The Price of War

‘I can’t breathe’ stands out from the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s death. It screams from the streets of Aleppo after two weeks of chlorine bombs. It resonates in the basements of Mariupol after a month of food and water sucking siege.

For our class in war, on and off the battlefield, that cost is counted in blood, bone and tears. In Ukraine, the most conservative estimates count the dead at around 20,000 – 50,000 in Mariupol alone according to the UN. Other casualties will be many times higher.

For those in power these are just numbers. As Stalin put it “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic’. What the rich care about is the money, and that cost is also becoming mind boggling.

$65 billion to date is the estimate of the reconstruction cost of Ukraine so far. This does not include the damage to the Donbass or the last 8 years of attritional conflict. Neither does it include the cost of munitions so far discharged by both sides. The Ukrainian anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles alone range from $12,000-$100,000 each, their respective targets around 500 times that. Add to this rocketing commodity prices and the NATO mobilisation and change from $100 billion would be hard to find after the first month of this new conflict.

In context, that’s 25% of the UK’s COVID response over two years or the cost of fixing social care for a decade. It’s not going to finish anytime soon and the cost, alongside the human misery, is only set to rise.

For the rich this is a brinkmanship gamble with their eye on the prize. Resource acquisition – the world’s bread basket; replacement arms deals, the political power of a new Cold War and lucrative reconstruction contracts with the influence that will buy. Snatch and grab hasn’t worked for Russia and China and the West are laying their tables for a feast.

As for the loss of ‘variable capital’, that’s us, the working class, there’s plenty more where we came from – they are also betting on numbers.

Despite the cost of dying being so much higher than the cost of living, the potential dividends and rewards mean that we will continue to be kept poor and used as gaming chips in their brinkmanship.

For this privilege we will be asked to pay more in taxes and inflation. We too need to gamble on numbers. They are right! There are so many more where we come from and we have a power yet to be realised. We have glimpses of this power every day we struggle and we see it bubble and erupt in the fight against austerity, the resistance to war, at the ports against P&O. It has been parallel to their power since capitalism began its exploitation of our labour. As the poet Shelley exhorted angrily in the Masque of Anarchy following the Peterloo massacre of Lancashire workers:

“Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.”