Coronavirus and Capitalism
Hundreds stood for hours in the rain on March 25 outside Elmhurst Hospital in heavily immigrant Corona, Queens, New York waiting to get tested in tent outside the emergency room for coronavirus. Some were never seen. Of those who tested positive, most are sent home. Doctors described the scene inside the hospital as “apocalyptic.”
MARCH 29 –Since the beginning of the year 2020, the world has been thrown into an unprecedented crisis by what is now the pandemic of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. First appearing in Wuhan, China, after some initial missteps it has largely been brought under control there by the extraordinary measures enacted by the Chinese government. Beijing managed to limit the spread by imposing different levels of restrictions of movement of people, between provinces and within cites, covering from 400 million to 700 million people – the largest quarantine in history. This sharply reduced infections and fatalities: the number of cases has been limited to a little over 80,000 and the number of dead to 3,300, almost all in Hubei province where the disease was first detected.
But now COVID-19 is racing through the capitalist world, ravaging whole regions such as northern Italy, largely due to the criminal failure and outright refusal of the authorities, political and medical, to test widely and quarantine when the numbers of infected were small. In the United States, at least half the entire population (160 million as of March 27) is now on lockdown, ordered by city and state government to “shelter in place.” In New York City, now the epicenter of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the number of documented cases is skyrocketing, up 600% in ten days since serious testing has begun. Scenes in some emergency rooms are described as “apocalyptic,” such as at Elmhurst Hospital in Corona, Queens, where 13 people died in one day.
The face of barbarism. Refrigerated container at Elmhurst Hospital on March 25 serves as temporary morgue as huge numbers die in coronavirus pandemic. 13 died that day at Elmhurst. Capitalist medical system and bourgeois politicians cannot provide for medical needs of the population, particularly (but not only) the poor and oppressed.
Across the U.S., much of the economy has shut down. Last week, 3.3 million people applied for unemployment insurance, by far the largest number at one time since the program began decades ago. Many of those jobs are gone for good, as small companies will go out of business in droves. On the other hand, many workers (particularly in distribution) are kept on the job without adequate personal protection equipment. Meanwhile, the vast bulk of the $2 trillion in “rescue” funds will go to prop up giant corporations like Boeing, while workers get a few crumbs in jobless pay – and millions of immigrants get nothing but stepped-up threats and repression. Where in the centrally planned Chinese economy the shutdown can be temporary, under capitalism the devastation will be vastly greater.
In these catastrophic conditions, communists insist that the class struggle continues, and the need for revolutionary leadership is even more acute. We print below the presentation, abridged and edited for publication, of comrade Abram Negrete to a teleconference meeting of the Marxist Study Group in New York on March 19.
One can approach the coronavirus crisis with a lot of attention to the financial and economic aspects, to the medical/epidemiological aspects, to the barbarous insanity and absurdity of bourgeois politics, and many others angles. But I want, first, to lay out some ideas that I think for most of us are not new, but which have a particular urgency and a particular relevance right now because of all the extremely powerful and crucial ways in which the current situation reveals the barbarity of the capitalist society that we live in.
I feel that the best way I could begin this talk is with a recent letter from a Cuban scientist who is part of an institute which is on the cutting edge in the world of medical science. His brother, who is part of the same institute, was closely involved in the neuropathy epidemic, in the early 1990s, which came to be called the “Cuban Optical Neuropathy Epidemic.” This was a sudden onset of mysterious blindness. The Cubans cured it through an extraordinary combination of medical science and the advantages of a planned economy. As he writes, “the basic principles applied then were universal healthcare and widespread screening and intervention, and not cost.
“This is the philosophy behind the current preparations for the pandemic based on the family doctor and our health system,” which is a system they have in Cuba, it’s a little different than the system we have in a profit-ridden capitalist country like the U.S., obviously. “In spite of having only eleven cases to date,” he writes, “our country is preparing. Cuban doctors are helping other countries, as is our internationalist duty. And you probably know of the British ship with patients – denied entry into many territories – that were accepted in Cuba yesterday, in an elementary expression of human solidarity to aid them to go home to the UK.”
He quotes [Cuban independence leader] Jose Martí saying that our fatherland is humanity, and then goes on: “Many of my friends are all engaged in research regarding coronavirus. They are testing Interferon, and other drugs. Cuba is helping other countries to gain access to Interferon. In fact, we are producing Interferon Alpha-2B.” This is a medicine which has been shown to be rather effective in treating symptoms of coronaviruses, including COVID-19. He continues:
“In fact, Interferon Alpha-2B [is being produced] in a joint factory in Beijing and it was one of the drugs being used in China for treatment. Cuban scientists are also currently working on a vaccine, but that may take more time. Regarding China, I left China [where he conducts research] a few days before the epidemic became widespread, since it was the time to work in Cuba. I have remained in touch with my lab in China. We’re organizing work remotely until the situation becomes better. I find the Chinese actions admirable and heroic. My Chinese assistant’s husband is a doctor who left for another region to work there due to the epidemic.
“The response of China and Cuba shows that a public health system with universal coverage is the only hope for humanity. Capitalism is not a humane society and not only does it propagate war and suffering to profit a few, but it does not even provide basic protection from disease for the majority of people. The poor and underserved are the ones that will surely bear the brunt of this pandemic. In spite of this, as usual, criticism of China in this crisis and now of Cuba is prevalent. As a Marxist, I understand that the world view is always determined by class, no matter what reality is. This is the basis of the failure of many governments to deal with the current crisis.”
Coronavirus patient in Wuhan, China in early March. In Wuhan, those with confirmed coronavirus were hospitalized. In New York City, now that large-scale testing has finally begun, 90% of those who test positive are sent home.
That’s not an official statement; it’s from a scientist, and needless to say his political outlook is not the same as ours. We have our own views and positions. But it is inconceivable that a bourgeois government could set up an institute or produce a scientist who is representing the efforts of that country who could write a letter like this. The campaign of hatred and propaganda and demonization against Cuba and China right now indicates the need for the unconditional military defense of those countries. I also think that he expressed some of the fundamental points, in his own way and his own terms, that, thinking critically, we need to express to young people today.
I also want to draw attention to the statement which was published late last night from Class Struggle Workers – Portland. It is a group of trade-unionists, of workers, in the Painters Union, in IATSE, which is the stagehands union, the Iron Workers, and other unions who fraternally work with the Internationalist Group – which represents revolutionary Trotskyism as the U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International – and who have been at the forefront of organizing things like “Hard Hats for Gay Rights,” “Portland Labor Against the Fascists,” and many other things. They got the Painters Union, Local 10, in their city to pass a motion around the last election calling for the labor movement to break from the Democratic Party and forge a class-struggle workers party.
In this crisis, where workers are being exposed to very dangerous conditions, exposed to losing their livelihood, exposed to union-busting threats – for example, in Minnesota, the governor has said he will “put aside” collective bargaining agreements, in other words, union contracts – these comrades in Portland have come out with a very important statement “For Workers Action in Coronavirus Crisis.” In that statement they put forward very specific, concrete, class-struggle demands for the working class, for the defense of immigrants, for the I.C.E. immigration cops to be driven out of Portland, for using the power of the working class to stop the raids and deportations, for fighting for free high-quality childcare facilities for all who need them, which is urgent right now, and many other demands.
When there’s a crisis, particularly an unexpected (at least for most crises), a terrible and frightening crisis, it’s like an x-ray or like a lightning flash which shows the reality that people don’t always see. The reality that is often behind the screen or lurking in the social relations which are there every day and accepted as “just the way things are,” but which have burst out all of a sudden. That shows the nature of this society, the structure and the contradictions of this capitalist society. Suddenly, in a second, it seems like nothing is the way it was before. So we’re sitting here in our homes, talking to each other through this digital means, but millions of people are sitting at home, or are out working, or are trying to scrounge up some food or figure out where they are going to get daycare for their children feeling like nothing is the same as before.
When you have a crisis of that scope, it illuminates key aspects of how things really are and have actually been in many ways under the previous surface appearance of “normality.” So, if we think back, a lot of the young people in and around our organization were first drawn into politics at the time of the mass protests against racist police murders of black people in this society. Obviously, for black people in this society, it was not new and it was not “news” and it was no surprise of any kind to find out – because they had known all along that just being black in this racist society could be a death sentence, pretty much at any moment.
But then there was a series of highly publicized and, now, videoed barbaric and horrific murders of black people that led to the Black Lives Matter mass protests. Young people, many of whom had never thought about politics, had their faces smashed into the reality that they live in a barbaric society. That they live in a society in which the lives of black people could be snuffed out in a second with complete impunity on the street, or in their homes, or for “driving while black,” or swimming while black, or standing outside a store, or just existing while black. It brought home some of the realities of this country going back to the [Supreme Court’s 1857] Dred Scott case that said black people had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” It goes back to the days of slavery that, along with genocide against Native American peoples, was the foundation of capitalism in this country.
It was another huge, horrific shock for large numbers of young people in this society just recently when they began to see highly publicized photographs of children locked into cages and children being locked down in “hieleras,” or “I.C.E. boxes,” as a form of sensory deprivation and essentially torture, punishment and terrorization at the border. That, too, is not something new – it did not start with Trump, it was going on under Obama. But it brought many young people face to face with the reality of the cruelty and sadism, actually, of the society that they live in, and the need to figure that out. Of course, the Democratic Party sought to mobilize and weaponize that hypocritically, in the most cynical way, to bring votes to the party of “Deporter-in-Chief” Obama, but it brought home to people those realities of the cruelty of this society.
I think we will need to use some of these examples educationally when we talk to people in the coming period, because we are going to be teaching the ABCs of Marxism to a whole bunch of people, if we do our work right. Some people were politicized before, during the great financial crisis that exploded in 2007-08, when the speculative financial bubble of fictitious capital burst, and also the bubble of the illusion of supposed “prosperity and stability” burst. Millions were thrown out of their jobs and their homes, and people suddenly learned things that they never knew were even there. Like “collateralized debt obligations,” some weird, esoteric financial instrument, supposedly this monster creature that had emerged from some subterranean hellhole and thrown them out of their houses, because it had become an instrument of speculation and you could bundle debt and sell it and resell it.
We saw it also with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This was not a biological catastrophe, it was a meteorological catastrophe, but it was above all a social catastrophe in which class and race immediately took the foreground in the question of who would get food, who would get rescued by a helicopter, who would live and who would die.
Then, of course, we saw it with the Haiti earthquake (which, among other things, as we know, very starkly displayed the complete bankruptcy of the Spartacist League, the organization which used to be the standard-bearer of Trotskyism in the U.S.). And then again with Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico in 2017, when Trump tossed out paper towels and the capitalist PROMESA junta, of investor dictators, literally, seized the opportunity to further tighten the colonialist stranglehold on Puerto Rico. There are so many other examples that I want to incite people to think about, ways in which to use these examples to communicate some of our basic ideas. One of the very big ones was the AIDS crisis, and the ways in which bigotry and hatred were used for a policy of malign neglect by the Reagan administration which essentially was perfectly happy for people to die off from AIDS.
Or take World War I, where European societies, or so-called “Western civilization,” had become inured to what was underlying it: exploitation and colonialism, exemplified by the horrors of the Belgian Congo. Every year it seemed there were more opera houses, schools, newspapers; more science, more progress. Then all of a sudden, on 4 August 1914, all of the advances of chemistry, physics, mechanics and aviation turned into means to convert millions of human beings – or millions of human beings turned each other – into piles of corpses.
This was followed, not too long thereafter, eleven years after World War I, by the Great Depression, which produced a whole generation of young radicals. It made millions of radicals as they saw that “too much” production meant “too little” food or even places to live for the people that worked in those factories, or the people that grew the food or harvested it. They saw the newsreels of milk being poured down the gutters and of meat being thrown into ditches or burned and of millions being thrown out of work and millions starving. Then a new war came.
Now I want to shift gears a bit. You may know that the Trump
administration, not all that long ago, banned the use – in
some government publications involved with epidemiology and so
forth – of a terrible term: “science-based.” Another banned
term was “evidence-based.” After the coronavirus crisis really
broke out – when it was apparent that despite the
effectiveness of the Chinese efforts (notwithstanding initial
screw-ups by the Stalinist bureaucracy of the deformed workers
state), the virus was spreading and reaching the U.S. – Trump
went to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
in Atlanta. At the CDC he gave one of his typical speeches,
which in a tragicomic and surreal way exemplifies a lot of
things that we all know about the time that we live in.
Visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 6, President Donald Trump declared his uncle “a great super-genius,” and opined that he personally may “have a natural ability” as a medical scientist.
Trump said, “My uncle, Dr. John Trump, was a great person, he was a great super-genius.” Then he says, talking about the coronavirus: “I like this stuff, I really get it! People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should’ve done that instead of running for president.” But I guess we can all breathe easy because instead of the super-stable-genius Trump running the U.S. government’s efforts against the coronavirus, we have the zombie Jesus lunatic, Mike Pence, who believes that humans and dinosaurs co-existed when the Earth was created supposedly 6,000 years ago. So he’s obviously just the man to run a scientific effort against a terribly dangerous pandemic.
Young people who are questioning the society that they live in need to study that society, to learn what is underlying the situation, and they need to act. One of the things that Marxists need to explain is that those two things go together, that there can be no effective action without a real understanding of the society, and that Marxism provides that understanding. At the same time, crucially, Marxism is a guide to action.
The current crisis very dramatically shows the massive inequality in this society, where essential things are not available at all. I think we can start by explaining the anarchy of production. So there are not enough ventilators. If people get really sick with coronavirus, the sickest of them frequently need those devices to help them breathe. Also, there are not enough masks for medical personnel, etc. One of our comrades works in a group home where they’re worried that they’re not even going to have enough Lysol disinfectant. They don’t have the basic materials that they need even to take care of terribly sick people.
There are not enough hospital beds. There’s not enough of all sorts of things that are absolutely crucial in many cases now, and it will be even more so in cases of life and death. Or take the mundane case of toilet paper. Recently, there was an article in the New York Times (13 March), “Is There Really a Toilet Paper Shortage?” This article talks about the toilet paper-producing companies being worried about a crisis of overproduction. So this is an opportunity to explain to people the fundamental Marxist understanding that living labor is enslaved to dead labor, in other words to human labor crystallized in the form of capital.
Charlie Chaplin in the film Modern Times (1936), symbolizing the enslavement of living labor to dead labor, crystalized in the form of capital.
The point is that production in this society is not for use, it’s not to produce medicine, it’s not to produce hospital beds, it’s not to produce hospitals, it’s not to produce ventilators that we so desperately need right now. That is not what it is for. Medicine is not to cure people. Milk is not for babies. It’s not for the use-value, it’s for the exchange-value and how it can be transformed into surplus value, to make profits. So that basic point, which can seem so abstract to people in normal times, becomes highly concrete right now and is at the heart of the capitalist mode of production. We explain that this is the dictatorship of, in the first place the profit motive, and in the second place it’s the dictatorship of capital and it is the social dictatorship of the capitalist class, of the bourgeoisie.
No reformist tinkering can undo that. No schemes of taxing a little bit more, or having a New Deal of whatever hue, named after the signature program of the imperialist Democrat FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt], is going to amount to a hill of beans in a major crisis like this. None of the schemes that Bernie Sanders or AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] or their enthusiasts put forward can even begin to address this. What’s more, they stand counterposed to addressing it because they actually uphold – and they say this quite openly and honestly – the fundamental system of the dictatorship of profit. They don’t call it that, but Bernie Sanders says very explicitly that he is not for the expropriation of the means of production. They reject the very notion of taking the means of production out of the hands of the owning class and having them seized by the working class.
At the same time, right now, ever larger sections of workers stand to lose their jobs. There’s a comrade who works in a restaurant chain who told us earlier today that 60% of the workers at his workplace have been laid off and it looks like the whole chain could close. These are food workers and they’re mainly immigrants. On the street, coming back from the store yesterday, I saw immigrant workers everywhere here in New York City, the heart of finance capital. There’s no protection of any kind for our class sisters and brothers. These are the delivery guys, you know, on their bikes taking food to people who are sheltering in place, so many young and not so young delivery guys taking food to more affluent people. The Caribbean nannies and the South Asian and East Asian nannies pushing white babies in strollers. The Mexican and Ecuadorian workers together with Irish and Irish-American workers playing St. Patrick’s Day music loudly at the work sites. Then there were the fruit stand sellers from Afghanistan and Egypt, and the Chinese and Mexican laundromat workers, and the women who clean houses, like some of our comrades and the mothers of some of our comrades.
Protesters outside office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) police in Miramar, Florida, March 18. Coronavirus threatens to turn detention centers into death traps. Set them free! Shut down I.C.E. jails now!
That sector of the working class is the most vulnerable right now. Their income, like that of many workers, is being slashed or taken away. There’s nobody to watch their kids or push their kids in strollers or go out and buy food for them. The Democratic Party is sure not going to protect them. They don’t have the right to vote. Many times, they don’t have papers. Meanwhile, the bourgeois government is exploiting the coronavirus crisis and the lockdowns to carry out I.C.E. raids and arrests in California and New Rochelle, while asylum seekers at the border are being sealed off ever more brutally. Our program for workers action is an urgent question of life and death right now. And the people who are in detention centers, those concentration camps, when some of them get coronavirus, the conditions are going to be horrifically dangerous. They already are horrifically dangerous. They must be freed and those camps shut down. Again, I would refer comrades and friends to the CSWP statement.
So the bourgeoisie and its agencies are most definitely pouncing on the chance to ramp up repression right now. Surveillance is multiplying. Just today I read that Israel is gathering cell phone data to track the social networks of people with coronavirus. They claim this is just for medical reasons. Yeah, right – it’s the same sort of thing that they use for their terror campaign against the Palestinian people. In Singapore, the government is publishing detailed data on each known case, virtually identifying people. There’s an article from a journal from MIT which calls – this is an actual real quotation – for “discriminating – legally – against those who are” a “disease risk” [MIT Technology Review, 17 March].
Then there is the exacerbation of nationalism and xenophobia. So Germany actually has, right now at least, more ventilators than it’s using. But the government is saying: These ventilators are for Germans. And those that don’t agree that they should be reserved for Germans would be responsible for letting Germans die. So says the German government, which is supposedly one of the more enlightened according to the bourgeois liberals. In the New York Times (17 March), a German columnist, Jochen Bittner, called for “European solidarity” – with Europeans (period). He was clearly choosing his language quite consciously. He meant just that: solidarity of, by and for – and just for – Europeans. Meanwhile, about half of the 26 Schengen Zone European countries have fully or partially closed their borders. This is Fortress Europe.
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., Trump is railing against a so-called “foreign” virus or “Chinese” virus – while the Democratic Party, as we know, is in the business of beating the drums against China. Foreign Policy has a China-bashing article today, titled “China Tries to Cast Itself as Global Savior as U.S. and EU Focus on Virus at Home.” Basically, they’re beating the drums against China, seeking to whip up the anti-China war drive, which is also being manifested in the fervent backing and propaganda in favor of the counterrevolutionary riots in Hong Kong. The current issue of The Internationalist has a very important, very deeply researched and documented, crucial article about Hong Kong, which everybody should read.
In terms of health care, the situation is also exacerbated by decades of cuts and privatizations. Those have accelerated since the 2008 financial meltdown, but they go back decades. They occurred under Carter, they occurred under Clinton, they occurred under Obama, et al. And then if you go back, they occurred under Reagan, under Bush I and II, and now under Trump and Pence. Together with his bunch of CEOs that appear with him to talk about what to do about the crisis, and who are just slobbering to slurp up some of the 1.5 trillion dollars they’re preparing to hand out in free money.
There is a crash in process, an economic crash. If you follow the economics, you know that what happens on Wall Street is sort of the froth at the top, but basically the response of the bourgeois government is to push interest rates down to zero or below to try to avoid the credit system seizing up. It’s not going to work. It can’t. The Marxist economist Michael Roberts, who has a blog called “The Next Recession,” points out that interest rates are already super-low, and cheap money for investors – basically, handing out wads of cash at super-low interest rates – has blown the debt bubble up once again, even more than when that bubble popped in 2008. And there are huge numbers of “zombie companies,” which are essentially living off debt. There’s mass quantities of corporate debt. Meanwhile, oil prices have fallen very rapidly.
In an economic depression, all of the social contradictions will be exacerbated to the maximum. That doesn’t necessarily mean there would be a mass radicalization all of a sudden. When there’s an economic crash, a terrible depression, like the Great Depression, many, many workers are scared, understandably. They’re scared because they have either lost their job or they fear that they will. That they won’t be able to feed their kids. That they’re going to be living on the street. Very frequently it takes some time to recover a little bit of confidence. Sometimes that happens when there’s a little bit of an upturn: that happened in the Great Depression when there was a momentary upturn that brought some workers back to work. In any event, we would be foolish if we were to believe that an economic crash in a linear way simply produces radicalization. But it again shows the stark realities of this society, and particularly among young people this is going to lead to a lot of fundamental rethinking about the capitalist society we live in.
Medieval scenes playing out in Italy where over 11,500 have died of COVID-19, overwhelmingly among the elderly. Red Cross workers prepare to transport patient to hospital in Bergamo province.
If you’re looking at Italy, it’s a really terrible situation, there is medical triaging in Italy. So that means if there’s not enough resources, if there are not enough ventilators, for example, a doctor would basically have to choose who lives and who dies. That’s an agonizing choice. Is it the six-year-old or their grandmother? So doctors sometimes face that horrific choice and there are various ways that they try collectively or individually to figure that out. But I think that a lot of people will be wondering what kind of society finds itself having to do that. And there’s economic and social triaging, obviously. Obviously. If you cannot go to the hospital, if you have no way of paying for it, if you are scared to go to work, if you’re working sick because otherwise you lose your job... With all this, whole categories of the population would be slated, literally, to be thrown into the heap of dead and dying.
In Michael Roberts’ blog, he talks about the reactionary classical economist, Rev. Thomas Malthus, who believed that there were too many of what he called “unproductive” poor people in the world. And he thought that regular plagues and disease were necessary and inevitable to make economies more productive. There are some ecologists today who actually say things like, “Oh well, in the face of the coronavirus crisis, at least some people will die off and that might ease the climate situation.” I’ve read horrific things like that. But then Roberts goes on and talks about a British conservative journalist named Jeremy Warner, who wrote the following about the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that it primarily kills the elderly: “Not to put too fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents.” [The quotation is from Warner’s column in the Daily Telegraph, 3 March.] Talk about bourgeois economics as “the philosophy of misery”!
So finally, just some basic questions that are raised by this situation and ought to go into what we discuss with people. Like, why is there no crash program to make ventilators, to build hospitals, to mass-produce the medicines that Cuba has invented, for example, and is inventing? Of course, luxury high-rise construction continues for now, and actually construction was declared an “essential service” in New York. Compare that to the claim of bourgeois ideologues as well as the fake left, that China, despite political or cultural differences, is (according to them) supposedly essentially the same kind of society in socioeconomic terms as the U.S. – in other words, capitalist. We come across this all the time, but now they’re confronted with some massive basic facts. Like the fact that, in days, China carried out a crash program to build new hospitals, and massively repurposed others. It brought 19,000 health workers from Shanghai to Wuhan, etc.
New York City, epicenter of real estate speculation. Construction workers complained that sanitary conditions were terrible and there was no need to keep them on the job. An upstate electrician remarked, “I’m essential to the pocketbooks of rich contractors and essential for spreading the virus, but that’s about it.” After protests, the essential industry designation was removed in NYC.
Even after the Stalinist bureaucracy had dismantled or reduced some important benefits coming out of China’s revolution, the huge difference in health policy and its massive results now underscore that China is not a capitalist country. Rather, it is still the state that was established in the 1949 Chinese Revolution, which overthrew the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, dealt a massive world-historic blow to imperialism and established a bureaucratically deformed workers state. What about Cuba? Just to end up where I started. Cuban medicine really is in the forefront. Cuban doctors are being sent to and volunteering to go to other countries.
Then there was the cruise ship that went from one country to another and nobody would let it in, with coronavirus patients that only Cuba was prepared to accept. That inevitably recalls the St. Louis, that ship in May 1939 bringing Jewish refugees from Hamburg, Germany fleeing or trying to flee from the Nazis.1 A movie about the St. Louis was made, called Voyage of the Damned . Now this ship of coronavirus patients was another voyage of the damned, but this time it had the opposite outcome. They were not turned back. Cuba welcomed them.
The United States is a barbaric country founded on slavery, where the question of health care is also a manifestation of racism, where the opposition to even a moderately civilized bourgeois policy on medicine is rooted largely in racism, as is so much else in this society. Here, above all, it really will require a socialist revolution just to get people medicine in a way which they need, in a rational way, on the basis of an international socialist planned economy based on the soviet democracy of workers councils, a proletarian democracy of workers councils from here to Italy – and in the Chinese and Cuban deformed workers states, too, where capitalist rule has been overthrown – and all around the world.
A friend that we met in Cuba, at the Havana Trotsky conference in May, recently posted that his work has been reduced to two days a week, but he still gets full pay. He made an ironic joke about those who claim that Cuba is some kind of “state capitalism.” And why can’t we buy Cuban medicine here? Because of the cuarentena, the quarantine. I’m not talking about the quarantine of people with coronavirus. The “quarantine” is what John F. Kennedy called the embargo he put on Cuba, in October of 1962. He said he was quarantining Cuba. So the blockade of Cuba is now exacerbated by the Helms-Burton Act, whose Title III targets, among other things, supplies for crucial medical apparatus production in Cuba.
Internationalists on Wall Street in New York City, 23 February 2019, protesting U.S. coup attempt in Venezuela and blockade of Cuba. Down with the Helms-Burton Act! Defend Cuba, China, North Korea and Vietnam against imperialism and counterrevolution.
Now is the time for us to find ways to recruit new people, to educate new people, to bring them into the communist movement. This is a period of very scary, very daunting, unavoidable realities which inevitably are going to shake up and jolt a huge number of people. What we need to explain to them is the communist program, what is Marxism, what is Trotskyism, why – if they actually want to fight for a civilized society – we need to fight for socialism against barbarism, and as the Class Struggle Workers Portland declaration ends, “the only way forward is class struggle.” Fighting for the program of revolutionary class struggle is what we need to win them to now. ■
- 1. The St. Louis was originally slated to disembark in Cuba, but the U.S. puppet regime there turned it away. The ship then headed to the U.S., but invoking the racist Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924, the Roosevelt government turned the desperate refugees away as well, forcing the ship to head back to Europe.