The pandemic and its consequences that have manifested in different parts of the world and, more importantly, its differential impact on classes of people and segments of the population reveal deeper chasms and structural divisions that capitalism reproduces in its process. accumulation.
In the twentieth century, since the “Spanish flu” in 1918, we have been confronted with two other pandemics, namely the Asian flu in 1957 and the Hong Kong flu in 1968. While in the 21st century already, we have encountered the avian flu in 2009, SARS in 2002, MERS in 2012 and Ebola in 2013-14 and finally Covid-19 in 2020.
The frequency of pandemics has increased over time and, more importantly, the origins of most subsequent pandemics have been in the south of the planet. Rather, geography looks like a particular pattern. It is the global south, in particular the peri-urban centers of the global agro-industry from where most of the human-to-human transfers originated in recent episodes, it is spreading across the world through the roads trade and global value chains; it is mainly overcrowded urban slums, industrial towns and reception centers for migrants that are considered to be super vectors for the spread of the virus. This time, however, the spread was not confined to the darker and poorer parts of the world as has happened in the case of other diseases; instead, he destroyed the citadels of capitalism, the rich and rich centers could not see themselves as isolated and providers of aid to the poor.
Capitalism in its neoliberal phase has been ruthless in appropriating nature and facilitating activities of relocating production to spaces where both labor and nature can be easily undervalued. The livestock revolution and the resulting commodification of food products, large-scale production with vertically integrated structures, biotechnology innovation and the corporatization of these value chains need to be critically examined.
Livestock, aquaculture, horticulture, large-scale poultry production and the pig industry have been corporatized, involving huge investments and transnational value chains. The productions are located in the south of the world where the cost of producing animal feed, in particular corn, is low, wages are well below the averages of advanced countries and environmental regulations are much more relaxed. The terminals of these food chains were the virus mixing soup bowl where humans interact closely with animals, birds are raised under conditions of stress, which facilitates the transfer of pathogens to the human body.
Climate change, deforestation and human-made genetic interventions have often resulted in ecological imbalance and destruction of habitats of wild animals, birds and insects which ultimately caused disease to the people whose livelihoods are located near these habitats. Certainly, unlike all other beings, humans have the unique ability to create an environment conducive to their production and reproduction and they are able to change their environment and, through this process, they change themselves as well. But humans are part of the very nature in which they reside, and capitalism’s pursuit of profit fuels an autonomous process of uncontrolled appropriation of nature that ultimately creates a crisis not only for capitalism but for the human race as a whole. .
The current pandemic once again underscores the fact that human intrusion into the natural process driven by an unbridled thirst for profit and therefore trying to control it without worrying about the impacts on interrelated processes is only a hallmark of ‘a particular class process of capital relations. and not an inevitable result of nature taking revenge on all kinds of human commitments. And the impact of natural disasters, epidemics and environmental degradation is not neutral and uniform for all. It is the poor who are suffering the most from the environmental crisis because they cannot afford to pay for artificial patches, protective devices or cures. It is the malnourished who lack immunity; the poor live in overcrowded slums and are easily exposed to disease, it is they who cannot afford to stay at home and survive on their savings or may choose to work from home, informal workers, migrant workers and the self-employed lose their jobs and their income while the rich can go through hard times using money, power and social capital.
The division between mental and physical labor and the supposed hierarchy that class-divided societies reproduce has become more evident than ever. Contact-intensive production activities involve physical labor that is performed primarily by the poorer segments of society, while mental labor can be done remotely and it is the wealthy and middle class of society that operate primarily in these segments. In addition to this, workers who actually work at the risk of being infected are stigmatized if not criminalized as “carriers of the coronavirus” and have been expelled from the metropolises on the one hand and the fear that such stigma will be generated and propagated. by some state governments and communities have led to inhuman exclusion even in their places of origin.
The pandemic has not been so bad for everyone. In fact, the stock market recovered very early on, and financial profits soared even during the pandemic. The profits of the tech giants have grown significantly during this time, and the big players in retail could reap the benefits of a massive expansion in online shopping during the pandemic. This is also the time when Mukesh Ambani became the fourth richest person in the world, earning around Rs 90 crore per hour according to an estimate while 24% of Indians were earning less than Rs 3,000 per month. The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35% during the abnormal times, and apart from agriculture, the financial sector was the least affected as it requires the least amount of contact and operates mainly through digital signals.
The impact of the pandemic on the poor and the middle class also shows significant variation. People earning Rs 60,000 per month had to accept an average reduction in income of 10% while those earning less than Rs 20,000 per month suffered a loss of around 37% on average. This is further revealed by the digital divide which has widened the difference between the poor and the non-poor in terms of continuous work, access to education, health care, immunization as well as payment. and purchase. According to an Oxfam survey, 32 million students, mostly from rural India, lost access to education during the pandemic, as only 4% of them have computers and 15% can access the Internet. The survey further reports that 40 percent of teachers believe that a third of students would not go back to school again. This will further widen the gap between the poor and the non-poor in terms of outcomes and income for days to come. According to CMIE estimates, listed companies made extraordinary profits in the quarter ending March 21, recording the strongest growth in surpluses and reserves in the past decade, while small businesses were destroyed because they had very little working capital to run. In fact, rebuilding their funds even after the recovery becomes difficult as savings are largely depleted and working capital is largely depleted. It was also the time when big companies bought out smaller ones, leading to greater concentration and growth of monopolies. (IPA Service)
Courtesy: People’s Democracy