Could this virus and economic crisis be a revolutionary moment?

Marx on the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Ron Ridenour

Copenhagen“A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre ofCOVID-19. For Marx and Engels writing the Communist Manifesto, in 1848, that spectre was communism, their political system of choice. This flaring ghost they described frightened the capitalist class, which endeavored to exorcise its breath.

The contemporary specter (thesis-see note) is a new corona virus, code named COVID-19. The spectre of communism lurks for a rebirth as the capitalist class and its many political parties (albeit only the duopoly in the US), propped up by their propagandistic mass media, use this virus to exorcise even more of the working peoples’ gains and rights. The ruling class is fully aware that uproars and uprisings might occur, and is instituting even more measures to prevent such eventualities.

The antithesis being used to confront thesis COVID-19 is a mixture of capitalism and socialism and is temporarily accepted by the capitalist class generally and its politicians as a necessary palliative to keep the masses from rising up.

The rulers’ politicians are extending temporary health care and some economic assistance to more people in the United States, and throughout Europe. They are approving federal wage subsidies or what socialists would call “basic income” supports, free medical care to test and treat the disease, and the commandeering of private property like hotels and convention centers to act as temporary overflow hospitals. Since the costs of combating this disease are gigantic, and since it is absolutely necessary to keep distance from one another, in order to curb contagion, the usual wars for profit are at a standstill in most areas. This means fewer people are being murdered and tortured. Less military action, including fewer fossil fuel-driven war planes, tanks, and other motor vehicles (also fewer civilian vehicles in use around the world) means less pollution of mother earth. Such actions would be permanent in a socialist or communist system.

These measures result in most people satisfactorily experiencing a bit more peace, cleaner air and cleaner water. But that experience could lead to a greater awareness and to demands that the world must not return to “business as usual.” A forthcoming socio-economic-political synthesis could be a popular demand to stop warring and stop using fossil fuel for greater profits for the finance speculators, weapons industry and the oil-gas industry. People might rise up like France’s Yellow Vests, building toward mass actions with general strikes, leading to world-wide strikes and other gigantic actions.

The need for some socialistic or social democratic measures are being grudgingly conceded by the capitalists, albeit not with an open admission of what they are doing or why by capitalist governments.

Radicals, socialists, communists and real progressives should openly publish their views, their aims, their solutions to this crisis, and meet this crises with a declaration of the need for an end to the global capitalism that has brought this disaster upon the people of the world. They should print their ideas and demands in leaflet forms and take them to work places, schools, meeting halls when the lockdown is over. They should be organizing and mobilizing the common people again.

World War II led to greater equality

There is some precedent for hope. Recall in WWII (thesis) when women were put to work outside the home in industrial jobs to do the jobs of men by then in the military in order to produce goods and to make weaponry to stop fascism. African-American and Native-American men went to war along with whites to fight against fascism and discrimination. With the defeat of fascism, extreme racism (apartheid included) and male chauvinist superiority sickness resumed and brought back the prior discrimination against minorities and women. The antithesis then was the passionate, determined civil rights and black power movements of the 1950s-70s, the gender equal rights movement (feminism) of the 1960s-70s, as well as Native American and other minority struggles for greater equality and self-determination — all of which generated important progress for ethnic peoples and the female gender.

While all that progress did not prevent the US military empire with its vassal states from conducting myriad wars causing tens of millions of casualties, this time around things could be different. As the new virus spirals outward, we see the US trying to retreat from its wars against the peoples of Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Albeit Trump and his Zionist-fascistic buddy Netanyahu still threaten Iran’s very existence, even as it’s people are facing extra suffering from the pandemic thanks to US sanctions, particularly on bank transactions that make it difficult for Iran to buy medicines and medical equipment. In much of the Middle East and North Africa, the vast majority have learned to hate the US for its jingoism and its brutal capitalism. This in turn brings about greater amenability towards socialistic solutions or, at least, to increasing resistance to US domination. This is evident also to among Europeans and some of their politicians, such as France’s Macron and Italy’s leaders. They are breaking the US-led embargoes against Russia, China, Cuba, and maybe Iran soon, in defiance of Washington’s threats to punish those countries and companies that ignore its sanctions.

The World Policeman’s badge pales

It is quite possible that many Westerners, even US Americans, will learn how well China and Cuba are seemingly handling this virus pandemic, because even as they reintroduce capitalism within their systems, they and their people still maintain a vision of creating an economy based upon social equality, and are maintaining much social welfare. These governments are better geared to confront natural disasters through efficient state planning than is chaotic capitalism where, especially in the US, every man is considered responsible for his own and his family’s economic fate.

Having reportedly curtailed the virus, China is now providing millions of masks and tens of thousands of testing kits to France and other countries. Cuba continues offering its paltry finances and widely admired healthcare system in solidarity with all peoples.

Recently, Cuba allowed a coronavirus-contaminated cruise ship to dock. Cubans solidarity embraced the needy when other countries refused to do so. Bahamas, a British Commonwealth nation, refused it help, as did several other Caribbean states and the United States, even though Britain is the US’s main imperial junior partner.

The British HMS Braemar had 50 passengers and crew manifesting virus symptoms. When the ship docked, Cuba drove the 1000 passengers and crew to its airport used by charter flights. Passengers quickly fell in love with “dictatorially ruled” Cuba. As one passenger wrote, “Thank you Cuba, that you could open your hearts to us. We will never ever forget that you reached out to us when absolutely nobody, and I mean nobody, else would,” 

Cuba also sent a medical brigade to Italy to help virus victims in that worst hit nation. Forty-five countries, whose governments can face sanctions from the US for dealing with Cuba, have asked Cuba to dispatch Interferon alpha-2B recombinant. a drug that was developed by scientists in Cuba and China. This drug can reportedly neutralize the worst effects of COVID-19. Experts say it stops the virus from reaching a serious enough stage to result in death, and also relieves much of the suffering that death by coronavirus death can cause.

At this writing (March 31), this “wonder drug” drug is curtailing the virus in Cuba. Only 139 cases—124 in stable condition—with three deaths have occurred to this nation of 11.5 million people.

A Cuban official said: “The sanctions are the main obstacle, not only to respond to major health crises like Covid-19, but the main obstacle to the country’s development in any area. Lifting the blockade against Cuba would have an extraordinarily positive impact on Cuba, and mostly in the health sector, which has been one of the most damaged areas since the establishment of the blockade almost 60 years ago. The blockade has caused more than $3 billion in economic losses. Despite this, Cuban doctors are working in 59 countries around the world, 37 of which have confirmed cases of Covid-19,” reported UK “Express” reporter, Dylan Donnelly, on March 25.

What capitalism is now saying about the cure for Covid-19

IMF chairwoman and managing director Kristalina Georgieva announced on March 27 that the entire world is in a recession worse than in 2009. Over 80 countries have requested economic aid when normally only a handful do so. G20 states have allocated $5 trillion in fiscal measures to businesses and to “wage earners”. The US will pay out $2.2 trillion, 10% of its GDP and has also promised banks and investment banks it will back all of their failing loans and investments in junk bonds, even if the cost runs into the trillions of dollars.

US President Trump, alarmed at the recession caused by a necessary lockdown of most of the country’s major urban areas, warns: “The cure could be worse than the problem.”  Trump is surely the most obnoxious and mendacious of all US presidents but sometimes he can be surprisingly candid. When it comes to defending and supporting capitalism, he proudly announces that it must continue right through the crisis, to reap profits. When it comes to the war against Syria, he declares openly that the 800 US troops he continues to maintain there are protecting claims to “US oil” (sic). Other US presidents have generally been careful to coverup their profiteering warmongering. 

The day after Trump’s statement about a possibly quack cure for the Coronavirus, Denmark’s main capitalist political party (Venstre) broke its silence and warned the social democratic (and US waring partner) government that it must bail out capital all the more. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had already warned that post-COVID-19 capitalism would need greater state support and that the welfare system would have to, as a consequence suffer cutbacks.

The EU refuses to aid those countries worst hit, Italy and Spain, and other poorer members. Support for breaking out of the union, as Britain with its Brexit is doing, has been growing in several European nations.

When the virus eventually slows its spread and the global lockdowns ends, capitalism will require greater worker “sacrifices” for a return to greater profits and higher stock values.

This time around, the dialectical rebound could capture the imagination of tens of millions of westerners, and other millions elsewhere suffering under capitalism and its wars for global domination. Imagine the solid and persistent struggles that could burst forth roaring for world peace, for state-run, tax-supported health care, the curbing of private super-wealth and even for the revamping of society’s very structure. Real people-to-people democracy, in which all are owners and decision-makers, could seize the reigns.

Colleague Dave Lindorff wrote me:

“I think we’ll be seeing elucidating examples of why socialist ideas are far better than capitalist ones. The US is careening towards an apocalyptic social and economic collapse because of both it’s horrendous for-profit healthcare system, which leaves 87 million people unable to pay to see a doctor and unable to get health care, because [so many are] losing their low- and often even well-paying jobs. The paltry 20 percent, who can get unemployment insurance checks, only get a pittance. We’ll have to see how people respond to seeing the banks and airlines—two particularly loathed industries—getting trillions in bailouts while the government gives them quarterly assistance checks of $1-2000 per family!”

(Here’s Dave’s latest article in ThisCantBeHappening!)

Greater numbers of people, even in the US, are already recognizing how capitalism mistreats the majority. Celebrity Britney Spears is one. She posted a message on her Instagram account to 23.7 million followers, imploring them to “feed each other,” to “redistribute wealth,” and to go on “strike” in the face of the coronavirus fiasco.

“There is a crack, A crack in everything; That’s how the light gets in!” Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”.

Here is my list of immediate demands, and for struggles now:

  1. Soldiers and civilians stop wars for private riches and foreign domination; demand drastic decline in weapons industry.
  2. Universal tax-supported, government-run health care systems for all.
  3. Massive and general public transportation; far fewer private cars, especially inside cities.
  4. Sustainable non-pollution energy systems running nations.
  5. Europeans end support to US as the world’s police forces. Retake European sovereignty. Retake or gain sovereignty world-wide.

Disease: Capitalism

Cure: Socialism

Synthesis: Equality, Justice, Peace

Note: Contrary to what many believe the dialectic of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis was not an idea of the dialectical materialist philosophers Marx and Engels, and they never used the terminology albeit the basic concept is useful to this philosophy. It was another, earlier German philosopher, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, who invented the idea, and he was an advocate of idealism, close to Hegel’s idealistic materialism. Here I attempt to use this concept in analyzing the current crises of both the virus and the capitalist system.

RON RIDENOUR, an occasional contributor to ThisCantBeHappening, is a retired journalist, anti-war and radical activist; author of “The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert” (June 2018, Punto Press, NY); Winding Brook Stories (2019); ten books on Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka Tamils.