No 1576 15th May 2020
Rising Covid death toll reflects the degenerate callousness of a ruling class driven by the vicious and cutthroat imperatives of capitalist trade war. Trumpite perversity deliberately let the virus run rampant in order not to lose ground in the now desperate battle to stay the “top dog” imperialist power – stooge British imperialism the same game but under lying pretences of “safeguarding the NHS” while selling it off. Simultaneously the virus provides a perfect excuse to cover capitalist responsibility for the gigantic Slump crash now unrolling – ready to collapse long before any pandemic began and a far bigger Catastrophe, demanding revolutionary answers. Casually accepted body counts contrast sharply with the efficiency and humanity of the Chinese workers state showing the way in controlling the pandemic and reestablishing normal life - a lesson in collective society advance against the chaos of bourgeois individualism and “freedom” lies. But Beijing revisionism still falls short of the Leninism needed
The inhumanity, callousness and cynical incompetence of the “free market” monopoly capitalist system is more sharply exposed than ever by its degenerate responses to the Covid crisis, sacrificing workers and the old to ruthless profit exploitation, while escalating international hatreds for coming crisis warmongering.
Simultaneously a bright light is thrown on the advantages of socialist organisation, concern for people and efficiency in workers states, despite the foulest of Goebbels propaganda laughably blaming China for the crisis.
The agonising pandemic essentially is posing mankind’s most crucial question in microcosm; either bourgeois individualism and ruthless exploitation drags society into chaos and destruction or collective discipline prevails behind a rational and scientific leadership as in China, – where the working class took power in 1949, and developing socialism continues to demonstrate its competence and humanity.
All kinds of reservations can be made, and must be, about whether China has compromised too far with NEP-style capitalist methods in part of its economy, and the inevitable reactionary influence that exerts on its society, and even more importantly, with continuing revisionist political weaknesses in Beijing’s leadership, apparent in its failure to give a lead to the world on world revolutionary perspectives or the capitalist crisis.
Like all revisionism it still does not spell out for example that the oncoming Slump Catastrophe will go far beyond even the worst impact of the virus.
In its fight to maintain Leninist understanding, the EPSR has been insisting since the start of the pandemic (see last issue eg and below) that the unrolling crisis is a gigantic breakdown in the entire centuries-old capitalist system, which was unfolding long before the virus appeared.
However damaging the impact of the virus, the great capitalist Catastrophe will have far more severe consequences as it slides ever deeper into vicious trade war, a great Depression worse than the 1930s and inter-imperialist World War Three to follow (and not necessarily against China at all despite its current demonisation).
The revolutionary question needs to be stated loudly and on the broadest historic scale too, beyond Covid: does the world continue with unstoppable bourgeois chaos, anarchy, and destruction, of does it make rational progress to socialism through the class war overturn of the ruling class to establish common ownership under the dictatorship of the proletariat?
But the practical lessons from Beijing’s handling of the pandemic are invaluable.
China has shown the huge advantages of a planned economy, able to direct and command all its resources to contain and then stop the pandemic, despite facing it first, as an unknown threat (and even a possible Western attack).
The contrast is stark.
On the one side is the Chinese workers state, coordinating everything to stop the pandemic as a human priority.
Past preparations to build up and store equipment, planning and central direction backed up a quick, rational and firm response to the disastrous outbreak using quick and strong lockdown, public mask wearing and test-track-and-trace methods now universally agreed by medical science to be vital, while organising mass provision of food and other necessities.
Despite some initial bureaucratic mistakes locally (much exaggerated by Western propaganda), fatalities have been kept to a minimum in a common defence of every single person in the population, old and young, rapidly allowing some semblance of normal life to be re-established (including necessary economic production).
Danger was contained and the rest of the world quickly warned, despite the Western big-lie hypocrisy declaring otherwise, trying to distract attention from its own disgraceful delays and culpable failures.
On the other side a Trumpite White House has deliberately and cynically let the disease rip from the beginning, taking no action at all for weeks, despite a deluge of warnings, and actively encouraging complacency and near civil war hostility to those sections of its own population attempting a rational response. Every unnecessary lung-choking fatality has underlined the arrogance, and ruthless class contempt of capitalism for ordinary lives.
Its lying pretences cover a reality that is anything but the boasted “free”, “self-fulfilling” and “democratic” world of allegedly “non-totalitarian” society, where the great mass of the population is in thrall to a ruling class and its capital power, which sees them only as expendable “labour units”, educated and paid only just enough to be ruthlessly exploited while young and healthy, and discarded as “faulty” if ill, non-compliant, or “worn out” if old.
They can no longer be a source of profit "so let them die" is the message, justified by “reasonable” cod-philosophical pronouncements that “we all have to go sometime” (unless you are a nonagenarian royal, a big corporate boss, or an 80-year-old hedge-fund billionaire, when all the stops will be pulled out to keep you alive (and driving into other cars around the estate), or simply just part of the better-off middle-class now crowding the re-opened golf club bars and tennis clubhouses).
As the wave of infection spreads unchecked across the USA, at least 3000 extra deaths a week this summer are airily declared a “price worth paying” to get the economy going, meaning restoring the mechanisms for extracting surplus value from the working class (whose labour is the only source of value) for the endless enrichment of the tiny minority ruling class.
Beyond that almost unheeded are uncounted and uncountable numbers in the desperate Third World, with populations always kept in conditions of deprivation and backwardness by the non-stop US Empire dominated tyranny of sweatshop and plantation exploitation for the big multinational monopoly corporations.
Middle-class vapours about “totalitarianism” mean little in the crowded slums, favelas, farm camps and barrios, without running water and drainage and limited or non-existent medical provision, all of which now means death sentences for potentially tens or hundreds of thousands in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and much of Asia.
India’s 1.3bn masses, many living precarious lives in a system of raw capitalist exploitation at the best of times, are already in chaos as Modi’s reactionary government has forced millions of migrant labourers to walk hundreds of kilometres home. Potential starvation stalks its villages.
India’s chaos compares badly with the organisation in almost equivalently populated, and geographically situated, China, as one highly literate American experienced for herself:
On March 15, I flew home to the United States to bring my daughters back to Shanghai. The sharp contrast between the way China has sought to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and the way the US has handled the pandemic has been alarming.
My family has been navigating the shifting geography of Covid-19 for months, as the virus first emerged in China, our country of residence, and then moved onto our native home, the US. We are Americans with a home in Virginia, but a couple years ago I took a job in Shanghai, and we moved there, with my husband commuting to his job in Washington.
When the coronavirus began to shut down China over the Lunar New Year holiday in January, we were on holiday in Japan. Once Shanghai schools began announcing closures, we decided the girls – aged 13 and 10 – should fly back to the US unaccompanied to stay with my husband while I returned to work in Shanghai. The subsequent Chinese lockdown would separate us for two months.
By mid-March, we had reached a turning point. The girls had just enrolled in their old schools when those institutions announced a shutdown. Meanwhile, their Shanghai school was sending out upbeat notices about reopening in the near future. And with US cases on the rise and China tightening its borders, I figured it was now or never.
I was on the ground in the US for less than 36 hours, but saw enough to be alarmed. If I hadn’t forcefully volunteered that I had just come from living in China, I don’t think anyone would have checked me for fever before entering the US.
Once I declared myself, I was escorted to a “CDC line” for a cursory temperature check (with a large group of Mormon missionaries returning from Europe), given a Centres for Disease Control and Prevention flier about Covid-19 symptoms and asked to stay home and minimise my trips outside for 14 days.
While on the ground, I did not leave my house except to ride with my husband to pick up some takeaway; I was stunned at how full my hometown restaurants were.
The girls and I landed back in China on March 19, and our arrival there was the opposite of my entry to the US. Our flight from Tokyo landed at 11.45am, but we sat on Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport tarmac for two hours before immigration officials let us disembark.
During those hours we filled out health forms that asked, among other questions, whether we had sore throats, runny noses, or fevers, and whether we had taken any medication to reduce fevers. I debated whether to report a stuffy nose that I was sure was caused by allergies.
After they let us off the plane, we were put into a line that did not move for another two hours. When we finally reached the front of that queue, we sat down with a man in full PPE (personal protective equipment) – a white hazmat suit, a face shield and glasses. He reviewed our health forms. I did say I had experienced the occasional stuffy nose, but insisted it was because of allergies. I held my breath.
He paused, but decided to let us through to the next stop – a queue for a Xerox machine run by police officers in hazmat suits, where we had to make two copies of our health forms. The senior official in a hazmat suit also put yellow stickers on our passports – meaning that we would be required to take the Covid-19 tests and undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine either at home or in a hotel.
The next line was for passport control, and then another queue for a body temperature scanner, and then another interview with another set of hazmat-suited individuals who would decide if we were “high-risk” and needed to go to the hospital to get our Covid-19 tests or whether we could go to our home district to have the tests performed there.
Luckily, we were waved into the home district channel. That meant we would be allowed to pick up our luggage and line up for a bus to our home district in Shanghai.
In that queue, we were required to download an app and provide our passport information. Then another hazmat-suited person asked if we wished to do our quarantine at home or in a hotel (they offered two levels of hotel, one that was about US$30 per person per night and another that was US$60 per person per night).
We opted for the home quarantine – which would be allowed only if our neighbourhood committee and building management agreed. Since we live in a building of foreigners like ourselves, we were pretty sure the building management would agree. The official asked for our passports and informed us that they would be returned to us only after our Covid-19 tests.
After a 45-minute wait, we were asked to form a line. Police officers stood at the front of our line and at the back. We were led to a large tour bus and got on board. We pulled out of the airport car park around 6.30pm. We had been in Shanghai for almost seven hours at this point.
The girls were amazingly patient with this process – it helped that the 13-year-old had her phone and could watch TikToks; the 10-year-old alternately read and napped on the luggage cart.
The bus arrived in front of a large gymnasium around 8pm. I turned on my phone mapping app to find out where we were – it was the Xuhui District Sports Middle School. After a temperature check, the hazmat-suited workers took our names, assigned us ID numbers (I was I7) and led us all to a cordoned off section of the gym.
Our bus was dubbed “Group I”, so we were led to Section I. There was a bottle of hand sanitiser and a flat-screen television at the front of the section, and what appeared to be a selection of videos on demand. We were each assigned a reclining lawn chair where we would wait to be called for our tests. Volunteers in hazmat suits passed out new blankets, bags full of bakery breads, imported German milk, masks and water. I was impressed by their foreigner-friendly care package – they knew their audience.
Around 8.30pm, another hazmat-suited individual called us up and led us to an outdoor alley behind the middle school. There, seated at a table under an awning, were two nurses, who swabbed each of our nostrils and our throats. I double-checked the vial to make sure it had my name on it. Once finished, we were escorted back to our lawn chairs to wait.
I spent a sleepless night in my chair, worried that after two months of staying virus-free in China, I might have managed to pick it up in the US during my 36 hours on the ground. What if the girls were asymptomatic carriers: would they separate me from my children? (The answer is yes – all infected children are separated from their parents and sent to the children’s hospital.) And if I were a carrier, where would my kids go?
I watched the volunteers spray down the chairs of travellers who had finished their wait and were off to their homes. Even now, I feel outrage that the US still does not have enough tests for the symptomatic while China had enough to test asymptomatic foreigners.
No one ever told us we were negative. But at 2.30am, we were informed that it was time to go home, and we boarded a bus. More paperwork awaited us in front of our apartment building, where the security guards for our complex and the doctor who would be supervising our case (also in full hazmat gear) met us.
Finally, after we promised not to leave our flat, our passports were returned to us, and at 4.03am, some 16 hours after landing, we were home. That morning, a young woman in a hazmat suit knocked on our door and took our temperatures at 10am. She returned at 3pm to take our temperatures again.
This routine was repeated for 14 days before we would be permitted to circulate in the general Shanghai population. We chatted occasionally with our temperature takers (they were a rotating cast of 20-something women). Initially, a man would accompany them to film the temperature reading, but by the final few days the women came alone.
A few days after our return, we discovered that authorities had placed a sensor on our door. And more than a week after the start of our quarantine, we received a note informing us we were not to open our door more than five times a day.
Because we were trapped in the flat, we had to have everything – groceries, toilet paper, takeaway meals – delivered. There were a couple of days where we were inefficient with our ordering and had more than five deliveries – and more than five door openings. Oops.
Entering China had been a long, tedious, dystopian process, but extremely orderly and well-organised. All the foreigners waiting in the long queues with us at the airport and testing centre were polite and patient. We understood why the Chinese were doing it.
On the day we landed, five people were found to have the virus: a Chinese husband and wife returning from New York; a French citizen; a Chinese student travelling from France; and a Chinese student returning from Switzerland. Nine days after we returned to Shanghai, the Chinese shut down the border to all foreigners in an effort to prevent further reimportation of Covid-19 cases. I am so glad I made that mad dash back to pick up the children when I did.
After 14 days of being locked away with my family, where we miraculously got along much better than expected (a combination of online school lessons and work kept us busy), we were cleared to exit quarantine. We bid goodbye to our cheerful temperature-taker, who informed us that this was her last day as well – she would be going back to her real job, at the dental clinic. The doctor on our case texted me our health freedom papers.
We can now walk the streets again, but we have been cautious about re-entering Shanghai society. Although the manicure shop, a women’s clothing boutique, the draught beer bar, a branch of a popular bubble tea chain and the quirky hipster gift shop didn’t survive, most of the businesses in our neighbourhood have reopened, markets are bustling and the subway is nearly full.
This coherent and considered state organised response, has been supplemented with physical and technological aid sent to other countries, including Chinese doctors sent to the north of Italy, the earliest and most affected region after the first outbreak in Wuhan.
A brigade of Cuban doctors has also flown in there to help, a selfless gesture from another defiantly brilliant workers state making giant achievements despite its own severe economic difficulties caused solely by having to survive under the endless, so far 60-year, long siege blockade viciously imposed on the island by the US Empire, desperate to stifle and strangle any examples of socialist success which might give the working class “the wrong ideas”.
But it is too late; China’s stunning example on Covid is already stirring brains all round the planet as the obvious advantages of a planned economy – even one which as yet still makes substantial, but historically temporary, use of capitalist methods to drive development – is made suddenly conscious.
With the means of production in common ownership, (or at least under workers state political control where some capitalism is present, as in a part of China’s economy) it is possible to direct and guide society’s resources and output on a planned basis for the common good, particularly in such emergencies.
While America escalates trade war belligerence, profiteering and hostility, China extends its efforts internationally, which every rational human can see is vital, offering maximum coordination and cooperation to find a cure and then apply it for the benefit of all across the world.
The alienated “logic” of production for private profit drives the capitalist world in the opposite wrong direction, as big Pharma profiteering blocks the pooling of research resources, and later vaccine production, as medical equipment is pirated, governments lie through their teeth about their actions (Britain at the forefront) and finger-pointing chauvinist hatred is further stirred to stymie all other coordination.
When even a reactionary harridan like Tory ex-prime-minister Theresa May is obliged, because of middle-class public dismay, to declare cooperation to be the obvious course, then the historical bankruptcy of the entire system becomes even clearer.
But while comparisons on Covid can show up the callous and cynical reality of capitalism, overtly expressed by the crude and increasingly open fascist direction of the Trumpite White House (no different in essence to the Democrat “opposition” in fact) it does not explain the necessary revolutionary class war required to end it.
Change will not arrive merely by mass consensus or “democratic will” deciding this is a better way.
Just the opposite, popular opinion is, and will always be, twisted, manipulated, controlled, subverted and corrupted while the bourgeoisie retains power exactly as is now being done with the Goebbels campaign of lies trying to blame China for the virus (of which more below) and poison minds in the West against its communism.
Capitalist gerrymandering, media control and endless anti-communist brainwashing not only make a mockery of “democracy” (and fake-“left” pretences that it could somehow be “corrected” with suitable “left pressure”) but underline that capitalist rule is always a dictatorship of the ruling class, hidden in good times and more overt in crisis when its fascist reality is let loose (by the very same ”democracy”, as Hitler did and Trump now).
Soviet Moscow’s revisionism lived, and finally died by self-liquidation of the USSR, with the deluded and bureaucratically complacent idea that the world would eventually come to understand the advantages of socialism by mere side by side comparison, and more or less slip quietly into socialism.
It was a retreat from Lenin’s understanding, built on the misanalysis of the post-war world by Stalin that imperialism was no longer able to expand and that the Soviet camp would outstrip its production (an impossibility when the soviet world offered a reasonable working day, education, housing and health provision in all its zones, while imperialism was driving the Third World to the wage-slave-driven limit with 16 hour days in sweatshops and plantations).
Revolutionary civil war could be avoided, this said, as long as the warmongering “tendencies” of imperialism were kept under control by peace struggle (see EPSR book 21 Unanswered Polemics), a line which has hampered the struggle to rebuild revolutionary understanding for decades with its no-to-war social-pacifism and parliamentary roads, and which eventually was taken all the way to dismantling the giant and still viable Soviet Union.
The consequences persist, not least in the misleading advice in Latin America, that “democratic” means should displace the armed revolutionary struggle, (advised for Colombia eg by Havana’s revisionism) rather than an insistence on the class war to establish the dictatorship of the working class.
The result has been a wave of US coordinated counter-revolutionary legal, constitutional and outright violent coups, overturning nearly all the Bolivarian revolution (in fact “left” reformist) progress of the last 20 years, the latest a brutal fascist takeover in Bolivia, all got away with partly because of the boneheaded “democracy” crap.
It has criminally misled the masses from the 1970s onwards, supporting such left reformist treachery as the Salvador Allende government in Chile (tragically still hailed as heroes by Havana’s revisionism) which led the population unarmed into the trap of the 1973 rightwing General Pinochet/CIA coup, and failing to support the dogged efforts of those like the New Jewel Movement to build Leninist leadership in Grenada, where elevating Maurice Bishop’s petty bourgeois populist “democracy” above proletarian dictatorship opened the door to US butchering invasion in 1983 (See EPSR Books Vol 12 on Grenada).
Even where subsequent left nationalism has hung on, in Venezuela and Nicaragua, and disruptions like the latest incompetent mercenary assassination raid against president Nicolás Maduro have been seen off, to Washington’s humiliation (whatever lying “credible denials” it has made of non-involvement), these revisionist notions have left the working class vulnerable to the constant subversion which imperialism will never stop, and without the crucial theoretical arming which can best inspire their resistance.
So far China has avoided the worst failings despite its own revisionism falling short on these issues with its overall social-pacifist peace-struggle perspective relying on “not rocking the boat”.
It did not succumb to the disastrous capitulation that Gorbachevism made to “multi-party democracy” in 1989 when the Western-influenced privileged student movement attempted a Statue of Liberty, pro-American “freedom” revolt in Tian an Men (see China book vol 16 and EPSR No 956) and recently Beijing has been showing some interesting signs of justified impatience with imperialism and its similar counter-revolutionary provocations in Hong Kong, with correctly firm action against the leaders of the disruptive and violent petty bourgeois movement trying for years to recreate 1989, and re-install Western control around petty bourgeois “democracy” demands that were never made or allowed under British colonial dominance.
The rise of more assertive “wolf warrior” diplomacy is another sign countering the deluge of Trump-inspired Goebbels ultra-big-lie propaganda from particularly Anglo-Saxon imperialism trying to pin the blame on China not only for the pandemic itself but the economic crisis as well, as the bourgeois press reports:
Senior figures in the Trump administration have put pressure on US intelligence agencies to provide evidence to support claims that the coronavirus outbreak originated in state-run laboratories in China, a report in the New York Times claims.
Intelligence analysts fear Donald Trump is looking for propaganda to be used in the escalating blame game over whether China covered up the crisis or even generated the virus in its laboratories – a theory that remains unproven.
The office of the director of national intelligence said in a statement on Thursday that it had concluded that the virus was “not manmade or genetically modified”, but it disclosed that officials were still examining whether the origins of the pandemic could be traced to contact with infected animals or an accident at a Chinese lab.
“The intelligence community [IC] also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified,” said the statement.
In recent days Trump and his allies have sharpened their rhetoric on China, accusing it of failing to act swiftly enough to stop the spread of the virus or sound the alarm about the outbreak.
Most scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus provided by China say the overwhelming probability is that it jumped from animal to human in a non-laboratory setting, as was the case with previous pandemics.
Those reported as pushing US intelligence agencies to lend credence to the theory that the virus was created in Chinese labs include the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, the deputy national security adviser, Matthew Pottinger, and Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence.
In numerous TV interviews, Pompeo has said China suppressed information on the virus and withheld key facts from the World Health Organization, and he has hinted that he believes the virus originated in Chinese laboratories.
But the suggestion that intelligence agencies are being put under pressure to produce evidence represents a step up from such comments. Such a finding would turn the international disaster into something akin to biological warfare, or a lab accident of catastrophic proportions.
More than 1 million people have been infected and more than 60,000 have died in the US from the virus, adding political urgency to Trump’s desire to shift blame for the crisis on to China.
China has been resisting an international inquiry into the origins of the outbreak in Wuhan and, under pressure, says it is a matter for the WHO to investigate. The proposal is unlikely to mollify Trump, who has condemned the WHO as Chinese-centric and has suspended US funding from the UN agency pending a review.
Chris Patten, the former governor general of Hong Kong and a long-term critic of Chinese efforts to control democracy in the former colony, has joined the calls for an international inquiry, accusing China of initially covering up the outbreak.
The calls for an inquiry have been strongest in Australia, leading to a diplomatic confrontation between the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye. The calls have also been supported by Winston Peters, New Zealand’s foreign minister.
Chinese diplomats distinguish between an international inquiry, which they say is likely to be a political blame game, and a dispassionate examination by WHO scientists.
The Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, delivered a lengthy rebuttal to the prospect of an international inquiry last week. “You’re talking about independent investigation. It’s up to the WHO. We support the WHO. We believe we should play by international norms and international rules, not by some other countries’ rules. Some other country even sues China at its local court. It’s absurd,” he said in remarks to the Asia Society in London.
“This is not the first time that some politicians want to play world police. This is not the era of ‘gunboat diplomacy’. This is not the era when China was still in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. This is the third decade of the 21st century. Those people cannot understand it. They think they still live in the old days when they can bully China and the world. If the WHO does not act their way, they stop their support and criticise the WHO to be ‘China-centric’. That’s simply not right.
“So we are calling for international cooperation. That’s the only weapon and only way out to win this battle against the virus. Not by scapegoating, not by playing games, not by politicising the virus, not by spreading a political virus.”
But while such defiance against these gobsmackingly ludicrous lies is welcome it still does not give the revolutionary overview that alone can begin to make sense of the demented hate frenzy being deliberately inflamed by the Pompeos, Pences, Pottingers, Peters and Pattens.
That has to begin with the gigantic crisis collapse of capitalism which underlies the sick disregard by the US rulers and reactionary billionaires for the lives and agonised grief of its own population (and the British too under cover of much lying PR flannel).
Their incompetence and delay is of another order entirely to any initial hesitations local Chinese bureaucracy might have made, however badly that might reflect on revisionist complacency, and unwillingness to take responsibility.
The virus was an unknown at that point, and fear of creating unnecessary panic a factor, and Beijing quickly and decisively corrected the problem, as already discussed (last two issues).
But as the EPSR has fought to explain from the beginning, the astoundingly perverse and almost psychopathic response of Trumpism not only ignored the dangers, failing to take counter-measures for weeks against a by-then known risk, but actively promulgated behaviours that spread and accelerated the epidemic, another thing entirely.
It can only be understood if it is grasped that the unrolling economic breakdown essentially has nothing to do with the virus, whatever triggering or accelerating effects the lockdown has had.
As China demonstrates, virus induced economic slowdown can be locally and temporarily undoubtedly severe in itself, but is not insurmountable.
But the crash underway in the West, and soon to make its full savage impact felt in unemployment and brutal hardship most certainly is, because it is the collapse of the bourgeois private-profit system itself as understood and warned of by the most fundamental of Marxist science.
Monopoly capitalism was hitting a brick wall of Catastrophic breakdown before the pandemic broke as warned by many bourgeois economists and major institutions like the IMF, and as is now confirmed again by the latest output figures in the UK, where a massive 2% drop in output is recorded for the first quarter, long before Covid had appeared:
the West’s economies were utterly broken before Covid-19 came along ...In reality, Covid-19 infected an already chronically diseased economy, which remains undiagnosed and untreated.
This is a point that needs stressing again and again. The looming depression is not a Covid-19 one. This confuses a symptom with an underlying cause. Global growth and, especially, advanced-economy growth were already dismal before Covid-19. And they have been for years. Economic forecasts for this year were already pretty downbeat before most people were aware of the word coronavirus.
Yes, the Covid-19 crisis has resulted in unprecedented government actions. In the UK, the Treasury now expects to borrow an extra £150 billion ($186 billion), the equivalent of one-and-a-half infrastructural projects like the HS2 rail project, in four months. That’s more than the country has ever borrowed, and more than in wartime. And given that a return to pre-Covid-19 normality remains uncertain, this might just be the start.
This is why there has recently been talk about imposing a one-off wealth tax. The idea is that everyone – households and businesses, rich and poor – has to pay a sum equivalent to a chunk of their net assets.
a one-off 10 percent levy on all household net wealth in the UK would generate over £1 trillion ($1.24 trillion) of revenues - enough to pay off all the costs of Covid-19, provide for the NHS for generations and reduce the national debt to something like normality.
This might sound attractive and justifying it in the name of a “Covid-19” recession might give it purchase. But it would be disastrous.
First, it would be political dynamite. Taxing assets bought from already taxed income would be unfair in the extreme. And after years of austerity in which millions have suffered economic hardship, this would exacerbate divisions in society,
But the second reason is even more important: it would simply postpone having to address the chronic illness of sclerotic economic performance and delay the hard decisions governments are going to have to take to get beyond the fallout of Covid-19.
How, for example, would something like a wealth tax deal with the fact that Italy endured its 17th consecutive monthly decline in manufacturing activity in February 2020? Even if EU fiscal regulations allowed such an approach, Italy’s more persistent economic challenges from inadequate business investment and the constraints of eurozone membership would not be solved.
Chronic indebtedness and declining productivity across the developed world indicate that there is a fundamental need to reset production, to invest in new technology and allow the stagnant and zombie enterprises, which currently survive only through state subsidies and support, to disappear.
But re-energizing production is the only long-term way to generate new wealth that can raise living standards and fund public services in the future. There is not one government in the world today who is engaging the public in this conversation.
If a one-off wealth tax was introduced but used to kick-start productive investment, not pay off existing debt to keep stagnant economies and businesses afloat, there might be a case for it. But this requires something that no government is willing to do – engage their electorates in an adult conversation about the problems we are facing, and the tough decisions we are going to have to make to deal with it.
[Government lies], presumably to offer some comfort, by stating that the UK “came into this crisis with a fundamentally sound economy” and will “bounce back.”
High-school students who can read and write know that the UK’s economy, like almost all developed economies, is far from fundamentally sound. The Covid-19 lockdown has certainly placed new burdens on an already ailing patient. But deluding ourselves that palliatives like a wealth tax might offer answers can weaken our ability to ride the pre-Covid-19 economic tsunami rushing towards us.
A record monthly plunge in activity meant the UK economy contracted by 2% in the first quarter of 2020, according to official figures.
Over the year to the first quarter of this year, the economy grew smaller by 1.6% – its fastest rate of decline since late 2009.
The contraction recorded in the first three months of 2020 was slightly smaller than the 2.5% expected by the City, but the ONS said its first estimate was more than usually shrouded in uncertainty owing to many businesses being shuttered.
Data from the Office for National Statistics revealed the immediate impact of the coronavirus lockdown, producing an unprecedented decline in output in March and the sharpest three-month contraction since the depths of the financial crisis in late 2008.
Although restrictions on businesses and individuals were only introduced in mid-March, the ONS said it was enough to cause a 5.8% plunge in activity in March.
All three main components of growth, services, production and construction, were affected by the fallout from the global pandemic – with factories, shops, restaurants, hotels and building sites all closed on government orders.
A much bigger hit to activity is in store for the second quarter, with the Bank of England pencilling in a decline of 25% in GDP. Threadneedle Street is projecting 14% an annual decline in GDP.
The ONS’s deputy national statistician for economic statistics, Jonathan Athow, said: “With the arrival of the pandemic, nearly every aspect of the economy was hit in March, dragging growth to a record monthly fall.
“Services and construction saw record declines on the month with education, car sales and restaurants all falling substantially. Although very few industries saw growth, there were some that did, including IT support and the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, soaps and cleaning products.
When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.
The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message.
Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state. With no national plan—no coherent instructions at all—families, schools, and offices were left to decide on their own whether to shut down and take shelter. When test kits, masks, gowns, and ventilators were found to be in desperately short supply, governors pleaded for them from the White House, which stalled, then called on private enterprise, which couldn’t deliver. States and cities were forced into bidding wars that left them prey to price gouging and corporate profiteering. Civilians took out their sewing machines to try to keep ill-equipped hospital workers healthy and their patients alive. Russia, Taiwan, and the United Nations sent humanitarian aid to the world’s richest power—a beggar nation in utter chaos.
Donald Trump saw the crisis almost entirely in personal and political terms. Fearing for his reelection, he declared the coronavirus pandemic a war, and himself a wartime president. But the leader he brings to mind is Marshal Philippe Pétain, the French general who, in 1940, signed an armistice with Germany after its rout of French defenses, then formed the pro-Nazi Vichy regime. Like Pétain, Trump collaborated with the invader and abandoned his country to a prolonged disaster. And, like France in 1940, America in 2020 has stunned itself with a collapse that’s larger and deeper than one miserable leader. Some future autopsy of the pandemic might be called Strange Defeat, after the historian and Resistance fighter Marc Bloch’s contemporaneous study of the fall of France. Despite countless examples around the U.S. of individual courage and sacrifice, the failure is national. And it should force a question that most Americans have never had to ask: Do we trust our leaders and one another enough to summon a collective response to a mortal threat? Are we still capable of self-government?
The last intro, to a longer bemused and appalled commentary from the Atlantic magazine, like most “reasonable” middle class dismay is still not grasping the full import of the Trump response.
It reflects the inability of capitalism to cooperate, driven instead by the antagonisms of a system built on “competition”.
Historically it was a progressive, if always brutal and piratical mechanism six or seven centuries ago, when Europe was making its revolutionary climb out of feudal torpor, driving “entrepreneurial innovation” etc, and bourgeois (one-sided) rationality and is still useful in yet-to-develop economies if kept in check, as China itself has shown.
But in the interconnected world of multinational production, it has long turned into the opposite, in general hampering, constraining and destroying human advance, a fetter on production as the Communist Manifesto describes.
The very need to accumulate ever higher mountains of private profit, as competition demands (on pain of going under, bankrupt or being swallowed up by the bigger more ruthless sharks – as is happening to small business now) demands the constant expansion of production, at the expense of reason and balance with real human needs, forcing shallow glitzy consumption ever higher with philistine inanity and complete disregard for nature and the environment.
And it eventually produces such insane levels of output, as every enterprise gears itself to satisfy the entire global market, that the world is swamped by overproduction, with “spare” commodities no longer saleable to realise the surplus value in them, because of the still limited incomes of the ruthlessly exploited masses who have to buy them (see economics box).
The whole pyramid collapse in ever greater periodic crashes and Slumps which wipe out production and lives and, in the modern monopoly capitalist era, turn into war to destroy entire countries or groups of countries.
The greatest ever crisis has been unrolling since the turn of the century, bursting through in the 2000 dot.com collapse and the 2008 global bank failure (and multiple regional crises before that), salvaged each time by demented dollar printing that has only made things worse.
The always vicious trade-war antagonisms between the big powers have reached cutthroat, to-the-death levels in this period, already driving the US into two decades of blitzing and butchery in the Middle East, to suppress growing crisis-driven Third World revolt, but also to intimidate the whole world with its “shock and awe” ruthlessness.
It has not worked; the “war on terror” has generated far more “terrorist” rebellion and anti-Western jihadism than ever, forcing notional troop withdrawals (though little has changed in fact),and the US is even more pressed by economic competition, from Europe, Japan, and growing contenders like Brazil and India – and obviously China.
So Trumpism’s America First frenzy of hatred now spews belligerence in all directions.
And such is the desperation of the outcompeted and moribund US ruling class, its only priority is to continue pressing aggressive trade war pressure whatever the cost, including abandoning all pretence of providing for, or “protecting the people”.
The contemptible response to the virus runs much deeper than the routine arrogant indifference of a billionaire ruling class concerned to continue business as usual, namely extracting as much surplus value from workers as it can get away with (see Marx’s Capital Vol 1), without its ruthless exploitation completely killing them or triggering uncontainable revolt.
Of course that (indifference) is a major factor, and one which has left many millions of workers without medical or unemployment protection in the States, the most extreme end of raw “private enterprise” in the richer imperialist countries,
The bankrupt and outcompeted US economy cannot afford the emergency and the social and medical services required anyway, both immediately and in terms of preparing the social and technical framework needed beforehand – its private medical system notoriously one of the most expensive in the world and one of the least charitable, turning the poor away or bankrupting families for treatment.
It has a visceral hatred of all such provision anyway, as constituting steps down the road towards socialism which it fears like Beezelbub (literally, in much of the primitively superstitious fundamentalist backwoods of the USA).
But its depravity has been multiplied by the desperation to steal a trade-war march on its rivals, calculating that letting the Covid disease run rife will not hit production too hard, particularly when there will be plenty of “spare workers” in the slump conditions coming.
The mathematics is at base no different to the cold-blooded calculations of the imperialist warmongers flinging workers by the thousands onto the machine guns in 1914-18 or ultimately to the Nazi Germans, driving its forced-labour to death to win the war.
If sensitive souls declare such parallels to be “invalid”, possibly invoking some academic purist “principles” about Godwin’s Law or “proper definitions of fascism” it reflects only their petty bourgeois failure in grasping to what depths of depravity the crisis will drive imperialism, and in fact already does continuously throughout the tyrannically and endlessly tortured and butchered Third World.
And if they cannot see the full scale of the crisis driving things into such horrors, then they are equally being fooled by imperialist lies blaming the current downturn on the Covid pandemic.
The pandemic has given the system such a convenient cover for the great lurch into Depression disaster that it was certainly part of the calculation to let it rip, if not to deliberately encourage its spread.
There can even be speculation about how conveniently its morbidity profile suits capitalist interests, and it is not ruled out that some of the conspiracy speculation about germ warfare could have a grain of truth (against the West clearly, since it would make no sense for the Chinese to have carried out such an attack on themselves).
Billions have been spent by imperialism to develop such weaponry since the First World War (anthrax experiments from WW2 still leave one Scottish island unapproachable) and the ruling class would have no qualms about using anything to stay on top.
But on balance, without finding harder evidence, that opens the door to much of the wilder nonsense sweeping the barmier reaches of the Internet from ludicrous theories about 5G telephones to anti-vaxxers.
Those conspiracy theories are interesting for another reason, in that they show a world population which no longer trusts any authority at all, but which has no rational explanation or science to explain the degeneration, warmongering, depravity and collapse of the capitalist system.
The shallow lying public relations spivvery of the British government is typical, with its gross lying pretences on the virus to be “protecting” the population, when daily revelations demonstrate the exact opposite, exposing its “black is white” lies about “gearing up for testing”, or “providing proper equipment, or “protecting the NHS” while selling it off, and most hypocritically and cold-bloodedly of all, that care homes and older people were “perfectly safe” even as the death toll outpaced all the rest.
The tepid bourgeois media and class-collaborating “Labour opposition” have barely challenged any of this gross cynicism, though a few professors and commentators manage to expose some of its outright inversions of the truth, though even then giving too much “benefit of the doubt”:
There’s a term we use in epidemiology for increases in deaths beyond normal expectations: “harvesting”. During heatwaves, or a bad season of influenza, additional deaths... fit this description. Harvesting usually affects older people and those who are already sick.
Generally, it is viewed as ...tragic, unfortunate...what happens as part of a normal life in normal times. But the word also has darker connotations: those of sacrifice, reaping, culling. As such, the concept of harvesting is restricted to epidemiological circles.
But what if politicians promote the notion of harvesting (while declining to use the term) where it is not a “natural” consequence of events but a direct consequence of government policy? What if the medical and nursing world do not accept harvesting in these circumstances? What if a policy that results in harvesting cannot be articulated because it is unacceptable to the broader population? This is where we have got to with the coronavirus pandemic. Nowhere better exemplifies this tension between a policy and its popular acceptance than the effects of coronavirus in nursing homes.
Coronavirus is tearing through our nursing home population in the UK. Even if official statistics are opaque, we know this anecdotally. More than 400,000 people live in UK care homes. We are only now beginning to see the statistics in terms of confirmed cases. Estimates that more than 3,000 people had died in care homes by mid-April are likely to be gross underestimates. We can see this when we look at national excess mortality numbers. These statistics, especially when we look at the elderly, paint a horrifying picture. Enormous numbers of deaths among our most frail citizens are the result, both directly and indirectly, of the coronavirus crisis. The UK is leading Europe in this most awful of league tables. When more data about care home deaths becomes available, I predict that we’ll see how care homes have taken the full force of this epidemiological tsunami. We have to predict, because the numbers aren’t yet available to inform us.
Have we arrived at this predicament because the government’s strategy went awry? And if so, why? My guess – which can only be provisional, as Sage’s minutes aren’t publicly available – is that scientists gave policymakers a scenario in February that the pandemic could be allowed to spread largely unhindered in the wider community. But if this approach were promoted, islands of elderly and vulnerable people would need to be created, and the residents on these islands would need to be protected. This strategy makes sense if we acknowledge comments about “herd immunity” from Boris Johnson and the chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, alongside the initial decision not to roll out testing in the community. Remember, too, Matt Hancock’s assertion that care homes “have been a top priority from the start”.
If herd immunity was the initial strategy outlined by advisers, they would have known that harvesting older people could not be part of the equation. This isn’t about science or politics – it’s a simple question of humanity. If the government’s strategy was to allow the virus to spread through the wider population, albeit at a slowed pace, residents in nursing homes would need to be protected.
But this is not what happened. The initial strategy of allowing herd immunity to develop in the wider community was pursued, but the most vulnerable people were not protected....Had the government monitored care homes, supplied adequate PPE, rolled out testing in care homes and reduced the exposure of their residents to visitors and other carers, the islands of vulnerable and elderly people would have been protected.
The government’s initial strategy, therefore, was herd immunity and harvesting.
Only belatedly did the government’s strategy morph into one that sought to protect the elderly and reverse the harvesting, through widespread testing and contact tracing. But by then it was too late.
In public health, we use what are known as “lenses” to explore how health systems function, ways of looking at a health system.
Today, if you need a lens to examine any country’s response to coronavirus, look to its nursing homes. To understand the scandal of the UK’s response to Covid-19, consider that it is the most vulnerable people who were sacrificed to an unacceptable, unarticulated strategy.
Look to the hidden populations residing in nursing homes, those falling through the gaps between the NHS and the social support function of the state; look at what our government has done in our name, without our agreement. If you want to understand why older people had to “take it on the chin”, look to Boris Johnson’s government.
Richard Coker is emeritus professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Three months on, even as more than 30 countries, including Germany, have mandated face coverings outdoors for the public, the UK government has been adamant that there’s not enough evidence to support such a move here [though]...a decision shortly. Reports suggest...a compromise, with the public allowed to choose to wear scarves or face-coverings rather than medical-grade masks. So why has there been such a divergence on this issue?
Most of us would probably ask how well a mask, especially a one made from cloth, may protect us from Covid-19. But the notion of “personal protection” misses the major reason why calls for increased use of masks and face-coverings have gained momentum around the world. From February, data was emerging that, unlike Sars – where patients were most contagious several days after showing severe symptoms – people infected by Sars-Cov-2, the cause of Covid-19, were “shedding” most viruses (that could infect someone else) just before or at the time symptoms first appeared, often in very mild form. This had two implications: first, efforts to “contain” coronavirus would be orders of magnitude more difficult than for Sars. Second, and as it has turned out more contentiously, the official World Health Organization and UK government advice that masks should only be worn by members of the public showing symptoms, and members of their immediate households, is probably wrong.
In the field of infectious diseases, stopping a contagious patient infecting others is known as source control. For respiratory infections, source control would include wearing a mask when not under isolation. By advising symptomatic individuals to wear a mask, the government was advocating source control. But what if symptomatic individuals were only half the story?
...So can completely “well” people transmit Covid-19? We know that even normal speech can spread droplets, and this is dramatically reduced by the use of cloth masks. And for symptomatic people infected with common-cold coronaviruses and influenza, normal breathing also results in shedding of virus, which again, is blocked by wearing a mask.
So what are the objections that have been raised against masks in public as policy? But if one looks at the same level of evidence for the other measures strongly advocated by the government, for example hand-washing, studies have been similarly disappointing. And for other advice, such as the two-metre rule, or lockdowns, there have been no trials at all. So masks seem subject to a different standard of evidence than other measures. And while controlled trial data is not available, “natural experiments” do suggest at least a correlation between mask-wearing and reduced Covid-19 transmission. The city of Jena in Germany introduced mandatory mask-wearing on 31 March and recorded no new infections for eight days, while surrounding cities continued to see a rise.
Other objections include claims that wearing a mask increases other risky behaviours, such as a relaxed attitude to distancing (comparable to the idea that dangerous driving would increase when seatbelts became law), or that contaminated masks will increase rather than decrease infections. In Hong Kong, where mask uptake is an astonishing 98%, there have been no reports of harms associated with the practice, indeed, only four people have died from Covid-19 since the beginning of the outbreak.
That perhaps leaves the final objection, which is that the public wearing masks will divert this scarce resource away from hospitals and care homes. In this sense, the government may simply be dragging its feet because of scarcity – which is a political and economic issue.
As the government equivocates, unlike our European neighbours, the British public may end up being the “control group” for the face mask experiment the government has been demanding all along. But do we want to be?
Babak Javid is a professor at the Tsinghua University School of Medicine in Beijing and a consultant in infectious diseases at Cambridge University hospitals
For over two months now, Britain’s public health specialists have been asking why the government abandoned the basic infection-control practice of “test, trace, isolate”. Most of us have suggested that a system to do this was a precondition of easing the lockdown. The key words in Boris Johnson’s speech on Sunday were “you should go to work if you can’t work from home”. He made no mention of preparations for tracing and testing contacts of people who test positive for Covid-19. In the plan published today, a newly appointed test and trace taskforce will begin to develop such a system.
The countries that have succeeded in taming their coronavirus epidemics – such as South Korea, Taiwan, China, Australia and New Zealand – differ from the UK in many ways. But they all have in common “test, trace, isolate” as the centrepiece of their strategy.
The UK government claims to be “following the science”, but it seems the science now needs to catch up with a government that is prioritising concerns about economic damage over epidemic control. The economic damage is clear, and the lockdown will also have knock-on health effects due to unemployment, domestic abuse, and postponed diagnoses and treatments. But if science is the rationale, why not level with the public and show the data that suggests the return to work is now the lesser evil? If there is evidence from modelling that social distancing while at work or commuting – rather than sheltering at home – is sufficient for virus control, let us see it.
The government may have reasons to lift the lockdown before a “test, trace, isolate” system is in place but we do not know what they are. Some will see an ongoing commitment to “herd immunity” behind the lack of public health actions in the speech. However, I believe no UK government would select this as the preferred scenario. And emerging antibody data from hard-hit cities such as New York show that, with less than a quarter of the population affected, it would take at least another wave of devastation to get close to the herd immunity threshold.
It is possible that the data shows that there is still too much virus circulating in Britain and that a tracing system would be overwhelmed. Johnson hinted at this when he said that the quarantining of arriving travellers would be imposed only “with transmission significantly lower” – in other words, imported virus is still just a fraction of domestic virus transmission. If that is the case, however, telling people to go back to work is very risky advice.
It is also probable that the testing system does not yet have the required capacity, or that not enough contact tracers have been hired. However, there is unused capacity in local councils that the government is choosing not to tap.
The mantra for the past seven weeks has been to “protect the NHS” by staying at home. Surely the intent was also to use this time to prepare for the calibrated end to the lockdown. What we got in the prime minister’s speech was advice to go back to work this week without using public transport (unless we can work from home), and a promise to reimpose the lockdown if Covid-19 flared up again. What we did not get was any list of the actions in place to pursue and contain the virus.
All this is reminiscent of another government soundbite, “the right steps at the right time”. That idea did not work out so well at the start of the epidemic – when mixed messages and a stuttering set of interventions resulted in the virus spreading. On Sunday Johnson said: “We have been through the initial peak.” He is quite right that coming down the mountain is “often more dangerous” – particularly if the peak was higher than it needed to be – but why make the descent even more perilous by refusing to deploy all the tools to hand. No mountaineer would do so without the right equipment.
What many public health specialists hoped to hear was a commitment not only to scaling up testing but to deploying it in a more targeted manner. A commitment to work in partnership with the devolved governments and the regional and local authorities. And a commitment to use the tests to reduce virus transmission. If the government has decided these actions are premature then, at the very least, the piloting of these strategies needs to take place.
...So let me make a prediction. If we take the prime minister’s advice and return to work in large numbers now – and without the ability to test, trace and isolate – then virus spread will increase, there will be super-spreader events and local or regional lockdowns will have to be reconsidered. The prime minister implied in his speech that relapse will somehow be our fault – we were not sufficiently “alert”. The responsibility will lie, however, with a government that has encouraged a premature return to work before the epidemiologic conditions and interventions were in place to make it safe to do so.
David Hunter is the Richard Doll professor of epidemiology and medicine in the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford
The government is using the coronavirus pandemic to transfer key public health duties from the NHS and other state bodies to the private sector without proper scrutiny.
Doctors, campaign groups, academics and MPs raised the concerns about a “power grab” after it emerged on Monday that Serco was in pole position to win a deal to supply 15,000 call-handlers for the government’s tracking and tracing operation.
They said the health secretary, Matt Hancock, had “accelerated” the dismantling of state healthcare and that the duty to keep the public safe was being “outsourced” to the private sector.
In recent weeks, ministers have used special powers to bypass normal tendering and award a string of contracts to private companies and management consultants without open competition.
Deloitte, KPMG, Serco, Sodexo, Mitie, Boots and the US data mining group Palantir have secured taxpayer-funded commissions to manage Covid-19 drive-in testing centres, the purchasing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the building of Nightingale hospitals.
Now, the Guardian has seen a letter from the Department of Health to NHS trusts instructing them to stop buying any of their own PPE and ventilators.
From Monday, procurement of a list of 16 items must be handled centrally. Many of the items on the list, such as PPE, are in high demand during the pandemic, while others including CT scanners, mobile X-ray machines and ultrasounds are high-value machines that are used more widely in hospitals.
Centralising purchasing is likely to hand more responsibility to Deloitte. As well as co-ordinating Covid-19 test centres and logistics at three new “lighthouse” laboratories created to process samples, the accounting and management consultancy giant secured a contract several weeks ago to advise central government on PPE purchases.
“The government must not allow the current crisis to be used as cover to extend the creeping privatisation of the NHS,” said Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
“The process for the management and purchase of medical supplies must be open, transparent and subject to full scrutiny. Deloitte’s track record of delivering PPE to the frontline since this virus began is not one of success and taking more decision-making authority from NHS managers and local authorities shifts power further from the frontline.”
Tony O’Sullivan, a retired paediatrician who co-chairs the campaign group Keep Our NHS Public, said this was a “dangerous time” for the NHS, and that the “error-ridden response” from government had exposed a decade of underfunding.
Allyson Pollock, the director of the Newcastle University Centre for Excellence in Regulatory Science, said tasks including testing, contact tracing and purchasing should be handled through regional authorities rather than central government.
“We are beginning to see the construction of parallel structures, having eviscerated the old ones,” she said. “I don’t think this is anything new, it just seems to be accelerated under Matt Hancock.
“This coronavirus pandemic is being used to privatise yet more of our NHS against the wishes of the public, and without transparency and accountability,” said Cat Hobbs, director of campaign group We Own It. “This work should be done within the NHS. It shouldn’t be outsourced.”
Last week, the Lancashire Post carried a feelgood yarn about a great British success story. “It’s plane sailing for BAE Systems – with a little help from Carol Vorderman”, ran the headline, accompanied by a picture of the smiling former Countdown maths whizz sitting in the cockpit of a plane.
Lancashire’s biggest private sector employer had “designed and built a ventilator” to aid treatment in the coronavirus pandemic, and they’d done it with a bit of help from the beloved TV personality, who said that her small private plane had delivered some of the vital components.
You had to read to the end of the article to find out that, in fact, the world’s sixth largest arms-producing company had simply manufactured 2,700 ventilator parts, and that “ventilator design did not eventually go forward to full-scale production due to the drop in the need for ventilator technology”.
All of which represents another great day at the office for the communications team of a company that made $21bn in sales in 2018 – 95% of them to military customers – and whose Typhoon and Tornado aircraft have been key to devastating Saudi-led attacks on Yemen, which have killed thousands of civilians and contributed to what the UN calls a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
The word coronavirus has entered our vernacular in the space of a few months – now it’s also swiftly become a shortcut to brand self-awareness and vague corporate caring, with many companies quick to jump on board. A Who’s Who of polluters, tax dodgers and outsource vultures are urging us to #StaySafe, pumping out soft-focus branded content that makes Forrest Gump look like an episode of Chernobyl.
In a neoliberal society in which private companies need to project an image of public-spirited compassion, a global pandemic means back-to-back strategy Zoom calls for corporate communications teams. The mission objective is: how do we look like legends without impacting our profits?
More than that, these are often businesses that helped create and profit from the weakened public services and diminished standards of living that the outbreak of Covid-19 has served to expose, and which have hampered the UK’s response. These feelgood pieces of PR, then, are exercises not just in making it look like corporations are fighting the crisis, but that they also are definitely not culpable in having helped worsen it.
We have become used to sportswashing, greenwashing, pinkwashing and even wokewashing. We are now in the first wave of coronawashing, in which corporations trip over themselves to clap for key workers, before packaging the footage up into moving nuggets of shareable content and promoting them on several social media platforms. In the background, these same companies are asking for government bailouts and taking advantage of a crisis to push for favourable legislation and the slashing of regulations that are more necessary than ever.
And so we have Holly Branson, doing her best Ivanka Trump, tweeting about Virgin ventilator design while her father, Richard, lord of the boomers, moves on from taking legal action against the NHS to pleading for government money.
Then we have HSBC, which, among much else, has been heavily fined in the US for facilitating tax evasion and money laundering and was found to have “helped clients dodge millions in tax”. The banking giant is now showing its caring side by filling newspaper advertising pages with messages of support in this time of crisis. Yet at the same time it has decided, at Ramadan, to block donations to a Palestinian aid charity.
Examples of coronawashing are everywhere. Amazon, was recently “revealed” as a “mystery £250,000 donor to UK bookshops”. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos makes more than $8m every single day. His company has been deemed “worst” for aggressive tax avoidance and has long been widely blamed for the destruction of the very independent bookshops it is now so generously and mysteriously donating to.
A key element of coronawashing is, of course, the performance – being seen to be supportive in the face of a national and global tragedy. Primark donated “care packs” to staff at London’s new Nightingale hospital, established to treat coronavirus, but in Bangladesh it was cancelling production of $273m-worth of goods, leaving already immiserated workers destitute. (In the face of adverse publicity, Primark reversed its position.)
These corporations spent decades eviscerating the public sphere, which, in turn, has reduced the state’s ability to respond to large-scale problems. Now they hope to be patted on the back for throwing out some loose change and clapping the NHS (in an inspiring social media clip that you can like and share).
Under such a deluge of lies and twisting, is it any wonder that conspiracy theories gain traction??
What will counter them can only be rational science, testable ultimately against the real world. And that means Marxism-Leninism, dialectical materialism, battled for in a party dedicated to its development through constant polemics to establish a revolutionary perspective.
It will need to battle against the non-stop prejudice against workers states like that colouring the opinions above.
It is notable in the above cuttings that only capitalist world examples of more efficient and humane policies than the UK are cited, notably South Korea, but China, first largest and most efficient of the responses, is ignored.
Certainly some of the more efficient capitalist powers long outcompeting Anglo-Saxon cynicism, have done better, seeing better provision as the best way to keep revolutionary discontent at bay as they fight out the trade war, and having the capacity to do it (as the EPSR previously analysed, South Korea has done well for example precisely because two decades of potentially revolutionary turmoil after the 1990s currency collapses, and the proximity of North Korean socialist advances (not to mention China itself), has driven its ruling class to make reforms and preparations.
Meanwhile the conspiracy theorists will get no help from the 50-shades-of-red fake- "left" groups, mostly helping capitalism pour out its anti-communism or at best, failing to explain the existence and importance of the workers states, while challenging their mistakes as many times stated:
The fake-’left’ remains a major problem, particularly in the West, to a universal revival of revolutionary socialist struggle against this monstrous prospect of renewed world Depression and war, - refusing to analyse objective imperialist crisis which alone can prepare the masses for revolution, and refusing or incapable of explaining and correcting all the past Stalinist Revisionist theoretical and practical failures and mistakes of the workers states, while at the same time exposing and rejecting every last scrap of anti-communist propaganda which has polluted Western and Third World minds over the past century. The fake-’left’ philistine refusal to discuss and learn from the communist movement’s own mistakes, and to remain subjectively hooked on guru-centrism and leadership justification, posturing abstract ‘principles’ instead of massively discussing in the workers movement the actual situation in the whole of the outside world in order to make serious revolutionary preparations in political education, -- is a desperate hangover from the defeatism of Revisionism and the Cold War, and can only get in the way of a worthwhile socialist revival. (EPSR No1077 20-02-01).
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