The war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, devastation of the environment and climate disaster, all of these things are the product of capitalism. They are not ‘natural disasters’ but the outcome of the contradictions of a crumbling social system (mode of production) which has long lost its benefit to humanity. Unless capitalism is destroyed it will destroy us all. Never has the need to go beyond capitalism to a higher system of production been more urgent.
The Ukraine War
The war in Ukraine is the beginning of a new and more dangerous phase of imperialist confrontation. The battleground is moving to the rich capitalist heartlands and the United States, with its imperialist top dog position threatened by the rise of China, is using its economic and military might to control its allies (the EU) and weaken the potential of a China/Russia alliance. As in all wars today, the working class has nothing to gain on either side. Russian oligarchs or Ukrainian oligarchs, what difference does it make to those of us whose life is constricted by the necessity to work for a wage in a global economic crisis? Talk of “peoples' rights”, “democracy”, “the fight against Nazism”, are grotesque propaganda to justify the very high cost of the war, that will be passed on to the millions of people who take part in it. The Ukrainian proletariat, the population under the bombs, are victims; so too are the conscripts, sons of the Russian proletariat sent to kill and be killed for the sake of “their” land. In strict economic terms too, it is always the working class who pays and will pay the costs of war. Not only in Ukraine, Russia, and Europe but also in wider regions of the world, workers are already being hit by wheat speculation and bread price rises.
The imperialist issues behind the Ukraine conflict are clear. By extending NATO to Russian borders and looking to integrate Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance, US imperialism is encircling Russia to the point of being able to park its missiles on Russia’s doorstep. Further, the US has armed Ukraine and trained its army to the degree where it is able to retake the separatist Donbas region; a region which has strategic economic resources such as iron, coal and industry. The revamped Ukrainian army would also be able to threaten Crimea which contains Russia’s main naval base on the Black Sea. Ukraine has more or less become a de facto member of NATO. Biden boasts that $650 million in arms were supplied to Ukraine before the Russian invasion and now $1.35 billion more has been promised. These threats pushed Russian imperialism to strike before Ukraine was integrated into NATO. As the ruler of a former "super-power", Putin is obsessed with making Russia great again. This, therefore, is more serious than wars in the Middle East or ex-Yugoslavia and has the potential of escalating to a global conflict in which, as Putin reminds us, nuclear weapons could be used.
In the longer term both Russia and China aim to secure their own economic interests by overthrowing US global hegemony. Based on the international role of the dollar the US is able to impose savage economic sanctions against both countries. Russia’s demand that its gas and oil exports now be paid for in roubles and its link of the rouble to gold are an attempt to strike back. This is economic war. For its part the US is determined to use military means to defend its global hegemony, regardless of the cost. Such a clash of interests inevitably leads to imperialist war.
Precursors of Global War
On the one hand, the pressure of the war has forced the EU to fall in behind the US and to agree to rearm. On the other, the invasion and the economic sanctions imposed have thrown Russia into the arms of China. At the same time civilian suffering, the millions of desperate refugees and Russian atrocities are being claimed as the fruit of dictatorship. Meanwhile the atrocities being committed by the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion in the Donbas are quietly ignored in the same way as US war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere pass unmentioned. The message that western so-called democracy is worth defending against the dictatorships of Russia and China, and is worth dying for, is being trumpeted loud and clear. What we are seeing is both the beginnings of the alignment of states into blocs for a future global war and also the projection of the ideology for mobilisation of workers as cannon fodder in such a war.
However, the root cause of this war drive is capitalism’s long-running economic crisis and the continuing inability of the capitalist class to solve it. To date, the system has not recovered from the 2008 financial system implosion. This crisis was, in turn, the result of a longer, deeper crisis caused by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall fueling financial speculation. This pumped up the values of property, financial assets and commodities causing the bubble which exploded in 2008. Despite the decade of austerity which was supposed to put things right, the system was on the cusp of another crisis when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Once again the response of the capitalist class was to use the central banks to unleash a flood of monetary credit into the financial system. Again, almost none of this has gone into productive investment. Instead it has again been used for speculation, storing up the same problems which led to the collapse of 2008. While the pandemic has made the economic crisis significantly worse, it has also been used to camouflage the underlying problems and to persuade the working class that even more sacrifices are needed to get their lives back on an even keel.
In light of all this, two things in particular need to be emphasised. The first is that the economic crisis has reached a point at which our leaders are running out of purely economic options to mitigate its effects. Instead they are prepared to openly resort to a major war in the heart of Europe to defend their economic interests – a war prepared moreover in broad daylight with no attempt to disguise it. War is thus the result of capitalism’s contradictions. It is the legitimate child of capitalism. The second is that this war is also a war against the working class. The short term aim is to get us to accept further sacrifices. If wage cuts can be justified as necessary sacrifices for war then profitability can be increased. The longer term aim is to prepare us for world war, the ultimate solution to capitalism’s problem of profitability, and to mobilise us as cannon fodder. Never since the Second World War has our response to capitalism’s war plans, “No War but the Class War”, been more vital. The struggle is class against class. We must not give our support to either side in this war. Neither Russia nor NATO!
We Pay the Price
The working class has been in retreat for decades, and has consequently been paying the costs of the crisis by having its living standards reduced while productivity rates are increased (though still not enough to offset falling profit rates due to the rising organic composition of capital). This has been the strategy of “our” rulers worldwide. Since the first phase of the crisis, which started in the early 1970s with the decoupling of the dollar to gold, our share of the value our labour produces has been dramatically reduced. In the G20 countries this share has, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), decreased from about 65% to 55%, a decrease of 15%. In the US, for example, the purchasing power of wages has been static since the early 1970s while labour productivity has increased by a factor of almost three! It’s a similar story in other countries. The Asian Development Bank calculates that for 115 countries, in the period from the mid-1970s to today, workers’ share of the value they produce has fallen from 55% to 45%. The ILO also reports that 266 million workers globally are paid below the minimum wage in their countries. This represents 15% of all labour globally. There are, of course, millions of workers who suffer even worse conditions but don’t appear in these figures because they are ignored by national statistics. Precarious working, zero-hours contracts, "fire–and–rehire", significant inflation outpacing wage increases and unemployment all amount to a vicious attack on our living standards. The effects of the Ukraine war will make all this worse. Inflation, caused by massively increasing energy and food costs, will shoot up, and this will be significantly worse for low income countries.
From Resistance to Revolution
Collectively the working class has the potential power to finish off the capitalist system itself before it destroys much of life on earth. Any effective fightback must start from the workplace. Despite the fact that capitalism has been restructured via globalisation and the exploitation of cheaper labour power wherever it can find it worldwide, there are signs that the passivity of the working class may be ending. We have seen strikes in the service industries in core capitalist countries, strikes and mass protests in South America and South Asia and strikes taking a communist direction in Iran. Also there have been reports of workers in various countries refusing to handle war materials destined for the Ukraine war. These struggles have, however, remained isolated and generally controlled by the trade unions which have a vested interest in maintaining the wages system. To be effective a fightback needs to generalise itself and be controlled by workers themselves via strike committees and mass assemblies. Above all, what is really necessary is that the working class in general takes up its own political cause, and links the struggles against the economic effects of the system to the system of capitalism itself and hence to the need to overthrow it. As Marx said,
Revolution in general — the overthrow of the existing ruling power and the dissolution of existing social relationships — is a political act. Without revolution, socialism cannot develop. (1844)
A Communist World
What we must create is a higher form of production aimed at satisfying human need, not profit. The means of production must become common property, production must be organised collectively by workers' councils. This will allow classes to be abolished and states and money to become unnecessary. The watchword of such a system will be:
from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
To achieve this we need to construct an international political organisation which fights for this and has a programme for achieving it. Such an organisation will serve as a guide and point a direction of march for future struggles. We stand in the tradition of the Communist Left, which early on fought nationalism and imperialism in defending revolutionary Marxism against capitalism whatever its form, even if presented in the guise of "socialism". In the middle of the Second World War, our comrades of the PCInt (Internationalist Communist Party) called on workers, on both sides, “to desert the war”, and fight for their own aims. Our aim today is to contribute to a new International, anchored in the working class of today, preparing for the struggles to come. We call on all those who can identify with this perspective to enter into contact and discussion with us.
Internationalist Communist Tendency
May Day 2022