Capitalism Grappling with Coronavirus

Coronavirus has now become a pandemic that none of us wished for. And the response of the society in which we live only demonstrates the absurdity of its economic laws which cannot cope with sudden calamities and natural upheavals, including the climate and environmental disasters also looming on the horizon.

Submitted by Internationali… on March 31, 2020

As the widespread alarmism makes clear, the capitalists fear that nothing less than the "economic life" of states and their markets will be jeopardised. There is a danger of a general collapse which – for the dominant powers – would mean the beginning of the end.

Our rulers cannot allow capital flows and those of production and trade – already in serious difficulties – to experience further slowdowns or blockages. At first, a part of the ruling class thought they could politically exploit coronavirus to divert public attention from the ongoing crisis, but the manifest persistence of the economic and financial "recession" has forced them to think again.

From the data on the “Asian flu” epidemic of 1957-58, and its return in 1968-69, the WHO estimates that this pandemic caused two million deaths worldwide (another million in the subsequent return). The danger lasted a year and was a reminder of the “Spanish flu” of 1918-19, which, according to official figures, caused almost 50 million deaths. Today the only preventive measures against this new virus make the other crisis, the one from which capital can no longer free itself, worse. Capitalism is forced (despite the feebleness of its measures) to feed another virus that risks worsening its current conditions. Among these, are the growth in debt (private and public) with a tragic economic impact for the proletariat and with long-term threats to the system, and even to the survival of the entire species to which we belong. In Africa, in the Middle East and in many other areas on Earth it is already leading to appalling massacres of men and women, children and the elderly. We are faced with wars, famines, forced migration, hunger and deprivations of all kinds.

More than a century and a half ago, Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto about those "social epidemics" that follow on from crises due to famines, wars and – today, in part – due to the "coronavirus". This completes a pre-existing general crisis picture of the system.

"Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism ... industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them."

And in the light of coronavirus they are no longer able to face up to or support – and we see tangible proof of it every day! – the consequences of forced prevention measures against the spread of infections. Measures which disturb the prevailing economic system, as well as unleashing some primordial instincts in a public opinion that is the product of bourgeois "culture". Such preventative measures will deal almost mortal blows to profits which – for "invested" capital – has already been getting weaker for some time.

Let’s pause to think for a moment. We must realise that we are at the centre (and this will above all affect the generations to come) of a succession of slow but inexorable natural transformations (in part), even chemical ones and which include the biological mutations that have taken place around us, over the centuries. On Earth, all this coincided with the spread of the capitalist system favouring – as today – the same spread of viruses and diseases which, its conditions and "lifestyles" (including nutrition) tend to favour. In certain epidemics of the past the dead were counted in the millions and the infections began to spread centuries and centuries ago with the expansion of trade following the same dynamics of a capitalism hungry for new markets, which then spread viruses of another type but no less deadly like racism and xenophobia, frightening and bestial genocides, and continental wars. We can add rampant ecological impoverishment (deforestation, air and water pollution, climate warming) to the list. All of these facts increase the dangers that weigh on the very existence of the human species, totally imprisoned in the logic of capital and the laws of its markets. Not only that, but the weight of this capitalist "cultural hegemony" on the vast majority of humanity that even in the face of material evidence it still struggles to break down and overcome these threats.

Coming then to that wealth that the bourgeoisie often boasts of having "created" (in reality extracted from the working class that produced it, before transforming it into masses of fictitious capital accumulated in financial oligopolies), it must be said immediately that it would be something if real goods and material objects for the well-being of the human species were already being produced to satisfy the primary needs of the earth's population. It could be done today! But under capitalism this is not possible because the products – in the form of commodities – clog up world markets, whilst masses of men and women are excluded from their "purchase".

The "development" of markets and businesses has now ceased and indeed will tend to shrink, thus harming the masses, depressing the capitalist economy and highlighting the absurdity of current private property relations on which the domination of the capitalist class is based: after having resorted to the most bestial exploitation of the class that is forced into wage labour. They have thus built and imposed on society a system of production and distribution where the rich possess and control the money that they have made mandatory and indispensable for the purchase of goods. This money is then transformed into capital which initiates and oversees all types of activities but only if they "further enhance" capital, thus increasing its power and that of the class who manages it. The globalised capitalist world – both productive and financial – has completely internationalised the chain of its "activities". This has increased its strength but at the same time made it more fragile. Markets are shaky and the stock exchanges tremble while the central banks do not know what to do. Meanwhile governments fantasise about reviving the economy through measures which, instead of dealing with the real needs of humanity, call for increased sacrifices, which demand a constant reduction in the purchasing power of wages and pensions. Poverty and suffering are spreading everywhere. The US, the “free enterprise” beacon of "capitalist civilisation", like the more statist Russian and Chinese mixed economies, widely and dramatically demonstrates this!

The need to overturn this unsustainable situation has never been more necessary and urgent since it is more than obvious that the opportunity for humanity to make a great leap forward is now here. This will require the crucial presence and propaganda of an organised class political party to act as a guide. This is why concerted efforts are indispensable while we can do without the personalist and egocentric "beautiful minds" always discovering new truths. For our part, we reject both fatalism and innovative abstractions. We can only increase commitment and sacrifice for the only task that history imposes on us: the radical transformation of the present state of affairs.

We are all fighting the coronavirus, but it is clear that without a radical "genetic mutation" of the current capitalist mode of production and distribution, we remain under a far more serious and lethal threat that can drag humanity first towards total barbarism and then death. There is no doubt that this epidemic of coronavirus is a concern for all of us. But it is also clear that as the emergency increases so too does the crisis that was already bringing down the economic, productive and social system dominated by capital.

The worries of the bourgeoisie are palpable: they are clinging to the hope of a "new model" of development that restores and reinforces the economic and social fabric currently being torn apart. In international markets bottlenecks are weighing down on both supply and demand for goods – which coronavirus is aggravating day after day. And the reduction in GDP looms like a nightmare over everything and everyone. The so-called "activities" of manufacturing capitalism (the bit that "produces" the added value!) are falling sharply, enough to put millions out of work. Microscopic interventions are emphasised in support of capital investments (hungry for profits!), and therefore for a recovery in the production of goods. They cling to a new debt issue that will aggravate the strangulation of the system! Capitalism is a system in search of "guarantees" that no one can give it ... forcing it to draw more and more blood from the proletarian masses of the whole world. Masses for whom the "capitalist left" continues to promise the myth of "universal welfare" to keep the system going.

Within this situation of total enslavement imposed by capital and its profit, pocketed by a hundred thousand bourgeois who bask in luxury and pleasures, economic and social relations cannot change substantially until we break with "radical change": the farcical demand for a hypothetical "industrial policy that avoids the closure of companies", reviving wage labour and the production of goods to be sold to those who have a full wallet! Not only that, since demand is stimulated indiscriminately in every state they simply become "competitors in the global economy"!

There are calls for “European" guarantees on debts that will be incurred due to the coronavirus emergency. This means asking the European Central Bank to print money and then buy Eurobonds and invest in the search for those elusive profits that are never enough to sustain capital. We are now at the bottom of the abyss and eventually someone – and we know who – will be asked to pay for capitalism’s debts. Let us therefore work to ensure that these dramatic "lessons" bring about a different result from the one desired by the most foolish servants of capitalist survival.

15 March 2020