Lecture by Herman Verbeek, a Roman Catholic Priest, member of the Green Party and of the European Parliament, given at the International Peace Tax and War Tax Resistance Conference at Vierhouten, The Netherlands
I am a child of the second world war. My father was a famous neurosurgeon and the Germans wanted him, so he went underground. We had a family of eight children.
I am now 52 years old and the consciousness of war is only beginning to dawn on me.
Lets look at what is happening right now. The NATO conference in Scheveningen has just ended. It was a black week; they decided to modernize the full range of nuclear and conventional weapons.
The success of the Peace Movement is part of the story. The military talk of a gap, of a window of vulnerability and as a consequence we have the over-militarization of the world.
I have just returned from Canada where I participated in the blockade of a road to an Indian Reservation (the Rubicon). We blockaded to support the Indians’ request to keep out oil prospecting companies.
There were eleven television crews there from all over the USA. One of the journalists asked me whether I came as a priest or as a member of the European Parliament. He said that if I came as a member of the European Parliament, then I was interfering in a Canadian concern. I responded by asking: “How do you separate them?”
I said my coming had a deeper motivation. The conquest of the American Indian, the rape of the world, all these things started in Western Europe. All this started almost five centuries ago in 1492, when Columbus thought he was in India.
Being white, being a man, being a Christian, a priest; all of them are only a hindrance. I feel part of being the problem, part of the shame. I ask myself: What does war mean to a European or to a member of the third world?
We generally think of a military war when we talk of war. I brainstormed the idea of war.
A state organizes an army. It crosses its border with a neighbour; it fights; violence and aggression take place. There is a winner, one side capitulates and there is peace. There are other types of aggression, some more profoundly aggressive than open warfare, and Europe is often part of this aggressive system. It is capitalism, which started most modern wars and it is capitalism which conquers or usurps using the power of money as its weapon. Capitalism declares the whole world as a market (for itself). You can buy and sell on the market everything, life included.
This system is called the free market. The free and democratic nations guarantee that market. Adam Smith and others were aware that there was a problem with this concept. E.g. he said that one condition of a free market was that every individual and every group should count as equal (i.e. have equal access to this market). This is clearly not so, and it is there that we find the basic flaw of the system.
The system is flawed because only money guarantees access to the market. It becomes not the freedom of equals, but the freedom of the moneyed, the rich, and the entrepreneur.
What is the result if you build your system on money power? The result is that only money (profit) determines what we buy, produce and consume. Free enterprise becomes freedom for those at the top. There is constant struggle and competition to stay at the top. The capitalist system means growth because those at the top keep challenging each other and changing.
The dynamic of the free enterprise system therefore is essentially the dynamic of growth. Growth becomes a means for aggression and expansion. The free market therefore is essentially an instrument of violence and aggression.
A proper response is to come up with an economic system free from violence and aggression, but I do not claim or wish to pretend I can do that. I just ask you to accept my analysis, that capitalism is a system that creates permanent world war.
Capitalism as a system is therefore a permanent state of war, of world war. It is not just an analogy, I mean what I say, and if transnationals talk in military terms (which they often do) then they speak of how things are. World War I and World War II are part of a much deeper and more pervasive system of aggression. In a way we are experiencing a world war now.
Some examples of how this is/was done:
After 1945 the world powers knew another world war was not feasible or thinkable. The US block took the initiative to keep the world in its control. In 1944 at Bretton Woods the West organized their money power with the US dollar as its central value. The communist countries were not invited, because their currencies had no value on the free market. The third world countries were not invited; they were not part of the industrial economic system.
We need a new definition and understanding of money. Money destroys, kills more than just people. Capital destroys people, the environment, natural resources, human enterprise, our cultures and our values. It is capitals dynamic for growth and for taking over and transforming old institutions that is the dynamic of aggression.
Are there any limits to the power of capital to attack, and for its institution to grow?
We have no political way of controlling this process of capitalism, because the free market and competition is part of the democratic system.
So can the capitalist system ever end? Can it self-destruct?
I recount recent economic history.
The forty’s and fifty's were a period of contraction. The sixty's were a period of growth. In the seventy's there was a crisis in the system. There were four points of limit to the growth of capitalist institutions:
- The consumers could not consume more.
- Governments of the Western block were too much in debt.
- The Eastern block countries had borrowed so much from the West that they could not borrow any more.
- The third world had reached the end and was bankrupt. It could no longer pay its debt.
I feel the first world should write off the debt or give up its right to the money borrowed. We need to have a new law for that or a new way to settle this debt.
The first world reached the end of its potentials for economic growth in the seventy's. This became the crisis of capital. To overcome this crisis the capitalist world turned to the ‘system economy’.
What is the ‘system economy’? A description:
The transnationals wanted a new system to continue economic growth, and call the tune. They wanted :
- to decide what should be produced (which was not necessarily what people needed). Only capital decides what should be produced.
- Government should deregulate the economy; i.e. step back from the system and there should be less control, less legislation, less restriction.
This became possible because the so-called liberal Christians came to power (Thatcher, Reagan, and Kohl (West Germany)).
The transnationals started the consumer society. The citizen became its prisoner and the transnationals could produce what they wanted. Europe infiltrated this. The European Common Market is exactly what Free Market means. It is Free Market for
- The citizen
- in that order (The foreigner is not free in this system).
The European Parliament has no control over the transnationals. Since the National Parliament has given up their power over the economies of their nations, the transnationals can now have a freehand, and a market free of government control. Similarly the world economy can only succeed in this way if it is made entirely free, say the transnationals.
The question I asked myself at this point was whether the War Tax Resistance concept should be made broader to embrace their other concepts.
If our present system of economics is a war system, then we are the soldiers’ producers and consumers. Should War Tax Resistance include not producing and consuming?
Should we be obedient consumers and workers? I hope to discuss this with you today.