Over the previous year and a half, the working class across the world has been subject to an extreme intensification of their exploitation and the degradation of their living conditions. Already suffering from a renewed series of attacks by the capitalists to expand their profit margins going all the way back to the end of the post-war boom period in the 1970s, the situation for workers was rendered exponentially worse with the arrival of Covid 19. In all countries where Covid has made a home, workers faced a combination of repression, negligence, and cuts to their living conditions by the bosses. While the virus ravaged unimpeded through working class communities, hitting hardest in the most marginalized and oppressed groups, workers in every country were made to continue working with what little safety precautions were available to them. Even then the workers often had to fight tooth-and-nail on their own to secure that safety equipment against the wishes of the capitalists. At the same time as workers were dying on the frontlines from Covid to keep the economy afloat, the capitalists and their state machinery used the situation as an excuse to both increase repressive measures against the working class, such as expanding budgets to cops and militaries and giving them new powers, as well as making blows at the conditions of the working class. This they did under the propaganda campaign that we are somehow “all in this together”, obfuscating class differences and instead presenting our society as one in which we all share common interests.
In China as in the United States, in Italy as in Brazil, the workers paid while the bosses got richer. Despite the surface political differences between the capitalist method of domination in China or bourgeois democracies like the US or Britain, at the end of the day the same political structure, capitalism, was in place which prioritized profits before humanity and especially our class’ health and safety. And unfortunately, in all of these countries, the capitalist offensive steamrolled ahead with an encouraging yet disproportionately small response from our class.
Throughout the pandemic the position of the Internationalist Communist Tendency has been clear. Workers are not lambs to the slaughter for the bosses’ profits, and “lockdown has shown that this is a public health crisis defined by inequality, and the working class is suffering most”. The entire crisis that we have been living through is not a crisis of Covid but of capitalism, and the only force in society which has the power and interests to put an end to this misery is the working class. We just need to get up and fight for a new world.
At this point writing from the United States, the situation in regard to the pandemic and the working class has changed considerably due to the distribution of vaccines across the country. Currently more than 50% of the US population has been fully vaccinated against Covid, yet deaths are again on the rise and average more than two thousand per day. ‘Covid capitalism’ is still killing workers, both within the United States and without. While unvaccinated workers in this country fall for the bosses’ propaganda which pretends that Covid ‘isn’t real’ or that the vaccines are an attempt at social control, dying on the altar of right-wing capitalist lies, the vast majority of workers across the world don’t even have access to Covid vaccines (in large part because of capitalist prioritization of profits over health) and are still dying in immense numbers just like they were throughout 2020. In the meantime, the ruling class is continuing to push for a return to ‘normalcy’ which in reality means an increase in exploitation, without safety measures, and the removal of the pandemic protections against a total immiseration of the working class, such as eviction moratoriums and unemployment benefits.
Across the world too, workers face a similar and nearly universally worse situation. The ‘vaccine imperialism,’ which is seen most clearly in countries and blocs such as the United States and European Union hoarding vaccines for themselves and refusing to waive Intellectual Property rights for vaccines, worsens the impact of Covid across the peripheries of capitalism in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In the peripheries as well, billions of workers collectively face deteriorating conditions and living standards at the same time as Covid rains down hell on them.
The question remains: can the working class wake up from its long sleep, and stand up for itself as a class against capitalism’s agonizing economic and health crisis?
Covid capitalism in the United States
The US working class has dealt with one of the worst Covid experiences as its ruling class cynically disregarded health and safety in the pursuit of profits. The US was already infamous among the capitalist “democracies” for being especially callous in its prioritization of profits over health before Covid. The healthcare system here is explicitly oriented around profits and is at the whim of the market, turning healthcare into a luxury for the rich.
Covid further demonstrated how little the US ruling class cares about the health of the working class. Both Trump and the Democrats only called for any sort of “protective” measures once it Covid had firmly established itself within the country by March of 2020. But even then many of the emergency measures that were passed either by Trump or Democratic and Republican politicians at the state and local level were not aimed at protecting our lives but in keeping the system running, with our class used as collateral. Covid was a good excuse for members of both parties to overall broaden the militarization of American capitalism, granting the state new powers and tools to maintain ‘law and order’. If the lockdown was seriously about public health then it would have been much more extensive and focused on providing for everyone during the crisis. Instead people were told to stay at home and not to socialize but the state did the bare minimum to prevent workers from falling into total poverty.
Workers were already on the brink of falling into poverty before the pandemic. They were always either one or two paychecks away from not having enough to buy food or rent or were already in that situation. Workers in the US then could not have gone into any meaningful quarantine without sacrificing their economic safety. There was no remittance or pay from the state for workers to stay home besides the checks adding up to $1800 given to workers in 2020 but this was a drop in the bucket for workers behind on rent and struggling to pay for basic necessities. In the first months of the Biden administration the help from the state was even worse, as Biden and the Democrats lied to workers that their original promise of $2,000 relief checks was in reality only for $1,400 with terms and conditions. At the same time there was no cancellation of rents, only eviction ‘moratoriums’ filled with loopholes for landlords, and which only postponed the ultimate wave of evictions.
Any pretense of protecting workers against the virus was basically dropped by both parties by April and May, as it became clear that this would mean a near-total shutdown for the economy and impinge on profits. Both parties then, either loudly or quietly, took up the mantle of “reopening”, or in other words using workers as cannon fodder for the economy. Workers were then given the ‘choice’ of becoming homeless and starving or going to work and risk becoming infected with the virus. By the time vaccinations in the US started picking up speed, around 500 thousand people in the US are estimated to have died from Covid (although some estimate as high as nearly a million). The virus did not fall evenly and it hit the working class the hardest. While the capitalists and their political representatives were able to afford the finest medical treatment, workers dealt with the same inadequate medical infrastructure that they have always dealt with, with deadly results. Those within the working class were much more likely to die from Covid than the rest of society, and within the working class it was the most marginalized groups that were hit the hardest, with Black and brown people and those living on Native American reservations suffering the highest death counts proportionally.
The situation in the United States has changed now, however. As of the middle of September 2021, around 55% of all people in the United States have been fully vaccinated against Covid. The number of those who have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine is almost 64%. This does not mean the end of Covid within the US and much less across the world. As of the writing of this piece, the Delta variant, which will be covered shortly, is currently driving up cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the country, but the bosses are still rolling full steam ahead with the reopening. As of September 21st, the 7-day average for Covid deaths in the United States is 2,087 per day, according to the New York Times. This is a significant number and while the information on the income and class of those currently dying is hard to come by, research over the previous year makes it clear that lower income correlated with a higher chance of dying from Covid. We can assume the same trend for current deaths.
What makes this situation unique are the specific circumstances which are still causing people, many of which are working class, to die of Covid in the United States. At this point the virus is medically preventable with the vaccine, and vaccines are free (although access is sometimes a different question). Now more than 99% of those currently dying from Covid in the US are made up of the unvaccinated, a scenario described as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”. The reasons for why so many have not gotten vaccinated must be an examined from a Marxist perspective.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation “the unvaccinated group are younger, more likely to identify as Republicans or be Republican-leaning, and more likely to have lower levels of education and lower incomes than the vaccinated population.” Another interesting distinction for the unvaccinated is that they are “more likely to be . . . people of color”.
One of the largest reasons for why people in the United States are not getting vaccinated is, unfortunately, right-wing propaganda. This is easily gauged from the Kaiser Health statistics and should also be relatively obvious given the political atmosphere in the country. Of the unvaccinated population, 49% identify as Republican, compared to only 29% identifying as Democrat. Meanwhile, of those vaccinated, only 31% identify as Republican compared to 59% as Democrats. The ideological aspect of this opposition to the vaccines is seen more clearly when one distinguishes between the unvaccinated who fall into the camp of either “wait and see” and “definitely not” in regards to taking the vaccine in the future. The latter camp is much more ideologically right-wing than the former. In this group, a much larger 67% identify as Republicans compared with a mere 12% of Democrats. In contrast, the wait and see group is split nearly evenly politically, with 41% as Republicans and 39% as Democrats.
A significant differentiation between the vaccinated and unvaccinated is income, which is also related to education. While income is not the same as class (being poor is not necessarily a synonym for being part of the working class just as being rich is not necessarily a synonym for being part of the capitalist class), the two correlate heavily. In this analysis we will therefore use income statistics as an estimate for class.
Those that are unvaccinated tend to have lower income, education, and insurance levels than the vaccinated population. Out of the unvaccinated population, 42% have less than $40k in income per year, whereas that income level makes up only 33% of the vaccinated population. In contrast, only 19% of the unvaccinated population makes more than $90k a year, compared to 31% of the vaccinated population with that income level. Those with an income between the two extremes make up 31% and 28% of the unvaccinated and vaccinated population, respectively.
Education and insurance follow a similar pattern. The unvaccinated population has received lower levels of education than the vaccinated. Of the unvaccinated, 46% have received only a high school education or less, and 19% have gotten a college degree or higher. In contrast, 34% of the vaccinated have received a high school education or less, and 38% have received a college degree or more. In terms of health insurance, 24% of the unvaccinated under 65 is uninsured, compared to 12% of the vaccinated.
When one breaks up the unvaccinated into “wait and see” and “definitely not”, there is not as much differentiation between the two groups in terms of income, education, and insurance as there was with political affiliation (or as will be seen with race/ethnicity), but there was some difference. While statistics for education between the two subsections was relatively equal, those adamantly against the vaccine were more likely to be wealthy (25% as compared to 16% making more than $90k+ a year), yet were also less likely to be insured (74% compared to 81%).
Race shows the strongest differences between the two unvaccinated subsections. In the general population, while white people are more likely to be vaccinated (the vaccinated population is 64% white compared to the unvaccinated being only 56%), this difference is relatively small and it covers another story hidden in the unvaccinated demographics. That is, the unvaccinated population which says that they will “definitely not” get the vaccine is 70% white, whereas the “wait and see” group is only 49% white. The “wait and see” group is also 22% Black and 20% Latino, whereas the “definitely not” group is 5% Black and 11% Latino (the remainder of both subsections is made up of other ethnicities).
From this data we can make several useful conclusions about the unvaccinated population and its relation to capitalism. Putting all of the data together, it appears that the unvaccinated population is made up of a wealthier, whiter, population that has broadly bought into reactionary ideology which is adamantly opposed to the vaccine for ideological and class reasons, and a poorer, less white population which is not necessarily opposed to the idea of the vaccine but is currently not taking it for a variety of reasons.
The latter population which is generally part of the “wait and see” group is likely more working class (based on income statistics, and again this is only an estimate). Most of them are not getting the vaccine not due to ideological reasons, but instead due to factors which characterize and have characterized the lives of workers in the United States.
One of the largest factors which explains why those in the “wait and see” group are not getting vaccinated is healthcare access. In the United States workers suffer from a lack of healthcare in a variety of ways. First, the healthcare which they receive is generally of a poorer quality than that which the capitalists are able to receive. Hospitals in working class areas and cities are overcrowded, underfunded, and provide less advanced healthcare than those that the capitalist class has access to. But more relevant to the question of vaccines is health insurance for working class people. Workers overall suffer from high rates of being uninsured. “According to the CBO, the number of American citizens who are uninsured in 2020 is around 31 million”. In addition, “38 million do not have adequate health coverage” and can be classified as underinsured. This adds up to more than around 20% of the total US population, and those that fall within this group are disproportionately of the working class as well as non-white. According to Kaiser Health News, most “uninsured people have at least one worker in the family” and that as of “2019, nonelderly AIAN, Hispanic, NHOPI, and Black people remained more likely to lack health insurance than their White counterparts”. This points to an explanation for why so many people in the United States, especially workers and Black and brown people, aren’t getting vaccinated. Although it can feel as though we are constantly bombarded with messages and information about the vaccines, for many workers who work day-in and day-out, seven days a week and 12 hours a day, staying up to date about all of the precise information about the vaccines just happens to be something outside of their daily concerns. It is for that reason that the myth persists among many workers that the vaccines have a price tag instead of being free. Kaiser Health News reports that “concerns about having to pay for a vaccine (one-third of the “wait and see” group is concerned about this compared to 19% of the “definitely not” group)” still plague many of the unvaccinated.
In addition to worrying about having to pay for a vaccine, many in the “wait and see” group have concerns about being able to access an adequate healthcare center at all for the vaccines. This is due to both the aforementioned poorer quality of healthcare in poorer areas, as well as a long and detailed history of medical racism within the United States. According to Kaiser Health News, “nearly four in ten (37%) in the “wait and see” group also express concern about being able to get the vaccine from a place they trust, perhaps another indicator of health care access issues within this group”. Those of the working class as a whole are well acquainted with having to deal with long lines and treatment that can be poor and shoddy. But those Black and brown members of the working class understand these on an even more deep and profound level. In the United States throughout the entire history of the country, non-white people have continued to receive healthcare that is not only of poorer quality but is often malicious and intended to do them harm or treat them as guinea pigs. According to The Lancet, “while much public health research has shown that racism is a fundamental determinant of health outcomes and disparities, racist policy and practice have also been integral to the historical formation of the medical academy in the USA”. This was as true in 1619 (the date of the arrival of the first slaves on what is now the United States) as in the present. The following excerpt from The Lancet makes clear that throughout US history:
Black people, and especially Black women, endured violent medical treatment and experimentation against their will. Enslaved Black people’s bodies were exploited for the development of some aspects of US medical education in the 19th century. Medical schools relied on enslaved Black bodies as “anatomical material” and recruited students in southern states by advertising its abundance. This practice was widespread in the 19th and early 20th centuries. American medical education relied on the theft, dissection, and display of bodies, many of whom were Black.
As the excerpt mentions, non-white but especially Black women were prone to being experimented on by the state throughout history. The article notes that “Native American, African American, and Puerto Rican women were overwhelmingly targeted for involuntary, coercive, and compulsory sterilisation under early 20th century eugenics laws”, and that furthermore the practice only ended en masse in the 60s and 70s, continuing at a lower frequency in the years after to the present. Even just last year it was revealed that ICE was experimenting on undocumented women in its concentration camps by sterilizing them. All these historical horror stories add up in the psyche of Black and brown people, especially of the working class, growing up in the United States and into adulthood, and help explain why so many are hesitant to put their trust in medical officialdom after so many abuses.
For those of the working class in the “definitely not” vaccine group, the story is also a sad one. In this case, while the aforementioned factors likely factor in in some way, one of the largest determining factors in their adamant resistance to taking the vaccine is simply the vulgar, reactionary propaganda of the extreme right in the United States. This sort of unashamedly dishonest filth which compares the vaccination campaign to the Shoah and which lambasts children wearing masks as “child abuse” is embodied not by the most isolated fringes of American politics, but by national politicians and “news” commentators. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz are the most recognized national politicians who make their career out of grifting off of these far-right lies, while Tucker Carlson broadcasts his lies to an audience that has at times reached nearly 5 million. While these professional distorters of reality claim to be embattled underdogs going up against the all-powerful establishment, in truth they have incredible power and reach. According to Forbes, “Fox News host Tucker Carlson was the most-watched host in cable news for May, with Tucker Carlson Tonight delivering an average total audience of 2.937 million viewers”. Likewise, while they claim to be battling against the “elites”, they themselves are the elites (Carlson’s net worth is $30 million, for example). And unfortunately, while the propaganda that they spew is most loved by some members of the big bourgeoisie and especially the petty bourgeoisie (who made up some of the strongest stalwarts behind Trump and the political forces he represents), it is also consumed and believed by many in the working class who have been led astray. That is why this is a sad case of a significant number of workers being taken in by outright lies directed against their class interests and their lives. As previously stated, the vast majority of those currently dying from Covid are among the unvaccinated. They are also all mostly concentrated in states under GOP governors, mostly in the Southeastern United States. Many of these people dying or getting sick are of the working class and are giving their lives away on the altar of bourgeois lies. The deaths average more than two thousand per day now, and they continue climbing. The plan for the capitalists to accrue more profits at the expense of our lives is paved by these reactionary bourgeois propagandists.
This also brings up the important issue of the petty bourgeoisie and opposition to Covid protections and vaccinations. The petty bourgeois was one of the most fervent stalwarts of the Trump campaign in 2020 (as well as 2016) and they continue to follow the same general reactionary political beliefs. The opposition by the petty bourgeois to measures against Covid, whether they be vaccines or simple social distancing, stem from their own peculiar class interests which include a competition with and resentment against the big bourgeoisie, as well as a jealousy towards the working class.
The petty bourgeoisie had always seen their champion in Trump. In 2016 he represented the sort of populist hero of the “people” who would stick it to the “elites” who had screwed them over by wrecking the economy in 2008 and then making them bail the bankers on Wall Street out. In reality, the 2008 crash was not the result of some nefarious bankers in New York City (that is not to say that many are quite nefarious) but was instead another phase in the deepening crisis of capitalism that has been going on since the 1970s. With this said, in the years after 2008 it was the working class who was made to pay for the crisis of capitalism, and the petty bourgeoisie also saw their livelihoods wrecked and their precarity increased. It was the process of proletarianization of the petty bourgeoisie that Marx talked about, where big capital (the major banks) were protected by the state while the small capitalists were left to fend for themselves.
A similar scenario played out in 2020 with Covid measures by the state. The petty bourgeoisie felt a resentment against certain sectors of the ruling class which they identified not as the “ruling class” in any Marxist sense but as the “establishment” or “elites”, because they felt that they had been left behind between the two opposite class extremes of society. On the one hand, the lockdown measures that were undertaken to prevent the spread of Covid hit them much harder than the owners of large capital. Big capital was able to protect itself (and was itself protected) during the lockdown, as they had enough capital to dispense with to be able to cope with temporary decreases in production and profits. In fact, certain large capitalists, and enterprises, such as Amazon, actually benefited from the lockdown as more and more people relied on delivery for goods. The section of the capitalist class, which is more oriented towards tech overall, as opposed to the more “brunt” capitalists focused on manufacturing and production of things like oil, were also more inclined towards the lockdown as they were better able to navigate it (the former were more in the camp of Biden and the latter in the camp of Trump). The small businesses/petty bourgeoisie on the other hand were not able to deal with it as easily, and the quarantine measures were often the straw that broke the camel’s back. The petty bourgeoisie were unable to cope with the pandemic lockdown measures and they failed across the country by the hundreds of thousands. While fewer small businesses failed than expected thanks to loans given by the state as part of their stimulus packages, it is still no less significant that huge numbers of these petty bourgeois were effectively proletarianized, as they were unable to keep their shops open or transition to the pandemic economy oriented towards delivery and lack of contact (this was especially true in the restaurant industry). Big capital swept in to pick up the remains of petty bourgeois dreams and aspirations which had come colliding into the reality of a capitalism in crisis.
The petty bourgeois also felt jealousy against the working class, which they felt had also been unfairly bailed out by the state while they were left to struggle for themselves. They expressed discontent at the moratoriums on evictions that were passed by the federal government along with the states and local governments (especially “small” landlords). While the ruling class oriented towards the Democratic Party tried to push forward “larger” stimuli to the working class (larger compared to the Republican proposals but in no way actually meaningful) as well as more unemployment benefits in order to try to prevent a total immiseration of the workers that would push them more towards class struggle, the small business owners across the country felt that this was unfair and was/is the reason that they were/are unable to find workers for their businesses. This is plainly seen in the now oft-repeated petty bourgeois slogan that “nobody wants to work anymore”. They resent the fact that workers are still “gaming the system” by surviving off unemployment benefits instead of returning to grueling wage-labor at their small shops and restaurants. Even though the working class has been definitively hit the hardest by the pandemic and the capitalist offensive, the petty bourgeois still feel jealous and resentful due to their slippery class position. It is for that reason that they have been the most vocal opponents of Covid protective measures and, as that politics carries forward through time, the vaccines as well.
The bosses’ reopening in the US
Despite the fact that Covid is experiencing yet another wave of which we have lost count in the United States, killing proletarians by nearly a thousand daily, the capitalist class is still going full-steam ahead in their plans of “reopening” the economy. This is really just a sham phrase designed to disguise another round of pounding the working class with greater attacks. As we in the Internationalist Communist Tendency have demonstrated many times before over the course of the past year, capitalism is in a deep cyclical crisis and the pandemic, while providing a convenient alibi, also marks another stage in that crisis. In order to rescue themselves from this crisis of profitability, the capitalists are forced to resort to intensifying exploitation of the working class and getting them back to work in order to continue generating surplus-value, profits, for the capitalists.
This subjection of the working class to a new round of exploitation is a bipartisan plan by the capitalists. On the one hand, the Republicans openly reveal themselves as vicious enemies of the working class. Throughout 2020 when Covid was new and at its height, they tried to make the already small stimulus benefits to workers even smaller than they ended up being. They were also consistent opponents of unemployment relief and eviction moratoriums. Now with the vaccines having been rolled out to large numbers of Americans and the last vestiges of lockdown having nearly come to an end, they use this as a pretext to unleash bloody attacks against our class. One of these is the cutting off of unemployment benefits to workers earlier than the federal government had provided them for (at the time of writing, they have not yet expired but are set to expire in September 2021, when this issue will have been released. The situation can only have gotten worse by then). This effort at ending unemployment benefits to workers early has been mostly spearheaded by Republicans. PBS reports that:
As of July 16, federal unemployment benefits have been cut off in 23 Republican-led states, but remain in place in Indiana and Maryland due to legal battles. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards also made the decision to stop federal jobless benefits at the end of July, becoming the first Democratic leader to opt out of the program early.
The unemployment benefits had already been reduced nationally once before, from $600 weekly to $300 weekly. Now, these representatives of the capitalist class are cutting off the last lifeline for many workers and forcing them to return to work in the midst of a rapidly mutating virus in order to generate more profits for the ruling class. The ruling class is transparent about their motivations and reasoning here. Recently on Fox News, Laura Ingraham pondered in regards to the crisis of the bosses in finding more workers to exploit “What if we just cut off the unemployment? Hunger is a pretty powerful thing”. Her guest on the program then chimed in, stating that “I have a friend in the military who trains military dogs, and they only feed a military dog at night, because a hungry dog is an obedient dog . . . If we’re not causing people to be hungry to work, then we’re providing them with all the meals they need sitting at home”.
At least the bosses and their lackeys in the media make it clear what they really think of us. To them, our class is made up of nothing but stupid dogs to follow their orders. We aren’t humans really, but worker robots.
Workers are already feeling the impact of these benefits being cut off, especially in the South where nearly all states are GOP-led. In Mississippi, restaurant workers are literally being squeezed dry and starved by the capitalists. The state’s government cut off the federal unemployment assistance and all that the state offers is a miserable $235 per week. The fact that workers don’t qualify for unemployment if they turn down “suitable employment” means that restaurant workers are essentially forced back into their jobs where they make considerably less than they did before the pandemic. Customers are not as frequent as before and this results in workers often earning the incredibly low $2.13 per hour wage in the absence of tips. As Mississippi Free Press reports:
Management demanded workers return to their positions, but often part-time and during shifts with virtually no customers coming in. The industry-wide transition to curbside services left many employees working for the tipped minimum of $2.13 an hour with few tips, if any . . . The patchwork of shifts and limited tips left restaurant employees on the edge of underemployment, risking the loss of all their pandemic benefits despite earning well below a living wage, they say.
The fact that the Republicans are so open about their desire to use the working class as their work dogs, despite the dangers of a pandemic which is killing nearly a thousand people per day, should not distract us from the fact that the Democratic Party is the other major party of the ruling class in the United States and therefore also has a vested interest in seeing an intensified exploitation of the working class and a “return to normal”.
In the lead-up to and duration of his presidency, Biden has tried to make the “return to normal” the centerpiece of his image and administration. One aspect of this was the reopening of schools and the moving away from virtual learning. While we have covered the issue of school reopenings widely in a lengthy article from the previous issue of 1919, the main aspect that has changed the situation from January to now is the emergence of the Delta and other variants of Covid. These present a new threat to the health and safety of workers but as mentioned before the capitalist class is going full steam ahead on reopening, regardless of how many workers must die and risk their lives. While the Biden administration pretends to be concerned with the emergence of the new variants, they remain adamant in their drive to reopen the schools. While the issue of school reopenings may seem like just an issue of whether or not students learn online or in person (as communists we are relatively impartial to this debate as workers are hurt uniquely in both scenarios, and our job is to expose how this is the case), it goes much deeper than that in reality and at its core it is about extracting more surplus value from as many workers as possible. Often left out of the conversation about school reopenings are those outside of the main teacher staff or the student body, those being the janitors, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, substitutes, etc. With schools closed it is more difficult for the capitalists to extract surplus-value from these workers, who might be on unemployment benefits and therefore, in the eyes of the ruling class, “wasting away” by not enduring wage labor. The schools are also being reopened so as to make it easier to take them out of their work-from-home situation and back to the workplace. The schools ‘take care’ of the children so that the parents can spend their day generating surplus value. Therefore the effort to reopen the schools is part and parcel of the capitalist offensive to resubject workers to a new round of exploitation.
On evictions and unemployment, Biden and his faction in the ruling class also reveal themselves as being just another side of the same capitalist coin as their Republican counterparts. The CDC federal eviction moratorium that had been in place throughout the pandemic (which already held many loopholes and really only acted to hold back a complete flood of evictions) was set to expire at the beginning of August 2021 and did. For workers on the ground, the impending evictions were a constant preoccupation that they couldn’t stop thinking about. For Biden and the capitalists, it was more of an afterthought. A new moratorium was put in place shortly after the old one expired. This was done after it had become clear that the wave of evictions would become a PR disaster for the Biden administration and would make an already bad situation for the capitalists worse. Yet the new moratorium is both too little and too late. The time between the termination of the old moratorium and the imposition of the new led to many getting evicted from their homes. In addition, the new moratorium only covers “counties with a high rate of Covid transmission”. While the rise of the Delta variant means that this includes around 80% of US counties, workers in the remaining 20% of counties are forced to rely on their states for rent-relief, states which would rather use their federal Covid assistance money elsewhere. According to the New York Times, “the $47 billion Emergency Rental Assistance program has disbursed only $3 billion — just 7 percent of the total”. This means that while states are granted sizable sums of money from the federal government to handle the impending eviction crisis, they would rather save it to shore up the deficits that they have been incurring throughout the pandemic. In addition, the new moratorium is still set to expire in October. Renters are still behind on more than a year’s worth of rent now, and they won’t be caught up by October.
Biden has also made it quite clear that he is going to stick to the schedule of ending unemployment benefits to get workers back to work. USA Today reports that “President Joe Biden’s administration won’t seek to reinstate enhanced weekly $300 unemployment benefits set to expire on Sept. 6”. To try to save face for himself and the whole “left-wing” faction of the capitalist class in the United States, Biden has said that while he is going ahead with ending federal unemployment assistance, that the states can choose to make use of federal emergency funds under the American Rescue Plan to continue unemployment relief. Unemployment is highest in the Southeast, states which have the highest rates of Covid, states which face the greatest threat from the Delta variant, and states which have all gone ahead and ended the extra unemployment benefits months ahead of the scheduled expiration date. In other words, Biden and the ruling class embodied in the Democratic Party are going to leave workers in the ditch, and then stand back and try to claim that it is the fault of those ‘nasty Republicans’. In reality the entire capitalist class and system is to blame, and the sooner that our class realizes that, the sooner we can get out of this whole mess.
The international dimension
At the same time as the ruling class-engendered tragedy unfolds within the country, the ruling class of the United States also exacerbates it outside of its borders. The reason for this can be aptly summed up in the phrase “vaccine nationalism” or vaccine imperialism. One of the comrades writing for 1919 already covered this phenomenon quite well back in January. This is a valuable excerpt from the piece that they wrote:
In a short time, research went from open-access to highly secretive. Pharmaceutical companies not only wanted to protect their progress from the prying eyes of competitors who could undercut them in the market in the months ahead, but nation states took an active role in pushing the vaccines to market by any means necessary, with the goal of being first. This seemingly humanitarian goal of providing for the public health became distorted by the nature of imperialist capitalism. We have become witness to perhaps three terrible waves of infection and death, while most of the world’s population finds itself wondering if the vaccine is even safe to take, or if the vials of vaccine will meander their way through the market in time for them to receive their dose. At a moment where humanity should be celebrating (at least distantly) one of our greatest triumphs, there is a sense of lingering doubt in a brighter future.
The situation has changed since January and that will be examined shortly. However what is most valuable from the excerpt and which has the most relevance for our current analysis is where it is remarked that much of the world’s population finds itself wondering if they will even be able to access the vaccine in a reasonable amount of time. World capitalism has answered this question for them with a definitive no.
In the United States, the European Union, Russia, and China (some of the ‘metropoles’ of world capitalism/imperialism) the rollout of vaccines, while also hobbled by the inefficiencies of capitalism that we have just covered, proceeded much smoother than in the peripheries of capitalism, or to use a more general term the “Global South”. One of the most glaring reasons for this is vaccine patents.
In this article we will focus solely on the US aspect of this issue, but many of the same general trends can be seen with the other nations (although perhaps not to the same extent, just given the power of US imperialism). Vaccine patents and their significance can often seem like a complicated topic, often for the simple reason that we don’t know exactly what they are. Yet they are relatively simple. What vaccine patents mean is that only the companies that have “invented” the vaccine have the license to manufacture them. This means that to manufacture more of the vaccines, entities, whether they be companies or nations, must pay fees to the company who controls the vaccine patent.
This has (predictably) led to a massive imbalance in access to the vaccines between the centers of global capitalism, and the peripheries. All of the major vaccine manufacturers are located in the metropoles, and of those most are found in the United States or European Union due to their dominant role in the world imperialist system. AstraZeneca in the UK, BioNTech in Germany, Moderna in the United States, etc. When one also factors in the massive power that these imperialist bodies hold on the world stage thanks to both military might and access to capital (the US and EU), the recipe is clearly one of dominance of those powers over the populations of the peripheries. The sick irony of the situation is that it is often in these peripheral nations that the pharmaceutical companies manufacture the vaccines and the materials for them, but these vaccines are shipped out to countries such as the United States while the native populations are not allowed to use them for themselves due to capitalism’s vaccine monopolies.
In the peripheral countries of capitalism, the vaccination rates are close to zero and proceeding at a crawling pace. According to United Nations Development Programme administrator Achim Steiner, “In some low- and middle-income countries, less than 1 [percent] of the population is vaccinated – this is contributing to a two-track recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic”. On average, only around 1.3% of the populations of low-income countries are fully vaccinated. In these countries it is only the top echelons of the ruling class that are able to get vaccinated. Workers are left behind to suffer death and sickness from Covid, all while “their” states go ahead with reopening (if they ever locked down in the first place). We will get to how this has manifested itself shortly. But first, a bit more on the situation in regard to vaccine patents and the United States.
Because of the glaring inequality of some wealthy countries hoarding of the vaccines while the poor masses of the world were unable to receive vaccines due to artificial paywalls constructed by the pharmaceutical companies which own the vaccines, there was growing pressure on the Biden administration throughout the Spring to waive the patents for the Covid vaccines. This would entail an eased access to vaccines by the populations outside of the metropoles. The pharmaceutical companies were (and are) vehemently opposed to any such measure to waive the patents, as this threatened their profits and stranglehold over the international vaccine market. After all, they are in this for money and not for any nonsense about public health. They were and are opposed on the international stage by nations in the periphery and semi-periphery such as India, South Africa, etc. But eventually Biden and his administration did signal support for waiving the Covid vaccine patents, in early May. However, this was really nothing more than a PR move which had no real effect beyond quelling those that had been pressuring the administration.
While the administration “signaled support” for waiving the patents, the headlines were everything and action was nothing. The Financial Times reports that “three months [since signaling support for the waiver] little has changed. WTO talks over the proposed waiver were suspended without progress at the end of July as delegates dispersed for the European summer holidays. Despite a request from WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for members to shorten the break given the urgency of the issue, they do not plan to reconvene until September”. The US since the announcement has largely ignored the problem now that it isn’t a pressing PR issue. All at the same time as vaccines are manufactured in the countries that are able to receive only a trickle of them for their ruling classes. The situation is even more dire in countries outside of the imperial orbit of the US. While the US remains “stingy” in distributing vaccines to the countries of capitalism’s periphery, it blatantly hampers the distribution of vaccines to its imperialist rivals and those in their sphere. Prime examples of this are countries like Cuba and Venezuela. Sanctions by the United States on these two countries make it incredibly difficult to procure vaccines or treatment for Covid (or other diseases for that matter). The price for this is paid in proletarian blood. The workers of these countries on the hit list of US imperialism face the consequences of the petty imperialist rivalries of their ruling classes. So the same old story goes.
So in reality capitalism is still, predictably, standing in the way of global public health. The capitalist state is the tool for the management of the affairs of the bourgeoisie, and it is no wonder that the state sticks to its class character by siding, in this case, with large pharmaceutical monopoly capitalists at the expense of the world’s poorest proletarians.
Covid capitalism in the peripheries
While workers in the United States have gone through hell this past year due to the Covid crisis brought on by the ruling class, as well as the general capitalist crisis, workers in the peripheral countries of capitalism have been through a nightmare of even greater proportions. In Latin America, Africa, and Asia, workers have yet again been turned into the cannon fodder of the bourgeoisie in the quest for profits. Because there are so many harrowing tales from so many countries, we are going to examine a case example from each of the three aforementioned continents, to illustrate the commonalities of suffering amongst workers across capitalism’s borders.
The worst of Covid in the United States took place under Trump, and his populist style of ruling meant that he and his clique were open and brash about shoving workers back to work. A similar story has played out in Brazil, where the “Trump of the tropics”, Jair Bolsonaro, has sought to prove to the ruling class of that country that only through his blunt and forceful leadership will Brazilian capitalism be able to navigate the crisis.
The gravity of the situation in Brazil is conveyed clearly by a simple examination of the number of deaths. As of September 2021, the deaths from Covid have nearly reached 600,000, almost on par with the official count of US deaths. As mentioned previously however, some “unofficial” estimates of US deaths put them at nearly one million. In Brazil as in the US, there is also an unofficial Covid death count that looks at excess deaths during the pandemic, which puts the number of deaths at more than 600,000 as of early May 2021. More than three months later this number is certainly higher, perhaps reaching 700,000.
But the intricacies of the numbers can distract us from looking at the main point. That is, capitalism wreaks havoc on the health and lives of workers. In the particular case of Brazil, Bolsonaro, like Trump, has since the beginning of the pandemic been a heavy denier of its severity, all with the purpose of ultimately saving Brazilian capitalism by continuing the exploitation of the workforce at a “steady” pace. In March 2020, in the face of shutdowns across the nation, Bolsonaro downplayed the realities of the virus and declared that, “life must continue and jobs be preserved”. Despite becoming infected with Covid himself, his class interests lead him to use this as an opportunity for propaganda, using his recovery to prove how the worry around Covid is hysteria, instead of calling for protecting the health of workers (an obstacle to the profits of Brazilian capitalists).
Covid denial by capitalism is a package deal and part of that package is opposition to and distrust of the vaccines. This was a tool in the propaganda campaign by certain sectors of the ruling class against the realities of Covid, helping to facilitate the return of workers to the workplace. Now that the vaccines are becoming more and more available however, and at the same time as Covid is still rearing its ugly head at an increasing rate, some of these capitalists, like Bolsonaro, are seeing that their previous propaganda against the vaccines is coming to haunt their very efforts at reopening. A representative from Pfizer said that the company had “repeatedly offered to sell the government vaccines last year. It was ignored—for months. Over 100 emails were unanswered”. This has partially led to Brazil’s poor vaccination situation. In the quest to ignore the deadly realities of Covid for workers, the current faction of the ruling class in Brazil staved off the tool that they could use to get a real “return to normal”. Bolsonaro has now half-heartedly embraced vaccines, but it is too little too late for Brazil’s workers, who have been hit the hardest throughout the pandemic.
A morbid aspect of the impact of capitalism’s Covid crisis on the working class of Brazil is its racial dimension. Michael Fox, writing for The World, states that “Three-quarters of Brazil’s poor are Black or multiracial. And they have felt the brunt of the pandemic more than any other population in the country”. Like in the United States, capitalism manifests itself in Brazil as a racist system which adds additional oppression onto proletarians that fall outside of the current definition of white. In Brazil, the Black population has seen a death rate that is 30% above that of white Brazilians. A direct cause of this is the increased exploitation and oppression that Black Brazilians of the working-class face.
Despite the particularly brutal impact of Covid capitalism on Black workers in Brazil, the entire working class of that country, regardless of race, has seen a tremendous deterioration of their living conditions. Hunger in the country has reached unimaginable proportions. According to the Brazilian Research Network on Sovereignty and Food and Nutritional Security, the number of people in Brazil dealing with food insecurity has reached 116 million. Out of this population (which makes up more than half of the country’s 211 million people), “43 million (20.5% of population) do not have enough to eat and 19 million people (9%) are just starving”. The numbers are seen more clearly in the streets of Brazil’s favelas, the working-class slums of Brazil’s cities, than on a table of statistics. The Wire reports further that “poor people stand in lines for hours every day to get some rice or a loaf of bread from some NGOs; in many parts, small children can be seen rummaging through the rubbish bins to pick something for their hungry mouths”.
The capitalist press in most instances has tried to paint Bolsonaro’s economic policies during the pandemic as the work of some type of benevolent strongman. They ran headlines such as “Brazil’s Bolsonaro, with popularity rising, extends COVID-19 welfare” which are meant to hide and distort reality. The truth is that Bolsonaro is not some generous man of the people, waging a lone and valiant struggle against the stingy elites who, supposedly unlike him, want to prevent poor Brazilians from receiving a government lifeline. The truth is really that Bolsonaro is pursuing a policy of austerity against working class Brazilians. In contrast to the celebratory headlines of the mainstream bourgeois press, The Wire again writes that “Last year, the Congress had approved financial aid to 66 million Brazilians with five instalments of $110 each. In September, Bolsonaro cut it down to four instalments of $50, reaching only 42 million people”. So, far from being generous to the destitute masses of the country, he has predictably been pushing ahead towards reopening at full speed. It is also worth noting that the government did not even spend all of the money that it had allocated to be used to alleviate the situation of the country’s poor. One would think that all of this money and more should have been utilized.
The relief instalments from the government are all-the-more important for workers in Brazil because of the fact that unemployment is at a historically high rate of 14.7% in the country as of the end of June. While Bolsonaro and his ruling class clique tried to position their sacrifice of the working class of the country to Covid as a necessary move to maintain the economy, this has been revealed as horseshit; workers continue to die from Covid and to suffer from starvation. The scenes on the streets of Brazil of working-class families in the favelas wearing masks and standing in bread lines demonstrates the bankruptcy not just of capitalism’s fake “populism” but capitalism as a whole.
One of the worst case studies in Covid capitalism’s rampage through Africa comes from South Africa. In this country the worst effects of the Covid virus itself as well as capitalism’s crushing impact on the working class are both clearly visible. Most of Africa has seen relatively low ‘official’ Covid death counts. For example, Nigeria, a country of 200 million people, has seen only 2,276 official deaths counted over the course of the pandemic. This is almost certainly the result of poor tracking, as well as other factors such as that the population in Africa is on average younger than the rest of the world and therefore less susceptible to the virus’ worst effects. This is not the case with South Africa. In that country, the official Covid death toll stands at nearly 80,000. However, new data suggests that like with many other countries, this official death count may be considerably lower than reality. According to Emile Stipp, who is the actuary of Discovery Health, Africa’s biggest health insurer, it is possible that around 80% of South Africans caught Covid. Following his calculations, the death rate for South Africa from Covid is raised nearly three-fold. Bloomberg reports that:
Stipp said he based his assessment on the assumption that 90% of excess deaths reported by the South African Medical Research Council were due to Covid-19. The SAMRC estimates South Africa’s excess death number at 238,949 during the pandemic, compared with an official Covid-19 death toll of 78,377. The country’s case fatality rate is 3%.
The population of South Africa is nearly 60 million people. To help visualize this for our readers in the United States, the official death count’s proportional equivalent in the United States would be 400,000. With the unofficial death count, it would be over one and a quarter million.
Of course, many of the excess deaths reported during the past year are not just from Covid, and stem from other aspects of capitalism’s crisis. We will get to that shortly. First, a word on the vaccines in South Africa.
As of late August, only around 8.5% of the population in South Africa has had enough access to the vaccines to become fully vaccinated. South Africa is one of the countries that, being on the weaker end of the international imperialist pecking order, has tried to use bodies like the World Trade Organization as platforms from which to call for the removal of intellectual property rights on Covid vaccines in order to gain greater access to them for their populations. They have been unsuccessful in these endeavors. In fact, the ironic cruelty of capitalism’s irrational vaccine production and distribution continues in South Africa, as vaccines manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, for example, are manufactured in South African plants and then exported from the country to the European Union, an entity with high vaccination rates especially when compared with South Africa. The South African bourgeoisie of the ANC (African National Congress) are just as complicit in disregarding the working class of their country as the European bourgeoisie are in dominating the working class of peripheral nations like South Africa.
In the midst of the Covid disaster in South Africa, the working class has also been pummeled by an economic crisis which has pushed down workers even deeper than before the pandemic. A comrade in the ICT summed up the desperate economic situation for workers in South Africa:
A few statistics indicate the desperate condition of the SA working class, particularly the long term unemployed. Officially the unemployment rate is 33% and 11 million people are without work, but when those who have stopped looking for work are added it is 43%. Some of these people are, however, employed in the informal economy. There are 12.5 million people on state benefits; about 20% of the population and over half the country’s population of 60 million live in poverty [the majority of the population living in poverty are also Black women – JC]. The state has been trying to cut the amount spent on welfare and a grant of R350 (£17.50) per month for the unemployed was stopped in April. This, and the strict lockdown imposed at the end of June, which shut down most of the informal economy, were additional blows for the destitute.
It should also be noted that the poverty line in South Africa includes all those that make less than 810 South African Rands ($47 USD) per month. This line is incredibly low and doesn’t capture the full picture of poverty which is much more widespread.
Within this economic catastrophe, as well as the deaths from Covid and the vaccination rate in the country, are glaring racial disparities. Far from fulfilling the promise of bridging the racial divide that characterized South Africa’s colonial history, especially during Apartheid, and which kept white and Black workers divided against each other, the rule of the ANC has seen racial disparities in the living conditions of Black and white South Africans become exacerbated. The ANC and Black bourgeoisie have demonstrated that any sort of “racial solidarity” between workers and capitalists of whatever race is a facade used to trick workers into lending their support to just another faction of the capitalist class which will continue exploiting them.
The latest poverty statistics in South Africa come from 2015 and were released two years later, but they are nonetheless relevant as the picture hasn’t changed much. The numbers reveal that 64.2% (more than 28 million) of Black South Africans live in poverty. This contrasts strikingly with the numbers for whites in the country, where only 1% (just under 50,000) live in poverty. It is thus demonstrated how effective capitalism truly is at eradicating racism, which in truth is just an outgrowth of that same system and a useful tool at maintaining the class rule of the bourgeoisie, in this case embodied by the ANC.
The exact numbers on Covid case, death, and vaccination disparity by race are hard to come by. However, judging by the trends in other countries covered, such as the US and Brazil, it can be inferred correctly that Black South Africans have been catching and dying of Covid at rates much higher than their white counterparts. The fact is that the conditions that South African workers, especially Black workers, have been forced by capitalism to live in have engendered the rapid spread of Covid throughout those communities. Many of these workers live in townships, which are designed so poorly that it would be news if Covid wasn’t rampaging through these communities. Oxfam reports that “these areas are still largely underdeveloped, overly populated, have poor sanitation facilities, lack of running water . . . and a poorly structured public healthcare system”.
It is clear that South African workers are dying at a significantly higher rate than their bosses, and that disparity is reflected in the difference in deaths by race. What is also clear after some investigation is that the vaccines are primarily making their way into the arms of the ruling class of South Africa, those that are wealthier and are more likely to be white. As the vaccination campaign in South Africa slowly goes forward, it is becoming more and more apparent that “people living in rural areas, or those without an internet connection or private medical aid may be left behind altogether”. Only 38 million South Africans have access to the internet, meaning that around a third of the country’s poorest have virtually no easy and free access to information on the vaccines and how to get them. The unvaccinated population in South Africa increasingly takes on the image of the poorest and most exploited workers in the country, those overwhelming amounts of workers, mostly Black, left behind by the cynical promises that the ANC bourgeoisie made to them nearly 30 years ago as they went about enriching themselves.
The crisis of Covid capitalism erupted in South Africa in July when widespread rioting and looting erupted throughout the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. While much of the media has characterized these events as solely a ploy by the supporters of ex-president Jacob Zuma to either seize control of the country or disrupt the functioning of governance, what is missing is an analysis which realizes that while certain sections of the South African ruling class tried to create chaos for their own ends, many of those partaking were working class South Africans merely trying to take advantage of the chaos to alleviate their desperate conditions. Thapelo Mohapi, spokesman for the shack dwellers association Abahlali baseMjondolo, writes that “people were even cooking wild plants under lockdown [during the unrest] . . . people were taking food and saying ‘I don’t know who Zuma is’”. Those rioting were poor, working-class South Africans driven to desperate hunger by capitalism’s latest crisis. As of December 2020, 40% of South Africans were dealing with hunger. The capitalist system and its endemic crises have once again driven down the general conditions of the working class to the lowest, most elementary levels that the human body is capable of withstanding.
The horror story of Covid capitalism in capitalism’s peripheries has revealed itself on full display in India.
In fact, for the duration of the pandemic, proletarians from India, at home and abroad, have been particularly shafted by the crisis. One only has to recall the images and videos that were available for all to see at the beginning of the pandemic’s widespread distribution in February and March of 2020 of desperate and destitute Indian seasonal migrant workers trapped and stranded on the streets of gulf countries like the UAE, unable to return home. The videos from the UAE were just one example of a similar story that played out across many other countries with Indian migrant workers.
Millions of workers in India take seasonal jobs long distances away from their hometowns and cities. These jobs may be in other Indian cities, but often they are in far-off countries. As is common with migrant workers in capitalism, they are forced to leave family and friends and become the most complete embodiment of the wage-laborer. Their home is wherever they can find work, and their entire life is dictated by where and to whom they can sell their labor power for periods of time that leave sleep as their only “free” time. The lockdowns that governments instituted in March 2020 meant that the livelihoods of these migrant workers were either destroyed or put at extreme risk, as the states in which they resided wouldn’t dispense with state funds to support them. Out of work and out of pay, they were forced to get home however they could. Often this meant on foot, traversing thousands of miles of land and/or sea. The Institute for Human Rights and Business reports that:
Millions of vulnerable, poor Indians who worked away from their homes in India’s towns and cities came to an identical conclusion – that they should not heed state governments’ assurances to stay where they worked; that they could not rely on the State for any financial or physical support; and with no trade union rights workers they will have little means to compel employers to support them. They decided to walk back to their villages. One report suggests at least 200 workers died on their journey, but the actual figure is likely to be higher, since statisticians and economists find India’s Introduction One report suggests that at least 200 workers died on their journey, but the actual figure is likely to be higher, since statisticians and economists find India’s record-keeping of deaths to be inaccurate or unreliable even under normal circumstances. In the process, they may have exposed themselves to the virus, or exposed others to the virus – spreading the pandemic instead of containing it.
So it is that India’s seasonal migrant workers were the first to feel the full brunt of capitalism’s Covid crisis. As the IHRB mentions, numbers for the Indian migrant workers that died from Covid (or other causes) during this process are difficult to come by. But we can only infer that the human cost was tall and cruel.
As sad as the story of India’s migrant workers is, it is itself only one chapter in the nightmare of Covid capitalism’s rampage in India. While they have faded from the headlines since April, Covid is still killing massive numbers of Indian workers. The official peak of Covid in India came during May and June of this year. The official death tolls demonstrate a nearly consistent death rate from Covid of between 3 and 4 thousand Indians per day, and often higher. The images and videos coming out of India during this period clearly conveyed the utter catastrophe which befell the workers of India. Pictures of Indian workers working day-and-night cremating and burning the bodies of dead Covid victims circulated viral on social media, captivating the world’s attention and empathy for a few weeks. This was met by some symbolic gestures from governments across the world, namely the United States, to try to “alleviate” the suffering that the country was experiencing but of course nothing material came out of the ordeal. The workers of the world and India are left to fend for themselves.
Officially, India’s death count stands at nearly 450,000. At this point it is probably predictable what this is going to be followed with. While the official death count points to an already gross 450,000 deaths, the more likely and “unofficial” death toll is much higher. However the Indian case is distinguished by just how much larger this unofficial count is. In Brazil, we saw how the unofficial death count added around a sixth of the original to the original. In South Africa, the unofficial count was the official count multiplied by three. In India, it is the official number multiplied by ten. A DC think tank called the Center for Global Development concludes that “between 3.4 and 4.7 million more people died in that pandemic period than would have been predicted. That’s up to 10 times higher than the Indian government’s official death toll of 414,482”. The population of India is nearly 1.4 billion people.
Likewise, it is also predictable that the economic impact from Covid capitalism’s crisis has fallen like an iron cudgel on workers in India. Before Covid, the “United Nations estimated the number of poor in the country to be 364 million in 2019, or 28 [percent] of the population”. Both the UN and WHO measure poverty as “the percentage of the population living on less than $1.90 a day at 2011 international prices”. From this, we get a clear picture of the desperate state of Indian workers even before the latest crisis of capitalism. A population (likely made up largely of workers) greater in numbers than the United States that made less than two dollars a day. With the pandemic and the crisis, it is expected that around 75 million more people in India were pushed under the poverty line.
The increase in poverty has brought a concomitant increase in hunger among workers in India. If the hungry in India were a country in and of themselves, they would be the 8th largest country, behind Nigeria’s 200 million. The Conversation writes that “Some 196 million people are undernourished, and malnutrition is the top cause of death and disability” in the country. Among the hardest hit by hunger and malnutrition are the migratory workers throughout India, taking up work in cities and villages far from their homes and families. Because of how far away they work, they are often unable to use their state ration cards to get food help from the state. The Guardian reports about how, “day labourers and women who work as domestic help or maids, all migrants from other states, whose ration cards are registered at their home addresses or who have no ration card at all” are those facing the worst of hunger because of this issue.
Our way out of covid capitalism as workers
Asia, Africa, Latin America, the United States. The story of Covid capitalism repeats itself. We looked at three examples from capitalism’s periphery but in reality they only touch the surface, as in every country a unique story of pain and sadness for workers exists. If we wanted to, we could fill tombs writing about the ways that workers have been impacted in different countries in ways that, while manifesting differently, share core similarities. Workers in Peru endured the worst official Covid deaths per capita out of any country in the world. In Israel and Palestine, Palestinian workers are essentially excluded from getting vaccinated at all as Israel maintains its blockade on the Palestinian territories which essentially function as open-air concentration camps, and as Israel donates expired vaccines to Palestinians. In Iran a corrupt and incompetent bourgeoisie has enacted a painstakingly slow vaccination campaign as more than a hundred thousand workers have died of Covid. This comes at the same time as Iranian workers wage valiant struggles against the bosses and the state.
No matter what country, workers deal with the same shit. The master class which holds the real levers of power just wears different masks and maintains their class dictatorship through different means (some through a false “democracy” which is really only a democracy for those that can pay, and some through brute force and totalitarian one-party control). While some of the “left-wing of capital” (this is a term that includes leftists of all stripes, from those in the DSA who try to corral workers into supporting capitalist politicians under the guise of socialism, to the more “radical” types like the Stalinists and essentially all Trotskyists who lead the working class on futile “anti-imperialist” campaigns to support this or that bourgeois autocrat) try to distract the working class by having them fight not for their own liberation, but for different types of capitalist management, we, those involved in 1919, those of us in the Internationalist Workers’ Group and Klasbatalo, those of us in the Internationalist Communist Tendency, and those of the Communist Left in general, understand that as workers it makes sense for us to put our class first and fight for our own interests and emancipation.
The ruling class has tried to use Covid as an alibi for the pain and suffering that workers have been through and are currently experiencing, but in truth Covid is an outgrowth of this system. At first this claim may seem like a stretch. But the fact is that the live animal market in Wuhan from which it appears that Covid originated from is really a manifestation of a system which puts profits over health and safety for the public and the environment. The crowding of these different species together in such close proximity for the sake of making some money spawned this virus. And it is likely that with capitalism’s further destruction of the environment, there will be more deadly viruses like Covid to come.
A point which is just as important is that capitalism is going to lead workers into misery with or without viruses. This should really be obvious, as this is a system designed to put profits before humanity and happiness. The fact that we live in a world of material abundance at the same time as we have billions impoverished across the globe, with hundreds of millions lacking access to the most basic essentials of life such as food and water, means that something is fundamentally wrong with the system that we live in.
This system, called capitalism, can’t be reformed. If that were the case, it would have reformed and resolved its contradictions and negatives long ago. But the history of our class, the working class, tells a different story. We are condemned to lives in which we sell our labor-power, effectively our lives, to one or another boss for as long as we require food, shelter, clothes, etc. (that is to say, until we die). At the same time, the class which rules us, the capitalist class, neglects us, lets us perish from diseases or an impending climate crisis, and makes the situation even worse by using us as cannon fodder in their global resource wars.
There is an alternative to this system. It is called communism, but we shouldn’t get hung up on the name. The alternative is a stateless, classless, moneyless society. In this society decisions will be made collectively by a world human community, going from the local level to the top. With the abolition of classes, we won’t have resources like food getting hoarded, unused, in wareshops because people don’t have enough money to buy it. Instead we will feed, nourish, clothe, and house the world. People will live truly human lives.
We will also deal more effectively with deadly viruses such as Covid. Communism will not do away with every problem that exists and diseases are bound to come up regardless of the specific mode of production that we live in. However, by putting the lives of humanity before the profits of a few capitalists, we will be in a much better shape to effectively deal with outbreaks such as the one we have been living through for the past year and a half. And by cooperating as a world in the field of science, we will not have vaccine imperialism and vaccine sabotage, but will instead find cures quicker as we marshal the resources of all of humanity towards helping ourselves.
Achieving this new world will not be easy. It will be difficult, and the odds are stacked against us. But if we want to live lives of dignity, and if we want the same for the rest of our class, then we have no choice but to struggle towards that future.
Our class, the working class, is the only social force across the world which can bring about this future. Not only do we have the numbers, but we are uniquely situated in history as a class which has an interest not in becoming some new ruling class for eternity, but in abolishing classes altogether. So to get to this future our class needs to be united and organized, ready to take on the ruling class and impose its historic agenda for humanity after having learned of its own power through its own struggle, not delegated to unions or politicians. Currently Iranian oil workers are leading the way for our class by struggling on their own as a class outside of the unions, forming their own organs of class power to struggle for better conditions, which ICT members have covered. But again, we need to be organized for this, and can’t just put our faith that events will magically lead themselves to victory. We need to build an international organization that unites those of our class which share the commitment and urge to struggle for this better world, which can act as the spearhead of our class, teaching and guiding our brothers and sisters, and imbuing them with the same sense of solidarity and class consciousness that will cause us all to overthrow the global dictatorship of the capitalist class and imprint our own vision of society through the global rule of the workers’ councils.
Call it a party, call it an organization, call it whatever. In the end it will be an international, revolutionary organization of the working class which struggles in the workplaces and the streets, and not in parliament or election campaigns. The Internationalist Communist Tendency, of which 1919 is a journal, is dedicated to this goal. We want to reach militant, class-conscious workers of every country so that we can work towards building this organization of the future. And we do this through education, agitation, and organization, struggling in our own workplaces and intervening in others where workers have taken up the fight against the bosses. If you are down to help and work towards this future and goal we have described, then reach out, get involved, but most importantly, take the struggle to your workplace, school, neighborhood, community, etc. We have a world to win.
-JC, Internationalist Workers Group
1 Abahlali baseMjondolo. “The Financial Times in London interviewed Thapelo Mohapi for this report on the riots.” Facebook, July 25, 2021. https://www.facebook.com/abahlalibasemjondolo/posts/4525540517476165 (accessed September 26, 2021).
2 Artiga, Samantha, Latoya Hill, Kendal Orgera, and Anthony Damico. “Health Coverage by Race and Ethnicity, 2010-2019.” Kaiser Family Foundation, July 16, 2021. https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity/ (accessed September 25, 2021).
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*Unfortunately we were unable to re-access these sources for citations due to paywalls, so the citations are incomplete.