The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It

 

A Marxist analysis and strategy for the revolutionary struggle

 

by Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), April 2020
 

 

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Contents

 

 

Introduction

 

 

I. The peculiar character of the current crisis: a Triple Catastrophe

 

How severe is this pandemic?

 

A dangerous moment for the bourgeoisie: The Third Great Depression begins simultaneously with a global wave of class struggles

 

How did the ruling classes arrive to their decision for a mass lockdown?

 

The ultimate end of the era of Globalization

 

A new stage of rivalry between the Great Powers after the end of U.S. hegemony

 

 

II. On the nature of the COVID-19 global counterrevolution

 

Monopolization and state capitalism after neo-liberalism

 

China as a model?

 

A decisive shift towards chauvinist state bonapartism

 

What will be the “new normality”?

 

A Preventive Counter-Revolution

 

Do we overestimate the relevance of the counterrevolutionary offensive?

 

 

III. Fundamental principles of revolutionary strategy in the new Leviathan Era

 

A political counterrevolution requires a political strategy by the Marxists

 

The policy of class truce in times of pandemic weakens our struggle in defense of public health

 

Adventurism or systematic preparation?

 

Breaking up the chauvinist bonapartist state machinery

 

The revolutionary democratic struggle: a key element of the Marxist strategy in the new era

 

Excurse: the relevance of the strategy of permanent revolution

 

No revolutionary strategy without internationalism in theory and practice!

 

 

IV. Revolutionary tactics and slogans for the class struggles ahead

 

The current situation and its consequences for the class struggle

 

The main slogan: Conversion of the State of Emergency into a Popular Uprising

 

Famine and epidemics: some lessons from Lenin and the Bolsheviks

 

Reactionary opponents of the lockdown

 

Allies and opponents in future mass struggles

 

 

V. The Lockdown Left: A Critique

 

Stalinist and left-reformist executors of the state-bonapartist lockdown policy

 

“Trotskyist” cheerleaders of the bonapartist state of emergency

 

Excurse: Revisionist misunderstanding of the nature of the capitalist state

 

“Speech is silver, silence is golden.” Not in revolutionary politics!

 

“Workers control” over state bonapartist Lockdown?

 

Social-Bonapartism: an offspring of economism and Menshevism

 

Spontaneous mass actions against the lockdown conditions: a litmus test for the left

 

 

 

VI. Concluding words

 

 

 

Appendix:

 

RCIT Manifesto: COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive  (21 March 2020)

 

RCIT: A Revolutionary Action Program to fight COVID-19! (April 2020)

 

RCIT: Open Letter: Act Now because History is Happening Now! (26 March 2020)

 

RCIT: 2019 Corona Virus: Oppose the Global Wave of Chauvinist Hysteria! (5 February 2020)

 

Almedina Gunić: Coronavirus: "I am not a Virus"... but WE will be the Cure! (2 February 2020)

 

 

 

List of Tables and Diagram

 

Table 1. Global Industrial Production, 2017-19 (in Volume)

 

Table 2. Manufacturing in the U.S. 2017-19 (in percent)

 

Table 3. World Merchandise Trade, Percentage Changes

 

Table 4. List of Top 10 Countries with most Global 500 Companies

 

Table 5. National Composition of the World’s 2000 Largest Corporations, 2003 and 2017 (Forbes Global 2000 List)

 

Diagram: Practical Consequences of the Differences between Marxists and Social-Bonapartists in the COVID-19 Crisis

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

About the Author

 

 

 Preface for the Spanish Translation of “The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution

 

By Michael Pröbsting, 28 April 2021

 

 

 

It has been an excellent initiative of our Argentinean comrades in Convergencia Socialista to organize a print edition of the Spanish translation of this book! This is already the fifth language in which this book has been published (after English, Portuguese, French and Korean).

 

It is not difficult to see the reason for the widespread interest in this work as it deals with a key question of current world politics: the COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution. In fact, as we have elaborated in this book as well as in many other works, this event does not only reflect a shift in world politics but, more fundamentally, a new stage in recent history.

 

As the reader can see, this book has been published exactly one year ago, i.e. in the early phase of the pandemic and the efforts of the ruling class to exploit it as a pretext for its counterrevolutionary offensive. It is therefore only natural that various figures about the number of deaths, about the depth of the depression of the capitalist world economy, etc. are outdated.

 

However, the value of the book, among others, lies exactly in the very fact that it has been written at the beginning of the COVID-19 Counterrevolution. Trotsky once noted that „the strength of Marxism lies in its ability to foretell.[1] As the work in hand demonstrates, the RCIT has been able to comprehend and to analyze the political essence of the reactionary offensive of the ruling class from the very beginning. It is certainly no exaggeration to state that 99% of the so-called left – from Stalinists, left-populists, Bolivarians, Maoists to pseudo-Trotskyists – has capitulated to the hysterical campaign and supports the bourgeois policy of mass curfews and banning of assemblies! Only the small forces of authentic Marxists have withstood this political tornado of chauvinist state bonapartism and “national unity”!

 

Hence, this historic event has not only opened a new era of capitalist offensive; it also created a gulf between those remaining loyal to the banner of proletarian liberation struggle and those capitulating to the gigantic wave of top-down incited public hysteria and anti-democratic Lockdown bonapartism.

 

In this book we have compared the COVID-19 Counterrevolution with historic events like the beginning of World War I in 1914. We have drawn this analogy not only because of the historic meaning of this development but also because, once again, we see a dramatic wave of capitulation of nearly all so-called left-wing parties. More than one century ago, on the 4 August 1914, German social democracy – the strongest party of the Second International – voted for war credits and thereby expressed its support for the imperialist war.

 

Today, similarly to this event, the opportunists again support the counterrevolutionary offensive of the ruling class. Once more, they rally to the banner of “national unity” and call the working class to “stay at home” and to support the state of emergency, in other words, to give up the class struggle against the bourgeoise. Such a historic betrayal means that these “leftist” parties and groups have become social-bonapartists – socialists in words and supporters of capitalist bonapartism in deeds.

 

Latin American “Trotskyism” has been not different from the rest of the global opportunist left. Argentina is a prime example for the policy of social-bonapartist betrayal as it is the country with the largest “Trotskyist” forces in the world – most prominently the alliance called “Frente de Izquierda – Unidad” (FIT-U) which has deputies in national and regional parliaments. As a matter of fact, all parties of FIT-U (and their respective international affiliates) – PTS/FT, PO/CRCI, IS/UIT and MST/LIS – have raised slogans like “¡Exigimos cuarentena sin hambre, despidos, ni rebaja salarial!” (We demand quarantine without hunger, layoffs, or a salary cut!) since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. The Brazil PSTU – the leading section of the LIT – raised very similar slogans. [2]

 

In other words, all these “Trotskyists” call for mass curfews – of course, “without losses”! This is a cynical slogan which deceives and disorientates the vanguard and the masses! As everyone knows, it is impossible to put pressure on the capitalists to make them pay wages and refrain from lay-offs, when workers are forced to stay at home, i.e. when they can't fights because they are isolated from each other! This is like an army which lays down one’s arms … and calls its enemy to capitulate!

 

Our comrades of Convergencia Socialista have been among the extremely small minority of authentic Marxists in the world who have strongly opposed such social-bonapartist capitulation! Make no mistake: only those forces are upholding the banner of unmudded socialism which advocate the policy of revolutionary struggle against the capitalist Lockdown policy! In contrast, the Lockdown Left – a bunch of clueless saps and social-bonapartist servants of counterrevolution – have tainted the name of Marxism with opportunist disgrace!

 

In the early days of the COVID-19 Counterrevolution, in March 2020, the RCIT has published an Open Letter in which we called likeminded revolutionaries who withstand the counterrevolutionary wave to join forces. We concluded this document with the following words: “Comrades, brothers and sisters! This is a crucial historic turning point in world politics. The time has come to join forces on the basis of a program of struggle! Do not hesitate, act now because history is happening now![3]

 

We are glad to have encountered like-minded revolutionaries like the comrades of Convergencia Socialista and to fight with them shoulder on shoulder against Lockdown capitalism and social-bonapartist betrayal. We call others, who share our intransigent line of class struggle against chauvinist state bonapartism, to join us in building a new Revolutionary World Party!

 

I want to conclude this brief preface by expressing, once again, my deep gratitude to comrade Rubén Jaramilllo who has completed the translation of this book in a very short period. As always, he has approached this project with tenacity, patience, and a high degree of professionalism!

 



[1] Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin. The Draft Program of the Communist International: A Criticism of Fundamentals (1928), Pathfinder Press, New York 1970, p. 198

[2] For our critique of the major forces of Latin American “Trotskyism” see e.g. the last chapters of the pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: The Second Wave of the COVID-19 Counterrevolution. On the ruling class strategy in the current conjuncture, its inner contradictions and the perspectives of the workers and popular resistance, 20 July 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/the-second-wave-of-the-covid-19-counterrevolution/; see also by the same author: Social-Bonapartism in Argentina. The Partido Obrero (Tendencia) of Jorge Altamira supports the State of Emergency, 29 April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/social-bonapartism-in-argentina/; Brazil: Social-Bonapartism of the Lockdown Left in Practice. How the leaderships of the trade unions, PT, PCdoB, the pseudo-Trotskyist PSTU and PSOL sabotage the struggle against the Bolsonaro government, 10 June 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/brazil-social-bonapartism-of-the-lockdown-left-in-practice/. For a critique of the Lockdown Left in other parts of the world see, in addition to chapter V in the book at hand, the following articles by Michael Pröbsting: COVID-19 and the Lockdown Left: The Example of PODEMOS and Stalinism in Spain, 24 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-lockdown-left-podemos-and-stalinism-in-spain/; When Ultra-Leftism marries Social-Bonapartism and Gives Birth to “Post-Marxist” Obscurantism. A reply to the CWG/ILTT, 5 May 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-when-ultra-leftism-marries-social-bonapartism/; Lockdown Left says: “Cops Need to Enforce Laws”. The ex-revolutionary L5I as another example for shameful social-bonapartism in the era of the COVID-19 counterrevolution, 24 July 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/lockdown-left-l5i-says-cops-need-to-enforce-laws/; COVID-19: Zero Socialism in the “ZeroCOVID“ campaign. Following the model of China and Australia, some British Stalinists and “Trotskyists” call for a “total and indefinite lockdown”, 22 December 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-zero-socialism-in-the-zerocovid-campaign/; COVID-19: The Current and Historical Roots of Bourgeois Lockdown “Socialism”. Police State and Universal Basic Income are key elements of the new version of reformist “War Socialism” of 1914, 19 December 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/covid-19-the-current-and-historical-roots-of-bourgeois-lockdown-socialism/; “ZeroCOVID” Left Calls for the Authoritarian State – A Practical Example. A revealing article shows that the Lockdown Left calls for the expansion of the police and surveillance state, 8 April 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/zerocovid-left-calls-for-the-authoritarian-state-a-practical-example/

[3] RCIT: Act Now because History is Happening Now! A call to all revolutionary organizations and activists to join forces against the global counter-revolutionary offensive under the cover of COVID-19, 26 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/open-letter-act-now-because-history-is-happening-now/

 

Introduction

 

 

 

 

We are living in an extraordinary historic moment. What is happening in these days and weeks is a combination of four interrelated developments.

 

1) The Third Depression, i.e. a devastating economic slump of the capitalist world economy which is certainly no less dramatic than the crisis which started in 1929;

 

2) A wave of anti-democratic attacks of a scale which has not been seen in the imperialist countries since 1945 and which triggers a global turn towards Chauvinist State Bonapartism and the creation of a monstrous Leviathan-like state machinery;

 

3) COVID-19, a pandemic which endangers many lives and which is exploited by the ruling classes in order to spread fear, to deflect attention from the capitalist causes of the economic crisis and to justify the turn towards chauvinist state bonapartism;

 

4) Similar to the situation in 1914 after the beginning of World War I we can observe a gigantic wave of opportunist capitulation by large sectors of the reformist workers movement and the so-called left as they fully support or at least do not denounce the global lockdown and the suppression of democratic rights which the ruling classes are imposing in the name of combat against the pandemic.

 

The global counter-revolutionary offensive under the cover of COVID-19 is not only a historical watershed but also a complex and peculiar phenomenon. Hence it raises a number of questions both for the Marxist analysis as well as for the revolutionary strategy and tactic. The present book shall help revolutionary militants to better understand this issue and to find a correct orientation for the struggles in the coming period. This book is based on past documents of the RCIT which we have published since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis – most importantly our Manifesto “COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive”. (See also the Appendix) [1] Hence, we will not repeat all our positions and arguments at this place but rather elaborate a number of issues in more detail.

 

We have to make an important qualification. This book is written under extraordinary circumstances as it appears in the midst of a historic crisis. More precisely, it has been written in the early stages of this crisis. Hence, we are talking about a process which is still in a state of flux. The author of these lines strongly recognized this when the editing process of the book revealed that the data on the economic slump were already outdated only a few days after writing the draft!

 

It would be certainly easier if this document would be written not now but in a few months time when the picture is clearer. However, that would be an academic approach, unworthy of Marxists. The task of revolutionaries is not to observe and comment from outside but to intervene in the class struggle, to provide the vanguard with an analysis and an orientation for the tasks of the day. Hence, revolutionaries can not wait until everything is over. Our dictum is the famous formula which Marx stated in his 11th Thesis on Feuerbach: Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.[2]

 

Lenin as well as Trotsky liked to quote Napoleon who said On s’engage et puis ... on voit.” (“First engage in a serious battle and then see what happens.”) Our task – and the task of all revolutionaries – in this extraordinary historic situation is to grasp as soon as possible and as good as possible the nature of the current events and to elaborate a strategy and tactic for the battles ahead. Marxists must draw a line now, must begin the struggle against the global counter-revolutionary offensive now and not wait until everything is clear … because when everything is clearly evident, it could mean that the reactionary developments have successfully established a new and disadvantageous relation of forces. Our task is to intervene in his process and to influence it is much as possible in the interest of the international working class and the oppressed.

 

For these reasons, this book is not an academic exercise but an attempt to grasp a crucial and ongoing assault of the ruling class and to elaborate a strategy for the resistance. Hence, it is also a contribution to the debate about the current upheaval in the world situation which has begun among socialists and activists in the international liberation movement of the workers and oppressed. It shall help to clarify the political basis for close collaboration of revolutionaries all over the world. This is all the more urgent because if liberation fighters do not succeed in uniting on a clear programmatic basis in order to advance the construction of a World Party of Socialists Revolution, the capitalist counter-revolution could result in a barbaric destruction of humanity and its living conditions.

 

 

 

12 April 2020

 



[1] COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive. We are at a turning point in the world situation as the ruling classes provoke a war-like atmosphere in order to legitimize the build-up of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes, 21 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-a-cover-for-a-major-global-counterrevolutionary-offensive/. We also refer to our Open Letter: Act Now because History is Happening Now! A call to all revolutionary organizations and activists to join forces against the global counter-revolutionary offensive under the cover of COVID-19, 26 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/open-letter-act-now-because-history-is-happening-now/. All documents which the RCIT has published on the COVID-19 crisis are collected at a special sub-page in our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-the-2019-corona-virus/.

[2] Karl Marx: Theses on Feuerbach (1845), in: MECW Vol. 5, p. 5 (Emphasis in the original), https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm

 

I. The peculiar character of the current crisis: a Triple Catastrophe

 

 

 

It is certainly no exaggeration to characterize the current cataclysm as a triple catastrophe. It is a combined event of 1929, Leviathan and pandemic, i.e. of the worst economic slump since 1929, a global simultaneous turn towards Chauvinist State Bonapartism as well as a a dangerous health crisis. It is crucial to understand the concrete dynamic between these three crises in a correct way.

 

Superficially, on the surface, it seems that the pandemic is that one of these three crises which is the dominating factor, which is determining the course of the other two. Let us look at this question a bit closer.

 

 

 

How severe is this pandemic?

 

 

 

How severe is this pandemic? Obviously one has to be cautious at this point to make any prognosis about the further course of this disease. However, it is evident that this is a dangerous pandemic which has already cost many lives and which will cost many more. At the same time, it is equally important to point out that it is neither the first health catastrophe in modern times nor the only one which has wracked the world recently. One has just to think about the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Between the time that AIDS was identified (in the early 1980s) and 2018, the disease caused an estimated 32 million deaths worldwide. In 2018 alone about 37.9 million people were living with HIV and it resulted in 770,000 deaths. However, this is a pandemic which primarily affects the poor countries in the Global South. 25.6 million people infected with HIV (67.5% of the total) live in Sub-Sahara Africa. At the same time, only 2.2 million (5.8%) of those infected live in Western Europe and Northern America, i.e. the imperialist West. And of those who died in 2018, only 1.67% lived in these Western countries. [1]

 

In contrast to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the COVID-19 disease has – until now – primarily affected the imperialist countries, first in East Asia and then in Western Europe and the U.S. One could add numerous other diseases which are plaguing the poor countries of the Global South. Therefore Marxists have to take care that they don’t adapt to the ideology of imperialist self-centeredness: when a pandemic wrecked the poor countries, it causes no more than a few crocodile tears from the UN and some financial crumbs. However, when the rich countries face such a pandemic, “the world stands still”. Marxists have to condemn those leftists who adopt such a reactionary outlook as guilty of social-imperialist arrogance.

 

It is worth pointing out that there have been also various diseases in the imperialist countries which cost a lot of lives without causing any panic, not to speak about a global shutdown. For example, about 2.6 million people die of respiratory infections each year world-wide – without much notice. [2] The influenza epidemics in the past decades have caused globally 290,000-650,000 death each year, without provoking any major political initiative by the ruling class. [3] The overall all-cause influenza-attributable mortality in the 2017/18 season was estimated to be about 152,000 deaths in Europe alone! [4] In 2015 France experienced the deadliest year since the end of World War II. This was attributed to the influenza as well as extreme weather. According to official statistics, a 9-week long particularly harsh flu epidemic had a decimating effect on people aged 65 and over, causing 24,000 extra deaths. [5] In the U.S. alone, 160,201 people died in 2017 because of chronic respiratory disease and cancer killed 599,108. [6]

 

In addition, let us note that the capitalist crisis itself has massive consequences for public health. A long-time study published by The Lancet journal showed that “unemployment increases are associated with rises in cancer mortality”. The authors of the study arrive at the conclusion: “We estimate that the 2008–10 economic crisis was associated with about 260 000 excess cancer-related deaths in the OECD alone.[7] We point out that these figures are limited only to the rich imperialist countries (OECD) which have a much better health system than the countries of the Global South.

 

Experiences from Russia after the downfall of Stalinism produce an even more dramatic picture. During the first half of the 1990s Russia’s economy contracted by 40%. According a study, the economic collapse resulted in the premature death of as many as five million Russian men in the 1990s. [8]

 

And according to a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research, more than 130,000 deaths in the UK since 2012 could have been prevented if improvements in public health policy had not stalled as a direct result of austerity cuts. [9]

 

It should not go unmentioned that respiratory ailments chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infection, and cancer – of the trachea, bronchus or lungs – are three of the leading causes of death in the world. Many of these cases are caused or contributed to by two man-made factors: pollution and chronic smoking. According to the WHO smoking results in about 8.2 million deaths annually. And air-pollution has caused about 8 million premature deaths every year. [10]

 

These are just a few examples which demonstrate that a large number of deaths because of pandemics or other health risks have never provoked any major political initiative by the ruling class. This indicates that the current global lockdown is not primarily motivated by concerns of the capitalist class about public health.

 

One could object that COVID-19 is a new disease and no vaccine is available until now. Therefore, it affects not only the popular masses but also the bourgeoisie and its ruling circles – up to Prime Ministers including their families and advisers. No doubt, this is an important reason why this pandemic has created a lot of panic in the ruling classes of the imperialist countries – despite the fact that it has claimed considerably less victims until now than other pandemics. And since it is exactly these countries which dominate global institutions this has also been a reason why the WHO, UN etc. are all ringing the alarm bells. This also helps explaining why U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres characterizes the current pandemic as the worst global crisis since World War II: “COVID-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations” – albeit, we repeat, much less people have died globally until now than in other pandemics! [11]

 

Is it the case that the capitalist class is panicking because this pandemic severely affects the working class, i.e. the labor forces who create the surplus value and, hence, the basis for profits? This is also not really the case as it is mainly older people and those with seriously illnesses who are mostly endangered. Dr Kluge, the WHO Regional Director for Europe, said in a recent statement: “We know that over 95% of these deaths occurred in those older than 60 years. More than 50% of all deaths were people aged 80 years or older. We also know from reports that 8 out of 10 deaths are occurring in individuals with at least one underlying co-morbidity, in particular those with cardiovascular diseases/hypertension and diabetes, but also with a range of other chronic underlying conditions. [12]

 

This is also, by the way, the reason why Europe suffers particularly strong from this pandemic. According to Dr Kluge, “of the top 30 countries with the largest percentage of older people, all but one (Japan) are our Member States in Europe. The countries most affected by the pandemic are among them.

 

It would be rather strange that the bourgeoisie enters in a stage of panic because older people are dying who don’t play a significant role in the capitalist production process and who, in the logic of profit, are only severely straining the pension system.

 

Neither can any intelligent person claim that the imperialist bourgeoisie is panicking because millions of people could die in the Global South. They did never care about the poor who are dying every year because of hunger, diseases and wars! Why should they suddenly do so now?!

 

It is true that we don’t know the further course of the pandemic. As we noted above, the influenza epidemic cost the lives of more than 150,000 people in Europe alone in the 2017/18 season. The latest study on the COVID-19 crisis estimates a similar number of deaths for Europe in the first wave (151,680 deaths for the whole of Europe with the UK as strongest hit with more than 66,000 deaths). [13] May be more will die in this pandemic. But it is absurd to believe that the ruling classes, which didn’t lift a finger in similar events in the past, would suddenly be willing to crash the economy, i.e. their profits, because two or three times as many people could die as did in an annual influenza epidemic!

 

One has to add to all this that, as we have pointed out repeatedly in our documents, the authoritarian methods which the ruling class apply in their combat against the pandemic are not particularly efficient. Countries which are putting their population under lockdown – like Italy or Spain – suffer nevertheless the highest numbers of casualties in the world. In contrast, countries like South Korea, which have not put their population under lockdown but applied mass and free testing, have been much more successful. This is all the more remarkable as South Korea has been the first country after China which faced a significant number of people infected by the Corona Virus. There are also other countries which have contained the number of death until now without any mass lockdown of the population.

 

All experience demonstrates that free mass testing is the most important instrument in combating the pandemic. However, most imperialist governments have not applied this method but limited themselves to test only those people who have already severe symptoms. Various European countries even refused for a long time offers from South Korea or China to get testing kits. The Austrian government absurdly stated in late March that mass testing “is not useful.[14]

 

Furthermore, as has been noted widely, it is absurd if governments, on one hand, force people to stop any social activity and to stay in their homes, and at the same time to continue running non-essential production where people meet in their work places.

 

Another assertion made by the capitalist governments is that they need to impose the lockdown in order to “win time” so that the health care system does not collapse. If that would be true these governments would utilize the weeks of lockdown in order to do mass testing of the population and to build new hospitals and ICU. Likewise they would vastly expand the number of health workers and raise their salaries in order to improve their working conditions. We have seen in late January in Wuhan that hospitals can be built in ten days if the will to do so exist! However, as a matter of fact, the capitalist governments in general did not use the recent weeks and months to conduct such massive investments in the health sector. Hence, the justification of the lockdown that it would help to win time is just a pretext.

 

All these facts demonstrate beyond doubt that combating the Corona Virus is not, and has never been, the primary motivation in the decisions of the imperialist governments.

 

In summary, there is no reason to assume that the pandemic itself is the main cause for the global lockdown and the shutdown of the capitalist economy by the ruling classes. This is even more so the case as the ruling classes took such initiative at a moment when “only” a fraction of the number of deaths in past epidemics had already died. Hence, it is evident that the global shutdown which we are currently experiencing must have different causes.

 

 

 

A dangerous moment for the bourgeoisie: The Third Great Depression began in 2019 simultaneously with a global wave of class struggles

 

 

 

We have elaborated in our documents on the COVID-19 crisis that the pandemic emerged at a crucial turning point in world politics. In the second half of 2019 two key developments of historic proportions took place. First, the most severe slump of the capitalist world economy began. And, secondly, a global wave of class struggles and popular uprisings shattered nearly all continents.

 

We have analyzed these struggles in numerous statements and articles and will therefore not deal with this issue at this place. [15] It is however undeniable that the global counterrevolutionary offensive which is currently taking place under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in an end of nearly all of these struggles. In Hong Kong, India, Iraq, Chile, France, Catalunya and various other countries the popular masses were forced to retreat in the recent weeks.

 

We have also analyzed the opening of the current Great Recession in various documents. [16] At this place we want to add just a few figures as we possess now a more complete picture of the development of the capitalist world economy of last year.

 

According to the latest figure of the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis global industrial production started to decline in March-May 2019. Obviously this trend was uneven in different regions. The old imperialist states in the West already entered a recession in 2019, albeit the U.S. a bit later than Western Europe and Japan. The same is true for Latin America and the Middle East. Asia, except China, also faltered. China was the single major country which continued experiencing a certain growth dynamic. (See Table 1 and 2) At this point we leave aside the question if the official figures for China are really accurate or, as many critics claim, if they do not tend to exaggerate the country’s economic growth.

 

However, as we have pointed out in past documents, China’s continuing growth was only possible because it experienced simultaneously a huge explosion of debt. In fact, the level of indebtedness grew faster in China since 2008 than in any other major capitalist country! According to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), a well-known think tank on this issue, China’s gross debt surged dramatically from 171% of GDP in Q4 2008 to 299% in Q1 2018. [17] This increase of debts has continued since then and by Q3 2019 China’s debt already approached 310% of GDP. [18] It is important to recognize that this explosion of debt has been particularly relevant for China’s capitalist corporations. The non-financial corporate debt-to-GDP ratio jumped from 93% in 2009 to 153% last year, one of the highest in the world. The IIF warned that China was the major driver of global non-financial corporate debt. China’s bond defaults also hit records in 2018 and 2019. [19]

 

However, despite all these efforts, China too was in the grip of the declining dynamic as it experienced its lowest economic growth in 30 years. The same picture of a world economy entering recession can be seen from the decline in world trade. (See Table 3)

 

 

 

Table 1. Global Industrial Production, 2017-19 (in Volume) [20]

 

                                                                              2017                      2018                      2019

 

World                                                                  3.6                          3.1                          0.8

 

Advanced economies                                     3.1                          2.4                          -0.3

 

United States                                                     2.3                          3.9                          0.9

 

Japan                                                                   2.6                          1.0                          -2.4

 

Euro Area                                                           3.1                          0.9                          -1.7

 

Other advanced economies                          4.3                          3.0                          0.9

 

Emerging economies                                      4.0                          3.7                          1.8

 

China                                                                   6.5                          6.2                          5.8

 

Asia (excl. China)                                             4.2                          3.8                          0.1

 

Eastern Europe / CIS                                      3.2                          2.9                          2.1

 

Latin America                                                   -0.7                        -2.2                         -5.0

 

Africa and Middle East                                   0.7                          1.0                          -3.2

 

 

 

Table 2. Manufacturing in the U.S. 2017-19 (in percent) [21]

 

                Annual                                                                 2019 (Quarters)

 

2017      2018      2019                                      Q1          Q2          Q3          Q4

 

2.0          2.3          -0.2                                      -1.8         -3.3         0.7          -0.6

 

 

 

Table 3. World Merchandise Trade, Percentage Changes [22]

 

(Prices / Unit Values in US-Dollars)

 

2017                      2018                      2019

 

5.9                          6.1                          -2.6

 

 

 

As we have stated in the last RCIT’s World Perspective document, the beginning of this recession in combination with the global wave of popular uprisings opened a pre-revolutionary world situation in autumn 2019. This development was the single most important factor which caused the ruling classes to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a cover for launching a counterrevolutionary offensive with mass lockdowns and the build-up of chauvinist state bonapartist regimes.

 

To achieve this, the capitalist class was prepared to risk a significant escalation of the recession via the shutdown of many businesses. They were even more prepared to do so as they, illusionary, hope that this will be a sharp but short recession, i.e. something which bourgeois economists call a “V recession”. Surely, this is rather hope than serious science. But it reflects the outlook of the ruling class. They calculate that they can overcome the crisis of the capitalist world economy by a decisive political intervention (an “exogenous shock”), by global shutdown, dramatic austerity attacks as well as bail-out programs for the capitalists. Such belief in a sharp but short recession is the reason why the ruling classes are prepared to take such a risk of shutting down the economy. They hope to utilize this supposedly short period for a shock-and-awe attack against the working class and the popular masses – or a “Blitz-Krieg” to use the language of World War II – and to get out of the crisis with a much more favorable relation of forces.

 

As one of many examples for such silly optimism, we quote a prognosis of the British institute Oxford Economics which claims to globally employ 250 economists: The near-term outlook is extremely challenging. But we believe that − consistent with historical experience − the bounce back in activity will be very strong once social distancing measures are relaxed, and monetary and fiscal stimulus combine with a resumption in discretionary spending. Businesses that can weather the crisis should be prepared for a strong end to 2020 and start to 2021, with global growth rising as high as 5.3% in annual terms and averaging 4.4% for next year as a whole.[23]

 

History will laugh about such foolish statements (and we can assume that these economists are even well paid for spreading such nonsense)! As we emphasized in past documents on the world economy, the imperialist corporations as well as states are substantially more indebted today than they were before the last recession in 2008/09. This was already the case before the current recession began. The Institute of International Finance reports: “Global debt hit all-time high of nearly $253 trillion in Q3 2019: Total debt across the household, government, financial and non-financial corporate sectors surged by some $9 trillion in the first three quarters of 2019. By sector, general government (+$3.5 trillion) and non-financial corporates (+$3 trillion) saw the biggest in-creases, helping bring the overall global debt-to-GDP ratio to a fresh high of over 322%.[24]

 

This is particularly the case for non-financial corporations as well as governments. The IIF states in another report: “Corporate debt is already very high relative to earnings - and earnings prospects are deteriorating: At nearly $75 trillion, the fast-growing mountain of global corporate debt (ex-financials) is around 93% of global GDP - vs 75% in the run-up to the 2008 global financial crisis.[25]

 

Add to all these, the gigantic new financial aid programs which the imperialist states are currently spending in order to save the capitalists during the current meltdown. An U.S. economist estimates that Trump’s aid package of $2.2 trillion, the equivalent of nearly 11% of annual output, will be followed by various financial programs of the Federal Reserve banking system worth another $4 trillion. He concludes that the total sum of “outlay of borrowed money, and printed money, [will amount] to about one-third the entire annual gross domestic product of the world’s richest society.[26]

 

A similar process of huge accumulation of additional public debt is taking place in most other imperialist countries. Japan’s Abe government just decided on a nearly US$1 trillion emergency plan which is the equivalent of 20% of the country’s GDP. The emergency packages of other governments are smaller but still very large. Australia is spending about 9.7% of GDP, Canada 8.4%, Germany’s 4.9% and France 2%.