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Notice: Workers Vanguard skipped an issue in April.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis and the restrictions on movement imposed in New York City, where we are headquartered, the Political Bureau of the Spartacist League/U.S. has temporarily assumed direct administration of Workers Vanguard in place of the Editorial Board and reduced the newspaper to four pages instead of the usual eight. We will maintain WV’s biweekly frequency.

Workers Vanguard No. 1174

1 May 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic Shows Need for Workers Rule

Break with the Democrats! For a Multiracial Revolutionary Workers Party!

APRIL 30—The COVID-19 crisis has thrown a spotlight on the inherent barbarity of capitalism, exemplifying the exploitation of labor and oppression that this system is based on—miserable pay and lack of health care, racial and sexual subjugation, imperialism and its plunder of the neocolonial world. The crisis underlines the need for an internationally planned economy under a workers government, the dictatorship of the proletariat. To get there, the working class needs revolutionary leadership: Leninist vanguard parties committed to the struggle for proletarian power.

The coronavirus is a natural phenomenon. But the crisis it has generated is a crisis of capitalism. For weeks after the virus first appeared, the bourgeoisies of the capitalist world did nothing as the pandemic loomed. Once they were forced to act, the capitalists created a social catastrophe: closing down large sectors of the economy to “flatten the curve”—that is, to slow the rate of infection in order to prevent their inadequate health systems from being overwhelmed—and throwing masses of workers out of their jobs. In the U.S., over 30 million workers have filed for unemployment, with many losing whatever health benefits they might have had to boot. The official jobless rate is expected to reach 20 percent by the summer. Everywhere there are shortages of essential goods and services.

The fundamental problem is not a question of policy; it is social: under the capitalist system, production is based not on what is useful or necessary to society but on what is profitable to the owners of industry and the banks. In this country, the capitalist ruling class is represented by both the Democratic and Republican parties. Its rule is enforced by the capitalist state, an apparatus of repression consisting at its core of the military, police, courts and prisons that is directed against the working class and oppressed. The bourgeois state cannot be reformed; it must be shattered through a proletarian revolution that erects in its place a workers state.

While offering no real public health measures, the bourgeoisie has mobilized the National Guard under the guise of providing “humanitarian” assistance, with the Democrats taking the lead in calling for the deployment of the military. The real purpose of these mobilizations is to augment the cops in enforcing racist capitalist “law and order” and to suppress any social unrest, with the ultimate target being the working class. Throughout the country, the police have been deployed to enforce the lockdowns, particularly in black and minority neighborhoods. Cops in several heavily black cities in northern New Jersey have launched “Operation Lockdown,” threatening residents simply for driving from one place to another. We demand: National Guard out!

At the same time, the rulers are using the pandemic to further escalate their class war against the proletariat, with the acquiescence of the pro-capitalist labor tops. Democratic administrations from Louisville to Las Vegas ripped up union contracts for city and state workers after COVID-19 hit. New York governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing ahead with his austerity plan to slash the state Medicaid budget by nearly $2.5 billion, including $400 million for hospitals. NYC mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a “wartime” budget threatening $2 billion in cuts. Across the Hudson, Democratic New Jersey governor Phil Murphy promises public worker “layoffs that will be historic.”

The big debate within the bourgeoisie is over when and how to “reopen the economy”—i.e., how to get profits rolling in again. One wing of the ruling class wants to reopen it right away with no regard for public health, which would simply ensure more death. Elements within the Republican Party like FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots have been mobilizing protests, mainly drawing on white small-business owners largely from rural areas, around Trump’s slogan “Get back to work.” The protests have prominently included anti-communist and anti-Chinese placards, as well as U.S. and Confederate flags and the participation of outright fascist outfits like the Proud Boys. These mobilizations are bad news for black people, other minorities and the whole of the working class.

Another wing of the bourgeoisie, represented largely by the Democrats, would rather move more slowly in restarting the economy. Their fundamental concern is not public health but the fear that a quick reopening of the economy risks an even greater economic meltdown if COVID-19 spreads further. Workers will be screwed either way: work and endanger themselves and their families, or stay home and face the threat of hunger and eviction.

Already, over 60,000 people have succumbed to COVID-19 in the U.S. The virus has particularly hit the working class and everyone on racist America’s bottom rungs—the inner-city masses, the homeless and the incarcerated. In Chicago, black people make up 30 percent of the population but have suffered some 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths. The disease has run rampant among the heavily immigrant workforce in the meatpacking industry. Unknown numbers of health care workers have died (the bourgeoisie does not bother to keep a count). In New York City, at least 70 transit workers have perished, with thousands more falling sick.

The situation cries out for the overturn of capitalist property relations. In the Communist Manifesto (1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels emphasized that capitalism creates its own gravedigger in the proletariat, the men and women whose collective labor produces the wealth of this society, which is privately appropriated by the capitalist exploiters. With its central role in production and making society run, the working class alone has both the social power and historic interest to end exploitation and oppression through socialist revolution.

Only under workers rule can the outbreak of infectious disease like COVID-19 be addressed in a scientific, rational and humane manner. A workers government, having expropriated the bourgeoisie as a class, would shift society’s resources in the event of such a pandemic—for example, building and/or retooling factories to provide protective equipment and testing kits as well as ensuring food, clothing and shelter for those who are ill or in quarantine. But the question runs far deeper than that. Good health requires a decent place to live, plenty of good food to eat; air clean of pollution; safe working conditions; an end to poverty and squalor. In this complex industrial society, it will take worldwide planning based on scientific knowledge to establish both quality public health and the best living conditions for all.

None of this is possible under capitalism, which is based on antagonistic nation-states and which limits and subordinates productive capacity to the pursuit of profit. The U.S. and its rival imperialist powers—which have divided and redivided the globe for the export of finance capital and control of markets and cheap labor—have looted and bled dry the semicolonial world. In the underdeveloped countries, even the most basic health services, including running water, are denied to much of the population. To meet the needs of the working class and toiling masses of the world requires a massive increase in productive forces across the planet—i.e., a sweeping transformation of society through a series of proletarian revolutions that uproot the capitalist-imperialist order. The International Communist League is committed to building Leninist vanguard parties, sections of a reforged Fourth International, to lead that struggle.

Capitalism’s Labor Lieutenants

In recent weeks, there have been a number of walkouts across the country—by both non-union workers at Amazon and other companies and unionized workers, such as in Pittsburgh sanitation and Detroit transit. The fact that workers have engaged in such actions, which have centered around demands for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and against unsafe work conditions and grueling speedup, shows that they have a sense that the only way to get what they need is to fight for it. But the working class is hamstrung by the existing leadership of the unions, which chains workers to the capitalists and their state through support to the Democratic Party. 1199SEIU and other health care unions have been organizing “Get Me PPE” protests, including an April 9 national day of action. For the union tops, these protests are part of a broader campaign urging union members to petition and “call your Congressman” to get the government to act.

The government is the executive committee of the capitalist class. It has acted in this crisis, as always, in the interests of the bourgeoisie, at the expense of those of the working class. The union bureaucracy’s strategy of reliance on the capitalist government and “friend of labor” Democrats has over the decades led to the decimation of the labor movement. Workers must rely solely on their source of strength: their numbers, organization and power based on their collective labor at the workplace.

What is needed is a fight to forge a class-struggle leadership of the unions based on the understanding that the interests of labor and capital are irreconcilable. Such a leadership can emerge only through the intervention of revolutionary Marxists into the class struggle. This task is inseparable from the fight to build a revolutionary workers party, forged in opposition to the Democrats and all capitalist parties.

A Leninist workers party in the U.S. would fight for the unity of the class, including by demanding full citizenship rights for all immigrants. It would emblazon on its banner the call for black liberation through socialist revolution, seeking to imbue in the proletariat the understanding that it cannot emancipate itself from wage slavery without taking up the cause of black freedom. It would rally workers around vital demands like quality health care, free at the point of delivery, and quality, integrated housing and education for all. Against mass unemployment, it would seek to unite workers and the unemployed in a struggle for a sliding scale of hours, to spread the available work among all with no loss in pay, and a sliding scale of wages to fight against the ravages of inflation.

These and other necessary demands cannot be realized under capitalism, pointing to one unalterable conclusion: The burning needs of the working class and oppressed masses can be met only by destroying the capitalist order. The Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League, is committed to building the workers party necessary to lead the multiracial proletariat in the struggle for socialist revolution and the establishment of a workers government.


Workers Vanguard No. 1174

WV 1174

1 May 2020


COVID-19 Pandemic Shows Need for Workers Rule

Break with the Democrats! For a Multiracial Revolutionary Workers Party!


The Epoch of Imperialist Decay and the Need for Socialist Revolution

From Marxism in Our Time by Leon Trotsky

(From the Archives of Marxism)


The Two-Party System of the Capitalist Class

(Quote of the Week)