Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Despite Coronavirus, the Class Struggle Continues

As the pandemic spreads, politicians of the ruling class are calling for unity — and they are trying to use the crisis to make billions. As revolutionary socialists, we reject the idea that there can be unity between exploiter and exploited. Workers need to fight against the crisis with our own methods.

Nathaniel Flakin

March 22, 2020
Facebook Twitter Share
German police ready to attack refugees in the corona crisis (Foto: Steffen Ittig)

Just over 100 years ago, the so-called Spanish Flu killed 50 to 100 million people around the world. The flu was not from Spain — it likely originated in the United States. But the virus spread at a time when most countries were censoring their press because of World War I, and so the first reports of the new influenza strain came out of neutral Spain.

The flu’s devastation was no mere biological crisis. The high death toll was a direct continuation of the horrors of the war. Troops being sent around the world spread the disease, with exhausted soldiers hunkering down in trenches particularly susceptible. But the most deaths occurred in the colonized world. In Iran and India, requisitioning and mismanagement by the colonial powers had already led to famine, so the virus hit a severely weakened population.

At the outbreak of the war in 1914, leaders of the workers’ movement had called for a “civic peace.” The idea was that workers should suspend all forms of class struggle in the name of the “national interest.” And as soon as their individual nation was victorious, so the logic went, workers would get a piece of the spoils. 

In Germany, this policy was referred to as a Burgfrieden — literally, a “castle peace” that reigns within the walls of a besieged castle. In France, it was the union sacrée, the sacred union. In all cases, it meant a pause in the class struggle.

World War I brought enormous profits to the big capitalists, the banks, the stockholders, and the speculators. But it only brought starvation and misery to the working class. This applied even to the workers in the victorious countries. No wonder that in the years following the war, there were massive revolutionary movements around the world.

Echos of Civic Peace

Now, in the face of a similar crisis, we are hearing echoes of this “civic peace.” Ruling-class politicians want the working class to unite with the very people responsible for this crisis. Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, supposedly the opposition and sometimes even touted as the “resistance” to the incompetent Trump government, are calling for “Unity, Unity, Unity.”

But while capitalist politicians call for a pause in the class struggle, are the capitalists actually pausing? No.

We see this in the “rescue packages” presented by capitalist governments. For years, they said there was no money to provide healthcare or education for working people. All of a sudden, the United States seems to have a trillion dollars to save the economy. 

When they talk about “saving the economy,” however, they really mean propping up large banks and corporations. Since large U.S. corporations pay little or no taxes, this means tax money paid by working people. The trillion dollar package is nothing but a massive transfer of wealth from working people to the capitalists in the face of the crisis.

Is that not a form of class struggle?

Capitalist governments are using the coronavirus as an excuse to grant themselves unprecedented powers for surveillance and repression. They claim this is to fight the pandemic — but it will not be long before they use these same powers to stop demonstrations and strikes. 

The most egregious example comes from the post-fascist president of Chile, billionaire Sebastian Piñera. For months, he has been looking for ways to criminalize the massive protests that have been rocking the country. Faced with the coronavirus, he originally dismissed it, Trump-style, as nothing more than a flu. But then he sensed an opportunity, and now he is calling for bans on demonstrations — as a supposed public health measure! Meanwhile, he does nothing to improve the dire state of Chile’s privatized healthcare system.

Workers’ Control of Emergency Measures

In the manufacturing sector, the capitalists have attempted to keep workers in factories, making non-essential goods and risking their lives for others’ profits. Strikes in Italy, the Basque Country, and in the United States  have shut down a number of plants.

Many workers cannot work from home. This is particularly true of nurses, doctors, and all healthcare workers. Around the world, they are working grueling shifts under the direction of capitalist management. And here, we see additional forms of class struggle.

Currently, healthcare workers are being forced to ignore established safety precautions. They are told to work without protective gear, since none is available. They are working ridiculously long shifts due to a lack of personnel. But the crisis in hospitals did not fall from the sky. It is a result of decades of neoliberal policies by managers and politicians — the same people now calling on workers to sacrifice!

Most healthcare workers are not complaining. Instead, the crisis highlights the fundamental solidarity of working people. Healthcare workers today are the precious leaven of humankind. They are not going on strike despite the terrible conditions to which they are being subjected — conditions that were already intolerable before the pandemic. 

To beat the virus, workers need to take control of their workplaces. This applies to hospitals, but also to factories of all kinds that can be repurposed to manufacture supplies to fight the crisis. The capitalist owners and managers have brought society to the brink of catastrophe — why should these experts in exploitation be in charge in a public health emergency? Workers need to kick out the capitalist managers and owners — or better yet, put them to work doing something useful, like disinfecting. We need committees elected by workers and experts to coordinate our answer to the crisis. 

That is how we can oppose the capitalists’ class struggle during the crisis — with class struggle of our own!

As revolutionary socialists, we are not opposed to placing society on a war footing. We are very much in favor. In fact, we want an even greater mobilization than in a war. War is about one nation-state mobilizing against another. But we want all of humanity to join in a monumental effort to stop a common enemy. What we need is more like the response to an invasion from outer space.

But that kind of war-like mobilization cannot be left in the hands of the parasites and malignant halfwits who run capitalist states. Trump talks about being a “war president,” but his focus on maintaining capitalist profits is sabotaging the supposed war effort at every step. It is not just a problem of simpletons like Trump and his lackeys. Even in China, which had a huge campaign against the virus, we saw how the ruling bureaucrats, to maintain their prestige, repeatedly sabotaged the heroic efforts of working people with lies and censorship.

It is the workers ourselves who can best control the kind of mobilization we need. We reject any kind of “civic peace” during the crisis. A war-like mobilization against the coronavirus requires a simultaneous fight for the power of the working class over all aspects of society. In other words, we need to combine the war against corona with a war against the capitalists. This is exactly what workers did 100 years ago to fight against the horrors of World War I and the Spanish Flu: they responded to capitalist barbarism with revolutionary uprisings across the globe.

Facebook Twitter Share

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.

Instagram

Ideas & Debates

Tents at the Rutgers University in NJ during the Palestine encampment in May, 2024

What the Movement for Palestine Can Learn from the Rutgers Encampment Deal

The Gaza solidarity encampment at Rutgers New Brunswick ended in a deal between the administration and a negotiations team at the camp. It’s been a highly controversial decision. The experience at Rutgers shows the need for a truly democratic, bottom-up fight for Palestine.

Jason Koslowski

May 17, 2024
A banner at the City College Encampment in NYC which reads: "The 5 demands: 1) Divest 2) Boycott 3) Solidarity 4) Demilitarize 5) A People's CUNY

Specters of Vietnam in the pro-Palestinian Movement

The reemergence of the student movement raises echoes of the past that help to articulate key aspects of the direction of the movement against the genocide in Palestine. Here we consider a few links between today and the movement against the war in Vietnam.

Daniel Alfonso

May 12, 2024

The Student Revolt for Palestine

The student revolt for Palestine in the United States is spreading throughout the world. It is essential that the student movement unites against repression and draws the masses into the fight for a free Palestine.

Jimena Vergara

May 6, 2024

Left Voice Magazine for April 2024 — Labor Notes Edition!

In this issue, we delve into the state and future of the labor movement today. We take a look at the prospects for Palestinian liberation through the lens of Leon Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, and discuss the way that Amazon has created new conditions of exploitation and how workers across the world are fighting back.

Left Voice

April 20, 2024

MOST RECENT

Activists in Detroit speaking at a press conference condemning repression of the pro-Palestine movement on May 20, 2024.

Detroit Activists Hold Press Conference to Condemn Repression of Pro-Palestine Protesters

Detroit Will Breathe organized a press conference to discuss the police violence and repression against pro-Palestine protesters. The movement must stand in solidarity and unite to combat the increase of repression.

Kyle Thibodeau

May 23, 2024
A sign for the University of California at Santa Cruz with a line of UAW signs in front of it

Dispatch from Day One of the UC Santa Cruz Picket Line for Palestine

Left Voice member and City University of New York worker Olivia traveled to Santa Cruz for UAW 4811’s historic strike to talk to workers. This is her dispatch from the first day of the strike.

Olivia Wood

May 22, 2024

CUNY Workers Should Support the Five Demands of the Student Encampment

As the PSC CUNY Delegate Assembly prepares to debate a vote to endorse the five demands of the CCNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment, some members of CUNY on Strike penned the following rebuttal to the bureaucratic union leadership that has been trying to distance itself from the struggle against the genocide in Gaza. 

A Russian tank fires toward Kharkiv on the May 10 offensive against Ukraine.

Russia’s Offensive in Ukraine May Be a Turning Point in the War

Russia’s May 10 offensive in Ukraine may be a turning point in the dynamics of the war, and the specter of Ukraine’s defeat is exposing the cracks that divide the Western powers.

Claudia Cinatti

May 21, 2024