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.

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

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.

A cure for self-isolation

The Centenary of the Communist Party in Britain isn’t the only notable centenary to be celebrated this year. 22 April 2020 is the 150th anniversary of Lenin’s birth (22 April, 1870, new style dates). To mark this event, and to help keep those of us who are not key workers usefully occupied, a group of comrades in Latvia calling themselves the Latvian Labour Frontline have laid down this challenge. In the month of April

• read/re-read Lenin’s works at a rate of 20-30 pages a day. That’s more than enough. Don’t cram and try to finish Lenin’s Collected Works in just a month!

• Post our daily reading report with the hashtag #Lenin150Challenge

If our reports could also contain• a photo of ourselves holding one of Lenin’s books.
• a proud sign saying “I have finished [name of the work]!”
• thoughts on what we have just read – for example: “I’ve just read Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Now I know I want to become an imperialist! ” (Yes, comrades, humour is allowed!)

that would be perfect!

But please don’t post individual quotes. They just go from one corner of the Internet to another and will be largely forgotten by your audience. If you really like a particular quote, just retell it in your own words.

If You don’t know where to start, try “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism”. But the choice is yours. You don’t have to rely on your bookshelf. You will find all Lenin’s most significant works at

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/index.htm.

This isn’t going to get us out of the current problems besetting society, but it might help us deal with things later.

 

The Day After Tomorrow

Despite the obsequious coverage in the mass media, it self-evident that the government has bungled its response to the coronavirus pandemic. It failed, in part, because ministers didn’t follow WHO’s advice to “test, test, test” every suspected case when they had the opportunity. They didn’t isolate and quarantine. Perhaps influenced by Dominic Cummings, they appear initially to have thought “herd immunity” would protect the rich while letting the old and poor perish. They failed to contact trace. They now have a new plan, Suppress–Shield–Treat–Palliate, but this was agreed too late and has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients. My view? No – those of experts. See link below.

What happens when the pandemic is over? The Tories will want to return to ‘business as usual’, ring fence the rich and powerful and require workers – survivors from the NHS, social services and the “unskilled” (SIC) workers to pay for rebuilding the capital owned by the 1%, just as they did after the 2007-8 banking crisis. A helpful strategy to this end will be to start a generation war. Sir Max Hastings on BBC Radio 4 yesterday argued that his generation had benefitted from the previous one’s efforts to defeat Hitler, benefited from the post-war booming economy until 2007, extracted from taxpayers “free bus passes” and other perks and now expects succeeding generations to pay for the cost of protecting them from the ravages of the pandemic and restoring the economy.
It’s not the elderly per se who have benefitted most in the last 75 years, it’s the wealthy – the owners of capital. Sir Max is, however, partially right. After the pandemic is over, we must establish a steeply progressive inheritance tax that covers wealth secreted away in trusts and other avoidance measures and use the huge amounts this would release as a true inheritance and ‘thank you’ for younger people who enabled the older and wealthier amongst us to survive.

As Solomon Hughes writes in the Morning Star today, it won’t be easy, but we must resist with all our might the coming attempts to revert to “business as usual” after the pandemic. We must build a better society for all working people – a society that can avert or withstand the next crisis coming over the horizon, global warming. If we can also bring to account those responsible for undermining the NHS, creating the gig economy, destroying free college and university education, undermining trade unions and destroying social housing and social welfare, so much the better.

 

References
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30727-3/fulltext
https://morningstaronline.co.uk

Doing capitalism differently?

Professor Mariana Mazzucato is a heterodox economist at the UCL some way from Marxism but she shares with Marxists recognition of the importance of “value” in economic analysis. In neoclassical economics, the kind they currently teach in universities, a marginalist approach is adopted and value is synonymous with markets and market prices. For Marxists, value is the labour time consumed in producing a commodity, whether directly or through the consumption of other commodities in its manufacture.

Professor Mazzucato argues in an article in the Guardian today that neoclassical economics goes a long way to explaining the mess the world finds itself in today and the Covid-19 pandemic will provide an opportunity to abandon it and do capitalism differently . Since the 1980’s, she argues, it has resulted in: weakened institutions like the NHS that are needed to respond to crises; a loss of confidence in what governments can achieve; the destruction of the social safety net; and growing inequality.

There was, however, no golden age prior to the 1980s, just a brief period after the War when the mere existence of the USSR required western capitalists to treat their workers a little better.

Professor Mazzucato believes capitalism can be reformed provided governments

• invest in and, if necessary, create institutions to prevent and manage future crises.
• co-ordinate research and development, steering them to “public health goals”.
• structure public-private partnerships to ensure “both citizens and the economy benefit”.
• attach conditions to bail outs of private business to ensure that the firms we save with public money become part of a new economy delivering lower carbon emissions and “investing in workers”.

A version of “soft capitalism” that incorporated these features would certainly be a great improvement on the current version, but it ain’t gonna happen. Capitalism is a system whose sole purpose is the accumulation of capital. Until it is itself overturned, all obstacles that impede this accumulation will be swept away. When the current crisis is over, public institutions like the NHS that restrict capital accumulation will continue to be under-funded and undermined; private sector R&D will continue to be driven by profit, not social need; public-private partnerships will continue to rip off workers; and, while there are still hydrocarbons left in the ground that can be extracted and burnt at a profit, CO2 levels will continue to rise. This is how capitalism works. The only solution is a social revolution that ends it.