As COVID-19 infiltrates cities and towns one after another, steadily destroying lives in its wake, it is hard not to notice the contradictory nature of the phenomenon: the affliction clearly is global, but there is no effective global system to control it.

The World Health Organization is supposed to create such a system, but it has been weakened by member states not paying their share. We cannot rule out the likelihood that the racist in the White House refuses to pay the U.S.’s share because the current agency head is an African, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia. “Leaders” such as the flailing incompetent sociopath in the White House and the boorish loudmouth residing in 10 Downing Street, devoid of a shred of empathy, initially refused to acknowledge the danger. And despite pleadings from leading virologists, infectious disease specialists, biostatisticians, and numerous other specialists, authorities refused to close down countries because it is not good for business. The lack of adequate testing, tracing, and PPE means the virus will be with us for a long time.

Much of the casualties are due to vulnerabilities such as poor health, substandard and overcrowded living conditions, and lack of sanitation and access to clean water. Unhealthy workplaces—typically overcrowded and with no provisions for any personal distance policy—create ideal conditions for the virus to spread, as indicated in the rising number of new cases of infection in the meatpacking industry. The economic conditions of the poor and racial minorities can be expected to result in devastatingly similar impacts.

Capitalism, like everything else, operates on continuity and change. Since the end of the colonial era, it has adopted new ways of continuing oppressive relations, but with less expense. Instead, under neocolonialism, capitalists recruit the local, inexpensive comprador bourgeoisie to do their bidding, thus finding a new way to extend the system’s 600+ years of existence. Supposedly, they take a risk by investing “their capital” to create jobs. In fact, as Marx demonstrated, capital is simply a portion of the surplus value accumulated and reinvested to create, in turn, new surplus value; that is, capital comes from surplus value produced by generations of workers who often had nothing except their labor power to sell. This involved continuity of a different sort: much of the capital owned by the Western corporations have their origins in the plunder from the colonies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. What was left behind by colonial exploitation is what is known as underdevelopment.[1]

Neoliberalism and globalization are capitalist maneuvers which Marx predicted over 100 years ago and were later further elaborated by Lenin. The current version of neoliberalism was designed by Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek,  later joined by General Pinochet’s ideological guru Milton Freidman and other apologists for capitalist exploitation. Its purpose was to counter collective economies that were beginning to take shape in the USSR and Eastern Europe after the Second World War. Even the hint of success of this new approach to the production of necessities was threatening to the capitalists and their ruling-class allies. From the start, they were determined to dismantle the socialist project.

Everything under capitalism eventually becomes a commodity. 

This ideological opposition to collective economic systems became strong and took the form of privatization of everything in sight. The international financial organizations led the way, leveraging loans for economic development to stimulate the private sector and impose privatization on countries. The groundwork was laid by “The Tragedy of the Commons,” written by Garrett Hardin and published in 1968 by the prestigious journal Science.  Traditionally, the commons were resources held collectively and managed, shared, and protected in a sustainable way. However, the idea was later used to push privatization and cuts in public-sector spending, and the craze was rationalized on the twisted idea that the greater good is best achieved through selfish profit-seeking entrepreneurs. Many developing countries were pressured and intimidated by international lending agencies to drastically reduce social welfare programs, including health care, and to privatize water supplies, sanitation services, housing, even education—proving Lenin’s observation that everything under capitalism eventually becomes a commodity. Hardin’s conjectures were later refuted by economist Elinor Ostrom. The commons may seem antiquated, but they are a reminder of our dependency on each other. In a future society, such collectives are likely to be basic units of global socialist economies.

Neoliberal policies involve investment (usually sought after by the underdeveloped countries), almost invariably on terms favorable to the multinational corporations. In 2018 the world’s largest Fortune 500 companies generated $36.7 trillion in revenues and $2.15 trillion in profit. They employed 69.3 million people worldwide from 34 countries. In most cases, they do not pay local taxes, and they do not pay for the infrastructure they need to do their business. They enjoy easy terms of business, no supervision, relaxed environmental regulations, strict control of trade union activities, and the ability to interfere with the host country’s internal political affairs.

Capitalism continues to peddle all sorts of opiates that obfuscate its victims’ awareness of the state of their lives, what otherwise would be transformed into class consciousness of the working and poor people. Despite this, the experience of the working poor informs them that the solution to negate the debacle that is capitalism is its antithesis—socialism. Young people around the world are beginning to understand this. Hopefully, activists will continue to embrace socialism as the only way left to save the planet and humanity.

Today the commons that are necessary, and must necessarily be global, are

  • minimum income to provide for essential nutritional needs of every human being; [2]
  • universal health care;
  • affordable housing;
  • access to free, high-quality education;
  • guaranteed basic income for all;
  • sustainable living standards for all, as opposed to the consumer-driven, hedonistic, and wasteful lifestyle capitalism has been peddling, and which has brought us the global climate crisis.

Also necessary is to change our idea of work, and not remain confined to producing surplus value for the capitalists but include service to the society as well. These demands can be met in today’s world; forces of production have reached such a height that it is possible to satisfy human needs, but this requires not feeding the wants, that is, waste and overconsumption.

Crimes committed against generations of African Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color cannot be reversed, but the economic injustice can be addressed. The demand for reparations is a legitimate one worthy of the support of all fair-minded people. It is also necessary to demand that the colonizers return what they have siphoned off to home countries, leaving destruction and destitution behind. Massive transfer of resources has made many of these former colonies permanently underdeveloped. There cannot be any question of going back to any level of so-called laissez-faire status.[3]

The world has shrunk considerably. The problems of food, environment, health care, education, housing, and transportation—almost everything people struggle with—are globally interconnected. Some of these problems will not be dealt with at national levels, especially poverty, which demands a global solution. Our experience shows that the policy of discrimination compromises the well-being of a segment of people and condemns them to insufficient food and nutrition; housing that is a fancy name for squalor; lack of education, clean water, sanitation, and a clean environment; and lack of access to health care. Society as a whole pays the price for such policies.

Marx was clear that the end of exploitation of labor power requires the end of capitalism. He suggested several necessary steps to make it actual. The creation of a new society must be sustainable:

Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its ‘usufructuaries,’ and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.[4]

Getting there has been frustrating and, so far, unsuccessful. But the experience of various socialists and other progressives convinces us that democracy is the only tool that can be effective in making the changes and to maintain the course of social development. But the kind of democracy needed is qualitatively different from bourgeois democracy; it requires devolving power to the people and creating democratic social/community control of the economy—not state/bureaucratic[5] control.

Senator Sanders’ campaign revived the subject of collective responsibility. However, the primary election results once again led to the conclusion that the movement for socialism has to be built at the grassroots level. It cannot be imposed on people from the top. If we cannot live among our neighbors as “known” socialists/communists, or are not trusted enough to be elected to the local school board, it would be a really big surprise to get a socialist elected as president of the United States.

No doubt it will take a lot of hard work to change that.

[1] “Estimates had been made according to which between Plassey and Waterloo—a period of crucial importance for the development of British capitalism—between 500,000,000 and 1,000,000,000 was taken by Britain from India.” William Digby, “Prosperous” British India (1901), p. xii; cited in The Political Economy of Growth, by Paul Baran (1957), p. 145.

At Plassey, now in West Bengal, India, the last independent potentate of Bengal Nawab Sirajuddowla lost a battle against the mercenaries, headed by Robert Clive, of the British East India Co, opening the door to British colonial rule of India from 1757 to 1947.

[2] There is no moral justification to suggest that all human beings do not need approximately the same average quantity of nutrition. The goal for a standard of living should be based on what is nutritionally adequate. To attain this, change in current habits will be necessary.

[3] This theoretical construct has been useful in propaganda for “freedom,” which never did or can exist under capitalism.

[4] Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3.

[5] Marx never advocated state control of the economy; he used “social-control” or “community control,” which are very different concepts.

The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the positions of the CPUSA.


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