A Revolutionary Response to COVID-19

18 March 2020

The global coronavirus pandemic has set off a series of cascading crises endangering the lives of tens of millions of people and threatening to plunge the world economy into deep depression. Several countries are now in near-total lockdown as governments scramble to contain the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve” of growth of COVID-19 cases by closing schools, banning public gatherings and curtailing border crossings. Other countries are not far behind, and everywhere governments are encouraging residents to avoid unnecessary contact (i.e., “social distancing”) and to quarantine themselves if they have the virus or have been in contact with anyone infected.

While the Federal Reserve in the United States was swift to inject $1.5 trillion into the financial system to keep Wall Street afloat, the Trump administration – which has unsurprisingly stoked xenophobia and anti-Chinese racism in its fight against the “foreign virus” – has offered no substantial protection to ordinary working people, who face grotesquely inadequate or non-existent healthcare, mass layoffs, the sudden disappearance of childcare and the prospect of food shortages in the near future. Governments elsewhere have suspended some of the normal mechanisms designed to limit access to unemployment insurance and paid sick days in the public and private sectors, but even where populations have universal healthcare there are insufficient numbers of hospital beds, medical staff and equipment following decades of state-led neglect and austerity.

Crises sharpen the contradictions of a society and accentuate the development of pre-existing trends. While governments are being forced by objective necessity to make an about-face and “nationalize” various aspects of healthcare delivery and/or take decision-making power out of the hands of private companies, they are doing so in the interests of preserving the economic and political power of the capitalist ruling class. Whatever the public health case may be for closing borders, banning meetings and ordering people to stay in their homes, it is clear that the daily announcements of sweeping new powers for governments also serve to push us further in the direction of capitalist authoritarianism.

The COVID-19 crisis and the possible collapse of the global economy call for a revolutionary transformation of society – a transformation, born of the inner contradictions of capitalism, that transfers power from the hands of the billionaires and their lackeys into the hands of the working class. The interconnected crises of the economy, the environment and public health cannot be adequately addressed by a system based on private ownership of the means of production, distribution and transportation, even as that system, in desperation, is willing to empower its political elites to impose collective measures to prevent collapse. The system must instead be swept away and replaced by a new order based on democratic planning by, and in the interests of, the working-class majority.

A revolutionary response to the current crisis must seek to mobilize working people around a program that not only addresses present needs but does so in a manner that creates a bridge to a workers' government and the first stages of the transition to socialism. An emergency program of action must include the following demands:

Free, fully-accessible quality public healthcare

Science-based global effort to contain, treat and eradicate COVID-19

Global economic planning to meet human need

Fight for workers' power