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Opinion: How Capitalists Turned The COVID Crisis Into A Profiteering Exercise

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The inferences and the analysis are based on the author’s own observations.

Introduction

The world is in crisis and everyone seems to have discovered who the enemy is. Everyone has realized that the enemy is a virus. World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially declared its name as ‘SARS-CoV-2’. However, there is a riddle to this discovery, the head of different states and the United Nations (UN) have declared a war against what they call an invisible enemy.

Thus, though it has been particularly pointed out that SARS-CoV-2 is the enemy, the state prefers to call it an invisible enemy. For it is a known fact that virus is so small that no wavelength of light can help us locate them, yet different tests like antigen test, PCR test are being done to trace the presence of virus.

Enserink Martin has exposed the futility of these tests and even the founder of this test has criticized the utility of this method as an ultimate authority in proving the presence . Hence in all the pandemic which the world has seen the virus remains unidentified yet it was always proclaimed that it is the main enemy. Visibility implies distinctness, while invisibility stands for ambiguity and creates an ample space for guess and speculations.

Speculations is fluid, it consists of new beginning with every end. Speculation is like experimentation, in this, there is always a chance of failure or success, since success is far fetched and never complete there is always a room for failure, either partial or complete and hence the cycle of experimentation will rapidly multiply with invisibility.

Representational image.

This finds parallel with capitalist mode of production in which uncertainty in valorisation of capital is in contradiction with the capital needs for unlimited growth.

Superimposition of capital over this speculative process in medical science is haven for capitalists. The juxtaposition of medical science and political economy of imperialism is cemented by the rhetoric over wars. War is inherent attribute of imperialism, it is used to address any danger to existence of capital.

Whenever capital is in danger, it calls for war, war with visible enemies and war with invisible enemy both are the site for reproduction of imperialism. The medico-political space for capital valorisation is produced by monopolizing media, universities, research centers, financial institution and manufacturing companies.

It is important to locate the politics of pandemic within the global imperialist assault on oppressed countries like India. How the bourgeoisie of imperialist countries are the source of diseases at first and then they try to capitalize the disease by producing a new space for the valorisation of capital, for this they synthesize a particular theory that create conditions for ideological submission to medicines, treatments, precautions that promises to find cure to the disease.

This ideological ground for manufacturing construct was done by discovery of a whole branch of molecular biology, that ideologically establishes a single dictum around the slogan of ‘one-disease, one-virus, one-cure’. The founder of molecular biology Pasteur said that, “Bernard was right; microbe is nothing, the terrain is everything.

Bechamp was a French scientist who opposed the slogan, but he was academically abounded. In this quote, Pasteur makes the argument to focus on the terrain that creates diseases. The terrain is both biological and social.

We need to re-trace Bechamp’s writing in context to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The constructed politico-medical space around COVID-19 further restricts freedom of individuals and brings labour power under draconian measures of capital and enhances the loot of resources from the oppressed countries.

From left to right it has become normal to believe that virus is a real threat and anyone who question the sacrosanct role of medical science is silenced. There is no space in the present society to debunk the fraud committed on masses through the dictum that microbes are the all cause of diseases. So it is important to point that class and class struggle exists even during disease, even if there is flood, famine or cyclone.

Class struggle is dynamic and in motion as long as there are classes in society. Class struggle within medical science is believed to has been exterminated by this virus. We need to debunk this theory and try to bring out the role of capital in creating a mechanism of disease control that apart from curing does all the necessary process for capital valorisation.

Contentions Over Theory

If I could live my life over again, I would devote it to proving that germs seek their natural habitat, diseased tissue rather than being the cause of diseased tissue,Rudolph Virchow said.

The story of debates around the origin of disease in modern world culminates around the debate between Antoine Bechamp and Louis Pasteur. Pasteur is credited with the discovery of germ theory of disease though it was an Italian poet and physician Geronima Fracastorio in 1546 who first wrote a book declaring that organisms are the cause of disease, he also elaborated on the infectious nature of the organism .

Later on, Plenciz in 1762, found that special organisms from which the infectious disease was produced and that micro-organism is capable of reproduction outside the human body and that they might be conveyed from one body to another through air. This was further developed by Louis Pasteur and Robert Cohen who laid the foundation of modern medicine under the slogan of one disease, one cause and one cure.

It is on the basis of this they are called the discoverer of micro-biology, that dominate the medical space after the 19th century. The germ theory of disease viewed microbes as the cause of all disease, this grand theory helped present one single cure for the disease, one medicine was subscribed as the cure.

This has turned our bodies into consumerism, vast masses people have been compelled to internalize the dictum that science can cure every disease ‘if its just given enough money’. On this foundation public health policies were to be shaped and big pharmaceutical companies of the world that mints billions of dollars have their ideological roots in this theory.

A chemists store in India. Photo: Henry Lawford/Flickr

Antoine Bechamp’s theory was quite opposite to the germ theory of disease. He experimented against the theory firstly, he held that air is filled with micro-organism which are capable of being fermented if it land on any suitable medium. Secondly, he held that there is an anatomical micro element in the cell, which he named microzyma.

Thirdly, he said that microzyma normally gets formed into bacteria and that bacteria and evolve into microzyma. Fourthly he held that living organism in the air is not the fundamental thing that causes diseases rather it is the microzymes that provides condition for the growth of the microbes in the body.

This theory appears reasonable for had virus being the only reason for the cause of disease, all human would have been affected but we know that everyone is not affected.

So, certainly apart from the virus there are many objects which has been called terrain that has to be studied, the different social, economic and geographical conditions that created condition for the development of terrain inside our bodies on which viruses or other microbes react has been eliminating from discourse.

Marx saidThe ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of the society is also its ruling intellectual force.” In the late 19th century and early 20th century, capitalism reached the highest stage, that is the free competition stage was converted into monopoly stage of finance capital.

This stage, Lenin formulated as imperialism in which export of capital from capitalist region to the oppressed countries in order to extract resources for further valorisation of capital was a norm, further at this stage the imperialist powers of the world divided the world among themselves.

This lead into a conflict among the imperialist countries for the loot and plunder of the oppressed countries. In the epoch of imperialism the ruling idea of the society is decided by the ruling material force of the society which at present are the imperialist powers of the world, this is further decided by the inter imperialist conflicts between the imperialist powers themselves.

The germ theory was being developed at the time of inter imperialist conflicts among Britain, France and Germany, the conflict was over the scramble of Africa . This has a huge impact on the fate of the germ theory of disease.

Britain was foremost imperialist power at that time, but France and Germany were immediate contenders. The inter-imperialist rivalries at the tike of cholera outbreak found a new space for its materialization, a scientific conflict between France and England was to shape the political success of Imperialism.

Modern science provide the ground for the expansion of imperialist policies in oppressed countries and also to defeat the rival imperialist powers. Britain had Suez Canal as the only access to South Asia, this was important for the transportation of resources from South Asia to British manufacturing units in Britain.

The outbreak of Cholera in India and African countries, provided a chance for France to weaken the Britain`s imperialist power. Not missing this opportunity, French state handpicked Louis Pasteur who discovered the famous germ theory. Though there were theorist like Bechamp who though a french has apposed this theory.

In a class society, the medical theories are accepted and promoted not on the basis of objectivity and wellness of human in general rather it is the class interest of the dominant class force that constructs theories. The germ theory was exactly what the French state needed, it spent billions on the further research of the theory which was debunked even by its founder. And through this a common sense acceptance of germ theory of disease was produced among the people in general.

Having done this Britain can thereby be asked to stop the transportation from South Asia through Suez Canal, the quarantine of Suez Canal was the objective of French and German imperialist powers .

Similarly in Britain, the British state developed a British scientist handpicked by the state developed a theory that said that lack of sanitation is the cause of disease, lack of sanitation caused impure air in atmosphere which cause this disease. This came to be known as contagion theory, this helped Britain sail over the Suez Canal with the resources squeezed from South Asia .

The ruling class effort to completely mask the effect of limitless growth of capital on environment has chased it to a theory that blames a germ for all the maladies of human. By doing so the terrain which the capitalist system has produced can be protected. The terrain of environment destruction, the terrain of alienation have been denied any role in diseases, what we have instead is a virus, bacteria or fungus which the head of the state says is to be fought with.

Under the regime of germ theory of disease there is no enemy which can be permanently defeated. There are no immediate marks of enemy what we have instead is incurably race of capital multiplication. In their effort to defeat the invisible enemy what is indivisible from us is the effort of the ruling class in constant reproduction of terrain for capital valorisation.

Imperialism In COVID-19

COVID-19 is a marvelous opportunity for capital and this has been fully comprehended by big pharmaceutical companies. These companies are so big that they are in the policy making bodies of state. They have a history of being an executive at the time of pandemics.

The media and other such institutions acts as an ideological mask in order to ensure valorisation of their capital i.e the company`s manufactured drugs has to bought by people and for this faith building has to be done. At this time more than ever media is a boon for the corporate. They openly unmask themselves as the ideological weapon of the ruling class.

The State too ensures complete control over the flow of information, any criticism of the handling of pandemic or the products of the equipment in the market is censored and the people who criticize are severely punished under epidemic act. At such times, the ruling class is given complete control over the material and ideological wings of the state.

Vaccines are another contested site for capital valorisation by different imperialist powers Representational image.

Ultimately what we have is the information disseminated from handful of monopoly pharmaceutical companies. These censorship are more severe in the oppressed countries like India where unlike US or UK there is no democratic consciousness in the broad masses of people regarding their democratic rights.

Reporters Without Borders has reported abuse of media in countries like Iran, Egypt, Brazil and India. The oppressed countries are the first to crumble down on the democratic rights of masses from the pressure of the powerful pharmaceutical monopolies.

On completing the ideological hold over the masses through apparent gag orders. The monopoly companies drive to materiality of COVID-19 is manifested in the the policy of testing, quarantine, social distancing and COVID-19 appropriate behaviors, lockdown, sanitizing, Remdesivir, vaccines, post COVID medical care.

The WHO director in an interaction with media said, “We have simple message for all countries: test, test, test.” Besides, to fight the pandemic the director also informed general public to practice social distancing, hand washing and coughing into elbow. Anyone who tests positive in the test was asked to isolate from general public. For this WHO shipped 1.5 million tests to 120 countries which at present must have increased several times.

Two types of tests are conducted for the detection of the invisible enemy. One is the antigen test and the another is PCR. It is common in media that in antigen test the accuracy level is very lo. While for PCR, Torsten Engelbrecht brings in a valid argument, that question the blind dependency on test for the virus detection.

He said, “The PCR is extremely sensitive, which means it can detect even the smallest piece of DNA or RNA but it cannot determine where these particles came from. That has to be determined beforehand.

The issue of accuracy and sensitivity in testing has also been raised by Australian infectious disease specialist Sanjaya Senanayake, he raised the issue that, “the sensitivity with the testing is so serious that it has nearly pilled up cases world over.” But the business around testing is extra large to crumble down the testing norms in COVID era.

Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings is the largest clinical laboratory operator in the world, and after the WHO announcement of ‘test, test and test’, the stock exchange saw a surge in the shares of the corporation. Having made an initial profit, the corporation and US along with other imperialist powers like UK started giving financial aid in terms of investments to middle and low income countries.

Hence, further accelerating the dependency of oppressed countries over the imperialist powers. Biden administration invested 3.5 bn$ to expand COVID-19 testing in what is called developing and underdeveloped countries. G7 countries that includes US, UK, Japan, Germany, Canada, Italy and France have collectively committed 4.3 bn$ to finance global equitable testing.

Through this money, the imperialist bourgeoisie sets up laboratory in oppressed nations and develop testing equipment at a cheap rate and then supply the equipment and technology to other such nations. Testing thus has become a site for capital reproduction and strengthens the hold of the imperialist power over the oppressed countries.

Similarly, vaccines are another contested site for capital valorisation by different imperialist powers of the world. There are few hand-full of companies that have rights over vaccine production. This gives rights to imperialist powers to hoard vaccine, and compel the oppressed countries to buy their vaccine at a high rate of interest.

COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer around the world are meeting today to discuss a looming supply chain problem: not enough raw material and supplies to go around. And among the countries accused of hoarding these items is US,said a report. And this affects one of its biggest comprador in South Asia, India.

India has not been able to get vaccine from US companies involved in vaccine manufacturing . Indian External Affairs Minister was on a 5 day visit to US for agreement on vaccine supply by the giant corporates in the field of vaccine manufacturing.

Pre And Post COVID Eras

The Indian PM said, “We will remember events in future as either pre or post COVID.” Pandemic like COVID-19 are the occasion to create ‘post’ and ‘pre’ eras, while ‘pre’ is something normal, ‘post’ is substrate for the production of ecliptic process toward normality. It is between this visibility and invisibility complex that normal exists as a process.

The dialectics of normal, explains the ecliptic part of a non-existent normal. The shadow of normal fades into normal and vice versa. The process involves a cycle of life to normality, from complete darkness to dim light and finally to completely live normality. The post pandemic era gradually develops in normal pre pandemic era. In this process a stage of complete darkness is reached.

This stage is a spatial and temporal arrangement for the re-strengthening of normal both in its quantitative and qualitative dimensions. New dimensions are added to the already present aspects in normal, these new dimensions strengthens the foundation of normal. The return to normal is an organizational and ideological goal of ruling class, but normal not in its old form but a new form of normal, where the institutional control over the productive forces is more nuanced.

The materiality of the hold over productive forces of society lies in creating surplus value for capital. The increased hold of capital over labour ensures spatial and temporal fixtures to the crisis.

The inherent contradictions of capitalism lead to crisis in it, one among the many contradictions in capitalism is the contradiction between natural limit to growth and capital thirst for constant growth (that caused pandemic like situation) and in order to resolve the contradiction surplus value generated by labour power has to be increased, to achieve this the exploitation of labour is increased exponentially.

The whole rhetoric of pre and post pandemic lies in rearrangements of capital and labour relationship.

The normal in the present global order is the political economy of imperialism which preserves pre-capitalist relations in the oppressed countries, perpetuating an endless vicious cycle of exploitation and oppression of vast masses of people. But capitalism itself is crisis ridden, this explains the inevitability of Communism.

A crisis is the point for the intensification of class struggle, the intensifying class struggle when further pushed by a proletariat party brings a radical change in mode of production. Therefore every crisis period is like a managing occasion for the ruling class. In every crisis the ruling class tries to adjust itself and re-emerge from its own ashes. Every crisis for capitalism is an opportunity for it to re-invent new methods for control and dominance over labour power.

In the present global order it is on the exploitation of oppressed countries that capital of the imperialist powers rests. In crisis period the loot and plunder of oppressed countries by handful of imperialist powers sees a sharp rise, human beings are conditioned materially, physiologically and ideologically to norms that ensures re-strengthening of normality.

At a time of pandemic it becomes easier to create a biological mystification of knowledge, in which knowledge as a power stand to conceal the politics of oppression and exploitation by ruling class.

Medical knowledge and the capital invested in medical science stand to gain by the pandemic, the medico-economic space assumes a rejuvenating role. It triggers the reproduction of sublime all accepting bewildered masses of people who having lost all their material necessities find themselves ingrained in a medico-political body structure that biologically reproduces itself to the service of ruling class.

Pandemic has an all-out medical gaze, acting on the premise of reducing the collective risk due to corona, it subjectively abstracts an individual to its clinically perceived structures of existence. Even in this process an individual is aptly represented in terms of its class and other special identities yet on the plain of medical subjectivity individual is reduced as an object reducing itself to medical objects.

The biological logic of existence is marked by social and political structures that bind a biological mass to production process. Individuals response to pandemic can be marked out in the pattern of class struggle at a given time and space.

While science claims objectivity yet it is true that science is an instrument of class power, the ruling class use the logic of science to justify itself whenever necessary. Scientific norms are imposed upon working class to produce a particular obedience and reverence to law imposing powers and institutions.

Hence, at a village level scientific arguments run that a corona patient should not be burnT in open, for it is said that this would lead to spread of virus hence in a village of Bihar the poor peasant was not allowed to perform the traditional rituals and had to carry the dead body to far off place to be thrown into Ganga.

But when it comes to the dead body of the family members of the landlord in village no one was let to open their mouth on the violation of medical premise on the burning of dead bodies, causing a risk to the other villagers.

Representational image.

Besides the people from working class has to observe all the COVID appropriate behavioral norms or else can be thrown out from a moving bus or train, can be brutally beaten up by the police, or else can be incarcerated in prison for spreading pandemic. The oppressed and exploited class has been marked as the potential carrier of virus. They are marked segregated and exploited under the work conditions where they are most vulnerable to the virus and other diseases.

In India caste system ensures strict submission by the working class to the clinical gaze by ruling class. The logic of caste system lies in the hold of the ruling class over the labour power of the oppressed caste.

The brahamanical system of caste rests on the consciousness of purity that have been ingrained through thousand years of practise. The notion of purity is best expressed in the colloquial word of “chuaa-choot” (practice of untouchability). Choot has to do with the question of untouchability, choot means the acceptance of a notion that Dalits and untouchables are impure hence are the source of diseases.

The idea of dirt is associated with Dalits and untouchables. Whenever there is any accidental physical contact between the upper caste and untouchables, the upper caste has to purify himself by taking a dip in Ganga or pouring water from the Ganga river on his head. In the present time, oppressed caste is seen as the carrier of COVID-19 and Ganga water is replaced by sanitisers.

The idea of social distancing and isolation have found a wide acceptance among the people from a caste-ridden society. The discrimination due to caste finds its parallel in pandemic too. The discriminating norms in deeply fissure society like India gets medical legitimacy through the hegemony of ruling class over knowledge. The whole medical knowledge of pandemics finds expression in the disciplinary mechanisms.

Medical knowledge is used to produce a disciplinary space for the re-arrangement of labour about capital and the working class about the ruling class in general. This discipline is through several spatial and temporal arrangements. Capital in crisis produces disciplining institutions and factors of powers that operate in a special spatial dimension to rearrange the relationship between productive force and production relations in a given society.

During pandemic, measures like sudden lockdown is an effective mechanism to spatially re-arrange the working class about the ruling class in India. The labour was forced back to their villages, which creates conditions the verge land struggle become intensified, where the landlord used oppressive measures to exploit their labour power. Those labourers who were not able to migrate back to their villages were made to work on the bare minimum wages, it was almost like bonded labour.

The spatial pattern of migration and the geography of conflict arising out in villages and cities is what is the re-arrangements of the working class in terms of the ruling class. To preserve this arrangement, the working class is disciplined through the hegemonic knowledge over pandemics. The disciplining is done through state apparatus which constantly re-enforces itself by exploiting the fissures of society.

The ruling class and caste use the state power to extract surplus from the masses. The geographical spaces are so designed that maximum extraction of surplus value from the working class is possible. Pandemic has created conditions for the production of geographical space, designed according to the temporal needs of capital. Gentrification of cities is an example of this sort of spatial and temporal re-arrangements.

In the peak of pandemic slum demolition and shifting of the working class resident to the outskirts of dwelling places of the ruling class is rampant. This restructuring of urban space during the period of a pandemic is an arrangement of labour in service of capital.

This is done in the name of sanitizing the city from the potential threat from the ‘unclean’ population. The expansion of working-class residents on the outskirts has added to the ghettoisation of the working class in urban space.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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