Rumors of the Death of the Working Class Are Highly Exaggerated / An Interview with Marcel Van Der Linden

Workers walking on Sulphide Leach in Escondida, Chile. (Oliver Llaneza Hesse / Construction Photography / Avalon / Getty)

Originally published in Jacobin, November 5, 2022

There is no “end of the working class.”

According to the latest International Labour Organization (ILO) report on “World Employment and Social Outlook,” global unemployment is expected to remain above pre-COVID levels until at least 2023. Already a downgrade from their originally rosier 2022 forecast, the agency hastened to add in a recent “Monitor on the World of Work” that the war in Ukraine and inflation has further decreased labor’s share of income and swelled the ranks of the unemployed.

The report also confirms that recovery has invariably relied on job sectors where low productivity and poor labor standards are rampant — without taking into account that improved employment statistics in some parts of the Global North have nothing to say about unprecedented numbers of workers dropping out of the job market or being pushed into the informal sector.

Of course, the latest ILO figures confirm what we already know: there is a long-standing downward trend in global working-class power. As David Broder wrote recently in Jacobin, this decline in labor — on the shop floor through automation and precarity, and in politics through the slow demise of labor and social democratic parties — has long been the source of forecasts proclaiming the “end of the working class.”

However, as labor historian Marcel van der Linden explains it, the current decline in working-class power is neither inevitable nor irreversible. And it would be foolhardy to equate waning structural influence with the end of the working class as such.

Van der Linden has in fact been making one version of this argument for the better part of his career. By expanding the scope of labor history in all directions — in time, to encompass working populations in the sixteenth century, and in space, to the colonial plantations where forced labor predominated — van der Linden’s work argues that we need to expand the definition of the working class itself, even if it means rethinking the history of capitalism.

The political payoff of an expanded definition of the working class, which would include care work, forced labor, informal self-employment, and more, is that it shows the many “farewells to the working class” for what they really are: overly reliant on a narrow image of the working class as male, white, Fordist factory labor.

The fact is, van der Linden explains to Jacobin commissioning editor Nicolas Allen, the working class is not going anywhere. Better still, the working class is undergoing transformations that make it possible to discover new forms of structural leverage and international solidarity.


George Orwell wrote that the most important part of the working class is also its most invisible. You seem to follow a similar intuition in your work: to try and grasp what is specific about the working class without bracketing those forms of labor considered outliers in some Marxist accounts of history — be it because those forms of labor are unfree, only partially commodified, and so on.


In capitalism, there has always existed, and probably will continue to exist, several forms of commodified labor power side by side. In its long development, capitalism used many kinds of work relationships, some based on economic compulsion, others with a noneconomic component. Millions of slaves were brought by force from Africa to the Caribbean, Brazil, and the southern states of the US. Contract workers from India and China were shipped off to toil in South Africa, Malaysia, or South America. “Free” migrant workers left Europe for the Americas, Australia, or other colonies.

These and other work relationships are synchronous, even if there seems to be a secular trend toward “free wage labor.” Slavery still exists; sharecropping is enjoying a comeback in some regions. Capitalism could and can choose whatever form of commodified labor power it thinks fit in a given historical context: one variant seems most profitable today, another tomorrow.

If this argument is correct, then we should conceptualize the wage-earning working class as one important kind of commodified labor power among others. Consequently, “free” labor cannot be seen as the only form of exploitation suitable for modern capitalism but as one alternative among several. We therefore need to form concepts which take account of more dimensions.

The history of capitalist labor must encompass all forms of physically or economically coerced commodification of labor power: wage laborers, the enslaved, sharecroppers, convict laborers, and so on — plus all labor which creates such commoditized labor or regenerates it; that is, parental labor, household labor, care labor, and subsistence labor. And if we try and take all these different forms of labor into account, then we should use households as the basic unit of analysis rather than individuals, because this permits keeping in focus at all times the lives of both men and women, young and old, and the variety of paid and unpaid work.


What would that mean for the leading accounts of how capitalism arose? The generally accepted version is that the transformation of artisans and peasants into free wage laborers (i.e., depriving them of their means of production) is what laid the foundations for capitalism.


If these observations I’m making are correct, then our picture of history must change drastically, beginning with our concept of capitalism. If capitalism does not have any structural preference for free wage labor, then capitalism can also have occurred in situations where hardly any wage labor was done, [for example] where chattel slavery prevailed. If we no longer define capitalism in terms of a contradiction between wage labor and capital, but in terms of the commodity form of labor power and other elements of the production process, then it makes sense to define capitalism as a circuit of transactions and work processes in which “production of commodities by means of commodities” occurs (borrowing Piero Sraffa’s expression).

This ever-widening circuit of commodity production and distribution, where not just labor products but also means of production and labor power itself acquire the status of commodities, is what I would call capitalism. This definition deviates somewhat from [Karl] Marx’s, but it is also consistent with Marx, in that he regarded the capitalist mode of production as “generalized” or “universalized” commodity production. It differs however from definitions which regard capitalism simply as “production for the market” and disregard the specific labor relations involved in production — it differs from the description we encounter in the writings of Immanuel Wallerstein and his school.

On the basis of a revised definition of capitalism, we might conclude that the first fully capitalist society was not eighteenth-century England, but Barbados, the small Caribbean island (430 km2) that was probably the most prosperous slaveholding society in the seventeenth century. Colonization was started there in the 1620s, and by 1680, the sugar industry covered 80 percent of the island’s arable land, employed 90 percent of its labor force, and accounted for about 90 percent of its export earnings. This was the beginning of the “Sugar Revolution” which dominated agricultural development in the English West Indies for several centuries.

The production and consumption process in Barbados was almost totally commodified: the workers (chattel slaves) were commodities, their food was mainly purchased from other islands, their means of production (like sugar mills) were manufactured commercially, and their labor product (cane sugar) was sold on the world market. Few countries have ever existed since that time where every aspect of economic life was so strongly commodified. It was in that sense a true capitalist country, albeit a very small one. And it could, of course, only exist thanks to its integration in a wider colonial empire.

Thus, it is no longer so certain that England was the birthplace of modern capitalism. If we adopt a non-Eurocentric perspective, we gain three insights: important developments in the history of capitalist employment began much earlier than previously thought; they began with unfree workers and not with free workers; and they began not in the US or in Europe, but in the Global South.


It seems like those insights apply not only to the past but to our present: an expanded notion of the working class not only gives us a new perspective on the origins of capitalism but is also a rebuke to those who would claim that the we are witnessing the “end of the working class.” That hypothesis is only sustainable if you keep to an exceedingly narrow view of who counts as the working class.


That’s right, there is no “end of the working class.” According to the International Labour Organization, the percentage of pure wage dependents (“employees”) rose between 1991 and 2019 from 44 to 53 per cent. In that sense, we see an ongoing proletarianization that has progressed the most in advanced capitalist countries. It is estimated that in developed economies, wage earners represent around 90 percent of total employment. In developing and emerging economies, employees may, however, represent as little as 30 percent or less of total employment.

The actual world working class is, of course, considerably more numerous than the number of employees; in any case, contributing family members and most of the unemployed should be added to this figure, as well as an unknown share of the workers who are formally self-employed but in fact have only one or two main clients and are therefore directly dependent on them. Those performing domestic subsistence labor (largely women) and thereby enabling employees and others to offer their labor capacity on the labor market are also part of the working class.

Within the wage-earning class, we see shifts in composition. During the last three decades, the number of workers in services has more than doubled, the number of industrial workers increased with about 50 percent, while the number of workers in agriculture decreased with a bit more than 10 percent. We observe also geographical shifts. There is a partial de-industrialization in Europe and North America and growing industrial employment elsewhere, especially in Asia. Most of the people who speak about the “end of the working class” hail from the advanced capitalist countries where we can observe the gradual disintegration of what used to be called (wrongly, of course) the standard employment relationship.

This is a form of wage labor defined by continuity and stability of employment, a full-time position with one employer, only at the employer’s place of business, a good wage, legally stipulated rights, and social security benefits. It is very often ignored that standard employment has been a relatively recent phenomenon, even in the advanced capitalist countries, and that at most, 15 or 20 percent of the world’s wage earners ever enjoyed it.


In part, the phrase “end of the working class” caught on as it did because it was superficially reflected in the declining power of organized labor and the labor movement.


Yes, although the world’s wage-earning class is larger than ever, most of the world’s traditional labor movements are in crisis. They have been severely enfeebled by the political and economic changes of the last forty years. Their core consists of three forms of social movement organizations: cooperatives, trade unions, and workers’ parties. All three organizational types are currently in decline, though this is an uneven development with vast differences between countries and regions.

The political wing (social democracy, labor parties, communist parties) is in trouble in almost all countries. Many trade unions are in decline as well. Independent trade unions organize only a small percentage of their target group worldwide, and the majority of them live in the relatively wealthy North Atlantic region. The global umbrella organization, the Confederación Sindical Internacional, estimated in 2014 that no more than 7 percent of the total global workforce belongs to trade unions. This has become 6 percent in the meantime.

This weakness of the international labor movement is a huge paradox, because ever greater numbers of workers worldwide maintain direct economic contacts with one another, even though many are probably unaware of this. Goods manufactured in one country are increasingly assembled from components produced in other countries, which in turn contain subcomponents made in still other countries. As a result, at least one-quarter of all wage earners have jobs related to a global supply chain.

And migration is intensifying economic connections between workers from different parts of the world as well. The proportion of international migrants in the world population increased from 2.8 percent to 3.5 percent between 2000 and 2020. The proportion of world migration attributable to South–North migration has more than doubled since 1960 and is now close to 40 percent. But all this has not yet resulted in a revival of organized labor.

There is however ground for some optimism. During the last ten to fifteen years, we have witnessed an intensification of social struggles. In India, for example, on January 8 and 9, 2019, a hundred fifty million workers across the country struck for a list of demands including a national minimum wage, universal food security, and equal pay for equal work. Social protests have grown in all regions of the world, including of course Latin America. And at last, but not at least, there are also explicit signs of organizational renewal. Organizing drives for previously unorganized workers in hospitals and the care sector in general have been increasing over the past few years.

The rise of the International Domestic Workers Federation since 2009, and their campaign resulting in the ILO’s “Convenio 189 sobre las trabajadoras y los trabajadores domésticos” has been an inspiration for many. Strikes of incarcerated workers in the United States reveal that new segments of the working class have begun to be mobilized. In many countries, trade unions are trying to open up to “informal” and “illegal” workers. Quite spectacular is India’s New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), founded in 2006, which recognizes the importance of both paid and unpaid women’s work, attempting to organize not only the “formal” sector, but also contract workers, casual workers, household workers, the self-employed, and the urban and rural poor.


In another sense, couldn’t the “end of the working class” refer to a feeling that the traditional labor movement failed to envision the full scope of society’s contemporary problems? What does the labor movement need to do to regain that sense — so strong in the nineteenth and twentieth century — that the interests of labor are also those of society at large?


As I said, it’s a paradox: the economic and political power of the working class has decreased since the 1980s — as the global crisis of the labor movements indicates — but I still do not see another social force that could replace the working class as a central actor. The only solution I can think of is the strengthening of that very same working class, but in new ways. A reborn labor movement requires a new orientation. Here I have to suffice with a few brief hints, and much more discussion is needed on this.

First, there is a whole range of substantive issues that have not been taken seriously enough by the old labor movements. Most unions, parties, and other organizations are still dominated by a masculine culture, racial prejudices, localism, and little awareness of environmental and climate issues. Changes are visible, but there is still very much to be done. Second, social equality and rights should be part of this new labor approach. We should distance ourselves from the narrow economism of the past, while at the same time we should keep in mind that bread-and-butter issues remain of huge importance. Labor movements have to become class movements, in the broad sense.

Third, the largest part of the world labor movement is internally undemocratic and does not consistently give a voice to the rank and file. This predominant, somewhat autocratic, approach will need to be replaced by a radical-democratic approach. Fourth, it is imperative that labor organizations orientate themselves much more toward global connections and cross-border activities. Many important challenges, such as unemployment, climate, pandemics, or the economic conjuncture, cannot be solved nationally.

Finally, all these elements have to be incorporated in a consistent radical strategy. Much harm has been done in the past by movements that did not primarily rely on their own strength and were too eager to be part of the ruling institutions. This is true for trade unions who have been integrated into all kinds of corporatist decision-making, and it has been true for workers’ parties who wanted to join governments in the absence of supportive mass movements and electoral majorities. Under the present conditions, we should probably not think of an alternative government — we should try to build an alternative opposition, an opposition that commits itself to the self-emancipation of the broad working class through grassroots democracy.


Maybe we could talk more specifically about labor in different parts of the world. It seems odd that people use concepts like the “precariat” in speaking of the Global South when, arguably, what that word describes is a situation that for much of the world is not only not novel — more like structural — but also tends to universalize things like the welfare state that, from a global perspective, are fairly provincial experiences. What do you make of this term, the precariat?


The idea that the “precariat” is the new “dangerous class” is fundamentally wrong. On the one hand, this thought seems to imply that the rest of the working class can be written off as an agent of social change. And on the other hand it implies that precarious workers are on their own capable of fundamentally destabilizing capitalism.

We have seen this kind of thinking before, the kind that privileges one segment of the working class over all others: for example, in the Italian “workerism” (operaismo) of Sergio Bologna, Antonio Negri, and others of the 1970s. They believed that the skilled workers belonged to the establishment and that the unskilled “mass workers” were the vanguard. We should oppose this kind of sectionalism. There are good reasons to emphasize as much as possible the unity of the working class. We can leave the attempts to split the ranks to our opponents.

But we should acknowledge as well that focusing our attention on precaritization is right. Precaritization is a global trend and on the rise almost everywhere. The fierce, increasingly global competition between capitals now has a clear downward “equalizing” effect on the quality of life and work in the more developed parts of global capitalism. The labor relations of rich countries are beginning to look much more like those of poor countries.

Directly connected with this problem is another hot issue: unemployment and underemployment. In the course of the twentieth century, and especially since the 1940s, the number of unemployed and underemployed in the Global South has grown by leaps and bounds. In the late 1990s, Paul Bairoch estimated that in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, “total inactivity” was on the order of 30-40 percent of potential working hours — a situation without historical precedent, “except perhaps in the case of ancient Rome.”

In Europe, North America, and Japan, the average level of unemployment has always been significantly lower. Moreover, it was determined mainly by the economic conjuncture, and it was therefore cyclical, while “overunemployment” in the Global South has a structural character. Scholars who early on drew attention to this huge problem, such as José Nun from Argentina and Aníbal Quijano from Peru, argued that the tens of millions of permanently “marginalized” workers in the Global South could no longer be regarded as a “reserve army of labor” in the Marxian sense, because their social condition was not temporary, and because they formed no mass of human material always ready for exploitation, since their abilities were simply not compatible at all with the requirements of capitalist industry.

Precaritization expresses an important change in contemporary capitalism. Although productive capital (manufacturing, mining) is still expanding, the power of other sections of the bourgeoisie is becoming more and more dominant. Increasingly, productive capital is subordinated to merchant capital and financial capital — what Marx called money-trading and interest-bearing capital. We are witnessing not only the explosive growth of trading companies (Amazon, Ikea, Walmart, etc.) and the surge of banks and insurance companies, but also the burgeoning of subcontracting and outsourcing. The power of the trade unions is weakened by this development, as they are often much stronger in the productive sector than in the trade and financial sectors.


You say that labor relations in the Global North are beginning to resemble those in the Global South, but also that chronic under- and unemployment are exploding in the Global South in ways unimaginable in the Global North. I wonder if this is what you mean when you speak of “relational inequality” — that the working class of the Global North is still a kind of weak “labor aristocracy” that derives some kind of compensatory benefits from the exploitation of the Global South.


I believe that the concept of the “Imperial Mode of Living” as developed by Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen is extremely useful in this respect. Their central idea is that wage earners in the advanced capitalist countries benefit from the ecological and economical exploitation in the poorer parts of the world. This is what I call relational inequality: wage earners in the [Global] North are partly better off because others in the [Global] South are socioeconomically and ecologically worse off.

This is not only true for the consumptive sphere (cheap T-shirts from Bangladesh increase the real income of wage-earners in the [Global] North), but also from an ecological point of view — advanced capitalist countries possess the economic and political power to import resources and export waste generated by the [Global] North to less developed countries. In that sense, the wage earners in the [Global] North benefit from the unequal economic and ecological exchange between advanced and less developed capitalist countries.

The collapse of “socialism” in the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere, and the adaptation of India to liberal market thinking — all in the 1980s and early 1990s — have resulted in the emergence of relatively well-earning segments of the wage-earning classes in those countries that are usually included in the vague category of the “middle classes.” Due to this new development, the Imperial Mode of Living is now also present in the former USSR, East and South Asia, and elsewhere.

The implication of all this is that the world working class has internalized contradictions that make global solidarity more difficult. This poses an issue of enormous urgency and importance: we not only need global social and economic, but also ecological equality.

The total amount of raw materials available worldwide is limited. As Arghiri Emmanuel argued in the 1960s, the people of the rich countries can consume all those articles to which they are so attached only because other people consume very few or even none of them. How is equalization possible? If it cannot be achieved downward — by lowering the living standards of the developed countries — nor upward, for technical and ecological reasons, does the solution lie in a global change in the very pattern of living and consumption, and the very concept of well-being?


But tackling those very contradictions also requires some source of working-class power. If we start from the idea that those challenges take place at the site of production, aren’t we back at square one where, say, industrial action at an auto plant in Germany is better able to affect accumulation patterns than a waste picker in Brazil? How do we bring together and unite such different labor struggles?


We should think less in terms of national classes, and more in terms of positional power. In the 1970s, Luca Perrone, a brilliant sociologist who died at a young age, argued that different sections of the working class have varying positions within the system of economic interdependencies. Therefore, their disruptive potential can diverge enormously.

Take the Chicago stockyards in the nineteenth century. They were organized in a kind of assembly line. The first department was the “killing floor” where the animals were slaughtered, so that they then could be processed in the other departments. If the killing floor downed tools, all the rest of the meat industry was paralyzed.

Such positional power can become very political. The Iranian Shah could not have been overthrown without the strikes of the oil workers in 1978–79.

I don’t think that the nation-state to which workers belong has much to do with their positional power. Much more decisive are the workflows. Let me give an example: commodities result from the combined labor input of workers and farmers across the world. Take the jeans that I am wearing. The cotton for the denim is grown by small farmers in Benin, West Africa. The soft cotton for the pockets is grown in Pakistan. The synthetic indigo is made in a chemical factory in Frankfurt, Germany. The rivets and buttons contain zinc dug up by Australian miners. The thread is polyester, manufactured from petroleum products by chemical workers in Japan. All parts are assembled in Tunisia. The final product is sold in Amsterdam.

My jeans are, therefore, the result of a global combination of labor processes. Which group of the workers involved has more and which group has less power? This is an empirical question that can only be answered if we know more about the competitive positions of the separate groups, among other factors.

Now that a growing segment of the world working class is becoming part of transcontinental commodity chains, the potential disruptive power of workers in the Global South has probably increased a lot. Their situation is somewhat similar to that of the butchers on the Chicago killing floors. If they don’t deliver the cobalt, coltan, and copper, then Samsung and Apple cannot produce their mobile phones. But this is potential power. Before this can become actual power, workers have to become aware of their strategic location and have to organize.

There is another difficulty here, though: the closer workers are to the finished product on a commodity chain, the greater their interest in a low remuneration for workers in earlier stages of production — at least from the point of view of their short-term interests. As in your example, workers in a car factory profit in the short run if steelworkers receive low wages, because this will increase the profit margin on the cars and results in job security and, perhaps, higher wages. This obstacle can only be overcome through politicization so that all workers become conscious of the larger picture. And this awareness will usually only grow through self-activity and autonomous learning.


You don’t seem particularly optimistic about that happening, though.


I feel less optimistic than twenty or thirty years ago. The obstacles to renewal have grown, while the urgency of the global challenges (especially the environmental problem) have increased. The crisis we are currently observing could well signal the end of an almost two-centuries-long “great cycle” in the development of labor movements.

Organized labor (and its ally, socialism) is now about two centuries old, and during its history has taken many forms. Building on egalitarian traditions, it began in the 1820s–40s with “utopian” experiments. Influenced by the rapid emergence of capitalism and the changing nature of states, the movement gradually bifurcated after the revolutions of 1848, with one wing striving to build an alternative society without separate states in the here and now, the other striving rather to transform the state so that it could be used to build that alternative society.

The first movement — anarchism and the revolutionary syndicalism associated with it — peaked in the final decades before World War II; by about 1940, it largely was a spent force. The second movement — initially embodied in social democracy but later taking other forms, too (including communist parties) — saw its heyday in the first few decades after World War II. Neither movement succeeded in achieving the original goal of replacing capitalism with a socially just and democratic society.

A second “great cycle” is by no means inconceivable — in fact, it already seems to cautiously announce itself. Class conflicts will not diminish, and workers all over the world will continue to feel the ever-present need for effective organizations and forms of struggle. A new labor movement can partly find its foundations in the old labor movements, but these will have to change considerably. Real internationalism which goes beyond symbolic solidarity will be essential. Not only on humanistic grounds, but also because there are no national solutions to the world’s problems.

Should there be a revival, the new movements will probably look different from the more traditional ones. It seems safe to say that success will be possible only if the major challenges (global economy, ecology, gender equality, social security, climate change, etc.) are substantively combined and tackled transnationally.

And if there is a reconsideration of the bifurcation of anarchism and party socialism. Anarchism has tended to emphasize “socialism from below,” through the self-emancipation of activated masses in motion. Party socialists, on the other hand, have usually emphasized “socialism from above,” the view that socialism must be “handed down” to the masses — a tendency that has been reinforced in recent decades owing to political parties having few roots in society. Although they might try to listen to citizens, especially at election time, they have become mainly a means whereby the state communicates with society, instead of the reverse.

I hope that during the second “great cycle,” we may see a combination of “from-below” and “from-above” approaches by strategically uniting government policy, self-organization, and large-scale mobilization. Such change will take a great deal of time. According to Max Weber, the spirit of capitalism has been “the product of a long and arduous process of education,” a development continuing over centuries. Likewise, a socialist society is probably conceivable only as the outcome of a comprehensive process of education, a process in which social change is accompanied by self-change. Autonomous organizations and concrete steps toward self-emancipation in all spheres of life (not only in the economic sphere) are essential for such a learning process.

Marcel van der Linden is the research director of the International Institute of Social History, a professor of social movement history at the University of Amsterdam, and a member of the editorial board of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA).

Nicolas Allen is a Jacobin contributing editor and the managing editor at Jacobin América Latina.

Migration as Sign of Climate-Change Impact in the Global South / by W. T. Whitney Jr.

Source: The African Union Mission in Somalia

U.S. government programs for migrants who crossed the U.S. southern border are punitive and disjointed. Left-leaning political groupings may criticize, but they too have fallen short in conceptualizing lives of dignity for migrants in the United States. Nor do they adequately take into account adverse circumstances weighing on migrants’ lives in their home countries.

First among forces pushing masses of people northward is the environmental crisis. The role of climate change in reducing soil productivity and food availability and in predisposing already beleaguered people to migrate is of great concern.  

One assumption here is that capitalist systems of production and consumption have been central to causing the climate to change for the worse. Another is the need for war on capitalism so as to stave off more climate change and cope with its fallout. That hasn’t happened in the industrialized northern countries.

Southern regions may be different. The excesses of capitalist globalization have hurt masses of people there. They were never afforded the relief northern peoples gained from welfare-state remedies. They may be ready to take up the climate-change fight.

Northern climate-change warriors who are anti-capitalist ought to be establishing linkages of support with their southern counterparts. One precedent for them is Spain.  Anti-fascists in 1936 joined the International Brigades to defend the Spanish Republic.  Now, in one way or another, northerners would be joining a faraway fight, this time against climate change.  One locality is Guatemala. 


Author Ilka Oliva Corado describes herself as an “indigenous, undocumented immigrant in the United States.” An English-language version of her story, which is situated in Guatemala and titled “The Plum,” appears here. Excepts follow: 

Guillermina leaves the grocery bags on the table and hurriedly takes out a plum, washes it and takes a bite … She is grateful for the hands that cared for it from the time the seed of the tree was planted. Ever since she was a child, her peasant grandparents taught her to be thankful for the labor of those who work on the land.

She was from Parramos, Chimaltenango, in Guatemala. When she arrived in the United States, she was speaking only her mother tongue, Cakchiquel. … She spent 20 years working as a domestic worker in New York. … Guillermina left Guatemala with her brother Jacobo to help her parents raise her younger siblings … She was on the eve of her fifteenth birthday when she left her indigenous clothing behind and packed two pairs of pants and two T-shirts in her backpack …

(Oliva Corado writes that the traffickers sexually abused Guillermina and her brother as they traveled in Mexico, from Chiapas to Tijuana.) “She doesn’t know what happened to her memory. But she managed to block all recall of the journey after they arrived in Tapachula [in Chiapas].” (The author writes that Jacobo was similarly abused. He remembers, has nightmares, and sleeps fitfully at night.)  

He works three jobs. Every Friday they collect their money so that Guillermina can send off the remittance. Neither of the two will allow their younger siblings to emigrate. At home … they work the land of their grandparents, but Miguel, the youngest, didn’t listen to them and emigrated with another group of friends. He wanted to leave to help his older siblings deal with the economic burden of the house. Now he’s been missing for three years. 

Guillermina bites into the plum that takes her back to remembering the bean fields, shade from the avocado and orange trees, and furrows in the cornfields.  It was there she saw her younger siblings beginning to walk while her parents were working.

Plum juice drips from the corner of her lips. … But tasting the fruit that Miguel loved so much sets off the pain that for three years has been knotted in her throat and she begins to cry inconsolably.

It was in the supermarket that she received the call from Jacobo. There is news of Miguel. A forensic team did tests and they have confirmed his identity. A humanitarian rescue team searching months ago for a missing migrant woman found his bones in a dry river in Sonora. Her parents will be able to bury their young son in the town cemetery, finally.


The family’s land may not have been producing enough food to satisfy nutritional needs, nor enough to sell and provide cash. International agencies concerned about food shortages use a scale that registers severity. It consists of phase 1 – no significant problem; phase 2 – stress; phase 3 – crisis; phase 4 – emergency; and phase 5 – widespread acute malnutrition.

The 2022 Global Report on Food Crises, assembled by United Nations agencies, reported on trends in Guatemala, population 16.9 million. In November, 2018, 2.12 million Guatemalans were classified as experiencing food “crisis.” The corresponding figures in August, 2000 and in May, 2021 were 3.24 million and 3.29, respectively.  As of those dates, there were 4.67 million, 7.21 million, and 7.78 million people, respectively, who endured food stress. A recent report indicates that, as of September 2021, 4.6 million Guatemalans were facing food crisis (phase 3) or food emergency (phase 4).

The World Meteorological Organization, reporting in July on the impact of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean, points out that, “Droughts, heat waves, periods of cold, more tropical storms and floods have led to loss of life, serious damage to agricultural production and infrastructure, and displaced populations.” 

The authors of another detailed report on the region’s “Climate Change Emergency” state that, “the present bimodal pattern of precipitation in Central America may be distorted in the coming decades … Extreme phenomena like droughts, hurricanes, and the Niño Southern Oscillation will be recurring … and their intensity will increase with climate change .. These phenomena magnify social-economic vulnerability in the region.” 

A survey of the impact of changing climate in Guatemala claims that drought “mostly afflicts the semi-arid region of the country known as the “dry corridor,” and that “in the coming years, that area is expected to extend to higher elevations.” Recently rain has been uncharacteristically scarce or absent during heat waves.

Rural families in Guatemala grow or produce food from their own land. Family members may also work seasonally on big farms to be able to purchase additional food, or they fish or hunt. High poverty rates underscore the vulnerability of their lives – 70% in Guillermina’s Chimaltenango department and nearly 80 percent among Guatemala’s indigenous population. Now the impact on food supplies of droughts, storms, and floods – which are more severe now because of climate-change – adds to their plight.

Many Guatemalans and others in the Global South have to move. They go to big cities or they cross national borders to begin new lives, and/or earn money to support families at home. Plenty of other reasons to migrate do exist such as land grabs, governmental chaos, and violence from criminals, gangs, paramilitaries, and soldiers. 

But migration undertaken in response to climate-change effects is highly significant, so much so that victims are everywhere, and in the millions. On that account, the prospect emerges of mass political mobilization and of growing awareness along the way of capitalism as enemy.

Capitalist-inspired intrusions already fill the landscape with mines and oil-extraction facilities, dams and flooded rivers, pollution, mega land-holdings and mono-culture farming operations. U.S. political interference, debt owed foreign banks, privatizations, and cuts in social spending have provoked opposition movements.  Growing appreciation of linkage between these manifestations of global capitalism and capitalism’s contribution to climate change may serve to stimulate anti-capitalist resistance movements that are ready to take on the environmental crisis.

This possible scenario in the Global South ought to resonate with anti-capitalist activists in the North. The great need is for international solidarity. Author, editor, and eco-socialist John Bellamy Foster offers perspective in his recently published article titled “Ecology and the Future of History.” Excerpts follow:

“The agent of revolution is increasingly a class that is not to be conceived in its usual sense as a purely economic force but as an environmental (and cultural) force: an environmental proletariat …[and] Most of the major class struggles and revolutionary movements over the centuries of capitalist expansion have been animated in part by what could be called ecological imperatives – such as struggles over land, food and environmental conditions.”

He adds: “In general, Third World liberation movements have been aimed at both the environment and economy and have been struggles in which peasants and Indigenous peoples have played central roles, together with nascent proletarian and petty bourgeois forces …[and] All material struggles are now environmental-class as well as economic-class struggles, with the separation between the two fading.”

Finally, “The objective consequence of the changing social and ecological environment, the product of uncontrolled capitalist globalization and accumulation, arising from forces at the center of the system, is inevitably to create a more globally interconnected revolutionary struggle: a new eco-revolutionary wave emanating primarily from the Global South.”

W. T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.

The great inflation debate rages on / by Michael Roberts

If the major economies slow down sharply or even enter a slump by the end of this year, inflation too will eventually subside—to be replaced by rising unemployment and falling real wages. Image from Shutterstock.

The inflation debate among mainstream economists rages on. Is the accelerating and high inflation rate of commodities here to stay for some time and or is it ‘transitory’ and will soon subside? Do central banks need to act fast and firmly to ‘tighten’ monetary policy by cutting back purchases of government bonds and hiking interest rates sharply? Or is such tightening an overkill and will cause a slump?

I have covered these issues in several previous posts in some detail. But it is worth going over some of the arguments and the evidence again because high and rising inflation is severely damaging to the livelihoods and prosperity of most households in the advanced capitalist economies and even a matter of life and death for hundreds of millions in the so-called Global South of poor countries. Being made unemployed is devastating for those who lose their jobs and for their families. But unemployment affects usually only a minority of working people at any one time. Inflation, on the other hand, affects the majority, particularly those on low incomes where basic commodities like energy, food, transport and housing matter even more.

In a recent book, Rupert Russell pointed out that the price of food has often been decisive historically. Currently the global food price index is at its highest ever recorded. This hits people living in the Middle East and North Africa, a region which imports more wheat than any other, with Egypt the world’s largest importer. The price of these imports is set by the international commodity exchanges in Chicago, Atlanta and London. Even with the government subsidies, people in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Algeria and Morocco spend between 35 and 55 percent of their income on food. They’re living on the edge: small price rises bring poverty and hunger. Russell reminds us that grain was key to almost every stage of the First World War. Fearing the threat to its grain exports, imperial Russia helped provoke that global conflict. As the conflict dragged on, Germany also suffered from a dearth of cheap bread and looked to seize Russia’s bountiful harvest. “Peace, Land, and Bread” was the Bolshevik slogan, and success had much to do with bread and the control of the new grain pathways inside Russia. Now the Russian invasion of Ukraine puts the harvest of these two leading grain exporters in jeopardy.

Indeed, when you consider food prices (one of the key contributors—along with energy prices—to the current inflationary spiral), it exposes the inadequacies of mainstream explanations of inflation and their policy remedies. Current inflation is not the product of ‘excessive demand’ (Keynesian) or ‘excessive monetary injections’ (monetarist). It is the result of a ‘supply shock’—a dearth of production and supply chain breakdown, induced by the COVID pandemic and then by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The recovery after the COVID slump in the major economies has been faltering. Every major international agency and analytical research consultancy has been lowering its forecast of economic growth and industrial production for 2022. At the same time, these agencies and central banks have revised up their forecasts for inflation and for the length of time it will stay high.

Central banks have little control over the ‘real economy’ in capitalist economies and that includes any inflation of prices in goods or services. For the 30 years of general price disinflation (where price rises slow or even deflate), central banks struggled to meet their usual two percent annual inflation target with their usual weapons of interest rates and monetary injections. And it will be the same story in trying this time to reduce inflation rates. As I have argued before, all the central banks were caught napping as inflation rates soared. And why was this? In general, because the capitalist mode of production does not move in a steady, harmonious and planned way but instead in a jerky, uneven and anarchic manner, of booms and slumps. But also, they misread the nature of the inflationary spiral, relying as they do on the incorrect theories of inflation.

I would argue that this supply side ‘shock’ is really a continuation of the slowdown in industrial output, international trade, business investment and real GDP growth that had already happened in 2019 before the pandemic broke. That was happening because the profitability of capitalist investment in the major economies had dropped to near historic lows, and it is profitability that ultimately drives investment and growth in capitalist economies. If rising inflation is being driven by a weak supply side rather than an excessively strong demand side, monetary policy won’t work.

The hardline monetarists call for sharp rises in interest rates to curb demand while the Keynesians worry about wage-push inflation as rising wages ‘force’ companies to raise prices. But inflation rates did not rise when central banks pumped trillions into the banking system to avoid a meltdown during the global financial crash of 2008-9 or during the COVID pandemic. All that money credit from ‘quantitative easing’ (QE) ended up as near-zero cost funding for financial and property speculation. ‘Inflation’ took place in stock and housing markets, not in the shops. What that means is that US Federal Reserve’s ‘pivot’ towards interest rate rises and reverse QE will not control inflation rates.

The other mainstream theory is that of the Keynesians. They argue that inflation arises from ‘full employment’ driving up wages and from ‘excessive demand’ when governments spend ‘too much’ in trying to revive the economy. If there is full employment, then supply cannot be increased and workers can drive up wages, forcing companies to raise prices in a wage-price spiral. So there is trade-off between the level of unemployment and prices. This trade-off can be characterised in a graphic curve, named after A.W. Phillips.

But the evidence of history runs against the Phillips curve as an explanation of the degree of inflation. In the 1970s, price inflation reached post-war highs, but economic growth slowed and unemployment rose. Most major economies experienced ‘stagflation.’ And since the end of the Great Recession, unemployment rates in the major economies have dropped to post-war lows, but inflation has also slowed to lows.

Keynesian Larry Summers takes the ‘excessive demand’ approach. His view of inflation is that government spending is driving price hikes by giving Americans too much purchasing power. So it’s the Biden administration’s fault; the answer being to re-impose ‘austerity’ (cutting government spending and raising taxes). Again, you could ask Summers why there was no high inflation when governments spent huge amounts to avoid a banking collapse in the Great Recession, but only now.

Following the Keynesian cost-push inflation theory inevitably comes the policy call for ‘wage restraint’ and even higher unemployment. For example, Keynesian guru Paul Krugman advocated raising unemployment to tame inflation in one of his recent New York Times columns. So much for the claim that capitalism can sustain ‘full employment’ with judicious macro-management of the economy, Keynesian-style. It seems that the capitalist economy is caught between the Scylla of unemployment and the Charybdis of inflation after all.

As for wage restraint, both Keynesians and central bankers have been quick to launch into such calls. Keynesian Financial Times columnist Robert Armstrong called for monetary policy to be “tight enough to … create/preserve some slack in the labour market.” In other words, the task must be to create unemployment to reduce the bargaining power of workers. Bank of England governor Bailey made the same call in order, he said, to stop runaway inflation. But there is no evidence that wage rises lead to higher inflation. We are back to the chicken and the egg. Rising inflation (chicken) forces workers to seek higher wages (egg). Indeed, over the last 20 years until the year of the COVID, US real weekly wages rose just 0.4 percent a year on average, less even that the average annual real GDP growth of around two percent plus. It’s the share of GDP growth going to profits that rose (as Marx argued way back in 1865).

US inflation is much higher than wages which are only growing at between three to four percent, that means real wages are going down for most Americans. Financial assets are rising even faster. Housing prices are up by roughly 20 percent on an annualized basis. Just before the pandemic, in 2019, American non-financial corporations made about a trillion dollars a year in profit, give or take. This amount had remained constant since 2012. But in 2021, these same firms made about $1.73 trillion a year. That means that for every American man, woman and child in the US, corporate America used to make about $3,081, but today makes about $5,207. That’s an increase of $2,126 per person. It means that increased profits from corporate America comprise 44 percent of the inflationary increase in costs. Corporate profits alone are contributing to a three percent inflation rate on all goods and services in America.

Then there is the ‘psychological’ explanation of inflation. Inflation gets ‘out of control’ when ‘expectations’ of rising prices by consumers takes hold and inflation becomes self-fulfilling. But this theory removes any objective analysis of price formation. Why should ‘expectations’ rise or fall in the first place? As a paper by Jeremy Rudd at the Federal Reserve concludes:

Economists and economic policymakers believe that households’ and firms’ expectations of future inflation are a key determinant of actual inflation. A review of the relevant theoretical and empirical literature suggests that this belief rests on extremely shaky foundations, and a case is made that adhering to it uncritically could easily lead to serious policy errors.

All these mainstream theories deny that it is the failure of capitalist production to supply enough that is causing accelerating and high inflation. And yet, evidence for the ‘supply shock’ story remains convincing. Take used car prices. They rocketed over the last year and were a major contributor to US and UK inflation rises. Used car prices rose because new car production and delivery was stymied by COVID and the loss of key components. Global auto production and sales slumped. But production is now recovering and used car prices have dropped back. Indeed, prices of home electronics are now falling.

A Marxist theory of inflation looks first to what is happening to supply and, in particular, whether there is sufficient value creation (exploitation of labour) to stimulate investment and production. Guglielmo Carchedi and I have been working on a Marxist inflation model, which we hope to publish soon. But the key points are that the rate of price inflation first depends on the growth rate of value creation. Employing human labour creates new value and using technology reduces the labour time involved in the production of goods and services. So more output can be produced in less labour time. Therefore prices over time will tend to fall, other things being equal. Capitalist production is based on a rise in investment in fixed assets and raw materials relative to investment in human labour, and this rising organic composition of capital, as Marx called it, will lead to a fall in general profitability and an eventual slowdown in production itself. This contradiction also means price deflation is the tendency in capitalist production, other things being equal.

But other things are not always equal. There is the role of money in inflation. When money was a (universal) physical commodity like gold, the value of commodities depended partly on the value of gold production. In modern ‘fiat’ economies, where money is a unit of account (without value) created by governments and central banks, money becomes a counteracting factor to the tendency for falling prices in value creating production. The combination of new value production and money supply creation will ultimately affect the inflation rate in the prices of commodities.

In our initial research, we showed that when money growth was moderate, but value creation was strong, inflation rates were high and rising (1963-81); but when value creation weakened, money creation avoided deflation but was not enough to stop price inflation from subsiding (1981-2019). This tells you that if the major economies slow down sharply or even enter a slump by the end of this year, inflation too will eventually subside—to be replaced by rising unemployment and falling real wages.

There is an alternative to monetary or wage restraint, these policy proposals of the mainstream, acting in the interests of bankers and corporations to preserve profitability. It is to boost investment and production through public investment. That would solve the supply shock. But sufficient public investment to do that would require significant control of the major sectors of the economy, particularly energy and agriculture; and coordinated action globally. That is currently a pipedream. Instead, ‘Western’ governments are looking to cut back investment in productive sectors and boost military spending to fight the war against Russia (and China next).

Michael Roberts is a Marxist economist based in London, England. He is the author of several books including The Great Recession: A Marxist view (2009), The Long Depression (2016), and Marx 200: A Review of Marx’s Economics 200 Years After His Birth (2018).

Canadian Dimension, April 19, 2022,

Climate change and wars / by Michael Roberts

“Climate Change” by Riccardo Maria Mantero is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

As the ugly war in Ukraine drags on, with more lives lost and atrocities (apparently) committed, energy and food prices hit yet more highs. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN publishes a monthly global price index. The FAO Food Price Index reached yet another record high of 159.3 points in March, up 12.6% from February.

Oil and gas prices are also near all-time high levels. In Europe, gas prices hit a record €335 per megawatt-hours, and at that level, it is now cheaper for some power stations to burn coal rather than gas even when the cost of carbon permits is taken into consideration. Europe wants to follow NATO’s bidding and cut back on Russian energy imports. The irony is that some countries, like Italy, say that will need to burn more coal, in order to burn less Russian gas. The International Energy Agency (IEA) posed the dilemma in relation to global warming and energy needs, given the Ukraine war and the sanctions against Russia. “The faster EU policymakers seek to move away from Russian gas supplies, the greater the potential implication, in terms of economic costs and near-term emissions,” the IEA said, in a report.

Can the circle be squared: ie getting more energy supply to reduce prices, while still trying to reduce fossil fuel production to lower greenhouse gas emissions? “We are determined to limit [Vladimir] Putin’s capacity to finance his atrocious war,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, wrote on Twitter. And then went on to say: “The EU must get rid of its dependency on fossil fuels”. At first sight, these two aims might be compatible. Cutting back on fossil fuel energy from Russia will reduce energy use and lower carbon emissions, no? After all, clean energy, says Christian Lindner, finance minister of Germany, should be considered the “energy of freedom”. So the German government plans to cut its dependence on Russian energy imports by accelerating renewables and reaching 100% ‘clean power’ by 2035. But in the same breath German Chancellor Olaf Scholz accepted that, in the short term, it has little choice but to continue buying gas and oil from Russia!

COP26 in Glasgow contained an agreement to draw down fossil fuel production, even though there was a fierce argument that broke out over whether coal should be “phased down” or “phased out”. COP26 president Alok Sharma. “Countries are turning their back on coal,” he said. “The end of coal is in sight.” And yet, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, far from declining, coal use globally surged to record levels this last winter, causing emissions to rise, while clean energy installations fell below the levels needed to reach climate targets. In the US, coal-fired power generation was higher in 2021 under President Joe Biden than it was in 2019 under then-president Donald Trump, who had positioned himself as the would-be saviour of America’s coal industry. In Europe, coal power rose 18 per cent in 2021, its first increase in almost a decade. Economist Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University, says the shift away from fossil fuels has rarely looked more complicated. “The energy transition was already in trouble — 80 per cent of the world’s energy is still from fossil fuels,” he said. “I expect that in the short term, the US will increase oil and gas output and EU coal consumption could increase”.

This conflict of aims by ‘the West’ comes at a time when global warming and climate change are reaching a ‘now or never’ tipping point, where the Paris target to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C cannot be met. In presenting the latest IPCC report on climate change (which supposedly outlines ‘solutions’ to mitigate global warming and meet targets), UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres commented: “The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership (by governments) is criminal.” By this, he meant that the 198 countries which had gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 Climate Change Conference last November were failing to hit any of their (already inadequate) targets for emission reductions. So global temperatures look set to barrel past the 1.5ºC degrees limit above 1850 industrial levels. Instead, the world faces a 2.7C temperature rise on current climate plans, the UN warned. Current pledges would reduce carbon emissions by only about 7.5% by 2030, far less than the 45% cut that scientists say is needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C.

And it’s not just reducing current emissions that are necessary, but also cutting back on the already accrued levels of carbon in the atmosphere. It’s a stock problem because many gases are long-lived. Nitrous oxide can stay in the atmosphere for 121 years, methane for 12 years. Carbon dioxide’s lifetime cannot be represented with a single value because the gas is not destroyed over time, but cycles through the ocean-atmosphere–land system. Some carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years and the melting of the glaciers could release into the atmosphere previously trapped carbon.

Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, bluntly explained that: “human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability.” While “some development and adaptation efforts have reduced vulnerability,” he continued, “the rise in weather and climate extremes has led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt.” Co-chair of the IPCC working group, Hans-Otto Portner, spelt it out: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

Lee made it clear what he thought should be done immediately. “The time to stop the exploration of fossil fuels, which are destroying our planet, is now. Half measures are no longer an option,” But just stopping fossil fuel exploration is precisely that – a half measure. That’s because to meet the Paris agreement, the world would have to eliminate 53.5 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide each year for the next 30 years.

The problem is that it is ‘the West’: the mature capitalist economies, that have built up the stock of dangerous carbon and other gases in the atmosphere over the last 100 years and are doing the least to solve the climate crisis. About one-third of the current stock of greenhouse gases has been created by Europe and one-quarter by the US. Yes, China and India are the first- and third-largest emitters today. But measured in terms of emissions per head of population, they are around 40th and 140th and measured in terms of their stock per capita, they are one-tenth of the level of Europe. And ironically, the main contributors to carbon emissions stock benefit from global warming as these mature capitalist (imperialist) economies are mainly in cold climates.

The countries of the ‘global North’ (Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Japan) are responsible for 92% of total emissions that are causing climate breakdown. Meanwhile, the Global South – the entire continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America – are responsible for only 8% of ‘excess emissions’. And the majority of these countries are still well within their fair shares of the emissions boundary, including India, Indonesia and Nigeria. To make matters worse, the impacts of climate breakdown fall disproportionately on the countries of the global South, which suffer the vast majority of climate change-induced damages and mortality within their borders.

But a recent research paper in the journal Nature found that G20 countries spent$14tn on economic stimulus measures during 2020 and 2021 — but only 6 per cent of this was allocated to areas that would cut emissions. Investment bank Morgan Stanley reckons to achieve sufficient emissions reduction would cost about $50trn. About $20 trillion of cumulative investments will be required to switch out of fossil fuels. Solar, wind, and hydro will require $14 trillion of investment to deliver 80% of global power by 2050 and electric vehicle take-up will require $11 trillion to build the factories and infrastructure and develop battery technology. Biofuels, like ethanol, could be important for future global transportation alongside hydrogen and could eventually spread to aircraft, but to develop this would require a further $2.7trillion of investment. Carbon capture and storage could play a critical part in the energy transition but a further $2.5 trillion is needed for development. Compare the $50 trillion price tag to the barely $100 billion that it has taken six years for countries to scrounge together.

Yes, greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced in some countries and there are technical solutions available. Alternative renewable energy costs have come down 85% over the last ten years. But coal production must be cut by 76% by 2030. And oil/gas infrastructure projects must be stopped. The current flow of finance is dramatically insufficient to boost renewables and manage fossil fuel reduction. Funding for all this change is minuscule compared to the task.

And a switch to ‘clean energy’ won’t be enough, especially as mining and refining alternative fuels and systems also require more fossil fuel energy. All the batteries, solar panels and windmills in the world won’t lower fossil fuel demand in the near term. Internal combustion vehicles – commercial and passenger – use plenty of steel, but electric vehicles use a wider variety of more expensive metals. For example, the average internal combustion passenger vehicle uses less than 50 pounds of copper, whereas a Tesla uses about 180 pounds of copper-wound up in its electric motors. Additionally, the batteries essential to electric vehicles rely on materials like lithium and nickel, which require intense electric and chemical outlays to process. All this means more fossil fuel production to mine more metals.

I have discussed before why market solutions like carbon pricing and carbon taxes will not deliver the required reductions in emissions. Market solutions will not work because it is just not profitable for capital to invest in climate change mitigation: “Private investment in productive capital and infrastructure faces high upfront costs and significant uncertainties that cannot always be priced. Investments for the transition to a low-carbon economy are additionally exposed to important political risks, illiquidity and uncertain returns, depending on policy approaches to mitigation as well as unpredictable technological advances.” (IMF). To save the planet and all species who live on it cannot be achieved through market pricing mechanisms or even more clever technology. Remember clever science gave us vaccines and medicines to save lives in the COVID pandemic, but it was capitalism and pro-capitalist governments that still allowed the pandemic to happen and were unable to stop around 20m ‘excess deaths’ globally.

To stop global warming, we don’t need just clever new technology, we need to phase out old fossil fuel technology. And we need a global plan to steer investments into things society does need, like renewable energy, organic farming, public transportation, public water systems, ecological remediation, public health, quality schools and other currently unmet needs. Such a plan could also equalize development the world over by shifting resources out of useless and harmful production in the North and into developing the South, building basic infrastructure, sanitation systems, public schools, and health care. At the same time, a global plan could aim to provide equivalent jobs for workers displaced by the retrenchment or closure of unnecessary or harmful industries. But such a plan requires public ownership and control of fossil fuel companies and other key energy and food sectors. Without that, there can be no plan.

As the war in Ukraine rages on, we should be reminded that the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are the military. The US military is the world’ssingle largest consumer of oil, and as a result, one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters. The Pentagon’s greenhouse gas emissions annually total over 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. If it were a nation-state, the US military would be the 47th largest emitter in the world., with emissions larger than Portugal, Sweden or Denmark.

And the US military is expanding all the time to protect US interests in oil and fossil fuel resources around the world. The Cost of Wars Project found the total emissions from war-related activity in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria to be estimated at more than 400 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide alone. Thus global warming and fossil fuel exploration, production and refining are inextricably linked by military spending. Wars and increased spending on arms are not just killing people and destroying lives and homes, but also adding to the climate disaster that is engulfing humanity globally. World peace would not only save lives and livelihoods but also contribute to saving the planet and nature.

Michael Roberts has worked in the City of London for over 30 years as an economist. He is author of several books on the world economy: The Great Recession, The Long Depression and World in Crisis. He blogs at

Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CATDM), April 10, 2022,

Divided World: The UN Condemnation of Russia is endorsed by Countries run by the richest, oldest, Whitest people on Earth but only 41% of the World’s population / by Roger Stoll

Featured image: United Nations General Assembly voting board for the March 2 resolution against Russia. Photo: United Nations

On March 2 of this year the UN General Assembly met in an Emergency Session to pass a non-binding resolution condemning Russia’s February 24 intervention in Ukraine.1 141 countries voted for the resolution, 5 voted against, 35 abstained, and 12 did not vote. (Reported: GuardianAl JazeeraiNews)

In the absence of any reliable opinion poll of the world’s 7.9 billion people, this vote may indicate that the majority of humanity sympathizes with Russia in Ukraine. The statistics presented below show that only 41% of the world’s people live in countries that joined the U.S. in voting for the UN resolution.

This lopsided vote is even more striking if you consider the demographics. Populations represented by governments that did not vote for the resolution are much more likely to include the world’s poorest nations, nations with younger populations, “nations of color,” nations of the Global South, and nations in the periphery of the world economic system.

To put it another way, although the war is nominally a conflict between two developed and ethnically white nations, Russia and Ukraine, this UN vote suggests the war may be viewed by much of the world as a fight over the global political and economic system that institutionalizes the imperial hierarchy, the distribution of nations between rich and poor, and global white supremacy.

The UN vote by population

Of the world’s 7,934,000,000 people, 59% live in countries that did not support the resolution and only 41% live in countries that did.2 But that last figure drops to 34% outside of the immediate belligerents and their allies: Ukraine, U.S., and NATO countries, and on the other side, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, and Tajikistan (all the countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization).

41% or 34% amounts to a resounding, humiliating defeat for the U.S. on this non-binding UN resolution. Instead it is reported in the west as a U.S. victory and an “overwhelming” worldwide condemnation of Russia.

The UN vote and GDP per capita

All the countries in the top third of the GDP per capita (nominal) rankings, including Japan and all the countries of Western Europe and North America, voted for the resolution, Venezuela being the only country in the top third that did not.

Of the countries that did not vote for the resolution, most are ranked the poorest in the world, and almost none came above the approximate midpoint rank of 98. The exceptions were: Venezuela (58), Russia (68), Equatorial Guinea (73), Kazakhstan (75), China (76) Cuba (82), Turkmenistan (92), South Africa (95), Belarus (97).3

The UN vote and the core/periphery divide

Another way to show the wealth divide in the UN vote is by distinguishing core and peripheral countries. In world-systems theory the surplus value of labor flows disproportionately to the core countries: “The countries of the world can be divided into two major world regions: the ‘core’ and the ‘periphery.’ The core includes major world powers and the countries that contain much of the wealth of the planet. The periphery has those countries that are not reaping the benefits of global wealth and globalization.” (Colin Stief,, 1/21/20)

The countries usually considered in the core are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.

The difference here is stark. Every single core country voted for the resolution and every country that did not is either in the periphery or in some cases, like Russia or China, in the semi-periphery.

The UN vote and median age

All the countries ranked in the top third of median age rankings, from Monaco (51.1 years) to Iceland (36.5 years), voted for the resolution, with the following exceptions: China (37.4), Russia (39.6), Belarus (40), Cuba (41.5).

Of the twenty entries with the lowest median ages (15.4 to 18.9), only half voted for the resolution.

The UN vote and “countries of color”

Of the 7,934,000,000 people in the world, 1,136,160,000 live in what are usually recognized as “white countries” (consistently or not) with about 14% of the world’s population. Yet “white countries,” by population, represent about 30% of the total vote in favor of the resolution. This “white vote” accounts for every one of the core countries (except Singapore and Japan). Compare: 97% of the population in the countries that did not vote for the resolution live in “countries of color.” Only Russia, Belarus and Armenia (which did not vote for the resolution) have dominant populations classed as “white.”

Therefore “white countries” are overrepresented in the group that voted for the resolution (30% vs. 14%), and underrepresented in the group that did not (3% vs. 14%).

Before the intervention

What follows is a brief sketch of events leading to the February 24 Russian intervention that prompted the UN resolution. It is a history seldom mentioned in the mainstream media, though it is easily found in selected alternative and now-suppressed media. It is presented here as a possible, partial explanation of why the UN resolution had so little support measured by population.

U.S./NATO has directed aggression toward Russia for decades, advancing NATO forces ever closer to Russia’s western border, ringing Russia with military bases, placing nuclear weapons at ever closer range, and breaching and discarding treaties meant to lessen the likelihood of nuclear war. The U.S. even let it be known, through its planning documents and policy statements, that it considered Ukraine a battlefield on which Ukrainian and Russian lives might be sacrificed in order to destabilize, decapitate and eventually dismember Russia just as it did Yugoslavia. Russia has long pointed out the existential security threat it sees in Ukrainian territory, and it has made persistent, peaceful, yet fruitless efforts over decades to resolve the problem (See Monthly Review’s excellent editors’ note).

Recent history includes the 2014 U.S.-orchestrated coup in Ukraine, followed by a war of the central government against those in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk resisting the coup government and its policies. Those policies include a ban on the Russian language, the native tongue of the region and a significant part of the country (ironically, including President Zelensky).

By the end of 2021 the war had taken 14,000 lives, four-fifths of them members of the resistance or civilian Russian speakers targeted by the government. Through years of negotiations Russia tried and failed to keep the Donetsk and Lugansk regions inside a united Ukraine. After signing the Minsk agreements that would do just that, Ukraine, under tight U.S. control, refused to comply even with step one: to talk with the rebellion’s representatives.

As to why the intervention happend now, Vyacheslav Tetekin, Central Committee member of Russia’s largest opposition party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, explains:

Starting from December, 2021 Russia had been receiving information about NATO’s plans to deploy troops and missile bases in Ukraine. Simultaneously an onslaught on the Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republics (LPR) was being prepared. About a week before the start of Russia’s operation the plan was uncovered of an offensive that envisaged strikes by long-range artillery, multiple rocket launchers, combat aircraft, to be followed by an invasion of Ukrainian troops and Nazi battalions. It was planned to cut off Donbas from the border with Russia, encircle and besiege Donetsk, Lugansk and other cities and then carry out a sweeping “security cleanup” with imprisonment and killing of thousands of defenders of Donbas and their supporters. The plan was developed in cooperation with NATO. The invasion was scheduled to begin in early March. Russia’s action pre-empted Kiev and NATO, which enabled it to seize strategic initiative and effectively save thousands of lives in the two republics.

All this may have informed the world’s overwhelming rejection of the U.S.-backed UN resolution condemning Russia, which western media perversely considers a U.S. victory simply because the resolution passed. Never mind that it passed in a voting system where Liechtenstein’s vote carries the same weight as China’s.

The Global South also knows from bitter experience that unlike the West, neither Russia nor its close partner China habitually engage in bombings, invasions, destabilization campaigns, color revolutions, coups and assassinations against the countries and governments of the Global South. On the contrary, both countries have assisted the development and military defense of such countries, as in Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran and elsewhere.


Just as the imperial core of North America, Europe and Japan does not represent the world in their population numbers, demographics, wealth, or power, neither does the imperial core speak for the world on crucial issues of war, peace, justice, and international law. Indeed the Global South has already spoken to the Global North so many times, in so many ways, with patience, persistence and eloquence, to little avail. Since we in the North have not been able to hear the words, perhaps we can listen to the cry of the numbers.


  1.  The resolution “Deplores in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the Charter.” (Article 2 (4) reads: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”) The resolution also “[d]eplores the 21 February 2022 decision by the Russian Federation related to the status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter.” Beyond Russia, the resolution “[d]eplores the involvement of Belarus in this unlawful use of force against Ukraine, and calls upon it to abide by its international obligations.”
  2.  The population of countries voting for the UN resolution is 3,289,310,000. The population of countries voting against the resolution, abstaining, or not voting is 4,644,694,000 (Against: 202,209,000; abstaining: 4,140,546,000; not voting: 301,939,000).
  3.  Here are the countries that did not vote for the resolution, with their GDP per capita rankings (the higher the GDP the higher the rank). 5 countries voted against the resolution: Russia 68, Belarus 97, North Korea 154, Eritrea 178, Syria 147. 35 countries abstained: Algeria 119, Angola 128, Armenia 115, Bangladesh 155, Bolivia 126, Burundi 197, Central African Republic 193, China 76, Congo 143, Cuba 82, El Salvador 121, Equatorial Guinea 73, India 150, Iran 105, Iraq 103, Kazakhstan 75, Kyrgyzstan 166, Laos 140, Madagascar 190, Mali 174, Mongolia 118, Mozambique 192, Namibia 102, Nicaragua 148, Pakistan 162, Senegal 160, South Africa 95, South Sudan 168, Sri Lanka 120, Sudan 171, Tajikistan 177, Tanzania 169, Uganda 187, Vietnam 138, Zimbabwe 144. 12 countries did not vote: Azerbaijan 110, Burkina Faso 184, Cameroon 158, Eswatini 117, Ethiopia 170, Guinea 175, Guinea-Bissau 179, Morocco 130, Togo 185, Turkmenistan 92, Uzbekistan 159, Venezuela 58.

Originally published: Orinoco Tribune, March 23, 2022,