More than 650,000 official deaths, 130 million on the edge of starvation, hundreds of millions potentially out of work. And still counting. This is the scale of the catastrophe that has spread around the world over the past months.
The powers that be have responded with lockdowns and bailouts to minimise the effect of the coronavirus on the economy and preserve the current system. The ruling class attempts to portray this as just a hiccup – give it some time and we’ll go back to business as usual, as if nothing had happened. But this is not an isolated incident, it is the direct consequence of the impact that capitalist society has had on the planet over the past 300 years.
Technological and scientific advances – in education, medicine, entertainment, transport, or communication – have changed the ways we interact with the world and each other. But all this "progress" has also meant more and more wealth for the ruling class (26 people now own as much as the poorest half of the world's population). And despite the development of the productive forces which could free up our time to devote ourselves to a better quality of life, we are still plagued by long working hours (or its flip side, unemployment), hunger wages and impoverishment. Not only that, the search for maximum profit has ended up heavily affecting the relationship between human society and nature.
Capitalism and Nature
Recently in the news, it was reported that 500 species are on course to go extinct in the next two decades. News like this is now a common occurrence. Earth is becoming uninhabitable for large swathes of human and animal life. Urbanisation has concentrated humans in metropoles for the sake of capital accumulation; these metropoles, on the one hand, require colossal amounts of consumption and, on the other, release their waste and pollution into the ecosystem. Deforestation has decimated the "green lungs" of the world in order to satisfy demand for wood, paper, beef, palm oil and soy. Intensive farming involves the use of antibiotics, pesticides and even anabolic substances that end up on the tables of consumers who are unaware of what they are forced to eat. Microplastics have found their way even to the disintegrating ocean floor and the melting Antarctic ice. And all of this, and more, has caused untold damage to land and water, directly or indirectly leading to global warming which intensifies extreme weather conditions.
This is having immediate effects on human life. Heat waves, droughts, floods, blizzards and rainstorms torment those of us living on the capitalist periphery, but now they are gradually felt even in the metropoles. What's more, the food we eat, the air we breathe, the products we buy, the places we work at, the houses we live in, the ways we travel, in other words, everything we interact with on a daily basis poses long term risks: we have become a breeding ground for various cancers, bacteria, and of course viruses. Research suggests that air pollution can act as a convenient vector for the transmission of the coronavirus itself. So it is not empty rhetoric to launch the slogan that "the virus is capitalism" and that only by getting rid of capitalism is it possible to save humanity from being increasingly crushed by the iron grip of a decaying society which is wreaking havoc across our planet.
The Virus is Capitalism
Humanity will pay (and many of us already are) a heavy price for the way capitalism exploits the natural world. But we will not pay equally. The working class – those who under threat of starvation are forced to sell their labour power, spending much of our life in workplaces which are either socially useless or straight up harmful, will bear the brunt of it. Those who have made the decisions which led us here in the first place, who control the parliaments, who own the businesses, for whom we make profits – that ruling class has the means to secure its existence (just consider who had access to coronavirus tests and treatment first!). We, as it stands, do not.
Capitalism's destruction of the environment is a direct result of the system's relentless drive for increased profits and growth. The two possible ways it can achieve these things will only make the environmental catastrophe worse. The first consists of super-exploitation based on the lengthening of the working day, increased production rates, holding down wages, reducing pensions and, more generally, on the further dismantling of welfare. The second “solution” would be a war that would destroy everything in order to rebuild everything, giving the capitalist system the economic space for a new cycle of accumulation.
We are exploited every day, making the profits that keep this system going. We are the fuel to the fire. But it does not have to be this way. If we recognise our power, as the class which produces and provides for the whole of humanity, we can change the script. What we are seeing right now is a crisis of capitalist "civilisation". We can build a different world – based on global cooperation, production for need, not profit. Such a society cannot be realised within the limits of this system, premised as it is on class division, accumulation of wealth, and oppression. Only the resumption of class struggle on an international scale can save us from yet more carnage (be it war, another crash, or ecological collapse). Against all the "solutions" proposed by financial gurus, reformist politicians, or reactionaries, we have to pose our own alternative.
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 52) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.