Statement by Revolutionärer Aufbau Schweiz on the COVID 19 pandemic – 19 March 2020
The pandemic as a crisis of capitalism
With the COVID 19 pandemic, capitalism in the economic metropolises is plunging into a new crisis. The virus may not care whether it hits rich or poor people. However, it does happen upon a system which poses this question nonstop: Who has access to health care, who is considered relevant and worthy of protection by the system, and who will be secured (and to what extent) in the approaching crisis. Rarely does the system unmask itself so blatantly as a class society and capitalism so openly as a system in which profits stand above everything.
Even before the virus hit in recent months, capitalism was anything but stable. The system was already crisis-ridden at a global scale. The pandemic is merely accelerating the long-established economic and political tendency towards crisis and war. The virus has fuelled the economic crisis of capital overproduction, the global imperialist and neo-colonial relations of exploitation and power, and the crisis of legitimation of the democratic bourgeois form of rule.
So what we are currently experiencing is a massive intensification of the contradictions of capitalism. Economic and political processes, which previously often took place „behind our backs“, are now breaking out with devastating consequences and openly enter the consciousness of many with full force. The health care, economic and political crisis is changing everyone’s daily lives. And in this crisis-like change, many people can directly and subjectively experience the destructive power inherent in capitalism.
Such historical situations can drastically change the social balance of power. They can either trigger developments in the direction of socialism or barbarism. A revolutionary left must become part of the solution and try to influence these power relations.
Even though the situation is constantly changing, we want to make a few points.
The pandemic and the crisis have a class character
Throughout its existence, capitalism has always used crises to optimise its functioning. Shock therapies, structural adjustment programmes and upheavals in the order of production have accompanied all the major crises of recent decades. Even if the state is currently overwhelmed by the situation, the current crisis – like all previous crises – has a class character. A few companies will emerge from the crisis as profiteers and the ruling classes will use the opportunity to further reduce labour laws and social security.
A look to the North shows how easily certain achievements or protective mechanisms for the working class can be circumvented with emergency plans – without resistance being possible. Like Switzerland, Bavaria has intensified its measures against the pandemic in recent days. Among other things, for example, it wants to loosen up the existing law on shop opening hours. The idea behind it: The market and not the state should ensure the supply. This is at the expense of the sales staff, who may be forced to work overtime, and not only in Bavaria. In Switzerland, for example, the retailer Coop threatened its employees with dismissals if they were to stay at home due to new caring duties.
It seems likely that such measures will be normalised in the long term. We must expect that many operational measures that are now being implemented will remain in place after the crisis. Seldom before, for example, have new forms of work such as home office or the digitalisation of education been implemented so extensively. And short-term job cuts are more easily justified in a crisis. Measures that are currently important and sensible for medical reasons will prove to be lucrative for capital after the crisis. Thus, government and corporate interventions will have a class character: They will intensify the imbalance of power between capital and labour by accelerating the wave of digitisation, rationalisation and flexibilisation in a way that, up until now, has not been able to be put past wage earners.
In simple terms, the crisis and state interventions have a clear class character, visible for example, where there is more concern about production and profit than about human lives. The class character will also become evident in the longer-term question of how the crisis and the experiences it will have brought with it will be dealt with.
The impending collapse of the health care system as a result of the austerity policy
Swiss hospitals are responding to the current pandemic, among other things, by seeking (partially paid) volunteers. The fact that many people want to volunteer and support the nursing staff is an expression of the positive side that is evident in almost all crises. People react in solidarity to emergencies, support each other and organise themselves. In the case of hospitals, however, a stale aftertaste remains: of course, more staff than usual is needed at present. But after decades of austerity measures, it is not only in emergency situations that staff are lacking. This cannot be remedied by voluntary work, however much solidarity may be present.
The devastating thing about the global COVID 19 pandemic is not so much the virus, but the health care system that has been privatised and hollowed out over decades. Viruses have no static death rate. Although they are of varying degrees of danger to humans, the danger they pose depends largely on access to health care and the nature of the health care system. Access to health care is, of course, distributed unevenly in a class society. We may assume that the bourgeoisie knows how to save its skin despite all the panic. And the nature of the health service today – after years of austerity measures and privatization – is catastrophic worldwide. In the USA, for example, it took a great deal of pressure from below for people not to fall into debt just because they want to take a COVID test. The British government is currently planning to rent 8,000 beds from private hospitals for 2.4 million pounds a day because the National Health Care system of the state is inadequate. And all over the world, the health care system is facing problems because of the lack of sufficient supplies and protection in ‘just-in-time’ storage. It is well known, and yet it can be emphasized today more than ever: Capitalism is not interested in our health, only in profit!
No shifting of the crisis onto our shoulders
The government measures are becoming more stringent every day. And they reveal how the Swiss bourgeoisie has successfully armed itself in recent decades to shift the burden of the crisis onto the proletariat. With short-time work, the risk is being shifted from capital to the public purse and the wage earners. With flexibilised and deregulated employment contracts, companies can currently get rid of the labour force and access it again after the crisis without any guarantee of security.
The last few weeks have shown that the state is primarily concerned with keeping the workforce healthy, not the people. Significantly, state interventions are constantly weighing up the danger to human life against the well-being of ‘economic life‘. And so far, the restrictions on public life do not apply to many economic production locations.
This makes it clear that state orders are not simply geared to our well-being and that there is no ‚general well-being‘ under capitalism. What counts for the state is the welfare of capital. It is for this welfare that the crisis will sooner or later be passed on to our shoulders. Already in view of the current development of the sequence of measures, it can be emphasized that the pressure will be shifted mainly to the lower strata of the proletariat and to the work-and-care sectors. This will intensify in the coming months. What always has been the crisis mechanism of capitalism will, without doubt, apply for this coming period: profits are privatized while losses are socialized.
It is all the more important that the current attempts of the bourgeoisie to socialise costs are analysed and fought against from a position of class-struggle. The public sector must now step in to provide rapid financial relief and support for the proletariat. But a communist position must fight to pass these costs on to capital, to expropriate the rich. Demands like a crisis fund of the UNIA or the Basic Income cannot be made without the reference that the capitalists should pay for this crisis.
Against reactionary aspirations
We must show solidarity, organize ourselves and at the same time be careful not to fall into the state’s discourse of crisis. Sooner or later the reactionary movements will want to use the pandemic for their own ends. Radical crisis programmes will be legitimised by the global nature of the pandemic and at some point, companies will come up with the idea of demanding voluntary wage sacrifices. We will be led to believe that we are looking first and foremost at our own country. And those who do not comply with this will be held individually responsible.
At its core, this wrong handling of individual guilt and collective responsibility is already evident in the staging of the imminent danger of infection. Instead of denouncing the lack of health precautions or the health risks in production, the media’s blame has been focused on the individual from the very beginning. The media and various private campaigns warn against leaving home because it puts people at risk. The incentive to force the best possible behaviour in a crisis situation may be considered good. But in the end, it is not individual behaviour that will largely determine death and life, but rather free access to health care facilities.
The more the consequences of the economic crisis are seen as the pure result of a virus, the more likely it is that those who transmit it can be blamed. In addition, a discourse (and state practices) that treats pandemics as something that can affect everyone equally, regardless of class, while at the same time being territorially „kept out“, reinforces reactionary crisis resolution offers. This makes it all the more important to politicise the current consequences of the crisis, to analyse the economic consequences and to see the trigger not primarily in the pandemic, but in the given economic system. And here, alternatives are urgently needed. For it is not a law of nature that the world, which constantly produces more than it can consume, cannot survive a month of production stoppages without sliding into a major crisis.
Against false accusations! Solidarity instead of isolation
Every crisis has not only tragedies but also beautiful moments. This is reflected today in the broad solidarity of the population with weaker people. Self-organised solidarity structures are forming in settlements and neighbourhoods to protect those at risk. This reaction is therefore not primarily an individualistic one („Everyone fights for himself“), but a collective one. It does not originate from the state’s order to protect its „citizens“ and workers, but from awareness for concrete solidarity. We have to prevent a discourse that presents solidarity as a problem instead of presenting it as part of the solution. In parts of the current debate, we are suddenly being addressed as individuals rather than as collectives. This has a similar corrosive effect on solidarity as repression against individuals. It is precisely in such situations that we must maintain the culture of solidarity: When someone gets sick, we support each other. We do not leave anyone alone. We don’t isolate ourselves at home, we don’t retreat into privacy and we don’t try to solve problems individually. We must also fight against such isolation and similar tendencies politically, because they then direct the burdens and pressure of the crisis inwardly into the everyday environment – and under patriarchal structures against women. This is one of the important experiences from the struggle for women.
Politically this is also important because in the coming weeks and months we will have to build up increasing pressure that cannot simply be organised within our own four walls. If we want to cushion the intensification of imbalance, especially where the situation is currently escalating, as it is in the camps in Greece, we must find ways of exerting appropriate collective pressure from below in the current situation. The demonstrations around 8 March, for example, were the right response to the government measures in view of the situation at the time. The aim must be to find comparable answers in the future, to organise oneself and others in a protective but confrontational political way.
Crises are followed by battles – let’s get ready now!
When capitalism encounters a crisis in a new form, it should not give us either fatalism or clandestine joy. It would be wrong to hope that the anger of the people will automatically turn into resistance. Lethargy or reactionary tendencies are equally likely responses to the current situation. It is therefore all the more important to become part of the political dynamic right now and to build up the subjective side fighting.
Practical approaches will develop for this purpose and there will also be progressive cycles of struggle in the coming months. In some parts of this world, as in our own, people will refuse to continue to socialise the costs of systematic disasters while the profits are privatised. In Italy and the Basque Country, the first factories have already gone on strike. These initiatives must be taken up, strengthened and appropriate forms of solidarity must be found, regardless of whether the state continues to sell its measures through a state of emergency.
Today, however, we are above all in a social situation in which the crisis of capitalism is becoming apparent and in which the question of social alternatives can be pushed forward. Our biggest problem is not the virus, but capitalism, which poses a long-term threat to us. Even in the current crisis, our aim is to abolish it. Because only this will protect us sustainably and ensure a good life.
Capitalism has no faults, it is the fault!