Sunday, April 05, 2020

A Post-Pandemic Scenario

“The basic law of capitalism is you or I, not you and I.” Karl Liebknecht

For many of us this is a crisis like no other. This is turning out to humanity’s darkest hour, a threat to the whole world. It requires us to be united to protect the most vulnerable of our fellow-workers. While we have learned that it is workers who are on the front line in the battle against coronavirus and found out just how irreplaceable we all are, we, nevertheless, still expect governments to wave their magical wands and bring the pandemic to an end rather than look towards a change in society. It is us workers — not politicians, bankers or CEOs — who make our society run. A lot more people who weren’t even aware of it earlier are seeing the injustices that takes place under our present system and how our lives are seen as disposable. It can be a moment of radicalisation,a time to seize the momentum. People are seeing how this pandemic is effecting our communities and are figuring out how society really operates. This requires a rethink. People have a clear choice to make: Bail-out the corporations again or recognise that COVID-19 has presented us with the gateway to a new type of world.

We cannot predict what the world will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic has run its course. One certainty: it will be very different from the world before. In the future socialists optimistically hope the world will recover its sanity and step back from the precipice of environmental catastrophe, that we will concentrate on re-thinking the economics of our society which inflicts pain and suffering on working people, that marginalises the weak and the vulnerable.

The working class is made up of those whose political and economic vision varies very considerably. Very many are  blind to the realities of the capitalist system; they do not understand that they are wage-slaves to those who own the means of life of society; they do not see that they are robbed by means of the wages system of most of the wealth they have produced and continue to produce. Not understanding the essentials of capitalist production, they fail to understand socialism, or even the need for it. There are class-conscious and revolutionary workers. They know that no palliatives or tinkering reforms of any kind will remove the effects of the present system or emancipate their class from wage slavery. Only the destruction of capitalism itself, and the establishment by the workers of the socialist commonwealth in its place ever can. Class-consciousness must be the basis of all revolutionary political action.

Those of us imagining a different post-pandemic world, fair, kinder and greener, need to gather our thoughts and assemble our arguments now. We need to reflect seriously on the inequities in our economic system. It’s a huge opportunity to interest fellow-workers in socialism, a system based upon cooperation and not the competition of present society. Nation-state could be transformed into a world commonwealth. The socialist alternative could consist of scaling down of the wasteful use of resources and the restoration of the present degraded environment.

The great global vaccine race

Vaccines remain science’s best weapon against viruses. The  Sars-CoV-1, Mers, Zika, Ebola epidemics provoked races to produce a vaccine. Yet to date only the efforts on Ebola have been successful, with a vaccine being approved last year. 

And as  the leader of the UK’s Ebola response, Adrian Hill, told the Independent in 2014, “Unless there’s a big market it’s not worth the while of a mega-company…There was no business case to make an Ebola vaccine for the people who needed it most.”

Jason Schwartz, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, said to the Atlantic: “Had we not set the Sars vaccine research programme aside, we would have had a lot more of this foundational work that we could apply to this new, closely related virus.” 

Clinical trials take nearly a year at minimum, but sustaining basic research on viruses known to have epidemic potential means when a novel variant pops up, we’re not starting from zero each time.

The current set-up is often the worst of both worlds – too slow to pick up research on new threats because the money isn’t there, and too quick to drop it if it can’t be sure the money will be there in the future. 

It’s a highly market-dependent system, and the market usually fails us. 

Peter Piot, head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, previously declared the entire research and development system “not fit for purpose” for epidemics.

“Pharmaceutical companies view Covid-19 as a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity,” said Gerald Posner, author of 'Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America.' “They’re all in that race,” said Posner, who described the potential pay-offs for winning the race as huge. The global crisis “will potentially be a blockbuster for the industry in terms of sales and profits,” he said, adding that “the worse the pandemic gets, the higher their eventual profit.”

When the coronavirus funding was being negotiated in the US some lawmakers insisted that it was “unacceptable if the rights to produce and market that vaccine were subsequently handed over to a pharmaceutical manufacturer through an exclusive license with no conditions on pricing or access, allowing the company to charge whatever it would like and essentially selling the vaccine back to the public who paid for its development.” 

The final aid package not only omitted language that would have limited drug makers’ intellectual property rights, it also left out language that had been in an earlier draft that would have allowed the federal government to take any action if it has concerns that the treatments or vaccines developed with public funds are priced too high.

“Those lobbyists deserve a medal from their pharma clients because they killed that intellectual property provision,” said Posner, who added that the omission of language allowing the government to respond to price gouging was even worse. “To allow them to have this power during a pandemic is outrageous.”

As the US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testified  he couldn’t guarantee that a vaccine would be affordable as drug companies would have to recover their research costs. “We need the private sector to invest,” he said, “price controls won’t get us there.”

Pharmaceutical companies all around the world working as fast as they can to try to develop an effective vaccine against COVID-19. That is great—except these people are working in competition, not in collaboration. They all want to be the first to develop a patentable vaccine that will allow them to get very rich if it proves successful. National governments are neglecting the most effective and safe route to discovering one quickly: eschewing corporate profitability and intellectual property rights in favour of global cooperation through open and shared research. Capitalism assumes that intellectual property rights are legitimate, and that there’s no alternative to firms hiding their research and competing in parallel with each other. They justify the lucrative returns by arguing that research is expensive and that the pharmaceutical corporations are not charities, they have investors to reward. They tell us they require to reap the benefits of the market as an incentive. 

What is forgotten is that the US government alone invests more than $40 billion a year in health R&D used by pharmaceutical companies through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and it has already spent around $700 million on coronavirus research. Remdesivir, the only drug the WHO thinks may have “real efficacy” in treating coronavirus, was first developed in partnership with the University of Alabama with a grant from the NIH

In his book Posner points to another example of private companies making exorbitant profits from drugs produced with public funding. The antiviral drug sofosbuvir, which is used to treat hepatitis C, stemmed from key research funded by the National Institutes of Health. That drug is now owned by Gilead Sciences, which charges $1,000 per pill — more than many people with hepatitis C can afford; Gilead earned $44 billion from the drug during its first three years on the market.

Patents are actually hindering the development of a coronavirus vaccine, due to inefficiency resulting from secretive competition.

Imagine how much faster the research would advance if these researchers were working in collaboration, sharing their results with each other, and posting them on the web so that researchers throughout the world could learn from them. With the Human Genome Project research was shared as soon as possible, because mapping the human genome was considered a common project that would benefit all humanity.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

We won’t die for capitalism

The capitalist system has failed working people are facing at least three major crises. A pandemic which has ignited an economic crisis and the climate change crisis. We have to move forward to new more sustainable, egalitarian world, a socialist world in which the resources of society are owned in common and democratically planned in a sane and rational manner for our needs instead of for profits. Society will has to be reconstructed on radically new foundations. Business as usual” is no longer an option, no more rescue packages for the capitalist system. The flaws in our economic structure have been exposed. The good news is that we can use the current emergency to start building a more inclusive society for all of us to share in. This pandemic has revealed how unstable capitalism is. It doesn’t have to be like this. Socialism will bring — or is it at least more conductive to — the end of alienation, sexism and racism, environmental degradation, militarism and nationalism. Capitalism breeds chaos and a downward spiral towards barbarism. Socialism—production according to need and want and for the good of all—is in harmony with the natural world, and with the powerful human instinct for community and cooperation. It’s the only solution that can save ourselves and our planet.

It has become crystal clear over the past few months that the capitalist system is incapable of dealing with a crisis on the scale of the global coronavirus pandemic. National and local authorities have failed to fully address the problem and nor has the lauded market. This entire pandemic has revealed a complete societal failure and in response grassroot community groups are stepping in to fill the gaps taking the form of mutual aid and aiming to help those effected by the pandemic. Cooperative action has a long history and is a strategy that often arises in times and places where governments are unable or unwilling to address the needs of the people. Newly formed initiative focus on linking together volunteers to reach as many people as possible.

It’s unfortunate and unjust that we have to do this work in the first place but until we dismantle these capitalist and colonial power structures, it’s necessary to keep each other alive,” Sharif-Ahmed Krabti, an organizer of a community-wide network of mutual aid aimed at helping students at the University of Michigan told Truthout. “We need to recognize that this organizing is inherently political and the result of a system that values profit over people. It’s not charity either. We are doing it because we understand that we will only be free if we work together and support each other collectively.”

These mutual aid initiatives catalyzed by the coronavirus pandemic shows us that there are alternative ways of organizing society. It’s heartening to know that people are still able and eager to organize in solidarity with one another and their communities in ways that could potentially fundamentally challenge the systems and structures that have failed us.

The Socialist Party’s aim is to offer a vision to our fellow-workers who suffer from the myopia of capitalist ideology. The work of the Socialist Party is making socialists and it must go on until a majority of the people see eye to eye with ourselves and organise with us in one united political party. To achieve their emancipation our fellow-workers, having acquired the necessary knowledge and understanding, must capture political power. For this purpose it must organise into a political party to fight for this control of power on its own behalf. Any other use of political organisation necessarily means the retention, or extension, of the political power of the masters. Because of this simple fact, a working-class political party striving for the emancipation of the workers must oppose all supporters of capitalism, or stand condemned as a fraud. Every party, no matter who composes its membership, that assists the masters to retain political power, under any pretext whatever, thereby proves itself an anti-socialist party. It must, therefore, be fought by the socialist party of that country. That is our position and work in Great Britain. We are the only party in this country that organises for the capture of political power by the working class, for its emancipation. To join with those who are working against this capture of power would be sheer idiocy.

Then, and not till then, we shall know that the dawn of the socialist day is near, where the potential of individuals will, at last, have an opportunity of developing sane and healthy lives.

Covid-19 Exposes the Class Divide

Resort towns favoured by the rich and famous are facing a coronavirus crisis as the 1% have fled cities for their holiday hideaways. The rich have rushed to escape to their luxury retreats, local officials are reporting a disproportionate rise in Covid-19 cases and getting increasingly angry and worried about cases overwhelming small local hospitals.

For decades,  Sun Valley has been a hotspot for jet-setting celebrities and billionaires including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mark Zuckerberg, Marilyn Monroe and Clint Eastwood. As of Thursday, there were 351 confirmed cases in its county, which is home to only 22,000 people. Sun Valley is in Blaine county, which is now host to nearly half the state-wide total of cases. The outbreak there has overwhelmed the region’s only hospital, which has one ventilator and was partially shut down after several of its doctors were quarantined.

Park City, is home to the Utah’s largest ski resort and its health director, Rich Bullough, said the first case in the county was a visitor and said the region’s high rate of cases was “absolutely” related to tourism.
New York City residents fleeing the coronavirus for upstate getaways and homes in the summer hotspots on Long Island are also angering residents. The Hamptons, the glitzy seaside New York community where Jennifer Lopez, Gwyneth Paltrow and a host of Wall Street bankers have summer homes, has seen its population surge in the wake of the pandemic. The village of Southampton has seen its population soar in recent weeks from 60,000 to 100,000.

Palm Beach county in Florida now has the highest death rate from Covid 19 in the state, 27 out of 144 deaths across the state so far. Palm Beach is home to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Jimmy Buffett and Rod Stewart are among its famous residents. The increase in visitors is likely to be a factor.
A similar story in Brazil. One Brazilian tycoon took his private jet to the beach last month despite having tested positive for Covid-19. The man, an investment banker. is accused of infecting at least two locals in Trancoso, a glamorous seaside town in Bahia state.

Some have pointed an accusing finger at Brazil’s jet-setting elites for importing the illness,  suggesting that Brazil’s mega-moneyed coronavirus patients exposed others to the illness by failing to properly isolate or quarantine themselves – perhaps believing their economic status meant they were above such mundane measures. One of the first deaths recorded in Brazil was that of Cleonice Gonçalves, a 63-year-old domestic helper who was reportedly infected by her wealthy employer when she returned from holiday in Italy.

The Rio de Janeiro Country Club is frequente by the crème de la crème of carioca high society. It is Brazil’s most exclusive club – a beachside sanctuary of privilege and power to which just 0.00041% of the country’s citizens are members who are chosen by secret ballot and it costs around £70,000 to join. At least 60 of the club’s 850 globe-trotting members have been struck down with Covid-19, while one – the septuagenarian businesswoman Mirna Bandeira de Mello – has died.

The country club is not the only oasis of Brazilian prosperity and influence touched by coronavirus. A pop star, an actress and the daughter of a top government official were infected during a celebrity wedding at a beach resort that boasts of being “conceived with the philosophy of exclusiveness”. Some affluent guests had reportedly flown in from holidays in Europe and Aspen, Colorado.

The connection between the spread of coronavirus and Brazil’s super-rich has sparked discussion over their role in introducing the ailment to Brazil – and the gulf between rich and poor in one of the most unequal societies on earth.  It is the poor and mostly black masses who will eventually suffer the most – without the luxury of being able to self-isolate at home or resort to expensive private hospitals.

“It goes without saying that the most vulnerable will always be the most affected, irrespective of whether there is a pandemic or not,” the black feminist intellectual Djamila Ribeiro wrote in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper recently. “These are structural issues.”