The COVID-19 pandemic and the global resurgence of class struggle

5 December 2020

As the last month of 2020 begins, working class resistance is erupting throughout the world in opposition to the mercenary response of the ruling class to the COVID-19 pandemic, its concerted drive to intensify capitalist exploitation, and its evisceration of democratic rights.

An elderly farmer shouts slogans while others listen to a speaker as they block a major highway during a protest at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Just in the past eleven days, tens of millions have joined strikes or mass protests:


The years 2018 and 2019 witnessed a global resurgence of class struggle after decades in which it had been suppressed by the corporatist trade unions, social democrats, other establishment “left” parties and their pseudo-left accomplices. From France, Spain, Algeria, Iran and Sudan to South Africa, Mexico, Chile and Colombia, mass strikes and protest movements erupted, frequently in open rebellion against the unions and “left” parties. In the US, there was a wave of teacher strikes that pitted the rank and file against the union apparatuses, and in the fall of 2019 the first national strike of autoworkers in decades.

A key factor in precipitating last spring’s government-ordered COVID-19 lockdowns was ruling class fear that wildcat worker job action, as in North America’s auto industry, to demand action to halt the spread of the virus would spark mass social unrest.

The Memorial Day police murder of George Floyd provoked mass protests across the US that united working people of all ethnicities and redounded around the world.

Now, 10 months after the ruling classes’ criminally negligent response to the pandemic began to produce mass death in countries around the world, social struggles are erupting anew. But they do so under radically changed conditions.

The pandemic has vastly accelerated the global crisis of world capitalism. The wealth of the ruling elite has soared to unprecedented heights since March due to the endless supply of cash funneled into the markets by the central banks and other organs of the capitalist state. Workers’ incomes, meanwhile, have plunged due to job losses and the meager, and in many parts of the world nonexistent, relief programs governments promulgated in tandem with the initial COVID-19 lockdown measures. The resulting social misery is deliberate. It serves as a bludgeon to compel workers to return to work under unsafe conditions.

The pandemic has also fatally undermined the political and moral authority of the ruling elites and their governments. This is above all true in the United States, whose capitalist class is the wealthiest and most powerful of all. But the European bourgeoisie has no less brazenly prioritized profits over human lives. European governments, whatever their political complexion, whether avowedly right-wing like that headed by Boris Johnson in Britain or comprised, as in Spain, of social democrats and “left-populists” (Podemos), have pursued homicidal back-to-work and back-to-school policies.

It is the ruling class fear of the incipient political radicalization of the working class that is causing it to turn ever more openly to authoritarian forms of rule and to rehabilitate the ultra-right. A major motivating factor in many of the struggles of the past 11 days was the imposition of new measures to criminalize workers’ struggles and expand the repressive powers of the state.

The breakdown of democracy is epitomized by developments in the US, where Trump is seeking to nullify the outcome of the presidential election and build up a fascist movement. But this is a universal process. In Spain, recently retired army officers have been secretly urging the King to carry out a coup by illegally dismissing the elected government, a right-wing regime in phony left colours that is implementing austerity and pursuing herd immunity.

The critical question is the infusion of the growing global upsurge of the working class with a socialist and internationalist program.

Workers around the world face—as exemplified by the struggles enumerated above—common conditions and problems. Arrayed against them is a global financial oligarchy and its transnational corporations, which use the global labor market to systematically drive down wages and working conditions. They are determined to make working people pay for the crisis of world capitalism, beginning with the drive to keep them churning out profits amid the pandemic.

If workers are to prevail, they must transform their objective unity in the process of world production into a conscious strategy and coordinate their struggle in a global counteroffensive against the relentless assault on jobs, wages and public services and for workers’ power.

As the International Committee of the Fourth International explained in a June statement “For International working class action against the COVID-19 pandemic!” this begins today with the fight to take control of the response to the pandemic out of the hands of the capitalist class.

“The massive sums accumulated by the wealthy must be seized and redirected to fund emergency measures to stop the pandemic and provide full income to those impacted. The gigantic banks and corporations must be placed under the democratic control of the working class, run on the basis of a rational and scientific plan. The enormous resources squandered on war and destruction must be diverted to finance health care, education and other social needs.”

To assert its independent interests both during and after the health emergency, workers must build new organizations of struggle entirely independent of and in opposition to the pro-capitalist trade unions, which for decades have worked hand in glove with corporate management and the state and today are herding workers into unsafe factories, schools and other workplaces.

The formation of rank-and-file safety committees by autoworkers and teachers in the US, transport workers and teachers in Britain and Germany, and teachers in Australia represents an important step forward in this regard.

But if the vast social power and revolutionary potential of the working class is to be unleashed, it must above all be armed with an international revolutionary party that incorporates in its program and strategy the lessons of the revolutionary struggles of the working class and its Marxist vanguard. This is the program upon which the International Committee of the Fourth International and its national sections, the Socialist Equality Parties, fight. All those who agree and wish to take up this life-and-death battle should make the decision to contact us today, to join and build the world party of socialist revolution.

Keith Jones


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