As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, we are told: “the virus does not discriminate – rich and poor alike, we are all in this together”. However, the reality is that the privileged elite, who enjoy relative safety, expect the workers to risk infection to keep profits rolling in. This virus is exposing the rotten and heartless nature of the capitalist system, where profits rather than human lives are the priority.
The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has contracted the coronavirus. So have Britain's heir apparent Prince Charles, and British movie star Idris Elba. The list of rich and famous people who have contracted the virus is getting longer every day. But please do not worry! They are self isolating, they are being taken care of, and besides – they barely have any symptoms!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the class divide in Britain, we have Kayla Williams. She was a 36 year-old mother of three and wife of a refuse collector. She died last Saturday. She had all the symptoms of the virus, but according to paramedics who saw her the day before, she was “not a priority”. She was not tested, she was not treated. The Guardian recounted her husbands desperate words:
“I have heard nothing since, they have left me here and said I must isolate. They haven’t told me anything else. I am a diabetic. I take insulin. All I know is I am supposed to isolate. No one has mentioned her body being tested or anything.”
Mrs Williams could have survived had she been tested and treated. But those who are to blame are not the paramedics or the NHS staff. The government is to blame. It did not carry out any serious preparations for the pandemic, to achieve so called “herd immunity”. While havoc was raging in China and Italy, the British government sat on its hands and waited for the virus to “work its way through the population”. It did not buy test kits or protective or medical equipment. It did not build new hospitals or expand capacity. And it did not hire new staff or prepare any training for the existing staff. It did tell the working class to prepare, of course... prepare to “lose loved ones”.
Even before the pandemic, the NHS was barely keeping up with the needs of society. Cuts and privatisation have destroyed the healthcare system. Ordinary people are being left to fend for themselves.
In the US, millions of people do not even have access to basic medical care. A 17 year-old boy in Lancaster, California was turned away from a local hospital. He had all the symptoms of the coronavirus, but he was not insured. He later died from the disease. Had he received the proper care, he could have survived. The Los Angeles Department of Public Health classified his death as related to the coronavirus. But this was later retracted, clearly under pressure from higher authorities. A bill signed by US president Donald Trump last week grants free testing for all, although tests are almost impossible to come by! But actual treatment is a whole different matter. Treatment for the uninsured could cost upwards to $35,000. Even people with employer insurance could end up paying $1,300 or more.
The coronavirus does not discriminate between classes, they tell us. “We’re all in this together”, one Telegraph headline read. But in reality, there is one set of rules for the poor – and a completely different one for the rich. In most countries, ordinary people are told there are not enough tests to go around. People with symptoms are not tested unless they are in a critical condition. As mentioned, even after her death, Kayla Williams was not tested for the coronavirus. Neither were her diabetic husband or her three children. None of them are a “priority”. Her death has probably not been classified as coronavirus related. How many more of these cases have there been?
Meanwhile, businessmen, celebrities, politicians and royals get tested at the slightest suspicion and then given the best care possible. In the US, there is a serious shortage of test kits and tens of thousands have been refused tests. But after one (millionaire) player of the Utah Jazz basketball team was diagnosed with the virus, dozens of players and personnel from the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, who had recently played against each other, were tested. According to The Atlantic, this amounted to 20 percent of Oklahoma state’s entire stock of test kits.
The rich people who don’t jump the queue in the public healthcare system can go to private clinics. In London, the Private Harley Street Clinic has sold thousands of tests to wealthy clients at the price of £375 each. Dr Mark Ali, director of the clinic, told the Sun: “We have private individuals – some recognisable names there – and we are testing lords and ladies, and even doctors and dentists who are worried about catching the disease.”
In the US, a Santa Monica pediatrician has been selling tests for $250 apiece. Expensive private medical clinics and medical concierge services are booming. Lansherhof, a private UK medical facility, reported a significant rise in enquires for its Immune Plus Support Infusion, which costs £300. According to The New York Times, some wealthy people are trying to buy ventilators and set up personal ICUs in case hospitals cannot cope. Celebrities around the world post pictures on social media wearing masks and suits. Millionaire model Naomi Campbell flaunted a full protective suit and a N95 hospital grade mask on Instagram.
Meanwhile, workers in public healthcare are barely protected. Nurses and doctors have not been tested for weeks. A desperate doctor wrote in the Guardian:
“I cannot understand why they have stopped testing and contract tracing, either. Hospital staff are being told we cannot be tested if our [own] symptoms are mild. This is unbelievable. If we’re not allowed to be tested, then how will we ever know how many other people – patients – we are infecting? Brilliant. What a brilliant plan.”
There is an urgent shortage of protective equipment. Hospitals in the UK lack the most basic safety equipment. The recommendation to use adequate protective gear was downgraded and NHS workers were told to treat the coronavirus “just treat it as though it’s seasonal flu”.
Stay home and “prepare to lose your loved ones” they tell us, but they are not sticking around themselves. According to the BBC, inquiries for international flights by private jets are up nine-fold. At the airports, the rich are paying for private terminals with private suites, check-in, customs and security. In Britain, the super-rich are flooding high-end estate agents with requests for mansions with bunkers, Cotswolds manor houses and uninhabited Caribbean islands.
American Millionaire Charles Stevenson has been staying in the small town of Southampton, New York. Speaking to Bloomberg he said: “I don’t feel concerned at the moment – it’s not near me right now. If people in the village have coronavirus, I’d get out of here.” He said that he would fly to Idaho and close himself off in a cabin where his family could join him if they wanted. How far away he is from the reality faced by millions of workers in the city.
Thousands of super-rich New Yorkers are fleeing to villas in East Hampton, where they can get food and shopping delivered by helicopter. But working-class people have nowhere to go. New York is set to become a hotbed of the pandemic. It will be a living hell for ordinary working people, who have seen their conditions and the local infrastructure decay for decades. But it’s ok: wash your hands, keep your distance and you will be alright!
From a safe distance, behind high walls, on private islands or in vast estates, protected by all sorts of services and equipment, the wealthy have no qualms asking the workers who produced their wealth to risk their lives in order to secure their profits. In Italy, the bosses’ federation is determined to keep thousands of factories open, including for arms – and even cosmetics! – even though they play no essential role in maintaining society whatsoever. There is a clear correlation between areas with open factories and areas with high levels of infections. But the bosses do not care.
Donald Trump seems determined to restart production in the US by Easter – long before there will be any chance to get the pandemic under control. A big chunk of the US capitalist class supports him. Billionaire Tom Golisano, speaking to Bloomberg, said:
“The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more people [!] I have a very large concern that if businesses keep going along the way they’re going then so many of them will have to fold” [my emphasis].
God forbid that businesses will have to fold to save lives! Another capitalist, Dick Kovacevich, said in the same article:
“We’ll gradually bring those people back and see what happens. Some of them will get sick, some may even die, I don’t know. Do you want to suffer more economically or take some risk that you’ll get flu-like symptoms and a flu-like experience? Do you want to take an economic risk or a health risk? You get to choose.”
These words reveal the cold reasoning of capital. Do you want to lose your job? Or do you want to die? It’s up to you.
Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct in Britain, demanded his workers be allowed to go to work. He is well aware of the risk the virus poses for his employees and society. Still, he wanted the government to classify his products as “essential”, so he could keep his stores open.
Billionaire ‘darling’ Richard Branson lives on a private island, a safe distance from the day-to-day lives of working-class people. He has built a multi-billion pound empire, partially based on public outsourcing deals. His Virgin Care has been one of the biggest vulture companies participating in privatisation programmes, which have left the NHS in a dire state. With his wealth, he could sustain the livelihood of his employees for months, if not years. Yet, when the crisis hit, he had the nerve to “ask” all his employees to take eight weeks of unpaid leave. In the same breath, he was asking the government to bail out his airline company! Both Branson and Ashley have since retreated – but only after a backlash of outrage from the working class. Anything to maintain profits. Except if the workers threaten to move because... that hurts profits.
In one Austrian ski resort in Ischgl, Tirol, the authorities had knowledge of a major coronavirus outbreak for at least nine days. This was in early March, when Europe had not been much affected. But they did not shut their slopes, bars or hotels for fear of damaging profits. This meant that the resort became a major hub for the spread of the virus throughout the continent.
This mirrored the reactions of governments everywhere. At the beginning, the Chinese authorities denied the existence of the outbreak in Wuhan. They persecuted whistleblowers and journalists who wrote about it in order to protect the fragile Chinese economy – until it was too late. In Iran, the city of Qom stayed open and the presence of the virus was denied for weeks so as to maintain relations with China and to secure high participation in the elections. Everywhere, the ruling class tries its utmost to keep the economy going until the threat of a mass social unrest forces it to act. But as we can see in Italy, even then, the attempts to protect profits renders efforts to fight the virus far less efficient.
Meanwhile, millions of people are starting to do what governments will not. In Britain, several million have joined community initiatives to help sick, elderly and otherwise vulnerable groups. In Iran and China, many people set up their own checkpoints to impose lockdowns that the government refused to. Millions of people across the globe are signing up to work as volunteers in hospitals and elsewhere. So much for selfish “human nature”. All the while, the men and women at the top are busy manoeuvring and scheming in the corridors of power.
Just another flu
There has been much talk about the mortality rate of the coronavirus. Billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, Ken Langone, told Bloomberg that, “What I’ve been told by people who are smarter than me in disease is, ‘As of right now it’s a bad flu’”. But then how can you explain double digit mortality rates in places like in Italy? Well, again it’s about which class you belong to.
The fact is that, with proper care, the mortality rate for the coronavirus is less than 1 percent. But without care, the mortality rate is way above 5 percent. So once the healthcare system is overwhelmed, like in Italy and Iran, the mortality rate will be 5 percent and above. Unless, of course, you have access to first-class private healthcare. Low-income people also have a 10 percent higher rate of underlying health conditions, which renders the coronavirus 10 times more deadly. These figures, according to the New York Times, make COVID-19 “about twice as deadly for those along their society’s lower rungs.“ These layers also tend to develop chronic health conditions earlier in life, which means that lower age groups are at higher risk when they are from poor backgrounds.
Add to that the fact that low-income people often live closer together and have to work and socialise more than wealthy people. They are forced to take more chances and hence are more likely to contract the virus in the long run. So yes, for Mr Langone and his friends, this might be more like a “bad flu”. But for the workers, who toil day and night in his stores, the story is very different.
The oppressed nations
In the poorer countries, the situation is even more acute. For decades, western imperialism has drained the oppressed nations for wealth. The heavy yoke of imperialism has left countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America in a state of backwardness. Healthcare and basic infrastructure are mostly non-existent. Where there is a public sector, it is stymied by the local ruling class – which at best serves the role of auctioning the country to the strongest power and of filling their own pockets.
For the world's poor, there can be no such thing as self-isolation. According to the UN, about 1.8 billion people around the globe live in inadequate housing or homelessness. About 40 percent of the world's population do not have running water and soap at home. There can be no talk of regular hand washing to stop the spread of the disease. Many people live together with many others, and share facilities. India, according to the Housing and Land Rights Network, has at least 4 million homeless people in urban areas alone. More than 70 million Indians live in shanty towns and informal settlements. The real figures are much higher. Similar situations exist throughout the world.
India's Prime Minister Modi urged everyone to clap and cheer the country's healthcare professionals fighting against the pandemic. But far from clapping, the healthcare system needs money, staff and resources – something it has been starved of in past decades. India only has one doctor per 1,700 people! But it has 21 percent of the world’s burden of disease. Public spending on healthcare stands at only 1.28 percent of the GDP. Meanwhile, defence spending accounts for more than 11 percent of GDP. For the rich, that is not a problem. They have private healthcare, and they can hide in their walled gardens, mansions, palaces and countryside retreats. Starved of these basic facilities, the conditions are set for the spread of the virus to millions of poor people in these countries. They will be completely defenceless.
The below video is supposed to show how all of India, from the ordinary man “on the street” to billionaire industrialists such as Mukesh Ambani (seen with his family), stand together facing the coronavirus. But Mr Ambani watches on from his tower, while the poor remain unprotected on the streets. What the video really reveals is the brutal disparity between rich and poor. A disparity that is caused by the relentless exploitation of the Indian working masses by the degenerate ruling class, exploitation that is set to continue unabated:
The poor people of India have nowhere to run. Vice reported on a 50-year-old woman who was brought to the doctor with clear coronavirus symptoms. Of course, she was not tested, but the doctors did strongly recommend for her to self-isolate. But the woman’s daughter said: “Doctor, what you are saying is not practical. Our house is a little hut and all four of us live in the same room. We have enough room just to lie down and sleep. Keeping a one-meter distance is impossible. Three of us are women and it is not safe for women to sleep outside the house. There is also the threat of scorpions and snakes outside.” According to Vice, the doctors tried to convince her to at least stay at home, but her daughter said: “Rain or shine, sick or healthy, she must go out to graze the goats.” These stories will be told hundreds of thousands, if not millions of times in India and other, similar countries in the next period.
Beyond the immediate problem of the disease, immeasurable economic pressure is also set to weigh down on the shoulders of the masses. Vast numbers of people are being affected by the lockdown measures, which are taking away their sources of income. Millions of poor street vendors, day labourers and peddlers are trying to flee Delhi to their native villages. They have no haven in the cities. The homeless shelters are overflowing. The police are brutally attacking them in the streets for “breaking the lockdown”. So, they are forced to wander for hundreds or even thousands of kilometers to their villages, where they can live off the local crops. They will be followed by the virus, which will reach new areas of the country, where access to healthcare and basic sanitation is even more sparse. They will be at the complete mercy of the virus. And this is only the beginning.
Looking at the amount of death and destruction that could be unleashed, you would think the most rational thing would be to pool together all medical research and medical options to solve the crisis on a world scale. Not according to the laws of capitalism. Here, profit and cold class interests reign supreme.
The race to create a vaccine is being hampered by the competition between the national ruling classes. The US, China and Europe are all hoping to secure a vaccine first, in order to extend their international influence. According to some rumors, Donald Trump was interested in acquiring the German biotech company CureVac, which is working on a potential vaccine. Suspiciously soon after this failed attempt, the company received a €85 million ‘grant’ from the EU.
Even the relief efforts are hampered by the ruling class. Germany and other European countries notoriously blocked shipments of crucial medical products to Italy in the first weeks of the outbreak. How many people paid for this with their lives?
The capitalists are trying to cash in on the plight of the masses. The drugs that could potentially treat patients with the virus are going up in price. According to the Financial Times, Rising Pharmaceuticals increased the price of chloroquine – an antimalarial, which is being tested against COVID-19 – by 98 percent! The company later said it would lower the price again after a public uproar, but it is unclear whether that ever happened or not.
Another potentially effective drug, Remdesivir, which was developed with at least $79 million in public funds, was granted “orphan” status by the US Food and Drug Administration days ago, according to the Intercept. This status gives a manufacturer a monopoly on the production of a given drug – if the drug is deemed to be for the treatment of rare diseases! But the coronavirus is anything but a rare disease. The status allows the pharmaceutical companies to raise the price of a particular drug dramatically. According to the same report, “in 2018, the median cost for a year of treatment with an orphan drug was $98,500 compared to $5,000 for drugs that do not have the designation”. Hence the quest for profits, yet again, will further limit access to drugs that could save the lives of thousands of ordinary people.
While big pharma and the national bourgeoisie of different countries are rushing to protect their own narrow interests, the masses are launching countless initiatives from below to address the crisis. One of these is the OxyGEN project, which is an uncopyrighted hardware project to create a low-cost, low-tech, mechanised ventilator that can be used everywhere. No one is profiting from this project, yet it is highly innovative. This flies against all that we have always been told about how the market and capitalist competition assure the best way to develop science and technology. In our hour of need, in fact, private ownership of the means of production becomes the biggest obstacle for humanity.
At each turn, the concern for profits takes precedence over the needs of society, and over the lives of working people. As a result, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, could die. Not because it is inevitable. Not because the pandemic could not have been stopped. Not because there are no treatments for those in acute danger. But because the wheels of capitalism must turn. Business must go on. Profits must be maintained!
Do you not have access to healthcare? Too bad! Do you risk getting infected because you cannot stop working? Too bad! Do you desperately need treatment that you cannot afford? Too bad. You are “NOT A PRIORITY”. In a capitalist society, you are not a priority. Profit is the supreme priority. That is the way the system is built. As a result, parents will lose their children. Children will lose their parents. Brothers, sisters, friends and colleagues will die. As Boris Johnson told us, you must “prepare to lose loved ones”. Prepare to see the naked face of capitalism, the true nature of the ‘educated’, well-spoken crooks in suits. As the polished mask slides off, prepare to see the rotten, maggot-ridden, moribund face of Capital.
The interests of the ruling class are moving in the opposite direction to those of society as a whole. Even when they do act, it is always too little, and too late. Measures are taken in a manner to shield business, first and foremost. It is not out of foresight or for the benefit of society, but to pre-empt a backlash by the working class, which could threaten the capitalists’ rule as a whole.
Humanity has at its fingertips all the knowledge and productive capacity to address the problems we face. Enormous factories with immense technological capabilities. Astronomic computing power. Robotic technology. Hundreds of thousands of scientists and workers ready to do what it takes to stop the virus.
But as long as a tiny, privileged group owns the means of production, these cannot benefit us all. What we are witnessing is not only a pandemic. More than anything, it is the rebellion of the productive forces against the relations of production. The enormous productive capacity that mankind has developed over millennia can no longer co-exist with a society divided into classes. Capitalism has become a fetter on development.
The capitalist class has become a cancer on society, which it has no interest in developing. By contrast, those who produce all wealth, the working class, have no other interest than taking society forward. Thus, our demand must be: if the capitalists cannot afford our wellbeing, we cannot afford them. They must be overthrown, and their wealth and property expropriated. In the place of capitalism, a new society must be built, where production is owned and controlled by society as a whole. A society run on the basis of satisfying the needs of all: not of a privileged few.