by Jeff Mackler, published on Socialist Action.
The U.S. Senate’s March 25, $2 trillion 97-0, COVID-19 corporate bailout vote gifted the ruling rich an amount never exceeded in world history. The overwhelming portion went directly to the coffers of the billionaire elite for whom the lives of literally millions of Americans are subordinate to their horror at seeing their casino capitalism stock market and associated paper fortunes evaporate to the tune of 30 percent in a matter of days. That some qualifying two-person working class households are to receive one-time payments of $2,400 along with promised temporary waivers of debt payments owed to the federal government and other short term measures aimed at modest and temporary relief for working people was subordinate to guaranteeing unprecedented multi-trillion dollar sums to the one percent. Not a single Senator thought to divide the 880-page package into distinct components that would embarrassingly expose exactly who got what. One lying Democrat did note that in the panic rush to approval no one challenged a provision that banned funding and/or forgivable grants to abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood.
Days before, anticipating a first quarter, Jan.-Mar. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline of 10 percent, followed by an estimated 25 percent or more GDP decline during the following quarter as the economy continued its free fall descent, the ruling class debated strategies to preserve their fortunes. The initial orientation, represented by the Donald Trump wing, considered easing the increasingly stringent “shelter-in-place” restrictions that aimed at eventually slowing the spread of COVID-19. Sending workers, their perceived wage slaves, back to work while the COVID-19 curve was on the rise in order to keep the wheels of their predatory system turning was initially their first choice. The massive cost in millions of lives was but a secondary consideration, if at all. Said Trump, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” The “problem,” of course, was the massive evaporation of their profits. All capitalists understand that these are derived from the exploitation of human labor. Earlier versions of capitalism’s life and death equations were uttered by the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who suggested that allowing COVID-19 to “burn out naturally,” that is, without medical intervention, would have the effect of the surviving population being left with a “natural immunity” to future COVID-19 encounters!
Johnson’s reactionary/racist/classist “herd immunity” or “survival of the fittest” thesis, would have allowed COVID-19 to run its course through the entire population, taking the lives of the weakest and oldest people, leaving the survivors, presumably now endowed with resistant antibodies, to continue as capitalism’s workforce. This was neatly explained in an originally secret UK government report that stated: “As many as 80% of the population are expected to be infected with COVID-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15% (7.9 million people) may require hospitalization.” The document projected a UK death-toll as high as 531,100, a supposedly acceptable number, provided only that the “fittest” – the elite with guaranteed access to the best medical care that their money can buy – were therefore to be excluded from meeting with the grim reaper.
Trump’s initial sympathy for this view, along with his projected “return to work by Easter, April 12,” scenario, was considered by his betters, to be excessive. To achieve capitalist objectives and avoid a predictable working class furor at being sacrificed on the alter of profit, Trump and Co. decided on other means a few days later.
Trump’s Republicans soon after and joined at the hip with the Democrats, approved the $2 trillion first step bailout, an extraordinary amount roughly equal to 10 percent of the U.S. GDP of $22 trillion. Again, this was seen as only the government’s first step in saving capitalism. New York Times columnist Jeff Sommar clearly explained this strategy:
“On Monday, March 23 the Fed announced that it would, essentially, take whatever actions were needed to restore stability in the markets, as well as the economy.” Referring to the monetary policies known as quantitative easing, which the Fed employed to combat the global financial crisis of 2007-08, Sommar said, “The new policy amounted to quantitative easing to infinity and beyond.” (NYT, March 27, Emphasis added.).
“The Fed’s new policies are so large, and operate on so many fronts, that they are difficult even to catalog. In addition to lowering short-term interest rates to a nearly zero, the central bank will buy Treasury securities, government agency securities and corporate bonds. Beyond that, the newly-enacted [$2 trillion] fiscal stimulus package will enable the Fed to increase its already immense firepower by as much as $4 trillion.”
In short, the government of, by and for the capitalist class, incorporated in its plans an additional promise $4 trillion, or roughly one-quarter to the nation’s annual GDP.
Said Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell “When it comes to this lending, we’re not going to run out of ammunition.” Powell was blunt. At least for now, the corporate powers, whose government they own and control, were ready to literally print money or its paper equivalent, to match 100 percent of the expected quarterly U.S. GDP decline, that is, the full amount of the total value of the goods and services no longer expected to be produced by U.S. workers. With the Labor Department’s latest published figures indicating that 3.28 million workers had filed for unemployment insurance in the past week, five times the numbers ever reported in U.S. history, and with additional millions expected to follow suit in the weeks and months ahead, no one could deny that the coming months, if not years, portent unprecedented changes in consciousness.
The initial shock that stunned U.S. workers has just begun to permeate working class consciousness. Incipient groups of Chicago tenants, for example, unable to pay their rent, took the first steps to organize a rent strike. In a similar manner, groups of Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York, and some Instacart grocery delivery workers nationwide walked off their jobs last week to demand stepped-up COVID-19 protection and pay increases as they continue to work in dangerous conditions while much of the country is asked to isolate as a safeguard against the coronavirus. Amazon employs some 800,000 warehouse and delivery workers, almost all low wage and non-union. Tens of thousands more are expected to be hired as home deliveries skyrocket in the face of a nation increasingly quarantined. Workers in some eleven warehouses have had workers test positive for COVID-19.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) tabulations as of March 30 indicate that more than 790,000 individuals in 200 countries and territories, spread across all continents, have contracted the disease. While over 37,816 deaths have been reported as of March 31, the daily percentage increase in deaths exceeds 12 percent worldwide! No one denies that the infection rate and the daily death rate are far from peaking.
In addition to China, one of the hardest hit nations is Iran, where the rate and number of infections, scientists estimate, won’t peak until May, by which time some 3.5 million people could die.
In Italy, with 101,739 cases reported, as of March 30, the total number of reported deaths stands at 11,591.
Rising death toll in the U.S. and worldwide
In the U.S. as of March 30, 3,170 deaths have been reported, according to the NYT, triple the number reported just three days earlier. At 164,603, the U.S. ranks first in the world in the number of confirmed cases, and this at a time when test kits still remain largely unavailable. The actual number of people who have contracted the virus and remain asymptomatic is unknown. Researchers have warned that left unchecked COVID-19 could kill some one to two million people in the U.S. in months ahead. Trump administration figures, including Trump’s top medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, report that a realistic U.S. death toll figure might be 100,000 to 200,000 in the unspecified period ahead.
Germany’s Angela Merkel reported two week that as many as 80 percent of the entire German population could be afflicted.
At an estimated fatality rate of one to two percent tens of millions could die in a relatively brief period. In a single month, October 1918, 195,000 Americans died during the worldwide influenza pandemic, the deadliest month in U.S. history. Some 500 million worldwide fell sick during this 15-month horror, which reduced the earth’s population by 3.5 percent.
China demonized then praised
After initial hesitation the Chinese government began a mobilization of doctors, government workers, Communist Party members, and units of the Peoples Liberation Army and local police to carry out widespread screening of the population in the heavily impacted zones of Wuhan and its province, Hubei. Simultaneously, an initial quarantine of the town and province was implemented followed soon after by a near lockdown of the entire nation.
A prioritized, unprecedented effort began to construct hospitals for quarantine and treatment purposes using prefabricated sections. A workforce approaching 10,000 has been mobilized to work 24 hours a day. In this effort the 1,000-bed Huoshenshan Hospital was constructed and made operational in just 10 days. At another site 25 miles distant the Leishenshan Hospital with 1600 beds was built in two weeks.
So exhaustive has been the response to keep the virus contained that the head of the WHO praised China for having “bought the world time” and that other nations should make the most of it. To date the reported number of new cases has been slowed or halted to the point where a number of the new hospitals have been closed for lack of patients. The graphic “curve” registering the initial rapid rise in reported COVID-19 cases in China has, according to some reports, has been “flattened.” Few nations on earth have proved capable matching China’s success. Despite the massive campaign by the Chinese government to stop the spread of the virus, its efforts were initially met by the U.S. mainstream media with bias and derision. Yet a few weeks after pillorying China for its “draconian” forced quarantine measures, the U.S. government itself along with virtually all fifty states, if not the entire world, have recommended and is increasingly implementing similar measures. Trump himself sent a letter of appreciation to China’s President Xi Jinping, for China’s accomplishments.
Cuba sets the example and leads the way.
Most noteworthy, revolutionary Cuba, even with its resources severely constrained by the U.S. embargo/blockade, can justly claim the moral high ground for cooperation, solidarity and success with regard to limiting the disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. (See page 12.)
Science at the service of society
In a socialist society scientific research would be conducted for the common good, not capitalist profit. All discoveries would be immediately made known to the scientific community worldwide. International collaboration and coordination as opposed to competition would be the norm. Patents and related measures to protect “intellectual property rights” would be deemed absurd and inimical to the interests of society. Funding and coordinating research would be public and massive, with the resulting solutions and vaccines the common property all humanity. Free vaccines would be available to all via hospitals and clinics, workplaces, schools, and community centers. Gone would be the televised advertising bombardment for high-priced drugs from the U.S. pharmaceutical cartel where critical breakthroughs are sometimes suppressed because a healthy population is not conducive to profits!
U.S. stock market’s wild gyrations
The U.S. casino capitalist stock market has taken its greatest hit since the Great Recession of 2008, with the Dow Jones industrial index initially losing some 10,000 points, or thirty-five percent, in a matter of weeks only to “recover” some 3,000 points (as of March 31) in the days following the news of the $2 trillion bi-partisan bailout. The anticipated and continuing massive layoffs of tens of millions of workers, most with only short term promises of government relief, informs us that the already pre-COVID-19 era scent of a coming recession, will be qualitatively magnified for an indefinite period – at least several months, if not longer.
The unpredictable future
How long it will take to bring the current pandemic to a halt is the major social, political and economic question posed before the entire world. Indeed, any momentary timeline projection leaves aside the terrible fact that absent a real cure – an effective vaccine akin to those that have saved countless millions of lives over the past century – COVID-19 will inevitably return as a “seasonal” pandemic when a declining “curve” indicates that an end to the near worldwide quarantine is warranted! In the meantime the most elementary aspects of survival for the vast majority are tragically absent or in dangerously short supply – from basic hospital facilities, protective gloves, face masks, sanitizing hand swipes, mass testing and basic live-saving medical devices like ventilators to productive and decent paying jobs to sustain life in capitalist America where the large majority survive paycheck to paycheck.
At a time when the combined scientific research capacities of the world are overwhelming allocated to an endless variety of military, as opposed to healthcare and medical research, prospects for rapid progress are dim to say the least. Endless wars are the most profitable of all capitalist enterprises. Mass destruction of nations’ infrastructure in the ongoing seven wars presently waged by the U.S., along with drone wars, Special Operations death squad wars, privatized mercenary army wars, not to mention militarily-enforced sanction wars, in the context of a highly monopolized military-industrial complex, make for the highest profit rates on earth. The U.S. sanctions on Venezuela alone cost the lives of an estimated 50,000 Venezuelans. And this was before the present COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. $1 trillion annual military expenditures account for 68 percent of all government discretionary spending.
The right to a decent job and be free from deadly pandemics like COVID-19 is a prime expectation of all humanity. When governments fail in this critical arena their excuses no longer find receptive ears. Anger, voiced rightful indignation, and civil outbursts begin to occur. How this pandemic will play out amidst the growing international radicalization is a question on the table for all of us.
Socialist activists and working class fighters demand:
- Free quality healthcare for all • Nationalize the health care system and scientific research institutions and place them under the control of working people not the corporate profiteers • $Trillions now for critical medical supplies, equipment, free COVID-19 tests, food for the hungry and housing and care for the homeless
- Bail out the working class not the corporate elite. $Trillions for full pay and benefits for all workers who lose their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Cancel all evictions, foreclosures, rent, mortgage payments, utility and debt payments until the crisis is over
- Abolish ICE and close all deportation centers. No deportations. No human being is illegal
- Empty the prisons • Rehabilitation not racist and classist mass incarceration
- Not one penny for imperialist war, deadly sanctions, embargos and blockades • Cut the military budget by 100 percent
- $Trillions for a rapid conversion from the present deadly fossil fuel-based energy system to a clean sustainable nationalized system under workers control to preserve life on earth itself
- Full pay for all workers during the transition to new jobs building a clean and sustainable energy infrastructure
- Close all military bases and convert them to free hospitals for all
- End racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, LGBTQI and senior citizen discrimination
*Featured Image: by Liana Buszka, from Seeing Wetiko: Wetiko is an Algonquin word for a cannibalistic spirit that is driven by greed, excess, and selfish consumption. It deludes its host into believing that cannibalizing the life-force of others (others in the broad sense, including animals and other forms of Gaian life) is a logical and morally upright way to live. ~Liana Buszka
Jeff Mackler is the national secretary of Socialist Action. He is also Socialist Action’s candidate for U.S. President in the 2020 elections and he was the Socialist Action candidate for President in 2016. Mackler founded Northern California Climate Mobilization, is a longtime teacher and union activist with the American Federation of Teachers in Hayward, California and is director of theMobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.