Not ‘individualism’ vs. ‘authoritarianism’

January 27, 2021

The U.S. continues to lead the world in COVID fatalities with over 400,000 deaths.

The mass vaccination effort has gotten off to a disastrous start. Every state has its own protocols, and in some states every county has a different process. Appointments must often be made online, which shuts out many seniors and others lacking internet access or skills.

Vaccination sites are running out of vaccines, while millions of doses sit in storage.

Ex-President Trump deserves some of the blame. But even President Biden’s announced plan for 100 million vaccinations in 100 days would still leave two-thirds of the country’s population unprotected by May 1.

The numbers are a damning indictment of for-profit health care and the whole profit system.

Meanwhile, “China has largely brought the virus under control, even as the rest of the world struggles with mounting deaths and overburdened hospitals.” (France 24, Jan. 20) Closer to home, “Cuba is creating capacity to produce 100 million doses of the Soberana 02 injectable vaccine against COVID-19.” (Granma, Jan. 22) This is a service to the rest of the world. Cuba’s population is just over 11.3 million people.

Why has the world’s richest imperialist power failed to contain the pandemic, while socialist China, Cuba and Vietnam are succeeding? U.S. capitalists have a lot of explaining to do.

Hence the ideological offensive to create an alternative explanation for U.S. capitalism’s failings compared to China’s success. According to the commercial media, it is not because of fundamental differences between the two economic systems. Instead, it’s all about two different cultures — one “authoritarian” and the other “individualistic.”

A number of commentaries in the New York Times, an authoritative mouthpiece of the ruling class, replay this theme like a broken record. “China’s authoritarian government has the ability to act in a way that democracies that must be accountable to the public cannot.” (Oct. 30, 2020) “China’s authoritarian system, proponents say, is not just different from the West’s democracies, it is also proving itself superior.” (Dec. 14, 2020) And again: “Does the deepening of cracks in America’s political system actually boost the legitimacy of China and other authoritarian regimes?” (Jan. 15)

They won’t dare acknowledge that socialist countries, where health care for profit is prohibited — and human needs come before the corporate bottom line — are succeeding because their economic system is superior.

Marx on ‘individual freedom’

In the “Communist Manifesto” of 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote: “Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labor, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required. . . . The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.” Of course, direct capitalist exploitation extends to workers of all genders and all gender identities.

Capitalism’s much-heralded “individualism” is really just the “right” of individual capitalists to score billions in profits at the expense of workers — individually and collectively.

Working-class and oppressed people — the overwhelming majority — are subject to the authoritarian despotism of the owning class. Finding time and energy for individual self-expression is difficult after spending most of our waking hours at grueling jobs, such as driving for Uber or working in Amazon’s warehouses.

And these days, “individual freedom” means choosing between going to work and becoming infected with COVID, or not going to work and being fired.

Capitalist politicians — Republican and Democrat — have even blocked the creation of a national single-payer health care system, popularly characterized as “Medicare for All.” This and the lack of centralized planning have led to disastrous and deadly results.

No, this isn’t a culture problem. Capitalism has failed, and socialism is the only solution.