The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Issue no. 1203 — June 3 - 17, 2024

The U.S. Government Expands the War in Ukraine

Jun 3, 2024

The U.S. government has taken another step to escalate the war in Ukraine. Joe Biden, the political spokesperson for the U.S. ruling class, announced that the Ukrainian military can now fire U.S-supplied missiles, rockets and artillery across the border into Russia. This was a “red line” that they said they would not cross, and now they have crossed it. They had previously crossed other “red lines” in approving Ukrainian attacks inside Russia and using cluster bombs.

Perhaps the U.S. government decided to escalate this war in Ukraine again because Russia has been gaining ground on the battlefield. Whatever the reason, the direction of this war has been dictated by the U.S. government from the very start. The U.S. military trained and built up the Ukrainian military forces before this war even started. The U.S., along with NATO allies, have supplied most of the weapons Ukraine has used during the war. They provide the spy intelligence and help plan Ukrainian military operations.

The U.S. has extended this war for almost two and a half years as the number of casualties on both sides keeps mounting. An estimated half million Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have been killed, wounded and maimed, while civilians in both countries continue to die.

U.S. threats against Russia led to this war in the first place. Ever since the Russian workers’ revolution of 1917, the U.S. capitalist class has seen Russia as a threat to their ability to exploit the resources and production capacity of the world. U.S. aggression intensified after World War II, as the U.S. and their NATO allies surrounded Russia with troops, military bases and nuclear weapons.

After the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, U.S. and European capitalists pushed to gain a foothold in the former Soviet territories. For two decades they pushed to take valued territory, like Ukraine, out of the Russian orbit and economy. In 2014, they finally succeeded. This led to a power struggle over who would dominate in Ukraine. Putin, brutal dictator, finally responded by ordering the invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022. And the U.S. government was ready to respond and engage in this war against Russia, using Ukrainians as their proxies.

The U.S. government may say that they don’t want to engage in an all-out war against Russia. But every time the U.S. government crosses another “red line” and pushes Russia a little bit more, they are increasing the chances of retaliation by Russia and increasing the threat of a bigger war, even the use of nuclear weapons.

The war in Ukraine is not the only war going on. There are regional wars in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, where the major powers, especially the U.S., are also involved, directly or indirectly.

Regional wars involving the major powers and the increasing competition between the major capitalist powers is exactly what led to World War II. Every step of escalation by the U.S. government today is a step that could spread war, even ignite a third world war.

Working people here are already paying the price for the current wars that the U.S. is supporting. We are already paying the price for the huge escalation of the U.S. military budget. The money that should be used for schools and health care and good wages is instead being taken away and funneled to pay for the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and to pay for the future wars that the U.S. government is preparing for.

The price that workers are paying now is nothing compared to the price we will pay as these wars spread. War is a catastrophe for the peoples of the entire world.

The capitalists and their governments may be ready to engage in a world war and send the working people from each country to fight each other. But the workers of the world have no reason and no interest to go to war to kill each other.

Capitalism and the competition between capitalists lead to small wars and world wars. But the working class of the world has the power to get rid of this capitalist system. Workers are the majority of the population and our role in the economy means that we have the power not only to stop this system from running, but also to get rid of a system that thrives on war.

Pages 2-3

Financial Hardship for Cancer Survivors

Jun 3, 2024

The number of cancer patients who are of working age is on the rise, and the cost of care is causing a great deal of financial difficulties for many. Close to 60% of working-age cancer survivors say they are facing financial difficulty, according to the Wall Street Journal. Almost 50% of cancer patients say they incurred debt, and almost 50% of those had debt of more than $5,000. That’s despite the fact that nearly all had health insurance.

Rapidly increasing costs of cancer drugs are a large part of the problem. From 2004–2008, about 25% of cancer drugs cost between $100,000 to $200,000. Today it’s over 80%, with 55% now costing over $200,000!

Insurers are making patients pay more of these costs. One study found out-of-pocket costs for privately insured, working-age cancer patients rose 15% from 2009–2016, according to the WSJ. These increasing costs make it more likely that cancer patients take on credit card debt and end up late on credit-card and mortgage payments or experience other financial difficulties.

Try holding onto a job in the middle of fighting cancer! No wonder many cancer patients end up filing for bankruptcy, and those who do have an 80% higher risk of dying.

How disgusting is it, in this day and age, with the wealth that exists in this country, that workers should have to deal with losing everything they have, while fighting for their survival against a horrible disease? It’s a sign of a sick, decrepit capitalist society that needs to go.

Walmart to Close Its Health Care Clinics

Jun 3, 2024

Walmart announced it is closing all 51 of its health care clinics across five states, and canceling plans for clinics in two others, as well as ending its virtual care platform. The clinics provided primary and urgent care, labs, X-rays, behavioral health care and dental work, mostly to low-income patients in rural and underserved areas.

In part, Walmart blames a shortage of health care workers and primary care physicians. But however admirable its stated goal of providing care to low-income patients in underserved areas might be, it obviously intended to make a profit from it. This proved to be too much, given the costs of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies and what for-profit health insurers are willing to pay.

Walmart is not the only retailer making cuts to a healthcare division. Walgreens and Amazon have also announced cuts.

It’s sad that patients should have to depend on generosity from retailers to get needed medical care in the first place. Yet even that is too much to expect from this country’s medical system that is based on profit.

Dental Care IS Health Care!

Jun 3, 2024

Since teeth are part of the human body, dental care should be another form of healthcare. But in the U.S., for no good reason, the dental system and medical system are run separately. Both are run for profit.

Tragically, an untreated tooth infection can kill. Cavities, tooth loss, and gum disease are associated with heart disease.

About 20% of people in the U.S. have zero dental insurance and zero access to preventive dental care. It is barbaric, but in 2024, pliers get used by uninsured people to pull their own teeth. There are YouTube videos about it!

Even those with so-called dental insurance usually have a $1000 to $1500 a year coverage maximum. So dental care gets done in yearly steps or gets put off.

Over a million people a year go to an emergency room because of a tooth infection. Most are sent home on antibiotics and told to “see a dentist.” Free dental clinics at dental schools or public health centers have long wait lists.

But the Biden administration says it has an answer. In April, Biden claimed to add dental coverage for adults to the Affordable Care Act. Is this election year buzz?

The devil is in the details. Biden passed a rule that will allow politicians in all 50 states to bicker over if their state will or will not add adult dental coverage—to the Affordable Care Act. Only about 5% of adults have this coverage!

Once again, the supposed “elected” government side steps its responsibility for the U.S. population’s health!

Hospital Closure Leaves Michigan U.P. in the Lurch

Jun 3, 2024

The Aspirus hospital system closed the Ontonagon, Michigan, hospital on April 19, 2024, and the Ontonagon community lost access to inpatient and emergency health care. Aspirus said the closure “wasn’t about the money.” It’s always about the money.

They said the hospital closed because the healthcare needs of the people in Ontonagon had changed and a clinic would meet their current needs. A Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. clinic is not going to handle accidents and injuries that occur on the job, at home or school or hiking in the nearby Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park.

Peoples’ healthcare needs have not changed. Aspirus’ drive for profit didn’t change, either. The same day the hospital closure was announced, February 19, Aspirus announced a $30 million investment in improvements to their Laurium location, also in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In 2007, the Village of Ontonagon sold the community hospital to Aspirus for one dollar and the Village also agreed to cover the pensions for 134 former employees. Sometime after 2007, Aspirus announced their intention to invest $15.8 million in a new Ontonagon hospital complete with inpatient and emergency care. Once the closure was announced, they removed any mention of it from their website.

People are afraid for their futures and angry about the lies and broken promises. They are also looking for a solution to the crisis they are facing.

Workers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan mines, mills and lumber industry produced the enormous wealth that fueled the nation and was the foundation for its infrastructure. Denying health care, a life necessity, to current generations in order to enrich the upper class, should not be allowed to prevail.

Starting Next Issue, the SPARK Will Cost $2.00.

Jun 3, 2024

For 32 years, we have sold the SPARK for the same low price, $1, even while the prices of the daily newspapers went up. (The Detroit News is $3.49, the Los Angeles Times, $3.66, the Baltimore Sun, $4.00, and it costs $3.00 for the Chicago Sun Times, for example.)

If we had added up all the costs for putting out the SPARK, we would have increased the price long ago. But we kept the price at $1 because the militants who work with the SPARK spent time and effort to get donations to cover the growing deficit. This grew harder as costs went up.

We have to pay for printing the SPARK, shipping it, postage to mail it out, and some material. The cost for the newspaper does not include the effort to write it, or prepare it for the printer, or sell it on the street, or in front of the workplaces. The militants who work with the SPARK freely contribute their labor to do these things so the SPARK can exist.

The daily newspapers handle things differently. They sell advertising. But who buys the ads? Those with money, your bosses: the factory owners, the bankers, the insurance companies, hospitals, different store owners. Even the government authorities and … politicians.

In return for their money, they get a newspaper which pushes their point of view on all the economic and political questions of the day. When you buy those papers, you pay your money for something working against you.

When you buy the SPARK, you get a paper the bosses do not control, one which defends the interests of the working class.

So today we ask you to do something to make sure the SPARK keeps coming out. We ask you to pay $2 an issue to make sure that a paper that defends the interests of the working class continues to exist.

Pages 4-5

Workers Dying on the Job from Heat

Jun 3, 2024

There’s a growing public health crisis in the United States: more and more people are dying on the job from extreme heat. In 2023, the hottest year in recorded history, 2,300 people died from heat related illnesses—triple the annual average between 2004 and 2019. And this figure probably is an undercount, given that causes of death reported on many death certificates may not connect the deaths to extreme heat. High temperatures can damage organs, depriving the heart and kidneys of oxygen and blood and overwhelming the body’s ability to cool down.

A team at the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is expected to propose a new rule that would require employers to protect an estimated 50 million people exposed to high temperatures while they work. They include farm workers, construction workers, people who sort packages in warehouses, clean airplane cabins and cook in commercial kitchens.

But proposing a new OSHA heat rule and making sure it is enforced are two different things. Past practice has shown that OSHA is understaffed, and even when it is able to verify heat-related violations at workplaces, most often it is only after heat-related hospitalizations and deaths have occurred.

And even the OSHA ruling itself leaves something to be desired, as it sets standards for establishing heat index thresholds—when most often the “thresholds” still end up justifying workers being forced to work in extremely hot conditions. Ask any autoworker in a paint shop, and they’ll tell you they’re still boiling on the job, despite being supposedly covered by OSHA heat rules.

While this latest OSHA ruling to protect workers from extreme heat on the job hasn’t even been put in place, certain business and industry groups, and certain politicians who serve their interests, have already indicated they will resist any such health and safety measures. Because these measures cut into the bottom line of businesses that try to get the most work out of the fewest number of workers, at the fastest pace, under the barest of working conditions, at the lowest cost—to their profit margins.

This capitalist system has created the conditions that have caused climate change in the first place, and now this surge in workers’ deaths from extreme heat is just one of its markers.

So, it’s not simply a matter of workers getting more heat breaks, access to water and shade, and air conditioning, that will address this horrific threat to human health. It’s when workers themselves guarantee their right to safe and healthy working conditions, guarantee that work is organized in a rational and humane fashion; guarantee that the planet is worth saving, by wrenching control of production, control of this whole system, out of the hands of this capitalist class. Reorganize the society! Workers can run things themselves.

Heat Wave in Asia Hits Workers and Poor

Jun 3, 2024

April 2024 was the hottest April on record, and the heat only intensified in many parts of the world in May. Across Asia, from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, India, and Pakistan all the way to Gaza, extreme heat has caused hundreds of deaths, ruined crops, and forced thousands of schools to close.

This heat hits workers and the poor the hardest. The last week of May, the temperature in Jacobabad, Pakistan hit 126 degrees one day and 124 for days on end. Blackouts already last 12 to 20 hours a day—if there is electricity at all.

Most working class people there don’t have a working fan, let alone air conditioning: a solar panel to run two fans and a lightbulb costs a month’s wages for a laborer. On top of which, there is an extreme shortage of water, with many forced to buy it from vendors who distribute it using donkeys. And for farmworkers, brickmakers, construction, garment, and textile workers, taking a day off from the heat means no pay—and for many, no food.

In Delhi, a massive Indian city with over 16 million people, the temperature hit over 120 degrees for the last week of May. Delhi also faces a shortage of water, which falls heaviest on the millions of poor, who live in massive slums surrounding the center of the city. Across India, run-down public hospitals could not handle the rush of heat-stroke patients, as their own air-conditioning often failed.

Extreme heat can cause long-term health problems, especially for those who have to do physical work. Sweating lowers blood pressure, causing the heart to work harder, which can actually raise body temperature. If the body’s core temperature stays above 98 degrees for very long, cellular damage begins to take place. This can lead to organ failure and death, sometimes many days after the temperature has dropped, so the toll from this heat wave will continue to climb even after the weather cools.

While no one weather event can be blamed on climate change, scientists agree that this extreme heat wave, sustained for so long across such a large part of the world, would have been very unlikely to occur without all the greenhouse gases humans have released into the atmosphere over the last 150 years. One team of researchers found that the extreme heat in India and Pakistan was made about 45 times more likely because of human-produced climate change, for instance.

The capitalist system and the political leaders who run it are leading the world straight into climate disaster, the worst effects of which will be suffered by the working class and poor populations of this world. The only way to head off even worse heat waves in the future will be for the working class of the world to overthrow this capitalist system and begin to fix the mess it has made of our planet.

Gas Diverted

Jun 3, 2024

Mexico’s electrical system crashed this May during an extreme heat wave. Hours-long blackouts hit 21 Mexican states. Millions of homes lost air conditioning. The country has been importing more and more natural gas from fracking in the U.S. in the name of generating electricity. But nobody takes ordinary people’s power needs into account. It’s all about the dollar.

U.S. company Sempra Energy has spent more than 10 billion dollars over almost 30 years, building thousands of miles of natural gas pipelines through more than half of Mexico’s states. U.S. and Canadian natural gas companies now own almost half the gas pipelines in Mexico. But even as more and more industrial parks have power, electrical use per person has stagnated for two decades.

The gas companies don’t even want the gas to be used in Mexico. They build port facilities to liquefy the gas and pipe it onto ships for quick export and sale in Asia and Europe. They intend to pass twice as much natural gas through Mexico for re-export as the country can use to generate power. This is using Mexico as a big, cheap pipeline.

As a result, whenever there is an extreme problem, such as May’s heat spell—problems which happen more often because of climate change—Mexico’s power grid crashes. In May, temperatures in a third of the country topped 113 degrees. Mexico City hit 93 degrees by day and didn’t cool down at night, unlike in the past. It is unhealthy to try to sleep in such heat. But power went out for hours.

U.S. companies make billions of dollars exporting environmentally hazardous fossil fuel through Mexico, making climate change worse. Working people in Mexico pay the price.

U.S. Military Expanding in the Philippines

Jun 3, 2024

The U.S. military will start using another four bases in the Philippines in addition to the five bases it has occupied since 2016. The U.S. will rotate troops through these bases and store weapons at them without paying rent to the Philippines.

It seems like the U.S. wants to surround China with offensive military capability. So, Washington is spending tens of millions of dollars to install “High Mobility Artillery” rockets and build “urban combat training facilities,” ammunition warehouses, and fuel storage systems on these bases close to China and Taiwan. But the military claims this expanded occupation is only to “defend” the Philippines.

Several Filipino officials disagree, including the former president and the current president’s sister. Echoing local villagers’ concerns, the governor of a province where two of the bases are located commented after recent catastrophic typhoons, “I didn’t see any [American military] who helped us.” He asked, “Why should we fight their battles and their wars?” He added that recently, “The only thing [America] has sold is arms, that’s why they create wars. I don’t want Filipinos to die for America.”

Dali Ship Crew Stuck On Board

Jun 3, 2024

Over two months ago, the containership Dali struck a critical bridge support and brought the Key Bridge down, killing six construction workers and blocking ships from entering or exiting Baltimore’s harbor. Now the ship has finally been freed and moved to a dock for repairs. But the Dali’s 21 crew members—20 from India and one from Sri Lanka—are still stuck on board.

Some of the crew are needed to maintain the ship’s equipment and help those doing repairs. But all are stuck on board because their visas have expired and officials seem to be taking their time getting the visas extended or issuing new ones.

This is a ridiculous situation. Half the crew probably aren’t needed on board and could be ashore while the other half could remain on the ship. Then they could switch places.

The authorities were moving heaven and earth to restore shipping access to the harbor. Ship owners and shipping companies were losing profits. But the authorities clearly don’t care much about the situation of the crew members.

Pages 6-7

The Population Caught Between Two Fires, Gangs and the Police

Jun 3, 2024

This article is translated from the May issue, #314 of La Voix des Travailleurs (Workers Voice), the paper of Organisation des Travailleurs Revolutionaires (Organization of Revolutionary Workers), a Trotskyist group active in Haiti.

With the new wave of insecurity provoked by the coalition of armed gangs, the population of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place. On a daily basis, they are subjected to violence and aggression of all kinds by gangs, but also fall victim to bullets fired by the police, who are supposed to come and protect them.

In neighborhoods where gangs reign and live, local residents are generally forbidden to move on pain of execution, because in reality they are used as human shields by the bandits in their clashes with police forces or rival armed gangs.

Moreover, when the police arrive in a neighborhood to settle scores with bandits, local residents, siding with the police, want to see the bandits fall victim to police fire. But this is not always the case, as local residents are often the victims of police intervention.

Residents of Bon Repos, Croix-des-Bouquets, Bas Delmas, etc., often express their anger at this situation. “When they come to Mariani, we sometimes see more civilians than bandits on the ground. The presence of the bandits is a threat to us, but so are the exchanges of fire with the police,” says a local resident in annoyance. “Bullets kill, no matter whose hand is holding the weapon. And we’re in the middle,” says a Bon Repos shopkeeper.

Last month, after the murder of a policeman by local gangs, special police units were quick to come and avenge their brother-in-arms. They were still firing in all directions more than two hours after the execution of the policeman. The bandits who had perpetrated the act having already fled, passers-by and local residents fell victim to police bullets. In addition to the corpses of civilians on the ground, one man was shot while sitting in his home in Centre-Ville. “People can’t even stay in their homes anymore, even though they (the police) know exactly where to go to find the bandits,” says one of his relatives, deeply affected by the bereavement.

In his public statements, the spokesman for the “Viv ansanm” gang coalition, Jimmy Chérizier, aka Barbecue, has made no secret of the fact that the poor in the neighborhoods are the main victims of his movement. He couldn’t care less and said without hesitation that it doesn’t bother him at all. The PNH (Haitian National Police) spokesman never says that. Quite the contrary, in fact. But every time the forces of law and order intervene, the result is the same: it is local residents who fall victim to their murderous bullets. In the eyes of the inhabitants of these lost territories, the police are bandits in uniform. And they’re not wrong!

100 Years Ago, U.S. Imposed National Origin Quotas

Jun 3, 2024

Today, the politicians of both the Democratic and Republican parties attempt to outdo one another with election propaganda directed against immigrants crossing the borders into the U.S., blaming immigrants for the low wages their capitalist bosses create. This propaganda is not new; it reflects reactionary attitudes that led to the imposition of the first official quotas on immigration in the U.S. 100 years ago.

On May 24, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed national origin quotas into law as the basis of U.S. immigration policy. This sweeping legislation limited the annual number of future immigrants to two percent of their share of the national population in the 1890 Census. This closed the door on almost all Asian immigration, eliminating immigration from Japan. It capped the total number of immigrants allowed annually at 165,000, half the 1920 total. And it required all immigrants to receive a visa from a U.S. consular officer stationed in their country before they left.

A century ago, Rep. Albert Johnson, along with David Reed, authored this bill known as the Johnson-Reed Act. They promoted the idea that America was drowning in a flood of newcomers from Southern and Eastern Europe. Johnson declared that these immigrants were “filthy, un-American, and often dangerous.” “The races of man who have been coming in recent years are wholly dissimilar to the native-born Americans,” Senator Reed wrote in the New York Times a month before the bill was passed.

The nativist movement of the 1920s was broadly based, backed by a coalition of groups ranging from the American Federation of Labor, which feared new immigrants would drive down the wages of its members, to the Ku Klux Klan, then at its multimillion-member height.

The immigration debate of the 1920s also came during the eugenics movement, the popular pseudoscience that believed that allowing the wrong “race” into the U.S. could “adulterate our national germ plasm with socially unfit trait,” according to Charles Davenport, one of the leading eugenics promoters.

The Johnson-Reed Act didn’t happen overnight. It was four decades in the making. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act played an important role. From 1865–1869, 12,000 Chinese immigrants constructed the western section of the transcontinental railroad. Once it was completed, the railroad bosses had no further use for these workers. Rising racism and anxiety about cheap wages also helped push the 10-year ban on immigration of Chinese laborers.

The Johnson-Reed Act had immediate effects on immigrants arriving from Southern and Eastern Europe. In 1921, more than 200,000 Italians arrived at Ellis Island. Many were recruited by U.S. coal mines and steel mills. In 1925, following the passage of the bill, barely 6,000 Italians were permitted entry into the United States.

The Act gave 85% of the quota to Northern and Western Europe, and those who had an education or a trade.

In 1965, the Immigration Act of 1924 was repealed by the Immigration and Nationality Act, called the Hart-Celler Act. This Act abolished quotas.

Olympic Games:
The Flame of … Reactionary Ideas

Jun 3, 2024

This article is translated from the May 15 issue, #2911 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the Trotskyist group of that name active in France.

How many times have we heard about the Olympic flame, which left Olympia in Greece before sailing to Marseille aboard the Belem? Everyone’s supposed to be excited.

Contrary to what the Games’ advocates keep repeating, the idea for this course did not originate in ancient Greece ... but in the Berlin Olympics organized by the Nazis in 1936. A flame had appeared at the 1928 Games, but the relay was invented by the Nazis, for whom it was a question of capturing the heritage of Antiquity, even if it meant revisiting history in their own way. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was not opposed to this propaganda.

The ancient Games were resurrected at the initiative of Baron Pierre de Coubertin in Athens in 1896. In the mind of this reactionary aristocrat, sport was intended to help shape the healthy bodies of the elite. “By chiseling his body through exercise, the ancient athlete honored the gods,” he explained. “The modern athlete does the same: he exalts his race, his homeland and his flag.” An athlete could only take part in the Olympic Games under the banner of a nation. The ceremonies put in place over the decades were deliberately nationalistic, from the opening of the Games with a parade of national delegations, to the presentation of medals to the sound of national anthems.

Like many aristocrats and bourgeois of his time, Coubertin was racist and anti-Semitic, explaining at the time of the Dreyfus Affair: “Israelite high finance has taken on an influence in Paris that is far too strong not to be dangerous, and it has brought about, through the absence of scruples that characterizes it, a lowering of the moral sense and a spread of corrupt practices.” The baron was also a convinced misogynist, hostile to “uninteresting, unsightly and incorrect female Olympiads. He only allowed women to attend, “as in the old tournaments, to crown the winners. And women were to remain on the sidelines of the Games for a long time to come.

Forty years later, in 1936, even if the Olympic Games were still contested by workers’ organizations with their own sporting events (Workers’ Olympics, Spartakiades), they had gained in influence and marketability. Coubertin’s heirs, the Belgian aristocrat Henri de Baillet-Latour, who chaired the IOC, and the industrialist Avery Brundage of the U.S. Olympic Committee, were fierce anti-communists. When the Nazis came to power and an intense campaign was waged against the Berlin Games, the Olympic Committees mobilized against any boycott. The Nazi regime was able to use the Games as a propaganda operation, with Coubertin’s congratulations.

Today, the Coca-Cola logo has replaced the swastika. But the reactionary nature of such a demonstration remains. The route of the Olympic flame may be ridiculous, but in its own way it contributes to the decorum of the bourgeois social order.

A Warlord Like the Others

Jun 3, 2024

This article is translated from the May 31 issue #2913 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the Trotskyist group of that name active in France.

In an investigation titled “How the U.S. Backed Kidnapping, Torture and Murder in Afghanistan,” the New York Times shed light on what the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan by imperialist armies was like.

The city of Kandahar and its region were under the control for around 15 years of a certain Abdul Raziq, first a militiaman, then police chief, and finally general. American journalists recently traveled to this region, which is now governed by the Taliban like all of Afghanistan. They say they could not have traveled like this during the reign of warlords like Raziq. They identified between one and two thousand disappearances, which most likely ended in torture and murder carried out on Raziq’s orders and sometimes by him personally.

As the newspaper says, Raziq was “America’s Monster.” General Austin Miller, head of NATO troops in Afghanistan, called him his “great friend” and was at his side when Raziq was killed by his own bodyguard in 2018. The U.S. occupying forces relied on this warlord—and the terror he spread—to fight the Taliban. “We created Raziq,” a special forces colonel says today. Similarly, his predecessors had created Osama bin Laden a generation before. And everyone was perfectly aware of the abuses carried out by their monster!

When Kandahar’s previous police chief was assassinated in 2011, U.S. forces investigated Raziq. He was already rumored to be guilty of kidnappings, disappearances, and corruption. According to one officer, “There was a lot of discussion about whether we should use him or imprison him.” The American army decided to put him at the head of the police in the province. But they stopped entrusting captured Taliban to him, because Raziq systematically killed them instead of imprisoning them. Many officers believed that the Taliban insurgency could be defeated with people of Raziq’s caliber. In reality, his abuses led an increasingly large proportion of Afghans to want to get rid of such a bloodthirsty warlord at any cost, because he had “disappeared” their loved ones. The Taliban were able to base their reconquest of power in 2021 on these hard feelings.

The promises repeated by U.S., French, and other Western leaders for 20 years to establish a democracy respecting human rights in Afghanistan were nothing but camouflage. Their terror-based rule needed henchmen fit for the job.

Pages 8-9

A Missing Generation

Jun 3, 2024

In mid-May, the Russian army opened up a new front in its war in Ukraine. It launched a surprise offensive in the northeastern region around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. Thousands of Russian soldiers punched through the northern border. In order to defend new positions, the already severely undermanned Ukrainian army rushed in thousands of new troops from other battlefields.

This latest Russian offensive is exploiting one of the Ukrainian army’s main vulnerabilities: its severe lack of fighting soldiers. In the news media, this is always explained by the fact that Ukraine has a population three times smaller than Russia. But what this explanation ignores is the fact that the Ukrainian population has completely collapsed, going from 53 million people in 1991 to 36 million people today. And that collapse didn’t just start with the hardships and devastation from the war. It began over 30 years ago, in the wake of the break-up of the former Soviet Union, that is, when Ukraine became independent, an event hailed in the West as something supposedly extremely fantastic. They called it the “Velvet Revolution.”

This underlines the fact that the break-up of the former Soviet Union was a catastrophe for the population of Ukraine, even more than that of Russia. Since Ukraine’s economy had been completely integrated with that of Russia and the other parts of the former Soviet Union, the break-up led to its complete disorganization. At the same time, the break-up opened up the country to the plunder and robbery of the Ukrainian bureaucracy left over from the Soviet days, a few of whom turned themselves into oligarchs suddenly worth billions of dollars. Ukraine’s economic plunge made it the poorest country in Europe. This economic catastrophe was then made much worse by civil war that began in the eastern part of Ukraine in 2014, and morphed into a full-scale war in 2022, with the Russian invasion.

Of course, this catastrophe at every level was encouraged and pushed by the U.S. and the West, who from the start aimed to use Ukraine, the second largest country in Europe, with enormous natural resources and heavy industry, as a tool to weaken Russia.

But the country became so unlivable, big parts of the population simply fled—more than 10 million before the outbreak of the war. This too benefited capitalists in other countries by providing them an extremely low wage workforce, who they could super-exploit. At the same time, the birthrate inside Ukraine plunged to one of the lowest on the planet.

Thus, today, there is an entire generation that is missing in Ukraine, a generation that practically doesn’t exist. That is why, today, the draft age in Ukraine starts at 27 years old and goes all the way up to 60 years old. There just aren’t enough young men at the usual draft age of 18 to 21 who exist.

Early in the war, the Ukrainian army was able to rely on volunteers who flooded into recruitment offices. But there have been few new recruits to take the place of the tens of thousands of soldiers killed and hundreds of thousands of wounded, no longer able to fight.

The Ukrainian government has carried out all kinds of measures to try to fill those ranks. Recruiters have set up checkpoints in the street, stopping fighting-age men, often detaining and beating them for days until they sign enlistment papers. Videos circulate online showing young men running from military recruiters in cities across the country. At the same time, the Ukrainian government has threatened draft age men living abroad with loss of citizenship, unless they return to the country and fight in the war.

So, the Ukrainian military has left those soldiers who remain to continue to fight without a break after two-and-a-half years at the front. In response, the wives and mothers of soldiers have been organizing protests in Kyiv. “The state has sacrificed our husbands, forgotten them,” Olha Denysenko, 35 years old, told a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Professional Ukrainian soldiers say that what are especially lacking are young men, since many of those who have been drafted are middle-aged.

“You can’t fight with old men,” said Ihor Belous, a 31-year-old who has been in the military for 12 years, to the Wall Street Journal. Now, many of his comrades are in their 40s, he said, and need more time to recover from each mission. But they are not getting that time. Thus, even if they survive the war, their lives are being destroyed.

This is not their war. It is a war in which the Ukrainian people are being used as pawns by the big imperialist powers, starting with the U.S., in their big power rivalry with Putin and the Russian oligarchs. And it is also a war that shows all the signs of growing into a much bigger conflagration, as the Biden administration has made it clear that its missiles and artillery shells will be used to bombard Russian territory in order to slow or halt the Russian incursions.

The Cost of War

Jun 3, 2024

This article is translated from the May 15 issue, #2911 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the Trotskyist group of that name active in France.

Barely inaugurated as President of the Russian Federation for the fifth time, Putin has just engaged in a game of musical chairs in the Kremlin. It’s hard to say whether Shoigu, Minister of Defense for twenty years, has been dismissed or promoted to head the Security Council ... but one thing is certain: all Russian state policy remains focused on war.

While a third of Russia’s budget already goes to the war effort, Putin has just announced a tax reform. Although he did not specify the details, he did not conceal the aim: to provide new resources for defense in a whole range of areas.

Firstly, there is the issue of allocations and orders to the military-industrial complex. This includes the purchase of armaments from abroad, as well as components indispensable to the manufacture of sophisticated weapons, parts whose costs have soared because Western embargoes have to be circumvented in order to obtain them.

The priority given to military production, to cope with NATO’s arms deliveries to Ukraine, also has an indirect cost: it deprives other economic sectors of resources and manpower and disorganizes them.

For months, business leaders have been talking about this, complaining above all about the lack of manpower. Hundreds of thousands of men have been taken from production to go to the front. What’s more, arms factories, bursting at the seams with orders, have been able to almost triple their wages since the start of the war in order to meet them. In industrial centers, this had the effect of attracting large numbers of workers, all the more so as working for defense protected against the risk of being drafted. Elsewhere, the government’s military recruitment policy has contributed to the depopulation of companies.

Indeed, the mobilization of 400,000 men in autumn 2022 had provoked strong discontent, and sometimes violent reactions against local authorities. Since then, the central government has avoided taking such a risk. It says it refuses to mobilize more conscripts. At the same time, it has sharply increased the “wages of fear and death.” As a result, the sums awarded to volunteers have reached the equivalent of several thousand euros. Added to this are bonuses paid by the regions, whose leaders want to present the Kremlin with record recruitment figures. And, in the most disadvantaged regions, there’s what the central authorities dangle in front of soldiers’ families: compensation in the event of death of up to 120,000 euros (30,000 in the event of disability), a widow’s pension, free education for children....

The Kremlin boasts that it has recruited 400,000 indentured servicemen, without any notable upheaval, by presenting the poorest of the poor with a godsend to fight and die “for the fatherland.” But as these “benefits” weigh heavily on the budget, and all the more so as the number of killed and maimed soars, the population will have to pay a high price.

Already, to cope with the labor shortage, the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Russia is calling for a law authorizing it to work more than four hours’ overtime over two days. However, in some sectors, 12-hour working days are already commonplace. This is provoking strikes, as was the case in the transport sector in Vladivostok, the capital of Russia’s Far East.

Putin’s announced tax hikes are another way of presenting the population with the bill for the war. More discreetly, the media are reporting that, near Moscow, the Pantheon of the Defenders of the Fatherland, the country’s main military cemetery, is full: the government is going to clear a nearby forest to accommodate more graves....

Pages 10-11

Biden, Trump Talk Us into War on China

Jun 3, 2024

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters during the week of May 26, 2024.

Speaking about a Chinese “threat,” the Biden administration announced it was “cracking down.” Chinese electric cars and parts will face even bigger tariffs than Trump imposed. More semiconductor chips will be banned. TikTok may be shut off.

Biden’s announcement surely has more to do with his election campaign than with trade.

But there is a reality about this so-called Chinese “threat” that has nothing to do with the 2024 U.S. election—and absolutely nothing to do with electric cars or computer chips. U.S. leaders, Trump and Biden included, are trying to prepare the American population to accept a new, incredibly more devastating war than any we have seen.

Today, China provides the biggest market for the 500 most important U.S. companies, second only to the U.S. market itself. That doesn’t make China’s economy as strong as the American economy. But China is a rival.

In a world where each country sought to produce in order to fulfill the needs of its own population, such “rivalries” wouldn’t be a problem. Countries would produce in tandem with each other, trading with each other for what they don’t have or can’t produce—in mutual human solidarity.

But this is not the world we live in. Our world is dominated by the drive of capitalists all over the globe to maximize their profit—that means, they steal wealth from other countries. It is an imperialist world, wherein the most developed countries steal from the less developed ones—and compete with each other to do it.

Trade with China is not just an economic issue; it rests on the military. The ability of the U.S. to dominate the world economically—as it does today—rests on its capacity to control militarily.

The U.S. is a military colossus, spending more on its military than do the next 13 countries combined. But its destructive power rests on our misery, paid for by all the unmet social, medical and education needs of the American population, paid for by unbuilt and unrepaired public services.

Biden and Trump both talk about the “China threat"—as though China had naval bases and air stations in the oceans flanking the U.S., as though it had army bases in Mexico and Canada. But China doesn’t have those. The U.S., however, has a string of bases in the island chains blocking China’s coast, stretching from Okinawa down to Singapore, including the Philippines. And it has dozens of bases in Korea and Japan, within striking distance of China.

This could become a blockade, used to stop China’s trade with the rest of the world. The U.S. would strangle China, just as the U.S. strangled Japan in the 1930s. The blockade of Japan forced Japan to try to break out by attacking Pearl Harbor. Japan may have attacked, but it was the U.S. war that broke out for control of Asia.

The U.S. has again positioned itself for a new war over the control of Asia, this time with China, a war that can lead to the next world war.

Such a war would be not only as destructive as the first two world wars, which killed 17 million, then 75 million people, most of whom were civilians. World War III will be worse.

This is the world we live in, a world dominated by capitalism, which, since its inception, has rested on competition between nations, that is, on war. War means physical destruction and human misery. Gaza today gives a tiny picture into what large parts of the globe can become—and will become—unless capitalism, which drives the world to new and worse wars, is rooted out.

Capitalism can be rooted out. The working class, by its size and its role in the economy, has the capacity to get rid of this system that leads the world to war. The workers’ position in production not only gives our class the possibility to stop the capitalists, to take control out of their hands. Our class can reorganize the economy—in so doing, it can create a society that does not depend on profit or war. Hopefully, it will do this before the next war starts. If not, it can do so in the middle of war, from within the army. But the working class must take over, if humanity is to have a future.

Culture Corner:
Youth (Spring) & The United States Governed by Six Hundred Thousand Despots

Jun 3, 2024

Film: Youth (Spring) directed by Wang Bing, 2023, streaming on Amazon for $3.99.

The award-winning documentary focuses on the lives of the young people (ages 16 to 25) who work in a huge textile district sewing clothes for export in the city of Zhili, not far from Shanghai, China. The factory district in Zhili has 16,000 textile plants! The thousands of workers are housed in overcrowded dormitories, and their low pay is justified by their bosses as they say they provide room and board, no matter that it’s squalid and allows no privacy. The film shows how the company doesn’t just dictate their living conditions, it intrudes on every aspect of their life, not even allowing time off for medical conditions if they have not “fulfilled their quota.” You also see the potential power of the thousands of workers pushed together by capitalism.

Book: The United States Governed by Six Hundred Thousand Despots, by John S. Jacobs, edited by Jonathan D. S. Schroeder, 2024

A 170-year-old treatise denouncing the U.S. government was just discovered, written by fugitive slave John S. Jacobs. He was the brother of Harriet A. Jacobs, who wrote her own autobiography and polemic against slavery, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

John S. Jacobs worked the lecture circuit, sharing the podium with Frederick Douglass and others, proclaiming the lie of slavery in a “free” country. When the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, he could no longer abide to live in this country. He went to Australia, where his treatise was published completely uncensored. He wrote: “That devil in sheepskin called the Constitution is the great chain that binds the north and south together, a union to rob and plunder the sons of Africa, a union cemented with human blood, and blackened with the guilt of 68 years.”

Page 12

Continued Massacre of Civilians in Rafah

Jun 3, 2024

On the night of May 26, an Israeli airstrike set off a fire that killed at least 45 people and wounded another 249 in a tent camp in the city of Rafah, in southern Gaza.

Survivors said they were preparing to go to sleep when the Israeli airstrike hit: “…we were getting our children’s beds ready to sleep. There was nothing unusual, then we heard a very loud noise, and fire erupted around us,” reported one Palestinian mother. “All the children started screaming … the sound was terrifying; we felt like the metal was about to collapse on us and shrapnel fell into the rooms.” Video footage showed fires raging across the camp, with burned bodies—including those of children—being pulled from the wreckage.

Before the Israeli assault on Rafah began in late May, the U.N. estimated that more than half of Gaza’s original population—or about 1.3 million people—had been sheltering there. They have been driven out of homes and camps, again and again, as the Israeli military destroyed one supposedly safe area after another.

Before this airstrike, the Israeli army had told people they would be safe in Rafah’s western areas. But as one survivor told a reporter, while sitting next to the bodies of his brother, sister-in-law, and other relatives killed in the blaze: “The army is a liar. There is no security in Gaza. There is no security, not for a child, an elderly man, or a woman….”

On May 8, President Biden said he had made it clear to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that “if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons….” But even as Israeli forces push into every corner of Rafah, even after dozens were burned to death in this strike, the U.S. administration insisted that Israel had not crossed its “red line.” A White House spokesperson said: “We still don’t want to see the Israelis, as we say, smash into Rafah with large units over large pieces of territory … and we haven’t seen that at this point…. And yes, we’re going to continue to provide them the capabilities to go after it.” In other words—burning these few dozen civilians to death is OK, sending in some troops and tanks is OK, as long as they don’t send in too many troops in large units!

The strike that set off the fire in Rafah that burned these dozens to death was made with a GBU-39, a bomb produced in the U.S. by Boeing. It was almost surely dropped by a plane also produced in the U.S. These bombs and planes for the Israeli military keep coming, as the U.S. just approved another 15 billion dollars in military aid for Israel last month.

U.S. officials claim that they are trying to limit civilian deaths, and that “there should be no innocent life lost here as a result of this conflict,” as a U.S. spokesperson had the nerve to say. But in reality, this murderous airstrike along with this whole war were, in fact, made in the U.S.A.

Trump Guilty:
Does It Change Anything Real?

Jun 3, 2024

Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States, has been found guilty of 34 felonies stemming from his plot to pay off a porn star to bury a story that would hurt his electoral chances in 2016. Trump is the first former president to ever be convicted of a crime.

That’s somewhat of an accident of history—does anyone remember Richard Nixon, who was in danger of prosecution until Gerald Ford pardoned him as soon as Ford took office? But still, it holds up as something that has never happened before in American history.

Different political people have responded to the verdict in different ways, depending of course on which side of the Democrat-Republican divide they stand.

Republicans standing with Trump (and Trump himself, of course) decry the verdict as a travesty of justice. Trump has made gestures to black Americans, saying they should know what he’s going through with a rigged system, acknowledging how the justice system has been used against black people in America every day.

But Trump himself has been a loud participant in that rigged system. When the Central Park Five were charged with the crime of rape against a jogger in 1989, Trump took out full-page ads calling for their executions. Even after they were all exonerated, Trump doubled down on his call, saying they still deserved the death penalty. And this is the guy who now tries to say he’s the victim of a rigged system!

Biden is no better. He has spoken loudly about the ‘Rule of Law,’ even in regard to the ‘Laws of War,’ which supposedly protect innocent civilians in conflict. But when videos get published of Palestinians waving the white flag, getting shot down in cold blood, Biden and his administration have nothing to say.

In truth, Republicans say that Trump’s conviction shows how rotten the system is—but only as far as their presidential candidate is concerned. Democrats say that the conviction shows that the system works—but only insofar as the conviction of their opponent is concerned. They say nothing about how the system has attacked black and working-class defendants just trying to live their lives.

Working people have nothing to gain from Trump’s conviction, or from Biden’s candidacy. We can only depend on our own forces.

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