May 20, 2022


Through Education Matters

The political lessons of the pandemic and the fight for socialism in 2021

1. As the New Year begins, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the globe. This is a world crisis of vast historical significance. The pandemic is a “trigger event” that manifests in a highly concentrated form the contradictions of the world capitalist system and is unleashing long-suppressed forces of social transformation.

2. The pandemic cannot be described as merely a medical crisis. In the course of the past year, the thoroughly reactionary character of world capitalism has been exposed. The interaction of the drive for profit regardless of social cost, the lust of the oligarchs for obscene levels of personal wealth, and their inhuman indifference to the lives and welfare of the world’s population has created a global social catastrophe.

3. The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) has frequently compared the pandemic to the outbreak of World War I. The events of 1914 and all that followed as a consequence of the war set into motion a process of political upheaval that swept across the globe. The working class and impoverished masses were politically radicalized. Empires that had appeared all-powerful and invincible at the beginning of 1914—the Russian, the Austro-Hungarian and the Prussian—were overthrown within a matter of years by the forces of social revolution. An anti-imperialist movement against colonial domination, embracing hundreds of millions of people, emerged in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

4. The tragedy of the past year, which continues into the New Year, is effecting a profound change in the consciousness of the international working class and youth. The year 2020—marked by mass untimely death, economic dislocation, and the obvious crisis and breakdown of traditional political structures, whether pseudo-democratic or openly authoritarian—will prove as critical a turning point in the history of the twenty-first century as 1914 was in the history of the twentieth century. The contradiction between the interests of the rich and the needs of mass society is so glaring that it must provoke social protest and uncompromising political opposition.

5. At the start of last year, the International Committee declared in its New Year statement that the 2020s would be a decade of social revolution. This prediction was based on an analysis of the already advanced stage of global geopolitical and socioeconomic crisis. The events of 2020 have not only confirmed this analysis, but also imparted to it a heightened urgency.

6. Far from abating, the impact of the pandemic is intensifying. Even before the discovery of a new and more infectious strain of the virus, the velocity of COVID-19’s spread through the world’s population had been accelerating. The global death toll reached almost two million before the turn of the New Year. In Asia, 305,000 deaths have been reported. In Africa, the official death toll is 63,000. In Europe, 552,000 people have died. In the Americas, there have been 848,000 deaths.

7. The total number of deaths in individual countries is staggering. In Brazil, nearly 200,000 people have died. In the United Kingdom, the total is just over 71,000. The number of deaths in Italy is 72,000. In France, 63,000 lives have been lost. In Spain, 50,000 have died. In Germany, the death toll is 30,000.

8. The most disastrous situation in the world is in the United States, where the pandemic is raging out of control. The total number of COVID-19 deaths reached 340,000 in 2020. In the month of December, approximately 70,000 Americans died of the virus, with the daily death toll reaching as high as 3,500. It is now predicted that approximately 115,000 more Americans will die in January. Despite the efforts of the news media to divert attention from the ongoing nightmare by focusing on the development of anti-COVID vaccines, the reality is that Americans are dying at a rate that exceeds the annual toll of even its bloodiest wars.

9. The media hype that accompanied the release of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is already being discredited by the entirely predictable chaos that has characterized their rollout. Only 3 million of the 20 million doses that were to be administered by the end of December were actually administered. But even if this disorganization and incompetence are somehow overcome in the coming months—a highly unlikely prospect given the disastrous state of the profit-driven American health care industry—the impact on the accelerating rate of mortality will be limited. “Even with a vaccine,” the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation warned in December, “if states do not act to bring current surges under control, the death toll could reach 770,000 by April 1.” But neither the states nor the federal government will take the actions that are required to control, let alone prevent, the ongoing and disastrous spread of the virus and loss of life.

10. President-elect Joe Biden has predicted that “a very dark winter” lies ahead. But confronted with an unprecedented social catastrophe, the only measure that he proposes to take during his first 100 days in office is to issue a call for all Americans to wear face masks. At this stage in the pandemic, Biden’s policy can be compared to attempting to contain the gale force winds of a hurricane with butterfly nets. Biden’s pathetic proposal epitomizes the capitalist oligarchy’s contempt for human life.

11. The ruling class refuses to implement policies that must be taken to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus: that is, the shutdown of all nonessential workplaces, the closing of schools and the emergency provision of the financial support necessary to sustain the population until the crisis is overcome. The self-serving claims that nothing could have been done to save lives is contradicted by China’s ability—through a stringent program of testing, contact tracing and selective lockdowns—to rapidly contain the spread of the virus and keep total deaths to less than 5,000.

12. The fact that the impact of the pandemic has been most severe in the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe and, especially, the United States—the home of the richest capitalist ruling class and the center of world imperialism—testifies to the historical obsolescence of a socioeconomic system based on the nation-state system, private ownership of the means of production and the drive for profit through the exploitation of human labor power. From the earliest stages of the outbreak, the ruling classes rejected all measures, however necessary from the standpoint of saving lives, that conflicted either with their accumulation of personal wealth or the global geopolitical interests of their national states.

13. Considerations of national security, inter-imperialist conflicts and the global balance of power, and the striving of transnational corporations (which remain tied to the existing national states) for competitive advantage precluded from the start any globally coordinated and scientifically guided response to the pandemic. Rather than fostering unity in the face of a common threat to human life, the pandemic has intensified the antagonisms between capitalist national states. The Strategic Survey of 2020, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, acknowledges that “even as the virus spread to almost every country, divisions between them deepened.” The IISS report continues:

By mid-2020, relations between the United States, Europe and China had all but fallen to their lowest point in decades. Russian-Western relations remained locked in suspicion. Sino-Indian tensions flared in deadly border clashes. Institutions, laws and norms of cooperation suffered multiple setbacks. The US denounced or withdrew from several organizations and treaties, including the World Health Organization. The United Kingdom left the European Union. China altered the special status of Hong Kong.

14. In an extraordinarily pessimistic assessment of the world situation, the Strategic Survey explains:

Increasingly, we are entering an age of “tolerance warfare,” which the IISS defines as the “constant effort to test the tolerances for different forms of intervention against settled states.” Sometimes tolerance warfare is conducted overtly and is in effect “declared.” But often it is executed through foreign networks or private partners, especially in the theatres of operation that are adjacent to the power executing this technique. A favoured tool of actors who wish to change the status quo, tolerance warfare is difficult to counter because it generates conflict below the threshold of traditional war, outside the confines of established laws, yet above the acceptable limits of stability…

The COVID-19 pandemic has barely allowed for a strategic pause in these trends. National resilience and self-sufficiency are being prized as key goals. Reputation is being resurrected as an important element of national power.