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Covid-19: stage assessment on the multidimensional crisis and alternative approaches
by Eric Toussaint
19 April 2020

The health crisis is far from being over. The capitalist system and neoliberal policies have played a fundamental part all through. It is useful to do an assessment of these first months. The present crisis is also an opportunity to realize the necessity of changing the society radically in its way of life, mode of ownership, mode of production and relationship to Nature. Only self-organization and popular action will make changes possible.

First stage

The beginning of this new virus can be traced to an uncontrolled transformation of relationship between human species and Nature that has excessively reinforced the exploitation of Nature and humans by the capitalist class.

The beginning of this new virus can be traced to an uncontrolled transformation of relationship between human species and Nature that has excessively reinforced the exploitation of Nature and humans by the capitalist class. The health crisis is linked to the ecological crisis. The transmission of the virus from wild animals to the human species has to be considered in this perspective. The outbreak of diseases by several such viruses over the last 20 years had already alerted us about the gravity of the situation. The requests by researchers in the public sector for resources to carry out further research in order to come up with an effective antidote against the new epidemic were turned down by the capitalist governments. They wanted to leave the pursuit of antidotes in the hands of the private sector. However, the pharmaceutical industry is interested in profits and was not sure about the viability – from a profit angle – of investing tens or hundreds of millions in the research and production of a vaccine for this type of disease. Big pharma, the big pharmaceutical industry, had other priorities.

Second stage

The virus spread from continent to continent due to the rapid movement of people and goods all over the earth, along with an excessive development of air transport as part of capitalist globalization. Right up to the lock-down in several countries and the closing own of several borders, air companies were fiercely competing among themselves for the market share and opening of new routes.

Third stage


People started being aware of the fact that public health systems, undermined by 40 years of neoliberal attacks are unable to respond, as per expectations, to the spread of the virus.

Fourth stage

The awareness spread that while the virus can affect anybody, those from the lower classes are far more vulnerable as compared to those from the capitalist class. People are affected differently depending on their social and class backgrounds, their sex and sexual orientation, the country of residence, their age, their caste (as in South Asia) and according to various other factors. The various forms of oppression and exploitation will be exacerbated in a number of cases.

Fifth stage

The richest 1% continues to profit from the current situation

The health crisis is aggravating, in a very important way and brutally, the economic crisis that started long before The current crisis is much more serious than the others occurring in the last 70 years. Hundreds of millions of people are suddenly losing their livelihoods and are finding themselves jobless.

In spite of stock markets crashing and the closure of much of the productive apparatus at a global level, the richest 1% continues to profit from the current situation

Sixth stage

The global economic crisis is causing a sharp drop in commodity prices directly affecting countries that have remained dependent on their exports to generate necessary income/foreign exchange to finance/repay their debts. Economic activity is in a slump and is falling very sharply. The Southern countries are victimized by the decisions of large companies and investment funds from the North to withdraw their capital from these countries in order to repatriate it to their parent company and insert it into a tax avoidance schemes.

Consequently, a new debt crisis affecting the countries of the global South and in particular the raw materials exporting countries has begun and social movements in the South are calling for the suspension and cancellation of public debts

Seventh stage

Until proven otherwise, the ruling classes and the governments of the countries impacted by the fall in commodity prices, wish to avoid the suspension of debt payment. They seek debt cancellation but do not proceed to unilaterally suspend the payment even at a moment when the tragic situations perfectly justify the non-payment of the debt in order to obtain immediate resources to deal with the health and economic crisis. Announcements of debt cancellation by French President Emmanuel Macron, du FMI, the World Bank, the G7, the G20 and the Paris Club are huge scams. So far there has been no genuine debt cancellation efforts since creditors want to keep the debtor governments in a subordinate position. There is no lack of arguments for suspending payment of the debt.

There is no shortage of arguments for suspending debt payments

Similarly in the North, no government is going forward to suspend payments at this stage, even though it is the quickest and most effective way to free financial resources to deal with the urgent expenses needed to fight the coronavirus. [1]. Popular mobilizations must force them to do so.

There is no shortage of arguments for suspending debt payments:

Eighth stage

The dominant classes intend to use shock strategy once again

The governments, the central banks of the big powers, the IMF and the World Bank have hatched a massive plan to create new public debts in order to save the system that is in the process of capsizing. Under the pretext of helping the economy and employment, central banks and governments are providing huge amounts of financing to large private companies (all sectors combined: finance, industry, trade...) and their major shareholders. This financing immediately generates new public debt

Ninth stage

The rescue plans set up by the major central banks and governments channelize the new financial resources created, to the large private banks. However, the big private banks are not interested in greatly using this financial windfall to revive economic activity or to combat the health and ecological crisis. In fact, the immediate purpose of the rescue plans is to protect the interests of the major shareholders of big business. This will fail to arrest the burst of some speculative bubbles (particularly in the private debt securities, especially those of private enterprises) and will create others.

Tenth stage

The dominant classes are banking upon the massive increase in public debt to impose, as soon as possible, a new offensive against workers, against commons, against public services... They intend to use shock strategy once again.

As of now, many governments are assuming full powers over matters that go far beyond the health crisis, and their security chiefs dream of extending social control measures over time.

Closed borders are a boon for governments that have consistently restricted the arrival of migrants and refugees.

The ruling classes and their government want to give the impression that everything is changing in order so that everything is intact at the level of the capitalist and patriarchal system.

That’s their plan for getting back to normalcy.

The ruling classes and their government want to give the impression that everything is changing in order so that everything is intact at the level of the capitalist and patriarchal system.

And what about the popular response?

An overwhelming population which had already expressed sympathy for the struggles of health workers before the coronavirus epidemic, is now fully aware of the importance of the role played by health workers, and also knows that they are not really listened to by the governments.

Now, it will be extremely difficult for those leaders to argue against big investments in public health. People are going to fathom that their survival is at stake. They are also going to understand that even if we escape this pandemic without any deep tragic effects (they are already catastrophic), we can expect this type of disease to return.

So we need a really strong health care system. Beyond that, people can see the difficulties that containment certainly implies, but if they are not deaf: if they live near parks, they hear again things like small birds singing, something they haven’t heard for a long time. They hear around them simple noises that we could no longer hear, these were so much covered by the irrational functioning of our consumer system.

Afterwards is now

Now is the time to act. First there is a need for self-protection against the coronavirus. Of course, there are containment measures that must be followed since there is no vaccine. For the workers in non-essential production or services, it must be closed and shut down. It is absolutely abnormal for bosses to demand that workers continue to assemble in workplaces where their services are not required.

Why should the stock markets remain open? Let’s shut them too!

We need to take over organisations that can produce what we need: respirators, hydro-alcoholic gel and masks. Private facilities, such as hotels, must be requisitioned to increase the number of beds available, especially for all the homeless people who urgently need to be accommodated in good conditions.

And then we have to mobilize to say: why does the stock exchange need to be open? Let us close the stock exchanges. Then the banks, instead of rescuing them again as they were saved after 2008, must be socialized. The pharmaceutical companies, the “Big Pharma”, should also be socialized. Big companies like Novartis, Sanofi, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer and others should be used for the general interest. Their research and the remedies they produce should therefore be reorganized and should become publicly owned.

Socialise the pharmaceutical companies and relocate and recreate short circuitsrelocate + recreate short circuits

All this requires a very hard fight for fundamental changes. This is an opportunity to witness that with the measures of containment and a reduction of activity, there is a clear decrease in air pollution. It shows that we must stop operating in a frenzied manner as we have done till date, and that the issue of mobility must be completely reviewed. This implies the need to relocate and recreate short circuits. Some are already doing this, associations are promoting it, but it must be organized on a societal scale. Travel must be drastically reduced as well as the distances between producers and consumers.

We must not forget that three months back there was a climate emergency. It completely slipped out of our minds because we are in the midst of a hype about the coronavirus, and no mention is made of the other problems facing the planet. We do not want to go back to the earlier situation since that created the conditions for the spread of the pandemic: the completely insane air travel, which means that from a single outbreak in one part of China, the coronavirus spread all over the planet, the priority granted to the car industry resulting in a degradation of public transport, agribusinesses producing junk food en masse, under-investment in public health. A fundamental change is needed.

More than nationalizations, let us demand socializations

Nationalizations, as regarded by some members of the government and by bosses witnessing their companies doing badly, consist of buying back their shares at a high price. In other words, the state buys back shares that have crashed in the stock market, from the major shareholders, perhaps even above their current values. And obviously the Treasuries foot the bills to compensate the shareholders at the expense of the people who nourish it through taxes and duties.

Large companies owned by big families and large private investment funds must not be compensated but simply and only expropriated.

We are in favor of expropriation without compensation for large shareholders, without depriving small shareholders of the repayment of their shares. These small shareholders represent a very small percentage in the companies, since there is no popular capitalism in Europe, the Americas, Asia or Africa. The overwhelming majority of the population does not own shares. The shares of large corporations are owned by big families and large private investment funds. We are not talking about compensating them, but simply expropriating them.

A myth was created about popular capitalism. In reality, this myth has developed especially where part of the pension system has already been privatized, as in the United States, the Netherlands, Chile, etc. In the United States, some workers are obliged to contribute to a private pension fund that invests their savings on the stock market. This is called the 401(k) plan [2], created under Reagan. This system is suffering enormously, since the stock markets have collapsed by 25-35% around the world.

Immediate suspension of payment of public debt and the cancellation/repudiation of its illegitimate part

There is no urgency to save the large shareholders of banks and large private companies but, to meet the financing needs of the health sector and the social protection of persons not having housing, access to water, electricity, food or income to buy them.

In order to meet these needs and free up the necessary funds, CADTM demands a moratorium on the payment of public debt, but also a moratorium on the private debts of the working classes and the introduction of a crisis tax on large companies and on the wealth of the richest 10% and the income of the richest decile.

The immediate suspension of the payment of public debts must be combined with an audit with citizens’ participation in order to identify the illegitimate part and cancel it.

The moratorium on the private debts of the working classes concerns also in the South the suspension of debts linked to micro credit or consumer and other debts. The same is true in the North, where the suspension of private debts should concern all forms of debt: mortgage debts, student debts, health care debts, consumer debts, etc. Some of these debts will have to be canceled outright, at the expense of the lenders (mainly banks) and not at the expense of the public treasury.

The CADTM joins all those who demand that companies and/or the State take charge of the salaries of suspended workers, as well as those of precarious workers, temporary workers, self-employed workers and seasonal workers, without any recovery of the unemployed hours or consumption of paid holiday entitlements.

The State must ensure the payment of wages in place of employers who refuse to pay, and impose fines in return in order to recover the sums spent.

Complete cessation of all non-essential services

A decent earning must also be given to the unemployed, trainees, student job-seekers and persons without entitlement to benefits.

These measures must be urgently combined with the complete cessation of all non-essential services; prohibit dismissals and the reinstatement of employees made redundant since the beginning of the crisis; and the provide free protection measures to all employees still in employment; guarantee the right to withdraw in the event of non-compliance with security conditions; halt all evictions of tenants; suspend rents, personal credits, water and energy bills for all those who have suffered a loss of income and whose income is below a determined amount; provide adequate housing for all families living in precarious housing or without shelter; immediate implementation of protection measures for women victims of domestic violence, for child victims of violence, involving rapid decisions to remove violent spouses; halting evictions and the immediate regularization of all undocumented migrants and refugees with immediate access to all social protection systems.

Other measures can be taken to meet financing needs, such as public financing through the Central bank at zero interest rate to escape the blackmail by the financial markets; socializing the financial sector including insurances under citizen control; a radical reform of taxation on assets and incomes; control and prohibition of tax avoidance networks used by big corporations; taxation of financial transactions; cancellation of military expenditure and conversion of the sector’s employees; taxing fuel and drastically limiting air transports; closing nuclear plants; expropriating and imposing citizen control on key sectors such as energy.

On the other hand the crisis has shown how much our societies rely on health care, where workers are mostly women. We have to acknowledge this often neglected fact and make sure that it is included in the public sector.

Summary and conclusions

The economic crisis started about a year before the health crisis but the latter has dramatically amplified the former.

The present crisis is an opportunity to achieve a radical change in the way we live, our mode of ownership, mode of production and our relationship to Nature

The health crisis is connected with the ecological crisis (see first stage). The multi-dimensional crisis of the capitalist system is used by governments and ruling classes to implement a shock strategy (sharp increase of public debt to protect the interests of the capitalist system and of the richest centile, increased control on populations, preparation of new attacks against social rights, which will be vindicated in the name of debt repayment).

The present crisis is an opportunity to achieve a radical change in the way we live, our mode of ownership, mode of production and our relationship to Nature and to give absolute priority to commons, to food sovereignty and to relocating manufacturing and service activities, while turning to ways of working and producing that are compatible with struggle against the ecological crisis.

We have to plan a degrowth while improving living conditions, supporting public services, citizens’ control and democratization, in order to break away from a society dominated by the richest 1% and achieve a self-managing, feminist, anti-racist ecological and socialist revolution. This revolution will only occur if the victims of the capitalist system and of the patriarchal society start self-organizing to eject the 1% and their lackeys from the various centers of power to create real democratic power.

Thanks to Omar Aziki, Damien Millet, Brigitte Ponet and Claude Quémar for their careful reading of the article.

Translated by Christine Pagnoulle and Sushovan Dhar

Footnotes :

[1Other measures can be easily implemented to find financial resources: set up a crisis tax on large assets and high incomes, impose a fine on companies that are involved in tax evasion and tax avoidance, freeze military expenditure, stop subsidies to banks and big corporations…

[2In the US, dozens of millions of employees depend for their retirement pensions on the 401K plan created under Ronald Reagan. They are subjected to the hazards of stock market prices. Remember the Enron scandal in 2001: executive officers of the pension funds had invested 62% of its capital in the Enron company, which went bankrupt. See Éric Toussaint, La Finance contre les Peuples, CADTM-Cetim-Syllepse, 2004, chapter 5. It is to be noted that the fall in stock prices in February-March 2020 will have a disastrous impact on retirement pensions that depend on stock market capitalization (it will be most heavy on countries where the governments have most undermined the retirement pension system through apportionment).

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.