To protect our workmates, our families and friends, the immunocompromised and the elderly, it is our social responsibility to take all the precautions we can to stop the spread of the virus. Does this mean the class struggle is suspended for the duration of the pandemic? Far from it!
The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly revealed the sleaze and corruption of the ruling classes. In the UK, the Tories have handed out PPE contracts worth billions of pounds to their mates, and repeatedly violated their own lockdown rules in a clear illustration of “one rule for them and another rule for us”. The pandemic has also served as an opportunity to beef up the powers of the state. Various bills clamping down on the right to protest, free speech, freedom of movement, and even the right to live in the country are currently being debated and/or introduced. And it does not help that the government’s response to the pandemic has from the beginning been full of contradictory twists and turns. From “herd immunity”, through “stay at home, save lives”, to “eat out to help out”, official advice has been nothing if not confusing.
If before the pandemic public trust in the government was already at its lowest levels in decades, recent events have done little to upset this trend. Little surprise then that gradually as the pandemic unfolded various conspiracy theories have gained traction among sectors of the population. Some believe the pandemic was planned to create a “new world order” or that the virus is just a hoax, others that 5G is the source of the virus, or that there is some “miracle cure” out there. The beauty of such theories is that they take what may be legitimate fears and concerns, and, by drawing a line between “believers” and “non-believers”, establish a framework based on emotional responses. Whatever the specific claims, such conspiracy theories serve to undermine otherwise basic health measures (washing hands, wearing masks, getting vaccinated, etc.) and provide fertile ground for reactionary tendencies to exploit those fears and concerns.
But let us take a step back here.
A Materialist Approach
From the beginning of the pandemic we have argued that the virus is a natural consequence of the capitalist mode of production. The characteristic features of this mode of production are wage labour and capital accumulation. This pandemic is not the first of its kind, and it will not be the last. We live in societies where there is no harmony between humanity and nature, where profit is the primary motive of production. Cramped living conditions, poverty and poor health, all promote the spread of viruses. Already stripped-down health services then become easily overwhelmed, leading to more unnecessary deaths. Governments, which represent the alienated power of the few over the many, then try to paper over the cracks, to make up for previous oversights (such as ignoring decades of scientific advice and not taking outbreaks of viral diseases in “some far off lands” seriously enough).
The ruling and the working classes do not have the same interests. The exploitation of workers is essential for the creation of profit. For this, we have to be able to sell our labour-power to our bosses, day in, day out. The ruling class has to guarantee the conditions of our survival even if just the bare minimum, as otherwise their whole financial and commercial world collapses. This explains two things simultaneously: why the ruling class has introduced vaccines, lockdowns and Covid passes to reduce the spread of the virus (i.e. to preserve their workforce), and why at the same time they have been all too eager to get us back to work (i.e. to safeguard their flow of profit). This is a contradiction which lies at the heart of all the twists and turns of government policy.
A Collective Response to a Collective Problem
Of course, as workers it is also in our interest to remain alive. Estimates of the death toll from Covid-19 range from 5 to 20 million worldwide. Vaccines, while not a “miracle cure” either, are statistically proven to decrease hospitalisations. Masks and social distancing, while again not a complete guarantee against catching or spreading Covid-19, are statistically proven to reduce transmission. To protect our workmates, our families and friends, the immunocompromised and the elderly, it is our social responsibility to take all the precautions we can to stop the spread of the virus. Does this mean the class struggle is suspended for the duration of the pandemic? Far from it!
The pandemic has exacerbated the ongoing capitalist crisis. And as always, it is the working class that is forced to pay for it. Rising prices of essential goods and services, wage cuts, lay-offs, restructuring, etc. The working class needs to defend its own interests. Early on in the pandemic, we saw workers across the world demanding PPE, for safe systems to be put in place, and for non-essential work to be stopped, struggles best summed up under the slogan: “we don't want to die for your profits!” In the USA, workers recently demanded improvements to their working conditions in the biggest wave of strikes there in decades. In Iran, oil workers organised in their own independent “coordinating councils” have for months waged an inspiring battle against their bosses (and in response to deaths of workmates from Covid-19, they demanded that all workers be vaccinated). In Kazakhstan, workers have responded to a sudden increase in gas prices by walking off their jobs and holding mass assemblies. Even in the UK we have seen some signs of revival, even if the working class is still reeling from the defeats of the past and struggles to escape from the straitjacket of the trade unions that prevent a wider fightback.
And this is the issue for what comes next. Not only do we have to reject the petty bourgeois small minded individualism of the anti-lockdown and anti-vax movements who have nothing to offer us (except a “return to normality”, that is, to the uninterrupted production of profit which, particularly during a pandemic, is a threat to the health of those both inside and outside the workplace). As the pandemic shows more signs of coming under control, we also have to step up our collective resistance to new attacks which the system will make on our lives. Capitalism is already plunging humanity into something worse than barbarism. Already a quarter of the world’s population is subject to “food insecurity” whilst millions more are forced to flee wars and economic collapse with many then meeting a miserable end trying to breach the fortresses of the heartlands of the system. The fight against capitalism is not just about fighting in our workplaces (although it is a start) but also uniting beyond them. Capitalism may be suffering multiple crises but it will take a revolution across the world to halt its bloody career. And for this the workers of the world, the only truly collective class, need to come together in a revolutionary political movement which rejects both the false state capitalist models of the past masquerading as communism and the futile reformist activism of the left of capital today. Capitalism may collapse but it will be followed by something infinitely worse unless we can create a political movement which will be both international and internationalist to unite the one class capable of creating a new world without exploitation, imperialist war, national frontiers and environmental degradation. We have both a world to save – and to win.
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 58) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.