The world proletariat has in the past celebrated May Day in some dramatic situations: from the imperialist world wars which forced workers to kill, die and produce for their class enemy — their own capitalist class — to the many occasions when the ruling class has unleashed its repressive machine to crush those struggles aimed at making exploitation less onerous, and the chains of the bosses’ oppression a little less heavy.
This year, the working class, our class, will be unable to take to the streets. In many cases, workers will not even be able to resort to the usual methods of struggle (pickets, occupations, marches) due to a sneaky enemy, apparently unconnected to capitalist social relations: coronavirus. In reality, this virus is the legitimate offspring of capitalist society, like the "localised" wars that are tormenting millions of people, like the emigrants looking for a less miserable life, like the refugees forced to flee and survive in inhuman conditions, like the environmental disaster that is hitting the living beings of the planet. The relationship between climate upheavals, depredation of the last remaining natural spaces and the spread of "new" pathogens is now a fact ascertained by the vast majority of scientists, at least of those not totally subservient to the powers that be. It is in this capitalist context that the new pandemic has arisen.
The coronavirus pandemic is battering the whole world. It has upset a social and economic order that appeared immutable. It has dramatically laid bare the reality of human relations in this society based on the exploitation of one human being by another in the name of profit.
After years of cuts, thousands, if not millions, of workers have to cope with a broken and dysfunctional health system. Worse still, many more in the so-called emerging countries are faced with a situation where even a half-decent health system has never existed. In these countries, exploitation does not even have the social cushions — which have been under attack for a long time — that exist in the "West": precarious work, underemployment, starvation wages: in short, "nineteenth-century" exploitation, is the rule. Worst of all are countries like the USA which, despite being the centres of "advanced" capitalism, leave millions and millions of proletarians without health care worthy of the name, because their wages are too low to pay for private insurance. Not to mention the millions of "invisible" super-exploited immigrants without a residence permit who are essential for many sectors of the economy (e.g. agriculture), many of whom remain unemployed, without unemployment benefits, and with no access to medical treatment in general.
The overall picture that emerges is of a health system incapable of curing everyone and which chooses not to save the elderly and the ill, the groups who, so far, have been the greatest victims. They are the sacrificial lambs for a system which, at the same time, has no problem making everyone work into their late 60s and beyond. No matter how much suffering and how many sacrifices the world working class has to endure, as long as this exploitative system exists, it will attack indirect wages (social and health services) and deferred wages (by reducing pensions and delaying retirement age). Wherever these ‘flagship’ welfare schemes remain, they will be used up to fuel the under-powered engine of the capitalist economy.
Millions of people, wage workers, are forced to work every day in extremely harmful environments under worsening conditions. In these factories and workplaces any discussion regarding the dangers of the pandemic comes up against the bosses’ interests, and the only thing they consider legitimate: their profits.
Never before has the historical crisis of capital been so enormously amplified. This pandemic has exposed the glaring incompatibility between the interests of the bosses and the working class. Never has the fundamental question been more sharply posed: our lives against their profits.
This system, both in the present situation and in the longer term, pretends that we are all equal as citizens as far as our health needs are concerned. The current reality shows that this is not the case.
The coronavirus crisis is highlighting what a state the capitalist system has been in for years and if the pandemic lasts much longer, things will get much, much worse. The rebound effect, which the usual “gurus” predict for the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2020, is a pious illusion. Their projections are based on worthless statistics, just like their analyses of the positive trend of the world economy before the 2008 crisis which, with very few exceptions, they had not predicted.
Now they are predicting a reduction in global GDP of 10-15% by the end of the year with an increase of hundreds of millions of unemployed and underemployed workers. The economic recovery, if indeed there is to be one, will need a lot of time before it can assert itself, and will only be temporary and unresolved in this decadent phase of the capitalist system. Even if, hypothetically and with a great deal of luck, the spectre of Covid-19 goes soon, it is not as if everything will resume as before a week later.
China is economically on its knees: the latest data have estimated its first fall in GDP for half a century. The USA is up to its ears in debt and deficits and, in the space of three weeks from the end of March to the beginning of April, 26 million workers have asked for unemployment benefit, but this is only the beginning. Moreover the apparent prosperity of the United States is only based on the supremacy of the dollar and the most powerful armed forces in the world. Central Europe, Germany included, was already in a technical recession before the pandemic. The signs of a slowdown in the world economy were already obvious last year and the future looks increasingly bleak.
The fresh money that the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve (both already into trillions of dollars) are supposed to be forking out will inflate the coffers of the banks but go to very few companies. Speculative bubbles will continue since firms' profit rates are too low to justify new investments; though there will be exceptions like the big players, which enjoy the intervention of the State when bank funding is insufficient.
After the very old, health workers and those who are clear victims of the cuts in health services, murdered by capitalism, the others to be hit are the factory workers, and the most oppressed sectors of our class which beyond “normal” exploitation have to endure the racist oppression of the bourgeoisie, working in the most precarious of situations where they are the least paid and most easily blackmailed. It is no accident that the “hotspots” of the epidemic have started precisely where the bosses have forced, and are forcing, workers into work, even if this means enormously increasing the possibility of infection because distancing is either impossible or very difficult. Moreover there is either no personal protective equipment or it is inadequate. The greatest numbers of deaths are to be found in the workers' suburbs of New York and some of the industrial provinces of Northern Italy, to give just two examples.
However, the business world, indifferent to the massacre in progress, is pressing for a return to "normal" as soon as possible, that is, to the production of surplus value in all firms, to the detriment of the health of those both inside and outside the workplace. We hope therefore that workers once again struggle to defend their lives and the health of everyone. The mobilisations in recent weeks, in Europe and in other areas of the world, which have forced the unions to run to keep up with angry workers, have shown us how to transform impotence into resistance, on the basis of our immediate needs, instead of making sacrifices in the name of profit. But this is not enough.
From now on, we need to link the defence of the health of every worker to the perspective of a different society. We need a new social model that no longer puts production in conflict with human health, or with the delicate balance of the natural environment, already massively endangered by the destructive rapacity of capital. Never before has the contradiction between the collective health and well-being of humanity been in such stark contrast to the logic of profit. Otherwise, the logic of capitalism will be a war which would destroy just about everything, giving the capitalist system economic room for a new cycle of accumulation.
The virus attacking us is capitalism. Fighting this disease means building the communist alternative to this system of exploitation and death. This means connecting with workers to build and secure the political instrument of working class struggle: the internationalist and revolutionary class party, the future International.
We have always been committed to this task but today it is more important than ever, given that the situation is changing rapidly and time is of the essence.
There is an alternative to this system. The task of building it falls on those who are tired of being exploited and used by capitalism. Let’s get ready for our appointment with history.
Internationalist Communist Tendency
May Day 2020