It’s really quite sickening.
The bourgeoisie calculates profit and loss with callous disregard for the masses suffering from both the soaring COVID caseload and a collapsed job market. Now, many who became unemployed in the spring are running out of their 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. There were nearly 1 million new applications for unemployment insurance in the second week of November.
But the stock market went up and down like a roller coaster last week, as hopeful news about Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was followed by reports of surging viral infections.
On the one hand, the shareholders could not contain their orgiastic excitement over Big Pharma making big money on millions and millions of vaccinations. But their enthusiasm was deflated as they counted the costs of more COVID cases: more medical bills for insurance companies to cover, more workers calling out sick, more deaths — and potentially more mass anger.
Why does the Dow Jones or the S&P rise and fall? Stock fluctuations basically reflect optimism or pessimism on the part of the 1% about their future bottom line — i.e., their ability to maximize the exploitation of labor. If there is a successful vaccine that will eventually help get workers back to producing what Marxists call “surplus value,” the portion of sales revenue above and beyond the cost of labor power, they will reap profits. But right now, workers can’t produce wealth if they are sick, dead or have to be quarantined so they don’t bring the virus into the workplace.
Republicans and Democrats have failed to put forth a badly needed second stimulus bill, such as the HEROES Act passed by the House but not the Senate.
Meanwhile, records are being broken every day for new infections. As with any crisis under capitalism dependent on racism, Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities suffer disproportionately.
It doesn’t have to be this way
Even with the prospects of a COVID-19 vaccine, it’s hard for the masses of working class and oppressed people to see light at the end of the tunnel.
And a cure for the pandemic will not cure capitalism of its own built-in sickness — a drive to maximize individual profits by driving down labor costs and thus beating out competitors. This has, since the early 1800s, caused cyclical economic downturns — crises of overproduction — that are doubly devastating in the current period of generalized capitalist decline. A lot of the jobs recently lost will not come back.
As COVID deaths in the U.S. approach 250,000, and cases top 11 million; China in contrast has had fewer than 90,000 cases and below 5,000 deaths. Progress on a vaccine is further along than in the U.S.
Moreover, China’s economy has not only reopened and recovered, it is the only major economy projected to grow in 2020. This is not just China boasting. The prediction comes from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook report!
Why the discrepancy? While there is a capitalist class in China, with some of its members very wealthy compared to the Chinese masses, China has a workers’ state whose orientation is fundamentally socialist. This means that human needs take precedence over profit.
Socialism is exactly what workers all over the world — and this country is no exception — need. With a socialized health care system, workers would no longer be at the mercy of the for-profit medical industrial complex. There would be no Big Pharma bosses, who see only dollar signs in a much-needed COVID vaccine and treatment drugs. There would be laws to guarantee that everyone’s basic economic needs would be met.
That won’t come about overnight, of course. In the meantime, socialists need to be in the vanguard of pushing demands that address the survival needs of the working class. These include good-paying jobs for those able to work and comparable income for anyone unable; free health care for everyone; and safe working conditions including PPE, hazard pay and no retaliation against workers who become ill, have to be quarantined or refuse to work unsafely.
As the struggle grows, so will the realization of this basic class truth: A system that cannot meet these basic demands is a system that belongs in the trash can of history!