There is no doubt and all the media reviews of the past year echo the same message that 2020 was the year of the pandemic - 2020, the plague year.
It is well-known that adversity often brings people and communities together and despite the costly toll on lives the COVID-19 pandemic has produced acts of altruism and expressions of empathy as much as it produced vaccine nationalism and Big Pharma profits. For socialists such positive behaviour as mutual aid during the coronavirus plague, demonstrates the potential the planet holds for creating a cooperative commonwealth where the well-being of the people takes priority and is society’s primary concern. Yet we witness the so-called richest country in the whole world cannot provide even the minimum protection for its own citizens. A secret 2017 government report, codenamed Exercise Cygnus, concluded starkly that Britain was not adequately prepared for a flu-like pandemic and forewarned of the Covid-19 crisis in care homes.
There has been negative consequences such as the strengthening of nationalism and populist calls for protectionism and de-globalisation, while paradoxically, there is a growing identification that humanity goes beyond national divisions and we have just as many calls for international cooperation and collaboration. It could be one of socialists greatest opportunity in generations to present the case for a society of mutual solidarity.
COVID-19 and all its consequences has starkly exposed the inequities of capitalism so much that the promoters of palliatives talk of a great re-set, the creation of a reformed and humane capitalist system. But for socialists we see it only as a return to business as usual and capitalist normalcy, the same-old-same. The politicians are always saying that we are engaged in a war on COVID-19. In a sense this is true. Certainly there are COVID-war profiteers just as there are ordinary war ones.
One lesson we have learned is that of the incompetence and buffoonery of the political leadership who sought, against the prevalent medical evidence, to create a herd immunity with the sacrifice of many vulnerable parts of the community. The politicians can’t say they weren’t warned what would happen.
‘Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” he said. “Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic. Letting Covid-19 circulate unchecked therefore means allowing unnecessary infections, suffering and death,’ said WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus.
When capital interests take priority keeping the economy ‘open’ will always precedence with the harmful health outcomes becoming an acceptable risk, economic ‘friendly fire’ or ‘collateral damage.’ Governments around the world have been following the dictates of profit and opening up their economies too soon. And they know full well that only some people are going to obey the social distancing rules. Capitalists do not care for they just want to run the capitalist economy to produce lucrative returns to investors. This flaw is acknowledged by Bill Gates:
“I’m a big believer in capitalism – but some markets simply don’t function properly in a pandemic, and the market for lifesaving supplies is an obvious example.”
The socialist case is that life-saving needs should be supplied regardless of if there’s a pandemic,
The development of Covid-19 vaccines in less than 9 months shows that society has the scientific knowledge and the technological capacity to solve a problem like this if enough resources are made available. This rarely happens under capitalism for something useful but usually only happens in a military context such as the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. During full-scale wars the operation of capitalism is suspended and a command economy that determines production. What we see now is the suspension of capitalism’s sacrosanct concern with a balanced budget and reducing the national debt which are abandoned.
However, policies do remain constrained within a capitalist context where prices and money has to be used to mobilise the resources, with those with the resources having to be compensated for allowing them to be used with patent payments. There has been competition to under-cut rival states and their corporations to develop a vaccine first and so get a bigger share of the market (vaccine nationalism).
In socialism it might have taken just as long to create a vaccine and that different groups of scientists would have worked on different approaches, but without money and the profit motive it would have been organised more rationally. We need a world society without patents, copyrights and intellectual ownership laws. Socialists can indicate the benefits of cooperative measures to research and develop vaccines and treatments with examples as the open resource such as the DNA Genome Project.
Professor John Drury, a member of a subgroup to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said evidence shows that rather than mass panic or selfishness in times of emergency, people actually tend to show solidarity and cooperation. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/16/dont-blame-public-for-covid-19-spread-says-uk-scientist
We only have to look at how little enforcement has been necessary to mobilise people into following the social distancing guidelines because most people understand that the ‘freedom’ which those protesting lockdowns and masks is the ‘freedom’ to go to a bar to get sick and to infect other human beings. That is not freedom.
Under capitalism the government has to step in to ensure that their labour power is protected for capitalist enterprises to exploit when capital accumulation resumes. It involves a cut in living standards of those affected. If this pandemic had occurred once we had established socialism we would still have to self isolate, but this would not deprive or reduce people’s access to what they needed to live as everybody would have continued access to what they needed by virtue of being members of society.
Socialists think that this disease and the ensuing economic crisis is going to reverse the course of many wrong ideas and concepts which have been floating around our society. The pandemic will show to the world that we not living on an island we are living on a planet surrounded by other human beings, with the same feelings, the same suffering facing the same problems, and sharing the same economical exploitation.
Our concept of nation is only a way to separate us, and that the national flag is only a piece of fabric. We have re-discovered our sense of community and cooperation. Social solidarity and mutual aid has sprung up everywhere. Despite social distancing self-isolation, we have grown so much closer, understanding the bonds we share with one another. These must be the lessons we learn. What has once more been demonstrated is the potential ‘we’ – and this time the ‘we’ is world society. It will then rapidly repair the damage inflicted by capitalism and re-construct its many structures to meet peoples needs. Socialists are highlighting these possibilities to our fellow-workers, explaining in our politics.
An East London's exhibition centre, which normally accommodates shows and conferences, has been converted into the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital, 80 wards, each with 42 beds. Some 500 fully-equipped beds, with oxygen and ventilators, are already in place and there is space for another 3,500. in just nine days. An exhibition centre in Milan has been converted in just 10 days into Italy’s largest intensive care facility for coronavirus patients. hospital beds attached to ventilators and oxygen now line its pavilions. While in the US, a sports stadium was transformed into a functioning hospital. Why start from scratch when many buildings will be superfluous in socialism and could be converted to more socially useful functions. Just think how quickly the banks and offices etc. could be converted into comfortable and elegant living spaces for families.
A factory changed its engineering proces and switched to producing ventilators in ten days showing what can be done in an emergency and how quickly socialist society will be able to clear up the mess inherited from capitalism. And it’s good to have examples from other than the military, though in the early days of socialism the disarmed forces could have a useful role in quickly building airfields and using their drones to drop medical supplies instead of bombs.
Capitalism has identified who really are the key workers to the operation of its economics. Surely the shelf-stackers, the uber and gig workers will not forget what they now have been told. The skills and scalpel of the highly trained surgeons has very much secondary to the scrubbing brush and disinfectant of the hospital cleaners in combatting the coronavirus.
Surely the positive outcome is that we recognise cooperation and solidarity was what got us through COVID-19. The World Socialist Movement present an alternative post-pandemic scenario. Our message to the capitalists is: step aside and let the working class take over on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life, with production and distribution directly to satisfy people’s needs. Then the crisis provoked by the pandemic can be dealt with rationally. We now know the capitalist class can cut output to reduce pollution and emissions and that they can re-tool their technology if they so wish, sacrificing immediate share price, dividends and profits for their longer term interests. When will the climate change timetable and future consequences result in such urgency as being shown in these days of crises, is now what environmentalists must be asking themselves.
If people accept the principle of free vaccine, the ‘people’s’ vaccine, which now middle-income and small business-owners are using food banks for free food, if the homeless can be housed in vacant 3-star hotel rooms, if rents and utility bills can be made void, even free money, why should it stop at those.
A socialist society could face a pandemic would be in a better position to deal with one but one of the measures that would have to be taken would probably be social distancing and what that involves. We are not selfish self-interested people but will risk our lives to help another.
The number of people who have volunteered to help the NHS in its fight against coronavirus has surpassed expectations, delivering food and medicines, driving patients to appointments and maintaining contact with those in isolation. Outside government initiatives various diverse mutual aid groups have sprung up
This pandemic is going to have a profound effect on the way people think about the world. In so many ways it makes the case for socialism so much more relevant and appealing.