Karl Marx – way back in the second half of the 19th. C. – was one of the first to show, systematically, how capitalism kills. More recently, it has become increasingly clear to an ever-greater number of people that Marx was absolutely spot-on. This is particularly true of his conclusion that capitalism creates an increasingly-fatal ‘metabolic rift’ between humans and the rest of the natural world: the natural world of which we are merely a part, but on which our survival as a species depends.
Today, capitalism kills in three main ways, by:
Capitalism in the 21st. C. is now well-and-truly exposed as having become ‘Death, the Destroyer of Worlds’ – or a modern version of Cerberus which, instead of keeping the dead in Hades, is now driving an ever-increasing number of the 99% towards multiple hells!
The first of capitalism’s Cerberus-heads is often known as ‘austerity’ – but an inflation-charged ‘Cost of Living’ Crisis is just a different term for the same thing: a deliberate and calculated hovering-up of wealth from the 99% into the off-shore/tax-free bank accounts of the already grossly-rich 1%. Whether it’s achieved by cuts in welfare expenditure and social benefits, and a regressive taxation policy – or by letting prices rip whilst preventing workers from maintaining real wages whilst gifting massive public subsidies to private corporations – the effects are the same. Whatever term is used to describe these ‘legalised’ forms of class robbery, it still kills – as well as impoverishing – the many. To misquote what Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet: “A death by any other name would be as fatal!”
Before any defender of capitalism cries ‘Exaggeration!’, let’s just look at a few recent academic studies. The first one, a report carried out by academics at University College London, compared trends in mortality in the years before the Tory and LibDem coalition took office in 2010, with the years after. They concluded that, after just 4 years, the austerity that the Tories and LibDems had deliberately chosen to impose on ordinary people (via cuts in health and social care spending and in welfare benefits) had resulted in 120,000+ austerity-related deaths. This report – and an updated later one – was published in the British Medical Journal’s BMJ Open:
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2017/nov/austerity-linked-120000-extra-deaths-englandOne of the academics involved, Professor Lawrence King of the Applied Health Research Unit at Cambridge University, said: “It is now very clear that austerity does not promote growth or reduce deficits – it is bad economics, but good class politics. This study shows it is also a public health disaster. It is not an exaggeration to call it economic murder.”
This chilling conclusion was later backed in a study by Lancaster University academic Dr. Chris Grover, who stated that this “structural violence” deepens inequalities and injustices and creates even more poverty, which he called ‘social murder’: https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/austerity-results-in-social-murder-according-to-new-research
Another study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in 2022, estimated that, by 2019, more than 330,000 excess deaths in the UK were linked to austerity cuts, which had deliberately reduced spending on public services and social benefits: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/oct/05/over-330000-excess-deaths-in-great-britain-linked-to-austerity-finds-study
As with the previous studies, this showed that “Mortality rates across the UK stopped improving in the early 2010s, largely attributable” to the austerity polices pursued by the Tory-LibDem coalition and, later, by post-2105 Tory governments.
These reports have in fact been confirmed by projections made by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). According to the ONS, austerity (most recently taking the form of the ‘Cost of Living’ Crisis), if continued, would result in over 1 million ‘excess’ deaths by 2058:
It is clearly long past the time when we should end what the British journalist J. H. Hammond described in 1918 as “the tyranny of a particular economic creed” [i.e., capitalism] which is now not only killing people by unnecessary and enforced poverty, but is also driving us all to a climate and ecological hell.
The Climate and Ecological Crises
The social and economic murder deliberately enforced by capitalism – in order to increase the profits of the 1% – should be enough to condemn it – to use Trotsky’s often-misquoted phrase – to “the rubbish-can of History.” But capitalism has – especially since 1945 – discovered a new way to condemn millions to death by its relentless pursuit of profit. In so many ways, the second head of capitalism’s Cerberus may be called ‘The Climate and Ecological Crises.’
July 2023 has seen a huge number of broken climate records and unprecedented ‘extreme weather’ events. A joint statement released by the European Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) confirmed that the first three weeks of July have been the hottest three-week period ever recorded, and predicted that the month will be the hottest ever experienced by human civilisation: https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/july-2023-set-be-hottest-month-record
Carlo Buontempo, the director of C3S, noted that: “July’s record is unlikely to remain isolated this year,… seasonal forecasts indicate that over land-areas, temperatures are likely to be well above average,… for the time of year.”
Among the most catastrophic consequences of these record temperatures have been the wildfires in Canada – nearly double the previous record set in 1989 – that have blanketed the North American Northeast with toxic levels of smoke and ash. While large portions of Southern Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and the entire Southern US have experienced extreme floods and heat health-alerts – with hundreds having already died from heat stroke in Italy, Spain, Algeria, China, Cyprus, Greece, and Mexico. Last year’s heatwave In Europe resulted in just under 62,000 deaths, with nearly 18,000 deaths in Italy alone – but unlike floods, these are all deaths that occur individually, away from TV cameras, in homes and hospitals.
In Phoenix, Arizona, heat records tumbled when, for an unprecedented 25 consecutive days, temperatures soared above 43C; while Phoenix also broke the record for hottest over-night temperature by reaching 35C. As a consequence, even Arizona’s saguaro cacti were losing arms and in some cases falling over: https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2023/07/26/saguaro-cactus-dying-arizona-heat-reuters/70470713007/
Even more worrying that these land temperatures has been a simultaneous marine heatwave: https://www.independent.co.uk/weather/charon-europe-heatwave-uk-2023-b2378660.html The surface temperatures of the North Atlantic Ocean – and the Mediterranean Sea – became 5C hotter than normal, with the water temperatures off the Florida coast reaching over 38C. While the extent of Antarctic sea ice shrank to about 1m. sq.mls below average. Warming oceans threaten critical coral systems and the global plankton population with disease and mass die-off, which in turn threatens the base of the world’s current entire foodchain. While the lack of Antarctic sea ice also constantly raises the danger of rising ocean levels permanently flooding coastal areas where an estimated 3 billion people live.
All this promoted UN General Secretary, António Guterres, to say on 27 July that the era of global warming has ended and that: “the era of global boiling has arrived. Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning. It is still possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C [above pre-industrial levels], and avoid the very worst of climate change. But only with dramatic, immediate climate action.” https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/jul/27/scientists-july-world-hottest-month-record-climate-temperatures
This ‘global boiling’ has been caused by capitalism – and especially by its still largely-unregulated burning of coal, oil and natural gas. Yet, even though climate scientists such as Kevin Anderson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_FtS_HNbkc&t=3s have warned that continuing on the current carbon path could result in a 3-4°C temperature rise by the end of the century, the fossil fuel companies – aided and abetted by compliant governments – are still planning to increase production. There is no historical precedent – in human history – for an average global temperature 3-4C hotter than it already is. That scenario is a catastrophic outcome to be avoided at all costs.
In fact, the trajectory the planet is currently on is even worse that Anderson has stated – and you don’t need to listen to world-respected climate scientists. The fossil fuel companies themselves think that’s where their constant greed to get yet more oil and gas – and the obscenely-mega profits they’re currently making – is taking us. Six years ago, the investment campaign group Share Action reported that oil giants Shell and BP were assessing the ‘resilience’ of their businesses against climate models in which temperatures hot up by between 3°C and 5°C! https://www.independent.co.uk/…/bp-shell-oil-global…
In plain English, ‘resilience’ here means they expect to be having to cope with such temperature increases, so are working out strategies now that would enable them to continue adding to CO2 emissions – the very things that are driving the planet to a real hot-house world!
Climate scientists say that a temperature rise of 5°C would be catastrophic for the planet. For those not certain what a 5C hotter world would be like, here’s what Mark Lynas (Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency) has said:
• Global food crisis
• Amazon rainforests collapse
• Much of China & India uninhabitable
• Mountain glaciers gone
• Mass wipeout of life
To add insult to injury, BP’s total investment in renewable and clean technologies between 2005-17 actually shrunk, with BP investing just 1.3 per cent of its total capital expenditure in low-carbon projects. Although Shell had previously ‘pledged’ to invest 3% of its annual spend on low-carbon by 2020, it recently announced it was dropping its ‘target’ to reduce oil production: https://www.theguardian.com/…/shell-drops-target-to-cut…
The impacts of ‘global boiling’ are most directly and catastrophically felt by working people, via droughts, famines, extreme temperatures, wildfires and floods. It’s thus plain that, with the 1% still determined to extract profit from the last dregs of remaining fossil fuels – and to make the working classes and rural masses pay the price – the fight to end the Climate and Ecological Crises is fundamentally a class question.
War Not Peace
Capitalism’s third and final Cerberus-head has a title somewhat different from that of Tolstoy’s classic literary work about the Napoleonic Wars. This ‘head’, however, is the most obvious – and thus probably the best known – of capitalism’s death machine. While all capitalist states have inflicted death around the world – via colonialism, imperialism, and wars over resources or against political regimes or movements that threaten the rule of capital – some brief comments about the world’s worst bringer of death will suffice here. This, of course, is US imperialism: the most powerful and most bloody of all the world’s capitalist states. The chart below which shows the reach and violent operations of what Che Guevara often referred to as the ‘Yankee Octopus’:
We are surely at a crucial turning point in human history – and thus have to jettison the ‘old ways’ that have brought us to this juncture, and which are pushing us to the very brink of uncontrollable Climate Breakdown. Human life – and the life of all other Earthlings – can no longer be subordinated to the selfish and destructive demands of a small minority to continue to increase their already massive private wealth. What we certainly do NOT need is for the main ‘opposition’ party to row back on green ‘pledges.’
Yet this is precisely what Starmer and ‘New Labour 2.0’ are doing. While such ‘actions’ are clearly hugely catastrophic from the standpoint of the Climate and Ecological Crises, they don’t even make sense as an electoral strategy. Because, according to a very recent ‘More in Common’ opinion poll, 50% of the general public still think governments haven’t done enough on green issues, while only 25% think enough has now been done. More importantly, only 12% think too much has been done. Thus jumping on the hard-right anti-green bandwagon of the 1% doesn’t appear to be that much of a vote-winner:
What’s needed is to demand MUCH more – not offer less and less. As Extinction Rebellion’s ‘Big One’ demanded in April this year, we need to ‘Unite to Survive!’ – and that will require us to really #TransformPolitics
Allan Todd is a member of Left Unity’s National Council and of ACR’s Council, and an ecosocialist/environmental and anti-fascist activist. He is the author of Revolutions 1789-1917 and Trotsky: The Passionate Revolutionary – and the forthcoming Che Guevara: The Romantic Revolutionary
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