It is hard not to feel depressed. At what is supposed to be a time of the year when families and friends gather together to enjoy each other’s company and exchange gifts, even this small escape from the wage-laborer’s life of fast-paced monotony seems difficult to enjoy when the overbearing clouds of capitalism cover us in darkness. Whatever holiday one celebrates at this time of the year, the festivities and general atmosphere seem tainted and stained by the mess that capitalism has strewn around us, and the woes that it is brewing for our near futures.
As family members shopped for gifts to give each other for the holidays this year, it was hard to ignore their wallets and bank accounts getting thinner and thinner as inflation takes its toll. This year, inflation in the US was at its highest in 30 years, with prices rising 6.2% over the last year.(1) This rise in the cost of living hits the working class the hardest. It’s not that yachts are costing a little more this year. It’s that food and fuel are becoming more and more difficult for workers to get our hands on. Food prices have risen 5.4% over the last year.(2) Examples of certain basic staples are egregious. Eggs are now 28% more expensive than last year, at $1.82 from $1.41 in the previous year.(3) And at the coldest time of the year, it’s even more expensive to heat our homes (if we’re lucky enough to have them). Natural gas heats around half of homes in the US and its cost has increased approximately 50% over the last year.(4) And one only has to try to fill up their car with gas to plainly feel the brunt of economic inflation on workers.
Not only are basic necessities getting harder to buy, but having any sort of income with which to buy those necessities is also simply not a reality for large numbers in our class. The official unemployment rate is still higher than it was before the Covid pandemic, at 4.2% in November.(5) Unofficially however there are nearly 100 million working age adults that are not in the workforce for one reason or another.(6) The ruling class has resorted to nasty tricks to get the working class back to generating profits for them after a year and a half of many of them being out of work. States under Republican governors cut off life-line unemployment pay to workers earlier in the year and Biden feigned helplessness as it happened; in reality both the Republican governors and Biden were and are on the same side, driven by their necessity to extract greater amounts of profits (unpaid work) out of workers. Unemployment pay has been evaporating in Democratic states over the course of the year. Still, the unemployment rate remains high. Many of the jobs that are ‘available’ now are blatantly insulting to us as workers. Jobs that offer “$10 and $12 an hour”(7) are what the capitalist pundits and talking-heads like Elaine Chao are talking about when they say that it is our “patriotic duty”(8) to return to work. So workers are caught between no income at all and scraps that don’t pay the bills.
The economic pain that workers in the US, and indeed across the world are feeling, hits us against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic which has not receded and is attacking us aggressively nearly two years on. The official US Covid death tally recently passed 800,000(9) a few weeks ago, but some say that the US is undercounting the true number of mortalities from the virus.(10) Still, the official number represents a gargantuan amount of people that capitalism was willing to sacrifice for the sake of continued profits. The virus hit our class the hardest, as we were the first to be asked to return to the frontlines of work, catching the virus ourselves and then being sent to overworked medical workers in overcrowded hospitals.
The capitalist class has from the start tried to make the virus seem like an individual problem, with its solution being based on whether or not individuals decided to wear masks or take vaccines. In reality Covid is not an individual but a social problem, and it revealed the sick underpinnings of capitalist society. Sick pay is virtually non-existent in the US, and the fact that such a basic measure is lacking encourages the spread of the virus. Taking any sorts of measures to protect the health of workers was fundamentally at odds with the maintenance of the economy and the continued generation of profits for the capitalists, so of course capitalism would never be able to actually solve the pandemic in any meaningful way. We know that because Covid is not only still with us, but just as bad as it's ever been. There have been more deaths from Covid in 2021 than in 2020,(11) and the current 7-day average for deaths is 1,500 per day.(12) With rare exception since August the average has been consistently above 1,000 per day, sometimes going above 2,000. Now we have the new Omicron variant which is proving to spread even easier and infecting people at a much higher rate, foreshadowing more death to come. And, as is usual, it is our class that suffers the most.
Our class also suffers from the half-measures that the capitalist state takes to supposedly contain and fight the spread of the virus. These measures consist of lockdowns which exist only for our class and not for the ruling class, who get to go to maskless parties without police harassment. These lockdowns are also truly not deserving of the name; it is only a lockdown once you’re off the clock. When you are being exploited for your labor-power, then you can be around people. When you’re off work and want to hang with your friends, won’t you follow the science? It’s no wonder then that suicides, depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses have all skyrocketed over the course of the pandemic as our class has become even more isolated, alienated, and atomized than it was before the pandemic. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murphy recently released a report detailing the crisis of mental health among young people during the pandemic, and it cited how “emergency room visits for suicide attempts rose 51% for adolescent girls in early 2021 as compared to the same period in 2019,” among other grueling figures.(13)
On top of the pressing daily realities that our class faces comes the general existential threats that capitalism hangs over our heads. Global imperialist war and climate change are some of the first that come to mind. The last year has seen a ratcheting up of imperialist tensions, with the US ruling class taking increasing measures towards attempting to build up economic and military alliances to counter what it sees as its largest threats, China and to a lesser extent Russia. As Chinese imperialism strengthens its resolve through rhetoric and military exercises (such as flyovers and combat drills) to take Taiwan, the US bourgeoisie has likewise played its part to hype up the ‘Chinese threat’. Throughout the year top US military officials have been warning of a possible Chinese invasion of the island within the decade,(14) and the US capitalist media follows along, playing its role by portraying China as our biggest enemy(15) and manufacturing consent for what could eventually become a veritable global imperialist war (a recent poll suggests that half of the US favors sending troops to defend Taiwan, for example).(16)
Biden and the US ruling class have stepped up their measures to protect their imperialist interests. On September 15th Biden announced the formation of the AUKUS security pact, a military cooperation agreement between the US, UK, and Australia which acts as a thinly veiled attempt to strengthen US imperialism against Chinese imperialism in the Indo-Pacific region.(17) Biden has also stepped up his rhetoric, claiming in October that the US “would come to Taiwan’s defense” in the event of a Chinese attack on the island.(18) The US ruling class has also been attempting to rally nations across the world against China and Russia, hosting a cynically named “summit for democracy” in order to isolate its imperialist adversaries.(19) Whatever the details, this is a global nuclear holocaust (which the capitalist press nonchalantly brushes over) hanging over our heads like a sword of Damocles.
This is to say nothing of the recent Russian maneuvers in and around Ukraine and the US’ threats to send troops to Eastern Europe as a bulwark against Putin, or of the fact that the past year has only added to the pile of evidence that climate change is real, getting worse, an existential threat to our species’ survival, and that the ruling class across the world is continuing with their path of prioritizing profits over humanity’s survival. The recent COP26 conference in Glasgow demonstrated this last reality, as world leaders set less than minimal goals with no ways to enforce them, and revealed their hypocrisy days after the conference. One of the most egregious examples of this is how the Biden administration auctioned off around 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil drilling just days after he had talked about the need for actions, and not just words, on climate change.(20)
In short, it is hard to enjoy the holiday season with capitalism pressing down on us in its myriad ways. Economic misery, deadly and omnipresent disease, cratering mental health, along with looming dangers from capitalism that have the potential to bring us horrors beyond human comprehension. These are the Christmas gifts to us from the ruling class. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In the midst of this storm there is a beacon of sunshine, and that is the working class. While we bear the brunt of capitalism’s attacks, we are the base on which it draws its continued existence, through the exploitation of our labor-power, and it is due to that relationship that we have the power to end this misery and build a better world. Already there are several hopeful signs in this respect; workers in the US and across the world have been re-learning how to wield our collective power as a class to struggle for improvements to our living conditions. In the US over the past year, and especially over the last few months, we saw an incredible increase in workers going on strike. At one point in October, over 100,000 workers in the US were either on strike, or were preparing to go on strike. Some of these striking workers or those preparing to strike include the 1,400 workers at Kellogg’s plants across the US (which we have covered here(21)), 10,000 workers at John Deere plants in the US, and around 60,000 Hollywood workers who nearly went on strike in October. It got to the point that not even the capitalist press could ignore it, with the month being dubbed ‘Striketober.’(22)
Workers in Iran are leading the way for our class right now. Since June 19th, more than 100,000 Iranian oil workers have been on strike throughout the country for better pay and living conditions. This comes in the context of a triple crisis of Covid, climate change-induced drought, and economic crisis for the working class in the country. The workers have been on strike for this period outside of the unions, which are nakedly Islamist and reactionary organs for controlling, diverting, and killing the workers’ struggle. They have organized themselves across divisions of employment and contracts, have formed their own workers’ strike committees which guard the struggle in their own hands, and have issued regular bulletin updates at every step of the way. Their actions have inspired other workers in Iran to take up the call to strike and even potentially form workers’ councils (shuras).(23) This is an incredibly inspiring and significant development which shows the possibilities that exist for our class in Iran and across the world. It is no wonder then that there has been a complete news blackout of this strike by the capitalist press across the entire world. This strike and wave of powerful working-class militancy in Iran poses a genuine threat to the interests of the capitalist class across the world, and while they may have their own petty feuds, they are united in their desire to keep churning out profits on our backs. (You can read some of the ICT’s coverage of the strike here(24)).
It is essential that us militants do all that we can to push forward these struggles, through covering them, propagandizing them, but most of all, involving ourselves as deeply as we can in these struggles as they occur. All of this has to be done with a communist perspective which poses the need to completely overthrow capitalism to permanently end the exploitation that we suffer on a daily basis as members of the working class. To overthrow global capitalism as a class we are going to need to build an international organization of, by and for the working class, which will serve us as a tool in our hands for uniting the mass of our class around a revolutionary political reference point. The Internationalist Communist Tendency does not see itself as this international organization. Rather, we see ourselves as one of the nuclei of this future revolutionary organization, and one that will play a leading role in its formation, but which will also work with other organizations united in a revolutionary class politics towards the future class organization’s formation.
So happy holidays, and let’s commit ourselves to holidays without class society!
Felix (Internationalist Workers’ Group)
Photo from: commons.wikimedia.org
(3) See note 2.