By RDM supporters
Epidemiology, the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases, uses the term “vector” to denote an agent that carries and transmits an infectious pathogen into another living organism. What is apparent is that the Covid-19 virus has its own specific, socially-constructed “agent”.
The evidence is that favourable conditions for the transmission of this strain of coronavirus from animals to humans were created by humans acting in a specific social system and setting. The vector in the case of Covid-19 is without doubt neoliberal capitalism.
As a consequence, humans are living through a global shutdown for the first time in their history. Health services are at the point of collapse, the economy has ground to a halt and authoritarian-style measures are enforced to keep people apart from each other.
Scientists say there are “countless pathogens out there” which continue to evolve and pose a potential threat to humans. If this destructive system remains in place, there must be a real possibility that society might not be able to cope with the next pandemic.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, the major economies looked to Chinese capitalism to take up the strain, both as a producer and a gigantic market for consumer goods. New cities sprang up seemingly overnight, vast swathes of the population left the countryside for urban centres like Wuhan and inequality grew as the super-rich elites accumulated unparalleled wealth.
Political and economic forces
They were the customers for the live animals killed to order in the local market. As Brendan Montague, editor of the Ecologist, has explained:
“The novel coronavirus crisis is not the result of novel or unusual practices in China, it is the result of the capitalism that operates all over the world. The farmers and the market stall holders were ‘protecting jobs’ and ‘responding to customer demand’. They were serving wealthy and high status Chinese customers… The conditions of the transfer of coronavirus from bat [or pangolin, ed.] to human being were not ‘communist’ nor uniquely Chinese. They were distinctly capitalist.”
Science journalist and author Laura Spinney says the emergence of such zoonooses – human infections from animal origins – has accelerated in recent decades, adding that the forces “putting those viruses” in our path are political and economic. She added:
“They have to do with the rise of industrial-scale farming concerns in China and the resulting marginalisation of millions of smallholder farmers. In order to survive, those farmers have moved into the production of more exotic species – animals that were once eaten only for subsistence. But the bigger operations have pushed the farmers out geographically too, as they have taken up more prime farming land. The smallholders have been forced closer to uncultivable zones such as forests, where bats – reservoirs for coronaviruses – lurk.”
Factory farming, unplanned rapid urbanisation, habitat destruction and the destruction of biodiversity in the period of unrestrained neoliberalism have facilitated new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19. “Pathogens do not respect species boundaries,” says disease ecologist Thomas Gillespie, who studies how shrinking natural habitats and changing behaviour add to the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to humans.
“I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.”
The pandemic has exposed the consequences of rampant neoliberalism. Public, health and care services have been systematically undermined by more than a decade of austerity, unable to face Covid-19 with any confidence. As a result, the National Health Service is wilfully under-prepared for the pandemic, which will mean more casualties than necessary.
Big Pharma doesn’t do prevention
A handful of transnational corporations dominate and dictate in each sector, nowhere more than in the field of medicine. But Big Pharma’s TNCs do not do prevention. As economist David Harvey remarked, the “sicker we are the more they earn”, adding: “Prevention does not contribute to share-holder value.” For example, the whole class of coronaviruses has been known about since the 1960s but research into vaccines has been restricted.
In the UK, the Tory government’s initial “herd immunity” approach was also guided by fanciful, neoliberal hands-off dogma that may turn out to have contributed to unnecessary deaths. Now, in an abrupt about-turn by a panicky government, draconian legislation is rushed through Parliament.
The phenomenal resources allocated by the UK governments around the world to bail out corporations as well as small enterprises are not made out of concern for workers. They are a desperate attempt to stave off total economic collapse and hold back the anger that is building throughout society at the incompetence of governments.
But with major areas of production halted and consumers absent from the marketplace, the post-pandemic economic landscape is frightening.
Chris Williamson, chief business economist at global information provider IHS Markit, says a recession “not seen in modern history” is now likely:
“The surveys highlight how the Covid-19 outbreak has already dealt the UK economy an initial blow even greater than that seen at the height of the global financial crisis. With additional measures to contain the spread of the virus set to further paralyse large parts of the economy in coming months, such as business closures and potential lockdowns, a recession of a scale we have not seen in modern history is looking increasingly likely.”
Even before the virus struck, the economic system was unsustainable and out of control. Corporate debts, for example, currently amount to over $300 trillion. Many companies in North America and Europe are zombie enterprises because they can never earn enough to repay their debts.
Therefore, we cannot put our lives and our future at the disposal of Johnson and the authoritarian capitalist state he represents. Our challenge is not just a change of government but system change from top to bottom. The response of the bulk of the UK population to the pandemic gives us confidence that they can go on to achieve a democratic revolution.
Solutions are out there
Potential solutions have been out there in the discoveries by scientists since the 1950s when they modelled the structure of the biological molecules called DNA and RNA. They bear the genes, the information that allows life itself to evolve. Viruses also have gene structures. But this knowledge – like that about global warming – has not until now been acted upon by states and those serving the interests of global capital.
Therefore, we must have the courage to think outside the commodity-for-profit box and act on it. The enforced lock-down, the restrictions on our freedoms is forcing us to re-think the way we do everything. For example, it has brought into focus what is “essential labour” – and surprise, surprise it turns out that the list does not include CEOs, City traders, bankers, hedge fund owners and the like.
People have rallied to help their more vulnerable neighbours, organising groups on WhatsApp and other social media platforms to find out who needs what. In a few days, over 650,000 people came forward to volunteer to help the NHS, a truly astonishing figure. This collective effort is absolutely necessary because the state has failed us.
These mass acts of self-determination point the way to a more democratic form of governance in place of the hierarchical state whose claim to rule for all of its citizens is as hollow as it sounds.
Humans are problem-solving animals. We have the ability and motivation to address and solve the challenges, including dealing with pathogens through a conscious preventative approach. Ending habitat destruction, industrial farming and urban sprawl can be achieved if we break out of the prison of capitalist social relations and the drive for profit.
Building on the co-operation created within communities to fight the pandemic, the Real Democracy Movement urges people to sustain these initiatives to challenge the rotten system that led to this crisis.
In preparation for a post-virus world, people could organise online to form citizens’ assemblies and other forms of local decision-making, representative bodies. Building opposition to police state powers, showing solidarity to workers in the gig economy and preparing to take over abandoned workplaces to put them to social use are all necessary.
Assemblies are the basis for a new system of democratic government altogether because we cannot return to a pre-virus world. Never again was the cry of the workers who had suffered grievously from the slump of the 1930s when the World War II came to an end. This is indeed a war but unlike any other. But like all wars, it is not of our making.
So when a democratic revolution sets out to throw off the shackles of a broken state and an economy that works for the few not the many, the following ideas should be considered as a basis for a new, human-centred, ecological approach:
– A switch from the present shareholder ownership system of production for profit to a socialised, co-operative economy, including social network apps and comms systems
– Liberation of the NHS from the grip of the pharmaceutical corporations
– Provide resources for those working in research, health and other aspects of our society to develop solutions
– Encourage independent associations of health and science professionals to co-operate national and internationally
– Free research from corporate profiteering and control
– Return to free education and end privatisation of the sector
– Move from poor, cheapened food to healthy eating
– Extend and fund large-scale “social prescribing” – i.e. non-drug based responses to health issues
– End the abuse of animals in food production
– Re-shape agricultural production to end industrialised, chemicals-led production which threatens food supply and leads to habitat destruction
– Encourage local food production where possible, through allotments for all those who want them.
As the Ecologist editor says: “The novel coronavirus is infectious, deadly and invisible to the naked eye. It spreads exponentially, has traversed the globe and today poses a threat to the very foundations of modern civilisation. All these properties it shares with capitalism.”
So the solution cannot and does not lie within the system itself because the system is the problem, not the solution.