Returning to Normality?

Atilio A. Boron

The cruel pandemic that is plaguing humanity has aroused reactions of all kinds. A few see it as the cruel but fertile epiphany of a better and more fortunate world that will erupt as the inexorable climax of the widespread destruction unleashed by the coronavirus. If Edouard Bernstein believed that the mere display of economic contradictions would inevitably end up in capitalism, his current (and unconscious) heirs are betting that the virus will perform the miracle of abolishing the current social system and replacing it with a better one. Others perceive it as a catastrophe that marks the end of a historical period and places humanity in an inexorable dilemma whose outcome is uncertain. Those who water down this argument are far from a homogeneous whole because they differ on two central issues: causality, or the genesis of the pandemic, and the world that is emerging from it. In relation to the first, there are those who attribute the responsibility of its appearance to an entelechy: “man”, like the naive ecologists who say that he – understood in a generic sense, as a human being – is the one who with his activity is destroying nature and therefore Covid-19 would also have been caused by “man”. But the truth is that it is not this but a system, capitalism, which destroys nature and societies as shown by Marxist thought and even those who without adhering to it are rigorous analysts of reality, like Karl Polanyi. A system that with its privatizing and “austerity” policies (for the poor, (but not for the rich) made the great expansion of the pandemic possible.

Sound evidence: Covid-19 laid bare the responsibility of the ruling classes of capitalism and their governments, starting with the United States and its “vassals” in the rest of the world. When you compare the number of deaths in countries with capitalist governments with those in socialist states, such as China, Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, the results are shocking. In China, there are 3 deaths per million inhabitants; in Vietnam, until May 18, no one had died from the virus, even though it has a population of 96 million people; Cuba, with a little more than 11 million, has a death rate of 7 per million, and in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela this ratio is 0.4. In Argentina, with a government harassed by the media and the petty bourgeoisie, the number is 9, but it triples when you look at the “neoliberal oasis” of Sebastian Piñera, with a ratio of 27 deaths per million inhabitants. Mexico, whose government initially made the mistake of underestimating the coronavirus, has 44 deaths per million, above the world average of 41.8. But then comes the scandal: Ecuador, where Donald Trump’s most treacherous bootlicker rules, claims all the funerary prizes of Our America with 161 deaths per million inhabitants, 54 times more than China and 23 more than Cuba. Switzerland, Europe’s elegant tax haven, records an obscene ratio of 219 deaths per million and the United States 283 per million, that is 95 times more than China and 40 times more than the assaulted and blockaded Cuba. The rich country of Belgium, world champion with a scandalous record of 790 deaths per million inhabitants, is doing no better than those who follow it on the podium: Spain with 594, Italy with 532 and the United Kingdom with 521.

Conclusion: governments that gambled on the “magic of markets” to attend to the health problems of their population exhibit mortality rates per million inhabitants immensely higher than those of socialist states that conceive health as an inalienable human right. This can still be seen in countries such as Cuba and Venezuela, despite the multiple economic sanctions and the rigours of the criminal blockade imposed by Washington. On the opposite side of the world, Brazil, with its 18,130 deaths, is in sixth place in the unfortunate statistic of victims of the coronavirus, and with its 85 deaths per million inhabitants, it registers an incidence 12 times higher than Cuba and 28 times higher than China. Chile, the neo-liberal paradigm par excellence, has a rate 9 times higher than that of China and almost four times higher than that of the beleaguered Caribbean island. Uruguay deserves a separate paragraph. Thanks to fifteen years of state activism by the Frenteamplista governments, during which investment in public health was a priority, it has a rate of six deaths per million inhabitants. It is to be hoped that its current president, Luis Lacalle Pou, a self-confessed admirer of Jair Bolsonaro and Sebastian Piñera, will take note of this lesson and refrain from applying his lethal neoliberal fantasies to Uruguay’s public health system.

This dissimilar response offered by the capitalist and socialist states (beyond a few necessary clarifications regarding this characterization, that should be the object of another article) is sufficient to support the fact that the new world that will emerge once the nightmare of Covid-19 is over should be defined by the presence of definitely non-capitalist features. A socio-economic and political order that reverses the dominant derangement of the past four decades when almost all the world’s governments rushed to follow the directives of the White House and privatize and commodify everything that could be privatized or commodified, even at the cost of violating human rights, people’s dignity and the rights of Mother Earth. A world that, following some of the reasoning of Salvador Allende, could be characterized as “proto-socialist” as an indispensable previous phase to make the transition to socialism viable. This period is required to strengthen the democratic state; to introduce rigid limitations to the “killing instinct” of the markets and their uncontrolled activity, especially of their economic fraction; the nationalization and/or nationalization of the basic wealth of our countries; the nationalization of foreign trade and public services; the de-commercialization of health and medicines; and an aggressive policy of redistribution of wealth that involves a profound tax reform and highly active social policy to eliminate the scourge of poverty. Given the toll that Covid-19 has taken (which is far from having reached its peak) it would be monumentally foolish to try to “return to normal”. Only spirits perverted by an insatiable desire for profit can hope to repeat their crimes and once again sacrifice millions of people and nature itself on the altar of profit, considering such crimes as a “normality” that cannot and should not be questioned. How can we think that a social and ecological holocaust such as the one that produced capitalism, hyperbolically empowered by the pandemic, can now be conceived as something “normal”, as a beneficial situation to which we should return without further delay? A “normality” like that should be definitely banished as a civilizing option. It could only be imposed by a neofascist recomposition of capitalism, unlikely in the face of the discredit and delegitimization it has suffered recently and the accumulation of social forces aligned against the executioners of the past. Of course history is not yet closed, but I am sure, returning to the words of Salvador Allende, that after the pandemic “the great avenues will be opened for men and women to pass through in order to build a better society”.