Some Thoughts on the Coronavirus Epidemic and its Consequences

  • Organizing Committee for the Reconstitution of the Fourth International
  • Newsletter No. 14 (New Series) – March 12, 2020 – corqi.ocrfi@gmail.com               – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –Corona Italy photo
  • What problems are posed for the working class and for the labor movement by the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • And what conclusions can be drawn for the organizations, groups and activists fighting for the reconstitution of the Fourth International?

The comrades of the Internationalist Communist Organization of Brazil (OCI) have proposed that a declaration of the OCRFI be drawn up as soon as possible. A draft is currently being prepared. Without waiting, we offer here some thoughts.

Marxists refuse to give a scientific and medical point of view in the place of scientists and doctors.

As we wrote on February 27, 2020, in the Editorial Notes of The Internationale N°17,

“We will refrain from venturing a scientific opinion on the virus, its origin, its degree of danger, and the measures necessary to combat it. Marxism is alien to any form of ‘official science’, of ‘official medicine’, just as it rejects ‘official art’. At this stage, the only characterization that is unanimously accepted by scientists is that it is a so-called emerging virus, that is to say, unknown until now to humans. It is responsible for respiratory infections, the severity of which is due to the virulence proper to the virus. It is transmitted like other respiratory infections. There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine. It has a strong potential for mutation and could become more easily transmissible and more virulent.”

The comrades from Brazil, in their statement of March 11, added:

“A few days ago, the world press reported that a group of researchers at Harvard University estimated that between 40% and 70% of the entire world’s population will have tested positive for the new coronavirus at some point. According to the scientists, this infection rate could occur within the current year. … In total, if the contamination reaches between 40% and 70% of the world’s population, and with a mortality rate varying between 2% and 3.6%, the number of victims could reach tens of millions (or even more than 100 million) of people worldwide — the equivalent of the number of victims of a world war.”

The governments are responsible!

While the outbreak of the epidemic in China in December was not, of course, a political decision, we are entitled to ask the question: Who is responsible for its rapid spread on a global scale?

For decades, at the international level, in the name of the laws of the “market economy” and the “need to lower labor costs”, all the governments at the service of Capital and its international institutions have undermined the social-protection systems wrested by class struggle; they have dismantled the public-healthcare systems, closed hospitals, and cut jobs. The big pharmaceutical trusts have relocated the production of generic drugs to “low-cost” countries, including China, leading to the current drug shortages. The privatization of basic research has prevented scientists around the world from being able to advance research on emerging viruses.

So the answer is clear: All governments are responsible for the rapid spread of the epidemic and the victims it has already caused. And behind these governments is the failed regime of private ownership of the means of production of which they are all the instruments.

The dramatic situation described above prevails in all the imperialist countries, starting with the most powerful among them, the United States, where 48 million people have no health insurance. It is aggravated in all the oppressed nations of Africa, Latin America and Asia that have suffered the structural adjustment plans of the IMF and the World Bank over the past 40 years.

Haiti liberte final collage

As the editorial in the weekly newspaper Haiti Liberté (March 11, 2020) rightly notes:

“What will be the fate of an impoverished, exploited country? What will be the fate of the Haitian popular masses if the coronavirus manages to knock on our doors? Will it not be difficult, not to say impossible, to stop the spread of this often fatal disease in a country adrift, deprived of even basic healthcare and totally ravaged by misery, poverty and corruption? …

“As for us, access to healthcare for the majority of the population is already an exorbitant luxury since our medical system has been devastated by the over-exploitation of global capitalism, the social and political sources of our suffering. Our basic needs and services are completely disorganized, and now all our public hospitals are on strike, as healthcare workers have not received their salaries for several months, while also demanding better working conditions. …

“If we will not be ready to face the coronavirus, it is because we have not yet recovered from the devastating effects of the earthquake of January 12, 2010, and the cholera epidemic that the United Nations, via Minustah [UN occupation troops – Editor’s note], had foisted upon us, without any compensation.”

Capitalist governments are using the epidemic to strike even harder

This already dramatic situation is aggravated by the ongoing financial crash, of which the pandemic was the triggering factor. One after the other, the stock markets are “plummeting”. International institutions, the IMF and the European Central Bank, are “alarmed”. Is this because there are thousands of victims, which could tomorrow be millions? Is it because populations of entire countries are threatened? No, of course not. What frightens the representatives of finance capital, as Georges Ugeux, former vice president of the American Stock Exchange, put it is the fact that the pandemic is “triggering the awareness that we are living on a volcano of debt, but also that the U.S. economy is shrinking”. Kenneth Rogoff, former IMF chief economist, said that “the COVID-19 crisis is hitting the world economy at a time when growth is already weak and many countries are heavily over-indebted”.

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As was stated in the article “What Is the State of the World Economy?” published in Issue No, 17 of The Internationale:

Global indebtedness broke records in 2019, with global indebtedness (households, companies and states) corresponding to almost three and a half times the global production of wealth, which was thus spent in advance by the capitalist economy … . With, of course, the risk that this edifice could collapse at any moment”.

And the coronavirus pandemic is now, by the very admission of bourgeois economists, the trigger for this collapse, synonymous for hundreds of millions of workers around the world with a gigantic destruction of productive forces.

The capitalist governments of the entire world, who are responsible for the coming catastrophe, are seizing upon this situation to strike harder and harder at the working class.

In France as in Russia, the authorities have just forbidden gatherings of more than 1,000 to 5,000 people. Macron, however, is careful not to “suspend” his government’s counter-reform of pensions, against which millions of workers have risen up. In Algeria, the regime that millions have been calling for an end to, that millions of people have denounced for its “repression,” is reverting to the repressive policies taken by the old regime in the name of “the health of the population”.

These very same governments are using the situation to speed up anti-worker measures, such as the passage in force of the pension counter-reform in France. In Brazil, at a time when funds should be released immediately to strengthen the healthcare sector and improve health conditions, Bolsonaro’s Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, has just summoned the congress to fast-track the dismantling and privatization of public services, directly affecting the country’s public health.

Humanity is in danger! No confidence in capitalist governments!

The working class, the peasants, the youth, in short, the vast majority of the world’s population, are in danger. Yes, the catastrophe that threatens can cause the equivalent of the number of victims of a world war. Because they are victims of the policies aimed at destroying public health services, the workers and the oppressed people are on the front lines of the struggle.

A question is therefore posed: Can the workers trust capitalist governments or bourgeois states to defend them and fight the pandemic?

corona french hospital nurses

Hospital workers in Val-de-Marne (France) with signs that read, “Yes, Mr. President, You Can Count on Us, But It Remains to Be Seen If We Can Count on You!”

To this question, instinctively, entire sections of the working class answer: No! At their side, the organizations fighting for the reconstitution of the Fourth International say loud and clear: No trust in the capitalist governments, in the bourgeois states, in the international financial institutions of Capital that bear responsibility for the damage already committed!

Our Italian comrades are a thousand times right when they warn that, “in this situation, the trade unions immediately responded to the invitation to national unity by cancelling the strikes planned already, but also the assemblies and meetings in workplaces“.

In France, L’Humanité (March 10), the Communist Party’s newspaper, reports a call to “facilitate the cash flow” of companies “by delaying the payment of taxes, VAT or contributions” as well as the demand for a “massive, Europe-wide coordinated recovery plan, in the words of Bruno Le Maire“, Macron’s economy minister. Others suggest “not talking about the coronavirus” since on this subject “we can only share the government’s concerns“!

It is a fact: In most of the countries where the pandemic is raging, the position of these leaders, responding to the siren call of “sacred union” with their own governments, is widely shared at the highest levels of the apparatuses that lead the labor movement.

The main accusation that the Fourth International levels against the leaders who speak in the name of the workers is their refusal to break with the bourgeoisie, with the capitalist governments that bear responsibility for the current situation. Just as there cannot be a sacred union in the face of imperialist war, there cannot be a sacred union with the capitalists and their governments to protect the working class from the ravages of the coronavirus.

What are the necessary measures? And what kind of government will implement them?

Our Italian comrades from Tribuna Libera are right when they reject the sacred union, writing,

“Necessary measures? The workers know what they are: prohibition of all layoffs, maintenance of all salaries, full coverage for all sick leaves. And, in the area of the healthcare system, allocation of all the funds necessary to fight against illness, while guaranteeing care for citizens affected by other pathologies. But this will not come out of the blue, it will not be achieved through an “agreement” with the government and with the capitalists! This can only be the result of the struggle, the struggle of the workers and their trade unions to impose these measures, just like the withdrawal of differentiated autonomy, a demand that is emerging.

“The money is there, the gigantic profits announced by Intesa-SanPaolo prove it. What we need is a government that releases these funds and allocates them to the vast majority of the population! Far from demanding a pause in raising our demands in the name of national unity around the government, the coronavirus calls, more than ever, for the workers to step up the struggle against the capitalists and the various governments (past and present, local and national). More than ever, the answer lies in the field of class struggle. More than ever, the answer lies is in the total independence of the workers’ organizations”.

The March 11 editorial in La Tribune des travailleurs, the weekly newspaper of the Independent Democratic Workers’ Party (in France), stated:

“We can state, on the other hand, what is necessary to wage war on this epidemic. This poses the question of means, financial and material. To be specific, an exceptional mobilization is needed to restore to our healthcare system the funding that has been cut by successive governments, funds that are lacking dramatically today. There is an urgent need to allocate funds to reopen hospitals and clinics (and build new ones if necessary) and to restore the 100,000 hospital beds that have been cut over the past 20 years; funds also to train and recruit doctors and care staff; funds also to deploy an industry that supplies mass-produced masks and other protective and care products needed in all areas.

“Emergency and exceptional measures are also needed to prohibit layoffs and job cuts. The collapse of the stock markets is the result not of the coronavirus but of the major crisis of a capitalist system that is hooked on the drug of billions of “liquidity” injected by the central banks, funds that go straight to inflate the speculative bubble. … So, if it is necessary, in order to finance the emergency measures needed to protect the population, to confiscate all or part of the dividends paid to shareholders and to impose the restoration of the Social Security system [national single-payer healthcare and pensions — Tr. note] of the sums that have been misappropriated, is there any reason to hesitate?

“Concerning the emergency measures, yet again: the attacks on the Social Security healthcare and pension system must be stopped immediately, starting with the withdrawal of the pension reform, which is dismantling this institution, which is vital for the health of workers and their families.

“Who will take such emergency measures with the necessary energy, will and determination? The Macron government? But who can have confidence in a government which, when it comes to the epidemic, says one thing and its opposite without knowing what it is talking about, which denies today what it said yesterday and which says today what it will deny tomorrow? Who can trust a government whose first measure is to exempt the bosses from paying their contributions to the Social Security system, thereby depriving workers of their deferred wages to pay for the bankruptcy of capitalism?

“No, only a government that breaks with the dictates of the capitalist system and the European Union, a government that is motivated by the desire to protect the workers and not the capitalist minority and its profits, will find the means wherever they are.

“And such a government will be able to do all this because it will have the support of the majority of the population, those who only have their jobs to live on. In the longer term, only a government concerned about the needs of the vast majority will take the necessary measures to give basic research, independent of the pressures of multinationals hungry for immediate profits, the means to achieve its mission and to create the conditions to ward off future epidemics based on ongoing research supported by the current epidemic.”

The working class is in self-defense mode! The workers can rely only on their own strength!

But for this, adds La Tribune des travailleurs:

Workers and their organizations cannot be seduced by the siren song of the sacred union of those who call (including those on the ‘left’) to trust the government to take the necessary measures. In this area, as in all others, workers can only have confidence in their ability to act and to weld their unity in and through class struggle. For example, they can set up independent commissions of hospital workers, researchers, doctors, representatives of trade union organizations to establish the truth about the progression of the disease, to put an end to the government’s rigged presentations and to make public the information that allows workers to understand and act in the interest of the majority”.

In such a situation, the working class needs more than ever its independence from Capital, its governments and its institutions. This poses for the organizations of the OCRFI, the absolute necessity of their own independent political expression in the service of the struggle against any form of sacred union with capitalist governments, thus of the struggle for the independent political organization of the working class, and the preparation of the World Conference Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers’ International.

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