10 ways COVID-19 is showing us the cracks in a global capitalist system.

Pictures added by Regina Larsen.

In the past few months, the pandemic has laid bare the horrors of our global neoliberal system. Here’s some lessons I’ve learned since the outbreak of COVID-19:


(1) All the resources and labor funneled into the military has done little to protect us from this crisis, and may even wind up exacerbating the spread.

Instead of investing in healthcare, workers’ time and energy has been wasted on  nuclear bombs, costly wars based on manufactured threats (that fail to even accomplish their real goals), and marketing meant to sway public opinion in favor of the war industry. 


(2) The US military is more concerned with its public image than the lives of its soldiers, or the lives of the American people.

As this disease rapidly spreads, militaries can’t even be bothered to protect their own soldiers and sailors, with the US Navy going so far as to fire Capt. Brett Crozier for trying to protect his sailors from infection after several aboard the aircraft carrier tested positive for the novel coronavirus.


“More than a dozen soldiers at installations across the United States and overseas told Army Times they’re frustrated with commanders still sending troops to the field, forcing soldiers to come to work to do mundane tasks that aren’t mission essential, and failing to test potentially sick individuals.”

Soldiers’ fears grow as commanders train through coronavirus outbreak, Army Times

A soldier assigned to 2nd Infantry Division on the joint base told Army Times, “in terms of PT and daily battle rhythm, absolutely nothing has changed.” The soldier goes on, “this is all taking place at a base which is in the epicenter of the outbreak in the US. We have over 100 cases in the two counties that surround JBLM and where a majority of families live, and over a thousand cases throughout the rest of Washington.” Apparently it’s “good leadership” to needlessly put thousands of soldiers and civilians at risk of infection so long as you don’t hurt public perception. According to a US Navy veteran we spoke to (who wishes to remain anonymous), this focus on public image at the expense of public safety has always been how the military operates, especially when it comes to the recruits themselves:


“The military wants to be able to control the soldiers; that’s what the chain of command is all about. You’re basically not a US citizen, you’re owned by the military. It’s a propaganda issue [in regards to Capt. Crozier being relieved of duty] is what it is. […]

“They’re less concerned with the lives of sailors or soldiers; they’re more concerned with the propaganda. […] I mean, that goes way back. Look at Vietnam. They [just] cared about selling a war to America.”


He further remarks on how US military conditions are simply not capable of handling a disease outbreak like this, highlighting, again, that retaliatory measures against those speaking out is more about controlling soldiers “through fear” than it is about a genuine security risk that could harm the American people. 


“What do we do with all these soldiers in basic training? In barracks? They don’t want to be there. […]

“Your living quarters are very small in a military ship. They don’t have [their own] rooms—there’s like 30 guys living in this small space. It’s worse than prison, really, as far as proximity goes. They’re all gonna get infected…there’s no way around it. […] I mean, look at [the spread of the virus in] cruise ships, and a Navy ship is even worse.

“All these people in small spaces. […] When you’re in basic…[training is] going on 12 months a year—all branches of the service. […] You have 80-100 guys living in barracks of bunkbeds, so yeah, it [COVID-19] gets in there, it spreads like wildfire.”


It’s worth considering that pneumonia and influenza killed more soldiers and sailors in the first World War than did enemy weapons, and that many researchers believe the spread of Spanish Influenza was significantly aided by wartime conditions (e.g. cramped quarters, and the war taking precedent over containing the outbreak).


(3) So-called first world countries have extremely poor healthcare systems.

These wealthy neoliberal countries seem almost entirely unable to address this public health crisis. In Italy, political officials delayed early containment, allowing the disease to spread quickly. In the US, faulty and delayed testing has led to widespread confusion. Containment was also severely worsened by political officials and media coverage downplaying the severity of the virus. Further issues are brought on by the US for-profit healthcare system, particularly tying health coverage to employment:


“More than three million Americans just lost their jobs in the middle of a global pandemic. For those whose jobs offered benefits, that also probably means they’re losing their health insurance, too — exposing yet another way in which the US health system is vulnerable amid a public health emergency.”

How do 3 million newly unemployed people get health care?, Vox News


(4) Capitalist governments are more concerned with corporate profits than the actual people they govern.

Many political officials seem more concerned with protecting their personal assets, than their people. Healthcare workers are struggling to find/keep housing with landlords viewing them as a liability, and of course, capitalism doesn’t guarantee housing…even if you’re on the frontline protecting people from a public health crisis. 


“These are the same people who are going to take care of you if you wind up in the hospital, or God forbid the ICU. And if I’m sleeping in my car, I’m not functioning my best. … If you want people to help, they have to have a place to live.”

nurse from Hawaii who recently faced eviction (no name given to respect request for anonymity)

While the death toll rises, people are hoarding resources to try to make a profit off the pandemic, while major media outlets continue to address the real victims of this crisis—the wealthy. For example, this article by The New York Times frames a guy hoarding hand sanitizer (with the intention of price-gouging) as the victim, while a headline by The Washington Post reads The struggle to argue for opening the economy without sounding as if you’re okay with more people dying…the article itself is behind a paywall, naturally.  


(5) Capitalist unity ranges from fragile to nonexistent; the European Union appears to be nothing more than lip service.

The European Union has all but abandoned Italy, with no plans to send medical assistance or supplies despite Italy being one of the worst-hit countries. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic bitterly commented: “European solidarity does not exist. It was a fairytale.”


“This is a shocking failure of European solidarity. The impression in Italy, Spain and Serbia and so on is that the weaker links will be left alone.”

— head of a European think tank

Meanwhile, China and Cuba, long depicted by capitalist countries as anti-humanitarian, have stepped up, sending medical equipment and personnel to combat the outbreak in Italy. 


(6) The United Nation and the World Health Organization are not the peaceful, humanitarian organizations they pretend to be.

Iran is facing US economic sanctions on top of the COVID-19 breakout. Over 3000 Iranians have already died from the disease, and sanctions make the novel coronavirus all the more deadly.  


“Following correspondence about the U.S. government’s illegal sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and its direct impact on the health of the Iranian people, unfortunately, so far, the United Nations and other relevant organizations including the World Health Organization, which claim to defend the rights of humanity, have taken no effective measures to lift the cruel sanctions against our dear children, women, men and patients.

“Instead, despite the urging of scientists, physicians and even some elected US officials to lift sanctions amid a worldwide Covid-19 disease pandemic, this irrational, ruthless American government has further tightened sanctions against the Iranian people.”

Alireza Marandi, President of The Academy of Medical Sciences of Iran

Now the Iranian government is being forced to request emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Considering the IMF collaborates with the United Nations, and the IMF’s decades-long track record of “imposing unnecessary and often harmful conditions on borrowing countries,” silence from the UN is very likely the real solidarity of capitalists. That is, the US has long been obsessed with gaining control in Iran, and thanks to the corporatization within the UN, it’s unsurprising the UN is complacent with the US waging economic (and now medical) warfare against the Iranian people. 


(7) The US is falling back on racism and xenophobia, blaming China in an attempt to derail how both the Republicans and the Democrats have put Americans at risk, while protecting corporate interests. The government is further using the crisis to push policy through under the radar.

While Republicans downplayed the servety of the outbreak, the Democrats held primaries in several states during the coronavirus outbreak (bringing the legitimacy of the Democratic primaries into question). A close up during a recent press briefing revealed Trump had crossed out “corona” and replaced it with “Chinese” in his notes, indicating his calling the disease “Chinese Virus” is an intentional ploy to redirect blame onto China for the US’s inability to slow the spread of the virus. 

Blaming China is an especially nonsensical response, seeing as the pandemic is linked to capitalist land development and agricultural practices, climate change, and the US’s defunded and privatized healthcare system. Sentiments that China is covering up conditions, ignores that this is happening in the US now thanks to hospital privatization.

Further, agricultural practices in the US have actually been specifically noted as a risk for novel diseases. 

The following video by The Real News Network goes over how anti-Chinese racism around coronavirus is an extension of colonialist and racist sentiments built into the US socioeconomic system. It’s also worth noting that building up China as a threat relates to (2), that is, this outside “threat” is likely being leveraged as a way to control military recruits who are becoming increasingly frustrated with poor leadership. All branches continue to insist many members are “essential” despite there being a lack of pressing tasks for these members to even attend to…is the GOP using China as a manufactured threat to bolster the military’s both internal and external credibility amid growing concerns from soldiers that leadership is recklessly managing the crisis? 

The US government is not just utilizing China to divert blame from its own inability to stop the spread of the virus, the government is using the crisis itself to mask huge political moves from the public-eye (e.g. Shock Capitalism). The following image depicts just one example of this disturbing push towards quietly implementing neoconservative policies, such as increasing surveillance and policing.

Shock capitalism is a concern everywhere. Israel’s lockdown over coronavirus has halted Palestinian human rights work, but hasn’t ended over-policing and violent abuse


(8) We have been lied to about what matters.

Many of the institutions and ideologies we’ve been told are vital to society are only hindering a response to the outbreak. Lack of paid sick leave, largely justified as being a privilege one needs to earn rather than a right, is worsening the spread of the disease in the US. Aggressive policing in New York City isn’t protecting people, it’s worsening the spread of the virus, thereby putting more people at risk. And prisons aren’t the closed systems people seem to think they are, and, unsurprisingly, cramped living quarters, unsanitary/violent conditions, and poor healthcareseverely increase the risk of prisons becoming hotspots for the disease

Further, the shutdown of many businesses is proving (1) many of this work is not necessary (e.g. corporate lawyers, lobbyists), and (2) Marx’s labor theory of value is extremely relevant today.


(9) The pain many people are experiencing did not start with coronavirus.

We all depend on each other every single day, often in ways we don’t even consider. This disconnect begins to look like a caricature with the outbreak hitting countries like the US and Italy. Consider the farming co-operative near Rome, started by formerly exploited African fruit farmer:


“Many of the founders took part in the Rosarno revolt, an uprising in January 2010 in which hundreds of African fruit pickers whose labour was being exploited in Italy’s citrus groves rose up in support of a workmate seriously injured in a racist attack. The rebellion broke the silence surrounding the conditions of immigrant workers in the Italian countryside.”

“A beautiful thing”: the African migrants getting healthy food to Italians, The Guardian 

These workers are now working “twice as hard” in response to the COVID-19 outbreak because they want to, and because they care about the scarcity many local households are facing. Don’t be grateful for grocery store workers putting their health at risk to give you food…stand in solidarity with them and demand working conditions be made safer. Stop with this notion that people are only willing to work if they’re treated like garbage, or showered with wealth. Stop with the guilt-complexes, the superiority-complexes…morality, shame, and narcissism do nothing but obscure the system hurting people. 

Don’t be grateful for their exploitation feeding you or making your medical supplies, which is essentially what the sentiment “be grateful, there’s children starving in Africa” boils down to. Join hands together in the fight for workers rights…children in Africa don’t need to be starving in order for you to eat and it’s high time we realize that. Right now there are people in refugee camps worried about the outbreak worsening already poor living conditions, there’s elderly people in Italy more fearful of loneliness than the virus, and in Africa, many of us are more worried about starvation than coronavirus thanks to Western oil companies polluting the farmlands and waterways forcing us to become reliant on imports…keep in mind we don’t profit off oil extraction, we’re just left with the consequences.


(10) This is a class war…workers need to stand together in solidarity; further, this crisis really highlights how many people think pessimistic escapism is optimism.

The working class are all feeling the same pain, even if we’re isolated from one another by country, citizenship, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. The problem is capitalism. We—workers, students, the unemployed, professionals—we need to stand together. This is a class war that we did not start. We need to stand together in solidarity right now, and we need to reject the ruling class’ plea that “we are in this together.” We, the workers, are in this together…if the exploiters would like to join in our fight for socialism, then they must do so on our terms. Corporations telling you “we are in this together” are trying to maintain the system that gives them all the power.

Be wary of the media telling you about the small business owner and the landlord that is only renting out the second floor of their house…they are using these people as a bludgeon against the working class. These people are not the ruling class, and we urge them to join together with us in solidarity. It is the international corporations that make it near-impossible for small businesses to survive. It is the ruling class that has led to the proletarianization of physicians, forcing doctors and nurses to work under exploitative and overly-demanding conditions

While it often seems as if the ruling classes aren’t themselves even happy, they are nonetheless the class with power. They are the class with a monopoly on violence that they’re quick to use if their power comes into question (e.g. police, military, etc.)…I don’t refrain from taking food from Bill Gates because I respect him, I refrain from doing so because I would be beaten, imprisoned, and/or killed. The ruling class is hoarding resources, enabling them to induce scarcity in areas to force people to do labor under conditions they would not normally agree to. They are manufacturing consent, and the COVID-19 crisis is making that glaringly obvious. 

Corporations telling us “we are in this together” are not being optimistic. Optimism is not pretending the world is already just when there is overwhelming evidence that it is not! That is the Just-World Phenomenon, and it is a way of excusing inequality. It is either cruel or pessimistic. That is, it is pessimistic to fall back on pretending the world is already just because that means it is you that thinks there is no hope of it getting better. If you cannot see hope in people discussing exploitation with passionate anger, it is you who is negative, not the people who are outraged…that outrage is fueled by the positive-thinking that things can get better if we stand together in solidarity and fight to make them better. 

There is a violent class war happening, and people need to realize socialists didn’t start it…socialists want to end it. Wealth is not an identity like race, religion, or sexuality. It is the material hoarding of resources at the expense of others. 

And if that doesn’t make you angry, you’re just not paying attention. 


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