A Brief Critique of Anti-War Activism

December 7, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Re-reading Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War, I was struck by a point he makes about the Second International holding two contradictory positions on war: (1) Capitalism = war, therefore ending war = abolishing capitalism; and (2) War can be prevented within the context of capitalist society by a vigorous peace movement.

I reviewed the Second International declarations on war and militarism, and, indeed, these two contradictory positions appear in each and every one of them (see table below). They all say, first, that war can be ended only by abolishing capitalism, and then go on to say, war can be ended or prevented by actions x, y, and z, neither of which involve abolishing capitalism. 

Take the 1910 Copenhagen Conference. The conference’s declaration on war and militarism notes that “Modern wars are the result of capitalism, and particularly of rivalries of the capitalist classes of the different countries over the world market.” It adds that “Wars will cease completely only with the disappearance of the capitalist mode of production.” But later on, the declaration contradicts itself when it insists that wars can be prevented if, in a crisis potentially leading to war “immediate steps” are taken “to bring about an agreement among labor parties of the countries affected for united action to prevent the threatened war.”

Quite by accident, I came across an analysis on the Ukraine war by Socialist Action Canada. Echoing Second International resolutions of over 100 years ago, it too presented the same two contradictory positions. Here’s how the analysis begins: “The unfolding tragedy can be halted by mass protest actions in every country, along with the construction of a broad, democratic anti-war movement.” It ends with a contradictory message: The only way to end war is “to eradicate the capitalist profit system by means of workers’ socialist revolution.”

So, which is it? Wars won’t end until capitalism ends? Or, wars won’t end until a broad, democratic anti-war movement organizes mass protests?  

What I found more striking about the analysis was this: Except for a brief reference to “workers and the poor, women and children” (in other words just about everyone) comprising “the first and foremost victims of war”, the analysis makes not one reference to the specifics of how the war has harmed the bulk of humanity. To be fair, the analysis was written in the first weeks of the war, before the impact could be fully felt and known. But today, almost a year into the war, much of the anti-war writing I’ve seen is silent on the following effects of the war.

  • Inflation and concomitant reduction in standards of living;
  • Central banks inching economies toward recession to control inflation;
  • Deeper poverty and the prospect of a debt crisis in low-income countries;
  • The threat of black-outs and power cut-backs in Europe.

Heretofore, 21st century wars have had negligible if any impact on the mass of people, except in the countries affected, with the result that arousing any serious mass opposition has been all but impossible. But the war in Ukraine is one which touches almost everyone in unpleasant ways, and yet the doyens of the “peace movement” have nothing to say about this. Much anti-war writing dwells on the question of how much of the blame for the war lies with Russia and how much with the United States, and absolutely nothing on how this war is affecting nearly everyone and how this offers a greater opportunity than other wars of this century for successful agitation against war and for a Marxist understanding of it.

Into this vacuum has stepped the IMF and World Bank—organizations that call for an end to the war to save humanity from the conflict’s regrettable effects on the material conditions of most people. These organizations have become the unlikely de facto leaders of an anti-war movement. They have focused attention on a matter of the greatest relevance to the greatest number, namely, that on top of killing people in Ukraine, the war is plunging hundreds of millions in low-income countries deeper into poverty, while degrading the living standards of most everyone else. The self-appointed “peace movement”, in contrast, is too busy conducting agitprop for Moscow on social media (or pretending it’s not when it really is) to take any notice that the war has concretely produced an almost universal harm.  

It may be that the pro-Putin wing of the peace movement doesn’t want to draw too much attention to the suffering caused by the war, because most people correctly blame the war on Russia. Russia, after all, is the incontestable proximate cause. Being very vigorous opponents of war, our peace activists don’t want to sully the already sullied reputation of their favorite belligerent.  

In turns out that the love of humanity of this contemptible lot has a very narrow compass; it contains but one class of people–the leaders of US-adversary states. They love the anti-communist, misogynist, homophobic Putin, or whoever he tells them to love, but can’t find the energy to love their neighbors, the people they work with, and the class to which they belong. Their lodestar formula is: Whatever Washington dislikes is good. In another time, these same people would have rushed to defend Hitler, sung paeans to Tojo, and composed panegyrics to Mussolini, for one reason and one reason alone: Washington was against them. That is the sum and substance of their politics: opposition to Washington and solidarity with whoever shares their antipathy, including Chinese billionaires and telecom company executives, Russian oligarchs, and misogynist Iranian theocrats. Their equally repugnant counterparts on the other side, use the repugnance of some of Washington’s adversaries to justify support for Washington—betise of an equally objectionable character.

Meanwhile, you’ll find very little in their activism that tries to show—as “radicals” are supposed to do—what lies at the root of war. How can war be eliminated, or at least markedly suppressed, unless its causes are understood? Of course, some acknowledge the nexus between capitalism and war, and the necessity of abolishing the former to end the latter—as the Socialist Action Canada author did—but even they quickly contradict themselves by claiming wars can be ended short of ending capitalism, by galvanizing public opinion, pressuring governments, and engaging in feckless exhibitionist acts, like taking to the stage to interrupt the speeches of politicians, shouting a demand for the war to end, soon after shuffled away by security as the audience welcomes the ejection of a character they see as a crackpot. Their exhibitionist nonsense creates one impression: Not, the war must end, but, it’s the crackpots who are against it.

But they are the exception. The majority of the “peace movement’s” leaders don’t even go so far as to explore what Lenin called the economic essence or modern politics and war. Instead, they content themselves with generating an endless stream of revolting propaganda on behalf of whichever bourgeois state they’ve decided to docilely follow, like devoted dogs padding obediently after their masters.

Marxist and Liberal Views of War in the Resolutions of the Second international

 Marxist ViewLiberal View
Brussels Congress, 1891“Only the creation of a socialist order, putting an end to the exploitation of man by man, will put an end to militarism and assure permanent peace.”The Congress…calls on all workers to protest, by means of unceasing agitation, against all desires for war.
Zurich Congress, 1893“With the disappearance of class domination, war will likewise disappear. The fall of capitalism means universal peace.”Socialists “must protest unceasingly against standing armies and demand disarmament. The whole of the socialist party must lend its support to all associations whose object is universal peace.”
London Congress, 1896“Under capitalism the chief causes of war are not religious or national differences but economic antagonisms, into which the exploiting classes of the various countries are driven by the system of production for profit. Just as this system sacrifices unceasingly the life and health of the working class on the battlefield of labor, so it has no scruple in shedding their blood in search of profit by the opening up of new markets. The working class of all countries should rise up against military oppression on the same ground that they revolt against all other forms of exploitation under which they are victimized by the possessing class. To attain this object, they must acquire political power, so as to abolish the system of capitalist production.”The working class demands: 1) The simultaneous abolition of standing armies and the establishment of a national citizen force. 2) The establishment of an international tribunal of arbitration whose decision shall be final. 3) The final decision on the question of war or peace to be vested directly in the people in cases where the governments refuse to accept the decision of the tribunal arbitration.
Stuttgart Conference, 1907“Wars between capitalist states are as a rule the consequence of their competition in the world market, for every state is eager not only to preserve its markets but also to conquer new ones, principally by the subjugation of foreign nations and the confiscation of their lands. … Wars are … essential to capitalism; they will not cease until the capitalist system has been done away with…”“The Congress considers that the democratic organization of national defense, by replacing the standing army with the armed people, will prove an effective means for making aggressive wars impossible … ” The resolution goes on to refer “the growing power of the proletariat” through “its energetic intervention” to “maintain peace.”
Copenhagen Conference, 1910“Modern wars are the result of capitalism, and particularly of rivalries of the capitalist classes of the different countries over the world market…Wars will cease completely only with the disappearance of the capitalist mode of production.The Congress suggests that wars can be prevented by socialists undertaking “a vigorous propaganda of enlightenment among all workers…as to the causes of wars, in order to educate them in the spirit of international brotherhood.”   Additionally, it proposes “international arbitration be made compulsory in all international disputes”; “complete disarmament”; “the abolition of secret diplomacy”: and the “guarantee of self-determination of all nations.”   If further urges that, “in the event of war danger” that “immediate steps” be taken “to bring about an agreement among labor parties of the countries affected for united action to prevent the threatened war.”

Would a Plan for a Just Peace in Ukraine Make Any Difference?

December 5, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Would a peace plan for Ukraine that addresses each parties’ ostensible concerns about security and ethnic rights create a lasting peace?

In my view, it would not.

The parties’ substantive concerns are economic. Concerns about security and ethnic rights, while real, conceal more profound issues.

A plan that addresses the surface concerns but not the substantive ones is bound to fail.

What might the contours of a peace plan for Ukraine look like?

  • Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea.
  • Ukraine
    • Pledges neutrality, foreswearing membership in any military bloc.
    • Agrees to an irrevocable long-term lease of Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol.
    • Guarantees languages rights for Russophones and declares Ukraine to be a country for all its citizens, not a national Ukrainian state, and not one in which ethnic Ukrainians have superior rights. Instead, all citizens are guaranteed equal rights regardless of their language, religion, or ethnicity.

This proposal meets Russia’s stated concerns about security and the rights of Russian-speakers in Ukraine. At the same time, it restores all Ukraine’s territory.

But the plan fails to address key areas of tension.

First, it says nothing about whether the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines, built to circumvent Ukraine as a transitway for Russian natural gas, will be re-engaged to fulfill their originally intended role.  If so, Ukraine will be denied a major source of revenue in transit fees.  After the United States, Ukraine had been the major opponent of the pipelines. Kyiv would be expected to oppose any move to open the pipelines. So too would Washington.

It is unlikely that Moscow would agree to a plan that doesn’t see Russia’s return to Europe as a hydrocarbons vendor. Washington, conversely, is likely to oppose Russia’s re-engagement with Europe as an energy provider, considering that Europe’s renunciation of Russian gas has provided Washington with a much-needed market for US LNG.  The United States is now the world’s top LNG exporter.

Second, the plan fails to address perhaps the key issue underlying tensions since 2014: Whether Ukraine’s economy will be oriented toward the West or Russia.

Bearing an antipathy to Russia, a country they see as an historical oppressor, nationalist ethnic Ukrainians have pressured Kiev to orient their country toward the West, not only militarily, but economically. In contrast, Russophone Ukrainians have inclined more strongly to economic integration with Russia. For these reasons, Washington and Brussels have supported nationalist ethnic Ukrainians, and Moscow has backed Russophone Ukrainians. Both ethnic groups are used as tools by their superpower patrons to advance great power goals in Ukraine.

Thus, the cultural struggle between ethnic Ukrainians and Russophone Ukrainians is not only a struggle over nationalism and linguistic rights, but also a struggle over economics, with both the West and Russia intervening in Ukraine’s affairs for self-serving economic ends. A plan that addresses the surface linguistic and cultural concerns, but fails to tackle the key issue of Ukraine’s integration into one or the other economic bloc, will not produce a durable peace.

Cut-throat competition for markets, raw materials, pipeline routes, investment opportunities, and strategic territory is an enduring feature of capitalism. It is unlikely that a workable plan for peace can be found in a world in which capitalist competition is a constant. 

To sum up, a peace plan that addresses the ostensible reasons for war will make little difference. Ostensible reasons mask deeper motives—motives whose taproot is capitalist competition.

To end the fighting, one of two things must happen:

  • Russia, the United States, the European Union, and Ukraine pledge not to conduct themselves as capitalist powers. This isn’t going to happen.
  • The competition for Ukraine weakens one or both of the sides until one or both decides the potential gains are outweighed by the costs.

That’s how competitions end. In the victory of one side, in both sides simultaneously withdrawing, or in the mutual ruin of both. They don’t end in a just peace.

Is the Communist Split on the War in Ukraine an Echo of An Earlier Division?

December 2, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Eliseos Vagenas, a member of the central committee of the Greek Communist party (KKE), has written an interesting article in the party’s newspaper, Rizospastis, refuting the claim that the Russian invasion of Ukraine fostered a split in the international communist movement (ICM). Vagenas contends that the split existed well before the Russian invasion.

One can also argue that the split recapitulates a division within the Second International circa 1914—one which led to the creation of the Third International and the Communist parties to which the current ICM is its nominal heir.  

According to the Greek communist, the ICM has been split for some time on a least six questions, summarized below. When Russia invaded Ukraine, the parties moved to support or oppose Moscow, based on their pre-existing orientations, defined by either approach 1 or approach 2.

Two questions are critical to the positions the various ICM parties have taken on the war in Ukraine:

  • What does imperialism mean?
  • Is peace achievable in a capitalist world?

Communist parties that have either leaned toward outright support of Russia or greater condemnation of the United States and NATO, tend to view imperialism in a manner that departs significantly from the classical Marxist view and have developed an understanding of how to end war that revises Marx and borrows from liberalism. These parties see imperialism as the aggressive foreign policy of one capitalist state, the United States (and its satellites), and regard Russia as a victim of US imperialism. For them, the term ‘US imperialism’ is redundant, because imperialism is a monopoly of the United States.

What’s more, these parties tend to equate imperialism with war, and reject the notion that it has other dimensions, including peaceful capitalist competition, diplomacy, and even international security architectures. (Ask the North Koreans whether the UN Security Council is an expression of imperialism.) For these parties, imperialism is US war-making and little else.  

In contrast, parties that view the war in Ukraine as an inter-imperialist conflict adopt the classical Marxist view of imperialism. For them, imperialism is a system of cut-throat competition among states in which each state is compelled to expand the territory over which it has influence and control in order to guarantee its access to markets, raw materials, investment opportunities and strategic territory and thereby to ensure its self-preservation and that of the capital accumulating enterprises it represents. The competition is expressed in multiple ways, including war, but not limited to it. It may be, and has more often than not been, expressed in trade and investment agreements. (See, for example, Robinson’s and Gallagher’s The Imperialism of Free Trade.)

Kenneth Waltz’s review of the split in the socialist movement precipitated by WWI, which he presents in his classic Man, The State, and War, calls to mind the current split in the ICM as identified by Vagenas.

Parties which support Russia in its war on Ukraine tend to embrace, as Waltz describes them, “the techniques of the bourgeois peace movement—arbitration, disarmament, open diplomacy” as well as the belief that popular opinion “can exert enough pressure upon national governments to ensure peace.” This, Waltz argues, is a revision of Marx’s view, which “points to capitalism as the devil.” The “socialism that would replace capitalism was for Marx the end of capitalism and the end of states,” and it was the end of states, for Marx, that meant the end of war. An anti-war movement founded on the notion that popular pressure and international security architectures can ensure peace, is a tradition that Waltz identifies as originating in the Second International as a revision of Marx. It is also a tradition that Waltz pointedly notes failed to keep the peace in 1914.

Waltz elaborates. Members of the Second International “were united in that they agreed that war is bad, yet they differed on how socialists were to behave in a war situation. … Jean Jaures and Keir Hardie eloquently urged a positive program of immediate application. Socialists, they said, can force capitalist states to live at peace.”  As history shows, they couldn’t. Indeed, most socialists facilitated the war by supporting one of the belligerents.

In contrast, some “French and most German socialists argued that capitalist states are by their very nature wedded to the war system; the hope for the peace of the world is then to work for their early demise.” It is not, to bring the argument up to date, to support the weaker capitalist states in order to balance the strongest in a multipolar system. Indeed, this view is anti-Marxist in the extreme. For Marx, war ends when states end, not when weaker states balance the strongest and the world becomes multipolar.

The precursors of the Third International, Communists avant la lettre, argued that wars “are part and parcel of the nature of capitalism; they will cease only when the capitalist system declines, or when the sacrifices in men and money have become so great as a result of the increased magnitude of armaments that the people will rise in revolt against them and sweep capitalism out of existence.”

This resonates with the view of Vagenas, advocating for approach 2 as presented in the table above: The “capitalist world cannot be ‘democratized’.” It “cannot escape from wars no matter how many ‘poles’ it has.” War can only be escaped through “the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism, for the new, socialist society.”

Approach 1, then, evokes the Second International, while approach 2 appears to be consistent with the positions of the Third International.

On the basis of the foregoing, it would seem fitting to label approach 1 as “Liberal Bourgeois,” consistent with its tolerance of Communist participation in capitalist governments and broad progressive movements for capitalism’s reform; its penchant for a stepwise journey toward socialism; the absence of capitalism from its analysis of imperialism; its embrace of a peace movement whose techniques originate in a liberal theory of war; and its acceptance–indeed, its celebration–of China’s robust capitalism. Liberal Bourgeois Communists are nothing if not enthusiastic in their panegyrics to Chinese capitalism as “the world’s greatest anti-poverty machine” and never sparing in their praise of Chinese capitalism for “lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.” In their devotion to capitalism as a cure for poverty they have outmatched even the staunchest Republican.

Approach 2 can be labelled “Communist,” reflecting its resonance with classical Marxist positions.

It is regrettable that some Communist parties have suffered an ideological drift toward positions that the founders of the ICM, Lenin and his colleagues, repudiated.

It is equally regrettable that as self-proclaimed heirs of Marx, these same parties espouse a view of how to ensure a peaceful world that originates, as Waltz argues, not in Marx, but in a liberal bourgeois theory of war.

What’s Stopping the World from Stopping the War in Ukraine?

November 30, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Apart from hardliners in Moscow, Washington, and Eastern Europe, no one wants a war in Ukraine. And for good reason: It’s damaging most peoples’ lives.

According to The New York Times, “The combination of punishing sanctions, championed by Mr. Biden and his allies, and Russia’s retaliation has ricocheted through global food and energy markets, exacerbating already high inflation and undercutting global growth.”

The IMF and World Bank have been sounding alarms for months. Recently they were joined by the G20 (sans Russia).

“The war, leaders of the Group of 20 nations said in a declaration at the end of their summit in Bali, ‘is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy — constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity and elevating financial stability risks.’”

The “war needs to end,” said Gita Gopinath, the first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, “because the consequences for the economy are very high.” This view was “a common refrain from everybody” at the G20 summit, she added.

Not too long ago, a common refrain from everyone was that the Covid-19 pandemic needed to end, because the consequences were very high. What’s more, the World Health Organization’s secretary general said humanity had all the tools to end the pandemic.

So why is it, that despite consensus, and despite having the tools, the pandemic didn’t end? And why is that the war in Ukraine continues with no end in sight?

What are the G20 countries doing to bring the war to an end?  Nothing.

The United States and its NATO subalterns are prolonging the war by pumping billions of dollars of weapons into Ukraine.

Russia continues to fight a war it hasn’t the resources to win.

Allies Who Are Not Aligned

While the G20 collectively is doing precious little to end the war, the leader of one its members, France, is. Emmanuel Macron “wants to find a way of ending the war around the negotiation table, not the battlefield.” No wonder. The war has not been kind to Europe. (The US is another matter.)

“The U.S. has stepped in to help replace Russia as one of the continent’s biggest natural-gas purveyors, but its shipments of liquefied natural gas have come with much higher prices, straining Europe’s manufacturing base.”

“French officials worry that manufacturers stung by Europe’s high energy prices are starting to think about shifting production to the U.S. to reap the subsidies on top of cheaper fuel supplies.”

Macron recently entreated a host of giant European firms “not to move production to the U.S.”, where energy prices are cheaper, and Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, incents firms to produce in the USA.

“We need a Buy European Act like the Americans,” said Macron. “You have China protecting its industry, the United States protecting its industry, and Europe is an open house.”

A senior adviser to the French president said of US-France relations, “we are allies who are not aligned.”

Is it because the US is not suffering that Washington is willing to tolerate a continuing war in Ukraine, or because the US stands to gain?

Biden’s “aides note the United States, as a large energy producer, is not suffering like Europe from a lack of access to Russian oil or natural gas.” What Biden’s aides don’t acknowledge is that not only is the United States not suffering, it’s reaping innumerable benefits from the war. The Wall Street Journal recently mentioned just two: (1) a reinvigorated North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which will mean a gusher of profits for US arms makers. (For example, the war has spurred Germany to commit billions of dollars to Lockheed Martin for F35 warplanes); and (2) “a boom in trade and investment between the U.S. and Europe.” An important part of the boom in trade involves reorienting Europe’s energy markets from Russia to the US.

Another benefit: With Europe dependent on the US for energy, Washington can extract concessions from Brussels by threatening to close the tap.

Doing what is right for who?

“Mr. Biden has repeatedly said that” the threats the war in Ukraine pose to the world economy “would not deter him from doing what he believed was right in Ukraine.” Yet threats to US oil company profits have deterred one US president after another, including Joe Biden, from doing what is right in Saudi Arabia and Palestine. What Biden really means is that threats to the world economy, which largely affect Europe, low income countries, and ordinary people in the US, won’t stop him from doing what is right in Ukraine, for US LNG exporters and US arms manufacturers.

 “Global Poor Lose Services as Developing Countries Face Higher Debt Payments” reads a Wall Street Journal headline

Here’s the causal sequence that ends in the world’s poorest people facing even harsher conditions as the war in Ukraine grinds on.

  • Cut-throat competition among major capitalist powers for markets, raw materials, investment opportunities, and strategic territory breaks out into a war between the United States and Russia over the question of who will control Ukraine.  
  • The war disrupts supply chains and energy markets.
  • Food and energy prices soar, in turn pushing up general price levels.
  • Most people worldwide see their standard of living start to decline.
  • To fight inflation, central banks tighten the money supply, driving up the cost of borrowing, in order to slow economic activity.
  • Tighter money drives up housing costs and tips the world into recession.
  • Higher debt payments force low income countries into retrenchment, making the lives of the poor even harsher, at a time they’re already struggling with rising food and energy prices.

Existential threat?

Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

According to a June 2022 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,

  • Russia has 5,977 warheads,
  • the U.S. has 5,428, and
  • China has 350.

Moscow says that NATO expansion is an existential threat. Seriously?

Setting a Precedent

“A perceived victory for Moscow” would set “a dangerous precedent that political goals can be achieved through brute force,” remarked NATO general secretary Jens Stoltenberg, offering an excuse for why the war in Ukraine cannot be brought to an end short of Russia’s humiliation, despite the growing economic damage the war is causing around the world.

But didn’t the organization Stoltenberg serves as Washington’s errand boy already set the precedent when it used brute force to achieve US political aims in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Libya?  

That’s not to justify Moscow’s use of brute force; only to condemn NATO as equally repugnant (and equally full of shit. Regarding Moscow’s own addiction to mendacity, it will be recalled that in “the tense weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian officials denied that it planned anything of the sort, denouncing the United States and its NATO allies for stoking panic and anti-Russian hatred. When it did invade, the officials denied it was at war.”)

Antiwar Activism: Scientific or Futile

November 20, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

This post examines the ongoing war between the United States (via Ukraine) and Russia, and the threat of war between the United States and China, with a view to identifying the cause of these conflicts, and, on this basis, to deduce the most effective way to oppose inter-State violence.

The War in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine following on the Russian invasion of that country is in its tenth month. The war pits an invading Russia against a Ukraine that is fully supported by, and is an instrument of, the United States. The end of the war is not in sight. But the war must end, if we are to have any chance of escaping the hardships the war imposes on all but a tiny fraction of humanity.

The crossing of an international frontier by Russian forces may be, in the deceptive language of Moscow, a “special military operation”, but it is, at the same time, an inexcusable invasion and an odious act of aggression. The impact is felt world-wide, outside Europe as much as within. Russia alone, however, is not solely to blame for the turmoil. Equally consequential have been the responses of the United States, its NATO satellites, and its cat’s paw, Ukraine. 

The invasion itself has disrupted the export of grain from Ukraine, with grim consequences for world food prices, made all the worse by US-organized sanctions on exports of Russian grain and fertilizer. US-led efforts to destroy the critical Russian oil and gas industry through sanctions, and Russian retaliation, have sent energy prices soaring.

Keen to protect the assets of the wealthy from the corrosive effects of inflation, monetary authorities have tightened credit, paving the way to recession, growing joblessness, and escalating mortgage rates. Climbing housing, food, and energy prices reduce expenditures on other goods, with effects that ripple through the world economy. As The New York Times notes: “Consumer spending is set to collapse as households’ disposable income vanishes to pay for larger mortgage payments on top of higher energy bills and rising food prices.” The upshot: disposable income adjusted for inflation is sinking. The outlook through 2023, according to the IMF and World Bank, is grim. The major cause: the war in Ukraine. “Large-scale war is simultaneously destructive of productive capacity, disruptive of trade, and destabilizing of fiscal and monetary policies,” Niall Ferguson reminds us. War, he notes, “is history’s most consistent driver of inflation, debt defaults — even famines.” 

People struggle to pay for groceries, heat their homes, fill their gas tanks, and pay their mortgages or landlords. People will lose their jobs, if they have one, as the recession bites. The citizens of low-income countries—hundreds of millions of them—teeter on the brink of starvation. A number of their governments will default on their debt as national currencies depreciate against a rising US dollar, buoyed by tight money.

Those with assets—the wealthy—have a vigorous defender in central banks, whose bourgeois masters are prepared to swell the ranks of the unemployed to curb inflation. Meanwhile, the demands of employees for higher wages and salaries to offset the rising cost of living are resisted by governments and businesses and reviled by the court philosophers of the bourgeois media. With the looming prospect of growing unemployment, workers’ demands for pay increases will soon yield to the fear of joblessness. Capitalism has so structured the existence of the employee class to offer it a Hobson’s choice: declining real wages or no wages at all.

In contrast, governments and the bourgeois press heap no disdain upon businesses that hike prices under the lash of inflation. The burden of resolving economic crises in capitalist society is always borne disproportionally by labor. Workers will be forced to accept a reduced standard of living, in the interests of safeguarding the fortunes of shareholders, bondholders, and high-level corporate executives.

As a result of the fracking revolution, the United States now sits upon vast oceans of saleable natural gas. Under US pressure, Europe is re-orienting its energy supply from inexpensive Russian piped-gas to higher-priced US liquified natural gas (LNG). A bonanza of profits awaits the US energy industry, so long as the war can be dragged on long enough to completely wean Europe off Russian petroleum, and attach the continent to the US LNG teat. The war, on one level, is a fight for market share.

US arms-manufacturers are also set to make a killing, literally as well as figuratively. To date, Washington has committed $52 billion in military and financial aid to help Ukraine fight Russia. The White House is asking Congress for $40 billion more.  Further requests are likely to follow. A large part of the aid represents a transfer of dollars from the pockets of US workers to the pockets of the high-level executives and shareholders of Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and other US weapons-manufacturers. The war is also a fight for arms industry market share.

Pressed by Washington to contribute to the war, Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy, has pledged to increase its military spending—it will soon spend more than Russia on arms and troops—starting with the purchase of US-manufactured F-35s. Germany has chosen the US-made aircraft over jet fighters made by its European partner, France. Here too the war is about market share, as well as making product markets grow.

Sweden and Finland, poised to join NATO, will contribute additional funds to the coffers of the US arms industry. NATO countries tend to source their equipment from US arms manufacturers in order to assure their militaries are able to “interoperate” with that of the United States. Anything that strengthens NATO, boosts the profits of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and other US armorers.

Under pressure from France, Europe has increasingly explored the possibilities of strategic and military autonomy. i.e., independence from the United States in foreign and military affairs. This has been accompanied by a desire to do business with Russia and China to a degree Washington judges to be incompatible with the interests of its main client, corporate USA. Washington prefers Europe to do more business with US businesses and less with corporate Russia and China Inc. From Washington’s perspective, Europe needs to be oriented above all to the US economy.

To combat Europe’s dalliance with the notion of independence, Washington has exploited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to discredit any further talk of strategic autonomy and to bring Europe more firmly under US control, through a strengthened NATO organized around opposition to Russia (and China), and made dependent on North American energy. Much has been made in the US press about the so-called folly of Europe, Germany especially, allowing itself to become dependent on Russian natural gas, glossing over the reality that the proposed solution, reorientation to North America, simply shifts the dependency across the Atlantic Ocean, and puts Washington more firmly in control. By making Russia a pariah State, the integration of the vast European market with the vast land on Europe’s eastern periphery has not only been arrested, it is being reversed, with Europe now spurred to transition to a tighter economic integration with North America.

A territory teeming with natural resources, North America has always stood as a potential competitor with natural resources-abundant Russia for the raw materials and energy needs of a large and prosperous European market. But Russia has always had a distinct advantage: proximity. Natural resources can be transported to European manufacturers at a lower cost from nearby Russia than distant North America. Economically, it makes more sense for Europe to access its resources from the raw materials treasure trove on its eastern edge than from the natural resources-storehouse across the Atlantic.

The war has allowed Washington to negate the economic logic of Europe buying oil and gas from Russia. Washington has turned Russian aggression into a reason for Europe to eschew its neighbor as its natural-resources-supplier, to the greater glory of North American miners and energy producers.

The IMF and World Bank have sounded multiple alarms about how the war is slowing economic growth and sending prices spiralling. But, as we’ve seen, as a pretext to expel Russian businesses from the European market, the war promises a cornucopia of advantages to North American corporations and investors, whose returns will surely grow as Russian competitors are barred from the European arena. One way to win the cut-throat competition for customers is to eliminate the competition altogether.

From the vantage point of Wall Street and Bay Street, the war needs to continue for two reasons: (1) to weaken Russia economically, militarily, and diplomatically, in order to cripple the ability of Moscow to act on behalf of Russia’s profit-making enterprises on world markets in competition with their North America rivals; and (2) to consolidate Russia’s occlusion from European markets in favor of US and Canadian corporations.  Weaning Europe off Russian oil and gas, along with coal, fertilizer, and ammonia, and reorienting its energy markets to North America, is a project that cannot be accomplished overnight. The fillip of war must be maintained to ensure the project is carried to completion.

In fine, a protracted war benefits the US arms industry; strengthens NATO, and, in the process, generates more business for US weapons-makers; knocks Russia out of the European market, creating new opportunities for North American enterprises; and brings Europe more firmly under the US thumb. It also raises European energy costs, putting European manufacturers at a disadvantage relative to their North American competitors. Relatedly, it encourages European manufacturers to relocate to North America to take advantage of lower energy costs. 

From Moscow’s point of view, the war must continue in order to send a message to countries on Russia’s periphery that a Ukraine-style move to reorient their economies away from Russia toward one or more of its economic rivals will not be tolerated.

To be sure, Russia is fighting a defensive war, but not in the defense of the security of its territory. The war is fought in the defense of the profits of Russian investors and enterprises. The territory of Russia, a country equipped with a vast array of nuclear weapons, has never, for a second, faced a substantial security threat from Ukraine or even an expanding NATO; the threat posed by Ukraine is one of reorienting its economy away from Russia to the EU. This threat has grown ever larger now that Moscow has handed Washington the gift of providing it a reason to organize Russia’s expulsion from the European market. The threat Ukraine and NATO pose to Russia remains one aimed directly at the owners of major Russian enterprises that do business in Europe, not the physical security of Russian citizens. To the contrary, it is Moscow itself that poses a more significant threat to the physical safety of Russians. The Kremlin has doubly placed its citizens in harms-way—first, by sacrificing some of them to the Moloch of war (an estimated 100,000 Russians have been killed or wounded in combat in Ukraine); and second, by exposing them to an escalating risk of becoming a direct target in a nuclear war.

While Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula has strategic significance, its loss as a result of a complete victory by Ukraine would in no way be fatal to the security of the Russian State. It is highly unlikely in the extreme that any State or group of States would attempt an invasion of Russia; Moscow’s formidable nuclear force makes the country virtually unassailable. This key fact has been ignored in the rush of some to defend or at least falsely explain Russia’s inexcusable actions. The threat posed to Russia of NATO’s expansion toward its western border has been highly exaggerated.

The war in Ukraine is the elevation of the competition between North American and Russian profit-making enterprises for the European market to the level of violence between States. Firmly ensconced in a reticulation of capitalist pressures, neither Washington nor Moscow can, at the moment, abandon the war without abandoning something more fundamental—the capitalist nature of their societies. To be sure, at some point the war will have to be abandoned, but only when one side, bearing in mind a capitalist calculus, judges the prospects of gain relative to loss to be too unfavorable to continue. That point has yet to be reached.

Capitalist societies will always work on behalf of capitalist class interests at the expense of the working class. Hence, wars over the question of which country’s enterprises will dominate the world market will persist a tout prix, indifferent to the harm they cause working people, focussed only on the rewards they promise the working class’s exploiters.

The Threat of a Sino-American Conflagration

For a number of years now, lawmakers, analysts, and journalists in the United States have talked about a US war with China, as if a clash between the world’s two largest powers is as inevitable as the ebb and flow of the tides.

While some historians talk of the Great Powers sleep-walking into the First World War, as if the Grande Guerre was an accident, portents of that war were sounded well before it began. It was widely know in the years immediately preceding the Great War’s outbreak that the kindling of tensions and grievance in competition among countries for economic advantage attached to colonies, markets, and strategic territory, had piled high. All that remained was a spark to light a fire.

If you read major US newspapers today, it’s hard not to get the sense that, if history does not repeat itself, at least it rhymes. In press accounts, a second Sarajevo looms menacingly large on the horizon (Taiwan, perhaps?) For example, The Wall Street Journal has reported that “Chinese and U.S. officials” have conceded that “Beijing and Washington must work out how to coexist—and avoid, or at least postpone, a conflagration” (my emphasis).

If his Economic Interdependence and War, international relations scholar Dale C. Copeland argues that Germany supplied the spark that touched off WWI with the aim of weakening Russia before the Tsarist state grew strong enough to threaten Germany’s economic supremacy in Europe.

There’s little doubt that Washington’s concerns about China parallel those of Berlin in 1914 about its Tsarist rival. “Many lawmakers and analysts in Washington are convinced China poses a grave threat to U.S. interests,” observes The Wall Street Journal—those interests being manifestly economic, as evidenced by the steps Washington has already taken to “contain” China.

Here’s the Journal’s two-sentence summary of Washington’s anti-China containment efforts: “Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese goods in an effort to restore American industrial might. Mr. Biden has kept those tariffs in place and imposed new measures aimed at curbing exports of advanced semiconductors to China.”

On top of Trump’s efforts to restore US industrial might, the Biden administration is acting to freeze Chinese firms out of competition for emerging and lucrative profit-making opportunities in robotics, artificial intelligence, electronic vehicles, super-computing, 5G, and more, by denying them access to critical technology. US strategy, as articulated by national security advisor Jake Sullivan, is to maintain “’as large of a lead as possible’ over competitors like China in foundational technologies.” Washington also aims to shift supply chains (that is, low-wage manufacturing) from China to India and Vietnam while undermining leading Chinese firms, among them Huawei.

US efforts to “contain”, which is to say “hobble”, China – principally as an economic rival—prompted Chinese leader Xi Jinping to “chide” US president Joe Biden for introducing “a suite of economic policies that” he said “completely violate the principles of market economy and undermine the rules of international trade.”

Xi’s description of the Biden administration’s anti-China polices is accurate, but amusing. Xi, who leads a country that is said to be Communist and calls itself socialist, demands adherence to Hayekian principles. Rhetoric aside, Xi is no more a socialist than Biden is a Hayekian. Both are leaders of States whose mission is to obtain advantages for their major enterprises in the competition for world markets.

The rule here, followed by both leaders, is that market principles and free trade are great for other countries, but not your own. Political economy, the mystification of capitalism, may be about comparative advantage and laissez-faire, but the real world of capitalism is about making money whichever way you can. Often, if not almost always, the best way to help national firms accumulate capital is to intervene in markets and tilt the international playing field in their favor. In Washington, it’s called protecting US interests. In China, it’s called protecting Chinese interests. In either case, the interests of a country’s profit-making enterprises are (1) identified with the national interest and (2) antagonistic to those of other nations. In bourgeois ideology, the bourgeoisie is the nation. Conflict between nations is conflict between competing national groups of bourgeoisie.

Theory of War

Will the keen competition between the United States and China for world markets escalate to violence? Given that both US and Chinese officials talk of “at least postponing a conflagration”, the answer must be that economic competition between major States has a high-probability of escalating to war. “We’re going to compete vigorously,” Biden has said, adding that he “is looking to manage this competition responsibly.” If this sounds like a madman saying “I’m going to shake this bottle of nitroglycerine vigorously, but I’m going to do so responsibly,” it ought to.

How might a conflagration be avoided altogether, rather than simply postponed? It should be clear that if the roots of the conflict lie in capitalist competition among rival national groups of bourgeoisie for economic advantage in the world market, then preventing a conflagration unavoidably means changing the system that gives rise to capitalist competition. What begins as a competition between two sets of capitalists for the local market becomes a competition between states on behalf of their profit-making enterprises for the world market—a competition that may—and frequently has—led to war. It has, indeed, in Ukraine.

Capitalism is a society in which its material needs are met, to the extent they are met, as the unintended side-effect of the competition among private owners of capital for opportunities to exploit commodified labor in pursuit of capital accumulation.

The question of how to avoid a conflagration, or how to end the war in Ukraine, is, au fond, a question about where war comes from. Is it inherent in a system, like capitalism, as some Marxists argue, or in the anarchic nature of international relations, as the Realists argue? Or is it to be found in the failings, not of systems, but of individuals? These questions are important, because they dictate how best to bring war to an end and how prevent it.

Most antiwar activism is, unfortunately, inspired by the erroneous notion that war does not arise as the inevitable working out of the internal logic of a system, but in the flawed freely-made choices of political leaders. By this thinking, war is like crime, a departure from morality, international norms, or international law, freely chosen by high-level officials of the State. The job of the antiwar activist is to pressure political leaders to exercise their free will to act legally and morally.  War, thus, is seen as a choice, not an imperative, or high-probability-outcome of a system of competition for markets, natural resources, investment opportunities, and strategic territory, or for security in an anarchic system of international relations.

Contrast the approach of trying to catalyze pressure on leaders, or promote antiwar activists and peace candidates in elections, with one that views war as a high-probability-outcome of conflict among States, engendered by competition among profit-making enterprises on a world-scale to exploit commodified labor in pursuit of capital accumulation.

Political leaders, if they’re not members of the capitalist class themselves, have often risen to their positions in the State with the considerable assistance of the business elite. Not only do they owe their positions to wealthy contributors to their election campaigns, they know that if they serve the capitalist class ably while in power, it will ensure they enjoy a comfortable and rewarding post-political life.     

More significantly, to avoid crisis and instability, political leaders in capitalist societies have no option but to make capitalism work. The range of policies they can pursue without touching off a major economic crisis is limited. They must cater to the interests of capital to avoid precipitating an investment strike or capital flight. They cannot, for example, enact policies that reduce the degree to which labor is exploited so much that the incentive for future investment disappears.  Political leaders, thus, are not free, if they are to continue to preside over capitalist economies, to choose any policy they wish. They must, no matter their political stripe, pursue policies that are favorable to capitalism. In the realm of foreign affairs, that means implementing policies that aid owners of capital to compete in the world market against the owners of capital represented by other States.

Let us suppose that the Biden administration, in order to avoid war with Russia, decided that Russia’s oil and gas industry ought to continue to dominate Europe’s energy markets: despite the fracking revolution unlocking access to oceans of natural gas beneath US soil, creating a bonanza of potential profits if markets can be found; despite the fact that Washington could strengthen its hold over Europe by making the continent dependent on US LNG, giving Washington extra leverage to extract concessions from Europe favorable to corporate USA; despite the reality that a proxy war with Russia could hand the US arms industry a handsome source of profits. Despite all these toothsome delights, suppose the Biden administration, in order to live in a world of peace, declined to act as any government presiding over a capitalist economy must act, or be replaced—by creating conditions favorable to capital accumulation.  Avoiding a war that could bring tremendous benefit to investors and corporations out of a humanitarian devotion to peace is a dereliction of the duty of the capitalist State, one that will not long go unpunished.

The capitalist class exercises considerable sway over the State, through: campaign contributions; ownership and control of the media, giving it significant influence over public opinion; major lobbying efforts, far in excess of any that can be mustered by grass-root groups, popular organizations, and labor; funding of think-tanks, to recommend corporate policy preferences to government; the hiring of court philosophers, intellectuals who can present capitalist class interests as universal; the placement of capitalist class representatives in key positions in the State; and the vast over-representation of the millionaire class in elected positions, the judiciary, upper levels of the civil service, and journalism.  If that weren’t enough, the ability of investors, bondholders, and shareholders, to destabilize capitalist societies if bourgeois needs are not met, by simply refusing to invest, or taking their investments to other jurisdictions, virtually guarantees that the State will promote the interests of its major profit-making enterprises, even to the point of war.  

If Biden said, let Russian energy and natural resources companies profit at the expense of the potential future profits of their US competitors, in order to avoid war, and at the same time, let Chinese enterprises dominate the Eurasian market and the industries of tomorrow, at the expense of their US rivals, to avoid a future conflagration with China, he would be ushered into retirement by the State’s major shareholders, the capitalist class, as swiftly as a corporate CEO who decided he no longer had an appetite for the class war would be defenestrated by his company’s directors.  And yet, a sizable proportion of antiwar activists believe that through a combination of moral suasion, demonstrations, and the election of peace candidates to political office, that political leaders can be persuaded to negate the interests of the capitalist class in order to appease the demands of the people for peace. One might as well petition wolves to become vegetarians.

It could be argued that the foregoing has little relevance for understanding China, even if it is germane to Russia. Russia makes no pretense of being anything other than a capitalist society, even if certain “Marxist-Leninist” Russophiles find it comforting to believe otherwise. Vladimir Putin makes no secret of his contempt for Russia’s socialist past, and has made clear that as long as he remains president, socialism does not lie in Russia’s future.

But China does make a pretense of being Communist, and certain “Marxist-Leninist” supporters believe that China is socialist. China is socialist so far as words can be made to mean anything one wants them to mean. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”—the qualification is a dead give-away that we’re talking about something other than socialism as it has been understood historically—is a capitalist society governed by the Communist Party of China (and ruled by capitalist imperatives), where the party’s principal goal is national rejuvenation through capitalist development, not the emancipation of the proletariat and elimination of class. This makes Communist China something like Japan under the Meiji emperor and Germany under Bismarck.  

To be sure, the mechanisms of capitalist class influence that characterize US society hardly seem to characterize China. Lay aside the fact that China’s Communist party admits capitalists and boasts not a few billionaires. But is this so odd? China is a People’s Republic, not a Workers’ Republic. The Communist party’s main newspaper is the People’s Daily, not the Workers’ Daily. Capitalists and billionaires, if they’re Chinese, are thus part of the Chinese people, the basic unit of analysis for the Chinese Communist Party, and therefore have a role to play—indeed, the principal one—in China’s economic development under the capitalist path the party has chosen. The party does not set as its goal the elimination of the wage system, the emancipation of the proletariat from the capitalist yoke, or an end to the exploitation of humans by humans—historical goals of socialism. It sets instead as its aim the economic development of China.   

Because the party has chosen economic development by capitalist means, the pressures that bear on any capitalist society bear equally on Beijing, just as they did on other countries that set State-led capitalist economic development at the top of their agendas (South Korea, and Germany and Japan from the late nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth). If China is to achieve its goal of rising prosperity through capitalist development it cannot afford to absent itself from the industries of tomorrow anymore that it can be expected to yield profit-making opportunities to corporate USA. Capitalist development is impossible without capitalist competition for markets, raw materials, and investment opportunities. As we’ve seen, competition for these prizes, at least incubate the possibility of war, and often leads to it. So long as Beijing is committed to the continued division of humanity into nations, with the Chinese nation competing against other nations in the world capitalist market, it cannot avoid the friction between nations that increases the probability of inter-State violence.

Scientific Antiwar Activism

Central to the aim of socialism is the elimination of war: (1) war between classes, to be achieved by doing away with the division of humanity into classes; and (2) war between nations, to be achieved by abolishing the division of humanity into nations. From this perspective, opposing war and promoting peace, begins with education, specifically, instilling in the class of people who depend on wages and salaries for a living, awareness of the reality:

  • That war between nations is a high-probability outcome of the competition for economic advantage that is an ineluctable feature of capitalism.
  • On the basis of the above, that capitalism, as a breeder of war between nations, is a threat to humanity.
  • That the employee class bears the greatest burden of war and is its greatest victim (evidenced today by the cost-of living crisis and the growing economic hardship created by disturbances to the world economy set in motion by the actions of the participants in the war in Ukraine).
  • That the probability of war among States can be reduced by eliminating the division of humanity into classes, that is, by means of socialist revolution.
  • That the probability of war can be eliminated altogether by eliminating the division of humanity into nations, the longer-term project of socialist revolution.

Opposing war and promoting peace becomes effective at the point it becomes a project of opposing capitalism and promoting socialism. It is feckless when it fails to:

  • Show that capitalism creates conditions favorable to war between nations;
  • Identify war as one of a number of morbid symptoms of modern capitalism;
  • Promote socialism as the liberation of humanity from its war-promoting divisions. 

Antiwar rallies whose first aim is to pressure political leaders to take the peaceful path (to use moral suasion to discourage the wolves from eating the sheep) is bound to be ineffective. The idea that pickets waved in the face of velociraptors can deter the hunter from stalking its prey is Quixotic. The education of the working class about how capitalism conduces to war, not to speak of a whole suite of other social maladies, and the task of organizing the employee class to bring about a radical overhaul of society in favor of socialism, has a greater chance of success.

Lenin argued that modern war could not be understood without understanding “the economic essence of imperialism”, i.e., modern capitalism. Likewise, modern war cannot be overcome without overcoming its economic essence.

By overcoming the economic conditions that promote inter-State violence, socialism promises a significant reduction in the likelihood of war. Creating a world of peace, therefore, means, first and foremost, creating a world of socialism. An antiwar campaign that is not, first, a socialist campaign is futile. Peace activism, if it is to be effective, must be socialist activism above all else.

Follow-up

The Wall Street Journal, (“U.S.-Europe Trade Booms as Old Allies Draw Closer”, November 20, 2022), echoes some of the points made in the foregoing, namely:

  • The U.S. is turning into one of Europe’s biggest energy and military suppliers, replacing Russia as a natural-gas purveyor and helping Europeans to beef up their defenses [my emphasis].
  • Germany plans to buy 35 U.S. F-35 jet fighters, built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
  • U.S. services exports to the European Union are surging, up 17% in 2021 year-over-year to 305 billion euros, equivalent to $315 billion, according to EU data.
  • The burgeoning trans-Atlantic relationship is part of a reorganization of the global economy along East-West lines.
  • The EU-U.S. economic relationship is stronger than it has been in quite some time.
  • European foreign direct investment in the U.S. increased by 13.5% to about $3.2 trillion last year from a year earlier.
  • FDI in Europe increased by about 10% last year to roughly $4 trillion. Those sums dwarf investment flows between the U.S. and China.
  • Some of the rebound in European investments in the U.S. is driven by concerns among Europeans about the prospects of their economy. German chemical group Lanxess AG is focusing future investments in the U.S. … largely due to high energy prices.

Engels’ Anti-Duhring and the COVID-19 Calamity

There are many scourges that bedevil humanity that could be, but aren’t, ended. They persist as inevitable consequences of capitalism. The Covid-19 pandemic is one of them.

Stephen Gowans

October 26, 2022

In Anti-Duhring, Friedrich Engels’ attempt to produce an encyclopaedic survey of Marxism, the main tasks of scientific socialism are presented as follows: To show that:

  • Many of the current conditions in society that make no sense or are unjust are the necessary consequences of capitalism;
  • The existence of conditions that make no sense and are unjust reveals that capitalism is no longer a useful mode of production—no longer one which comports with the interests of the majority (though it did in an earlier era);
  • A better future exists in embryo in the present, and it is the role of Marxists to make the proletariat aware of its historical mission to bring a new socialist society to birth. [1]

What conditions of society make no sense? What conditions are unjust?

Let me mention just two, of many.

First, wars of aggression. In the Marxist view, or at least in the view of many Marxists, capitalism inevitably creates conditions that makes violent conflict between states more likely.

One of the goals of the Bolsheviks was to show that the first world war was a necessary consequence of capitalism, and to argue, accordingly, that capitalism no longer comported with the interests of the proletariat. The working class, along with the peasantry, no matter which side they were on, bore all the burdens of the war.

After that war, Bertolt Brecht—the playwright, poet, and writer—pointed out that common people always suffer and never benefit from war between capitalist rivals. He wrote:

When the last war came to an end

There were conquerors and conquered

Among the conquered the common people starved

Among the conquerors the common people starved too [2]

That common people are victims of wars between capitalist rivals remains true today in the war between the United States and Russia over Ukraine. While no one is starving—not yet, though this may come to pass—common people throughout the world bear the burden of the war in a cost-of-living crisis and impending recession, while starvation is a very real possibility in low-income countries as a result of disruptions caused by the war.

Still another current condition of society that is an ineluctable consequence of capitalism is the absence of meaningful democracy for the common people. Lenin’s indictment of capitalist democracy was twofold:

First, the formal equalities of capitalist democracy have no meaning if one in every 10 people exploits the remaining nine. Class society necessarily means exploitation of one class by another. There can be no de facto equality in class society, and therefore there can be no de facto democracy.

Think of a slave society. If every adult in a slave society was made formally equal by giving each, both slave and slave-owner, the right to vote, would a society of democratic equality be thereby created? Obviously not. How can a society be democratic if one part of the society exploits another part?

Lenin’s second indictment of capitalist democracy is that it denies the proletariat a meaningful political voice. Why? Because capitalism concentrates wealth in the hands of the bourgeoisie, which is able to use its immense wealth to dominate the political process: to buy and lobby politicians; to promote its point of view in the media and in the schools; to place its representatives in high-level positions in the state; to create think tanks to recommend its policy preferences to government; and to pressure governments to toe the bourgeoisie line through the implicit, and sometime explicit, threat of capital strike and capital flight. Governments tend to accommodate the demands of business. A government that encroaches on business interests too vigorously will almost invariably precipitate an economic crisis—and this will either lead to its defeat at the polls or its overthrow, outcomes most governments avoid by keeping their business communities happy (which, given their connections to business, most governments are already inclined to do anyway.) The corporate sector and the very wealthy, thus, have vastly more influence over public policy than does the proletariat. As political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page demonstrated in their study of over 1,700 US policy issues, the “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” [3] This is a necessary consequence of capitalism.   

One of the tasks of Marxists, if you follow the logic of Marx and Engels, is to show that you can’t have political democracy, let alone social democracy, in a capitalist society.  

Engels argued that there are three signs that the current mode of production, the current way of organizing the economy, and the current way of organizing our politics, is no longer useful and no longer comports with the interests of the majority. [4]

  1. Existing social institutions—the democratic process, for example, or international relations, or the economy, are seen to be unreasonable and unjust.
  2. Reason appears to be unreason—that is, a lot of things make no sense.
  3. Right seems to have become wrong.

Significantly, these signs have been amply present during the pandemic.

To give you an example, in April of 2021, I wrote the following in a blog post: [5]

“For days, doctors and scientists in Ontario had offered the government the same advice: close non-essential businesses for a few weeks to avert a looming public health crisis.

“The government acted. It prohibited virtually every activity that could fuel the upward trend in infections and hospitalizations—except the most significant. What it didn’t do is what the doctors and scientists said it should do: temporarily close non-essential businesses.

“Critical care physicians, ICU nurses, and epidemiologists were bewildered. Why had the government ignored their advice? Why was it refusing to implement the most significant measure of all to prevent suffering and save lives?

“The director of the committee the government had set up to make science-based recommendations said he was ‘at a loss’ to understand why the ‘government announced a suite of measures that didn’t account for his group’s advice.’ Another panel member said ‘he was dumbfounded by the government’s rejection of science and common sense.’ A third said ‘she and her colleagues were stunned.’

“One critical care physician, interviewed on TV, said that she had been ‘reflecting on why this happened and one thing that occurred to her is that the role of government is to protect its citizens.’ She couldn’t understand why the government was failing to do so.”

Reason had become unreason. Right had become wrong.

The science was available, the science could be followed, but it wasn’t followed. That is, a solution to a problem that plagued society was within the grasp of political authority, but political authority refused to act.

As a parallel, Engels would argue in Anti-Duhring that the means are available to offer everyone a materially secure existence and to ensure to all the full and free development of their physical and mental capabilities. [6] All the same, the potential remains just that—potential, not reality.  

At one point the critical care physician conceded tentatively and with much reluctance—as if the thought was too unsettling to contemplate—that maybe the government was more committed to the interests of business owners than to the welfare of the larger community.

****

In The Killer’s Henchman: Capitalism and the Covid-19 Disaster, I try to follow the approach articulated by Engels in Anti-Duhring of examining the ties between a social abuse (in this case, the pandemic) and capitalism. Specifically, I show that the tools to end the pandemic, indeed, to prevent it, were already in humanity’s toolbox, but that capitalism prevented them from being used; that the Covid-19 calamity was preventable in principle, but inevitable in capitalist reality.

An estimated 17.7 million people around the world have died [7] unnecessarily from a pandemic that could have been avoided had capitalism not prevented the solutions to this problem from being implemented. Or to use the words of the World Health Organization’s Secretary General, we have all the tools to end the pandemic. The question is, Why don’t we use them?

If we were to argue in the manner of utopian socialists, the answer would be that doctors and scientists haven’t invested enough time and effort to let political authority know that the tools to end the pandemic are available, or that people in positions of authority are too stupid to understand that the tools are at hand.

A Marxist, by contrast, might argue that the approach to the pandemic is not a failure of understanding but a failure of capitalism; that it is a necessary consequence of capitalism; that it shows capitalism is no longer a useful system; and that capitalism militates against the implementation of solutions to the pandemic that are already present.

My argument is that capitalism prevents us from using the tools that are available; that capitalism, however much it was, at one point, a progressive force, has become a barrier to human progress; that in the 17.7 million (and climbing) deaths attributable to Covid-19, it has become evident that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society (to borrow the words of Karl Marx.) The capitalist class is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society because in the pursuit of its own interests it has prevented humanity from using the great potential inherent in social production, in industry, and in science to solve humanity’s problems, not least of which is managing the emergence of novel pathogens like the virus that causes Covid-19.   

****

In May 2021, more than a year into the pandemic, the World Health Organization released a report by an independent panel on the performance of the world’s governments in responding to the Covid-19 health emergency. The panel arrived at a stunning conclusion: the pandemic could have been avoided. [8]

Even as late as January 30, 2020, the day the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern, and two to three months after the virus likely first began to circulate, it was “still possible,” concluded the panel, “to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts and promote social distancing measures.”

But that didn’t happen.

By March 11, the virus had spread far enough that the global health organization declared a pandemic.

How had a controllable outbreak become a catastrophe on a world scale? The answer was simple: inaction. “On 30 January 2020, it should have been clear to all countries from the declaration of the” public health emergency of international concern “that COVID-19 represented a serious threat,” the panel averred. “Even so,” it continued, “only a minority of countries set in motion comprehensive and coordinated Covid-19 protection and response measures.” The result was that February 2020, a month “when steps could and should have been taken to” prevent a controllable outbreak, was lost to history. Governments tarried, and their foot-dragging plunged humanity into a dark abyss.

Not all governments were content to sit tight until it was absolutely certain they were staring disaster in the face. “China, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand and Vietnam.” These countries, the panel noted, acted quickly and decisively to contain the emergency, and all with exemplary success. They pursued an aggressive containment strategy that involved mass testing, robust contact tracing, and quarantine, with “social and economic support to promote widespread uptake of public health measures.”

Most other countries, by contrast, waited far too long to act. And when they did act, they failed to do enough, never fully implementing the measures needed to bring their outbreaks under control.

Why did most countries do too little, too late? The panel pointed to cost. Most governments judged concerted public health action as too expensive.

Three costs were central to these countries’ concerns:

  1. The direct expense of testing, contact tracing, the construction of isolation facilities, coordinating quarantine, and providing financial support to the quarantined.
  2. The indirect cost of business disruptions.
  3. The impact on the stock market.

The people inside the US government who would be charged with executing various aspects of any pandemic strategy, believed that public health measures would promote nothing but economic loss, according to Michael Lewis in his study of the US response to the pandemic, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story.

Concerning the cost of business disruption, the 1918-1921 Spanish Flu offered an anticipatory model. Studies of how the United States responded to the flu pandemic found that government decision-makers were under incessant pressure from businesses to lift public health measures. And because the business community wields outsize influence over public policy—as a necessary consequence of capitalism—cities tended to capitulate. Those that bowed to business pressure—the majority—did far worse than those that did not.

Finally, Donald Trump deliberately downplayed the public health emergency, repeatedly declaring that it would magically resolve itself, because he feared that acknowledging the danger would result in untold stock market losses. According to the Washington Post, “Trump grew concerned that any action by his administration would hurt the economy, and … told advisers that he [did] not want the administration to do or say anything that would … spook the markets.” [9]

The panel criticized countries for taking “a wait and see” attitude, but didn’t inquire into the reasons why they took this attitude.

Why did they wait? Most countries waited because it was far more important for political authorities to avoid the error of acting before the danger was confirmed and thereby unnecessarily spooking the markets than it was to avoid the error of acting too slowly and unleashing a pandemic. In other words, the interests of capitalists trumped those of everyone else.

****

One country, among a handful of others, acted quickly:  China.

By pursuing a “zero-Covid strategy”— setting zero cases as the goal and taking very aggressive steps to attempt to suppress transmission of the virus—China has achieved great success in protecting the health of its citizens from Covid-19.

There are an estimated 1.35 million cumulative deaths attributable to Covid-19 in the United States, compared to only 22,000 in China, a country with over four times more people. Per million, fatalities due to the novel coronavirus are over 259 times greater in the United States than China—4,077 vs. 16. [10]

What has China done to set itself apart from the United States so favorably?

There is no particular genius in China’s approach to curbing Covid-19 transmission. Beijing’s strategy is based on an axiom. As Michael Lewis explained in The Premonition, “One thing that is inarguably true is that if you got everyone and locked each of them in their own room and didn’t let them out to talk to anyone, you would not have any disease.” China’s approach is based on this core truth.

The British Medical Journal explains the Chinese approach this way:

“China mobilized quickly and within two months had contained the epidemic and eliminated local infections in the country. There were no magic bullets in the tools it used: the methods were old school public health strategies, which are often called non-pharmaceutical interventions. Other countries also successfully eliminated local infections, showing that elimination of an emerging disease with pandemic potential is possible by using non-pharmaceutical interventions alone. Public health methods such as mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing, and restriction of public events and travel played an important part. Identifying and quarantining people with covid-19 and their close contacts was also critical” (emphasis added). [11]

China’s success, then, has been due, not to vaccines, but to old school public health strategies—strategies the World Health Organization describes as proven and known to work. [12]

In an April 2021 study [13], the medical journal, the Lancet, compared five OECD countries that pursued a zero-Covid strategy with 32 others that opted for hospital surveillance-based mitigation (that is, a strategy that does not set zero as the goal, but sets as its goal as many cases as are tolerable within the limits of hospital capacity and medical resources.) Australia, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea followed China’s zero-Covid lead, imposing tight border controls, along with test, trace, and quarantine methods, to eliminate community transmission.

The study found that:

  • The mortality rate was 25 times lower among countries that set zero as their goal. 
  • Lockdown measures “were less strict and of shorter duration” in the zero Covid group.
  • “GDP growth returned to pre-pandemic levels in early 2021 in the countries that set zero as their goal, whereas growth [was] still negative for the other OECD countries.”

On the basis of their analysis, the authors concluded that governments that pursued a zero-Covid strategy not only performed better at protecting the health of their citizens and saving lives, but also better protected their economies and minimized restrictions on civil liberties—that is, they had fewer lockdowns and the lockdowns were of shorter duration. The zero-Covid strategy checked all the boxes.

Nine of 193 UN members—China, five OECD countries, and three southeast Asian non-OECD states, less than one in 20—used the tools that were available to end the pandemic. As of October 26, 2022, there were an estimated 249 deaths attributable to Covid-19 per million people in these countries, compared to 2,850 in the nearly 96 percent of countries that failed to follow the science.  In other words, the zero-Covid countries reduced deaths by over 90 percent (China by over 99 percent) compared to countries that rejected this proven method, known to work. Even among the countries that eschewed proven public health and social measures, the United States is an outlier; deaths due to Covid-19 per million are over 16 times greater than the average of the zero-Covid countries.

****

If Beijing set zero as its goal, Washington—the bellwether for most countries—set protecting the stock market and avoiding disruptions to business as its goals—along with one other: developing a vaccine. From day one, “all expert talk” in the United States “was about how to speed the production and distribution of vaccines,” observed Michael Lewis. No one seemed to be exploring the proven public health and social measures that were known to work; that were endorsed by the World Health Organization; that were pursued with great success by China and eight other countries.

We heard repeatedly in the months following the viral outbreak that at some point, within a year, a vaccine would be developed, after which it would be quickly distributed, allowing us to resume our lives as before. What we didn’t hear amid all the celebration of vaccines was that nine countries had already largely put the pandemic behind them, without recourse to vaccines, using old fashioned public health methods. In other words, what we didn’t hear was that the tools were already available to save us—that is, to limit hospitalizations and fatalities, minimize the number and length of lockdowns, and safely reopen economies. But those tools weren’t being used. Instead, we were told that the only tool that mattered was a vaccine. Anthony Fauci called the vaccine “the cavalry.” [14]

To be sure, safe and effective vaccines are highly desirable. Vaccines for smallpox, polio, rubella, and many other diseases, including Covid-19, save countless millions of lives, and help many more people avoid sickness. They represent a significant advance in public health. But are vaccines the sole—even the best—way to address pandemics? Are they a silver bullet? And are they the cavalry?

The World Health Organization director-general warned that “vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis” [15] and “vaccines alone cannot solve the pandemic.” [16] He added that “there is no silver bullet. Stopping outbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control; testing, isolating and treating patients and tracing and quarantining their contacts.” [17] In other words, doing what China, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and few other countries did—epidemiology 101.

Echoing the World Health Organization, numerous public health experts repeatedly cautioned that:

“We should not be thinking of the vaccine as a silver bullet.” [18]

“Vaccines alone will not be the silver bullet that will allow us to return to normal life.” [19]

Vaccines “are not magic solutions.” [20]

Vaccines are “really important, but they’re not a silver bullet.” [21]

“Anyone who says that vaccines alone can end the pandemic is wrong.” [22]

And yet that’s not what expert opinion at the White House said. The Trump White House announced that it was “fully focused on defeating the virus” through a vaccine [23]—not through public health and social measures, even though these were endorsed by the World Health Organization, even though they were shown by nine countries, including the world’s most populous, to work, even though this was epidemiology 101.

For its part, the Biden administration said that: “Vaccination is key to getting the pandemic under control.” [24] Indeed, the availability of vaccine doses for every US adult led Biden to effectively declare the pandemic over in the summer of 2021, despite the fact that the United States continued to post among the world’s worst Covid-19 morbidity and mortality figures.  Since that date, the number of estimated deaths in the United States attributable to Covid-19 has grown by 589,000—a 77 percent increase. The pandemic was over—except for the burials.

The World Health Organization’s assessment of the world’s response to the pandemic noted that “while much of the early response to COVID-19 involved missed opportunities and failure to act, there [were] some areas in which early action was taken to good effect, most notably in … vaccine product development.”

This invites a question: Why did the world succeed notably in vaccine product development but 19 of every 20 countries failed miserably in implementing proven and effective public health measures?

And why was the false silver bullet of vaccines chosen over the proven and effective methods of public health, especially when there were, in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, plenty of reasons to think that vaccine development would end in failure?

To be sure, we have safe and effective vaccines today, but did success seem certain in the spring of 2020?

Throughout the first half of 2020 and into the summer of that year, there were serious doubts about whether humans could develop a durable immunity to the novel coronavirus. The World Health Organization reminded governments that the question of whether humans could acquire immunity to the virus had yet to be answered. In October 2020, the Lancet would report that “there is no evidence for lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following natural infection.” [25] Even Anthony Fauci, champion of the vaccine strategy, expressed concern. Fauci pointed out that there’s “never a guarantee, ever, that you’re going to get an effective vaccine.”  [26] That was an understatement.

Historically, only six percent of vaccine efforts had succeeded. And the very few that did succeed took a long time to come to fruition. The average development time for successful vaccines was almost 11 years. [27]

Robert van Exan, a veteran of the US vaccine industry, assessed the probability of a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine as “relatively low.” [28] The consensus among scientists was that a vaccine, if it arrived, wouldn’t arrive soon. So, anyone reviewing the state of the art in 2020 would have reasonably concluded that the chance of a vaccine being rapidly developed was poor (about 6 percent).

Which raises the question: If vaccine success appeared to be unlikely, and non-pharmaceutical public health measures had already been shown to be effective, why were billions of dollars invested in a project that looked likely to fail, while at the same time, a demonstrably effective solution in public health measures was rejected? 

At the time, The New York Times raised doubts about whether a vaccine was possible, while at the same time pointing to another concern: safety. The “whole enterprise,” noted the newspaper, “remains dogged by uncertainty about whether any coronavirus vaccine will prove effective … and whether … compressing a process that can take 10 years into 10 months — will sacrifice safety.” [29]

The answer, it turned out, was that US officials did take risks with public safety. In fact, it was only by risking public safety that vaccines were produced quickly. This doesn’t mean that the vaccines are unsafe, but that the protocols normally in place to assess vaccine safety were side-stepped in an effort to fast track the vaccines. (Playing Russian Roulette is unsafe, but not everyone who plays ends up dead. Likewise, US officials took a chance the vaccines were safe, and so far, the gamble appears to have paid off. The question is, with safe and effective public health measures available, was the gamble necessary?)

Here’s how The New York Times explained it. Because “of the pandemic’s urgency, any promising Covid-19 vaccine is likely to be fast-tracked through the testing and approval process. It may not go through years of clinical trials and careful studies of possible long-term side-effects, the way other drugs do.” And, just as the newspaper predicted, the vaccines were rushed into people’s arms. This happened under a regime called “emergency use authorization”, before clinical trials were completed and before sufficient time had elapsed to evaluate possible long-term side effects. Emergency use authorization allows unapproved, i.e., experimental drugs and procedures to be used in the face of an emergency where no other alternative exists. The trouble is, there was an alternative—the public health and social measures that China, five OECD countries, and three southeast Asian non-OECD states showed significantly check fatalities, limit the number and duration of lockdowns, and hasten the return to economic growth; measures, moreover, that were recognized and endorsed by the World Health Organization.

Scientists who predicted in 2020 that a vaccine could not possibly be produced in 12 months assumed that like other vaccines, a Covid-19 vaccine would require a period of testing over many years. For example, one vaccine expert told the Wall Street Journal that he was “skeptical a safe and effective vaccine could be available soon, given all the testing required.” [30] What he didn’t know was that all the testing required wouldn’t be done. Had normal testing protocols been followed, it would have taken two years or more to approve a vaccine.

Political authority, then, took risks with public safety that didn’t have to be taken because other tools were available that were known to work. These tools weren’t used. Instead, the dice were rolled on public safety.

****

A puzzle. In 2020, the Rockefeller Foundation presented a proposal to the Trump administration to tackle the pandemic. Invest $100 billion in a health corps of 300,000 public servants to conduct a country-wide test, trace, and quarantine program. [31] This would emulate the strategy that allowed China to bring its outbreak under control and safely reopen its economy. The White House declined. Instead, Washington decided to spend tens of billions of dollars on a vaccine, supported by the logistical expertise of the US military and the scientific expertise of government labs and publicly supported universities. The same military logistical capability and the same multi-billion-dollar funding could have been used to create and operate a test, trace, and isolate program. This didn’t happen.

Why, then, with the pandemic upon it, would Washington turn down an approach to pandemic control that had been shown to succeed in nine countries and was endorsed by the World Health Organization in favor of going all in on a vaccine program which, in the first half of 2020, appeared to any reasonable person to have little chance of success? Why pass on the sure, safe, option and bet on the long shot—moreover, a long-shot that would—owing to the need to compress 10 years of testing into 10 months—put the safety of billions of people at risk?

One driver of Washington’s predilection for vaccines was the ability of billionaires, such as Bill Gates, to set the public health agenda to favor pharmaceutical solutions and their profit-making potential over public health solutions and their considerable expense to the public purse. Owing to their great wealth, billionaires, foundations, and the pharmaceutical industry—that is, the bourgeoisie—have the resources to strongly influence public discourse on healthcare issues and have accordingly set the public policy agenda on matters related to health, including pandemic preparedness—an agenda that supports bourgeois interests at the expense of the public. (And this too is an inevitable consequence of capitalism.) The bourgeoisie has long ago used its influence to push vaccines to the top of the agenda on how to meet the challenge of pandemics. As a result, when the novel virus emerged, governments followed the path capitalist class influencers had already set, shunning the proven public health measures which, though unquestionably effective, offer no opportunities for amassing colossal profits. In a capitalist society, which approach will be favored—one that benefits the community as a whole, or one that benefits the sectional interests of the capitalist class? The answer is evident in the term “capitalist society.” A society for capitalists. A society in which capitalist interests reign supreme.

****

How the vaccines were developed calls to mind two points made by Engels in Anti-Duhring.

First, Engels wrote that: The official representative of capitalist society — the state — will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production. [32] In making this point he was saying that the foundations of socialism are already present in bourgeois society.

The second thing he said was that “The transformation of [large enterprises] into state property shows how unnecessary the bourgeoisie are for that purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist are now performed by salaried employees. The capitalist has no further social function than that of pocketing dividends, tearing off coupons, and gambling on the Stock Exchange.” [33]

The top two Covid-19 vaccines in the Western world are the Moderna vaccine, sometimes called the NIH-Moderna (or National Institutes of Health—Moderna) vaccine, and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The Moderna vaccine is called the NIH-Moderna vaccine because the US government, through the National Institutes of Health, shares the patent, and is largely responsible for its development. The intellectual property for both vaccines wasn’t developed by private sector scientists working in isolation of public support, funded by far-seeing private capitalists risking their own capital (as the fairy tale goes), but by government scientists working in government labs along with university colleagues supported by government grants.

Moreover, the vaccines were developed under a US government planning project called Operation Warp Speed. Yes that’s right: state planning. Here is Engels’ model of the official representative of capitalist society—the state—ultimately having to undertake the direction of production—in this case, of vaccines. The state did the planning and then provided the inputs: scientists and intellectual property; the logistical expertise of the military; and billions of dollars of direct funding.

The outcome of state planning and state investment was the development vaccines that were handed over to the shareholders of Moderna, Pfizer, and BioNTech, so that the shareholders could sell vaccine doses back to the state, and, as Engels put it, pocket the dividends, tear off the coupons, and gamble on the Stock Exchange.

But if the public—that is the proletariat in the main—did all of the heavy lifting, furnishing through its labor the tax dollars that funded the government labs that created the intellectual property; that allowed Moderna to expand its facilities and labor force; that purchased vaccine doses in advance of their production; that paid for the US military to plan and carry out the logistics, what did the shareholders of these companies contribute? Nothing. Their contribution was to cash in on the sale of vaccines developed by public funds, by public planning, and by publicly-supported expertise. Pharmaceutical shareholders, as Engels would have pointed out, are no longer necessary. Even worse, they’re parasites—they live on the labor of the proletariat in the form of the taxes paid by the proletariat to the official representatives of capitalist society—the state.  

So, to go back to what Marx and Engels thought scientific socialists ought to do: my book tries to follow the path they set.

It shows that a controllable outbreak that turned into a pandemic—a catastrophe on a world scale that has killed nearly 18 million people to date, and has become the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer [34]—is the direct consequence of capitalism.

It shows that capitalism prevented the political authority of most countries from using proven and effective public health tools to protect public health. This shows that capitalism no longer comports with the interests of the majority, is a barrier to human progress, and a threat to the safety of us all.

The book also shows, in Operation Warp Speed—an exercise in public planning using public resource for public need—that the foundations of socialism are present in current society; that the bourgeoisie is no longer necessary; and that the capitalist class exists nowadays for one purpose alone: to pick the pockets of the proletariat.

All that remains for a transition to socialism is for the proletariat to be made aware of its historical mission to seize political power in order transform the socialized means of production into state property, and to organize social production on the basis of a plan comporting with the needs of the community and each individual.

Only then will humanity be able to use the tools at its disposal to solve its most pressing problems; only then will humanity progress; only then will unreason become reason, injustice become justice, and wrong become right.

****

The Killer’s Henchman can be ordered directly from the publisher, Baraka Books, or from Amazon, The Book Depository, Indigo, and other online book sellers.

****

1. Friedrich Engels, Anti-Duhring, Wellred Publications, 2017, p. 180.

2. “The War Which is Coming”, from A German War Primer.

3. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall 2014.

4. Anti-Duhring, p. 316.

5. Stephen Gowans, “The Catastrophes of the Pandemic are the Catastrophes of Capitalism,” gowans.blog, April 21, 2021

6. Anti-Duhring, p. 181.

7. https://covid19.healthdata.org/

8. “COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic, The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness & Response,” Word Health Organization, May, 2021, COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic (theindependentpanel.org).

9. Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey, “Trump’s soft touch with China’s Xi worries advisers who say more is needed to combat coronavirus outbreak,” The Washington Post, February 16, 2020.

10. https://covid19.healthdata.org/

11. “What can the world learn from China’s response to covid-19?”, The British Medical Journal, December 2, 2021.

12.  WHO Press Conference on Covid-19, August 4, 2021.

13. Miquel Oliu-Barton, “SARS-CoV-2 elimination, not mitigation, creates best outcomes for health, the economy, and civil liberties,” The Lancet, April 28, 2021.

14. KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: What Would Dr. Fauci Do?,” November 19, 2020.

15. WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on Covid-19, 14 December 2021.

16. WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the WTO – WHO High Level Dialogue: Expanding COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacture To Promote Equitable Access, 21 July 2021.

17. WHO COVID-19 Virtual Press conference 3 August 2020.

18. Sarah Bahr, “Fauci Says It Could Be a Year Before Theater Without Masks Feels Normal,” The New York Times, September 11, 2020.

19. Drew Hinshaw and Daniel Michaels, “Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine Is Cleared for Use by EU Drug Agency,” The Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2020.

20. Sarah Bahr, “Fauci Says It Could Be a Year Before Theater Without Masks Feels Normal,” The New York Times, September 11, 2020.

21. Benjamin Mueller, “How a Dangerous New Coronavirus Variant Thwarted Some Countries’ Vaccine Hopes,” The New York Times, February 8, 2021.

22. Eric Reguly, “Why herd immunity to COVID-19 is proving elusive – even in highly vaccinated countries,” The Globe and Mail, May 27, 2021.

23. Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey, “New Trump pandemic adviser pushes controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy, worrying public health officials,” The Washington Post, August 31, 2020.

24. Sabrina Siddiqui, “Biden Meets With Top Executives on Covid-19 Vaccine Mandate,” The Wall Street Journal, September 15, 2021.

25. “Scientific consensus on the COVID-19 pandemic: we need to act now,” The Lancet, October 15, 2020.

26. Jennifer Abbasi, “Anthony Fauci, MD, on COVID-19 Vaccines, Schools, and Larry Kramer,” The Journal of the American Medical Association, June 8, 2020.

27. David E. Sanger, David D. Kirkpatrick, Carl Zimmer, Katie Thomas and Sui-Lee Wee, “Profits and Pride at Stake, the Race for a Vaccine Intensifies,” The New York Times, May 2, 2020.

28. Stuart A. Thompson, “How Long Will a Vaccine Really Take?,” The New York Times, April 30, 2020.

29. David E. Sanger, David D. Kirkpatrick, Carl Zimmer, Katie Thomas and Sui-Lee Wee, “Profits and Pride at Stake, the Race for a Vaccine Intensifies,” The New York Times, May 2, 2020.

30. Jared S. Hopkins and Jonathan D. Rockoff, “Race for Coronavirus Vaccine Accelerates as Pfizer Says U.S. Testing to Begin Next Week,” The Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2020.

31. Nina Burleigh, Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America’s Response to the Pandemic, Seven Stories Press. 2021. p. 26.

32. Anti-Duhring, p. 330.

33. Anti-Duhring, p. 330.

34. Jon Kamp, “Covid-19 Is Still Killing Hundreds of Americans Daily”, The Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2022.

750 Million Europeans Suffer So A Few Wealthy North Americans Can Get Richer

September 2, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Commercially, Ottawa’s backing of multilateral sanctions on Russian oil and gas makes sense. Canada is a major oil and gas producer whose corporate sector could benefit from a growing share of the world energy market, one in which Russia is a major rival.

A fortiori, Washington’s championing of the same sanctions also makes sense. The shale revolution has unlocked ample supplies of oil and gas beneath US soil, returning the country to its historic role as an energy superpower. One oil field in Texas is now the second largest in the world.

Sanctions on Russian oil and gas are attractive commercially as a way of eliminating a major rival from the lucrative European energy market. Considering the realities of cutthroat commercial competition, we should consider the ardent support of Washington and Ottawa for sanctions on Russian energy to be part of a great game for economic and strategic advantage.

We might also expect that neither capital is much interested in helping Moscow and Kyiv arrive at a modus vivende, even though a negotiated peace between the two belligerents would end the unnecessary suffering of countless millions of people around the world. With the war in full flower, it’s much easier to maintain sanctions on Russia, and to inveigle Europe to accept them.

It’s understandable, then, that Washington and Ottawa should exploit the war in Ukraine to press Europe to cut its energy ties with Russia. But is it understandable that Europe should go along? After all, sanctions are visiting great harm and suffering on European consumers and businesses. Belgium’s prime minister has warned Europeans to brace for up to five years of hardship.

That hardship largely comes in the form of higher energy prices, the prospects of rationing and business closures this winter, a looming recession, and a declining standard of living.

If and when Europe decouples from Russian energy, and reorients its energy supply to North America and other countries in the US orbit, it will pay higher prices than it pays today. In terms of winners and losers, Europe clearly comes out on the losing end, while a handsome payday awaits corporate North America.

If Europe’s leaders are behaving in a way that benefits investors across the Atlantic at the expense of their own citizens and businesses, it’s because that’s the price subordinate units pay for being part of an empire.  The interests of the imperial center prevail. Junior members sacrifice.

Imperialism hurts Europeans in two ways. First, it exposes them to the danger of great power rivalries; these can escalate, by accident or intention, into nuclear war. Second, it subordinates their interests to those of corporate North America.

This isn’t unique to the US empire.  The same happens to secondary powers in other imperialist conglomerations. Belarussians and Syrians, for example, may reap rewards from membership in the Russian empire, but they also incur penalties. Both, by virtue of sheltering under Moscow’s aegis, are entangled in a great power competition in which they serve as pawns to be moved about a great chessboard by Kremlin planners whose goal is to protect the Russian king. The interests of the citizens of both countries come second, or matter hardly at all.

A better alternative is the end of great powers and their rivalries. But that means attacking the problem at its root—the ceaseless hunt for profits that plunges states into wars and intrigues to secure for their profit-accumulating enterprises advantages over the profit-accumulating enterprises of other states.

Promoting Development and Fostering the Unity of Humanity, or Dividing Labor to Conquer It?

July 19, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Microsoft president Brad Smith warns that US companies are facing a new era of growing wage pressure, owing to declining population growth and fewer people entering the workforce.

To most people, upward pressure on wages is not a problem. But to Smith it’s a concern. More for labor means less for capital. And for the Microsoft president and other top corporate executives whose job it is to maximize returns to investors and shareholders, i.e., capitalists, growing labor bargaining power—the outcome of weak population growth—is definitely a problem.

Smith’s concern may have been aroused by the work of economists Charles Goodhart and Manoj Pradhan, who touched off the alarm in their 2020 book The Great Demographic Reversal: Ageing Societies, Waning Inequality, and an Inflation Revival.

Goodhart and Pradhan argue that the integration into the global capitalist economy of low wage labor from the highly populous China, vastly expanded the available global labor force, undercutting labor bargaining power in the developed world, and with it the wages, benefits, working conditions, and the economic security of Western labor.

The effective labor supply for capitalist exploitation more than doubled from 1991 to 2018, the years during which China opened its doors and invited foreign investors to exploit the country’s vast, disciplined, and cheap work force. Along with the reincorporation of Eastern Europe into the capitalist economy, the baby boomer demographic wave, and rising participation of women in the labor force, these developments provided what the two economists call an enormous “positive” supply shock to the available labor force in the world’s capitalist trading system.

The supply shock definitely turned out to be favorable to the interests of the world’s captains of industry and sultans of finance, since the result was a weakening in the bargaining power of the Western labor force and a steady decline in private sector union membership with consequent benefits for capital in growing profits and CEO compensation.

“The gainers from all this have been those with capital,” note Goodhart and Pradhan, along with workers in China and Eastern Europe. Workers in North America, Western Europe, and Japan have suffered.

But the tide has turned. With the capitalist integration of China and Eastern Europe now complete, and population growth waning, Goodhart and Pradhan warn business leaders and their representatives in government that labor bargaining power is about to grow stronger.

They recommend the following measures to scotch the profit-limiting trend:  

  • Accelerate automation;
  • Increase the age of retirement;
  • Outsource jobs to Africa and India (the last great pools of cheap labor);
  • Maintain aggressive immigration targets.

Neither Microsoft president Brad Smith, nor economists Goodhart and Pradhan, can abide the idea of labor increasing its bargaining power. Capital will do everything in its means to reverse the trend. More for labor means less for capital, and in a capitalist economy—that is, a society that takes its name from the class its serves, capitalists—less for capital is intolerable.

This ought to raise a question for those of us who rely for our living on employment income: Why tolerate a system that—in deploring better wages and working conditions—is so clearly against our interests?

Goodhart and Pradhan argue that the far right comes closest to acknowledging the reality that capital has used the outsourcing of jobs to China and Vietnam, and aggressive immigration targets, as weapons to undermine the bargaining power of Western labor.

As a consequence, the far right has been able to successfully vie with the left for the working class vote, since the left tends to shun analyses which might be construed as criticism of immigration and therefore misconstrued as racism, while eschewing criticism of China’s and Vietnam’s integration into the global capitalist economy out of a sense of solidarity with the developing world.

As they put it:

“One might have expected the voting support of those who have lost out relatively during the last three decades to go to left-wing parties in their own countries. After all, these parties were usually founded to foster the interests, and to look after the welfare, within the political scene of the working classes. Yet this has not generally happened in Europe and North America…Instead, the support of those left behind has gone in Europe mainly to radical populist right-wing parties.  Why has this been so? One answer is attitudes toward immigration. Left wing political parties are idealists that support the unity of humanity…Moreover, the left-wing parties usually have a large base of immigrants. Thus, it is unlikely that left-wing parties will support tight controls on immigration.”

By contrast, the “right-wing populist position on immigration is far more consonant with the views of those who have been deleteriously affected by globalization than the inclusive position of left-wing parties.”

These analyses, as incendiary as they may appear, only show that:

  • Capitalism must be understood as a worldwide system and not analyzed in isolation, within national boundaries;
  • Capital pits labor in one part of the world against labor in another;
  • Solidarity across national borders, rather than solipsistic struggles within, is the effective counter-response to capital’s strategy of divide and conquer.

Unfortunately, what is construed nowadays as proletarian internationalism amounts to support for capitalist exploitation of low-wage labor in countries that call themselves Communist, rather than the joint struggle of labor across national boundaries against the proletariat’s common enemy, the bourgeoisie. Solidarity with China and Vietnam is not internationalism, and nor is support for aggressive immigration targets, where the purpose of the targets is to increase the supply of labor in order to hold down or decrease its price. Indeed, much of what passes for the far left these days is, with the exception of a few communist parties, a left interested in the boutique issues of multipolarity and Russia’s and China’s inter-imperialist struggles with the United States, rather than the state of the working class globally.

The left does indeed support the unity of humanity and equality of all people. But supporting policies intended to intensify competition for jobs is not support for the unity of humanity—it’s support for the disunity of the proletariat and the growing strength of the bourgeoisie. The better alternative is support for industrialization, cooperative development, and full employment everywhere—a world economy for, of, and by the proletariat, free from exploitation, rather than a global capitalist economy which compels workers in country A to compete with (and often fight against) workers in country B.

So long as labor remains reconciled to the capitalist system, one which fundamentally depends on labor’s exploitation, it will forever be the victim of a strategy of divide and conquer.

Ukraine Communists’ View of the War in their Country and How to End It

By Stephen Gowans

July 12, 2022

The Union of Communists of Ukraine (UCU), a communist party banned in Ukraine, published a statement on the war in their country on SolidNet, subsequently republished in English on The Defense of Communism site on July 12, 2022.

The following is a summary of the party’s analysis, which closely follows the classical Marxist view of imperialism.

The UCU characterizes the war in Ukraine as a clash of two imperialist alliances: One led by the United States, and the other led by Russia.

The UCU contests the reasons offered for war on both sides.

From the Russia side, the party disagrees that the war “is in the interests of ‘Russians,’” or for the “‘protection of the Russian-speaking population’” in Ukraine, or for the “‘denazification’ of the Ukrainian state.” Instead, it is “in the interests of Russian capital, which has sensed the danger and a necessity for the creation of new international conditions to provide further opportunities for profits and the growth of its capital.”

From the Ukrainian side, the war is not “about ‘the Ukrainian nation,’” or “‘the Ukrainian language and culture,’” or “even about ‘European values.’” In the party’s view, it is a war pursued by the EU, Ukraine, and North America, under US-leadership, “to destroy the economic and political power of the Russian bourgeoisie.” The “interests or rights of Ukrainian workers” are not a consideration. On the contrary, they are abridged and damaged by the war.

“Both Ukrainian and Russian workers in this war have only the right and obligation to go to the front and die so that one group of the world bourgeoisie defeats the other and gains more monopoly rights to oppress the workers, both in their own country and in the defeated countries.”

The war offers nothing of value to working people of the world. Indeed, the “consequences of this imperialist war … are catastrophic for the proletarian masses of all” countries. “A world war cannot but have world consequences: hunger, impoverishment, unemployment, and falling wages are already pacing the planet.”

[Energy and food prices are increasing as a direct consequence of the war. This has, in turn, led central banks to tighten money supplies to control inflation. The predictable consequence of central bank action is to tip economies into recession and visit further economic pain on working families worldwide.

Almost 50 million people have been pushed to the brink of starvation since the war began, as disruptions to grain supplies and soaring transportation costs push food prices out of the reach of the poor. At the same time, real incomes around the world are falling as wages stagnate and prices rise.]

As bad as these sequelae of the war are, a calamity of far greater significance lurks in the wings.

“The development of the military conflict in Ukraine has shown that its leading trend is its escalation into an open clash between the two imperialist blocs: Russia and its allies on one side, and NATO on the other side. This means the escalation of the war into a nuclear conflict and the emergence of a real threat of annihilation of humankind.”

The UCU invokes the classical Marxist view of imperialism as a system of rivalry among capitalist powers to dominate markets, raw materials, investment opportunities, and strategic territory. The “competition of capital inevitably leads to crises and wars.” Thus, the competition of capital must be eliminated to reduce the chances of humanity’s annihilation.

The “struggle against war” is “a struggle against the power of capitalists who wage wars.” It is based on “fighting against the capitalists in each of the warring states,” not supporting one bourgeoisie against the other [and not denying the imperialist character of one side or the other.]

“The UCU sees the way out of imperialist war for the working class not in abstract calls for peace and disarmament (which, at best, can only provide a reprieve from war for the parties to build up forces for an even fiercer clash), but in the need to eliminate capitalism as a parasitic and destructive social system, in which the competition of capital inevitably leads to crises and wars.”

To that end, the party proposes to turn the international war into a civil, or class, war, echoing Lenin’s slogan. At the same time, it appeals “to the Russian workers” to do the same, viz., “to turn the imperialist war into a class war against the power of capital and for the communist revolution.”

“The only thing we can oppose to the bourgeois nationalism …. which pits peoples against each other in war, is proletarian internationalism,” the party argues.

The Last True Communist

By Stephen Gowans

July 9, 2022

Below is a quick summary of a July 8 speech on the war in Ukraine by Dimitris Koutsoumbas, General Secretary of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), delivered to a conclave of communist parties from Greece, Mexico, Spain, and Turkey.

Earlier this year, Koutsoumbas’s party initiated a statement on the war in Ukraine, characterizing the war as the outcome of a struggle between capitalist classes. The statement was supported by a significant number of Communist Parties and Communist Youth Organizations, but rejected by others.

Koutsoumbas’s address elaborated on the KKE view, which has been summarized by one of its deputies in the European Parliament as follows: “The imperialist conflict in Ukraine is between two camps of robbers: The US-NATO-EU and the bourgeoisie of Ukraine against capitalist Russia, for the control of pipelines and markets.”

Here are some of the points Koutsoumbas made:

The war in Ukraine is a conflict between bourgeois states.

Bourgeois states engage in rivalries over raw materials, mineral wealth, commodity transport routes, geopolitical pillars, and market shares. These rivalries lead to war.

The causes of the imperialist war in Ukraine lie in the confrontation between bourgeois classes.

The USA, NATO, and EU are pursuing war in Ukraine to further their interests in Eurasia before embarking on a major conflict with China over which capitalist power will be supreme in the world economy.

People in all the belligerent countries and alliances—Russians, Ukrainians, Europeans, North Americans— are already paying the price for the war, either with their blood or in an unbearable economic burden.

The price they pay has been imposed on them by the bourgeoisie of all the belligerent powers.

Communists are engaged in a debate over the meaning of imperialism. One view limits imperialism to its reactionary–aggressive foreign policy, resulting in its identification with the USA and the most powerful EU member states. This view is too narrow.

[My note: The classical Marxist view of imperialism has always held that imperialism is an ineluctable outgrowth of capitalism and that it is expressed in rivalry among capitalist powers for access to raw materials, and to dominate markets, spheres of investments, and strategic territory. In the classical view, this rivalry eventually escalates to war.]

Capitalist relations of production now prevail entirely in China.  Moreover, Russia, among the most powerful capitalist military powers in the world, and supported by powerful monopolies, is unquestionably capitalist. Imperialism is inseparable from capitalism. As capitalist powers, neither China or Russia, therefore, are outside the imperialist system. 

Multipolaristas fantasize about a ‘peaceful cooperation’ in the framework of international capitalist competition through a utopian ‘non-aggressive’ rivalry, or a rivalry whose aggression will be held in check through various ‘security architectures’

[My note: Hilferding expresses the classical Marxist view on security architectures. “What an illusion,” it is, he wrote, “to preach international law in a world … of capitalist struggle where [the] superiority of weapons is the final arbiter.”]

Some communists have been deceived by the pretexts used by one or another ruling bourgeois class—North American, Russian, European, or Ukrainian—and have allowed themselves to become instruments of the pursuits of one or another bourgeois class.

We should not align with one or the other capitalist camp in the war, but instead work (1) to disengage our countries from the war and (2) most importantly, to overthrow the cause of the war: capitalism.