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 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....