Three million and rising
With global deaths surpassing a significant landmark, Eddie Ford points the finger of blame for this horrendous example of social murder at government bungling and disorganisation
Last week we surpassed the grisly landmark of three million deaths globally from the Covid-19 virus. Overall, there have been over 142,468,000 confirmed infections, with nearly 58,000,000 ‘active’ cases - more than 81 million have recovered.
These are staggering statistics, the World Health Organisation warning that the world is “approaching the highest rate of infection” so far - with India recording more than 230,000 new cases on April 17 alone, as it descends into Covid hell. Canada has also reported a recent upsurge, last week registering more cases per million than the US over the previous seven days - the first time this has happened since the pandemic began. Mexico, Brazil and Nigeria too have seen a sharp increase in cases. The very real fear, of course, is that the official figures do not fully reflect the true number in many countries - either due to deliberate government concealment or sheer incompetence.
When the pandemic first started, it was confidently predicted - reasonably enough - that the poorer countries would be devastated by the virus. Some thought that Africa especially would be decimated, given its general backwardness and poor infrastructure. But, confounding almost everyone, that did not happen. Instead, Europe was at the epicentre, with Britain incredibly heading the ‘league of shame’ in terms of infections, deaths, raging incompetence and so on. Even Donald Trump’s America was way behind Britain in terms of the actual death rate, as opposed to total deaths.
The only country in Europe doing worse than Britain was Belgium, which initially seemed very strange. Various explanations were offered at the time, such as individualism, regional divisions, fragmented government authority and the hugely mobile population of Brussels. But in retrospect Belgium’s high numbers had less to do with the spread of the disease and more to do with the way it counted fatalities. The figures included all the deaths in the country’s more than 1,500 nursing homes, even those untested for the virus - these numbers adding up to more than half of the overall figure.
China, on the other hand, managed to quickly contain the virus - defying expectations again. They got it right, unlike so many others. Out of the three million deaths so far, one million of them are European. This is a sobering statistic, given that we are dealing with historically advanced societies that are ‘social democratic’ in the broadest possible sense: having relatively decent health systems and some sort of functioning social services. The fact that the Covid-19 virus brought such disaster to countries like Italy, Spain, Germany, France or Britain is as monstrous as it was avoidable. When it comes to European politicians like Boris Johnson and American politicians like Donald Trump, communists were perfectly justified to use the term ‘social murder’ - first coined by Engels in his 1845 work, The condition of the working class in England. It is a crime committed by the political and social elite against the poorest in society, which should never be forgotten or forgiven.
So where are we now? Unfortunately, though with a certain feeling of inevitability, the pandemic is hitting the so-called developing world, which is enduring a massive leap in the numbers of infections and deaths. The world leader, with 574,000 deaths, is still the US - which, of course, has a population almost akin to the entire EU put together. But there are others in hot contention, most notably Brazil and India, with the UK still in the race, seeing how it got off to such a bad start.1
Brazil has had over 378,000 deaths and the current rate is skyrocketing, thanks to its idiot president attacking the population for “whining” about the virus - ‘Man up and get to work’ is the message. Then, though still a long way behind, but having time to catch up, is Mexico with 213,000 and India on nearly 183,000 - followed by Boris Johnson’s Britain on 127,307 at the time of writing, Italy on almost 118,000 and Russia, on over 106,000. Next in rank are France with 101,000, Germany 81,000, Spain 77,000, Colombia 69,000, Iran approaching 68,000 and South Africa with 54,000.
Then there is the all-consuming question of variants or mutations, which have appeared in South Africa, Brazil and India - whilst remembering that the variant first found in Kent looks to be on course to become the world’s dominant strain.2 The point about variants, of course, is that viruses have one single overriding imperative - to replicate. We are right to be scared of the variant that will get round the current vaccines. In the opinion of Dr David Nabarro, a leading scientist from the WHO, a vaccine-busting variant is a matter of “when, not if”. He told Sky News that the Covid virus is “ferocious”, meaning we must maintain measures like physical distancing and wearing masks. Vaccines will have to be modified routinely to “keep track” of the new variants springing up around the world, he said, whilst doing everything possible - straining every sinew - to vaccinate the greatest number of people in the fastest possible time. Get ahead of the virus.
Variants aside, we have to be pleased that the vaccination programme in Britain has been a great success story. But not thanks to “greed” and capitalism, as Boris Johnson obscenely suggested recently - the master of bluff and bluster. Rather, by deploying the existing NHS machinery plus an army of volunteers and scientists - such as Oxford demanding a no-profit deal with AstraZeneca. And by the government itself massively over-ordering before these drugs had been proven to be efficacious. In other words, Johnson took a gamble - which was exactly the right thing to do, as subsequent events have proved. Denying that would be churlish in the extreme.
By contrast, the French vaccine was a total failure. Acknowledging that fact is not saying that French scientists are second rate, obviously. That is simply what happens when you develop a vaccine: you do not know at the beginning if it will work, or how effective it will be, let alone any possible side effects. There is a big debate at the moment about blood clots. Personally, I will not hesitate to take my second jab (which is coming up fairly soon), regardless of which vaccine it is. Mix and match away, get my cocktail ready.
But, yes, if you are a pregnant woman and have the choice - then it is undoubtably a good idea not to take the AstraZeneca. A letter sent by NHS England at the weekend instructed all GP practices to direct pregnant women to primary care network sites if they were unable to offer the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines - adding that those who have already had a first dose of AstraZeneca should continue with their second dose as planned, in line with guidance for the rest of the population.3 Exercising some caution in regard to AstraZeneca might also be a good idea if you are younger or a child. Yet, as scientists correctly insist, the chances are enormously greater of you getting a blood clot from infection with Covid-19 than from the vaccine.
There will be those on the left who will hold capitalism responsible for the criminal mishandling of the pandemic. There is a truth here, but it is not as simple as that. Japan, with a population double that of Britain, has had 9,700 deaths - putting the Tory government to absolute shame. South Korea, having a population a bit below the UK, is on 1,800 deaths. Taiwan, which is definitely a capitalist country too, has only had 11 deaths - just think about that for a minute. China, where the outbreak began, is on 4,600, Australia 910, Cuba 538, Vietnam 36 and New Zealand 26.
What that tells us is that the key to understanding the worst effects of the pandemic is organisation. Or, to be more exact, government disorganisation. If you are prepared, you can be hit by the pandemic - as the countries above were - but weather the storm perfectly adequately without a significant loss of life. Look at the stunning difference between these countries and those in the super league of shame like the US or Brazil. Countries like Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea had plans for a pandemic - which anyone intelligent knew was coming sooner rather than later - and put in the necessary infrastructure. But that was a totally alien notion to pampered and privileged individuals like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. All this tells you a hell of a lot.
In turn, it tells you even more about the nature of socialism - which is based precisely on the organisation and planning of society. That brings us to the Weekly Worker’s favourite example: Lenin, looking favourably upon the German war economy, which could more or less double its war production overnight in 1916 because of state organisation. The German high command itself, in order to placate the workers’ movement, called this military planning “war socialism” - to which Lenin responded that this was correct and we can emulate it. We can organise Russia along the lines of German-style war socialism - feed, clothe and house people on that basis. Russia might not be anything like a fully developed socialist society - that requires the spread of the world revolution. But, with the rule of the working class, the deposing of the representatives of capitalism from political power, that is what we can achieve.
This is also the general approach of the CPGB to the pandemic crisis. Yes, we need to be mourning those who died and condemn the callous politicians who allowed it to happen. But at the same time we need to be looking at, and learning from, those who handled it well - the selfless volunteers, the NHS workers, the scientific innovations and the not-for-profit production of vaccines. Together they bucked the market big time.
It was the ruling class which was forced to throw away its economic textbooks, not us communists. ‘War socialism’ and planning works. Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak proved it, despite the chumocracy, the bungling and the corruption.