COVID-19: A Comparison of Historical Data


An analysis of the COVID-19 death figures and those of past pandemics and climate disasters based on data from the World Bank


Article (with 3 Tables) by Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 19 January 2021,




Engels once commented that the struggle between the classes takes place on three levels – the political, the economic and the theoretical. [1] Lenin would later take up that idea and make it a central part of his conception of the revolutionary party. [2] Recognizing this elementary truth is particularly important today – in the age of the dystopian COVID-19 Counterrevolution.


It would be impossible for the ruling class to impose unprecedented mass curfews, state of emergencies, massive restrictions of democratic rights, etc. without waging a total war on the ideological level. You can not look at a news website, open a daily paper or watch news without facing a bombardment of shocking stories about victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, without horrific mortality figures and without hysteric warning about the dangers for each and everyone. In other words, the ruling class is waging – and is forced to wage – a gigantic offensive of one-sided information, semi-information, and lies in order to justify their counterrevolutionary offensive.


Understandably, sectors of the population have been scared, particularly in the first period, albeit their numbers are declining, and more and more people begin to look through the fog of ideological class war of the bourgeoisie. Shamefully, large sectors of the Lockdown Left – i.e. those “socialists” who criminally support the anti-democratic policy of the ruling class – repeat the bourgeois propaganda. [3] In contrast, many people who oppose the Lockdown policy tend to deny the existence of a pandemic at all. In our opinion this is a mistaken response to the barrage of lies which the ruling class is waging.


Today it is crucial for us as Marxists, for all advocates of a socialist future, indeed for each and every defender of the democracy to answer the ideological warfare of the COVID-19 Counterrevolution on all levels, including science and theory. This is why the RCIT has analyzed the pandemic from the very beginning in much detail. [4] We have not only explained the political meaning and the background of the anti-democratic offensive and outlined the necessary strategy and tactics for the struggle of the workers and oppressed. In addition, we also studied on a scientific level the real severity of the pandemic. We demonstrated in numerous works that the claims of bourgeois governments and their supporters among the Lockdown Left about the supposedly “unprecedented and highly dangerous COVID-19 pandemic” is simply a propaganda lie. We have shown on the basis of official statistics and analysis of other pandemics in past decades that the current pandemic is serious (i.e. it is not a “fake” or a “hoax”) but it is neither devastating nor unprecedented.




Problems of Calculating the Mortality of the Pandemic




In the last months we have published several articles in which we analyzed the development of total mortality in various countries. [5] As we explained, there exists a controversy about the methodology of counting COVID-19 deaths and comparing countries. There are several reasons for this. First, countries do not all use the same methods. Some countries have demonstrably unreliable statistics. In addition, it has happened in various countries that one and the same government has changed the methods of counting. For some periods, only those were counted as COVID-19 death who had demonstrably died because of the virus. In other periods, all those were counted as COVID-19 death who had this virus, irrespective if the virus was the cause of death or not. As we did explain, such changes were done for political reasons.


For all these reasons there is a strong argument to look at the development of total mortality, i.e. the number of total death in the current period (irrespective of the official causes) in relation to the total number of death in the past. Such a method circumvents the issue which death causes have been officially attributed to fatalities in the past few months.


Of course, as we did explain, even this counting method has certain weaknesses. It is known that the draconic lockdown has caused a number of unnecessary deaths. For example, people who were ill or could not move died in their homes as nobody came to help them; people with other illnesses died because they could not go (or were too afraid to go) to hospital in this period, etc. Hence, the figures for excess mortality have definitely a certain tendency to overestimate the deadliness of the Corona Virus. Furthermore, it is also necessary to add a word of caution. When statistics about excess mortality are provided, it is always important to look which years are used for comparison. Currently, most bourgeois statistics compare the number of deaths during the current pandemic only with the last 2-5 years. This is done for political reasons in order to make the figure of COVID-19 death look more dramatic. If possible, one should try to find comparisons with the figures of the last two or three decades. In addition, one should also take into account the changes in the size of the total population. A larger number of absolute deaths are not abnormal if in the same period the size of the total population has grown in similar magnitude. Nevertheless, stating all these limitations and potential difficulties, it seems to us that the figures for total mortality are the most informative method of those currently available.




Notes about the World Bank Study




As the year 2020 has ended and figures for total mortality of the whole year get published by official agencies, it is now possible to compare the figures of the COVID-19 year with those of the past. In the near future we plan to publish several articles which will deal with the development of total mortality in various countries and regions.


We begin this series of articles with a historical comparison. We compare the available data of global COVID-19 deaths with the mortality figures of three past pandemics: the so-called “Spanish Influenza” at the end of World War I, the 1957-58 Pandemic (also misnamed “Asian Flu”) and the 1968 Pandemic (also misnamed “Hong Kong Flu”). In addition, we also provide figures for severe climate disasters.


We compare not the absolute numbers as this would be misleading given the dramatic changes in total world population. Instead, we make a comparison on the basis of calculations of mortality per capita. For this purpose, we can use official figures which have been presented in a study of the World Bank published a few months ago. In addition we present combine these historical data with the actualized number of COVID-19 deaths from the latest official figures.


Before discussing the results of our comparison, we want to add one note. As indicated above the figures about mortality of the pandemic is a highly disputed issue. The ruling class, their media and their “experts” usually accuse their critics of “fake news” and “manipulated statistics”. It is therefore important for Marxists to present the figures with complete transparency (providing all sources as exact as possible, explaining the method of calculation, etc.). Furthermore, it is particularly helpful to provide data published by bourgeois institutions which are free from any suspicion of being critical against the governments’ Lockdown policy.


The World Bank is such an institution beyond any doubt. It is not only one of the key institutions of global capitalism. It has also been a strong supporter of the Lockdown policy since the beginning. Even more, it has closely collaborated since long with other important institutions known for their pro-Lockdown stance. As we elaborated in past works, the World Bank jointly created with the World Health Organisation the so-called Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB). The board members of the GPMB include leading health politicians of major powers (ministers resp. leading government advisors of the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, India, etc.) as well as representatives of multinational corporations (like the Wellcome Trust behind which is GlaxoSmithKline) and the well-known Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In other words, the GPMB is not an obscure Think Tank but rather a representative institution of the world bourgeoisie. [6]




Telling Figures




Let us now move to present the figures from the World Bank study. [7] First, we present the figures as they have been published in the study. As readers can see in Table 1, the authors use figures of global mortality per capita (calculated as “death per million habitants”) for COVID-19, the “Spanish Influenza”, the 1957-58 Pandemic and the 1968 Pandemic. It is important to note that as the study was published in July 2020, the figures for COVID-19 are from mid-May last year (i.e. they are outdated).




Table 1. Global Mortality Rates for Selected Pandemics (COVID-19 Figures as of 14 May 2020) [8]


Pandemic                                       Death per Million Habitants


COVID-19                                      39


1968 Pandemic                              280


1957-58 Pandemic                        390


Spanish Influenza                        57,140




The World Bank study also provides the figures for death per million habitants for three different severe climate disaster. We reproduce these figures – again in combination with the COVID-19 figure – in Table 2.




Table 2. Global Mortality Rates for Selected Severe Climate Disasters (COVID-19 Figures as of 14 May 2020) [9]


Severe Climate Disaster                                          Death per Million Habitants


COVID-19                                                                  39


Severe Climate Disaster I                                        124,0


Severe Climate Disaster II                                       415,0


Severe Climate Disaster III                                     671,0




The next step in our analysis is that we actualize the figures for COVID-19 death. The figures in the World Bank study provided above date from 14 May 2020. At that time, the official figure was 301,000 death. [10] According to the latest official data, the worldwide coronavirus death toll surpassed 2 million a few days ago. [11]


Hence, when 301,000 death in May 2020 equalled 39 death per million habitants, we can calculate that 2 million death (the actual figures) equal 259 death per million habitants. In Table 3 we present the actualized data in comparison to other pandemics and severe climate disasters.




Table 3. Global Mortality Rates for Selected Pandemics and Severe Climate Disasters (COVID-19 Figures as of 15 January 2021)


Pandemic & Severe Climate Disaster                                 Death per Million Habitants


COVID-19                                                                                259


1968 Pandemic                                                                         280


1957-58 Pandemic                                                                   390


Spanish Influenza                                                                  57,140


Severe Climate Disaster I                                                      124,0


Severe Climate Disaster II                                                     415,0


Severe Climate Disaster III                                                   671,0




Most likely world population has continued to grow in the past year. Hence our calculation of global death per million habitants is not totally exact as the world population has become larger. We can therefore assume that the figure for COVID-19 death per million habitants is slightly smaller than 259. However, as we are not in possession of the most actual data for the world population, we stick with the figures of the World Bank study. And since this study was published a bit more than half a year ago, we can safely assume that the difference to the actual figure is rather small.








What can we conclude from these data which compare the global mortality rates for the COVID-19 pandemic with other pandemics as well as severe climate disasters which occurred in past decades?


1) The figures of the global mortality rates for the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate that the Corona Virus is not a “fake” or a “hoax”. It is, as we have argued since the beginning, a real and severe pandemic.


2) However, the World Bank figures also demonstrate that it is utterly wrong to present the COVID-19 pandemic as unprecedented or more dangerous than past pandemics. The figures from the 1957-58 Pandemic and the 1968 Pandemic – not to mention the Spanish Influenza – show that humanity faced worse pandemics in the past. Other examples for severe catastrophes are various climate disasters as the figures above show. In addition, one could add the horrific – and in fact larger – numbers of people who die each year because of the consume of tobacco (8 million) and alcohol (3 million). [12]


Hence, the World Banks study confirms – against the intention of its authors – the position of Marxists that while the COVID-19 pandemic is a severe pandemic it is neither unprecedented nor more dangerous than past pandemics.


3) Finally, the World Banks study also confirms another important conclusion which the RCIT has emphasized from the beginning of the crisis in spring 2020. As humanity has experienced similar or worse catastrophes in the past decades why does the ruling class (and the foolish Lockdown Left in its tow) claim that this is an unprecedented catastrophe which requires unprecedented instruments of state repression?! As we explained in past documents, the ruling class did not respond to the 1957-58 Pandemic or the 1968 Pandemic with any similar dictatorial methods.


Not only this, at that time such pandemics did not even cause any big public hysteria by the bourgeois media. To provide an anecdotical evidence. A comrade of the RCIT did live in his youth with his parents in Hong Kong at the time of the 1968 Pandemic. He reports that at that time this did not cause any considerable public attention, not to speak about any mass curfews or any similar draconic measures of state repression.


So why is the ruling class causing such a huge public hysteria now?! And why does it do so little in order to expand the public service health sector?! The answer is obvious as the RCIT has emphasized again and again: the ruling class utilizes the COVID-19 pandemic to justify a political and economic counterrevolutionary offensive resulting in unprecedented attacks on democratic rights and an expansion of the police and surveillance state. The COVID-19 pandemic is used as a cover to create again a gigantic Leviathan, a capitalist state monster, which shall save the monopoly bourgeoisie against the collapse of its political and economic world order and the rebelling popular masses!


The task of revolutionaries is to expose their pseudo-scientific lies and to work towards stopping their offensive!


[1] It must be said to the credit of the German workers that they have exploited the advantages of their situation with rare understanding. For the first time since a workers' movement has existed, the struggle is being waged pursuant to its three sides — the theoretical, the political and the economico-practical (resistance to the capitalists) — in harmony and in its interconnections, and in a systematic way. It is precisely in this, as it were concentric, attack that the strength and invincibility of the German movement lies.“ (Friedrich Engels: Supplement to the Preface of 1870 for The Peasant War in Germany, in: MECW Vol. 23, p. 631)

[2] At this point, we wish to state only that the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory. To have a concrete understanding of what this means, let the reader recall such predecessors of Russian Social-Democracy as Herzen, Belinsky, Chernyshevsky, and the brilliant galaxy of revolutionaries of the seventies; let him ponder over the world significance which Russian literature is now acquiring; let him ... but be that enough! Let us quote what Engels said in 1874 concerning the significance of theory in the Social-Democratic movement. Engels recognises, not two forms of the great struggle of Social-Democracy (political and economic), as is the fashion among us, but three, placing the theoretical struggle on a par with the first two.“ (V. I. Lenin: What Is To Be Done? (1902), in: LCW Vol. 5, p. 370)

[3] For our criticism of the Lockdown Left see e.g. chapter V of our book by Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It. A Marxist analysis and strategy for the revolutionary struggle, RCIT Books, April 2020,; see also by the same author the last chapters in the above mentioned essay: The Second Wave of the COVID-19 Counterrevolution; COVID-19 and the Lockdown Left: The Example of PODEMOS and Stalinism in Spain, 24 March 2020,; Social-Bonapartism in Argentina. The Partido Obrero (Tendencia) of Jorge Altamira supports the State of Emergency, 29 April 2020,; When Ultra-Leftism marries Social-Bonapartism and Gives Birth to “Post-Marxist” Obscurantism. A reply to the CWG/ILTT, 5 May 2020,; Brazil: Social-Bonapartism of the Lockdown Left in Practice. How the leaderships of the trade unions, PT, PCdoB, the pseudo-Trotskyist PSTU and PSOL sabotage the struggle against the Bolsonaro government, 10 June 2020,; Lockdown Left says: “Cops Need to Enforce Laws”. The ex-revolutionary L5I as another example for shameful social-bonapartism in the era of the COVID-19 counterrevolution, 24 July 2020,; COVID-19: Zero Socialism in the “ZeroCOVID“ campaign. Following the model of China and Australia, some British Stalinists and “Trotskyists” call for a “total and indefinite lockdown”, 22 December 2020,; COVID-19: The Current and Historical Roots of Bourgeois Lockdown “Socialism”. Police State and Universal Basic Income are key elements of the new version of reformist “War Socialism” of 1914, 19 December 2020,

[4] The RCIT has analyzed the COVID-19 counterrevolution extensively since its beginning. Starting from 2 February we have published more than 60 pamphlets, essays, articles and statements plus a book which are all compiled at a special sub-page on our website: In particular we refer readers to the RCIT Manifesto: COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive. We are at a turning point in the world situation as the ruling classes provoke a war-like atmosphere in order to legitimize the build-up of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes, 21 March 2020, In addition, we draw attention to our book by Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It. A Marxist analysis and strategy for the revolutionary struggle, RCIT Books, April 2020, See also our very first article on this issue by Almedina Gunić: Coronavirus: "I am not a Virus"... but WE will be the Cure! The chauvinist campaign behind the “Wuhan Coronavirus” hysteria and the revolutionary answer, 2 February 2020,; Michael Pröbsting: The Second Wave of the COVID-19 Counterrevolution. On the ruling class strategy in the current conjuncture, its inner contradictions and the perspectives of the workers and popular resistance, 20 July 2020,; by the same author: The Police and Surveillance State in the Post-Lockdown Phase. A global review of the ruling class’s plans of expanding the bonapartist state machinery amidst the COVID-19 crisis, 21 May 2020,; COVID-19: The Great Barrington Declaration is indeed Great! Numerous medical scientists protest against the reactionary lockdown policy, 11 October 2020,

[5] See e.g. Michael Pröbsting: COVID-19: Some Interesting Facts (Which Governments & Media Conceal) Some Calculations about Total Mortality in Europe in 2020 compared with 2016 and 2018, 23 December 2020, ; by the same author: COVID-19: How Severe is the Pandemic in Sweden Really? Once again, a comparison demonstrates that the mortality rate in 2020 is barely larger than in 2018, 8 December 2020,; COVID-19: Revealing Figures from Sweden. A comparison of the mortality rates of the first 9 months in 2020 with previous years confirm that this is a serious but not unprecedented pandemic, 23 November 2020,; see also the chapter “Telling figures for Europe, Sweden and Ischgl” in the above-mentioned essay “The Second Wave of the COVID-19 Counterrevolution.”.

[6] See on this e.g. Almedina Gunić: How could WHO and World Bank exactly predict COVID-19? The shady role of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, 26 March 2020,; Michael Pröbsting: How the Ruling Class Prepared for COVID-19. A number of events before and after the beginning of the pandemic demonstrate the political nature of the COVID-19 Counterrevolution, 3 December 2020,

[7] World Bank: Global Productivity, Trends, Drivers, and Policies (2020), Edited by Alistair Dieppe

[8] World Bank: Global Productivity, Trends, Drivers, and Policies (2020), Edited by Alistair Dieppe, p. 109. The exact figures are taken from the Excel file which is linked to the World Bank graph.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Joseph Stepansky, Saba Aziz and Ted Regencia: Global coronavirus death toll exceeds 300,000: Live updates. More than 4.4 million coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide, at least 301,000 deaths and nearly 1.6 million recoveries, 14 May 2020,

[11] Shaina Ahluwalia, Kavya B: Global COVID-19 death toll tops 2 million, Reuters, 15 January 2021,