Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis

Image Source: Leonilo “Neil” Dolirocon’s socialist art at National Gallery Manila – CC BY 2.0

The COVID-19 crisis is confronting U.S.-Americans with yet more undeniable evidence of the complete craziness and cruelty of American capitalism and class rule more broadly. The demented viciousness of the possessing class’s parasitic profits regime and many elite professionals’ privileged status are being exposed in graphic ways.

It is absurd that the nation’s economic system can’t pause and hold in place without taxpayers being compelled to spend trillions of dollars to protect the profitability of the wealthy Few’s giant corporations and financial institutions (while providing a bare minimum for the working- class majority). A “modern” economic order that refuses to stand still when nature and public health require it to without massive public bailouts for the rich (and very little for rest) is ridiculous, cruel, and dangerous

A system that throws millions out of work and off absurdly employment-based health insurance when their employment is no longer suitably profitable for the employer class is vicious and absurd.

A globally super-powerful industrial “democracy” that (thanks to extreme corporate power) never made health care a human right is cruel and irrational. Ordinary Americans are being bankrupted by absurdly high medical bills resulting from COVID-19 (for which treatments run around $35,000) along with other health conditions.

Under the rule of capital, the pandemic that U.S.-led global capitalism dug up and spread around the planet is causing Americans to lose health coverage in their critical time of need. The virus has forced people to stay home, causing businesses to lay off workers. And with roughly half of Americans nonsensically getting their health insurance through their jobs, layoffs mean losing medical coverage as well as income for millions. While everyday Americans’ need for medical care is rising steeply, fewer have health insurance or the cash to pay for it. That is cruel and absurd.

A system that has downsized hospitals and medical resources in the name of profitability while digging up and spreading deadly viruses in the pursuit of (what else?) profit is absurd, hazardous, and cruel.

A growth-addicted system that only cuts its lethal rate of eco-exterminist carbon emissions by going into a major, poverty-generating recession is cruel and absurd.

A system that pays corporate lawyers, lobbyists, and campaign consultants’ incomes far greater what it gives those who provide essentially life-sustaining health, sanitation, and food-provision services during a pandemic is cruel and absurd.

A system that hitches the retirement incomes of senior citizens to the manic boom and bust cycles of unbalanced and inadequately regulated financial and stock markets is cruel and absurd.

A system that rations exposure to and protection from a deadly virus by class position and status is cruel and absurd.

A system that makes frontline health-care workers perform life-saving duties without adequate protective gear while medical-industry elites stay sheltered from danger is cruel and absurd. Scientific American reports that “health care workers are facing the threat of disciplinary action for wearing masks in the hallways, elevators and shared clinical and nonclinical areas of hospitals—in some instances even if they come from the worker’s own supply.” Kevin Readel, a veteran nurse in Oklahoma, told the magazine that he was called into his hospital’s human resources office and threatened with immediate termination after he was seen wearing a procedural mask while inserting an intravenous line in a patient’s room.

Some hospitals have gone beyond threat. Four days ago, Bloomberg News reported this:

“Hospitals are threatening to fire health-care workers who publicize their working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic — and have in some cases followed through. Ming Lin, an emergency room physician in Washington state, said he was told Friday he was out of a job because he’d given an interview to a newspaper about a Facebook post detailing what he believed to be inadequate protective equipment and testing. In Chicago, a nurse was fired after emailing colleagues that she wanted to wear a more protective mask while on duty.”

“‘Hospitals are muzzling nurses and other health-care workers in an attempt to preserve their image,’ said Ruth Schubert, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association. ‘It is outrageous.’”

So, it’s come down to this: firing medical professionals for telling the truth about inadequate protection amidst an epic public health crisis during which skilled medical labor is in shortage.

Talk about class rule. As Terry Thomas wrote me: “People who heal the sick and shelter the weak vs. a bunch of executives worried about PR. Which side are you on?”

Which side would that great brown-skinned peasant-artisan and radical anarchist healer Jesus be on? The folks who healed and sheltered the poor and weak, of course:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:12)

“For we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

I’m not religious myself but Jesus was just alright with me if and when he said stuff like that.

(Curiously enough, the CDC is now considering telling all Americans that they’d be well advised to wear protective masks when outside their homes in coming weeks.)

Could there be any silver linings in this crisis? Yes. Two come to mind: (1) the reduction in carbon emissions and other forms of deadly pollution resulting from the economic crash and (2) the lessons the 2020 capitalogenic COVID-19 meltdown is giving us on the need to move beyond capitalist and professional class rule — beyond an amoral and socio-pathological system of savage class disparity that is cruel and absurd almost beyond words.

COVID-19 reminds us that life is short, posing core existential and if you like spiritual questions of what we want our collective as well our personal lives (the two are intertwined) to be about. Do we really want to live in a savagely unequal world dominated by the endless, “growth”-addicted quest for profit by malevolently egoistic owners and rulers whose reigning eco-exterminist order is hard-wired to push the planet beyond the limits of decent livability even without viral pandemics?

Capitalism, intimately related to the mastery of money, is the very contemporary embodiment of “spiritual wickedness in high places.” We must choose. We cannot serve humanity and capitalism at one and the same time.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).