Saturday, May 2, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has once again demonstrated the inability, and more precisely unwillingness, of the capitalist market economy to meet the human needs of the people, especially those of the working and poor communities living under its system of extreme inequality and exploitation. To this essential failure of capitalism as a system, which has been known to the majority of humanity for more than a century, one must also add the present anti-human policies of economic blockades and illegal unilateral coercive measures imposed by the imperialist states on more than 30 nations of the world. The combined result of these features and policies has been one of the most disastrous crises the world has faced.

From the very beginning of the crisis, the pundits of the capitalist system have been claiming that the coronavirus does not recognize any class differences and is taking victims from all classes and strata of society without any discrimination. But nothing can be further from the truth.

It is true that the virus is infecting anyone that it comes to contact with regardless of the person’s class, race and ethnic origin. But this is where non-discrimination ends. What happens next is the important issue that these pundits never discuss.

Experts in the medical profession go one step further and talk about the “underlying conditions” that are responsible for some people recovering and some others dying. However, even this correct observation stops at the superficial level. The fact is that these underlying health conditions have their own underlying social conditions that are rooted in the brutal logic and material processes of capitalism: rampant poverty and malnutrition, a private for-profit healthcare system that leaves millions without access to healthcare, starvation wages and dangerous working conditions, polluted neighborhoods as a result of environmental racism, systemic racial and ethnic inequality and discrimination — all products of over 40 years of neoliberal capitalist policies.

These are the social conditions that are directly responsible for the “underlying” chronic health conditions, which make the working people and the minority communities the main victims of death by COVID-19. In an article titled “COVID-19 is disproportionately killing minorities. That’s not a coincidence,” the Los Angeles Times wrote on April 8, 2020:

In Michigan, for example, African Americans accounted for 33% of COVID-19 cases and 41% of deaths as of Monday, though they represent only 14% of the overall population. In Chicago, 72% of the deaths have been among the city’s black residents, though they make up 29% of the population. The numbers are almost identical in Louisiana.

Shocking as these numbers are, none of this comes as a particular surprise to public health experts. African Americans are far more likely to suffer from the underlying health problems that are associated with serious and fatal COVID-19 outcomes: Black adults are nearly twice as likely as white adults to have diabetes and 40% more likely to have high blood pressure. Rates of obesity and asthma also are higher.

Because of poverty and other barriers, African Americans are less likely to have access to regular medical care. They’re more likely to live in neighborhoods where markets selling fresh, nutritious food are scarce....

But not only has the capitalist system created the conditions for such a disaster, its leaders are now more concerned about the fate of the stock market and the decline in the GDP than they are concerned about the loss of human life. In a similar manner to the multi-trillion-dollar bailout package that went to the financial sector during the 2008 economic collapse, the majority of funds in the present emergency package approved by the U.S. Congress is now going to the large corporations in the major industries. Even the Trump Administration’s authorized purchases of the medical supplies (from China and other nations) are done through private companies that prioritize their own clients and highest paying customers over the medical facilities that need them most.

One thing that has become very clear in this crisis is that, within the spectrum of various socio-economic systems around the world — from capitalism to socialism and countries in between — the closer to the pure form of capitalism a country is, the deeper its COVID-19 crisis has become. While countries like China and Russia (with some level of remaining socialized healthcare), Cuba, Venezuela and others, have been able to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on their population, the worst crisis is inflicting the United States, which has the most unregulated and free form of capitalist market economy.

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed to the whole world the Achilles Heel of Capitalism — its inability to realize and provide for the objective material needs of the people. The question now is whether or not the radicalizing masses of the people will be able to seize the opportunity that history has given them to make fundamental systemic changes or will allow themselves again to be misled and demobilized by the promises of capitalist reform and recovery.

Recognizing the systemic nature of the current crisis is an important and necessary step for all of us. But that recognition must be translated into new and more effective ways of mass mobilization at the global level.

One of the prominent leaders of early 20th Century has said famously that the future of humanity will be either socialism or barbarism. It seems that humanity has now reached that critical juncture to choose. Let us make sure that the world moves in the right direction.

Bahman Azad

Executive Secretary
U.S. Peace Council