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Issue #1912      April 27, 2020

ONLY SOCIALISM CAN SAVE US

It is clear that we are approaching a critical political crossroads, debates will explode about what sort of society comes after the pandemic. One thing is clear: even if life does eventually return to some semblance of normality, it will not be the same normal as before the crisis. The coronavirus threat is helping many people to rethink the basic features of the society we live in and to think about an alternate society.

At the same time, industry leaders and others are talking up a return to normal. The right-wing Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has called for an immediate snap back to business as usual. Far-right lobby group Advance Australia is fundraising to stop Morrison’s “left-wing agenda.” Andrew Bolt has described Morrison’s response as a “drastic over-reaction.”

There is clear evidence that the intention going forward is to make workers pay for the crisis. The government has already amended Fairwork regulations to enable employers to slash the time required to consult over changes to pay and conditions in enterprise agreements from seven days to twenty-four hours. The changes were made under the guise that they allow for rapid responses to the pandemic, under the cloak of “looking after” workers. In reality, it is looking after capital.

Christy Clark points out that the socially progressive measures adopted in response to the crisis do not “herald the beginning of a socialist utopia in Australia. [...] [T]hey have been introduced to protect capital, not equality. And if you needed any more evidence of this overarching agenda [...] just take a look at the environmentally destructive policies that are also being progressed under the cover of this crisis.

“In NSW, for example, the state government recently approved an extension of longwall coal mining under the Woronora reservoir. [...] The decision was made without debate due to the suspension of Parliament, despite widespread community concern and the documented risks such mining poses to water quality.

“Similarly, the Victorian State Government quietly lifted its moratorium on drilling for onshore conventional gas reserves.”

The pandemic has been used to introduce measures of control and regulation. The lockdown of Italy is a good example of this, but we are experiencing expanded social control here in Australia too. How much of this will the capitalist state try to keep when the pandemic is over? We may well face capitalism inflicting harsh austerity as it struggles to reimpose the market and increase profit-making.

Phone and internet are our principal links with others nowadays, and both are controlled by the state, which can monitor us through them and disconnect us at will.

BUILDING A BETTER WORLD

Professor Rees writes: “If humankind and the planet are to be rescued, there must be no repetition of policies which contributed to the current catastrophe. Under neo-liberal economic systems, the rhetoric was that governments should not intervene, even though they did so to promote privatisation and corporate profit, all the time pretending that government was neutral. Now there has to be an enlarged, unashamed, creative role for the state, and not just in the form of rescue packages. [...]

“Although governments are spending huge sums to subsidise key industries and to provide sufficient support to enable non-essential workers to stay at home, as yet there is no acknowledgement of the likely permanence of the state’s responsibility to intervene in the interests of a common humanity.

“A choice looms, between return to a greedy, destructive capitalism or transition to a life preserving, life enhancing economy, not just as a means of survival but as a healthy, fulfilling way of living.”

But if we want to build a better world, we need to be clear about what that looks like. And we cannot permit ourselves beautiful vague notions of a utopian future. The position we start from will be tough and the opposition to change even harder. It will not be a soft world at the start.

SOCIALISM

However, the pandemic has given a boost to new forms of local solidarity as well as a recognition that market mechanisms cannot prevent chaos, hunger, suffering, and deaths. Many people now understand that production and distribution will have to take place without the market.

The state will have to ensure that public services like electricity and water, food and medicine, housing and education, transportation and culture are available. Production for profit will have to be eliminated or regulated so production is planned to meet human needs.

The power of the massive corporations will have to be replaced by people power, with the people controlling production and distribution in a system that shares economic output equally throughout the population.

We are talking about socialism. Poet Alice Meynall wrote of socialism:

The millionaire shall have itThough he hates the very nameAnd tries to crush and strangle it –He shall have it, just the same!

ENVIRONMENT

A positive by-product of the coronavirus pandemic is that pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen around the world. As industries, transport networks and businesses have closed down it has brought a sudden drop in carbon emissions.

Compared with this time last year, pollution in New York has fallen by nearly fifty per cent because of measures to contain the virus. In China, emissions fell twenty-five per cent at the start of the year as people stayed at home, factories were closed shuttered and coal use fell by forty per cent. In Europe, satellite images show nitrogen dioxide emissions fading away over northern Italy. A similar story is playing out in Spain and the UK.

However, environmentally the negatives outweigh the positives. The pandemic is pushing the climate crisis off people’s minds, as attention to saving lives takes precedence. The casualties of COVID-19 may include global efforts to address climate change.

Daniel Wilkinson and Luciana Téllez Chávez point out, “The European Union has come under pressure to shelve crucial climate initiatives, with Poland calling for a carbon trading program to be put on hold and the Czech Republic urging that the EU’s landmark climate bill be abandoned, while airline companies have pressed regulators to delay emissions-cutting policies. China has already announced such delays, extending deadlines for companies to meet environmental standards and postponing an auction for the right to build several huge solar farms.

“In Brazil, the federal environmental agency announced it is cutting back on its enforcement duties, which include protecting the Amazon from accelerating deforestation that could lead to the release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases that are stored in one of the world’s most important carbon sinks.”

When the pandemic eventually subsides, we will need to ensure that fundamental socio-economic change is introduced if we are to avert a global catastrophe far greater than the viral pandemic

To think that we can tackle the climate emergency within capitalism is absurd. The basic, defining, imperative of capitalism is economic growth, which necessitates the further destruction of nature. Capitalism created the climate crisis. It cannot play a role in the solution.

The ruling class’s lack of concern for the environment is reinforced by the competitive nature of the system. Each individual capitalist must keep their costs low and their profits high to stay ahead of their rivals. The main way they do this is by keeping workers’ wages down. But if they can save money by not dealing with the environmental costs of their operations, they do that too.

THE PARTY’S ROLE

It is not sufficient to state the aim of establishing a socialist Australia. It will not just fall into our laps – it will have to be argued for, popularised, and fought for.

Our goal is the creation of a society that will resolve the problems inherent in capitalism – war, exploitation, environmental destruction, oppression, poverty, unemployment, ignorance, bigotry, racism, and discrimination.

Capitalism causes massive damage to the environment as the corporations pollute the water, soil and atmosphere, rip out the resources of the planet, and destroy its vegetation and the biodiversity of the world in their criminal drive for profits irrespective of the consequences for the long-term survival of all forms of life on earth.

What needs to be done to create a “new dawn” after the virus rather than continue the nightmare of climate crisis, growing inequality and poverty and increasingly authoritarian government and politics should be on the front of the minds of all Communist Party members.

Communists have the responsibility to lead the struggle for the establishment of a society that is fairer, co-operative, more democratic and far more enriching for the people than the present society.

Comrades must keep up and expand campaigning for ways to minimise climate change. This should include calling on union leaders to take a role and not one that involves unions cuddling up to conservative politicians to take part in climate-damaging industries. Unions must take a broader view and be involved in leading a just transition for all workers. There is much to be done, for example, to restore and invigorate former mine sites and recycle mining equipment.

With the advent of the virus, society suddenly realised that homeless people could become factories of virus production, spreading the virus and suffering huge casualties as well. Comrades must take up a role in campaigning aggressively for public housing.

The government and the system have failed us. They did it during the firestorms that raged across Australia. They are doing it now with COVID-19, but this time we will not accept their failure.

Party members must find ways to argue the case for socialism as the only alternative. We have to be there on all forms of social media, every day, day after day after day, arguing for a new better world, arguing for working people to join the movement for real change.

We cannot let the opportunity slip by!

Next article – COMRADES COME RALLY, MAY DAY 2020

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