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The Costs of War: Conflict in Ukraine Rages On

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The war in Ukraine demonstrates in the most brutal way the nature of modern imperialism. Russian imperialism has sought to break the will of the Ukrainian people by leveling whole cities while the U.S. and NATO have imposed vicious sanctions on Russia which are an act of war and whose main victims will be ordinary people. 

Modern war is waged to defend and extend the interests of the ruling class to plunder and profit. As Vladimir Lenin, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution, said over 100 years ago in the run up to World War I: 

“We see plainly here how private and state monopolies are interwoven in the epoch of finance capital: how both are but separate links in the imperialist  struggle between the big monopolists for the division of the world.” (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chapter 5) 

The Costs of the War in Afghanistan

On August 31, 2021 the world watched as the United States Armed Forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq was also reduced to 25,000.

During 20 years of military engagement in Afghanistan, U.S. taxpayers lost $300 million a day in this war for imperialist prestige. In the longest war the United States has ever fought, over 2,460 military personnel died. Brown University’s  Cost of War Project estimates the war killed 176,000 people; 46,319 civilians, 69,095 military and police, and at least 52,893 opposition fighters. The numbers of deaths may be higher from diseases, injuries, and starvation.

As we pointed out in an article at the time of the withdrawal: “A trillion dollars was spent on this effort, overwhelmingly on the military conflict with the Taliban. This was a bonanza for weapons manufacturers and military contractors but did very little to benefit the Afghan people.”

After the fall of Kabal to the Taliban, many Afghans lost their jobs as interpreters, aid workers, teachers, and journalists and many were forced into hiding. Millions now face extreme poverty and starvation inside Afghanistan and in refugee camps in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and neighboring countries. This is to say nothing of the brutal suppression of women’s rights under the Taliban regime.

The Afghan economy relied on foreign aid but after the Taliban took over, the financial aid stopped. In August, the U.S. froze $9.4 billion in Afghan currency reserves in Afghanistan’s central bank. This left the Central Bank of Afghanistan unable to use the reserves to facilitate cash flow in the economy, Afghanistan was cut off from foreign banks and the U.S. also imposed sanctions against the Taliban.

On February 25, 2022 the Biden Administration eased sanctions on the lawful transfer of money to civil servants in government agencies, including ministries under Taliban officials. However, when the government of Afghanistan was dissolved, $7 billion from the Afghanistan Central Bank was deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The New York Fed made the funds unavailable for withdrawal. On February 11, the Biden Administration invoked emergency powers to move $3.5 billion to a fund to aid the Afghan people. The other $3.5 billion was held in a fund for September 11 plaintiffs waiting on a judge to rule on lawsuits against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and others. Essentially, the Central Bank of Afghanistan has been decapitalized.

The New Militarism

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a devastating experience which has lasted more than two years. Since 2020, many working class and poor people have lacked access to affordable health care and faced cuts in wages and rising prices on essential goods. Most people in the U.S. looked forward to a period of relief and economic stability after the war in Afghanistan ended and the pandemic appeared to be receding.

Instead, in late December, Congress passed a massive $768 billion bill to fund military spending—the largest in history. Meanwhile, inflation has reached a 40 year high in part due to massive problems with global supply chains.

On February 24, 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine, once again raising the specter of truly global conflict and untold suffering for the people of Ukraine and Russia.  The response of Western imperialism has been to pour armaments into the country and risk the escalation of the conflict into a far wider war. The latest step was the U.S. Congress passing $40 billion in “aid” for Ukraine, much of it military, equivalent to one fourth of Ukraine’s pre-pandemic GDP. Disturbingly, this aid was supported by nearly the entire “left” in Congress including AOC and Bernie Sanders.

The war in turn has triggered an energy and food crisis globally. While CNN, MSNBC, and other corporate media outlets have urged the public to “suck it up” and pay higher prices at the gas pump, the working class was already struggling to pay increased prices for food, housing, utilities, and basic expenses. Large corporations have used their market power to raise prices and gain record profits, while small businesses and retailers were going out of business at record rates. 

Gas and oil companies looked at the conflict in Ukraine as an opportunity to increase profits. The energy sector is dominated by a few corporations. Consumption of oil and gas decreased during the Covid-19 pandemic, when large numbers of people stayed home. Now the same companies are restricting production and hiking prices. The companies see increasing prices and volatility as a means to build more long-term contracting and security for fossil fuels. 

Price gouging is also taking place among corporations which produce and market consumer goods. The four major meat processing companies in the U.S. have increased prices 15% above prices in 2021. 

As the U.S. expands arms shipments to Ukraine, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing, and other defense contractors are banking on increased sales and profits. Raytheon, General Dynamics  and Lockheed Martin fund the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank which is pressuring  politicians to escalate U.S. military intervention in Ukraine.

The Cost of War Project reports military corporations paid over 700 lobbyists a year, over the last five years, to expand military and arms spending.

Military Buildup in the Pacific

U.S. imperialism’s military buildup is not just in Ukraine and Eastern Europe but even more in the Western Pacific as part of its effort to contain and check the rise of Chinese imperialism. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, USINDOPACOM, homepage reports 375,000 military and civilian personnel are already present in the Asian-Pacific region.

The Biden Administration plans to expand U.S. military presence in the region. When Biden recently toured Asia, he stressed that despite the conflict in Ukraine, countering China remained the top U.S. priority. He met with the “Quad,” the anti-China alliance of the U.S., Australia, Japan and India, which is potentially the beginning of the “Indo Pacific NATO.” 

The record of U.S. military involvement in the Pacific goes back to the mid 19th century when the U.S. forced China and Japan to trade with American corporations. Later incursions included the conquest and setting up of military bases in the Philippines and Hawaii, the massive military operations in WWII ending with the world’s first nuclear attacks, Cold War-era nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars which led to the deaths of millions.

The extent of the current buildup is illustrated by the agreement reached in July 2021 between the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Federated States of Micronesia, (FSM) in Honolulu, Hawaii to build a military base. The region is an archipelago of more than 600 islands, some more than 3,700 miles from Hawaii. 

In 1980, the Compacts of Free Association bi-lateral agreements were negotiated between FSM, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Washington. The agreements are re-negotiated every few years and the three countries have received hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. In addition, these countries’ citizens can now join the U.S. military.

But in fact the U.S. has been far outpaced by China in recent years in the push for influence in the Pacific countries. In March, the New York Times reported a draft agreement between China and the Solomon Islands, a deal which has now been made official. According to the Times, “the deal would give Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands the ability to call on China for protection of his own government while granting China a base of operations between the United States and Australia that could be used to block shipping traffic across the South Pacific.”  

More broadly, China is leveraging extensive investment and “aid” in many Pacific countries, including Fiji, to strengthen its influence, both diplomatic but ultimately military as well. The CCP is currently pushing for a broad agreement with 10 Pacific nations that would expand China’s role in policing, maritime cooperation, and cybersecurity while offering scholarships for more than 2,000 workers and young diplomats.

At the same time, Chinese imperialism has expanded its presence in the Indo-Pacific region through a massive expansion of its navy and anti-ship missile capabilities and building artificial islands in the South China Seas. The key flashpoint remains Taiwan, which China claims is part of China and which Biden recently committed to militarily defend against a Chinese invasion.

The new Cold War between the U.S. and China has accelerated since the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, which united the EU and the U.S. led Western bloc which also includes some Asian nations. China has treaded carefully in its economic relations with Russia so as to not be caught up in the Western sanctions regime. However the war is clearly pushing Russia and China even closer together. 

But if Biden wants to use the “Western unity” and sanctions regime as an object lessor for China, it must be borne in mind that trying to replicate the “radical decoupling” applied to Russia against China would be an entirely different proposition. Strategically, China is the world’s second largest economy and plays a far more decisive role than Russia in the global trade and financial systems.

Ukraine: the Fulcrum of Imperialist Conflict Today

The invasion of Ukraine is an attempt by Putin to extend the reach of Russian imperialism. He thought he saw an opportunity in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan but in fact profoundly miscalculated, seriously underestimating the lengths Western imperialism and especially the U.S. would go to oppose this move. He also seriously misjudged the Ukrainian people who have fought back tenaciously against the brutal occupation.

However, there is another side to this conflict. NATO and the U.S. have repeatedly extended NATO forces to Russia’s borders and have helped create the conditions for this war. The sanctions imposed on Russia will affect Russian oligarchs to some degree but the brunt will be borne by the Russian working class and the working class across the world. The war has become ever more clearly a proxy war fought between Western and Russian imperialism.

Imperialism must always develop a narrative to justify its actions. The Putin regime first claimed it was waging war to “denazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine. Now it claims it is defending Russian speakers in the east of the country. All of this is transparent lies. But so is the claim of the U.S. that this is about defending “democracy” against dictatorship. While calling Putin a war criminal, the Biden administration has literally been sending Patriot missiles to the Saudi regime who are engaged in an equally brutal war in Yemen in order to get their help with increasing oil supply. Now Biden may be heading to Saudi Arabia to “mend fences.” The hypocrisy is nauseating.

The U.S. is increasing its sales of arms to NATO countries while also increasing the U.S. military budget and using sanctions to limit Russian competition in the European energy market. Both U.S. arms manufacturers and oil companies stand to reap whirlwind profits.

Immediate Ceasefire and Withdrawal 

We oppose the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and oppose all imperialist wars. Russia should immediately ceasefire and withdraw all troops, mercenaries, and weapons from Ukraine. All Western imperialist troops, advisors, and military equipment should be withdrawn from Ukraine and Eastern Europe. We defend the right of the Ukrainian people to decide their own fate, including the rights of national minorities within Ukraine.

The working class needs to build a powerful international anti-imperialist anti-war movement. We need to collectively own the means of production and natural resources of the earth. A cooperative planned economy in the control of the working class majority is the only way forward. 

To quote Vladimir Lenin, “Our aim is to achieve a socialist system of society, which, by eliminating the division of mankind into classes, by eliminating all exploitation of man by man and nation by nation, will inevitably eliminate the very possibility of war.” 

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