by Ellen Isaacs
May 7, 2022
There is a great crescendo of clashes and dangers in the world, a true cacophony of violence and suffering, and yet from the media we hear only the cymbal crashes of Ukraine. While the great imperialists of the US, Russia, China and the underlings in NATO, Israel, Iran and elsewhere are sharpening their swords, only Russia is being labeled evil.
As the US surpasses one million Covid-19 deaths, and the world possibly 18 million, Africa remains barely vaccinated and public health protections are being discarded.
As fossil fuel use and pipelines continue to expand, scientists warn that climate change is already at least partly irreversible.
What, we must ask, must be our response? Can it possibly be enough to promote “progressive” politicians? Can it possibly be enough to call for peace or climate conferences? The answer is NO, a resounding NO, because what we are witnessing is the cataclysm of imperialist conflict, of ever more desperate competition for profit and territory in a world that is disease ridden, boiling and burning, and armed with nuclear weapons likely to be used by a desperate losing power. The end of a survivable planet is no longer a possible scenario of far off decades but one that might happen within the very near or not too distant future. Our response MUST therefore also be revolutionary, an actual transfer of power, seizure of power by the workers of the world – the overthrow of the capitalist/imperialist order.
Widespread World Disasters
While we hear little of any suffering besides that of Ukrainians, around the world, multitudes – discounted by virtue of darker skins – are dying of hunger and violence or fleeing across borders. All in all, over 82 million people are displaced due to war or persecution, the highest number ever. The top five countries accounting for these numbers are Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. About 82,500 people were killed in conflict in 2020.1 At the same time climate change is already at the point of irreversibility and plays a role in feeding conflicts. Pandemics can be predicted to increase in frequency and severity as environmental disaster and poverty continue unabated.
The source of these many calamities is not primarily the greed or shortsightedness of local actors, which is abundant, but the competition between the major imperialists to control the territory, resources, and profits of the world. As Lenin said in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,
“Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the people of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries. And this “booty” is shared between two or three powerful world marauders armed to the teeth”…”who involve the whole world in their war over the sharing of their booty.”
These words, written in 1917, are no less true today, although the identities of the major competitors have changed. Instead of the US, Britain and Japan we now face fatal competition between the US and China, increasingly allied with Russia. The once powerful European states and Israel ally firmly with the US. Many nations of South and Central America, Africa and Asia, for whom China has become the main supplier of infrastructure, loans and resources, hedge their bets and tilt towards the Asian monolith.
China’s Heft Grows
The US reached its pinnacle of power after World War II, when it was the dominant producer of the world’s goods and had by far the strongest military. A few decades after emerging relatively unscathed from the war and dropping two atomic bombs on civilian cities in order to announce its inhumanity and supremacy to the Soviet Union, the US proceeded on a path of declining hegemony. From a draw in Korea to losses in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has suffered a steady stream of military defeats and loss of political influence. (for an overall review of US imperialism, see https://multiracialunity.org/2018/02/02/as-u-s-imperialism-declines-we-must-fight-racism-and-nationalism/#more-1017)
Meanwhile, the power and reach of China has grown exponentially. Having long given up any pretenses at building a communist society and having embarked on a capitalist path, China has entered the world competition for economic and military supremacy. Through its Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013, China is expanding its markets, trade routes, and economic power over many nations in Africa, Asia and South America, where it now has contracts to build railways, bridges and airports, ports, industry and infrastructure. Its most important partner is Pakistan, while India waffles between China and the West. In Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Egypt and Ethiopia are chief investment centers2 — altogether over 13,000 projects in 165 countries.3 Since 2010 China has exceeded US manufacturing by 10 percentage points, accounting for 28.7% of global manufacturing in 2019,4 having surpassed the US as the world’s largest trading nation in 2013.5
Militarily China is also on an expansionist path with President Xi Jinping aiming for China to become a power, capable of “fighting and winning wars” by 2049. Their military budget is second only to that of the US, including nuclear warheads, hypersonic missiles, artificial intelligence, cyber attack capability, and a huge naval expansion which has overtaken the US as they attempt to dominate the island chain from Japan to Taiwan to the Philippines6 and build bases beyond their shores, starting in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
Alliances Forging between US Rivals
China is also forging increasing ties with Russia, the other most committed competitor with US capitalism. The strongest commitment to a Chinese-Russian alliance was made in February, 2022 when the two nations pledged to ally against the US and the West and cooperate on space, climate change, artificial intelligence and the internet, opposition to NATO expansion and mutual support to maintain security in adjacent areas.7 Trade deals include massive sales of Russian coal and wheat to China while electronics, machinery and other manufactured goods flow the other way. Chinese state-owned banks continue to lend to Russia despite Western sanctions.8
Russia and China, as well as India, are also attempting to build an alternative financial system that is not dependent on the dollar, an effort that will only accelerate as the US imposes economic sanctions on Russia. Since 2017 Russia has established its own banking communication system as an alternative to SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) that now has 399 users and is negotiating with China to join. Russia is also part of China’s effort to establish its own banking network, BRICS, that also includes Brazil, India and South Africa. Since 2019, Russian energy companies have stopped using the US dollar and use Euros for most trade and gas being imported to China through a new pipeline. Russia’s Central Bank has invested $44 billion in yuan, accounting for a quarter of global yuan reserves.9. India has also had trade agreements with Russia from 1953-92 and since 2014 in which much mutual trade is conducted in rupees-rubles exchanges.10 This giant contest between imperialist alliances will inevitably end up in armed conflict, with the probability that whoever falls behind will resort to its deadliest weapons.
The World is Frying
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of Feb, 2022 reports that 3.3-3.6 billion people, 40% of the world population, are experiencing results or are highly vulnerable to climate change now. It is causing fire and heat disasters, health problems due to the spread of infectious disease, malnutrition and pollution, and mental health problems. If the temperature increase exceeds 1.5 degrees C, these changes will be irreversible.11 The World Meteorological Organization predicts a 40% chance that this level will be reached in at least one of the next five years, and at the current level of effort, there is no chance of reaching the necessary net-zero emissions to prevent irreversible climate change by 2050.12 Nonetheless oil company profits are booming as the Ukraine war threatens oil and gas supplies. Although oil companies are adding renewable energy sources, they are not cutting back on fossil fuel extraction and are only devoting 10-13% of profits to renewable development.13
Disease Threats Too
Even as Covid-19 has disrupted the entire world, we should expect that more frequent and possibly more deadly pandemics are in store. The spillover of animal viruses into humans, the usual source of pandemics, will increase as deforestation, disrupted habitats and climate change bring more animals into contact with humans. Modern industrial agriculture also encourages viral proliferation in food animals. The Center for Global Development predicts a 2.5-3.3 % chance of another global pandemic a year, and a millions of excess deaths unless there is a great increase in prevention and preparedness.14
Crescendo Conflicts Do Not reach a Quiet End
Many hope that the increasingly clear trajectories towards widespread environmental decimation and war will somehow force the seeking of resolutions along peaceful and humane paths. However, this would only be possible if the rulers of imperialist nations saw the preservation of lives of their workers, their citizens, indeed any workers of the world, to be of inherent value. But this is not the case – to all these capitalist entities, workers are only a means to producing profits. It is not a moral question, but the defining characteristic of capitalism, its immutable nature. In the same degree, the exploitation of the resources, human and tangible, of the colonized nations is necessary for production to proceed. Once we recognize this fundamental essence of our world order, we know not to hope it will change unless we make it do so.
The world being ruled by a small minority of rulers, we – the vast majority- clearly have the power to make change, to insure our survival. Despite the great weapons of the world’s militaries, they still depend on us to operate. Despite the great mechanization of production and extraction, they still depend on us to work. We can refuse, we must refuse. We must do it mightily, internationally, recognizing the urgency and our power. We must resist racism, sexism, and nationalism which will be used to try and turn us against each other.
Moreover, we must reimagine as we overthrow. We must build a whole new model of society, one we run in our interests- a society that maximizes the well-being and talents of the people of the world, free of profit, racism, nationalism and sexism. Earlier attempts to build a communist society accomplished much but destroyed themselves by thinking the transition must be a gradual process. Thus they maintained so many aspects of capitalism that they went back to that which they had tried to escape. But we must learn hard lessons and revolutionize the world again, before we have no world at all. And we must begin on that pathway now, with vigor