Crisis tears up neoliberal rule book

CAPITALISM ISN’T THE CURE: only state-directed mass collective action has the capacity to contain and defeat Covid-19

by Ken Ferguson

· Inevitably, this Voice is largely devoted to the planetary Covid-19 crisis and its impact on workers, communities, economics and indeed our entire capitalist market economy, which we have been told for decades was all-wise, all-seeing and omnipotent.

Those who, in the face of a blizzard of such propaganda bravely stood for an alternative were labelled dreamers at best or fools.

Now, as the world goes into social and economic lockdown, and money and resources formerly supposed not to exist are deployed to meet the pandemic, we are surely entitled to ask—who’s the fool now?

The high priests of the neoliberal cult who are largely responsible for the unjust, unequal profit-driven and planet-trashing world we now all inhabit are now strangely silent apart from the odd voice, reported elsewhere in this paper lauding the advantages of C19 culling the elderly.

It is now sky written for the world to see that only state-directed mass collective action which junks all the conventional wisdoms of orthodox capitalism has the capacity to contain and ultimately defeat the C19 peril.

Of course, despite poor attempts to invoke unity of the 80-year-old Dunkirk and Battle of Britain myths, it is clear by their foot-dragging that the free market-mad Tories have been forced to accept the reality of collective action which sticks in their craw.

Workers at the forefront
Workers who were denigrated for years as public sector slouches and unfavourably compared to the supposed superheroes of capitalism are now are now at the forefront of the grim struggle to defeat C19, and this in turn starkly illustrates the centrality of the working class in keeping us all secure and safe.

However it would be naive in the extreme that those who have, for decades, amassed fabulous wealth from today’s brutal economic order will be convinced even by a global pandemic to see the error of their ways and embrace a just alternative.

Even as they dump all the supposedly holy books on money, public spending and so forth, they are of course protecting public health but also doing so with every intention of reinstating the globalised market set up which made the pandemic possible.

What the current crisis has done is to raise the lid on the neoliberal brew and in a myriad of ways brought its real consequences to the foreground of the lives of millions in a way which sharply illustrates the reality of the impact it has on their own lives.

One sharp example is the inability to supply protective equipment, not just to NHS staff but to a broad range of key services, from retail workers to posties, all of whom perform vital roles. Why is this so when even the dogs in the street have known for weeks that C19 was coming? One explanation offered by a spokesman was that they are mostly made in China and the factory has been in C19 lockdown!

From the exposure of the pitiful levels of benefits available under sick pay and the jungle faced by those now forced to claim Universal Credit, to the sudden dramatic discovery of ultra-vulnerable street homeless now being found hotel beds, the cruelty inflicted on thousands is laid bare.

Another world is possible
For socialists then, the key question is after the defeat of C19, what then? Do we return to the old ways or can we use the experience of collective effort to chart a way to a people and planet-based world?

Much has been made of the experience of World War 2 in this context, with the suggestion that somehow we moved seamlessly from misery of the ‘30s depression via Dunkirk, Spitfires and D-Day to a just world and a welfare state.

It wasn’t like that then and it wont be like that now. If the experience of collective industrial and military effort defeated Hitler, the fruits of that victory were only won in hard, sharp struggle. A defeated Tory party which had equated socialist ideas with a Gestapo state fought tooth and nail against change.

Perhaps most notably, despite their present day rhetoric, they opposed the NHS to the extent that Nye Bevan, when asked how he won doctors to the idea, replied, “I stuffed their mouths with gold.”

Poverty, austerity, climate
Of course, the priority of the moment is the safety and health of both those in the front line of the C19 battle, and more widely the care of all our friends, families and neighbours, as the search for cures and a vaccine goes on.

However, the reality is when C19 is contained or defeated, 250,000 Scottish kids will still be living in poverty, five million will be in insecure work and all still face the impact of years of austerity.

Although it has been slightly abated by the industrial shutdown, the climate crisis still looms, and time to deal with it shortens day by day.

We may now be at one of those rare moments when mass events impact the minds of millions, and what was impossible is now the obvious thing to do.

The core of dealing with this crisis will be collective action, and that some approach needs to be applied to solving our everyday problems and changing the world.

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