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What the coronavirus exposed

2020-02-28 | Global News

A few minutes ago, the NATO Secretary General announced that Turkey had invoked Article 4 of the NATO treaty and that the military organization would be holding an emergency meeting. The possibility of having the alliance that structured the US bloc during the cold war enter into action for the first time at the request of a member state follows a military escalation between Turkey and Russia and, last night, the opening of Turkey's European borders to refugees seeking asylum in Europe. This is the highlight of a week in which the consolidation of Sanders as the Democratic primary favorite and the arrival of the coronavirus epidemic in Europe have been the two major global issues of the week. In this blog we highlight the revolt of the Greek islands in the Aegean against the construction of Euro-internment centers for foreigners in which to lock up refugees. But this week at least three more stories need to be told: the new nuclear arms race, the escalating violence of the negotiations between Britain and the EU, and above all the reality that the threat of a pandemic has exposed around the world.

Further reading in Spanish

The new nuclear arms race

Iskander missile

The global context in which the Russian-Turkish crisis is unfolding is certainly not a reassuring one. On Wednesday, the UN Commissioner for nuclear disarmament warned that "the spectre of an unbridled nuclear arms race is threatening the world for the first time since the 1970s", warning against the proliferation of a "faster and stealthier" generation of nuclear weapons.

It can hardly be exaggerated; on the same day we learnt that the US simulated a limited nuclear war with Russia last week. And "limited" is what is really dangerous in that expression: the new nuclear doctrine that is being established considers that "escalate to de-escalate" is legitimate and that therefore the use of nuclear weapons does not necessarily lead to a total nuclear conflagration.

The threat of a "Hard Brexit" is back

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The truth, however, is that every day we see an increase in imperialist tensions at all levels. In the European institutions, the week's news is that Britain threatened to withdraw from negotiations with the EU in June. Johnson's statement was the culmination of a process in which the British and the Continentals have drawn their red lines for the negotiations that will begin in a week's time. What had to establish the ground for agreement ended up demonstrating a "course of confrontation".

It was inevitable. On the one hand, the EU tightened its standard rule for negotiating from a tougher position. It adopted the French demand to ensure that the British would not be able to access the European market without complying with EU rules, thus gaining advantages due to the lack of UK regulation. Barnier's roadmap includes the requirement of no subsidies to industry as well as non-tariff barriers to UK agricultural and livestock production (using unregulated pesticides, hormones, treatments etc.). This would "seriously hamper" the agreement that Great Britain is negotiating with the USA and through which it tries to compensate for the inevitable cost of Brexit.

In fact, playing within a political and commercial space between the European powers and the United States is becoming increasingly difficult. Brexit has been above all a reorientation of British imperialism towards a realignment with the US that is increasingly aggressive towards its former European partners. It is difficult for suspicions not to escalate when imperialist interests are increasingly divergent. Who can be surprised that Le Monde this week headlined "Brexit negotiations: London ready for anything against the EU"?

What the coronavirus revealed

Coronnavirus budget of Japan (left), USA, Singapour and Hong Kong.

The coronavirus epidemic is revealing halfway around the world the fracture between the false serenity of official speeches and the reality of an economy torn apart by ailing capitalism. The very origin of the epidemic is the gigantic but officially invisible wildlife farming industry that has grown up under the protection of the Chinese regional bureaucracy, which encouraged it for years, despite knowing the dangers involved, as a way of alleviating the constant impoverishment of the peasants. It is not surprising that the epidemic is undermining the credibility of state propaganda and that the state is trying to uproot any outbreaks of critical talk.

Evolution of Health centers in Japan

But no less exposed are the other powers. In Japan, the number of health centers has been declining for decades and the stagnation of the political apparatus has kept the budgets for dealing with the epidemic at a minimum. While Abe this week proposed the closure of schools from March, nothing was done to fill the giant gaps in a health system that had been dynamited for years. And we saw something not much different in the United States: this week Trump refused to approve funding to fight the coronavirus unless the Democrats allowed him to cut back on programs to combat poverty.

Soya crop in Argentina

Another truth exposed by the first economic manifestations of the epidemic is the semi-colonial nature of the exporting countries of South America.

In Chile, the peso fell due to the prediction of a drop in demand for copper from China. The peso is the sixth fastest falling currency in the world and the third among the "emerging" countries. In Argentina, sales of frozen meat to the Asian giant fell by 30% from December to January and soybeans saw their prices fall even more than expected. The national capital, trapped in the renegotiation of the debt with the IMF, has no other expectation than to order a rise in withholdings, that is, to suffocate to the limit the only relevant export sector it can count on. And it cannot even be said that this is a novelty; this is the thirtieth time in 62 years. The trap in which Argentinian capital finds itself is not a temporary one. It is the manifestation of the impossibility of its independent development as national capital.

Further reading in Spanish

Demonstration in support of Bolsonaro demanding a military coup.

And of course, the situation is not different in Brazil, with the real at a low and the stock markets falling. But everything is well covered by a financial bourgeoisie reconciled with Bolsonaro's obscene evangelical brutishness through "reforms" that are increasingly vicious attacks on workers' conditions.

Bolsonaro's last was to support an ultra demonstration against the Congress that encouraged him to self-coup. The press made a fuss and put the spotlight on the trio of "Olympic" officers, so named because they were responsible for organizing the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Azevedo in defense, Ramos in presidency and Netto in the "civil house" form one of the axes of military power headed by Vice President Mourao. In the face of the media scandal, Lula and the PT began to discuss an "impeachment" behind closed doors, but they realized that there was no wiggle room: nor is there support among financial capital, which wants to continue to wind up Guedes, the minister of economy, and for that it needs to maintain Bolsonaro, not even among a good part of the petty bourgeoisie which, although disgusted with the coup tendencies of the president, is delighted with his militarist responses to the episodes of state decomposition in the Northeast.

There was no shortage of obscenities in Europe that had nothing to envy Trump or Bolsonaro, from the discussion of an "anti-viral national unity government" in Italy to those who celebrated the drop in Chinese emissions due to the epidemic. It was Germany, however, with that form of obscenity so characteristic of the local bourgeoisie, that set the tone for the continent by "discovering" the danger of the internationalization of the production chains themselves. The truth is that almost half of the European companies in China expect a 20% drop in profits and insist that the risks are added to those of the trade war.

The reality: the whole of Europe, and especially Germany, is in an industrial recession that is pushing towards a general recession and is hampering the ability to introduce technical innovations in traditional industries such as machine tools or the automobile... since before the first outbreak of the epidemic. The epidemic in China is adding to the risks of Germany's own difficulties and trade war. The horizon of a re-nationalization of production chains is becoming increasingly clear. And the imposition of facts is beginning to dress up shamelessly as virtue in public debate.

And while we all fear that the years of erosion of the public health systems - in Greece and Italy, but also in France, Spain and even Germany - will turn the epidemic, if it spreads, into chaos, quietly, in the midst of the deafening media noise, we are reminded that private health insurance does not cover the coronavirus for its clients. Just in case we ever think that their "alternatives" might actually protect us from something.

Further reading in Spanish

In summary

Russian bombings in Idlib.

From the workers' point of view, this week's summary leads us to insist that the dismantling of public health services by the states over the last two decades now puts us all, and especially the workers, at risk. "Contingency plans" for a possible pandemic do not even take into consideration the need to restore what has been destroyed, and it is doubtful that, in the event of a real extension of the epidemic, they will even be able to respond efficiently.

As we finish writing this report, NATO's Secretary General announced that the organization will meet urgently at the request of Turkey, the first member state to invoke Article 4 of the treaty obliging members to defend others from attack by a third party. The Russian "response" has been to send the navy to the Syrian coast. The Russian press is already speculating about a realignment of Turkey with the US and the imposition by NATO of a no-fly zone. For the time being, all sides are trying to hold the escalation at the boundaries of the conflict and Syrian territory. But there is no guarantee that it will continue within that framework if Russian and NATO forces are engaged in combat.

Once again, what has been a slow degradation, a long rise in imperialist tensions and armed friction, becomes in just a few hours a threat to millions of workers. This is not so different from the long process of dismantling the health services that has been "suddenly" exposed in the face of the danger of a pandemic. In neither case can capital and its states be expected to know how to "contain" themselves. A new million refugees who are now fleeing in miserable conditions towards the borders of the EU can tell us about it.

The only thing that can stop the disaster in which capitalism is manifesting itself with ever more brutality and in ever more facets is the struggle of the workers. The fight for health and pension systems in accordance with people's needs is the real defense against current and future epidemics. The struggle against the sacrifices demanded by the state and "the economy" is the only real obstacle the war will encounter. The most dangerous and constant enemies of human needs and life are within each country and are neither the viruses that come "from outside" nor the armies of neighboring countries.