WHAT WE LEARN FROM THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

LESSON ONE


The first lesson is that the capitalist system is incapable of leading us through the crisis today
and those to come.


It is not just that most of our government leaders are craven bastards, shameless liars, and
incompetent imbeciles. That, of course, is what they mostly are and none more than those
leading the “greatest capitalist power” -- the U.S. It’s not just that politicians are making money
in the stock market with insider information while others, unprepared, are left to die. It’s not
just that billionaires are raking in even more billions, safe on their offshore yachts. It’s not just
that the so-called bailouts are hijacked by special interests and mostly help the banks. Trickling
down to whom? Not even the much-vaunted small businesses. It’s not just that we are living in
a new “feudalism,” where some are lucky enough to have “lords” (or “governors”) who want to
cushion the effect of the crisis on the citizens of their fiefdom, while others manifestly don’t
give a damn who dies as long as tattoo parlors open up. It’s not just that people are so starved
for any real information about the virus that they make heroes out of the “representatives” of
the “scientific establishment” they see paraded before them, muzzled by the politicians,
stroking egos, and muting the real message: many will die so the capitalist system can fire up
the ovens. It’s not just that our leaders are miserable excuses for human beings, the truth is
that capitalism is incapable of even understanding much less leading us through the coming
crises: pandemics, climate change, mass migrations.


Capitalism cannot go beyond national boundaries. It can make bigger or smaller boundaries but
capital is inextricably bound to competition and the nation-state. Yet the crisis we now face and
the crises to come need world-wide solutions. “The modern state is the committee for
managing the common affairs of the ruling class of capitalism” said Karl Marx in a simple, yet
powerful metaphor. The state and capitalists praise globalization (meaning getting workers to
work for pennies somewhere else) but have no way of controlling the genie that brought this
pandemic to everyone. Globalization brought us this epidemic for which we were stunned to
find, no one had prepared us to face. No, that’s not quite right – nation states all over the
developed world have deliberately stripped civil society of protections in the race to provide
billionaires with tax breaks. Government after government has for decades sacrificed
investment in health care, in housing, in protective equipment, in supplies, sacrificed the
welfare of the 80% of their citizens that don’t profit from the “boom” of vast income inequality.
They left us unprepared and for many, this will mean death. Unprepared today and unprepared
tomorrow. They praise “industrial growth” but have not even the glimmer of a thought to find a
way out of fossil fuel dependency, climate crisis, and global warming. Communication and
transportation have made us one world but capitalism will make it a graveyard.


TWO


The second lesson of this crisis is the reappearance of the working class.


Supposedly gone from “late-stage capitalism” but there among us all the time -- the “essential
workers!” Those who tend to us in hospitals, those who nurse us, wash the floors, give “care,”
those who work on the food chain, those our leaders hypocritically laud and praise while paying
them a pittance, not even able or willing to provide protection because they have consistently
decimated stockpiles and protective gear and basically everything that helps people and their
communities in favor of profits. Those who deliver food and packages and necessities, those
who keep the electricity going even though their children may not have the internet devices to
use the electricity to stay in school, those who keep mass transit moving and the city and our
buildings clean – their neighborhoods and towns have been left to fester. Those who are
getting nothing from the “stimulus packages” because they are undocumented, those who line
up at the food banks, those who are dying in disproportionate numbers. Yes, that is the black
community and immigrants of all sorts, but making it merely a racial question obscures the
reality of the class question. This, all colors, is the working class here and abroad.


Behind the Joker’s smile of “thanks” to our essential workers, our leaders refuse them a living
wage, our billionaires deny them effective protection or meaningful hazard pay, and our
politicians refuse to give them more relief because “that would encourage laziness” and “give
no incentive to work” as if those sanctimonious bastards ever saw a real day of work in their
lives.


What will capitalism bring to the workers? Tens of thousands of workers are working in meat
plants that never close even to decontaminate when workers die of the virus. These are
workers who are used to living in fear – of starvation from drought in Guatemala, or death
squads in El Salvador, or drug cartels in Mexico. But now the choice is clear: your money or your
life. Take a hint from the governor of Iowa in the midst of an epidemic: if the meatpackers don’t
show up at the plant, unemployment benefits cease. Show up for work and risk your life and
your family’s life for nickels and dimes or lose everything and starve or get deported.


Tens of thousands are working in warehouses and groceries and some have gone out on strike
to protest the cavalier way their billionaire employers, Amazon, Instacart, Target, and others,
are sacrificing them for “the greater good” (meaning their profits). Some IT engineers have left
their jobs protesting the “toxic climate” of the tech giants but so far so few. There are a lot of
crocodile tears but where is the solidarity?


The working class is and always has been the force around the world that can stop this system
in its tracks: stop the rails, the electricity, the plants, the machines, the “essential” work. Do we
have to do it?


It seems that this is becoming a question of life and death. And then we have to. When fear
turns to anger, we have to act.


QUO VADIS?


The third lesson of the pandemic is the need to find the answer to the question: what comes
next?


Capitalism is going to take us down to darkness. But where is the working class going? How can
we act together in mass strikes? Where are the places in which workers can gather? How shall
we organize?


Human ingenuity is not in question. Solutions can be found to give people a way out of poverty,
to bring well-being to human communities, to stop the degradation of the earth, to find new
ways to live and prosper, to experiment and change. The working class has the ability to
change; capitalism lacks the will to change. Until the last robber baron and his paid politicians
are breathing their last breath in some desert island bunker, capitalism will hold on to the
“known” with the dead hand of short-term profits. Knowledge and expertise can be harnessed
but only in the service of life, in the service of the fairness and equity that the working-class
movement can bring. If capitalism is a world-wide system, our movement must also be worldwide.
Is the world ready for unity? Ready or not.


This lesson is yet to be learned.


JA


6 May 2020


The writer is a sympathizer of Internationalist Perspective

1 comment on “WHAT WE LEARN FROM THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC”

  1. The posturing of governments that a pandemic is some sort of surprising visitation is yet another slight oh hand. Four years ago exercise Cygnus was held here in the UK to model just such an eventually. The outcome has never been made public, but the implication is that the predicted outcome was so devastating it was filed under top secret and no preparations made. The lack of ventilators and ppe is not unfortunate, but criminal. The 2003 SARs outbreak began research into vaccines, until the disease didn’t progress so, with no prospect of profit, research stopped. 17 years on the loss column is counted in lives, and rising. A system driven by profit rather than need cannot serve the cause of humanity.

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