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Coronavirus, capitalism and the future

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By Kola Ibrahim

THE emergence of coronavirus disease (otherwise referred to as COVID-19) in late 2019 met a world unprepared for pandemic of a monumental proportion that will undermine all economic, social and political developments.

COVID-19 has shown to humanity that we are limited by the level of our understanding of nature. More than ever before, humanity is faced with an existential challenge from an infinitesimal organism.

But it may not be totally accurate to state that we are not aware of the possibility of invasive organism challenging our collective existence. Humanity has always faced the problem of organisms and animals intruding into our existence.

Indeed, in the last two decades, science and scientific discoveries, which have explored various transnational diseases like SARS, MERS, Zika, Ebola, H1N5 flu, among others, have shown that we are moving towards a health catastrophe unless we are able to restructure the way we live.

COVID-19 has also shown the failure of so-called technocracy of capitalism and the bankruptcy of its political class. In spite of huge scientific knowledge concerning infectious diseases, various capitalist strategists and the governments they serve all over the world were caught scampering for solution.

Health sector globally has been underfunded, and in many countries, handed over to the capitalist class. The pharmaceutical industry that should be complementary to science and health, is in the hand of few multinational companies and their financial sector controllers who are only interested in increasing their profit margin and showing good results to investors.

It is thus not accidental that many leaders, including those of the advanced countries like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, are resorting to voodoo theories that have exposed their banality. The inability of Western capitalist leaders to rally together and concertedly face the pandemic and the expected economic fallout early enough is a clear sign of this loss of idea.

Rather, they were engaged in nationalistic rhetoric and actions. By the time they realised the need for this, it was already late, as hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, while the world is at a point of irreversibility of the pandemic.

Of course, some leaders made more efforts than others, but the lack of coordinated response at the early stage clearly undermined such efforts. This is an indictment on the capitalist globalism promoted by these capitalist leaders. Secondly, the efforts made by some of the leaders, governments and central banks that helped to mitigate the worst effects of pandemic, ran contrary to the logic of free market capitalism.

They also involved multi-trillion dollar bailout for big businesses and multinational corporations which have amassed trillions of profits in the last decade. These involved direct state investment and intervention in the economy, health sector and even pharmaceutical sector.

These are policies that are routinely rejected by capitalist leaders – especially when they have to do with welfare of the working and poor people – under the guise of defending free market system.

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In Africa and other Third World countries, most of the leaders and strategists, having no solution to the least of the problems facing the poor people in their countries, were only kowtowing, or at best at the mercy of, their Western guardians, who are themselves in confusion. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, global capitalism was already in distress, and all talks of Africa rising or breaking from poverty was becoming a mirage, with the continent digging deeper into debt and fiscal crisis.

Coronavirus crisis will worsen the crisis facing capitalism globally. From unsustainable debts, to trade war, rightwing nationalism, far-right tendency, increasing conflicts, unprecedented unemployment and pauperisation, among others, capitalist crises are bound to worsen.

But there is hope as working people and youths are not prepared to accept the barrage of attacks to be offloaded on them by capitalism. They will fight back.  However, the greatest threat to humanity, which COVID-19 has exposed, is the climate catastrophe facing humanity in this age.

With the growing impact of climate change, COVID-19 may be one of the consequences or sign of the consequences facing man, unless there is a drastic and fundamental change to the way the society is organised. Yet, we are moving to a seeming irreversible stage of climate change. Various proposals have been enunciated by various strategists of capitalism, and activists seeking alternative socio-economic system.

However, the question of climate change is intrinsically tied to the existence of the capitalist system itself. As has been argued, capitalism is the greatest threat to our existence. Since 1988, just 100 companies have been responsible for 70 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted globally.

These are mostly private companies that have amassed trillions of dollars in profits over these decades but have refused to change the mode of their operation in the interests of the health and future of mankind.

Governments all over the world, save for a very few like Cuba (with a nationalised economy), have only served as servile tool for the continued existence of this arrangement. Therefore, the solution to imminent climate catastrophe is basically tied to the need to end the capitalist economic arrangement, and the political superstructure that is built on it.

The various alternatives being offered by various left reformists such as Green New Deal, Carbon Taxing, Deglobalization, Decoupling, etc., which tend to suggest that capitalist political economic relation can still coexist with a safe environment clearly miss the target, as the capitalist classes, inasmuch as they control the economic and political levers, cannot allow any serious encroachment on their wealth and profits.

For instance, how do we seriously reduce carbon dioxide emission without changing energy sources from fossil and fossil-related sources; without reengineering our transport system from mass car production to mass public transport system and investing in cleaner air and sea transport; without changing mode and process of industrial production that is focused on needs of the majority and not on the quest to make profits;

and without ending the military industrial complex that has seen trillions of dollars and huge human productive capacity being used to produce destructive arms and ammunitions, albeit through environmentally-unclean means? All of these represent a clear reality that COVID-19 pandemic has exposed to us.

Good enough, those suffering from the iniquitous and unequal capitalist economic relation – the workers, youths, poor, peasants, and impoverished middle class – are in the clear majority.

More than this, they have organisations of resistance – the unions, trade associations, community and youth movements, etc., – with which to fight for a new society. The question of firming these organisations up with clear revolutionary socialist ideas, programmes and policies is the central task ahead.

Ibrahim, an author, wrote from Osogbo, Osun State, and can be reached via:


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