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Global Capital and COVID-19: A Marxist Response

The Center for Communist Studies

Capitalism is touted as the ideal economic model; the only one capable of flexibility and protracted economic development. This statement, of course, ignores capitalism’s cyclical recessions, its relentless commodifications of every aspect of human existence, its cheapening of human life, and now, in clear relief, its stark inability to handle public health crises. 


The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation, and one that will likely leave behind a psychological scar on an entire generation. It has spread like no other modern infection and has exposed in its wake critical public health and institutional failings across the world. For those of us watching closely, this failure was inevitable. 


An economic model that promotes privatization and atomisation cannot hope to meet the necessary realities demanded by a public, global emergency. Regardless of what is constantly screamed at us, healthand, by extension, human existencedoes not and cannot exist on an individual or a disconnected basis. No matter how our neighbours may irk us, when we are lying on the floor suffering a heart attack, we wish for nothing more than a nosy neighbour to peep in and save us.


Unfortunately, the very nature of capitalism subverts our fundamental nature: it forces us to compete with and to alienate our fellow people, promoting an ideal that we exist only for ourselves, that we have the right to improve our lives at the expense and suffering of others. The present pandemic has exposed the contradictions of capitalism as clearly as any preceding historic crisis. 


Countries that have adopted the neoliberal free market conception of healthcare are finding themselves utterly unequipped to meet this challenge. If the market decides how many hospitals are built, but forty percent of the population cannot afford to participate in the market, can it be said that there are enough hospitals for everyone in the country? This stark reality has highlighted to the public the limitations of capitalism in a way that a century of Marxist outreach could not.


For capital, the answer is always made to lie on the individual. “They should have saved more.” How many of us have heard that impossible refrain? And, of course, it is individuals who should be fiscally responsible with their paltry or nonexistent wages, but multibillion dollar, multinational corporations, staffed by armies of lawyers and accountants, have found themselves in the impossible situation of having no way of predicting and preparing for a recessiona phenomenon that happens every ten years!


Further, the health effects of this pandemic are rivalled only by its economic impacts. As capitalist governments the world over balance, in their own terms, the cost of lost lives against the cost of economic downturn, it is the working and oppressed people of the world who face the brunt of the pandemic’s worst effects.

We are told to stay home to avoid infection while our bosses claim any and all business as essential. Through this, it is demonstrated that our health is the true nonessential. When the state closes our workplaces by decree, it can do naught but continue its petty partisan arguments with little care as our bills and our anxieties mount. Any suggestion or protection meant to alleviate our suffering is met with contempt by the ruling class and its parties; or, in the best case, is but an insignificant bribery which pales in comparison to our needs both short and long-term. How can we be deprived of our livelihood but still be burdened with the rents torn from us by our landlords and exploiters? 


The plight of individuals who aren’t even employees is worse: the gig economy—long marketed as the (hyper-capitalist) answer to the problems of hyper-capitalism—is now filled with individuals who work more than full time hours for a fraction of the wages and none of the benefits. This precarity, living not just paycheck to paycheck but payday to payday, means these workers cannot afford not to work but also cannot afford to work! When the global population is housebound, who are the Uber drivers driving around? When offices are shut, who are the on-call, zero-hour secretaries working for?


We are only as healthy, safe and protected as the least among us. A virus that cannot be staved off with diamond-encrusted face masks has shown us that no amount of wealth can render us immune from the misery of our fellow people. We, the working and oppressed people of the capitalist world, have been given nothing of substance but have had everythingour work, our means to life, our very healththrown to the fire to contribute, no matter how feebly, to the continual turning of the cogs of capital. In this moment, we are those nameless dead, those faceless numbers which grace nothing but the pages of history.


But must this be so? Is there no other way to persevere through this crisis except by way of death and destitution? We think not. And, given the examples of China, Vietnam, Cuba, and others, we have been vindicated by the selflessness and mass-mobilization of these nations who, while struggling hand-in-hand with the capitalist west, were, just moments before, slandered as enemies and villains of the so-called free world. We have observed the efficiency and effectiveness of central, socialistic models of public health aimed at addressing the pandemic in ways that are humanistic, that put people before profits, and that recognize the economy as growing out of, rather than above, real human health, life, and labor.


It is time for the working and oppressed peoples of the world to take decisive action for themselves. History is ours for the taking. We are not the feeble playthings of capital; rather, we are human beings who deserve, by the virtue of our very existence, that which has always been kept from us. In this moment of apparent weakness, we must find the strength to move forward on our own terms. It is only through our solidarity with one another, our organization, and our refusal toward the demands of capital that we shall win.


Onward to victory, working and oppressed people of the world! We have nothing to lose but our chainswe have our health, and a world to win!

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© 2020 Peace, Land, and Bread

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