A Revolutionary Response to COVID-19
18 March 2020
The global coronavirus pandemic has set off a series of cascading crises endangering the lives of tens of millions of people and threatening to plunge the world economy into deep depression. Several countries are now in near-total lockdown as governments scramble to contain the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve” of growth of COVID-19 cases by closing schools, banning public gatherings and curtailing border crossings. Other countries are not far behind, and everywhere governments are encouraging residents to avoid unnecessary contact (i.e., “social distancing”) and to quarantine themselves if they have the virus or have been in contact with anyone infected.
While the Federal Reserve in the United States was swift to inject $1.5 trillion into the financial system to keep Wall Street afloat, the Trump administration – which has unsurprisingly stoked xenophobia and anti-Chinese racism in its fight against the “foreign virus” – has offered no substantial protection to ordinary working people, who face grotesquely inadequate or non-existent healthcare, mass layoffs, the sudden disappearance of childcare and the prospect of food shortages in the near future. Governments elsewhere have suspended some of the normal mechanisms designed to limit access to unemployment insurance and paid sick days in the public and private sectors, but even where populations have universal healthcare there are insufficient numbers of hospital beds, medical staff and equipment following decades of state-led neglect and austerity.
Crises sharpen the contradictions of a society and accentuate the development of pre-existing trends. While governments are being forced by objective necessity to make an about-face and “nationalize” various aspects of healthcare delivery and/or take decision-making power out of the hands of private companies, they are doing so in the interests of preserving the economic and political power of the capitalist ruling class. Whatever the public health case may be for closing borders, banning meetings and ordering people to stay in their homes, it is clear that the daily announcements of sweeping new powers for governments also serve to push us further in the direction of capitalist authoritarianism.
The COVID-19 crisis and the possible collapse of the global economy call for a revolutionary transformation of society – a transformation, born of the inner contradictions of capitalism, that transfers power from the hands of the billionaires and their lackeys into the hands of the working class. The interconnected crises of the economy, the environment and public health cannot be adequately addressed by a system based on private ownership of the means of production, distribution and transportation, even as that system, in desperation, is willing to empower its political elites to impose collective measures to prevent collapse. The system must instead be swept away and replaced by a new order based on democratic planning by, and in the interests of, the working-class majority.
A revolutionary response to the current crisis must seek to mobilize working people around a program that not only addresses present needs but does so in a manner that creates a bridge to a workers' government and the first stages of the transition to socialism. An emergency program of action must include the following demands:
Free, fully-accessible quality public healthcare
- Defense of national health services against the drive to privatization;
- Expropriation of all private, for-profit hospitals and healthcare services and their reorganization into existing public systems;
- Transformation and massive expansion of those public systems into a worker-run network of free hospitals and clinics coordinated at all levels;
- Expropriation of medical equipment supply companies (and similar companies whose operations could be readily converted for this purpose) and their reorganization into a rationally-planned system of provision;
- Cancellation of all patents on drugs and vaccines and the expropriation of "Big Pharma" pharmaceutical companies.
Science-based global effort to contain, treat and eradicate COVID-19
- Free testing for COVID-19, beginning with the most vulnerable and their families/carers;
- Elimination of the profit motive in matters of health and the privileging of human solidarity and science-based information campaigns and treatment over perceptions of “cost” or “national interest”;
- Transfer decision-making power (e.g., over safety procedures, school and workplace closures, hospital resource allocation) to workers, including doctors and nurses, organized into workplace committees integrated locally, regionally, nationally and internationally;
- Emergency construction and/or requisition of facilities to treat COVID-19 patients;
- Creation of a globally-coordinated effort to produce vaccines and treatments, available at no cost to anyone in the world;
- No faith in capitalist governments or imperialist-dominated agencies like the WHO and UN to adequately or humanely deal with the crisis.
Global economic planning to meet human need
- No layoffs or job reprisals due to the coronavirus or economic contraction;
- No evictions, foreclosures or repossessions, and a rent and mortgage freeze;
- Secure housing for the homeless and home support and deliveries for those in isolation;
- Unlimited sick/leave days with full pay for those who are not able to work for any reason due to the crisis;
- Childcare and other support for essential workers (e.g., in health and social care, sanitation, transportation, manufacture and distribution of essentials);
- Reduction of the work week (to 30 hours or less) at no loss in pay and the elimination of unemployment through the mobilization of the jobless and underemployed (and those working in socially unproductive jobs);
- Massive wage increases, especially for those at the bottom of the pay scale, ensuring that wage growth outpaces price inflation;
- Expropriation of large financial institutions and the cancellation of all debts held by workers, students, poor farmers and small businesses;
- Expropriation of industrial corporations, placing production and distribution under workers' control to ensure that the population receives necessary consumer goods.
Fight for workers' power
- Disbanding of the police, military and border guards and the creation of workers' emergency response units to handle security matters in the interests of the working class and the oppressed;
- Political struggle against the parties of capitalism and the reformist organizations committed to preserving the system – building a revolutionary workers' party to fight for socialism;
- Transfer all political power to democratic workers' councils and the creation of workers' governments based on those councils at the local, regional, national and global levels.