“Human beings are naturally selfish. We’re programmed to only look out for ourselves.”
It’s the cliched and tired retort of right-wingers and anti-communists everywhere. But it’s true that the Covid-19 crisis certainly has brought out the worst in certain sections of society. The cavalier and cruel Tory Party has been chief among them.
Boris Johnson and his cabinet were prepared to subject working people in Britain to the rapid and overwhelming spread of the virus through the population in order to develop a heard immunity. A head start or a callous economic edge over other countries focused on saving lives?
What is clear is that Britain’s ruling class views working people as nothing more than livestock. For those in Downing Street, Whitehall and the City of London, hundreds of thousands of deaths would have been an entirely acceptable “negative externality” for keeping the economy running on a “business as usual” basis. Private profit and the value of shares comes before human life.
Internationally, we have seen the EU bureaucracy abandon the peoples of Italy and Spain in the face of the crisis. Trump has stooped to ugly and racist smears against China. The US and EU member states have intercepted and appropriated essential medical supplies bound for so-called allies in their hour of need.
Unsurprisingly the profiteers have also come out of the woodwork. There are hundreds of stories in the local and national media of price hiking across Britain, often for essential foodstuffs or hygiene products.
We have had private-sector firms and multinational companies graciously offer to shift normal production to medical supplies and equipment. We can rest assured they will be getting their pound of flesh in the form of generous cash handouts and inflated prices.
In reality, these orders will come as a great relief to these firms. Most would have had to suspend production entirely but for government orders. The taxpayer is already covering their wage bill. The government should have requisitioned their factories and we should be producing supplies and equipment at cost.
Indeed, corporate cash handouts have been the order of the day for businesses struggling during the Covid-19 crisis. Where are the binding commitments to contribute to the social good during and after the crisis is over? Britain’s legal system is far less generous to the tenants who haven’t been able to save enough for “a rainy day.”
There has also been significant media attention given to instances of panic buying up and down the country. There has been a lament at this damning indictment on the moral fibre of the nation. Is this correct or fair? No.
Where panic buying has occurred it is largely attributable to irresponsible media coverage and the absence of government measures and guarantees on the provision of food and essential goods. These behaviours are sadly a product of the social system we are forced to live under.
Still, some might be forgiven for thinking that this crisis has indeed confirmed that human nature is indeed selfish.
This would be a mistake however. It would buy into the implicit narrative of Britain’s privately owned media. It would ignore the true breadth of the struggle taking place in Britain and across the world against Covid-19. It would be to disregard the billions of acts of kindness, co-operation, courage and self-sacriﬁce taking place every day.
The world owes the Chinese people a great debt, for their sacrifice and determination in containing the virus initially. They are now engaged in one of the biggest international humanitarian aid efforts ever seen. Socialist Cuba, despite the cruel US blockade, has sent doctors and antiviral medication to countries across the globe.
Here in Britain we have seen the heroism and superhuman efforts of our NHS and other frontline workers to combat the crisis. Despite being separated from their families for extended periods, working around the clock under unbearable conditions, they haven’t flinched.
Just as inspiring, we have seen working people, in the face of government incompetence, seize the initiative and set out the help their communities and front-line staff through this crisis in a myriad of ways, big and small.
As part of this broad effort, the YCL’s branches have launched Covid-19 Aid Campaigns up and down the country with the aim of spreading awareness, offering support and organising in our communities.
Even before the government confirmed a lock down, YCLers were distributing leaflets and posters in their neighbourhoods volunteering to assist the elderly, the less able and more vulnerable people.
The same types of campaigns are being run by Britain’s inspiring tenants’ unions, Acorn and Living Rent. Alongside these groups and the labour movement, Britain’s communists have been organising and lobbying at a local and a national level for concrete measures to combat the crisis and support front-line workers.
Despite the gravity of the situation, the danger to individuals and their families, these acts of selflessness have been the real story of this crisis.
Solidarity between working people — from neighbours to nations.
The ruling class and its ideology have demonstrated the worst of human society in this crisis.
History tells us that only working people can save working people. If there is indeed a “human nature” which binds us, it is undoubtedly the boundless and immutable capacity for compassion, co-operation and self-sacrifice being displayed by workers around us at this very moment.
The capital of a particular area – its wealth, its resources etc – are in the hands of an elite few, whilst the many (the proletariat, the workers) must work for the wages the capitalist gives. The problem here is that the wages the capitalist gives to the worker in exchange for their labour power doesn’t match up to the true value of that labour.
Johnnie Hunter, YCL General Secretary