The only things de-escalating are the lockouts and security measures. All dangers are escalating instead: dangers of epidemic resurgence, of being unemployed, of marching off to war…
All over the United States we are seeing how “deconfinement” is preparing an epidemic upsurge and a new slaughter. The Financial Times points out that the real risk is to go beyond the limit where the danger is concentrated on the workers and can even affect capital investments themselves. Because that’s what it’s all about: At first they sold us the prospect of herd immunity regardless of the fact that hundreds of thousands of people would die in order to achieve it. The goal, as Merkel recalled in the German Parliament this week, was not to prevent the massacre, but to “slow it down” so that the hospitals would not collapse, thus maintaining as much productive activity as possible. But now, prevalence studies in France and Spain show how far away from this herd immunity the countries are and how much it would cost in human lives: it would take 65% of the population to be infected or immunized against… but in France “only” 4.4% has been infected and in Spain 5%. How many lives has it cost and how many will it still cost?
The US offensive against China
And yet, with less labor power available for exploitation, the impact on capital is great. The dreaded horizon of a new financial crisis is looming, and imperialist tensions are increasing and taking new forms, polarizing around China and the US, which is on the offensive.
This week Trump asked himself in an interview on Fox what would happen if a total trade break with China were to be reached. He said, ” We’d save half a billion dollars.” So far, he doesn’t want to return to the trade war negotiating table, he is redirecting large public investment funds so as not to benefit his rival, and above all he is turning around the technology sector. For the time being, the Taiwanese TSMC, one of the biggest global manufacturers of computer components, will build a new factory in the US and Huawei, the Chinese leader in 5G will be harassed on all fronts: from new tariffs to a real blockade so that it cannot get the semiconductors it needs for its processes.
The Senate, on the other hand, approved a law to support the Uyghurs that is already an open attack on the interests of Chinese capital. And it is not only domestic policy. American negotiators made it clear to the British this week during the first trade agreement talks between the two countries: ” it’s either us or China“. Anyone who wants access to the US market cannot serve as a bridge for Chinese capital. Britain has immediately changed the laws regarding the acquisition of British companies by the Asian power’s capital.
What is even more important: this is not “Trump’s doings”, it is a consistent policy of American capital that will be maintained even if Trump loses the elections in November. Right now, Biden is trying to co-opt Sanders’ cadre to lead the transformation of the Democrats into a “green” protectionist party. The election result will depend in large part on their ability to do so in a credible way after the absence of universal health care – which Biden wants to solve only cosmetically – resulted in the deaths of tens and tens of thousands of people due to covid.
China is hesitating
Under Xi’s government a new generation of ultra-nationalist bureaucrats has risen to positions of power. They are called the “wolf warriors” after a famous Chinese militarist movie. They are the ones making headlines with angry responses to FBI allegations about the assault on servers engaged in Covid vaccine research in the US or about China’s expansion into the Arctic Ocean. They are still puppies and the old bureaucracy is reassuring them with pats and reminding them that it is ” too soon” to show such an assertive Chinese imperialism. But they are not alone. The military sectors are betting on an accelerated nuclear race to deter the US from military adventures in the China Sea. The US advances in space warfare and supersonic missiles give them increasing strength. And of course the growing tension in the South China Sea.
Everything is caught up in a sense of urgency as increasing instability in Asia directly harms China. India has launched a new plan to gain economic and supply independence from its neighbor and Australia was quick to align itself with the American accusations with the Covid… although it moderated them when it received a barrage of tariff retaliation from Beijing in response.
In the midst of this huge movement towards the formation of new imperialist blocs, the EU is trying to take advantage of the situation by squeezing China and threatening not to sign trade deals before the December deadline if it does not make new and substantial concessions. But the truth is that Europe is increasingly becoming a battleground instead of a proto-bloc as the German or French bourgeoisie would like to think.
The scandal of Sanofi’s declaration that the US would have priority if it succeeded in developing the Covid vaccine is a painful signal to the entire European bourgeoisie, who now discover that they gave too much autonomy to the big corporate bourgeoisie and feel their state capitalism weakened. Sanofi is, in the end, a French pharmaceutical company fattened on European subsidies and republican sinecures which, on the other hand, neither adequately protected its workers from the epidemic nor paid them the compensation common in France /a>. But what is more humiliating for French capital is that China feels in a position to veto its arms sales agreements with Taiwan. And to see countries like Hungary, Germany’s true economic satellites, align themselves with China anytime it suits them, causes no less concern in Berlin.
However, what is most distressing to European capital is the poverty of its own results: the Eurozone suffered the worst fall in GDP in its history, -3.8%. Seen from Brussels, this is a choice: give more oxygen to companies or gain an imperialist presence outside the continent. Because inside, European mechanisms ensure that the redistributive effect between regions is translated into transfers from the East and the South to the “nordist” countries, that is, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and the Nordic countries. The first measure of this can already be seen in Spain, where state credit guarantees are not driving the granting of credit by banks on the scale expected and where finance capital is driving up the pace of de-escalation to minimize damage to itself.
Because what must not be forgotten is that the transfer of income between countries is only a distorted result of a reality that goes beyond borders: the recovery of capital is based on the transfer of income from labor to capital in all countries, which is why the “Green Deal” and the “Ecological Transition” are in the forefront of de-escalation.
First warning to the workers: unemployment
The first warning of the general burden falling upon workers around the world is the brutal rise in unemployment. At the moment 42 million redundancies are being covered up under the temporary layoffs in Europe. In China the state apparatus is organized to manage a 10% unemployment rate. In Japan, where 22 million workers, 40% of the total, have no permanent jobs, unemployment is savagely biting 1,720,000 workers. In South Korea, these are the worst figures since 1990. And in the United States they already have 36 million unemployed.
This is not a short term situation. There will be neither a “V-shaped recovery” nor a “U-shaped one”, the weak Chinese recovery in April foretells a new Asian recession in the summer. In the US no substantial improvements are expected in the rest of the year. And in Europe, the plummeting of investments anticipates an even greater productive disaster than the one we are currently experiencing.
The most striking thing about the situation we are experiencing is that the fixed capital, the machinery, the facilities, are intact. Unlike during a war, the material capacities for transformation have hardly been reduced. Capital is devalued simply because it has not been able to exploit workers on its normal scale during confinement. It is its own mechanisms and inertia that turn it into a gigantic machine for the destruction of productive forces, the first and most important of which is the proletariat. We have seen it at the height of the pandemic, and we continue to see it in Brazil and Mexico, for example, in the struggle to bring, at whatever cost, the workers into the factory, even at the cost of their lives. But we also see it in the “de-escalation” in capitalism’s inability to produce anything other than unemployment and pauperization.
But if the “Covid strikes” understood very well what they were up against, the “deconfinement” strikes, no less massive and growing for example in France and Italy, do not seem to establish a clear relationship in their demands. Today it is urgent to incorporate into the struggles the slogan of “Work for all, unemployed and young workers”. And not as something merely declarative, as a good wish, but by including the reduction of working hours… while earning the same total wage irrespective of total hours worked.