By COOPER BARD
After universal shutdowns of economic activity, widespread adoption of masks and social distancing, and one of the most rapid development and rollouts of a vaccine in history, humanity still finds that COVID-19 is a problem. The pandemic has taken over four million lives globally. The USA, India, and Brazil remain the top three nations with both confirmed infections and total deaths (according to given data). However, the large populations of these countries have raised them to the top of the list; virtually every nation on Earth is dealing with this crisis, some better than others.
Have all these methods been for naught? Should we listen to the pundits of big business and declare that we should just learn to live with COVID? Should we accept this as the new normal? The answer is no, because if we take a look at the reasons why these measures haven’t ended COVID (and why some nations have fared better or worse than others), we can see that there is hope to end the pandemic.
Reason #1: Poor leadership on countermeasures, and fabricated wedge issues
The growth of different “breakthrough variants” of COVID-19 (viruses that overcome the currently vaccinated) might seem to suggest that vaccinations, or other countermeasures, are useless. This would be a dangerous miscalculation. The growth and spread of the virus across the population only increases the space within which the virus can mutate into new forms. Effective countermeasures can (or should have) lessened the spread of variants. But that depends on government leadership united behind science.
Spread by exhaling from the lungs into the air, the COVID-19 virus has several weaknesses in transmission. The first is that it is far less likely to be spread by surface contact than through the air. Simple hand-washing can virtually eliminate the risk associated with surfaces, and the rest can be largely countered by mask wearing and social distancing. Mask wearing is important in protecting both you and others from your being a potential carrier. Social distancing, although an imperfect countermeasure, helps protect everyone. Additionally, you are more likely to get infected in an enclosed, rather than an open, space. Combined with temporary lockdowns and aggressive contact tracing, these measures would make it possible to severely limit the spread of COVID variants and to limit infections (more on this later).
In the United States, unfortunately, the ruling class provided poor leadership on these issues, locked in its own battles in the electoral arena. The conservative wing in particular, led by Donald Trump, refused to listen to scientists’ recommendations on mask wearing, opting instead to appeal to the basest individualism of Trump’s supporters. The selfishness of it all was masked by the banal appeal of “freedom” from government interference, as if your right to walk to the convenience store for a milkshake trumped everyone else’s right to live.
In Brazil, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has spread misinformation to sow disbelief in the pandemic and its severity for the country . This has occurred despite his plummeting popularity for the poor handling of the pandemic, with demonstrations against his policies numbering in the thousands. Vaccination rates remain low in Brazil, and poverty remains high. Bolsonaro, like Trump, promoted bogus alternatives to vaccines and unhelpful quick fixes. Both leaders touted the benefits of chloroquine (a drug for treating malaria), while Trump even questioned whether injecting disinfectants into the body would be useful, though he quickly walked back that remark.
It is unfortunate that this pandemic occurred during an upswing in right-populism and conspiracy theorizing around the world. In the United States, this led to widespread and unfounded distrust of vaccinations (more on vaccination strategy later). Many Americans were fooled by decades of paranoid far-right bleating about “government interference,” to the point where the country was completely unprepared, materially and culturally, to deal with a pandemic.
But it would be wrong to blame segments of the U.S. middle class and working class for this problem. Their sources of information are often filled with lies. The engine of capitalism and market forces also had a role to play in the prolonging of the pandemic.
Reason #2: Capitalism cannot sustain itself under lockdown
It stands to reason that to stop a virus with a two-week incubation period, you just have to stop going out for two weeks. How hard could it be? Insurmountable, it seems.
Under a capitalist economic system, especially one so integrated and complex as in the United States and other advanced industrial countries, products and services must move constantly or the system will die. Things must be produced, sold, and distributed at a rapid pace to ensure profits to the ruling class. The shutdown didn’t adequately accomplish its task in the United States because, again, poor leadership on the part of U.S. politicians didn’t make it universal enough, and their decisions were directly influenced by their donors among the capitalist class. A socialist economy based on production and distribution for human need would avoid this problem.
Small businesses suffered greatly under lockdown. Their entire existence rests on the market forces of capitalism, buying and selling, but on a leaner budget and on smaller scale. Their needs influenced the poor decisions of politicians as well, and fueled an on-the-ground culture of denialism against countermeasures. But their plight wasn’t purely the result of the pandemic, but largely of capitalism. And even when the U.S. government gave away billions to sustain small businesses, many didn’t even get the help they needed to stay afloat. Meanwhile, the government always has more money for fighter jets!
Capitalism also affects workers, poor and middling. They have been disciplined by market forces to perform work for the bosses at a particular time and in a particular place, and doing so, to exist on a lean budget. So when the lockdown hit, many poor families suddenly didn’t have jobs. How are you supposed to feed yourself or your kin? Pay rent? Or even just spend for the good things in life? The COVID-19 pandemic clearly shows that capitalism is inhumane, making people choose between two equally bad alternatives—go to work and die of COVID, or stay home and live in poverty.
If our society provided necessities like food, health care, and housing as human rights, staying home wouldn’t have been so big a problem. We must cut through the lies of the capitalist press, which tries to convince the poor workers that the problem is the lockdown. The problem is the entire system of exploiting people for profits and keeping the necessities of life behind the market barrier.
Reason #3: Inequalities in health care, housing, services, and work
When humans live in crammed or unsanitary housing, suffer from racial discrimination, have to go to unsanitary or dangerous jobs, or don’t have access to good transit, health care, etc., disease is more likely to spread among the population. It is no secret that the Black and Latinx peoples of the U.S. have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and it’s obvious why. Their housing is neglected, both in quality and quantity, they often have the hardest jobs, and they are on the front lines of the pandemic in jobs such as nursing and meatpacking.
The pandemic has surged in India and Brazil. As of this writing, Brazil has only 25% of the population vaccinated, while India has under 10% of the population vaccinated . A major reason why this is so should be obvious; both countries suffer from an extreme ghettoization that places millions of poor people in conditions ripe for the spread of disease. So, of course, the pandemic hits the poor the hardest in these countries. Not all companies around the planet care to provide their most exploited workers with the PPE needed to remain safe, and certainly the capitalist governments don’t give a damn about the poor in the ghettos.
Additionally, the global medical system is wanting. Plenty of skilled doctors and nurses simply don’t have medical equipment or proper training or staff. The result is an unbalanced medical system where some countries have the necessary equipment and sanitation and others have less. When dealing with a virus that has spread across the planet, this is unacceptable.
Reason #4: The national-chauvinist vaccine rollout
The wealthiest nations have poured billions into the rapid development of vaccines to counter COVID-19. This, in and of itself, proves unquestionably the potential of planned economic and scientific development in solving humanity’s problems. But when poor countries petitioned the WHO to pretty-please with a cherry on top let them have access to these technologies so they to could save lives, the rich countries said “no.” Never mind the irony that too many people inside the rich countries didn’t trust the science of vaccines anyway. Now, doses of vaccines are hoarded by different countries, and in the insanity of capitalism, they have to out-bid each other for access (with Big Pharma capitalists laughing all the way to the bank). This is compounded by a capitalist system that retains life-saving technology under patents for the private profits of the rich.
President Biden has provided only a temporary lift of the patent on vaccines, and while this is much to the ire of rags like The Wall Street Journal, Biden has no intention of reforming the exploitative pharmaceutical industry in order to prevent future crises or hoarding of medical science. Even Biden’s measure is PR hoopla, as waiving the patents is done by consensus in the World Trade Organization, and European countries are refusing the waiver. Naturally, so-called “philanthropists” like Bill Gates express more concern for IP (“intellectual property”) rights—which the poor little multinational corporations really need!—than the human race . According to data , 59% of the U.S. population supports the waiving of patents and allowing the global production of generic COVID-19 drugs.
This often leaves nations to fend for themselves in producing their own vaccines. Cuba, China, Russia, India, Taiwan, etc. developed their own vaccines. But this vaccine nationalism only produces more confusion and more uncertainty about effective countermeasures, when a single globally agreed upon plan of attack against COVID would do.
The amount of resources spent by rich countries on “generous” donations to poor countries are nothing compared to their own nationalist programs, and both combined are dwarfed by the cost of war preparations and cyber-espionage. As in the case of the climate crisis, the state under capitalism is completely paralyzed in the face of global catastrophe and offers so way out for the human species.
COVID-19 is not an impossible problem to deal with, nor is it just a “fact of life.” It is an understandable and traceable problem. COVID-19 isn’t the only threat; our mis-leadership and our sick economic system are threats as well. Unless humanity overthrows the mis-leadership and transitions to a socialism based on the self-activity of the masses (against the bureaucratism of the few), we are unlikely to overcome COVID-19 in the near future, to say nothing of humanity’s real test: climate change.
If the worldwide governmental leadership had trusted the science of pandemics, and if it had a commitment to educating the masses on the importance of working together, we might have avoided many problems. Unfortunately, the leadership is interested only in fooling the masses and making them feel fear over reason. It is a necessary evil of an economic system based on the exploitation of labor for profit.
Humanity could spend billions of dollars in the near future improving the housing and access to services of millions of people worldwide, and especially making health care free. That is the difference socialism can make, especially in America, India, and Brazil. Making essential services, as well as consumer goods, accessible to everyone—and making the production of these a priority over military spending—is essential to improving quality of life and lessening the threat of unsanitary conditions.
Finally, there needs to be a globally agreed upon plan of action to combat global problems. Unfortunately, the world’s most powerful countries—the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany—are led by people concerned with the profitability of their domestic capitalists, and are their chief servants. As long as human economic activity is geared towards capitalist competition and profitability, there will be no question of long-term cooperation. Over the whole world, the masses need a socialist revolution to destroy the governments of the rich and begin the transition to new forms of human relations that can secure us future progress.
Brazilian President Bolsonaro uses “working paper” as a flimsy excuse to spread denialism about Brazil’s death toll, which as of this writing stands at over 574,000.
Numbers from John Hopkins University.
“Voice of America,” a voice for U.S. imperialism, discusses the supposed complications of releasing vaccine patents. It’s only complicated because capitalists need to make money, but its not actually complicated. The piece references the billionaire Microsoft founder’s attitude toward sharing medical technology, exposing the real nature of so-called “philanthropists.”
Data for Progress conducted a survey that suggests strong popular support for increasing access to vaccine technologies by poor countries.
Photo: Health-care workers in India (Reuters)