Book review ‘Sanctions: A Wrecking Ball in a Global Economy’

When the U.S. and its Western European allies declare war or drop bombs on another country, it is common for progressive-minded individuals to collectively organize some type of protest out of anger.

When the same imperialist forces unleash “sanctions,” also known as “economic warfare,” against another country, there isn’t always the same level of response — not for lack of concern, but rather, in large part, for lack of understanding of what economic sanctions are and how they operate.

The book “Sanctions: A Wrecking Ball in a Global Economy” does a terrific job in explaining how sanctions and economic blockades are as harmful toward the planet’s population as any drone strike or person-to-person combat. The book is published by World View Forum and SanctionsKill Campaign, an activist project in which International Action Center actively participates. “Sanctions” is an anthology of articles written by veteran anti-imperialist activists and revolutionary organizers, who are knowledgeable on the subject and its brutal consequences for more than 40 sanctioned countries.

The book opens with a dramatic update. U.S.-imposed economic sanctions on Russia and China have boomeranged on the economies of the U.S. and European Union, creating supply-chain chaos, inflation and a possible recession and threatening U.S. hegemony. To avoid sanctions the Global South is using other currencies — the yuan, ruble and rupee — in world trade. This challenges dollar supremacy.

The first section starts with a teaching tool, providing slide show-style images and basic definitions, explaining that “sanctions are commercial and financial penalties applied by one or more countries against another government, group or individual” that are “a weapon of economic war, resulting in chronic shortages of basic necessities, economic dislocation, chaotic hyperinflation, artificial famines, disease and poverty. It is the most vulnerable populations who suffer the most.” The impact on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua is a particular focus.

As with imperialist war, economic sanctions are driven by capitalist greed and are often imposed on countries, governments and individual leaders who challenge neoliberal, Western hegemonic policies. The reader learns that “sanctions kill by destroying economies, causing hyperinflation and unemployment so people cannot afford basic necessities.” Sanctions not only deny necessities in countries where they are enforced; they interrupt trade with other countries, trickling havoc down on populations for whom the sanctions are oftentimes not intended.

Sanctions hurt the global working class and oppressed

The second section of the book goes into detail about countries suffering from U.S.-led sanctions, starting with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The DPRK is the most demonized country in the world, and as Erica Jung points out, it “is one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, having been subject to sanctions since its foundation in 1950.” Jung describes how the U.S. originally placed it on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list in 1988.

An article by Ann Garrison and John Philpot discusses how many African countries have faced outright retaliation for having decades-long relationships with Russia that has continued 30 years after the counterrevolution against the Soviet Union.

Garrison and Philpot point out how in April 2022, the U.S. House passed H.R. 7311, known as “the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act,” which was in retaliation after 17 African nations abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning Russian intervention. Eritrea proudly voted “no.”

Almost all countries in the Global South have pushed back against U.S. sanctions on Russia. This has hindered Washington’s naïve expectations of swiftly removing Russian President Vladimir Putin from office, as U.S. President Joe Biden openly said in a speech March 26.

Imperialist provocations from the U.S. and its partners such as NATO have strengthened relations between Russia and People’s China in recent years. Many critics of U.S. foreign policy believe the intention of destabilizing Russia is ultimately to prepare for war with socialist China.

The book features three articles about the People’s Republic of China. The first two discuss the bipartisan U.S. attacks waged against China since the 1949 revolution. The third piece explains how China assisted the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, as the U.S. attempted to bully that country into submission over currency relationships.

There is an article about restrictions against Iran, followed by one on Afghanistan.  Those two countries are especially important to understand, considering the bombardment of Western propaganda that constantly accuses leaders of those countries of “human rights violations,” particularly around women’s rights and gender oppression.

It is understandable for progressives to have concern about the conditions of women and LGBTQ+ people in Iran and Afghanistan — or any country for that matter. At the same time, folks should cautiously avoid taking a position that endorses imperialist intervention of any sort — and this book does a good job of explaining why.

“Sanctions — A Wrecking Ball in a Global Economy” examines the attacks on Syria and Yemen, both of which were begun covertly by the Obama-Biden administration and escalated under the Trump administration. While the Biden administration has not changed course regarding Syria, the book explores how it has shifted its approach rhetorically toward Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen and what that means to the Yemeni people.

Near the end of the second section, one article expresses solidarity with Zimbabwe, an African nation that has faced retaliation from U.S. and European imperialists ever since it won independence from white settler rule in 1980. Another article reveals how several African countries, such as Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, are affected by the sanctions on Russia in addition to the challenges they already face.

The second to last article is about Venezuela and its request for an investigation by the International Criminal Court on whether or not U.S. sanctions constitute war crimes. The last article in this section assesses the impact sanctions have on access to food and medicine supplies for the Palestinian people living in occupied Gaza.

A primer of clarity to counter confusion

The final section provides the reader with tools of resistance. The section begins by sharing the founding statement of the “Sanctions Kill Campaign,” which is signed by nearly 100 international activists, along with several organizations that represent hundreds more from around the world.

There are other statements urging the U.S. and others to lift sanctions, highlighting the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has caused.

“Sanctions — A Wrecking Ball in a Global Economy” is especially crucial in refuting the false information being spread by the Western press regarding the current proxy war against Russia. Unfortunately, there are many people on the left who are misinformed about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine — which was instigated by the U.S. and Britain through NATO — and are reaching erroneous conclusions.

This book should be read and studied by anyone who is serious about defeating imperialism, once and for all.

Otis Grotewohl

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Otis Grotewohl

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