The Covid-19 pandemic reveals the dilapidated condition of world capitalism

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For more than a year now the ruling class everywhere has been gripped by the Corona virus epidemic without any end to it really coming into sight. Up until now it was the poorest and least developed countries which paid the heaviest tribute to sicknesses, epidemics or endemic illnesses. Today it's the most developed countries which are being rocked to their foundations by the Covid-19 outbreak.

More than a century ago the outbreak of World War I signified the entry of capitalism into its period of decadence. The collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1990, and the subsequent shock-wave which included the dissolution of the US bloc, constituted symptoms of the disintegration of world society, signalling the entry of capitalism into its ultimate phase of decadence - that of decomposition.

What follows capitalism then? If the global proletariat succeeds in overthrowing it before it's able to destroy humanity, there will be a unified humanity in a communist society which, faced with problems of sicknesses and other calamities, will be able to make a response that is not undermined by exploitation and the competition of capitalist anarchy.

The pandemic, a social phenomenon coming from a world in decay

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. 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. In Europe, Sweden, which not long ago had a reputation for the "social wellbeing" of its citizens, gambled at the beginning of the pandemic on the rapid accomplishment of a herd immunity. Sweden has just broken a national record - that of the number of deaths - held since the great famine of 1869.

The Covid-19 pandemic is 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. Contrary to pandemics from animal origins in the past (such as the plague in the Middle Ages spread by rats), today this pandemic is due essentially to the degraded state of the planet. Global warming and climate changes, de-forestation, the destruction of habitats for wildlife, have, with the proliferation of slums in the underdeveloped countries, favoured all sorts of new viruses and contagious illnesses.

If this new virus has surprised and paralysed the bourgeoisie it is because scientific studies on coronaviruses were abandoned everywhere over a decade ago because the development of a vaccine was judged to be ... "non-profitable". Besides that, the necessary cutting-edge scientific research and technology, in the United States in particular, mainly prioritised products which had a full and guaranteed market or else were essentially given over to the military sector, which also includes research into bacteriological warfare.

Moreover, whereas the world is still far from getting on top of the present pandemic, even more terrifying threats arising from the same basic conditions - such as Nipah[1] - have already been identified: "an epidemic of the Nipah virus in China, with a mortality rate of up to 75% could be the next great pandemic risk (...) Nipah could explode at any moment. The next pandemic could be an infection resistant to medicines (...) It is one of ten infectious diseases out of sixteen identified by the World Health Organisation as the greatest risks to public health about which there are no plans in the pipelines of the pharmaceutical companies"[2].

The bourgeoisie surprised by the first wave and driven to desperation by the next

Several vaccines have already been made in record time, which illustrates the productive capacities which could be put into the service of the well-being of humanity. Nevertheless today, just as at the beginning of this pandemic, several problems have hampered a real management of the sickness and they are a direct consequence of the fact that this system is clearly at the service of an exploiting class which is only preoccupied with the health of the population to the extent of preserving the labour power of those that it exploits.

In fact, health systems have been completely overwhelmed because, faced with the aggravation of the economic crisis in every country, governments of the right and the left have continued reducing social budgets for decades, i.e., budgets for health systems and for research. Since health systems are not very profitable, they have reduced bed numbers, closed local hospitals, cut jobs of ancillary staff, nurses and doctors, worsened their working conditions, destroyed stocks of PPE judged too expensive to maintain. And respirators were lacking in many hospitals.

In order to limit the spread of the pandemic, the bourgeoisie has not been capable of anything better than recourse to the methods of the Middle Ages like lock-downs. Everywhere curfews are imposed, social distancing is implemented and human faces masked. Borders are closed off and public and cultural links are shut down across most of Europe. Never since the Second World War has humanity lived through such a testing time.

Furthermore, competition between the different factions of the bourgeoisie, as much at an international level as within each country and exacerbated by the economic crisis, has clearly constituted an active factor in the deepening of the health crisis from the beginning of the pandemic, giving rise to open expressions of rivalries that are sometimes so bitter that they have been called "wars" by the media.

The "war of the masks" is an edifying example of the cynical and frantic competition in which all the capitalist states are involved; each one of them trying to grab as much of this vital material as they could by over-bidding or even by pure and simple theft!

Then there's the "war to be among the first to produce an effective vaccine", in which each country in competition with all the others, jealously guards their work in order to win the race and give them access to a lucrative market. Such a situation of every man for himself prevents any international coordination and cooperation in eradicating the pandemic and increases delays of production greater than if it was the product of international cooperation.

In the "war to obtain the greatest quantity of vaccines", the stakes are considerable. In fact, the countries which thanks to vaccination are the first to obtain a collective immunity will also be the first to be able to put their productive apparatus and economy back on its feet. The problem is that even if the vaccine begins to be produced in greater quantities in a certain number of countries, it is still insufficient in relation to the overall need. This situation has given rise to very important tensions between, for example, the European Union and the United Kingdom where the latter is unable to honour, in quantities and contractual deadlines, the orders for the AstraZeneca (Anglo-Swedish) vaccine going to the EU. This would have meant Britain reducing the domestic distribution of vaccines. Faced with this the European Union has upped the ante and Germany has gone so far as threatening to take measures of retaliation in "retaining" the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines made on EU territory and destined for sale to the United Kingdom. A consequence of this hardening attitude is that new tensions have arisen between London and Brussels regarding the "Northern Ireland Protocol", a crucial part of the Brexit Treaty.[3]

The European media congratulated itself on the good performance of Europe faced with the economic earthquake provoked by the pandemic, notably thanks to obtaining certain agreements: one bearing on the mutualisation of new debts within the EU, the other delegating the European Commission to buy vaccines for members. But in the corridors, some of the stronger member states like Germany have exchanged specific contracts with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Curevac, which has provoked a storm in Brussels".[4]

An unexpected fact is that Germany, which up to now has had relatively good figures with its death-rates which are much lower compared with other industrialised countries, has begun to rival the incoherence of other developed countries such as France, Great Britain or the United States: "With close to 2.1 million infections in a year, Germany has shown a mortality rate of 2.4%, equivalent to that of France.."[5], half of the cases of excess deaths occurring during the two waves of the pandemic in Germany are linked to the infection of seniors. When the first vaccines arrived, there were very few of the industrialised countries in which capitalist anarchy and administrative cretinism were not involved in the calamitous management of their distribution to different vaccination centres; it was the same for needles and other medical material. The fact that governments in a certain number of countries had to bring in the military to support medical services by taking over the logistics of distribution, the tracking of orders and the protection the vaccines from theft is a significant indication of serious failings at the heart of society.

Whereas there is a shortage of vaccines in the most industrialised countries, they are absent from poorer nations who are essentially being provided with the Chinese vaccine[6] whose efficacy is unproven. On the other hand, if Israel has been able to obtain the necessary doses in order to vaccinate all its population it's because it purchased the Pfizer doses at a price 43% higher than the price negotiated by the EU.

The agony of capitalism in its final stage of decomposition infests society

Millions of workers in the world have been brutally sacked from their jobs; poverty is spreading and deepening in a considerable fashion. Surrounded by the dangers of contagion, the reality of unemployment and the plunge into poverty, important parts of the world population find themselves in uncertain and unstable conditions and sinking into despair. In the industrial metropoles forced isolation resulting from various measures of lock-down has had consequences on the mental health of populations, as witnessed by the pressure on psychiatric services and the increases in suicides.

If, for important fractions of the working class the situation arising from the pandemic constitutes a final indictment of the bourgeoisie, for significant parts of the population any reflection is on the contrary polluted by all sorts of conspiracy theories. This is notably the case in the United States, the most developed country in the world and one at the avant-garde of science. When the pandemic was unfolding on the American continent, a great part of the population in this country imagined that the virus didn't exist and that it was all a plot to torpedo the re-election of Trump!

Other less excessive versions, but still based on fantastic theories, have flourished, seeing behind the measures of the restrictions of freedom of movement the hand of manipulators looking for a pretext to "confine" us or allow the pharmaceutical companies to make their money. Some demonstrations have taken place on this theme in some countries. In Spain, some chanted "the hospitals are empty", in Israel some ultra-orthodox Jews have been demonstrating. The extreme-right is also involved in these demonstrations, in Holland in particular. Some countries have seen real riots with some actions aimed at health centres.

This crisis is the product of the present phase of decomposition within the decadence of capitalism and an illustration of its manifestations: loss of control by the dominant class over its system; unprecedented aggravation of "every man for himself"; growth of the most irrational theories and ideologies. Such are the striking traits created by the eruption of the pandemic. Since the beginning of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc these symptoms have invaded society, signalled by the growth of the most irrational, reactionary and obscurantist ideologies and the growth of religious fanaticism, as seen in the rise of Islamic State with its young suicide bombers enlisted into a Holy War in the name of Allah.

All these ultra-reactionary ideologies have been the manure which has fed the development of xenophobia and populism in the central countries and, above all, the United States. In the latter, this culminated in the assault on the Capitol, January 6, by Trump's shock-troops. This astonishing attack against the temple of American democracy has given the whole world a disastrous image of the world's greatest power the country of Freedom and Democracy looking like (and recognised by ex-President George Bush himself as such) a Third-World banana republic with the risk of armed confrontations within the civilian population.[7]

The accumulation of all these manifestations of decomposition, on a world scale and at all levels of society, shows that for thirty years capitalism has gone into its new historic period: the ultimate phase of decadence, the phase of decomposition.

More than ever the survival of humanity depends on the capacity of the proletariat to overthrow capitalism before it makes social life on this planet impossible. Further, the characteristics of a future communist society would render impossible such a level of vulnerability in the face of a major disease, in contrast to the way capitalism is dealing with Covid-19.

How a future communist society would face up to pandemics

We can't, in the framework of this short article, go into considerations of the type "why is such a society possible today whereas it's never been achieved in the past?" or again "how will the revolutionary proletariat undertake the overthrow of capitalism on a world scale and the transformation of its relations of production?” The ICC has already given over numerous articles to this question.[8] Nor are we going to risk imagining what life would be like for members of a society freed the alienation of class society. However, we can affirm that alienation and each for themselves are taking on more and more brutal and inhuman forms in capitalism's death agony. We will limit ourselves here to the economic aspect and its direct social consequences.

- Communism is not only an old dream of humanity or the simple product of human will: it’s the only form of society capable of overcoming the contradictions that are strangling capitalist society. From this, its economic characteristics will be the following:

- the only motivation of production is the satisfaction of human need;

- the goods produced cease to be commodities, values for exchange, in order to become solely values for use; in other words, production is for the needs of humanity and not for the market;

- private ownership of the means of production, whether individually as in the beginnings of capitalism or by the state as in decadent capitalism (whether in its Stalinist, fascist or democratic forms), gives way to their socialisation. That's to say the end of all ownership and hence the end of the existence of social classes and, thus, all exploitation.

In looking at the factors which underlie the very great difficulties faced by present-day society in its efforts to defend itself from Covid-19, and also to face up to the tragic social consequences of it, we have to ask ourselves about the weight that these same factors would have in a communist society. In fact they wouldn't exist.

At the origin of the pandemic is the degradation of the planet which was made worse with capitalism's decadence, more particularly since the Second World War, where: "the pitiless destruction of the environment by capital takes another dimension and another quality, an epoch in which all the capitalist nations are obliged to compete with each other in a saturated world market; consequently an epoch of the permanent war economy (...) an epoch characterised by the desperate pillage of natural resources for each nation trying to survive in a merciless free-for-all for the world market".[9]  Once the bourgeoisie is defeated on a world scale a priority task will be to repair the damage that capitalism has inflicted on the planet and make it amenable to the expansion of life on Earth. The elimination of the appearance of Covid-type pandemics will thus become a possibility.

Nevertheless, there's no guarantee that other pandemics of a different origin to that of Covid-19 couldn't appear in the future! That's the reason why, concerned for the survival and well-being of its members, the new society will develop its scientific knowledge with a view to better anticipating any eventual unknown sicknesses. Such an effort by society would be considerable compared to what capitalism can do today, inasmuch as society will no longer be subjected to the realisation of profit but will be aiming at the satisfaction of human needs. There will be distribution and centralisation of knowledge at the global level and not the "protection" and retention of scientific knowledge motivated by the realisation of profits and the consequence of competition. Sicknesses and the risks that they imply will not be hidden so that the "wheels of the economy continue to turn"; instead, the reaction will be collective and responsible without any submission to economic laws "above" humanity.

- Contrary to the present situation, since health institutions will no longer be submitted to the law of profit, they can be permanently ameliorated and not left to rot.

- However, even in a communist society one cannot exclude the possibility, despite the importance given to prevention, that humanity will face unknown challenges through, for example, the necessity to make a vaccine or a treatment at short notice. Since communist society would be free of competition between its different parts, it could mobilise in the service of this objective the associated forces of the whole of humanity; quite the contrary to what's happened with the production of the vaccine against Covid. In fact, it is not speculation to affirm that humanity will be confronted with very real dangers resulting from the damage – some of it perhaps irreversible - that decadent and decomposing capitalism has bequeathed to future generations. Faced with this the proletariat will have to take all the necessary sanitary and restorative measures for an environment in which humanity will live free from the blind laws of capitalism.

- And if despite a still greater effort against anything that could threaten the human species, humanity could find itself affected by the hardest of tests and challenges, it is through solidarity, by acting as a single unit, that it will face up to them and not by abandoning a part of itself, as today where millions are thrown on the scrap heap and forced to rely on the "good will" of capitalism.

Between the moment when the proletariat begins to overthrow the political power of the bourgeoisie in a certain number of countries, then at the global scale (a world without frontiers), and the time when a society without social classes, exploitation and money is installed, the proletariat will have to take the transformation of society in this direction... and that will take much time. Nevertheless, even if it's not possible to begin to transform society before taking power on a world scale, the revolutionary proletariat will have a different attitude to diseases to that of the bourgeoisie. This is illustrated in the article which we are publishing in our International Review, "The Conservation of Health in Soviet Russia" which is about the measures taken by the Soviets between July 1918 and July 1919.

Yes, the communist transformation is necessary, but also the revolution is possible

Up to now we've put the accent on the dangers that the decomposition of capitalism holds for society and the very prospect of proletarian revolution. It's our responsibility because it's up to revolutionaries to talk clearly to the working class without hiding from it the difficulties with which it will be confronted. But it's also incumbent upon them to insist that a revolutionary outcome to the present situation exists, particularly given the ambient scepticism. This will result partly from the fact that, despite great difficulties, the working class has not submitted to an important defeat that prevents it from reacting to the attacks of the bourgeoisie, unlike what happened in the 1930s. And if these attacks are raining down already, they are only at a beginning.

In fact, the health crisis can only aggravate the economic crisis even more. And we are seeing it already with firms going bust and growing numbers of job losses since the beginning of the pandemic. Faced with the aggravation of poverty and the degradation of all its living conditions in every country, the working class has no other choice than to struggle against the attacks of the bourgeoisie. Even if today the working class is suffering the shock of this pandemic, even if social decomposition makes the development of its struggles more difficult, it has no other choice than to fight to survive. With the explosion of unemployment in the most developed countries, fight or die will be the only alternatives posed to the growing masses of proletarians and the younger generations!

It is in its future combats, where it fights on its own class terrain despite the corrupting atmosphere of social decomposition, that the proletariat will have to re-discover and affirm its revolutionary perspective.

Despite all the suffering that it engenders, still today the economic crisis remains the best ally of the proletariat. Thus, we shouldn't only see misery in misery but also the conditions for overcoming this misery.

Sylver 17.2.21


[1] Nipah appeared in the years 1995-1999 in Malaysia and Singapore among pig farmers. It reappeared in an episodic way in Bangladesh and eastern India in 2011 then in Cambodia in 2012 (very close to the tourist destination of the temples of Angkor Wat), then manifesting itself in China and Thailand in 2020, in the tropical forest zone of Asia. It is transmitted by the urine and saliva of bats who have been chased out of their natural habitat (by drought, fire, deforestation and agricultural practices) towards the nearby human environment and is also transmitted to humans via the rearing of pigs. As well as having symptoms similar to Covid, it also provokes terrible encephalitis (its mortality rate varies between 40 and 75%). Its period of incubation can last between 5 and 45 days, during which time the victim is very infectious. Source: World Health Organisation, Nipah Virus

[2]  Pharmaceutical giants not ready for next pandemic, report warns | Science | The Guardian. The report is from the Dutch foundation Access to Medicine.

[4] "it is stipulated that the participants do not engage in individual contracts with the same laboratories. Germany however has exchanged contracts with Pfizer-BioNTech and Curevac” Covid-19 : après la Hongrie, le vaccin russe Spoutnik pourrait séduire d’autres pays européens..Le Monde, 3.2.21

[5]  Les Echos, February 12, 2021,  Coronavirus : les 50.000 morts qui font frémir l'Allemagne

[6]  "Already by September the NGO Oxfam estimated that the richest countries represented only 13% of the world's population but held more than half (51%) of the doses of the main vaccines in the study".  "Essais cliniques, production, acheminement… Les six défis de la course au vaccin contre le Covid-19." Le Monde, 13.11.20

[7] Regarding the situation in the United States, read our article:

[9] "Ecology: It's capitalism which is polluting the Earth". International Review no. 63.