THE ROOT CAUSES OF WAR
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American intervention in World War I again rescued the economy from a depression. In 1914 and 1915, as war between the European imperialist powers broke out, American unemployment was rising towards ten percent and industrial goods were piling up without a market. One industrial market was expanding, however, the market for weapons in Europe. The historian Charles Tansill concludes that "it was the rapid growth of the munitions trade which rescued America from this serious economic situation." And since the sales went to Britain and France, it committed the U.S. to their side in the war. Finance capital was equally involved: "the large banking interests were deeply interested in the World War because of wide opportunities for large profits." When bank loans to Britain and France of half a billion dollars went through in 1915, "the business depression, that had so worried the Administration in the spring of 1915, suddenly vanished, and 'boom times' prevailed." Of course, German imperialism did not stand idly by while the U.S. profited from arms shipments and loans to their enemies in the war. German submarine warfare against these shipments finally provoked American involvement in the War.
The rise of fascism in Europe was the direct result of still another cyclical depression, the Great Depression that gripped the entire capitalist world in the Thirties. In his recent book on the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of fascism, David Abraham has documented how major capitalists turned to Hitler to fill the vacuum of political leadership when the economy collapsed. In part, the absence of political leadership "with the collapse of the export economy at the end of 1931...drove German industry to foster or accept a Bonapartist solution to the political crisis and an imperialist solution to the economic crisis. The "Bonapartist solution", as Abraham calls it, was found in Hitler's Nazi Party. As he says, "By mid-1932, the vast majority of industrialists wanted to see Nazi participation in the government." For these industrialists, "an anti-Marxist, imperialist program was the least common denominator on which they could all agree, and the Nazis seemed capable of providing the mass base for such a program."
The appeasement of Hitler's promise to smash the communists and socialists at home and to destroy the Soviet Union abroad expressed a new cause of capitalist war. Up until that time, inter-imperialist wars were simply the response to economic contradictions at home and capitalist competition abroad. In part, World War II was yet another inter-imperialist war. But now a new cause of war was emerging alongside of the old. The rise of socialism was a direct threat to the entire capitalist world. In addition to glutted domestic markets and competition for foreign markets, the capitalists now had to face the additional problem that the overall foreign market itself was shrinking. Thus, they tended to support each other in the face of a common enemy.
After World War II, there was a particularly sharp shrinkage in the "free world" for capitalist exploitation as socialism and national liberation triumphed through much of the world. The U.S. and its allies responded by demanding that the socialist countries open their doors to investment by capitalism. According to historian William Appleman Williams, "It was the decision of the United States to employ its new and awesome power in keeping with the traditional Open Door Policy which crystallized the cold war." As Williams explains, "the policy of the open door, like all imperial policies, created and spurred onward a dynamic opposition."
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