May 24, 2020
We are trapped by an epidemic, for which there is no cure and no preventative medicine, and we are trapped by an economy collapsing upon itself. This, we are told, will be our “new normal” for some indefinite time to come.
On the scale of the world, 330,000 people are reported to have died from COVID-19. This country, which leads the world in reported deaths, will hit 100,000 by the end of this month.
In the eight weeks since the U.S. economy began to collapse, 42 million people have filed claims for some kind of unemployment benefits.
Neither of these crises is natural, neither would be “normal” in a society organized around the needs of the population. And yet, here we are, with our “new normal.”
The virus may be a newly discovered one, its details unknown before to medical science. But medical science already had predicted the appearance of such a virus, and warned of its possible evolution. Why was it “normal” for the political authorities and medical system not to prepare for it? Isn’t it obvious? To prepare would have eaten into the steady accumulation of profit for a capitalist class bent on recovering the profit it had lost in the financial crisis of 2008–09. Money from public health, like all public services, went straight into the capitalist purse.
When the virus appeared, public authorities had no supplies, no organization, no preparation to meet it. The only answer capitalism had to a rapidly spreading virus was to shut down its own economy.
Today, it has no answer to this economic collapse other than to send people back to work under conditions that guarantee new upsurges of COVID-19 in areas around the country.
In Missouri, a woman working in a newly opened beauty salon went to work for eight days, while suffering symptoms, but awaiting her turn to be tested and get results. She exposed 91 people, 84 clients and 7 co-workers. “Irresponsible,” said Missouri’s governor. Maybe, but what does it make him? He ordered the state to cut unemployment benefits for anyone who didn’t go back to work. He presides over a system of public health that still doesn’t have rapid testing for people who feel sick. He, himself, went out in public not wearing a mask, proudly calling attention to that fact.
Of course, it’s only one anecdote. But it’s indicative of the situation under which people are being sent back to work.
Calling people back to work won’t overcome the collapse, not when people are still getting sick. But, more to the point, it won’t overcome a collapse that had been prepared for by an economic system which steadily accumulates wealth in the hands of the biggest capitalists, driving down living standards of almost everyone else.
Out of work for two months, a significant number of people didn’t pay rent or fell behind on their mortgage notes or car notes. They couldn’t. The final blow was being out of work. But the real cause was the fact people’s income doesn’t keep up with basic costs like housing or cars.
Out of work for two months, one in four women reported they were short of food for their children every week. If that’s so, it’s because children had already been going hungry.
This is not normal, but it will go on being “the new normal” in capitalist society until the working class takes the future into its own hands.
The problem is not the capacity of the working class to stop this disaster. Based on its key spot in production, the working class can hold power—and use it to upend society.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like it today. But that’s a question of consciousness, of what the working class understands about its own capacities.
That depends on the small number of people today who understand this reality. Will they find the way to convey as widely as possible what is essential, which is that the working class needs to take power and use it? Will they create a nucleus that enable workers’ struggles to take the path of revolution? Are they committed enough to the basic essential interests of their class to do it?