COVID 19: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

History teaches us that pandemics do end; but in their wake huge social change can follow.

The Antonine Plague in the second century, thought now to be smallpox , caused the expansion of the Roman Empire to falter; and the Justinian Plague in the sixth century halted the attempt, successful up to that point, to re-establish that empire in the west. The Black Death in the fourteenth century accelerated the dissolution of feudalism and the transition to a wage economy. Recurrences of plague in the seventeenth century heralded the dawn of merchant capitalism and colonial exploitation and then the eventual emergence of the real thing as the Industrial Revolution took off. The assessment by bourgeois economists is that the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 had few social or economic consequences, at least in the developed economies of the day – see link below for a typical  assessment – but in its wake the world did, nevertheless, experience the start of the first attempt anywhere to build a socialist economy. Coincidence?

Whether the Covid-19 pandemic will have comparable social consequences remains to be seen. Our rulers are prone to reassure us that, like World War 1, it will be ‘over by Christmas’ – or at least under control thanks to our supposedly “world class test and trace system”. As this system is run Serco and based on call centres, its only conceivable ‘world class’ aspect is its ability to extract revenue from government. But even if the pandemic were to be brought under control by 2021, a prolonged recession appears inevitable and the tools this government is prepared to employ to end it are inadequate:  printing money and using it prop up the corporate sector in the hope that they will make the capital investment needed to resuscitate the economy.  There is no historical evidence that such a policy will work. What is actually needed is public ownership and massive government investment; but to embark down that road is to risk opening the door to socialism. Lose control of the government after making this investment, however temporary, and it might no longer be possible to shut and bolt the door again. The danger is that our government or its successor will prefer anything to that including war and fascism. Unfortunately, unlike printing money and propping up the corporate sector, these are well tried strategies that have been demonstrated to work  – for capital but not, of course, for workers.

https://www.stlouisfed.org/~/media/files/pdfs/community-development/research-reports/pandemic_flu_report.pdf

AGITATE, EDUCATE, ORGANISE

The principal question raised by the Foreign Secretary’s claim that the Russian government is behind attempts to hack Corona virus vaccine research is not how much worse Russian gangster capitalism is compared with our home grown variety but why this research is being conducted in secret in the first place.

Our planet faces two existential crises

  • the de-stabilisation of the climate through fossil fuel consumption.
  • the current global pandemic that, unchecked, could kill hundreds of millions worldwide.

The only known solution to the climate crisis is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Subsidising windmills and home insulation only reduces fossil fuel extraction at the margin.

The best solution to the global pandemic is co-operatively to develop a vaccine, sharing the knowledge as we go along.

Capitalism is incapable of doing either. Its continence depends on profit maximisation. Contrary to the belief of social democrats, the grip of oligarchs on our ‘democratic’ governments is just too strong for capitalism and social responsibility to co-exist.

The production of a Covid-19 vaccine is, in Marxist terms, a productive force.  Its development is inhibited by the legal framework of commercial secrecy which is an essential part of profit maximisation under capitalism. Similarly, green technology is a productive force whose development is inhibited by the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels which provide energy that is more profitable than the green alternatives  – but only because under capitalism the price necessarily excludes the social cost of global warming.

Marx wrote in the Preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

Marx’s analysis above appears to fit the current situation perfectly. Does it follow that we are now entering an era of social revolution that will end capitalism and transform society?

Yes, but only if, as communists, we agitate, educate and organise.

Why was Long Bailey sacked?

Hot on the heels of Sir Keir Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long Bailey as shadow Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, the actual Education Secretary, is reported to have told the Tory 1922 backbench committee that he is to cease consulting with the teachers unions about the safe opening of schools. Williamson is reported as saying he will get children back to school in September “come what may”.

Long Bailey was supposedly sacked for tweeting a link to an interview with Maxine Peake on the Independent website which contained a brief comment linking Israeli security services with the infamous knee-on-neck hold used by US police. She has, however, been a supporter of the National Education Union (NEU) and its opposition to under-controlled school re-opening  and is supportive of modern teaching methods.

In a further attempt to curry favour with the most reactionary elements in the Tory Party, Williamson said he wants all children to face the front of the classroom when schools reopen in September. He had been shocked to discover that in many classrooms children were actually sitting at round or square tables facing one another!  Apparently unaware of current teaching practice (let alone Covid-19 distancing requirements) or the substantial volume of research in this area, he considers it “wrong” and wants “the class to pay attention to the teacher” when schools reopen. Quite what he thinks has been going on in classrooms since the days of Cider with Rosie is perplexing. Perhaps he has been spending too much time talking to Amanda Spielman, the should-have-been-furloughed Head of Ofsted who has had nothing to do since schools closed than go around expressing her reactionary views. Or is he recalling his time as a Defence Secretary until he was sacked by Theresa May in 2019 for leaking classified documents? As Defence Secretary he might be dimly recalling the traditional army method of teaching soldiers how to dismantle and re-assemble a bren gun:

  • show’em once
  • show’em twice
  • show’em three times
  • get them to do it
  • shout at them when they get it wrong.

if it worked for soldiers, why not children?

 

Meanwhile, what was Starmer up to? Did he sack Long Bailey to:

clear out the last Corbynite from the Shadow Cabinet and return to New Labour principles?

move Labour education policy back to more traditional methods?

appease the pro-Israel lobby?

distance Labour from the NEU resistance to precipitate school re-opening?

ensure Labour is not seen as hindering the wider re-opening the economy?

Perhaps it was one of those occasions when a multiplicity of discreditable ambitions could be furthered with a single discreditable action.

NO SAFETY WITHOUT UNIONS

Writing in the Morning Star last month under the heading No Safety Without the Unions (links below), John Hendy and Keith Ewing of the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) argued that, in the absence of ‘proper consultation’ with unions on the return to work and a clear statement of the legal obligations on employers to safeguard employees returning to work while Covid persists, workers face the cruel dilemma of either risking their (and their families) health or earning a living.

In a better world than the one we currently inhabit, a union rep in any workplace where workers were at risk would be able to immediately withdraw workers, informing only the local management and secure in the knowledge that, if necessary,  she could call on support from other workers in other workplaces.

This power for local trade union reps would immeasurably improve the lot of workers everywhere. What would it take?  ‘Only’:

  • the re-introduction with active government support of the ‘closed shop’ under which workers were automatically enrolled in a trade union and employers could not tamper with collection of dues by checkoff;
  • the right to withdraw labour without notice and free from the threat of prosecution or damages under statute or common law, including the right to take secondary or solidarity action;
  • abolition of all the anti-trade union laws that have been enacted by successive governments, Labour and Tory; and
  • the re-introduction of collective bargaining.

 

The IER currently prioritises the last of these measures.  Perhaps they are right to do so for tactical reasons. It is difficult to image a Keir Starmer led Labour administration adopting any of the other  measures. Indeed, the first two would probably give most Trade Union General Secretaries sleepless nights! However, unless we press for them  all – and by ‘we’ I mean the Communist Party,  its allies and what’s left of the Left in the Labour Party – we will never secure them. The first step towards doing so – our very own Long March – is to articulate and call for them.

 

Links:

https://www.ier.org.uk/comments/no-safety-without-the-unions/

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/f/no-safety-without-the-unions

COULROPHOBIA

Unions with members in the education sector published a joint statement on 27 May saying that schools should ‘only open when it is safe to do so’. According to this statement, the government, in pressing for a partial opening tomorrow, 1 June, was showing “a lack of understanding” about the potential spread of coronavirus in schools and outwards to parents, siblings, relatives and the wider community. The statement was signed by UNISON, AEP, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, NSEAD, Prospect and Unite. You can read the full text of the statement via the link at the end of this posting.

Are the unions correct in saying that the government doesn’t ‘understand’ what it is doing? Can 261,184 confirmed Covid cases and 36,914 deaths overall by 25 May, the third-highest death per population in the world, be simply due to a failure of understanding? Certainly Johnson acts the bumbling clown, prompting in us ‘coulrophobia’, or fear of clowns, but does such clownish incompetence really provide a plausible explanation when the introduction of distancing restrictions were deliberately delayed, when track and trace was deliberately abandoned and when we are now deliberately rushing to be amongst the first wave of nations to relax restrictions when we have no right to be in that vanguard?

There is another, more sinister explanation for the government’s actions and inactions: it has real concerns that, following the Global Financial Crisis and with the next major crisis, global warming, approaching fast, capitalism won’t survive. Their real priority is that, when the pandemic eventually subsides, the bankers must be able to recover their loans, the landlords must be able to claim their rents and the owners of capital must be paid their dividends. This is the priority for which the government will, as it has boasted, do ‘everything necessary’. If that ‘everything necessary’ means killing you, me and a significant proportion of the entire working class, it’s prepared to do it.

So where does this leave school re-opening? Until trade unions are able simply to withdraw labour when their members are at risk in the workplace without fear of injunction, fine, sequestration and attack in the pages of the capitalist press, and until unions can call on solidarity action by other workers to back up such action, they will have to resort to such ’moderate’ actions as the joint statement issued this week. When they can re-assert their rightful power in the workplace, we will not only be on the road to overcoming our coulrophobia, we will be on the road to socialism.

Link:

Education unions agree statement on the safe reopening of schools

CAPITALISM’S STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE

The Guardian yesterday (14 May) quoted from the Daily Torygraph an internal report by HM Treasury officials leaked to that paper outlining the options for re-starting the economy after Covid-19. As readers will appreciate, it would be asking too much of me to read the odious Torygraph – reading the Guardian is bad enough – but here is the gist of the summary of the leaked document as the Guardian reported it.

• A forecast budget deficit for 2020-21 of £337 billion, up from pre-Covid forecast of £55 billion

• A possible intensification of the austerity programme, including an inevitable extension of the public sector pay freeze. As public sector pay is already depressed by years of pay
freeze, this would, however only save a paltry £6.5 billion over two years.

• “Broad based” tax rises, which is Treasury-speak for increasing VAT and National Insurance.

• Borrowing – but here the report is said to have warned of a “sovereign debt crisis”. Thus, despite record low interest rates and, thankfully, still with our own currency, borrowing is dismissed as a longer-term strategy.

• Cutting the state pension – but abandoning the triple lock would only generate modest savings. Not mentioned by the Guardian is the obvious strategy of ensuring that no state pensions need be paid. Encouraging an early return to work and opening schools before the Summer Break may well suffice to kill everyone currently receiving the state pension, but, if not, increasing the state pension retirement age to 75 should complete the job.

• Cutting welfare spending. Again, no mentioned was made of the obvious strategy of ensuring that poor people die in large numbers, thus saving most of the £130 billion previously spent on welfare.

Government strategy could be seen as already starting down the roads suggested by the last two strategies. Schools are to re-open in the teeth of opposition from NEU and other teaching unions while the mass media and, most shamefully of all, the BBC , seek to assure us all that this will be quite safe. In the private sector that may well be true, but not in most of the state sector. Funding that keeps the homeless off the streets is to be cut which will ensure that they will die within weeks. Return to work by low paid workers, i.e. those who cannot work at home using a PC, is being encouraged and, in effect, enforced. Many of these workers have no trade union to speak up for them, the result of policy by a succession of Tory and Labour governments.

Capitalism is threatened and these are desperate measures intended to shore it up. It can only survive if the current social relations on which it depends are maintained. Banks must be allowed to enforce their security. Landlords must be allowed to evict and sue their tenants. Creditors must be paid. Employees must work and obey their employer. The message from the government will be that, if these social relations are not maintained, there will be anarchy.

Not necessarily! There is an alternative: working class power and socialism.

Solidarity with socialists in Labour

Writing in the Guardian G2 today, actor Julie Hesmondhalgh expressed the disappointment many Labour members feel at the departure of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. She felt that his time as leader was a missed opportunity; and while she encouraged Corbynistas to stay and work within the Labour Party, she nevertheless conceded that this work will now all be about getting the Tories out rather than creating an “amazing socialist utopia”.

Despair amongst the left in the Labour Party is understandable, but one consequence of Jeremy Corbyn’s brief time as leader has been a recognition by many within the Labour Party that they have more in common with members of socialist parties to the left of Labour, especially the Communist Party, than with their own right wing. In the 2017 general election, and again in 2019, when the right wing of their own party was actively conspiring to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, the support they received campaigning on the doorstep from card carrying communists and in the pages of the Morning Star, the only national newspaper to give Jeremy Corbyn unwavering support, will not have gone unnoticed.

As communists, we never believed that a Corbyn-led majority Labour government would result in the “amazing socialist utopia” which Julie envisaged. This will take a social revolution, not a fleeting parliamentary majority, and a wider social base than the Labour Party can presently provide. The bonds of solidarity and respect we have established with socialists within the Labour Party are nevertheless real ones which must not be allowed to wither on the vine now the right wing is back in control of Labour. It is not for the Communist Party to lure members from Labour, but for those Labour members who want to do more in the coming years than simply campaign to get the Tories out, we are here to welcome you.

AFTER COVID-19

In a month or two

• retailers and home mortgage borrowers won’t be able to service their loans from the banks
• private landlords won’t be able to service their loans from banks as their tenants are unable to pay their rent.

As a result property prices will collapse, rendering banks insolvent as much of their lending that isn’t dependent on vanishing future profits is secured on property. While central banks will continue to pump huge amounts of liquidity into the banking system, liquidity is not the same thing as solvency. Banks will inevitably go bust, necessitating governments to rescue them again, as it did in 2007-8, and, as they did post 2007, seek to re-balance the economy with a further round of ‘austerity’ for workers.

My speculation? No, it’s effectively what Larry Summers, the celebrated economist and former director of the National Economic Council under President Obama, was saying today on Bloomberg.

Summers predictably declined to predict how all this would all turn out. The aim for communists surely has to be to socialism. We allow banks this time to go bust while securing continuance of their money transmission and their other, essential i.e. non-speculative activities – something the Vickers Report should have ensured but which it failed to do. We close down tax havens. We appropriate the appropriators.

Meanwhile, the immediate need when Covid-19 has been brought under some control will be to hold the UK government to account. Why is our death rate heading to be the highest of any developed nation? Why were Johnson and Prince Charles tested when others were left to die? Why was the warning from the SARS outbreak ignored? Why has the government been closing hospitals and A&E, including the threatened closure in our area of Epsom and St Helier Hospital? Why has the NHS been used as a bargaining counter in trade negotiations with the USA? Why did the government fail to protect NHS staff with PPI?

We need more than just whistle blowing for the NHS every Thursday at 7 pm. We need immediate accountability post Covid-19, then to start building a better world.

THE REAL NIGHTMARE

The first thing on our minds when we now wake up in the middle of the night isn’t, of course, Covid-19 or even the health of our Prime Minister, it is relief that we have not been nuked as we slept by the dastardly Chinese or Russians. What better opportunity could they have than now when we are all being ravaged by a virus? We can, however, turn over and go back to sleep, content in the knowledge that Dominic Raab (or Keir Starmer, if he has mysteriously become Prime Minister in the middle of the night) is willing to push the Red Button and avenge us posthumously, even at the personal cost of becoming a genocidal mass murderer .

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, one of our four nuclear missile-armed submarines has been at sea. The far-sighted people at the Admiralty have even taken Covid-19 into account. If only others in government had been so far sighted! Crews are now held in quarantine ahead of the deployment, so that, it is hoped, none of them develop the symptoms while at sea. As a further precaution, the crew currently at sea are thought not to have been told about the pandemic. This is so that they are not distracted by a fellow submariner with a cough from the business in hand: targeting their rockets on China, Russia and North Korea and the potential need to re-program them quickly to hit Iran (France and Israel, although nuclear armed, are presumably exempt).

CND has calculated that replacing Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system will cost at least £205 billion. See https://cnduk.org/resources/205-billion-cost-trident/ . Money well spent for a good night’s sleep!

Before returning to sleep with these reassuring thoughts in your head, don’t however dwell on the possibility that the USA might have sold us the systems with a disabling mechanism hidden within them. That would only give you feverish nightmares in which Mr Raab or Mr Starmer repeatedly stab at the Red Button and nothing happening while a ginger haired President sits in the White House and smirks.