By Mark Buckley
In one of the very few services Boris Johnson has ever done for humanity, he has made it clear that the ruling class offensive to drive down wages is directly linked to Britain’s support for NATO provoking and prolonging war in the Ukraine. The immediate priorities for socialists are to use this and other admissions to help broaden the opposition to the war and support for the resistance to government policies, which is led by striking workers.
Johnson has been explicit in linking the Ukraine war to the surge in prices.
Of course, for an inveterate liar it is too much to expect that there is truthful explanation. He wants to claim that Russia’s withholding of key commodities is responsible for the crisis. Biden calls it ‘Putin’s gas price rises’.
This is the complete opposite of the truth. The global inflation surge began over two years ago, as the US embarked on an extraordinarily reckless policy of unprecedented increases on government Consumption spending at the same times as expanding the supply of money at a rate wholly without parallel in US history. The details of this policy and its effects are analysed in a previous article, Global economic destabilisation is ‘Made in the US’, not ‘Made in the Ukraine’.
In addition, it should be clear that the actual effect on prices in Europe is directly an effect of the sanctions Britain and the EU have imposed on Russia. As a result, Europeans are now buying much more expensive gas from countries re-exporting Russian energy (at a mark-up), or hugely more expensive US Liquid Natural Gas. The shortages are a self-inflicted consequence of Western sanctions.
The ridiculousness of Western leaders’ attempts to deflect responsibility for the crisis can be highlighted by two key facts.
- Long before the war in Ukraine, almost two years beforehand, the rise in global prices was being blamed on China and the ‘bottlenecks in China caused by its Covid policy’.
- Like nearly all financial and physical commodities, US house prices began to surge in April 2020, whereas the Ukraine war began in February 2022. It is impossible to reach back into the past to affect events, even for Vladimir Putin.
Cost of war
Similar inflation effects are playing out in almost all the imperialist centres.
The US is a partial exception to these trends. The US is the epicentre of the inflationary surge, especially in home prices as noted above. From April 2020 to June this year, average US home prices have risen by 42 per cent. At the same time, the US is not experiencing shortages because, among the imperialist countries the sanctions imposed on Russia have mainly rebounded on Western Europe.
Of course, in many less developed economies of the Global South there is a dependence on grain exports and widespread hunger is a real threat. Next year’s harvests are also at risk from lack of imported fertilisers.
Britain is the G7 country with the greatest negative combination of economic slump and inflation (so-called ‘stagflation’) where the additional burden is mainly a Brexit effect, a combination of a slump in exports to Europe and higher-priced imports from it. In all cases the population is struggling with lower living standards, in some cases amounting to a dramatic slump.
But this is the disastrous economic backdrop against which the NATO countries plan to significantly increase military spending. Since organising the coup in Kyiv in 2014 NATO members’ military spending is expected to have increased by $140 billion, or 15 per cent.
However, this NATO estimate was made before the Biden Administration effectively released all restraints on military spending in general and specifically for the proxy war in Ukraine. By May this year this addition total for Ukraine amounted to $50billion and has risen further since.
According to NATO data (pdf), member states spend an average total of $1,100 per capita and the US spends twice that. These measures have been rising sharply.
Source: House of Commons Library, using NATO data
Britain spends in line with this average, but both the current Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Liz Truss have pledged to increase spending sharply, towards a medium target of 3% of GDP (which would be approximately equivalent to $1,350 per capita).
Anti-war and anti-austerity
All of this takes place in a period when there is a ferocious and conscious assault on the living standards of the working class and the oppressed in the imperialist countries.
These developments, the imperialist proxy war in Ukraine and the drive to dramatically increase the rate of exploitation, are objectively linked. A victory for imperialism on either front would strengthen it dramatically, and a defeat would naturally do the opposite.
There are now growing and important forces who are linking the two issues. It is no surprise to see both Jeremy Corbyn and the RMT’s Mick Lynch oppose further NATO involvement in the war combined with their long-standing opposition to austerity. Both have refused to back away from their stance, despite fierce attacks on them both.
There is too opposition to the conflict from the long-standing components of the anti-war movement, who will be taking further initiatives opposing the war and linking it to collapsing living standards. One very important development is a resolution of the RMT union passed at its recent AGM.
Under the title ‘Peace is union business’ the resolution argues that “Workers have no interest in war with China, Russia, or any other country,” and focuses its opposition to NATO expansion and increasing militarisation. Where union branches and Labour party branches can, they should reproduce this motion, or similarly motivated ones.
As part of the general anti-war movement No Cold War has consistently opposed both NATO/US provocations against China and the proxy it initiated in Ukraine. It has already developed a series of arguments explaining the role of sanctions in generating shortages, the role of the US in causing the global crisis, and so on. This campaigning work is sure to increase in the next period.
These developments open up new opportunities for consistent anti-imperialists and socialists. Leading figures and bodies of the labour movement are opposing the imperialist offensive at home and internationally.
Drawing out the links between these two developments, supporting every effective meeting, campaign, demo and strike on both these issues are among the key tasks ahead. US imperialism and its allies have raised the stakes enormously in both struggles, and they seem set to be prolonged ones. They are among the most decisive issues in the class struggle in the period ahead.