From the September-October 2021 issue of News & Letters
Why we print the Draft Perspectives Thesis in News & Letters
With this special issue, News and Letters Committees is publishing the Draft Perspectives Thesis for our coming national gathering. We do it because our age is in such total crisis, facing a choice between absolute terror or absolute freedom, that a revolutionary organization can no longer allow any separation between theory and practice, philosophy and revolution, workers and intellectuals, “inside” and “outside.” We ask you to join in the discussion of these Perspectives with us. We are not presenting any “pat answers” to the question, “Where Do We Go From Here?” We are raising the questions that demand answers—and we ask you to help us in working them out.
The world faces not one but multiple existential crises: the COVID-19 pandemic; climate disruption and intersecting ecological crises; the renewal of the nuclear arms race by the U.S., China and Russia, while proliferation continues; the pull to fascism and undermining of democracy; social isolation and a new wave of technology designed for mass surveillance, manipulation, and job deskilling or elimination; rotting economic foundations coupled with precarious housing and labor conditions.
It all adds up to the existential crisis of a global state-capitalist system shot through with racism, xenophobia, sexism, heterosexism, ableism and authoritarianism. That recognition in turn calls for the confluence of all the labor and liberation struggles—not by administrative means but through a unifying philosophy based explicitly in the dialectic of liberation in those movements in historic continuity with movements from practice for freedom.
Let us therefore be concrete about the crises and the movements, about the oppressive ideological onslaught and the ideas of freedom, including the Marxist-Humanist philosophy of revolution in permanence.
I. This Year’s Pandemic
As yet another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic swells, all too many people are feeling stuck in a recurring nightmare. That is, aside from the wealthy and powerful complacent about being insulated from disease, poverty and death, and aside from those in feverish denial. About 10,000 people are dying each day worldwide, and around 1,000 people in the U.S. alone. Nationally, new cases recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surged to 122,058 on Aug. 5—higher than at any time during this plague’s first nine months, and up from 11,606 just one month earlier—then to 170,278 on Aug. 18.
After the richest nations in the world passed up chance after chance to prepare for and possibly prevent such epidemics, their campaigns to control this one fumbled again and again, in many ways. With 215 million cases worldwide, well over 4.4 million have died—more than 600,000 in the U.S. alone and one million more in India and Brazil combined. These official statistics are widely acknowledged to be undercounts, and the true toll may be twice that.
Besides people killed directly by the disease, indirect casualties include people not receiving healthcare because of overwhelmed clinics, fear of contagion, or lockdowns. And they include the spike in violence in the context of lockdowns. In particular, violence has surged against women stuck at home with abusers.
In the midst of this carnage, the movement that has taken over the Republican Party is displaying its neo-fascist character not only by trying to destroy democracy but by embracing denialism about the pandemic. They are undermining vaccination and mask-wearing, even passing laws restricting the authority of local and state public health officials. Real-world effects are stark, as counties that voted for Trump in 2020 have significantly lower vaccination rates and are now suffering more hospitalizations from COVID-19. Hospitals are overwhelmed in states like Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama, hindering care for all illnesses and accidents. Coming on top of chronic corner-cutting and understaffing in both for-profit and non-profit hospitals and clinics, the horrendous conditions drove nurses across the country to strike.
More than 700 nurses have been on strike at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., for five months, primarily over staff shortages. Marlena Pellegrino said, “The respect for our profession was not evident by this employer and it’s been going on for a long time. I think the pandemic shined a spotlight on that. We worked through some very tumultuous times where our employer could have stepped up to assist us instead of being an obstacle in our way of trying to care for our patients. When there aren’t enough nurses at the bedside, bad things can happen to patients, so we were forced to take this step until they’re resolved.”
Some 30% of U.S. adults remain unvaccinated, whether due to denialism, misinformation, long work hours with little sick leave, lack of childcare or lack of opportunity. The wealthy are more likely to be vaccinated, while poor people, renters, farmworkers and grocery store workers are significantly less likely.
VACCINE NATIONALISM AND IMPERIALISM
In low-income countries, lacking vaccine supplies and in many cases lacking infrastructure for storing, distributing and administering the vaccines, only 1.1% of people have received at least one dose even at this late date—including most of Africa and South and Southeast Asia.
This is no accident. The same capitalist-imperialist relations under which the “advanced” countries brutally exploited other countries’ people and resources—paving the way for pandemics by disrupting habitats and traditional ways of life—also dictated the hoarding of vaccine supplies, technology and production systems by the same exploiting powers. (See “Vaccine Rollout Inflames Global Inequalities,” Jan.-Feb. 2021 N&L.)
Unmoved by their own spokespeople’s rhetoric that the virus doesn’t discriminate, so “we’re all in this together,” the imperialist states blocked the use of an emergency mechanism in trade agreements that would have suspended patents. All for the overflowing profits of the giant pharmaceutical corporations! At the same time they bought up the lion’s share of vaccines for themselves, while failing to deliver what they promised to the COVAX program to supply low- and middle-income countries. (India’s out-of-control surge of the Delta variant also hurt COVAX when 400 million promised doses were needed at home.)
As a result of this healthcare inequality both within and between countries, as well as the subordination of healthcare in general to the fetish of production and therefore the nattering demand to “reopen the economy,” COVID-19 was allowed to proliferate and evolve even more dangerous new variants—which continues.
Many governments across the globe seized the opportunity to clamp down on protests and strikes and exploit hunger to stifle revolt. In Burma, anti-coup demonstrators are still fully masked, though the military is trying to kill them anyway. With one hand China and Russia are burnishing their diplomacy by furnishing vaccines to countries stiffed by the U.S. and Europe. At the same time, China has stepped up its suppression of Hong Kong and genocidal exploitation of the Uyghurs. China and Russia have not stopped supporting the murderous suppression of revolt in Burma and Syria.
PRISONS AND NURSING HOMES
Virtually every aspect of 21st-century capitalism has been revealed in all its viciousness since the pandemic began in late 2019. From the outset, prisons, jails and immigrant detention centers coldly exposed incarcerated people. Because of the systemic racism of the criminal injustice system, the toll fell most heavily on people of color. Institutions hid the suffering and death from official reports and statistics, while U.S. politicians and pundits bloviated about the Chinese government’s coverup. Disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s coverup of nursing home deaths was as serious as his other crimes.
What is certain is that the statistics are significant undercounts. Prisons, jails and detention centers often avoided giving coronavirus tests, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons even “had a policy of removing cases and deaths from its reports.” But, as of Aug. 13, the COVID Prison Project reports 414,500 COVID-19 cases among prisoners, with 2,556 deaths; and 102,565 cases among staff, with 173 deaths. Both prisoners and staff have a much higher rate of infection than the general population.
Part of the problem is that, “in the majority of states that report this data, fewer than half of prison staff have gotten a shot.” They have not ignored the pandemic, however. They used it as an excuse to impose lockdowns and to ban or limit family visits, recreation and educational activities.
In U.S. nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, at least 184,000 residents and staff were killed by COVID-19 through June. That accounts for nearly one-third of U.S. deaths from the disease. Nursing homes with more Black or Hispanic patients had higher rates of deaths and more severe cases. It was especially horrendous in the first few months of 2020. As we wrote last April:
“Existing institutions—nursing homes, homeless shelters, jails, prisons, concentration camps for immigrants—became centers of contagion, just by maintaining the same exploitative conditions as before. Many private nursing homes are perennially understaffed and poorly run, pleading poverty to justify poverty wages, while raking in profits that are siphoned off by owners and their crony contractors.”
Far more frequent pandemics are one expected result of the climate and ecological crisis. The world response to COVID-19 presents a grave warning about how future pandemics will be mishandled, and how the climate and ecological crisis itself will be handled, as long as the capitalist system is in the driver’s seat. We will not take the space here to elaborate on the systematic lies and coverups, the false solutions that do little more than line a few pockets, the extraordinary steps taken to protect the wealthy and powerful, the largesse showered upon capitalists and their businesses to cushion them from the economic shock while millions of workers were thrown out of work or forced to work in dangerous conditions, the exploitation of each crisis to perpetuate capitalism. (Much of this was detailed in last year’s Draft Perspectives Thesis and other articles in News & Letters.) Let us only point out that all of these things are already happening in response to the climate crisis.