A debate with a group of comrades in Alicante, Spain, about the significance of the present pandemic.
Contribution by the comrades of Alicante - Debates against the virus of capitalism
In these strange days in which the abnormal has become the norm, faced with the exacerbated suffocation of everyday life, with an increasingly empowered capitalist state as the mediating entity of all social life, a group of comrades who have been sharing militancy in various initiatives in the city of Alicante and its surroundings for many years, have come together to initiate a debate on the current and historical situation. Our militancy, which has gone in different directions over the years, retains two elements from a class point of view: the affirmation of the real need for the autonomy of the working class (our class) and proletarian internationalism. Consequently, even if there are divergent views on certain questions, we recognise ourselves in the historical and international revolutionary movement of the proletariat.
General framework from which we started:
- The permanent need for capital accumulation determines the permanence of its crises. The historical science of the working class has come to establish a time pattern: every 10 to 15 years the crisis is an unstoppable phenomenon.
- The crisis was solved through the destruction of people, goods and markets; war is the most favoured means for the necessary destruction imposed by the suicidal logic of capital.
- The globalisation of capitalism (since the beginning of the 20th century), and the progressive disappearance of pre-capitalist markets, exacerbates inter-bourgeois rivalries and gives rise to a situation of accumulated crisis, where large-scale imperialist wars with a power of mass destruction are developing.
- The Second Imperialist World War and the terrible destruction it caused (as a continuation of the First Imperialist War), with the consensus of the workers in all countries allied with their respective bourgeoisies under the banners of fascism or democracy (both perverse faces of perverse capital), bring about the economic recovery of the so-called ‘glorious 30 years’, years of reconstruction and accelerated growth. A shot of oxygen for capital, cornered by its own development.
- Since the return of the crisis (1970s) and of the proletarian struggle, there have a number of attempts by capital to mobilise us for a great war, or for local wars that have been fought over our bodies and those of our class brothers and sisters.
- However, two factors have prevented the development of a large-scale war in the classical sense: humanity refuses to be enlisted in new wars, there is a consciousness (not yet class consciousness) of the logical rejection of war from a pacifist, non-revolutionary point of view. A forced attempt by capital towards war could accelerate the current slow awareness. On the other hand, the proliferation of nuclear weapons could turn into an ultimate war adventure. The bourgeoisie, an unscrupulous class, is not afraid to spill the blood of others if it fears for its own skin.
The current coronavirus crisis raises some issues that need to be weighed and clarified:
- On the ideological level, it exacerbates the most brutal elements of the dominant ideology, the pillars on which the false consciousness of reality rests: nationalism, the defence of the nation and the united struggle across class divisions of society against the evil virus, the union of rich and poor beyond reality itself, the constant appeal (amid cheers and applause and cascading songs) to the sacrosanct NATIONAL UNITY. The strategy of atomisation and separation, crystallized to perfection in the lock-down, the prohibition of contact, affection and solidarity.
- Politically, it renews the need for state capitalism, the superior and preponderant role of the state as the guarantor and direct mediator of all human relations. And let us not forget (as the capitalist left so fervently does) that the state is the organ of power of the bourgeoisie, it is not a neutral state that objectively watches over the interests of the majority, it is the state of power, of a minority. Repression under the viral pretext, the militarisation of social life, are only a few symptoms of this disease, and perhaps they will remain. We talk about a war economy, a state of war, and they want to turn us all into little soldiers, according to this disgusting MILITARY logic.
In the economic field we have looked at various options, which we are not able to elucidate at the moment:
Obviously, the truth is that what's going on will only start to become more or less clear after a while.
In the economic field we see how it affects more or less all countries and it is not so clear that the ‘imperialist bloc’ will be the winner. Although it is true that the free movement of goods benefits accumulation, it is no less true that in recent years a trade war has being waged between China, the USA and the EU. Protectionist policies have increased in the face of a smaller pie (the world) to be divided among the same scavengers. How the phenomenon of the coronavirus affects this and how capital will take advantage of it remains to be seen, but a hypothesis is looming and intertwined with the needs of imperialist war:
We wonder whether the viral phenomenon can be a substitute for classical imperialist warfare, since it could come to equate its capacity to destroy labour power, goods and markets, thus favouring cyclical processes of reconstruction. If this option is viable (it does not depend only on the will of the bourgeoisie), the re-edition of these situations, states of emergency and the temporary and partial paralysis of certain economic areas, will become cyclical and permanent. In fact, this type of situation already occurs in certain regions of the planet, where what is considered exceptional here is everyday normality. This could be proof of the irreversible decadence of the capitalist system, or a way of accumulating in the face of its irreversible decline. In other words, it would be the form of a large-scale imperialist war in the immediate future.
However, we have serious doubts about this hypothesis, since for this to be the case, it would have to cause, in addition to the destruction of markets and goods (which is feasible due to the economic collapse), millions of deaths in order to destroy enough labour power that would otherwise be left in poverty. This does not seem to be the case: the number of deaths, even if it is given much media hype, is far from alarming, rather it seems that what is wanted to be avoided is the collapse of the hospitals. Daily misery alone is already causing millions of deaths from hunger and disease or pollution in industrialised countries... And while equally feasible, it is too dangerous even for the elites, being comparable with a nuclear war. In other words, a true major viral pandemic would affect both rich and poor, unless they had the vaccine beforehand.
Nor should we ignore the repeated warnings about the imminent destruction of millions of jobs by robotisation, mass migrations due to climate change, and the overpopulation of cities that have been converted in many cases into gigantic slums.
Perhaps this ‘pandemic’ will serve as a pretext for a new approach to labor relations, increasing precariousness, etc., and for a new world order, but this would enter the realm of conspiracy, with its capitalist ‘International’ capable of dictating what policies states must comply with (all of them?) Although, to tell the truth, the capitalists have their International in different bodies such as the World Bank, the IMF, the G7, the WHO.
We know about the simulation of a viral epidemic that was carried out in September and which has come to light. Could it be that this is a smokescreen hiding an ‘imminent’ collapse of the world economy and that this could serve to reset the system... and in so doing sneaks in new repressive measures for another time?
The logic of capitalism undoubtedly requires the destruction of labour power, while making it cheaper overall, and from different viewpoints (some more conspiratorial than others) this is taken for granted. Overpopulation is a security problem and a major concern for all states.
Nor can it be excluded that these pandemics are in fact due to climate crises and the harmful relationship between humans and other species, in addition to the inability of States to provide solutions beyond the implementation of police/military measures …. and perhaps in passing making some money.
Other necessary considerations:
- The limits of capital are not only, nor mainly in its economic contradictions, in this mathematical tendency to decrease the rate of profit. Capital demonstrates in this sense, its creative capacity to develop new forms of accumulation, even if on a false basis, to keep its head above the mud and the blood.
- The real limit of capital, in the sense of the POWER to overthrow it and transform the world at its roots, to establish true life as opposed to mere survival, is the world proletarian revolution.
- As in every imperialist war, the bourgeoisie focuses its efforts on the ideological terrain, bombarding us with a barrage of banal activities to be carried on during the lock-down and to keep us active and thoughtless (like good zombies), while ferociously expanding its classic ideological elements: defense of the national economy and rejection of ‘what is outside’ (now turned into a dangerous disease) and distrust of our equals. Loneliness will continue to kill us, faster than any virus.
- It is not necessary to deny the existence of the virus to demand the need to deny, in practice, the brutality of existing society, the military and warlike logic of capital.
- Today, as yesterday, the internationalist and revolutionary slogan of the proletariat will be to confront all the bourgeoisies and their states, to insist, if we have the choice, that we choose our class autonomy because, undoubtedly, all the fractions of the bourgeoisie are worse.
Our intention is to continue discussing and debating, the most subversive activity that can be developed today is to recover the weapons of criticism, and we wish to open that discussion to all comrades who wish to approach it and share their positions with us. So this document is only the beginning of a tool for debate... IT WILL CONTINUE...
- Proletarians of all countries, let us embrace
- Proletarians of all countries, we cough loudly against the nearest bourgeois
We welcome the initiative to meet and discuss. It is an expression of the effort of the self-consciousness in the working class and simultaneously a contribution to its development.
The comrades take as their starting point their adherence to the working class and internationalism. They see this as a framework for discussion where divergences can be expressed. On the other hand, they conceive their reflections as something open, evolving, and declare their intention “to continue discussing and debating: the most subversive activity that can be developed today is to recover the weapons of criticism, and we wish to open that discussion to all comrades who wish to approach it and share their positions with us.”
We think this is the right method in the proletarian milieu: starting from what unites us in order to address what may differentiate us through healthy and open debate. This is the method we are going to follow in our response in order to encourage a discussion involving other groups and comrades.
In the face of the pandemic crisis and the looming economic crisis, the comrades reject the fact that capitalism will disappear by itself, crushed by its own contradictions. On the contrary, they affirm that “The real limit of capital, in the sense of the POWER to overthrow it and transform the world at its roots, to establish true life as opposed to mere survival, is the world proletarian revolution.” Therefore “It is not necessary to deny the existence of the virus to demand the need to deny, in practice, the brutality of existing society, the military and warlike logic of capital.” So “Today, as yesterday, the internationalist and revolutionary slogan of the proletariat will be to confront all the bourgeoisies and their states, to insist that, if we have the choice, we choose our class autonomy because, undoubtedly, all the fractions of the bourgeoisie are worse.”
We fully share these positions, as well as the denunciation of how capital is ‘managing’ the pandemic crisis: it takes advantage of the confinement to impose an ideology of war and of National Unity, which favours atomisation, individualism, every man for himself, all against all, the fear of ‘the strange’ and therefore insidiously stimulates xenophobia and racism. “The bourgeoisie focuses its efforts on the ideological terrain, bombarding us with a barrage of banal activities to be carried on during the lock-down and to keep us active and thoughtless (like good zombies), while ferociously expanding its classic ideological elements: defense of the national economy and rejection of ‘what is outside’ (now turned into a dangerous disease) and distrust of our equals. Loneliness will continue to kill us, faster than any virus.”
Sharing this valuable common ground, we want to analyse what we do not find valid in the positions expressed by the comrades.
One part of their text develops speculations about the possibility that the pandemic was provoked by capital so that, by massively extinguishing lives, it played the role of an imperialist war: liquidating labour power and goods in order to resume the accumulation of capital . The comrades themselves have serious doubts about these ideas.
The Covid-19 pandemic is triggering a social crisis of global dimensions
However, the comrades are still a bit skeptical about the seriousness of the pandemic: "The number of deaths, even if it is given much media hype, is far from alarming. Daily misery alone is already causing millions of deaths from hunger and disease or pollution in industrialised countries...". It is not the strictly virological nature of the disease that makes it so deadly, but a series of historical and social factors of great relevance: the collapse of health systems all over the world; its rapid and dizzying spread based on the enormous intensification of world production in recent decades; the social and economic disorganisation and paralysis that it has brought about and aggravated; the very response of states that reveals evident incompetence and outrageous negligence. It is this set of factors, linked to the historical phase of the decomposition of capitalism , that makes the virus the catalyst of a social crisis of global dimensions.
In the history of mankind, the great pandemics have been linked to historical moments of decline in a mode of production. The Black Death of the 14th century broke out in the decadence of feudalism. The First World War, the entrance of capitalism in decadence, brought with it the terrible pandemic of the Spanish flu that caused 50 million deaths.
Covid-19 is, for us, an expression of the decadence of capitalism and more precisely of its terminal phase, the phase of decomposition. It needs to be understood within the framework of a system whose contradictions have caused enormous catastrophes such as two world wars and an endless chain of even more devastating local wars; the great economic cataclysms that result in chronic unemployment, worsening precariousness, collapsing wages, and widespread impoverishment; in climatic change and environmental destruction that also lead to catastrophes labeled as ‘natural’; in the general deterioration of health; and, not least, social dislocation with a moral barbarity and ideological decomposition that favours all kinds of mystical and irrational aberrations.
It is very positive that the comrades insist on the need for world proletarian revolution as the only possible answer to this escalation of barbarism. But what is the material basis for this demand? For us it is the decadence of capitalism, as the Platform of the Communist International (1919) has already pointed out: “A new epoch is born! The epoch of the dissolution of capitalism, of its inner disintegration. The epoch of the communist revolution of the proletariat.”
This pandemic shows precisely the validity of applying the marxist concept of decadence - when the mode of production becomes a brake on the productive forces it has developed - to the situation of capitalism today. In the14th century the cause of the plague was not understood; in 1918-1919 viruses had not been discovered. But today? The Covid-19 virus was sequenced within weeks. The unbearable thing about the deaths from the coronavirus is not their quantity, but that all of them would be perfectly avoidable if the science and technology that already exist were not subjected to the laws of profit and competition.
Cyclical crises or chronic crisis?
The comrades develop certain ideas that relativise the notion of the decadence of capitalism. Thus they affirm that "The constant need of capital accumulation determines the unstoppable permanence of its crises. The historical science of the working class came to establish a time pattern: every 10-15 years the crisis is an unstoppable phenomenon".
In the ascendancy of capitalism (its heyday in the 19th and early 20th century) crises had a cyclical character as they were “a manifestation of the fact that the old markets were saturated and a new expansion was needed. They were thus periodic (every 7 to 10 years …..) and were resolved by the opening up of new markets. (…) They broke out abruptly (…). They were short-lived (…). They didn’t generalise to all countries. They did not generalise to all branches of industry. They led onto a new phase of industrial growth (……). They didn’t pose the conditions for a political crisis of the system.” .
In the ascendant period the cyclical crises were the manifestation of the development of capitalism: each one of them was a stimulus for new expansion all over the world, for the conquest of markets and a spectacular development of the productive forces.
In contrast, in decadence (since the second decade of the 20th century), crises “develop in a progressive manner. (…) Once they’ve begun, they last for a long time. Thus, while the relationship between recession and prosperity was around 1:4 in the 19th century (2 years of crisis in a cycle of 10 years), the relationship between the length of the depression and the length of the revival has been around 2:1 in the 20th century. Between 1914 and 1980, we’ve had 10 years of generalised war (without counting the permanent local wars), 32 years of depression (1918-22, 1929-39, 1945-50, 1967-80): a total of 42 years of war and crisis, against only 24 years of reconstruction (1922-29 and 1950-67). (…) Whereas in the 19th century the economic machine was revived by its own forces at the end of each crisis, the crises of the 20th century have, from the capitalist point of view, no solution except generalised war. These crises are the death-rattles of the system. They pose, for the proletariat, the necessity and possibility of communist revolution. The 20th century is indeed the ‘era of wars and revolutions’ as the Communist International said at its founding congress”
Since 1914 the capitalist economy does not function according to the crisis-prosperity scheme in an upward dynamic, but rather, it tends to become a chronic crisis, which, despite the massive state intervention - state capitalism –gets worse and worse.
Wars in decadence of capitalism
The comrades clearly denounce the imperialist nature of the war and firmly oppose the flags with which the forces of capital (from the extreme right to the extreme left) intend to mobilise the proletarians behind them: nation, fascism, democracy etc.
This is completely right and we share it. However, they consider that “two factors have prevented the development of a large-scale war in the classical sense: humanity refuses to be enlisted in new wars, there is a consciousness (not yet class consciousness) of the logical rejection of war from a pacifist, non-revolutionary point of view. A forced attempt by capital towards war could accelerate the current slow awareness. On the other hand, the proliferation of nuclear weapons could turn into an ultimate war adventure. The bourgeoisie, an unscrupulous class, is not afraid to spill the blood of others if it fears for its own skin”
We are in complete agreement on the first factor. If humanity did not sink into a Third World War in the 1970s and 1980s, it was because of the resistance of the proletariat in the large industrial concentrations. This resistance was rather passive and occurred on a limited basis, which seriously limited its strength as the comrades say.
Now, the second factor they point to does not seem to be right to us. The imperialist war has an infernal logic which, once unleashed, creates a vortex of destruction and barbarism that is almost impossible to stop.
In the ascendant period of capitalism “war had, in general, the function of ensuring that each capitalist nation had the unity and territorial extension needed for its development. In this sense, despite the calamities it brought with it, it was a moment in the progressive nature of capital. Wars were, therefore, limited to two or three countries, they were short-lived, they didn’t lead to much destruction, they resulted in a new burst of development both for victor and vanquished.”
On the other hand, the wars of decadence “no longer derive from the economic necessity to develop the productive forces of society, but have essentially political causes: the balance of forces between the blocs. They are no longer ‘national’ wars as in the 19th century: they are imperialist wars. They are no longer moments in the expansion of the capitalist mode of production, but express the impossibility of its expansion. They no longer aim at dividing up the world, but at re-dividing the world in a situation where a bloc of countries cannot develop, but can only maintain the valorisation of its capital at the direct expense of a rival bloc: the final result being the degradation of world capital as a whole. Wars are now generalised across the whole globe and result in enormous levels of destruction for the whole world economy, leading to generalised barbarism. (…) The wars of the 20th century are in no way ‘youthful maladies’ as some claim. They are the convulsions of a dying system.”
Imperialist wars do not offer any solution to the contradictions of capital; on the contrary, they aggravate them. While it is true that, as the comrades say, "The second imperialist world war and the terrible destruction it generated (...), brought about the economic recovery of the so-called ‘30 glorious years’, years of reconstruction and accelerated growth. A shot of oxygen to capital, cornered by its own development", this reconstruction was due to the fact that, on the one hand, the United States did not suffer any destruction in its own country, so it could become a factor of accumulation on a world scale; and, on the other hand, that there were still non-capitalist areas on the planet to allow that shot of oxygen to capitalism.
From that point of view, imperialist war is an irrational machinery that is beyond the control of the different participating national imperialisms. It is possible that each one ‘regrets’ the ruin that has been caused, but the bet of each national capital is to come out as the winner and to make its rivals (and its own working class) pay for the consequences of the war. Hence, the current proliferation of nuclear weapons constitutes not the least obstacle in the sense of making the capitalists ‘rational’ and avoiding going ‘too far’.
The increasingly uncontrollable nature of the system and its contradictions, far from expressing any rationality even according to the system’s own logic, allows us to understand the current pandemic. In the same way that imperialist wars - especially those that are generalised - become an unstoppable mechanism, pandemics, like the current one, are like a machine that, once set in motion, is very difficult to control.
This irrationality leads to the point where the most ‘advanced’ countries are stealing from each other the supplies needed to deal with the pandemic, even if this means aggravating it on a global scale! And thus sooner or later for themselves. As we pointed out in the article on “The War of the Masks” , in the face of global problems, the exploiting class cannot get rid of its fragmentation into competing national interests. The irrational centrifugal dynamic in the current pandemic is also expressed in the phenomenon of regional administrations within nation states fighting and cheating each other over the supply of health products, as we have seen in the United States, Germany and Spain.
We are seeing that the pandemic will exacerbate a nascent global economic crisis that was already taking shape, and will take on proportions that many analysts even consider will be greater than in 2008.
Focusing on the epidemiological dimension, they talk about ‘passing the quarantine’ in the hope of the ‘day after’. However, first of all, that ‘day after’ is slow in coming and tends to be prolonged. Secondly, there is a consensus in the scientific community that new waves of infection may occur with unpredictable consequences. How will these health systems, already badly damaged before the pandemic, cope in the face of many other diseases? Let us not forget that in recent years epidemics as Ebola, dengue fever, AIDS, cholera, zika, etc. have proliferated.
Therefore, we think that the key question is not the pandemic itself, but the historical conditions in which it is developing; as a result and accelerating factor of the serious contradictions ravaging capitalism after a century of decadence and more than 30 years of social and ideological decomposition.
International Communist Current 2020-04-20
 ‘Conspiratorial’ ideas about the virus, including those which completely deny its existence, have been having some impact. A survey in the US showed that 33% of respondents believed that the pandemic was artificially caused. We intend to write an article on the subject.
 See: https://en.internationalism.org/ir/107_decomposition; “Theses on decomposition”, International Review 107.
 https://en.internationalism.org/ir/023_proletariat_under_decadence.html; “The proletarian struggle under decadence”, International Review 23. Unless otherwise indicated, the quotes that follow are from this document.
 https://en.internationalism.org/content/16832/war-masks-bourgeoisie-class-thieves; “War of the masks: the bourgeoisie is a class of thieves!”