GRASPING THE REVOLUTIONARY ROLE OF COVID-19

Shekhar //

Covid-19 is a new deadly virus of the Corona family. When it jumped from animals to human beings to attack the globe, world capitalism was already in deep structural crisis lying on its death bed. Actually, it caught world capitalism by its neck while it was already gasping for life. For the first time in its history has world capitalism found itself in such abysmal conditions. It has been shown with clarity by an invisible virus that world capitalism has outlived itself and is suppurating like an old cancerous outgrowth that cannot heal. Covid-19 has mercilessly shown with an electrifying speed that world capitalism has not much to offer or contribute to the well-being of humanity in general and the poor toiling masses in particular when such a pandemic has hit or hits again in future.

People of the world have learnt in the last four months of the pandemic that capitalism has only little love for human beings. It has shown it still prefers profit to saving human beings when the pandemic is on a killing spree. Capitalists and their lackeys can still choose to rejoice rather than mourn when people are dying. They choose the problem if the solution of the problem costs them their profit. Capitalism is a system that can still opt to destroy the means during a most serious health crisis if they don’t fetch them profit. Covid-19 has shown all this in just few days.

On the other hand, people are being informed that the pandemic will stay, and they will have to learn to live with it or even some new virus may attack in near future. It automatically stirs everyone’s mind to think and ask: what would happen to humanity, then? What follows is a deep feeling of desperation, a sense of unrest and a wave of fear that have already taken grip of everyone’s mind and soul.

The capitalist class is also aware of the danger i.e. the danger of growing restlessness and desperation among millions of people around the world. Capitalists know better than anyone else that once such a desperation goes out of bound, their days will be numbered and will soon come to an end. Yet, it cannot do much to stem this or do away with this desperation. They are themselves too much desperate, albeit for other reasons i.e. for saving their empire built up on profit even at the cost of humanity. Capitalism and humanity are at loggerheads with each other. Here in lies its revolutionary role as Covid 19 has brought this contradiction to the fore and in the open. That it has brought capitalism quite near to its end is a matter of great historical importance. It has forced history to move quickly by leaps and bounds. It has inspired the historical process of revolutionary transformation of the world. In other words, it has decreed the demise of capitalism sooner than later.

However, it depends upon what role the revolutionary forces play in this situation. As of now, an un-surmountable Chinese wall seems to exist between what they are doing and what they ought to be doing. The present situation, as we concretely analyze them, requires the revolutionary forces to put up such immediate demands as those, and in such a fashion, that facilitate the widening of scope of class battles i.e. that can be merged with the call that may grow and resound in the streets demanding to get rid of capitalist system as a whole, as and when warranted by the emerging situations. It, of course, needs a lot of ‘painful’ patience and careful and correct study of the ever-changing situations. To be a Leninist is to precisely know how to master this art in the times of ever-growing uncertainties of the length and breadth of an ongoing crisis. This is the least that every practical revolutionary needs to learn.      

Today capitalism can gift us only unemployment, hunger, death and ever widening inequality. It forcibly sends a large chunk of population to the gallows of hunger and poverty. Yet people were not so much frustrated and disappointed as they are today after Covid-19 outbreak and the trail of death and destruction it has brought with itself. As if at the point of a death penalty and with a vengeance, Covid-19 has proved beyond doubt that capitalism has really failed; that capitalist states in general and those committed to neoliberal economic policies in particular are failed states and it (capitalism) can no longer in future be reformed or reshaped according to the needs and well-being of humanity. Its limit stands exposed more than ever before. It stands mostly clear that decay is beyond repair. Those who didn’t see it before have been enabled by Covid-19 to see it now.

The crux of the matter at the moment is that people are dying more due to hunger, poverty, inequality, unemployment and lack of public health care, all the creations of capitalism, than the pandemic itself which is again a creation and an outcome of the same capitalist greed. This is more than a health crisis now. It has grown into a general crisis of humanity not manageable by world capitalism. It demands the capitalist states to act swiftly, on the one hand, to mitigate the vulnerability within the health care system and, on the other hand, to put in place all the fundamental welfare measures in action to meet the huge economic challenges posed by manifold increase in unemployment affecting livelihood of millions of people around the world. It is now clear that given its historical limit imposed by the social relation within the ambit of which it has to operate, capitalism cannot cater to such huge basic needs of serving the humanity.Covid-19 has thus helped in exposing the limits of capitalism on such a big scale that was otherwise not possible in near future. Its invasion has accelerated this much needed education of the people on such a gigantic scale, otherwise and hitherto impossible. In this sense, it is really like a world war that has intensified and aggravated all the contradiction of world capitalism to their utmost.

Here in exactly lies the positive role of Covid19 as it has helped the world to nakedly see the impossibility of survival of humanity if capitalism remains seated in the driver’s cabin. As it is now in the stage of permanent crisis and is bereft of any fresh life, world capitalism is unable to confront the pandemic, even though its material capacity under its command has never been in question. If humanity has to be saved, capitalism has to give way to some other social system that is not driven by profit motive and gives priority to the well-being of the whole society in general and the workers and toilers in particular.

Let us make no mistake. Neither the rich people nor the rich countries are in fact going to be spared. They are equally at serious risk so far as chances of contracting Covid-19 is concerned and world capitalism has not much to save them either. The situation in the super rich countries like in the US, Britain, Italy, Spain or in France is not in any way better. In the US, the president Trump has already said that there is nothing to worry about even if few lakhs of people die of pandemic. It will be rather good for the economy, he says. Rich and well-off people cannot live and survive forever without the poor men’s services.

If the poor are left to contract infection by neglecting their economic, social and cultural well-being, rich and wealthy people will also get infected. Similarly, super rich countries cannot survive forever in isolation with the poor countries that have, suppose for a moment, been left to mend for themselves against Covid-19. Globalization cannot be reversed and countries cannot shrink into themselves now. If it is possible, let us suppose, then this trend will lead every district, every town and every locality to shrink into themselves which is impossible. The laws of movement and development of capital doesn’t and will not allow such things to happen. Only people like Modi can say such a stupid thing, like what he said in his online conversation with all the sarpanches of the country, that Covid-19 has taught every village a lesson in self-reliance. This is clearly stupid to talk like this under modern day capitalism. It is probably aimed at covering up his own utter failure with such silly jargons.

This is probably the reason that even a good number of hardcore bourgeois economists, who till yesterday could be seen batting for complete privatization of health care services i.e. privatization till the disinvestment of whatever public is remaining, are now saying that public health care system must be revamped and widened. This is for the same reason that the imperialist institutions like IMF are saying that government expenditure must be increased in empowering pubic heath care system, even though it incurs huge fiscal deficit.

This is how Covid-19 has changed the content and direction of discourse which otherwise seemed next to impossible. From The Hindu and The Guardian to The Financial Times, the discussion has bent towards a new terrain where it is being suggested to go from private control to state control form, just another holy cow of the same capitalism. Is this possible at this stage? However, the significance of this is not that whether it is possible as an accomplished fact or not. The real significance is that the days of capitalism are numbered as whatever space and scope was left with it for further manipulation and maneuver has been hastened by Covid-19 to expire and exhaust. Whether private control or state control, not much scope is possible for rejuvenation of capitalism. This has certainly paved the way for Socialist transformation of society if working class revolutionary forces take up the cudgel and play their historically determined role in time. Very soon, it may start reflecting in people’s imagination.

So far world capitalism has only one reliable method to fight Corona, lock downs, with which it wants to break the chain of its transmission and buy time for other preparations to fight the Corona pandemic. But what much preparations can an irreversibly crisis-ridden capitalism undertake? In no way is it prepared to treat and test all, while on the other hand, Covid-19 has left with us only one of the two choices. It we have longer spells of lock downs, crisis-ridden economy will finally collapse that may claim the lives of millions and millions of people because of hunger as the fall out of unemployment resulting from the collapse of economy. Suicides will take place in great numbers. On the other hand, if we get rid of lock downs in favour of ailing economy to revive, without having completed testing, isolating and treating all, the spread of the pandemic will kill millions yet again. Thus, we are face to face with the Sophie’s choice.

Just look at some figures showing the depth of the crisis continuing since long and for more than a decade before now. Even before the outbreak of Corona pandemic 18 million died each year from various poverty related causes and problems. Similarly, the total global production of all types of grain is so large that it can feed 1.8 times the total global population. Even then, more than half the global population usually go hungry. In crisis periods like the one we are facing today hit by the Corona pandemic, the number of people going hungry are unusually very high, sometimes even more than 1.5 times the normal.

Some may, however, argue that it is so because capitalism has not been as much developed in other parts of the world as in the advance capitalist countries. Even a few ‘revolutionaries’ argue like this, particularly those who assert that the problems of poverty, hunger, shelter and unemployment etc. are still remaining unmitigated because of predominance of pre-capitalist social relations and hence cherish the dream that a democratic revolution that will establish capitalist relations will open the door of prosperity for the people at large. But the statistics prove to the contrary. Poverty related problems such as hunger, malnutrition, homelessness and debt in the advanced capitalist countries have been on sharp rise. A single data related with the US is enough to blast this myth. The figures constantly pouring in now-a-days from the mecca of world capitalism are very staggering. For example, there are more than five vacant homes for every homeless person in the US, yet many millions of Americans including white do not have permanent homes. 77.5 percent of US households are in debt and 1 out 7 American residents is pursued by a debt collector.

There also exist an intimate connection between crisis-ridden capitalism and ecological crises, too. The current pandemic is the latest manifestation of this connection which, in its own turn, has summoned a death warrant to capitalism. Naturally, the death warrant is automatically served upon the whole mankind via capitalism as we all live in a social system governed by capital.

Thus, Corona has forced the whole mankind in one way or the other to reconsider their faith in capitalism.

Why can super rich capitalist countries not provide free healthcare? Just because the big shareholders in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries don’t want it as they are more concerned about their profits. Why can’t they provide homes to the homeless? Because the big financial magnets in finance, insurance, and real estate industries (FIRE) are against public housing and view it as an impediment to their widening share of the market and profit. In the US the Federal Reserve Bank didn’t hesitate to pump 1.5 trillion dollars into the plunging stock market but a not a cent was invested in public debt relief, nor any amount was spent on a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, or towards the development of medical infrastructure to make up for a massive short fall in masks, ICU beds and ventilators until pressure was mounted. Only then, a Congressional bill for Covid-19 relief was endorsed and that, too, was provided with a corporate friendly loophole. Nearly eighty percent of workers were left out of a 14-day federally mandated and funded medical leave benefit. It is only now when more than 5o thousands have already died that a substantial financial intervention for relief has been done.

Many would argue that it is just the lack of will, otherwise, even the bourgeois system also could do a lot of things to contain the virus while at the same time take ample care of the masses. It prompts us to take up reformist position by only calling upon the masses to fight for relief instead of giving a call to change the system as a whole. The question is whether or not the contemporary world capitalism is in a position to demonstrate any such a ‘will’. Moreover, ‘will’ is not at all an independent actor. From where can such a progressive ‘will’ at all come, if the world capitalist has completely exhausted of any such progressivism? Isn’t it expecting too much from a ‘hugely centralized’ capitalism? Will the pace of centralization be ever stopped or reversed. Yes, some pro-people cosmetic and face-lifting measures may be taken just precisely to defer the already summoned death warrant to borrow some life till the other ‘crisis’ time. Beyond that there can be absolutely no such ‘will’ that may do ‘a lot’ to prevent its demise in near future. However strong ‘will’ it may fetch, but it cannot be long lasting.

Lastly, capitalism cannot provide even a modicum of welfare to its people fighting the menace of a pandemic. Rather, it has been in perpetual war the people all the time since the recent few decades when it slipped into permanent crisis. This cannot be reversed unless it is overthrown, and class relations changed completely. A crisis like the one hit by Covid-19 have made imperative to completely dismantle the present system and to build on its ruins a new society led by the modern proletariat. Only that will give free access to healthcare, housing, and all other prime necessities of life based on socialization of production. The failed capitalism is not just incapable, but also a drag on humanity. Covid-19 has clearly shown all this beyond any doubt.

Originally published in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 1/ May ’20)

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