Aug 10, 2020
Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.
All the leading pharmaceutical companies have entered the frantic race to find a vaccine against COVID-19. If we are to believe media specialists, four of the hundreds of projects announced around the world have already reached the most advanced stage. They are testing their vaccines on first smaller and then bigger groups of humans, since these four vaccines worked effectively on animals. An official of French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi recently explained: “In six to eight months we’re trying to do what normally takes 10 to 20 years.”
There is cause to be impressed by this mobilization of medical research capacity. We should rejoice in the progress this can bring. But nothing is ever that simple under capitalism. For drug company bosses, the quest for a vaccine is first and foremost a race for profit! To win the competition and pocket the jackpot, one of the companies must become the first to find a vaccine and then mass produce it. To get a leg up, some corporate laboratories have already started industrial scale production of their vaccines, even before they know how effective—or worse, how safe—they will be. To “secure” their profits, drug companies are forcing governments in the richest countries to pre-order millions of doses.
So the competition between the drug companies leads governments to wage a war at the scale of billions of dollars, trying to guarantee the delivery of the future vaccine. Three months ago, a Sanofi official said his lab would deliver to the U.S. first when Sanofi finds a vaccine—because the U.S. had paid more than the others. This was their way to put pressure on European governments to open their cash drawers wider. French president Emmanuel Macron then pretended to object in his usual hypocritical style. He announced the vaccine must be a “public good for the world, and not subject to the laws of the market.” What a joke! As he does every time any big boss speaks loudly, Macron had already submitted to Sanofi’s demands, unconditionally promising hundreds of millions of dollars. Meanwhile Sanofi not only posts record profits but is preparing to cut a thousand jobs in France plus another 700 jobs elsewhere in Europe.
When these publicly fattened labs manage to finalize a vaccine, it will be protected by patents and sacrosanct trade secrecy preventing any knowledge sharing. We will have no way of knowing the terms of the deals between governments and drug companies. The corporations are free to pursue whatever business strategy they choose. An executive of U.S. lab Pfizer put it bluntly: “These are extraordinary times, and our pricing will reflect that.” Too bad for those who can’t afford to pay!
In fact, in all spheres of life, society runs up against the greed, parasitism, and irresponsibility of the bourgeoisie, blinded as it is by the pursuit of profit. Society has awesome means of improving human life, thanks to scientific and technological advances. Yet in all countries including the richest, there are many unmet needs in health, education, transportation, housing, and so on! But despite these needs, the economic crisis sinks ever deeper.
The economic crash is not due to the COVID-19 epidemic, although that has sped it up. Humanity has survived many episodes of recession. Now, to handle the consequences of the pandemic, wealth and capital that accumulated during the years of economic growth should be mobilized in the general interest. But these riches are in the hands of a privileged few! Corporations weren’t bombed into nothing. They’re still around! The bosses decide to close them or reduce their activity by cutting their workforces.
In an economic system which was controlled by society, production and distribution would be organized according to need. But this is not possible as long as the capitalist minority can impose their decisions on the whole of society. They are never even held to account.
Expropriate the capitalists! Reorganize the economy according to need and not the profit of a minority! The working class has to demand these objectives. Only these can save society from the bankruptcy where capitalism is dragging us.