The Capitalist Plague and the Need for Socialism

By Alejandro Bodart

We are witnessing phenomena of immeasurable magnitudes. Half of humanity is in quarantine, affected by a virus that threatens to claim millions of lives. The economic crisis that has broken out may become the worst in the last 90 years. Nothing will be the same as before. Revolutionary socialists must prepare for what is to come.

As of March 31, those infected by COVID-19 number 900.000 and the amount of fatal victims is approaching 50,000. This is partial data, because there is insufficient testing and various governments do not to count deaths that occur in private homes and nursing homes. The most conservative estimates indicate that infections could be up to 10 times higher and there are many more deaths.

In Italy alone, a study by the Imperial College London reports that there are actually already 6 million people infected, 10% of the population, and not the 100,000 that the authorities report.

Countries and cities that have been symbols of the “first world” and imperialist superiority for decades, like New York, Rome, Madrid and Paris, accumulate sick people and corpses, with their health care systems collapsing and their citizens terrified, incapable of detecting infections on time, lacking personnel, hospital beds and respirators, choosing who to care for and who to let die.

In Iran, the virus spreads unchecked, while the imperialist blockade prevents the supply of essential supplies to attack the disease. In India, millions of workers who have lost their jobs and live in subhuman conditions flee from the cities to their villages on foot to try to avoid contagion. There are already 186 affected countries; in a few more days, no country will be left without sick people and fatal victims.

Well into the 21st century, the lack of health care resources at a global scale has led to hand hygiene and mandatory quarantines in homes becoming the only means to decelerate the spread of the disease. Although compliance is practically impossible in the poorest populations of each country, who live in overcrowded housing, without sewers or running water. Expert on the history of epidemics Frank Snowden askd himself in an interview with Argentine newspaper La Nación: “How can they wash their hands or isolate themselves in a favela in Rio de Janeiro or in the slums of Mexico City or Bombay, or South Africa?” We could ask the same about the marginalized towns and neighborhoods of Argentina or any underdeveloped country. Not to mention how millions who work in the informal economy or have become unemployed and will not be able to move freely in the streets will avoid starving.

Pandemic and Economic Crisis

Those in spheres of power attempt to attribute the outbreak of the current worldwide economic crisis and recession to the emergence of the coronavirus. In fact, the pandemic has been the trigger, but not the cause, of a debacle that has been expected for quite some time now. The drop in oil prices is no more fuel on a fire that has become uncontrollable with the pandemic. We are at the beginning of a process that may end in a great depression similar to or greater than that of 1929.

Like in 2008, we are witnessing the bursting of a spectacular financial bubble that, this time around, is combined with the greatest contemporary health crisis that humanity has faced. The economic recipes of US and European imperialism in the face of this crisis are similar to those applied 12 years ago, but the magnitude of what is happening has forced them to invest unprecedented sums of money. Cynically using the virus as an excuse, they have begun to implement billion-dollar bailouts to save the banks and corporations once again, knowing that, given the prospect of less and less profits in the productive circuit, these funds will most likely turn to speculation, like they did in 2008, and fuel a new crisis in the near future.

We are currently witnessing the paralysis of different branches of production, industries and services, such as tourism, as well as a drastic fall in international trade. That is why we are beginning to see increasing layoffs, unpaid leave, pay cuts, and, for informal and temporary workers, a complete loss of income. But this is only the beginning. When the quarantines end, they will try to make the workers and the poor of the world pay for the bailouts and the crisis – like they have been doing since the 1990s and have intensified since 2008 – with more job losses, lower wages, greater flexibilization of labor rights and regulations and more austerity in public budgets to pay debts.

No Government Prioritizes Workers’ Health and Economy

The delay in taking action against the pandemic in countries like Italy and Spain and the existence of right-wing governments like of Trump´s and Bolsonaro´s or the center-leftist López Obrador, who initially minimized the pandemic and refused to implement quarantines to avoid paralyzing the economy, have been used by other bourgeois governments to differentiate themselves and show themselves sensitive to people´s needs and not to capitalist profits.

In reality, there are more similarities than differences. The health care of the majority of the world population has been compromised by the structural reforms that were carried out in the last decade of the last century and by the constant budget cuts and new privatizations that have intensified since 2008. The health care collapse that we are witnessing today is the result of the systematic reduction of health care budgets, disinvestment in science and technology, shortage of personnel and lack of infrastructure and basic supplies with which countries are facing this catastrophe. The same can be said of the economy of the poor, which have endured one attack after another against their standard of living and rights over the years. Now they are the most affected. The only economy that the rulers worry about is the one that benefits the 1% at the expense of the remaining 99%.

The various capitalist governments and political parties that have been in power for decades are responsible for this situation. Every single one, without exception, has prioritized the profits of a shrinking handful of super-exploiters over life and over nature.

A Worldwide Escalation of Repression

With the excuse of the health crisis and the need to guarantee mandatory quarantines, there has been a global rise of authoritarianism and repression. States of siege, curfews, bans on meetings, demonstrations and circulation, and the militarization of public space by various repressive forces are being implemented in more and more countries. All this has encouraged institutional violence and human rights violations against the people.

The objective of these measures is to impose social discipline on workers, especially the youth, who have been at the forefront of struggles taking place throughout the world. They are preventive in expectation of the confrontations that the current crisis of the capitalist system will generate sooner rather than later. Governments will possibly try to maintain these measures after the pandemic is overcome.

We have to denounce every abuse and call on workers and the youth to not be intimidated. Far from delegating the decisions that determine our destiny to governments and businessmen, the participation of all is needed to respond appropriately and effectively protect our and our family´s lives.

What We Should Prepare For

The events that are taking place are revealing the magnitude of the imperialist capitalist system´s decadence in a way that has not happened in decades. The first clear manifestation of the system´s fragility took place in 2008 and it impacted the class struggle, unleashing important social and political phenomena. Everything indicates that the catastrophe that we are suffering today will produce much larger changes.

The weakness of US imperialism has taken a new leap, which will spark disputes with China, which has also suffered the effects of a crisis that had the country as its main protagonist. The absence of the G7 and G20 is noticeable. In Europe, the epicenter of the tragedy, the crisis of the EU has prevented it from acting in a unified way. In many countries, provincial and local governments take measures that contradict those of national governments. This “everyone for themselves” phenomenon is an expression of the new times we live.

We revolutionary socialists must prepare ourselves for the general strikes, rebellions and revolutions that shook the world a few months ago become widespread and spread to new countries and regions once the pandemic begins to recede; and for the new situation that these processes opened, driven by new events, to possibly evolve into a pre-revolutionary situation worldwide.

The shock waves that are reverberating in the consciousness of millions as they see the consequences of a system in its decadent phase, is making it advance. The next few months may be decisive for that mass consciousness to take a huge leap forward. We are already seeing how the last few decade´s prevailing discourse of the advantages of the private sector over the public and of the market over the state begins to crumble, and a hatred of the big businessmen who are quick to unload the crisis on workers begins to grow.

Various recent events that have raised awareness of the need to defend nature over corporate profits, and now the necessary defense of public health and life is added. The women’s struggle has led large groups of people to anti-capitalist positions. And socialist ideas have begun to grow among the youth, as we see in the United States and the United Kingdom.

All these phenomena will advance in the next period. Social and political polarization will deepen, with tendencies towards a left turn and rebellions being the most likely and dynamic developments. This does not imply ignoring the contradictions and dangers, as well as the counteracting elements, which will accompany us from here to eternity and almost always confuse skeptics and the petty bourgeoisie.

Social Model, Party and International

The pandemic and the economic debacle are putting fundamental aspects of our revolutionary socialist program on the agenda and this obliges us to put forth a set of proposals to respond to the central needs of the moment: massive tests; more hospital beds, respirators, and personnel; safety equipment for all workers; prohibition of layoffs and wage cuts; paid time off and social assistance for the self-employed and precarious workers. Raising the nationalization of private laboratories, clinics and hospitals to integrate them into a single and public health system take becomes very important. And to all this possible, the non-payment of external debts and the nationalization of banks and foreign trade is necessary.

However, while we agitate and explain these slogans, it is imperative that we also explain that, today more than ever, we need to end capitalism before barbarism becomes irreversible and fight for a socialist model of society, in which democratically organized workers hold power. It is at the service of these fights that we promote the construction of revolutionary socialist parties in all the countries that we operate in, and a worldwide organization, the International Socialist League. You are all invited to join.