Statement by International Socialist Alternative, the international socialist organisation to which the Socialist Party in Ireland is affiliated to.
Five Reasons To Fight for a Socialist World in 2020
Five reasons to join the ISA.
May Day – International Workers’ Day this year has a special significance at a time when the world is in the grip of the Coronavirus and facing perhaps the worst economic crisis for a hundred years.
Even before the virus hit, a wave of strikes and protests had swept through every continent in protest at austerity, authoritarian rule and even, in the US, for decent levels of pay. Now, with Corona, the real nature of modern class-based society has become exposed for all to see.
The original demands of May Day, International Workers’ Day, which started more than a century ago, centred around the 8-hour day, international workers’ solidarity and peace, remain as relevant today. The capitalist system has increasingly shown itself incapable of taking society forward.
International Socialist Alternative (ISA – until January known by the name CWI) calls on all worker and socialist activists to participate in whatever way possible in Covid-19 conditions in marking 1st May, to demonstrate international workers’ solidarity. Given the situation now, we need more than ever to present an alternative to capitalism. These are five reasons why we think Socialism is the way forward:
Number one: Socialism would have prepared for the Corona Crisis!
The Covid-19 virus appears to be a natural mutation. Clearly no system can prevent such mutations occuring, although there is significant evidence to indicate that due to capitalist urbanisation, deforestation and climate change, such new mutations are causing pandemics more frequently. Indeed the authors of the 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) concluded: “Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost.”
This was not the first warning that a pandemic like this could happen. Not least was the SARS Covid-2 pandemic in 2003. Significant research was conducted on developing a vaccine for that Coronavirus but it was stopped before human testing because the scientists involved “tried like heck to get investors or grants… but we just could not generate much interest”. If the vaccine had existed, it could have dramatically reduced the time necessary to develop one for Covid-19.
Then there was, among others, the German Robert Koch Institute, which warned of a pandemic, similar to that which we now have. In a socialist society that would have led to proper “risk planning”. There would have been massive investment in, and development of, the healthcare and hospital system, instead of cutbacks and privatisation that have left most countries with a dire shortage of intensive care beds. Instead of stockpiles of weapons, there would be stock-piles of ventilators, protective equipment, the materials needed to make tests urgently and antiviral drugs. Rather than ‘just-in-time’ production and outsourcing to other countries, production facilities would be maintained in every country and region. Rather than agency recruitment and a shortage of nursing and other medical staff, they would be employed by the state on proper wages to allow time to train and learn emergency procedures.
But capitalist governments failed to plan, then tried to hide the emergence of the disease. Not just in China, but in many other countries governments and leaders delayed taking action, arguing the disease was not serious or would not affect their country. They did this to protect capitalist profits and often, their own prestige. In a socialist society, the potential of information technology, instead of being wasted on military or intelligence purposes or to aid the banking system would be harnessed to establish an early warning system to flag up new cases and clusters as they develop so that emergency plans can be initiated.
These measures, if used efficiently, would not just “lower the curve” but could “crush” it.
Number two: Socialism would have dealt effectively with COVID-19!
But such diseases do appear. In a socialist society, the interests of people, not profit are put first. National interests would not contradict the need for international cooperation. Thanks to the early warning system, all necessary information would be distributed in a timely, transparent and effective way, allowing society as a whole to plan and the population to receive proper medical advice about necessary preventative measures.
All the evidence so far indicates that the key to lessening the number of fatalities in such a pandemic are the early, mass testing of the population to allow for tracing, self-distancing and the existence of a sufficient number of intensive care beds and staff.
In a socialist society, proper resources would support a public health network, which in normal times would be engaged in disease prevention and promoting healthy living, and with a pandemic looming would quickly conduct mass testing in schools, workplaces and travel hubs.
National health services would be state financed and fully integrated, providing quality health care from ‘cradle to grave’. No more private clinics for the rich creaming off the best resources, while finance-starved state hospitals treat the rest. No more charges for tests and treatment. No more will we put the burden on women and their unpaid labour to look after the sick.
No more doctors having to decide whom to treat, and whom to send home to die. No more private retirement homes with minimal staffing, where the elderly are left to die – instead a quality, state financed network of homes for the aged to stay part of society and live in dignity.
Medical research would no longer depend on small start-ups usually financed by state grants and subsidies, with any discoveries hidden behind patents and seized by BigPharma to boost their profits. Research would be conducted in state-financed agencies with all information openly shared. New medicines would be produced by publicly-owned and democratically-managed organisations. No more price gouging by private companies and speculators, who make exorbitant profits from the shortage of masks and ventilators.
Today we see that all the myths about human beings being too selfish for a socialist society are wrong. Especially in working-class communities, we see widespread feelings and acts of solidarity. In a socialist society, the culture of cooperation and solidarity is much stronger, encouraged by the involvement of all in the running of society at all levels. New housing schemes with integrated recreation areas would help end the current horrific overcrowding, that make self-isolation so difficult for many. Self-distancing, based on trust and an understanding of why it is needed, rather than on the compulsory measures used in many countries today, would be much more effective. Modern technology used for tracing, which may be necessary, would be used with public oversight, to ensure it is not being misused to limit other freedoms.
Non-essential work would be stopped – full stop. All, including self-employed, precarious workers would get a full income, removing any financial pressure for people to return to work. Those still in work would be guaranteed full PPE. Decisions to return to work would be made on a democratic basis by society and the workers involved, with medical advice provided by experts.
In a socialist society, public spending priorities would be different. Instead of wasting huge resources on arms and financial speculation, the priority would be health, education and
quality of life.
Reason three: A Socialist economy would solve the economic and health crisis!
The capitalist market is failing to deliver the most basic essentials for the fight against Covid-19. This lies not only within the DNA of capitalism, but decades of austerity and privatisation have left the system completely unprepared for the demand created by the pandemic. Nation states are battling each other for scarce supplies. Penny-pinching bosses are delivering sub-standard and faulty products, which in many cases are unusable. New waves of grotesque speculation and profiteering are being generated by these shortages.
On top of this, the virus and the measures taken to combat it have triggered a global economic crisis catastrophe – the worst for a hundred years. Tens of millions of people have lost their jobs, hundreds of millions have suffered wage cuts and now it is predicted, hundreds of millions will starve to death. More is still to come. What a condemnation of an economic system that has dominated the world for centuries.
A socialist economy would eliminate the constant drive for short-term profit and cut-throat competition over scarce markets by taking into public ownership the commanding heights of the economy – the banks, large industrial and construction companies, food and pharmaceuticals, the information and retail sectors. The top ten multinational corporations have as much wealth as the 180 poorest countries; they currently strangle the world’s economy.
Democratic planning would mean that corporate strategies would no longer be determined in the interests of shareholders. International and national bodies, controlled by the workers themselves, would plan the allocation of resources for each sector. Current marketing services would be reprofiled to determine, as part of a public discussion, what products are actually needed by the population. Unnecessary or harmful production, for example of weapons, would be converted into useful products. Supply chains would be redesigned to make them sustainable with proper pay and safe conditions for those who work in them.
Small businesses, which at the moment are being bankrupted by the hundreds of thousands, could get cheap credit, providing they paid their staff proper wages.
Prices and quality levels would be regulated by democratically elected consumer boards. Prices would be lower, no longer having to cover the wastage and huge profits currently taken out by the capitalists. Production facilities would be managed by elected workers’ committees, aided by technical experts whose job would no longer be to increase profits but to serve people’s needs.
If the economy was democratically planned in this way, no more would money-hungry bosses force workers to continue to work in unsafe conditions, whether in Italy’s industrial heartlands or Amazon’s dystopian warehouses. No more would the economy depend on the underpaid labour of working class people, especially women.
At the first indication of an epidemic, resources would immediately be mobilised and necessary materials produced, no longer restricted by patents, commercial secrets and high prices and cut-throat competition between private owners.
Instead of being ignored and punished for speaking out, health workers and scientific staff would be at the heart of the management of a public and democratically run and controlled global health industry.
On a larger scale, a democratically planned economy would not have already been on the edge of a global crisis. It would not have built huge speculative bubbles from quantitative easing – it would have planned productive capacity to avoid over-production and over-capacity, and would have avoided the development of the trade war. It would work in a sustainable way, so that the climate and environment are no longer damaged. It would be a society based on meeting human needs, rather than private profit, ending once and for all, the exploitation of humans by humans, the suppression of women’s rights and the division of society along gender, race or national lines.
Reason four: Socialism would allow real international cooperation!
A global pandemic requires a coordinated global response. Yet even before the Coronavirus, “globalisation” was in retreat and replaced by a new era of global antagonism. Borders are shutting down and nation states are arguing over critical supplies. The blame game has begun already, with US imperialism and its allies denouncing the “Chinese virus”. The European Union is facing a new wave of pressure to fragment as the idea of “solidarity” between national governments is shown to be a fantasy. Trump has announced that the US will no longer finance the World Health Organisation (WHO) and it faces the threat of collapse!
Although capitalism is a global economic system, it could never fully overcome one of its fundamental contradictions, that its basic economic and political form of organisation is the nation state. Now, in the 21st Century, when governments simply serve the interests of their capitalist elites, workers and the poor are expected to foot the bill.
Global capitalism has failed to solve the Coronacrisis and economic collapse. It fuels the climate crisis because of the implacable greed of the banks, oil and gas companies. Nearly 800 million people have no access to clean water, and nearly 2 billion do not have adequate sanitation. There are now twice as many active armed conflicts in the world than 50 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, as imperialist powers and local elites fight over resources. The national question, with ethnic groups suppressed and deprived of their rights, keeps raising its head in all continents of the world.
Under international Socialism, the democratic public ownership of wealth would eliminate the basis for national antagonisms, which ultimately always reflect antagonisms between rival hoards of capitalists. Not only would this bring the scourge of war, reactionary nationalism and xenophobia to an end, but would also open up untold economic possibilities.
Every year 850,000 people, a third of them under 5 years old, die from unclean water and inadequate sanitation. Yet it would cost $100 billion a year to provide clean water and sanitation – just one twentieth of that spent every year on weapons! According to Morgan Stanley, the world needs to spend $50 trillion by 2050 to stop climate change. That’s less than the world will spend on weapons in that time or probably about the same as what capitalists will have given as bail-outs to the banks and big business from 2008 to the end of this crisis. The world clearly has to change its priorities, how it uses its wealth. We, the working class, the poor and oppressed, have to stop the ruling elite from destroying the planet and its economy in the interests of their profit. We have to change how the wealth, which we have created, is used.
But you cannot control what you don’t own. So we have to take over the commanding heights of the economy.
ISA stands for a voluntary socialist confederation of all regions, nations and nationalities, with the right to self-determination for all. Thus, an international democratic economic plan, putting the world’s labour and resources to work together, could be elaborated, which would eliminate global economic competition, and the vast unnecessary waste and duplication which exists under capitalism.
Reason five: The fight for socialism needs you!
The reality of the global pandemic and lockdowns is having a major impact on the outlook of millions, revealing the real class balance of forces in society. The basic Marxist assertion that the whole of economy and society depends on the labour of the working class is clearer and clearer. Stockbrokers, business men, bankers and right-wing politicians who have always arrogantly claimed that they are the most important people in society have proved, in this crisis even more than before, that they are absolutely incompetent and not needed. The people who are really important are the medics, the drivers, the shop workers and many others. In a socialist society, it would be these very people, the working class and their allies who would run society.
Already people are drawing political conclusions. There will be overwhelming support not just for those who are fighting to save lives through this crisis, but also for proper financing for healthcare. As the economic crisis bites further, there will be questions about the banks and big business, and growth in support for nationalisation. Mass unemployment, while the rich keep getting richer, will lead people to question why work cannot be shared out. Anger will grow as capitalist governments give more money to the rich and banks.
But the struggle to fundamentally change the economy and create a new society needs organising. We need fighting trade unions. We need mobilisations to oppose the attacks of the bosses in the workplaces, universities and schools and residential areas. We need to fight for all that is necessary to improve our lives. The capitalists will not simply give up. They are incredibly organised when it comes to defending their interests. So we need to be even better organised, in militant trade unions and mass workers’ parties that are armed with a socialist programme and strategy, linked up with such organisations in other countries so that we end once and for all the horrors of capitalism.
So the conclusion that should be drawn this May Day, International Workers Day, when the world is going into one of the worst crises in its history is that we should step up our campaigning. International Socialist Alternative is determined to do this. If you agree with us, Join us now!