The Covid crisis shows the dead end of capitalism

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Last summer the bourgeoisie was mounting a huge campaign around the theme “we no longer need to worry, we have the vaccines”. US President Biden stated that he wasn’t worried about the Delta variant causing another major nationwide outbreak of Covid-19 (2 July 2021). The World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Director Mike Ryan declared that the very worst of the Covid crisis has come and gone (12 July 2021). They were supported by Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the UK, who said: “almost all the scientists are agreed on this - the worst of the pandemic is behind us” (15 July 2021)[1].

All the data on daily deaths and daily new cases over the last months contradicted these statements and confirmed that the pandemic is not at all behind us. The daily measures and recommendations by the bourgeoisie show that the pandemic still has a huge impact on society and the economy: health sectors flooded with new Covid patients, coercive measures against those who refuse to be vaccinated, new lockdowns with the closure of commercial activities, schools and entertainment.

For the majority of the world population the health crisis is far from over. It is still severely threatened by the effects of the virus at all levels; in particular those who have received only one doses of the Covid vaccine or none at all, as is also the case in Japan and Australia. In some of the major Asian countries in particular, the relatively successful policies for containing the Coronavirus in 2020 in these countries created the illusion that the virus was more or less under control, as a result of which the vaccination rate remained rather low there.

The frenzied and chaotic fight for the vaccines

Scientists agree that vaccination is the main bulwark against the spread of the virus. But the bourgeoisie is incapable of developing a unified policy to vaccinate the world population and togloballycontrol the pandemic. There is no consultation at the international level that would allow the necessary scale-up of Covid-19 vaccine production. Instead, all countries have embarked on a vaccine race, with the richer countries hoarding a surplus, in an attempt to be the first to achieve group immunity.

Data from the WHO of November revealed that G20 countries received more than 80% of Covid-19 vaccines while low-income countries only received 0.6% [2]. In response to this trend UN Secretary-General António Guterres already issued a warning against “vaccine nationalism and hoarding [which] are putting us all at risk. This means more deaths. More shattered health systems. More economic misery”[3].

Each state adopts its own strategy and only the most powerful states have the means to deal with the pandemic. In seeking to guarantee the vaccination of the respective populations, a number of them gained priority in signing agreements with pharmaceutical companies or even shelled out cash to pre-order promising vaccine candidates. This policy has led to huge disparities in the distribution of vaccines, even within the EU. Some EU countries had to take refuge to the less effective Russian Sputnik V (Hungary, Slovakia) or the Chinese Sinopharm (Hungary) vaccine.

Most rich nations are guilty of an unscrupulous accumulation of vaccines. Airfinity, a London-based analytics company, projects that by year’s end the surplus of Covid-19 vaccines will have reached 1.2 billion doses. If 600 million of these excess doses is to be donated to other countries, that leaves another 600 million doses sitting unused in stockpiles, with nearly half of that in the U.S. and the rest in the other wealthy countries [4]. This hoarding policy has already resulted in a waste of millions of vaccines.

Hoarding is one reason for the disparities in the distribution, but another big problem is the enormous cost of vaccines for the poor countries. Pharmaceutical producers do not charge standard prices but vary their prices depending on the quantity purchased, and charge higher prices when there is a lower quantity. For example, while the US paid $15 million for 1 million doses of Moderna's vaccine, Botswana had to pay nearly two times more: $ 28.88.

The unequal distribution of the vaccines, and of the consequent delay in inoculation at the global level, compromises each vaccination strategy. A policy that favours vaccinations in the rich countries and does not prevent the spread of the pandemic in the poor countries runs the risk of a return of the virus to the most powerful countries, even with the possibility of the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants. The “everyman for himself” at the global level is a powerful accelerator of the spread of the Delta and Omicron variants and all new variants to come.

The patchwork of inconsistent and contradictory measures

In its fight against the Corona virus each bourgeoisie is constantly forced to give priority to the economy while maintaining a minimum of social cohesion, deliberately taking the risk of workers falling ill for a longer time or even dying because of the virus. This situation leads to a patchwork of inconsistent and contradictory recommendations and measures throughout the world and even between regions within one country. Some examples:

  • No consensus between health organisations. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US announced on 13 May 2021 that fully vaccinated people, who are two weeks out from their last shot, can now roam maskless in outdoor and most indoor settings. But the World Health Organization issued different guidelines, urging everyone in the US, even those who are vaccinated, to keep wearing masks because of the threat of the highly transmissible Delta variant, which had been detected in all 50 U.S. states.
  • No coordination between neighbouring regions. On Friday 17 September the Consultation Committee in Belgium suggested that wearing a mask is no longer compulsory in shops and catering from 1 October 2021. But Flanders said yes, Brussels said no and Wallonia would decide later... Each region wanted to decide according to the situation. The different regional governments took the power of decision each in its own region (as if the virus stops at regional or linguistic borders).
  • Directives issued one month are repealed the next month. In July the UK government announced that all social-distancing rules would be removed, and national mask-mandates repealed from 19 July onwards. But the supermarkets immediately announced the retention of masks, while metropolitan mayors mandated mask wearing on the public transport services they control. After a long delay the British government gave in and announced the wearing of face masks in shops and on public transport as mandatory from Monday 29 November onwards.
  • “Reopening” followed by even more quarantines. With vaccinations rising and cases dropping in late June 2021, the Dutch government pushed ahead with a “reopening”. Face masks were abandoned in almost all places and young people were encouraged to go out again. But when children completed their first week of school after the summer holidays, in Utrecht 10 to 15 classes were sent home every day because of positive tests while in The Hague and the surrounding area, 34 primary school classes came under quarantine and were sent home in that first week.
  • A mishmash of travel restrictions in Europe. In Europe travellers are faced with each country imposing measures on its own. Each country has its own safety and quarantine measures for travellers. In some countries the European vaccination certificate is sufficient to enter the country, while other countries apply additional restrictions, such as quarantines or PCR tests. Moreover, only people entering the country by plane or train are strictly controlled.

Distrust of the government, the vaccines and the science

Since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic we have witnessed an increase in distrust of governments, of vaccines, accompanied by a surge in disinformation and conspiracy theories:

  • a distrust of governments in Russia, Bulgaria, but also in different EU countries such as Poland, Netherlands, Greece which, in turn, has been reinforced by irrational claims and blatant lies by governments to cover up their negligence and impotence.
  • This widespread distrust and fear of vaccines, which is nurtured by populist and conspiracy campaigns[5], with a particular strong impact in the US, leading to an extreme polarisation between the pro- and anti-vaxxers.

Bulgaria is one of the countries where the extent of misinformation and distrust of the vaccines has a real impact on the vaccination rate, which has only reached 20%. The country was approaching another peak in infections late October 2021, with more than 5,000 Covid-19 cases and 100 deaths a day; 95% of those who died had not been vaccinated. While the death toll mounted, the healthcare system became overstrained, and intensive care units were filled to overflowing. But most Bulgarians still refuse Covid-19 vaccines.

The same can be said for Russia. For more than a year, Russian propaganda agencies and internet trolls have been engaged in a systematic and aggressive disinformation campaign, aimed at fostering doubts and misgivings about Covid-19 vaccines in the West. This disinformation campaign has strongly nurtured the vaccine scepticism which is, together with the mistrust in the government, responsible for the high level of vaccine hesitancy among Russians. With less than 45% of the population being fully vaccinated, the virus has spread at its most rapid pace in the recent months.

This polarisation in the US in particular has caused a chain reaction of total irrationality, which has spread to European countries, Australia and South Africa. By taking their information from dubious websites that spread dodgy or fake reports, the real concern about the virus or the vaccine is very easily confused with far-fetched theories and a totally irrational distrust of science. One of the conspiracy theories concerns the origin of the pandemic: the theory that the emergence of the virus is due to 5G technology, which has been designed to remotely control human minds. This “theory”, which says that the WHO is part of the plot,

Covid-19 has created a health environment ripe for aggression and violence[6]. During the pandemic’s first six months, 611 incidents of Covid-19–related physical or verbal assaults, threats, or discrimination were directed toward health care workers, patients, and medical facilities in more than 40 countries, according to the Red Cross (ICRC). Supporters of the conspiracy theories have been guilty of verbal and even physical assaults on health care workers in countries such as Slovakia and the US On top of that we also have witnessed several attacks on the workers of the mainstream media.

Vaccine imperialism

Politicians repeatedly declare “never again” and that “we must learn the lessons of history,” but far from making the capitalist states see reason and work together, the ruling class, by its very nature is incapable of changing the rules of declining capitalism, in which fierce competition over the shrinking markets is the rule and any form of cooperation more than ever the exception. In the past 100 years, in decadent capitalism, the world has not only become an arena of competition between capitalist enterprises, but in particular a battlefield between capitalist states.

Competition is the engine that keeps capitalism running, but it is also the source of most of its problems. The pandemic has starkly underlined this: for years governments have been cutting health budgets to increase overall capacity to compete, with the result that numerous health systems have been overwhelmed by Covid-related hospitalisations. Of course, everyone says they agree that preventing zoonoses (transmission of disease from animals to humans) by curbing the massive and chaotic intrusion into nature will be much cheaper than paying for the consequences - but preferably in such a way that another state acts first or bears the consequences. Because of international competition none of the states concerned is prepared to restrict the destruction of forests and other wild areas at the expense of its own national economy. No rational thinking is strong enough to alter the situation.

The national framework is the highest expression of the unity that bourgeois rule can attain, and faced with the pandemic, which demands a unified global approach, it is not able to go beyond this framework. In previous health crises, like the Ebola outbreak for instance, the bourgeoisie succeeded at least in keeping up appearances by implementing a certain (and often cynical) international coordination (with the WHO, in particular, on the medical level) to defend the general interests of capitalism even in the context of the decadence of the system. But in this phase of decomposition, the tendency towards every man for himself has grown to such an extent that the ruling class is no longer even able to achieve the minimum cooperation to defend the general interests of its own system by bringing the pandemic under control. Instead, every state seeks to save itself in the face of the ongoing catastrophe.

The Covid pandemic has only intensified the imperialist race for influence over regions and markets, and the distribution of vaccines is itself being instrumentalised for imperialist purposes. The US and Europe, but also Russia, China or India, use the distribution of vaccines in a “soft imperialist” strategy to strengthen their imperialist positions in the world.

  • China’s support to the Covax-program of the WHO and the “Health Silk Road” are part of its “diplomatic offensive” to push for global health leadership. In the meantime, China has delivered vaccines to nearly 100 countries in the world.
  • The Kremlin launched its “Sputnik V diplomatic offensive”, and is currently registered and certified in 71 countries. Its offensive also puts the unity of the EU at the test. Some EU member states started to use the vaccine while Italy agreed to manufacture the non-approved Russia’s Sputnik V.
  • India is the greatest exporter of produced vaccines in the world. Under the slogan “Neighbourhood First” it has deals with 94 countries for the export of 66 million doses. India’s own vaccine, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, will become part of the export programme in 2022.

Instead of protecting their own population these states thus use the vaccines for imperialist purposes. India, where only 35% of the population is fully vaccinated, has exported three times as many doses as it has administered to its own people.

The world-wide and deadly Covid crisis also leads to growing divisions, an intensification of tensions between factions of the national bourgeoisie, further increasing the bourgeoisie’s loss of control over the evolution of the pandemic. Important political factions of the bourgeoisie in Europe, such as the Freiheits Partei Österreich, Alternative Für Deutschland, Rassemblement National in France, but also the Republican Party in the US etc. vehemently stoke up the discontent in society about mandatory vaccinations, the health pass, the lockdowns. They are more and more involved in demonstrations for “freedom” which often result in violent clashes with the forces of repression.

Only the abolition of capitalism offers a perspective

The pandemic has spread to the entire world and radically changed it in a matter of months. This makes it the most important single phenomenon since the entry of capitalism into the phase of decomposition and confirms our thesis that “the magnitude of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis can be explained not only by this accumulation but also by the interaction of the ecological, health, social, political, economic and ideological expressions of decomposition in a kind of spiral never seen before, which has led to a tendency to lose control of more and more aspects of society” [7]. It clearly shows the decomposing superstructure of capitalist society and its effects on the economic foundations that gave rise to it.

And at the same time, it is not only the pandemic that illustrates the significant aggravation of the effects of decomposition. It’s also the multiplication of “natural” disasters like wildfires, floods and tornados, all kinds of structural violence, increasingly irrational military conflicts and the resulting migration of millions looking for a place to survive. The interaction of all these aspects is an expression of the accelerated putrefaction of the very foundations of the capitalist mode of production. It is a dire manifestation of the contrast between the enormous potential of the productive forces and the atrocious misery that is spreading throughout the world.

Capitalism had outlived its usefulness; it is a dead man walking, and can no longer offer a perspective to human beings on the planet. But in its death throes it is still able of taking the whole world to the brink of abyss. The working class has the capacity and the responsibility to prevent the annihilation of humanity. Therefore, it needs to develop its struggle on its own terrain against the effects of the economic crisis, such as inflation, unemployment, precariousness. The present workers' struggles [8], however timid they are, bear the seeds of overcoming this daily barbarism, and of creating a society free from the many scourges raging through capitalism in the 21st century.

Dennis, December 18, 2021


Covid pandemic