Presentation at the People’s Public Health Conference, November 4, 2022
This talk will define imperialism and apply it to Russia and the US, identify the material and political causes of the war, depict the health and economic costs of this war, and recommend urgent strategies to end it.
Imperialism operates when industrialized countries must find new markets to sell an overproduction of goods and to buy cheap labor to reduce their expenses on the backs of workers losing jobs at home and workers exploited abroad. It is a strategy to carve up the world and control other countries for their resources, cheap labor, and markets.
Examples include the British Empire occupying India, the Belgians devastating citizens of the Congo, and the US invading Iraq to seize its oil. When imperialists vie for control, inter-imperialist rivalries result, often in wars. That is the scenario today between the US and EU vs Russia and its allies.
Ukraine is a pawn of US imperialists who are eager to exploit its rich resources and important location along the Russian border. The US manipulated the 2014 uprising against a corrupt pro-Russian leader to install a pro-US regime. If it were to become a NATO member, Ukraine would have weapons and military installations beside Russia who views this as a provocation. It would be part of a “collective defense” that requires retaliation for an attack on any of the other 29 NATO members.
Causes of War in Ukraine
Ukraine is important to Russia and the West not only for its location along the Russian border but for its rich resources. It has over 5% of the world’s mineral resources, close to 8,000 deposits of minerals including manganese, titanium, iron, and copper which is essential for a digital world. It has one of the world’s largest coal deposits, mostly in the contested Donbas area. Known as the “breadbasket of the world,” Ukraine provides food, such as wheat and seed oils, to Egypt, the US, Yemen, and other countries. Egypt imports 70% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Many people in countries that rely on these imports are suffering starvation without them.
Russia supplies 15% of the world’s oil and 40-50% of the gas for Europe and would like to secure this market for itself. The US also wants to profit from sales to European nations, who would purchase more from the US without the Russian pipelines. (https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/03/01/some-economic-consequences-of-the-war-in-ukraine/)
Nationalism and Racism Builds Support
The Biden Administration has convinced many Americans to support the Ukrainian government for the sake of humanitarianism and democracy. Polls from the Pew Research Center show that support is still high but decreasing as the war drags on. In September, 20% of Americans said the US is providing too much aid to Ukraine, an increase from 7% who agreed in March 2022. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/09/22/as-war-in-ukraine-continues-americans-concerns-about-it-have-lessened/
Government media use nationalism and sympathy for the suffering of Ukrainians to rally support for spending billions on the war. The US employs racism to justify sheltering and welcoming white Ukrainian migrants while deporting 1000s of Haitians, African, and South American asylum seekers to lethal conditions at home.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is run by a class of extremely rich oligarchs whose income ranges from $3-12 Billion. Many businessmen rose to wealth and power during the 1990s as the government privatized publicly owned resources. Several current oligarchs now control Ukrainian provinces.
Meanwhile, the average monthly wage is $380 with 10% unemployed and an inflation rate approaching 10%. Approximately 25% of the working population moved to other countries, including Russia, to find work, often living without legal status.
Nazis Visit US Congress
This portrayal of Ukraine as a democratic state belies its complicity with fascists in its government and military. The Ukrainian armed forces include members of Svoboda and the Azov Battalion, 2 openly Nazi parties who also train American white nationalists. This an image of their visit to Democrat and Republican congressmen and women who applauded their support. So long to any ideas that Ukraine is a democracy that US taxpayers fund.
Costs and Consequences
The war is sucking up billions of dollars that the government could pay for Covid prevention and treatment in the US as well as other social programs. It is causing immense suffering from military attacks, food shortages, and displacement in Ukraine, and egregious price hikes for food and fuel.
It has devastated people’s health around the world, from Russian draftees and protestors facing severe repression, US workers deprived of rent relief and healthcare, and millions in other countries dependent on Ukrainian exports of food and fuel.
So far (11-4-2022), the US has paid $65 billion to support war in Ukraine. Most of the funding has bought weapons, from drones to missiles. It also paid for food, electricity, and medications to maintain the Ukrainian government; some estimate that the US operating through the World Bank is covering most of the Ukrainian budget. These billions could have paid for protections for Covid in the US. In the US alone, the National Priorities Project estimates that the 2021 military budget of $740 billion, including $65 billion for Ukraine, could have paid for:
- Over 1.5 million RNs
- Over 540 million N95 masks
- Over 462 million coronavirus vaccines
- Healthcare for about 150 million low income adults
- Free tests at $2 billion
These are some of the health, economic, and social consequences in Ukraine:
- Only 45% are vaccinated
- US funding of vaccinations only covered 4% of the people who needed them
- 30% of power wiped out
- 60% of the Ukrainian budget goes to defense
- 332 hospitals have closed
- Health inequalities have increased
- People with mobility problems and seniors are treated as “human trash,” often abandoned in nursing homes
- 100 attacks on healthcare facilities in the first 6 weeks of the war
However, this doesn’t stop the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank from demanding debt payments on a loan close to $10 billion, leading to these severe austerity measures implemented by the Ukrainian government:
- “Gutting salaries” and freezing the minimum wage
- Attacking unions
- Decreasing pensions but increasing utility prices
- Stopping childcare and childbirth payments to families
- Ending workplace safety measures
Russian civilians have also experienced huge price increases as inflation reaches 12%. Many western owned companies have withdrawn, creating rising unemployment rates, and the absence of a variety of consumer goods, like Big Macs
As in the US, support for the war is still strong but is declining. There have been demonstrations in 32 Russian cities with severe reprisals against the protesters.
Russian soldiers complain about horrible living conditions and equipment. When Putin announced the conscription of Russian men to become more cannon fodder, 200,000 mostly affluent educated men fled the country, creating a brain drain and family separations.
Imperialist war does not benefit the working class of any country. It kills millions, causes infectious diseases like cholera, uses sexual assault as a weapon, destroys infrastructure, displaces civilians, and diverts taxpayer money to the military and away from social programs.
What Can We Do?
There are several ways workers can stop war.
The refusal of soldiers to fight stopped the Vietnam War when GIs disobeyed orders, fragged their officers, and rebelled against military racism and officer privileges. Black soldiers refused to suppress a rebellion in Detroit in 1967. Progressive Labor Party sent people into the army to helpantiracist solidarity and rebellion. When pilots refused to bomb Cambodia, the US pulled out its troops and Embassy staff, and ended the war. Ever since the US has been afraid to institute a draft.
Soldiers on both sides of WWI fraternized with one another as Russian soldiers deserted their posts; the Russian army supported and guaranteed the success of the Russian Revolution.
There have been reports of today’s Russian soldiers attacking officers, shooting themselves to avoid service, and hiding out in a Ukrainian building to avoid combat, as 1000s flee every day.
We need to win the military to refuse to fight and to join with fellow workers to fight the capitalists whether it’s in the form of rebellions against police violence or revolution.
Build and Support Strikes Against High Cost of Living
Build a multiracial antiwar movement.
There has been little to no anti-war organizing in the US, mostly due to people’s support of the war, believing that US arms are necessary for humanitarian aid. Racism also leads people to support white western people under the gun rather than Arab, black, and brown people in Syria, Yemen, and Somalia who have endured war and starvation for years.
Some reports of anti-war demonstrations have surfaced. In Oakland, people gathered at Barbara Lee’s office to protest her support of the war. Others shouted down AOC at a town hall meeting.
In fact, all Democratic congress people have voted for appropriations for Ukraine arms and infrastructure aid. This includes the DSA members such as AOC as well as conservatives. Their support highlights the irrelevancy of voting as an anti-war tactic. Voters never vote on war, wages, or healthcare. Politicians promise the moon while campaigning and then opt out when elected.
Make a revolution
Only an end to imperialism with a revolution for a communist, egalitarian state can eliminate these devastating wars.
Capitalism requires these wars for its economic survival. Capitalism drives climate disasters, social murders such as covid deaths, homelessness, inflation, and unemployment as it shreds the safety net of moratoriums on rent, mortgages, and debts to better finance its military and prepare for a likely war with China.
In contrast, communism is run by the working class where people provide and receive the necessities of life as available. Natural resources and industries do not belong to a small class of corporate elites who own a majority of US wealth; they are collectively owned and managed. There are no wages that stratify people into different income groups, thereby creating disparities and inequity.
This may sound ultra-idealistic and impossible, especially since socialism in the Soviet Union and China reverted into capitalism, leaving many cynical and hopeless about the success of future revolutions. We need to analyze and learn from mistakes while making new ones. Afterall, it took capitalism hundreds of years to develop to its sorry state today.
It’s important to recognize the great improvements that these early socialist states made in the lives of urban and rural workers, including increased life expectancy, the eradication of infectious diseases and drug use, abortions, guaranteed pensions, and more collective ways of raising children and managing jobs. When the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 unraveling its safety net and privatizing industries giving rise to a class of corrupt oligarchs. Life expectancy fell from 64 to 58 years in 1 year, older people lost income, and workers lost any form of economic security resulting in more alcoholism, suicides, and injuries.
One mistake was maintaining a wage system that granted different wages based on the job, creating a hierarchy within the working class. In the early Soviet days post-WWI after the invasion of the world’s imperialists devastated the country, the government implemented the New Economic Policy or NEP that conferred higher wages and higher status to technical and professional workers who were desperately needed. While intended as a temporary measure, it became permanent.
The Chinese government united with business in their New Democracy. Inviting capitalists of any size compromises socialist policies. The Chinese Communist Party took another step to capitalism when they invited President Nixon for a visit in 1972 Nixon envisioned China as a rising power that would be an important ally.
Today, Russia and China have become imperialist threats to US imperialism, each using the working class to win resources and power. The current war does not serve our interests. There is no reason to choose any side but that of our class. The only good imperialist is a a dead imperialist!
An audio file with slides is listed at
Karyn Pomerantz is Co-editor of the multiracialunity.org blog