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A spectre of rebellion haunts capital’s response to COVID-19

CPA/ML (Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)), John G., 23 March 2020


The global financial crisis of 2008 had enormous impact economically and ideologically, especially overseas.

Mass layoffs, home foreclosures, evictions, homelessness, impoverishment, hunger and soup kitchens, and collapse of whole communities led to mass political action in the Occupy (2011), Arab Spring (2009) and Spanish Indignados (2011) movements over following years. Those movements led to concerted and persistent mass action and organisation, governments overthrown in the third world, and reflections within various levels of government in North America and Europe.

Echoes of it persist in the Green New Deal and various mass movements and parliamentary formations in Europe.

The mass anger, action and organisation that the global financial crisis generated needs to be examined in detail in the midst of the present crisis. It provides insight into the needs of the people and how they took action then. The capitalist responses need examination too. Much of what is being done by capitalist governments now reflect their conclusions from that period.

Lessons from the Global Financial Crisis

It is notable that Australia had much less impact from that crisis. This is reflected in the thinking and organisation of the working and other oppressed classes. It is also reflected in the thinking and action of the capitalist government here.

Capital has learnt from overseas experience. Moves to ban foreclosures and evictions, subsidies of wages, financial support of small business are all quite novel compared to the responses to the global financial crisis. In 2008-9 the government provided payouts and undertook several programs, school buildings, insulation etc, providing support to sectors of small business and boost employment, as well as guarantees to banks and the finance sector.

Capital is responding to the spectre haunting its failure in the face of the virus. It is investing in averting mass rebellion.

Capital has a blind spot in relation to the workforce. It is building the bridge of corporate sustenance and subsidies to small business. Its workforce support measures relate to the workforce’s role in sustaining businesses. Their “bridge to recovery” is positioned on the shoulders of the workforce.

A bridge to economic recovery built on the workers’ backs

The government, echoing capital sees the working class as merely an adjunct to capital, an economic input to be protected to slave in the future. That’s a key point of difference from the people, for whom business is an adjunct to being able to live. Capital before people. It is reflected in the Prime Minister’s repeated reference to the implementation of health experts’ advice being aligned to needs to sustain the economy.

Labor Party leaders raise concern about the support of workers alongside the Business Council, but retain the outlook of the bridge to recovery being constructed on workers’ backs. 

The welfare state is being instituted to support business. Neoliberalism is on life support.

This applies in part to the debate about school closures. Sacrifice some to shorten the period of crisis, rather than support all as far as possible to minimise the deaths and look out for the people. The bridge is in part constructed on the health risk to teachers, school staff, and students and their families.

Capitalism before people is at their core. This haunts them as they face not just a health crisis but a crisis of confidence in capitalism, the spectre of rebellion.

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