Covid is an accelerator, not a brake

27 March, 2020

Strike of a General Electrics branch in Italy.

The crisis driven by the Covid-19 epidemic is hastening one by one the system’s contradictions. First the contradictions between national capitals that are fighting each other with increasing violence to secure their space in a post-epidemic world. But above all and across borders, between governments wanting to save investments and conduits of national capital at all costs and workers trying to assert through a worldwide wave of strikes the primacy of life and the most basic human needs.

The Colombian army patrols a town on the border with Venezuela.


The acceleration of inter-imperialist conflict is already being felt even in South America. Colombia militarized the border with Venezuela, in theory to stop the arrival of refugees who might suffer from Covid. But soon after, the Venezuelan government denounced a “Bay of Pigs” style operation organized by Colombian and U.S. military intelligence. This was followed by an accusation against Maduro in the U.S. for drug trafficking, that is, the insinuation of an invasion like that of Panama in 1989.

It is certainly not the only hot spot. China is accelerating its claims in the South China Sea. It is using more and more fishermen’s militias reinforced with the navy in a permanent wager. The United States, which has been arming anyone opposing China, responds to the Chinese advances by firing missiles from its warships. The situation is becoming increasingly dangerous and at any moment may give way to direct armed confrontations.

Conte and Sánchez last summer.


This military tension is the extreme result of a growing trend of inter-imperialist conflicts that is also accelerating, causing international cartels and trade alliances to be blown up in the first place. An immediate example: the OPEC’s blow-up. A further example is the European Union.

In Europe, the governments’ watchword is to “save companies at any cost” within their borders, while at the same time fighting for to lower said cost against the other states in the EU. Because let us not forget: the debate between Eurobonds and conditional credits is not only a debate about forms and volumes. The Eurobonds defended by Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Belgium and Ireland would mean an equal and relatively low cost of financing for all. The conditional financing via the ESM (European Stability Mechanism) that Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and the Nordic countries are trying to impose would mean significantly higher interest rates for the countries most affected… and a direct transfer of billions of euros of capital to Germany in the form of shifted attractiveness of investment. So vital is this battle for the national capital of the southern countries that, for the first time in decades, the Spanish media legitimize “anti-European” disaffection, a disaffection which was disqualified until yesterday. We are still far from Spexit… but the Spanish bourgeoisie wants to let us know that it no longer rules it out, although in principle it would prefer any other way out.

The tensions and skirmishes between the European imperialisms are serving at least to open up holes in the general rehearsal of war censorship that we are experiencing. If seeing the Spanish results were not enough for us, we could turn to the German press to discover the criminal ineptitude of the Sánchez government; to the Italian press to remind us that under the “German mystery” there is only a deliberate lack of victim and contagion protocols; and to the Spanish press to discover how the Dutch state organizes a mass crime in the purest eugenic style, by systematically not allowing the weakest to enter hospitals.

Argentina. The army takes control of La Matanza, Buenos Aires.


But trade wars, expansionism and military interventionism are only three, and surely the least constant, of all manifestations of imperialism. The intensified and constant struggle with other states for resources, access to markets and investment opportunities is only part of the global picture that defines imperialism. The concentration of capital, the formation of monopolies, the centralization of the economic and political leadership of national capital until the exacerbation of state capitalism, the tendency to directly control and organize the population, are its most constant manifestations. And all these elements, the clearest and most classic of what “inward” imperialism means, are shown in this crisis with a renewed harshness.

In Argentina, the organization of confinement in the working class neighborhoods turn into the establishment of militarized ghettos, regardless of whether the conditions of generalized substandard housing enhance, instead of curtail, the spread. In Portugal, transportation workers are practically militarized. In Israel, construction workers become “essential workers” and, most of them being Gazans, they are crowded by their employers into inhumane sleeping quarters because the borders are closed. When the army detects an infected person, they are sent back to the border crossings. In other words, the criminal two-handed system of exploitation between the Palestinian and Israeli bourgeoisies has automatically adapted itself to a new intensification of the most savage exploitation. In Kerala, India, population control reaches the point of forcibly removing the Tamil workers.

Call center workers on strike in Brazil.


But if the Covid crisis sharpens the conflicts between capitals and the increasingly anti-human and anti-historical character of the leadership of society by the bourgeoisie (what is called the “nation”), it also sets in motion the affirmation of its opposite through workers’ struggles.

Between last Sunday and this morning alone, we had recorded on our Telegram channel @huelga more than thirty strikes. These are only the tip of the iceberg: the ones we have found by reading international media. Many more, most of them, have escaped us. Many others are not even in the press. Many of them are “wildcat strikes”, that is, with the trade unions openly opposing them. The objectives were the same from Senegal to Brazil and from Italy to New Zealand: stop non-essential production to avoid further contamination and meet the basic needs of the whole population during the confinement.

Garbage collectors on strike in Pittsburgh.

We are in the middle of the most synchronous and geographically widespread wave of strikes and struggles in the last century. It shows to what extent universal, human needs can only be defended by the workers as a class, because only to the workers do they present themselves as their immediate and direct objective throughout the world. And what is no less important, it shows that we workers are capable of affirming a global alternative when we break with the subordination of our demands to companies’ profits, in other words, when we break with the discourse that unions have been hammering out for years and that they continue to repeat today from Cádiz to Detroit.

By imposing the lives and needs of all on companies’ priorities, by asserting that saving lives is more important than saving investments, the current strikes are not only denying the dictatorship of the profitability of capital over society in practice, they are affirming the urgent need to organize society for the satisfaction of human needs. That is why this wave of struggle is already a “real movement that cancels and overcomes the current state of affairs”. Whether it can develop from here, and after the epidemic, into its ultimate and necessary consequences, will depend very much on the ability of those of us who realize its profound significance to do so consciously among our own comrades and within our class as a whole.


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