2023: The global capitalist crisis and the growing offensive of the international working class

1. The celebration of the beginning of the New Year will be brief. The old year…

2023: The global capitalist crisis and the growing offensive of the international working class

1. The celebration of the beginning of the New Year will be brief. The old year has passed into history, but its crises persist and will intensify. As 2023 begins, the COVID-19 pandemic is entering its fourth year with no end in sight. The US-NATO war against Russia continues to escalate. The world capitalist economy is afflicted simultaneously by ruinous inflation and recession. The institutions of bourgeois democracy in the advanced capitalist countries—first and foremost, in the United States—are breaking down. The American political system is grappling, with little success, with the aftershocks emanating from the insurrection of January 6, 2021. Right-wing and neo-fascist movements are steadily gaining ground throughout the world. As living standards for the laboring masses plunge globally, the class struggle is intensifying and breaking out of the control of the official trade unions.

2. In 2022 the accumulating pressure of these intersecting elements of the world capitalist crisis attained the equivalent of critical mass: that is, they have reached the point where the dynamic of crisis has passed beyond the ability of governments to control the movement toward a social cataclysm. The ruling classes are incapable of containing the crisis; their policies—economic, political and social—are of an increasingly reckless and even irrational character. In their promotion of “herd immunity” as a legitimate response to the pandemic and in their willingness to risk nuclear war in a confrontation with Russia, the imperialist powers are demonstrating a homicidal contempt for the lives of the great mass of the world’s population. Only the intervention of the working class, armed with an international socialist program, can provide humanity with a way out of the disaster created by capitalism.

The COVID-19 pandemic

3. The emergence of the Omicron variant in November of 2021 was welcomed by capitalist governments, led by the United States under the Biden administration, as a pretext for abandoning mitigation measures that slow the spread of COVID-19. The government’s “theory”—for which there was no credible scientific basis—was that Omicron would be a “live virus vaccination,” whose spread would endow some level of immunity, and on this basis the coronavirus would fade away.

2023: The global capitalist crisis and the growing offensive of the international working class
US President Joe Biden giving a speech downplaying the dangers of Omicron three days after it was declared a variant of concern by the WHO. [AP Photo/Evan Vucci]

4. The ruling class demanded that Americans “learn to live with the virus,” with the false promise that it would become “endemic” and no more dangerous than the seasonal flu. A media campaign promoted the end of masking, testing, contact tracing, the isolation of infected patients, and the systematic reporting of cases and deaths. Biden proclaimed that “the pandemic is over” and life could return to normal, disarming the population to the ongoing dangers of COVID-19.

5. This narrative was based on lies and propaganda. It ignored the scientific truth that COVID-19 reinfections, which have become common, compound the infected individual’s risk of hospitalization and death. The capitalist mass media paid virtually no attention to Long COVID and its persistent impact on a substantial percentage of those who contract the virus. They lied about the danger, established by virologists, that the continuous and rapid evolution of new variants undermines the effectiveness of vaccines and immunity acquired from previous infections. The year concluded with the revelation that for the second time in three months the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has covered up the spread of a dangerous new Omicron subvariant. The XBB.1.5 variant has rapidly become dominant across the US, after first becoming dominant and causing a surge of infections and hospitalizations throughout the Northeast region.

6. “Living with the virus” has meant accepting staggering levels of death and debilitation amid unending waves of infection and reinfection. Global life expectancy has declined for the first time since the Second World War. More than 10 million children worldwide have lost a parent or primary caregiver from COVID-19. Hundreds of millions of people are suffering from Long COVID, which can impact nearly every organ in the body.

7. According to excess death estimates, more than 21 million people have died directly or indirectly from COVID-19 in three years, approximately equal to the total military and civilian casualties during the four years of the First World War. A recent study on excess deaths by the World Health Organization found that COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death globally in 2020 and the world’s leading cause of death in 2021. There were approximately 5.1 million excess deaths globally in 2022, making the “mild” Omicron variant the third-leading cause of death. Governments allowed a novel virus to spread globally and become one of the world’s worst killers.

8. In the US alone, there were 270,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and over 350,000 excess deaths in 2022. These deaths have skewed sharply toward older individuals. Three-quarters of 2022 COVID-19 deaths, or 186,000 people, were over the age of 65, with the percentage rising throughout the year. A new Malthusianism has gripped the ruling class, which views with staggering indifference the death of the elderly. The words of Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ classic are now the mantra of the financial oligarchy: “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

9. Until November 2022, China adhered to a policy of “Zero COVID,” that is, the implementation of the well-known public health measures necessary to stop the spread of the virus. In the first three years of the pandemic, this policy limited COVID-19 deaths in China to just over 5,000, out of a population of 1.4 billion, or 0.1 percent of the US death rate during that time. In March-June 2022, the Zero-COVID strategy successfully stopped an outbreak of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant in Shanghai, proving that it is effective in combating even this highly infectious variant.

Health care workers in Beijing taking throat swabs of residents to trace coronavirus cases during last year’s Omicron surge. [AP Photo/Andy Wong]

10. China’s measures, however correct they were in themselves, suffered from one fundamental and fatal flaw: The global pandemic cannot be stopped on the basis of a national strategy. State borders cannot be made impenetrable. Preventing the infiltration of the virus into China was a Sisyphean task. Moreover, governments and the media in the major capitalist countries carried out an aggressive campaign to demand that China abandon its Zero-COVID strategy, on the grounds that the measures taken were undermining global trade and supply chains—that is, that they were harmful to the profit interests of transnational corporations. Apple, Nike and other major corporations threatened to move their production facilities to other countries.

11. In response to these economic and geopolitical pressures, beginning in November the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) abandoned Zero-COVID. In the span of one month, it ended all lockdowns, mass testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols, and travel restrictions.

12. In just the first three weeks of December, it is estimated that 248 million people were infected with COVID-19 in China, 100 times the number infected in the first three years of the pandemic. The majority of China’s 1.4 billion people are expected to be infected by March 2023. Estimates of the number of people who will die range from 1 million to 2 million. Hospitals in cities across China are overflowing with patients, and morgues are suspending burial services in response to the inundation of bodies. Thousands are believed to be dying each day throughout the country.

13. The lifting of Zero-COVID in China and the adoption of a “forever COVID” policy marks a new and potentially even more dangerous stage in the pandemic. Scientists have warned that mass infection increases the likelihood that new variants will evolve. The world’s capitalist ruling elites are playing Russian roulette with society, raising the danger that a more infectious, immune-resistant and deadly variant could unleash an even more lethal global wave of infections.

14. There is no precedent in modern history for governments that are not openly fascistic implementing policies that it is known will result in mass illness and death. But this is precisely what all the capitalist states have done over the course of the pandemic.

15. The response to the pandemic can leave no doubt that capitalist governments will react no differently to the even greater threat posed by climate change. Not even the danger of mass extinction will deter the ruling elites from their destructive pursuit of corporate profits and personal wealth. The past year saw a major intensification of the climate crisis, including terrible flooding in Pakistan and throughout much of Africa, devastating drought conditions across Europe, China and East Africa, Hurricane Ian and the winter bomb cyclone in the United States, and other extreme weather events throughout the world. Scientists have warned that climate change will continue to exacerbate the global food crisis, kill millions of people, displace hundreds of millions more and increase the likelihood of future pandemics.

The US-NATO war against Russia

16. The US-NATO war against Russia is a milestone in the progression to World War III. The essential cause and nature of a war is not determined by what country “fired the first shot,” but by the socioeconomic and geopolitical interests of the classes controlling the countries engaged in the conflict. Ukraine has been placed by its corrupt capitalist oligarchy at the disposal of US and European imperialism in a proxy war. Its aim is the defeat of Russia, for the purpose of 1) dismembering this vast country and securing control over its immense supply of critical natural resources, 2) removing all obstacles to imperialist domination, under the aegis of the United States, of the Eurasian subcontinent; and 3) completing the encirclement of China and its subordination, through a combination of economic and military measures, to American imperialism.

Ukrainian soldiers fire a French-made CAESAR self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Avdiivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022. [AP Photo/Lib’s]

17. The propaganda of the capitalist media, built around the claim of an “unprovoked invasion” by Russia of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, is based on lies, half-truths and the suppression of vital information. It separates the conflict from its entire antecedent history and the past 30 years of US-led wars and invasions.

18. The United States viewed the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 as an opportunity to utilize its military power to establish unrivaled domination throughout the world. It was glorified by the propagandists of imperialism as a “unipolar moment” in which the US would dictate a “New World Order” in the interests of Wall Street. A 1992 Pentagon strategy document proclaimed that US strategy had to be based “on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”

19. The same government that now denounces Russia for “genocide” in Ukraine destroyed entire societies and killed hundreds of thousands in its project of global conquest. The first war against Iraq in 1990-91, launched in the final year of the USSR, was followed by the dismantling of Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s, culminating in the war against Serbia in 1999. The same imperialist powers that now insist upon the territorial integrity of Ukraine and demand the return of Crimea had no compunctions whatever about ripping Kosovo out of Serbia.

20. The attacks of September 11, 2001 were seized on to proclaim a “war on terror” and what President George W. Bush termed the “wars of the 21st century.” The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and led a second war against Iraq in 2003. Then, under the Obama administration, it waged a war against Libya and orchestrated a civil war in Syria in 2011. Each of these wars was justified in one way or another on the basis that the US was fighting for “democracy” and “freedom” against one or another devil who had to be deposed.

21. However, the bloodbath orchestrated and led by American imperialism failed to achieve its aim: unrivaled control over the Middle East, Central Asia and the Eurasian landmass. Increasingly, US geopolitical strategists began discussing the necessity for a direct conflict with Russia as the prelude to a conflict with China. In August of 2021, when Biden announced the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, he claimed that he was ending the “forever war.” It is now evident that this was in preparation for war against Russia—which he has pledged to continue for “as long as it takes.”

Map showing the eastward expansion of NATO since 1949 [Photo by Patrickneil / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0]

22. The US and European powers instigated this war through decades of NATO expansion to the east, up to the borders of Russia. In the years leading up to the invasion, particularly after the US-orchestrated 2014 coup in Ukraine which unseated a pro-Russian government, the US and NATO funneled tens of billions of dollars in weaponry into Ukraine, which has been transformed into a member of NATO in all but name.

23. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel blurted out the truth when she told Die Zeit last month, “The 2014 Minsk agreement [following the coup in Ukraine] was an attempt to give Ukraine time. It also used this time to become stronger, as you can see today.”

24. The plans for war against Russia were operationalized in 2022. Seven weeks before the outbreak of the war, the WSWS warned:

The New Year begins with the Biden administration leading a reckless NATO-backed military buildup in Ukraine, spurring the right-wing Ukrainian government to deploy 125,000 soldiers to its border with Russia and warning Russian President Vladimir Putin that the US will not “accept anybody’s red lines.” Far from restraining the Ukraine regime, the Biden administration seems intent on encouraging a military clash. In December, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy threatened that “Ukraine can become the next Afghanistan for Russia if it chooses to move further.”

25. As in every war waged by the United States and its NATO accomplices, there are endless claims that the conflict with Russia is a struggle in defense of democracy. But there is not to be found in the media any reference to the economic interests that underlie the actions of the imperialist powers. But this issue was examined in detail by the World Socialist Web Site in a detailed article posted on May 22, 2022, titled, “Critical resources, imperialism and the war against Russia.” It explained:

Russia is the largest country in the world. While its economy is relatively minuscule compared to the imperialist powers, its landmass spans across two continents, with a total size of 6.6 million square miles. The runners up, Canada (3.8 mi²), China (3.7 mi²) and the US (3.6 mi²) are significantly behind in terms of size. Russia alone comprises 11 percent of the entire world’s landmass.

In this vast landmass are an array of important minerals and resources.

Russia produces roughly 40 percent of the EU’s natural gas and almost 12 percent of the world’s oil. Russia is also the second largest holder of coal reserves in the world, 175 billion tons. These resources play a key role in the ongoing conflict. Amid tightening global energy supplies, these resources are a major impediment to US imperialism globally, but particularly in its effort to combat the rise of China…

In addition to hydrocarbons, Russia contains massive quantities of basic metals. Russia is the third largest reserve holder of iron, with 25 billion tons. It also holds the second largest reserve of gold (6,800 tons) and is near tied for the fifth spot in silver. The country is also the largest producer of diamonds, producing, on average, about a third of the world’s diamonds in recent years.

While each of these resources deserves attention in understanding the geostrategic ambitions of the United States and its allies, this article looks at a lesser-known aspect of global resource politics: critical minerals. Critical minerals refer to a host of metals and minerals increasingly vital to global production which, over the next two decades, are expected to explode in demand. Russia sits on substantial sources of a diverse array of critical minerals that the US believes will be crucial to global economic and political power in the 21st century.

26. On the basis of a careful review of Russia’s strategic resources, the article concluded:

The breaking apart of Russia and its domination by American capital would be a strategic stepping stone in the efforts of the American ruling class to impose a “new American century” through the subordination of China and Eurasia more broadly to its aims. Resources play a role in this. Amid the enduring need for oil and natural gas, as well as the rapidly growing need for critical minerals, Russia is seen as a vital landmass with a vast array of riches.

27. The imperialist character of the war being waged by NATO does not, however, justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine, let alone endow it with any progressive character. In the online rally against the war held by the International Youth and Students for Social Equality on December 10, 2022, the International Committee of the Fourth International unequivocally condemned the actions of the Putin regime:

Notwithstanding the central responsibility of the US-NATO alliance in the instigation of the war, the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 was a reactionary and desperate action undertaken by the Putin regime, acting on behalf of the ruling capitalist oligarchy that came to power in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

The Putin regime’s efforts to justify the war by invoking the reactionary heritage of tsarism and neo-Stalinist national chauvinism represent a despicable historical regression. The provocations of NATO would not have been successful were it not for the fact that the Putin regime is the outcome of the total repudiation of the far-sighted democratic principles upon which the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was founded in 1922, five years after the October Revolution. The Bolshevik government, led by Lenin and Trotsky, founded the USSR as a voluntary union, and was constitutionally committed to the democratic equality of all the national and ethnic groups. The deliberate encouragement of national chauvinism in Russia—which finds its openly fascistic counterpart in Ukraine—created the ideological prerequisites for the fratricidal conflict between the masses of both victimized countries.

When placed in historical perspective, the US-NATO war in Ukraine proves again the necessity for ending capitalism and the nation-state system in which it is embedded. The war is, in fact, only one manifestation of the fatal incompatibility of capitalist private ownership of the means of production and the division of the world into hostile nation states with the progressive development, and even survival, of mankind.

28. The war is yet another tragic consequence of the dissolution of the USSR. All the claims made by Gorbachev, Yeltsin and their supporters within the privileged middle-class Nomenklatura about the spectacular benefits that would flow from the restoration of capitalism have been refuted by the events of the past 30 years. Rather than peace, prosperity and democracy, the repudiation of the entire heritage and monumental social and cultural achievements of the October Revolution has produced fratricidal wars, mass poverty and autocratic regimes.

Supporters of far-right parties carry torches and a banner with a portrait of Stepan Bandera during a rally in Kiev, Ukraine, January 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

29. The Kiev and Moscow regimes, both products of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, draw their ideological inspiration from the cesspools of political reaction. The fascist Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which collaborated with the Nazis in the mass murder of Jews and Poles during World War II, is now honored as a founding father of Ukraine. For his part, Putin epitomizes the political and social type which Lenin, with Stalin in mind, described in 1922 as “that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is.” [Collected Works, Vol. 36]