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%. [27]


While every calculation can only be of provisional nature at this juncture (and might be already outdated when these lines are published), economists estimate that the financial emergency programs which have been adopted by governments around the world equal currently about 7 trillion US-Dollar which is about 8% of the global GDP! [28]


Of course, economic activity will not decline indefinitely. Even the slump of 1929-32 ended at one point. The capitalist production process is based on an expanded reproduction of capital as Marx elaborated in Vol. III of Capital. However, it is clear that this recession will not be short but long and any upswing will be rather shallow than strong. We saw this process already at the last recession. As we have emphasized repeatedly the upswing period of the last business cycle after 2008/09 was the weakest since World War II. The next upswing will take place on the basis of an even larger sum of debts and, at the same time, against the backdrop of a capitalist world economy divided by protectionist borders. [29]


However, even such a sluggish recovery is still far away as we are still just at the beginning of the process of collapse of the capitalist world economy. Hence, it is much too early to make a comprehensive assessment of its severity. However, the bourgeois economists are forced to correct their predictions downwards every week and it is already obvious that this slump is no less dramatic than the crisis of 1929-33.


Currently, the bourgeois economists estimate that each month of lockdown will result in a loss of 2% of output. Such the OECD states in its latest assessment: “It is clear that the impact of the shutdowns will weaken short-term growth prospects substantially. The scale of the estimated decline in the level of output is such that it is equivalent to a decline in annual GDP growth of up to 2 percentage points for each month that strict containment measures continue. If the shutdown continued for three months, with no offsetting factors, annual GDP growth could be between 4-6 percentage points lower than it otherwise might have been.[30]


JPMorgan Chase has already lowered its estimation on U.S. economic growth for the first and second quarters. The investment bank now expects real U.S. GDP to decline by -10% in the first quarter and by another -25% in the second quarter. [31] In just three weeks, a staggering 16.8 million Americans have been thrown onto the unemployment rolls. [32] Federal Reserve policy maker James Bullard predicts that the jobless rate could rise to 30%. These are even more dramatic dimensions than that of 1929-33! In that period, unemployment in the U.S. was 24.9% at its peak. [33]


However, these are not the most pessimistic prognosis. “Morgan Stanley predicted that the U.S. economy, the world’s biggest, would shrink 5.5% this year, the steepest drop since 1946, despite an unprecedented aid package. An eye-watering 38% contraction is predicted for the second quarter. The bank said Britain was heading for a slump that could be worse in the short term than the 1930s. [34]


Similarly, the Euro Area’s economy is predicted to shrink at an annualized clip of 10%. [35]


In contrast to 2008-09 the recession this time also strongly affects China – the second leading imperialist economy. According to the South China Morning Post, “profits at China’s industrial firms plummeted 38.3 per cent from a year ago in the first two months of 2020, with the biggest loss on record offering fresh evidence of the overwhelming impact of the coronavirus on the world’s second largest economy.[36] In China too, unemployment is on the rise, endangering social stability. In February, the urban jobless rate jumped to a record-breaking 6.2% compared to 4.9% in April 2018. [37]


However, these are just the official figures. China’s official data only cover the urban workforce (442 million) but exclude the 290 million migrant workers who are often more vulnerable to economic fluctuations. According to estimations of Liu Chenjie, chief economist at fund manager Upright Asset, “the pandemic may have pushed 205 million workers into “frictional unemployment”, where they want to work but cannot or are unable to go back to work. If true, that figure would represent more than a quarter of China’s 775 million workforce and would be vastly higher than the 6.2 per cent figure posited by the government’s survey.[38]


Likewise, we see similar dramatic developments in India. The draconic 21-day lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s has catastrophic consequences for India’s workforce of 471 million. Only 19% of them are covered by social security, two-thirds have no formal employment contract, and at least 100 million are migrant workers. Many of them have been sent in headlong flight back to their villages. As a commentator remarks: “There has been nothing like it since partition in 1947. [39]


As a result of these developments, the world economy is in the midst of a slump of historic proportions. Bloomberg Economics says the global economy will shrink almost 2% year-on-year in the first half, with the euro-area suffering the worst back to back quarterly contractions in its history. And Goldman Sachs said the region’s economy could shrink more than 11% quarter-on-quarter in the three months through June. [40]


The Asian Development Bank expects that the cost of the coronavirus pandemic could be as high as $4.1 trillion, or almost 5 per cent of global gross domestic product. [41]


All this goes hand in hand with a total collapse of world trade. An article reports in despair and disbelief: “Global business to business transactions have dropped by an eye-watering 62 percent since March 8, according to the latest data from Tradeshift.[42]


The World Trade Organization estimates in its latest prognosis a total collapse of the volume of world merchandise trade in the year 2020 of between -12.9% (“optimistic scenario”) and -31.9% (“pessimistic scenario”). [43]


The economist Nouriel Roubini points out well the historic dimensions of the current slump. “The shock to the global economy from COVID-19 has been both faster and more severe than the 2008 global financial crisis and even the Great Depression. In those two previous episodes, stock markets collapsed by 50% or more, credit markets froze up, massive bankruptcies followed, unemployment rates soared above 10%, and GDP contracted at an annualized rate of 10% or more. But all of this took around three years to play out. In the current crisis, similarly dire macroeconomic and financial outcomes have materialized in three weeks.[44]


Other economists characterize the current events as a “war-like scenario without the physical asset destruction”. “The global economy’s most abrupt and consequential shock in at least a generation is unfolding at ports and other hubs of international commerce as the U.S. and Europe struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The Great Recession, the Sept. 11 attacks, the 1973 oil embargo – none of these modern crises constricted trade flows as quickly and as sharply as the Covid-19 disease has. Not even World War II delivered the kind of sudden economic knockout that is paralyzing global supply chains and rendering almost silent the most bustling cities in the developed world as businesses close and consumers obey orders to stay at home. “This could be seen as a war-like scenario without the physical asset destruction,” World Trade Organization Chief Economist Robert Koopman told Bloomberg in a telephone interview.[45]


And the economist Adam Tooze observed in an article with the telling title “The Normal Economy Is Never Coming Back”: As the coronavirus lockdown began, the first impulse was to search for historical analogies - 1914, 1929, 1941? As the weeks have ground on, what has come ever more to the fore is the historical novelty of the shock that we are living through. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, America’s economy is now widely expected to shrink by a quarter. That is as much as during the Great Depression. But whereas the contraction after 1929 stretched over a four-year period, the coronavirus implosion will happen over the next three months. There has never been a crash landing like this before. There is something new under the sun. And it is horrifying. [46]


In summary, it is clear that we are experiencing the beginning of the Third Depression – after the first in 1873-96 and the second in 1929-39.




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




Naturally, we don’t possess all the information of the decision making at each step of this process. However, it seems to us that the following is the most likely scenario as we already noted briefly somewhere else. [47]


As we have said above, the fundamental background for the decision-making of the ruling classes has been the dramatic world situation based on the combination of the beginning recession and the global wave of popular uprisings in the second half of 2019. It is this background which pushed the ruling classes in many countries to utilize, or let us better say, to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for their political goals. By this we do not mean that this pandemic has been the result of a “global conspiracy”, i.e. a secret agreement between the Great Powers to coordinate in launching a global anti-democratic attack. No, this was obviously not the case.


It is safe to say that the bourgeoisie rather stumbled in this crisis. But the smarter sections of the ruling circles (i.e. not the clowns a la Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro) soon recognized the potential to utilize this crisis. China, a leading Great Power, certainly played a crucial role in this process. As generally known, the Corona Virus first emerged in Wuhan, a major industrial city in China. The Stalinist-capitalist regime in Beijing deployed draconic measures and imposed a lockdown for many millions of people in Hubei and other regions. It seems that they were able to successfully contain the virus (at least they are able to pretend so until now) and at the same time to keep the people under control. This has been all the more important for the regime as it had faced recently a dangerous development. For half a year or so it experienced pre-revolutionary events in Hong Kong which were closely followed by the world public. [48] This was evidently a worrisome development for the regime. This was even more the case as it feared that this example could inspire Chinese workers and youth in other major cities. This worry was not unfounded as the mass protests in Wuhan in summer 2019 showed. [49]


It remains to be seen if Beijing can continue to keep its population under control. The mass riots in Hubei on 27 March showed that this is certainly not guaranteed. [50] However, for now the Xi regime and its dictatorial methods seem to have succeeded. This made the “Chinese methods” a model for other capitalist governments and business leaders – including those in Western imperialist countries.


It is important to bear in mind that in real life there exist not only the two radical alternatives that events either result from a full conspiracy by the rulers or that the rulers are totally surprised and unprepared. More often, a chaotic combination of both – planning und surprise – takes place.


To give a brief analogy. The First World War did not emerge out of the blue but no government had planned what actually happened. Leading circles of all Great Powers had military plans and mobilization concepts. They expected a war and were willing to wage it in order to increase their power and to dominate their enemies. But most rulers did not plan to wage such a war in summer 1914 – even not after the shots of Sarajevo. And those who actively advanced the beginning of the war – influential circles in the military headquarters in Berlin and Vienna – hoped to limit the conflict to a smaller number of enemies. And even after the beginning of the great slaughter, everyone expected to have the war finished by Christmas 1914. As generally known, things turned out pretty differently. [51]


There exist certain parallels to the present situation. At the beginning of this year, nobody planned for a global lockdown and a world economy in free fall. But many governments were worried about both the state of the world economy as well as about the global wave of mass struggles. Furthermore, plans existed how to prepare for and how to react to a pandemic. As a recently published article of our comrade Almedina Gunić showed, the World Bank and the WHO made pretty accurate predictions of such a pandemic only a few months before the emergence of the Corona Virus in Wuhan. And they developed concepts how the ruling class should respond to such an event. [52]


Then there has been the notorious “Event 201”, a simulation program of a pandemic organized in New York in October 2019 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In this simulation a virus, called CAPS (Coronavirus Associated Pulmonary Syndrome) spread globally. Three months in, the hypothetical illness had caused 30,000 illnesses and 2,000 deaths. The scenario ended after 18 months with 65 million people dead. [53] And shortly after the events in Wuhan, the CIA already warned about the pandemic in January this year, according to a report by Foreign Policy. [54] In summary, it is simply wrong to imagine that the ruling classes were unprepared for these events. Not, there have been sectors of the ruling class which foresaw such a pandemic and were prepared for such.


So when the pandemic was there, the more long-sighted sections of the ruling class realized soon that this is a once in a century chance to launch a counter-revolutionary offensive in a period of the worst crisis of the capitalist system. They did not do it in coordination but once it worked in China, others realized the chance and than a global chain reaction started.


All this does not exclude the fact that some sectors of the bourgeoisie are also in panic. Obviously they don’t like it if people from their own class can also get infected! This is particularly relevant in the current situation since, as observers have noted, it has been people from the elite and the upper class who were among the first affected and who seemed to have played a crucial role in transmitting the Corona Virus to other countries. Below we reprint an excerpt from an interview with Jason Beaubien, the Global Health and Development Correspondent of the U.S: National Public Radio.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...About this disease. It's almost like it seems the global spread has impacted a certain strata of society. It's people on cruise ships. It's members of Congress and politicians. I mean, we should say that it's not just exclusively those people, but...




GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...It's certainly notable that they've been affected.


BEAUBIEN: It is very notable. And it's quite interesting. I mean, one of the first major clusters in Europe in late January was among these 21 people at a ski resort in France. And one of them had come over from Singapore. And he appears to be the one that carried the virus with him to France. And this group of ski buddies then all dispersed. And some of them went to the U.K. And some went to Spain. And others went to other parts of France. Thirteen of those 21 ended up testing positive. You know, and we've seen these other clusters on cruise ships. You know, this might seem like cruise ships have something to do with transmission. And that could be true. But again, this is among people with a certain amount of disposable income that can afford a cruise. I was based - not based, but I was working out of Hong Kong earlier in this outbreak. And some of the very first cases in Hong Kong - they turned up at the Four Seasons Hotel and the W Hotel... (…) some of the most expensive hotels in Hong Kong. So so far, we're not seeing that many cases in the poorest countries of the world, like in Africa or Central America. And when we do, it turns out it's primarily among people who've been arriving from Europe.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's not just among the upper-middle classes - right? - who are on cruises or can take foreign vacations. There's another group here...




GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Which is really striking. We're seeing among the real social elite - politicians, sports stars, actors. [55]


Another reason why we hear more about “prominent” and wealthy people being infected is because they can afford to get privately tested and receive better private treatment while many workers and poor have not been tested.


In summary, the events which led to the present chaotic global situation were a mix of panic, “conspiracy”, repression and slump.


Let us briefly deal with another argument. Many people – including those among the so-called left – tend to believe that the capitalist governments have decided to impose state of emergency and lockdown primarily in order to contain the pandemic. There is a well-known saying of the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, who summarized the essence of any military conflict by the famous words: “War is a mere continuation of policy by other means.[56]


This formula was often quoted by Friedrich Engels and V.I. Lenin and it is equally applicable to health policy. Hence, we can say that health policy is a mere continuation of general policy by other means. In other words, the health policy of the bourgeoisie does not follow specific laws different from others. They are rather subordinated to the general strategy of the ruling class. Hence the political counter-revolutionary offensive which has been launched by the ruling classes is a continuation of their long-standing policy to keep power and to safeguard their profit interests. They are just adapting this strategy to the current extraordinary circumstances (beginning of the Third Depression and the global wave of popular uprisings in late 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic since January 2020).




The ultimate end of the era of Globalization




The dramatic events of the current triple crisis have also another historic meaning. They mark the ultimate end of the era of globalization. Again, this does not come as a surprise. In the past years, the RCIT has repeatedly pointed out that the regime of capitalist globalization is in deep crisis and will inevitable find its end. In our World Perspectives 2017 and other documents we noted that “the era of globalization is about to come to an end.[57] This end has definitely now come to pass.


The collapse of world trade, the creation of strong border control all over the world – and all this against the backdrop of the rising protectionist tariffs during the Global Trade War in the past two years – all these factors make it clear that the era of globalization has come to an end.


These developments are an inevitable consequence of the acceleration of the rivalry between the Great Powers in a period characterized by a deepening structural crisis of capitalism. The cake gets smaller and all players have to fight harder against each other to get their share. In addition, the necessity to strengthen the political role of the state – because of the political and social crisis as a result of economic slump, rocking unemployment, pandemic, etc. – will also increase state control over trade and capital flows.


When we speak about the end of this era we don’t mean a full retreat to protectionist autarky and the end of world trade. Such a full retreat is not possible at the present stage of capitalism where the productive forces are so massively developed that any national market is far too small for it. However, as we predicted some time ago, the collapse of the world market will rather trigger the creation of larger blocs dominated by this or that Great Power. [58]


One important economic consequence of the end of globalization will be – sooner or later – a massive rise of prices of commodities. In other words, inflation – which was rather suppressed in many countries in the era of globalization – will become again a central feature of the world economy. This means that the struggle of the workers and urban and rural poor for higher wages, for price control, etc. will become increasingly important.


As we have pointed out in the past, such an end of an era of globalization is not unprecedented and has already happened before. The expansion of global capitalism in the late 19th century resulted in a massive growth of trade as well as of cross border investment. The highpoint was in 1913 when the onset of World War I ended the first era of globalization. The second era of globalization – which has come to an end now – only started in the 1990s. To illustrate the development of globalization in the first era we refer to the growth of world trade in this time. The share of trade in global GDP was approximately 18% in 1870, increased to 30% in 1913, collapsed to 10% in 1932. [59] Likewise, there was a highpoint of globalization in 1913 when the stock of Foreign Direct Investment is estimated to have equaled 9% of world output. In the following decades, this share declined massively – only 4.4% in 1960 and 4.8% in 1980 – and regained similar standards like before WWI only in the 1990s. [60]


Finally, we want to point out that, ironically, the era of globalization has been ended by a truly global and historic event – the COVID-19 pandemic and the chauvinist and counterrevolutionary reaction towards it by the ruling classes of the imperialist Great Powers. Such a “war-like scenario without the physical asset destruction” – to repeat the above-mentioned quote of a leading bourgeois economist – has been the ultimate factor for this historic watershed.




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




The RCIT has pointed out since years that one of the most important developments in world politics is the decline of U.S. imperialism as the hegemon and the rise of China as a new imperialist power. [61] We have explained that the rivalry between these two Great Powers is a key factor to understand the dynamic of global relations. The Global Trade War since early 2018 and the resulting Cold War between Washington and Beijing have fully confirmed our analysis. [62] We note in passing that another important, and related, development has been the rise of Russia. [63] While it does not have the same significance as China, it is another imperialist power which challenges the hegemony of the U.S. (as the developments in the Middle East in the last years have demonstrated).


The current events in the course of the COVID-19 crisis mark a new stage in the global relation of forces. It is now becoming evident and visible for the whole world that the U.S. has lost its leading status. While China seems to have managed its COVID-19 crisis and was able to limit the number of victims, the U.S. is incapable of dealing with the pandemic and tens of thousands of people are consequently dying. European governments ask China for help and look to its state bonapartist regime as a model. No one asks the U.S. for support and certainly no government considers it as a model in any way.


This irresistible decay of the U.S. is also recognized by a growing number of bourgeois thinkers in the U.S. Francis Fukuyama, a leading liberal philosopher, is a characteristic example. Three decades ago, Fukuyama published a famous book after the collapse of the USSR in which he declared “the end of history”. Expressing Western imperialist triumphalism, he states in 1992 that capitalist liberal democracy is the superior social formation and it has finally won. [64] In the last years, he was already forced to beat a retreat. Today, faced with the pathetic performance of U.S. imperialism in the current COVID-19 crisis, he pessimistically states:


When the pandemic subsides, I suspect that we will have to discard simple dichotomies. The major dividing line in effective crisis response will not place autocracies on one side and democracies on the other. Rather, there will be some high-performing autocracies, and some with disastrous outcomes. There will be a similar, though likely smaller, variance in outcomes among democracies. The crucial determinant in performance will not be the type of regime, but the state’s capacity and, above all, trust in government. (…) A democracy delegates emergency powers to its executive to deal with fast-moving threats. But willingness to delegate power and its effective use depend on one thing above all, which is trust that the executive will use those powers wisely and effectively. And this is where the U.S. has a big problem right now. (…) The intense distrust that Trump and his administration have aroused, and the distrust of government that they have instilled in their supporters, will have terrible consequences for policy. (…) In the end, I don’t believe that we will be able to reach broad conclusions about whether dictatorships or democracies are better able to survive a pandemic. Democracies such as South Korea and Germany have been relatively successful so far in dealing with the crisis, even if the U.S. is doing less well. What matters in the end is not regime type, but whether citizens trust their leaders, and whether those leaders preside over a competent and effective state. And on this score, America’s deepening tribalism leaves few reasons for optimism.[65]


In the 19th century, bourgeois politicians liked to use the phrase of “The Sick Man of Europe” when they referred to the Ottoman Empire or the Habsburg Monarchy. It might be appropriate to start talking about “The Sick Man across the Atlantic”.


It is however important to point out that it is not only the U.S. which is visible failing in the current COVID-19 crisis. Western Europe is also evidently overwhelmed by the crisis with its health sectors collapsing and tens of thousands people dying. Furthermore, the crisis demonstrated that the European Union is still riven by national divisions. When the crisis struck the continent, the rallying cry of its member states was “everyone for himself”. Each state only cared for itself and put no priority to support those states which were mostly affected by the pandemic (first Italy and then Spain).


It is evident that the current triple crisis of political, economic and health emergencies constitutes a make-it-or-break-it moment for the European Union. There are only two alternatives: either Germany and France – as the two dominating powers – succeed to constitute a strong centre and create a politically more centralized union (either the European Union or, more likely, a smaller federation based on the richer member states). Or the EU will fall apart resp. remains only a loose economic market. In the later case, the individual European states will have to look for alliances with Great Powers like China or the U.S. in which they could only play a subordinated role. The outcome of the current negotiations between the EU governments about the issuing of so-called Pandemic Bonds will be a first indication where the EU is going.


In any case, the pathetic performance of the old imperialist powers in the West – the U.S. and Western Europe – in the COVID-19 crisis demonstrates that the famous words of Oswald Spengler about the “Downfall of the West” once more are not only a literary phrase but an actual description of the current situation! [66]


In our opinion, the COVID-19 crisis constitutes a political turning point which marks the end of the hegemony of U.S. imperialism. This does not mean that the U.S. is no longer one of the most important Great Powers in the world. It certainly is and will remain so. Neither does it mean that China has now become the new hegemon. In fact, it seems to us that the future course of development of world politics will be characterized by a lack of any hegemon. The U.S. is no longer capable of putting its mark on world politics. And China (and even less so any other Great Power) is not strong enough to do so.


What will be the result of such equilibrium of the Great Powers? It will be a further acceleration of the inter-imperialist rivalry – mainly between the U.S. and China. In fact, we are entering a period which can be characterized as a prelude for World War III.


Interestingly, some of the more intelligent bourgeois thinkers also recognize such a dynamic. Richard Haass, a well-known American veteran diplomat and an influential foreign policy adviser of the ruling class, states in a new essay that he expects an acceleration of the previous trend of the decline of the U.S. and more global conflicts. He arrives at the pessimistic conclusion, from the point of view of U.S. imperialism, that we are entering a period similar to the 1920s and 1930s:


But the world following the pandemic is unlikely to be radically different from the one that preceded it. COVID-19 will not so much change the basic direction of world history as accelerate it. The pandemic and the response to it have revealed and reinforced the fundamental characteristics of geopolitics today. As a result, this crisis promises to be less of a turning point than a way station along the road that the world has been traveling for the past few decades. (…) Yet the world that will emerge from the crisis will be recognizable. Waning American leadership, faltering global cooperation, great-power discord: all of these characterized the international environment before the appearance of COVID-19, and the pandemic has brought them into sharper-than-ever relief. They are likely to be even more prominent features of the world that follows. (…) Accordingly, the more relevant precedent to consider may be not the period following World War II but the period following World War I—an era of declining American involvement and mounting international upheaval. The rest, as they say, is history. [67]


These developments do not come as a surprise for Marxists. We have predicted such in various RCIT publications. The task for revolutionaries now is to politically prepare for these developments and to advance the formation of a powerful international organization which can aid the working class and the oppressed in fighting against the imperialist hydra!


It is characteristic that large sectors of the reformist and centrist left completely failed to prepare for such developments as they staunchly refuse the Marxist analysis of China (and Russia) as a new imperialist power. They either view China as a progressive, “socialist” or “anti-imperialist” power which they support against the U.S.; or they characterize China (and Russia) as a kind of semi-colony or a “sub-imperialist” country. Again, such a mistaken analysis opens the road to side with Beijing (and Moscow) against the U.S. In short, the failure to recognize the imperialist nature of China and Russia inevitable leads these sectors of the left towards pro-Eastern social-imperialism. We emphasize once more that the failure to recognize the imperialist character of China and Russia can only result in the failure to understand the nature of the rivalry between the Great Powers. And the failure to understand this key feature of world politics, a feature which will become even more important in the coming period, can only result in complete confusion at best and utter social-imperialist servility to one or the other Great Power at worst.












[1] UNAIDS: FACT SHEET – WORLD AIDS DAY 2019, p.1 and p.5

[2] Yanis Roussel, Audrey Giraud-Gatineau, Marie-Therese Jimeno, Jean-Marc Rolain, Christine Zandotti, Philippe Colson, Didier Raoult : SARS-CoV-2: fear versus data, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents (2020), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2020.105947

[3] See on this e.g. WHO: Up to 650 000 people die of respiratory diseases linked to seasonal flu each year, 14 December 2017 https://www.who.int/en/news-room/detail/14-12-2017-up-to-650-000-people-die-of-respiratory-diseases-linked-to-seasonal-flu-each-year; Iuliano AD, Roguski KM, Chang HH, Muscatello DJ, Palekar R, Tempia S, et al. Estimates of global seasonal influenza-associated respiratory mortality: a modelling study. Lancet. 2018;391:1285-300. Medline:29248255 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)33293-2; Paget J, Spreeuwenberg P, Charu V, et al. Global mortality associated with seasonal influenza epidemics: New burden estimates and predictors from the GLaMOR Project. J Glob Health. 2019;9(2):020421. doi:10.7189/jogh.09.020421

[4] J. Nielsen et al: European all-cause excess and influenza-attributable mortality in the 2017/18 season: should the burden of influenza B be reconsidered? in: Clinical Microbiology and Infection Volume 25, Issue 10 (October 2019), pp. 1266–1276

[5] Thomas Seymat: Flu and weather made 2015 the deadliest year in France since World War II, 15/02/2016 https://www.euronews.com/2016/02/15/flu-and-weather-made-2015-the-deadliest-year-in-france-since-world-war-ii

[6] Tom J Velk: Are pandemic policymakers blinded by expertise? March 31, 2020 https://asiatimes.com/2020/03/are-pandemic-policymakers-blinded-by-expertise/

[7] “Economic downturns, universal health coverage, and cancer mortality in high-income and middle-income countries, 1990-2010: a longitudinal analysis,” Mahiben Maruthappu, Johnathan Watkins, Aisyah Mohd Noor, Callum Williams, Raghib Ali, Richard Sullivan, Thomas Zeltner, Rifat Atun, The Lancet, online May 25, 2016, doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)00577-8, www.thelancet.com, Vol 388 August 13, 2016, p. 694

[8] James Ciment: Life expectancy of Russian men falls to 58, BMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7208.468a (Published 21 August 1999)

[9] Toby Helm: Austerity to blame for 130,000 ‘preventable’ UK deaths – report, 1 June 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/01/perfect-storm-austerity-behind-130000-deaths-uk-ippr-report

[10] Pitamber Kaushik: Recessions, longevity and the Covid-19 ‘sweet spot’, 11 April 2020, https://asiatimes.com/2020/04/recessions-longevity-and-the-covid-19-sweet-spot/

[12] Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge (WHO Regional Director for Europe): Statement – Older people are at highest risk from COVID-19, but all must act to prevent community spread, Copenhagen, 2 April 2020, http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/statements/statement-older-people-are-at-highest-risk-from-covid-19,-but-all-must-act-to-prevent-community-spread

[13] COVID-19: What’s New for April 7, 2020, http://www.healthdata.org/covid/updates; see also AFP: Britain set for 66,000 COVID-19 deaths, most in Europe: study, 07/04/2020 https://www.france24.com/en/20200407-britain-set-for-66-000-covid-19-deaths-most-in-europe-study