Other factors

from Brian Martin, Uprooting War (London: Freedom Press, 1984); this is the revised 1990 version.
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In the previous chapters I have examined six interconnected social structures: the state, bureaucracy, the military, patriarchy, science/technology and state socialism. These are key parts of the war system, and can be focusses for social action campaigns. My reasons for choosing these particular structures have been presented. But these are not the only structures tied into the war system, though by my analysis they are among the most important ones. In this chapter I offer brief comments on a range of other factors which at least some people think are roots of war. Therefore this chapter is somewhat of a mixed bag. Challenges to some of the structures mentioned here, especially capitalism, racism and domination of nature, provide valuable avenues for antiwar action. For some of the other factors I think the opportunities are much less fruitful.


Capitalism is responsible for much of the poverty and resulting misery around the world, as well as the affluence of a smaller fraction of the population. But is it, in addition, the key driving force behind war? Many leftists believe so.

Certainly capitalism is closely bound up in the war system. The drive for corporate survival, expansion and profits has stimulated many arms races and wars quite directly. More deeply, the oppression of working classes by capitalist owners and managers is one of the important systems of exploitation in the world. States and armies are supported by key elements in the capitalist class in order to maintain their economic domination. Similar comments apply to imperialism, colonialism and neocolonialism.

In capitalist societies, the economic system provides a set of power relations formally independent of the state. Capitalist ownership and managerial control, linked to the drive for capital accumulation, are the dominant influences in many areas of social life, notably work and consumption. Capitalist power often is reinforced by ties with other forms of social control, such as patriarchy, racism and bureaucracy. For example, capitalists foster the gender division of labour both to reduce overall labour costs and to weaken worker solidarity by mobilising sexism.

Military production under capitalism is organised by the state under the strong influence of the corporations which stand to gain. The most important process is the mobilisation of capitalist profit-seeking by the state for war production. In the capitalist market for arms production, the state plays the key role in creating conditions for growth and profitability, by making purchases, providing subsidies and organising export markets. The world system of arms manufacture and sales is essentially a state-organised market, with the eager participation of armaments firms.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, this complex was geared up mainly in wartime. Military demobilisation after wars was accompanied by capitalist conversion for civilian production. But especially since World War Two, the so-called 'permanent war economy' has become entrenched.

The capitalist war economy is based on mutual mobilisation of the state war bureaucracies and the capitalist war manufacturers. Even under this system, only a small fraction of capital, such as aerospace, is strongly committed to war production. Many major sectors involved in military production, such as steel and electronics, are not heavily dependent on profits in these areas, and could readily find civilian markets if state incentives changed. This is not to mention capitalist sectors such as food and housing which have little to gain from military production. In short, only a portion of the capitalist class has a strong stake in the war system, and this stake is mainly dictated by the state.

The discussion so far concerns capitalist firms within a particular state. The wider question is, what role does the world capitalist system play in the war system? When examining particular wars, the immediate role of profit and accumulation are often minimal. Examples are World War Two, the Indochinese War and the many Middle East wars. Even in many colonial empires, immediate economic advantages for the capitalist class have played a minor role compared to issues of expansion and maintenance of state power. The role of capitalism mainly entered through its structuring of economic relations which are supervised separately and jointly by capitalist states.

The main military service of the state to capitalists in the international system is to oppose movements which threaten the viability of capitalist economic relations. This includes state socialism and all movements for self-management. At the same time, the way this state intervention operates, namely through separate and potentially competing state apparatuses, can conflict with the security of capitalism. Wars and military expenditures can hurt national economies, as in the case of US government expenditures for fighting in Vietnam.

Only some struggles against capitalism have potential for challenging the war system. Efforts to oppose capital by mobilising the power of the state do little in this direction. In particular, promotion of state socialism (the destruction of capitalism within a state mode, with the maintenance of bureaucratic control and military power) does little to address the problem of war.

The trouble here is that much of the socialist left sees capitalism as the sole source of evil in the world. This approach is blind to the roots of social problems that do not primarily grow out of class domination, including racism, sexism, environmental degradation and war. Because of this blindness, even the struggle against capitalism is weakened, since attention is not paid to systems of power such as patriarchy and bureaucracy which are mobilised to support capitalism as well as other interests.

On the other hand, if capitalist control is undermined by extension of self-management then the struggle is also one against the war system. In addition, struggles against other war-linked structures, such as the state, bureaucracy and the military, would also help undermine capitalism. For example, initiatives for workers' control in state bureaucracies would have obvious implications for employees in capitalist firms. Challenges to the police and the military would undercut the ultimate guarantee against challenges by workers against capitalists, namely state repression.

Because there has been so much attention to anti-capitalist struggles, and because the ideas for grassroots strategy presented in previous chapters are mainly oriented to movements in capitalist societies, I have only discussed capitalism briefly and instead given more attention to state socialism.


Racism has been a major factor in many wars, and also has motivated a great deal of exploitation and genocide. Racism is tied up with unequal social and power relations: genetic, cultural or other real or attributed differences are used to mobilise one group of people against another. One driving force behind racism is the advantage to the dominant group of exploiting the subordinate group. Racism also strengthens the positions of certain elites within each ethnic group, even when no ethnic group dominates: hierarchy and elitism are allegedly justified by the need to confront the ethnic enemy (rather than inequalities within one's own ethnic group).

Racial violence of course occurs in 'peacetime' as well as war. The key link between racism and war is the link between the power hierarchies which derive strength from racial dominance and the power hierarchies of the war system.

Racism also serves to dehumanise people. In many wars the enemy has been characterised as racially inferior or sub-human. This process of turning the enemy into a different type of person, an 'other,' is used to mobilise people around one state against another. Racial antagonism can become extremely deep-rooted in societies, and the passions aroused have been rivalled perhaps only by religious intolerance.

As in the case of patriarchy, the elite mobilisation of ethnic hatred for state purposes may play a reduced role as war becomes increasingly bureaucratic and technological. Like feminism, anti-racism can play a significant role in a struggle to remove the sources of war, to the extent that the aim is not simply to obtain racial integration within existing hierarchies or to set up alternative hierarchies, but rather to reorganise social life in an egalitarian way.

Domination of nature

Modern war, carried out by professional armies on behalf of states, is largely a product of European social, political and economic development over the past five hundred or so years. Associated with the rise of the modern state, modern bureaucracy, industrialisation and capitalism has been a particular orientation to nature: nature is treated as an object to be dominated by humans. This occurs in mining and manufacture, in which resources are ripped from the earth with little thought to the environmental and cultural consequences. The aim of modern science is essentially manipulation and control of nature rather than understanding or mutually interacting with it, and reflects the same attitude to nature. Animals and plants are seen as raw materials to be produced and exploited.

It is hard to say how much of the orientation of Western societies towards nature is connected with the war system. Certainly there seems to be a common thread of domination and exploitation in destruction of natural environments, factory farming, and the development and use of weapons of mass destruction. From the point of view of the physical environment, much of modern industry is essentially a giant war-machine. From the point of view of animals, factory farms are concentration and death camps. Strip mines and battery hens differ from mass warfare only in that the destruction is carried out against nonhuman objects. The word 'objects' is appropriate. In war, and also in racism, sexism and heterosexism, for example, the enemy or person oppressed is seen as non-human, as an object.

Domination of nature is more than an attitude. It is embodied in the physical infrastructure and the social relations of mass manufacture, consumerism, eating habits and many other human activities. The common features in the war system and the domination of nature are hierarchy, exploitation and domination. The structures of the war system are characterised by domination of humans by other humans. The structures which sustain the domination of nature use human domination of humans to exploit non-human nature, and use the exploitation of nature to sustain human domination of humans. Military weapons for environmental destruction, and war research using experimental animals, epitomise these connections.

It seems to me that the domination of nature is tied up with the war system in a deep and pervasive way. But what the implications of this are for antiwar strategy are not so clear. Two avenues for opposition to the domination of nature are the environmental movement and the animal liberation movement. To the extent that these movements question theoretically and practically the right of humans to exploit nature in an unrestrained way, they also help undercut the basis of human exploitation of humans which the war system serves and is sustained by.

As in the case of liberal feminism, the mainstream environmental and animal welfare groups usually seek merely to achieve changes in the treatment of the environment and animals within existing society. Better pollution control is sought, not overturning of the corporate and bureaucratic structures which create pollution. More controls on animal experimentation are sought, not a reconsideration of the need for the experiments and the elite control of the experiments. Tied in with this orientation, mainstream environmental and animal welfare groups use traditional methods for convincing elites such as lobbying. They depend on the goodwill of the government and state agencies in a number of ways, including provision of funding and enforcement of administrative regulations.

Also as in the case of feminism, radical portions of the environmental and animal liberation movements look more fundamentally at the social structures which create assaults against the environment and animals. Within social movement groups, opposition to speciesism must be added to opposition to sexism, racism, ageism and class oppression. The implications of a self-managing perspective incorporating the environment and non-human animals are far-reaching: not only must human society be reorganised to eliminate exploitation of humans by humans, but also to eliminate exploitation of the environment and animals. Without such a reorganisation of society, the perpetuation of the human domination of nature may well sustain the social structures for domination of humans by humans.

The implications of this view for the strategy of social movements generally, and the antiwar movement in particular, have scarcely been raised. It seems time to do so.


Historically, many religions have been associated with war. Christianity and Islam provided the motivations and material resources for military confrontations over many centuries.

Today, the role of religion seems reduced in many parts of the world. Churches do not organise their own armies, nor are most national armies stimulated primarily by religious passions. For the most part, religion is integrated into the war system on the terms dictated by states.

Many religions are useful partners for states mobilising for war. The religions most useful for this are the ones organised on the basis of hierarchy, obedience, dogma and ritual. Religious hierarchy meshes well with hierarchies in the state and the military. Obedience to superiors provides good training and example for operating in bureaucracies, especially the military. Dogma and ritual encourage an unthinking response to symbols of authority. Catholicism and Islam provide good examples here. The connection of these religions with patriarchy can hardly escape notice either.

Churches commonly adapt to dominant power structures, and this means tolerating or supporting military activities. This can range from theological justifications of warfare to the Catholic Church's accommodation with fascism.

There is one prominent exception to the usual pattern of religion as a secondary factor: the theocratic state of Iran, where religious leaders have captured and exercised state power. But even here, religious military power has been shaped into the usual state mould.

There are, of course, important challenges to the link between churches and militaries. Dissenting religious minorities, such as the Quakers, have long played a crucial role in antiwar movements, and are prominent among those who resist military conscription.

Liberation theology in Latin America has been a rallying point for opponents of oppressive military regimes. It is noteworthy that support for liberation theology has come mostly from the priests and other church workers closest to the people. It has been opposed most often by the upper echelons of the Catholic Church hierarchy.

Religious beliefs are adaptable to political realities. "Thou shalt not kill" may be a Christian commandment, but it has not stopped church support for killing in warfare, at least if the war is 'just' by the church's criteria. As the example of liberation theology shows, religion has a radical potential at the grassroots level. But to the extent that religious institutions remain hierarchical, patriarchal, and dogmatic, they are much more likely to prop up the war system.


Modern war could not be sustained without modern industrialisation. Modern industry, especially the capital-intensive, energy-intensive and expert-intensive kind, is a mainstay for the war system as it exists. The maintenance and expansion of state and corporate bureaucracies requires economic expansion to provide the necessary surplus, and also to provide the object for bureaucratic control. The maintenance of state power is greatly facilitated by economic growth, so that a portion of the material benefits can be apportioned to the working class to buy off discontent. Economic growth helps head off opposition movements within states.

Industrialisation has also been a major factor in the break-up of traditional communities which has enabled the expansion of state power and associated bureaucracies, linchpins of the war system. Modern industry subjects employees to hierarchical control and encourages consumerism as a substitute gratification in place of self-management.

Is industrialisation a key to the war system? Some people think so. There is even a strategy of sorts: promote alternatives to industrial production, typically community enterprises, with less centralisation, greater self-reliance, less job specialisation, smaller impacts on nature, and a shift to communal lifestyles. Essentially this approach is one of withdrawal from industrial society, and building a simpler, more self-reliant, personally satisfying set of lifestyles.

I see activity in this direction as a contribution to an antiwar strategy, but certainly not the entire answer. Such withdrawal is all right for some, but is not realistically an option for mass participation. Furthermore, the replacement of present structures will require more than withdrawal, but as well direct action by people inside present oppressive structures, such as factory workers.

In addition, I don't see industrialisation per se as the culprit so much as the domination by owners, managers and experts which characterises modern industrialisation. The solution is not to 'turn back the clock' but to develop self-managing forms of social organisation taking advantage of compatible aspects of modern technology and industry.


A number of thinkers such as Leopold Kohr and Kirkpatrick Sale identify size as the key factor in most social problems. They see largeness in human communities as the basis for evils such as regimentation, alienation and war. By contrast, they see 'human-scale' communities, on the order of tens, hundreds or thousands rather than millions of people, as the basis for a much better society in all ways.

Tracing all problems to size is an inadequate perspective. For example, there have been many small warlike societies in history. Racism, sexism, genocide and other evils often have been practised in tiny domains. Small is not always beautiful.

Nevertheless, the implications of size should not be overlooked. Larger-sized social units do often permit greater centralised control and more entrenched forms of exploitation. The United States and Soviet states, for example, are potent forces for militarisation due to their ability to extract resources from large populations, and use these resources to maintain and extend their political and economic influence. Bureaucracy thrives on administering large numbers of people.

The consequences of size are even more important for the organisation of social movements. A large, centrally organised movement is more vulnerable to destruction or cooption. An interacting network of small independent groups and individuals provides more opportunities for direct democracy, scope for initiative, resilience in the face of changed directions, and survivability against repression.

Kohr, Sale and most other advocates of 'human scale' have no strategy for change in the direction they favour. Nevertheless, social activists should keep size in mind in designing their campaigns. Small may not necessarily be beautiful, but neither is big necessarily best. Size is only one variable, and its effects are usually filtered through social structures. In transforming these structures, the size factor can be taken into account too.


Particular powerful people such as Genghis Khan or Hitler are often blamed for war. Often these people are thought to be evil, consciously scheming, or at the very least ignorant of the consequences of their actions.

This perspective is severely limited because it ignores the social structures which allow individuals to promote war, and indeed which shape behaviour in this direction.

If particular individuals are thought to be a cause of war, there are several ways to confront the problem. One is to try to convince them of the incorrectness of their practices, on the assumption that they are not aware of the implications of what they are doing. This approach has failed too many times to count. (Although most individuals in positions of power are in the grip of the social conditions in which they operate and of the standard ideas used to justify their power and privilege, their immediate social environment does not exert total control. Some individual elites can and do question the assumptions on which their power rests. Hence social activists should look for support and supporters at elite levels as well as elsewhere.)

'Evil' people are hard to find. Almost everyone is well intentioned. The problem is that people are well intentioned within frameworks of ideas and practices which sustain or do nothing to stop poverty, oppression and war.

Innate violence

One of the most common objections raised against those who oppose war is that humans are innately aggressive and hence war is inevitable. Contrary to this, anthropological evidence from numerous non-industrial societies suggests that human societies can be organised in a variety of ways, some of which foster aggressiveness and war and others which foster harmonious human interactions. One implication is that it should be possible, if not easy, to organise human society to avoid war.

For many years the debate over innate aggressiveness has raged, nonviolently it might be added. At stake is whether or not, down deep in genetically conditioned human behaviour patterns, there is a predisposition to use violence in interpersonal relations. The debate is fascinating and clearly exhibits the presuppositions of the protagonists. But it is largely irrelevant to the question of modern war which is increasingly technological and bureaucratic. Instinctive aggression has little to do with designing missile tracking systems, working in armaments factories or pressing switches for bomb delivery. Much more important in these cases are professional specialisation, the manufacturing division of labour, training in technical skills, conditioned acceptance of hierarchy and identification with one's own state.

My personal view is that the evidence for innate human aggressiveness is quite tenuous and has little significance for human behaviour. But there is no need to be dogmatic. For even if humans can meaningfully be said to have some predisposition towards using violence, the implications of this are not very far-reaching.

A large fraction of modern soldiers are reluctant warriors. Conscription is required to fill armies, intense propaganda is required to instil hatred of the current enemy, and harsh discipline, training and isolation used to break down soldiers' reluctance to kill. Studies have shown that only a fraction of soldiers thrust into the front lines actually fire their rifles. Innate violence, if it can meaningfully be said to exist, needs a lot of pampering for wars to be fought.

Furthermore, just because certain sorts of aggressive behaviour are common among some of the anthropoid apes does not mean such aggression is inevitable in human societies. After all, no one suggests that we should eat dinner or travel the way chimpanzees do. Hormones and prehistoric experiences hardly provide a prescription for the limits of human behaviour.

Genetics does provide some limits to human activity: humans do not have wings. The key point here is that whatever genetic inclinations there are towards aggressiveness and violence, they do not automatically result in war. This is because societies can be arranged in many ways, and the way people choose to arrange the society they live in is not genetically determined.

It is instructive that those who argue that war is due to the innate aggressiveness of humans are seldom seen swinging punches or machine-gunning their neighbours. The idea of innate aggressiveness has a long history, and is connected with the origin and use of Darwinian ideas to justify competitive capitalism and hierarchy in general. Most antiwar activists are familiar with the way the idea of innate aggressiveness is invoked by individuals to justify their doing nothing to oppose war.

Konrad Lorenz and some others who argue the scientific case for innate aggressiveness have suggested that international sport might serve as a surrogate for war. This is wishful thinking, considering how often major sporting events are the immediate cause of violent clashes between supporters of competing sides.

More fundamentally, modern professional international sport reflects rather than challenges the structures which underlie war. It is organised by state bureaucrats and aims at victory as a means for national glorification. Indeed, struggles against these war structures and towards self-managing political and economic structures can go hand in hand with a move towards self-managing sport, in which the goals would be participation, cooperation and fitness rather than elite performance, competition and state prestige.

War does not have a single root

In this chapter and in the six preceding chapters I have examined a number of structures and factors which have some connection with the war system. There is much more that could be said about any one of these structures, and other factors which could be examined. Here I wish to note one important point: attention should not be focussed on one single factor to the exclusion of others. This is often done for example by some Marxists who look only at capitalism as a root of war and other social problems, and by some feminists who attribute most problems to patriarchy. The danger of monocausal explanations is that they may lead to an inadequate political practice. The 'revolution' may be followed by the persistence or even expansion of many problems which were not addressed by the single-factor perspective.

The one connecting feature which I perceive in the structures underlying war is an unequal distribution of power. This unequal distribution is socially organised in many different ways, such as in the large-scale structures for state administration, in capitalist ownership, in male domination within families and elsewhere, in control over knowledge by experts, and in the use of force by the military. Furthermore, these different systems of power are interconnected. They often support each other, and sometimes conflict.

This means that the struggle against war can and must be undertaken at many different levels. It ranges from struggles to undermine state power to struggles to undermine racism, sexism and other forms of domination at the level of the individual and the local community. Furthermore, the different struggles need to be linked together. That is the motivation for analysing the roots of war and developing strategies for grassroots movements to uproot them.


When originally writing this book in 1983, the worldwide peace movement was extremely strong. I assumed then that it would eventually go into decline: historical evidence, plus social research, suggested that this was inevitable. In the years since, the peace movement has indeed generally waned. Today, in 1989, other events are the centre of attention: glasnost in the Soviet Union, democracy protests and brutal repression in China.

It is easy to be seduced by the latest events into thinking that things are different and priorities should be altered. My analysis is based on the assumption that the roots of social problems are deeply grounded and slow to change.

There are two basic themes in my analysis. The first is that conventional approaches don't get at the roots of war and hence are bound to fail. The second is that grassroots strategies are essential to challenge and replace these roots.

So far, grassroots strategies that challenge the roots of war have hardly been developed. That is why so much of what I have to say is negative. In terms of challenging and replacing the state, bureaucracy, the military, patriarchy and so forth, activists have only begun to scratch the surface.

Social theory at best is a tool for social action. The test of the ideas in this book is whether they provide some little insight or spur to better action. The way to develop the ideas is less through intellectual criticism than through the test of social practice. It is wise not to trust any theory, but rather to work towards an integration of theory and practice in the hands and minds of as many people as possible.