Mexican Swine Flu – Another Capitalist Calamity
We are publishing here a shorter version of a statement by Revolución Mundial, the ICC's section in Mexico, about the outbreak of swine flu which began in that country. After the first weeks of panic and doom-mongering, the new strain of flu almost disappeared from the headlines.
But even if the danger of a pandemic was exaggerated and if the bourgeoisie made good use of that exaggeration, the disease is real and a number of extremely serious cases have occurred in the US particularly in the New York City area where 23 people have died by mid-June, the most in the nation.
The flu in Mexico: a product of capitalist decadence
Only an understanding of what the decadence of this system means can explain why there is a permanent danger of epidemics like the one we are now seeing in Mexico. The internet is packed with the most mythical and exaggerated theories about this epidemic, expressing the widespread distrust of the official version which stresses that this is a ‘natural process' linked to the life cycles of the virus and to chance, which obviously doesn't help us to understand what's going on. It's also no surprise that the left wing of capital and its trade unions (the SME for example) are doing all they can to hide the real problem by seeking the origins of the epidemic in the perverse actions of a particular individual or country, claiming for example that the epidemic spreading through Mexico was deliberately created by the USA, or that it's all just a publicity stunt to cover up secret financial and commercial deals by the government. These kinds of explanations, which may look very radical, simply defend the idea that there could be a more patriotic and human capitalism if only the activities of certain predatory states were kept under control, if the correct policies were carried out and if we were governed by honest and well-intentioned people.
But the origins of these threats to life on our planet are not to be found in a plot. They are the product of the very development of capitalism. The frenetic search for profit and an increasingly vicious capitalist competition can only lead to stifling levels of exploitation where living and working conditions are severely affected; what's more, with this desperate quest to reduce costs, increasingly noxious and polluting methods are being used. This is true both for industrial production and for agriculture and cattle-rearing, both for the countries that are highly industrialized and for the ones which are not, even if the effects of capitalism's destructive tendencies are more dramatic in the latter.
An example of this is the conditions of cattle-rearing: abuse of steroids and antibiotics (to accelerate growth), overcrowding of animals with a very high levels of waste which is thrown away without due concern for hygiene, exacerbating the danger of contamination. It is this form of production which has led to scandals like Mad Cow Disease and the various forms of flu.
To this we should add the attacks on health services and the lack of preventative measures which facilitate the spread of viruses. We can see this clearly in Mexico with the relentless dismantling of the Mexican social security system and its health centers, which are in general the only ones that workers have access to. There have been government reports about the danger of epidemics since 2006 (cf the journal Proceso no, 1695, 26.4.09), where it was argued that a virus known as ‘A type flu' could infect cheap poultry and livestock, mutate and attack humans. Reports were written, projects drawn up, but it all remained a dead letter for lack of any funds.
The appearance of this flu epidemic in Mexico has again exposed the precariousness of the conditions in which the working class lives: the aggravated levels of exploitation and unbearable poverty are the perfect soil for the germination of disease.
Capitalism engenders epidemics, and the workers suffer the consequences
Newspaper investigations have shown that the effects of the virus were known about by 16 April and that the government waited seven days before sounding the alarm. The announcement of the existence of ‘swine flu' in Mexico on the night of 23 April was clearly not the beginning of the problem but the aggravation of everything that the working class has to put up with in capitalism. Despite the confused and doctored figures provided by the Ministry of Health regarding the number of people the virus has killed or made ill, the real balance sheet is not hard to draw up: the only victims of this epidemic are the workers and their families. It is the wage-slaves and their families who have died from this disease; it is they who have been expected to drag themselves from one hospital to another, often having to wait for care in overcrowded corridors where precious time is wasted and where the needed anti-viral drugs are often not available. While the official announcements tried to present the epidemic as something that was under control, the working class population cruelly experienced the lack of medical services, of medicine and preventative measures. It was also the workers in the health service (doctors and nurses) who now had to face even more dangerous and intensive working conditions, which led the medical interns at the National Institute for Respiratory Diseases to demonstrate and denounce this situation on 27 April; and despite the fact that this was a short and small mobilization, the press covered it up.
The way this epidemic has been dealt with in the first weeks is very significant: the bourgeoisie and its state have argued that this is a matter of ‘security' which calls for national unity. But while the workers are exposed to contagion because they are obliged to use transport systems like the metro or the bus where there is a massive human concentration, the bourgeoisie protects itself in an appropriate manner with a single concern: how to justify the wage reductions that the bosses will have to impose to make up for the losses resulting from the obligatory closure of certain workplaces, especially restaurants and hotels.
Campaigns of panic, another anti-working class virus
There is no doubt that the bourgeoisie, in mid-April, was surprised by the appearance of a mutant virus for which it had no vaccine. It panicked and took a number of hurried decisions which served only to spread the panic among the whole population. At the beginning the ruling class was caught up in the panic, but very quickly it began to use it against the workers. On the one hand it used it to give the government an image of strength and efficiency; on the other, spreading fear encouraged individualism and an atmosphere of generalized suspicion where everyone saw the person next to them as a possible source of contagion, the exact opposite of the solidarity that could arise among the exploited. We can thus understand why the Secretary of State for Health, Cordóba Villalobos, justified (and thus encouraged) the aggressions which residents of Mexico City were subjected to in other regions of the country after they were accused of being ‘infected'. This high state official said that these were natural expressions of the ‘human condition'. The bourgeoisie lives in fear of solidarity among the workers and it is quite capable of using this affair to counter it by encouraging chauvinism and localism. It is this same nationalist strategy which capital uses in China, Argentina or Cuba to justify stringent controls over who enters or leaves its territories.
The class in power, by launching its campaign of fear, is trying to make the working class see itself as powerless and to accept the state as its only savior. This is why the antidote to these campaigns of fear is serious reflection among the workers, enabling them to understand that as long as capitalism is alive, the only thing we can expect is more exploitation, more poverty, more disease and premature deaths. Today more than ever it is an urgent necessity to put an end to capitalism.
RM, May 2009.