The battle against the Covid-19 virus now has all the characteristics of a World War. As yet this new ‘World War ‘, is not against the citizens of another nation, as were the last two. Nevertheless, practically every nation has introduced variations of Martial Law to defeat this microscopic ‘enemy of the people’. Talk of an ‘army’ of volunteers has also been heard. Even the most pro-capitalist elites in UK and Europe have come close to ‘nationalising’ everything, as they did in the Second World War. This is being done in order to weather the crisis and ensure an eventual return to capitalist forms of production. As in previous wars, everybody must do as they are told and make sacrifices (some on this front line by dying) to save the system, with it’s divisions between rich and poor, and elite form of governance.
As in previous wars, the elite invite us to look away from the events leading up to the outbreak and focus on immediate problems. This allows them to shift responsibility away from the system, it’s governing elites and blame the victims of the virus when things go wrong. If the virus spreads uncontrollably, it will not be the fault of neo – liberal policies of the past decades, of elite under-funding of public services, low pay and homelessness, nor of exporting production to sources of cheap labour abroad. Instead, the finger will be pointed at the systems victims – we should have stayed indoors!
The fact that people do not trust the motives of politicians and governing elites because of years of broken promises and factual manipulations, will also be ignored. Those, who in the current dire circumstances, have sensibly conformed to the draconian measures will be encouraged to direct their anger at those who stockpile essential products, or decide not to self-isolate. Citizens may even be asked to report each other for transgressions to ‘public order’ provisions, just as they were in previous wars. We only need the national coordination of essential foods and clothing (ie ‘rationing’) and the similarities to other world wars will be obvious.
The experience of extensive national control during the Second World War, led people to mistake nationalisation for socialism. This led working people to support successive post-war governments to fully nationalise and modernise businesses – at public cost – after that war. This policy invited de-nationalisation (privatisation) when circumstances were favourable to the elite. Whether the capitalist and pro-capitalist elites can get away with the same trick after this Covid-19 war remains to be seen.
The fact that capitalist-minded governments have decided to help out ordinary people via massive cash donations to businesses and by extending illness and out of work benefits, may appear as a sincere concern for working class majorities in various countries. However, that concern is transparently thin. It has not been extended to front-line medical workers and other key workers. They still lack sufficient protection against infection or testing systems to determine who has the virus and who hasn’t. Yet some of these current anti-viral ‘remedies’ may be extended after the Covid-19 War is over.
The concept of a universal basic wage – paid to everyone, has already been suggested which will allow the unemployed and low-paid citizens to continue purchasing commodities which will make recovery for capitalist concerns possible. However, a post-war steep economic downturn and probable collapse is more likely because, like any other chain, economic and financial chains are only as strong as their weakest links. The current weak links are many – as a month of virus pandemic has already demonstrated.
Most of the current neo-liberal economic links are built on a combination of low-waged overproduction supported by leveraged debt and low-interest speculation. Keeping all the nearly-dead businesses, alive may be beyond the ability of even a new Marshall Plan. In 2019, the system was ready to collapse – given any source capable of sufficiently breaking the chain – as in 2008! Importantly, this virus-triggered world economic and financial crisis, occurs when the economic system has been routinely over producing for decades whilst polluting and destroying nature faster than can be remedied. Capitalism is Gaia’s cancer.
And the recent crash in financial markets does not fully indicate the depth or severity of the underlying crisis, for much of that ‘wealth’ is fictional capital. Its just paper promises leveraged and counted more than once, before being shredded. Its nothing new;
“With the development of interest – bearing capital and the credit system, all capital seems to double itself, and sometimes treble itself, by the various modes in which the same capital, or perhaps the same claim on a debt, appears in different forms and in different hands. The greater portion of this ‘money-capital’ is purely fictitious.” (Marx. Capital volume 3 page 460.)
Because profit is the motive to capitalist production there is constant rift between the limits to consumption, based as it is on the ability of enough people to buy everything for sale, and the amount which can be mass-produced in the hope of obtaining profits. This gap between production and consumption regularly leads to product dumping, destruction, bankrupt firms and recessions. The capitalist economic sequence has long been; full production – over-production – crisis – recession/stagnation – recovery – full production – over-production – crisis….repeated.
The depth and duration of recession after crisis has tended to be in proportion to extent and duration of the over-production. This current one will be a BIG one. Until production and employment is disconnected from profit and sustainably connected to egalitarian human needs, then crises will continue in a destructive downward spiral until societies can no longer recover on a capitalist basis. It would clearly be better to stop the decline before it reaches that point. Hopefully the current virus-triggered global crisis could be the catalyst for further disconnecting production from profit and making all production, people-led, need-based, egalitarian and ecologically sustainable – but not without a struggle.
Roy Ratcliffe (April 2020)