We’re celebrating May Day 2020 in extraordinary times. The flimsy tissue of capitalist “civilisation” has been torn asunder. So far a quarter of a million people have died worldwide, and the total could reach millions.
In our recent WIN document 2020 VISION, we wrote: “Even if it were not for the social explosions that are coming… then in any case environmental degradation is already threatening the very future of humankind.” We’d already been bracing ourselves for slump, conflict, environmental catastrophe, but we had not anticipated the form it has taken.
This pandemic is not an “act of God”; it is a crime of capitalism. Agribusiness has encroached ever further into the habitat of wild life, and mercenary mass factory farming has bred new diseases from animals to humans. The crisis has also exposed the effect of savage cuts in state expenditure and public welfare. It is the failure of capitalism which is exposed by the rampant spread of this virus.
Daniel Defoe wrote a “journal of the plague year”, and Albert Camus and Jack London both wrote dystopian novels envisaging such a future plague. In London’s novel “The Scarlet Plague”, written in 1912, a “Red Death” had wiped out civilization at a stroke; uncannily, London’s prediction was not far out even in its timing… in 2013.
Only rarely – with the Black Death in the 14th century and the flu epidemic of 1918 – has such a simultaneous health crisis gripped the entire world. The nearest equivalents were the two world wars, but they pitted countries into mutually antagonistic rival blocs, whereas this pandemic strips bare a common threat to human life and the vital need for humanity to find a common solution.
The only protection for the population so far is to languish in lockdown, as civilization grinds to a slowdown. Society is gripped in fear. The immediate reaction is an instinct for compliance, but once this initial reaction wears off it could give way to outrage at a later stage. Things will never be the same again.
But this pandemic is just the start of the convulsions that will grip the planet. A prolonged economic slump probably worse than that of the 1930s lies ahead, with maybe 1.6 billion workers – half today’s workforce – likely to face destitution.
Already before the pandemic struck, there was an unprecedented global wave of uprisings, stretching across at least 35 countries spread across four continents, with tens of thousands on the streets, braving tear gas and bullets, and bringing several governments crashing to their downfall. The plague and the lockdown have temporarily cut across this process and there has been a sudden pause in the struggle, but these experiences have stripped bare the hopeless incapacity of capitalism to meet human needs or sustain human civilisation, or even the very survival of the species. We can be sure of turmoil and social unrest for years to come.
Waves of revolution swept the world after both the first and second world wars. And once the shock of this immediate crisis recedes, there will be a tidal wave of anger against this rotten system.
The superiority of state planning over corporate greed is exposed for all to see. The regimes of austerity have been forced to pour billions into lavish handouts. And the crisis has also inspired a widespread rediscovery of human community solidarity. This is the foundation for the birth of a socialist society.
We are at a historic turning point. The recent uprisings throughout the world will have proved to be merely a faint foretaste of the historic upheavals to come.
Happy May Day, comrades!