“In responding to the sudden outbreak of Covid-19, we put the people and their lives above all else, worked to prevent both imported cases and domestic resurgences, and tenaciously pursued a dynamic zero-Covid policy. In launching an all-out people’s war to stop the spread of the virus, we have protected the people’s health and safety to the greatest extent possible and made tremendously encouraging achievements in both epidemic response and economic and social development.”
By Marcos Margarido
These were the words of Xi Jinping at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China. A month later, they are a dead letter. The Chinese people have risen up against this kind of “health and safety” provided by the Chinese government and have given a clear message: they do not want the CCP dictatorship to put “the people and their lives above all else“, but to give them back their lives so that they themselves can decide what to do with them.
And they did this in the best possible way. They took to the streets and challenged the omnipotence of a party and a state (some prefer to say party-state) without resorting, as policemen who later interrogated some of the demonstrators wished, to “official channels”. And the people discovered that no, they are not omnipotent.
The government was forced to step back on some of the most hated restrictions of its “zero-COVID” campaign after demonstrations swept China’s major cities (read the story Protesters defy the government in a turbulent week for China) in late November. Infected people will no longer be taken to confinement camps, they will be able to quarantine in their homes. The requirement for negative PCR tests to enter public places has been relaxed, as well as for travel within the country.
Also, confinement of entire cities or neighbourhoods will not be done, they will be more localised, such as in buildings with COVID outbreaks or even just floors. And they will be cancelled if there are no new cases within five days. Also, the tracking app will be erased from mobile phones.
This was a victory for the movement, even if a partial one, which may inject a new spirit into the Chinese masses against the dictatorial government. But, of course, this does not exhaust the issue, as China is experiencing an outbreak of the disease, even with all the restrictive measures. There are about 30 thousand new cases a day, which should increase with the relaxation of the measures and overload the hospital network, which is not prepared for a large increase in cases.
The reasons for the protests
Many may ask: if cases will increase, why did the population rebel? There is no easy answer to that, but some examples of what has happened for almost 3 years of the application of the “zero-COVID” policy may help.
Almost 530 million people – nearly 40% of the population – were under some form of lockdown at the end of November, according to one estimate. People died because of delayed medical care or went hungry.
The city of Haizhu, a hub for the clothing industry, south of Guangzhou, one of China’s most industrialised regions, was in total lockdown in October. The consequences for the workers were tragic. The economic downturn had already driven thousands into unemployment, forcing them to accept piecework and earn half the wage before the pandemic. Their confinement in quarantine centres led them to lose even this meagre source of income. It was a prison, but without the provision of meals or financial aid, starving them.
After a case was detected in Xiasha, a populous neighbourhood in Shenzhen, the government erected barriers preventing residents from leaving for two weeks. Even after the barriers were removed, PCR tests were required every 24 hours. People entering the neighbourhood had to provide proof of residency. Authorities monitored people’s movements through their mobile phones. A state news agency said that monitoring of activities was done by one civil servant for every 250 residents. As one of them put it, “the State is everywhere”.
This combination of reduced economic activity with restrictive measures and the ostensible presence of a police state controlling their lives led the population to rebel and demand changes, and even the fall of the government, in cities like Shanghai.
What to do?
The apologists for the Chinese capitalist dictatorship, such as the communist parties and Castro-Chavista movements, defended all restrictive measures uncritically. Now they are advocating the abolition of the measures by the government in the same way, without criticism. They are nothing but mimics of the “supreme guide.” But they cause enormous harm to the working class by claiming that all the policies of the Chinese government are based on Marxism and are part of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, the euphemism used by the Communist Party of China to justify the capitalist restoration of the Chinese economy in the late 1970s.
But is there a Marxist policy for dealing with an epidemic? Let’s turn to an example, which occurred during the civil war that raged in Russia soon after the working class seized power in 1917. There was a typhus epidemic, which spread through Europe during the Great War, but worsened in Russia due to the terrible living conditions of the peasant population caused by the siege of the so-called white armies, financed by the imperialist powers.
“Between 1918 and 1922, some estimates suggested that about 20 to 25 per cent of the whole population had been infected, with a death toll of some 2.5 million (mortality rate in the range of 10 to 12 per cent). In 1919-20, 4,000 public health physicians got the disease and 800 (20 per cent) died. From 1918 to 1920, 1,183 of 3,500 Red Army doctors got typhus, and 235 (19.9 per cent) died. Foreign invasion, civil war, economic collapse, famine, and concomitant diseases like cholera, the influenza pandemic of 1918-19, and the greatest epidemic of louse-borne relapsing fever ever recorded, all compounded the misery of the Soviet population and made combating typhus much more difficult.”1
The government of the Soviets dealt with this situation by appealing to the rank and file of the soviets, for the population to be organised around the goal of fighting the epidemic. At the Seventh All-Russia Congress of Soviets, in December 1919, the delegates heard a memorable speech by Lenin:
“A third scourge is assailing us, lice, and the typhus that is mowing down our troops. Comrades, it is impossible to imagine the dreadful situation in the typhus regions, where the population is broken, weakened, without material resources, where all life, all public life ceases. To this we say, “Comrades, we must concentrate everything on this problem. Either the lice will defeat socialism, or socialism will defeat the lice!” And here too, comrades, by using the same methods as elsewhere, we are beginning t achieve success. There are still some doctors, of course, who hold preconceived notions and have no faith in workers’ rule, who prefer to draw fees from the rich rather than fight the hard battle against typhus. But these are a minority, they are becoming fewer, and the majority see that the people are struggling for their very existence, they realise that by their struggle the people desire to solve the fundamental question of preserving civilisation. These doctors are behaving in this arduous and difficult matter with no less devotion than the military specialists. They are willing to put themselves at the service of the working people. I must say that we are beginning to emerge also from this crisis. Comrade Semashko has given me some information about this work., According to news from the front, 122 doctors and 467 assistants had arrived at the front by October 1. One hundred and fifty doctors have been sent from Moscow. We have reason to believe that by December 15 another 800 doctors will have arrived at the front to help in the battle against typhus. We must pay great attention to this affliction.”2
Appeal to the workers and peasants, appeal to the doctors, appeal to the troops, workers’ democracy. This was the method to which Lenin referred in his speech, the working class method. That is Marxist policy, not the establishment of a police state, which could easily have occurred, for the country was fully mobilised for civil war.
Overthrow the dictatorship
Therefore, there is nothing more urgent than the overthrow of this capitalist dictatorship, commanded by Xi Jinping, by the hands of the Chinese working class and its allies, the poor peasants, the workers in the big urban centres, the oppressed nationalities and the women workers and peasants oppressed by machismo. The union of these sectors and the support of the international working class will create the conditions for the construction of a genuine revolutionary Marxist party in China, to lead the revolution that will bring down these wolves in sheep’s clothing.
1 K. David Patterson, Typhus and its control in Russia, 1870-1940, Medical History, 1993, 37: 361-381.
2 Lenin, Report of The All-Russia Central Executive Committee And The Council Of Peoples Commissars, www.marxists.org