Play your part
I read with interest Jack Conrad’s article in last week’s issue of Weekly Worker (‘Covid-19 and how to fight it’, March 26), as well as Paul Demarty on the response of the left the week before (‘Responding to catastrophe’, March 19).
There is much in the articles I agreed with. At least you avoided the error of the minority of the left, who are grasping at straws that the pandemic is not as serious as claimed, and those who are scaremongering, with conspiracy explanations of the origin of the crisis. Rather, my concern is what I have not seen, either in your own paper or in my other sources - limited because of my age and medical history - or any mention whatever of what we on the left should actually be doing.
The crisis is revealing in a very sharp form all that is wrong with the capitalist world we live in. Millions of people will come through this, convinced that change is necessary - and perhaps even possible. Fine. But what the left needs to be doing, and today, is making the fullest possible contribution to, is the urgent collective organisation from below, which is required to make up the deficiencies even in those countries where the bourgeois governments are led by grown-ups - and even more urgently when they are led by the likes of Johnson, Trump or Putin.
Everyone needs to be acting now. The government finally started to get to grips with the scale of things on March 23. But massive problems remain that very few people have yet even begun to think about, which will have to be faced, as realisation dawns of just how vulnerable just-in-time production and distribution are to shocks of the scale we, and the world, are facing.
Let no-one imagine the government or the media are over-hyping the scale of the crisis. My local hospital is the one which has had the highest rate of confirmed Covid-19 deaths in relation to the population covered. Three times in the past fortnight I’ve been taken into Accident and Emergency with false alarms - possible repeat heart attack symptoms. I’ve seen how more and more of A&E is separated off to cope with virus cases. I’ve seen how the medics are still treating those of us still being brought in for the sorts of reasons seen during most normal times. That includes people whose immune defences have been knocked for six, because they are halfway through chemo or radiotherapy for cancer.
I’ve seen some suggestions that Covid-19 is being exaggerated, either because it is no worse than ordinary flu, or because some cases of flu are being misdiagnosed as Covid-19, thus inflating the figures. That’s wrong. I was told by the doctor who treated me on my most recent visit to New Cross hospital that casualty were only admitting people whose breathing difficulties were so bad they needed oxygen. The figures being released each day for Covid-19 infections and deaths are for those who have been admitted to hospital and have been tested.
I could hear enough of what was going on in the Covid-19 section to know I didn’t want to hear it. I saw the trolley piled high with hospital-kitchen cheese or ham rolls for the medics to eat, grabbing a bite while they worked. Nobody knows how many people have correctly self-diagnosed and are self-isolating. It is quite likely some of them have died, possibly as yet undiscovered.
So what can be done? These suggestions are for those of us stuck at home for one reason or another.
l Sign every online petition you come across, which is calling for something that might help the situation. Feeble as online petitions are as a form of protest, we don’t have many other options at the moment.
l Every town probably has something like our local Facebook Covid-19 Mutual Aid Group. Sign up if you haven’t done already. Contribute constructively. If you start talking politics, patiently explain rather than dogmatically shouting. Don’t emulate my local SWP leading cadre, raising unnecessary doubt when a swift Google search was all it would have taken to find he had his facts wrong anyway.
l Add your name to the list of those coming forward to help under the direction of your local volunteer bureau. Send them your information, including any experience you think might help in this crisis (eg, trade union case work). They will take some time to get back, because so many are already coming forward. But every hand is needed. They will make their best assessment of where you can be used. Depending on personal situation, it’s worth volunteering even if you’re housebound to avoid infection - I have. They will have a much better idea of what is needed than the most infallible of Provisional Central Committees (other leading bodies are available).
To give some idea of just one issue: the numbers of us likely to be confined to our homes for at least three months to avoid catching infection. The NHS should by now have sent a letter to the group estimated to be most at risk of all - one and a half million people, whose immune systems are compromised for one reason or another. The (oversubscribed) NHS call for volunteers was to ensure this group has all the essential supplies they need.
Beyond that, there is a much wider group who have not been told to self-isolate. But those of us in this group who have been following what has been happening around the world know we shouldn’t be waiting for advice, which, if it ever comes, will once again be too little, too late. Those with such medical histories - some much younger than my 69 years - are estimated by the Food Foundation to be up to 17 million people!
There is no way we in the 17 million will get through this without the help of people who are still allowed to shop. Many, including me, have family or neighbours who are doing what is needed, but need to keep to the physical isolation rules: supplies left outside the door. Some have carers who will continue to visit, as long as the healthcare system carries on staggering through. But huge numbers will still be falling between the cracks, and only locally organised efforts can rise to the scale of this challenge, and to that of the several millions more who were already in extreme food insecurity before this crisis erupted.
l Speaking of that, if you are still able to shop, you are checking if any of your neighbours are housebound and need any supplies you can add to your shopping list, aren’t you?
I’ve tried to say too much, but one of the most important points has been left till last:
l One of the weapons needed to fight this virus is information about its spread. There’s probably very little most of us can do on the ground to get the required increased supplies of test kits for those currently infected, or to develop a test for those who have been infected and are now recovered. But global best practice (basically South Korea) suggests that, as well as massive testing for those showing possible symptoms, and self-isolation for any known recent contacts, another set of data is needed. That is getting brief daily health updates on as many of the population as possible via a smartphone app. The data will only matter if as many as possible sign up - healthy as well as those who think they have the virus.
Spread the word to everyone you know, to get them to do the same.
Everyone take care out there.
Notwithstanding decades of trying to destroy Britain’s national health service, Boris Johnson has no problem using the NHS as long as it helps politically.
Despite Brexit, the (invented) dictate of the EU being removed, the ability to keep unwanted Europeans out, and the power to close borders, Britain has been infected by coronavirus. The UK has registered more corona deaths than the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Portugal. This time, Boris de Pfeffel Johnson cannot do what he has done for decades - blame Europe. Unlike his US counterpart, Johnson does not believe coronavirus is an invention of the Democrats to damage him politically.
Meanwhile, people are panic-buying. What they stock up on is instructive. British people buy sanitisers and toilet paper. Americans buy guns and the French buy red wine and condoms. When it comes to corona and panic-buying, one might follow Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recommends: “Wash your hands, stay home, and don’t believe the idiots”.
Here’s wishing all comrades a safe and productive pandemic - safe in terms of health and survival; productive in terms of taking full advantage of this crisis to raise consciousness amongst the working class. That to include a call for awareness of the consequences of its own actions and behaviour - if you like, a preparedness on the part of working folk to take ‘adult responsibility’ for their side of society’s equations. Nothing of that is a simple task during normal times, but even more problematic - even more demanding of dynamism and modernity in thinking - when our establishment elites have been handed this current PR opportunity on a plate. A plate decorated with floral diversions, by way of comforting displacement, and then propagandistic deceptions in final flourish.
Incidentally, Jeremy blinking who? (from that few short months ago) and Corbynism bloody what? All swept into cruel, but also predominantly self-inflicted, oblivion by a latest roller-coaster of ‘events, dear boy, events’. Indeed, as mostly turns out to be the case, if failing to grab control not only of any individual rides or giddy attractions, but - most importantly of all - control of the populism-favouring amusement park itself.
According to Rex Dunn, “Capitalism was already in crisis before the coronavirus broke out. For markets across the world, the longest ‘bull run’ this century was about to end” (Letters, March 26). This is pure conjecture - many analysts were saying the exact opposite.
He goes on: “As for world trade, we were heading towards a global recession, if not another financial crash like 2008.” That isn’t a surprise, given the emergency measures being put in place across the entire world.
“Inequality and hardship is growing, even among the lower middle class. Hence populism is on the rise.” Let’s agree that it is inequality that is the problem and not populism. “... it has been left to national states, who began to copy each other in a haphazard fashion.” Haphazard it may be, but, following the steps of other nations is perfectly logical, given they are basing their decisions on an army of scientists using sophisticated modelling.
“Governments across the world lurched from one position to another: from a vain appeal for people to ‘self-isolate’ to national lockdowns. The latter has more to do with the move towards a draconian state.” Complete rubbish - the latter has everything to do with the science of stopping epidemics! Viruses spread by people infecting other people mean that to stop the spread you have to ensure people isolate.
Personally I never was fully sold on the liberal idea that everyone will make sensible choices. I hope the police are aggressively enforcing these rules, and that stupid and apathetical people are forced into action. And when this is over I hope the people who never think of the damage climate change is doing to the planet will be forced to have second thoughts!
“... which atomises people and confines them to their own four walls”. Atomisation reached its peak precisely in the era of ‘shop until you drop’ and long-haul holidays! The so-called freedom to move anywhere you want and consume what you want without a second thought is precisely the thing that has led to atomisation, mental-health issues and generally obese societies. Confining people to their homes may help address these problems!
“ Meanwhile millions of wage workers are waiting for a cash handout, which will not be enough to make ends meet.” And that is the result of a society that bases its distribution on the market. Hopefully workers will wake up and realise how this state of affairs is reactionary and detrimental to their needs. If they don’t learn those lessons then don’t come moaning when the next lockdown comes.
“... people are angry at the loss of their personal freedoms.” What freedoms are those? The freedom to be a wage slave and shop without consciousness? The freedom to be an inhuman automaton? Frankly, when I look out of the window, I don’t see people traumatised that their freedoms are being taken away. On the contrary, I see people who want orderly food queues and home delivery slots, and are quite enjoying their break from the insane pace of modern life - a modernity that has led to people being heavily medicated, mentally ill, atomised, obese, unhealthy and desperate for some modicum of community spirit.
When people applauded the NHS workers they were crying out for some sense of solidarity and community. What we are seeing is a glimpse of how communism could work and it only took a few weeks! Imagine what humanity could achieve in five years!
Turning to Jack Conrad, he says: “We must insist that the capitalist class, not the working class, pays for this crisis. Profiteering must be subject to brutal levels of taxation. Speculators too. Only possible though by facilitating general access to the computer records of businesses. Secrecy and offshoring profits must be ended. Tax havens - not least the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands - must be abolished. Capitalists must be forced to pay their taxes” (‘Covid-19 and how to fight it’, March 26).
I think this is the wrong demand. What communists should be demanding is a permanent end to capitalism. There should be no capitalist class as such, once we come out of this crisis. Our argument should be that companies are told what to produce and to what levels - so, for example, governments instruct industry to produce more ventilators, and food is distributed to the most vulnerable for free. In other words, the entire capitalist market system is being subverted right here and right now.
The communist vision of evaluating production based on what is essential and what is actually needed is happening before our eyes, even if within the framework of a capitalism in a coma. The communist argument should be that this state of affairs be made permanent, even after the virus subsides.
For example, there are lots of issues with home deliveries. But, if we had a joined-up home delivery solution, we could distribute household needs on a rational basis: for instance, goods distributed to the same streets on the same day, and the basket of goods you receive dependent on the size and composition of your household.
In other words, the capitalist system is currently being subverted and market mechanisms are breaking down and being replaced, even if haphazardly, by more socialistic solutions. What communists should be saying is that society should be organised in this rational way all the time, the only difference being that when the virus retreats everyone has free movement again. Forget the transition to socialism taking decades - at this rate I think it can be achieved by the end of the year!
From each according to their ability to each according to their needs now!
On March 17, I was in my GP’s surgery waiting room. My friend and UK Independence Party supporter, Mike, and his wife, Jackie, just happened to be there. We got talking about coronavirus.
Mike then burst out saying that “Socialism doesn’t work” - he went on to say that “he used to be a socialist”. Jackie chipped in and said that “we used to be Labour” before Mike continued the conversation by saying that “under socialism, people would be too lazy to go to work”. I didn’t know what to say, apart from “It depends what you mean by socialism”.
Later in the day, when I got home, I started to think about what Mike and Jackie had said. I found it amusing that when I spoke to them we were sitting in the waiting room of an NHS surgery. In addition, Mike and Jackie live in a former state-built council house, which they had got under Margaret Thatcher’s so-called ‘right to buy’. It then occurred to me that they are both retired and are both in receipt of a state pension.
Yet Mike says that “socialism doesn’t work”. It seems that some people are so blind that they cannot see the wood for the trees.
Best by far
I have always read a variety of papers on the left - I buy them on protests or from anyone I know at a meeting - but the Weekly Worker is the only one I take by subscription. Every week I eagerly wait for the next issue - certain it has the best analysis of current events and will always give me points I hadn’t considered or information I hadn’t seen previously.
The Weekly Worker will often present a view of an issue at the time, then weeks later round up the variety of explanations from other left sources, the internet or mainstream media to give a sober overall analysis. I really like the fact it allows comrades to write on a subject offering a different take - often actually challenging a previous contributor’s analysis. This really makes you have to think where you now stand.
Some criticise the Weekly Worker for being a gossip mag of the left. This is nonsense. Leftwing sects presenting themselves as practising ‘democratic centralism’ and having undemocratic means of ‘electing’ their leadership should have internal rows - kept secret from their dues-paying members - exposed. I am staggered to see ostensibly Trotskyist sects actually, in practice, acting in a Stalinist fashion: denouncing and expelling anyone who dares challenge the oft changing (not changed by the ordinary membership) party line.
I have two criticisms of the Weekly Worker/CPGB stance. One - that of still calling for work in the Labour Party to ‘pull it left’, even as it is speeding to the right under the current dismal leadership contest. To see the front runner being the man who was the architect of the Labour switch to support for a second European Union referendum that was a major factor in Labour’s catastrophic defeat last December shows (as a previous letter-writer said) how their membership is actually mainly middle class - not radical young leftists, as previously asserted across the left. They are out of touch with the northern working class, and have been for years because of this middle class total dominance. There have never been so many Labour MPs from a middle class background as seen in December 2019.
The second criticism is that there is nowhere near enough coverage of the major unions - internal battles of elections, conferences, policies and (lack of) industrial action. The kind of textbook analysis we need today was the coverage of the election in Unite between Jerry Hicks and Len McCluskey (‘Good, bad and middling Trots’, November 18 2010). And this raises an important point. The writer of that impressive reportage and Hicks advocate was Gerry Downing - currently embroiled in an internal fight in the miniscule Socialist Fight. Wherever he stands on anti-Semitism, whatever anyone thinks of his past or current stances, this does not challenge how good that Unite article was - it was so useful to me as a trade union left activist of 35 years activism (and typical of my own frequent detailed reports of what is happening within the PCS union).
The letter pages of the Weekly Worker have been open to all sides of the SF internal fight and those outside with an opinion. Good: I want to read why they split and hear from those involved and others looking on. No other left paper would give such battles such coverage and the right of comment and reply to anyone with something to say. Even more impressive - and not seen in any other left paper - was the recent reportage of the comrade resigning from the CPGB, followed the week after by letters condemning that coverage and the main leaders of the party! No other paper on the left would have allowed such open reportage - then such challenges for all to see. This is accountability in practice.
Another example of the quality and calibre of the Weekly Worker (and editor) is Andrew Northall’s letter last week (March 26) - a forensic and compelling disagreement with Ben Lewis’s defence of Karl Kautsky. People do quote leading figures to support their own argument, but, as Andrew states, does the person quoting actually understand the tract they are using?
Too many sects have leaders who dominate for decades and who lead us to believe all is well within their ranks. All advance yes-men/women to leading positions, not deserved by their theoretical understanding or actual record of activism. All snub anyone disagreeing and will not publish critical letters. It is said all the active left secretly read the Weekly Worker. I hope so. I hope they will also demand their sects also embrace the open accountability seen regularly there. The CPGB/Weekly Worker is the only left organisation I see practising genuine democratic accountability and openness, and allowing the open expression of disagreement. This is the action of a revolutionary left, as I understood Lenin to advocate - debate, debate, debate, until people are convinced - not told.
Working class activists and anyone interested in political issues are plain speakers and can take the news that there is disagreement within an organisation. The issues should be reported, explained, with all free to give a view, then thrashed out. I have only seen the Weekly Worker do this. Keep taking my subscription during the curtailment of the print edition - I will read it online, but hope you do produce hard copies, as I save certain articles for future reference.
The Weekly Worker has so many quality contributors and is never afraid to allow disagreement and criticism. You only ever really think when what you have believed so far is contradicted flat out! It can be heavy going, but many issues require in-depth analysis and examination - not trite, repeated platitudes that are the constant basis of most of today’s hard-left papers. We require fair quoting of the works of others, then forensic examination and facts. You do not need to be an academic or leading light to have even an article published in the Weekly Worker. This is the culture the working class needs, to ever have a chance of leading, winning and retaining power, and not having to listen to a self-selected party guru with a paper that allows him (usually a ‘he’) total control of what is published.