Faced with the growing health catastrophe, the bourgeoisie in many countries had no alternative than to lock-down nearly four billion people, more than half of the world's population. If this was made necessary by the incapacity of the capitalist states and their health systems to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus in any other way, the main and real concern for the bourgeoisie was to protect its economy as much as possible and to keep the fall in profits to a minimum. For this reason, the ruling class had given serious consideration to letting the virus spread through the entire population, with a plan to shield and protect the most vulnerable groups, believing that the rest of the population could emerge with limited fatalities. But there was a great risk that the spread of the virus could get out of control and that the entire economy would be plunged into a downturn. The large majority of countries therefore chose the 'tactic' of lock-down, that is to say that since no other health response was available, they chose to return to the practices of the Middle Ages, isolating, marginalising, and confining to close quarters the 'virus victims', but this time on a global scale.
The compulsory lock-down of large parts of the world's population, most of which lives in insecure, cramped and unsanitary conditions, in dangerous overcrowded megacities of several million people, has only further exacerbated their very difficult living conditions.
It is the wage-earning, exploited class that has been, and therefore remains, the hardest hit by the consequences of lock-down. In underdeveloped areas such as Africa, Latin America and Asia, the living conditions of tens of millions of workers were already unbearable and the lock-down has only made things worse.
The general isolation, the limitations on social interaction, the overcrowded homes and the restrictions on movement and travel have caused serious damage to the health of the population, in particular, affecting its mental health.
In these conditions, the trauma of confinement among the exploited class is out of proportion with what the bourgeois class may have lived through in its spacious residences equipped with all the necessary material comforts. The confinement has therefore further highlighted the scandalous and appalling inequality of a society divided into social classes.
Social and collective life increasingly at risk
Contrary to what the bourgeoisie wants us to believe, we are not all equal when facing life's dramas, just as we are not all equal in the face of the consequences of the lock-down. In capitalist society, the proletarians always pay the most heavily and physically for the tragedies generated by this rotting system. Within the exploited class, the weakest or those who have become 'useless' and 'unwanted' in the eyes of capitalism are the first to suffer the consequences of its inhumanity and barbarism.
As Rosa Luxemburg wrote in 1912 in The Night Shelter: “Every year thousands of proletarian human beings sink from the normal living conditions of the working class into the night of misery. They fall silently, like sediment, into the depths of society. Worn out, useless elements, from which capital can no longer squeeze one more drop, human waste, swept away by an iron broom”. In addition to material poverty, rotting capitalism continues to develop the marginalisation and atomisation of individuals, with the destruction of family relations, the exclusion of the elderly and mental torment... it sows misfortune in the name of free enterprise, that is, with the obligation to work and be exploited to be able to live.
In its blind rage capitalism sacrifices the life and health of the exploited on the sacred altar of profit, destroying all human bonds within the working class and especially the emotional ties of solidarity. When this ruling class hypocritically talks about protecting the weakest and the oldest among us, or the least privileged children, it lies shamelessly. We are seeing the consequences of the policy of running down and dismantling services that provide a minimum of security to the working class, and this has to be covered up by massive ideological campaigns. They would have us believe that, during the pandemic the state will take care of the most vulnerable, when, in fact, the state itself is responsible for all the social, mental and health distress caused by the pandemic.
Older people discarded from society
In care homes across the world, the human drama is unending. At first it was shrouded in silence by the bourgeois state, but it became news when the sordid unfolding reality could no longer be hidden. Already more than 10,000 deaths have been recorded officially in the French homes. In Spain, where as many as 16,000 deaths were recorded last May, hundreds of corpses were found inside these establishments, lying on their beds and abandoned for days. Similar dramas took place in many other countries, reminding us of how, for capitalism, the 'old' are little more than superfluous mouths to feed, best removed from society as death awaits them.
This is not to ignore all those others who died alone in their own homes, abandoned to their fate. The lack of protection against the virus in care homes and proper support for the elderly, along with staff shortages, has produced a real carnage for which the bourgeoisie, in all its well-known cynicism and proven negligence, is solely responsible.
In these 'end-of-life' establishments, these millions of people (700,000 in France alone), extremely vulnerable and with no adequate protection, are an easy prey for the virus.
Thus, and even with restrictions applied to the rest of the population, it was necessary for the elderly to be confined, isolated and locked in their rooms. All contact with the outside with their family, relatives or still able-bodied friends living outside was forbidden. Just as in orphanages, prisons, refugee camps, migrant detention centres and other juvenile detention centres, retirement homes are hotspots for the spread of contamination, especially since these people are often already weak from age or illness.
But the unfolding human drama does not stop there. In addition to the consequences of the pandemic itself, these human beings who it is claimed are isolated 'for their own good' are thus condemned to a bleak despair, cut off from all connection with their loved ones, and diagnosed as victims of 'old age depression'. What capitalist society inflicts on them can only make them feel a deep sense of abandonment and loneliness, totally losing interest in life and even in identity. It is certain that in addition to all those who die from the pandemic, there are also those who simply let themselves die from grief and loneliness.
This context sees families witness the brutality of this society, since attempts to bring comfort and support to their loved ones have been punished with fines, such as the person who dared to defy the prohibition by traveling nearly 300 kilometres to visit the bedside of his father at the end of his life, or the woman who came to say hello to her husband, residing in a care home, from the street next door to the care home!
As we can see, during this period of lock-down the state succeeded in enforcing the social lock-down quite insensitively, with little concern for the social ties vital to everyday life and especially for those who are the most disadvantaged.
Conversely, by claiming to serve 'the needs of everyone', by posing as the Good Samaritan concerned with protecting the health of the weakest, the state has exercised an odious policy of control and extensive coercion over society, going so far as banning, and then restricting, the presence of families at funeral ceremonies, with the police refusing people access to the cemeteries. Since death is a commodity in this society like any other, in times of pandemic it can be very profitable; a funeral company in France will charge as much as 250 euros to families to assemble for fifteen minutes in front of the coffin in the Halles de Rungis, an enormous wholesale food market near Paris.
Students, the other victims of capitalist lock-down
Students are noted for the precariousness of their conditions. Many of these future proletarians survive on odd jobs, which just allow them to continue their studies. Living away from their families, they can experience acute loneliness, more than is understood, but most of all a profound insecurity, with no guarantees of what the future holds. The lock-down has only worsened these living conditions. For some years, suicides among students have been on the increase. In France, for example, a few months ago, in desperation a student tried to set himself on fire outside the Centre Régional des Œuvres Universitaires et Scolaires at a University in Lyon. The decrease in odd jobs, the general shut-down, the material and physical impossibility of visiting their families, have become a reality.
Distressed phone calls to psychological support centres have never been so numerous. And this will only increase as in several countries, including the most developed (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, etc), faced with the inability of the authorities to protect the health of the students, the state has decided not to reopen a large number of universities at the beginning of the academic year and to replace lecture-room courses with online courses or video-conferencing. Students will now be obliged to remain isolated in small rooms all day long, behind their computers with no direct physical contact at all. This is another step in the social isolation and atomisation of individual members of society.
Therefore, while the bourgeois state has effectively removed large numbers of the elderly from society, it does not treat its future proletarians much better. A large number of them are facing a bleak future of unemployment and a greater precariousness as the economic crisis accelerates and worsens.
The rise of violence against women and children
For many weeks, or indeed several months, the media has been exerting a lot of pressure on us with: 'Stay home, act responsibly, protect yourself and others!' Of course, anyone not following these guidelines was accused of being irresponsible, endangering the health and lives if other people. So all those people not seen as 'model citizens', were accused of spreading the virus.
In fact, the lock-down was closely adhered to. Most of the population understood there was no other choice and that it was necessary to self-shield to protect themselves. However, in terms of how the lock-down affects all other areas of life, bourgeois ideology spreads the fantasy of equal rights. The ruling class pretends not to see the poverty or dire housing conditions in which the vast majority of the working class, the most vulnerable and the unemployed, live. Whole families have to live in cramped small rooms morning and night. Once again, profit and market forces rule over quality of housing.
If violence against children and women is unfortunately not a new phenomenon, in these locked-down conditions, it has increased significantly. As the state's only interest is 'saving the economy', it has little to offer terrified people who are fearing for their lives, except to propose they ring the emergency number for the social services, which has little capacity to cope with the tide of violence.
As a consequence, all over the world, domestic violence has mushroomed, rising by 30% in France where police call-outs to domestic violence cases have risen by 48%. In Europe, calls to emergency services have increased by 60%. In Tunisia, attacks against women have increased five-fold. In India, the number of domestic violence cases has doubled. In Brazil, reported cases of domestic violence have increased by 40 to 50 percent. In Mexico, calls to violent incidents there increased by 60% during quarantine with an additional 200 cases of femicide. More than 900 women are reported missing in Peru…
Nonetheless, for the bourgeoisie these human disasters are nothing more than numbers or percentages on paper, which they will quickly forget about. After decades of cut-backs to health services, the social services sector for child protection, for the prevention of violence against women and all the services for the protection of the weakest or the most disadvantaged, have simply been underfunded.
What is the real scale of suffering and how much physical and mental damage is being hidden at the end of the day? How many cases of distress, depression and attempted suicide have accumulated due to these conditions of lock-down and confinement?
The severe lock-down measures and the restrictions on social activity imposed on the populations, alongside the workers sent to work in workplaces as virtual 'virus fodder' to 'save the economy' thus being at risk of contamination along with their colleagues, has highlighted the impersonal and abstract nature of social relations under capitalism.
With the virus continuing to spread on several continents, and showing a significant upturn in several European countries where a second wave is underway, the media have started to target and stigmatise young people, calling them 'irresponsible' towards their elders and the general population, because they have gathered in large groups after weeks of isolation; it aims to arouse more ideological division between generations. If, of course, all precautions must be taken, these gatherings testify to a thirst for social bonds, a desire to meet with family, friends and relatives after months of solitude and psychological isolation.
However, these young people only express a vital need of the human species, that of socialised living. Pointing to them as the cause of the virus’ rapid new growth in Europe, as the media have been doing for several weeks, demonstrates even more the brutality and inhumanity of bourgeois society.
In times of crisis capitalism reveals its true face
The bourgeoisie wants to present itself as a class at the helm of a society that benefits everyone, a society where everyone has their place and where everyone has their opportunity. But when a health, economic and social crisis of this magnitude strikes, the veil slips and the unblushing monstrous face of this system of exploitation emerges; a system in which life is a commodity that deserves attention and support only if it is deemed to be profitable, and then on the condition that it does not cost too much. With the economic crisis, with the sinking of this society into an ever-greater inhumanity and chaos, increasingly irresponsible and deadly policies are imposed on life itself. To listen to this class of liars, its media and others who churn out its ideology, the world in the future will no longer be like the one before.
Today, we are made to believe that in the future 'there will be better health services', that 'there will be masks and tests', that 'the world will be more united', that 'we will take care of the elderly in the care homes', that 'loneliness will at an end', that 'we will not repeat the same mistakes again', etc. These hypocritical tall tales are just as unreliable as at the time of the First World War when the bourgeoisie proclaimed with a hand on the heart that this would be 'the very last time!' or 'never again!' The Second World War was close behind with a renewal of widespread barbarism. Thus, it is true, the world after will not be like the one before: it will be even worse! The promises of the bourgeoisie are only convincing to those who want to believe in them, but the proletarian class can no longer be under any illusion about the world of suffering and nightmares that the bourgeoisie has in store for society.
Sam, 2 May 2020