Socialist Worker

Rulers want to cure capitalism of virus

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 2696

Boris Johnson at a press conference on coronavirus this week

Boris Johnson at a press conference on coronavirus this week (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)


We’ve already learned two important things in the Covid-19 crisis. The first is that the future is here.

For decades people have been predicting that the blind process of capital accumulation would unleash terrible disasters. Now the Australian wildfires and the coronavirus pandemic show that the disasters have begun.

I’ve been on strike for the past few weeks along with tens of thousands of other university workers. Now we’re starting to return to work amid the chaos unleashed by Covid-19.

To its demands about pay and pensions and casualisation, the UCU union has added a call for an immediate shutdown of colleges and universities. This is how things are going to be now—struggle amid disaster.

Second, the disaster is amplified by the far right that has taken office in many countries. Prime examples are Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

Covid-19 is probably an unintended consequence of intensive factory farming.

Capitalism is morally responsible for the reckless way in which it destroys nature. But the past few weeks’ panic on the financial markets reflected the bosses’ justified fear that the pandemic will wreck the world economy.

Venal far right politicians can make things a lot worse. Trump’s and Johnson’s responses have both been terrible, but significantly different.

Trump needs booming stock markets to create a feelgood atmosphere about the economy that will help him get re-elected in November.

So he played Covid-19 down, dismissing it as a “hoax” invented by the Democrats.

The federal government bungled the initial production of the drug to test for novel corona virus. In all probability Covid-19 is now raging through the American population.

Trump has been forced into a U-turn.

But his travel ban is a petulant and futile attempt to block the pathways of global capitalism through which the virus is spreading.

Johnson’s response has been, on the face of it, more rational. It is summed up by a New York Times newspaper headline, “UK Shields Its Economy from the Virus, but Not Yet Its People.” Indeed, it’s even worse.

Testing

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is pouring money into the economy to help businesses get through the Covid-19 virus. But the government is abandoning mass testing and expects some 60 percent of the population to be infected.

The idea is that if enough of the population get ill, we will develop “herd immunity”, preventing many people from getting re-infected in a later wave. This strategy is being justified by government apologists as based on “scientific evidence”.

But there’s no evidence. Covid-19 is a new variant of coronavirus. And Rob Wallace shows in his book Big Farms Make Big Flu that influenza has an astonishing ability to mutate and develop along different biological dimensions.

It’s just an assumption that people exposed to the virus will develop an immunity to it.

Last Saturday Adam Kucharski, an academic whose modelling has been cited in support of the government strategy, tweeted, “I am deeply uncomfortable with the message that UK is actively pursuing ‘herd immunity’ as the main Covid-19 strategy.”

Worse still, Johnson and Cummings are gambling with people’s lives—and in particular those of older people, who are particularly vulnerable. Letting the virus run wild will mean putting people over 60 at risk, and betting that an NHS already overstretched to breaking point will save them.

No wonder Johnson warned people that their “loved ones” might die.

We can’t rely on this callous Tory government to protect us. Collective action will be needed to force it to change course and release the resources to support the NHS, self-isolating households, and the vulnerable.

Because many workplaces will shut down this action will have to centre on working class communities.

Mutual help groups are already springing up all over the country. Organising from below has become more important than ever.


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