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




In this chapter we intend to deal in more detail with the features of the current global counterrevolution and its likely direction. Before doing so, we must point out that we are fully aware of the limitations of such an effort. Naturally, it is not possible at such an early stage to give a detailed characterization. In fact, the leading circles of the bourgeoisie themselves are still in full discussion about the future course. Furthermore, massive class struggles are inevitable in the period ahead and they naturally will also influence the course of the development.


Nevertheless, there are various objective tendencies resulting from past developments in world politics as well as from the nature of the current capitalist crisis which all point to a certain direction. It is important to analyze them in order to understand the challenges of the class struggles ahead. Abram Deborin, the leading Marxist philosopher in the USSR in the 1920s before the Stalinist clampdown, once stated that the Marxist must, above all, assess the general direction of the development.” [1] And indeed, without a clear understanding of the fundamental dynamics, revolutionaries would be condemned to political disorientation.


Let us begin with an attempt to give a characterization of the development of bourgeois politics in the new era which has just opened up. Being aware of the limitations mentioned above, we think that the broad lines of development of capitalism are the following:


a) Monopolization


b) State Capitalism


c) State Bonapartism


d) Chauvinism


Before we discuss these in more detail we want to make a general observation. We think that these four characteristics are inseparable from each other. An economic catastrophe of 1929 dimensions inevitable accelerates a massive process of monopolization. Big fish eats many small fishes – particularly if it is hungry. In periods of deep crisis the big capitalists need more help and regulation from the state. They need a “strong fist” against potentially rebellious masses. And they need a “strong fist” against capitalist rivals abroad. All these dynamics necessitate a push of the monopoly bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries towards Chauvinist State Bonapartism. Naturally this process takes different forms and different speeds – according to national circumstances as well as the course of the struggle between the classes. But as a general trend we will see such a process all over the world.




Monopolization and state capitalism after neo-liberalism




First, as we have demonstrated above, the current slump of the capitalist world economy has gigantic dimensions. This can only mean, and early reports from many countries confirm this, that there will be widespread bankruptcy of many small and medium capitalists as well as of petty bourgeois layers of small business men and women. This process takes place not only in the “free market” countries like the U.S. or Western Europe but all over the world. According to the South China Morning Post, more than 460,000 Chinese firms closed permanently in the first quarter as the coronavirus pandemic pummeled the world’s second largest economy.[2]


This, in turn, means that the domination of the market by the large corporations will increase even further. In other words, an important outcome of this crisis will be a further leap in the monopolization of the capitalist world economy. Hence, it will be an even smaller number of monopolies from the imperialist states which will control the world market and appropriate an extra-profit.


This has important economic consequences. One of them is that these monopolies will be in an even stronger position to manipulate markets and prices.


Furthermore, there are also important political consequences. Crisis, agony and annihilation of large sectors of small capitalists and petty bourgeois layers also means that the ruling elite of the bourgeois system – the monopoly capitalists with their affiliated circles of politicians and generals – looses a crucial layer of the capitalist society on which it could rest its rule until now. Such desperate smaller capitalist and petty-bourgeois layers will inevitable radicalize and turn either to the right or to the left. If the vanguard succeeds in leading the working class into the battlefield, it can offer a leadership to such layers. If not, these sectors will rather turn to religious obscurantism or fascism.


Secondly, it is evident that the current gigantic collapse inevitable impels the capitalist state to massively intervene in economic life. We can already observe huge economic aid programs as outlined in the previous chapter. However, it is highly likely that we will not see simply a replay of the limited character of the state-capitalist intervention as it was the case in the 2008-09 Great Recession. The reason is that the economic collapse this time is much more severe. The Third Depression will inevitable result in the impending bankruptcy of many banks and corporations. Hence, the capitalist state will intervene massively, either take over such enterprises or enforce fusions with others.


Furthermore, given the collapse of globalization, the rivalry between states – and hence the economic role of states – will also increase. This relates to tariffs, aids for exports, regulations to limit foreign competition etc. To all these, one has to add the specific political nature of the current crisis (pandemic, rivalry between states). This will also reinforce the increasing economic role of the capitalist state. Even bourgeois mainstream thinkers like Richard Haass are aware of such developments: Global trade will partly recover, but more of it will be managed by governments rather than markets. [3]


All this demonstrates – and has been already recognized by intelligent observers from the bourgeois camp – the political and economic bankruptcy of neoliberalism. Sure, left-liberals and Keynesians have always proclaimed that the neoliberal model results in the ruin of capitalism and, hence, they advocated state-capitalist reforms in order to avoid such a collapse. Naturally, such thinkers see themselves fully confirmed by the current events. Jonathan Watts, The Guardian’s global environment editor, wrote: “The coronavirus pandemic has brought urgency to the defining political question of our age: how to distribute risk. As with the climate crisis, neoliberal capitalism is proving particularly ill-suited to this. (…) It is entirely possible that the effects of this pandemic could be one of the most catastrophic failures of free-market capitalism.[4]


Paul Mason, a prominent progressive journalist in Britain supporting Labourism a la Corbyn, also views the current global crisis as a chance to impose a “new, and very different, model of capitalism”. In a recent commentary published on the website of Al Jazeera, he wrote:


Left-wing economists, myself included, have been warning that, in the long term, stagnant growth and high debt were likely to lead to these three policies: States paying citizens a universal income as automation makes well-paid work precarious and scarce; central banks lending directly to the state to keep it afloat; and large-scale public ownership of major corporations to maintain vital services that cannot be run at a profit. On the rare occasions that such suggestions have ever been put to investors in the past, the response was usually a polite head-shake or, among people who witnessed the collapse of Soviet communism, outrage. It would kill capitalism, they said. But now, the unthinkable is here - all of it: Universal payments, state bailouts and the funding of state debts by central banks have all been adopted at a speed that has shocked even the usual advocates of these measures. (…) For me, these emergency measures have always been thinkable. Since 2015, I have argued we will be forced to adopt a new, and very different, model of capitalism; if not by the economic costs of supporting ageing populations, then by the threat of climate chaos. But the COVID-19 crisis brings everything into the short term. The capitalism that emerges from this in the mid-2020s will have already paid out tens of billions of dollars in basic income payments; it will have seen airlines and hotel chains nationalised; and the government debts of the advanced economies, currently averaging 103 percent of their gross domestic product, will be way above that. We do not know how much higher, because we do not know yet how far GDP will fall.[5]


However, the current collapse of global capitalism makes also a growing number of mainstream bourgeois thinkers aware that the neoliberal model is no longer adequate for running the capitalist system and that it needs a substantial dose of state capitalist regulation.


Marshall Auerback, a global portfolio strategist for decades, has published a series of articles in which he advocates a departure from globalization and neoliberalism and a turn to a stronger role of the state as well as of national industrial policy. He wrote recently: For now, we should start by reducing our supply-chain vulnerabilities by building into our systems more of what engineers call redundancy – different ways of doing the same things – so as to mitigate undue reliance on foreign suppliers for strategically important industries. We need to mobilize national resources in a manner akin to the way a country does during wartime or during massive economic dislocation (such as the Great Depression) – comprehensive government-led actions (which runs in the face of much of today’s prevailing and increasingly outdated economic and political theology). In other words, the revival of a coherent national industrial policy. To save the global economy, paradoxically, we need less of it. Not only does the private/public sector balance have to shift in favor of the latter, but so too does the multinational/national matrix in manufacturing. Otherwise, Covid-19 will simply represent yet another in a chain of catastrophes for global capitalism, rather than an opportunity to rethink our entire model of economic development.[6]


In another recently published article, Auerback outlines such a protectionist, state capitalist policy in more detail and argues that modern technologies could help implementing such a shift: This pandemic continues to unfold, but it will serve as the D-Day equivalent of a new predominating economic model for the world, and which in many ways was beginning to take shape before Covid-19. At its core, developed and mixed-market economies will factor in the health risk and growing military cost of sustaining international supply chains against investing in high-tech production closer to their markets, and increasingly export their goods to the rest of the world. Dozens of economies that developed in the past 50 years by enmeshing themselves in the international supply chain on the basis of their labor price advantage will find themselves increasingly cut out of the new process. The contest for global power will increasingly pivot to the extraction and refinement of minerals and component materials that are critical to sustaining the high-tech economy model, away from carbon energy resources. We will be hearing much more about “national stockpiling” and “strategic reserves” beyond oil in the months and years ahead. (…)


The collective strength of these technologies [like Artificial Intelligence, non-carbon energy sources, nanotechnology, etc., Ed.] will diminish the appeal of finding cheaper labor outside a country’s borders or common market – and the costs they entail. Countries that are advanced along these lines and have access to the minerals required to engage in this form of production will prosper, plugging into their existing consumer market and building up a head of steam that will eventually lead to a new chain of international exports and imports. These trend lines will accelerate the decline of brick-and-mortar retail and service industries. (…)


Much of Europe and Asian countries like China, South Korea and Japan are poised for the transition. Based on their traditions of rigid state-driven capitalism, these nations instinctively grasp how state capacity and direction can help drive further industrial development. It remains to be seen if the US is fully capable of it. That is unlikely, if the prevailing neoliberal ideology persists (…)


Offshoring left the US unprepared for Covid-19. It has also occasioned a widespread reassessment of globalization: What was once seen as the heretical refuge of economic nationalists has now become respectable again. Even without this pandemic, the foundations of America’s economic model were failing and becoming rapidly obsolete. The question is: As the world moves to a post-carbon future, can the US economy take away the primacy of rent-extracting sectors like finance, insurance and real estate; Hollywood films, smartphone apps, or increasingly irrelevant sectors like oil and natural gas exports, and join the leaders of the pack? Or is Covid-19 merely the pandemic that presages a more terminal disease?[7]


It is worth pointing out that there have been bourgeois thinkers who recognized the need for a state capitalist alternative to the neoliberal model of capitalism already before the onset of the current crisis. Christopher Joye, an Australian portfolio manager who has previously worked at Goldman Sachs as well as a government advisor, wrote in September 2019: Conventional capitalism that has powered prosperity for more than half a century by respecting market signals no longer exists. While it may not be socialism, it is certainly statism. And since central banks and treasuries have got into the business of directly managing private market prices, they have never been able to get out. It is way too tempting to try to control your destiny rather than leaving it to the whims of capricious investors. Just ask Xi Jinping. Ironically given the current global trade turmoil, the West and China have never had more in common in terms of the economic policies they espouse.” [8]


We have quoted extensively several bourgeois thinkers because it is crucial for Marxists to understand the current discussion and re-orientation which is taking place within the circles of the ruling classes. The RCIT has always criticized a major error by many leftist groups and theoreticians who consider neoliberalism as the only or as the most reactionary from of capitalism. Both assumptions have been wrong and this becomes now even more evident. This has been evident throughout the history of capitalism in the 20th century. There have been various forms of etatism in the 1930s, i.e. state-capitalist regulation in Nordic countries as well as under fascist regimes in Italy and Germany. Later, from the 1950s to the 1970s, capitalist economies in Western Europe as well as other countries had a significant sector of state enterprises, welfare state as well as state programs. State capitalist regulation also played a significant role in East Asian countries which experienced rapid economic growth since the 1950s. Some were pro-US military dictatorship (like South Korea and Taiwan), others kept some form of bourgeois democracy (Japan).


While such kind of state capitalist regulation has been substantially reduced in many countries since the 1980s, it staged a comeback in the former Stalinist countries where capitalism was restored after 1989-91. This has been particularly the case in countries like China (as well as Vietnam) and, to a lesser degree, in Russia and some Central Asian republics. In fact, the most powerful and successful of these states, China, became a new imperialist Great Power which challenges the U.S. as the long-time hegemon.


Furthermore, we have also seen in the past that in periods of extreme political crisis, the ruling class was prepared to turn towards state-capitalist regulation. This has been the case, for example, during World War One in 191418 when the necessity to advance the war efforts made it imperative to concentrate and regulate all economic resources of the country. This has been sometimes called “war socialism”. By the way, the reformist majority of the workers movement at that time hailed these developments as “a step towards socialism” and used this as a pretext for their social-chauvinist defense of the imperialist fatherland.




China as a model?




Various reformists and Stalinists have claimed that neoliberalism has been the preferred model of the Western bourgeoisie because it would – in contrast to the “Chinese model” – serve best the accumulation of wealth for the capitalists. As the RCIT has pointed out repeatedly this has been not true and contradicts all available facts – both from Western as well as official Chinese sources. At this point we limit ourselves to demonstrate this thesis with a few facts but readers can find many more examples in various documents which we published on this issue in the last years. [9]


In the past decade the Stalinist-capitalist regime has enabled a process of extraordinary rapid capital accumulation. As a result, social inequality and the numbers of capitalist corporations as well as of super-rich billionaires increased dramatically. For example, according to the World Inequality Report 2018, the income share of the richest Top 1% of China’s population has doubled between 1980 and 2016 from 7% to 14%. Comparing China with global developments, the report concluded that “the share of total national income accounted for by just that nation’s top 10% earners (top 10% income share) was 37% in Europe, 41% in China, 46% in Russia, 47% in US-Canada, and around 55% in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, and India. In the Middle East, the world’s most unequal region according to our estimates, the top 10% capture 61% of national income.[10]


This result does not only demolish the Stalinist myth about the supposed existence of “socialism” in China. It is also all the more astonishing if we bear in mind that less than three decades ago, capitalism even did not exist in China and Russia! Today, inequality in these two countries is basically higher than in the old capitalist states of Europe and nearly as much as in North America.


Confirming this trend is also the fact that in the last few years, China has even become the country with the largest (according to Chinese sources) or second-largest (according to Western sources) number of billionaires. The 2019 issue of the China-based Hurun Report states that “China leads world for 4th year for billionaires with 658, 74 ahead of USA with 584.[11]


We see the same picture when we look at the leading capitalist monopolies on the world market. According to 2019 issue of the Fortune Global 500, a global ranking list issued by the U.S. business magazine Fortune, China has now reached parity with the long-time hegemon – the U.S. (See Table 4)




Table 4. List of Top 10 Countries with most Global 500 Companies [12]


Country                                                 Companies                            Share (in %)


China (incl. Taiwan)                        119 (129)                              23.8% (25.8%)


United States                                      121                                         24.2%


Japan                                                     52                                           10.4%


France                                                   31                                           6.2%


Germany                                              29                                           5.8%


United Kingdom                               17                                           3.4%


South Korea                                        16                                           3.2%


Switzerland                                        14                                           2.8%


Canada                                                 13                                           2.6%


Netherlands                                        12                                           2.4%




Another ranking list about the world’s 2000 largest corporations – the so-called Forbes Global 2000 – reveals the same picture. In Table 5 we can see the dramatic rise of China’s corporations in relation to other monopolies in the last two decades. From the year 2003 to the year 2017, we see that while the US remains the strongest power, its share has declined substantially from 776 corporations (38.8%) to 565 (28.2%). At the same time, China’s share grew dramatically and it has now become the number two among the Great Powers.




Table 5. National Composition of the World’s 2000 Largest Corporations, 2003 and 2017 (Forbes Global 2000 List) [13]


                      2003                                                                       2017


                   Number                 Share                                     Number                 Share


USA                                                       776                         38.8%                                    565                         28.2%


China                                                    13                           0.6%                                       263                         13.1%


Japan                                                     331                         16.5%                                    229                         11.4%


United Kingdom                               132                         6.6%                                       91                           4.5%


France                                                   67                           3.3%                                       59                           2.9%


Canada                                                 50                           2.5%                                       58                           2.9%


Germany                                              64                           3.2%                                       51                           2.5%




In summary, the Chinese model of state capitalism is not at all “socialist”, on the contrary, it strongly serves the interests of a rising imperialist monopoly bourgeoisie. China’s rise in the past two decades, and in particular its performance during the current COVID-19 crisis, makes it increasingly a model for other capitalist governments including in Western Europe. By this we do not wish to suggest that the European imperialist governments want to, or even could, copy the “Chinese model”. This is obviously not possible given the different historical backgrounds and relations of class forces in these two different parts of the world. Albeit, we need to point out, this has also been not true for the model of neoliberalism. There existed never the same type of neoliberal regime in the U.S., Britain, France or Germany. However, what seems certain to us is that an increasing number of bourgeois governments will, under the pressure of the deep crisis and under the impression of the “Chinese model”, resort increasingly to implement substantially more elements of state capitalist policy as well as of state bonapartism.


It might be useful to point out that such developments are nothing new for Marxists. In fact, Lenin analyzed already a century ago that the transformation of capitalism in its final stage – the epoch of imperialism – also implies the “process of transformation of monopoly capitalism into state-monopoly capitalism.[14] While the course of the 20th century demonstrated that the concrete relationship of state and monopolies can and actually does change depending on global and national developments, the close collaboration and interweaving of capitalist state and monopolies has remained a key characteristic of this system. This is even more the case in periods like the current one when capitalism is in a state of deep crisis and decay.




A decisive shift towards chauvinist state bonapartism




Thirdly, and related to the two above mentioned developments, we will see a massive shift towards chauvinist state bonapartism – as we have called this phenomenon in our Manifesto on the COVID-19 crisis. This category characterizes two interrelated features: first, a substantial build-up of the state repression apparatus and a shift to strengthen the executive powers of the top bodies of the capitalist state; and, secondly, a turn to nationalism and chauvinism in particular between the imperialist Great Powers.


To begin with the later, one has to take into account that the accelerating rivalry between the Great Powers has already resulted inevitable in a substantial increase of chauvinism. This will increase even more against the backdrop of the Third Depression. We see already such developments as the U.S. and China escalate their accusations against each other about which side is responsible for the COVID-19 crisis. Trump and the White House repeatedly speak about the “Chinese Virus” and Beijing has suggested that "it might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan". [15]


However, the rise of chauvinism is not limited to the U.S. and China. The increasing relevance of borders and the attempt of each ruling class to consolidate its power at home in such a difficult period can only result in more patriotism and nationalism. This development will remain in place given the crisis-ridden character of the coming period.


The same is the case with the massive built-up of the repression apparatus. In order to control the observance of the global lockdown and numerous other restrictions, governments all over the world are sending many police on the streets. In numerous semi-colonial countries they also use the army to suppress any resistance. [16] However, as a new development, Western imperialist governments in Europe and North America are also deploying the military for such domestic operations. In Spain, France, Italy and other European countries tens of thousands of soldiers have taken over tasks from civilians. A conference of the EU’s defense ministers on 6 April already discussed the coordination of the armies’ activities. [17]


Our warning of the increasing militarization of bourgeois democracy is certainly no exaggerated scaremongering. An influential bourgeois think tank in the U.S., the Center for Strategic and International Studies, outlines in a risk assessment document three possible scenarios how the COVID-19 crisis could develop. In the worst-case scenario they warn of dramatic consequences and conclude: As death rates rise and the economic crisis deepens, widespread, violent disorder intensifies, requiring a significant deployment of the U.S. military.[18] This reflects that a civil war as a consequence of the current crisis is already discussed in ruling circles as a realistic option!


These developments are combined with a massive increase of the surveillance of the population. Many governments are currently tracking the movements of people via telecommunication. China is a model for advancing modern technologies like Artificial Intelligence which help to monitor the activities of the population. Western governments are working hard to catch up. The same development takes place with the deployment of drones and small mobile robots on the streets for such domestic surveillance measures. [19] (More on this in the next sub-chapter.) As we stated in our Manifesto, “with one stroke, “Big Brother” is here, openly and without any attempt by the capitalist state to conceal it. The massive surveillance techniques will soon be the new normal worldwide.”


Finally, we also see a process of strengthening the executive powers of the top bodies of the capitalist state at the cost of the parliament and other institutions of bourgeois democracy. It is in times of political crisis that the real nature of bourgeois democracy is more clearly revealed. Marxists always emphasized that the bourgeois state – even in its “democratic” form – represents the dictatorship of the capitalist class. Lenin’s statement expressed in his Theses for the First Congress of the Communist International in 1919 is still valid: In explaining the class nature of bourgeois civilisation, bourgeois democracy and the bourgeois parliamentary system, all socialists have expressed the idea formulated with the greatest scientific precision by Marx and Engels, namely, that the most democratic bourgeois republic is no more than a machine for the suppression of the working class by the bourgeoisie, for the suppression of the working people by a handful of capitalists.,[20]


It is worth pointing out that intelligent thinkers from the bourgeois camp have also been aware of such nature of bourgeois democracy. Carl Schmitt, a famous right-wing conservative political theoretician in Germany, once said aptly: Sovereign is he who decides on the exceptional case.[21]


We note, at this point, that such a transformation of the political regime make figures like Trump, Johnson or Bolsonaro rather dysfunctional. Such people are a combination of reactionary clowns and adventurists who lack any ability for strategic thinking. They are incapable of representing and leading the state as the “ideal total capitalist” (Marx) but rather wage a constant and disruptive war against large sectors of the state apparatus. It seems unlikely that such figures can successfully lead the capitalist state in such challenging and tumultuous periods like those ahead of us.


We are aware that the current state of emergency with a comprehensive lockdown in large parts of the world – a “temporary-but-indefinite wartimelike national bunkering” as the American journalist David Wallace-Wells wrote in the New York Magazine [22] – is an extreme situation which will not and can not last very long. [23]


However it is unclear how long the current state of emergency with a global lockdown will last. Some geopolitical analysts like Bahauddin Foizee suggest keeping these measures for a very long period: “Unless the virus completely stops spreading among the human population or a vaccine is available for widespread use, it would be unwise to withdraw – completely or even partially – mandatory lockdowns. [24]


Anyway, it is clear that important elements of such state of emergency and control measures over the population will remain in place for a long period – all of this under the cover of containing and preventing a pandemic.


In fact, we see already the ruling classes preparing the population for the “necessity” to continue the surveillance of the population indefinitely. This is all the more possible since the decay of capitalism does not only mean an economic crisis but rather a comprehensive crisis of capitalist civilization. [25] Hence we see climate change and massive ecological destruction with devastating consequences for humanity. Without a radical political and economic change, we will face the beginning of the end of human life on earth. We note in passing that there are strong indications that the creation of the Corona Virus has been an indirect result of the expanding destruction of the biosphere for animals. [26]


Some scientist warned already several years ago about the possibility of pandemics like the current one: While outbreaks represent an increase in the number of disease cases beyond expectations for a given population, emerging human infectious diseases are further characterized by novelty: for example, diseases that have undergone recent evolutionary change, entered the human population for the first time, or have been newly discovered. The number of outbreaks, like the number of emerging infectious diseases, appears to be increasing with time in the human population both in total number and richness of causal diseases.” [27]


In past weeks, researchers have warned that pandemics will remain a growing danger for humanity given the ecological consequences of the capitalist mode of production.


Ecologists are saying that Covid-19 is just the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of mass pandemics caused by increasing habitat and biodiversity loss due to human encroachment and climate change. Indeed, if we don’t redress climate change and environmental collapse soon, the next coronavirus pandemics will likely make life on Earth even more precarious. [28]


Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases such as Ebola, Sars, bird flu and now Covid-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise. Pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and many are able to spread quickly to new places. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of new or emerging diseases that infect humans originate in animals.[29]


In other words, the ruling class can and will use the threat of pandemic as justification for an indefinite period of expansion of the repression apparatus, surveillance of the population and state of emergency.


In summary, we currently see the formation of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes – of an “all-powerful state“, to put it in the words of a Bloomberg commentator. [30] These developments confirm Lenin’s thesis that “imperialism is the negation of democracy[31] The increasing role of the bourgeois state machinery – a general feature of the imperialist epoch – becomes particularly relevant in a period of acute crisis and decay of capitalism as we already pointed out in the past. [32]


In such periods we see an extraordinary strengthening of the “state machine” and an unprecedented growth in its bureaucratic and military apparatus in connection with the intensification of repressive measures against the proletariat both in the monarchical and in the freest, republican countries.[33] The result is the creation of a powerful machinery which Nikolai Bukharin, a leading theoretician of the Bolshevik Party, characterized as “the New Leviathan, beside which the fantasy of Thomas Hobbes looks like a child’s toy.” [34] Hence, we repeat the conclusion in our Manifesto that “such an imperialist Leviathan is now being built-up by the ruling class in full force – under the pretext of fighting a pandemic. The era of relatively extensive bourgeois democracy in the imperialist states will soon be over.


The monopoly bourgeoisie can establish bonapartist forms of rule by utilizing existing institutions which have already existed within the parliamentary system. The role of the Presidency, of the army, police and judiciary, various laws for the state of emergency – all these mechanisms simplify the task of the ruling class to transform the current political system and to build-up a chauvinist state bonapartist machinery. Trotsky’s observation concerning France in the 1930s has not lost its relevance: Every bourgeois democracy bears the features of Bonapartism. [35]




What will be the “new normality”?




As already mentioned, it is not possible to project a concrete picture of the bourgeois society after the end of the total lockdown. However, it is possible and useful to outline an overview of the concepts of the ruling circles what they plan to change in order to increase their control over the population. In the following we will present several quotes which show the radical changes which are currently planned and prepared by the ruling classes all over the world including in the old bourgeois democracies of the West.


Greg C. Bruno, a former member of the influential American Council on Foreign Relations (of which the above mentioned Richard Haass has been president since 2003), praises reactionary monarchies like the United Arab Emirates as models by which Western democracies should be guided.


Responding to the threat posed by the coronavirus may require atypical, even unconstitutional, solutions, from blanket digital surveillance to the conscripting of health workers. (…) In the post-Covid-19 era, democracies could borrow authoritarian tactics without abandoning their liberal values. (…). We already see a version of this in places like the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Singapore. These are not free-wheeling liberal-democratic societies in the Western mold. Yet citizens enjoy a high degree of intellectual and cultural openness, safety and personal freedom.[36]


A report of the Associated Press gives a very informative insight in the nature of the surveillance techniques which are already in place in China (and which fascinate so many capitalist governments around the world).


Since the coronavirus outbreak, life in China is ruled by a green symbol on a smartphone screen. Green is the “health code” that says a user is symptom-free and it’s required to board a subway, check into a hotel or just enter Wuhan, the central city of 11 million people where the pandemic began in December. The system is made possible by the Chinese public’s almost universal adoption of smartphones and the ruling Communist Party’s embrace of “Big Data” to extend its surveillance and control over society. Walking into a Wuhan subway station Wednesday, Wu Shenghong, a manager for a clothing manufacturer, used her smartphone to scan a barcode on a poster that triggered her health code app. A green code and part of her identity card number appeared on the screen. A guard wearing a mask and goggles waved her through. If the code had been red, that would tell the guard that Wu was confirmed to be infected or had a fever or other symptoms and was awaiting a diagnosis. A yellow code would mean she had contact with an infected person but hadn’t finished a two-week quarantine, meaning she should be in a hospital or quarantined at home. (…) Intensive use of the health code is part of the efforts by authorities to revive China’s economy while preventing a spike in infections as workers stream back into factories, offices and shops. (…)


Other governments should consider adopting Chinese-style “digital contact tracing,” Oxford University researchers recommended in a report published Tuesday in the journal Science. The virus is spreading too rapidly for traditional methods to track infections “but could be controlled if this process was faster, more efficient and happened at scale,” the researchers wrote. Once aboard the subway, Wu and other commuters used their smartphones to scan a code that recorded the number of the car they rode in case authorities need to find them later. An attendant carried a banner reading “Please wear a mask throughout your trip. Do not get close to others. Scan the code before you get off the train.” Seats were marked with dots denoting where passengers were to sit to stay far enough away from each other.


Visitors to shopping malls, offices buildings and other public places in Wuhan undergo a similar routine. They show their health codes and guards in masks and gloves check them for fever before they are allowed in. The health codes add to a steadily growing matrix of high-tech monitoring that tracks what China’s citizens do in public, online and at work: Millions of video cameras blanket streets from major cities to small towns. Censors monitor activity on the internet and social media. State-owned telecom carriers can trace where mobile phone customers go. A vast, computerized system popularly known as social credit is intended to enforce obedience to official rules. People with too many demerits for violations ranging from committing felonies to littering can be blocked from buying plane tickets, getting loans, obtaining government jobs or leaving the country. (…)


The codes are issued through the popular WeChat messaging service of internet giant Tencent Ltd. and the Alipay electronic payments service of Alibaba Group, the world’s biggest e-commerce company. Some 900 million people use the system on WeChat, according to the newspaper Beijing Youth Daily and other outlets. No total for Alipay has been reported. (…) Regulations say people who try to travel with a red health code will be marked down in the social credit system. “Fraud, concealment and other behaviors” carry penalties that “will have a huge impact on their future life and work,” a statement by the government of Heilongjiang province in the northeast said. [37]


David P. Goldman, an American economist, also emphasizes the advantages of the Chinese surveillance technologies and explains that this is also a promising market for Western pharmaceuticals corporations.


China stopped the epidemic by combining conventional public health measures with the largest application of information technology to public health in history, including locational tracking of likely carriers, identification of probable nodes of infection, continuous monitoring of the vital signs of a large proportion of its 1.4 billion people, and the use of smartphone apps to regulate the quarantine of individuals. Huawei has spent years positioning itself to be a dominant force in medical applications of information technology, with some competition from China’s other tech giants, including Alibaba and Tencent. The Covid-19 pandemic gave China the opportunity to show what it can do, and the results are startling – so startling that every major European pharmaceuticals company is angling to be part of the perceived Next New Thing in healthcare.


China was able to marshal so many digital resources against Covid-19 because it has invested massively in big data, artificial intelligence and other information technology resources in the healthcare field over the past decade. These range from digitized health records – something that Google tried to do but abandoned due to American privacy laws – to smartphone attachments that read vital signs and take EKG’s, smartphone apps that transmit these vital signs to the cloud in real time, DNA sequencing on a vast scale, remote surgery using virtual reality headsets over 5G mobile networks, and artificial intelligence applications to diagnostics and drug development.


Chinese data scientists combined the vast amount of health information already available with locational data from smartphones and the results of widespread forensic Covid-19 testing to identify risks down to the level of individuals in a population of 1.4 billion people. In this sort of exercise the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Covid-19 test results are often inaccurate, but if the medical authorities receive real-time information about the body temperature, heart rate and blood oxygen levels of a very large sample of the population, they can interpret them with far greater accuracy.[38]


Yuval Noah Harari, a liberal Israeli historian, outlines a highly interesting description of the incredible advances of surveillance technologies which and their potential threats. “Hitherto, when your finger touched the screen of your smartphone and clicked on a link, the government wanted to know what exactly your finger was clicking on. But with coronavirus, the focus of interest shifts. Now the government wants to know the temperature of your finger and the blood-pressure under its skin.


One of the problems we face in working out where we stand on surveillance is that none of us know exactly how we are being surveilled, and what the coming years might bring. Surveillance technology is developing at breakneck speed, and what seemed science-fiction 10 years ago is today old news. As a thought experiment, consider a hypothetical government that demands that every citizen wears a biometric bracelet that monitors body temperature and heart-rate 24 hours a day. The resulting data is hoarded and analysed by government algorithms. The algorithms will know that you are sick even before you know it, and they will also know where you have been, and who you have met. The chains of infection could be drastically shortened, and even cut altogether. Such a system could arguably stop the epidemic in its tracks within days. Sounds wonderful, right?


The downside is, of course, that this would give legitimacy to a terrifying new surveillance system. If you know, for example, that I clicked on a Fox News link rather than a CNN link, that can teach you something about my political views and perhaps even my personality. But if you can monitor what happens to my body temperature, blood pressure and heart-rate as I watch the video clip, you can learn what makes me laugh, what makes me cry, and what makes me really, really angry.


It is crucial to remember that anger, joy, boredom and love are biological phenomena just like fever and a cough. The same technology that identifies coughs could also identify laughs. If corporations and governments start harvesting our biometric data en masse, they can get to know us far better than we know ourselves, and they can then not just predict our feelings but also manipulate our feelings and sell us anything they want — be it a product or a politician. Biometric monitoring would make Cambridge Analytica’s data hacking tactics look like something from the Stone Age. Imagine North Korea in 2030, when every citizen has to wear a biometric bracelet 24 hours a day. If you listen to a speech by the Great Leader and the bracelet picks up the tell-tale signs of anger, you are done for.


You could, of course, make the case for biometric surveillance as a temporary measure taken during a state of emergency. It would go away once the emergency is over. But temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies, especially as there is always a new emergency lurking on the horizon. My home country of Israel, for example, declared a state of emergency during its 1948 War of Independence, which justified a range of temporary measures from press censorship and land confiscation to special regulations for making pudding (I kid you not). The War of Independence has long been won, but Israel never declared the emergency over, and has failed to abolish many of the “temporary” measures of 1948 (…).


Even when infections from coronavirus are down to zero, some data-hungry governments could argue they needed to keep the biometric surveillance systems in place because they fear a second wave of coronavirus, or because there is a new Ebola strain evolving in central Africa, or because . . . you get the idea. A big battle has been raging in recent years over our privacy. The coronavirus crisis could be the battle’s tipping point. For when people are given a choice between privacy and health, they will usually choose health.[39]


It is telling that even Bloomberg, a blatant mouthpiece of the monopoly capitalists, is worried about such developments.


An Israeli tech company that specializes in counterterrorism spyware is working with a dozen countries to slow the spread of an invisible enemy known as Covid-19. In China, authorities have deployed facial-recognition software and location tracking in their fight against the coronavirus. And a U.S. big data company with connections to intelligence agencies is talking to governments about how it can help. (…) Unfortunately, emergency powers quickly become normal operating procedures,” says Richard Brooks, a computer engineering professor at Clemson University in South Carolina whose research has focused on how human rights activists in authoritarian countries can avoid surveillance. “If the ability to track social contacts exists to stop a contagion, I can guarantee you it will be used to track the spread of dissent. (…)


In China, where surveillance technology has been integrated with tough policing, the government promised to increase privacy measures after criticism about the release of the identities of coronavirus patients. Hu Yong, a new media critic and professor at Peking University with 800,000 followers, said in a blog post that many of the public health surveillance tactics “violated the peoples’ basic human rights and were inherently illegitimate.” The government agreed to allow citizens to give their consent for biometric data collection—but not until later this year. (…)


Concerns about government overreach have also been raised in Hong Kong, where police are still cracking down on anti-government protesters. After authorities imposed new social distancing regulations on March 27, police began entering restaurants to make sure owners were keeping tables 1.5 meters apart and allowing only four people per table. At one restaurant owned by the son of a prominent dissident, they took the names and IDs of patrons, Apple Daily reported. The government has said such enforcement measures are necessary to stem the virus. We always worry a pandemic would lead to people accepting a surveillance authoritarian society,” says civic activist Galileo Cheng, who warned in a Twitter post that police would use social distancing regulations to target pro-democracy restaurants. “Now we are in Phase One of implementing Draconian laws.” [40]


True, we don’t know and we can’t know which measures the ruling classes will deploy in the coming months and years. Furthermore, this will also depend of the resistance of the proletariat and the popular classes against the reactionary assault. However, we think it is clear and evident that the bourgeoisie wants to transform its state apparatus towards chauvinist state bonapartism.




A Preventive Counter-Revolution




As we already indicated above in our brief chronology of how the ruling classes arrived to their decision for a mass lockdown, this development has the character of a preventive counter-revolution. The ruling classes launched this wave of attacks in the midst of a period of mass struggles in many countries all over the world. But they did so before these uprisings transformed into full-blown revolutions.


We explained already in the previous chapter that the ruling class turned to state of emergency and state bonapartism primarily not because of the pandemic but for political calculations. This has been also indirectly indicated by various bourgeois politicians and observers. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres explicitly mentioned the danger of “enhanced instability, unrest, and conflict”.


For UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the extraordinary upheaval spurred by the virus presents a real danger to the relative peace the world has seen over the last few decades. The disease "represents a threat to everybody in the world and... an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past," he said. "The combination of the two facts and the risk that it contributes to enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict are things that make us believe that this is the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War."[41]


Such considerations from the viewpoint of the ruling class are particularly well reflected in an article by Andreas Kluth. Kluth is a representative figure of thinking within the monopoly bourgeoisie as he is a member of Bloomberg's editorial board, and was previously editor in chief of Germany’s leading capitalist paper Handelsblatt Global as well as a writer for the Economist. This attentive bourgeois observer confirms our analysis that the ruling circles are fully aware of the dramatic rise in class struggles in period before the COVID-19 crisis as well as of the explosive consequences of this crisis.


The most misleading cliché about the coronavirus is that it treats us all the same. It doesn’t, neither medically nor economically, socially or psychologically. In particular, Covid-19 exacerbates preexisting conditions of inequality wherever it arrives. Before long, this will cause social turmoil, up to and including uprisings and revolutions.


Social unrest had already been increasing around the world before SARS-CoV-2 began its journey. According to one count, there have been about 100 large anti-government protests since 2017, from the gilets jaunes riots in a rich country like France to demonstrations against strongmen in poor countries such as Sudan and Bolivia. About 20 of these uprisings toppled leaders, while several were suppressed by brutal crackdowns and many others went back to simmering until the next outbreak.


The immediate effect of Covid-19 is to dampen most forms of unrest, as both democratic and authoritarian governments force their populations into lockdowns, which keep people from taking to the streets or gathering in groups. But behind the doors of quarantined households, in the lengthening lines of soup kitchens, in prisons and slums and refugee camps — wherever people were hungry, sick and worried even before the outbreak — tragedy and trauma are building up. One way or another, these pressures will erupt.” [42]


And another bourgeois economist expressed a similar understanding of the current dangers for the capitalist system: “The coronavirus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, has now spread to over 170 countries due to the mass movement of people across borders. The ensuing panic has led to the spread of misinformation and, in some case, the beginnings of a breakdown in social order, with the weaknesses of Western countries clear for all to see. For the governments of countries in which populations are susceptible to misinformation and panic, and which may face shortages, the threat to national stability is very real. Though the virus is discriminatory in nature, effecting mainly the very sick and elderly, it has put the world on notice. We have to acknowledge our system is fragile and too prone to risk.[43]


In a recently published article we drew attention to a new study of a bourgeois think tank which presented a statistical overview of the development of mass protests in the past decade. They concluded that mass protests “are in fact part of a decade-long trend line affecting every major populated region of the world.” While they recognize that the Arab Revolution was the trigger of the global wave of mass protests in the past decade they emphasize that we are dealing not with a regional but with a global phenomenon: “Viewed in this broader context, the events of the Arab Spring were not an isolated phenomenon but rather an especially acute manifestation of a broadly increasing global trend.” The authors of this study also compared the last decade with earlier developments in the past half century and arrived at the conclusion that we have experienced in recent history a much more significant wave of uprisings than before. They wrote: “The size and frequency of recent protests eclipse historical examples of eras of mass protest, such as the late-1960s, late-1980s, and early-1990s.[44]


We think that it is of utmost importance for Marxists to understand this contradictory development. Last year we experienced the biggest upswing of mass struggles in modern history (at least since 1945). Hence, the ruling classes around the world were deeply worried. But given the lack of revolutionary leadership, these protests had not reached the stage of actual armed insurrection yet where the masses tried to take power. The masses still had various illusions about a way forward without an armed insurrection. In an essay on this global wave of mass struggle we emphasized that “the popular masses enter the battle field with a backward consciousness” and still have many “naïve hopes”. [45]


Given the massive character and global spread of the recent wave of popular uprisings, we can say that while the shift towards state bonapartism represents a turn to a much more aggressive and authoritarian form of rule, it also contains at the same time a defensive, preventive character.


Being fully aware of the limitations of historical analogies, we think it might be useful to refer to two thoughts of Lenin which seem to us as relevant in the current situation. Shortly after the Stolypin coup on 3rd June 1907 the leader of the Bolshevik party characterized the situation in Russia as follows: “the state of things in Russia is one of barely restrained insurrection. [46] To a certain degree, this seems to us also to be a useful description of the current state of the global class struggle.


And to refer to another analogy which might be useful taking into account for an understanding of the present world political situation. In July 1917 the Kerensky government in Russia launched a bonapartist coup in response to a spontaneous uprising of the workers and soldiers in Petrograd. This successful counterrevolution resulted in the creation of a bourgeois bonapartist regime. Lenin gave the following characterization to this new regime. “Bonapartism is a form of government which grows out of the counter-revolutionary nature of the bourgeoisie, in the conditions of democratic changes and a democratic revolution. [47] Again, it seems to us that there is a certain similarity of this characterization with the current situation.


This relates also the peculiar nature of the current development. What is so extraordinary about the present situation is that it has been triggered (not caused) by an extraordinary massive political intervention of the capitalist state. While this has not been done in coordination, such intervention by the state was first implemented by one of the two dominating imperialist Great Powers, then by Western European governments and than the rest of the world joined. It was a global chain reaction starting in China and within a few weeks catching the whole world.


If we leave aside the two world wars, the current development is certainly the most globalized world political situation, i.e. a situation where the developments on different continents are more directly and visible related with each other than any other situation in modern history.


Hence, while the economic slump was not caused by the COVID-19 crisis, it was certainly deepened and escalated by it. For that reason the ruling classes try to explain the crisis not by it real causes – over-accumulation of capital and fall of profit – but rather by the Corona Virus. However, for the same reasons, this economic crisis has a much more political character than recessions before. And for this reason mass hatred will be easier directed against the bourgeois governments as those responsible for the slump (instead of anonymous “market forces”).




Do we overestimate the relevance of the counterrevolutionary offensive?




At this point we would like to deal with a criticism which comrades from an Argentinean organization have put forward against the assessment of the RCIT. In a statement on the COVID-19 crisis the Reagrupamiento Hacia el PST wrote: “It is totally wrong – as some leftist currents are arguing under the impression of armies intervening in the streets and the policies