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The coronavirus pandemic and the need for global socialized medicine!

27 Feb


Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) 27 February 2020

Workers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at a bus garage in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The coronavirus outbreak that began last December in Wuhan, China, has escalated into a global pandemic, requiring a coordinated international response to avert catastrophe. A planned, rational deployment of worldwide medical and industrial resources is essential to keep the disease from potentially claiming millions of lives.

The danger of an outbreak of infectious, untreatable and potentially fatal viral outbreaks causing pneumonia has been known for decades. Two different coronaviruses caused regional outbreaks, SARS in 2002–2004 mainly in China, and MERS in 2012–2014 mainly in Saudi Arabia. However, while SARS claimed 774 lives after infecting 8,000 people, and MERS killed 886 after infecting 2519 over two years, the highly contagious Wuhan coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is spreading worldwide, infecting 81,296 and killing 2,770 in barely two months.

Major outbreaks are surging not only in East Asia, but in Europe and the Middle East, with 383 cases in Italy and at least 139 in Iran. China has managed to significantly slow the disease’s spread, limiting the number of cases to 78,073, with draconian measures to place hundreds of millions of people under lockdown and shut down much of its economy. However, it is apparent we are only in the initial stages of a global epidemic.

Initially, officials in the United States and internationally tried to downplay the new virus. Even yesterday, President Donald Trump—speaking for the broad sections of the financial aristocracy who look no further than their stock portfolios—took to Twitter to ignorantly berate the media for trying “to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!”

On Wednesday night, Trump gave a rambling news conference in which he alternatively downplayed the severity of the disease, shamelessly praised himself and his government for their response, and denounced his political opponents.

Such ignorant and irresponsible comments notwithstanding, this coronavirus is a highly dangerous and deadly disease. Fully eight percent (2,770) of the 33,129 detected cases no longer under treatment have ended in death. Of the 48,167 detected cases still battling the disease, 8,867 (18 percent) are in serious or critical condition—kept alive by intensive care and access to artificial ventilation and oxygenation requiring attention from multiple dedicated medical staff for each patient.

Moreover, World Health Organization (WHO) advisor and University of Florida professor Ira Longini told Bloomberg News epidemiological models show that without aggressive measures to contain the virus, up to “one third of the world” could catch the disease. This could overwhelm hospitals worldwide—even in the advanced capitalist countries—with millions of desperately ill, highly contagious patients.

This danger is all the greater as the disease spreads to Middle Eastern and African countries whose hospitals lack high technology, or have been devastated by decades of imperialist occupations, civil wars, or—in the case of Iran—vindictive US and European sanctions.

An internationally-coordinated response is essential to prevent the pandemic from devastating humanity. It is critical that the world’s health system be able to isolate patients, limit the speed of the disease’s spread, and devote the necessary resources to provide intensive care for those patients who develop pneumonia from the infection. The production and use of necessary treatments and medical equipment cannot be subordinated to the diktat of the financial markets and the profit motive, or to imperialist war policies.

Modern science provides medicine with tools of enormous power against the disease. The contrast with previous global pandemics, like the 1918 flu epidemic, could not be more stark. Only two months into the pandemic, we have vast knowledge of the virus: its internal genetic RNA code, the form of its outer shell, and what cells and receptors it targets in the human body. Multiple teams internationally including in the United States, China and Europe are racing to produce vaccines, hoping to clinically test them by as early as next year.

Clinical trials in China also show that pre-existing drugs like chloroquine, used to treat malaria, or fapilavir, used to treat the flu, may also block the coronavirus and accelerate recovery.

At the same time, however, the pandemic is exposing the destructive irrationality of capitalism: it has wasted resources and wealth created by the international working class over decades, leaving humanity unprepared for the coronavirus.

The risk of coronaviruses causing highly contagious, untreatable and potentially fatal pneumonia has been known for nearly 20 years. After the SARS and MERS epidemics, 2017 research by the EcoHealth Alliance showed that Asian bats harbored hundreds of strains of coronaviruses that could potentially infect humans. Nevertheless, with the production of vaccines, viral drug and protective gear subordinated to the profit interests of major private investors, nothing was prepared for the risk of a major pandemic.

While massive resources were needed to invest in medical and industrial infrastructure, trillions of dollars were instead wasted on the 2008–2009 bank bailouts for the super-rich in America and Europe, as well as on US-NATO wars like the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. While hospitals were shut down in cities across America, the European Union imposed austerity that slashed health care wages and staffing levels to the bone.

Such policies not only have prevented the rational use of available technology to prepare for a global pandemic, but now cut across measures urgently needed to treat the pandemic.

Iran, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the Middle East, provides perhaps the starkest illustration of this. Hundreds of Iranians have fallen ill and the disease is spreading rapidly, under conditions where US and European sanctions imposed first in 2012 and then again after the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear treaty in 2018 have slashed Iran’s access to critical medicine.

Last year, an Iranian doctor told America’s ABC News that “Out of every 20 people, we have to tell at least ten that we have run out of medications they need.” There are shortages of drugs for many critical conditions, including several like asthma, diabetes and cancer that often lead to complications and death in coronavirus patients. This was in part because the US Treasury vindictively prosecuted international firms exporting medical supplies to Iran.

Last year, the Atlantic Council think-tank noted that in Iran in “2012–2013, the price of medicine increased by 50–75 percent. Coupled with an economic downturn and an increase in unemployment, medicine became less affordable to Iranian patients. According to field research conducted in Iran during 2013, asthma, cancer, and multiple sclerosis patients struggled with either shortages of medicine or skyrocketing prices. This research further found that many cancer patients had stopped treatment because of an increase in the prices of medicine.”

Today, Iran is plunging into a coronavirus epidemic that is rapidly spreading not only to the Persian Gulf States, but to neighboring countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, whose health infrastructure has been devastated by decades of US-NATO sanctions, bombings and military occupations.

With the lives of millions hanging in the balance, decisions in the critical battle against the coronavirus cannot be left up to the imperialist powers and the financial aristocracy. Sanctions against Iran must be lifted, hundreds of billions of dollars spent globally to fight the pandemic threat, and humanity’s scientific and industrial resources fully mobilized under the democratic control of working people.

Alex Lantier



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The US-backed coup in Bolivia – Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

14 Nov


The US-backed coup in Bolivia;

Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

Bolivia, South America’s most impoverished nation, teeters on the brink of a civil war in the wake of a US-backed coup that led to the resignation Sunday of President Evo Morales, Vice President Álvaro García Linera and various ministers, state governors and government officials.

While Morales, García Linera and others have fled the country for asylum in Mexico, the Bolivian workers, peasants and indigenous majority that they purported to represent have been left behind to confront heavily armed troops and fascist gangs in the streets.

The bitter lesson that the Latin American working class can advance its interests not by means of “left” bourgeois nationalist regimes, but only through its own independent revolutionary struggle, is once again being written in blood.

Thousands of workers and youth have responded with courageous resistance to the coup, taking to the streets of La Paz and the neighboring working-class district of El Alto, where they burned down police stations and confronted security forces. Elsewhere, miners and peasants have blocked highways, and anti-coup protesters have confronted heavily armed troops firing live ammunition and tear gas grenades. In Cochabamba, the military brought in a helicopter to fire on crowds. The toll of dead and wounded has steadily risen.

The military-police violence has been accompanied by a reign of terror by the fascistic opponents of Morales, who have burned down homes of those linked to the government, kidnapped family members of officials and carried out violent assaults against those linked to Morales’s Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party, as well as targeting indigenous people, especially women, for attacks. Headquarters of social organizations have been attacked, and radio stations invaded and taken off the air.

After three weeks of protests over the disputed October 20 presidential election, the coup was consummated Sunday with a televised address by Gen. Williams Kaliman, the chief of the armed forces, surrounded by the entire military command, in which they “suggested” that “the president resign his presidential mandate and allow the pacification and reestablishment of stability for the good of Bolivia.”

Morales and García Linera took the “suggestion,” saying that they were doing so to “avoid bloodshed” and “guarantee peace.” If that was their objective, their capitulation to the military and the Bolivian right has failed miserably.

US President Donald Trump celebrated the overthrow of Morales as a “significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere,” warning that Venezuela and Nicaragua are next.

But it wasn’t only Trump. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post published editorials Tuesday supporting the coup and suggesting that it was a blow for “democracy,” and that the role of the military in forcing Morales out was merely incidental.

This reflects the fundamental continuity in Washington’s imperialist policy in Latin America under Democrats and Republicans alike, from the abortive 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela under George W. Bush (prematurely celebrated by the Times), to the 2009 US-backed overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras under Barack Obama, to today’s ouster of Morales under Trump.

Underlying this continuity is the drive by US imperialism to reverse the decline of its global economic hegemony by means of military force and violence, particularly in the region that it has so long regarded as its “own backyard.” This is driven both by the desire of US transnationals to lay unfettered claim on Latin America’s resources and markets—not least Bolivia’s vast energy and mineral reserves, including 70 percent of the world’s lithium—and by the strategic confrontation between US imperialism and China, whose trade with the region rose to $306 billon last year.

Morales’s government was part of the so-called “Pink Tide” of left-posturing bourgeois nationalist governments that came to power in Latin America, beginning with that of Hugo Chavez in 1998.

Like Chavez, Morales declared himself an adherent of the “Bolivarian Revolution” and socialism. He and the MAS were swept into office on the wave of revolutionary upheavals that shook Bolivia and brought down successive governments during the so-called water and gas “wars”—against water privatization and for the nationalization of gas—between 2000 and 2005.

The leader of the coca growers’ union and the first Bolivian president from the country’s long-oppressed indigenous population, Morales won broad popular support for a government that served as the vehicle for containing the revolutionary struggles of the Bolivian masses.

This government, however, soon allowed that its aim was not really socialism, but rather “Andean-Amazonian capitalism,” which consisted of “nationalizations” that imposed new taxes on transnational corporations that were guaranteed even greater access to the exploitation of Bolivia’s gas and other natural resources.

In addition to its alliance with transnational capital, the Morales government cemented a pact with the agricultural oligarchy. Both were granted rights to exploit lands that had previously been declared national parks to protect their indigenous populations.

The government also relied upon what it described as the “military-peasant alliance,” through which it sought to solidify support in the military command by offering it control over sections of the economy, resources for creating its own businesses and generous benefits. It created an “Anti-imperialist Military School” and had soldiers salute their officers with the Guevarist slogan of “Hasta la victoria siempre.” In the end, the bourgeois army, which Morales never disbanded, proved loyal to its roots in the fascist-military dictatorships of Generals Hugo Banzer and Luis García Meza and the national security state doctrine of the Pentagon’s School of the Americas.

The right-wing policies of the Morales government led to continuous confrontations with the working class and peasantry and steadily eroded its support. Its right-wing opponents in Bolivia’s traditional ruling oligarchy were able to exploit Morales’s attempt to secure himself another term as president—in violation of the constitution and the results of a 2016 referendum—to win a popular base for its counterrevolutionary objectives.

Morales and the MAS leadership bear criminal responsibility for the coup which they condemn. Its principal victims will be not Morales and his fellow politicians, but the masses of Bolivian workers, peasants and oppressed.

Also sharing blame for the acute dangers now confronting the masses of workers and oppressed in Bolivia are the various pseudo-left groups that promoted the Bolivarian revolutionary pretensions of the Morales government and demanded that the working class subordinate itself to the leadership of the bourgeois nationalists. Chief among them are various revisionist tendencies that split from the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), rejecting its struggle for the international unity and political independence of the working class based upon a revolutionary socialist program in order to adapt themselves to Stalinism and various forms of bourgeois nationalism, chief among them, Castroism.

The period in which these parties have been able to help suppress the class struggle is coming to an end, not only in Latin America, but internationally. The events in Bolivia, along with the mass uprisings of workers and youth in Chile and elsewhere on the Latin American continent, are demonstrating that the ruling class is no longer able to rule in the old way, and it has become impossible for the working class to live in the old way, creating the conditions for a new period of revolutionary upheavals.

The most urgent political task is the formation of a new revolutionary leadership in the working class based on an assimilation of the long struggle of Trotskyism against revisionism. This means building sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International throughout Latin America.

Bill Van Auken

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1968 A YEAR OF REVOLTS; a year remembered for important social conflicts and popular rebellions against repressive states, militarism and capitalism.

30 Nov





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