In Support of Prioritizing Pandemic Response

Andrew R.

Our convention this year takes place under extraordinary circumstances. The West Coast of the United States is shrouded in smoke from record-breaking wildfires, and millions are unemployed as the global economy teeters on the edge of further depression, as people rise up across the country against police violence.

Overshadowing this is a basic crisis in society—the COVID-19 pandemic. I'm writing to advocate for the Prioritizing Pandemic Response proposal as a strategic priority this year.

Socialists must base strategy on concrete, material conditions. That means we choose our battles based on the ways in which the most workers can feel their interests are opposed to the interests of the billionaires and trillionaires who control our society.

The pandemic and economic crisis demonstrates the fundamental incompatibility of the interests of the capitalist class with our basic requirements for survival.

By that, I mean that as humans, our basic interest is survival. Science has provided us with the means of our survival—universal vaccination, pharmaceutical treatments, mask wearing and social distancing, aggressive contact tracing, and universal lockdowns.

In economic terms, this requires:

  1. Massive investment in research and ample production of the medicine we need
  2. Universal access to this medicine
  3. Reallocation of resources towards education of the public, and contact tracing
  4. Total economic shutdown until case counts are brought under control

Our socioeconomic system is incapable of doing what is necessary—the vast majority of people must have their basic needs met without having to sell their labor by going to work, we need a massive expropriation of the wealth hoarded by the likes of Jeff Bezos, and we need significant price controls on medicine, to the point of making a vaccine free and available to all.

The capitalist system is incapable of delivering this solution. Which is to say, that capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with the reality of the pandemic.

This incompatibility is playing out in many ways. It lies at the heart of renewed workplace organizing such as that supported by EWOC, and it’s the basis of the conflict over school re-opening. It’s also playing out along racial lines, with particular brutality towards people of color. Due to disproportionately occupying “essential” jobs and being forced into crowded, substandard living conditions and due to historic health disparities, communities of color are being devastated by the cause of the pandemic. We should recognize that this, too, is state-sponsored violence.

The pandemic also highlights the need for the political independence of the working class.Trump’s criminal negligence has obfuscated the inability of democrats as well as republicans to address the fundamental incompatibility of capitalism with the current situation.

California became a hotspot for new infections as a direct response to Newsom caving to business interests by lifting the lockdown based on economics, not public health. Similarly, “progressive” leaders like de Blasio in NYC only agreed to not recklessly re-open schools through pressure from teachers’ unions.

A Joe Biden presidency is one that would maintain the increasingly perverse relationship between access to medical care and employment.

Because of their structural inability to confront capitalism, Democratic leaders are not more capable than Trump at preventing COVID deaths. Only the working class organized independently of any allegiance to capitalism can challenge “halfway” solutions to the fundamental incompatibility of capitalism with public health imperatives.

The pandemic puts efforts like Proposition 15 and class struggle campaigns like Jovanka’s and Carroll Fife’s in stark relief. Far from pursuing a redistributive program, “progressive” local governments see austerity as the “only” solution to falling tax revenue due to necessary economic inactivity. Passing Prop. 15 would set the stage for avoiding this austerity while candidates like Jovanka, who’s fighting to make public transit free, and Carroll Fife, who proposes to fight the endemic injustices in Oakland by taxing the rich and defunding the police.

The rate of new viruses has increased over the past half century in direct correlation with increased encroachment of humans into animal habitats. Shifting local ecologies caused by climate change will continue lead to more viruses being transmitted from animal reservoirs into humans. Fighting the pandemic requires fighting climate change through efforts like the Green New Deal.

My argument for prioritizing our response to the pandemic is to embed this analysis in the work areas and strategic commitments in other priorities resolution proposals. The incompatibility between capitalism and reality is something millions of people feel right now. We must make it a priority to address this feeling in all ways possible.