The irruption the Covid-19 crisis as political economy test

[Article from the next number of the international PDF review Communism.]

The irruption the Covid-19 crisis has produced a series of reactions and non-reactions that say a lot about the political economy of the revolutionary organizations, or sometimes the lack of it, or even the non-revolutionary character of them.

It is well known that the main problem of the revolutionary dilemma is to avoid Reformism when being realistic, and avoid the ultra-left tendency when being revolutionary. This is the main contradiction explaining the positions that has been taken across the world. This is contradiction is of course sharpened by the deepness of the crisis. This is literally a crash test.

The negation of the crisis

Most commonly, there have been more or less no reactions. Most of the revolutionary organizations are in fact radicalized petty-bourgeois, isolated in a bubble, acting only in a parasitic form, needing “social movements” to pretend to exist. They were therefore not able to face the irruption of the crisis. Their lack of political economy just paralyzed them. A French group like “Unité Communiste Lyon” is able to publish Trotskyst-like articles when the trade-unions are active (“let’s ask for more”, “let’s go further” etc.), but just had just nothing to say about the crisis when it came, as its identity is purely parasitic.

But what we see can be also astonishing. The German media “Dem Volke dienen”, which uphelds Maoism, didn’t react at all, continuing as nothing would happen (like publishing a picture of a simple graffiti in Berlin in support of the Irish liberation), with very few articles… denouncing the government measures of interdiction of groupings (for blocking the spread of the virus)! There was even a “rebel” small grouping in the streets to support political prisoners in the city of Bremen. In the same spirit, there was a call for the First of May demonstration signed by Turkish associations from Switzerland and Austria which are linked to the TKP/ML.

This is a reaction of negation of the crisis. It was not taken seriously, it was merely taken as an “event” which would be not directly linked to class struggle, to the capitalist mode of production. So, as it would come from “outside”, it could not have a real sense in itself. And as we see, with such a caricature, the only criticism possible would therefore concerns the quarantine (denounced as a practice “of the Middle Ages”), the restrictions of movement, etc. All of this would be an imperialist plot, a capitalist use of the crisis! The situation would be dictatorial. In France, as say in a fantasized way some people pretending to be “Maoists”:

“Police harass passers-by, especially young people who look black or Arab.”

The Finnish group Punalippu (“Red Flag”) sums up this ultra-left interpretation as following:

“The only legitimate position, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, is that all actions of the bourgeois dictatorship must be condemned, as they do not serve the people but imperialism, and thus there is only one option for them: a revolution (…).The coronary threat has highlighted a huge number of capitulations.

The legal left and the forces in the yoke of its influence generally seem to support capitulation. Some have already materialized, for example on the 13th of March when the planned climate strike in Tampere – and reportedly in others cities as well – was canceled under the pretext of preventing the spread of the corona. Apparently this infectious disease is a more serious threat than the much talked climate crisis? Is there no coronavirus on a dead planet?”

The “plot” of the crisis, “alarmism” and “tailism”

In some cases, there was another form of negation of the crisis, with a theory of the plot. The bourgeoisie would use the Covid-19 virus to mask the crisis of capitalism. The Norwegian media “Tjen Folket”, published for example the Rød Front long call for the First of May demonstration, which contains only three times only the word corona:

“The crisis in capitalism is not primarily a « corona crisis ». The capitalist economy explodes in a new cyclical crisis about every ten years.
Today’s crisis follows the crises and recessions of 1990-93, 1998-2002 and 2008-2009.

For 200 years, the capitalist system has gone into crisis every 8 to 10 years. The crisis is part of capitalism. They are called « banking crisis », « IT crisis », « financial crisis », « oil crisis » or « corona crisis » only on the basis of the circumstances or where the crisis first manifests, but these names never describe the real cause of the crisis (…).

Everywhere, we now see that the corona virus is used as a pretext to lock people in and prevent people from organizing and fighting unemployment and poverty. A curfew is introduced and a curfew is enforced with violence.

Why? Because rulers tremble because they know the crisis can cause uncontrollable rage from the masses.”

This is not dialectical Materialism, but practically a magical conception of the world. And as it’s magical, petty-bourgeois, it’s irrational. The Maoist US Incendiary Editorial Board kicked in this context its leading figure out, which in response made a self-criticism:

“Comrades in the US have generated two lines on this: that COVID-19 is a real tiger, and that COVID-19 is a paper tiger. Despite the centrists who would play with words to appeal to populism, who try to uphold revolutionary slogans while buying into the bourgeoisie’s alarmism, these are the only two lines.

While well-meaning comrades may equate the two opposing lines, their centrism actually serves the ruling class. It is urgent they understand this and confess and self-criticize for their alarmism and tailism, which negates organizing for socialist revolution.

Not only is COVID-19 not the real paper tiger that the bourgeoisie and even some comrades make it out to be, but it wasn’t even the cause for economic crisis.”

The sanitary crisis would not be of a real dimension – we come here back to the erroneous conception of the Covid-19 crisis interpreted as coming from “outside” capitalism.

The absurd conception of the sanitary crisis as a mask

One important article summing up here this wrong reading of the situation is “World economy heading for depression: coronavirus hides the crisis of imperialism”, published by the Brazilian media A nova democracia. It gives data about the weakness of the capitalist economy at the end of 2019 and says:

“Industrial production and financial market stock exchanges collapsed in early March in practically the world. The trigger, as the world press monopoly advertises, is the expansion of the coronavirus.

However, it is actually the crisis of relative capital overproduction.
Coronavirus alone could not have such an impact on the world economy. The reason for the interruption of the reproduction of capital is capital itself. The Crítica da Economia portal, citing newspapers from the reaction itself, noted that the coronavirus is now less lethal than the flu (…).

The occurrence of coronavirus is just a fact that aggravates the economy. However, behind this fact there is already a latent relative overproduction of capital.

The crisis of relative overproduction of capital occurs when the production of capital exceeds too much the consumption capacity of society defined, ultimately, by the contradiction between the social character of production and the capitalist appropriation of the product.”

This is absolutely non-dialectical. What is here said:

* does not understand that the Covid-19 crisis is not coming from outside the Capitalist mode of production, but that it is a component of it;

* underestimates in a mechanical way the effects of a sanitary crisis, because of the understanding capitalism not as a mode of production (of everyday life) but as a “structural system”;

* has the petty bourgeois conception of the capitalist mode of production being able of “thinking” and “masking”.

To say that the Covid-19 can only “aggravates” a crisis which is proper of capitalism is not Marxism, but Structuralism. It is speaking of capitalism as it would float above reality.

Reformists and Revisionnists on the Front

The Covid-19 crisis has shown the vacuity of the ultra-leftist. But it has also permitted the Reformists and Revisionists to express their ability to adapt themselves. As they place themselves as “Planists” in capitalism, they can afford to develop an efficient demagogy, because they don’t need to give any content. They just need to pretend have a better organization form. They naturally obtain much more echo than the ultra-leftists, as they recognize the sanitary crisis and as they propose a “solution”.

In fact, they propose nothing, but it’s easy: they say they would act in a better way, because of an orientation turned in direction of the people. The best example for this is the Workers’ Party of Belgium. Its denunciation of “austerity” and its promotion of a “medicine for the people” is absolutely formal. There is no content except a point of view, flatly christian, of Good versus Bad. This is all the more striking when we know that this Party pretended in the 1990’s to be the nerve center of the International Communist Movement.

Another good example, because ideologically from the same kind, is the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada, an organization defining itself as Maoist but having the same complete rejection of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution like the Workers’ Party of Belgium. The RCP of Canada presents therefore the things in the same mechanistic manner, without any content, in its article COVID-19: events reveal that we are in the antechamber of socialism :

“In fact, the present situation reveals, even more clearly than usual, that with a level of economic concentration as high as in Canada, and with the considerable amount of knowledge, techniques and means that necessarily accompany such a level of concentration, it would be relatively easy to solve all the problems of society (poverty, unemployment, economic crises, corruption, waste, disease, lack of services, shortages, etc.) and to meet all the needs of the people by implementing centralized planning and mobilizing the popular masses.

In fact, if this does not happen, it is only because the process that would have to be set in motion in order to achieve it – the abolition of bourgeois private property and the complete collectivization of the means of production – would go against the interests and will of the capitalist class currently at the top of society.”

Socialism is here as easy as pressing the “centralization” button and then the one to “mobilize the masses”. It is not possible to be more empty. This emptiness is at least hidden under Romanticism with the approach to promote China and Cuba as fighting with efficiency the Covid-19 crisis. Those countries would be “socialist” and their sense of organization, as their “socialist” interests, would have make possible for them to success on the sanitary Frontline. The Communist Party of the Philippines praises Cuba, the French Editions Prolétariennes which upholds Mao praises China as applying nowadays with success the principles of the Cultural Revolution (!), the French PRCF, uniting the “Left” of the Revisionnist French CP, praises both.

The Communist Worker Union (MLM) – Colombia does it also, in its article The USSR and its struggle against epidemics, in a manner which is at the same time hidden and absurd on all levels. It is spoken of “State monopoly Capitalism”, which is an absurd concept invented by Eugen Varga and upheld by the Khrushchev’s Revisionism. And such monopolism is considered as a better social form, when in fact it should be considered as totally decadent and reactionary!

“Today there is no socialism in any country, although there are countries that call themselves as such, for example in China, North Korea or Vietnam, which decades ago were socialists, today there is only a monopoly state capitalism.

The current Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) has shown that such countries have been better off than capitalist countries where the role of the state is less and at the exclusive service of private monopolies, even if, when they were truly socialist, they would have defeated the epidemic more easily.

While Italy, Spain and now the United States, capitalist countries where private health systems predominate, are being devastated by the epidemic, with little possibility of maneuver and with all the burden on workers in those countries.”

This is an amazing praise of social-fascism!Against the theory of the Plot and against PlanismThe Covid-19 crisis has proven that most of the political economy of revolutionary organizations is either not revolutionary or that they are no organizations. They are shapeless expression of the petty-bourgeoisie aiming to weigh on the bourgeoisie. Their vision of the world is eclectic, with a strong petty bourgeoisie tendency to consider capitalism as organized, the Bourgeois state as an unilateral monster.

Their Utopian proposals, when really constructed, become in an inevitable way Planism, which has nothing to do with socialist Planning, which is not a method but an ideological driving of existing forces on the basis of the communist vision of the world. The theory of the “Plot” from above to mask the crisis of capitalism is here even typical of the anticommunist Socialists from the 1920’s-1930’s, and even Planism corresponds in an important way to their mechanical conception of “centralization” as solution of all the problems.

The problem in the background is the inability to understand the capitalist mode of production and their idealism bringing them to consider that the Covid-19 comes from outside and that it is so only a small parameter more in the capitalist “structure”.