World in View: COVID-19, philosophy, and revolution

June 29, 2021

From the July-August 2021 issue of News & Letters

by Gerry Emmett

“The veil is not removed from the countenance of the social life-process, i.e., the process of material production, until it becomes production by freely associated men, and stands under their conscious and planned control.”

—Marx, Capital

The possibility that COVID-19 leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, has been a heated subject of debate since the publication of Nicholas Wade’s article, “The Origin of COVID,” in the May 5 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It is a strong possibility.

It is certain, however, that the ruling class response to the pandemic was to lie, obfuscate, and manipulate the public in its own interest. The clarity of the class line, however, drawn as it was through humanity and nature, should be a philosophic moment for the world.


In America, How Could This Happen is a project by artist Suzanne Brennan
Firstenberg on the Armory Parade Grounds. There is a flag planted for each
death, with more flags added each day as the death toll increases. Photo: Victoria Pickering.

State-capitalist power claimed to protect us. Here is the price we paid:

Over three million people and counting, dead. The pandemic continues to ravage India, Africa, and parts of Latin America.

The greatest wealth transfer in history, with countless small businesses wiped out and Amazon and other big tech monopolies making trillions.

Increased deaths from despair during lockdowns—a word that could have been borrowed from the prison-industrial complex. These include suicides, murders, and drug and alcohol deaths.

Increased deaths from undiagnosed illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

Increased levels of domestic abuse.

Children losing a precious year of education and sometimes left to the streets. Disabled children losing a year of social skill development.

The normalization of civil and human rights violations and corporate censorship.

This centralization of wealth and power embodies Marx’s general law of capitalist accumulation; it was also an opportunist, piratical, cruel war of primitive accumulation of capital. It shows the necessity of revolution. We are living through Capital as if it was written in our blood.

Donald Trump’s acceptance of all this shows the futility of looking to a “populist” like him for any opposition to the despotic plan of capital. His highest aspiration is to be a successful commodity himself, the best product of the system.

In addition, it shows how much was lost when radical, self-determining organizations like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) were replaced by Bill Gates-funded “health” NGOs. Gates himself profited greatly from the pandemic.


There is more. Even the fact that COVID-19 may have been a lab leak illustrates how capitalism can turn our deepest insights into our own nature towards our own destruction. Just as modern physics led to the extinction-level threat of nuclear weapons, so here we see a similar potential biological threat.

There is a profound reason Marx wrote, in his Critique of the Gotha Program, that nature is a source of wealth, as well as labor. In order to make production by freely associated human beings possible, it is necessary to comprehend nature in and for itself. This is part of breaking down the division between mental and manual labor that will allow us to say, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.”

Even the best Marxists had difficulty grasping his point about this. We are suffering it with every breath, every step, and every new revelation. This is the maturity of our age. It is why the current pandemic must be a philosophic moment for all humanity.

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