The crisis, which has been developing since the start of 2020, opens up new and unprecedented scenarios in class confrontations. For revolutionaries it is essential to clarify some basic points about the current period which are as original in form as they are classical in substance.
The crisis cannot be overcome without costs for the capitalism that generated it
This crisis long predates the Covid pandemic. Capitalism has been experiencing a structural crisis since the 1970s.1 It has responded to it at various times with the restructuring of industry and the relocation of entire production sectors. This has been accompanied by the digital revolution in information technology and communications – from landline telephones to the internet and the smartphones of today – and the financialisation of the economy, leading to the boom in public and private debt. All of this is based on increasingly precarious terms of employment and an attack on direct, indirect and deferred wages (pensions). This third industrial revolution – provoked by an attempt to resolve the economic crisis – has transformed human existence even more profoundly than the two previous industrial revolutions did, yet the crisis has never gone away. It has simply gone from one collapse to another and to one war after another. Despite these developments the only real “solution” to the crisis that capitalism knows is generalised war.
The virus is capitalism
At the same time these transformations have devastated entire ecosystems, contributed to global warming and drastically lowered the standard of living and health provisions for at least one third of the world’s population. These are also the indispensable conditions for the spread of viruses.2 The entire history of humanity teaches us that crises and epidemics are inseparable. Covid is likely to intersect with new pandemics which its seems will spread in the not-so-distant future. It mirrors in health terms the system's material inability to resolve the long-term economic, social and environmental crisis.
In 2008 the crisis was triggered by the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market (irresponsible speculators were to blame! Or so they said...) which was followed by 12 years of cuts, instability and the noticeable absence of economic recovery. This time, in this science-fiction 2020, the trigger was the global pandemic of the coronavirus (the crisis is the fault of Covid, perhaps created by the Chinese! Or so they now say...) which has spread like wildfire, destroying the dream once again (which is ever more utopian with each passing decade) of a recovery of the world capitalist economy. The collapse of GDP in the second quarter of 2020 was in double-digits in practically all the major capitalist countries – and not just in them – from -11.7% in Germany to -32.9% in the USA, passing through -12.4% of Italy. The sole exception is China’s meagre growth of 3.2%.
The dominant capitalist class is managing this economic-health crisis as best as it can by negotiating tons of loans that, in the short to medium term, will make up for some of the profits they have lost but, in the long term, will have to be repaid by our class through new cuts, more precarious working conditions and greater exploitation.
Capitalism protects neither life nor health, but only profit
Taking a step back, in the early months of 2020, when the virus began to spread, the responses of the ruling classes have moved with greater or lesser speed from an initial denial of the problem – aimed at keeping the wheels of profit turning – to various measures to control its spread. The ruling classes have thus tried to protect – certainly not the health of the population but – the overall stability of the system through more or less hesitant policies to contain the virus, and to stimulate research into health issues. Our capitalist rulers soon realised that the spread of the virus represented a serious threat, but were faced with the contradiction between the attempt to preserve the normal continuation of the market economy (vital oxygen of capitalism) on the one hand, and the protection of the general stability of the system (called into question by infections in the workplace and by the potential collapse of the health system) on the other: workers had to continue to produce and spending on preventing contagion should be limited while ... the spread of contagion had to be halted which demanded greater investment in prevention of the disease. These were insoluble contradictions from the point of view of the market and profit, but in a different, communist society that produces for human needs, and no longer for capital, it would not be an issue.
Populist denial is grist to the mill of the national bourgeoisie
Considering things from this point of view – and we do not see any other credible ones – denying that coronavirus really exists, which many of our comrades have come across, appears really absurd. The ruling class can use – and indeed does use – the virus to increase its power of control over the class, but it is equally true that the ruling class itself has no need currently to invent viruses to "contain" the risk of new working class struggles. Moreover, the virus has struck capitalism in its heart (i.e its wallet) so if it were an invention of the capitalist class it would certainly have been a masochistic one. No, our class opponent is destined to be expunged from history, but it's not stupid. The deniers reflect only the crisis of the shopkeeper who shouts and bawls on behalf of populist and reactionary recipes. The petty bourgeoisie is going crazy over “National Rebirth Plans” and impossible reforms aimed at not losing their tiny privileges, by saving capitalism from being capitalism.
In fact, the middle class is truly in crisis, even if it tends to exaggerate its suffering, and the proletariat could constitute a pole capable of gathering that discontent around itself. However the opposite seems to be happening in some ways: instead of developing confidence in their own defensive and revolutionary potential, some sectors of our class are succumbing to the siren calls of populist and reactionary, syndicalist and corporate, reformist and democratic ideology.
The only meaningful responses have come from the working class
The healthiest and most meaningful responses to this Covid crisis have came from the working class. We have seen this in the worldwide wave of strikes that started in March in Italy to the cry "we are not lambs to the slaughter!"3 , through the largely proletarian revolts that have continued since the murder of George Floyd in the USA4 , to the general strikes in Belarus5 against the corruption of the government apparatus, all alongside the waves of protests and strikes in the Middle East, from Iran6 to Lebanon7 .
Our class has thus demonstrated, albeit in flashes, that it knows how to take the initiative in significant struggles, some recent (remember that what were renamed the "global riots of 2019"8 had only just finished). It has also demonstrated that it learns from previous and geographically distant experiences on how to best make one's "presence" felt in the squares and on the streets, and that it knows how to unite in defence of its common interest, as in the aforementioned strikes in March-April. However whilst all this has been happening, the politicised elements that claim they are anti-capitalist have proven that they are not in the least up to scratch. As mentioned before, they stammer, waver, mimic nationalist populism, and repeat utopian reformist programmes (“make the bosses pay for the crisis”, “nationalise”, “invest in health care”, etc.).
Let’s work for the anti-capitalist alternative. If not now, when?
It is in this harsh period that the class must come together and organise around the simple, programmatic principles, which have emerged from the factors just reviewed.
It is the working class, in its multiform and complex mix, united by the same exploitation and therefore by the same anti-capitalist interest, which has given the most significant answers to this crisis, representing a shock force that no other social class can replicate.
Our class represents the only possible alternative to capitalism – a capitalism which it is not in our interests to save, but rather to destroy. From this point of view we are for the bankruptcy of the state, but the problem remains to work speedily to build a working class political alternative to the capitalist state itself.
A new world government is in fact possible. Our programme foresees that the workers take political power, that is control of society, into their hands, and this is possible because it is the workers themselves who, by their very nature, live in production. They are therefore able to take control of the system starting at its root, in production itself, and thus draw all sectors of the working class into the revolutionary process.
The upcoming struggles against cuts, layoffs, precarious jobs, and for the protection of our health and lives will emerge in the workplace. And internationalist communists will be present in these struggles to the utmost of our ability, putting forward this anti-capitalist political programme, and fighting those who, consciously or not, take sides in defence of the system.
We do not run after the petty bourgeoisie on its opportunist, reformist, populist, or conspiracy theorist terrain, but we are actively engaged in the construction of a class-oriented, internationalist and revolutionary organisation, so that the working class, step by step, gains confidence in its own revolutionary potential, thus creating the future revolutionary class party. This is neither more nor less than what the ICT is doing today around the world.
31 August 2020
The above document is a translation of the editorial in the current issue of Battaglia Comunista.
- 1For all our articles on the coronavirus and capitalist crisis, see: leftcom.org There are many articles on our website regarding the longer crisis of accumulation of the system. The latest is our editorial from Revolutionary Perspectives 15 (January 2020): The Current Crisis and the Tasks of Communists but for a deeper economic analysis try The Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall, the Crisis and its ‘Detractors’
- 2See Reflections on the Coronavirus and Economic Crises and A Crisis of Capitalist "Civilisation"
- 3See Italy: "We're not Lambs to the Slaughter!" Class Struggle in the Time of Coronavirus
- 4See Unrest in the USA: A Perfect Storm, The Murder of George Floyd: The End of Racism Starts with the Death of Capitalism, and Against Police Reform - For the Abolition of Capitalism
- 5See Winds of Change in Belarus: Neither Dictatorship Nor Democracy Offer Anything for the Working Class, Strikes in Belarus Escalate as Lukashenko's Power Wavers, and Belarus: Between Imperialist Feuds and Class Movements
- 6See Workers' Strikes in Iran: A New Wave of Struggle
- 7See The Lebanon Disaster: A Metaphor for Modern Capitalism
- 8See Global Protests: The Relentless Capitalist Crisis Demands the Overthrow of the System