This article originally appeared in the print edition of Liberation News
Workers across the country are wondering with increasing desperation: Will the COVID crisis ever end? Two years after the first case of the virus was detected, society is becoming increasingly, bitterly divided over how to address this crucial question. All the while the death toll continues to mount.
The situation is not hopeless. Although right wing demagogues have slowed the vaccination process and intensified the spread of the virus by sowing doubt about the most basic public health measures, it is still possible to end the pandemic.
We can look at other countries for examples of why this is true. Socialist countries like China and Cuba have successfully contained COVID, despite huge difficulties. Even though it was the country where the virus struck first, China prevented its uncontrolled spread through a massive, centralized public health response that included guaranteeing workers the necessities of life like food and shelter. Adjusted for population size, the death toll in the United States is approximately 850 times higher than in China.
Cuba is a small island nation that is blockaded by the most powerful empire to ever exist — the United States. Even though it faces tremendous difficulties acquiring the medical supplies and other basic goods it so badly needs, life is now returning to normal in the country. By mid-November, 92 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated, using vaccines developed by Cuban scientists. Schools reopened and public gatherings no longer pose a threat to people’s health.
These countries were able to achieve these results because they followed an approach that prioritized preserving life above all else. But that has never been the goal of the United States’ COVID response. The U.S. ruling class has one main objective in mind: re-open the economy at full capacity as quickly as possible so that they can keep making profits.
A section of the U.S. capitalist class came to the conclusion that the best way to accomplish this was to minimize or outright deny the existence of the problem. The leading proponent of this approach was then-president Donald Trump, who was joined by right wing state and local officials like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott along with a whole host of far right media pundits and agitators. They promoted the view that COVID was little worse than the common cold, that wearing a mask was a violation of one’s freedom, and that vaccines were unnecessary or unsafe. Just show up to work and go about your daily life like normal, they urged workers, and don’t worry about the hundreds of thousands of deaths taking place all around you.
Some have even outrageously argued that taking such a position is pro-worker. They make the case that lockdown measures, the closure of schools and restrictions on travel deprive workers of income and crucial services. But this accepts the false dilemma imposed by the capitalist class. There is no reason that these public health measures cannot be taken while simultaneously guaranteeing housing, an income, and other social rights for the working class. More than enough resources in society exist. It could be taken from the 650 billionaires in the United States who became $2 trillion wealthier over the course of the pandemic.
At this point, rebuilding public trust in absolutely essential health measures like fully vaccinating the entire population will be a tremendous challenge. Many people are understandably distrustful of a government that has so completely abandoned them during this crisis, especially Black, Latino and Indigenous workers whose communities have long suffered from racist medical malpractice. The only way this can realistically be turned around is if massive programs are initiated to meet the needs of the working class, which would serve as an unmistakable signal that a completely new approach to tackling the pandemic has been adopted.
The government should immediately wipe out the rent debt accumulated by tenants and mortgage payers to landlords and banks, and issue an indefinite nationwide freeze on evictions. There should be an income guarantee for workers and small businesses where lockdowns become necessary to contain the disease’s spread. Likewise, there should be income guarantees for parents who need to stay home with their children because in-person schools or daycare centers are closed. Big pharmaceutical corporations are rightfully hated and distrusted by the people because of their long history of price gouging, deceit and corruption. They should be nationalized under the people’s control to make it clear that the vaccines are safe and not being rushed into use to maximize profit.
It will take tremendous struggle to achieve these and other essential measures, but that is far preferable to surrendering to the virus and all the death and suffering that goes with it.