We are publishing an article written by our sections in Spain and Italy, which shows that in all countries the bourgeoisie is displaying the same criminal negligence towards the pandemic and the same contempt for the lives of the exploited.
The capitalist state is presenting itself as our saviour. This is a scam of the worst kind. Faced with the spread of the pandemic, what have they done? The worst! In all countries they took measures at the last minute, forced to do so by the rising death toll; they have kept millions of workers at their workplaces, with no masks, or gel or gloves, and all crowded together. Why? To continue production at any cost. They want to win parts of the market by taking advantage of the difficulties of their competitors. “China is on the floor? Keep producing!” “Italy is down? Keep producing!” And so on. Even when the pandemic really began to bite, when the lock-downs started, the pressure to ensure the “health of the economy” didn’t go away. The declarations by Trump or Bolsanaro about the economy coming first are just a caricature of the murderous policy of the leaders of all the governments on the planet. And yet, in acting this way, each national bourgeoisie, by facilitating the spread of the virus, is putting its own economy in danger.
In response, we have seen a number of strikes in Italy, Spain, Belgium, France, the USA, Brazil, Canada…Certainly these struggles are limited, how else could it be during the lock-down when it’s impossible to gather together in large numbers? But their appearance in different countries in these extremely difficult conditions shows that, in certain parts of the working class, there is resistance to the “sacrifices” being demanded, to the idea of serving as cannon fodder for the interests of capital. We cannot afford to bow down to the capitalist state which takes advantage of its role as “coordinator” in the fight against the pandemic to further strengthen its totalitarian control, to deepen our atomisation and develop an ideology of national unity and even of war.
More than ever, this pandemic shows us the alternative: either we allow ourselves to be dragged down into capitalist barbarism, or we contribute, with patience and a vision of the future, to the perspective of the world proletarian revolution.
Today, the streets pf Madrid offer us the spectacle of ambulances rushing at high speed, of chaos in the health services, of suffering comparable to the terrorist attacks of 2004 (193 dead and 1400 wounded). But this time this is a pandemic which has already killed 2,300 people and infected 35,000 in Spain, according to the official figures; an epidemic which is spreading faster than in Italy, which, a few days ago, had already beaten all records in terms of daily deaths. The death toll (over 7000 at the time of writing) already shows this pandemic to be the worst health disaster in the two countries since the Second World War. What’s happening in these two countries is only a preview of what will probably hit the populations of big cities like New York, Los Angeles, London. And it will be even worse when it hits Latin America, Africa and other regions where health systems are even more fragile or don’t exist at all.
But for weeks before this, the leaders of Spain and Italy – just as in France (as we show in our French publication) and other capitalist powers – could easily have imagined the damage the epidemic would cause. However, like the other capitalist states (and not only those led by populists like Johnson in the UK and Trump in the US), they decided to put the needs of the capitalist economy before the health of the population. Now of course they are boasting histrionically that they are ready to do everything to protect the health of their citizens, and they have declared all out “war” on the virus.
But the responsibility for the deaths caused by the pandemic is entirely linked to the present social conditions, to a mode of production which, instead of dedicating the productive forces, natural resources and advances in knowledge to the benefit of life, is sacrificing human life and nature on the altar of profit.
The exploited class is the main victim of this pandemic
We are constantly being told that this pandemic affects everyone without distinction between rich and poor. They tell us all the famous people (like Prince Charles and Boris Johnson in the UK) who have been infected or even killed by Covid-19. But these news items are put around above all to hide the fact that it is the conditions of exploitation which explain the rise and propagation of the pandemic.
First, because of the overcrowding of the neighbourhoods in which the exploited have to live, a fertile soil for the spread of epidemics. This is easily verified given the higher incidence of the pandemic in regions of dense human population brought together by the needs of exploitation (Lombardy, Venice and Emilia Romagna in Italy, Madrid, Catalonia and the Basque country in Spain) than in areas of lower population, such as Sicily or Andalusia. The worsening of housing conditions for proletarians further accentuates this vulnerability. In the case of Madrid, the hospitals which are most saturated and where services are collapsing are essentially those which serve the population of the industrial towns of the south. In dilapidated and overcrowded apartment blocks it’s also much more difficult to put up with the quarantine decreed by the authorities. In the luxury chalets of Somosierra or the villas of Nice where Berlusconi has taken refuge with his children, isolation is a lot easier to deal with. The exploiters’ talk about their “civic sense” is just cynicism.
Not to mention the impact on those living from precarious jobs or looking after children or elderly people, massed together in these kinds of dwellings. The situation of the elderly is particularly scandalous: having been exploited their whole life, many of them are forced to live alone or neglected in “care homes” run by the laws of capitalist profit. With one carer for 18 residents on average, care homes have become one of the main sources for the spread of the pandemic, as we have seen in Spain not only among the residents, but also those working there on temporary contracts and miserable wages, trying to take care of patients often without the basic measures of protection. The situation is identical in France, up till recently presented as a model of social protection run by the state. In Spain, the pits were reached when we saw hospitalised patients having to remain isolated in their wards next to the corpses of their fellow unfortunates, because the funeral services are overrun or lack the protective equipment to enable them to dispose of human remains. At the same time, numerous sick people, especially the old, who have been transferred to the saturated hospitals are relegated to the third and fourth rank by a “triage” organised according to the available resources and personnel, and by a cost-benefit analysis which is a real affront to human dignity, to the social instincts which enabled humanity to develop in the first place. This “treatment of the fittest” system has been openly put in place by the Italian, Spanish, French and other authorities.
To this we can add the intensified exploitation and exposure to the virus among the health workers, who make up to 8% of those infected: more than 5000 in Spain alone. Even these statistics are widely falsified, because a large number of these workers could not be tested. Nevertheless, they are frequently obliged to work without the necessary masks, gloves and overalls, which were previously seen as “superfluous” expenses by health budgets dictated by the needs of the capitalist economy. Beds in intensive care units, ventilators, research into coronavirus, into possible vaccines….al this has been sacrificed in the name of profitability. Today the media’s list of complaints, often expressed by politicians on the “left”, is used to deflect anger onto the “privatisation” of healthcare systems. But whoever owns the hospital, the pharmaceutical lab, or the care home, the truth is that that the health of the population is subjected to the rule of the profits extracted by an exploiting minority at the expense of society as a whole.
The defence of life against the laws of exploitation
The dictatorship of the laws of capital over human need is clearly revealed in the quarantine and lock-down measures in Italy, Spain and France, countries which have imposed draconian restrictions on shopping trips and visits to elderly people, while being totally lax when it comes to inciting people to get to the container docks and to keep up production in various factories (textiles, domestic appliances, automobiles). And to “protect” the conditions of exploitation, while hassling a few joggers or workers who share a car to reduce the cost of travelling to work, they still allow people to crowd together on a reduced tube and bus service to get to work and ensure that national production continues. Many workers have been scandalised by the criminal cynicism of the bourgeoisie and have expressed their anger through social networks, since in present conditions it is impossible to get together in the streets or in general assemblies. Thus, in response to the media campaign around the slogan “Stay at home”, there is a popular hashtag: “I can’t stay at home” launched by Uber and Deliveroo workers, home helps, workers in the huge underground economy etc.
Protests and strikes have also broken out against working conditions which risk the life and safety of the workers. As workers shouted out at demonstrations in Italy: “Your profits are worth more than our health!”
In Italy, this anger exploded on 10 March at the FIAT factory in Pomigliano where 5000 workers are present every day. Workers went on strike to protest against the unsafe conditions in which they are being forced to work. In other factories in the metallurgical sector, in Brescia for example, the workers put an ultimatum on the firms to adapt production to the workers’ need for protection, threatening strike action. Finally, the firms decided to close the factories. And on 23 March, when a decree issued by Prime Minister Conte gave a green light to continuing work in industries that are not really essential, spontaneous strikes broke out again, which obliged the CGIL union to make a show of calling for a “general strike”.
In Spain it started in the Mercedes factory in Vitoria: after a case of Covid-19, the workers decided to stop work immediately. The same thing happened in the Balay domestic appliance factory in Zaragoza (1000 workers) and the Renault factory in Vallodolid. It should be said that in a number of cases, it was the firm itself which decided on a lock-out (as at Airbus in Madrid, SEAT in Barcelona or Ford in Valencia in the same period, then at PSA in Zaragoza or Michelin in Vitoria), so that the funds of the state (in other words the surplus value extracted from the working class as a whole) would pay part of these workers’ wages; in fact, before the pandemic, there were already planned redundancies (in the Ford factories or Nissan in Barcelona).
But there were also open expressions of class militancy, wildcat strikes outside and against the unions, such as with the bus drivers in Liege (Belgium), which was one of the first countries to bring in a lock-down. It was the same with the Neuhauser bakery workers and the naval shipyard at Andrézieux near Lyon in France. There were also some militant demonstrations at the shipyards in Saint-Nazaire. One of the workers said in a TV interview: “I am forced to work in a confined space with 2 or 3 colleagues, in a booth 9 metres square and without any protection, then I have to go home to my wife and children who are self-isolating. And I ask myself anxiously if I am a danger to them. I can’t put up with this”.
As the epidemic spread, with its disastrous effects on workers, we saw further workers’ protests against this imposition of the logic of capitalist exploitation, even if only amongst a minority: we saw it at the FIAT-Chrysler factories in Tripton (in Indiana, USA), where there were protests against having to go to work when outside the factories it is forbidden to gather. There were further reactions at the Lear factory in Hammond Indiana, the FIAT factories in Windsor Ontario or the Warren truck factory outside Detroit. The Detroit bus drivers also stopped work until the firm provided a minimum of safety at work. It is very significant that, in these struggles in the USA, the workers had to impose their decision to stop working against the advice of the union (in the this case the UAW), which had been encouraging them to carry on working so as not to jeopardise the interests of the company.
In the port at Santos, Brazil, workers demonstrated against the authorities obliging them to go into work. Also in his country, there were growing concerns among the workers at Volkwagen, Toyota, GM etc against having to continue production as though the pandemic wasn’t there.
However limited these protests may be, they are an important element in the class response of the proletariat to the pandemic. Even on a purely defensive terrain, the exploited are refusing to be reduced to cannon fodder in the interests of their exploiters.
The response of the bourgeoisie: hypocrisy and state totalitarianism
The bourgeoisie itself is aware of the potential for the development of class consciousness and combativity contained in this accumulation of indignation at the sacrifices being demanded of the workers. Even the main protagonists of “austericide” (like Merkel, Berlusconi, or in Spain Luis de Guindos) are full of promises of social assistance. But the weapons of the exploiting class are the traditional weapons of the whole history of the class struggle: deception and repression.
For example: the hypocrisy of the campaigns of applauding health workers, programmed and organised everywhere. Of course these workers deserve recognition and solidarity because it is essentially they whose efforts are devoted to keeping the health system going. They have been doing this for years in the face of lay-offs and the deterioration in material resources. What is repulsive however is the sight of the government authorities, the very ones who have created these conditions for the over-exploitation and powerlessness of these workers, cynically seeking to advertise their “solidarity” with the health workers and proclaiming that we are “all in it together”, singing the national anthem and propagating patriotic values as a response to the spread of the virus. The disgusting nationalism of these “mobilisations” promoted by the organs of the state are aimed at hiding the fact that there cannot be the slightest common interest between exploiters and the exploited, between capitalists and those affected by the degradation of the health infrastructure, between those whose only concern is to maintain production and the competitive edge of the national capital, and those who put respect for life and human needs first. The “country” or the “nation” are just a tall story as far as the workers are concerned, whether it’s put forward by populist factions like Salvini or Vox, or by the sirens of democracy like Podemos, Macron or Conte.
In the name of this fake “national solidarity”, citizens are called on to denounce people who flout the quarantine, creating a witch-hunt atmosphere towards people like mothers of autistic children or elderly couples doing the shopping, or even towards health workers on their way to the hospital. It’s particularly cynical to put all the blame on the minority flouting the lock-down rules for the spread of the virus or the deaths it is causing or the stress suffered by health workers.
There is nothing more anti-social (ie contrary to the human community) than the capitalist state, which is there to defend the interests of the minority class of exploiters, and which hides this precisely with the fig leaf of false solidarity. In a doubly hypocritical way, the bourgeoisie is trying to use the disaster caused by the negligence of the capitalist state to divide some workers against others. If the hospital workers refuse to work without protective material, they are denounced as being “against solidarity” and threatened with sanctions, as was recently the case with the sacking of the medical director of the hospital at Vigo in Galicia, for daring to denounce the “blah-blah” of the bourgeois politicians on the issue of protective measures. The local government of Valencia (composed of the same parties as the “progressive” coalition governing Spain at the national level) have threatened to censor images showing the disastrous state of hospital care in the region, citing the right to privacy of the patients crowded together in the emergency wards!
If the workers of local authorities’ funeral services refuse to work without protection with bodies killed by Covid-19, they are accused of preventing family and friends from taking part in the funerals of their loved ones. Like in the housing estates or the public transport where we are herded like cattle on our way to work, or at the workplaces where ergonomics is applied not to the physiological needs of the workers but to the need for productivity, those killed by the coronavirus are also piled together in buildings transformed into improvised mass morgues, like the Palacio de Hielo in Madrid.
All this brutality is presented to us as the highest expression of a united society. It’s no accident that, at the press conferences of the Spanish government, faced with repeated questions like “when will the tests arrive?” And the masks? And the ventilators?”, we always get the same imperturbable and evasive response from the health minister: “In a few days….”, while alongside him stand army generals, police chiefs, heads of the civil guard, bedecked in their medals. The aim here is to impregnate the minds of the population with a militarist atmosphere: “Obey without asking questions”. The bourgeoisie is also profiting from the events to habituate the population to all kinds of restrictions on their so-called “civil liberties”, all at the discretion of the government and some with highly dubious usefulness, but all of which favour social self-discipline and snitching, presented as the only barrier to disease and social chaos. Neither is it any accident that the western bourgeoisie is displaying a thinly-veiled admiration for the control which certain totalitarian regimes, like the one in capitalist China, are able to exert over their population. If the success of China’s lock-down in slowing the spread of the virus is today being saluted, it’s also to camouflage their admiration for the instruments of state control being used (facial recognition, following people’s movements and encounters, and using this information to categorise the population according to their level of ‘social threat’), and to be able, in the future, to present these means of totalitarian state control as a more effective way of “protecting the population” against epidemics and other products of capitalist chaos.
The only alternative is communism
We have shown how a crisis in society reveals the existence of two antagonistic classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Which one is actually using its best efforts to try to limit the impact of this pandemic? It’s essentially the work of the ambulance drivers, the public transport workers, the workers of the supermarkets and the food industry who are doing the real work, hindered at every turn by the negligence of the state. It has been shown once again that, on a world scale, the proletariat is the class which produces social wealth, and that the bourgeoisie is a parasitic class which profits from the tenacity, the creativity and the team efforts of the workers in order to enlarge its capital. Each of these antagonistic classes offers a completely different perspective to the global chaos into which capitalism has plunged humanity: the capitalist regime of exploitation is hurling humanity into more and more wars, epidemics, poverty and ecological disasters; the revolutionary perspective will liberate the human species from subjection to the laws of private appropriation by an exploiting minority.
But the exploited can’t make an individual escape from this dictatorship. They can only escape by reacting collectively against the chaotic orientations of a state which is working for the mode of production which rules the whole planet. Individual sabotage or disobedience is the impossible dream of classes who have no future to offer humanity as a whole. The working class is not a class of powerless victims. It is a class which carries within itself the possibility of a new world free of exploitation, of division into classes and nations, of the subjection of human need to the laws of accumulation.
A philosopher (Buyng Chul Han), who is becoming very fashionable because of his description of the chaos provoked by capitalist social relations, recently declared that “we can’t leave the revolution to the virus”. That’s certainly true. Only the conscious action of a world-wide class, aimed at pulling out the roots of class society, can constitute a real revolutionary force.