U.S. Corporations Profit from War in Europe

by Jacob Bilsky

As Russia continues its brutal invasion of Ukraine and workers across Europe face both cost of living and energy crises, U.S. weapons and oil corporations rake in massive profits.

Reports in early 2022 indicated rebounding profits for U.S. weapons manufacturers, despite losses caused by supply chain disruptions and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Breaking Defense reported a “rebound back to $50 billion” in arms sales from the U.S. to other governments in 2022, up from $35 billion in 2021. After the global top 100 “defense” companies saw an overall 8% increase in revenue in 2021, capitalist arms dealers will likely report enormous profits in 2022 due to increased demand for weapons amid a new era of conflict.

To fuel the military industries’ profits, the U.S. government poured $8.6 billion taxpayer dollars into weapons aid packages for Ukraine in the first 11 months of 2022. In December, the U.S. government approved a further $2 billion in military aid for Ukraine, including Patriot air defense systems. Biden and Congress ended the year by approving an $816.7 billion budget for the Department of Defense in 2023 despite the Pentagon failing its fifth consecutive audit in November (61% of assets were not accounted for).

U.S. corporations also took advantage of Russia cutting gas supplies to Europe. They more than doubled gas exports to Europe, overcharging for fuel and price gouging workers at risk of freezing in winter. As a result, oil companies saw profits rise by about 68% per barrel in 2022.

In Europe, U.S. companies profiting from Russia’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine have drawn criticism from workers and caused cracks to develop in Western capitalist unity. In late November, Politico reported numerous EU diplomats and leaders expressing concerns over the high costs of imported American gas and weapons. In addition, European officials denounced a series of U.S. subsidies for industry, included in the Inflation Reduction Act, which have begun to attract European factories to the U.S.

U.S. companies aren’t alone in exploiting the crisis in Europe. In Britain, heating companies continue to raise gas prices despite sourcing their fuel from the North Sea, not Russia. Conservative government officials in Britain have attempted to portray workers and unions—National Health Service (NHS) nurses and Railroad Maritime and Transit workers—striking in response to the cost of living crisis as “striking to help Putin”.

In Italy, unions and social organizations also protested their government taking advantage of the crisis to justify war profiteering and cuts to public services. Despite being constitutionally forbidden from participating in wars, the Italian government allows its companies to profit from arms sales and pocket the money while workers in the country suffer from skyrocketing living costs.

Workers across the world have nothing to gain by supporting an economic system where the wealthy declare wars and profit from them while the working class pays the price in taxes, inflated prices, and, worst of all, lives. The working class must oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In particular, working-class Russians are in a position to undermine Putin’s imperialist war by refusing to fight and by organizing against the war effort in their workplaces and communities. 

Opposing imperialist war also means we should not support “our own” capitalist class or its allies when they use “opposing an unjust invasion” to advance their own interests. As workers in the United States, an imperialist superpower that carried out bloody occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we cannot support the military-industrial complex. If we want to end imperialist warmongering and war profiteering, we must demand the arms industry be taken under democratic public ownership by working people. The massive resources spent on war, put under the control of a democratic workers’ government, could instead be used for social spending.

Workers, youth, and unions can mobilize in the streets and workplaces to force the U.S. government to withdraw troops from imperialist interventions. The working class, rather than the capitalists and their politicians, need to decide how to distribute arms and to whom, how to defend the working class, and how to resolve national and ethnic conflicts without bloodshed, on a basis that guarantees economic, democratic, and cultural rights to all people. 

There is no path to lasting peace under capitalism. As capitalism’s economic, climate, and political crises continue to sharpen, imperialist wars will increase. The capitalist class profits from wars they make the working class pay for with our lives. To end capitalist war and crisis, workers, youth, and unions must demand an end to inter-imperialist competition and build a mass movement against war and for international socialist cooperation. 

Image credit: UNDP Ukraine via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0