A Different Metabolism

By Mariano Rosa

The origins of the pandemic are still controversial. However, there seems to be sufficient evidence of the causes that amplify its spread. The mode of production, the health care system, and other reasons. We will focus on several of them in this article.

Elsewhere we have written about the role of science tied to the pharmaceutical lobby and austerity policies, to explain that the unmitigated Covid-19 emergency could have been avoided. Pharmaceutical companies value their capital with the disease as a business and states cut research funding and preventive health care programs to allocate resources to finance bailouts or pay external debt. There lay the economic and, above all, political, roots of the surprise appearance of the virus. However, its rapid diffusion is even more astonishing than its unexpected appearance.

In this matter, there are a few variables:

Animal Trafficking. Covid-19 is a virus that derives from animals and is passed on to humans through the ingestion of infected animals. In this case, Covid-19 has been connected to bats, but it probable that there may be an intermediate link in the pangolin. The pangolin is the world’s most trafficked non-human mammal; all eight pangolin species are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Between 2016 and 2019, 228 tons of scales were intercepted from these organized crime networks, so it is believed that the real number of illegal trade is in the tens of thousands of tons. It is a million-dollar business.

Capitalist urbanization. The transmission of viruses like Covid-19 is called zoonotic, which is a technical way of saying that such infections leap from animals to humans. This jump from one species to another is conditioned by aspects such as proximity and regularity of contact, which creates the environment in which the disease evolves. The massive displacement of Chinese peasants from the country to precarious and overcrowded conditions in cities, and the predatory agro-capitalist intervention in natural ecosystems explosively combines urban agglomeration without elementary sanitary conditions, and the displacement of animals (and viruses) from their traditional habitats to new ones. Viruses mutate, adapt and circulate faster. This thesis is explained in an investigation titled “Big Farms and Big Flu” (2016), by left-wing biologist Robert Wallace, which relates this dynamic to the bird influenza.

The Health Care Counter-Revolution in China. From the socialist revolution of 1949 to 1980, infant mortality plummeted and, despite the famine that came with the Great Leap Forward, life expectancy increased from 45 to 68 years. Immunization and sanitary practices became widespread, and basic information on nutrition and public health, as well as access to rudimentary medicines, were free and accessible to everyone. Since 1980, a combination of neglect and privatization has substantially undermined that system, while rapid urbanization and deregulated industrial production of household items and food has exacerbated the need for widespread health care, not to mention food regulations, medications and security.

So, illegal animal trafficking, anarchic capitalist urbanization and predatory agribusiness, and the privatization of health care in the most populous country in the world. These three keys explain the initial focus of Covid-19 and its spread. Travel, international trade, concealment of informational and underestimation by the world’s top capitalist leaders did the rest.

Marx as a GPS

Marx did not provide ready-made formulas for everything in Capital, but he did present a series of coordinates in his research and political analysis that retain high potential and theoretical vitality. His analysis of chemist Justus von Liebig´s work on the interruption of the soil nutrient cycle caused by capitalist land confiscation and forced urbanization, was the starting point for a hypothesis: in its logic of valorization, capital exhausts both fundamental sources of the social creation of wealth: the workforce and nature.

In parallel, Marx coined a category and profound metaphor: capital´s commercialization of everything, which fractures sustainable exchanges with nature and violates the “metabolism of rational management” that must be recovered.

To this end, Marx proposed a general parameter: planning production and consumption on the basis of real social needs, not subordinated to the competition of accumulation between private owners. That is to say, to substitute the production of things to sell with social use values that satisfy the real needs of the working majority. This vector in itself, combined with the concept of the “metabolism of rational management as regulator of exchanges (with nature)”, defines a whole program, which Marx did not elaborate. It is up to us as a revolutionary generation to produce this platform of structural and systemic changes to use as a road map, as an eco-socialist GPS.

Of Walls and Bridges

The conditions of capitalism in China that we explained above, the breakdown of the eco-systemic metabolism in that region, as a cause of viral spread, is not exclusive to China in the 21st century. Similar anarchic conditions in eighteenth-century England and nineteenth-century African colonies caused outbreaks of viral epidemics in those countries. Capital does not plan and manage the relationship with the environment taking public health and nature preservation as parameters. Its guideline is profitability, the exhaustion of the workforce and cheaper production costs, with low-cost inputs. China is the England of the 21st century, with all its worst economic, socio-environmental and totalitarian consequences. Therefore, where capitalism – in its destructive 21st century terms – builds walls, transformative eco-socialism has to build bridges of transition towards a reorganization of everything:

The economy. Producing based on the calculation of the social needs of the majority and the democratic planning of those who live from their work, not the parasitic and ecocidal capitalist class. Productive reconversion. Social re-education of consumption. Labor retraining of the working class.

Social relations. Work as a social right, income equivalent to the cost of living, as a reference. Distribution of work hours among the entire available workforce and incorporation of technology to ease the collective burden of production. More social free time, as an emancipating conquest. Socialize care and domestic tasks: dismantle the material conditions of patriarchy and all oppressions.

Socio-environmental relations. Cease to conceive ecosystems as limitless shelves of merchandise. Reduce the material volume produced on the basis of a social calculation of what is necessary, the prohibition of capitalist advertising and planned obsolescence. Abolition of capitalist animal abuse.

Politics. Dismantle the caste of professional politicians and the apparatuses of repression and social control of the 1%. Recallable offices and social self-organization of the majority. Government of those who have never ruled.

International relations. Collaboration of the peoples to abolish capitalism and legitimate self-defense against corporate and imperialist aggression. Democratically federate nearby regions of the world to jointly complement economic, social, cultural, scientific and political efforts.

These are strategic parameters for a reorganized social project based on new, free and eco-socialist bases. It is essential, now, to activate by militating for these causes.