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Originally published 18. March 2020
Issue #2 of uManyano lwaBasebenzi is going to print as South Africa and the world is further engulfed in crises sparked by the Coronavirus pandemic every day. It is clear we are at the beginning of a monumental historical turning point.
Stock exchanges have woken up to reality. The Dow Jones in the US fell by 12,9% on March 16 – worse than the 1929 crash that set off the Great Depression. In Italy, markets lost 70% of their value in mere days. China recorded a 13% drop in industrial output in Jan-Feb and is set for -9% GDP “growth” in the first quarter of 2020 (its first economic contraction since 1976!). The world economy, volatile even before the pandemic, is entering recession – the question is how deep will it fall and for how long.
Globally, governments are responding with fiscal stimuli, new “quantitative easing” and slashing interest rates to boost businesses – raining money on banks rather than hospitals.
As lockdowns set in, many states try to cushion the effects on workers and small businesses, as with the suggested UIF boost in SA. It’s too early to assess the effects, but a shift towards state intervention is clear. Spain’s nationalisation of private health care will likely not be the last of these measures of self-preservation.
The ruling class suddenly claims that “we are all in the same boat” – and fear that it will be turned around by the great unwashed who provide the rowing power. They are throwing in all their tools, conjurations and cash to steady the capitalist boat, and will let millions of lives be lost in the process.
Governments and big businesses will apply shock doctrine methods to try to effect sweeping changes to get by now and to salvage a post-Corona-capitalism.
Amid the shock and fear, extraordinary powers are granted to the repressive cores of states, and restrictions on democratic rights, like the rights to assemble and to strike are introduced.
Jobs are slashed: up to 40% of China’s 300 million migrant workers have lost their incomes, 18% of US workers have lost their jobs or had hours cut. Preliminary forecasts show South Africa’s GDP could shrink by up to 7%.
For the working class in South Africa, the pandemic is a blow upon blows. It hits on top of climate change-fuelled drought and an economy already in recession. It will hammer a state set to impose unprecedented budget cuts on public services already woefully underfunded.
Ramaphosa claims that at this “greatest Thuma Mina-moment”, “we” must show “solidarity […] and compassion”. Beyond the recommended precautions everyone should take – which the working class and poor are largely unable to – what he really means is that the exploited and oppressed should bow down and be “sent” to save the profit system that knows no compassion for us; close ranks with the very people responsible for this mess, who allowed the virus to spread and rendered health care systems incapable of managing it.
Both the government and SAFTU leaders say “we” are at war against the virus. At the onset of actual wars, class lines are blurred. As wars play out however, they can expose the real challenges facing the working class, and trigger revolutionary upheaval. We must prepare for similar perspectives.
The case for public and democratically planned services and systems in health care, education, water, public transport, food distribution; for directing society’s resources to what is actually important – the case for a socialist South Africa and world – is stronger than ever.
WASP is determined to resolutely make this case and to find ways to strengthen the organisation of the working classes worldwide. Our solidarity is with the health care workers, co-workers, and neighbours; with those trapped in wars and refugee camps, with the worldwide mass uprising of 2019 put on hold (for now).
Contrary to what the SAFTU leadership apparently believes, there exists no “COVID-proof” capitalism, even if it did, it is not the worker leaders’ task to fall in line as advisors to capital on illusory “Keynesian” escape routes.
There will be a before and after Corona. As socialists, we must do all we can to ensure that the “after” is renewed, revolutionary mobilisations to replace this sick system with a society organised to care for the needs of people, not profits. That struggle starts now.