This year’s May Day comes at a time of historic crisis. The spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the globe has brought about not only a medical crisis but also a deep social and economic one. It has never been clearer that we live in a global system: the virus has no borders and has spread internationally with dizzying speed, as has the economic catastrophe following in its wake. For decades, massive capitalist profits were guaranteed by transnational agreements that allowed the free flow of goods across borders, all while the flow and migration of people was hyper-policed. But this system is in crisis, and it’s not just the virus. Last year was a historic year of class struggle, with mass uprisings ousting leaders around the world, general strikes grinding economies to a halt and austerity plans being stopped.
With the working class being unable to continue to work as usual during the pandemic, there has been a deceleration — and even a stoppage — of global supply chains. The world capitalist system now faces a moment of reckoning.
The need for socialism has never been clearer.
Even the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world, has been ravaged by the pandemic. A for-profit healthcare system has now led to an unprecedented situation. With over a million people infected, the U.S. now leads the world in COVID-19 cases. Although politicians talk about the coronavirus as the great equalizer, working-class communities of color have borne the worst outcomes by far. Black and brown people, especially those in urban centers, already face worse health outcomes due to systemic racism within the healthcare system, and they are now falling sick and dying at higher rates from COVID-19.
In the United States, the economic effects of the crisis are devastating. In the last three weeks alone, over 26 million people have applied for unemployment. The government, with bipartisan support, continues to provide stimulus packages that predominantly benefit the capitalist class. The few crumbs that they have thrown at the working class, who have shouldered this crisis, are entirely insufficient. Meanwhile, sectors of the capitalist class continue to seek and amass wealth. In the same month that millions of working-class people in the U.S. lost their jobs, billionaires added $282 billion more to their combined wealth.
But while this economic and health crisis continues, U.S. imperialism continues as well, with bombs raining down on countries like Iraq and Somalia. Foreign debts hang over the heads of the Global South — debts that have not been eradicated even in the face of this humanitarian crisis. Sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran continue. In Iran, the virus has already hit with full force, and U.S. sanctions are keeping the Iranian population both hungry and sick. In Venezuela, the United States is currently attempting a slow-moving coup by literally starving the Venezuelan population in order to create enough discontent to oust President Maduro.
But imperialism has deep roots, and the Global South’s lack of healthcare preparedness is a direct result of imperialism and colonialism. In fact, countries in the Global South have had their healthcare systems systematically defunded and privatized as a result of pressure from the U.S.-led IMF and World Bank. Just last year, we saw an upsurge in class struggle in Haiti, Sudan, and Ecuador against IMF-sponsored austerity. But these uprisings were not enough to undo decades of neoliberal cuts and underfunding of public services at the behest of international organs. The results of this are clear: in Ecuador, body bags line the streets. Ten African countries don’t even have a single ventilator.
The coronavirus pandemic has not yet reached areas of the Global South in full force due to early lockdowns and likely due to lack of travel. If there are more cases, the situation will be even more catastrophic in the Global South than what we have already seen taking place in the imperialist centers of the world. But if the past month is any indicator, working people are beginning to realize their power. Front-line workers in healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, and logistics have stood up and organized against the hazardous conditions they’re forced to work in and have won concessions from their bosses. In the absence of the leadership of their unions, who would rather maintain the status quo, rank-and-file workers have organized sick-outs and wildcat strikes. In Italy, workers deemed essential staged a general strike. In the U.S., over 150 strikes or walkouts have occured in the past month.
The capitalists are already announcing that they are afraid. In the Washington Post, one writer declared that, “The most misleading cliché about the coronavirus is that it treats us all the same. It doesn’t, neither medically nor economically, socially or psychologically. In particular, Covid-19 exacerbates pre-existing conditions of inequality wherever it arrives. Before long, this will cause social turmoil, up to and including uprisings and revolutions.”
Given recent protests around the world, there may well be a new wave of class struggle on the horizon, in spite of COVID-19. As socialists in the belly of the imperialist beast that is the United States, we believe that any socialist organization fighting for the working class must put internationalism at its core. The U.S. capitalist system is built on imperialist expansion across the world. As U.S. capitalists continue to exploit cheap labor in countries in the Global South, the U.S. government, under both the Democratic and Republican parties, has used, and continues to use, trade treaties, debt, sanctions, and wars to keep countries under its thumb. From Palestine to Mexico, the working class and poor are oppressed for and by U.S. dollars.
Here are five key points we as socialists must use to root our internationalism:
1.Capitalism is international.
The global nature of supply chains has never been more apparent than during Covid-19. As Kim Moody explains, “Chinese makers of N95 masks connect with New York City nurses, Amazon fulfillment workers in Will County, Illinois, and with UPS drivers in Chicago. Railroad, trucking, and postal workers connect with just about everyone.” Exploitation is also international, with the same capitalists profiting from the labor of maquila workers in Mexico, Amazon workers in the U.S. and sweatshop workers in China. Around the world, workers are raising the same demands as a response to the crisis: safe working conditions and protective gear. Workers everywhere refuse to pay for this crisis.
2. U.S. socialists live in the belly of the beast. We are in a unique position to fight it.
The United States is the most powerful imperialist force in the word, as demonstrated by the bombs dropped, the debts imposed, and the coups instituted by Democrats and Republicans alike. Even progressive politicians like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez have voted for military budgets or supported “humanitarian aid.” But the U.S. also has a strong anti-war legacy, with youth and students fighting against the Vietnam War through massive mobilizations and direct action. The protests were part of the reason why the U.S. was forced to retreat in Vietnam. The U.S. working class can and should use its strength as a class to fight imperialism, as the Longshoreman strike did during the Iraq war.
In fact, it’s unlikely that any socialist revolution will be successful without massive amounts of solidarity, strikes, and radical actions to keep U.S. imperialist hands off the rest of the world.
It is vitally important that we link our struggle with the struggles of the working class and oppressed currently happening outside the U.S.— and that we always put ourselves on the side of the working class and oppressed. Some countries, while rightly denouncing U.S. imperialism, are also imposing capitalist austerity on the workers, as Maduro is currently doing in Venezuela. Therefore, we must align ourselves with the working class in opposition to those governments. We oppose the suppression of workers and oppressed even in countries whose governments denounce U.S. imperialism. The fight for socialism is for the international democratic self-organization of the working class and oppressed people.
3. We can learn from international socialists and their struggles.
Class struggle is igniting around the world. Recently, there was a general strike in Italy to fight unsafe working conditions during the coronavirus crisis. The struggles of those workers are struggles the entire international working class can learn from. We have goals like the fight against bigotry, against a union bureaucracy that stifles workers’ movements, and against political representatives who are not reflecting the interests of the working class and oppressed people. Exchanges of strategy and past history can enrich the entire class, and our efforts, and even our strikes, can be international.
4.Bigotry is international, so solidarity must be too.
Around the world, workers from oppressed sectors such as women and immigrants are paid lower wages and have less access to social services and fewer resources in their communities. This is why Trump has increased his racist rhetoric against Chinese people and immigrants: to deflect blame from the capitalists and to blame an ethnicity for the spread of the virus, rather than capitalist neglect. As we see in the United States, Brazil, and France, anti-immigrant, anti-Black, and anti-Asian bigotry are all props bankrolled by the wealthiest to divert attention away from the capitalists who are destroying jobs and impoverishing people. Patriarchy and the attacks on women and trans people are tools of the bosses.
We need an international socialist organization that organizes the most oppressed across borders. We need to recognize the ways that capitalism uses racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia to increase their profits. We need to build working-class fighters equipped to fight all oppression. The more linked up socialists are with oppressed struggles worldwide, the stronger the movement for a liberation from all forms of oppression becomes. Socialism, despite what detractors suggest, has always been part of the fight for the most oppressed, and revolutionary fighters of the oppressed have held high the red flag of socialism.
5. An international strategy against capitalism means building an international organization.
“Workers of the world unite” is not just a commemorative slogan. It’s a program for action, and that means building an international socialist organization. It means uniting socialist groups in countries around the world in a common program of struggle against the capitalist system. It means theoretical and political exchange among groups, as well as actions in solidarity. It means that we need to build international organizations just as much as we need to build national and local organizations.
Left Voice is part of an international organization, the Trotskyist Fraction, with groups in 14 countries around the world. We have an international network of websites that reach 12 million people around the world; we have members of Congress in Argentina and leaders in the feminist and labor movement. We have an international socialist feminist group, Bread and Roses, which organizes feminist workers and students and fights for strikes against patriarchy and sexism. We have organized a Black Marxist group in Brazil Quilombo Vermelho “Red Quilombo” to specifically combat the issues of racism, capitalism and imperialism in Brazil. But we need to build a much bigger international organization, with more countries and more people in each country.
If the crisis has taught us anything, it is that the working class does all of the real work in society. That’s why the capitalists are so obsessed with getting us back to work, despite the obvious health risks. And it has also shown us that this crisis has no borders: supply chains are global, travel is global, and viruses have no borders. The crisis has shown us the absolutely terrible effects of U.S. imperialism and the legacy of colonialism. That is why it is imperative for socialists to fight imperialism, learn from comrades abroad, and build an international socialist organization.
We invite you to our virtual rally this May Day. The rally, which will be streamed simultaneously across the Left Voice and the La Izquierda Diario network, will have speeches by workers who’ve been at the front lines of class struggle.
2 pm on May Day, 2020