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May Day 2020: The case for Independence and Socialism

Written by: Nick G. on 1 May 2020


The words “May Day” have two applications.  For Communists and supporters of the working class, it is the first day of the fifth month, a day when the working class gives practical expression to the Marxist slogan “Workers of the World, Unite!”

For mariners and aviators, repeating the words three times in succession over the radio expresses a life-threatening emergency.

It is a universally recognized distress signal.

We are confronted this year with the cancellation of most May Day activities because authorities everywhere have issued a distress call in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The distress call is valid. There is indeed an emergency. Governments are sacrificing the welfare of the people for “business sustainability”.

Draconian measures to restrict people’s movements and social contacts reflect not only socially necessary measures to deal with the pandemic, but also the very real fear of the so-called 1%, the ruling class, that the virus will jump class barriers and impact the rich.

The infection of Peter Dutton, a senior federal government Minister in Australia, and Prince Charles and Boris Johnson in the UK, justifies that fear.

When Engels wrote On the Condition of the Working Class in England in 1845, he said:

Capitalist rule cannot allow itself the pleasure of creating epidemic diseases among the working class with impunity; the consequences fall back on it and the angel of death rages in its ranks as ruthlessly as in the ranks of the workers.

The great social disease of poverty, on the other hand, is confined to the poor. Capitalists do not lie awake at night wondering how they would cope on the Newstart Allowance.

It is a disgrace that it has taken Covid-19 to see an increase in that Allowance after two decades in which it was frozen at unlivable levels.  The Single Youth Jobseeker fortnightly allowance still ranges from a miserable $253.20 to $462.50 (if you are forced to live away from a parent’s home).

Independence and socialism are our core demands

For the time being, we must accept drastic curtailment of mass contact. It will not last forever and we must be prepared to organise struggle around issues of health, as we must around issues like global warming and attacks on workers’ rights.

The time is right to raise the level of discussion about the failures of capitalism, and of the necessity for independence and socialism.

That’s a pretty big task and it will take more than a few sentences to make a convincing case.

We must have a genuinely independent economic and political system.

It must be based on the widest democracy for working people and restrictions on any residual powers and influences of the big local and overseas capitalist corporations. Their assets in this country need to be seized without compensation and brought under the control of a government led by the working class.
A socialist government would do a better job of anticipating social crises and developing local capacity for dealing with them. It could sustain initiatives that under capitalism could only operate if they generated profit.

This would include local independent manufacture and stockpiling of essential supplies which, in the case of health, would include expanded numbers of qualified personnel, medicines and associated medical supplies.

Right now, we are almost totally dependent on overseas manufacturers. 90 per cent of our medicines are produced overseas and we are seeing essential supplies like Ventolin disappearing from shelves. If toilet paper continues to be unavailable, we may have to buy Murdoch’s papers and put them to their proper use.

Warning signs ignored by all-consuming focus on profits

The warning signs of the pandemic were there.

Quite apart from a slew of academic papers on the topic, most of which would not have reached the general public but should have been known to bureaucrats in health departments, there have been mass market books like Stanford University biologist Nathan Wolfe’s The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, published in 2012. On May 15, 2017, the cover of Time magazine read: “Warning: We are not ready for the next pandemic”. Netflix has a US documentary called Pandemic: How to prevent an outbreak, made in 2019 before the Covid-19 outbreak, that claimed it was not a matter of “if” but of “when”. Many people, confined to their homes, are now watching it.

Capitalism failed to prepare for the bushfire catastrophe of 2019-20. It failed to prepare for the pandemic. The warning signs were ignored.

Capitalist neo-liberalism has seen medical services cut and/or privatised, reducing the capacity of health care systems to deal with a pandemic. 

Economists call this phenomenon a “grey rhino event”.

A grey rhino is a “highly probable, high impact yet neglected threat…grey rhinos are not random surprises, but occur after a series of warnings and visible evidence,” according to the US author who popularised the term.

Why are grey rhinos ignored? Because there is no profit in making preparations for them. Capital has no social conscience, but a very well-defined sense of smell for investment in areas of the highest return.

So, we need an independent capacity to properly prepare for various sorts of social crises, and we need to sever the relationship between finance capital and the profits to which it is addicted. A socialist system is more capable of placing people and their needs before profit, and to be driven under pressure from its working class and other supporters to have a social conscience.

Let the ruling classes of the world tremble at the Covid-19 pandemic. We hear their distress calls and watch their economies plunge into recession and Depression.

May Day reminds us that we are part of a global movement against imperialism, against fascism, against capitalism.

Workers of the World, Unite!

For Independence and Socialism!


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