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On the Front Line to Make the Capitalists Pay for the Pandemic and its Brutal Consequences

Statement by revolutionary socialist organizations from 14 countries and the Left Voice / La Izquierda Diario network for May 1, International Workers’ Day

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In countries all over the world, we salute the front-line workers in the healthcare, transport, food, logistics, and sanitation industries, as well as other sectors. They are engaged in a daily struggle against a pandemic that is not simply biological but has deep social and political roots. For decades, the capitalists and their governments have destroyed public health systems and made the working and living conditions of the masses more precarious, generating brutal inequality with the sole aim of increasing their profits. Their criminal policy was to ignore the warnings of a pandemic for years. When it arrived, the majority of capitalist governments ended up ordering generalized quarantines, without providing massive testing or expanded hospital capacity. As a result, the necessary “social distancing” measures were accompanied by a paralyzation of production and world trade, a fall in stock markets (as well as in the prices of raw materials), and an unprecedented economic collapse. There are also governments that took very limited social distancing measures with the sole intention of preserving capitalist profits, at the cost of increasing the spread of the contagion and causing thousands of additional deaths. The big capitalists and their governments are taking advantage of the crisis to carry out layoffs, factory closures, and wage cuts, making working conditions worse and more precarious. This means misery and hunger for billions. Faced with this reality, another “front line” of struggles by workers and poor people is emerging in different countries — a preview of what will come after the pandemic peaks and the full extent of the social, political, and economic consequences manifest themselves. The journalists of the bourgeoisie are warning of “insurrections” and “revolutions” by the working class and the oppressed.

The revolutionary socialist organizations from 14 countries and the Left Voice / La Izquierda Diario network of revolutionary online newspapers in eight languages that have signed this declaration are calling for simultaneous rallies on May 1, International Workers’ Day, which will be live streamed on our sites with translations in multiple languages. This will be followed by a rally on the same day (also live streamed) by the Workers Left Front — Unity (FIT-U) in Argentina. The goal of this rally is to support all workers, across Argentina and the world, and to present a program and a strategy of struggle so that working people will not be forced to pay for this crisis. The social class that is responsible for exploitation, the indiscriminate pillage of the planet, and the degradation of health care, education, and scientific research must pay! We call for the organization and expansion of the “front line” to advance these struggles and lead them to victory. We call on all exploited and oppressed people to unite against those who would divide us and attempt to reconcile us with governments and states. With these goals in mind, we call on the working class to build socialist and revolutionary workers’ parties, both at a national and an international level, and thereby rebuild the Fourth International.

1. From Health Crisis to Economic Collapse: The Virus Isn’t Responsible

Various studies have shown that pandemics caused by new strains of influenza originate from the shock caused by sudden disturbances of environmental and ecological balances. Such disturbances are the result of the unbridled advance of agribusiness “on the frontiers of capital production.” Meanwhile, big pharmaceutical companies have dedicated their principal research to the most “profitable” diseases. “Multilateral” institutions such as the WHO have acted according to the geopolitical interests of imperialist nations. Governments have ignored previous warnings of the potential for pandemics and even of the outbreak of the current pandemic in China.

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet in sight, as it appears to have only been contained in China and Southeast Asia, and there are still dangers that it could reemerge there. The economic and social effects have multiplied on a truly catastrophic scale. The drop in production and the spike in unemployment, especially in the United States, are reaching levels above those of the 2008 crisis. This situation is reminiscent of the Great Depression after the crash of 1929, when GDP fell 9% in the first year and 27% from 1929 to 1933, with unemployment reaching 25% in 1933. Now, in just five weeks, more than 26 million people in the United States have applied for unemployment benefits. It is estimated that unemployment is reaching 20%. In 2009, by comparison, it reached a peak of 10%. The drop in production in China in the first quarter was historic (-6.8%), as was also the case in Italy, Spain, and throughout the world

The IMF predicts a 3% drop in global GDP this year, which is an enormous decrease when compared with the 0.1% drop in 2009, during what is known as the “great recession.” According to the IMF’s “optimistic” scenario, there will be a recovery in 2021. This, however, is based on the assumptions that the pandemic will be over by the second half of this year and, most importantly, that the bailouts will work, preventing company bankruptcies and a series of defaults from hitting the financial system. According to its pessimistic scenario, the IMF anticipates the economic drop to deepen this year and solutions to remain uncertain. The OECD calculates a two-point drop in GDP for each month of quarantine, so the prolongation of the pandemic has very high costs and risks for companies and banks. But even if there were a recovery in 2021, there are no economic motors in sight that could create the conditions for a more sustained recovery. Let us recall that China had high growth rates after 2009, propping up all the countries that produce raw materials. Now, the Asian giant has slowed down and lost the dynamism it had at the beginning of the century. After the pandemic, the Chinese economy will face the catastrophic situation of a drop in its main export markets.

In the face of this unforeseen crisis, the bourgeoisie and its institutions were forced to implement health measures contrary to their economic interests. Only a few countries were able to respond in time without being paralyzed, such as South Korea, Taiwan, partially Germany, and others; however, these countries will still be hit by the world depression. Now, governments and businesses are pushing for the quarantines to be lifted despite an absence of organized mass testing and a shocking lack of masks and other basic health precautions. The most shameless actors, such as Trump and Bolsonaro, believe that the deaths are not harming them politically and are calling on sectors of the extreme Right to mobilize. Those governments, facing pressures from their own political and social bases, want to appear concerned about saving lives, but are unable to solve the crisis because they did not take preventive measures either. For instance, after the pandemic began in China, the Beijing bureaucracy busied itself with lies and cover-ups. They had time, and they wasted it. They did not try to organize the necessary supplies and materials. We should also note that the past and present “progressive” governments of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador never set out to reverse the decline of their public healthcare systems, instead promoting private healthcare businesses even during years of economic growth.

The people who initially spread the disease were often middle-class workers and managers, who regularly travel around the world, but as soon as the virus began to sweep across individual countries, the most affected populations were the most oppressed — and how could it be otherwise? In the United States, for example, there are disproportionately more deaths among Black and Hispanic people; similarly in Brazil, Black people have been hit especially hard.

As we have been insisting in our international network, the coronavirus did not automatically become a pandemic that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and has created an economic depression with brutal social consequences. Rather, the virus caused all the contradictions that the capitalist system had been accumulating in its period of historical decline to burst forth.

2. Sacrificial Lambs: Preserving Capitalism Means Misery for the Working Class and the Poor

This crisis is based on trends that emerged in the lead up to and aftermath of 2008: low growth in investment and productivity, high indebtedness (both of states and of corporations), and stock market bubbles. These trends indicated that a recession was looming. But the extraordinary character of this crisis comes from the fact that the responses to the pandemic are exacerbating and accelerating the crisis and transforming it into a depression with a dynamic that is difficult to foresee. The development of the crisis is determined by the continued impact of the virus, since a second wave of infections will require new economic measures if a vaccine is not discovered beforehand (and made available to all people). The economy, when it starts up again, will not be the same. Entire sectors, such as the tourism and airline industries, will be limited for a significant period of time and their futures are far from certain.

The capitalists’ response to this crisis has entailed, on the one hand, huge bailouts that are breaking all fiscal and monetary parameters, outstripping the bailouts implemented during the 2008 crisis. This is based on the rationale that this crisis is exceptional. For the capitalist governments (and here, right-wing and “progressive” governments are in agreement), the bailouts are primarily directed at big companies and banks, as their bankruptcy would imply massive layoffs and an intensification of the crisis — or so we are told. Thus, in the interest of “saving jobs,” these companies are given billions of dollars that they will never repay, or will repay under favorable conditions (like the bailouts after 2008). No one will investigate what these companies do with the money or question how states take on “odious debts” to finance measures that favor corporations. No one will investigate the mysterious capital flight, for example, which is happening to the Argentine loans that the government of Alberto Fernández is renegotiating, as well as to the Fobaproa debt in Mexico, the product of a bank bailout of billions of dollars that was paid for by the workers.

The bailouts are solely for the big capitalists. Only if their assets are safe will they concede to save some of the millions of jobs at risk — though of course with worse conditions. To a lesser extent, aid is being given to the population, such as the $1,200 one-time payment to 70 million U.S. Americans, and an increase in unemployment benefits. These measures are clearly insufficient, but they correspond to the needs of a discredited political caste seeking to avoid social upheavals that will further paralyze the economy. At the same time, following the laws of capitalism, there will be bankruptcies and mergers, increasing the concentration of capital and merciless and intensified competition.

But the bailouts have not yet slowed the tendencies toward depression or the spike in unemployment, which will continue for at least the next few months. This could have an effect on indebted companies, which in turn could affect the banks (which are staying afloat for the time being). The stock market experienced a sharp drop at the beginning of March and then remained more or less stable. Meanwhile, no less than $4 trillion in financial assets were destroyed. On April 9, the U.S. Federal Reserve authorized the purchase of low-rated (highly speculative) debt so that practically no financial sectors were left out of the U.S. bailouts. The prices of raw materials continue to plummet to unprecedented levels as with WTI oil in the United States, which began trading at negative prices. This is a sign of strong deflationary tendencies in the world economy.

The vulnerability of global value chains on display in this pandemic will generate pressures on companies to relocate and reorganize. However, in order to turn back the expansion of capitalism’s frontiers over the last three or four decades, the capitalist class will need to make the working conditions in the West more like those in the East, if it wants to make their investments profitable. This would imply an enormous defeat for the working class. In addition, the capitalists will also need to make new investments, which has been the weakest point of capital for the last decade. In order to modify the whole extended productive and commercial structure that allowed them to maximize their profits, they would need to invest on a massive scale. This structure has long been questioned because of its economic and social effects on broad sectors of the population who were the “losers of globalization.” The current crisis is rocking these sectors even more. Globalization can no longer continue as before. Trends toward regionalization will increase. Trade wars, such as those fostered by Trump (often as mere threats, but nonetheless generating permanent instability and responses from competitors) will be the order of the day. But the big capitalists who are the “winners of globalization” and their political representatives will resist, taking advantage of the fact that nationalist demagogues like Trump or Bolsonaro not only bear responsibility for tens of thousands of deaths in the pandemic but also cannot offer any improvement in the living conditions of the “losing” social sectors with their reactionary policies. In the face of this crisis, the “souverainist” projects of the center left are just as utopian as the infinite expansion of capitalist markets. These include Mélenchon in France and the “progressive” government of the PSOE–Unidas Podemos in the Spanish State, neither of which is willing to attack the interests of big capitalists consistently. They repeat the sad story of Syriza in Greece.

Even in the most “optimistic” scenarios (a recovery in 2021), the crisis opens the door for attacks on the working classes and the poor masses. Only through anti-capitalist struggle can workers win better working conditions, jobs, salaries, universal and quality health care, and environmental protections against climate change.

3. A World in Disorder: The Decline of U.S. Hegemony Accelerates

In terms of international relations, the decline of the United States as the world’s leading superpower is accelerating. Trump’s response to COVID-19 in his own country has been catastrophic. At a global level, instead of providing any kind of leadership, he intensified his nationalist-imperialist policy of “America First.” In lieu of any minimally “humanitarian” gestures, he tightened the criminal embargo against Cuba and Venezuela in the midst of a pandemic and also threatened military action against Iran.

European “unity,” for its part, was shown to be nothing more than a bold-faced lie, with each country sealing its borders and attempting to save itself without caring about the others, even though there are now calls for cooperation. In Italy, people consider China and Russia, with their self-serving policies of “humanitarian aid,” better allies than Germany. However, due to their economic weakness, the bourgeoisies of Southern Europe have little choice but to submit to the dictates of the strongest imperialist powers.

China, an emerging power that presents itself as a “winner” because it was able to control the pandemic, also displayed great weaknesses. The deadly infection emerged there, and the government wasted weeks and months by first attempting to hide it. No one can rule out further outbreaks. Importantly, China now faces a different world than the one that allowed it to rise to power at the beginning of the capitalist restoration in the late 1980s.

While cooperation remains confined to the level of financial bailouts and “advice” from the WHO (which is itself crippled by disputes between the U.S. and China), the brazen competition for medical supplies and possible vaccines is only a small taste of the trends toward global “disorder.” These trends are more reminiscent of the situation after the First World War than of that after the Second World War when there was a possibility of creating a “new order,” as the defenders of globalization claim.

The bellicose tendencies that were already becoming apparent a few months ago with the assassination of the Iranian general Soleimani by the United States have continued with the military threats against Iran and the naval exercises off the coast of Venezuela. These tendencies may accelerate as the crisis intensifies, and each great power is pressured to act more aggressively. 

4. The Current Struggles Demonstrate that the Previous Cycle of Rebellions Will Be Reborn with Greater Force. “Front line” and Precarious Workers May Be in the Vanguard.

From the point of view of the exploited, we are witnessing a brutal demonstration of the capitalist world order’s dependence on human labor, particularly wage labor, despite all the advances in robotization and artificial intelligence, which remain essentially appendages to labor rather than representing its replacement. In this context, there were (and are) innumerable conflicts characterizing society. At present, for example, sectors of the working class are demanding paid leave in opposition to the plans of bosses and governments who deem them “essential” to preserving profits. At the same time, within the clearly “essential” sectors (such as health care, transport, food, sanitation, cleaning, some shops and banks, etc.) there were and are still numerous struggles, with workers demanding special protective equipment, testing, etc. In France, as we pointed out in Révolution Permanente, the sectors of the working class that have had to continue working and have gained social prestige (as “heroes”) are beginning to hate the government for its role in the pandemic and the rich for their privileges, thus going down the path of the Yellow Vests and the struggle against the pension reform that recently shook the country.

In the United States, Trump has taken advantage of the desperate situation of those who lost their jobs by supporting mobilizations of the far Right, who are calling for the lifting of the quarantine to reopen local economies. However, the level of contagion and the terrible working conditions experienced by those who still have jobs are an indicator of the disastrous consequences of such a step. At the same time, we see the struggles and protests of thousands of workers across the country at Amazon, McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino’s, Instacart, Walmart, Whole Foods, and others, in addition to healthcare workers. These mobilizations are a harbinger of what can happen if millions of workers are forced to return to their jobs in insecure conditions.

We have strongly condemned the fact that all over the world, the bourgeoisie and its governments have already started using the spike in unemployment and the economic depression to attempt to impose wage cuts and flexible working hours. Companies that are shut down, especially those with precarious workers, are only paying partial wages, even when this violates government regulations. In Mexico, millions of workers in the maquiladoras (sweatshops at the border) and the service sector are forced to work in “non-essential” activities, and there are protests and strikes all along the northern border. In Argentina, we are seeing precarious workers at fast food chains (McDonald’s, Burger King, etc.) and in other sectors (meatpacking plants, shops, bars, restaurants, etc.) beginning to organize against wage cuts and firings. It is possible that, as soon as quarantine measures are lifted, the bosses will use the crisis as an excuse to demand a “joint effort” from their workers (for example, by imposing reduced work hours with reduced wages) while they collect subsidies and payments from governments in exchange for the promise of saving jobs. In Venezuela, working and poor people are revolting against hunger, the enormous increase in prices, and the lack of supplies in different cities.

The union bureaucracies have closed ranks with the bosses and governments, entering into an “absolute quarantine” against making the slightest demand in defense of workers’ rights. In the United States, they even published statements congratulating companies for “treating their workers well.” In Chile, the CUT, led by the Communist Party, supported a law in the legislature that makes it possible for companies to furlough workers without pay.

Finally, from the point of view of the exploited, the crisis of the public health systems has become much more apparent, not only where healthcare is largely privatized, but also where a large part remains public but is underfunded and run down (whether in central countries like Italy or France, or in dependent countries like Argentina and, even more so, Brazil). Demands for universal health care, with sufficient equipment to confront future pandemics, are emerging with force in this crisis, alongside demands for measures against climate change. 

The processes of class struggle that were developing in 2018 and 2019 are a sign that renewed attacks on the working and living conditions of billions of workers and poor people will give rise to new and renewed waves of struggle.

5. The Program We Stand For

Two days after the WHO declared a pandemic (March 11), we published a statement presenting the program for which we have been fighting for the last month of this crisis. We did political agitation in several countries demanding “mass testing.” We were also part of struggles to stop all non-essential production in the countries where shutdowns were declared. These struggles are in direct opposition to the bosses’ attempts to keep producing goods that are not of vital importance in the current health crisis, such as cars or planes (as was the case with Airbus in France). We demand necessary medical equipment (intensive-care beds, masks, etc.) and call for the centralization and expropriation of the companies that produce them under the control of their workers.

Our organizations and newspapers, as well as our comrades who are doctors and nurses, are active in the movement of healthcare workers in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, the Spanish State, and Mexico. In order to deal with the pandemic by providing high-quality health care to everyone, with appropriate funding for systems and wages, they are demanding the nationalization of all health care, including private health care, under workers’ control.

We supported the organization of those who had to keep working, as they began to exercise control over safety and health conditions, from the young workers at Telepizza in Zaragoza in the Spanish State to the bus drivers from the RATP in the Paris suburbs, to the miners, teachers, doctors, nurses, port workers, and industrial workers organized in the Emergency and Rescue Committee in Antofagasta and Santiago in Chile. At the same time, in every “non-essential” workplace, we fought for leave with full pay, against furloughs with pay cuts, and the prohibition of layoffs.

We pay special attention to precarious workers, those who work without labor rights, such as those in the “gig economy” or those in small companies that had to close. We demand benefits and “quarantine wages” for them all: income that allows them to cover their basic needs. We defend the rights of migrants against the arbitrary closures of borders, which leave people who want to return home or have nowhere to go stuck in overcrowded housing without health care. 

We reject the strengthening of the states’ repressive apparatus, using the police, security services, or even the armed forces to guarantee “compliance” with the lockdown. We reject spying and police-state control of people, with the supposed aim of “controlling the virus.” We stand for the broadest self-organization of the exploited and oppressed to exercise self-control and discipline. 

For small businesses, the self-employed, and others who have lost their income, we also demand state benefits, debt relief, and cheap credit. We demand that the organizations of the working class raise a program to win hegemony over the impoverished middle classes, both in the cities and the countryside, contesting the influence of those who attempt to win them over for extreme right-wing alternatives.

We call for progressive taxation on the large fortunes that the capitalists are not willing to put at risk during this crisis. We demand that the billionaires — the richest 1% of the planet who hold an obscene 82% of global wealth — start paying for the crisis, and be investigated for all the deals they have made in the past. In the dependent countries, we propose the sovereign repudiation of foreign debts. We propose that banks and financial capital no longer be able to drag down countries and regions, nor burden the state with unpayable debts. The nationalization of the banks must be under workers control, in order to centralize national savings at the service of the people’s needs and ensure the material commitment of each country and region to the fight against climate change. A monopoly on foreign trade is a necessity in all countries. In countries that export raw materials, it would prevent a handful of multinational agribusiness, mining, and fishing corporations from controlling all revenue.

We present these demands in each country as part of a program of struggle that we raise in the organizations of the working class, the youth, and the women’s movement. We fight against all bureaucracies that want to keep different struggles isolated and keep demands sectoral. We call for a workers’ united front, demanding that the leaderships of the real workers’ organizations present plans for struggle that would allow us to “march separately, but strike together.”

In imperialist countries, we oppose the reactionary patriotism that pits the peoples of different countries against each other. We oppose racism or any form of discrimination against immigrants, who were abandoned or even expelled with the lockdowns. Anti-imperialism is an essential banner in these countries, whose monopolies, corporations, and states are responsible for the most brutal oppression of colonial and semi-colonial nations. We demand an end to the sanctions against Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran. We condemn Bernie Sanders’ support for the imperialist offensive against Venezuela in the name of “humanitarian missions”; the pro-imperialist position of Jean-Luc Mélenchon to reject military interventions if they do not have a UN mandate; as well as the support by Unidas Podemos for Spanish participation in the NATO. We appeal to the internationalism of all workers, to unite the working class across all borders against its class enemies.

6. Our Intervention in the Class Struggle and the Left Voice / La Izquierda Diario Network: the Party, the Party, and Once Again the Party

Just as the pandemic broke out, we had taken a very important step to unify currents that consider themselves revolutionary and socialist: the organization of a Latin American Conference that was set to take place at the end of April, called by the Workers Left Front of Argentina (which is made up of the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS), the Workers Party (PO), the Socialist Left (IS) and the Socialist Workers Movement (MST)) and supported by the international tendencies of each party. This declaration and the conference itself, as soon as circumstances permit, represent very important agreements in order to advance on the common ground of intervention in the internationalist political and class struggle.

Our organizations foster these kinds of agreements in each country, seeking to advance as much as possible with concrete agreements to wage battle together. But when we do this, we always point out that our strategic goal is to build the organization that the working class needs, to defeat not only the bourgeoisie and its state, but also its bureaucratic and reformist agents within the working class, the social movements, and the youth. The bureaucracies and tendencies that seek conciliation with bourgeois regimes are only trying to reform a capitalism in decay. We also oppose tendencies that, while calling themselves leftist and revolutionary, seek unprincipled agreements with reformists. To wage these battles, we need revolutionary socialist combat parties that are rooted in the working class and its battles. This is what we are fighting for in every country, as part of the re-foundation of the world party of socialist revolution, the Fourth International.

The online newspapers of our international network are at the service of this battle, and they have experienced enormous growth. In the month of March alone, we received 4.4 million hits in Argentina, 2.2 million in France, 1.5 million in Brazil, 1.4 million in Chile, 1.2 million in Mexico, 650,000 in the Spanish State (50,000 of them in the Catalan edition), 200,000 in the United States, and tens of thousands in Germany, Italy, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Uruguay. That is almost 12 million hits in a single month. This trend is continuing in April. We recently launched La Izquierda Diario Costa Rica and will soon do the same in Peru. 

We have begun to transform these newspapers into “multimedia” publications, with live TV programs on the internet, as well as livestreams and podcasts, using all possible channels, with reports and interviews with comrades from other countries in order to promote practical and militant internationalism.

The most striking aspect of our growth is that in the heat of the crisis, our online newspapers have become organs for thousands of workers to express themselves. They have taken them up as their own organ to disseminate safety complaints, struggles, and demands — either by providing them to our activists in the working class and the youth, or sending messages directly to our newspapers. We believe that our newspapers are fulfilling their role as agitators and organizers in the best Leninist tradition.

In the essential terrain of ideological struggle against postmodern, populist, non-socialist feminist, or reformist tendencies of all kinds, we also publish theoretical magazines which cover not only politics and debates, but also history, philosophy, art, and science, as well as online courses in Marxist theory, socialist feminism, and other topics.

7. For a Simultaneous International Rally

On May 1, International Workers’ Day, we will hold a simultaneous international rally with speakers from the organizations that signed this declaration, translated into each language, which we will live stream on the internet. This will be followed by a rally of the Workers Left Front — Unity (FIT-U) of Argentina. Both events can be viewed on each one of our sites, at the appropriate hour in each country. These rallies will showcase the struggles we have been waging in each country and internationally, as we have expressed in this declaration.

We invite all comrades to be part of these rallies and to take an additional step in building up the “front line” of fighters for a real solution to the crisis — a revolutionary socialist solution of the working class.

The Trotskyist Faction — Fourth International is made up of the following organizations: Argentina: Party of Socialist Workers (PTS), Brazil: Revolutionary Workers Movement (MRT), Chile: Revolutionary Workers Party (PTR), Mexico: Socialist Workers Movement (MTS), Bolivia: Revolutionary Workers League (LOR-CI), Spanish State: Revolutionary Workers Current (CRT), France: Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR), which is part of the NPA (New Anticapitalist Party), Germany: Revolutionary Internationalist Organization (RIO), United States: comrades from Left Voice, Venezuela: Workers League for Socialism (LTS), Uruguay: Socialist Workers Current (CTS).

Sympathetic organizations have also signed this document: Italy: Revolutionary Internationalist Fraction (FIR), Peru: Socialist Workers Current (CST), and Costa Rica: Socialist Organization.

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Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International

The Fracción Trotskista—Cuarta Internacional (FT-CI) / Trotskyist Fraction—Fourth International (TF-FI) is an international tendency of revolutionary organizations.

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