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

Behind the Earthquake’s Enormous Toll Is the Capitalist System

Feb 20, 2023

The human toll of the February 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria is horrifying. Over 46,000 deaths were confirmed as of February 18. The real number may never be known as tens of thousands of people are still feared to be under the rubble.

In Turkey alone, more than 84,000 buildings, including some high-rise residential buildings, collapsed or got severely damaged, leaving more than a million people homeless.

Government authorities were missing from the scene—especially during the first, and crucial, days after disaster struck. Survivors of the earthquake, still in shock, in their pajamas and slippers in the freezing cold, tried to dig into concrete rubble with their hands to rescue their loved ones and neighbors crying for help. Survivors of the earthquake are now trying to survive in the cold with little food, fuel and shelter.

In Turkey, where nearly 90% of the fatalities have occurred, the government did not intervene. Despite the fact that the country is in a very active earthquake zone, and scientists had warned of this earthquake days in advance, public safety was not a priority. Afterwards, facing the population’s anger, the government spoke of 134 investigations, and the arrest of some contractors—especially those of upscale high-rises, whose collapse has gotten a lot of publicity.

But this is the same government that has paraded the construction of high-rise buildings in many Turkish cities as “progress,” in collusion with contractors who enriched themselves. Four years ago, under the guise of providing amnesty from building regulation for modest homes, this government gave a free pass to big contractors who had violated earthquake safety codes—without requiring them to fix the flawed buildings!

In Syria, the situation is even worse since a civil war has torn the country apart for more than 10 years. In north-western Syria, which is controlled by insurgents, the Syrian government blocked aid workers and supplies for more than a week. The only point of access to the area, a border-crossing from Turkey, stopped functioning after the earthquake.

Yes, the reckless local governments, and the local elites they represent, are culpable; they must be held accountable. They, who are always ready to silence any opposition with brute force, should be pushed out.

But they are the junior partners in this murderous scene. They work in the service of big capital, first and foremost of U.S. imperialism.

To enable U.S. capital to reach its tentacles across the world, the U.S. ruling class has built a huge military and installed 750 military bases all over the world. The state they have built can move thousands of soldiers anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat; it can construct large, fully-equipped military bases in a matter of days. They budget 1.4 TRILLION dollars to this effort—to enforce the super-exploitation of world populations and resources through military terror.

The U.S. ruling class can spend, in less than a year, 50 BILLION dollars to send weapons to Ukraine, to further their agenda against Russia. But when it comes to aid for the earthquake victims, this mighty world power has “pledged” a tiny fraction of that sum, 85 million dollars. And who knows if that money will actually materialize.

This is the same imperialism that cuts aid programs in the U.S. for working-class families on minimum-wage jobs, while shoveling billions of dollars to military contractors, big banks, Wall Street firms—to big capitalists.

Not for health care, not for schools, not for the infrastructure. Even the worst kind of human suffering does not distract capitalists from their focus, which is to grab more of the society’s wealth from those who produce it—the international working class.

Today there is more than enough wealth and resources in the world to bring relief to the earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria, and very quickly. But the current economic and political system, capitalism, can only lead human society from one crisis to another, from one catastrophe to another, into more and more chaos, destruction and human suffering.

And there is only one way out: for the working class to overthrow the capitalist system, to take the lead and put society on a path where the needs of all human beings are met—starting with those who have the greatest need. Freed from the restraint of the ruling class, the working class will have the capacity and willingness to do that, because workers know that they, and workers like them, are the ones who pay the price for the disasters—natural or man-made.