By Jakob Stein
On Monday, the ship Ever Given was finally dislodged after being stuck in the Suez Canal for six days, completely stopping transit through the waterway which accounts for 12% of global shipping. The calamity experienced over the past week in the canal has revealed the fault lines of imperialist trade as well as the precariousness of the imperialist system as a whole.
The Suez Canal runs through the isthmus of Suez in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, and serves as a vital link between manufacturing in Asia and lucrative markets in Europe. It took a decade to create, from 1859 and 1869, and its construction was spearheaded by the Suez Canal Company, owned by the Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps—its construction resulted in an estimated 120,000 deaths of laborers. Although it has since been nationalized by the Egyptian government, those who run it still serve as lackeys of imperialism, mainly US, and it is mainly the imperialists who benefit from its use.
The Ever Given itself is owned by the Japanese company Shoei Kisen Kaisha and operated through lease by the Taiwanese shipping company Evergreen Marine—it flies the Panamanian flag and consists of mainly Indian crew with German managers. What is clear from this convoluted web of relationships is that it is the imperialists who own the most valuable assets and cheap workers from poor countries who actually provide the labor, and that the flags that the ships fly are generally ‘flags of convenience,’ meaning they belong to foreign nations with lax laws and loose regulations.
The six-day logjam resulted in over 350 idling ships waiting to cross the canal and an estimated $90 million in lost toll revenue for the nearly week-long shutdown. This cost does not include the numerous other problems the shutdown caused for the shipping companies, manufacturers, and buyers, including nearly $10 billion worth of cargo per day delayed by the blockage, as well as an amount yet to be determined in insurance claims.
While everyone involved is pointing the blame in the other direction to avoid paying for all this, only one thing is for sure—the imperialist system, which necessitates the export of capital to the sources of raw materials and cheap labor, is extremely vulnerable to calamity. The need to ship products across the world, especially those that can be manufactured in customers’ home countries, not only wastes untold resources on transportation, but also makes disruptions in international shipping tantamount to shutdowns at the centers of production. A planned economy under socialist society would eliminate the irrational and parasitic relations that currently exist to serve the pursuit of superprofits.
The imperialist system is a race to the bottom, creating its own gravediggers as it squeezes every last penny it can out of the Third World. The problem with this is that this process is not sustainable and it creates a massive amount of people ready to rebel against it as well as numerous points where production and distribution are vulnerable to attack by the workers. We live in the period which Mao Zedong described as the “50-100 years” in which imperialism and world reaction will be swept from the earth, and this is just another case study in the weak points of that system.
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