Introduction to Capitalism on a Ventilator: Unfolding Crisis – Drawing Conclusions

By Sara Flounders
August 1, 2020

The United States is reeling from a triple crisis: the Covid-19 pandemic that has inflicted over 4.4 million confirmed cases and more than 150,000 deaths since the end of February, the most of any country in the world; beyond this pain, suffering and death, over a million workers a week have filed for unemployment ever since April; in the face of shocking instances of police murders, millions of people all over the country, in big cities and small, remote, rural towns have marched and protested racism and systematic abuse of police power.

Facing multiple catastrophes, the U.S. authorities sought someone to blame. Since Covid-19 was first identified in China, politicians of all stripes in the U.S. have assigned the blame for Covid-19 to China and added a worldwide confrontation to the political and economic scene. No day goes by without the U.S. corporate media promoting totally distorted and negative news attacks on the People’s Republic of China.

This anthology of articles by social justice activists details the dangers and inaccuracies of this media campaign and analyzes China’s contribution to worldwide efforts to control and mitigate Covid-19. The book is a joint project by China US Solidarity Network and International Action Center.

As an anthology, the collection reflects different perspectives and political outlooks. What is remarkably consistent is that the authors confront anti-China rhetoric and urge a scientific approach to this crisis. These writers hold co-operation and solidarity as the best way forward.

Since this book reports the casualties of a rapidly escalating, global pandemic over months, with chapters organized by date within each section, it’s important to note the date each chapter was written.

Republicans and Democrats trade barbs over who is “softer” on China. The U.S. closes consulates, ruptures business contracts and major trade deal, expels students and unilaterally cancels long-established science collaborations and academic and art exchanges, while holding provocative U.S. naval maneuvers in the South China Sea and placing missile systems where they threaten China.

The Covid-19 pandemic puts the contention between the U.S. and China into sharp relief. This struggle is not just between two contending nation states or great powers, as many commentators claim. It is unresolved contradiction between a globalized world economy and an existing but moribund and archaic capitalist system, based on the private expropriation of wealth and resources. The relentless drive of capitalism to reap a profit from every type of human interaction now stands exposed as the greatest danger to the people of the whole planet.

Cooperation threatens U.S. domination

U.S. capitalism has no effective way of resolving the Covid-19 pandemic, even within its borders. This failure is a public humiliation. Washington is also incapable of offering leadership to its imperialist allies or to the developing countries it has long dominated.

The narrow for-profit constraints of capitalism, the absolute need to maximize profits in order for the system to survive, make global cooperation impossible and threaten U.S. hegemony. Within the U.S., the largest capitalist economic crisis in 90 years has shut down industries and services, leaving nearly 30 million, one out of five workers, as of July 30, officially unemployed.

Cyclical capitalist economic crashes have been a regular part of the world’s economy for hundreds of years but the onset of the current one has been much quicker and vastly more devastating than normal.

China has been able to avoid these cyclical crises, but you wouldn’t hear about that here. China’s success is obscured by a barrage of attacks claiming to value freedom over dictatorship. Democrats blame Republicans for the economic crash here, and vice versa. But both political parties and their talking heads understand that they must not blame the competitive for-profit system itself. Exposing that truth could lead to revolutionary conclusions.

The U.S. now has the world’s highest number of Covid-19 fatalities, over 150,000, as of July 25. China, with four times the population, has had fewer than 5,000 fatalities. ( This stands as a monumental indictment of the capitalist system, which is of course ignored in the corporate media.

The chaotic disorganization in the U.S. and its inability to consistently test and report the results of this testing, even six months after the virus started to spread, expose the fragmented and profit-driven infrastructure of health care in the United States.

Searing images not easily erased: medical staff pleading for personal protective equipment in desperate job actions on YouTube videos and GoFundMe sites, while wearing rain ponchos, garbage bags, bandanas and shower caps; overwhelmed hospitals, exhausted staff and refrigerated trucks full of bodies.

China’s response exposes U.S. failure

As several articles highlight, China, by contrast, although hit first by the virus, has exhibited an orderly, scientific and highly organized response on a national scale. This response is still more impressive since China is a developing country coming from an oppressed, colonized, absolutely impoverished past. Even now its development is highly uneven.

China’s government plans to end poverty before 2021, to arrive at a moderately prosperous society for all by 2030 and reach a developed, socialist economy by 2050. It’s recent historic accomplishment of lifting 800 million people out of extreme poverty confirms the essential role of socialist planning.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, after a short period of planning and evaluation, the whole country shut down, practicing social distancing and strict health protocols. At the same time, those responsible rushed tons of equipment and thousands of medical personnel, outfitted head–to–toe in protective medical gear, to Wuhan, where two fully equipped hospitals were constructed within weeks in Wuhan to care for the surge in Covid-19 cases.

They instituted food distribution, orderly shopping, a guaranteed income and a freeze on all rent and credit card payments. Free national health care already existed. Massive national testing immediately confined the spread of the virus.

In other places where building socialism is the goal, even in countries starved for resources, — including Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea to the state of Kerala in India — a mobilized population has proven the best protection against the virus and has kept casualties low.

After it brought the pandemic under control, China sent hundreds of planeloads of medical equipment to every country in Africa and throughout Asia, and shipped essential supplies to Europe and the U.S. The U.S. government went in the opposite direction. At the very moment when appeals for human solidarity and cooperation was most needed, Washington was instead hijacking and redirecting supplies from countries it had put under sanctions.

Competition at all costs

The U.S. failure to adequately test the population represents a failure of a system. The U.S. has no national health care system. A majority of authors in this book focus on this failure.

Medical insurance is generally tied to employment, and care is provided on a for-profit basis by giant hospital groups, pharmaceutical monopolies, labs and urgent care centers. The few state and city agencies that provide low-cost or free health care to the poor, were already gutted of funds. In the past decade, many social services have been privatized and contracted out to private corporations.

The World Health Organization had offered a mass-produced and easily available test kit, used by more than 153 countries. Instead, the government assigned the production of kits to private U.S. labs, which bid for lucrative contracts to make millions of kits. Many kits were defective. The whole campaign, which lacked any cohesive plan, was plagued with errors.

As a result, as of July 30 the U.S. still has one of the lowest rates of testing of any impacted country. This has hampered the ability to get accurate information to map the spread of Covid-19. Because the U.S. lacks a national health care system, the reporting of local test results to state and national databases is still in complete disarray. The same thing is true of treatment plans and allocating scarce medical supplies.

In the spring, the world epicenter of the virus became New York, a financial and media center and the largest city of U.S. imperialism. This made the medical chaos impossible to ignore. Now it is spreading across the country and is far from controlled.

University labs that try to fill the gap and help produce test kits run into a wall. Hospital systems and health insurance conglomerates are locked into exclusive contracts with giant private labs like LabCorp and Quest, which use competing and often incompatible software programs. It is almost impossible to enter a test result that is out of the network. (New York Times, May 21)

The racist and arrogant Trump administration is not the only cause of the Covid-19 fiasco. State governors, city mayors, Democrats and Republicans, are trapped in a tangle of conflicting regulations, competing lobbyists, exclusive contracts and unconnected platforms. Even arriving at a consistent and timely count of the number of positive tests and soaring fatalities is still impossible.

Hunger grows

In late March, a Congress hammered out a bipartisan $2.2 trillion stimulus package, making great promises of relief for workers and small businesses. But most money allocated to small businesses had to go through banks, which required a relationship that many Black and Latinx owned businesses didn’t have. Extra federal benefits to unemployed workers went through overwhelmed and unresponsive state unemployment offices. Some workers waited months before receiving any money. Migrants, prisoners and homeless people got nothing.

Large corporations grabbed much of the stimulus money promised to small businesses to stay afloat. At the same time, trillions of federal dollars were pumped into the stock market in an attempt to revive it.

Throughout the spring, millions who qualify for the meager funds had to leap bureaucratic hurdles — online forms, crashing databases and understaffed phones — to try to receive what they were promised.

Meanwhile, there are no plans to address the most glaring problem: hunger. Food lines stretch for blocks, and food pantries are completely overwhelmed.

It is estimated that more than 2 million people in New York City go hungry — a quarter of the population. In one borough, the Bronx, it’s even worse: One-third are hungry. A patchwork of over 1,000 emergency food programs, including soup kitchens, food pantries and bag lunches provide limited and uncoordinated relief.

Spreading COVID-19 globally

Capitalism intentionally breaks down social cohesion. Mass mobilizations, unions and community self-control organizations are a threat to exploitation. Police repression and racism are an essential part of the fabric of this society, used like Krazy Glue to forcibly hold together a crumbling system.

Even entirely reasonable solutions, such as the immediate release of prisoners from overcrowded prisons and detention centers, have been stalemated. Despite national campaigns, car caravans and tens of thousands of petition signatures and phone calls on the danger of prisons and detention centers spreading Covid-19, the prison population has stayed basically the same.

But migrant detention centers are being emptied in a way that spreads the virus globally. Although international air traffic is almost shut down, forcible deportations have been made even to countries that have closed their borders to slow the spread of the virus. The Trump administration threatens sanctions against Central American countries that refuse to accept nationals who test positive. Trump is accused of willfully spreading the disease to Central America through deportations, including more than 100 flights to Guatemala. (Salon, April 19)

Military planning goes on

This decaying imperialist system does make plans and has built an elaborate infrastructure. It is focused on high-tech military preparations, new missiles, aircraft carriers, supersonic jets, maintaining 5,000 military bases and building new bases. This is enormously profitable for the largest U.S. corporations — the military-industrial complex and oil giants that are linked to the largest banks. Hostility to China is lucrative for these corporations. Their lobbyists, even in the midst of a pandemic, are demanding new funds and more plans.

The U.S. ruling circles have always been hostile to the revolution that transformed China and broke neocolonial domination. Their hope was that capitalist penetration of China would overturn this accomplishment.

Now that their hopes of regaining control of China’s enormous market are fading, the threat of war is growing.

Beginning in 2010, the Obama-Clinton “pivot to Asia” signaled a determination to reassert U.S. dominance. The plan was to surround China with reinvigorated military alliances and new batteries of missiles. There was bipartisan consensus from the beginning to increase naval confrontation in the South China Sea and heightened subversion from Hong Kong to Xinjiang, while stoking a trade war. Endless commentators have described this as the new Cold War. The Pentagon’s recent announcements of new nuclear tests, mass production of thousands of hypersonic nuclear missiles and U.S.-commanded war games in Europe and the Pacific are an ominous escalation.

In reality, it is a conflict created by an outmoded and decaying capitalist system that is confronting a new form of social cooperation and collective ownership that is beginning to unfold — socialism.

By every possible measure of the virus and of deaths due to a host of many other neglected sicknesses, it is clear that the capitalist profit system itself is the greatest danger to people’s health and well-being.

Just a comparison of the number of fatalities confirms how criminally responsible this chaotic economic system is for the deaths of millions of people globally and most glaringly in the U.S. Several authors in this anthology make this comparison. In the corporate media the two sharply different statistics are never mentioned.

According to the highly reputable Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, which maintains a global daily database, as of July 30 the U.S. has the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in the world — 151,760 fatalities. By the most cautious estimate, U.S. fatalities will continue at a rate of more than 5,000 deaths a week, every week for months, into the future. (

Projected spikes based on re-opening businesses and the relaxation of social distancing protocols may further escalate these fatalities. More ominous is that even a higher wave of deaths is projected into the winter months. (

By the same source for the same date, China by comparison has had fewer than 5,000 total fatalities (4,634 deaths).

More significant is that China has been able to halt the spread of the virus within the country

There is no expectation that the spread of the virus will be halted within the U.S. Cautious estimates now predict a death toll of 200,000 people by Oct. 1.

It is essential to examine the reason for the dramatically different outcomes, not only with China but with other countries taking a cooperative approach.

China, a still developing country with a population of 1.4 billion, has demonstrated to the world that the Covid virus can be controlled and contained with a scientific approach and with a coordinated social mobilization of the population.

Cuba, a small, blockaded country of 11.3 million, has also confirmed that, despite sanctions and blockade. the entire population can be protected and maintain good health. Besides protecting their own population, Cuban medical teams have traveled with essential supplies to set up more aid projects for Covid-19 around the world than has the World Health Organization.

Vietnam, with a population of more than 95 million, has had zero reported Covid-19 deaths and only 240 positive cases. Their tactics also involve active tracing measures; clear nationally enforced quarantines with guaranteed food, supplies and essential services; along with mobilization of medical students and retired doctors and nurses to push back the spread of the deadly virus. (For more, see (

It’s the system

Every field of science needs to cooperate and study this deadly virus to find treatments, a vaccine and a cure. But also needed is the study of the social and economic system that makes a virus so wildly uncontrollable in capitalist countries.

In the United States, supposedly the most technologically developed and wealthiest country in the world, the whole population faces total dysfunction of the government’s social programs that could have controlled the virus. This is true at every level — from testing to quarantines, to providing PPE for essential workers or essential funding for millions of unemployed workers on the brink of evictions and literal starvation. Now food lines have begun to stretch for blocks, sometimes miles. Hospitals in some places are so overwhelmed that the sick are turned away in droves.

As the Covid pandemic spirals out of control, the other co-morbidities of capitalism arise. The highest toll of sickness and fatalities is every area of the country in nationally oppressed communities of color.

Hunger in children is soaring. With classrooms closed for months because of the pandemic, millions of children are going hungry. More than 20 percent of children are not getting enough to eat. Half of U.S. school children qualify for subsidized meals. Even the limited aid mandated by Congress has reached only 4.4 million of the 30 million hungry children who qualify. (

Almost all nonessential medical services have been curtailed. Cancer screenings, sexual health services, drug and stop smoking programs, diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV monitoring, mental health support, dentistry, vaccinations and routine checkups are all on hold.

Thousands of medical workers in all these fields face extreme pay cuts and layoffs. Since all hospitals, including public hospitals, operate in a for-profit funding environment, and since “nonessential” services are often the procedures that make profit, hospitals are going bankrupt at an unprecedented rate.

In a U.N. report the World Food Organization warned that, even in wealthy countries, indirect deaths could eventually eclipse the number of direct deaths. In the developing world, famines and total social breakdowns are a far greater threat with 130 million people at risk of starvation. (

In the U.S. a new round of “stimulus” for working people is under vague discussion. But essential social programs for working people are last in line after the Federal Reserve’s urgent need to pump trillions of dollars into the stock market and maintain a military budget larger than that of the rest of the world combined.

Blaming China

Because the U.S. has failed to stop the spread or to provide basic care, the government must make every effort to deflect blame. As U.S. prestige around the world has plunged in light of the complete disarray of its response, the push to “blame China” has intensified.

A look at articles in the corporate media on the Covid-19 pandemic finds almost every narration includes at least a paragraph blaming China or attacking China for a slow initial response.

Yet China’s response was stunningly fast in alerting the world and in mobilizing their population and full resources of the state. Compared to the U.S., China acted at the speed of light — and the U.S. at the speed of a tortoise.


In evaluating who is responsible for the global spread of Covid-19, it is important to look at the facts, dates and numbers. Several chapters take this up in detail. The dates best expose this crude slander against China.

The virus was first identified in China and announced to the World Health Organization on Dec. 30, 2019. At that time, although there were several severe cases of a new and unusual pneumonia in China, there was not yet one death.

By Jan. 1, the Wuhan market where it is now believed the virus originated was closed down. Public health notices and detailed precautions to all health departments and medical institutions, as well as online information for a new viral pneumonia of unknown cause, were being rolled out throughout China. (A detailed explanation of these steps of identification, containment, rigorous testing and treatment is available at

By Jan. 7 Chinese researchers had identified the Covid-19 virus. All this happened before the first reported Covid-19 death in China on Jan. 9.

By Jan. 12 China announced to the world the genetic sequence of the virus and freely shared that sequence in order to aid the world in the mass building of diagnostic kits. The major high-tech and industrial hub of Wuhan, with a population of 11 million, was under strict lockdown for 76 days. In less than two weeks, over 40,000 medics came from all over China to Wuhan to assist. Meanwhile, quarantine measures were put in place in the whole country. Industries, schools, theaters, parks, sports and all social gatherings had been shut down.

However, under China’s social system, rooted in its socialist revolution of 1949, wages were guaranteed and essential services continued. Rent, mortgage and credit card payments were frozen.

In February WHO officially reported: “In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history.” The report added, “The remarkable speed with which Chinese scientists and public health experts isolated the causative virus, established diagnostic tools, and determined key transmission parameters, such as the route of spread and incubation period, provided the vital evidence base for China’s strategy, gaining invaluable time for the response.”

A vaccine is not a cure

Finding treatments and a vaccine for those who test positive will not automatically solve the global pandemic of Covid-19.

That’s because the drive to compete at all costs is an ingrained and systemic response of the capitalist market system. That system is deeply threatened by cooperation — even when millions of lives are at stake.

Thus, the U.S. government is refusing to cooperate with China in developing a vaccine. The very idea of learning from China’s experience is met with official, racist disdain.

The racism is a cover-up for the fact that cooperation in developing a vaccine is a direct economic threat to far-flung U.S. business interests — and to the capitalist foundation of the U.S. Big Pharma, the pharmaceutical industry, cannot risk a freely available, globally distributed vaccine that would be a dire threat to its corporate profits — and more than enough cause to play the “blame China” game.

In thinking of why the U.S. has failed to contain the pandemic, and why U.S. powers that be spurn global cooperation in finding a cure, it is helpful to consider the prevalence of hunger — in the U.S. and around the world.

The cure for hunger is completely simple and understood by every human being. Hunger is cured by providing food to the hungry.

Nevertheless, hunger and hunger-related diseases killed 9 million people in 2019, more than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. (

Yet there is no “Race for a Cure for Hunger.” In fact, there is a global glut of food — more than enough to feed every person in the world. But in a world and a global economy in which capitalist property relations prevail, hunger remains a global killer!

In that world, U.S. imperialism — with a still-powerful military force at its command — resists every challenge to its profits. So hunger through economic sanctions is instead used as a weapon of regime change and U.S.-orchestrated coups. Hunger is a problem that is never solved under capitalism

But hunger is the first problem tackled by every socialist country in an organized way. That is why countries that have built and activated a socialist base — like China — have the means and experience to cope far better with an unknown health threat such as a virus.

In a global pandemic, capitalism’s ruthless competition is the greatest killer.