and economic control over a given territory. One or more fights or skirmishes, even between groups of people, do not qualify. The aim of war was originally the forcible expropriation in favour of a given social class (sometimes tribal or ethnic group1) of booty, land-or other productive forces-and/or labour power from the vanquished: “A simple definition of a warrior might be a person who survives by taking what others have or have produced” (Love and Shanklin 283). However, in developed class societies war has also always been ultima ratio regum, a means to evade inner revolutionary tension by outer conquest, while in a multi-State system other indirect and inter- mediary (but crucial) aims may be added, such as securing advantages for coming tensions and conflicts-e.g. dominion over sea lanes or oil resources-and the destruction of commodities and people.

It ought to be noted that the demarcation line to mafioso gang clashes, indicated by my “that include.” clause, grows increasingly thin as unchecked private wealth balloons and the moral legitimacy of many States converges toward zero: practically all wage undeclared wars using civilian killings; all States are today “rogue States” to differing degrees, most clearly in the undeclared US wars on Vietnam and Serbia, bombing them back into the Stone Age; terror killings cannot be differentiated morally but only by scale (cf. Virilio and Lotringer 25-27, Lens). The ratio of military to civilian casualties in wars has in the course of the 20th century “progressed” from 8:1 to 1:8 (eight civilians killed for each combatant), while the fighting units diversified from regular armies into paramilitary groups, police forces, mercenaries, local warlords and “pure” criminal gangs (Kaldor, New 8). It is by now received Western media wisdom to treat the ex-Yugoslavia civil wars or the Russo-Chechen war as conflicts between exploitative gangs in power, but the same could be said for the Gulf Oil War and the NATO-Serbia War. This means that Clausewitz’s restriction of war to the politics of State-like entities reflects only the historical rise of capitalist nation-States which arrogated to themselves the monopoly of organized violence through their armed forces in exchange for “civil” pacification through police (cf. Weber and Giddens). The monopoly was always threatened by gang and revolutionary violence, and there are indications that this “State dominance period” may have been limited to 1600-1990. The “privatization of violence” (Kaldor, New 92), an unintended but logical result of the corporate enforcing of economic privatization at the expense of State authority, also means that the line between the “policing operations” of the army and a technoscientifically beefed-up police (and then private militias and illegal gangs) grows almost indistinguishable. Nonetheless most major armed conflicts-defined ad hoc as “battle-related deaths of at least 1000 people” (SIPRI 1998: 17)-are still conducted by State or aspiring proto-State entities.

In the 20th century alone, probably more people have been assassinated in mass killings than in all of world history up to 1900. Around one hundred million people have been slaughtered by bomb and bayonet, and probably billions by imposed starvation and maladies of poverty-the class war of the few ever more rich against the many ever more poor. Tuberculosis, the malady testifying to misery, is back in force, and even the plague has returned in India. The excuse that, proportionately to the number of people alive, the century is no worse than any other may or may not be statistically correct, but it is irrelevant. Each person is a body in hope and pain, in theological terms in direct one-to-one relation to divinity. No proportions apply.

The first materialist rule in societal affairs is to ask, of major events and trends, in whose interest do they happen, cui bono? I believe there is an iron rule according to which those social classes in whose interest these events did happen have in fact brought them about-in however direct or indirect, monocausal or overdetermined ways. In the Malthusian world of keeping safe for the rulers, war has presented many advantages for them and for the State they rule, but at a minimum it has always had at least three systematic and consubstantial objectives: first, huge new profits, buttressing an always endangered economy; second, mass destruction of commodities, to match the mass production that cannot be disposed of in a pauperized world, and to enforce development of new technologies able to kill more people and dispense with more people as workers; third, keeping population-and especially the poor, humiliated, and margin- alized, the threatening masses-down.

Summarizing immemorial ruling-class practice, Adam Smith had coolly observed that “The demand for men, like that for any other commodity, necessarily regulates the production of men” (80). War is a prime technology of population control, and-if we have forgotten the lessons of the World Wars-the last 20 years teach us that its role in modern class struggles should be accorded much more attention. For obviously, the present Post-Fordist social system does not need even approximately as many producers as Welfare State Fordism did. To the contrary: since the rise of living standards caused by Leninism and the Keynesian response to it has led to overproduction of people, they have to be overdestroyed (cf. the splendid book by George). Consumers are still needed, but the poorer ones-non-“Whites,” most women, the very old and very young-don’t count for much: “Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population is basically written off as far as foreign investment is concerned” (Tabb 22)! One average North American citizen consumes 13 times more energy than one Chinese and 1300 times more than a Bangladeshi: in direct proportion, the US media count carefully their own body-bags but not the dead of its bombing and starving out (cf. C.H. Gray 136-37; by contrast, the US army in Vietnam was obsessed with the “kill ratio” proportion between enemy and own killed, see Gibson 111-20, Caputo 160). All statistics we have are inadequate because the indirect effects of wars will kill people in Vietnam or Iraq (and in the USA) for generations to come. But even inadequate, the statistics are revealing: in Vietnam, ca. 60,000 US soldiers vs. over 3,000,000 Vietnamese killed; in Iraq, a few dozen NATO soldiers vs. 1,200,000 to 1,500,000 Iraqi dead of bombing or the subsequent embargo. In the vein of Swift’s Modest Proposal, I can propose that for the rulers of our globe, the corporate-military complex, major demographic bloodletting among the poor is most welcome (more than a touch of racism may be found here). At the very least, there is no reason to spend serious money on preventing it-in wars (Angola, Rwanda, Bosnia, and further to come), epidemics, terminal drugging, or endemic famines. About starvation alone, cautious international sources speak of some 40 million people dying from its immediate consequences each year, while “about 500 million are chronically malnourished,” that is, on the way to dying soon, and a further 800+ million in “absolute poverty,” that is, bordering on famine and dying a bit more slowly (Drèze-Sen 35, Human…1996 20, idem 1998). War, with its attendant politico-ecological catastrophes, such as hundreds of thousands of refugees as well as delayed killings by toxic ingredients of the explosives used and by not yet exploded mines and bombs, much accelerates such “population control” (see Thompson, and cf. the satirically sharpened but serious arguments in Report 72-75).

The cannon fodder or mortified meat in wars, prostitution, and drugging, the mass casualties, are as a rule people who are marginal to “White” patriarchal capitalism: the poor, the “colored,” women. “Lower” class, race as well as gender, are expendable, though spoken of with nauseatingly sentimental hypocrisy: and especially when these categories overlap in, say, Black volunteers for the US armed forces or prostitutes displaced into big cities (cf. A. Davis). “Colored, sexed, and laboring persons” are denied epistemological visibility and thus political agency (Haraway 32, and cf. 26-30); they have traditionally not been Cartesian and Lockean “individuals” (who were, before the onset of counterrevolutionary hypocrisy in the 19th century, forthrightly defined as those who have possessions). The blended out-the unemployed, the “criminal,” and the female people-bear the full weight of the enforcement of super-profits, the degradation, and the legal persecution that were formerly focused on the dangerously organized male White industrial workers and on intellectuals, who now advance to being the privileged bearers of social-democratic reformism (cf. Marcuse 134 and passim, Haug 190 and passim). However, it should be stressed that Post-Fordism and the US New World Order has also especially targeted the middle classes and “middle” nations that threatened to rise, such as Russia, Yugoslavia and Iraq. Indeed, it seems that the social basis of at least the al-Qaeda cadres are the middle classes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia (cf. Minolfi 19). Beyond outright killing in wars, all such colonial and semi-colonial vanquished swell the ranks of the super-exploited today in all our cities under mafioso debt slavery as they did in times of chattel slavery.2 Both the social-democratic and the communist movements catastrophically undervalued the significance of this change in exploitation modalities toward a kind of sub-proletariat (though the Bolsheviks were, at their revolutionary beginning, the first to indicate it).

As I was elsewhere arguing that war, drugs and brainwashing were the present dispensation’s Three Riders of the Apocalypse, I found out that war is the lead rider-the determining spring of life under capitalism. Before I get to some empirical data, it has to be stressed that deep forces are at work here. The heartbeat of capitalism is antagonistic competition regardless of human lives: for one small example, there were more dead and maimed per year in US car crashes than US casualties at the height of the Vietnam War. Any sane society, unwilling to sanction killing for the sake of profits to a few, would have prohibited highway traffic of the kind known in the USA; instead the US model has conquered the world. Considering both the emotional mainspring and the brute result in humans killed, the capitalist way of people cohabiting is Hobbes’s “time of war, where every man is enemy of every man”; extrapolating from the English Civil War after 1640, he realized this was centrally a permanent civil war. Two centuries later, the best European codification noted that war is properly likened “to business competition,” and even more to “State policy, which… may be looked upon as a kind of business competition on a great scale” (Clausewitz 1: 121). While “competition… does not establish [the laws of bourgeois economy],” it is its “essential locomotive force”: “competition is generally the mode in which capital secures the victory of its mode of production” (Marx, Grundrisse 552 and 730). War is therefore more than a metaphor for bourgeois human relationships, it is perhaps their allegorical essence. This was always understood in the workers’ and socialist movement: Jean Jaurès phrased it as “le capitalisme porte la guerre comme la nuée porte l’orage” (capitalism brings war as the cloud brings the tempest). Much before Lenin, who did something about it, the socialists’ slogan was “war upon war” (cf. Angenot, Antimilitarisme).

Nonetheless, even when we limit ourselves only to warfare in the narrower sense defined above, that is, involving one or more entire States, continuous warfare has never ceased under capitalism. There are strong claims that the economic basis for the triumph of capitalism was colonial warfare-plunder from the 15th to the 18th and 19th centuries (Headrick, Parker). At the same time it provided the major impetus for mass production for a standardized “population,” pioneered by the famous arsenals of Venice. Besides strongly influencing the process of industrialization with its armies and “reserve armies” of workers, war financing-which constituted throughout the 18th century three quarters of state budgets in Europe-resulted in the setting up of modern bureaucracy and central national banks (Anderson 31-33, Kaldor, New 18). A temporary lull in European wars ensued after 1871, when the metropolitan powers had divided the world and the British navy was policing this division; this was accompanied by mass colonial and semi-colonial murderings of more than 60 million peasants and tribals (Watts 125, and cf. M. Davis). But the warfare returned from brutal domination of Asian, African and Latin American labour to the “North” at the latest by 1911-date of the first carving up of a precapitalist European empire, the Ottoman one, and the first major world revolution, the Mexican one-in a permanent chain of war carnages, which show no signs of abating. The Oslo Peace Research Institute (PRIO) counted 66 wars in the year 1992 and a German peace research consortium 34 in 1999. Definitions of war differ, but counting conservatively, at least 160 wars raged between 1945 and 1993, and in them more people were killed than in World War 2; the frantic search of the US corporate-military class for enemies that might justify further hundreds of billions out of the pockets of taxpayers shows that the USA-USSR competition was only a welcome excuse for “a permanent war economy” (phrase by Wilson of General Electric in 1944-in Lens 14). In sum, we are already within the most terrible (almost) Hundred Years’ War in human history. Is this an accident? No. Just as capitalism came about in plunder wars, there is no evidence it could climb out of economic depressions without huge military spending, a “war mega-dividend” (best examples: the 1930s and the 1990s-cf. Amin 48). I shall return to this in Section 3.

The strictly political fall-out of militarization, which is not the focus of this article, is the spread of military rule not only during wars but also in times of official “peace.” Before colonial liberation movements, dictatorships enforced by bayonet and gun muzzle were the rule in all imperial possessions; in the 20th century they are more common in nominally independent States than at any time since the rise of the bourgeoisie, marking well its degeneration. This is technically facilitated by the enormous complexity of armaments, accessible only to large economic systems, and it is underpinned by the spread of both organizational complexity (cf. Andreski 69-72, 87-88 and passim) and the brainwashing industries such as cinema and TV. It should never be forgotten that the armies’ sabers, bullets, and bombardments-first by the feudal landowners’ armies and then by those of the centralized State-were always the upper class’s final answer to any uprisings for justice from below. All these factors were behind Foucault’s question: “Isn’t power simply a form of warlike domination… a sort of generalized war which assumes at particular moments the forms of peace and State?” (123) I am uneasy at politico-economically unanchored generalizations such as “power.” But they may be useful if historicized into actual mediations, focused not on the question of why the ruling classes need and wage war, but rather on how it is that they’re as a rule able to find plenty of lower class cannon-fodder. Bourgeois power under capitalism is thus in feedback with and exercised through strong institutionalizations and ideologies disciplining huge masses: besides outright military dictatorships whenever necessary, it draws on technoscience and identity politics (chauvinisms and ethnic exclusivisms). One could call these the two faces of bribing the middle and lower classes: by finance and by ideology.

Technoscience: “[B]y and large, technoscience is part of a war machine and should be studied as such,” concluded Latour, looking at data which in 1986 showed that ca. 80% of the US federal budget for research and development was devoted to “defense” (171f); half of all US scientists and engineers work today for military priorities (C.H. Gray 231; cf. Tirman ed.). At the very least, “value-free” technoscience is the central means for-and thus intimately shaped by use for-war, literal and metaphorical: mass production in capitalism needs mass destruction for the cycle to go on (cf. C.H. Gray; also Toffler 42, 64ff., Virilio 11-12, Virilio & Lotringer 20). As soon as “classical” primitive accumulation of capital-pushing down the cost of labour, dispossessing the peasants-is no longer possible, capitalism is threatened by “global crises and led, inexorably, to the kinds of primitive accumulation and devaluation [that is, physical destruction of both capital and labour¾P.M.M.] jointly wrought through… wars” (Harvey 443). Furthermore, the effect of wars is not spread evenly over the globalized globe; on the contrary, the destruction is unevenly distributed to benefit the victors, as a rule the strongest capitalist countries. But this unnatural state of affairs generates so much misery that drugs and brainwashing have to be resorted to, in the finally vain endeavour to find a breathing space, to shut out Death. Fidel Castro in his speech at the “Summit of the South” (G-77, Havana, April 2000) summarized the only partially available, undervalued data from Human…1998 as: “800 billion dollars are spent yearly for arms and armies…; at least 400 billion for drugs [not including alcohol and tobacco¾P.M.M.], and a further 100 billion for commercial propaganda which obfuscates reason just like drugs.”

Identity politics: Among the most efficient brainwashings that have developed in the wake of rampant immiseration and the collapse of credibility of socialism, is mega-group exclusivism, usually named after its psychological motivation “identity politics.” While any means of helping downtrodden and impoverished groups, such as women or racially oppressed people, to fight for justice are welcome, their perversion into resentful exclusivisms “triggers violence [and] diminishes solidarity with the victims of that violence” (George 93; cf. Angenot, Idéologies). The perversion may be pinpointed as coming about when justice is demanded only for one’s own group, regardless of whether this might lead to injustice or even crass humiliation and exploitation-up to genocide-of those defined as enemy Others. It is unavoidable that the hundreds of millions of unemployed people rejected under Post-Fordism to the margins of society, with third-rate or no social services, should fall prey to “isolation, shame, depression and violence” (“Éditorial” 19). But it is not fatally unavoidable that this should lead to hatred of other, usually equally downtrodden “identities,” ethnic cleansings, and civil war; however, this worst case is a clear possibility. It is practically always keyed to a sudden rise of misery and disorientation. A PRIO study of 98 wars in 1990-96 concludes that “a particularly strong correlation exists between high external debt and the incidence of civil war”-especially “crucial” are the IMF conditions imposed on the country!-and between “falling export income from primary commodities [and] the outbreak of the civil war” (cited verbatim in George 95, PRIO’s emphasis; cf. Smith). The three civil wars in ex-Yugoslavia-in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo-are a prime example that “the economy, stupid!” is an absolutely necessary, though not sufficient, cause for such wars (cf. at least Woodward). The increasingly direct entry of major European nations and then the USA into such wars fits well into the swap, in almost all of them, of internal welfare (for all people) for external warfare (profiting only capitalists and to a minor degree employees of armament industries), as the capitalist ruling classes seek by all possible means to stabilize military expenditures and profits at the Cold War level.

In the “metropolitan” sites of mature capitalism (that is, the countries of the Trilateral: North America, Western Europe, Japan and a few other places), the appropriation of surplus value is carried on “democratically” through economic instruments, that is, primarily by means of brainwashing, with the police visible but the army only called out in emergencies. In very rarefied liberal social theory, abstracting from the existence of States and of all other factors of uneven development, as well as from the internal inexorable limits to capital (cf. Harvey), this might be taken to mean that war could be dispensed with. As usually presented by bourgeois common sense, military coercion was the rule for pre-capitalist societies but seems to be a thing apart from capitalist economic production. And it has in fact today, from the global point of view, shifted either into (so to speak) non-metropolitan local politics inside one State or between two States, or into threatening but not fully ripened intercontinental rivalries: the US does not today need war to dominate in North America, nor does Germany need it in Europe. However, armament production is, as Kaldor noted (“Warfare” 262), not only an object of consumption-finally but not always immediately needing wars-but also an object of production bringing profits. I’d add that its enormous size and central position-the war industry was calculated as 10% of the world GNP in the 1960s; it is surely more than that today, and disproportionately more in major powers such as the USA-bring also system stability.

True, the money value of the huge international armament trade-oscillating between 20 and over 30 billion US$ yearly in the last 30 years according to the SIPRI yearbooks-dropped abruptly after the collapse of the USSR because the burgeoning conflicts did not as a rule need superbombers and heavy tanks but infantry gear and helicopters, which could also increasingly be local products or bought cheap either at the huge stockpiles in the black market belt between Cambodia and Russia or direct from the major pestiferous trader of retail arms, the hundreds of legal US producers. And armament outlays have not only been again steadily climbing from the mid-90s on, with a noticeable spurt in the USA as of 1998, so that its military budget was at the end of the 90s again 95% of the Cold War one; armament production has remained at the heart of this epoch’s financial capitalism. Furthermore, in the 90s the trend toward global business alliances has reached the arms commodity, which is also increasingly incorporating advanced non-military technoscience, such as electronics (Keller x). I can best indicate it by a summary from McMurtry:

The capital-intensive market systematically favours armaments commodities for production because of:

(1) their uniquely high value-added price… (for example $26 billion for the first five years of the US “Star Wars” programme…);

(2) their specially rapid rate of obsolescence and turnover…;

(3) the monopoly or semi-monopoly position of armaments manufacturers which flows from: (a) the designation of military production… as state secrets; (b) the high capital costs of armaments technology and manufacture; and (c) the privileged linkages of established military producers with government defense and procurement agencies;

(4) the large-scale and secure capital financing of military research, production, and cost additions… ensured by… public taxation, [and]… available to no other system of commodity production. (Cancer 170)

No moralistic wailings about the madness of this almost unimaginably enormous institution, correct as they may be, will matter a whit unless we zero in relentlessly on this fact: from the inception of the modern State and market, wars have always been “the greatest and the most profitable of investments” (Lefebvre, Production 275). By the time of the Gulf War, a conservative estimate of spending for military purposes was nearly a trillion US$ annually (the Tofflers 14), or between 2 and 2.5 billion dollars daily. Of this, the armament-commodity production accounted for ca. 200 billion US$ annually, or for about one fifth (SIPRI 1999: 9), of which half was located in the USA. Its imperial outlay dwarfs that of its British predecessor: the US spends on armaments as much as the next 12 strongest States combined, whereas the Royal Navy only wanted to be greater than the next two combined. For one huge example: of the 18 US nuclear submarines, “each one carrying the equivalent in injuring power to 4,000 Hiroshima bombs […or enough] to destroy the peoples of an entire continent,… eight have been made… since the opening of the Berlin Wall” (Scarry 28). The USA also accounts for more than half of world armament exports (Keller 12). A huge part of these trillions goes to the superprofits of “Northern” corporations, and a smaller but appreciable part for the maintenance of practically all the ruling mafias and classes of the world. Last but not least, “[t]he new wars could be viewed as a form of military waste-disposal-a way of using up unwanted surplus arms generated by the Cold War, the biggest military build-up in history” (Kaldor, New 96). Disposal of surplus commodities that simultaneously disposes of surplus people: what a neat trick!

In particular, as is well known to all specialists though obscured by media blather, the military-industrial establishments of corporate capitalism, led by the US one, which produce “life-killing commodities” as the most profitable part of global trade (cf. McMurtry, Understanding), are the strongest factor of organized international violence. However, only a few critics have begun to show that these establishments are simultaneously (marvelous synergy!) possibly the strongest factor enforcing a world cultural revolution for the total colonization of human life-worlds and eco-systems by commodity economy. This was pointed out by Rosa Luxemburg even before the huge acceleration organized through World Wars (see her chapters 27-30) and other globalizations. She concluded that capital cannot accumulate without the productive forces and the consumption markets of more primitive societies (her examples are India, Algeria, and China), whose economies it eventually turns inside out: “Force [Gewalt, violence¾P.M.M.] is the only solution open to capital: the accumulation of capital employs violence as a permanent weapon, not only at its genesis, but further on down to the present day” (371). This was invariably accompanied by militarism, and by the eradication of rural industries in favour of a sharp rural-urban divide usually called industrialization (her example here is the dispossession of farmers in post-Civil-War USA). Thus, “Accumulation is… primarily a relationship between capital and a non-capitalist environment” (417), which, in the imperialist phase, is characterized by “foreign loans, railroad constructions, revolutions, and wars” (419 & ff). Militarism is “the executor of [such an] accumulation of capital” (439) under State compulsion. Along with the “normal” metropolitan commodity market, the accumulation of capital needs “colonial policy, an international loan system… and war. Violence, fraud, oppression, looting are openly displayed [here]…. In reality, political power is nothing but the vehicle for the economic process. The conditions for the reproduction of capital provide the organic link between these two aspects of the accumulation of capital” (452). Replace direct colonization with nominally independent native elites, and you have the present system.

Thus, what does it matter that the production of armament commodities contributes little to improving any economy’s productivity, since the output is used neither for the growth of means of production nor for consumption? What does it matter that, if the US economy sanely spent as much to make the buildings in that country airtight as was spent by the US military in one year of the mid-80s (before the Gulf Oil war) on the forces meant to ensure the West Asian oilfields, no imports of oil from that region would be necessary (the Lovinses 27)? What does it matter that the recurring pork-barreling and misinformation about the cost of new weapons systems lead in 90% of cases to doubling-or multiplying up to seven times-the original cost estimate (Weisberg 81), which is surely not a rational or economic way of organizing production? And finally, what does it matter that the cost of one war-casualty has risen from 29,000 DMark in WW1 to 34,500 in WW2 and to 338,000 in the Korean War (Heinig 25)? For, from a profit point of view, all of these aspects in the development, trade, and use of armament commodities are supremely rational. The tens of millions of dead in World Wars brought about tens of trillions of profitable investments in the huge new opportunities of reconstructing the destroyed homes and industries-a million dollars or more per dead body. And today, from the point of view of the US military-technoscientific bloc-and of analogous, though not quite so central, blocs in a few other major powers (Germany, France, the UK…)-armament maintains the national military-industrial base; for the ruling establishments, dominated by big corporations, its use abroad is equally rational. So are all of the death-bringing improvements from chemistry, atomic physics or electronics; so is selling not only the commodities but increasingly also their means of production, the underlying technologies of mega-destruction, to anybody with ready cash. “A century devoted to the rationality of technique was also a century so irrational as to open in every mind the real possibility of global destruction” (Norman Mailer, Of a Fire on the Moon).

What is irrational is the final cause of all these increasingly destructive flows: the profit principle itself. No capitalism without increasingly destructive weapons and wars: and today wars destroy the world. “It is estimated that the single greatest source of environmental destruction in the US is the military-industrial complex, and that one-quarter of the public monies which are expended on weapons commodities across the world would eradicate poverty, homelessness, and illiteracy, as well as pay for the cleanup of all our major environmental pollution at the same time” (McMurtry, Cancer 174). This is most apparent in nuclear weaponry and the civilian uses that developed out of it, including not only Chernobyl and Three Mile Island but the regular US government dumping of nuclear waste into the oceans (cf. Weisberg 83). However, ABC (atomic, bacteriological and chemical) weaponry is now being joined by further super-technoscience with incalculable effects. Just one example of a new generation of US weaponry is HAARP (High-Frequency Active Aural Research Program) for “weather warfare.”3 It uses most powerful radiowave beams that heat and then sweep away areas of ionosphere, allowing huge amounts of energy to bounce back to Earth in order (as a US air force scenario put it) to “own the weather” either by pinpointed local modifications of weather patterns (say in a “rogue nation”) or by global weather disruption. This would not only disrupt communications but it could be combined with a space-lab to deliver amounts of energy comparable to a nuclear bomb anywhere on Earth, via laser and particle beams. Besides climate manipulation, the returning waves could also affect human brains, and earthquake effects are being envisaged. The dirty megaweapons of today-such as the US uranium-encased bombs and shells in Iraq as well as in ex-Yugoslavia and the Adriatic Sea (cf. Chossudovsky “Low”)-and even more those of tomorrow threaten the survival of a “sustainable” vertebrate biosphere (cockroaches may survive). Clearly, there can be no sane ecology or even survival without going against the profit principle and unlimited growth: beginning with wars, armament industries and technoscientific military research.

A crucial factor in the unprecedented post-1940 rise of production was the “permanent military reflation” through World War 2, the Korean War, and the Cold War up to today (Went 76). The military cluster of industries, with a locked-in permanent market and assured high profits, seems to be the key sector of the US economy, propping up the national and then the world economic structure. The decisive question may well be whether capitalism could economically and indeed psychically survive without warfare and mega-armaments. Baran and Sweezy made a strong argument that it could not have done so in the 1930s-40s, and the evidence of the first small reduction in new procurements after the fall of the USSR, which resulted in a deep depression in a dozen or more major US states, speaks as strongly in favour of this ominous argument today. As Benjamin had intuited, capitalism is a permanent “martial law”: the bourgeois welfare State (welfare first for the upper class, and then, reacting to the threat of Leninism, for the middle and parts of the working classes) is also a warfare State. Threats “against the ‘national interest’ are usually created or accelerated to meet the changing needs of the war system” (Report 30). In that respect, even the fully degenerate “State socialism” of the USSR was better: it did not need war, it was bankrupted by the armaments race forced on it. True, US armament-commodity procurements jumpstarted startling new technologies-aerospace, semiconductors, medical technology, etc.-out of the trillions given by taxpayers (US$1.5 trillion 1950-75), at the time that 40% worldwide of both research and its financing were devoted to military R&D. But by the same token the high-tech commodities for killing took 40% of world research and material resources away from more economical, certainly less destructive, purposes (Tirman ed. 11-16, 46, 148, 216-21 & passim, Brenner 56n).

Finally, the deflection of so much financial and brain-power, so much human labour, into profitable commodities for killing makes a sham of democratic control and decision-making. As Wallerstein has repeatedly argued, ideological and economic liberalism is incompatible with democracy. The war economy palpably marks the divorce between capitalism and civic responsibility for other people and for the planet. But the stakes are even higher: if “the enduring, primary symbiosis between capitalism and war” (Kolko 474) means that wars are indeed necessary for the survival of this social formation, then the capitalist social formation is truly, as McMurtry argues, a cancer in the body politic, and the only way we and this planet can survive is to get rid of it once and for all.4

As mentioned at the beginning, the totalization of war in the 20th century leads to “whole populations com[ing] to be more and more regarded as legitimate objects of annihilation” (J.G. Gray 132). This can only be done if wars are waged in the spirit of quasi-theological hatred, “the enemy” being an incarnation of total evil. An early culmination of such an odium theologicum was the insane US and NATO doctrine of nuclear warfare. However, this “emotion-drenched… abstract hatred,” compounded of repugnance and fear (ibid. 132-34), has in our post-Cold-War and Post-Fordist age given rise to a dual military world: a North exporting war into the “global slums” of the poorer South, and supposedly endogenous “armed turmoil” in the South. This is concatenated with the dual economic world, where 90% of world investment and trade are already contained within the “North,” meaning North America, western Europe, Oceania, Japan, and the Asian “Little Tigers” (cf. Mann 58-61). It gives rise to at least two new species of the immemorial genus war: on the one hand, the war pursued by high-altitude bombing plus internal subversion (which I cannot examine here), and, on the other, the partly endogenous species. The most encompassing hypothesis about this latter species, the one manifested primarily or “purely” in African or Yugoslav civil wars, is Mary Kaldor’s New and Old Wars which I shall proceed to critically interpret, bending it to my purposes (further as K with page number). While her diagnosis is to my mind not full (especially as concerns external pressures and support making for the wars) and therefore her prescriptions remain insufficient, her work is indispensable.

The ostensible goal of the new wars is not universal ideologies, such as the no longer fashionable socialist or “national liberation” ones, but “identity politics”: ethnic or tribal exclusivism “for the purpose of claiming State power” (K 76) in a new State or for making a new group dominant in an old State. The identities are usually “invented traditions” no older than the 19th- or 20th-century arrival of market economies into those colonial territories and the need of the incipient local bourgeoisie to control its own market. They are culturally constructed communities claiming a “blood” basis which is threatened by impure admixtures. Their fiercely mini-collectivist ideologies have a sweeping disregard for personal rights, often directly inherited from their Fascist or Stalinist roots and reactualized by their oligopolistic corporate backers. Behind the chauvinisms, however, other interests hide, namely, 1) “a politics fostered from above” (K 78) by an ethnic elite that covets State power and enrichment, and enlists for that purpose an often small sector of its poorer co-ethnics (about 1/16 in the Bosnian case), promising them immediate careers, glory, and plunder of neighbours; 2) interests of multinational companies in accessing valuable resources (oil, ores) in the disputed territory; and, overlapping with this, 3) interests of major military powers in the territory’s strategic position.

The necessary precondition for any such “identity” crystallization is a major economic crisis in a world where structural impoverishment of the South is imposed by the global capitalist order: the ratio of real income per head between the richest and the poorest countries was 3:1 in 1800, 10:1 in 1900, and is 60:1 in 2000 (cf. Dummett). The crisis may be partly due to and exacerbated by internal difficulties or errors by the original State’s ruling classes (as in the case of Yugoslavia), but it is always enforced by corporate interests: Shell in Ogoniland-Nigeria, but usually the IMF (cf. for Yugoslavia Woodward). It results in staggeringly massive unemployment and immiseration plus a grab for privatized possessions starting at the power-top and spreading downwards. Legal norms are necessarily forsaken in such straits, and livelihood comes to depend on Kaldor’s “parallel economy”-“networks of corruption, black marketeers, arms and drug traffickers, etc.” (K 83), often linked to previous financial support by the CIA through the diaspora and to international illegal circuits of drug smuggling (e.g. the KLA) and arms smuggling. Such a total existential crisis sometimes reactualizes but often reinvents factional, “ethnic” or pseudo-religious, conflicts. It fosters ruthless warlord or gang hegemony, inculcating fear and hatred of the Other and leading to redistribution of riches without new production-primitive accumulation for the new separatist ruling class, usually in a vassal function to foreign powers (the US or NATO, France and Belgium in Africa, some Islamic-expansion States).

Kaldor’s account of what happens once the war starts is magisterial. It is “heavily dependent on local predation and external support. Battles are rare, most violence is directed against civilians, and cooperation between warring factions is common” (K 90). The warring units “finance themselves through plunder and the black market or through external assistance. The latter can [be]… remittances from the diaspora, ‘taxation’ of humanitarian assistance, support from the neighbouring governments or illegal trade in arms, drugs or valuable commodities such as oil or diamonds. All of these sources can only be sustained through continued violence so that a war logic is built into the functioning of the economy” (K 9-elsewhere Kaldor acknowledges that “external assistance is crucial,” 102). I don’t know whether the following excerpt would apply to all such wars, but (regardless of some shaky terminology) it is dead on for the Yugoslav civil wars:

Because the various warring parties share the aim of sowing “fear and hatred,” they operate in a way that is mutually reinforcing, helping each other to create a climate of insecurity and suspicion…. Often, among the first civilians to be targeted are those who… try to maintain inclusive social relations and some sense of public morality. Thus… [the new wars] can be understood as wars be- tween exclusivism and cosmopolitanism. (K 9)

The main lever of control is neither front-line occupation of more territory nor the battle for the people’s hearts and minds as in revolutionary guerrilla warfare; rather, it is “population displacement.” This new warfare adapts US counterinsurgency techniques from Mozambique, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan: “poisoning the sea” in which Mao’s guerrilla swims like a fish. This considerably raises the level of inhumanity: “Instead of creating a favourable environment for the guerrilla, the new warfare aims to create an unfavourable environment for all those people it cannot control. Control… depends on continuing fear and insecurity and on the perpetuation of hatred of the other. Hence the importance of extreme and conspicuous atrocity and of involving as many people as possible in these crimes so as to establish a shared complicity… and to deepen divisions” (K 98-99). Kaldor discusses at length the techniques of population displacement: by systematic murders of people categorized as the guilty Other; by ethnic cleansing in the narrower sense, that is, forcible population expulsion; and by rendering an area uninhabitable through land mines, shelling civilians, or enforced famines, powerfully aided “by instilling unbearable memories of what was once home, by desecrating whatever has social meaning,” for example by destruction of religious and other historical monuments (say the famous medieval bridge in Mostar) or by systematic rape and sexual abuse (K 99-100).

Kaldor’s “new wars” are thus characterized by the breakdown of the “distinctions between the political and the economic, the public and the private, the military and the civil” (K 106): they are exemplary Post-Modernist cultural constructions, and should possibly be called neo-Fascist.

Lest the West grow too smug about its presumed civility, I take Kaldor’s warning about budding analogous conflicts in those climes, which only await an economic crisis to erupt, as very significant:

The characteristics of the new wars I have described are to be found in North America and Western Europe as well. The right-wing militia groups in the US are not so very different from the paramilitary groups in Eastern Europe or Africa… [nor] is the salience of identity politics…. The violence in the inner cities of Western Europe and North America can, in some senses, be described as new wars. (K 11)

In fact, “The new war economy could be represented as a con- tinuum, starting with the combination of criminality and racism to be found in the inner cities of Europe and North America and reaching its most acute manifestation in the [war violence] areas” (K 110). The inner logic of these new wars is that they are the inescapable anti-successor to the vanished Welfare State (a brutal do-it-yourself welfare for small comprador elites) and the inescapable obverse of capitalist economico-political globalization of plunder. As to the former, the first major German post-1945 venture into military affairs in ex-Yugoslavia coincided with the major dismantling of internal social welfare (Rousseau knew it all!). As to the latter, in the new dispensation, after god and socialism are dead, everything is permitted. Takeovers, dispossession, marginalization, reserve armies: What is good for General Motors is good for the Rwanda warlord.

In sum, capitalist civilization reposes on the insoluble contra- diction between a boundless increase of productive forces and boundless economic and psychic immiseration of people, because the productive forces of labour, including technoscience, are used for exploitation of a huge powerless majority of toilers and for colossal profit and power for a tiny capitalist minority. The product that subsumes and overshadows all other multifarious products of this civilization is the production of destructive novelties, “undermining of the springs of all wealth: the earth and the worker,” as Marx already told us (Kapital. MEW 23: 530). Capital practices “systematic robbery of the preconditions for life…, of space, air, light…,” said he (ibidem 449-50), and today we could add water, silence, health in general, etc.-in fact, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Post-Fordist condemnation of two thirds of the adult population globally (and one third in the “rich” countries) to unemployment or piecework is a further robbery of vitality during people’s youth, to be paid for in their middle and late years by defencelessness against disease and early dying. The marvelous capitalist technoscientific progress has led to one nuclear submarine carrying the destructive power of all the explosives used in World War 2 (Virilio 161); as mentioned in Section 3, this is enough to destroy the peoples of an entire continent, and yet eight new US nuclear submarines have been made since the fall of the USSR. Thus behind the apocalyptic Three Riders, as always, the fourth and main one advances, Death as this civilization’s final horizon. As Benjamin exemplarily argued on the traces of Baudelaire and Balzac, the structural logic of gambling, excitement, novelty-of the commodity customer’s experience and time horizon-demands that its final end be Death (e.g., GS I.2: 668). And so the illusory economic and psychological solution of war leads clearly to Death as the end-horizon of raping the planet by economic exploitation and ecocide, of which war is an allegorical essence. This is not the easeful death each of us has a right to: it threatens the collective death of humanity.

Whence such myopic folly, differing from any past dying empire only in its speed-of-light propagation? Probably it is intrinsic to the class thirst for power or mastery which breeds also the everlasting fear of falling behind, the ever stronger post-Welfare-State dread of not having security. When Freud speculated amid World War 1 that “the impulse of cruelty arises from the instinct of mastery” (59), we might wish to reject obfuscating terms such as instinct yet see that he put his finger on a centrally sore point. (He also rightly saw as the counter-pole an “instinct for knowledge or research”-60.) This age-old impulse has never been so powerful, unnecessary, and necrophilic as in capitalism, driven by the unending “fix” of profits-most especially, in the perfectly sinful Post-Fordist age of wars, prostitution, and drugging (literal and metaphoric). It testifies to the terrible blindness of all hegemonic social theories, that they have failed to factor in such lessons of war as a dominant of capitalism (cf. Kolko 464-82).

What are we, who should still call ourselves the Left and whose conscious core should perhaps think again about assuming communism as its poetry and prose, then to do? Vaguely and negatively put: strive to understand, and then look for articulated and organized ways to minimize and counteract the ruling-class blight of war, old and new. As a left-wing Christian has reminded us, our horizon should be a politics that consecrates life (Virilio, in idem, and Lotringer 144). I can supply one basic pragmatic pointer: since all major blights such as war, brainwashing, and prostitution are now semiotically and materially interwoven, the only possible response to any of them is one that does not hinder a response to any other. Counteracting war can only be done by also counteracting the IMF impositions, drugging, the procurement and spreading of arms commodities, identity politics, etc. Beside the need of achieving oppositional critical mass, in the form of Gramsci’s “historical bloc” (which would itself be enough), this is what makes it necessary to shun sectarian politics like the plague, even by such potentially large groups as super-exploited women. Separatisms-the defunct ouvrierisme (reliance on industrial workers only, today noticeably diminished by the shift away from mass factories, e.g. through automation) and rural “Maoism”; macho, feminist, and generational separatism; etc.-are the worst internal enemy of radical politics. Rainbow politics could be a good name if it is understood that while the colours are separate, so that organizing around issues limited to a given “identity” may be locally useful as a first step, the rainbow is one.

Finally (the snake bites its tail): the political equivalent of this whole endeavour of mine is the fact that a segment of the “professional- managerial” class is today-as Ernst Bloch argued in 1938 for the intelligentsia in the industrialized states (343)-the one indispensable ally in any historical bloc, say with the working classes and women, which would have a chance to get off the ground. An ally is not a servant: it is somebody with whom one can disagree but have strategic interests in common, a community of destiny against the terrorism of capital (cf. Lefebvre, Cybernanthrope 56-57), which may supply criteria for resolving the disagreement. And the criteria have to be built up with contributions by each. We “professionals” are professionally trained to formulate such criteria -if we can shake off capitalist corruption and listen to political experiences from practice. For, “any erroneous understanding of truth is simultaneously an erroneous understanding of freedom” (Marcuse 147).

Berlin 1999 – Montreal 2000

It is mandatory to update our thinking after the murderous attack on civilians of Sept. 2001 in the New York City Twin Towers, and the even more murderous attack on civilians ensuing by the US bombing of Afghanistan (best sources speak of ca. 4,000 civilians killed as of March 2002, and the count is rising), and other attacks to follow whenever and wherever the US administration so pleases. I can here only address two questions, perhaps two sides of the same question: a) Would the essay as it now reads have to be changed in some central formulations? b) What should be added to its formulations?

As to a), having lived with these formulations now for ca. four years, I can only see the need to bring out more clearly some matters, primarily what are the US class fractions at work in the present militarization and killings. We need a new Marx to write The 11th September of George W. Bush. I hope one can be found. As to b), the best supplement to this essay would be to analyze the present discourse on “terrorism” and of course actions justified by such discourse. This effort, on which I hope to work, could help us to decide whether the present armed struggle is a war or not, and if not then what. Here a few preliminary though for me central points:

I believe terrorism is most usefully defined as a strategy which consists in pursuing political power by striking dread into the civilian population through exemplary killings among them. We need to focus fiercely on the two elements underlined. If they are correct, then there is both State terrorism and group terrorism (by religious or political groups). Politically, and even corporeally or phenomenologically, there are two main ways of carrying out terror/ism or being terrorists: terror-bombing, and all other terror killings. States-such as all colonial powers in the past, and Iraq, the USA and its NATO allies or Israel in the present-can use terror-bombings (and shelling by heavy artillery), including chemical warfare; the others don’t have such means-yet. That’s why the Sept. 11 terrorists had to improvise flying mega-bombs by re-categorizing passenger airplanes as such.

If war is a strategy which consists in pursuing political power by “a coherent sequence of conflicts, involving physical combats between large organized groups of people, that include the armed forces of at least one State, which aim to exercise political and economic control over a given territory” (definition in my essay), then the difference between terrorism and war is that the former: a) can but doesn’t have to involve large groups of people, such as the armed forces of at least one State; b) doesn’t aim immediately at territorial control but at changing enemy policy so as to create preconditions for later territorial control. One should add: c) terrorism has never been even on paper brought under some code of conduct such as the Geneva or Hague conventions on war (which forbid killing civilians). It is a weapon of the desperate and outnumbered.

War kills as a rule both armed and unarmed people, terrorism as a rule only the unarmed. This may make terrorism morally more hateful. But inter-State or “civil” wars compensate by their sheer scale: not to mention the two World Wars, by far the largest number of what we might call “political killings” is due to State activities. To deal only with the last 40 years: over 2 million Vietnamese civilians in the US intervention; up to one million “communists” assassinated in Indonesia 1965-66; over half a million dispatched by South African (and French and US) proxies in Angola and Mozambique; ca. 300,000 assassinated by the Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea; 100-200,000 by the Indonesian army in East Timor; over 100,000 in Guatemala 1966-85, and so on from the rest of Latin America to Palestine. This does not make the al-Qaeda “airliner rammings” any better. Neither the ground nor the air terrorists blasting civilians have any justification except political calculation of the most cynical kind.

When civilians are killed in wars, this is accepted as war crimes. The “collateral damage” excuse wears thin very quickly: As Herman and O’Sullivan concluded about Vietnam: “Killings are not ‘inad- vertent’ [or ‘collateral’-P.M.M.] if they are a systematic and inevitable result of calculated military policy” (51). Vietnam was then a war accompanied by massive war crimes; so were the proxy wars in southern Africa. Indonesia, Kampuchea, and Guatemala (and others from Chile to Colombia and Mexico) were terrorist inter- ventions by the State against its subjects. The Nazis exemplarily straddled both.

What is new in the post-September 11 world is that the frontier between war and terrorism is being erased¾from the side of political or religious groups because they don’t have planes or heavy artillery, but also from the side of the States (primarily the USA) adopting the methods of terrorist groups. Wars are no longer either declared or ended, prisoners are not treated under international conventions. Where Randolph Bourne famously said in 1918, “War is the health of the State,” we would have to add that, more and more, “Terror/ism is the health of the State.” In that sense, Hitler has won.


1. Whether there is war in pre-State (tribal) societies is a disputed question, depending on one’s definition of war, which in turn depends largely on the researcher’s ideology. Those who hold that war is biologically innate to Homo sapiens must find war in all human groups, but the evidence is against them-I tend to agree with Bourne that war and State are coterminous (16-17). The rest is a matter of finding out how far a particular tribe or similar group is on the road to State (class) society. See the conflicting opinions of Mead (whose definition of war seems too large) and Lesser, in Fried et al. eds. 215-17 and 94-95.

2. The Anti-Slavery International NGO estimates there are more than 27 million slaves in the world today, more than twice the number of chattel slaves captured in Africa 1450-1900 (in Merlo).

3. All information in the rest of this paragraph is taken from Chossudovsky (“It’s.”), who gives nine further printed and Web sources; the US Air Force quote is from its Air University AF 2025 Final Report,

4. Similar arguments may be found in Magdoff and in Amin; a revealing if tragicomic instance is the suppression of the 1962 Humphrey subcommittee report on disarmament for fear it might “back up the Marxian theory that war production was the reason for the success of capitalism” (Lewin xiii). Report from Iron Mountain…, the book Lewin introduced (and wrote?) is, beneath its guise of a satirical hoax, a most prescient text which ought to be speedily reprinted.


General: The works of: Walter Benjamin [GS-Gesammelte Schriften], Bertolt Brecht, Antonio Gramsci, Karl Marx [MEW-Marx-Engels Werke], Friedrich Nietzsche.

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Angenot, Marc. L’antimilitarisme: Idéologie et utopie. Montréal: CIADEST, 2000.

____________. Les idéologies du ressentiment. Montréal: XYZ, 1996.

Baran, Paul, and Paul Sweezy. Monopoly Capital. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966.

Bloch, Ernst. “Der Intellektuelle und die Politik,” in his Vom Hasard zur Katastrophe. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1972, 336-43.

Bourne, Randolph. The State. Tucson AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998 (orig. 1918).

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___________. “Low Intensity Nuclear War.” E-mail, 1/13/2001 <>.

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[George, Susan.] The Lugano Report. London: Pluto Press, 1999.

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Gray, J. Glenn. The Warriors. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.

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___________. “Warfare and Capitalism,” in Exterminism and Cold War. Ed. New Left Review. London: NLB, 1982, 261-88.

Keller, William W. Arm in Arm. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

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Latour, Bruno. Science in Action. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1987.

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Lewin, Leonard C. “Foreword” to Report (below), vii-xv.

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___________. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

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