Only the Working Class Can Prevent World War Three

Right from the start it was clear that the war in Ukraine was not just going to be any old war. It is already the first step on the road to a much wider global conflict, one in which the main victims, as in all modern imperialist wars, will be the working class as a whole, whether in uniform or not. In Ukraine the military casualties (i.e. dead and wounded) on both sides have already gone way past half a million, whilst the number of Ukrainian civilians who have died is around 10,000. Hundreds of thousands more have fled to avoid military service or have become refugees.

Two years of a vicious war in Ukraine have now been all but eclipsed by five months of systematic devastation in Gaza. Hamas’ brutal massacre of 1,200 people in Israel on 7 October has led to the carpet bombing of almost the entire Gaza Strip. Well over 23,000 (45% of them children) are now dead. According to Oxfam it is the bloodiest encounter in recent history (250 dead a day compared with just under 100 a day in Syria). Nor will it stop there. Both wars share the fact that they are the products of decades-long disputes in which neither side can compromise. These wars only end with the total defeat of the enemy. Or, if that cannot be achieved, then they do not end. They just pause, largely due to economic exhaustion, before igniting sometime later.

Widening War is the Product of a System in Decline

This indiscriminate brutality and violence on all sides is the product of a global capitalist system which is in deep crisis. After six decades of declining growth rates (which declined even faster after the collapse of the post war boom at the beginning of the Seventies) our rulers’ expedients to keep the system alive seem to be exhausted. Over the last four decades they have ramped up the exploitation of the world working class. They have transferred high value production to low wage economies which can sell cheap products back to the richer countries to keep wage demands down (globalisation). They have deregulated financial institutions so they can indulge in reckless spending and speculation. And they have mortgaged the future with the highest level of debt in history. While this has made a very small number of people obscenely rich, it has impoverished the vast majority. Despite all this the system still stagnates and suffers anaemic growth rates. Having run out of peaceful options the masters of the planet are now all seeking to maximise their revenues and profits at the expense of their rivals. The result is an intensification of imperialist rivalry, particularly that between the world’s major powers – the USA and China.

China boasts of becoming global top dog by 2049 whilst the US bestrides the world in defence of the dollar’s hegemony in world trade. China wants what the US has – world domination. There is no room for compromise here either. The war in Ukraine is not China’s war, but you would not know it if you listened to Biden and Blinken’s speeches on Ukraine, which have attacked China as much as Russia. For its part even when China talks of a “win-win” situation if both sides cooperate, it still denounces the USA for arming Taiwan, which they intend to take back by force if all else fails. Both sides constantly play a dangerous game of military Russian roulette in the waters around Taiwan.

The Consequences

The Ukraine war has already had some decisive consequences. In the first place it has reinforced the strategic divide in the world. Since the collapse of the USSR, the US and its allies have increasingly used economic sanctions against their enemies, Russia, China and Iran. These are in themselves acts of war and have brought the three Eurasian states into closer and closer cooperation to mitigate their effects. On the other side, the war in Ukraine has brought the previously lukewarm European NATO members into line behind the US. It has even led to NATO expansion to Sweden and Finland. The battle is on to win friends and influence other states across the planet. The US thought that playing the “democracy versus authoritarian” card it would be able to win the ideological battle. But no country in Africa, Latin America or the Middle East has joined in Western sanction campaigns against Russia, whilst South Africa is leading the condemnation of Israel in the International Court of Justice. The disastrous outcomes of US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have undermined its authority, and even states like India are aiding Russia by buying its oil.

Another consequence is that a new arms race has begun. Global military spending rose to a record in 2022 with the biggest annual increase in expenditure in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Whilst Russia has doubled its military expenditure, the US has been urgently retooling old armament manufacturing production lines just to keep with Ukraine’s needs. Shares of weapons manufacturers are naturally booming. The two great wars for global domination last century were preceded by similar arms races.

The other economic impact has been the drive for “energy” and “food” security. This is equally serious. Not only will attempts at self-sufficiency further undermine the global market but we can forget any attempt to carry out measures to hinder climate change or more immediate ecological disasters.

Capitalism’s World War or Class War Against Capital?

Whilst the bosses fight for control of the planet the price is thus paid by the working class in death and starvation. And when Israel’s UK ambassador excuses the annihilation of Gaza by comparison with the Allied bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, alarm bells should be ringing for us all. As we go to press the fear of the extension of the war in Gaza is sending tremors across the Middle East and North Africa (where there is already turmoil). It has led to the deployment of US carrier fleets to the region with the assistance of some (but not all) NATO allies. The last deployment is to counter the serious disruption to trade in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthis (backed by Iran like Hezbollah and Hamas) demanding a cease-fire in Gaza. This already makes this a global issue since 20% of Europe’s foodstuffs and 15% of its oil comes through there. Re-routing container ships and tankers round Africa is costing shipping companies millions more every day. The final price will be paid in more inflation in Europe which, of course, will hit those on low incomes the hardest.

We are in the foothills of world war. What is happening to the population in Kharkiv, Kherson or Gaza today is a taste of what could be coming to a street near us in the not too distant future. Imperialist war means total war. This is not just a war between two armies or even between two states but between two imperialist interests. And those interests are the interests of the rich everywhere. It makes sense for them to fight for “the country”. After all, they own it. It makes no sense for workers who own only personal property, and their ability to work to make profits for the capitalists.

The idea that dying for your country is the finest thing you can do (“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” as the Romans had it) is one of the oldest cons in history. It means identifying with our exploiters to go and kill our fellow workers. In 1914 the virus of nationalism led to the slaughter of the First World War. It even infected most socialist parties and trade unions who abandoned all their resolutions to oppose war. All of them found excuses for encouraging workers into the slaughter and signing away the right to strike. Only a few stood out against that war and they were largely derided. It took nearly a year before Lenin’s call to turn the imperialist war into a class war found an echo in the Zimmerwald Left’s resolution to make the struggle against war the struggle for socialism. Today that struggle is more necessary than ever but it would be better starting with an international organisation already in place. The Socialist International’s betrayal of the working class then and after meant that it would take years before the war would be brought to an end. Today the atrocities on both sides also strangle dissent of any kind. Once war starts, opposing it gets even harder. Just surviving in places like Gaza is hard enough. We salute all those who have deserted, sabotaged or opposed the war in Ukraine and Russia (in particular, the Assembly and KRAS), as well as the brave young people in Mesarvot (We Refuse) in Israel like Tal Mitnick who refuse the draft.

Whilst we give vocal support to all refuseniks everywhere, it is not enough. Humanitarian pacifism is, unfortunately, not enough either. Well-meaning sympathy for the victims does not amount to a strategy for getting rid of the causes of imperialist war. The responsibility of those who already see this is enormous. Around the world there are many organisations who understand that the only way forward is for the working class to reject all national struggles and war. We don’t defend any nation state or even potential nation state – socialism will abolish the state and all national frontiers to create a world human community where people are not forced to migrate to escape the misery brought about by a rotting capitalist system.

For our part we are trying to cooperate with any organisation which adheres to the principles of NWBCW (see accompanying article) in order to bring about an organisational force capable of putting up effective resistance to the most powerful form of exploitation known to history. We are moving towards a decisive point in human history and the choice is stark: socialism or barbarism.

The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 66) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.