By Yossi Schwartz, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 26 May 2020, www.thecommunists.net
Close to 5.5 million people have been infected by the Corona virus so far. The USA is the leading state in terms of infected people and people who died from Corona. 1,647,000 people have been infected and 100.000 have died by May 24. Worldwide 345,000 people died from the Corona. In other words close to one third of the deaths from the Corona are in the USA. While every person who dies from this virus is a loss of human being, it is important to have a clear perspective. In comparison, the Spanish flu of 1919-1920 killed over 50 million people and the “Black Death” of the 14 century killed up to 100 millions.
Here’s how many people die each day on average, sorted by cause: (1)
Rank Cause Daily Deaths
#1 Cardiovascular diseases 48,742
#2 Cancers 26,181
#3 Respiratory diseases 10,724
#4 Lower respiratory infections 7,010
#5 Dementia 6,889
#6 Digestive diseases 6,514
#7 Neonatal disorders 4,887
#8 Diarrheal diseases 4,300
#9 Diabetes 3,753
#10 Liver diseases 3,624
Total Daily Deaths 147,118
Since WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, daily confirmed deaths have fallen in a wide range between 272 and 10,520 per day. (2)
At the same time Chinese authorities registered on May 23 zero new infections of coronavirus for the first time since they began reporting data in January. While we do not know all the reasons for the large number of the infections in the U.S., it is clear from the medical angle that at the first stage Donald Trump claimed that the spread of the virus was not inevitable. As the COVID-19 spread, the U.S. was unable to perform contact tracing because it was so slow off the mark with testing. All early samples were being sent to the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta rather than in local testing centers.
“If we could have done contact tracing, we might have found a lot more cases quickly and shut down the hot spots,” said Dr. Gabor Kelen, director of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University.” (3)
Trump claimed that tests developed by South Korea which has proven as the best practice produced false positives. From a social perspective, poor neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens in New York had more deaths than the rich neighborhoods.
“Experts say that patients in those poor neighborhoods are more likely to have underlying conditions like heart disease and diabetes that can make coronavirus infection lethal and that they may be wary of seeking health care until an emergency arises because of the cost. The neighborhoods also have higher numbers of people per residence and many multigenerational households, aiding the spread of infectious diseases.” (4)
Looking for a scapegoat
Instead of taking responsibility for his criminal policy combined with the historical lack of universal health care system that Trump opposes and the huge social disparity that goes hand with hand with racism, Trump and his aides are looking for scapegoats in the same way they blamed the Corona for the economic crisis that began before the Corona.
“It is not we the capitalists who are responsible for the economic crisis of capitalism, it is the Corona! It is not we who are responsible for the poor health care system. It is the Chinese.” So they want us to believe, but a growing number of people do not believe them more than they believe in Cinderella and the Grimm’s fairy tales.
Plagues are not new to human beings. In each and every epoch of socio–economic and political decay when humanity has faced plagues, the ruling classes and their servants have sought scapegoats to be blamed for the outbreak of the sickness rooted in the poor socio-economy of the masses, the rape and abuse of the environment for the benefit of the filthy upper classes.
The ruling classes in such periods know or at least sense that they face the greatest danger for their power - the anger and the uprising of the exploited classes. The exploited and the oppressed classes can tolerate their exploitation and oppression as long as the ruling classes advance the forces of production and raise the level of living of the exploited. In periods of stagnation once the ruling class cannot raise the level of living and cannot even provide protection from the elements of nature, their rule is doomed. To try and divert the anger of the masses toward an internal or external enemy is the reason they need scapegoats.
Today the old imperialist states like the USA and its allies try to divert the anger toward China, the new imperialist power and this new cold war era which has replaced the process of globalization, increases the possibility of a third world imperialist war that can eliminate the human race.
Even if Trump does not intend to open a world war we know that prior to WWI no imperialist state planned to open a war but their actions led to it. Such actions can be the return to testing of nuclear weapons.
“The Trump administration has discussed whether to conduct the first U.S. nuclear test explosion since 1992 in a move that would have far-reaching consequences for relations with other nuclear powers and reverse a decades-long moratorium on such actions, said a senior administration official and two former officials familiar with the deliberations. The matter came up at a meeting of senior officials representing the top national security agencies May 15, following accusations from administration officials that Russia and China are conducting low-yield nuclear tests — an assertion that has not been substantiated by publicly available evidence and that both countries have denied.” (5)
Inter-imperialist rivalry with China
The inter-imperialist rivalry began long before the outbreak of the Corona, e.g. the trade war which started in 2018, but since the outbreak of the plague, the attacks on China have intensified.
The Xi regime is not an innocent party. China tried to hide at the beginning that the pandemic hit China. The death of Li Wenliang, who was one of eight Wuhan physicians punished for alerting colleagues about the new coronavirus, led to anger of the masses in China. Wuhan residents expressed their anger at party officials for claiming success and demanding praise for the Communist Party. Trump and his aides want to use this justified anger to weaken China. The ruling class of China uses the pandemic to silence the anger of the Chinese workers and poor. It is not a semi-colony as some centrists claim and not a deformed workers state as the deranged Spartacists claim. It is an imperialist state with a Stalinist-capitalist government. In the struggle between the old and the new imperialists, the interest of the working class is to oppose both – the U.S. as well as China. However at the same time we condemn the Anti-Chinese xenophobia.
Trump and his officials have linked a virology lab in Wuhan to the virus, an allegation without any proof. Peter Navarro, a top Trump aide on trade and the coronavirus, wrote several anti-China books, including ”The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought, How They Can Be Won.” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, stated: “I think China is the main challenger to U.S. national security over the next 50, 100 years.” (6)
On May 7, Trump pointing fingers at China said that the outbreak had hit the US harder than the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War Two, or the 9/11 attacks two decades ago. On May 10, the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security claimed that China’s most skilled hackers and spies are working to steal American research in the crash effort to develop vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus. On May 17, US Secretary of state Pompeo visited Israel to demand to take a side with the US against China.
“Israelis were surprised to find out that the reason Pompeo exited lockdown and took a plane to Israel at this time was to warn Jerusalem against extending its economic cooperation with China. The warning was particularly meant to address a desalination plant but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The unusual visit was meant to signal to Israel that the war is already here and it will soon have to pick a side. The U.S. secretary of state’s irregular visit to Israel last week was meant to signal that the trade war with China is escalating in the wake of Covid-19.” (7)
On May 18, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded that China reveal "immediately" the whereabouts of the Panchen Lama chosen by the Dalai Lama, 25 years after the six-year-old was seized.
Thus Trump and his aides push for a news cold war. They rely on their experience with Russian Stalinism that under the pressure of the cold war collapsed. China however is not in the same situation that Stalinist Russia was and a new cold war will lead to a deeper world economic recession.
It is not difficult to understand what is behind these attacks. In addition to the many Americans who were infected and died, more than 30 million Americans have lost their jobs since mid-March. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the unemployment rate would average 14% this year, the worst since the end of Second World War - and that the U.S. economy would shrink by 12% in the second quarter. In the first quarter, the economy shrank by 4.8%, the deepest since the 2008 recession and this in an election year.
Seeking scapegoats in times of socio-economic, political and health crisis is one of the oldest tricks of the ruling class in epochs of social decay. Blaming the Chinese is an old American ruling class trick.
“The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1882 and imposing an absolute ban on immigration by Chinese, was the culmination of a backlash against previous decades of Chinese laborers’ presence in the western part of the country. Epitomizing those ethnic portrayals was a cartoon in the San Francisco Illustrated Wasp in 1881 by George F. Keller, portraying a caricature of a Chinese man posing as a proto-Statute of Liberty figure, surrounded by the labels “Filth,” “Immorality,” “Diseases,” and “Ruin to White Labor.” (8)
This act was passed during the depression of 1882-1885.
Scapegoating in Ancient Times
Unlike the myth of the 10 plagues of Egypt that are described in the Hebrew bible the first verified Plague in western civilization was the one in Athene that broke out in 430 BC. It happened during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. According to the historian Thucydides, who lived in that time, the initial outbreak of plague in Athens lasted two years (430-428 BC), followed by a second, year-long wave beginning in winter 427/426 – “having indeed never entirely left the city, although there had been some abatement in its ravages.” (9)
Its first attack was in the lower city of Piraeus, Thucydides wrote that the people of Athens blamed the Peloponnesians for poisoning their cisterns’. However, a few years later, when the plague attacked Athens, this time, the responsibility was placed on Athens’s leader, Pericles, because of his decision to continue the devastating war with the Peloponnesians. In this war at least 100,000 people died. Most likely the plague was Typhus because of the war. The war devastated the economy of Athens and was one important element in its defeat.
The Antonine Plague (165 - c. 180/190 CE) was told primarily by Galen and by Cassius Dio (l. c. 155 - c. 235 CE). It afflicted the Roman Empire during the co-rule of Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 CE) and Lucius Verus (r. 161-169 CE). Many Roman pagans blamed their gods for the plague.
“Anger was also directed toward the gods. Roman religion was state-sponsored and operated on the concept of quid pro quo: the people worshiped and sacrificed to the gods and the gods took care of the people; in this case, the gods had clearly failed to live up to their side of the bargain.” (10)
To divert the anger from the ruling class Marcus Aurelius blamed the Christians for the anger of the gods. “Aurelius blamed the Christians for angering the gods by refusing to participate in religious rituals and so initiated persecutions against them. Christians responded by caring for the sick and dying, showing no fear of death because their faith assured them unconditionally of an eternal life beyond their present existence. Their courage in the face of widespread disease and death drew more converts to Christianity, weakening the state religion, which in turn weakened the state itself. This paradigm would repeat itself during Cyprian’s plague.” (11)
“This period, characterized by health, social and economic crises, paved the way for the entry into the Empire of neighbouring barbarian tribes and the recruitment of barbarian troops into the Roman army; these events particularly favoured the cultural and political growth of these populations. The Antonine Plague may well have created the conditions for the decline of the Roman Empire and, afterwards, for its fall in the West in the fifth century AD.” (12)
The Plague of Cyprian in the third century AD was part of a general crisis. “It was a period in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression.” (13)
During the Plague of Cyprian that afflicted the Roman Empire from AD 249 to 262 the Christians were blamed for the outbreak of the epidemic that further weakened the declining empire. However the young Christian Church was the one to gain from the situation: “Only the nascent Christian church benefitted from the chaos. The illness claimed the lives of emperors and pagans who could offer no explanation for the cause of the plague or suggestions for how to prevent further illness much less actions for curing the sick and dying. Christians played an active role in caring for the ill as well as actively providing care in the burial of the dead. Those Christians who themselves perished from the illness claimed martyrdom while offering non-believers who would convert the possibility of rewards in the Christian afterlife. Ultimately this episode not only strengthened but helped to spread Christianity throughout the furthest reaches of the empire and Mediterranean world.” (14)
During the Black Death that hit Europe in the 14th century “the disease spread throughout the Old World, killing 20-25 million Europeans and another 35 million Chinese within a decade. As soon as the disease arrived in Europe in 1346, some blamed the Jews for leisurely poisoning wells. When the disease’s virulently fatal nature became clear – mainly in 1348-1349 – it was accepted as fact that the Jews were to blame.” (15)
“The medieval economic revolution of the 12th and 13th centuries led to a boom in activity in Europe, and especially in France. But this was cut short abruptly at the start of the 14th century due to a number of events: climate change, crises in agricultural production (in particular the great famine of 1314-1317), the devastation caused by the start of the Hundred Years' War between France and England in 1337, the various calamities suffered by the Byzantine Empire, epidemics (the Black Death from 1347 to 1351, followed by repeated outbreaks up until 1370).” (16)
A New Awareness
While Trump, who brings to mind Caligula the insane Roman ruler, and his aids continue with their accusations of China we are informed that a new internationalist movement is growing A petition that already thousands of people around the world signed states:
“The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the urgency of changing global structures of inequity and violence.
1. We demand strong, universal health care systems and health care as a basic right for all humans.
2. We demand an immediate global ceasefire in all conflicts and an end to the disease of war. We demand that every nation move at least half its military spending to provide health care, housing, childcare, nutrition, education, Internet access, and other social needs so we can truly protect people’s physical, psychological, and economic security, including through the closure of foreign military bases, the cessation of military exercises, and the abolition of nuclear weapons.
3. We demand that unsustainable capitalist economies, based on the fantasy of endless growth, be replaced with cooperatively based economies of care, where human life, biodiversity, and our natural resources are conserved and a universal basic income is guaranteed so that governments can work together to combat the existential threat of climate change.
4. We demand an immediate lifting of all sanctions targeting entire nations, which are impoverishing vulnerable populations and killing people by blocking access to medicines and medical supplies.
5. We demand that all workers be protected against COVID-19 and have their long-term occupational health, economic, and labor rights guaranteed.
6. We demand the full protection of all people, especially the most vulnerable, including women and other victims of intimate partner violence and child abuse, the elderly, the impoverished, prisoners and detainees, refugees and other displaced peoples, migrants regardless of immigration status, the homeless, LGBTQIA+ individuals, racial/ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and those disability or ability challenged, among others.
7. We demand that wealthy nations live up to their responsibility to provide medical aid (including through the World Health Organization) and debt relief to save lives in countries without strong public health systems because of long histories of colonialism, neocolonialism, and other exploitation, foreign and domestic.
8. We demand that governments and corporations respect privacy and not exploit the pandemic to expand repressive measures such as surveillance, detention without trial, and restrictions on basic human rights to assembly, free expression, self-determination, and the vote.
9. We demand that when governments implement economic stimulus programs and re-open their economies they prioritize the needs of people over the interests of corporate, financial, and political elites.
In a world where the gap between rich and poor is obscene, with the world’s richest 1% having more than twice the wealth of 6.9 billion people, a fundamental redistribution of wealth and power globally and within nations is imperative. Every human being must have the opportunity to live a healthy, creative, and fulfilling life, free of the ravages of poverty, exploitation, and domination.” (17)
In spite of its political weakness this petition is supportable as it is calling for deep reforms. It reflects the growing understanding that Corona is the virus the plague is capitalism. To implement these demands capitalism must be overthrown and replaced by socialist society.
Thus it seems as an historical law that in times of plagues that usually are combined with an economic crisis the ruling classes try to divert the class struggle against a scapegoat but within a short time the masses put an end to the decaying system.
In our time for humanity to live the imperialist system must be destroyed and replaced by a socialist society.
This is what the RCIT is fighting for!
3) Japan Times: Why America now has the most coronavirus cases 28/3/2020
4) Lucas Jackson / Reuters NEWS: Why did so many New Yorkers with COVID-19 wait until it was too late to call an ambulance? April 16 ,2020
5) John Hudson and Paul Sonne: Trump administration discussed conducting first U.S. nuclear test in decades, The Washington Post, May 23, 2020
6) Doug Bandow: The United States Can’t Ditch China Yet, Foreign Policy, April 20, 2020, https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/united-states-cant-ditch-china-yet
7) Sophie Shulma: The U.S. Demands Israel Takes its Side in the New Cold War with China, The Calcalist, May 17 2020
8) Lawrence R Poos: Lessons from past Pandemics: disinformation, scapegoating and social distancing
9) Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War (translated by Rex Warner), Penguin Book, Baltimore 1916
10) Joshua J. Mark: Reactions to Plague in the Ancient & Medieval World, Ancient History 31 March 2020
12) S. Sabbatani, S. Fiorino: The Antonine Plague and the Decline of the Roman Empire, Infez Med 2009 Dec;17(4), pp. 261-75, https://www.infezmed.it/index.php/article?Anno=2009&numero=4&ArticoloDaVisualizzare=Vol_17_4_2009_261
13) ER Service: The Roman Empire, Chapter 6, Crises of the Roman Empire, https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldhistory/chapter/crises-of-the-roman-empire/
14) Joshua J. Mark: Reactions to Plague in the Ancient & Medieval World
15) Beit Hatfutsot: 700 years before Coronavirus: Jewish life during the black death plague, 16 March 2020, https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/700-years-before-coronavirus-jewish-life-during-the-black-death-plague/
16) 10000 Years of Economy, Antiquity to Middle Ages, 14th century: The economic crisis of the 14th century, https://www.citeco.fr/10000-years-history-economics/antiquity-to-middle-ages/the-economic-crisis-of-the-14th-century
17) COVID-19 Global Solidarity Manifesto, https://www.covidglobalsolidarity.org/
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The RCIT has analyzed the COVID-19 crisis extensively since its beginning. Starting from 2 February we have published nearly four dozen documents which are all collected at a special sub-page in our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-the-2019-corona-virus/. In particular we refer readers to:
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, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-a-cover-for-a-major-global-counterrevolutionary-offensive/
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, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-covid-19-global-counterrevolution/
Yossi Schwartz: The Close-Down Policy is killing, 12 April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/the-closedown-policy-is-killing/