“If the world had the same per capita death toll as Trump/Biden and Johnson, then there would already be fifteen million dead.”
Diane Abbott MP was speaking at the Arise Festival Rally: “Fight the Tories – for Socialism, not Barbarism,” you can read a version of her speech below or watch the her contribution in full.
The slogan “Socialism or Barbarism” dates back at least as far and the First World War.
When the First World War broke out, the overwhelming majority of the leaders of the labour movement across Europe were thrown into disarray. They all knew the War was coming. Ministers from what became the belligerent countries were threatening war for years.
Parties and trade unions in almost every country had passed resolutions, produced manifestoes and solemnly pledged that they would oppose the coming war. Hardly any of them did.
Instead, it was generally left to a few brave souls, who have gone down in history for their heroic role in opposing the war. One of them was Rosa Luxembourg, who coined the phrase. The rest of the official leadership of the labour movement supported the slaughter. Everyone else’s army was bloodthirsty and rapacious, every other country’s policy based on annexation and empire-building except their own.
They argued for better equipment, better pay, less terrible food even while soldiers were being slaughtered in their millions and whole countries being devastated. Put another way, they were pretending to defend the workers on secondary issues – they weren’t even very successful at that – but failed to defend them on the most important issue – the war itself.
Meanwhile, big business profited hugely, especially the arms manufacturers. They had an enormous bonanza. Some of the socialist leaders even quietly complained about excess profits. But you can’t vote for war budgets and then complain that arms manufacturers are having a bonanza.
So much for history.
If any of this sounds familiar, it should. We need to guard all proportions. The full death toll from the First World War was in the end was tens of millions. And sickness, maiming, the so-called ‘Spanish flu’ for millions more.
This is not the same as the death toll from the current pandemic. The Robert Schumann Institute estimates that after four years the death toll was twenty millions. Others put the total at twenty-three million dead.
Currently, eighteen months into the pandemic the official estimate is over four and a half million dead.
This carnage would have been worse if the world had been following the US and British example. If the world had the same per capita death toll as Trump/Biden and Johnson, then there would already be fifteen million dead.
The Economist magazine, using excess death tolls, already puts it closer to eighteen million. And of course, the pandemic isn’t over.
At the same time, the US is campaigning for other countries to drop their successful Zero Covid policies, and may have some success with Australia. Meanwhile the G7, led by this country and Germany are denying access to vaccines for the world’s poorest countries to boost the profits of Big Pharma. Does that sound familiar?
And this is not the only existential threat we face, it may not even be the most fatal. The issue of climate change is an existential one, and the G7 are barely attempting to tackle their responsibility for it.
There is also the threat of war. Some people seem to believe the US is becoming isolationist. But this is the biggest US military budget ever and Joe Biden explicitly said he was withdrawing from Afghanistan to focus on real rivals, Russia and China. What is the British government’s contribution to peace making in this case? To send an aircraft carrier group to the South China Sea.