The 2019 Corona Virus and the Decay of Capitalism


by Yossi Schwartz, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), February 2020,




By February 23, the number of deaths from the Corona virus was 2,465 worldwide. There are 78,800 cases globally, and 23 deaths outside mainland China. [1]


In South Korea, around 600 were infected. Around half of the total cases are associated with a branch of a religious group. [2] The total number of confirmed cases in Italy has risen from three to 132. In Iran 43, were infected, including eight deaths. Lebanon and Israel have reported their first cases. [3]


It is possible that we face a new epidemic but it is too early to be sure. We should recall that SARS, which stands for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome”, first infected people in late 2002 in China. Within weeks it spread to 37 countries through air travel. The virus infected 8,000 people worldwide, 744 of whom died.


Thus at this time it seems that the Corona virus is more powerful than the SARS one but at the same time we witness hysterical reactions blown out of any proportion pushed by the capitalist mass media. For example in Israel, Prof. Reches on a popular TV show of Simma Matsliah predicted that 1 milliard people are going to be infected.


Most probably the hysteria spread by the capitalist mass media is used as a weapon in the trade war between the old and the new imperialist powers like China. Because of the virus many companies are leaving China to other countries with cheap labor which is going to accelerate the economic crisis in China leading to a worse world economic crisis. On the other hand it is possible that the Corona virus will become an epidemic because of the effect of the deepening economic crisis that will weaken the conditions of many people around the world. It also remains to be seen what will be the effect of the warmer seasons that may stop the virus, but while part of the world will enjoy warmer seasons other parts will face a cold season.


Meantime day after day we hear of the tragic misfortune of the 2,666 passengers on board the Diamond Princess, a luxury cruise around East Asia, that are sick or may catch the Corona virus. By now the number of confirmed cases on the ship grew to 132 after the health ministry of Japan said on Saturday it had confirmed 27 new cases of the flu-like illness. Yet we never hear about the millions of poor people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America who die every year from airborne contaminants.


There are many speculations about the source of the epidemic and there are ugly verbal racist Anti-Chinese expressions and even physical attacks on Asians in the USA.


Christian evangelist Pastor Rick Wiles told his TruNews web show [4] viewers: "do not “get into crazy, whacked-out theories” about what he warned could be a “global pandemic” that kills “hundreds of millions of people.” He then suggested the virus started in China because of the “godless communist government that persecutes Christians” and “forced abortions” - and said the “death angel” could have eyes on the US. [5]


Another article published by the Washington Post reports:


The virus of racism was manifested in 2003 during the SARS. Media outlets writing about SARS frequently illustrated their stories with images of Chinatown buildings or Asian people wearing face masks. For example, a 2003 Globe and Mail article titled “Settlers Quarantined to Contain Disease'' that highlighted historic quarantines in late-19th and early-20th-century Canada was illustrated in the paper’s print edition with an image of primary-aged school children in Hong Kong wearing face masks... Some journalists linked the SARS outbreak to sensationalized accounts of Chinese open-air wet markets, Chinese consumption of “weird” meat and China’s “unsanitary” practices. Health officials concerned with preventing the virus’s spread focused their attention on Asian ethnic enclaves.


The Canadian and American general public adopted their own informal avoidance measures that led to acute stigmatization of Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans and other Asian Americans overnight. Subway riders refused to sit next to Asian passengers. Businesses turned away Asian customers. Asian workers found their hours scaled back. Shoppers avoided Asian-owned restaurants and small businesses, or steered clear of Chinatowns altogether. Some Asian-facing organizations received a deluge of racist hate mail blaming them for SARS.


The racialization of disease is not new. History is rife with examples of nonwhite groups serving as scapegoats during public health scares. In the late 1800s, for example, racial anxiety over the nation’s growing nonwhite populations drove Yellow Peril fears of Asian immigrants as threats to the white social order. Asians were quickly stereotyped as immoral, unsanitary, prone to consuming “foul” meats like rats, and carriers of diseases like leprosy or smallpox. Historic ethnic enclaves — such as San Francisco’s Chinatown — arose out of white city settlers’ disdain for Asian bodies sharing white people’s gathering spaces, and from efforts to quarantine Chinese people and their “unwholesome” practices in slums far away from city centers. Nevertheless,


The current racist backlash against Chinese wet markets as coronavirus’s source ignores the growing science that challenges this premise. Meanwhile, scientists point out that the general public’s most effective protection against contracting SARS, coronavirus, or even the flu virus is frequent hand-washing — not racism.


Nevertheless, racist vitriol has already permeated online conversation about the coronavirus. An uncanny echo of historic anti-Asian stereotypes dating back to more than a century ago, tweets about the coronavirus have been awash with complaints of Chinese people as “backward,” “disgusting,” “dirty” and having “gross” eating practices. Some call the death of Chinese people by coronavirus “karma.” Online comments sections for Chinese restaurants are being bombarded with racist remarks. In a suburb north of Toronto, 8,000 people signed a petition demanding that a local school board bar any child with a family member who had recently traveled to China from attending school. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter have taken that suggestion a step further and have called for the United States to ban all Chinese travelers, regardless of whether they have traveled to a region with an active coronavirus outbreak.


York University Professor of Environmental Studies Roger Keil, who studied the racialization of SARS, tweeted last week a plea that we challenge racialization in the coronavirus outbreak, saying: “Racism is a weapon of mass infection.”[6]


The Corona virus is used by China to attack the freedom of speech and by other states to bring down the regime in Iran, “On Sunday Pakistan and Turkey closed their borders with Iran on the ground of the rapid spread of coronavirus in the Islamic Republic and the unwillingness of Iranian leaders to announce the extent of the threat. Iraq had already conducted some border closures and bans on Iranians traveling to the country. Afghanistan and Armenia also closed their borders with Iran.[7]


The US has imposed a ban on foreigners with a recent travel history to China but at the same time flew home 14 Americans who tested positive for the virus while aboard the cruise ship off Japan. History has shown that border closures protected some farming villages during Spanish Influenza in 1918 and 1919 [8], but they also kept countries like Portugal from obtaining health resources. [9] Meanwhile, the primary spreaders of the disease – soldiers in World War I – crossed the borders and spread the Spanish Influenza. Israel also brought back passengers from the cruise ship.




Epidemics in Time of Decay




Albert Camus published his novel “The Plague“ in 1947 after the cholera visited Algeria during World War II. Thousands of people were dying on the streets of Oran. The main character Dr. Rieux struggled to save his patients. The book deals with the "fake news" by the mass media serving the government. At first the people of the city are quarantined. No one is allowed in or out. Then the government announced that the plague is over. The people are happy believing it. He knows what the crowd did not from historical books that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears forever and that it can lie dormant for years and years and can reappear in the future.


Any person who knows history knows that epochs of social decay are accompanied by epidemics. Some historians like Bryan Ward-Perkins have pointed out that late antiquity – the time of the decay of Rome – was characterized above all by violence, death, and economic collapse. [10]


In his book Ward-Perkins wrote that there was a close connection between the fall of the Roman Empire and the disintegration of the ancient economy. This link between economic and political decline has been explored by many other historians who concentrated on the period before the fall of the empire, in order to explore whether declining prosperity weakened the Roman capacity to resist the invasion of the Germanic tribes which the Romans called “barbarians”.


Ward-Perkins also wrote that there were other problems that played a subsidiary role. For instance flu-like bubonic plague reached the Mediterranean from Egypt, and spread inexorably through the former Roman world, reoccurring on several occasions over subsequent decades.


There was also the famous Justinian's Plague about which John Horgan reports: During the reign of the emperor Justinian I (527-565 CE), one of the worst outbreaks of a plague took place, killing millions of people. The plague arrived in Constantinople in 542 CE, almost a year after the disease first appeared in the outer provinces of the empire. The outbreak continued throughout the Mediterranean world for another 225 years until 750 CE It originating in China and northeast India, the plague (Yersinia pestis - bubonic plague) was carried to the Great Lakes region of Africa via overland and sea trade route.[11]


During the Yersinia pestis plague the pagans were accused of spreading the virus in order to destroy Christianity.


At the end of the feudal system plagues killed many people. It is estimated that the "Black Death" killed 75-200 million people – around 30% of Europe’s population. It spread from central Asia on rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships, and traveled towards Europe as people fled from one area to another. This is probably the reason many people are afraid of rats. Yet what is missing in this explanation is why it happened at the time of the decay of Feudalism.


The historian Rodney Hilton wrote: “My view has been that conflict between landlords and peasants, however muted or however intense, over the appropriation of the surplus product of the peasant holding, was a prime mover in the evolution of medieval society. I also think that the social and political crises of the late medieval feudal order cannot be understood if what Marc Bloch called "the crisis of seigneurial fortunes" is not seen as the consequence of a failure by the ruling aristocracies to keep up the level of appropriation. From the outset, I have tried to understand and to explain the considerable variations in the size, composition and management of landed estates. I have also (and particularly recently) attempted to investigate the nature of medieval urbanisation, a consequence of the development of both simple, local commodity production and long distance trade in especially-luxury goods. This has been associated, of course, with an interest in the vexed problem of the medieval origins of capitalism. (…) The European population, no doubt, increased considerably during the 12th and 13th centuries, but in the 14th century, before the Black Death, it was beginning to diminish. At the same time that is before the Black Death indications of crisis and decline appear in the most important sector of the economy, agriculture. Land went out of cultivation and that which was still tilled yielded less. There could be no more revealing indications of the crisis of a social order than the inability of its ruling class, demonstrated over a long period of time, to profit in a situation over which they seemed to have complete control. And yet, both the accounts of the great estates in England and the terms of contracts of tenure in France reveal, in the first half of the 14th century, the beginnings of a contraction of seigneurial revenues which lasted for at least a century.” [12]


It is well-known that already the Great Famine of 1315-17 and subsequent malnutrition in the population caused weakened immunity and susceptibility to disease, thus allowing the plague to have such devastating effects. [13]


Like in other times of crisis the ruling class sought to blame scapegoats In this case the Jews.


"In 1348 there appeared in Europe a devastating plague which is reported to have killed off ultimately twenty-five million people. By the fall of that year the rumor was current that these deaths were due to an international conspiracy of Jewry to poison Christendom. It was reported that the leaders in the Jewish metropolis of Toledo had initiated the plot and that one of the chief conspirators was a Rabbi Peyret who had his headquarters in Chambéry, Savoy, whence he dispatched his poisoners to France, Switzerland, and Italy. By authority of Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy, a number of the Jews who lived on the shores of Lake Geneva, having been arrested and put to the torture, naturally confessed anything their inquisitors suggested. These Jews, under torture, incriminated others. Records of their confessions were sent from one town to another in Switzerland and down the Rhine River into Germany, and as a result, thousands of Jews, in at least two hundred towns and hamlets, were butchered and burnt. The sheer loss of numbers, the disappearance of their wealth, and the growing hatred of the Christians brought German Jewry to a catastrophic downfall. It now began to decline and did not again play an important part in German life till the seventeenth century." [14]


During the industrial revolution, disease accounted for many deaths in industrial cities. With a chronic lack of hygiene, little knowledge of sanitary care and no knowledge as to what caused, diseases such as cholera, typhoid and typhus were devastating. As the cities became more populated, so did the problems got worse.


Cholera was caused by contaminated water. Industrial Britain was hit by an outbreak of cholera in 1831-32, 1848-49, 1854 and 1867. The sewage contacted the drinking water and contaminating it. As many people used river water as their source of drinking water, the disease spread.” [15]


One of the worst cases of epidemic was in India from 1898 to 1908, which experienced some 13 million deaths from the bubonic plague. The British colonial power engineered poverty, famine and decay for most Indians that created the conditions for the spread of the plague. British policies in India during the plague served as models. Isolation, internment and racial categorization were effective tools of political control. Acts of omission like the ‘rational alternation’ can only be viewed against the larger canvas of mega death, mahamari. Meanwhile, the Bombay plague established the pattern of domination that would lead elsewhere to death camps, genocide and ethnic cleansing. [16]


The bourgeois' scientists who serve the colonialist rule claimed that the cause was the rats. What they ignore is the creation of the social conditions that allowed the rats to spread the disease. Bombay’s population grew dramatically over the 19th and 20th centuries, famines pushed people into the city and the need for housing drove rats out of their natural habitat and into people’s homes.


The epoch of the declining of the capitalist system began at the end of the 19th century and WWI, as Lenin pointed out, was the manifestation of the rebellion of the forces of production against the relationship of production. Capitalism was by the end of the 19th century a world system and each imperial power wanted to grab a larger part of the world economy. This led to the First World War.


At the end of WWI the so called "Spanish flu" killed millions of people around the world. It began in January 1918. From Kansas the illness spread quickly, not only throughout the U.S. but across the world. The epidemic lasted two years from its outbreak in the U.S. Between 50 million and 100 million people across the globe died—around 3% of the world’s population. [17] The soldiers who lived in horrible conditions brought with them the disease. Since 1914, there have been a few epidemics causing suffering and killing of people and domesticated animals.


Polio, poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. World War II and the early years after the war saw high numbers of polio cases affecting both civilians and military.


HIV/AIDS: Since its emergence in the 1980s, HIV has infected 60 million people and caused an estimated 30 million deaths.


Malaria: In 2010, an estimated 219 million people worldwide were infected by the disease and 660,000 died. The disease is widespread in tropical regions such as Africa, Asia and the Americas, with about 90 percent of cases occurring in the African region.


Tuberculosis (TB) caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent.


In 2012, 8.6 million people fell ill with TB, and 1.3 million died.” [18]


Most victims of TB occur in the semi-colonies. “Lethal smog that covered the city of London for five days (December 5–9) in 1952 was caused by a combination of industrial pollution and high-pressure weather conditions. This combination of smoke and fog brought the city to a near standstill and resulted in thousands of deaths.[19]


Thus it is clear that there is a strong connection between wars and in particular imperialist world wars, poor environmental conditions, weak immunity system result of age and poor diet, evolution of viruses, crowded cities and epidemics.


Marx and Engels writings on the capitalist destruction of the ecology is very relevant to the appearance of epidemics.


Moreover, all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the laborer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth — the soil and the laborer.” [20]


"Even the need for fresh air ceases to be a need for the worker. Man reverts once more to living in a cave, but the cave is now polluted by the mephitic and pestilential breath of civilization. Moreover, the worker … actually has to pay for this mortuary. A dwelling in the light, which Prometheus describes in Aeschylus as one of the great gifts through which he transformed savages into men, ceases to exist for the worker. Light, air, etc. — the simplest animal cleanliness — ceases to be a need for man. Dirt — this pollution and putrefaction of man, the sewage (this word is to be understood in its literal sense) of civilization — becomes an element of life for him." [21]


"Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were … thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that they were at the same time spreading the disease of scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.


And, in fact, with every day that passes we are learning to understand these laws more correctly, and getting to know both the more immediate and the more remote consequences of our interference with the traditional course of nature. … But the more this happens, the more will men not only feel, but also know, their unity with nature, and thus the more impossible will become the senseless and antinatural idea of a contradiction between mind and matter, man and nature, soul and body. …


But if it has already required the labour of thousands of years for us to learn to some extent to calculate the more remote natural consequences of our actions aiming at production, it has been still more difficult in regard to the more remote social consequences of these actions. … When afterwards Columbus discovered America, he did not know that by doing so he was giving new life to slavery, which in Europe had long ago been done away with, and laying the basis for the Negro slave traffic. … But even in this sphere, by long and often cruel experience and by collecting and analyzing the historical material, we are gradually learning to get a clear view of the indirect, more remote, social effects of our productive activity, and so the possibility is afforded us of mastering and controlling these effects as well.


To carry out this control requires something more than mere knowledge. It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production, and with it of our whole contemporary social order.” [22]




The Effect of the Rapid Industrialization of China and Other Countries




The rapid industrialization of China in the process of becoming a new imperialist state created high pollution. “China is the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, and the air quality of many major cities is very poor. Severe water contamination added to land deterioration. China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In 2014 it was responsible for 27 percent of global emissions. It uses huge quantities of coal that creates prolonged periods of smog so severe that citizens named it an “airpocalypse”; the concentration of hazardous particles was forty times the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO). China is the world’s largest coal producer and accounts for about half of global consumption.[23]


It will be a mistake to believe that the situation in India is better. In Delhi levels of dangerous particles in the air - known as PM2.5 - are far higher than recommended and about seven times higher than in the Chinese capital Beijing. [24]


Studies done by the World Health Organization in 2016 found that approximately 98% of cities in middle to low-income countries – i.e. the semi-colonies – have air quality that doesn’t meet the recognized WHO standards. [25]


A great number of the large imperialist corporations have moved factories to the semi-colonies for a larger-scale production. These robbers take advantage of the cheap labor low-priced land and abundant natural resources to reduce the cost greatly; thereby they can chase a higher profit in their attempts to overcome the falling rate of profit. Thus not only they super-exploit the working class and the poor peasants but they also pollute the semi-colonies.


"Inequality between the world’s rich and poor is widening, according to 2018 global data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which shows that 7 million people – mostly in "developing nations" – die every year from airborne contaminants. Overall, nine in 10 people on the planet live with poor, even dangerous, air, says the WHO report which shows that more than 57% of cities in the Americas and more than 61% of cities in Europe had seen a fall in PM10 and PM2.5 particulate matter between 2010 and 2016.But these gains were set against a worsening trend in other regions. Delhi and Cairo are by far the most polluted mega-cities in the world with average PM10 levels more than 10 times the WHO guidelines. They are followed by Dhaka, Mumbai and Beijing, each with particulate concentrations about five times the recommended level. The Americas, principally the US and Canada, was the only region where a sizable majority of people – 80% – breathe air that meets WHO guidelines on particulates. In Asia and the Middle East, the figure was close to zero. [26]


The connection between air pollution by microorganisms and human disease from inhaling these organisms was established long ago. [27]


Another way the imperialist states pollute the semi-colonies – especially African states – is selling their waste materials like plastic. “The world generated 242 million tons of plastic waste in 2016 – a figure that’s expected to grow by 70% in the next 30 years. But this same plastic is also a commodity that’s sold and traded in a global industry that generates US$200 billion every year. Exporting plastic waste is one way rich countries dispose of their waste. By selling waste to firms that then send it to countries where recycling costs are cheaper, rich countries can avoid the unpleasant task of finding somewhere at home to dispose of it. Unfortunately, most of this waste is shipped to countries that aren’t equipped to properly manage it. When wealthy countries export their plastic waste to poorer countries with weaker recycling capacity, those plastics are often dumped, eventually polluting the land and sea.[28]


In conclusion: We do not know whether the Corona virus will be an epidemic but it is already affecting the world economy and pushing for a crisis that may be the worst in the history of capitalism. Racism against Chinese is on the rise and many people are hysterical. Like in other similar situations the capitalist mass media contributes greatly to this hysteria and racism. We know very little about the incubation of the virus. At first the speculation was that the incubation is of 14 days. Now it appears that it is longer. Some affected people were released from isolation after 14 days and they are likely to infect other people. So far there is no medical treatment or vaccine.


We live in an epoch of the decay of capitalism and of a period of economic crisis that began in 2008. In such a revolutionary period, epidemics will hit us unless we will be able to overthrow the decaying capitalist system. As Lenin wrote for humanity to live imperialism must die.






RCIT: 2019 Corona Virus: Oppose the Global Wave of Chauvinist Hysteria! Workers and oppressed: Do not trust the ruling class and its media! 5.2.2020,


Almedina Gunić: The chauvinist campaign behind the “Wuhan Coronavirus” hysteria & the revolutionary answer, 02 February 2020,


2019 Corona Virus: No to the Anti-Chinese Chauvinism in South Korea! Joint Statement of the Revolutionary Communists (RCIT Section in South Korea) and the International Bureau of the RCIT, 06.02.2020,


Michael Pröbsting: 2019 Corona Virus: The Hypocrisy of Anti-Chinese Chauvinism in the West, 14 February 2020,


Almedina Gunic: 2019-nCoV and the Virus of Chauvinism. A comparison with measles and the reactionary Anti-Vaxx campaigners, 6 February 2020,




[3] James Griffiths, Jenni Marsh and Tara John, February 23, Coronavirus News, CNN February 24, 2020

[5] Lee Brown: Evangelical pastor claims coronavirus is God’s ‘death angel’ to ‘purge a lot of sin, New York Post January 29, 2020

[6] Jenn Fang: The 2003 SARS outbreak fueled anti-Asian racism. Coronavirus doesn’t have to, The Washington Post, Feb. 4, 2020,

[7] Seth J. Frantzman: Coronavirus Border Closures Is Last Thing Iran’s Regime Expected, Jerusalem Post, February 24, 2020


[9] María Isabel Porras Gallo, Ryan A. Davis (Ed.): The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919: Perspectives from the Iberian .Peninsula and the Americas, University of Rochester Press, New York 2014, pp. 64-65

[10] Bryan Ward-Perkins: The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization, Oxford University Press, New York 2005

[11] John Horgan: Justinian's Plague (541-542 CE),

[12] Both historians are mentioned in Rodney Hilton: Was there a General Crisis of Feudalism? 20 October 2017,

[14] Jewish History Sourcebook: The Black Death and the Jews 1348-1349 CE,

[15] C N Trueman "Diseases In Industrial Cities In The Industrial Revolution",,. The History Learning Site, 31 Mar 2015. 7 Feb 2020.

[16] Shah Ebrahim: Narratives of the Bombay Plague, in: International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 45, Issue 6, December 2016, pp 2196–2198,

[17] Dan Jones: Three Percent of the World’s Population Died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic, 7 March 2019,

[19] Julia Martinez: Great Smog of London. Environmental Disaster, England, United Kingdom [1952] Encyclopedia Britannica

[20] Karl Marx: Capital, Volume One, London Penguin, pp. 637-638

[21] Karl Marx: Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Human Requirements and Division of Labour Under the Rule of Private Property

[22] Frederick Engels: Dialectics of Nature, The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man

[23] Eleanor Albert: China’s Environmental Crisis, Council on Foreign Relations, 4 November 2019

[24] BBC NEWS: India air pollution at 'unbearable levels', Delhi minister says, 4/11/2019

[25] CAMPFIL: How Developing Countries Struggling With Air Pollution Can Reduce Emissions, March 14, 2018,

[27] Robert B Couch: Viruses and Indoor Air Pollution, Department of microbiology and Immunology, Baylor Collage of Medicine, Texas 1981