- by Eileen Whitehead
- The Guardian
- Issue #1950
Over one year ago (30/1/2020), the World Health Organisation (WHO), declared that the outbreak of COVID-19 constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Ninety-eight cases were seen in eighteen countries outside of China. It was stressed that although these numbers were relatively small compared to the number of cases in China (how things have changed!), everyone must act to limit further spread. One year later, the total number of cases has passed 110 million. Deaths have reached 2,225,000 at the latest count, and the daily death toll is the highest it has ever been, with more than 14,000 people succumbing to the virus every day.
It is recognised that the pandemic has been a “trigger event,” comparable to World War I, which has accelerated the deep contradictions within the global capitalist system, and indeed it has evolved into a global social and political crisis. Over a year into the crisis, the pandemic has starkly revealed the class divide separating the capitalist and socialist programmes. The countries showing responsible, overall care for their people are led by socialist governments.
In the United States, 26,107,110 cases with a death toll of 440,000 have been recorded. In India, more than 10 million cases with 154,000 deaths; Brazil has more than 9 million cases and 223,000 deaths; the UK, nearly 4 million cases and 106,000 deaths; and Italy, 2.5 million cases and more than 88,000 deaths.
The struggle to contain this pandemic has developed into a class struggle, as it became increasingly clear that the major classes in society – the capitalist class and the working class – have irreconcilably opposed interests. The essential services needed to keep societies ticking over were those done by the working class’s lower echelons – the cleaners, rubbish collectors, nurses, shop and transport workers, etc.
The pandemic is a striking illustration of the contrast between capitalism and socialism. Working class interests point objectively toward socialism, whereas the ruling class’ main objective is the maintenance of the private ownership of the means of production and the geostrategic interests of imperialism.
The capitalists were of one mind in their response to the pandemic. Financial markets were given priority over saving lives. In socialism, the opposite approach is taken without hesitation. The capitalists wanted the pandemic policy driven by profit interests, whereas socialist governments have followed a medical policy guided by science.
In America, the capitalist programme advocated the idea of “herd” immunity, thus allowing the virus to rapidly spread before vaccinations were produced, whereas in the socialist countries all measures aimed at impeding the virus transmission were followed to stop community spread. The capitalist ethos was to keep factories and other workplaces open for business in order to stabilise profits, while the socialists kept all non-essential workplaces closed. In the case of schools, the capitalists kept claiming there was little risk to students and teachers and demanded schools remained open. In contrast, socialists, adhering to scientific evidence that schools were a major source of virus transmission, kept them closed until the pandemic was brought under control.
On the question of vaccination, capitalist and socialist thinking also differ widely: capitalists preferencing wealthy countries with more ability to pay, while socialists demand a scientifically directed international strategy and globally coordinated inoculation.
The working class response to the pandemic must be to recognise the need for class unity, militant class action, and an international socialist and revolutionary political strategy. This attitude needs to continue long after the virus is defeated. Capitalism is the next virus that needs to be eradicated!