As governments are in the process of reopening their economies in a desperate attempt to return to pre-pandemic profit levels in the middle of a worldwide recession and global protests against racist state violence, Covid-19 cases are still on the rise around the world. Now, the epicenter of the pandemic has shifted to Latin America and the outbreak is threatening to hit Africa next. These regions — decimated by decades of foreign intervention and neoliberalism — are facing rapidly escalating health crises; but the deeply-rooted economic and political crises exacerbated by the pandemic are promising to be just as catastrophic, if not more so in the months ahead.
Brazil, for example, is quickly approaching the United States in the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths across the country. Yet President Jair Bolsonaro and his authoritarian military regime continue to deny the pandemic, undermining protective measures and sacrificing millions of precarious workers in order to prop up Brazil’s flailing economy with bailouts for big banks. In Bolivia, Jeanine Ánez’s coup government is making backroom deals with foreign investors, consolidating its hold on power, and using the pandemic as an excuse to increase repression against social unrest without implementing measures to address the public health crisis. The United States, the supposed ally of these right-wing regimes, has made no moves to provide medical supplies or offer assistance to countries it has pushed to the brink of collapse — in fact, the U.S. is experiencing its own increase in cases after the premature lifting of lockdown measures across the country.
From the beginning of the pandemic, it has been clear that capitalism is inherently incapable of responding on a global scale to the crisis precipitated by the coronavirus outbreak and years of neoliberal economic policies before it. Whether it was hoarding and stealing supplies, or shuttering their borders and shoring up their markets, the world’s “great powers” have consistently given nationalist answers to a global crisis. This isolationism in the face of a fundamentally international crisis, coupled with escalated imperialist aggression, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide and continuous attacks on the working class and other oppressed groups.
The steps required to fight the pandemic on an international scale can only be coordinated by the global working class, the people who are already keeping society afloat. This means uniting workers and their allies against capitalist domination in all its forms and preparing them to take control of global networks of production in order to stem the tide of the pandemic and the deepening economic crisis.
For socialists in the heart of the empire, this means our struggle against the pandemic and the economic crisis must be fundamentally anti-imperialist. In that context, we must rally around an emergency international program to fight back against both the pandemic that continues to ravage many parts of the globe and the economic crisis that will escalate in the months ahead.
Produce Supplies for Imperialized Countries
Though the U.S. is still the world leader in terms of coronavirus deaths, other regions are now reaching the peak of the outbreak and face much more dire circumstances because of both their particular economic development and the fact that imperialist countries like the United States have opened their economies. This puts pressure on dependent countries to reopen or remain open in order to keep up with international markets, even when doing so means unleashing coronavirus on healthcare systems without sufficient supplies to contain it.
The consequences of these factors are being laid bare for the world to see. In Mexico, the maquiladora factories in the north, which have the highest rates of infection in the country, reopened on June 1st at the orders of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador under pressure from Donald Trump; despite the denial of the government, cases are on the rise all over the country. Bolsonaro’s government in Brazil never took adequate measures to prevent the spread of disease or shut down workplaces that saw outbreaks; the country has now reached over 1 million cases of Covid-19. In Bolivia, doctors working in overwhelmed hospitals are being forced to turn patients away to die in the streets.
But the roots of the problem are much deeper, and it is important why these countries cannot produce enough medical equipment or tests to fight the outbreak. U.S. imperialism in its various forms — from foreign investment to outright military intervention — has inhibited the growth of neo-colonial and dependent countries for decades, leaving their productive capacities severely limited. Many of these countries, like Mexico, for example, produce mostly for U.S. markets, and are then forced to import a large proportion of essential goods from the U.S. at high prices.
In the context of the current pandemic, this means these countries are ill-equipped to produce the necessary supplies to address growing public health concerns. This leaves them forced to buy these supplies from other countries, often at high prices made even steeper for currencies devalued by the dollar’s influence on world markets. It also leaves these countries no choice but to take out loans or accept foreign aid from more powerful countries, aid that always comes with significant strings attached.
Meanwhile, companies in the United States are resuming non-essential production and services, sending people back to work under threat of unemployment and without proper equipment. Those companies are doing the same in countries around the world. In our unions and workplaces, workers in the U.S. must fight to convert production of non-essential items to the production of supplies to fight the pandemic in both the United States and in countries that are most vulnerable to the pandemic after years of U.S. meddling in their economies. This is a crucial step towards stemming the tide of the pandemic and protecting workers on the job across the world.
Cancel Foreign Debt
The fight against the pandemic and its economic impact has resulted in increased spending by governments, both those in imperialist nations and those in the countries they exploit. While this means increased economic hardship for working people of all nations, the burden is two-fold for those living in semi-colonial countries dependent on foreign loans and investment — they must suffer the consequences of government spending on both disaster response and debt repayment; this means the collapse of already failing infrastructure coupled with harsh austerity measures enforced by police and military repression. While richer imperialist countries can rely on the strength of their currency and the promise of low interest rates on loans, workers and oppressed sectors in semi-colonial countries face the effects of loan defaults and further economic and political control by foreign powers.
But the current crisis is only bringing long-standing tensions to a breaking point. Years of debt have resulted in austerity measures that have accelerated privatization and gutted healthcare and social welfare programs. Even before the pandemic, 64 countries across the world spent more on debt repayment than on healthcare. This has meant devastation in countries already hit by the pandemic — like Ecuador, Brazil, and Peru — and impending economic disaster even for countries that have staved off the spread of the virus by repressive state measures.
The pandemic has given new urgency to calls for the cancellation of foreign debt that working and oppressed people across the world — from Latin America and the Carribean to Africa and the Middle East — took up in the months preceding the current crisis. The pandemic has only paved the way for the IMF, bourgeois governments, and private lenders to dig their claws deeper into countries already torn apart by years of neoliberal austerity and imperialist intervention.
The IMF has already approved billions of dollars in loans to countries — from Egypt to Uganda and Nigeria — that have no hope of paying them back without harsh attacks against workers and oppressed people for decades to come. But the influence and capital generated by such debt also strengthens and enables the states of imperialist nations to implement attacks on the working class within their own national borders. Fighting for the cancellation of all foreign debt means doing the necessary work of tearing the strongest threads in the web of imperialist domination over the world’s workers, whether they live in imperialist or dependent countries.
Therefore, in the spirit of the 2019 protests in Ecuador, Haiti, and Chile, and in preparation for the economic crisis ahead, beyond mere debt forgiveness for the world’s poorest countries, we must take up the call for the immediate cancellation of all debt once and for all — whether that debt is controlled by private lenders, foreign governments, or international organizations like the IMF and World Bank.
End All Sanctions and Embargoes
Another key economic mechanism in the global imperialist machine, sanctions and embargoes allow the U.S. to influence global markets in its favor and put pressure on economies that threaten its capitalist investments or political control in dependent countries. Even before the pandemic, this spelled economic disaster for the targets of these “diplomatic” measures, but in the context of the current public health and economic crises it is nothing less than a death sentence for hundreds of thousands of people, whether it be from coronavirus itself or the poverty wrought by collapsing infrastructure and lack of resources.
Just look at Iran. The sanctions put in place by the Trump administration before the coronavirus crisis demolished Iran’s healthcare system and caused a shortage of necessary medical supplies. But as if that was not enough, once the pandemic hit, rather than lifting those sanctions, the Trump administration — with bipartisan support — responded by imposing more sanctions to cripple Iran’s economy, killing tens of thousands of people and ensuring the economic devastation of hundreds of thousands more. This was nothing but a cynical ploy to gain a foothold in the region and gain access to oil reserves for U.S. capitalists.
But Iran isn’t the only country hit by the U.S.’s sanctions in the middle of the pandemic. With widespread support from Republicans and Democrats alike, the U.S. has also strengthened its sanctions in other countries like Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela in order to gain influence in regions that have historically resisted complete U.S. control.
Sanctions are an impediment to any sort of international action to fight coronavirus, preventing the flow of supplies and resources to the countries hardest hit by the pandemic and the economic crisis, and dividing and weakening the global working class. In order to overcome outbreaks of coronavirus wherever they appear, and to mitigate the impact of continued economic devastation that hampers necessary production around the world, we must fight for an end to sanctions on countries the United States has deemed its “enemies.” The true enemies of the working class are the capitalists and governments who exploit workers at home and abroad.
Cease Military Intervention
Even a global pandemic has not put a damper on the U.S.’s military aspirations across the world, diverting billions of dollars towards bombing countries like Somalia and Iraq while millions of people are unemployed in the U.S. and the healthcare system is cracking under pressure. The U.S. is also using its vast military resources to continue its push for regime change in Venezuela and to block shipments of goods to Cuba and ramp up its presence in Asia in order to intimidate China.
By continuing military operations, the United States and other imperialist powers are doing nothing but making a global crisis exponentially worse, exploiting the disparity of nations’ wealth and resources for their own gain. The message is clear: the profits of the military industrial complex are too precious to the capitalists and their governments to warrant any sort of military de-escalation that would potentially save millions of lives. As can already be seen in Somalia, Iraq, and other nations subject to imperialist violence, coronavirus in a war zone means disaster for millions of working and oppressed people. We must fight for an end to all military interventions and the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from foreign countries.
Further, we cannot ignore the fact that the United States is spending billions of dollars on military operations as it faces one of its worst crises in history. The defense budget for the United States is $736 billion. That sum represents a game-changing amount of resources that could be used to fight the global pandemic and produce life-saving equipment for the U.S. and countries whose healthcare systems have been gutted by U.S. interventions. As congress quibbles over how many billions of dollars to spend on the military in the yearly national defense authorization bill, we must fight so that one hundred percent of the resources of the military be diverted towards fighting the pandemic and economic crisis — this means increased funds for hospitals, vaccine and treatment research, production of medical supplies and protective equipment, and quarantine wages for everyone who must stay at home for the duration of the health crisis.
Open U.S. Borders Now
In the United States, Donald Trump — with the explicit support of Republicans and the complicity of Democrats — has used the crisis to ramp up xenophobic and racist immigration policies that have stranded refugees, sent sick people back to nations unable to care for them, shipped people to refugee camps far from home, and continued the separation of families. Trump has used the pandemic as an excuse to deport more people, and more recently to suspend legal status and refuse asylum at higher rates than before. More than 900 children have been deported — alone, without notifying their parents — since the outbreak began.
But the closure of borders does not stop immigration, it only criminalizes it, making it more dangerous for the people who are forced to seek safety in other countries. The reasons that people are forced to leave their home countries have not disappeared with the pandemic. In fact, the economic devastation that motivates much of the world’s immigration has only intensified and will continue to intensify as the crisis deepens.
Concretely, this means more people being thrown in detention centers where there is a heightened risk of COVID-19 outbreaks, or discouraging people from seeking care. It means increased deportations that will continue to spread the virus and put further pressure on already strained healthcare systems in countries devastated by U.S. intervention. Consequently, the call for open borders means taking up the call for closing detention centers and eliminating the repressive state apparatus that enables them, namely border patrol and ICE.
Though concerted containment efforts in certain national contexts might curtail the spread of the virus, the reality is that in the U.S., national borders and their enforcement by the state have done little but exacerbate the current crisis. Physical and political borders were not able to stop coronavirus from spreading to nearly every state in a couple of months; in the absence of well-equipped healthcare systems, travel and immigration bans are nothing but stopgap measures that pave the way for increased discrimination against immigrants and refugees and increased militarization and repression. National borders do nothing but allow the free exchange of commodities while limiting the free movement of people and necessary resources to fight the crisis.
Opening the borders and abolishing border control, in contrast, would allow people, information, and resources to move freely in and out of the U.S. — defunding this repressive arm of the state would free up funds to allow for increased testing for everyone, including those who choose to come to the United States. Far from a utopian pipedream, the fight for open borders is essential in coordinating an effective international response to this crisis.
Internationalist Action Requires a United Working Class
Even as the ruling class forces the reopening of the global economy, sending millions of people back to work without proper defenses against COVID-19, neither the pandemic nor the impending economic downturn are anywhere close to abating. As healthcare workers in the United States continue to be overwhelmed with patients, coronavirus is hitting areas of the global south particularly hard, exacerbated ten fold by decades of imperialist intervention. Even the IMF is forewarning high rates of global joblessness and poverty in the near future. Under their leadership, capitalists have us hurtling towards disaster.
This means that as a united and international working class, we must provide our own solutions to the crises we face, starting with the fight against imperialism. As healthcare workers fight for protective equipment and resources to fight the pandemic, as tenants organizations fight to cancel rent, and as young people of color lead the struggle against escalated police and white vigilante violence, we must realize that these fights — struggles against the bosses and the capitalist state in its various forms — will not be successful if the state and the capitalists it protects are able to strengthen themselves off of the profits of imperialist domination and exploit the workers of other countries.
In other words, in the fight against a crisis created by capitalism’s unavoidable contradictions, we cannot sacrifice one of the most vital tools in the arsenal of the global working class — internationalism. To truly confront the crisis, we must unite — in our workplaces and in the streets — behind demands that challenge the very foundation of capitalism and pave the way for a new society based on the coordination of the workers of the world.