The 18th century German philosopher Frederick Hegel argued that “the true is the whole”. Building on this Marxist analysis, as Georgy Lukacs stressed takes a point of view of the totality, not in our heads as thinkers but of the concrete reality of being, showing the interconnectedness of social (and physical) existence both for our understanding the world and changing it.
One can say that nothing in recent history goes to validate this dialectical approach of Marxism as much as the current global emergency. The new coronavirus pandemic has shown the interconnectedness of our health, the economy, social life and the environment as nothing else before now. In holding this mirror before capitalist society, it also shows that the pathway of capitalism which the 1% of billionaires and corporations have foisted on humankind is not sustainable.
Quite often when Marxists refer to Rosa Luxembourg’s argument that we either have socialism or barbarism, many people think she was talking of something always in the future tense. But barbarism is already here with us and its image is not simply that of the tiny SARS-Cov-2 virus which causes COVID-19.
Rather, it is to be found in the social relations which are driven and shaped by the profit motive. This same motive force impoverishes the poor working masses in all countries, is driving the world to a catastrophic precipice of extinction as the climate and ecological crisis it has unleashed gets worse.
The imperative of a revolutionary overthrow of this degenerative system of capitalism cannot be overemphasized, for there to be a future for humankind to look forward to. It is quite significant that capitalist governments had to implement elements of “invading socialism” from above, that they had always condemned, to marshal significant response to the pandemic.
Nationalising/requisitioning private hospitals, taking over factories and converting them to produce based on needs (for personal protective clothing, medical supplies etc) as against the profit motive are some of these “anti-capitalist measures” they were forced to take to stem the tide of the disaster this time.
The New Republic described the 2010s as a “decade from hell”. Just a few months into the 2020s, anyone would say they were referring were referring to a dress rehearsal as if it were the actual play. Not only is the world thrown into a tsunami of crisis with the pandemic, there are reasons to conclude that things are likely to only get worse without a root and all change. For example, the Director of the World Health Organization already said next pandemic after this would most likely meet the world even more “dangerously unprepared” than the current one.
So, obviously, we are already in the throes of barbarism – all thanks to capitalist social relations. The alternatives before us are simple: socialism or extinction. To put the current situation in perspective in this discussion, we will look at what happened, how did it happen, what is happening and what is to be done.
COVID-19: WHAT HAPPENED?
One of over 1.7m viruses that have been living within animals for ages, crossed into human beings (i.e. a zoonotic disease emerged), but we are not equipped to “live happily ever after” with such virus in us.
About 30,000 viruses and other microbes have been crossing this divide over the last three decades. They have different levels of virulence or transferability from one human being to another. Relatively speaking, the SARS CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19) is one which catches like wildfire in the way that it is transmitted from humans to humans. So within less than 2 months after becoming a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and barely a month after being considered as a pandemic it has infected almost 2m people.
Credible sources, such as Rob Wallace earlier today argues that this is just a tip of the iceberg, even in countries with more serious data and health systems than Nigeria, and that the figure might be closer to 20m.
Apart from the hurricane-like nature of contagion, it also has a relatively high case fatality rate. This has been estimated at between 3% to 5.7% by scientists. With the pandemic’s infection and fatality rates, it is estimated that between 40% and 70% of the world population might get infected and lead to between 100 and 300+million deaths.
The pandemic is expected to last in two waves until about April next year (i.e. slowdown by August to October and then pick up again).
The pandemic, which in itself was a public health emergency has triggered a social-economic and political crisis. The ILO initially estimated that 25.7m jobs will be lost. In less than 3 weeks it reviewed this to 195m jobs. But even this is still a very conservative estimate. India alone is expected to account for 136m jobs. The Great Recession, cost about 252m jobs – and the economic crisis dimension of this emerging generalised crisis of capitalism is already considered as very likely more serious. As a leadin Financial Times columnist put it yesterday “the world economy is now collapsing”.
A GENERALISED CRISIS: HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
There are different dimensions to this, and we will take two critical ones i.e. the immediate (i.e. COVID-19 and contextual (i.e. the global economy):
The corona trigger: a lethal icing on the poisoned cake of capital’s dictatorship
A case of trouble siddon jeje and yanga go wake am up: capitalism is about exploitation of nature and labour with essentially one aim – generating ever expanding profits for the bosses. This means destruction of the wilderness (with consequences of climate and ecological disaster) which brings wildlife and the microbes they carry without trouble in them into ever increasing (& traumatic) contact with humans who have no immunity to those microbes. Also closely related to this is the industrialisation of animal husbandry – think also of avian flu, madcow disease etc.
Crisis unpreparedness of health systems, even in the advanced capitalist countries is clearly a result of years of neoliberalism. Privatisation and cuts in the funding of social services like education and health have resulted in inadequate beds at hospitals, shortage of PPEs, etc.
This is worsened by the capitalists caring less for whatever social crisis is looming once making money cannot be factored into it or they cannot immediately see it as posing a challenge to their continued rule. There were several signs and warnings which were not heeded e.g. the United States’ governments contracts for cheap ventilators five years ago, that would have made more available at a time like this, were cancelled by corporations because they made more money from producing more expensive (and fewer) ones; the WHO in 2018 had envisaged the coming of a disease X as the new pandemic, but actions not taken because you don’t make money from getting ready for such and as recently as January, despite Wuhan by December, the World Economic Forum (clubs of the billionaires) put pandemic as #8 on list of global risks and thus saw no need to call for immediate massive production of PPEs, ventilators etc
Our diets (particularly but not limited to the advanced capitalist countries) with more people eating junk food etc (and in Nigeria not being able to afford balanced diet, being stuck only with high cab’ meals like garri, fufu etc often “without” (i.e. without meat or any other protein) for most poor working people) have resulted in increasing health conditions e.g. obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes etc, and consequently lower immunity. The global dietary regime evolves from corporate market control of e.g. “upstream”; Unilever, Danone, Heinz and “downstream” Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, KFC, McDonalds.
Number of flights that keep increasing every year (37.4m per year i.e. 102,465 – by mid-2019) means people can carry virus “join body carry reach” much more places in a jiffy, much more than the 1918/19 Spanish Flu period (which resulted in between 50m and 100m deaths, including 500,000 in Nigeria which had a population of 18m at the time) when people travelling would take weeks if not months via boats/ships.
So, while medical and health sciences have come a long way over the last 100 years, the possible impact of this for containment of the pandemic is unfortunately undermined by; attacks on social services by corporations fully supported by capitalists’ governments, dietic and commercial undermining of immunity, the capitalists being interested only in the shit that brings money as sharpily, sharpily as possible and enhanced means of transportation.
It is the economy – stupid (yes, I mean the stupid economy)
We will be told by the likes of Buhari that it is Mr Corona Virus that comot the chair from the yansh of their nonsense. This oversimplification of things is nothing but pure babanla nonsense in itself. The global capitalist economy was entering reverse gear once again before the pandemic shit hit the fan:
It is true that the big brother economy of the USA has witnessed the sharpest spike of unemployment claims ever (up to 10m people in barely three weeks) and doled out $2tn as bailouts (mainly for the 1% ) which dwarfs the TARP of Obama after the 2008 crash.
But from China to the USA, Europe to etc, the productive sectors of the world economy had entered decline since 2018. Such industries as automobile, and machine tools manufacture which had driven some extent of recovery after the Global Recession had started to seize up.
Meanwhile, the proportion of “fictitious capital” i.e. financial claims not backed by commensurate material goods had shot up, and with it the numbers of billionaires (with the extremely poor equally increasing in large numbers, not the least in Naija). This had on another note resulted in even sharper social-economic inequality than during the Great Recession. The rich had gotten richer and left poor working-class people to bear the burden of the global economy’s
In Nigeria, the global slowdown in production had already resulted in a battering for the price of its crude, worsened by the oily trade war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Thus, the pandemic was detonator for a bomb that was already on countdown to explode, with plus plus facilities – something like buy one, get one free.
WHAT IS HAPPENING? WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT!
What is not happening is that we are in the same boat. Indeed, to the extent that we can even think we are, it’s like the boats used for the trans-Atlantic slave trade where the slavers where on the deck and the enslaved persons in the depths of the boats’ holds, held in chains. But the fact here is that, some of us are not even on any boat – we are sucked up into the depths of the ravaging sea with nothing, nothing.
What is happening is that there is lockdown everywhere. But the lockdown is different for those in big houses with servants in “boys’ quarters” to serve them and those in slums or who are homeless and foodless to weather the storm.
What is happening is a class war being perpetuated by the ruling class who on one hand are forced to take action to prevent a disease that could claim their lives and also try to hold on to some level of legitimacy while at it, and on the other hand they are using this opportunity of reduced if not totally wiped out possibility of our going out to protest to push through obnoxious policies with the extraordinary powers they have assumed.
And we are not only talking of the executive committees of the bosses’ class i.e. governments where in countries like Brasil and even in European countries like Hungary, Portugal and Croatia they have passed laws which restrict collective bargaining and spaces for popular action. Companies like those in aviation in Nigeria have issued workers letters (even WhatsApp messages) telling them they will not be paid or have been laid off!
What is happening is that health workers are getting infected because there are not enough PPEs and medical supplies for them – similarly grocery workers, janitors, cleaners etc are put at risk because some powerful bosses had prioritised profit over their health and very lives.
What is happening is that hunger has turned out the area boys in several areas in Nigeria to carry gun, cutlass etc to “obtain” at source. And these sources are hardly those of the well fenced and guarded houses of the rich persons at home, but the homes of poor working-class people.
What is happening is that domestic violence is on the rise as a result of increased tensions at home – with women being battered by men whose “heads no correct” with the malaise of those heads worsened by constricted spaces.
What is happening, particularly in Africa (and not surprisingly considering the level of informalization of work, requiring people to eke what living they could, on a daily business), is that the police is killing almost as many, if not more people as the disease, raping women, assaulting people ( including healthcare workers delivering services) from South Africa to Nigeria, Uganda to Kenya etc.
But what is happening also includes: emerging and consolidated spaces and forms of solidarity e.g. clapping/shout out for health workers in European cities, emergence of the C19 Peoples Coalition in South Africa and similar -even if limited to survivalism – efforts around an action plan in Nigeria; creative use of traditional forms of protest e.g. over 180 protests organise by nurses; and in places like Sudan and Algeria where there have been revolutions, the grassroots-based structures of working-class people’s democratic power have been pivotal in providing solidarity and social support for our class as a whole.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE? REVOLUTIONARY DEMOCRACY AND THE IMPERATIVE FOR SOCIALISM
Moments of crisis are also moments of opportunities for change. But what form of change emerges depends on the outcome of struggle between contending social forces and the ideas they bring forward. Is a better world likely to emerge from the current crisis? Why are arguments for socialism relevant, and indeed necessary, at this point in time?
First, let us look at the challenges for any socially progressive movement emergence:
States of the bosses are putting in place extraordinary powers. To some extent, some of the measures they have put in place could, on the face of it, be considered necessary to battle the pandemic. But they are not likely to rollback all these powers of their own volition after the pandemic. Apart from the more overtly coercive powers, these include expansion of their means and approaches to surveillance.
Their ideologues, universities, foundations and general spin doctors, in short, the whole gallery of traditional intellectuals is all geared up to convince us that there’s still no alternative to the dog-eat-dog capitalist system of the 1%. They might (and this is a very big might) even concede some level of welfarism for the new normal that will emerge, but the bosses would do everything possible to defend the continuation of capitalism as a going concern.
But the greater problem might actually lie with the trade union bureaucracy and neo-traditional intellectuals of NGOism. Their demands thus far and of course subsequently would still be (except when the fire from below burns of all hairs from their water yam) quantitative i.e. some cosmetic changes to things with the argument being how much of the face powder etc for the vampire of capitalism.
And another social force which has started demonstrating its “comot clothe, comot craze” essence is the lumpen proletariat. I have seen some on the left glorify these area boys’ roles with concern. It is true that they can at times swing towards revolutionary forces as they did in the earlier days of the June 12 movement, which I described somewhere else as “the heady days of ‘93”. But they are more of the raw materials of (neo-) fascist rent-a-thug
What are the possibilities of social progress and how do we relate these to the socialist imperative?
Firstly, we must go back to what do we understand as socialism and why is it imperative if the already begun descent into barbarism a la capitalism is not going to end us all in the abyss of extinction.
Contrary to some views propagated in several quarters of the socialist left and latched upon by liberals to vilify socialism, it is not simply “nationalisation of the commanding (and commanded) heights of the economy”. Socialism is essentially the body of ideas, movement and system of working-class people’ self-emancipation.
The way capitalism works is that we as working-class people (and nature) are exploited by the bosses to generate profit. As the former Adams Oshiomhole used to say, the secret of their wealth is our poverty. But they can do this only because the factories and other workplaces as well as the government/state (which is designed by them for them) are in their hands.
For us to liberate ourselves, we must overthrow the bosses i.e. take over the factories and production as a whole from them, smash their state and establish our own (i.e. governments of working-class people from the communities to the national level and internationally).
Since we will not be driven by the need to expand profit, the working-class in power i.e. socialist society, can plan production and social interaction in ways that don’t damage the environment and climate. There is more than enough for the needs of everybody but not enough to go around now because of the greed of a few.
We said earlier that the pandemic shows us a macabre picture of the totality of human reality. One of the ways it does so is showing that we exist as a world. Socialism will be established as a worldwide order. It cannot be built in just one country just as COVID-19 cannot be stopped in or by just one country.
But the big question is often that of how do we move from here to there? What is to be done in the immediate instance of the pandemic, in ways and manners that at one and the same time safeguards our lives and wellbeing in the here and now and strengthen us to go in the general march forward to our self-emancipation?
We must make sure that the bosses don’t make us pay for what is a crisis of their system. We must make sure that the safety and security of workers on the frontline are protected so that they could medically save many of us from dying. We must ensure that steps are taken to protect the life, wellbeing and dignity of all working-class people through the crisis. And we must be clear that these measures are not borne out of the benevolence of the bosses but from the strength of our solidarity.
Concretely, we must put forward and mobilise around demands such as:
- Free and increased testing of health workers and all workers still having to deliver services to the public. 1,500 tests per day across a dozen centres is ridiculous in Nigeria with 200m people. South Korea with a quarter of our population was testing no less than 20,000 persons per day, across over 600 test centres and South Africa which had its first covid case one week after Nigeria has already tested almost 50,000 people.
- Urgent provision of PPE for health workers. The government must commandeer companies like Innosson, Anamco, Hyundai, PAN, Caverton helicopters etc, and convert them for production of PPEs and medical supplies with immediate effect.
- Takeover private hospitals and make their beds available for treatment of patients. Recruit unemployed health workers and pay them all decent wages IMMEDIATELY.
- All unoccupied houses in our cities (bought up/owned by the rich few) should be taken over and used to provide housing for the homeless and those in overcrowded face-me-I-face-you.
- Cancel all house rents, electricity bills and water bills (for those that are served with potable water). Takeover all major borehole water provision and dredge as many as possible across the country to make clean water available to everybody (more than 50% of Nigerians don’t have access to clean water).
- Make quality health services free for everybody. Enact a law that forbids any and every public servant from accessing foreign and non-public healthcare henceforth, even after the pandemic.
- Electricity and data be made available at no cost for everybody whilst the pandemic lasts. Electricity unions called on to join communities to take over the power stations and run them where and when any DISCO does not effect this position.
- No job or salary loss. Any company that threatens job losses or cuts/non-payment of wages should be taken over and run by the workers. Every citizen above the age of 18yrs that is not employed, including students, MUST be paid unemployment benefits at amounts not less than the national minimum wage.
- Food production is critical. Trade unions and communities within food production sites, including those of Dangote, should take over the production processes and unions/communities in localities across the country and not the corrupt elites MUST take over the process of making palliatives, including food available to all those who need some.
- The police cannot guard us, they have failed like the capitalist state which they are a part of. In our communities, working-class youth MUST organise self-defence militias which also carry out political discussions. Thus, the emerging and consolidated community vigilante groups must not just be reduced to fightback against the rise of crime, we must engage our neighbours together in these with us, in discussions that put the whole picture of what is happening, why, an what is to be done, in perspective.
These measures might seem radical. But these are crucial times and radical steps have to be taken. Indeed, if the bosses are allowed to get away with continued rule of society in their own for-profit interest, we are fucked. Don’t forget that Dangote and just four persons own more wealth than over 100million of us. We must demand for much more than crumbs from them. Our labour creates wealth – we should demand and fight to seize back the whole fucking bakery!
We should insist our unions in particular, and as well our communities (including CDAs) put forward these demands. Now more than ever we must argue for and mobilise working-class people around demands for revolutionary democracy from below to safeguard our health, change the system and build a better society.
We have nothing to lose but our chains and a world to win!!
How ceaseless and unswerving our fight is will determine how far we go at this point in time – and towards winning a better society.
Working-class People & Youth United and Determined cannot be Defeated!
Workers & Youth, Unite & Fight!!
by Baba AYE
* a leadoff for the SWL Unite & Fight WhatsApp group discussion on the pandemic; 15/04/2020