The world is being threatened by the coronavirus pandemic that has the potential to match the millions of deaths caused by the 1918 Spanish Flu. In addition to its death toll, the virus threatens to kick off an economic downturn on par with the Great Depression.
Statement by the IWL-FI
These catastrophes are not natural phenomena. They are the products of capitalism, which exists solely to generate profits for the major corporations irrespective of the problems faced by workers.
The coming disaster is going to be as severe as a war, the kind of emergency that demands a massive restructuring of the economy in response. But even now, with the pandemic underway, it is still possible to reduce the negative consequences.
Governments around the world are more interested in continuing to prioritize guaranteeing profits for major corporations instead of saving the lives of millions of workers. It is capitalism that kills – now aided by the coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic is a major threat to workers
Governments have downplayed and underestimated the threat of the coronavirus. Trump compared it with the common cold, and says that it will disappear on its own in a few months. Bolsonaro has said that the pandemic “is more a myth than anything else.”
Unfortunately, many workers agree with this perspective and are left thinking that reports of the pandemic are “exaggerations” or deflect concerns by saying that “many more people die of hunger, etc.” In some cases, workers have denounced coronavirus panic as an “imperialist plot”.
It is necessary to tell the truth. The coronavirus pandemic is a serious threat, especially for the working class and poor people around the world. Despite the fact that the virus was originally primarily transmitted by middle class individuals that have the ability to travel internationally, the disease has the potential to kill thousands to millions of people, especially the elderly and poor, while the rich can protect themselves with intensive private medical care on demand.
It is true that the mortality rate for COVID-19 is around 3.4%. But we need to remember that there is a real possibility that hundreds of millions of people will be infected, and in doing so we can grasp the degree of the threat that we are facing. Millions may die. Situations like what we have seen in Italy and China (or even worse) could come to pass in many countries.
The virus itself is similar to the SARS virus that caused an epidemic in 2002, infecting over 8,000 people and killing almost 800. In 2012, another coronavirus, which originated in Saudi Arabia and was dubbed MERS, caused another international epidemic, killing 35% of those who were infected.
All of these viruses have existed for centuries, primarily infecting wildlife such as bats and camels in Asia and Africa. At some point, they mutated and gained the ability to infect humans as well. These diseases become epidemics because capitalism’s predatory need for new land to exploit drives human development into previously-unsettled biomes, disrupting natural ecosystems and exposing humans to animals carrying these new diseases.
This is not a “natural phenomenon” but rather a specific consequence of capitalism’s ongoing war on nature, resulting in climate change, mass deforestation, and toxic pollution.
Put frankly, what this means is that even after this pandemic ends, there will be others to follow. COVID-19 is just the latest disease to threaten humanity, preceded by SARS, H1N1, MERS, and others.
The world is not prepared for a pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic is striking a world that is already suffering from brutal social and economic polarization. Megacorporations concentrate the wealth of the bourgeoisie to a disgusting degree. A mere 2,153 capitalists have more wealth than the entire rest of the world’s population. The poorer half of the world’s population controls less than 1% of the world’s wealth.
The implementation of neoliberal austerity has severely increased people’s economic suffering: reducing salaries and weakening labor organizing. A growing portion of the working class no longer has steady employment, and need to find work each day just to put food on the table. The slums of major cities are full of dismal houses, many without working sewage systems or running water.
Austerity plans have slashed budgets for public health and privatized the hospital systems. Around the world, health systems are already in shambles. With only these meager defenses to stop it, the pandemic will sow chaos. Chile was the bourgeoisie’s poster child for the total privatization of the healthcare system. Today, Chileans can’t even rely on their healthcare system to help them with routine care and are even less prepared for an emergency. Even the United States, the world’s greatest superpower, is unprepared. They do not have a public health system, and their people will suffer the consequences.
Humanity writ large is completely unprotected and unprepared to confront this pandemic, and it is entirely the fault of the bourgeoisie and their governments.
In about 80% of cases, COVID-19’s symptoms are comparable to a cold or common flu. Around 20% of cases become more severe, with 3.4% of the total being fatal. Mortality rates are lower for young people (around 1%) and higher (around 15%) for people aged over 60.
The more severe cases develop into pneumonia and the most serious cases require the intervention of mechanically assisted respiration devices operated in intensive care units (ICUs).
What this means is that over the next three to four months, medical services in affected countries will be completely overwhelmed, verging on total collapse in several places. Long hospital lines and shortages of necessary resources like disinfectant, surgical masks, and diagnostic tests will become our daily reality.
Even more grave is the shortage of ICU beds, especially when compounded with the existing inequality of care in the capitalist medical system. The rich will have few problems receiving the medical attention that they need at private institutions. The poor, left without facilities to take care of them, will die.
The imposition of social distancing measures and the expansion of intensive care facilities can stop the spread of the disease. It appears to be the case that after suppressing information about COVID-19, the Chinese government took drastic steps to confront the disease, enforcing quarantine measures in Wuhan, a city of 11 million. The Italian government took similar measures following the disease’s dramatic explosion in their country. In both locations, the total toll of COVID-19 has been enormous.
Signs of capitalist barbarism
Now that it is impossible to hide the pandemic, governments are trying to pin the blame on nature or else cast “foreigners” as their scapegoat. These attempts to assign blame often pull on racist ideology. Governments are imposing more and more authoritarian measures to repress the general public’s response.
Coming full circle, these governments blame COVID-19 for the newly emerging economic crisis. But this pandemic was only the spark that set off the fuse of economic panic, which is shaping up to be as bad as the 2007–2009 recession, or possibly even worse. It seems possible that COVID-19 could play a similar role in the upcoming crisis as the collapse of Lehman Brothers did in 2008; not the cause of the crisis, but rather a sign of its arrival.
In this hour of crisis, governments have been implementing measures with the goal of protecting large corporations, but not the working class or precariat.
Trump has promised further financial incentives for companies, including for the pharmaceutical industry. Governments in Europe and across the rest of the world are doing similarly. At the same time, these governments have implemented only limited measures against the pandemic itself, almost as an afterthought weeks after they could have taken decisive measures to avoid or ameliorate the coming crisis.
It’s easy to see that the combination of economic and medical crises will only compound suffering and cruelty around the world. It is imperative for us to stare this catastrophe in the face and to fight it.
An emergency program for the working class to confront the crisis
We believe that workers’ lives are more important than corporations’ profits. Consequently, we are proposing an anti-capitalist program in response to this crisis:
- The only real method at our disposal to limit the spread of the pandemic is social distancing – for everyone to stay home. But how can we accomplish this?
People have a right to stay home and deserve to continue to receive wages during this time. It is a farce for governments to demand social distancing while keeping the factories running. The Italian strikes in defense of people’s rights to stay home from work, conducted as wildcat strikes against the wishes of the labor aristocracy, are an example that the whole world should follow.
We are in favor of a total work stoppage, with the sole exception of firms dedicated to the production and distribution of food, medicine, and other resources necessary to deal with the current crisis. Workers that are engaged in this necessary labor need to be protected from the virus at work to the greatest extent possible.
- But how can precarious workers stop working for two, three or more months without starving? We demand a universal stipend equivalent to the average working salary in order to protect everyone’s ability to self-quarantine, including people who are unemployed or self-employed.
- Staying home is of critical importance during this pandemic. But which homes will people be staying in? Significant portions of the working class live in unhealthy conditions, overcrowded with both children and the elderly. We demand the expropriation of apartments and houses not currently in use, as well as hotels, in order to relocate those with inadequate housing.
- Free and comprehensive healthcare for all. We need a full mobilization of all medical infrastructure, appropriating buildings and equipment as necessary in order to meet the medical needs of the people.
- Free distribution of hand sanitizer, masks, and medicine for all. It is unthinkable that the majority of the population is denied access to these basic protective measures.
- Free and readily available COVID-19 tests for all medical patients. This is necessary in order to be able to diagnose cases with few or no symptoms, who are nonetheless able to spread the disease. Without adequate testing measures, it is impossible to determine the number of infected individuals, let alone to control the spread of the disease. Even capitalist countries like South Korea have been able to implement such measures to great success.
- The nationalization of medical services, complete with the expropriation of private hospitals and intensive care centers. This should be complemented with the construction of new hospitals and intensive care units
Where necessary, additional hospitals and intensive care facilities need to be constructed as quickly as possible. We need an immediate end to inequalities in healthcare. It is unconscionable for access intensive care beds to be limited, a situation which will lead to thousands of poor peoples’ deaths.
- Expropriation of the pharmaceutical industry in order to guarantee the production and distribution of free medicine.
- Governments will claim that there is no money available to finance the demands above. This is false, of course, but it will be necessary to undo the neoliberal reforms of the past decades in order to be able to lay hands on these resources. We demand an end to bailouts for megacorporations. Now is the time to use that money to save people’s lives instead of lining capitalists’ wallets.
Semicolonial and otherwise dependent countries must refuse to pay international debts and use that money to instead finance and protect their domestic economies and emergency healthcare systems.
- It is necessary to fundamentally restructure the economy in order to be able to address the catastrophe that is threatening us. We need to implement an emergency plan, led by the working class, in order to confront the pandemic.
The world would be completely different if the economy was redirected to respond to the needs of the working class instead of the whims of big business. This is why we stand for socialism, together with the expropriation of industry, planned economy, and workers’ democracy.
We are calling on all mass movements to unite in order to make these demands a reality. We are calling for workers and poor people around the world to rebel against our murderous governments.