Introduction to the ICC’s online public meeting - Covid-19, political chaos in the US: expression of capitalism’s accelerating decay

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In the last year, the world has been shaken by two unprecedented events of extreme importance in the life of capitalism: the Covid-19 pandemic and, most recently, the assault on the Capitol in Washington after the American elections that sanctioned the defeat of Donald Trump. These two events are neither insignificant nor separate from each other. They can only be understood in a historical framework that we will present in this introduction.

The health crisis we are experiencing today is the most serious event since the collapse of the Eastern bloc.

This pandemic has spread like wildfire from an outbreak in China last winter. The virus has crossed every border and every continent. It has already claimed more than 2 million victims. Everywhere, in every country, there is a state of health emergency, a race against time to vaccinate the population in order to avoid a planetary hecatomb.

What is the origin of this pandemic? It seems that this fearsome virus was transmitted to us by animal species introduced into the human environment (the pangolin and the bat). Contrary to past epidemics of animal origin (such as the plague introduced in the Middle Ages by rats) today, this pandemic is essentially due to the spiralling devastation of the natural environment. Global warming, deforestation, the destruction of the natural territories of wild animals, as well as the proliferation of slums in underdeveloped countries, have encouraged the development of all kinds of new viruses and contagious diseases.

The Covid-19 pandemic is therefore not an unpredictable disaster resulting from the laws of chance and nature! Capitalism itself is responsible for this planetary catastrophe, for these millions of deaths. A system based not on the satisfaction of human needs, but on the search for profit, for profitability through the ferocious exploitation of the working class. A system based on unbridled competition between companies and between states. A competition that prevents any international coordination and cooperation to eradicate this pandemic. This is what we see today with the "war of vaccines", after the "war of masks" at the beginning of the pandemic.

Until now, it was the poorest and most underdeveloped countries that were regularly hit by epidemics. Now it is the more developed countries that are being shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is the very heart of the capitalist system that is under attack, especially the world's leading power.

In the United States, there are now at least 25 million people infected and more than 410,000 dead. There have been more Covid deaths than American soldiers killed in the Second World War! Last April, the number of dead had already exceeded the number of those killed during the Vietnam War.

The spread of the pandemic has become even worse with the mutation of the virus. In the large metropolis of Los Angeles, 1 out of 10 inhabitants is contaminated. In California, the hospitals are full to bursting point. At the beginning of the health crisis, the entire American population was shocked by the huge trenches where "unclaimed" deaths were piled up in the state of New York, on Hart Island.

With Trump's irresponsible policy, the calamitous management of this pandemic was even worse than in other countries. The former President had bet on herd immunity, without wearing a mask, without social distancing. Trump even went so far as to peddle the completely delusional idea of injecting bleach into your veins to kill the virus.

In the most developed country in the world, at the forefront of science, all sorts of conspiracy theories have flourished. While the pandemic had already begun to sweep across the American continent, a large part of the population in the United States imagined that Covid-19 did not exist and that it was a plot to torpedo Trump's re-election!

Today, with several vaccines available, each American state is following its own policies in the most disorganised and total mess. In Europe, faced with the resurgence of the epidemic and the variants of the virus, Great Britain is topping the death rate. Everywhere, the ruling class vaccinates at full speed and must now manage the shortage, while waiting for the laboratories to speed up the production of vaccines. 

The explosion of this global pandemic has revealed:

- a loss of control by the ruling class over its own system.

- an unprecedented worsening of the "every man for himself" situation with unbridled competition between laboratories to be the first to find a vaccine and sell it on the world market. In this race for vaccines, Russian Sputnik has been overtaken by those in the United States who came out on top with Pzifer-BionTech and Moderna. And if the State of Israel was able to obtain so many doses and vaccinate the majority of its population, it was because it bought the Pfizer vaccine at a price 43% higher than the one negotiated by the European Union.

It is clear that the main concern of the bourgeoisie of every country is above all to save the national capital from its competitors.

If all states are struggling so hard to produce vaccines, it is certainly not out of concern for human life. The only thing that interests the ruling class is to preserve the labour power of those it exploits to prolong the agony of the capitalist system even further.

This pandemic, and the inability of the ruling class to contain it, is first and foremost the most obvious manifestation of the total bankruptcy of capitalism. In the face of the worsening economic crisis, in all countries, governments on both the right and the left have for decades been constantly cutting social, health and research budgets. As the health system is not profitable, they have cut the numbers of beds, closed down hospital services, eliminated doctors' posts and worsened the working conditions of carers. In France, the Sanofi laboratory (linked to the Pasteur Institute) has cut 500 research posts since 2007. All the cutting-edge scientific and technological research in the United States has been devoted essentially to the military sector, including research into bacteriological weapons. For its part, China sells its own vaccines to the Maghreb and East African countries. The Chinese vaccine market is therefore following the Silk Road. A hypothesis is even being put forward today: Covid-19 might be a virus that escaped from a laboratory. The World Health Organisation has therefore set up a team to carry out an investigation in China to find out the origin of this virus.

This uncontrollable global pandemic confirms that capitalism has become, since the cataclysm of the First World War, a decadent system that is putting the survival of humanity at stake.

After a century of sinking into decadence, this system has entered the ultimate phase of this decadence: that of decomposition.

Why capitalism has entered its phase of decomposition and what are its main manifestations 

In 1989, after 20 years of global economic crisis, a major event, the most important since the Second World War, shook the world: the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the Stalinist regimes. It was the most spectacular manifestation of the decomposition of capitalism. This situation also caused a dislocation of the Western bloc with a tendency towards the development of every man for himself.

This decomposition of capitalism was due to the fact that neither the bourgeoisie nor the proletariat could bring its own answer to the economic crisis: either a new world war (as was the case with the crisis of the 1930s) or proletarian revolution. The bourgeoisie has not succeeded in recruiting the proletariat behind the national flags and sending it to be massacred on the battlefields. But the proletariat, for its part, has not been able to develop revolutionary struggles to overthrow capitalism. It is this lack of perspective that has caused capitalist society to rot on its feet since the late 1980s.

For 30 years, this decomposition has manifested itself in all kinds of murderous calamities: the multiplication of massacres, including in Europe with the war in the former Yugoslavia, the development of terrorist attacks also in Europe, the waves of refugees (men, women and children) desperately seeking asylum in the countries of the Schengen area, repeated so-called natural disasters, nuclear “accidents” like Chernobyl in 1986 in Russia and Fukushima in 2011 in Japan. And more recently, the disaster that completely destroyed the port of Beirut in Lebanon on 4 August 2020. And the list goes on and on.

Now we have a global health catastrophe that spares no country, no continent, piling up corpses at a staggering rate. Faced with the saturation of mortuaries during the first wave of the pandemic, some European states, such as Spain, even had to pile up corpses in ice rinks!

The bourgeoisie everywhere has had to impose medieval measures with confinements, curfews, social distancing. In some countries, compulsory face masks with police checks at every street corner. Borders are locked, all public and cultural places are closed in most European countries. Never since the Second World War has humanity experienced such an ordeal. The Covid-19 pandemic is therefore the main manifestation today of the accelerated decomposition of capitalism.

It is still this decomposition that explains the rise of the most irrational, reactionary and obscurantist ideologies. The rise of religious fanaticism provoked the creation of the Islamist state with more and more young suicide bombers enlisted in the "Holy War" in the name of Allah. The barbarity of terrorist attacks regularly strikes populations in Europe, and particularly in France. All these reactionary ideologies have also been the manure that has allowed the development of xenophobia and populism in the central countries, and especially in the United States.

The arrival of Trump in power, then the refusal to admit his electoral defeat in the last presidential elections, caused a frightening explosion of populism. In Washington, his shock troops, with their completely fanatical armed militias, stormed the Capitol on January 6, without the security forces, who were supposed to be protecting the building, being able to stop them. This bewildering attack on the temple of American democracy gave the whole world a disastrous image of the world's leading power. The country of Democracy and Freedom appeared as a vulgar Third World banana republic (as former President George Bush himself acknowledged) with the risk of armed clashes among the civilian population.

The rise in social violence, crime, the fragmentation of American society, racist violence against black people, all show that the United States has become a concentrate and a mirror of the decay of bourgeois society.

Even if the new President, Joe Biden, will try to contain as much as possible the gangrene of populism (with the ambition to "reconcile the American people" as he puts it), he will not be able to stop the general dynamic of decay. The new administration will do everything it can to repair the considerable damage Trump has done in the management of the health crisis. But the chaos is such that the pandemic will continue to wreak further havoc and claim many more victims. Despite the discovery of vaccines, it will not be possible today, and for many months to come, to immunise the entire population. Moreover, the WHO has announced that there will be no collective immunity in 2021.

The accumulation of all these manifestations of decomposition, on a global scale and on all levels of society, shows that capitalism has entered, over the last thirty years, a new historical period: the ultimate phase of its decadence, that of decomposition. The whole of society is tending to break up in an unprecedented outburst of violence. The capitalist system is going completely mad. Everywhere it sows death and desolation. Drawn into an infernal spiral, it exhales an increasingly unbreathable and nauseating social atmosphere.

We are facing a descent into chaos – the danger of a true apocalypse.

But is this the only possible future? Our answer is: NO!

Despite this accelerating decay, there remains a social force capable of overthrowing capitalism and building a new world, a true unified human society. This social force is the working class. It is the working class that produces the bulk of the world's wealth. But it is also the main victim of all the catastrophes caused by capitalism. It is the working class that will pay the price for the worsening of the world economic crisis.

The health crisis can only make the economic crisis even worse. And we can already see it with the bankruptcies of enterprises, the growing list of redundancies, since the beginning of this pandemic.

Faced with the aggravation of misery, the degradation of its living conditions in all countries, the working class will have no other choice but to fight against the attacks of the bourgeoisie. Even if, today, it is reeling from the shock of this pandemic, even if social decomposition makes the development of its struggles much more difficult, it will have no choice but to fight for survival. With the explosion of unemployment in the most developed countries, fight or die is the only alternative for growing masses of proletarians, and above all for the young generations of the working class!

It is by struggling on its own class terrain and in the midst of the miasmas of social decomposition, that the proletariat will have to find its way, to find and affirm its revolutionary perspective.

In spite of all the sufferings it engenders, the economic crisis remains, even today, the proletariat's best ally. We must not therefore see in misery only misery, but also the conditions for overcoming this misery. The future of humanity still belongs to the exploited class.

ICC, 23 January 2021


ICC online public meeting