Radhika Desai: The pandemic has turned out to be a tale of two systems

This insightful article by Radhika Desai, originally published in CGTN, seeks to understand why the advanced capitalist countries – particularly the most neoliberal and financialized ones – have performed so poorly in the face of Covid-19; and why socialist countries have done so much better.

As the world marked the second International Day for Epidemic Preparedness (IDEP) on December 27, 2021, nothing is clearer than the world’s richest and most powerful countries’ un-readiness before the pandemic. The highly transmissible Omicron was causing flight delays and cancellations by infecting flight crews, especially in the U.S.

Why are the richest countries doing so badly against the virus? It is not just that they have hogged available vaccine supply, giving second and third doses, while the virus rages and mutates elsewhere. It is not just that they have left China to donate 600 million vaccine doses to Africa even as the U.S. leads a new Cold War with it, dividing the world, rather than participating in any united world effort against the pandemic.

The fact is that the pandemic has turned out to be a tale of two systems. The world’s richest countries, led by the most neoliberal and financialized ones, the U.S. and the UK, have performed abysmally while socialist countries, led by China, have performed far better.

Consider just one indicator. On the second IDEP, according to the widely trusted Our World in Data website, the confirmed cumulative COVID-19 deaths per million stood at 2,450.20 for the U.S. and 2171.55 for the UK while for Vietnam that figure was 320.04 and for China a mere 3.21. Even Cuba, dependent on tourism and devastated by illegal U.S. sanctions clocked in at 735.23.

The plain fact is that these wealthy countries have not been fighting the virus but prioritized three other things. Firstly, their aim is not to stop but “flatten the curve” of infections such that their public health care systems, emaciated by decades of neoliberal cuts, are not overwhelmed. Instead of health care systems saving citizens in these countries, citizens are asked to save health care systems instead.

Secondly, under the slogan of needing to balance saving “lives” against saving “livelihoods,” they have saved billionaires’ fortunes and capitalists’ assets while compelling millions of the most marginalized working people to expose themselves to the virus and suffer illness and even death. Their latest slogan is that people must learn to “live with the virus.” What they mean is that while elites keep safe at home and in ultra clean rarefied environments, a female and non-white class of “essential workers” are kept exposed to the virus.

Finally, they prioritized vaccines above all else, profiting Big Pharma and sidestepping the question of increasing the staffing, funding and community-based testing, tracing and supported isolation capacities of their health care systems, the key to fighting this pandemic and inevitable future pandemics, as the experience of China in particular has shown. The neoliberal omerta or code of silence on expanding health care facilities remains unbroken.

Indeed, the new Cold War has made it impossible for the West to learn from China. Not only are China’s experience and success dismissed as “authoritarian,” not only have major studies carefully avoided including China, but lately major news outlets have taken to criticizing China for its “maximum suppression” and “zero COVID” strategy.

For The Economist, “China’s attempts to eliminate the virus, rather than merely manage it, are certainly costly.” The Financial Times complains that “China’s efforts to control the pandemic have contributed to a broader economic slowdown.” Such complaints entirely ignore the fact that China has been saving lives as well as livelihoods far better than the West.

Vaccines are not and cannot be silver bullets against the virus. They only reduce the risk of transmission, the morbidity and mortality rate. Moreover, much of the world remains in any case unvaccinated and hosts mutations.

Finally, even in rich countries vaccine uptake remains far below levels required for herd immunity thanks chiefly to the bad faith with which the governments have treated so many of their own citizens, chiefly marginalized communities.

It continues to do so by stigmatizing the unvaccinated rather than reaching out to them and engaging with them. That is why, barring a miracle, countries like the U.S. face a repeated cycle of outbreaks and lockdowns.

Perhaps that is why a miracle has become the new hope. As the world ends a second pandemic year, Omicron has raised the hope that it might end the pandemic by becoming the dominant variant and converting the novel coronavirus into just another common cold virus against which only the most vulnerable have to be protected. That this is the West’s best hope of release from the pandemic is noteworthy. It is vested not in anything public authorities or even capitalism’s vaunted scientific, technological or innovative capacities have done, but in the mercy of nature itself. This is where capitalism has brought the Enlightenment.

3 thoughts on “Radhika Desai: The pandemic has turned out to be a tale of two systems”

  1. I recall when Coronavirus was first detected in USA, it was “Donald Duck ” Trump who downplayed the the pandemic and conveniently called it China virus, blamed it on China . Their management of Covid 19 was totally chaotic, were unable to resolve the matter and worst, their own mayors in many cities were also fighting among themselves, disagreeing with their President, eg to lock down or not to lock down cities,etc. China managed to control the pandemic after 3 to 4 month of Wuhan lockdown, but USA continues till today to eventually becomes the “Champion” of the pandemic in the world.

    I am an overseas Chinese and I am proud of the achievements of my ancestor’s land.

    To divert attention of their own mismanagement on Covid19 and other internal problems, the US, the self appointed policeman of the world and its lap dog Australia, the self appointed Deputy of the US in the east Asian region, have been beating the war drum against China.

  2. “The West” (the American Empire) is in a state of crisis: the triumphalism in the wake of the Cold War and the (undemocratic & illegal) dismantling of the Soviet Union brought about a complacency with the ‘end of history’ narrative, where ‘liberal democracy’ (capitalist oligarchy) was supposed to have triumphed forever more, which resulted in, among other things, the failure of the Western oligarchy to innovate. They rolled back the gains made under social democracy (itself partly a response to the Soviet Union during the Cold War), and in doing so allowed the state apparatus in the West, especially in the United States, to start being more and more captures by specific oligarchic interests (you can see this in the legalized corruption in the U.S.). This actually ends up distorting market relations more than the way in which they are rationally managed by the Communist Party of China, acting as the vanguard of the working classes (workers & peasants), as well as the petit and patriotic bourgeoisie. Unlike in the West, where the state apparatus has come to function as a way of enrichment, the worker’s state, having independence from and dominance over capital, is able to more rationally manage capital, and use it as an engine of socialist development. The Soviet Union fought and lost an ideological conflict with the capitalist West, but in doing so it allowed China to develop and seize the global means of production: China has now become the real engine of the global economy, and instead of fighting an ideological conflict with the West (though it has started to fight back against slander by the imperialists more and more), China is fighting and willing the struggle on the political economic front: with a historically unparalleled industrial *and* organizational capacity (i.e., with the advantage of socialist planning), China is set to both enter into a new phase of socialist development, but also develop the world. The Belt & Road Initiative is the first step towards socialist unification; which will be achieved not through ideological struggle (the superstructure) but through developing the material forces of production (the base). China is building socialism globally, quite literally, by developing the productive forces to allow the world to reach the point where the base will be transformed enough to allow for a transformation of the superstructure. In the coming century we can look forward to the first phrase of global socialist development, where we will lay the groundwork for a shared future for humanity and an ecological civilization at a global scale (i.e., communism). What we are hearing now from the imperialists is the death throes of Empire: time to take out the campaign, comrades, and toast to today’s victories and the victories to come. The struggle is not over, but the future is bright Red.

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