Class War and Covid-19

Double Inhuman Reality

By a Correspondent

Year 2019 was a year of worldwide class movement of the scale and intensity not seen for decades, perhaps since the wave of revolutionary struggles in sixties and seventies. The capitalist normality of business as usual had been profoundly shaken by myriads of protests, strikes, riots and in some places even military and police mutinies. Hundreds of thousands of angry proletarians had taken to the streets of Chile, France, Lebanon, Iraq, Haiti, Hong-Kong, Iran, India, Colombia and many other places. For many communist militants these movements represented a breath of fresh air. On this momentum we were watching riots in Sao Paulo, Recife, Rio or even subway occupation in New York or protests against polluting business in Wenlou in Pearl River Delta with a lot of anticipation that these are the signs that the proletarian wildfire is spreading further and starting to engulf these huge centers of the accumulation of Capital. New Year came and the movement was showing no signs of losing energy. On the contrary, new eruptions were appearing almost every week in yet another city, region, country… And then, three months into 2020 it all came abruptly to halt.Covid-19 pandemic as such is not a hoax or propaganda of the State, fabricated in order to crush and silence the class movement and to re-forge the "social peace" and inter-class united front against the "common enemy". But in practice, it brings exactly the same effects. As the Covid-19 pandemic is spreading around the world, so are the repressive measures of the State against the proletariat with massive curfews, ban on gatherings, hacking of the Smart Phones in order to "trace the virus", updates of face-recognition software behind the omnipresent CCTV cameras to recognize faces of people wearing a medical mask, sealing the borders, etc. Hand in hand with those measures comes a bourgeois ideological narrative of a struggle for the common good, of the need to stay calm and patient, while "our national heroes" on the front line wage a battle against "the invisible enemy". And make no mistake, the narrative says, these heroes are not just doctors and nurses treating the Covid-19 patients, but also cops guarding us "for our own good", "philanthropists" like Bill Gates or Elon Musk with their visionary solutions to save us all (while still making "few" bucks along the way) or media reporters bringing the new analyses and reports on number of dead to the confined masses.

May be, Covid-19 was deliberately created in a lab as a weapon, although there is a long history of military-scientific complex of the capitalist State doing precisely that: from experiments with Syphilis in Tuskegee, through outbreak of Marburg virus out of "Cold War" virologist lab in Germany, up to the development of Bubonic Plague bacteria carried by war-heads in Soviet Union, and not to mention the famous Wuhan Institute of Virology (and its lab P4), one specialization of whose is precisely the research on… coronaviruses, and which fueled so much the fertile imagination of some conspiracy milieus, it is clear that infectious diseases have their firm place in Capital's murderous arsenal. Most probably Covid-19 originated in one of the wild animals sold at a food market and mutated to human transmittable strain. But whatever is its origin, what creates the conditions for spreading of infections is the very nature of the capitalist society - centered around densely populated urban hubs, poles of accumulation of Capital and trade links between them serving the circulation of resources, commodities and workers, including future workers (students) and workers in a process of reproducing their labor power (tourists).

As Capital's accumulation inevitably also represents accumulation of misery, each such agglomeration contain overcrowded neighborhoods, public transport vehicles, factories and offices where production logic makes it impossible to protect oneself, a health care system that is only designed for a purpose of "quickly fixing workers", etc. Of course due to modern transportation people are all required to travel further, faster and in higher numbers than any time before.Of course it is a proletarian who is once again given free and democratic "choice" of getting sick with Covid-19 or going hungry and homeless or being brutalised by repressive forces or all of the above. But this time imposition of this terror does not come so smoothly for Capital and its State. The pandemic and related lock-down had initially a huge pacifying effect on the raging proletarian movement, but at the same time it clearly exposed the inhumanity inherent to this society based only on generation of profit at all human costs. In Italy, it first started with prison mutinies all around the country when visits had been banned. At the same time, no means of protection against the disease had been provided to prisoners. Violent confrontation with guards and cops hit twenty-seven prisons, with prison in Modena practically destroyed. Guards were taken hostage and some prisoners managed to escape. At least seven prisoners had been murdered. State propaganda will later shamelessly claim that their deaths were due to drug overdose.

Soon after that, a wave of wildcat strikes swept across the country, when workers of many industrial companies including FIAT and Arcelor Mittal (ex-Ilva) demanded and in many cases successfully imposed the immediate closure of the factories. This was followed by strikes in supermarkets and strikes of food delivery workers demanding protective equipment and sanitation. Trade unions first openly opposed these strikes for undermining the economy, only to later pathetically give some of them "their blessing" when the struggle was over. Meanwhile in Southern Italy, which is less affected by the actual infection, but where curfew pittance is even smaller and food distribution is crumbling, occasional confrontations with cops and looting of supermarkets threaten to grow into "hunger riots". But it did not end with Italy.

All around the world, prisoners are among the most severely impacted by this double inhuman reality of the deadly disease and repressive measures of the State, because of the overcrowded conditions and isolation inside the prisons. Whatever they did to be thrown in jail, whoever they are prisoners are essentially proletarians persecuted by the capitalist society for disrespecting to some of them its holiest fetish (i.e. private property), while most of the others are cynically locked down for disregarding the conventional and legal process of appropriation of desirable commodities. Generally speaking, they are locked up for breaking the monopoly of violence usurped by the State, after being pushed into fratricide bloodshed by the social contradictions and alienation inseparable from the capitalist modus operandi: "property is theft" and vice versa. They were among the first who have risen up against the new social control measures, against further atomisation and dehumanisation and separation from their loved ones. Against the extraordinary high rate of Covid-19 mortality due to the disgusting and unhealthy environment they are forced to live in. Despite the horrible State violence and the little organized solidarity from outside, all around the world, they were among the first to break the enforced "social peace" of the lock-down and to fight the guards and special police units, to burn down the prisons, to try to escape and reach the people outside. This was also the case in Colombia, Venezuela, France, Argentina, USA, Brazil, Lebanon, Russia, Iran, etc. In this sense, they represented through their social practice (at a specific time and under particular circumstances) a spark of the current and upcoming class movement; they embodied the driving force of our class, what our class is called upon to do for its liberation. They have cut through the numbing curtain of the "public health" propaganda and have shown to the rest of the class the naked reality we are facing and how to fight against it.

And a surge of wildcat strikes, riots and looting is re-emerging across all the continents - in France, Cameroon, USA, Indonesia, Kenya, Colombia, Lebanon, Venezuela, Chile, India, Russia, Belgium, Turkey, Iran, Senegal… to name just a few. Although the movement is still far weaker and more sporadic than before the pandemic - because of the repression, more sophisticated social control or fear of contracting the disease, the social contradictions that gave birth to the last wave are still here and are bound to get even more extreme in the coming months.

In Lebanon as elsewhere in the world, the proletarian anger has been boiling under cover of lock-down measures since March to finally spill over in the form of an uprising in Qoubbeh prison in Tripoli on April 8th. Soon after, the streets of many cities all around the country again filled with angry protesters. This time, huge but largely pacifist demonstrations that formed a big part of the 2019 movement are replaced by smaller, but determined and violent confrontations. The militant proletarian current that had been always present in the movement has resurfaced and it again chooses the targets belonging to our class enemy - burning down banks, police stations, military check-points and vehicles, looting the supermarkets, etc.The fact that the proletariat, in its struggle against exploitation and more particularly in its struggle against the increase in the rate of exploitation, is targeting through direct action the banks and financial institutions of national and international capitalism, this is a fundamental thing that progressives should support. Now, the fact that some militant structures are developing a whole theory that comes to personify Capital through the disgusting face of the bank and financial capital, and therefore to straddle the workhorse of denouncing " "financial oligarchy" and "plutocracy", this is yet another thing and one cannot follow them on this dangerous terrain whose consequence is about diverting the proletariat from its struggle against the very foundations of the capitalist society and ultimately denying communist critic on the totality of what exists. Definitely the proletariat is the irreconcilable enemy of money but the latter is nothing but an abstract form expressing the exchange value and it cannot in any way be amalgamated with the very essence of Capital and its social relations…

In order to realise profit a capitalist has to sell his commodities on the market, commodities that realize thus their value, the value that is crystalized within them during the process of production. As he has to constantly compete with other capitalists for it, he has to try to sell his commodities cheaper than competitor. To keep their rate of profit, they have to constantly push lower the production unit cost of the commodity. This can be done by lowering of labour costs (the well named "variable capital") - e.g. to push down a worker's hourly wage. However the wage of a worker cannot be squeezed under the minimal level necessary to allow him to physically survive and also to reproduce his labor force. The only other choice for the capitalist is to try to increase the productivity of a worker, to make him produce more commodities for the same time period, or in other words to increase the rate of "unpaid labor" provided by the latter. This way a capitalist can pay fewer workers to produce the same amount of commodities. The amount of labor a single worker can perform for a given time period also cannot grow forever, but it is determined by the physiological limits of a human body.

A capitalist can overcome this problem through automation - through replacing as much human labour as possible with machines. The worker then becomes more and more just an appendage to the machine, loading the resources and unloading finished products, controlling their quality, repairing and maintaining the machine, etc. while the machine is autonomously spitting one product after another. This allows an individual capitalist to lower the production unit price of a commodity and through selling more units of this commodity at a lower price to conquer a larger part of the market than his competitors.

This capitalist loses this advantage however, at the moment his competitors introduce the same technological innovations and new lower price of a commodity becomes a new average. The only logical way forward for him then is to repeat the whole cycle. The problem is that by getting rid of workers and replacing them with machines, this capitalist has decreased the ratio of living labor (which is the only one that can be exploited to generate surplus value and therefore a profit - i.e. workers) to dead labor (which on the contrary requires investments to keep it running - i.e. machines). As all factions of Capital follow the same logic, at a certain point the average rate of profit (in a given region or globally) drops under the level necessary for the investment to restart this cycle. The final option, in an attempt to postpone an inevitable crisis, is to take out a loan- i.e. a monetary expression of the profits promised to be realised in the future.

Global bourgeoisie is beginning to split into two ideological alliances, depending on their economical and strategical interests. The first one was either able to scrape more profit from the lock-down situation or had savings that allowed it to temporarily postpone it and bet on "new" strategies in social control to keep the proletariat off of the streets and safely under bourgeois ideological dominance. It is aligned with the sectors that can make their workers work from home over the internet, that deliver the goods and services to the consumers trapped at home or provide medical and pharmaceutical services.

Of course the military-industrial complex also falls into this category. Military spending is not only not decreasing during the pandemic, but on the contrary many national factions of the global State are investing heavily to both their social control capacity (further police and border guards militarization, new spy software, etc.) and murderous capacity (fighter jets, tanks, missiles, etc.). It is clear that this is a preparation for repression of the anticipated class struggle or for an attempt to hijack it and turn its participants into cannon fodder in yet another capitalist war. With ever present competition between USA, China and Russia as well as many smaller powers, the peril of the global inter-bourgeois war grows every day. Especially as the bourgeoisie of these countries will find it more attractive as a mean to channel the proletarian anger at home.

Covid-19 pandemic has blown off the bourgeois masquerade and has uncovered the deep structural crisis of capitalism. One can already see the unemployment skyrocketing as millions of workers are being fired in US, Europe, Russia, Brazil, India, etc. and one can expect this trend to continue in the future months. The proletarian reaction seems to be inevitable and just a matter of time.

Vol. 53, No. 19, Nov 8 - 14, 2020