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

The U.S.Military Budget and War

Feb 6, 2023

The following is the text of a presentation given at a meeting in Detroit on January 29.

There’s an expression—"in the dead of night,” which means how something can take place without people knowing. Well, Congress, in the dead of night, in the week before Christmas in December, when nobody was paying attention, passed a record-breaking U.S. military budget of 858 billion dollars. 45 billion dollars MORE than what President Joe Biden said he asked for.

It is an 80 billion dollar increase in military spending over the 2022 bill, and 118 billion dollars more than when President Biden took office in 2021. As one journalist put it—it was "celebrating Christmas early for the War Industry.”

It’s the highest level of military spending (adjusted for inflation) since the peaks in the costs when two major wars were going on: Iraq and Afghanistan wars between 2008 and 2011.

It’s far more than the military budgets at the height of major wars—the Korean war and the Vietnam war; or even during the peak years of the Cold War.

It’s nearly 300 billion dollars more than the budgets for the 10 largest cabinet agencies all put together—including Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, State Transportation—that is, budgets that directly affect everything from schools to health care, to housing, to roads.

And this 858 billion dollars doesn’t even include all the spending justified in the name of national security, including the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Homeland Security; nor does it include the cost of veterans’ benefits.

858 billion dollars is larger than the military spending of the next 9 largest military powers in the world, combined: the combined military budgets of China, India, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea.

The U.S. spends three times more than China, at 293 billion dollars, and 13 times more than Russia’s military budget, at 66 billion.

This budget was passed with bipartisan support. When it comes to military spending, cloaked in the terms of “for national defense”, both parties agree.

And let me make something clear. There were no big fights on the floors of Congress. There was no yelling and threatening among these politicians. And so, there was virtually no sensational media coverage, with made-for-TV drama played out on CNN, Fox, and other channels. And absent any substantive coverage in the media, as I said before, passed in the dead of night, most people in this country had no idea even that it happened.

Making the World Safe—for U.S. Capital

Over the last hundred years, U.S. capitalism has expanded to envelop the world. The U.S. military has 750 bases in 80 countries. In contrast, Russia has about 3 dozen bases, mostly in the former republics of the Soviet Union, and China, five bases.

The U.S. superpower uses its military to pry open new markets and new sources of profit for U.S. companies and banks. Those 750 U.S. bases exist in order to make the world safe, not for democracy, as we are always told, but safe for U.S. corporate investment and profit-taking. They exist so U.S. companies can take advantage of workers all over the world, paying them lower wages, submitting these workers to horrible working conditions, while at the same time, they can lay off workers in this country.

But the issue doesn’t stay there. Ultimately, the existence of these hundreds and hundreds of military bases all over the world has led, and can lead, to more wars.

This expansion has been accomplished with a great deal of military force, sometimes directly in wars, other times through proxies, like the war in Ukraine, and sometimes by the threat of war.

For it’s the United States that has plunged the world into more wars than any other country: since WWII—in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Yemen, the Iraq War, the war in Northwest Pakistan, again in Somalia, and Syria—and those are only the direct wars where the U.S. sent its own troops.

This doesn’t count the indirect wars, wars by proxy—wars that the U.S. pays for, provides the military and technical and intelligence for, and trains the militaries in those countries—sometimes training them IN THE U.S. Exactly what they are doing today in Ukraine.

I would be up here for another half an hour if I listed all of these wars.

Everywhere this military-backed expansion of U.S. capitalism has been in the interests of the U.S. capitalist class, not the workers here who provide the troops or the workers in other countries those troops are sent to repress.

A Money Trough for Contractors …

But even without this military-backed expansion, look at the amount of money that goes to military contractors: 452 billion of the 858 billion will go to military contractors like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, and General Dynamics.

Just these top 5 contractors alone will split between 150 and 200 billion dollars in Pentagon contracts. They’ll pay their CEOs an average of 20 million dollars a year and engage in billions of dollars in stock buybacks designed to boost their share prices.

It’s no accident there is a close tie between those companies and the military, including weapons manufacturers, who couldn’t be more pleased by the continuation of the war in Ukraine. Every bomb, every shell exploded means more money in their bank accounts.

Prior to being nominated by Biden, the current Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, came from the board of directors of Raytheon, one of the top weapons suppliers of drones, guided missiles, and air defense systems. This board position paid him $300,000 a year. Not an annual salary for a job. But $300,000 just to sit in a couple of board meetings of Raytheon.

He was also on the boards of a steel company and a medical company. Before that he had been a 4-star general in the U.S. army. This human link between corporations and the military is standard practice.

… Taken from the Population

Military spending is fundamentally a redistribution of wealth. It is taking public money and using it for the profits of private companies. It is public money not spent on the needs of the population in this country. Rotten roads, inadequate schools, a public health system unprepared to meet the virus—these are the consequences of money spent on wars and to profits for arms manufacturers. We sit in the middle of this empire, and pay the price for it, an enormous price that has hemorrhaged our well-being, as well as the lives of the soldiers sent to patrol the world.

Take a look at education, as an example. This government, that serves the interest of the capitalist class, can spend 10 times more on the military budget than it can spend on Education for the nearly 50 million school-age children in the U.S.

It can give lucrative contracts to arms dealers. At the same time, Congressional lawmakers DID NOT reinstate the expanded child tax credit before the end of the year.

And the program that began in early 2020 where the Dept. of Agriculture issued waivers for schools to give free meals to all students, regardless of income, was ended. No more free breakfasts and lunches. As one parent who depended on this program said, “I can’t imagine who would think it’s OK to take food away from kids.”

Money spent on the military, and I am not talking about ordinary soldiers, is money that is not spent to keep the roads and bridges in repair. Money that should have kept Social Security pensions in pace with inflation, instead goes to pay the interest on the debt run up by these exorbitant military budget expenditures.

And what about ordinary soldiers—who in their vast majority are from the working class. While this Defense spending bill includes a 4.6% across-the-board pay increase for military personnel and civilians, a proposal for an additional 2.4% for troops making less than $45,000 a year to account for inflation, would have benefitted 783,000 service members and 37,000 civilians. It was removed by House and Senate negotiators before the vote.

For years, veterans have fought to obtain much needed cancer benefits—veterans who served in Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange. Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, exposed to toxins when they burned substances in burn pits that the military knew were cancer-causing. In July of last year, a bill to expand veterans’ coverage for cancer was voted down.

Of the 582,000 homeless in this country, 13%, or over 76,000, are veterans. (To give you some kind of idea of that amount, 76,000 is the population of Southfield, Michigan.)

There Is an Answer

They’re not going to stop spending this obscene amount of money on the military—it is part of this system’s life blood: Militarism is in the genes of capitalism.

So, staying within the framework of this system is not going to get rid of obscene military spending or war or any of the other ills that plague this system. You cannot remove cancer from one part of the body, when it is part of all its vital organs, and hope that this will solve the problem.

But there is a surgery, so to speak, a force, that exists in this society that is capable of ridding society of this cancer of capitalism: the working class. It’s the working class that produces the armaments, like the Abrams tanks, built by General Dynamics. It’s the working class that is sent to wars. It is the working class that is in the center of production, world-wide, that has the reason to replace it with a system that is rational—that works for human beings and not profit. AND precisely because it produces everything, the working class has the power to do it.

We know today that workers are fed up. They want something different. And yes, maybe a lot of people today don’t see that they are that force.

But tomorrow things could change very quickly. Workers could decide to rise up. We don’t know what will set off the next spark—maybe it will be because this lousy increase in Social Security doesn’t even cover the cost of the increase of food; maybe it will be because they don’t want to see their sons be sent to a war in Asia with China.

We don’t know. But what we do know is that it isn’t enough to wait for the day workers will begin massively to rise up. What we do know is that there are people who understand it is capitalism that is at the root cause; who understand that the only social force capable of getting rid of this system and building a new one is the working class. These people today can do the work to build up revolutionary organizations in the working class, so that when workers do begin to move, the organization needed will exist, able to draw out the battle lines and goals to get rid of this system and replace it.

We don’t claim to be the revolutionary party—but building it is the goal of all the work we do today. This is what will let humanity have a future.