Storm Season:

Capitalism-Imperialism—A System That Never Met a Disaster That It Could Not Make WORSE

September 16, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


Hurricanes—as well as earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and droughts—are part of the planet we live on.

In earlier stages of human society, people were largely at the mercy of natural disaster. Those societies did not have the scientific knowledge to understand what caused, or to predict, these disasters, nor the technological capacity to respond, and were pretty much left with praying to imaginary gods for salvation.

Capitalism-imperialism, by contrast, has developed science, built up technological capacity, and amassed powerful productive forces and great wealth (much of it on the basis of the oppression and plunder of Caribbean nations) that could potentially be wielded—in a socialist society—to minimize the destructive impact of natural disasters, and to rapidly alleviate and repair the suffering and destruction that does happen.

But the underlying dynamics of capitalism—a system which rests ultimately on the dog-eat-dog competition between different units and groupings of capital, and between different capitalist countries, to accumulate profit—not only mean that profit will always be prioritized over human needs, but also that these powerful productive forces will in many ways be wielded in such a way as to actually worsen natural disasters and their impact on humanity.

All of this stood out starkly—and at great human cost—in the crisis around Hurricane Irma (as it did with Hurricane Harvey.) Here are some examples:

One. YES, Global Warming IS Making These Storms Worse

As a result of global warming which is caused mainly by the extensive and reckless use of fossil fuels in capitalist production, military activity, etc., releasing massive amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere the oceans are getting measurably warmer. Warm water is the fuel for hurricanes, which is why they form in the tropics. And the warmer the water a storm forms and moves over, the bigger and stronger it will be.

So NO, it is not a fucking “coincidence” that Texas had a “once-in-500-year” flood one year, and the next year a “once-in-a-1,000-year” hurricane which brought the largest rainfall in U.S. history. Or that this was followed by Irma as a Category 5 storm ravaging the Caribbean for days, and then its unprecedented landfall in the U.S. as a Category 4 storm that itself broke records for being the largest, and having the longest sustained high winds, of any Atlantic Basin hurricane since records began. Or that yet another Category 4 storm (Jose) formed directly behind Irma.

Global warming does not cause hurricanes, but it does cause them to be bigger and more powerful.

Scientists—including U.S. government scientists—have understood, studied, measured and warned about this for decades. But capitalism is unable to address this, because it is a system based on “profit in command”—things like concern for the health of the people and the well-being of the environment are considered “externalities” which cannot be allowed to cut into the rate of profit.

The capitalist state, while operating on the pretext of serving “the greater good of all,” primarily exists to create favorable political, military, and economic conditions—domestically and internationally—for the accumulation and the expansion of U.S. capital. And this is why it has not, cannot, and will not take measures to halt global warming if those measures undercut the profitability of U.S. capital, its “competitive position” vis-à-vis rival capitalist nations, or its military power.

So the U.S. has forged ahead, as the second largest carbon polluter on the planet, and this is going to accelerate with the Trump/Pence fascist regime, which denies global warming even exists!

Two. Driven by Profit and the Strategic Interests of Empire, Capitalism-Imperialism Literally Reshapes the World in a Way That Makes People Vulnerable to Hurricanes

In a socialist society, the government, in consultation with scientists and with the masses of people, would plan economic and social development to ensure the safety and meet the needs of the people (not just in the given country, but for humanity as a whole), in the context of “Protecting, preserving, and enhancing the ecosystems and biodiversity of the planet for current and future generation.” (New Constitution for the Future Socialist Republic in North America, p. 79.) In hurricane zones, this would mean organizing things to minimize the social and economic impact of major storms.

That is not what happens under capitalism-imperialism. Everyone knows there are hurricanes in the Caribbean, but real disaster planning to evacuate, shelter, or care for people doesn’t profit or serve capitalism—so it’s never done.

In the Caribbean islands—many of which are still, in 2017, colonies of the U.S. or European powers—economies have been organized to serve the needs of those powers. This often means that the whole economy is built around tourism. For instance, on St. Martin, 85 percent of the workforce is in tourism (meaning coastal hotels, restaurants, etc.).

This means that the bulk of development and most of the people end up living in vulnerable coastal regions, to be—predictably—devastated in major storms. So the short-term disaster of the storm creates an even more profound economic crisis, because the temporary collapse of tourism (or other service industries) also strips away the income needed to import almost all of their food and other basic necessities of life.1

In countries like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Puerto Rico, the imperialists carried out savage exploitation of desperate workers for many decades, in mines and cane fields, in pharmaceutical plants and oil fields. But now imperialist capital has to a large extent “moved on” to find even cheaper labor and more favorable conditions elsewhere, leaving behind overcrowded slums with no drainage, government debt that cripples disaster recovery, and crumbling infrastructure that cannot hold up to major storms. In the case of Puerto Rico, though only brushed by Hurricane Irma, about a million households lost electrical power, and may not get it back for months!

In the U.S., there is a different pattern, but driven by the same system—massive overbuilding on the dangerous coastal strips, where there are big profits to be made for “beachfront homes,” and massive urban sprawl, with suburbs, malls, and roads built over the wetlands, forests, and farmlands that could absorb water and minimize flooding. (See “Devastation in Texas: Nine Ways This Is a Crime of the System.”)

On top of all this, under capitalism major environmental hazards are located wherever it is most profitable, even in well-known disaster zones. (See “September 1: As People Continue to Face a Dire and Dangerous Situation, a Chemical Plant Fire Spews Out Dangerous Toxins,”

What kind of society would tolerate such insanity? A society that puts profit before the needs of humanity, every single time.

Three: A Profit-Driven Society Refuses to Put the Time and Expense Necessary into Proper Preparation, Even When the Question of a Big Storm Hitting is “When, Not If”

Think about this: every time one of these major storms comes, the authorities improvise shelters out of stadiums, schools, churches, and so on, as if “who knew that we might have a hurricane someday?” Every time a hurricane hits, there is massive chaos; people don’t know where to go, show up at shelters and find long lines or no room at all, and often the shelters themselves are not suitable to resist the storm, or to provide a decent environment for people. This is a major reason why many people don’t evacuate during a storm, in spite of the risk.

For people trying to leave the area entirely, this system does not organize transportation (buses, trains, etc.), or even make sure that there will be gas available along the route. So millions of people get caught in traffic jams, turn off their ACs to avoid running out of gas, don’t have access to adequate water, etc. During the chaotic evacuation for Hurricane Rita in 2005, 107 out of the 113 hurricane-related deaths in Texas were in the evacuation itself, mostly due to heat stroke and related causes.

Nor are there plans in place to systematically evacuate vulnerable people, nor to ensure that such locations have their own reliable generating systems, and that they are immediately visited after the storm to ensure that vital needs are being met. Efforts like this would largely prevent things like the Hollywood nursing home disaster. But none of this is even on the radar of the capitalist-imperialist system.

It is obvious that areas in Hurricane Alley2 need pre-positioned shelters and well-developed evacuation plans... that is, obvious if you look at things from the standpoint of humanity.

Four: The Oppressive Social and Class Relations Permeate the Rulers’ Response to Natural Disasters

Some people say that a hurricane is a “great equalizer” because it devastates rich and poor alike. But, without minimizing the genuine suffering of more well-off people in these storms, under this system even that equality is a myth.

This starts with who has the ability to even leave the danger zone. No car, no money for gas or to stay in a hotel? You’re probably staying where you are! Elderly or sick relatives for whom you are caring and who cannot be moved without assistance? Again, you are stuck in the danger zone.

Before Irma hit, Florida Governor Scott self-righteously declared that “we can rebuild your house ... but we can’t rebuild your family.” But the reality is that for masses of people living from paycheck to paycheck, their home, and basic possessions like clothes, cannot just be “replaced”—especially since a lot of people will be unemployed after the disaster. In fact, the loss of property under this system can mean plunging people immediately into life-threatening destitution. So poor and working class people are going to feel much more compelled to stay in their homes and try to protect their property, even at the risk of their lives.

Another grotesque example of the oppressive relations of this society was the way that the death and destruction in the Caribbean was covered in the U.S. media. Mainly, it got little coverage, especially once the storm neared Florida, even though those countries were much more vulnerable to the storm’s devastation than the U.S. And to the extent it was, it was mainly to illustrate the potential threat to the U.S. mainland.

The national chauvinist disregard for the lives of people who are not “Americans” (or even some who are—like Puerto Ricans—but are brown-skinned) was so crude that one MSNBC weatherman actually described the possibility of Irma slamming full force into Cuba as “our one sliver of hope...,” because in destroying the lives of Cuban people it would weaken Irma’s attack on Florida! On CNN, another weatherman indicated he was relieved when Hurricane Katia turned south to devastate Veracruz, Mexico.

Other sharp examples are the refusal of the Border Patrol in Texas to suspend its hunt for undocumented people, even knowing this might prevent immigrants from seeking safe shelter, and the decision of a Florida sheriff to ID all people coming to shelters and send those with outstanding warrants to jail.

This system cannot stop oppressing and degrading the masses of people even in the midst of a humanitarian crisis!

Five: The Anti-Science Outlook of the Fascist Regime Makes People More Vulnerable to the Next Crisis.

And in the face of this wave of devastating storms, the Trump/Pence fascist regime and their ilk will not stop attacking science. In the midst of the storm, EPA head Scott Pruitt (who has been busily dismantling EPA regulations aimed at slowing the pace of global warming) told CNN that to discuss the link between global warming and worsening storms “at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida.” And in fact, by and large the media took the cue and did not discuss this.

Trump of course pulled out of the “job-killing” Paris climate accords, took down the White House webpage dealing with global warming, is slashing regulations that restrict carbon emissions and other pollution, and, incredibly, has proposed to slash funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations’ storm forecasting and storm prediction program. So, not content with spreading lies and ignorance about the reality of global warming, and with eliminating any regulations that might slow global warming down, the regime is actually slashing the ability of scientists to predict and track these devastating storms that are fostered by global warming!

All of these things—and much more that we do not have time to get into here—point to the fact that from this angle too (in addition to all the other crimes and horrors of this system) capitalism-imperialism is a chain around the neck of humanity, threatening to drag our whole species into an abyss of destruction, and that revolution to overthrow and replace this system with one grounded in the interests of humanity and a scientific approach to understanding and changing the world—a communist revolution—is urgently needed.


1. Because many of these islands are quite small, even under socialism it would not be possible for each one to be relatively self-sufficient. But it would be possible for the people of the Caribbean region to develop overall planning such that most basic needs could be met from within that region, rather than the current situation where they are dependent of imports from countries thousands of miles—and many days—away. [back]

2. Hurricane Alley, an area of warm water in the Atlantic, stretches from the west coast of northern Africa to the east coast of Central America and Gulf Coast of the U.S. South. [back]




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