Are you sad because a bout of Covid-19 disrupted your life with illness, bills, or even the death of a friend or family member? Are you anxious because your benefits have ceased and you can’t find a new job? Are you worried because the brain fog after Covid has persisted so long? Are you angry because you are being evicted or are short of food? Maybe you are one of the statistics being counted in the supposed wave of the mentally ill? After having Covid, people were 55% more likely to be on antidepressants and 65% more likely to be on antidepressants than uninfected contemporaries (NYT 2/16/22).
We will argue that the new stressor of Covid is only another one added to those that capitalism already provides: poverty, racism, poor social services, sexism, police violence. High quality housing, education, health care, recreation and a healthy environment are difficult to attain and maintain even for middle and modestly high-income workers. In addition, we now live in a world in which we are witnessing the imminence of climate disaster, the rising risk of nuclear war, the increased frequency of pandemics, and the worsening of inflation causing desperation among millions. We urgently need to prepare to change this system. Let us begin by examining the ways in which the powerful in our society try explain away its deficiencies by blaming them on deficiencies within us, within our bodies and minds.
Inflation is the latest way the capitalist system’s crises are deepening the oppression of workers around the world. Capitalism is driven by competition and profit accumulation and generates global economic and political instability. While inflation is depriving U.S. workers of some of life’s necessities, the U.S.’s export of inflation to other countries is even more devastating. Such an absurd and abusive system cries out for a more sensible alternative.
The August 8 raid by the FBI on Donald Trump’s residence and playground in Mar-a-Lago certainly got everyone’s attention, especially Trump’s. And while the legal battle is playing out over Trump’s taking boxloads of Top Secret and Classified files to his basement (and what was in his safe?), this really reflects something much deeper than the specific criminal acts that are alleged. It could more accurately be described as “The Empire Strikes Back!”
The increasing political divide in the US, reflected on almost any issue from immigration to abortion rights to vaccines, reflects the debate going on in the political class over how to save the US empire. As US imperialism faces ever greater challenges internationally, this debate takes on a more urgent, and sometimes violent, nature. The US empire is slipping away and there is a fierce struggle going on over how to save it. Basically, we are witnessing what goes on inside the loser’s locker-room, with each side blaming the other, and all of them being at least partially right!
To quote Ahilan Kadirgamar, a political economist at the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, the uprising is “a revolt and not yet a revolution, because it doesn’t want to change fundamental social relations… or property relations.”1
All of us who yearn to see a mass movement of workers united across national, racial and gender lines against capitalism and imperialism should remember and learn from the life of Walter Rodney. A Guyanese historian and activist who was murdered by his own ruling class in 1980 at the age of 38, Rodney understood the pitfalls of pseudo-socialism and neocolonialism like few others. And also like few others, he combined a profound understanding of history from a Marxist perspective, the ability to convey his knowledge and learn from broad swath of workers, and a commitment to actively participate in workers’ struggles. It is that combination that made him so dangerous to the Guyanese rulers.
Imperialist countries cannot wage war for global power without the tens of thousands of workers they recruit and arm to fight for their empires. To the ruling class and military brass, these workers are cannon fodder for their interests. WWI wasted millions of young men sent to carry out insane combat orders. The US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq relied on voluntary soldiers, some motivated by patriotism and more by the economy and difficulty finding jobs. Army recruiters prowled the halls of high schools and promised training and benefits. During the 1960s when the Vietnam War began, the Army instituted the draft, giving deferments and better positions to college students. This deferment ended as the Army required more soldiers.
Class divisions mirrored those in civilian life causing resentments and conflict. During the Vietnam War, most combat soldiers had working class backgrounds and a high school degree or less while the officers had high school and college degrees. Officers working in safety far from the fighting made the combat decisions and ordered the troops to implement them. As we will see, the draft of men who did not want to fight created a tinderbox of rebellion.
As earlier articles on this blog have explained, we, the working class of all nations, should not take sides in the war in Ukraine. Russia, the United States, and the EU are fighting for control of natural resources, minerals, oil, gas, grains, and pipelines. Russia has aggressively and inhumanely devastated cities in order to grab territory to assert power. The US is intent on weakening the power of Russia and boosting the number of NATO military bases around Russia. The US has intervened in Ukrainian politics since 2014 when it installed their new president. Russia has retaliated against these threats with horrendous attacks on civilians.
Capitalism kills, and war is the most extreme example. Capitalists send working class men and women into horrific situations and count success as the number of enemy troops killed and territory seized. These capitalists are willing to sacrifice our lives whether in Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, or Libya. As we see on the news, Biden is more than willing to shelter 100,000 Ukrainian refugees while deporting hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who also face desperate situations in their home countries. He sends billions of dollars for military equipment to Ukraine, slashes funding for Covid relief, and maintains trade barriers on distributing vaccines to poorer countries with primarily black and brown people. This war is draining billions for arms (currently over $56 billion) from domestic social needs, such as healthcare, housing, and climate improvements.
On the “positive” side, soldiers have significant power by deserting, sabotaging equipment, and refusing orders. There are some reports of Russian soldiers deserting; over 30,000 have died! International Business News (June 22, 2022) reported that 200 Russian soldiers hid out in a village in Ukraine rather than fight. An officer shot himself in the leg to avoid combat, and another GI ran over an officer with his tank. The Russian Army released 100 national guardsmen who refused orders. Another soldier told a reporter that “none of us wanted this war.”
If soldiers on both sides refused to fight, they could end the war. WWI and WWII led to revolutions in Russia and China. The role of the armed forces was instrumental for their victories; soldiers mutinied against their ruling classes and refused to attack the revolutionaries. However, this is not inevitable. Successful revolutions require people’s commitment to egalitarianism and anti-racism, and the organization of workers, students, and soldiers into a party.
This article recounts the GI rebellions against the War in Vietnam. Later articles will cover other wars during the 20th Century. Soldiers from Ukraine and Russia must follow these heroic examples to end the war.
There is a runoff election upcoming in Colombia on June 19 between a staunch right winger, Rodolfo Hernández, and a so-called leftist, Gustavo Petro, both of whom got more votes in the first round than the centrist candidate representing the status quo. “So-called” leftist is the key word here, because, to quote Petro, he is fighting for “democracy and peace, not socialism.” 1 He wants to raise taxes on the rich, combat hunger, increase access to health care and education, and halt oil exploration, but he envisions accomplishing this by allying himself with liberal politicians in order to “ pass progressive liberal reforms.”2
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.
V. I. Lenin’s pamphlet, Imperialism, remains the leading elaboration of the concept of imperialism for Marxists. It is the starting point for any discussion of the global dynamics of capitalism from the late- nineteenth century until today.
While capitalism has taken twists, turns, and even detours since Lenin’s time, the destination remains the same– the exploitation of labor for profit, wherever workers and resources can be found. Capitalism’s evolution, concentration, growth, and uneven development are the necessary conditions for imperialism. Imperialism respects no social or political borders.