The following statement by the International Marxist Tendency explains how capitalism has utterly failed to deal with the coronavirus crisis, and is putting the lives of millions of people at risk. In such a situation, half measures and tinkering with the system are futile. Only drastic measures will suffice to avert the impending disaster.
The world is facing a catastrophe. The lives of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people are at risk. Even in the richer countries, where there is an advanced healthcare system, the situation is already reaching breaking point. But poor countries are faced with a nightmare of unimaginable proportions.
People in Nigeria or India – not to speak of war-torn Syria, Yemen or Somalia – live in overcrowded slums, with no access to clean water, no access to medical care. Here to speak of measures like “social distancing” or “self-isolation” sound like a sick joke.
In such a situation, half measures and tinkering with the system are futile. Only drastic measures will suffice to avert the impending disaster. The truth is that the capitalist system is failing humanity. It will be exposed for the rotten system that it is. It is time for the working people to take their destiny into their own hands.
The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing into sharp focus the underlying economic crisis which had been brewing for some time. Now that process has been accelerated to the nth degree. The stock markets have crashed everywhere.
Companies are going bankrupt and millions of workers are already losing their jobs. In the United States alone some are speculating this could push unemployment up to 20%. What we are talking about here is not just a cyclical economic crisis but a deep depression along the lines of what happened in the 1930s.
Let us not forget that the depression of the 1930s produced revolution, counter-revolution and war. Today we are not at war in the military sense, but all the political leaders are comparing this to a war type situation. And if it is a war type situation then the working class must react accordingly.
At first, governments played down the epidemic. The primary concern of the ruling class was not to preserve the health of the people, but only to keep production going at all costs. Their aim was not to save lives but to save the profits of the banks and big monopolies.
This, and this alone, explains their criminal negligence and failure immediately to act to take the necessary measures to protect human lives. It has cruelly exposed the abyss between rich and poor, exploiters and exploited. Now they are rushing to make up for lost time. But it is a case of far too little and far too late. The virus has been allowed to spread like wildfire and it is having a catastrophic effect on people’s lives and on the global economy.
Workers face the horrendous dilemma of how to survive this crisis, both physically and economically. Hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs. Soon we will be talking about millions. Workers who have been deprived of their living will still have to feed and clothe their families, pay the rent or mortgage, while struggling not to fall ill.
In all countries, millions of people who normally take no interest in politics are anxiously following the news, scrutinizing carefully every measure their governments propose, what their bosses are doing, and what all the different parties, from the left to the right, are advocating. And very quickly it is becoming glaringly obvious that no one is really doing what is really necessary. In these conditions, consciousness can change with lightning speed.
One country after another is going into lockdown, to one degree or another. People are being told to avoid unnecessary movements, to avoid crowded areas, to self-isolate if they are at risk. But at the same time, millions of workers are being told to go into work, forced to use crowded public transport, to work shoulder to shoulder, increasing the risk of contagion. This is putting workers’ lives at risk, but they are also at risk of taking the contagion home and infecting their families, all for the sake of capitalist profit.
This is radically shifting the consciousness of the mass of the population. Workers want answers and they want them now. The question is posed point-blank: what is to be done?
Capitalism can seriously endanger your health
The crisis has revealed the incompatibility of the capitalist system with the health of billions of human beings. Decades of austerity have decimated the healthcare system everywhere. In those countries where there was a publicly funded, national healthcare system, this has been cut back year after year. Public health was starved of funds, while many services were privatised.
All this was done to cut what capitalists consider “unnecessary” spending. Hospital beds were reduced, as were the Intensive Care Units. The system is understaffed, the workforce overworked. This was done in order to compel people to seek private alternatives, opening up a very lucrative field of investment for private healthcare companies.
At the same time, the big private pharmaceutical monopolies were permitted to suck the blood of the health services, making vast profits out of the misery of the sick, old and vulnerable. All this must end now! The health of human beings cannot be determined by private interest. The profit motive must be removed altogether from health. We demand the abolition of private medicine and a fully publicly owned health service!
All privately held healthcare facilities must be nationalised without compensation and these facilities should be integrated into national healthcare systems. This is the prior condition for a massive increase in spending on the health services to meet the immediate needs of the crisis and provide an efficient and modern public health service, where the most up-to-date treatment and medication will be available free of charge to all on demand.
In order to solve the present shortage of hospital beds, hotels and empty luxury apartment blocks and mansions of the rich, should be requisitioned immediately and converted temporarily into hostels for sick people (a measure that was introduced in wartime Britain). Simultaneously, a long-term plan of building new hospitals and increasing capacity significantly should be set in motion. This can be paid for by slashing the bloated budget for wasteful arms expenditure,
An emergency plan should be immediately launched for recruiting and training of nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers and paramedics and all the staff necessary to run surgeries, clinics and hospitals. They must be provided with decent pay and working hours, instead of the present scandal where medical staff are being literally worked to death in order to make up for the shortages caused by years of criminal neglect under the so-called austerity regime.
They will tell us there is no money. But history tells us that there is ALWAYS money to be found to fill the pockets of the rich. Thus, for the past decade, there was austerity for the workers, but lavish handouts of public money for the private bankers – those same bankers who wrecked the world economy in 2008. Now history is repeating itself. Huge sums of public money are being shovelled into the coffers of big private companies, while millions of workers live in fear and poverty.
The pharmaceutical industries, that make obscene levels of profit, must be expropriated and integrated into publicly owned and integrated structures. The priorities of their research, instead of producing cash cows that the companies have been milking for decades, should be dictated by the needs of society, not the profits of a handful of wealthy parasites.
All patents should be immediately released and all research should be made publicly available and shared across borders. This would enormously accelerate the development of new drugs, and once these are available, they should be supplied to all national health services at cost price, not at the exorbitant prices presently charged for important life-saving medicines.
If we adopt all these measures now, the worst effects of the present crisis can be averted and such crises can be avoided in future.
For workers’ control!
If social distancing measures are one of the tools for combating the spread of this virus, then this must apply strictly to ALL fields of life, and in particular to the workplaces. If this is truly the emergency and a wartime scenario, as we are told it is by governments, then emergency measures are required.
The bosses have shown that they are completely incapable of playing a progressive role. Supported by the state and the bourgeois politicians, they push workers, even in inessential industries, to continue work unabated. But this undermines all efforts to fight the virus. Hence, across the globe we are seeing strikes breaking out, by workers who are concerned about working conditions that threaten their lives and those of their loved ones. In more than one country (see Italy and Spain, but also North America) workers have successfully imposed the closure of some plants, at least for a period.
These events are bringing into sharp focus the power of the working class when it is organised and conscious of its own strength. Faced with the irresponsible behaviour of the bosses, the Marxists raise the demand for workers’ control. All strike committees must be turned into permanent factory committees to control and if necessary block the actions of the bosses and management.
All non-essential production should be immediately brought to a halt. Workers should be sent home with full pay for as long as it is necessary. This should be paid for by the bosses. If the bosses say they cannot afford it, let them open the books for inspection by the trade unions and workers’ elected representatives. In reality, big businesses are sitting on mountains of cash which now should be used to look after those who have created the profits with their labour.
Where production is deemed essential, then the workplace should be restructured and reorganised in such a way as to allow social distancing, as well as providing the workers with the necessary protectives equipment, such as adequate face masks and visors, gloves and overalls, regular cleansing of all surfaces and work areas and the regular testing of the workers. All workers deemed non-essential should be allowed to stay at home.
The committees should also make sure that no worker is fired under the guise of the crisis. Where factories are laying off people or are threatened with closure by the bosses, we call for them to be expropriated and placed under the control and management of the workers.
Those who have already lost their jobs or are working on a casual basis will be hit hard by this crisis. We call for the equivalent of full pay to be paid to these by the state. However, we oppose the financing of this via running higher public deficits which will be paid by the rest of the working class in the form of austerity and increased taxation. Instead we call for the expropriation of the parasitic banks and speculative enterprises.
At the same time, in this period of inevitable slowing down of production, the concept of rotation should also be introduced, with alternating work days, and a shorter working week, allowing workers to stay at home longer and reducing the time they spend travelling. This should gradually be expanded to include all those who are unemployed today so as to eliminate unemployment, as well as lowering working hours to a minimum.
No to layoffs – for a sliding scale of hours with full pay! Open the books!
The working class must take over
Let us be clear about what is going on here. The capitalist system is facing an existential crisis. Its ability to guarantee the safety of ordinary working people, its ability to guarantee people jobs and homes, its ability to give workers a wage to feed their families, is all being put into question. This has revolutionary implications, and the ruling class is well aware of this.
The bosses fear an independent movement of the working class even more than they fear the virus. They are worried that people will start taking matters into their own hands. In Wuhan, where the virus first broke out in China, people in the neighbourhoods were setting up roadblocks and checks spontaneously, and taking other independent initiatives. This forced the state to intervene for fear of losing control of the situation.
In Italy, the workers, through their strike action, began to intervene directly in how production is run. In Britain, the criminal inaction of the government has led to the spontaneous creation of neighbourhood groups to deal with different aspects of the crisis such as food distribution and general safety. In Iran at one point, people began imposing quarantines on whole towns in the light of the inaction of the regime.
The above examples are the embryonic stages of workers’ power, spontaneously developing out of the crisis of capitalism. It is clear that the ruling class is incapable of dealing with the crisis adequately. In the face of the inaction of the ruling class, such as in Britain, Sweden and in the USA, we call for neighbourhood and workplace committees to be set up in order to deal with different aspects of the crisis.
In Italy and France, the state is stepping up such measures. Initially, the mass of the population accepts these measures, which the authorities tell them are needed to combat the threat of a deadly and highly contagious new virus. However, ordinary working people are well aware that those who are adopting more and more stringent measures are the same people who wasted so much time in the initial phase of the pandemic. They have little or no trust in the government to defend their interests. And they are quite right.
The people at the top realise that they need to introduce emergency measures to stabilise the situation, or risk the wrath of the masses. But these emergency measures can also be used as a way of controlling the working class. They contain a strong anti-democratic element, aimed at strengthening the state and its repressive powers.
We recognise the reasons people are supportive of a greater presence of the security forces on the streets, but we must also strive to expose the false illusion that they are protecting the people, and instead show that they are actually acting in defence of Capital, attempting to stabilise the situation, while simultaneously making sure that they do not lose control of the situation.
In Italy there have been cases where the police have turned up at picket lines and arrested workers who were striking for more safety measures. This highlights the danger of fomenting too many illusions in the state security forces. We warn the workers that they can only fully trust in their own forces, not the army, or the bourgeois government, who have repeatedly shown that their primary concern is that of maintaining profit, even at the risk of making the present emergency worse.
The emergency efforts must be organised by neighbourhood and workplace committees, which must be connected on a local and national level to organise a fully effective lockdown as the fastest means of dealing with the virus.
Many people in Italy worry criminal elements can take advantage of the crisis. In such a situation the state security forces cannot guarantee everyone’s safety. That is why we must raise the idea that structures need to be put in place, such as local committees elected in every neighbourhood to oversee the whole emergency operation. A committee elected by the people themselves in each neighbourhood would have much greater authority in deciding what is to be done and making sure that everyone abides by the democratically taken decisions.
The committees can establish checkpoints and patrolling the streets during a lockdown, oversee the distribution of food to all households so as to minimise unnecessary travel – in particular for elderly and other vulnerable groups. They will actively fight against criminal elements and combat speculation and unjustified increases in the price of foodstuff and medicines, which are being perpetrated by unscrupulous traders,
We have also seen the example of Chile where the unions have announced that unless the government declares a nationwide quarantine, they are going to implement it themselves, in the form of a "humanitarian strike" excluding essential sectors. This will have been noted by the strategists of capital, who are becoming ever more aware of the potential for social revolution in the present conditions, and they will attempt everything to cut across this process.
Guaranteeing food delivery
As it dawned on millions of people that the pandemic was creating an emergency situation, we had scenes of panic buying and hoarding. What does this reflect? It reveals that people are terrified of the situation we have entered, but also shows that they do not trust the authorities nor “the market” to help them.
This, however, has led to the unfortunate situation now of shortages in the food stores, which in turn have led to cases of profiteering, with some stores hiking the prices of essential goods. This can only further worsen the already difficult situation. Democratically elected neighbourhood committees should, therefore, also have the powers to check prices, and if necessary, impose price controls. If this is not done, on top of the shortages, we will also see the poorer layers of society unable to buy what they need.
The elderly and the vulnerable will find it difficult to cope in such a situation. They are told to self-isolate but they cannot get essential foods delivered. This is putting many at risk who will have to go out to buy what they need.
We must demand organised food delivery to all homes to reduce the need for travel to the shops. The spontaneous organisation of neighbourhood groups who are going out seeking those in need and organising to help them, confirms that the mass of people are not greedy individualists, but in times of need are prepared to come together collectively to help those in need.
These neighbourhood groups, however, to be fully effective, require help. They need means of transport, safety equipment, and training in how to approach vulnerable people who are self-isolating.
Communal kitchens are required in order to supply ready cooked meals, especially for the elderly and disabled. In times when chains of restaurants and bars are closing and firing people en masse, we call for their expropriation in order to satisfy the food needs of the communities. This would guarantee the jobs of those employed in these chains, while at the same time making available resources that are urgently needed. This must be connected up with the neighbourhood groups.
For a publicly owned integrated transport system
One of the places where the risk of contagion is at its highest is on crowded buses, trains and underground transport. In the early stages of the outbreak of the pandemic, millions of workers were travelling packed tightly together, enormously increasing the rate of the spread of the virus.
Once it became evident that such conditions were dangerous, many people stopped moving unnecessarily. Those that can work from home have started to do so. This has reduced the crowding, but it has not eliminated it.
The response of transport companies has been to reduce the regularity of services, to suspend some routes, etc. Thus, precisely when we need transport where social distancing can be maintained, by reducing the services available this becomes unmanageable. The result is fewer but overcrowded means of transport.
Again, the criteria here is profitability. This is unacceptable. All transport companies should be taken over without compensation by the state and integrated into one national transport service. Many of these companies were previously owned by the state and local councils. They should all be taken back and used according to need and not profit. Passengers need more room to travel safely in these conditions.
The staff also need protecting, and not having to work in crowded conditions is one measure that goes towards defending them from contagion. Transport staff also need all the necessary safety equipment, masks, visors, gloves, etc., while the cleaning service should also be expanded massively, so as to provide the regular deep cleansing required to help stop the spread of the virus. Cleaning services should also be brought back in house and workers paid a decent living wage and given full trade union rights.
The housing crisis
Many workers are losing their jobs and, especially the younger generation, have big mortgages or very high rents to pay. Things left as they are, many would be facing repossession and eviction. In several countries, governments have instructed the banks to grant “mortgage holidays”, that is temporary delays in payments of several months. Unfortunately, this is not always the case when it comes to rent, which should also be frozen for the duration of the crisis.
We should also add that “mortgage holidays” have been introduced to protect the banks, for if there were a large wave of non-payment of the monthly mortgage instalments this could technically push the banks towards default. As always, measures that can appear to be taken with the interests of working people in mind, under capitalism, can have a very different motivation.
Nonetheless, the suspension of mortgage payments does provide some temporary respite. However, in the longer run it does not eliminate the payments altogether. Sooner or later the payments will need to be made. Those workers that do get jobs once the crisis is over, will find themselves with bigger payments to make. However, this crisis is going to have long term economic effects and austerity, lower standards of living and mass unemployment and poverty is what the capitalist system can offer even once the pandemic is over.
To avoid huge numbers of working-class families from losing their homes, therefore, we pose the demand that the banks cancel a part of the mortgage debt. It is the only way of concretely solving this problem. The banks were bailed out with public money over ten years ago and have made huge profits in the recent period. If it is true that we are all in the same boat, then the banks should play their part.
Other workers are in rented accommodation and risk eviction if they do not keep up their payments. In some countries, temporary bans have been introduced on evictions. While welcome, these do not go anywhere near far enough to protect people. Landlords have ways of pressurising tenants. One of these is to increase the rent to levels that are unaffordable, thus forcing people out. Therefore, there should also be a rent freeze and a rent payment holiday imposed immediately until the end of the crisis. The neighbourhood committees should also play a role here and overview the situation and intervene to stop any rent rises or evictions.
This situation also highlights another long-term problem. The reason why private landlords can behave as they do is due to the chronic shortage of social housing. In the past the proportion of publicly owned municipal housing compared to private housing was far higher. Working class families could be housed in relatively cheaper accommodation. For decades the policy in most countries has been to privatise, sell off the public housing stock, and push people to become owner-occupiers.
What is required now is a crash programme of social housing building to cater for the demand, providing affordable rent. At the same time, there are many houses and apartments that stand empty due to speculation. In such cases, those properties should be expropriated and added to the stock of public housing. Once in place, such a programme would go a long way to alleviating the present situation of chronic shortage of homes and exorbitant rents.
Everywhere governments are using emergency legislation to take measures to deal with the crisis. We are, of course, in favour of emergency measures to requisition private assets, to expropriate private hospitals, to take over factories producing personal protection equipment.
The problem is that capitalist governments are taking advantage of the health crisis to curtail democratic rights, banning strikes for instance, or limiting political freedoms, curtailing freedom of expression, bringing the army out on the streets.
These measures play no role whatsoever in dealing with the pandemic and must be opposed. Workers need the right to strike in order to protect themselves from bosses who put our lives and safety at risk. We need freedom of expression so that we can denounce the callous disregard for human life of the capitalist governments.
Therefore, while all efforts must be made to make sure the most effective measures are taken to combat the spread of the virus, we must not allow the capitalist class to exploit the present emergency to curtail the democartic rights that generations of workers have fought for.
For years the catchword of the bourgeois has been privatisation. Large corporations built up by the state were split up and sold off cheaply to the rich. The very concept of nationalisation was ridiculed as something that belonged to a distant past. Now all of a sudden, their tune has changed.
Some governments, in a clear admission that capitalism cannot deal with the present crisis, are requisitioning private hospitals to be used by the state in its emergency measures to combat the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, many governments have stated that they may be prepared to move in the direction of the nationalisation of any major corporation that could go bankrupt in the next period.
An example of this is what the French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said: “I won’t hesitate to use all means available to protect big French companies. That can be done by recapitalisation, that can be done by taking a stake, I can even use the term nationalisation if necessary.”
The right-wing reformists, who until recently were all falling over each other in the rush to add their voices to the campaign against nationalisation, have been also forced to change their tune somewhat.
Let us be clear: what they refer to as nationalisation is in reality a bailout. It is carried out with compensation to the capitalist owners and is therefore simply another means of channelling state funds into private pockets. And once public funding has been used to put these companies back on their feet, they are sold back to the capitalists at knockdown prices. This is another way of making the working class pay for the bosses’ crisis.
The workers cannot accept this kind of nationalisation. It must not be the working class that pays for the mess the capitalists have gotten themselves into. What is required is the expropriation without compensation for the bosses. At the same time we call for the removal of the parasitic top management of these companies and their replacement by workers’ democratic control and management.
The role of the labour movement
The leaders of the labour movement are proving to be incapable of facing up to this situation seriously. In Italy, for example, the trade union leaders fully collaborated with the bosses and the government in insisting that production should not stop. Their main criterion was not safety for the workforce, but maintaining production for fear of economic collapse.
The Italian workers had other ideas. For them, saving lives comes first. They began to take strike action after having failed to convince the factory bosses to close the factories in order to reorganise work in such a way as to make it safer. Only when the workers on the shop floor began taking such decisive action, did the trade union leaders change their position. Rather than leading, they were lagging far behind what was required.
In Britain, the Labour party has shut down all activity, although the technology exists whereby it could continue during the pandemic. Everywhere the labour movement leaders have tacitly or actively gone along with the flawed plans of the ruling class. What is necessary is for them to prepare a working class plan of action. By mobilising the workers in the neighbourhoods and factories these leaders could change the course of events very quickly. Their refusal to do so is an indication of their capitulation to the capitalist class, precisely when it is entering into its deepest ever crisis.
This requires a radical shake up of the existing working class organisations. It means the trade unions must be placed under the direct control of their members. This means leaders who do not earn wages more akin to company directors than the workers they are supposed to represent. It means leaders who earn the average wage of the workers and who are subject to recall if they do not abide by the decisions democratically taken by their members.
This also applies to those parties that were created long ago by the working class as a means of having their own voice. These need to be transformed, starting with a fully democratic process for selecting the leaders. In those countries where no workers’ parties exist, such as in the United States, it is the duty of the organised labour movement to create them.
How to pay for all this
Many people would agree that the above listed demands may seem reasonable, but would pose the question of questions: who pays for all this? We are told that there is not enough money to pay for all these measures. But that is very clearly false.
Firstly, both the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have announced they are pumping billions of dollars and euros into the economy. In Britain the government has announced a £350 billion package, equivalent to 15% of GDP. Italy, France, Spain, Germany, all countries are announcing similarly sized packages.
When they are faced with economic Armageddon they suddenly find the resources. Unfortunately, most of this money is going to the capitalists, not the health service or working people. Furthermore, it simply adds to the already very high levels of public debt. At some later stage, it is the working people who will be asked to make the sacrifices to bring down this debt.
There is another source of immense wealth, however. In the United States, for example, the top 1% of US households—about 1.2 million families—had an aggregate net worth of $35 trillion in 2019. A study by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in 2017 revealed that, “at a time when many people’s thoughts might have been on tightening their belts, two-thirds of UK businesses had a cash surplus.
And, not only that, but, since then, the level of deposits and cash reserves held by British companies has even risen! Cash deposits grew by 8% in 2018, and have increased by a whopping 51% in the last 5 years.” According to Credit Suisse the top 1% on a world scale own nearly 50% of global wealth, while the bottom half of adults account for less than 1% of total global wealth.
In times of crisis, surely this immense wealth, created with the labour of millions of workers, could be put to use in financing all the necessary measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and put in place structures and resources to prepare society for any future breakout of deadly diseases.
It would not be unreasonable to impose a 10% or 20% emergency tax on such wealth. And any company or individual capitalist that refused to collaborate would have to be expropriated, their assets confiscated and their resources put at the disposal of the state. Furthermore, the banks that benefitted massively from state bailouts should be nationalised, without compensation, and integrated into one publicly owned national bank. The same applies to the insurance companies.
If such measures were taken by governments around the world, there would be no need to increase public debt, with all the subsequent austerity that would ensue later. There would be no shortage of resources to build hospitals, invest in pharmaceutical research, build houses, etc., and provide an income for all those workers out of work.
For a workers’ government!
In Britain it is abundantly clear that this Tory government was prepared to see hundreds of thousands die, rather than take the necessary measures and invest the required resources. In the United States, Trump has behaved in a similar manner. Even in Italy, where the virus first spread widely in Europe, the underlying criterion that determined the government’s action was profitability.
We cannot trust these people with the lives of millions of working people. We are being told that this is not the time to raise political differences, but that we all need to pull together. Nationalism and patriotism are being promoted everywhere. We are being told that we are all in the same boat. But that is utterly false. Those who are being asked to pay for this crisis are those who can least afford it, the workers, the youth and the elderly.
We need governments that represent the interests of the working class in all countries. The programme we have outlined above can only be carried out by parties and leaders who represent the working class and its interests. By bringing to power workers’ governments in all countries we would finally be able to use the immense resources available on a world scale and put in place a truly global answer to the present crisis.
Internationalism and workers’ cooperation
In the 21st century, there are two fundamental obstacles to the further development of the productive forces under capitalism: private property of the means of production and the nation state. This is being graphically confirmed by the present crisis.
The market economy has failed abysmally. The profit motive is endangering the lives of millions of people. It is time to put an end to it. In its place what we require is a publicly owned planned economy. Workers’ democratic control and management should be the method introduced to oversee the productive process.
In such an economy, resources could be rapidly shifted to cater for the needs of the moment. Production could be stopped without having to consider the loss of profits of the private owners. Workers kept at home could receive a regular income. Nobody would risk eviction at the hands of private landlords. In a nutshell, this means introducing socialism on a global scale. All the conditions have matured for this to become reality.
Boris Johnson and other bourgeois politicians have compared the present crisis to a war scenario. But during the Second World War in Britain, how did the government behave? Did they say: let the market decide! The state must not intervene! No, they did not. They used the state to centralise production, nationalised the war industries and introduced measures of central planning.
All this, of course, did not mean that Britain became a socialist country. Control still remained firmly in the hands of the bankers and capitalists. But they were compelled to introduce certain measures of central planning and even nationalisation, for the simple reason that these methods give better results. Thus, in practice, the superiority of socialist planning over the anarchy of the market was admitted even by those who were the bitterest enemies of socialism.
China today is undoubtedly a capitalist country. But it is a peculiar form of capitalism, which still retains some of the elements of central planning and state-controlled industries that it inherited from the past. It is precisely these elements that gave China a colossal advantage in combating the present pandemic, with quite remarkable results. This fact has been commented on by people who would not be normally sympathetic to socialism.
The advantages China had in facing the Wuhan outbreak was that it could lockdown a huge area with around 50 million people, while using the resources of the rest of the country to come to the aid of the people in lockdown. They could send in nurses and doctors from other parts of the country; they could send resources from all around the country.
Italy faced a very different situation. It received no help from the rest of Europe. In fact, countries like Germany blocked the export of face masks for instance, thinking in very short-term national terms. Had there been an internationally coordinated operation, things could have been very different.
Here it is worth noting what Chinese doctors presently in Italy are saying needs doing. They have observed the situation in the country and from their experience of how they combatted the virus in Wuhan, they are of the opinion that there is still too much movement of people on the streets. This confirms what we have been saying ever since this new virus broke out: all non-essential production must be stopped.
Italy could have been totally locked down, with the rest of Europe sending material and human resources to combat the initial spread of the virus. By doing so, the period of lockdown could have been shorter and more effective. Instead we had each national member state of the European Union acting in different ways and at different speeds.
The result of all this is that the virus spread far more quickly in Italy and has been a major contributing factor to the spread across Europe. Now all of Europe is facing the situation that Italy is in, and the emergency is far worse than it needed to be.
This exposes the European Union for what it is, a body that defends only the interests of the major capitalist corporations. When it comes to imposing austerity measures on countries like Greece or Italy they find the will and the means to do so. But when it comes to saving the lives of millions of people it proves not just to be useless, but actually a factor in aggravating the situation. It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that capitalism has failed.
Some serious bourgeois analysts are coming to the realisation that their system is doomed. One example is what The Australian magazine published recently: "Macquarie Wealth Management, the stockbroking arm of the beating heart of Australian capitalism, Macquarie Group, has warned that ‘conventional capitalism is dying’ and the world is headed for ‘something that will be closer to a version of communism’."
How true those words ring! What is required is a global effort to combat the danger that humanity faces today. That cannot be achieved when what determines everything is the quest for profit by a handful of capitalists who own the means of production. What is required is production for need.
Many people are now beginning to realise that the so-called market economy is completely inadequate to meet the needs of the present crisis. They also realise that the case for an international plan of production is absolutely unanswerable. The case for socialism is one that can no longer be denied. Of course, when we say socialism, we do not refer to the totalitarian and bureaucratic caricature that existed in the Soviet Union or Maoist China. Genuine socialism is democratic, or it is nothing. Real socialism can only be achieved under a regime of workers’ democracy, with a nationalised, planned economy under the direct control and management of the workers.
This is what the International Marxist Tendency is fighting for in all the countries where it has a presence. We invite you all to join us in this endeavour to provide the world working class and youth with the policies and the programme that are required to raise humanity out of the quagmire that capitalism has dragged us into. The alternative is society being plunged into the depths of barbarism on a scale far bigger than what we saw in the 1930s. Join us in the fight!
London, 20th March, 2020