US-China trade war globalisation in retreat

On 14 May, the US Biden administration announced a volley of extreme tariff hikes on Chinese imports: quadrupling tariffs on electric vehicles (EVs) to over 100%; and doubling those on semiconductors to 50%. There are planned tariff increases on other imports including critical minerals, solar cells, steel and aluminium. The protectionist measures are a significant escalation of the US’s attempts to hold down the development of China’s advanced manufacturing industry. In FRFI 266 we wrote, ‘any rupture in US-China trade relations will have profound consequences… In the context of the global capitalist crisis, where competition for adequately profitable outlets for investment increases, a clash between a rising China and the dominant, but relatively declining, US became inevitable.’1 This fragmenting of the global economy is a symptom of the world capitalist crisis, which is forcing capital to retreat behind national borders; it signals a future of prolonged inflation, recession, rising nationalism and the threat of a new world war. Will Jones reports.

 

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Ukraine NATO provocation risks deadlier conflict

The NATO proxy war with Russia in Ukraine has entered its third year. The Ukrainian counter-offensive, which began in June 2023, has ended in failure. Despite the enormous financial and military support provided by Ukraine’s Western imperialist backers, acute manpower shortages, compounded by massive troop losses and ammunition scarcity, are eroding Ukraine’s defences. The war is still in a stalemate, but Russia is now advancing after months of sitting behind well-entrenched positions. Despite wide-reaching sanctions imposed by the Western imperialists, Russia is economically and militarily well positioned for the continuation of the war. These objective developments are accelerating divisions amongst Ukraine’s imperialist backers in the US, European Union, and Britain on how to continue the conflict. They remain consistent, however, on constant escalation and provocation against the challenge Russia provides to Western imperialist hegemony. George O'Connell reports.

 

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Imperialist plans for Haiti in tatters

The poorest sections of the Haitian people are now clearly in open organised revolt against imperialism. Armed groups have seized most of Port-au-Prince, and many areas outside the capital are also beyond the control of an impotent central government. Just as the Haitian slave revolt of 1791, the country’s subsequent independence from France and the banning of slavery in 1804, sent shockwaves through slave-owning states, so the emergence now of powerful armed groups channelling popular anti-imperialist sentiment has pushed the leading imperialist powers into renewed and panicked plans for intervention.

 

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Working class bears brunt of capitalist crisis

Government figures show that almost a fifth of adults in Britain are now living in absolute poverty, as are 25% of all children – representing the fastest rise in child poverty in this country since records began 30 years ago. These are the bitter fruits of 14 years of austerity: in the face of spiralling national debt, stagnant growth and falling productivity the ruling class has desperately tried to boost the flagging rate of profit on the back of the working class. According to the Resolution Foundation, GDP per capita fell by 0.7% across 2023 and has not grown since the first quarter of 2022 – the longest run of stagnation and falls in living standards since 1955. The impact has been devastating, and the screw is set to tighten further. Cat Wiener reports.

Poverty and benefits

Absolute poverty is calculated as having an income worth less than 60% of median income in 2011, after adjusting for inflation and excluding housing costs. It means deep, material deprivation where increasing numbers of people are unable to consistently put food on the table, rely on food banks and on at least one day each month go without food altogether. It means not being able to pay for heating, afford warm clothes, buy basic toiletries. It is subsistence at a level described in November 2023 by the UN Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter as being ‘in violation of international law’.

The Social Metrics Commission, which uses its own, slightly different measure, calculates that of the 14.9 million people in Britain it judges to be living in poverty:

  • 4.9 million are children, 8.5 million are adults of working age and 1.5 million are pensioners.
  • Poverty is particularly prevalent in households that include someone with a disability.
  • The majority of people living in poverty (61%) live in a family where someone works at least part-time. 
  • Poverty rates are twice as high among black and minority ethnic households as in the white population.

The NCD Risk Factor Collaboration, which studies relative height in populations, says children in Britain are lagging behind their European peers, with five-year-olds now on average between 2cm and 7cm shorter than those in Germany, Bulgaria, Spain, France and the Netherlands. Doctors blame malnutrition as a direct result of austerity measures. The single biggest drivers of child poverty are the cap on overall benefits and the utterly pernicious ‘two-child policy’. As it prepares to take over the reins of power in the interests of the ruling class, Labour has made it clear that it would keep these policies in place.

Britain is one of only four countries to see a decline in the value of welfare benefits over the last 40 years, making them among the lowest of any developed nation. In 2023, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation calculated the amount of money needed for a basic existence was £120 per week for a single adult and £200 for a couple: the Universal Credit standard allowance figures are £85 and £134 respectively. But, for the ruling class, the £26bn spent annually on the welfare budget is simply surplus value squandered, and a raft of harsher measures to drive more people into work were laid out in November by Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride. Playing to the most reactionary prejudices of the electorate, he stated that ‘anyone choosing to coast on the hard work of taxpayers will lose their benefits’. Marching in lockstep, shadow work and pensions minister Liz Kendall has made it clear that ‘no one will have the option of a life on benefits’ under a Labour government. The plans, due to be implemented in 2025, will see tougher ‘fit-for-work’ tests, with the long-term sick forced into work, from home if necessary, and claimants sanctioned on the say-so of any Jobcentre ‘work coach’ who decides they’re not making enough ‘effort’ to find work. While the Office for Budgetary Responsibility calculates that these draconian measures could see 50,000 people return to the labour market over the next five years, it is likely to add just 0.04% to GDP because ‘entrants are likely to join on lower than average hours and earnings’ – ie, poverty pay. Those unemployed for more than 18 months will be forced into the unpaid labour of ‘work experience placements’. Benefit sanctions – often imposed on the flimsiest of pretexts – have already been tightened in the last year.

As the NHS is destroyed piecemeal by the ruling class, limiting access to universal health care provision, more and more working class people are rendered unable to work through ill-health and disability. According to the Resolution Foundation, adults economically inactive due to ill-health rose from 2.1m in July 2019 to a peak of 2.8m in October 2023 – the longest sustained rise since 1994-1998, when records began. People are getting sicker (mental health problems and heart disease are two of the major causes of disability claims) and dying younger, with life expectancy having fallen to 2010 levels, the first drop since 1980. But under capitalism, this is no reason why they should be spared the treadmill.

Rising homelessness

Meanwhile, the chronic shortage of council homes sees more and more households struggling to pay unaffordable rents in the private sector, and soaring levels of homelessness. Private rents have in the last year risen at their fastest rate since records began. Yet only 8,386 social homes were built in England in 2022-2023, while local councils accepted 52,800 households as homeless or in danger of becoming homeless in that period. There are now 109,000 households including 142,490 children in temporary accommodation. Research seen by The Guardian shows that a whole generation of children is growing up in temporary accommodation, with severe developmental impacts: ‘Social workers have reported finding that some young children brought up in such conditions have had to learn to walk on a bed, as their ¬conditions were so cramped. Children have been found to be missing other key developmental stages – such as crawling – because of a lack of space’ (The Guardian, 9 March, 2024). 55 children – most of them babies aged under one – have died as a result of poor housing since 2019.

Meanwhile, cost-of-living payments, including the £500m Household Support Fund, which helped families with food and utility bills, have ended. Social rents will rise in April by 7.7%. By every metric, the picture is grim and getting worse.

Fight for socialism

These measures are not the result of choice by one particularly vicious and reactionary party, but the inescapable logic of a capitalist system that must accumulate to survive. The only way the ruling class can resolve its crisis of profitability is by bearing down harder and harder on the working class, further cutting public services and benefits and forcing workers to accept poverty wages and unregulated, casualised and precarious jobs. A Labour government will be subject to exactly the same dictates. A movement that fights for the working class can have no truck with any of them. Such a movement will fight for a system based on the needs of the majority and not the profits of the few – that is, socialism.


FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 299 April/May 2024

 

British economy running on empty

In his Spring Budget Chancellor Jeremy Hunt chose to bribe, as best he could, the enormous number of discontented voters threatening to get rid of the government in this year’s general election. His room for manoeuvre is restricted by a stagnant economy, large state debts, and deficits in Britain’s foreign trade account and its negative long-term international capital movements. Growth in the domestic product (GDP) has been near zero since early 2022 with little margin for electoral giveaways. The question for the Chancellor was how to win back votes. So, against all institutional advice, in a political ruse, he announced further cuts to National Insurance Contributions (NICs) on top of those announced in November.

 

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Birmingham’s bankrupt budget

After declaring bankruptcy in September 2023, Labour-run Birmingham City Council (BCC) has been under direction from eight commissioners appointed by Conservative Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove, some getting paid more than £1,000 a day. They have formulated a budget that will balance the books by squeezing the working class even harder. To ‘save’ £300m, BCC is: cutting £24m from adult social care; cutting £19m from children’s social care; dimming street lights; reducing bin collections; and scrapping nearly all arts funding. It is also raising council tax by 10% (up from a 3% increase last year). BCC also plans to sell off £750m of public infrastructure, including schools and housing, through a capitalisation programme.

 

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Afghanistan and Syria: More British war crimes revealed

The public inquiry into the killing of 80 civilians by British SAS units in Afghanistan is ongoing at the Royal Court of Justice. The inquiry was launched last year and has already heard about several incidents of extrajudicial shootings of civilians in the Helmand province between 2010 and 2013, as well as efforts to cover these up by those in the senior ranks of the special forces. The repeated failures of the Ministry of Defence to investigate such crimes came to light when Johnny Mercer, the Minister of State for Veterans Affairs, gave evidence at the inquiry in February and March.

 

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Frank Kitson: a servant of bloody imperialism

General Sir Frank Edward Kitson died on 2 January 2024, aged 97, after a long and illustrious career as a dedicated servant of British imperialism. In addition to the litany of his war crimes, he will be remembered for authoring the text book Low Intensity Operations – Subversion, Insurgency and Peace-keeping (1971), a manual for dealing with subversive and recalcitrant populations, both at home and abroad. Kitson’s work continues to form a central plank of British strategy for policing dissent.

 

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John Pilger 1939-2023 ‘We are all Spartacus’

The highly principled and courageous investigative journalist and film maker John Pilger, who died on 30 December at the age of 84, spent his life fighting for justice. Through more than 60 documentaries, a dozen books and hundreds of articles in newspapers he chronicled and exposed both the crimes of imperialism and the complicity of a mainstream press that covered them up.

 

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Lenin on imperialism and the split in socialism

January 2024 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik leader, guide of the Russian Revolution and architect of the Soviet state. Lenin’s life and work left an indelible impact on world history. His groundbreaking theories of how imperialism had created a material basis for the split between the revolutionary and reformist wings of the socialist movement are foundational to the politics and practice of the RCG.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 140, December 1997/January 1998
From 21-23 October 1997, at the invitation of the Communist Party of Cuba, the Revolutionary Communist Group attended a conference in Havana to pay homage to Che Guevara: Socialism in the 21st Century. More than 200 delegates from 97 organisations participated in three commissions: ‘The reality of contemporary socialism’, ‘The validity of Marxist-Leninist thought’ and ‘Imperialism at the end of the century’. DAVID YAFFE presented the RCG’s paper ‘Lenin’s Imperialism and the split in the working class - its relevance for rebuilding the socialist movement in imperialist countries today’ in the commission on Marxist-Leninist thought. It is reprinted below.

 

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British war crimes in Afghanistan

Apublic inquiry into unlawful killings carried out by three British SAS units in Afghanistan opened at the Royal Courts of Justice in London in October. It comes after lengthy legal proceedings on behalf of two Afghan families – the Saifullahs and the Noorzais – to challenge the failure of the Ministry of Defence to investigate the cold-blooded executions of their family members during night raids, as well as claims that both the SAS and the government covered up extrajudicial killings.

 

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France departs Niger – for now

Following July’s successful coup against the French puppet president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, French imperialist troops have begun to leave the country. However, the imperialist tussle continues with the US remaining, and Germany moving in. French President Macron announced the French withdrawal on 24 September 2023 after weeks of stubbornly refusing to accede to the demands of the new government and thousands of daily protesters. France has denied it is ‘in decline’ or ‘being driven out of Africa’, with foreign trade minister Olivier Becht, rightly pointing out that ‘France’s influence today, like that of many other powers, goes through the economy.’

 

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Imperialist intervention in Africa

France maintains hundreds of troops in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad and Gabon and smaller numbers in its other former colonies. The bogus justification is always ‘countering the growing threat from extremist/terrorist/jihadist groups’. In reality the Sahel region’s strategic value is not only its location between the massive oil and gas fields of North and West Africa but also its rich gold and uranium reserves. In 2021, the US had 29 military bases in 15 different African countries or territories, mostly in the Sahelian states in West Africa, as well as the Horn of Africa in the east. In 2008, Robert Moeller, director of the FBI and US Africa Command (AFRICOM) admitted that ‘protecting the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market is one of AFRICOM’s guiding principles’. France is also determined to defend its interests in Africa.

 

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French imperialism in West Africa

The Berlin Conference of 1885 divided Africa among major European powers. France was ‘given’ large parts of West Africa: countries now known as Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Benin, Guinea, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire and Niger. This constituted a second phase of colonial expansion (the first comprising essentially the slave trade), which started with the colonisation of Algeria in the 1830s. While the West African colonies have been nominally independent since the 1960s, they have remained politically and economically subject to French interests.

 

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Niger Coup: French imperialism in crisis

West African Coups: French imperialism gets a bloody nose

Backed by broad sectors of the populations, a string of military coups against governments in former French colonies has demonstrated the rising strength of anti-imperialist sentiment directed at France. There is immense popular pressure to resolve the endemic corruption, violence and poverty created by imperialism. Displays of unity by US and European states in condemning the coup plotters, and threats of military intervention by the imperialist-backed ECOWAS bloc of African states, disguise deepening rivalry especially between the US and France. Competition to secure this strategically vital and resource-rich region is opening a new front in the global confrontation between imperialist powers. FRFI calls for imperialist troops and multinational corporations to get out of Africa and for the abolition of unpayable debt.


Niger Coup: French imperialism in crisis

On 26 July, Niger’s elected president and puppet of French imperialism, Mohamed Bazoum, was overthrown by his own presidential guard. He was detained in the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger’s capital city. After a brief standoff, the military fell in line, and Bazoum was officially removed from power. The National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) was formed as the ruling military junta. General Abdourahamane Tchiani declared himself president. The imperialist backlash was swift, yet as we go to press, popular and regional support for the coup government has forced Niger’s former colonial ruler France to announce it will withdraw its troops from the country. KOTSAI SIGAUKE reports.

 

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BRICS: global alliances shift as crisis deepens

The world is facing a debt crisis. Global debt to GDP ratio has risen to 336%. In 2022, 25 nations had to pay out one-fifth of their total income to debt servicing. 39 countries, a quarter of the world’s population, live under crushing US sanctions. Food and fuel prices soar whilst 735 million people suffer from chronic hunger. Everywhere new state alliances are being created and old coalitions are fragmenting under the pressure. Countries on all continents are jostling to protect their interests, reflecting growing inter-imperialist rivalries, battling for the world and its resources to be redivided.

 

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The tide of inflation

Supermarket prices in Britain surged by an alarming average of 25% over the last two years. Overall, the rise in food prices for the 12 months to May 2023 was a staggering 16.4%, the highest level on record. Large corporations are amassing colossal profits at the expense of the working class, who are being forced to allocate a growing portion of their wages to absolute essentials. Now more than 57% of British workers grapple with food insecurity, exposing the raw truth of capitalist exploitation. Bruno Antonio reports.

 

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Birmingham’s bankrupt council

On 5 September, Birmingham City Council (BCC) became the fifth – and largest – local authority in England to issue a section 114 notice, effectively declaring itself bankrupt. Like Croydon, Slough, Thurrock and Woking it will stop spending on anything but statutory services such as children’s services and social care. This situation is ultimately the result of the total capitulation of Birmingham’s Labour council to the pressures of austerity. Its failure to fight back at any point has come home to roost, as it is exposed as not just fiscally but also politically and morally bankrupt.

 

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Tory chaos on the road to nowhere

War in Ukraine at stalemate, inflation still at 7%, growth barely above recession levels, soaring NHS waiting lists; what better time for the government to focus on the issues that really matter to the public – 20mph speed limits, the pernicious expansion of bus lanes, not to mention the terrifying threat of more ultra-low emission zones? Time for action, and Rishi Sunak is there at the Tory Party conference to defend hard-pressed motorists against the wokerati, the blob and communism. True, his 34 pre-conference radio interviews were a bit of a disaster: having himself initiated speculation about the possible cancellation of the HS2 extension to Manchester, he ducked answering a direct question on the subject no less than 12 times in one day. This is the prime minister who boasts of facing the tough questions, of making the long-term difficult decisions. Except those on HS2. And those on climate change.

 

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Throwing fuel on the flames of Britain’s housing crisis

The escalating housing crisis reflects the determination of the British ruling class to make the working class pay for the wider crisis of the capitalist system. The policy of tackling inflation by raising interest rates – with seismic repercussions in the housing sector – is deliberately aimed at reducing ‘disposable income’, ie slashing the living standards of the working class. If soaring rents and mortgages mean sections of the working class can no longer afford to buy essentials like food and clothing, well, that’s simply not capitalism’s problem. As the Bank of England wrote in June, announcing its 13th consecutive hike to the base interest rate since December 2021:

 

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Fight back or starve

British capitalism is in the throes of a deep economic crisis. To sustain an adequate rate of profit on investments, capitalism must force down wages. Benefit levels are being cut to the bone to force claimants into poverty-pay work just to survive. State benefit levels are now so low that recipients are unable to afford regular meals for themselves and their children. The state however relies on the working class to seek out means of survival, and a whole system of privatised charity has now arisen to meet their mounting needs, in particular foodbanks. Charities such as the Trussell Trust now function as a necessary adjunct to the state benefit system, allowing the state to calculate that however much it cuts benefits levels, charitable foodbanks will ensure that no one starves. Regardless of their intent, therefore, foodbank providers have become an essential element of the system pauperising increasing sections of the working class. Foodbanks let the government and the state off the hook for providing decent conditions for those requiring benefits. They exist because the Labour Party and the trade unions do not have the intention of fighting for the needs of the working class as a whole. MARK MONCADA reports.

 

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Taiwan: pawn of US imperialism

On 26 March Honduras switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to the People’s Republic China (PRC). This leaves just 13 nations in the world formally recognising Taiwan. Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-Wen visited Guatemala and Belize, two remaining Central American allies, in March and April, making two hugely provocative unofficial stops in the United States. This is an expression of the increasing polarisation of the world into competing blocs, catalysed by US imperialism’s mobilisation towards conflict over Taiwan with China, which it views as the greatest threat to its hegemony.

 

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Ukraine - Imperialist Stalemate

Western imperialism’s military stalemate in Ukraine is continuing as the long-mooted Spring counter-offensive by Kiev has yet to take place. No major counter-offensive against the well-consolidated Russian forces is now expected to take place until the summer months in an ongoing war that is beginning to expose fractures within the NATO alliance. BOB SHEPHERD reports.

 

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BRICS challenge dollar dominance

Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, leftl, with Chinese president Xi Jinping

Slowly but surely, the castles and cathedrals of the ‘almighty dollar’ are beginning to crumble. The share of the US dollar in global currency reserves has dropped from 73% in 2001 to 47% in 2022. This erosion of the dollar is accelerating, with last year’s drop of 8% indicating a ten-fold increase on the average annual pace. A mixture of denial and paranoia grips imperialist financial centres as the BRICS alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa attempt to organise themselves into a capitalist bloc to challenge the dollar’s hegemony. SAM McGILL reports.

 

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Canadian imperialism at home and abroad

Contrary to Canada’s supposed reputation for being a promoter of human rights and environmental protection, Canadian capital’s willingness to trample on both nature and indigenous rights is as ruthless as that of any imperialist power. Canadian mining and oil companies have been engaged in constant attacks on the environment and indigenous protesters in their relentless pursuit of profit, both within Canada and globally.

 

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Imperialism mobilising for war

In 2022 global military spending surpassed $2 trillion for the first time in history. Per GDP military spending of the imperialist nations looks to soon overtake pre-2008 levels. The severity of the capitalist crisis is leading to a rapid intensification of inter-imperialist rivalry. Imperialism is making the necessary preparations for the coming conflicts. GEORGE O’CONNELL reports.

 

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Budget: papering over the crisis

The Tory government staggers on, its MPs deeply divided over Brexit and the Irish protocol, taxation levels, relations with China, membership of the European Court of Human Rights, the future of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, bullying allegations against Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and ministerial bullying in general. Above all, the government has failed to find any solution to the deep crisis of British capitalism. Annual growth rates since the accession of the ConDem coalition in 2010 remain less than half those prior to the 2008 financial crisis. Narrowly avoiding recession in 2023 was presented almost as a triumph for government policy when Chancellor Jeremy Hunt presented the Budget on 15 March. ROBERT CLOUGH reports.

 

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Britain’s childcare crisis deepens

Pregnant then Screwed marching against the childcare crisis

Britain has the second most expensive childcare system in the world and the second lowest investment into childcare in the OECD. With the ever-growing costs, privatisation, and slashing of state support, parents face impossible decisions and increasing numbers of women are being forced to stay at home to look after children.

 

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Organise against poverty and hunger

More than a fifth of Britain’s population are living under the poverty line. In November, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty warned the government that its renewed attack on the living standards of the poor was so severe it could constitute a breach of Britain’s human rights obligations. Olivier de Schutter told Rishi Sunak that the measures would increase hunger and malnutrition, adding, ‘You do not impose austerity measures when the whole population is facing a cost-of-living crisis.’ The UN Human Rights Council listed 300 recommendations the British government needed to implement urgently to provide food security for children and prevent homelessness. Inevitably, these warnings have been contemptuously ignored as the government unleashes a brutal new offensive against the working class.

 

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People’s struggle in Sri Lanka

The whole world is looking at Sri Lanka and its people’s struggle today. It has been more than 100 days since hundreds of thousands took to the streets due to the economic crisis in the country. It faces scarcity of many essentials including fuel and cooking gas. People queue for miles and miles for days with just a hope that a fuel tanker will come to their fuel stations. People in cities are facing huge difficulties preparing food, especially without cooking gas. Inflation has skyrocketed and annual food price inflation alone reached 80% in June while the value of Sri Lanka’s currency has declined rapidly. Almost all small and medium-scale industries have come to a standstill. Hundreds of thousands of people are already starving and people are dying from lack of basic medicines. Public transportation is running at 10-15% capacity and schools have been closed for months due to transportation problems. The ruling class has no real plan to come out of this crisis other than waiting for some loans from monetary institutions such as the IMF, which is not a solution but part of the problem.

 

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Global Hunger - a crisis made by imperialism

In July, the United Nations issued a stark warning: 2022 will be a year of unprecedented hunger. The number of people facing acute food insecurity has soared from 135 million in 2019 to 345 million now. 50 million people in 45 countries face famine. Nearly a billion are living on the brink of catastrophe. This human suffering on an almost unimaginable scale reflects a crisis that has been accelerating over the past two years. It has prompted protests across the world against soaring food prices, toppling the prime minister and president of Sri Lanka and forcing Ecuador’s right-wing president to the negotiating table. The last major food crisis in 2008 saw riots in more than 40 countries. It is only a fear of working class anger and desperation tipping over into mass resistance that has forced the issue onto the imperialist agenda, with International Monetary Fund head Kristalina Georgieva warning ‘history has shown that hunger often triggers social unrest and violence’.

 

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