War Costs

We are in an historic period of profound distress. It conjures-up images of the 1930’s for me, and we know how that ended. 

Everywhere, people are anxious amongst images and portents of great suffering. 

I’m taking nothing away from the so far more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees suffering severe trauma when I identify the wider global level of angst and nervous depression. Those being bombed in Yemen, tortured in Sudan, corralled in Syria and evicted in Palestine or the at-least 20 million starving to death right now in Afghanistan and southern Madagascar all suffer from fear and pain. Indeed, add to that the two-thirds of humanity going to bed hungry, two-billion without access to clean drinking water, and 3.5 billion experiencing environmental changes requiring migration, and we can recognise reality for what it is.

Added together the world’s human population is descending, as long-predicted, into a barbarous and genocidal maelstrom. 

Such cataclysm is only tempered by comparison with the destruction occurring to the rest of animal and plant life. The 6th Great Extinction, as scientists from all denominations call it. If stared at, with eyes wide open, the 21st Century as denoted by the Western human calendar is making the 20th look relatively benign.

Outside my window at the centre of this parochial military English city, people go about their business much in the same way as those in Kyiv did on the 23rd February. Change doesn’t hit until it hits. I’m sipping strong coffee (soon to be in short supply and triple the price), whilst tapping on my tablet (the wifi soon to be intermittent from supply outages) and musing in a warmish room (soon to be made unaffordable by fuel price hikes).

A few days ago the accursed International Monetary Fund, those who destroyed the economies of most of Africa (and Greece amongst many others) with their debt-economy demands and Structural Adjustment neoliberal privatisations, reflected upon the the economic impact of the war and western sanctions against Russia, saying,

“Price shocks will have an impact worldwide, especially on poor households for whom food and fuel are a higher proportion of expenses. Should the conflict escalate, the economic damage would be all the more devastating. The sanctions on Russia will also have a substantial impact on the global economy and financial markets, with significant spillovers to other countries.”

This is already beginning to take place. Oil prices have reached $130 per barrel, and in the United Kingdom, petrol prices at the pumps have surged past £7 a gallon to their highest levels ever. In France, the price of diesel has gone from €1.65 per litre at the end of last year to €2.20 per litre.

This doesn’t mean people will use less fuel – transport and heating are not luxuries to be discarded during lean times, but essential necessities. Inflation simply means we have to pay more for what we need to maintain employment and sustenance.

Those gambling on the Stock Exchange casinos of the super-rich have ensured the “Wheat futures” rise of 70% this year – Russia and Ukraine together account for one-quarter of all grain exports. In Europe, industrial production is beginning to shut down due to soaring energy prices whilst military emissions are rising exponentially. Oil price rises doesn’t reduce oil use, it just costs more.

In the month of February, UK inflation at the more honest RPI is at 7.9 percent and rising, and in the Eurozone it reached 5.8 percent, the highest level on record since the creation of the single currency in 1997. Inflation is expected to rise sharply in March as the consequences of sanctions reverberate throughout the world economy.

As a UK pensioner I will need to cut the food order and wear two jumpers by April (unless global warming shoots local temperatures to worrying new records), enough to validate my continuous moaning about this inhuman and corrupt class system, but not representing any real hardship compared with the challenges facing young working class families.

The worst hit will be developing countries in Africa and the so-called Middle East. Starvation and famine in this region of the world is already happening. Eighty percent of grain in Egypt is purchased from Russia. Other major importers of Russian grain include Turkey, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Yemen. There will be food riots alongside mass famine.

Altogether, the impact of war on the global working class will be enormous. We are already reeling from more than two years of the COVID pandemic in which some 15 millions have died and living standards have been eroded to the breaking point by inflation caused by pandemic-induced chaos in global supply chains. 

This social trauma is the product of deliberate rejection of necessary public health measures by the world’s governments in the name of “herd immunity,” or the sacrificing of life to profit. And there’s a new variant spreading out of Japan with unknown consequences in this, now war obsessed and pandemic denying world.

Governments are using Ukraine to deflect attention from the pandemic, which is not over and is already beginning to surge again. The war is being used to explain an inflation rate which was already at its highest level in decades before, now rebranded as a “Putin price hike” entirely the fault of Russia, in an attempt to deflect attention from the corruption, greed and incompetence of Prime Minister Johnson and, indeed, most of the western political class. 

There is every danger of a new war hysteria whipped-up by the media moguls on behalf of their peers in the armaments and fossil-fuel industries to obscure the record profits. The stock prices of armaments manufacturers and suppliers such as Babcock, Northrup Grumman and Raytheon have risen sharply in recent weeks. Western oil companies and agribusiness are predicting superprofits from worldwide shortages derived from the removal of their Russian rivals.

Yet, probably their single most focussed drive of this imperialist war propaganda (that’s what it is) is to push back the climate movement and our demand for the end of the fossil-fuelled economy. We were making headway, lets be clear, before and even during the Pandemic. Because of our global protests – Thunberg’s Fridays for Future and the international Extinction Rebellion direct actions – there are few who are unworried by the deepening and visible climate catastrophe, the extreme weather events quite universal, with shocking peaks such as fires-then-floods in Sydney – Sydney! Australia! Who would have thought?

The clamour from the organised far-Right, growing fast throughout the West, is to renew their denial of Climate Change in order to “save” the economy. White-supremacist nationalists such as Nigel Farage are promoting the UK version of a Trumpite “Make Britain Great Again” by ending green energy subsidies and closing the borders, not only from Ukrainians but all the perils of the world “outside”. Having warned of war with Russia (as did the Left, but from the opposite perspective of caring for humanity) he now turns our economic anxiety towards hatred of a foreign enemy, and against “the enemy within”: We, the climate and anti-war protesters. 

Throughout the world, the war in Ukraine is being used as cover to redirect hundreds-of-billions in resources away from health and welfare towards war. The latest spending bill making its way through the United States Congress includes nearly $800 billion for the military, including $15 billion in spending for Ukraine, while omitting $15 billion in pandemic-related funding. The corporate media in Britain is calling for the gutting of the postwar welfare state for the sake of increasing military spending. Most ominously, Germany has rammed through a tripling of their military budget for this year, the largest increase since Adolf Hitler.

Johnson’s Government, claiming to be “defending freedom” in Ukraine, is busy planning greater use of state repression, including injunctions, anti-strike legislation, executive orders and other measures to suppress working class opposition at home. 

It is difficult to judge, at this relatively early stage, the mood and sense of working class people here and abroad. With a situation more analogous with the First World War rather than the Second, it is worth reading-up on the many strikes and protests throughout those 4 ghastly years, despite the capitulation of the trade unions and their political representatives to the “war effort”. 

The immediate challenge is to expose the lie of any supposed “national unity” backing for war. We’ve heard it all before. The working class never benefits from war. We pay for it, always, as an international class, in poverty and death. Amidst economic and climate collapse, I can’t see ordinary working people going gently into that dark night. Protests will continue, essentially.

For climate activists there are traps to be avoided. This is no time to attack workers for daring to drive to work or be employed in fossil fuel industries – target the anger on where the power lies – for example, the corporate executives of Shell and BP enjoying disgusting levels of profit dividends from destruction. And don’t utilise the war sanctions as a method for cutting the use of fossil fuels – war increases global heating emissions far more than any reduction in their use due to price-hikes. And sanctions always hurt the ordinary people more than the oligarchs. Get real! 

It’s time to join the Movements together – No to War, No to Climate Chaos, People Before Profit! The main enemy is at home – Capitalism. 

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