Workers in southern and north-western Pakistan have been devastated by severe flooding over the last several weeks. Thirty-three million people are affected, mainly being displaced, by what may be the worst flooding in the history of Pakistan. The official death count from the floods is at about 1,400 people; unofficially, the estimate is over 4,000 dead. There is nothing natural about the scope of this disaster. The blame is squarely on capitalism. Namely, climate change, mass poverty and neglect of developing infrastructure, all caused by the drive for ever increasing profit at the expense of the working class. Many reforms, like decent housing and new sewers, would save many lives and spare many workers the loss of their homes, but those reforms seem like a distant impossible dream. In fact, the situation keeps repeating and will continue to worsen as capitalist crises only get more severe.
Worsening climate change brought heavier rains than usual into this region which destroyed the homes and belongings of millions of poor workers, who the capitalist system sees as expendable. Many of those displaced and killed were among the millions of workers in Pakistan who were forced out of the countryside by the abject poverty of the agricultural system under capitalism that leaves small farmers on their own. Recent droughts, also worsened by climate change, left family farmers in the impossible position of staying on their barren land to starve or heading into the cities to find work at poverty wages (ARY News, 9/2). These workers were forced by the conditions to settle on the banks of rivers, among the riskiest places to live but one of the few ways in the cities for the working class to have access to water.
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.
From the point of view of public health, there are two overwhelming reasons to promote global vaccination against Covid-19. One is that since early in 2020, there have existed vaccines which are highly effective at preventing death and serious illness. Thus it is incumbent on all of us concerned with prioritizing human health to demand that all the people of the world have an understanding of and access to these vaccines. Second, if we allow large population groups to remain unprotected, the virus will have ongoing opportunity to mutate, creating variants which may be more lethal or vaccine-resistant and thereby endanger the health of the whole world, including those already vaccinated. Achieving global vaccination is no less important than practicing sound public health with masking and social distancing.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia is motivated by imperialist ambitions and is rightly condemned by most for its military aggression against Ukraine. This is not a war of ideology for Putin. Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, but rather an authoritarian capitalist state where only Putin and the Oligarchs wield power. In a word, this is a war of empire.