Commission 13 (Science and Technology for People’s Development) of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle demands the immediate international mobilization of technology and scientific resources towards a people-centered response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The Commission also demands an end to the militarization and martial law-style tactics being deployed against the working masses in countries such as Italy, the Philippines, parts of the United States and other countries as the people wait unnecessarily long periods of time for transnational pharmaceutical corporations to mass produce profit-driven treatment that should be provided immediately and free of charge.
PHOTO: Soldiers stationed outside a cathedral in Milan, Italy. Credit: REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo
Viruses such as COVID19 are a natural biological element of life on Earth, but their rapid spread and the subsequent response is reflective of state policy and corporate practice. The global response we have seen so far is a result of the neoliberal policies of health infrastructure privatization and rapid monopolization of the pharmaceutical industry over the past four decades. The “Big Pharma” industry has seen rapid acquisitions and buy-offs in recent years, leading to a major concentration of control in just a handful of companies. As austerity policies have wracked debt-ridden national economies, national healthcare systems have been privatized. This deadly neoliberal combination has resulted in monopoly capitalists fixing large prices and making much needed healthcare and medicines unaffordable for the working masses and contributing to the virus’s spread.
Capitalism as a Breeding Ground for Pandemics
The capitalist-driven environmental crisis has caused an unnaturally favorable situation for viral spread. As the capitalist thirst for profits leads to massive deforestation and destruction of natural habitats worldwide, vast forests that used to act as natural buffers of pathogens in the wild become more constricted, leading to their faster spread between species. On the other hand, capitalism drives increasing contact between wild animals and humans due to factors such as increasing capitalization and commodification of wild foods, and increases in population and density of forest and forest periphery settlements. These have created the conditions for the development of zoonoses – or animal diseases being pathogenic to humans.
At the same time, more and more people are concentrated in capitalist centers of production and trade in cities and industrial belts that easily become virus hotspots. The thirst of profit means ever more deplorable working and living conditions for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. Coupled with the commodification of vital social services such as healthcare, they are ever more endangered when disaster and pandemic sets in.
Anti-Science Response by World Leaders and Transnational Corporations
In the midst of the pandemic, world leaders have maintained not only an anti-people policy but an anti-science policy to pair with it. Medical scientists, especially epidemiologists, had been sounding the alarm about COVID19 for months, but most governments have downplayed its significance until this point. The overly-militarized response could have been avoided had immediate precautionary measures been taken and the science been taken seriously.
The US has led the pack in this regard, using the pandemic to further warmonger towards China for being the starting location for the virus. The US and its allies have also kept up the economic sanctions on multiple hard-hit countries, such as Iran and Venezuela, thus limiting their capacity for medical response and resulting in more deaths and further viral spread. Compare this to countries such as Cuba, a country under sanction that nonetheless arose as the only country in the Americas to allow an infected cruise ship to dock for treatment, and continues to send health personnel and medicine to help countries in need of medical support.
Countries like the United Kingdom, Sweden and Netherland, on the other hand, have initially adopted “herd immunity” approaches that allow non-vulnerable segments of populations to be exposed to the disease, against the advice of many leading epidemiologists due to the lack of solid knowledge on the immunology of the disease. The UK has since backtracked on this approach after scientists showed through simulations how their health system would collapse under such an ill-conceived and gravely high-risk gamble.
Moves and calls by world leaders to redirect budgets towards research and development expose the dismal state of R&D support in many countries. In countries where R&D spending is relatively high like the United States, a huge chunk goes to defense and military research instead of life-saving studies in medicine and health. Meanwhile, in countries like the Philippines, efforts by local scientists to develop cheaper, locally produced test kits are being undermined by a government mired in politicking and corruption. Efforts at open-source development of vital medical technologies, such as ventilator tubes and vaccines, to make them more cost-effective and accessible have been targeted by profit-driven corporations. Video conferencing technologies that have been enabled because of public R&D, which individuals have been relying on to maintain social connections during the crisis, often remain inaccessible for the broad masses due to poor infrastructure. Furthermore, companies producing these technologies, already gaining billions in net worth as a result of the crisis, continue to be tied to a profit-driven model that exploits users’ data and right to privacy. They are now seeking to make more money out of data and intelligence to be had out of people’s movements, behavior, and health data during the pandemic. Coupled with surveillance states, they pose grave threats to the privacy and personal security of citizens.
Forwarding Socialism as a Viable Cure – of Physical and Societal Ills
Our collective experience in facing SARS-COV2 has highlighted the glaring failure of governments worldwide in enacting comprehensive, cohesive, people-centered solutions to address this disease. The neoliberal model of privatization, deregulation, and liberalization has rendered them ill-equipped to commandeer the necessary financial, material, and human resources needed to work together to contain the disease and address peoples’ needs. It has exposed the inherent inability of capitalism, which places profit first before peoples’ welfare, to move cohesively as a system to address this crisis.
Now more than ever socialism is showing itself as a viable alternative. In countries with socialist characteristics like Cuba, the health sector is democratically governed both by healthcare workers and patients. Hospitals are all state owned, all communities are supplied with their own nurses and doctors ready to serve 24/7, and public funds are allocated towards preventing public health crises from happening rather than dealing with them as they occur.
In countries dominated by self-interested ruling elites, we can work as peoples’ movements to unite with peoples the world over and demand the prioritization of healthcare over strong-arm tactics, call for people-centered instead of corporate-saving solutions, and vigilantly pressure governments to ensure social protections such as labor rights, genuine universal health care, and immediate socio-economic relief so the broad masses may take necessary precautions against COVID-19 without fear of losing income, steep medical costs, or where to get their next meal. We encourage community brigades to work together towards information dissemination, sanitation drives, and ensuring everyone in their own communities have enough nutritious food, vitamins, disinfectants.
Lastly, we call for unity among peoples plagued by the ineptitude of capitalist greed in addressing this pandemic to stand with us in calling for a radical overhaul of this dominant, unhealthy economic system and ensure the just distribution of resources as well as services for all.##