COVID has shown us that capitalism is a plague on our planet

Johnnie Hunter argues that big pharma monopolies are to blame for the prolonging of the pandemic
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
Share on whatsapp
Share on print

Last month’s warning from hundreds of Britain’s scientists, including Sage experts, that the failure to vaccinate billions of people in poorer countries, particularly the Global South, risks new variants and prolonging the pandemic even longer, points to the real nature of the capitalist response to COVID.

For Britain’s and the world’s ruling classes, this pandemic is and always has been about ruthless profiteering. They’re unable and unwilling to protect the lives of working people whether it’s in Britain or the developing world – unless there’s also money to be made.

The recent news of undisclosed secret texts and calls between the hard right, warmongering EU President Ursula Von Der Leyen and the CEO of Pfizer discussing vaccine procurement were condemned by the EU’s own ombudsman. But they will be a surprise to no one.

EU incompetence and corruption during the pandemic is well known. The unelected EU Commission has kept secret how many billions they paid and are paying big pharma monopolies for vaccines even in the face of calls for transparency from their own puppet parliament.

‘Big pharma’ is jealously guarding its intellectual property over vaccines, recognising what a massive and long term public cash cow they have been granted by compliant and corrupt politicians in Britain and around the world.

Sage scientists who signed the warning about vaccine inequality have also led calls for the intellectual property rights over vaccines to be waived internationally, to reinforce a faltering effort to achieve global vaccination. Unsurprisingly, the UK government and EU, at the behest of big pharma, have led opposition globally to any such move.

This is all despite the fact that the vaccine itself wasn’t the result of private enterprise or private money but public support and investment. As ever it’s working people that foot the bill, while private shareholders reap the profits.

This is just one of the many cases of the virus of the monopolies, hand in hand with ruling class politicians, profiteering from the pandemic.

The UK government and EU defend their actions, arguing that big pharma (already backed by public cash and having raked in billions), is entitled to continue to profit for years to come. They point to the doses being donated the developing world as compensating for their defence of private intellectual property.

They say this even in the face of clear signs that these initiatives have been shown to be ineffective, with vaccination rates in the developing world lagging behind and hundreds of millions of expired doses being wasted on a regular basis. Far from empowering these countries to develop and coordinate their own responses, the initiative is intended to foster dependency.

As with all ‘aid’ from the imperialist countries, this charity is inevitability tied to and predicated on the political objectives of the ruling class. Strengthen control and influence over compliant regimes, ostracise and punish others.

The use of vaccine access as a weapon of hybrid war has been shamefully seen in the US blockade of key medical supplies, such as syringes, to Cuba and Venezuela throughout the pandemic.

Under capitalism no crisis goes unexploited to profiteer or attack those countries resisting imperialism.

But these facts aren’t specific to the COVID pandemic. Across the world, working people are impoverished more everyday while big business and the billionaires see their vast wealth double and triple in the space of a few years.

These same cliques and monopolies, through their control of markets and intellectual property ensure dependency and underdevelopment in the Global South, undermining sovereignty and social progress.

Cuban doctors attending farewell ceremony before their departure to Kuwait for assistance over COVID, Havana, Cuba (2020)

Capitalism and scientific development and the environment

The development of science should benefit the whole of humanity whether that’s by defeating the pandemic as quickly and comprehensively as possible or by reducing working hours, increasing living standards and lifting the position of the whole of the human race. Instead, under capitalism, technology is controlled and guarded by monopolies to increase the rate of exploitation and profit – throwing thousands of workers on the scrap heap in the process.

This stands in sharp contrast to the nature and result of scientific development in the socialist camp today and since the Great October Socialist Revolution. In the USSR science was used for the benefit of the entire Soviet people and indeed, the whole of humanity.

By ensuring universal and free education at all levels and by eradicating illiteracy, the young Soviet Union was able to carry forward a technological and scientific revolution the likes of which had never been seen in human history. It was this scientific and economic advance which made possible all the stunning gain and achievements of the USSR, as well as the defeat of Nazi fascism.

Socialist Cuba has selflessly shared the technology and research underlying its independently developed vaccine – a major achievement in and of itself. China has led the global effort to defeat the pandemic both scientifically and materially.

In Britain and globally, capitalism and the control of the monopolies enforces a stifling and stagnation of productive scientific and economic development. Monopolies prevent the introduction of new technologies where this would act to reduce the rate of profit by increasing the rate of production. Capitalist enterprises would prefer to continue production using outdated technologies in order to maintain their rate of profit and control of the market.

In this way, monopolies hold back the development of the productive forces of society. This can be labelled as nothing short of criminal when in Britain millions want for homes and the basic necessities of life, when in the third world millions die of hunger and malnutrition and fail to eke out even a basic subsistence.

At the same time this also serves to hold back the advance of human knowledge and discovery. As Communists we say that only under socialism, after the power of the monopolies has been broken, can we fully utilise science in the interests of all humanity. We consider that under socialism, Britain could undergo a second industrial revolution and rebuild our economy shattered by decades of privatisation, under investment and neglect.

The coronavirus pandemic starkly demonstrates the relationship between scientific development and imperialism in the twenty-first century. As Communists we recognise that scientific development is being used as an essential tool in the super exploitation of oppressed and underdeveloped nations.

Just as with the production and distribution of the COVID vaccine, large monopolies in Britain, the European Union and the United States patent and own the vast majority of productive technologies in the world today. The monopolies of these countries use this ownership and the operation of intellectual property law to maintain control. The use of these technologies in developing countries under the direction of western monopolies makes exploited nations ultimately dependent on the whims and manipulation of transnational companies and unable to develop their own economies independently.

As Communists we say that all science and knowledge, whether it is the publicly created COVID vaccine or industrial technologies, are the common property of all humanity and should be used for the advancement of all humankind.

Under capitalism there is also a contradiction between scientific and economic development and protecting our planet and the environment.

The stagnation of scientific development and productive expansion also severely impacts our environment. In order to avoid investment and to maintain current markets and rates of profit, the energy industry continues to rely on dated polluting technology and methods production rather than progressing to renewable energy.

In the field of transport too we continue to rely on fossil fuels despite the fact that clean carbon technology exists. Why? Only to maintain the markets of the massive monopolies – Saudi Aramco, Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Gazprom to name but a few. The massive profits announced by BP and Shell in recent weeks, at a time when our planet stands on the brink of destruction demonstrate this clearly.

Since the beginning of the capitalist mode of production, destruction of the environment, the extinction of species and the exhaustion of raw materials have characterised economic development.

It is true that socialist countries have made mistakes in the past in pursuit of economic expansion. But crucially these mistakes have been noted and understood and the lessons incorporated into the international understanding of how to advance down the path to socialism. Socialist Cuba for instance is the UN recognised world leader in sustainable economic development. Under socialism the contradiction between economic development and environmental protection can and is being done away with, the democratic control of scientific and economic development is key to this. Under capitalism this is impossible.

Capitalism could irrevocably poison our planet and wipe out the human race. Whether by global warming and pollution or by nuclear war this threat is all too real. Only socialism can save the world.

After the COP26 Climate Conference, the world stands at a crossroads. Human society and our planet are afflicted by a potentially fatal disease – capitalism. The choice which faces us is a clear one – socialism or extinction.

During this pandemic working people have saved working people. We will beat the virus – and we’ll need the same self-confidence, organisation and unity to beat the plague.

Johnnie Hunter, is the General Secretary of the YCL

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
Share on whatsapp
Share on print