In the People’s War against COVID-19, Socialism Offers Victory while Capitalism Spells Defeat
Socialist societies are capable of doing much more to contain diseases like Covid-19, such as rapid testing, neighborhood food deliveries, and the use of AI technology to trace contacts and symptoms.
“In struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest enemy of the people is not partial lockdown orders, but capitalism itself.”
No one should be surprised that the most individualistic and atomized of all capitalist societies, the United States, is struggling to curb the spread of COVID-19. In recent weeks, white supremacist and libertarian forces representing the most impassioned stewards of imperial decline have gathered in states across the country to protest partial lockdown orders. A deeply dangerous narrative exists in the United States that characterizes partial lockdown orders to contain the virus as an example of “medical martial law” and a wholly ineffective means of containing the virus. The absence of any political and social infrastructure that places the needs of people rather than profit in command of society has only allowed this libertarian narrative to fester and grow within the United States. However, in struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest enemy of the people is not partial lockdown orders, but capitalism itself.
Lockdown measures are not what principally distinguish countries hit hard by COVID-19 from those that have fared better with the virus. Many of the charts making the comparison between lockdown and non-lockdown countries fail to include socialist societies. China, for example, saw the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 decrease directly after the January 23rd lockdown of Wuhan began to take effect. Without a known treatment or vaccine available, the reduction of human contact and viral transmission represented a critical aspect of China’s successful response to the virus. However, it would be inaccurate to assert that lockdown alone flattened China’s COVID-19 curve. If the capitalist market had been in command of Chinese society like it is in the U.S. and West, then measures such as rapid testing, the redirection of production, the mobilization of neighborhood-wide food deliveries, and the use of AI technology to trace contacts and symptoms would have been far more difficult, if not impossible, to implement.
“it would be inaccurate to assert that lockdown alone flattened China’s COVID-19 curve.”
Another socialist country, Vietnam, has managed to contain COVID-19 with far more success than the capitalist West. Vietnam had 268 reported cases of COVID-19 and zero deaths. According to The Nation, Vietnam’s success cannot be credited to a singular response such as lockdown, but rather to a multifaceted policy of containment:
“Vietnam’s approach was never based on mass testing, which has been the panicky and inadequate response of the United States and most other Western countries. And this was not because its resources were limited; it was a deliberate preemptive strategy to minimize infections. The gross number of tests—about 175,000 so far—is the wrong yardstick to use. What is significant is the ratio of tests to confirmed cases, and that ratio in Vietnam is almost five times greater than in any other country. Testing was followed by strict contact tracing (including secondary contacts) for anyone known to be infected, immediate isolation followed by quarantining, and the prompt creation of a real-time database and two mobile apps by which people could record their health status and symptoms. All this was backed up by the mass mobilization of the country’s military, public security forces, the health care system, and public employees, and an energetic and creative public education campaign that included TV cartoons, social media, and posters that draw on the traditional iconography of official propaganda but replaced heroic workers and peasants with heroic doctors in face masks.”
Minus the lockdown in Wuhan, Vietnam’s response to COVID-19 replicated many of the successes of China’s experience and shows the commonalities that exist between socialist nations. What unites the remaining socialist countries round the world is the existence of a state that is governed by the needs of the people first rather than the capitalist market and private profit. Capitalist markets indeed exist in China and Vietnam. But they are subordinate to state planning and the Communist Party, thereby making it possible for measures prioritizing the health and wellbeing of the entire society to be enacted in a rapid manner.
“Vietnam had 268 reported cases of COVID-19 and zero deaths.”
Venezuela has also found success in containing the spread of the virus despite the intensified threat of outright war from U.S. imperialism that the country has experienced throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration’s Justice Department indicted Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro and fifteen other members of the government for charges of narco-trafficking and corruption in late March only to follow up the absurd allegations with a deployment of warships to the Caribbean. These military provocations have complimented the U.S. sanctions and support for rightwing opposition. Venezuela has remained resilient throughout COVID-19’s emergence onto the global stage. As of April 26th, Venezuela had 10 confirmed deaths and 335 COVID-19 cases.
Venezuela’s socialist movement led by the spirit of Hugo Chavez and the leadership of Nicholas Maduro took immediate measures to contain the virus. Beginning on March 16, Venezuela instituted a nation-wide lockdown that was termed “social quarantine” because of its collective, voluntary, and conscious character. Surveys devised in collaboration with the World Health Organization were sent to all homes who possess “Homeland IDs” that identify the 19 million Venezuelans who receive housing, food, and other subsidies from Bolivarian social programs. Twenty-five thousand family doctors backed up with support from Cuba and China were deployed to homes across the country to assist with diagnosis and the provision of treatment. Around 150,000 individuals and families have been seen by family doctors as of April 19th.
“As of April 26th, Venezuela had 10 confirmed deaths and 335 COVID-19 cases.”
China, Vietnam, and Venezuela have been joined by Cuba and the DPRK’s low COVID-19 case and casualty rates to represent just what socialism can achieve when confronted with a deadly pandemic. Each of these societies not only had to confront the COVID-19 pandemic but also had to contend with the pandemic of imperialism. Each of these societies have faced the threat of war or have been directly invaded by the U.S. imperialist state at the cost of billions worth of economic development and millions of human lives. Socialist governments should thus not be measured by “purity” tests residing in the Eurocentric consciousness of self-proclaimed socialists in the U.S. or West but by their ability to organize society to respond to the threat of war, economic exploitation, and disease in a way that benefits the masses. In this this regard, these nations not only pass the test but also point the way toward what is possible when the accumulation of private capital and profit is stripped from its command post over society.
It is quite easy to criticize measures such as lockdown and quarantine from within the U.S. and European imperialist orbit since the state in this context is directed toward the organized repression of working class and oppressed people. Certainly, Black Americans and many other oppressed nations in the U.S. have no reason to trust the state, and the genocidal spread of COVID-19 only magnifies the problem. U.S. and European capital’s reliance on mass surveillance, policing, and militarism has only given credence to the libertarian fantasies of the large section of white America who adore Donald Trump. Mass unemployment and the intensification of poverty in the U.S. and West has only further heightened the pressure to “ease” what little measures have been put into place. Austerity and war have essentially rendered capitalism useless to the masses in this time of crisis.
“Socialist governments should be measured by by their ability to organize society to respond to the threat of war, economic exploitation, and disease in a way that benefits the masses.”
Capitalism spells defeat for workers and the oppressed. Capitalism prioritizes the maximization of private profit for the owners of capital. Trillions have been pumped into financial markets and corporate monopolies while so-called “essential” workers have been left without protective equipment, healthcare, or a living wage. Capitalist countries are not failing because they instituted lockdown. They are failing because they moved too slowly to curb the spread of COVID-19. China bought more than month of time for the world to put into place preventative measures. But in the U.S. and Europe, capitalists kept the business cycle moving and spent much of their time hurling racist criticisms of China’s lockdown measures.
Amilcar Cabral said that “people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone's head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.” Capitalism has always been inherently anti-human by Cabral’s standards. COVID-19 only has further opened the gaping wounds of the capitalist system. COVID-19 has taken the most lives from within the capitalist and imperialist world. Spain, Italy, the U.S., and the U.K. all sport deaths from COVID-19 in the tens of thousands despite possessing populations only a fraction of the size of China. Worst of all, none of these countries have the capacity to institute a plan or pathway out of the crisis without a massive upheaval of their regimes of austerity.
“COVID-19 only has further opened the gaping wounds of the capitalist system.”
Workers and poor people have essentially absorbed the burden of an ongoing capitalist crisis only made worse by the spread of COVID-19. Workers in the U.S. and West are in the throes of a Great Depression. Unlike the depression of the early 20th century, however, relief from this crisis will not come from the presence of socialism worldwide or by the massive buildup of imperialism. Private property and profit have become fetters on human progress. The criticism of lockdown measures as “authoritarian” has been a convenient distraction from the fact that capitalism is truly an authoritarian menace of plunder and war which needed to be placed on lockdown and overthrown years ago. From Vietnam to China, socialism has proven time and again that solutions toward alleviating the COVID-19 crisis and resolving the contradictions of society do exist. It is our job to pierce through ruling class lies and learn from the experiences of revolutionary processes so that we can develop a clearer path to victory within the core of the imperialist beast.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @spiritofho, and on Youtube at The Left Lens with Danny Haiphong.
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