Eight months into the global coronavirus pandemic, any pretence of the world settling into a stable “new normal” has been shattered. After a summer of lockdown and a brief period of “re-opening”, the fundamental crisis has not been solved. As the spread of coronavirus accelerates, so does the political, social and economic crisis of capitalism.
In Europe, the United States and elsewhere, the COVID-19 virus is running out of control. The second wave is here, and most scientists predict it will be worse than the last. Combined with the Winter season and a re-doubled reluctance to impose strict national lockdowns among the political representatives of the capitalist class – for the sake of protecting their immense riches – we once again face the threat of rising deaths and overloaded healthcare systems.
The NHS has already been pushed to near breaking point. Even with upwards of 650,000 routine and planned procedures cancelled or delayed, the chronic shortages of staff and resources means healthcare workers are over-exposed and under-prepared to deal with a new wave of infections. Already in Manchester and other parts of the north of England hospitals are running out of beds for the critically ill and figures show an increase in deaths from non-COVID-related conditions like diabetes and cancer.
Mistakes or Malice?
The UK’s response to the pandemic has been a deadly mix of Tory incompetence and the cumulative effects of decades of austerity cuts to the NHS. The saga of the test-and-trace system has been telling, with the system barely operational in the hands of outsourced private-sector for-profit providers like Serco.
The total absence of test-and-trace at the start of the pandemic necessitated a complete shutdown of society in order to reduce the viral reproduction rate, and just as the R-number had been suppressed and the Tories were boasting about testing numbers (apparent or real), the system failed disastrously.
Swamped by the second wave, it is clear to all that the Tory government has been criminally negligent in preparing for the inevitable. Moreover, the rushed and abortive re-opening efforts, as well as the constant confusion over what restrictions apply where, and for whom, means confidence and trust in Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and the rest is at an all-time low.
Attempting to shift the blame, students and young people were accused of spreading the virus through reckless behaviour. The evidence provided was the disproportionate increase in cases among young people, rather than any proof of non-compliance with the rules. These disproportionate increases are more likely due to young people being more exposed to viral transmission, through working in retail and hospitality sectors or being sent back to school and university.
Are we to forget that it was the Tories that insisted on schools fully re-opening and encouraged millions of people to socialise through the ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme?
In England, 46% of schools say they have had to send pupils home to self-isolate because of coronavirus outbreaks. In Scotland, 10% of new coronavirus cases come from University students living in student halls, many of whom are now isolated in squalid accommodation blocks.
This is after University chancellors and administrations advised students to take up places in University accommodation, luring them in with misleading promises of “blended learning” before swiftly moving all teaching online. No wonder so many felt conned and cheated, rightly suspicious of many Unis’ financial interests in multi-million pound property portfolios.
Universities deny that their primary concern is collecting the rent, but that fact that most attempted to fill their accommodations to 100% capacity with no apparent consideration given to the obvious risk of COVID outbreaks shows otherwise. The threat of rent strikes and cancellation of tenancies from students forced Glasgow University to offer a rent rebate, and no doubt others will also be forced to make this concession.
Unable to control the spread of infection with rigorous mass-testing and contact-tracing, the emergency reflex of sharply imposing local lockdowns in areas with high R-numbers has now been codified into a three-tier system.
Already, however, the “One Nation” philosophy of Boris Johnson and his clique is being pulled apart at its weakest links. Manchester and many constituencies in the North are in open rebellion against being forced into the highest-tier restrictions, potentially devastating local economies, without much corresponding Government support.
Similar disputes have emerged across Europe, with courts in Berlin and Madrid frustrating efforts by the German and Spanish Governments to create local restrictions. As of the time of writing, Liverpool, Lancashire and Manchester are under Tier-3 restrictions, with other areas of the North soon to follow.
Labour Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham, who forced the Government into last-minute talks over extra financial support for the city, is joined by unlikely allies in Tory MPs representing Labour’s former “Red Wall”. Naturally, the Government accuses Labour of trying to make political hay out of the situation, but it has also caused further splits within the Tory ranks.
Before the introduction of the tiered system the Prime Minister faced a backbench rebellion in Parliament over coronavirus measures. Now, Tory MPs in the South-East of England have kindly asked that their colleagues in the North allow their constituencies to be sacrificed in order to avoid a national lockdown and preserve the interests of the home counties.
With infection numbers still rising even in areas with extra restrictions, it is not clear that a system of local lockdowns is even going to be effective at curbing the pandemic. The idea of a planned, short-term national lockdown or “circuit break” has grown in popularity. The Government’s scientific advisory group, SAGE, is reported to have advised this action at the start of September but were ignored.
The devolved government in Wales has decided to implement this strict “fire break” lockdown, and schools in Northern Ireland were closed for two weeks. The question now hangs over Nicola Sturgeon, if Scotland will follow suit. The First Minister insists that she will continue to take a “four nations” approach, following the measures being implemented by the Tories, within the devolved competence of Holyrood.
This does not mean that the tension between Holyrood and Westminster that has built up over the recent years has dissipated, however. The SNP decries the Tories’ “internal market” plans for post-Brexit UK as a power-grab, reserving powers repatriated from the EU to Westminster, rather than devolving them to Holyrood.
In the hands of the Tories, these powers will be used to put a downward pressure on trading standards, environmental regulations and workers rights, in order to make “Global Britain” more competitive on the world market. In practice this means a trashing of workers’ living standards to guarantee the profit margins of the capitalist class.
Despite the SNP leaders’ single-minded focus on fighting the pandemic, the demands for action on Independence continue to grow. Support for Independence is at historic highs, with polling throughout 2020 showing a clear majority, and a recent poll showing 58% support. This is right around the 60% mark that Sturgeon and others have cautiously sought before committing to a new referendum.
The crisis unleashed by the pandemic has only strengthened the resolve of the Independence movement and broadened its base. The Scottish Trades Union Congress will debate a motion in November over whether to support, in principle, an Independence referendum should the SNP win a majority in the 2021 Holyrood elections. Only seven months away, it looks as though this is a near-certainty.
This shift is brought on by pressure from below – the majority of motions submitted to this years’ STUC are apparently about the national question – and could signal a turning point in the Scottish labour movement. The STUC claims to have always supported self-determination, but this motion will put that support in concrete terms. It will also openly contradict the position of the Scottish Labour Party, whose embattled leader Richard Leonard insists on going into the 2021 election with the policy of opposing any new referendum.
For the past decade, the trade unions have been caught in the inertia of their bureaucratic leaderships. There have been some signs of life, with teachers, lecturers and other public sector workers striking in defence of their pay and conditions. What the labour movement must be prepared for, however, is the all-out assault on workers being prepared by the capitalist class.
Paul Holmes’ campaign for General Secretary of Unison, which Revolution Scotland proudly supports, has the potential to shake one of the biggest unions out of its inertia. Holmes is a dedicated socialist and rank-and-file trade unionist, promising to reject the six-figure salary that comes with the job and arm the union with a fighting programme.
Trade Unionists are already being victimised for representing the interests of workers, as they are asked to make extraordinary sacrifices in order to protect businesses from the economic downturn. Richie Venton, a shop steward at IKEA Glasgow, is still fighting for reinstatement after being fired for warning workers about planned cuts to sick pay. The defence campaign continues to picket IKEA stores across the UK, demanding his job back and a reversal of the bosses’ cuts.
With the furlough scheme ending and Government support for “non-viable” jobs being withdrawn, millions of workers will be facing unemployment in a matter of weeks. The Tories make the ridiculous offer of re-training cultural and Arts workers for jobs that do not exist, while millions of young people begin to identify with a “COVID generation” that has no prospect of beginning a serious career.
In the period to come, industrial struggles of the working class for jobs and a liveable income will become paramount, especially as the situation will only be exacerbated by Britain crashing out of the EU without any plan.
Boris Johnson claims we’ll have an “Australia-style” deal, which is in fact no deal at all. It will be based on the “principles of free trade” that no advanced capitalist country would willingly adopt, if it can be avoided. Tariffs and supply-line interruptions threaten to push up the cost of living. Poverty, bankruptcy and unemployment would become Britain’s biggest imports.
The ruling class of Britain are headed for catastrophe. Mere incompetence – whether fighting the pandemic or saving jobs – is no excuse. Rather, the dire situation we are in is a product of the insoluble contradictions of the capitalist system itself.
The international picture is one of intractable crises, with explosions of working class rage happening in one country after another. Just as the pandemic has spread across the planet, so too are the seeds of revolution being planted. The rule of the bourgeoisie reveals its bankruptcy with every wave of infection and unemployment. Every worker who fights back discovers their own strength, as a part of their class.
As the leading bodies of the International Marxist Tendency concluded in September 2020, the world is in a prolonged crisis that will evolve and solidify the consciousness of the masses, and present the opportunity to build the forces of world revolution:
“This process has undoubtedly begun. That is a most important fact. But the beginning of a process is only that. In order for this process to mature and develop its full extent, it will be necessary to pass through a series of experiences, since it is only from experience that the masses can learn. And learn they will. The end result is not yet in sight.
“Marxists are patient people. We do not mind if the process takes a little longer, for the simple reason that we are not yet ready. People are now more open to our ideas than at any other time. There is a clearly anti-capitalist mood developing everywhere. Our ideas are seen as relevant because they accurately reflect the real situation.
“The objective conditions for world socialist revolution, as Trotsky pointed out, are not only ripe, but rotten ripe. But in addition to the objective conditions, the subjective factor is also necessary. Our task is to build that factor.”
That subjective factor means a hardened revolutionary proletarian core, steeled in the ideas and methods of Marxism, prepared to lead the working class to victory. You will find no better alliance of workers and youth striving to build that cadre than the International Marxist Tendency. We appeal to you to join us.