Pandemic, Prejudice and Poverty: A Marxist Solution

Issue 34 Editorial by Ross Walker

Six months ago when we entered this new decade, nobody could have predicted that we’d be being propelled into the second half of 2020 by a worldwide mass #blacklivesmatter movement under the restrictions of the most global and paralysing lockdown in history. It would be foolish to attempt any accurate predictions of exactly what the rest of the year has in store for us, but what we can say for certain is that this period of instability has only just begun.

A Second Peak and Recession

In the middle of June, the World Bank predicted that the pandemic induced recession would be twice as bad as the 2009 recession with economic output expected to reduce in almost every country. We can already see this happening. In the UK for example, an economy very reliant on consumption, the retail sector saw a fall of 18% in April. The Tory government’s desperate and dangerous plans to get people working and spending again are unlikely to help in a sector which was in crisis even before the pandemic. 

The border provides no barrier to this with estimates that Scotland’s GDP has fallen by 18.9% and unemployment has reached a new high of 127,000. Tourism, which plays a crucial part of Scotland’s economy, has been badly hit by the pandemic. Marc Crothall of the Scottish Tourism Alliance described the industry as being at Ground Zero whilst Glasgow University’s economics professor, Ronald McDonald, said “We’ve seen predictions of employment being much worse in Scotland and I would think that is because we are disproportionately dependent on tourism and oil.”

Documents published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies in May indicate that the current lockdown strategy could push the national R value (denoting how rapidly the virus is spreading) to above 1, risking another peak, causing thousands more deaths and new lockdown as early as Autumn.

A second peak would worsen the looming recession. As was the case in 2008, it will hit the working class first and foremost through increased income tax, cuts to services, inflation and of course unemployment. Meanwhile, the billionaires are getting richer with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on track to become the world’s first trillionaire.

Class Consciousness and The Fight Against Oppression

The pandemic has created a dramatic shift in how society perceives low waged workers such as cleaners, refuse workers, delivery drivers, and caterers. People are very aware that it’s the working class as opposed to the bosses who are leading us out of this crisis. In other words, workers are becoming class conscious.

However some sections of the working class have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Those with already existing physical or mental health conditions are already facing an extremely difficult time as healthcare services become less accessible and healthy lifestyles are much harder to achieve due to the lockdown restrictions.

The pandemic has also brought to the surface the oppressive nature of the capitalist system. Millions of working class women have been forced back into the household and calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline have peaked. On top of this, access to reproductive services have been restricted due to a strained health service. 

The situation for many LGBT+ people has worsened with many being forced to spend more time with families regardless of how supportive they are. At the same time, the Tory government have pushed for further restrictions to the rights of trans people and migrants, cynically scapegoating already oppressed groups to distract from their own failures and to appeal to their reactionary base.

People are also becoming more aware of how women, BAME workers and migrants are proportionally more likely to be in key roles. This is important, as it significantly weakens the divide and rule tactics that politicians would traditionally use. Attempts to do so risk provoking serious anger, particularly from the youth, who are overwhelmingly and passionately opposed to bigotry in all its forms. 

The explosion of the #blacklivesmatter movement throughout the world has shown this. It has given the capitalist class and their cronies in governments a big fright, particularly in the US. However, as the movement has spread, this ruling class fear has also spread. In the UK, it has opened up a conversation about British imperialism, which the establishment is visibly uncomfortable with.

Empire and Establishment Exposed

The British establishment has always tried to emanate rays of peaceful civility and politeness. Using its mainstream media, politicians and its very selective state education history syllabuses, it buries its brutal history. However, the youth are beginning to dig this up, as it becomes clear that our towns and cities are covered by monuments to the slavery, exploitation, racism and imperialism on which the British bourgoisie built its wealth.

The toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol provoked many substanceless grumblings of reactionaries and also some pathetic condemnation of mob rule among some liberals. However for class conscious workers and youth it was a very proud moment which unleashed a powerful wave of solidarity. This genie cannot be put back in its bottle and will play a crucial role in the upcoming class struggles.

In the UK, this mood is compounded by the callous way in which the Tory government has handled the pandemic. The UK currently has the highest amount of excess deaths relative to  population in the world and it is clear to most of us that this is down to decades of NHS cuts, substandard housing, privatisation, and a series of decisions made in order to protect profits from the effects of lockdown. 

The revelation that Dominic Cummings traveled from London to Durham carrying COVID-19, whilst the rest of us were restricted from seeing relatives, has not been forgotten. The sight of Cummings arrogantly defending his actions had people spitting blood and it showed that Tory party has seriously underestimated the anger building up in the population.

The patriotic mood which dominated the first months of the pandemic is in the process of turning into its opposite. The ritual Thursday night clap for the NHS started off as a genuine class conscious show of appreciation for key workers, but was quickly hijacked by the same politicians responsible for the hellish situation that health workers face. This hypocrisy hasn’t gone unnoticed. Unfortunately for these politicians, the pandemic has brought a new level of political consciousness as previously apolitical people scrutinise the actions and words of their politicians.

Fight the Far Right

Of course it hasn’t all been a sea of red flags. The far right have come out of hiding in opposition to the BLM movement. In Scotland this has typically been coupled with religious sectarianism, with loyalist mobs forming counter protests to ‘protect statues’ and at one point attacking a small refugee solidarity protest in Glasgow. This is no doubt a serious issue, particularly for ethnic and religious minorities as well as trade unionists and left wingers. who have been and will continue to be targeted by these groups.

However the size of the far right is relatively pitiful and could easily be pushed to the side if the trade union leaders did their duty and mobilised the organised working class on the streets to oppose them. Instead the STUC released a statement saying “Police need to respond immediately and effectively to these provocations and deny far-right groupings access to public spaces including George Square. Courts likewise should deny bail to those who are charged with aggravated public order offences.”

It seems that our union leaders have forgotten our own history. The far right have never been defeated by the police or the courts. In fact often they are assisted by these pillars of the capitalist state which over the years have been systematically used against left wingers and trade unionists. The far right can only be defeated by the organised working class. 

In the 1930s the blackshirts were stopped by mass mobilisation of trade unionists, socialists, communists and local Jewish groups, most famously in the battle of Cable street in London but also elsewhere such as Govanhill in Glasgow. In the 70s and 80s, the National Front were chased off the streets using similar methods and the most successful recent anti EDL/SDL demonstrations have been those which had the most active grassroots and trade union involvement willing to defy police orders.

A Weakness of Leadership

This neglect of duty is not limited to tackling the far right. The unions have the finances, activists and organisational resources to organise non unionised workers and prepare us for a militant struggle against unsafe working practices, unemployment and capitalism in general. Instead they’re currently trying to appeal to the Tories to work with the unions to save jobs, with Unite’s Len McClsukey urging Rishi Sunak not to turn too far to the right (i.e. telling Tories not to be Tories).

With 100,000 new members and a 500% increase in visits to the TUC website, it is clear that workers are looking towards our unions to protect us against the effects of the recession and to achieve safe working conditions. Our union leaders must lead a militant struggle or will, in time, be pushed aside by new leaders who are willing to do this.

Our political representatives have been even more feeble. It is telling that Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford’s appeal to keep school vouchers was able to force more concessions than months of Starmer’s “forensic opposition”. Starmer’s condemnation of the illegal methods used to top the Colston statue highlighted a strong disconnection with Labour’s base and also an ignorance of where the party came from. If it weren’t for the illegal and militant mass actions of trade unions throughout history the party would not exist.

South of the border, the party still has a significant left wing membership who are determined to resist the return to the “centre ground.”The battle is not over but for now the party is unlikely to lead any militant struggle against capitalism. Starmer’s sacking of left wing Rebecca Long Bailey from the cabinet combined with his inaction over the leaked sabotage report shows his supposed aim of bringing party unity was nothing but a trick to secure votes of left wingers temporarily confused in the aftermath of the election defeat.

Obviously, feeling bold, on the same day Starmer declared the party’s unconditional opposition to indyref2, a position which could only appeal to the most ardent of unionists and which doesn’t reflect the party’s membership and voters either side of the border. This will only make things much easier for the SNP who are way ahead in the polls.

For a Scottish Workers’ Republic

The Holyrood SNP government have been portraying themselves as a the more “social democratic” party who seem to base themselves on scientific advice rather than naked class interests of Johnson’s government. As well as introducing certain lockdown measures first such as the banning of mass gatherings, they are also easing the lockdown slower. However, the job of looking sensible and scientific is made a lot easier when contrasted to the likes of Johnson and Cummings. The reality on the ground is that the pandemic hasn’t been much less disastrous in Scotland than it has been throughout the rest of the UK.

Marxists give no illusions to the SNP leaders who are, in essence, pro-capitalist liberals. This was highlighted by the Growth Commission vision for an independent Scotland, written in 2018 by Edinburgh financiers and party bureaucrats. This report, clearly aimed at attracting the capitalist class, called for reduced spending deficits and a ‘business friendly’ environment. 

These free market ideas will be much harder to sell to a pandemic hardened population who’ve seen first hand the effects of stripped public services and the completely counterproductive role of the capitalist class in this pandemic. An independent Scoltand on a capitalist basis offers no way out and this harsh truth will sooner or later call a halt to the SNP’s easy ride.

The SNP is a contradictory party and much of the membership are to the left of the leaders and oppose the Growth Commision. The party reflects the 2014 independence movement which was a mass campaign propelled by class consciousness against the austerity, corruption and warmongering of Westminster, and for a fairer society. 

This desire has not gone away. Earlier in the year, before the lockdown started, a mass independence march provoked by December’s election results took place in Glasgow to which “Tories out” was one of the major slogans. This mood is only likely to further radicalise as we come out of lockdown. The Marxist demand for a Scottish Workers’ Republic as a stepping stone for a World socialist revolution will gain traction.

The Need for a Revolutionary Party

We are entering a period of intensified class struggle. Many are already drawing revolutionary conclusions. What is currently lacking is a revolutionary party, a mass party with a bold socialist and internationalist programme. A party which can channel the revolutionary energy of the masses and use it to overthrow capitalism, creating the basis for a world where uncontrollable pandemics, racism, oppression and poverty are things of the past. 

In the first half of 2020, throughout the world, the International Marxist Tendency experienced a huge growth in applications for membership as many more people instinctively realise the need for such an organisation.

At Revolution Scotland we are recruiting and educating comrades in Marxist theory who can build in every workplace, street, campus and union. We’re confident this can be done but we need your help. If you believe in our ideas, join the IMT today and help us create a socialist world that the working classes both need and deserve.