CORONAVIRUS sent the world’s stock markets crashing when they opened yesterday morning, with £100 billion wiped off the value of London’s top listed companies.
Leading the collapse were the giant energy companies Shell and BP, as oil prices crashed by 30% in the wake of Saudi Arabia cutting the price of its oil in response to the global collapse in oil consumption under the impact of the virus which has now assumed pandemic proportions.
With the wholesale collapse of manufacturing – with airlines and shipping closing down and northern Italy locked-down in an effort to contain the spread – the world economy is grinding to a halt.
This is posing point blank to the capitalist class internationally the issue of what to do to extricate a bankrupt capitalist system from collapse – a collapse that poses before the working class the issue of taking power and going forward to socialism.
This question is now dominating the thinking of the bourgeoisie in Britain as demonstrated in an editorial in the Daily Telegraph yesterday headed ‘Should we follow the Italian example?’
This notes that the lock-down of 16 million people in the north of Italy has come too late to prevent the virus from spreading across the country and beyond into Europe and argues that in Britain: ‘Unnecessarily harsh controls could prove more damaging than the disease.’
Clearly, the worry expressed here is that taking the measures adopted in Italy, which followed the example set by China, will cause economic damage that far outweighs the cost in human life even though the editorial admits that the measures taken in China have apparently led to a remission in the spread of coronavirus.
The truth is that capitalism exists purely for profit at all costs while human life is not even a secondary consideration. It is no accident that all the stress so far throughout the coronavirus spread has been on how it is mainly fatal for the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions.
This was put starkly by the Italian medical society for critical care which said that ‘very scarce resources’ will have to be restricted to patients with a ‘higher chance of survival and more years of life to come.’
This is the future for workers in Britain and across the world under a capitalist system that, for decades, has systematically cut health budgets under austerity in order to bail out the bosses and bankers from the banking crash in 2008.
Austerity has left the NHS and health systems across the world completely inadequate to deal with this pandemic. Today if you are old or sick you are unable to be ‘productive’ for capitalism so you may as well be left to die.
A different view is put forward in the same edition of the Telegraph by its chief economic writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.
His article is headed ‘Complacent governments will be torn to shreds as a coronavirus quake reshapes the global order’ and opens with the stark warning that ‘The world’s geopolitical order will be unrecognisable once Covid-19 has done its worst. Long-standing regimes will be badly compromised. Political systems that have never fully recovered from the Lehman crisis will suffer a second body blow.’
The only way that capitalism can survive – according to Evans-Pritchard – is for the Johnson government ‘to opt for war-time measures and drastic contagion barriers, biting the bullet on economic trauma. The Government cannot dodge this trade-off, but it can use all powers to cushion the blow for business and “collectivise” the cost.’
What is worrying Evans-Pritchard is that if capitalism does not accept the economic hit to profits by attempting to stagger on and letting the millions of workers and their families take the brunt of this epidemic, the working class will erupt and smash the governments responsible and demand an end to capitalism.
Capitalism will never accept sacrificing profits when it can sacrifice the lives of workers instead.
The only way forward today is to put an end to capitalism once and for all by building sections of the Fourth International in every country to lead the world socialist revolution to its victory.