The pandemic proves it: capitalism has to go
The pandemic proves it: capitalism has to go

Capitalism is sick to its very bones. It turns everyone and everything into a commodity whose value lies only in making money for others. It rewards those who have wealth, while punishing those who don’t. It is long past time that it was consigned to the garbage. Capitalism has to go.

The global pandemic is currently the most striking indictment of capitalism: more than 2 million dead and more than 100 million infected. The long-term effects of COVID-19 on those infected will be debilitating. 

This was not a plague that arrived out of nowhere. For years, the planet has experienced a series of deadly viruses that have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. By containing these epidemics and treating those struck down by it, health professionals learned and understood the measures that would be needed to limit the impact of the next such virus. Doctors knew that those infected need ventilators and intensive care units. 

But early last year, as the coronavirus began to circulate, ten African countries had not one ventilator between them. Governments knew the importance of proper quarantine facilities. They knew that supplies of personal protective equipment would be needed. But nothing was done. And so, when the situation began to get out of control, the European Union, one of the world’s wealthiest regions, found that it needed ten times more support equipment to cope with the pandemic than was currently available. 

The politicians claim, “We’re all in this together”. This is just a lie. In England, mortality in the most deprived areas is twice the rate of the least deprived, and similar trends have been reported elsewhere. People in precarious low-paid manual jobs in the caring, retail and service sectors have been exposed to the virus because their jobs cannot be done from home. Overcrowded, poor-quality housing in densely populated areas added to the increased risk. Poorer communities have also been more vulnerable to severe diseases because of higher levels of pre-existing illness.

The reason the death rate has been so high is that, faced with the choice between lives and profits, most governments have chosen mass death. They would not put it quite so bluntly. Where they did not outright deny the severity of the coronavirus, they claimed that letting it spread could create “herd immunity”. They claimed that lockdowns caused more damage to populations than the disease itself. They claimed that we had to “learn to live with the virus”. It all amounted to the same thing: nothing must get in the way of profits. 

Social murder”, the British Medical Journal called it in early February, and it’s right: “When politicians and experts say that they are willing to allow tens of thousands of premature deaths for the sake of population immunity or in the hope of propping up the economy, is that not premeditated and reckless indifference to human life?”

It is not just the immediate response to the pandemic that shows the warped priorities of the system. In Britain and the United States, years of austerity have resulted in growing child poverty, homelessness and food poverty, resulting in an unprecedented rise in infant mortality and shortened life expectancy.

In the world’s poorer countries, International Monetary Fund “structural adjustment” programs have hollowed out public spending and health systems, resulting in inaccessible services for poorer people. Rich people, however, can always buy themselves the best. In South Africa, private health care serves only 16 percent of the population but is staffed by 70 percent of the country’s doctors. 

People undergoing home isolation or required to lock down need financial support to do so. But just one in five of the world’s workers have access to unemployment entitlements and only one in three get sick pay. The reason why this financial support has not been forthcoming? Because it would reduce profits and involve extra taxes on the rich.

Capitalist priorities even determine who gets vaccinated. In a vaccine “arms race”, a small group of rich countries, representing just 14 percent of the world’s population, has bought up more than half the supply of leading vaccines. Much of the world’s population will not receive the vaccine until 2024 or 2025, if ever.

The economic crisis triggered by the pandemic has had dramatic effects. The World Bank estimates that incomes per person are likely to have fallen in every region of the world in 2020 for the first time since 1870. Hundreds of millions lost their jobs, the number of people living in poverty rose by hundreds of millions, and hunger rose sharply, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimating that the number of people experiencing “severe” food insecurity would rise by 270 million as a result of the pandemic. 

The pandemic has only exacerbated underlying trends. Two billion people, more than a quarter of the world’s population, experience food insecurity. All the while, food is being destroyed. Capitalism is a system of abundance but only as long as a profit can be made. As food insecurity surges, farmers in the United States are dumping millions of gallons of milk, hundreds of thousands of eggs and millions of pounds of vegetables on a daily basis. 

Meanwhile, the fortunes of the rich have jumped. The stock market surge since March last year has resulted in the fortunes of just ten billionaires rising by $540 billion

On top of the pandemic, capitalism is responsible for terrible environmental destruction that is dramatically reshaping our world, destroying the world’s forests, grasslands, wetlands and other important ecosystems, endangering thousands of species on which life on earth depends. The destruction of biodiversity has its origins in the introduction of cash crops and grazing land for livestock, generating profits for agribusiness giants but, by undermining biodiversity, reducing the pollination that is necessary to sustain life on Earth. Cash crops and artificial fertilisers also endanger water purity.

Climate change is responsible for rising global sea levels, heatwaves, droughts, cyclones, floods and fires. Countless summits have been held and numerous scientific reports have been written spelling out the consequences of global warming, and yet carbon dioxide emissions keep rising.

The rich are to blame. It is not just that the wealthiest are personally responsible for 52 percent of all consumer-based greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest half are responsible for just 7 percent. The more serious problem is that the global economy is in the hands of the capitalists. Everyone understands the consequences of global warming. But decarbonisation does not suit the fossil fuel industry; it’s more profitable to preserve the status quo. And that applies to the entire capitalist class, including the banks that invest in the industry and the state governments that receive royalties. All are tied to the fortunes of the fossil fuel industry. And, besides, the rich can avoid the worst effects of environmental destruction by removing themselves from the devastation to more congenial surroundings.

Climate change, bringing acidification and deoxygenation, is endangering the world’s oceans. The creation of lifeless dead zones threatens marine ecosystems. As phytoplankton populations are reduced, the sustainability of everything from anchovies to whales is put at risk. Then there is the accumulation of plastics in the oceans and pollutants in the air that we breathe due to poor regulation of capitalist industries, both of which are due to profits being put above a sustainable planet.

Governments are announcing plans to “build back better” after the pandemic. But they are doing more of the same things that created multiple environmental crises. The G20 governments have already pledged $250 billion to fossil fuel companies as part of their recovery programs. 

The rich can escape the worst effects of environmental degradation, but the poor cannot. A 2019 UN report estimated that an additional 120 million people could slip into poverty by 2030 because of climate change. Poor communities are more vulnerable to damage from droughts, floods and hurricanes, and as such extreme weather events become more frequent, the world’s poorest people, the people least responsible for climate emissions, will be forced “to choose between starvation and migration”, the report warned. The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights stated: “We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer”.

Another indictment of capitalism is that it brings us to the precipice of horrible wars that could, like the environmental crisis, lay waste to large areas of the planet. Since the turn of the twentieth century, wars waged for capitalist interests have killed tens of millions of working-class people, flattened entire cities and left millions more wounded, suffering lifetime injuries.

The next wars are already being planned by the generals, admirals, politicians and bureaucrats in every capital. The world system of competing nation states allows no alternative. That is why military spending inexorably increases. In 2019, the governments of the world wasted $2 trillion on bombers, tanks, aircraft carriers, missiles and millions of fighting men and women trained to kill. These are not to “preserve peace” but to control or grab territory or resources to secure the interests of the capitalist states that fund them.

The US and China alone account for half of global military spending and seem set to come to blows militarily in the next decade. The US has 375,000 personnel allocated across naval, air and army units and three aircraft carrier groups in the Indo-Pacific region, including in Australia. Both the Coalition and Labor parties have increased military spending here by 23 percent since 2010.

China is rushing to catch the US to ensure that its military prowess keeps pace with its economic rise. Since 2010, Chinese military spending has risen by 85 percent, and the Chinese government is preparing to triple the size of its arsenal of nuclear warheads in coming years. Any conflict between the US and China could potentially involve nuclear weapons, something that would render previous wars child’s play. We have to stop this drive to war before it destroys life on the planet. 

Even if not one gun is fired, military budgets are an affront to humanity. What could we do if this money were put to good use instead of destroying life on earth? US economist Jeffrey Sachs estimates that it would take $195 billion every year for 15 years to wipe out global poverty. That is a lot of money. But it is just 10 percent of what the world spends on the military. The US military budget alone—$1.2 trillion once the costs of current wars, nuclear weapons, care for veterans, intelligence services and Homeland Security are factored in—could easily cover the bill.

Will capitalist governments divert just 10 percent of their military budgets to relieve world poverty? No, because what are the needs of the hungry and destitute and their right to a decent life compared to the capitalist law of the jungle that requires each nation to arm itself to the teeth to fight its neighbours?

Capitalism does not operate on the basis of common, moral or economic sense. It operates purely on the basis of profits. It cannot be reasoned with. It has no moral scruples. It has no concern for the public good. Competing with and destroying rivals, accumulating fortunes in the hands of the few and exploiting the working class and the planet’s resources with no care for tomorrow are the only “logics” it understands.

It is a rapacious, inhumane system. It has to go.

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