Covid-19 Pandemic and the Crisis of Capitalism

The whole world looks paralysed in the grip of Covid-19 pandemic. We are told by the authorities that we are faced with a very dangerous health threat on a world scale. But we must question what we are told. Although it is mostly taken as a health problem, there should be no mistake that it is a serious class issue. It is used by the ruling class as a means to lock society into a horror tunnel, legitimise repression and a wide range of anti-democratic measures, and make society obediently accept the severe consequences of the economic crisis. These issues are deadly serious, more deadly than the Covid-19 taken as purely a health issue. The scare fuelled by the bourgeoisie is aimed at atomising the masses and preventing a questioning of the system.

Novel coronavirus is a very “capitalist” virus in disguise of calamity: It attacks the very essence of the concept of society in that it tries to weaken, or rather break down, the immune system of the working class, i.e. solidarity, organisation etc., imposing more individualism and selfishness! These realities should bring one to questioning the measures taken allegedly for the wellbeing of society. It would be rather naïve to suppose that the rulers in this class society tell the truth to society. Rather they drive society to fear and panic, saying “do not think”, “obey our commands”, “stop socialising with others”, “socially distance” etc.

As a health issue, Covid-19 is also a very clear class issue since it affects mostly the working people, the poor. Hundreds of millions of labourers across the world lack even basic healthcare service. It is quite noteworthy that while the rulers claim they are waging a war against Covid-19 they do not bring the issue of providing free, extensive and high quality healthcare to the public. They are very keen on fuelling the panic but they do not take serious steps to solve the problem of lack of medical stuff and equipment for good. Given the production capacity at hand it is quite possible to speedily produce them en masse and build new hospitals etc. Moreover, it is also possible to nationalise under workers’ control the private hospitals, laboratories, and Big Farma at large to speed up development of vaccines and medicines, and of course coordinate global efforts, share information etc.

The bourgeoisie exaggerates the fatality of the pandemic and creates a fearful society, paving the way for new attacks

All the establishment politicians regardless they are from the ruling parties or opposition parties and bourgeois intelligentsia are in a race to fuel the lie that the disease is extraordinarily fatal. All over the world authorities are trying to keep the scare alive and maintain the panic by persistent media coverage of the number of cases, deaths and so on. They are well aware that keeping the counter working with live coverage in the media is intensifying the panic. The perception they create is that it is almost inevitable to die in pain by suffocation when one contracts the virus. They impose the feeling that the disease we are facing is so difficult to get rid of.

They know very well that, if they do not fuel the scare, it is very difficult or impossible for them to make the masses yield to the measures under the guise of slowing down the epidemic, curtailments they brought on democratic rights and liberties, generalising new unfavourable working types such as flexible work, work from home and so on, new measures bringing loss of rights, an enormously big wave of lay-offs, tens of trillions of dollars funnelled to finance-capital under the guise of “reviving the economy.” In face of the large-scale devastation, the heights of the world bourgeoisie are making preparations to avoid a new surge of protests which have already been in place for some time. They are seeking to implement the “transformations” they consider necessary for the capitalist system to survive this crisis.

Through such a forced and wide-reaching lie they achieved to cause a massive eclipse of mind, a kind of paralysis, disorientation and despair, anxiety and panic among society. This wave of fear and panic took hold faster than the virus. And it created more harm in people’s minds, mood, the ways they behave and their expectations than what the virus is able to do in their bodies. However, one must take note of the fact that the reactions of different classes to this are different. While workers are also made to fear from the virus, they act under the obligation to work which in a certain way protects them from the suffocating effects of isolation.

Large sections of the working class have no luxury to close themselves to their homes and isolate! Since all over the world a large part of the working class has to wake up in the dark of the morning, go to work via crowded public transportation (or shuttle vehicles in similar conditions). So, calls for “social distancing” are meaningless since they work in close company with workmates in unhealthy conditions, having their badly prepared workplace meals in non-hygienic conditions. Even their right to go to the loo is limited by only once or twice. Under these conditions it is laughable to abide by calls such as “wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds”. And how about the fact that 3 billions of people across the world, let alone hygiene, lack even access to clean water?

To believe the arguments of the bourgeoisie and fall for the statements by its institutions covered with scientific veneer is unacceptable. There are two big fallacies that are widespread. First, that “we are faced with a big disaster”, that this pandemic is so fatal and that it poses a life-and-death threat for humanity. Second, that this pandemic plunged capitalism into a deep crisis with many facets including most notably the economic one. While some reiterate the bourgeois lie that the cause of the crisis is the pandemic, others argue that the pandemic triggered the crisis. We will dwell on these two points.

Unfortunately most of the socialist ranks are under the influence of the bourgeois ideological virus. Most of the explanations coming from the bourgeois heights about the seriousness and deadliness of the epidemic are accepted by socialists without questioning. Accepting the credibility of the claims by the authorities, a large part of the socialist movement voluntarily suspended their activities, meetings etc. This state of surrender went too far to demand more aggressive measures such as curfew from the government in a country like Turkey which is already ruled under a totalitarian regime. Could there be any more satisfying achievement for the bourgeoisie to be proud of and any better proof that it has achieved its goals by this campaign?

Petty-bourgeois intellectuals who claim to be socialists are particularly susceptible on two kinds of issues. First, those issues that are presented by the bourgeoisie as concerning “the whole humanity” and second, arguments disguised with scientific veneer. They can easily lower their guards in the name of progressivism when they are faced threats presented as big and realistic in appearance with supposedly high scientific veneer. As a result, the class division of society could be replaced with an abstract “humanity” and the fact that the state is an instrument of class rule and repression is ignored and expected to take measures in the interests of the whole public. This is the mindset behind demanding curfew from the governments. Such things are unacceptable from a revolutionary Marxist point of view. The bourgeoisie, and especially its commanding heights, never and ever leaves aside its own class interests and acts in the so-called common interests.

Covid-19 is not the cause of the crisis but the cover they use

The bourgeois economists always tend to explain crises on the basis of external factors rather than internal workings of the capitalist economy. Now they attempt to do the same with the present crisis. This time it is the coronavirus to blame. No, the crisis does not stem from coronavirus. It has already been maturing for quite some time, particularly in the realm of manufacture.

Since 2008 European economies have been in a bad shape with no recovery in sight. Even Germany which appears to be performing the best among them has not been able to avoid pains of near zero growth. In the last quarter of 2019 the annual growth was 0.1%, which is miserable. Another giant, Japan, recorded 7.1% contraction in the last quarter of 2019. Chinese economy has already been slowing down for the last couple of years. Enormous figures of growth have become a thing of the past for the Chinese capitalism. Only the US economy was a subject for the bourgeois economists to console themselves, but even there the growth rates were hardly above 2%. In the last quarter of 2019 both World Bank and IMF had to lower their forecasts for the growth rate of 2020 and declared 2020 would be a hard year. Demand was in decline, as well as retail sales. Consumer confidence index was either stable or in decline, prices of raw materials such as oil and copper that are crucial for industrial production, also being indicators, were in decline. Stocks were heaping up, while orders were in decline. Real wages were stagnant or in decline. While unemployment was fluctuating, even in those countries experiencing relatively higher growth rates there was no significant rise in employment. And debt of companies, states and households soared to unprecedented levels.

Ignoring these facts and attributing the economic collapse to the pandemic is not a slip but an intentional attempt to acquit capitalism. Although the means they employed to manage the 2008 crisis prevented a full-blown collapse, they did not do so with the poverty of the masses. On the contrary, because the burden was placed on the shoulders of the masses, what they experienced was an increased impoverishment, giving rise to social unrest and movements. The rulers are well aware that employing the same means once again in relation to the present crisis would not be consented easily by the masses. Therefore they present an exaggerated picture of the pandemic to give the impression that “this time it’s different”, in an effort to justify the measures they employ, which are portrayed as aiming at protecting the public health and subsistence. Under the pandemic scare they also seek to legitimize police state measures to suppress popular unrest that possibly would emerge against bailing-out of finance capital with trillions of dollars. We have already seen state of emergencies, mass quarantines, curfews implemented across the world. These are practices of state terrorism. So useful is the scare that even in those countries where the epidemic is at insignificant levels the governments seized the opportunity to impose state of emergency in the name of “preventing the epidemic before it is widespread.”

The heights of the finance capital seem to have understood that this time it is impossible to avoid a collapse. So they seek to soften it in a controlled way. They are busy deciding what to save from the fire and arranging the necessary funds for this bailout. Everywhere bourgeois governments and central banks declare new packages with the pretext of “preventing the pandemic from causing economic devastation.” Interest rates are being lowered to below zero levels. To avoid a cash crisis, they rush to make sure that there will be no shortage of available money. These measures are followed by others such as tax reductions, postponement of tax and debt payments and payment (by bosses) of obligatory social security premiums of workers, extension of short-time work and flexible work. The amount of money pumped has already come near to 10 trillion dollars and this seems not to be the end. Intervention of bourgeois states appears to be inevitable in order to prevent big business from going bankrupt, and bailout some of them by means of nationalising, and avert social explosion by handing out aid to the masses that are driven to joblessness and poverty.

There is no doubt that the heights of the capitalist class are pondering about the fate of capitalism and how it can be sustained. Leaving aside possible new suggestions around the debates of “sustainable capitalism”, we see nothing but worn-out means being proposed as panaceas: using fiscal policy means, that is, playing with tax rates and increasing public spending, temporarily lifting budget restrictions. In other words going back to Keynesian prescriptions! A growing number of bourgeois ideologues imply that the neo-liberal paradigm has gone bankrupt. But it is obvious that Keynesian recipes will not be a remedy for their malaise. Circumstances have changed for long; capitalism has been in decline for the last 20 years, credit mechanism has largely lost its efficiency as a mechanism for getting over crises, and brought the system with a problem of unbearably massive debts. Total debt in the world as of the beginning of 2020 (including household debt) is more than 257 trillion dollars which is more than three times the world GDP (322%). The incredible amount of money pumped out by the bourgeois states piles up the mountains of debt, paving the way for high inflation.

While the pandemic has been turned into a veil covering the capitalist crisis, it is also being used as a means for imperialist rivalry. As in the example of the USA and China imperialist-capitalist powers are waging a war of attrition against one another. This crisis has demonstrated the uncertainty of the fate of the EU. As a matter of fact it is essentially an economic union and cracking under serious problems brought by the historical crisis of capitalism. And while the EU looks to be in a miserable state of disintegration, China and Russia are lending a hand to Italy in a show of strength. While the USA fails to assume a role of global leadership in the struggle against the crisis and France and Germany leaves Italy alone, Chinese imperialism is in search of turning the crisis into an advantage for itself. What all these show is that the capitalist crisis in 2020 aggravates the hegemony crisis of imperialist system as well.

End of globalisation?

For some of the bourgeois ideologues, left-wing academics, and some socialist groups this crisis means the end of globalisation. There is no doubt that while the way capital operates levels up the international integration and fusion of the world economy, it also globalises the impact of the capitalist crisis making it much more devastating. However it is inconceivable for capitalism to roll back to a backward stage in terms of globalisation wherein countries have become parts of a global production line.

In the mindset of bourgeois ideologues it is out of question for the humanity to overcome capitalism and open the way for a classless society. For them, despite everything, capitalism will survive and capitalist relations will keep on somehow. Their message is clear: there is no alternative other than capitalism!

It is quite possible that the bourgeoisie can present certain measures put into practice these days as “system change.” However, no matter what they do, they cannot abolish harsh contradictions created by capitalism. It is impossible to invent an elixir of life for a system which is experiencing the agony of its historical deadlock. The most reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie imagine a kind of capitalism under totalitarian regimes with dystopian imagery and seek to legitimise this based on the pandemic and so on.

Capitalism is at an impasse, the only way out is socialism

Capitalism has entered an era of impasse which we call historical system crisis of capitalism. In uniting the fate of the world, capitalist globalisation has ripened and generalised the crisis of capitalism. In today’s world all major areas of problems from economy to ecology, from healthcare to immigration etc. require international cooperation, action in coordination, joint global decisions and international mechanisms capable of implementing these decisions. But in capitalism such international mechanisms cannot be created, since capitalism means a world divided into nation-states in rivalry with one another. With the pandemic they paralysed the daily lives of people, numbed their consciousness and made the fear from the pandemic the only agenda. But everything exists with their opposites. This way they opened the way for a more widespread understanding of the common fate of humanity. In this sense it is possible to say that we are entering a new era in which nation-states, capitalist institutions and the way things are under capitalism will be called to question in a more serious way.

Although the inflated fear based on the pandemic caused pacification among workers it is obvious that this cannot be maintained forever. It would be a denial of class struggle to think that in a world where contradictions are getting shaper the plans of bourgeois summits could be fully realised. Capitalism has tied economic, political, social, environmental problems into a single knot. The calamities brought about by capitalism, most notably the break-up of healthcare systems, prepare the ground for the working people to question the order. These calamities reinforce the ground of the idea that the fate of humanity is common, and that without the struggle of the working class and overthrow of capitalism there will be no salvation for humanity. Remember, since the 2008 crisis there has been an intensifying questioning of the system among the youth in advanced capitalist countries. The wave of protests and revolts for the last 20 years, which went rampant in last 2 years, was also a manifestation of the unease with capitalism. The present economic devastation will inevitably gear up the discontent with capitalism. For now the working masses are frightened and locked into their homes, but in the upcoming days it will be seen that fear is useless to feed the stomachs and discontent with capitalism will surface across the world. And this is what the bourgeoisie fears and seeks to avert.