Pandemic, economic depression, visibility of the structural inequality and oppressions generated by neoliberalism, geopolitical confrontation for hegemony in the world-system, and a close-up vision of impending environmental collapse… All of this has come together in 2020, when the whole of humanity has had an unprecedented, for our generation, global pandemic.
The pandemic has caused more than 400 000 deaths worldwide (401 000 on 8 June), with more than 6.8 million officially recorded cases in 216 countries. In the second half of March, before lockdown began to be lifted in Asia, more than 3 billion people were confined to their homes.
It is impossible to judge at this point to what extent there will be a second wave of cases – and whether the virus will mutate.
Much more than a health problem
This is a moment of condensation of long-lasting processes, which were developing relatively autonomously and now converge explosively: the ecological crisis, neoliberalism’s limits and inequality, and the geopolitical fight for hegemony between old imperialism and China. The processes that are structurally altering the world shaped in 1945 are emerging and interacting. It is certainly, a fork in the path in history, a moment of high stakes for all political actors.
We are in a convergence of crises, full of dangers, a crisis of capitalist civilization, the most serious since the world wars of the twentieth century. This is what Gramsci called an organic crisis: cracks begin to appear in the very edifice of bourgeois power, its claim to universality begins to crumble, and previously hegemonic assertions are revealed for what they really are: means to ensure capitalist stability. Social consensus is deteriorating, and capitalist claims no longer appear to correspond to the general welfare. Political polarization is taking place, a political space is opening up that could be conquered by ecosocialist anticapitalists, but also by the extreme right, as “morbid symptoms” begin to appear.
When we present a proposal for a health policy based on solidarity, it is clear that the demands go beyond the framework set by capitalism. Our health depends on the conditions in which we live. It depends on whether we breathe clean air, whether we drink uncontaminated water, whether we are able to provide ourselves with high-quality food, whether our cities are a liveable environment, and so on. In short, it depends on whether we live well and whether our wages are sufficient to guarantee us a good life. Health is a physical, social, cultural and environmental issue that is the basis for a humanly rich life. Since the living conditions created by capitalism do not allow us to live a good life, neither socially nor culturally and ecologically, a health policy based on solidarity goes beyond the limits set by capitalism.
The ecological crisis
Deforestation, extractivism, capitalist productivity, the devastation of ecosystems and increased animal confinement and meat consumption have facilitated and increased the leap of species barriers by viruses. Three quarters of the new diseases that have appeared since 1960 are zoonoses. These include Ebola, AIDS, SARS, MERS and Covid-19. The globalization of trade has led to a rapid global proliferation of the virus. The growth of megacities and their associated slums escalates the speed of transmission between humans. Thus, the Covid19 pandemic is a consequence of the intersection of the effects of globalization.
The IPCC predicts an increase in global mean temperatures of up to 6°C degrees by 2100, which implies much larger temperature increases in most continental regions and the Arctic Ocean, significant sea-level rise, and an overall increase in frequency and intensity of extreme events such as heatwaves, forest fires, droughts, floods and devastating hurricanes/typhoons. This would lead to 3.5 billion people having to leave 19% of the land area, including coastal zones and tropical regions. This climate catastrophe, alongside other environmental tipping points, most notably loss of biodiversity, deforestation and lack of clean water, would have even more terrible consequences than those of Covid19, but the pandemic gives us an insight into what can become of a world victim of such disasters.
In some parts of the world, the moment of the pandemic is being used by agribusiness to advance the capitalist project for the destruction of nature. An example where this has been occurring is Brazil, where in March and April the deforestation of the Amazon forest grew 29.9% in relation to the same period last year. This destructive advance on the forest is also an advance of genocide on its peoples, especially indigenous peoples, which has been one of the most affected by COVID-19. It is essential that our eco-social organizations echo the international defence of the Amazon rainforest and the health of indigenous peoples during this pandemic period!
The geopolitical and geoeconomic impact on the world situation
The dispute for hegemony is formalized and bellicose, in a bipolarity aggressively worked by both the USA and China.
China has grown, for half a century, in a strategic partnership with the United States. The Obama administration had already tried to respond to China’s threatening growth by trying to undermine it through the Transpacific Partnership Treaty signed in 2015. But as part of the geopolitical realignment promoted by the Trump project, his government denounced the agreement in January 2017, leaving the space for the protagonism of Beijing, which began to place itself as a champion of free trade and economic globalization in the face of Washington’s nationalist protectionism.
The breakdown of this alliance has reverberated in all spheres of global society. The USA and the European Union (EU), are therefore emerging weakened from this phase. The EU, already hit by Brexit, will emerge the most damaged. The failure to mobilize a pan-European health response to the crisis has dealt a blow to the EU: member states did not act in concert when the crisis erupted in Europe, but unilaterally, closing borders, suspending free movement and stopping transport links without co-ordination. For weeks, Italy did not receive any help neither from neighbour states, like France or Germany (which also blocked exports of medical supplies and equipment), nor at the EU level. More was done by China concerning equipment supplies. Cuba, despite the criminal US blockade, sent medical brigades to more than 20 countries.
Indebted countries like Spain, Greece or Italy are directed to EFSM (European Financial Stabilization Mechanism) in a special Pandemic Crisis Support of 240 billion euros This mechanism enforces austerity measures and shortages for public services in exchanges for loans.
With 40 million claims for unemployment benefits at the beginning of June, the US economy is expected to reach a decline of 5.8 per cent (IMF) at the end of the year. Against the backdrop of the social crisis (and a wave of racial uprisings currently underway), the country has scheduled elections in November, which will mark the course of the domestic and foreign political situation. Trump will use all possible means to get re-elected (including fraud), but his goal is difficult to achieve. His prestige among half the population has been affected a lot. The current eruption of radicalized and broad mobilizations in the U.S. arises in the context of historical social and racial inequality, the political dissatisfaction and experience of struggle accumulated by new generations and the disastrous management of the pandemic by the Trump government – which imposed a disproportionate impact on the Black communities.
In the poorer countries, people will suffer both health damage and economic effects at the same time. In Brazil, Peru, Chile and Mexico, there is a real increase of the number of the cases. In Brazil, health experts foresee a Covid-19 explosion in June, increased by the criminal actions of Bolsonaro. This country combines explosively a worsening health crisis with an economic recession and a serious institutional crisis. Bolsonaro is more isolated and appealing to his radical base of fascist ideology, supported by sectors of the state police departments, army and militia, to shut down Congress and Supreme Court in order to rule in an explicitly dictatorial manner.
In Africa and the Middle East there is worst level of health systems, aggravated by war situations and, even with low figures of sick people, the risks of an epidemic are adding to those already present : In Africa, for example, malaria killed 380 000 people in 2018, tuberculosis 607 000 and malnutrition between 2 and 3 millions.
The peoples will be seriously confronted with greater austerity and a deepening of underdevelopment, food dependency, indebtedness, the stranglehold of multinationals and big local capital on the economy and resources. These are the same causes that triggered the revolutionary process in the Arab region and will give it new impetus for a new cycle after Covid-19.
The total uncertainty about a V-shaped recovery tends to make capitalist groups and their governments more aggressive. As long as capitalism is not defeated, any idea of a different and better “next world” will be pure utopia; it will be even more uneven. The struggle for an anti-capitalist alternative is increasingly urgent
A crisis of the neoliberal model
This crisis has its roots in globalization, and all the former crises will be increased after this pandemic. Moreover, the Covid-19 revealed the fragility of a globalized production capitalist system deeply determined by the search for maximum value (through value chains and the adaptation of the productions of the dominated countries to the interests of the big capitalist groups) and for profit rate widely unrelated to growth. Nevertheless, capitalist aims in the next months will be to go ahead with “business as usual”, as soon as possible.
The accentuation of globalization and austerity policies had already found its limits in recent years: since the 2008 financial crisis, the major central banks, including the US Federal Reserve, the ECB and the Bank of England, have injected huge amounts of money into private banks to keep the entire economic system afloat. At the same time, with zero or negative real interest rates, the indebtedness of countries and capitalist companies has soared in both the USA and Europe.
The financial means that central banks have distributed in profusion have not been used by the banks and the big capitalist companies of the other sectors for productive investment. They have been used to acquire financial assets. This produced a speculative bubble in the stock market, in the bond market (i. e. debt bonds) and, in some places, in the real estate sector. All the large companies became over-indebted at the beginning of this crisis.
A deep social crisis
The effects of Covid19 have been a sharp disruption of production, transportation of goods and demand.
Even in areas less hit by the pandemic, such as for example Africa (5 125 deaths on 7 June, more than 3800 in Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan alone) the crisis in China, then those in the USA and the EU have deep effects at economic and social level: the World Food Programme forecasts for 2020 a doubling of the number of people concerned by acute food insecurity, especially in Africa and the Middle East (it was 135 millions in 2019 due to wars and climate change).
The effect of this crisis is the return of the spectre of hunger to the poorest sectors of the working class in several countries, especially those excluded from the world of work, or inserted in it in a precarious way, with no labour rights, usually racialized populations and excluded from their ethnic and social condition. That is why initiatives by social movements to organize class solidarity initiatives to fight hunger are fundamental and have direct effects on the capacity for political organization in poor neighbourhoods. Movements by Black and migrant communities (especially in Brazil, the United States and Europe) have been the protagonists of these initiatives, which have a fundamental role in organizing popular resistance to the pandemic.
Food production is currently heavily centralized with a handful of big firms dominating in each sector. Much of what is produced is actively detrimental to human health and junk food contributes significantly to obesity and illnesses which affect the poor most because the stuff is cheap and filling.
Effect on jobs and living conditions of the working classes
The working classes, in which we include poor peasants, are the main victims of Covid-19 , directly through the number of deaths, and indirectly through lay-offs, job or activity losses, and pay cuts.
All the first studies in USA, Brazil or France, for example, show that popular classes are the main victims of the Covid-19 deaths. Out of a working population of 3.3 billion people, more than four out of five have been affected by the total or partial closure of workplaces, according to ILO estimates. In the United States, 20 million jobs were destroyed in April, 30 million new unemployment registrations in March. In Britain, 950 000 new registrations between 16 and 31 March – is ten times higher than normal. In Europe, the share of short-time working exploded. In Germany, almost 500 000 companies implemented it in March, twenty times more than after the 2008 financial crisis in one month.
A significant proportion of the workforce works in the informal economy in Africa, Latin America and Asia, as much as 90% in India. These “under the counter” workers lost their income with Covid-19, and have virtually no social protection, no unemployment benefits and little access to health services. In many countries significant proportions of these workers are migrants – either internal from countryside to cities (India, large parts of Africa) or from other states (In the Gulf States from Asia, in the US from South and Central America etc etc). These workers are doubly vulnerable not only to economic devastation but to racist scapegoating. The ILO predicts that 1.6 billion people worldwide – three-quarters of the world’s informal workers – are at risk of losing their livelihoods in the second quarter. It estimates that 6.7 per cent of the world’s working hours could be lost in the second quarter, or 195 million full-time equivalents for a 48-hour week, of which 125 million are in Asia, 24 million in the Americas and 20 million in Europe. A study by the African Union puts forward the figure of 20 million jobs lost on the continent and an increase in debt.
Covid-19 has exacerbated discriminations
In general, the most precarious of the working class were most directly or indirectly affected by the virus. In New York, Black residents of the Bronx, throughout the USA, Native Americans and Blacks; in the Paris region, the racialized populations of Seine St Denis; in Brazil, the Black people in favelas (slums). In India a huge percentage of those living on the streets or in slum dormitories are Muslim who were moved rapidly by landlords and the state when Modi imposed a very rapid and draconian lockdown – resulting in a vast movement of people. For the Philippines it is estimated that more than 70 000 migrant workers abroad will be forced to return, having lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Some of these worked in construction but the majority in hospitality – including on cruise liners. All these populations have been victims of greater morbidity factors, more precarious food and housing conditions, and the need to move around in order to continue working.
• Across Europe, the USA and Canada, Latin America, India, China and the Middle East, violence against women and feminicides has increased by 30-100% compared to the previous situation.
• In the United States, the Caribbean and South America (Brazil in particular), populations of African origin suffer much more, given the poverty situation of the majority, with the pandemic, unemployment, loss of income from the informal sector and State violence.
• All deported populations, refugees, Syrians, Palestinians, Uighurs, Rohingyas in Bangladesh in camps are further affected by this situation.
• In the Arabian Gulf, millions of migrant workers from South Asia are today in a most precarious situation, without work and means.
• School and college students from underprivileged backgrounds have suffered most from the physical closing of educational establishments and moving online of teaching without moves to guarantee computers and internet access to all. For younger children in particular they are most likely to suffer from insufficient support in the home environment.
The pandemic facilitates attacks on democratic freedoms
Many countries have introduced restrictions on democratic rights in the context of the containment of states of emergency. In many countries exceptional laws have been promoted, opponents arrested. In Philippines, for example Duterte used the Covid-19 to step up a repressive policy of population control. The same goes for Hong Kong, where the Beijing government is introducing a new restriction on democratic rights. In Latin America, this is the case in Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia, for example. In many countries, the containment and control measures implemented are an opportunity to experiment with new police methods with new tracing or surveillance technologies.
Clearly, the aim will be to make these measures permanent. All the more so as the Covid-19 has arrived in many countries following numerous social mobilizations against the consequences of capitalist policies. For instance, it was the case in Hong Kong, Algeria, Chile, France. Having exacerbated these situations of social injustice, the dominant classes rightly fear a resurgence of social mobilizations. They are therefore preparing for it by trying to strengthen their repressive arsenals. Nevertheless already, despite Covid-19, in Hong Kong people are in the streets against antidemocratic Beijing government laws and in Brazil a broad movement is being organized to demand Bolsonaro’s impeachment. We can expect many social and political mobilizations in the next months.
The current eruption in the USA in response to the execution of George Floyd by the Minneapolis cops (a force with a long history of particularly blatant racism) comes in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the disproportionate impact of the Trump’s policies towards the virus on the Black community.
Social movements and anticapitalists must organize against the violence of aggressive policies
While the health risks are still very present and the sole objective of the ruling class is to rebuild their profits, the threats to the working classes are twofold. Not only will business closures and layoffs increase, wages will be blocked or reduced, but laws of legislation which protect labour rights (where they exist) that have been widely questioned during emergency measures, and the will is to extend them. In India, for example, the Modi government is pushing states in this direction, and in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the rights of unions are suspended, as well as hygiene, safety rules for new activities and facilitated redundancies.
In different countries, such as Germany, Spanish State, US and Brazil, during lockdown, far right groups organized demonstrations against lockdown with a racist and xenophobic content, mixing conspiracy theories, nationalism or white supremacism. Elsewhere in India, Muslims (200 million) have been the victims of racist campaigns accusing them of being responsible for the epidemic. These groups are parasitic on the social and political crisis existing in many countries during and after the lockdown.
But, in numerous countries, despite lockdown, social movements, unions, popular communities have been active, as a continuation of numerous actions and mobilizations carried out before the confinement by trade unions, political organizations or social movements, such as for example the mobilizations against sexual or racist violence, those for the right to housing, the struggles of employees such as those of health workers in France, the anti-authority and democratic movements in Chile, Lebanon, Algeria, Hong Kong, and all the climate mobilizations carried out in the previous months. In some countries this has led to the growth of a new social movement – mutual aid – which raises interesting questions of operating ‘In and against the state’ in the current situation – and perhaps for the longer term and building community organisations where such had not previously existed to the same extent. Covid-19 and what it has revealed about the society in which we live can only strengthen the will of these mobilizations and movements to continue their action and to succeed.
Many self-organized initiatives of the working people, from the territories in resistance, in the countryside and in the cities occurred during the lockdown. There are examples of these initiatives from the population or organized sectors, such as peasants, indigenous peoples, unemployed, people and communities on the outskirts of large cities, the network of feminist solidarity, among others. These initiatives are forging very interesting alternatives, such as the collective manufacture of fabric masks to donate to the population in order to ensure the prevention of contagion, the donation and alternative production of food, the defence of the public health system and the demand to access it universally, the denunciation of the increase in the escalation of violence against women and the gruelling work of care done by them during isolation at home, among others.
One consequence of the crisis is the way that it has revealed to much wider layers of the population the types of work that create use value – essential work – and those which exist only to create profit. The work of social reproduction in health and care has been shown to be vital, whether within the home or (badly) paid for in either state or private sectors, both generally and more specifically by actions marking the value that working class communities give to this vital work. In many countries actions (applause) that started in appreciation of health workers broadened their scope to include all essential workers specifically those in postal, transport and food distribution and retail services. The high proportion of women and of black and migrant workers in these sectors has been underlined.
At the same time the very significant reduction in air travel and to a lesser extent in road travel has brought unexpected gains. The reduction in air pollution in thousands of cities ‘normally’ strangled by smog, and in noise pollution which is leading many to listen to bird song for the first time in decades – or ever.
Discussions are beginning in many social movements and parts of the labour movement under the slogan #buildbackbetter questioning the ‘normality’ of poverty amongst conspicuous wealth, of homelessness, of unsafe working conditions, of violence against women, of discrimination against Black and migrant populations, of pollution and food miles and other aspects of environmental catastrophe
During lockdown and after its lifting, there have also been many actions and workers’ strikes for security demands, closing of non-necessary production, the demand of guaranteeing labour rights and the payment of wages. For example, in many countries Amazon employees or employees in the catering, transport or logistics (delivery) sectors.
Therefore, the essential tasks of the social movements in the coming months will be to organize the popular classes for the defence of their health and their rights in the face of a wave of social attacks that will affect employment, social rights and democratic freedoms in parallel and to recreate a sustainable relationship between human populations and the environment
Confronted with the pandemic, demands concerning health system, housing employment and wages, education, welcoming migrants and the environment are emergency demands.
• Everywhere, and especially in regions hit by the pandemic, injection of sufficient means for the mass availability of screening kits, the multiplication of resuscitation beds and respirators. Generalization to the entire population of suitable protective masks and biologic tests.
• Restarting of economic activities only with health protection of the workers: provision of protective means (masks, gels, goggles, gloves) for all employees, allowing their protection and the immediate exercise of the right of withdrawal if the safety conditions are not respected.
• 100% assumption of responsibility by companies and/ or the state for the wages of workers who have suspended their activity, including migrant workers precarious workers, temporary workers, domestic workers, self-employed workers and seasonal workers, without any obligation to take days off or to subsequently recuperate the hours not worked. Obligation for the states to pay the wages of employees whose employers refuse to pay them during the crisis. The government must then recover the cost of this intervention by fining the company guilty of not paying wages.
• Provision by the state of a guaranteed minimum income sufficient to live decently or workers in the informal sector, for the unpaid unemployed, for students, for everyone who needs it.
• The prohibition of all dismissals and business closures by capitalist groups, the reinstatement of employees dismissed since the beginning of the pandemic.
• Opening of schools in safe conditions for students and teachers. No penalization of students for lost teaching.
• Refusal of any authoritarian and exceptional measures to suspend social rights, including the right to strike, and especially the maintaining of these measures after lockdown lifting.
• Halting all evictions of tenants, the suspension of rents, personal loans and water and energy bills, the provision of proper housing for all those living in precarity or without accommodation, the requisition of empty dwellings.
• Provision of adequate social care for the disabled, the elderly and all those who are or have been socially isolated by lockdown,
• The establishment of immediate emergency protection measures for women and children who are victims of violence, with rapid decisions to remove violent spouses or provide alternative housing for the victims, the guaranteeing of timely access to contraception and abortion as vital medical procedures,
• Conversion of closed centres for refugees into open reception centres with sanitary facilities. Immediate regularization of all undocumented migrants and refugees to give access to all social protection systems, an end to all expulsions. Immediate closure of the vastly overcrowded migrant detention camps, especially Moria in Lesbos and along the US-Mexican border.
Fight against capitalist organization of society, put the interests of the popular classes and social needs at the forefront in a series of urgent decisions
1. All essential areas of the health system, including health insurance and, finally, the pharmaceutical and biotech industry and all medical and pharmaceutical research and development must be deprivatized and placed under public control. Patents on medicines, knowledge and medical products must be abolished. Medical research must take place internationally and in a spirit of solidarity and be dedicated solely to the service of humanity. Knowledge and technologies must be made freely available to every country.
2. This must be accompanied by the development of a free social infrastructure for care, nursing and health. The essential jobs of social reproduction, mostly or even exclusively occupied by women, must be socially reconsidered and better remunerated.
3 It is self-evident that in the context of this restructuring of the health care system all private hospitals are to be placed under public control and transferred to social ownership. A unified health and clinic sector is absolutely essential.
4. Cleaning and other services necessary for the operation of hospitals and other care facilities are to be turned back into public tasks. The employees who carry out the relevant work must be paid decently and their health integrity at the workplace must be ensured.
5. In order to be able to cope with all this, stop all arms production, convert its manufacture to socially useful products and invest the funds that are released at the same time in the development of the health system.
6. Finance the costs incurred in the expansion of the health system by means of special taxes on high incomes, profits and assets. Everything must be done to ensure that the costs of the crisis are borne by those who have made huge profits and accumulated wealth at the expense of the general public in recent decades.
7. Working conditions must not make people ill and must be conducive to their development and health. This is particularly urgent for unskilled workers in the meat industry, agriculture, care of the elderly and delivery services. Work safety, adequate sanitation and hygiene measures must be guaranteed. Reduced working hours and better break arrangements. –
8. Absorption of precarious housing with urban plans for construction of quality public housing.
9. Strengthening and extension of the publication education system, refusal of privatization through the development of companies proposing internet learning packages.
10. The transfer into public ownership of the main social media platforms. Facebook, WhatsApp, Amazon and Zoom which are benefitting massively from the lockdown, and will be gathering data which will generate huge future profits. They should be taken over (without compensation, they have already raked in too much), and run as not-for-profit, transparent, public services.
11. In every country, transfer to public ownership of funeral services. Private companies should not be allowed to profit from death and attempt to manipulate people’s grief in an attempt to maximize their takings.
12. Sustainable agriculture and global food justice, reorganizing circuits of production and distribution according social needs. Reduction in food miles and in meat consumption. An end to deforestation – especially that driven by agribusiness.
13. Expropriation of private banks without compensation to the major shareholders and the socialization of the financial system under citizen control, the suspension of all bank charges on private accounts and the provision to the working classes of zero-interest loans to meet their immediate needs, freeze bank debts of families, microcredit and rents, and ensure water, electricity, gas and internet for everyone;
14. Immediate suspension of the payment of public debts must make it possible to mobilize the sufficient funds that countries need to meet the popular needs during the pandemic. The suspension of debt payments must be combined with an audit with citizen participation in order to identify the illegitimate part and cancel it.
15. Opening of borders for the safe admission of migrants, with legal status and access to health and social care services.
16. Fighting discrimination in the provision of public services for indigenous, migrant, Black, women LGBTIQ and disabled people can only happen through programmes of positive action to combat centuries of institutional discrimination and of ongoing consultation with and involvement of those communities in genuine decision making to create services which genuinely meet everyone’s needs.
Another world is necessary and urgent!
The present convergence of crises, since it jeopardizes the foundations of human life, requires an anti-capitalist policy with an eco-socialist perspective. It shows the urgency of a society based on social needs, organized by and for the working classes with public ownership of banks and the main means of production. And this crisis shows the urgent need to put a brake on the causes of climate change, to stop the environmental depredation that is destroying “our common home”, reducing biodiversity and opening the way to contemporary pests, such as severe respiratory syndromes of a viral nature.
If in the first decade of neoliberalism, there were aspirations and social sectors that came together to say, “another world is possible”, today we must unite to say, “another world is necessary and urgent”! We need common internationalist action that points us to paths towards a world where life is worth more than profit, where nature ceases to be a commodity. The current crisis shows clearly that a significant part of capitalist production is purely predatory, totally superfluous and wasteful.
In the early 2000s, the global justice movement brought together millions of people, from social movements, unions, with the participation of radical left organizations. Today, we need to build such gatherings, putting forward demands to fight against capitalism, climate change and discriminations. In pursuit of this goal, in different countries, or at an international level, some initiatives are beginning to occur. The organizations and activists of the Fourth International will devote their efforts for the success of such initiatives. There is an urgent need for social, anti-capitalist and revolutionary organizations and currents to coordinate, debate and establish joint actions at the regional and international level.
It will be impossible to return to the so-called normal state before the Covid-19 crisis – which was a capitalist “normality” that threatened the future of humanity and the planet. It is urgent to change to a new society based on social needs, organized by and for the working classes with public ownership of banks and the main means of production. That is why a radical socio-ecological transformational perspective is necessary.
8 June 2020
Executive Bureau of the Fourth International