No 1573 21st March 2020
Bourgeois propaganda pretends Corona crisis is transient, “all over” this year. It is a TOTAL LIE. Money pumping and credit swamping is a desperate response to the triggered CATASTROPHE of capitalist crisis caused by the contradictions inherent in a system of production for private profit starting long before the virus. Bailing out is to rescue private business just as the banks were rescued at ordinary peoples’ expense, with just enough for some workers to lull the public (with fake-“left” help) to prevent revolt. Far worse coming as inflation lets rip from insane credit creation. Economic meltdown has festered for decades, since 2008 global crash especially. This simply the next phase. Pandemic impact severe but containable by organised and planned socialism as China shows in contrast to the chaos, indifference and class callousness of rotten capitalist individualist society where “every man for himself” rules. Socialist revolution is urgently needed with Leninist leadership
The crashing markets and international paralysis triggered (but not caused) by the Corona pandemic sharply pose the revolutionary question more urgently than ever before.
The heart of it is the need for the working class to take over everything putting all production into collective ownership as the only way forwards for normal and rational humanity.
The entire world economy needs to be taken out of the hands of the tyrannical and degenerate profit makers and exploiters who have brought us to this disastrous meltdown with their outmoded and grotesquely unequal “free market” system, so that it can be used fairly and equally, in a coordinated international manner, to solve the pandemic problem firstly, and then the much greater Slump disaster it is precipitating.
Only establishing the firmest of workers state control can allow the rational planning, use and distribution of resources, both domestically and internationally, in the common interest, to deal with this desperate emergency and with the much greater agony and pain to come.
China has already shown how coordinated planning and direction of resources backed by the centralised power and control of a workers state can rapidly take the right actions to shut down this danger as the EPSR has already explained (No 1571 12-02-20).
Its popularly supported moves to impose firm discipline on the population, in the collective interest of all, while mobilising all the necessary resources of the economy and society for the emergency response, have managed to shut down the pandemic completely with now zero new cases reported.
The efforts continue, to monitor the population and prevent inevitable new outbreaks taking hold, while gradually reestablishing normal life and production.
More generally it has seen off numerous counter-revolutionary provocations trying to stir up dissent and hysteria just as China has resisted many past provocations such as the monstrous 1989 Tian an Men “democracy” stunt trying to provoke a “bloody crackdown” (and failing) and the non-stop similar Western organised “protests” in Hong Kong (now also controlling the virus well under essentially Chinese overall authority).
But even this excellent example, China, is only halfway towards the understanding required for mankind to climb out of the oncoming economic Armageddon, its leadership perspectives still muddled by the long revisionist retreat from the grasp of revolution as the urgent need for all mankind everywhere.
Just the opposite, it continues to sustain many of the permanent “peaceful road” and democratic paths” delusions first emerging under Stalin’s leadership in the Soviet Union, (see EPSR book 21 Unanswered Polemics) which led ultimately to the bureaucratic philosophical mindrot which saw Gorbachevism liquidate the Soviet Union’s workers dictatorship in favour of the “free market” in 1989.
And although Beijing seems not to have fallen that far into bureaucratic complacency, in part because of the lessons learned from the Russians’ disastrous experiences with raw restored capitalism, it never explains and makes clear to the world’s working class that its own strength lies in running and defending the dictatorship of the proletariat, established in 1949 after 20 years of bitter and heroic revolutionary war and maintained since, despite the extensive use of capitalist investment and methods in the economy to stimulate growth as directed by overall workers state control.
Nor does it offer any explanation for the world of the weakness and inevitable collapse of the international capitalist system which makes world revolution a vital and urgent necessity, instead following a “don’t rock the boat” line which can even verge into collaboration with imperialism on issues like the ludicrous “war on terror” (a misreading of the overall anti-imperialism that emerging “terrorism” and “jihadism” constitute, despite often appalling backwardness and reactionary ideology).
Yet the rapidly imploding imperialist world is making ever more clear that the Leninist perspective which puts revolution as the core of understanding, is more crucial than it has ever been.
And an essential part of that is explaining that the pain and turmoil of this pandemic is only the beginning of the great unfolding disaster caused by capitalism and the international antagonisms of its collapsing system which have been heading into Slump disaster for decades, and especially since the 2008 global bank collapse, while ramping up belligerent trade war tensions and international conflict.
For although the dizzying panic and fearfulness around the Corona virus is one thing, the crashing of the Stock Markets and currency exchanges is something else again.
The Covid-19 crisis is certainly sharply exposing the paralysed incompetence, venality and callousness of the ruling class as it flounders and flusters over the pandemic, and it exposes how its grotesque inequality and relentless profiteering has left hundreds of millions of people in dire danger (not least through running down social services and the NHS in Britain etc but also around the brutally and endlessly exploited Third World) but it is far from the whole story.
It must be repeated that real and damaging as this severe and sudden blow to the world economic production and daily life might be, it is not the cause of the unfolding disaster.
That is the rotten state of the capitalist system itself, ripe with overproduction and “capital surplus” and teetering for years on the edge of just the kind of financial disaster now unfolding as Marxism has always explained (see page 6 box).
The world is facing the greatest “free market” crash in all history as this filthy, exploitative and vicious system hits the buffers, tangled in its internal contradictions.
It is a crisis brewing since long before the Covid-19 virus had made its jump from animal to man (if that is really its origin, of which there can be major doubts too in a world where capitalist tyranny has long experimented with the ghastliest biological warfare for its barbaric control, and used it many times against such hated communist countries as Cuba).
Only Leninism has consistently warned the working class of the apocalyptic nature of the great crisis crash coming, against the complacency and smugness of the class collaborating TUC/Labourite opportunists as well as the entire fake-“left” and its pretend revolutionism, always larded with mockery of “Catastrophism” and dismissal of “old hat Marxism”, pandering to shallow anti-communist philistinism in the working class (“who will just be put off by the word ‘socialism’” it is alleged) while tailending backward empire-legacy illusions in British exceptionalism and Brexit chauvinism in the petty bourgeoisie and into the working class.
It is usually allied to hostility to the workers states even from those few groups notionally supporting China, North Korea Cuba etc, who nevertheless hang back from stating clearly their workers state nature yet revisionist weaknesses (the museum-Stalinist line refusing to analyse past errors and difficulties out of its own fears and incapacity).
Well, there is a catastrophe now, and it is one going far beyond the immediate pandemic, as Stock Markets plunge and enterprises and whole industries are wiped out, unemployment suddenly escalates and destitution and even death threatens millions in even the rich West (let alone the refugee camps and Third World sweatshops and plantations, where even such creaking medical systems as the NHS are just a fantasy and the grind of exploitation by the Western monopolies keeps tens of millions in already disease-ridden poverty and degradation).
Like the 1929 Crash this seemingly sudden disaster is the prelude to a great Depression far beyond the already painful austerity of the last twelve years and the further pandemic agony of the next few months.
The bourgeois want to use the pandemic as an excuse, playing “heroic Winston Churchill” (in fact a nasty fascist himself) games on a “war footing” trying to distract attention from the real cataclysm and the responsibility of this greed ridden and degenerate ruling class for the coming slump.
Some bourgeois economists at least are reminding everyone that there is much more to this than a pandemic shutdown:
As economists begin to predict what the global economic effects of Covid-19 will be, the danger is we play up the economic damage of the virus while hiding the deep-rooted sources of our contemporary financial doldrums.
It is inevitable that economic forecasts of the impact of Covid-19 on the global economy are being revised daily, if not hourly. It is right that economic forecasters should be updating their predictions. But we all need to keep in mind that these revised forecasts are little more than guesswork – however sophisticated their computer modelling might be.
The division of labour between health officials and economic experts is increasingly being blurred. Health officials are being asked about economic impacts, while economists are being called to make predictions about the impact of the disease. Health and economics are being conflated, which is confusing for all; what should be treated as a medical emergency is increasingly becoming a sphere for urgent government economic bailouts and politics aimed at alleviating the fall-out of lockdowns.
...The world economy was already in deep ill-health before anyone had even heard of Covid-19. Losing sight of this means the remedies on offer might be good at stemming the symptoms of a problem, but they ignore the underlying cause, the real source of the malaise, which will remain untreated. This will be worse in the long run than any short-term dislocations we are forced to endure.
The world economy has been, if not on life-support, terminally ill for years. Global growth – and especially advanced-economy growth – this year was already dismal, and has been for many years. Forecasts for this year were already pretty downbeat before most people were aware of the word ‘coronavirus’.
The illness is the result of years of diminishing business investment in new technologies and ways of operating, and the propping up by governments of companies that should have gone out of business. The end result? Almost stagnant productivity.
People at work are no longer producing more in the same time. This is a significant break from the dominant pattern during the past two centuries.
It is also what has led to the increased dependence on debt and financialisation. The 2008 crash confirmed the fragility of economic systems that rely too much on borrowing and too little on creating new wealth. We are not in permanent recession, but we are stuck in a cycle of financial crises. Between the crashes, debt keeps things ticking along.
The unstable dissonance between the financial and productive economies – reflected in inflated stock markets – reveals an adjustment was inevitable.
The biggest unknown, is whether the current market ‘adjustment’ will develop into a bigger financial implosion which will lead to a global recession.
One prediction you can be sure of, whatever happens: everyone will be quick to blame this on Covid-19, not the underlying structural weakness of the global system. The real patient will be ignored by immediate palliatives. But unless – and until – the terminally ill global economy is given a real reboot.
What this piece does not answer is why there is a “lack of investment” when there is more unused capital and credit sloshing around the system than at any time in history?
To which the answer can only be surely, “because it cannot make a profit”.
The declining ability to make private profit is always the condition that the system tends towards as it accumulates ever greater mountains of capital (Volume 3 Capital), all trying to chase the same finite market (which becomes a diminishing one as soon as the spiral of collapse and vicious to-the-death trade war begins).
The incapacity of the market to sustain all production at a profit is a fundamental contradiction in the capitalist private profit system that brings it to an unsolvable, intractable state of paralysis, resolved in the capitalist framework only by a Slump and collapse, accompanied by destruction and bankruptcy on a vast scale, wiping out the “surplus”.
Once early competitive capitalism became late monopoly capitalism (see Lenin’s Imperialism) by non-stop ever further concentration of enterprises these Slumps over the last 120 year have meant barbaric mass slaughter, as in the two twentieth century world wars.
Another is coming in some form or other, in fact is already underway partially since little Serbia was blitzkrieged, and obviously so with the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions.
And no amount of boosting and stimulus to companies, bailouts and “helicopter money” can change it, nor crowing by the fake-“left” that “austerity is over”.
This is the biggest and most dramatic CATASTROPHE of the capitalist system in 800 years and its implications are mindbending as other economists declare in lurid terms:
The US Federal Reserve has been attempting to stop investor panic with its emergency actions, but those moves are like firing “a water gun” when we need “a bazooka,” Tobin Smith, CEO of Transformity Research, believes.
Speaking to RT’s Boom Bust, the analyst said that the real problem is in the US debt market, as there is four times as much debt than there was in 2008-2009.
“This is as a financial disaster, as a health disaster and as an economic disaster – is like we got three neutron bombs dropped on us,” Smith warned. “First we obviously have the coronavirus and the pandemic, then we’ve got the oil pandemic... and then the third bomb is the government sitting around doing sort of half measures when we’ve essentially had a virtual economic attack.”
Those factors have equal ripple effects across all the financial system and have already plunged the country into a recession, he noted, adding that the S&P Index can drop to 1,600 points. And now Washington needs to deliver another “neutron bomb that offsets the neutron bomb that had been exploded into our system,” according to Smith.
This echoes the dire descriptions given by Alistair Darling of the 2008 implosion which brought the world to the edge of a “financial nuclear winter”.
And there is good reason, since the unfolding disaster is only an extension of the same breakdown, not some “new crisis” as the bourgeois press calls it and much of the shallow fake-“left” who have never understood the meaning of “crisis”, seeing it only as a “bump in the road” and not the paralysing total cataclysm of a system that cannot move forwards except into barbarism and war chaos.
The global bank failure 12 years ago, was only deferred by the Quantitative Easing and interest rate cuts of the time, and was always going to return as the EPSR has constantly warned for decades (see EPSRs No1 -1572), in the struggle to keep Leninist politics alive.
And 2008 itself was the culmination of a long developing crisis of the bourgeois system, brewing ever since the end of the Second World War (itself caused by the 1930s collapse) when the horrifying destruction of much of Europe, the USSR, south-east Asia and Japan had for a moment “unclogged” the system of its “surplus capacity” allowing a spurt of growth, dominated by now top-dog imperialist power, the US.
As Marxism explains, it is “overproduction” which leads the system into periodic slump to “correct” the accumulated capital surplus by bankruptcy and downturn, throwing millions of workers into destitution and wiping out rivals, and which in the monopoly capitalist historical phase has become all out physical destruction in World Wars.
Since the US took the top dog position in 1945, the contradictions have built up to a pitch of tension and stretched out world production on an unprecedented scale, drawn out to astonishing levels of overproduction by endless dollar printing credit creation by the Empire (which made sure it controls the world “reserve” currency), giving it overwhelming monopoly dominance and allowing it to put off and defer all the periodic slump “corrections” which would once have released the pressure (albeit at enormous physical cost).
The long drawn out Cold War with the Soviet Union was part of the process, its ultimately artificial “balance” drawing things along even further, as the US Empire printed ever more dollars to bribe and subsidise endless numbers of tinpot local fascist stooges and brutal wars like Vietnam, to keep communism at bay and its exploitation roaring along – the Duvaliers in Haiti, Marcos in the Philippines, the South Vietnamese regimes, General Augosto Pinochet in Chile, and many others in Latin America, Sadat and Mubarak in Egypt, the brutal generals in Turkey and Greece, the Shah in Iran, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Park Chung-hee for South Korea and above all the Zionist thuggery in the Middle East suppressing the whole region etc etc etc etc.
After initial post-WW2 plans to destroy their industrial competitiveness, American power even revived its own major rivals like defeated Japanese and German imperialism and its European satellites (Italy, Austria the Netherlands etc) not to mention Britain, all suitably saturated in dollar subventions and investments as blocs against communism.
The great contradictions brewing under the surface have constantly reached near breaking point in partial and regional collapses over decades (Nixon’s US dollar gold standard disconnect in 1971, 1974’s oil price hike, Black Monday 1987, multiple repeated Latin American breakdowns and cartel chaos, Asian currency failures, Japan collapse and stagnation, post-Soviet Russian bankruptcy, dotcom boom collapse and the turn to war in Iraq etc etc etc etc) and erupted fully in 2008’s global banking failure.
Insane levels of even more credit creation in the Quantitative Easing programme and slashed interest rates once more “rescued” the system from the threatened “financial nuclear winter” as then Chancellor Alistair Darling described it.
But that was always going to implode again. It is now going to tear lives apart across the planet as it comes back.
In fact it never went away, despite the complacency of the middle class and the fake-“left”, certainly not for many of the austerity hammered sections of the working class driven into the floor by local authority cuts, housing shortages, zero-hours exploitation, universal credit sanctions savagery, Grenfell-style profiteering (facilitated by government cuts in design, oversight, regulations and regulatory inspection etc) leaving millions in nightly terror in potential firetrap tower blocks, and of course the running down and privatisations of the NHS.
Even less did it get solved for the Third World and its near slave driven populations living amidst the worst exploitation, eco-devastation, Western dumped refuse pollution and unsanitary conditions, leaving hundreds of millions subject not just to Corona virus but waves of other epidemics too like Ebola, and even basic health risks like dirty drinking water, without any health services at all, let alone an overstretched NHS, to protect them (and that not least because their best and most educated have all been poached to keep the unsustainable Western medical system going anyway, because it fails to train its own people).
Utter Slump breakdown was only temporarily suspended by the Quantitative Easing money printing of the last twelve years which has just about kept the plates spinning for the ultra-rich, their bailed-out banks (courtesy of working class taxation) and the big monopoly corporations.
But under the bonnet it has simply intensified the contradictions making things far worse, so that the re-emergence of the crisis is now even more devastating.
This is what underlies the sheer panic wiping out markets.
And this is what will continue now, unsolvable by whatever levels of QE or new reserves or borrowing are pumped in as the US Federal Reserve immediately discovered when it announced one-and-one-half trillion (!!!!!!!) dollar injections only to see the markets plunge another ten per cent.
Or now the Bank of England, pouring in the equivalent of 9% of British GDP and slashing interest rates to 0.1%, a level at which depositors are paying to have their money held, once inflation is taken into account.
And does anyone truly believe that such insanity will save the system from further collapse???? If it was such a simple solution why was the banking system trying to “wean itself off” QE for the last three years and restore interest rates (which are, after all at the heart of capital and its “right” to “earn money” ie filch a share of the surplus value produced by workers’ labour (the only source of value)???)
Massive inflation must surely result – or some other financial armageddon.
It needs another Karl Marx with an even bigger brain to study it for the exact shape of the oncoming disaster to be understood, but even such a figure armed with the best computers, would have no time before this becomes the most hair-raising world cataclysm.
It is in this light that the unfolding Corona crisis needs to be understood and the cynical pretence by the ruling class that it is the pandemic which is the problem.
Not at all; beyond the obvious immediate impact of self-isolation etc there is no reason why total economic panic should be underway because of the disease.
A worldwide planned economy, which will be achieved when the great class war struggles to come have finally ended the tyranny of imperialist domination and its endless sucking dry of the working class and all that the Third World possesses and produces, could take such natural disasters in its stride; obviously feeling the production impact at the time but able to mobilise the entire world’s efforts to quickly recover (a world in which every human would be rational, capable, educated and competent, ready and willing to do all it takes to lift everyone else back on keel), just as in embryo, “Red” China has already demonstrated is possible (and others too like Cuba, held back from demonstrating its full potential by the savagery of the American economic blockade, trying to strangle its altruistic communist example (in sending doctors worldwide for example)).
And even in capitalism it is not inevitable; the 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed 50 million and obviously hit production hard at the time, nevertheless did not precipitate the great Wall Street Crash, which came 10 years later after a decade of Roaring Twenties boomtime (in America at least).
No capital surpluses were choking the system sufficiently in the immediate wake of the Great War because they had been blown to pieces (along with millions of workers).
But now there is a great Crash far deeper and more widespread than in all history because of the crisis mechanism built into capitalism.
And the revolutionary theory that explains it, and knows the answer in the total overthrow of capitalism and the building of communism, grows more important by the minute as the collapse in the economy and social conditions spirals downwards into a vortex of bankruptcy and paralysis.
It also explains that there is no way out of it except to take up the revolutionary struggle against this vile and arrogant system, with its monstrous playacting “concern”, the most disgusting hypocrisy and cover-up pretence which even as people are choking to death in the hospitals is plotting its next trade war moves and the World War destruction being prepared by the ruling class as its “way out” of the total breakdown of its system:
The Pentagon completed a “mini-exercise” last week in which “Russia decides to use a low-yield limited nuclear weapon against a site on NATO territory,” to which U.S. forces responded with a “limited” nuclear response.
Russian politicians expressed anger at the exercise, accusing the Pentagon of reckless nuclear fear-mongering, The Moscow Times reported.
Among them was Alexander Sherin, the second most senior member of the lower house State Duma’s defense committee. He told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that the American goal was to “get the population used to such an inconceivable conflict resolution scenario as a Russian-NATO nuclear strike.”
“The second goal is to intimidate Europe’s population and justify the presence of American bases on their territory as guarantors of security,” Sherin added.
The deputy of the State Duman, Alexey Chepa, also suggested the exercise was primarily aimed at America’s European allies. He described the drill as “a good PR campaign” for the U.S., and part of President Donald Trump’s administration’s efforts to pressure its allies into higher military spending, RIA Novosti noted.
Sergei Tsekov, a member of the upper house Federal Council’s foreign affairs committee, said the American military officials were behaving like “sick people.” Federal Council defense committee member Olga Kovitdi branded the U.S. a master of “bluffing and imitations,” RBC reported.
Experts warned that the limited nuclear strike—using tactical nuclear weapons—concept is dangerous as it undermines the notion of Mutually Assured Destruction, and makes an atomic exchange more likely.
The Trump administration has signaled its intention to increase research into and production of tactical nuclear weapons to close the gap with Russia, which is believed to have some 2,000 such warheads deployed.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon said it has deployed at least one low-yield nuclear warhead on a submarine.
Nuclear cooperation has been degrading since Trump came into office. The president withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges from 310 miles to 3,417 miles. Both the U.S. and Russia have now tested weapons that would not have been allowed under the accord.
The great “bailouts” of Bank credit and subsidies announced so far by a panicked bourgeoisie in a desperate attempt to repeat the unrepeatable moves of 2008, are currently the sickest expression of contempt for workers and the hard-pressed “small business” petty bourgeoisie, (being driven down into the poor proletariat ranks exactly as Marxism analyses despite decades of being told that “Marx got that wrong then”).
Far from fighting “a war on the virus” these have been trying to rescue only the corporations and monopolies as was clear even two weeks ago in the Tory Budget, leaving austerity hammered workers and communities under same economic cosh as for the last decade with child poverty, uncertainty, shitty schools, and shittier housing, crime, drug and alcohol wreckage and desperation everywhere.
As the initial responses to the pandemic indicated, the real issue for the ruling class has never been “rescuing and protecting the people” but only safeguarding the wealth and privilege of the ultra-rich with its luxury and exclusive private personal medical facilities (and keeping the upper middle class on side with their middle tier private insurance).
The rest? – they should “expect their loved ones to die” in the Goldfinger-like phrase of Boris Johnson, destined to go down in history alongside Marie Antoinette’s cake instructions and the violin playing of Emperor Nero.
This indifference for the masses, born of the arrogance, privilege and contempt of an increasingly parasitical ruling class in an ever more unequal and unfair society, was even more cynically expressed by the monstrous Nazi-empire White House which first of all wrote off the crisis as “fake news” and then after waking up slightly, used it to shut down air travel to and from Europe, a move of no medical intent at all given the extraordinary exemption of Britain from the edict, but done simply to ramp up the international scapegoating aggression and trade war of its America First bullying in which the European bloc is increasingly targeted, as part of the inter-imperialist antagonisms driving the world towards war.
Again it is Leninist science which has constantly pointed to this contradiction, against the fake-“left” who continue either to fail to see such tensions at all – because they cannot see or understand the crisis, or don’t want to for fear of its revolutionary implications – or to mechanically declare that the coming world war is a straight line process of surrounding Russia and China to “stop socialism”.
Apart from the ludicrous equating of Putin’s gangster oligarch-dominated Russian capitalist restoration with the old Soviet Union implied in this, its even bigger mistake is the suggestion that world events are following a path towards war set out deliberately and calmly by US imperialism.
While certainly the Empire is on a path to world war and certainly is constantly plotting and meddling to maintain or expand its domination, spending $ tens of billions on its CIA and other foul subversion and dirty ops, psyops and cyber ops, complete with a full panoply of torture, disappearances, assassination, massacre, coup creation and counter-revolutionary “colour revolutions” where it can, (at least 450 such operations since 1945), this wooden view of a plotted path to WW3 is completely defeatist, giving the imperialist system far too much credit for its supposed all-powerful control, when what needs constantly emphasising is its weakness, incoherence and fearfulness, and on the other side the growing coherence, competence and fighting spirit of world revolt.
This is the same awe of imperialism leading to all the daft theories about “the CIA really carried out 9/11; the revolts in the Middle East are all CIA/Zionist operations; and in fact all jihadism is set up and run by the West, and is just reaction or outright mercenary operations”, which suggests there is not really a seething sea of anti-Western hatred and rebellion growing daily, but only a super-Machiavellian imperialism so in control that it even organises the revolts against itself, from Hamas in Gaza to the growing upheavals throughout the Sahel and West Africa, presumably just for entertainment.
Apart from anything else this is totally racist contempt for the billions who are implied to be too compliant and primitive actually to organise any such rebellion themselves (see EPSR 1146 30-07-02). But the panicked and changing response to the virus pandemic, and the completely inadequate policies now being followed suggest anything but coherence.
Suddenly having to catch up, using a credit stimulus, because all the economic system is crumbling following the kick give by this disaster – and because of the appalled disbelief of the petty bourgeoisie it needs to keep on side – the ruling class incompetence is further and further exposed.
It has tried blaming the Chinese from the beginning with slanders and sneers about its “authoritarianism” but this has failed dismally as Beijing has demonstrated calm confidence, and so lately the West has changed its tune to blaming them for “not telling the world in time” and “suppressing the truth”. But a slew of expert doctors and practitioners have pointed out this is not the case:
In 2003, Chinese officials were heavily criticised for keeping the dangers of a new viral disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), secret. By 2020, a new generation of Chinese doctors and scientists had learned their lesson. Under immense pressure, as the novel coronavirus epidemic exploded around them, they took time to write up their findings in a foreign language and seek publication in a medical journal thousands of miles away. Their rapid and rigorous work was an urgent warning to the world. We owe those scientists enormous thanks.
On 24 January, [they] described how a strange series of cases of pneumonia had presented in December in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people and the capital of Hubei province. At that time, 800 cases of the new disease had been confirmed. The virus had already been exported to Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
Most of the 41 people described in this first report, published in the Lancet, presented with non-specific symptoms of fever and cough. More than half had difficulties in breathing. But most worryingly of all, a third of these patients had such a severe illness that they had to be admitted to an intensive care unit. Half died.
The Chinese scientists pulled no punches. “The number of deaths is rising quickly,” they wrote. The provision of personal protective equipment for health workers was strongly recommended. Testing for the virus should be done immediately a diagnosis was suspected. They concluded that the mortality rate was high. And they urged careful surveillance of this new virus in view of its “pandemic potential”.
That was in January.
But medical and scientific advisers to the UK government ignored their warnings.
The scientists advising ministers seemed to believe that this new virus could be treated much like influenza. Graham Medley, one of the government’s expert scientific advisers, was disarmingly explicit. In an interview on Newsnight last week, he explained the UK’s approach: to allow a controlled epidemic of large numbers of people, which would generate “herd immunity”. Our scientists recommended “a situation where the majority of the population are immune to the infection. And the only way of developing that, in the absence of a vaccine, is for the majority of the population to become infected.”
Medley suggested that, “ideally”, we might need “a nice big epidemic” among the less vulnerable. “What we are going to have to try and do,” he said, was to “manage this acquisition of herd immunity and minimise the exposure of people who are vulnerable.” Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, suggested that the target was to infect 60% of the UK’s population.
After weeks of inaction, the government announced a sudden U-turn on Monday, declaring that new modelling by scientists at Imperial College had convinced them to change their initial plans. Many journalists, led by the BBC, reported that “the science had changed” and so the government had responded accordingly. But this interpretation of events is wrong. The science has been the same since January.
Indeed, it didn’t need this week’s predictions by Imperial College scientists to estimate the impact of the government’s complacent approach. Any numerate school student could make the calculation. With a mortality of 1% among 60% of a population of some 66 million people, the UK could expect almost 400,000 deaths. The huge wave of critically ill patients that would result from this strategy would quickly overwhelm the NHS.
The UK’s best scientists have known since that first report from China that Covid-19 was lethal. Yet they did too little, too late.
The virus quickly made its way to Europe. Italy was the first European country to suffer huge human losses. On 12 March, two Italian researchers, Andrea Remuzzi and Giuseppe Remuzzi, set out the lessons of their tragic experience. Italy’s health service simply could not cope. They did not have the capacity of intensive care beds to deal with the scale of infection and its consequences. They predicted that by mid-April their health system would be overwhelmed. The mortality of patients with severe infection was high. A fifth of health workers were becoming infected, and some were dying.
They described the situation in Italy as an unmanageable catastrophe. They wrote: “These considerations might also apply to other European countries that could have similar numbers of patients infected and similar needs regarding intensive care admissions.” And yet the UK continued with its strategy of encouraging the epidemic and the goal of herd immunity.
Something has gone badly wrong in the way the UK has handled Covid-19. I know Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Patrick Vallance. I have the utmost respect for both. They have had the services of some of the most talented researchers in the world to draw on. But somehow there was a collective failure among politicians and perhaps even government experts to recognise the signals that Chinese and Italian scientists were sending. We had the opportunity and the time to learn from the experience of other countries. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the UK missed those signals. We missed those opportunities.
In due time, there must be a reckoning. I sat with the director general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in Geneva in February. He was in despair. Tedros had been criticised for not calling a public health emergency of international concern sooner. But when he did and when he asked for the modest sum of $675m to help the WHO combat the growing global pandemic his pleas were ignored.
The UK is now taking the right actions to defeat this new epidemic. But we have lost valuable time. There will be deaths that were preventable.
The system failed. I don’t know why.
• Richard Horton is a doctor and edits the Lancet
But the “failure” is down to the indifference and arrogance of a ruling class which has changed tack only because of a much dismayed public, and more importantly, the danger it senses that such outrage could quickly escalate in the way that the Poll Tax hostility turned to rioting.
And the dismay was backed with plenty of expertise (aside from invoking the name of Churchill obviously, as vicious an imperialist as any, and as arrogantly repressive and brutal against the working class as any of the current crew):
I could not agree more with Richard Horton (Scientists have been sounding the alarm on coronavirus for months. Why did Britain fail to act?, 18 March). Watching from 6,000 miles away and on the other side of the coronavirus curve, the British government’s actions over the last week have been almost impossible to take in.
Thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of deaths predicted in the UK? South Korea, China, Japan, and Taiwan have a combined population about 24 times the UK’s, had less warning, and have recorded fewer than 3,500 deaths between them (WHO situation report, 18 March).
Many months in a state of economically devastating shutdown? With extensive testing and contact tracing now in place, life is moving back towards normal here in China after less than two months. The other countries mentioned above never shut down to the same extent in the first place.
The British government has given every impression of not being aware by what means, nor how successfully, the coronavirus has to date been contained around us in east Asia, concerns in the press about Japan’s testing rate notwithstanding. It’s baffling. I wasn’t expecting to worry about my older relatives and friends back home in the UK.
Adrian Rowland Shenzhen, China
As the editor of a leading medical journal, Richard Horton has to pull his political punches, but it is probably as clear to him as to others that this is a government out of its depth, with little idea of social security or public health. Having dismantled both so effectively in the past decade, how could it have any respect for these assets?
Almost exactly 80 years ago, facing the threat of annihilation, the Tories and Labour joined forces to create a national government, which lasted until the end of the war. That is what should happen now, including representatives of all political parties.
Dr Sebastian Kraemer London
In the light of the articles by Aditya Chakrabortty (Opinion, 18 March; he writes that “Johnson’s team are masters of the three-word slogan”) and Richard Horton (suggesting that the science has not changed), perhaps the three-word slogan to describe the actions of the government so far is “let them die”. At least Marie Antoinette allowed cake to be consumed, showing perhaps greater intelligence and compassion than our ministers.
With three aged relatives under our care, as well as a vulnerable daughter, we have long since been following guidance from sources other than the government. We fail to see how any of the financial measures being introduced will help to support any of the smaller businesses and entrepreneurs, on whose existence people depend for employment. Let us hope that better minds and leaders will surface to help us out of this crisis.
David McLaughlin Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey
As one headless chicken moment follows another, it is like a rerun of the utterly useless Chamberlain government of 1940, but without Churchill waiting in the wings.
Michael Grainger St Albans, Hertfordshire
Richard Horton has rightly excoriated Britain’s chief scientific advisers for their catastrophic mishandling of the coronavirus epidemic. I was a scientific expert once, and the one thing you know for sure is that you don’t know all the answers in complex situations. I could be in the hot seat during simulation exercises to decide what action to take when, for example, a massive leak had created a radioactive cloud moving towards an urban area.
Even in a simulation, it’s still terrifying when you have to make decisions that might, if wrong, result in thousands of avoidable deaths. You would never ignore all the accumulated knowledge for how best to deal with just such a situation and recommend a different response that had never been tried before. That just this has happened reveals a fundamental lack of good process at the top of government, where alternative views are either not sought or are rejected out of hand. The stables must be cleaned before the next emergency.
Dr Bruce Tofield London
The government has a goal of 25,000 coronavirus tests a day. This is not an effective use of resources. The attempt to contain the virus has failed. We need to stop chasing after the problem and get ahead of it instead. There is an urgent need for an antibody test that can tell if a person has had the virus and is immune to it. Such people, if well, can then go back to work and keep the country functioning. The current policy of isolation of positive testers merely leads to total shutdown.
Dr David Richardson Retired GP, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
On the day China announces there are no new cases of coronavirus, the UK government’s chief medical adviser still tells us that if social distancing measures are done “too early” there is “almost an immeasurable impact on the epidemic” (Politics live blog, 19 March). If China had acted just one week earlier it would have reduced its cases by 66%. Now is not the time to continue defending a bankrupt theory that the World Health Organization termed wrong and dangerous. The government needs to follow its advice on effective measures without delay.
Professor Greg Philo Glasgow University
David Edgerton’s article (When it comes to national emergencies, Britain has a tradition of cold calculation, 17 March) gives a chilling account of the British government’s “willingness to preside over catastrophic losses of life” during second world war bombing and nuclear tensions in the 1950s. It could also be described as a callous willingness to sacrifice ordinary people and avoid expense to the moneyed classes. Could this reflex account for the UK’s painfully slow and seemingly grudging steps in tackling Covid-19? Testing all suspected cases and closing businesses and schools are expensive measures. There was much less hesitation in bailing out financial institutions in 2008.
Scott Wilson St Andrews, Fife
It’s a bit rich having to read a Conservative government full-page advert (Guardian print edition, 17 March) which says “protect yourself, others and the NHS” after these very people have spent a decade in their ideological drive to cut and privatise our health and social care services.
It’s quite clear that Boris Johnson and his ministers now realise that our health service, which their party has decimated, will have a hard job coping with this crisis. That’s why we get the nonsense of “delaying and flattening the curve” and achieving “herd immunity” through a Darwinian selection of the fittest.
The answer is clear, and it’s testing, testing and more testing, as the World Health Organisation argues. But because of cuts we not only have just a third of the intensive care beds that Germany has, we now don’t have the testing kit or respirators needed, and we don’t produce them either. Meanwhile medical professionals go unprotected as they treat us.
Dave Green Northampton
Even looking at the virus spread alone, the weakness of private ownership and profiteering is clear and the strength of majority social ownership of the means of production under workers state control.
The fake-“left” and liberal petty bourgeoisie never make this lesson, instead they have poured out the anti-communism despite the brilliant example being set, with sneering comments that “of course they can manage this because they have an authoritarian society”.
But so what?
If that is the way to get cases down to zero in two months flat then “let’s have authoritarianism” workers might say.
As is clear from reports, there is popular support for the necessary disciplining methodology of inspecting everyone and requiring them to be tracked for infection, because the population understands that the workers state serves their interests and not those of a capitalist ruling class. It has organised food supplies for all, and found ways to keep the population informed and provided for despite the necessity of quarantine.
Such “authoritarianism”, imposed by a workers state, is a vastly different thing to the brute and murderous dictatorships imposed by capitalism, which serve the grasping and exploitative needs of the ultra-rich ruling class at the expense of the great majority, with as much fascist brutality imposed or threatened as needed.
In one the bourgeois dictatorship rule prevails (often hidden behind a lying pretence of “democracy”) while in the other the working class is in charge through its leadership.
Only endless Western lies about “gulags” and the alleged “grey horror of life in socialist countries” pumped into heads night and day (backed up by the poisonous anti-communism of the Trotskyites who play a treacherous role propping up the capitalists’ propaganda from the “left” with their own bilious poison to fool the working class) stops the working class grasping the obvious difference – along with the deluge of Goebbels lies and constantly invented nonsense about supposed massacres (like the non-existent “slaughter of 10,000 in Tian an Men, still repeated as if the truth by the lying bourgeois media despite its own admissions years ago that it never happened (see EPSR books Vol 16 on China)).
But the swift, humane and effective way China has brought the virus under control is a stunning lesson in how the proletarian dictatorship is precisely the necessary way forward for humanity so that a society can develop that eventually is self-regulating, each individual able to develop fully and freely while simultaneously understanding and willingly participating in the collective necessities.
Freedom is the recognition of necessity as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx understood and that is best worked out and grasped by ever deepening revolutionary Leninist theoretical science.
At the beginning of a new mass common ownership society that is done through central but ever widening leadership (the communist party guiding the dictatorship of the proletariat) and in the future, though universal common understanding as over generations the society becomes mature, gradually bringing more and more into the discussion until all are educated and developed with a rational consciousness, free of the twisted lies and non-stop brainwashing of capitalism, able to debate and discuss all questions fully to discover the most rational answers (though almost certainly society will always orientate around the leadership of those most able to grasp and articulate that science).
Anyway, what “freedom and democracy” is supposedly the reality in the West?
Gigantic lies are poured into heads, morning, noon and night by the media, “entertainment”, schools, and universities, and sophisticated manipulation and anti-communist brainwashing are the order of the day (the twisted racket which put both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson into power via the most grotesque manipulation and backward populist chauvinism - and still only a minority of the population, most of which did not participate anyway).
And what “freedom” is there anyway for the great mass kept down in the worst conditions, denied any decent education or opportunity, and worked to the bone and where any moves towards socialism “achieved” through the “democratic path” will immediately be blocked or turned over, with as much barbaric violence as needed.
That is the constant reality of twentieth century history and its endless coups, wars and deathsquad tyranny, massacring tens or hundreds of thousands at a time from Indonesia’s ghastly anti-communist suppression by General Suharto in 1965 (at least one million communists and any, even suspected, sympathisers butchered) and the notorious General Pinochet coup against Salvador Allende in Chile not to mention more recent examples like the wave of “constitutional and legal” coups in Latin America, reestablishing in power the vilest fascist Nazi scum like Jair Bolsonaro, and now violently toppling bourgeois nationalist Evo Morales with a racist and bloody coup regime of overt racist Nazis in Bolivia (as in Ukraine too of course, for which yet another gross Goebbels demonisation show trial pantomime is underway to rubbish the east Ukraine working class resistance to the Kiev Nazi regime).
The only counter is the class war struggle to overthrow these reactionaries and the rest of capitalist domination, all the way to Washington.
Meanwhile the tangles of private ownership and the rampant “me only” consumerism of Western society is already demonstrating the unfitness, unfairness and dangerously uncooperative nature of alienated and antagonism riddled capitalist society at all levels for this crisis.
Networks of private contractual obligations, loan requirements, land and building rent payments, taxes and regulatory controls (needed, out of fear of revolution, to try and restrain the outright and rampant profiteering inherent to private ownership), and the demand to turn a profit for shareholders (above and beyond the practical need to set aside money for repairs and emergencies which a socialist enterprise would do) makes any kind of overall coherent response to the pandemic impossible in the barbaric and greed ridden Western monopoly capitalist world.
Just to keep the airlines afloat requires government level waiving of complex requirements to fly routes even when planes are empty; the same for railways.
Cruise ship and “leisure” consumerism, cinemas, giant festivals and much else is tangled in ownership obligations, requirements and demands.
So too the networks of suppliers and producers feeding the big monopolies in all kinds of production.
And none of them can even fall back on insurance, one of the great money making rackets in finance capitalism, always finding a way to get off the hook, as it is now by making sure shutdowns and closures are done “voluntarily”, with a colluding government offering “advice” but not actual instructions (which would activate payment clauses) to shut restaurants and bars.
The scratch-my-back ruling class networks linking government with the moneybags, have made sure that the petty bourgeoisie pays the price.
Cascades of other obligations and payments to private “owners” with their profiteering fingers in every pie are paralysing all flexibility and helping bankrupt and collapse great swathes of commerce, as big capital continues to demand its “pound of flesh”.
Even the rush to find a vaccine is held back by the competition to make money when the obvious need is for a pooled international research effort.
Trump even asked a German company developing a vaccine for rights to buy and use it “exclusively for Americans”!;
Again China showed the way, analysing the gene sequence early on and releasing the result for free to the international community (immediately used by big pharma companies).
Far from being “just another uncooperative nationalist regime” as many of the slimier “liberals” like the Blairite Will Hutton have been slandering Beijing (along with all the Labourites and other class collaborating mountebanks and opportunists), lumping it in with the real antagonisms on show within trade-war capitalism and particularly Trumpite bullying and belligerence, China has made every effort to aid and help the world.
But elsewhere risible calls for “international cooperation” and “we are all in this together” only highlight the cynicism and duplicity of bourgeois “democracy” when the exact opposite is the case, with already existing trade war tensions and vicious chauvinism ramped up, compounded by the whole “I did it my way” individualism rampant throughout capitalism as the essence of its alienated and antagonistic dog-eat-dog philosophical base.
Vicious scapegoating and small-minded fascist flavoured attacks on foreigners have immediately erupted.
The few exceptions to the rule under capitalism are just that; exceptions, which special circumstances like Singapore and Hong Kong, which are both compact and well-off city-states (created so, for exploitation purposes by British imperialism), or with a legacy of draconian near-fascist dictatorship like South Korea, and all of them in the vicinity of China (or North Korea’s workers state) anyway, or even partially under its authority like Hong Kong, and with immediate past experience of SARS etc which makes them extremely wary not only of the economic implications of uncontrolled disease spread but the potential revolutionary upheavals that might follow social breakdown.
China is already offering doctors to Italy and aid to Serbia:
Caught off guard by the EU’s ban on medical exports, Serbia found help in China as it struggled to prepare for the Covid-19 outbreak, the Serbian president said, adding that it has become clear that European solidarity is a myth.
Serbia is the latest country to impose severe restrictions on travel and public gatherings in response to the global epidemic. As President Aleksandar Vucic declared a national emergency on Sunday, he had some scalding remarks for the EU.
The crisis has proven that European solidarity, only exists “on paper,” Vucic said, citing the ban on the export of medical equipment and supplies imposed by EU members to non-EU countries in response to the outbreak.
“Only China can help us in this situation,” the Serbian leader added, saying he recently wrote a letter to China’s Xi Jinping “asking him for help and calling him a brother.”
Serbia received five million masks from China that it couldn’t get in Europe and an offer to send doctors to help tackle the disease, the president said. The country had to shop for respirators on a “semi gray market.”
The health crisis has put EU cohesion to the test, as bureaucrats in Brussels and some leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron pushed against border controls even as the epidemic spread like wildfire in Italy and Spain. On Monday, Germany reluctantly imposed checks and suspended visa-free travel on its land borders with five of its neighbors, drawing criticism from Paris.
China, where the Covid-19 epidemic broke out last year, has reported a slowdown of the spread and is rolling back the severe restrictions it imposed earlier. It is now offering its assistance and experience to countries that have trouble dealing with the disease.
Cuba too for decades has unstintingly and heroically trained and volunteered doctors for aid all around the world.
Meanwhile one of the sickest expressions of Western fascist antagonism and “might is right” scapegoating and bullying, is the continuing blockade on Iran, preventing it obtaining all kinds of medical supplies and materials and disastrously intensifying the spread of Covid-19 in the country, one of the worst affected in the world.
It is also experiencing a form of the virus more dangerous to younger victims than that elsewhere, a further danger for the whole world if it spreads.
As this disastrous pandemic deepens there will be every kind of exposé of the cynicism and disdain of the ruling class and the grotesque fraudulence of its pretence to be “looking after the safety and security of the people”, a basic claim to authority which has been shot to pieces by its incompetence and contempt for ordinary lives.
The more its contemptible hypocrisy is ripped apart the better.
That will be another feather on the scale of ever growing mass disgust at capitalist tyranny and degeneracy by the great majority which will soon become so heavy it tips the scales into outright revolt against this venal and vile ruling order (as has already exploded world wide for two decades in “terrorism”, spontaneous street rebellion like Egypt, jihadism and “insurgency” and riots now bursting out in Iraq, Haiti, Chile, Lebanon, India, and more).
But the crucial understanding needed to fully orientate and guide these uprisings and struggles, and all those breaking out throughout the world, in this confusing breakdown and fast changing social implosion must be the deepest revolutionary perspective, building on all the great achievements of Marx and Lenin and the development of that understanding kept alive and developed by the small core of Leninism (against all the divers retreats, capitulations and anti-communism of the fake–“left”, – reformists, Trotskyists and Revisionists).
It will not happen through the entire crew of the 50-shades-of-red pretenders to revolutionary theory still ignoring this disastrous collapse with their idiot crowing that “we told you austerity was not necessary”.
Of course it was – for the ruling class in its battles to escalate exploitation and drive the working class into the floor, in order to maintain competitiveness as the world trade war degenerates.
That they have now turned to yet another desperate bailout, more panicky than the huge credit burst which “saved” the banks and the capitalist system in 2008, only underlines the how close the world is to utter catastrophic disaster, and behind that, to the great waves of rebellion riot and turmoil that it will generate.
There can be no salvation through printing money; it heralds gigantic inflation that will wipe out lives everywhere.
That it is being used underlines how close the edge of historic Catastrophe the whole system now lies.
Only with a broad and longterm perspective of the intractable contradictions in monopoly capitalism and the world class struggle it engenders, can workers begin to make any sense at all of the dizzying shifts in events and the astonishing implosion of society underway in the West, and the continuing escalating warmongering and international hostility everywhere.
Such a philosophical framework shows this virus disaster not as another episodic albeit severe “crisis”, (in the transient unscientific sense the word is used by the fake-“left”) to be protested against with demands for “sick pay for all” or economic bailouts, but the beginning of the greatest period of turmoil and upheaval in world history.
Understanding the developing contradictions inherent in capitalism which drive history towards the eventual ending altogether of its gross and degenerately unfair system is so important that Marx spent much of his life teasing them apart in the writing of Capital, and it underpins all Leninism (see joining box quotes and then 100 volumes of Marx, Engels and Lenin).
Their great insistence was that revolutionary theory and grasp is the crucial ingredient to guide the inevitable eruptions of the masses everywhere as the crisis makes life impossible and undermines every scrap of ruling class competence and authority.
Without that perspective the working class will be run rings around as it has been during the Brexit debate for example, poisoned with chauvinism (aided by the astonishing treachery and reactionary nationalism of much of the fake–“left”) and even in part hoodwinked into voting for the Tories!
Admittedly, a Labour vote would be just as disastrous and much of the working class simply expressed a righteous contempt for parliament anyway.
It is a start.
But what they need is the building of a revolutionary party and the development Leninism, exposing all the reformist hopelessness and treachery and the posturing and fraudulence of the fake -“lefts” as one of its main tasks, making conscious their posturing and pretences, now shown up for what they are by the gigantic Crash.
The working class, driven by the crisis, will see through all of this accumulated petty bourgeois dross once it has the tools.
It will change the world.
Build Leninist theory.
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