The COVID-19 Pandemic: Capitalism in Crisis

The Red Nation

These are frightening times. As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies in North America, the current system disastrously fails to meet basic needs and cultivate human decency. There are two aspects to the crisis currently unfolding. On one hand, there is the real threat of illness and death from the outbreak of COVID-19. On the other, capitalism has proven biologically unsuitable for life.

Based on the current science available and the examples drawn from the hardest hit places, in the coming weeks we can expect the outbreak in North America to get worse before it gets better. Therefore, our response must address the immediate urgency of stopping the spread and harm of COVID-19, especially for Indigenous nations and those who are already most vulnerable, who will undoubtedly bear the greatest casualties.

Weeks before the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, China’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the Wuhan province provided the entire world with an opportunity to prepare. How did the United States respond? Instead of preparing the American public for an impending catastrophic health crisis, President Donald Trump derided the virus as a “hoax” and ramped up anti-Chinese and racist rhetoric. 

The United States refuses to collaborate internationally. The tests and treatments developed by Chinese and Cuban doctors are not being utilized. The United States insists on going at it alone by developing its own medical technology despite evidence of the effectiveness of the tools already being used abroad. Contrary to its arrogant claims, the US government is not prepared to deal with this type of pandemic, and the rapid growth of COVID-19 cases is exacerbated by the government’s refusal to stop the cogs of the capitalist machine. 

During the March 13th press conference where Trump declared a national state of emergency, Dr. Deborah Burx stated the US government’s “innovative approach” centers “fully on unleashing the power of the private sector.” Flanked by CEOs from some of the world’s wealthiest corporations—Google, Roche, Wal-Mart, LabCore, and Target—Trump gave the capitalist ruling class a blank check to turn public health into a profit margin. 

It is morally irresponsible and downright dangerous to leave the fate of humanity in the hands of corporate politicians and billionaires who only care about their own power and wealth, who are taking this crisis as a chance to demean and deride the rest of the world while proclaiming that the United States is still the “best.” 

Why does mass confusion, panic, and anxiety ensue when a predicted catastrophe strikes? Because preparedness and human solidarity are not profitable in a global economic system that sees disaster as an opportunity for the ruling class to hoard even more wealth.

There are millions who are uninsured and millions who are underinsured. Some are rationing insulin, using GoFundMe as their main healthcare provider, or accepting the reality that they will die early from preventable and curable medical conditions.

This crisis has also brought to the forefront the reality of life for billions around the planet. For countries like Iran and Venezuela, sanctions initiated by the United States have already compromised their infrastructure and are placing huge strains on their ability to combat the virus, which is leaving millions vulnerable. This is inhumane and morally reprehensible.

Scientists predicted climate change decades ago. They warned us of superstorms, mass extinctions, droughts, floods, forced migrations, hunger, and widespread misery — the current definition of ‘normal’ for billions. The US government has done almost nothing to address this growing crisis. Much like climate change, scientists and health experts have warned us for months of the magnitude of the COVID-19 outbreak. Other than patting the backs (and padding the pockets) of the capitalist ruling class with a $1.5 trillion buyout, the US government has done very little to address this pandemic.

Among the most susceptible to COVID-19 are those who are already the most vulnerable. Unsheltered people, incarcerated people, those in ICE detention camps, the poor, and those living in rural isolated Indian reservations, will be among those most likely to be impacted and least likely to receive swift, competent medical attention. 

Private companies are refusing to offer paid sick leave even in the midst of this crisis. Medical insurers are refusing to waive fees for people to get tested and treated for COVID-19. And the response by state governments and the federal government has been to suggest — not require — that these companies offer paid leave and waive fees, while also offering little-to-no material support for workers to eat, pay their bills and rent, receive proper treatment, and even just survive. Hardest hit are workers who are also care providers for children or family members.

If faced with the choice of getting tested and going into quarantine or being able to work and put food on their tables, many workers will choose to keep working out of necessity. This is the reality for the majority of people in the United States.

The crisis has exposed the capitalist system for what it is: anti-life. In this time of great danger, we need human solidarity — the politics of love, not the politics of hate. We must respond with our hearts and all of our humanity, not just to stop the most catastrophic effects of COVID-19, but to end this inhumane and criminal capitalist system once and for all. 

We have to plan for a long-term struggle and use the current momentum of a stumbling giant against itself.

While we must organize to support one another materially and emotionally–perhaps at a scale we have never seen–we must also see this crisis for what it is: a moment to advance a global workers’ struggle. The ruling class of the United States is shoring up power and circling the wagons in response to this pandemic. They are worried, and they should be: the stock market has crashed twice; blockades in solidarity with the Wetsuwet’en nation have immobilized Canada’s economy; OPEC is falling apart; and exports from China have come to a halt. Now is the time for us to organize and build power.

As we build working-class power, we make the following demands:

  • Implement universal healthcare
  • Provide equitable and free access to healthcare for urban and rural Native communities
  • Offer unrestricted resources to Indian Health Service and tribal health clinics and hospitals
  • End US sanctions against Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and all countries
  • Make COVID-19 testing universally available; no one should be turned away
  • Provide free healthcare and access to treatments at the point of service
  • Provide free healthcare and housing to unsheltered relatives
  • End all new arrests, detentions, and caging
  • Provide free healthcare to the currently incarcerated
  • Provide care for the quarantined and medically isolated
  • Provide special care for our elders
  • Close all schools and providing free lunches and paid leave and childcare for parents
  • Close all universities and providing food and housing for students 
  • End all evictions
  • End all utility shutoffs
  • Cancel all student debt
  • End all deportations
  • Provide universal paid sick leave to all workers in all sectors
  • Freeze all rent payments
  • Implement price and supply controls on all commodities to prevent profiteering
  • Implement controlled rationing on all food and essential commodities to prevent hoarding
  • Implement the Red Deal. Instead of taking funds from social security to boost the private sector, we should reallocate resources from the military, police, and prisons into a mass public health campaign to combat COVID-19
  • Prioritize special protections and resources to frontline caretakers like nurses, mothers, doctors, and teachers (see National Nurses United Response to COVID-19: https://www.nationalnursesunited.org/covid-19)

We also call for members in our community to take precautions for themselves, their families, neighbors, and everyone they come into contact with. COVID-19 is passed primarily from person to person via coughing, sneezing, or touching someone after wiping nose and mouth, as well as on surfaces. Washing our hands, wrists, and arms with soap is the most effective way to kill the virus yet we also know that under the conditions of capitalism there are millions without access to clean water with which to wash their hands, either due to lack of shelter or neglect of rural, urban, or reservation communities. The fight for clean water then is essential to fighting COVID-19, as is the right to housing, food, healthcare, and what we’ve demanded above.

But COVID-19 isn’t an individual problem. How we respond must be collective, with human dignity and love. We urge people to share both materially and emotionally with those who are more vulnerable. Just as regular people have responded to crises in the past, we must reach deep beyond what capitalism has forced us to become and come together, physically distant but socially united.

In the coming days and weeks, we will be posting and sharing COVID-19 resources on how to effectively respond to the crisis through social media, this website, and our weekly podcast.

We love you all and will weather the uncertainty and danger as comrades and relatives by building the collective capacity to fight back — and win.

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