Roar writer and Marxist Society president Manon Powrie reflects on the political nature of the COVID-19 pandemic in the debate for and against capitalism.
Many students at King’s will be severely affected by this pandemic and its repercussions in the years to come. The fatal errors made by the Tories at the beginning of the crisis, notably “herd immunity”, have led to avoidable deaths. Many are recognising this; with the Sunday Times, for instance, concluding “Britain sleepwalked into disaster”. Instead of viewing this as an ‘honest mistake’ in an unprecedented crisis, a Marxist analysis leads to the conclusion that the accumulating contradictions of capitalism express themselves during the pandemic.
It is no surprise that “Britain sleepwalked into disaster”, then, when elitist ministers feature prominently in government, backed by big business. The Tories are out of touch with the needs of the working class at decisive moments because they endeavour to ensure profits are maintained. It rapidly became clear to the Tories, however, that it is impossible to keep business running as usual whilst a crisis of this proportion unfolds.
Tory austerity has left the NHS in an extremely precarious position. Boris Johnson has scrambled to stress that each individual has a role to play in ensuring the NHS is not overwhelmed. This seems a laughable attempt to divert the blame onto the public and off the backs of the Tories consistently underfunding the NHS and allowing resources to dwindle over time. The fact that there were not enough ventilators at the beginning of the crisis goes to show the extent to which the NHS is ill-prepared for serious health crises. If the economy were democratically planned by workers, resources could be provided on the basis of need and not profit. Ironically, it is under capitalism that we experience the scarcity apparently symptomatic of socialism.
With the Tories pressing for business-as-usual, numerous strikes have been held protesting unsafe working conditions. In London, at least 15 bus drivers have died, with many complaining that bosses have done nothing to protect workers from the virus. Yet despite previously being labelled as “low-skilled”, these workers are among the most essential; they are ensuring the continual running of society. Where would we be without retail workers in supermarkets working tirelessly to ensure the public has access to enough food?
Those who oppose Marxism often claim that capitalism can be reformed to work for everyone. However, the recent Labour leadership election and leaked report go to show the extent to which the ruling class maintains a grip on parliamentarianism. Corbyn was hardly a Marxist, yet he was too radical for capitalists who do not want basic reforms, fearing they could lead to more radical ideas in general society. In turn, the right-wing of Labour sought to sabotage his role within the party. This has paved the way for Kier Starmer’s election. He is an establishment figure; his strong hints that he would offer his services to the Tories by joining a ‘national government’ clearly shows what side he is on.
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