To many socialists, the state is the only force strong enough to counter the detriments of private property. To many anarchists, the state is the only thing stopping us from dismantling such an institution. But both sides of the isle will agree without a doubt, that some form of coordinated legislation should have the principal intention of ensuring the welfare and collective interests of its subjects: the population, the masses. So do the governments of the present day fulfil this objective, or do they have a more sinister agenda?
Perhaps one of the most important factors at play when answering this question, especially at this current point in human history, is how effectively a government deals with crisis. The international COVID-19 pandemic has provided us with some startling insight on this topic, as a snapshot of what might be to come as we further decay our habitat. Or, perhaps, a warning…
The UK had so much of an advantage when it came to coronavirus, do you remember? Our island location, our world-top-six GDP, the lessons from the experiences of China, and Iran, and Italy, and – well, you get it. Yet there’s no denying our government botched its response nonetheless. Toying with the sacrificial Social Darwinist implications of herd immunity, failing to follow WHO advice, failing to provide clear or logical instructions for our own safety, and finally claiming victory far too early – these are some of the standout blunders. Not to mention the certain influential government figure who came up to Durham to visit, allegedly taking family for a day out at Barnard Castle, driving while “almost incapacitated” so that he could offload the childcare unto preferred family members. Aunty back in London obviously must have needed a break from little Alex Cummings and his infamous father…
But we can take courage in the fact that we don’t have the worst points on the scoreboard this time around. The Russian Federation for instance, whose domestic policy is typically signed off by oligarchs and creepy cryptofascist advisors, is experiencing a late surge in cases and deaths recently, as if to catch up with the Western incompetence. The United States of America too is in a similar situation, only they call them “philanthropists” and “neoconservatives” over there – though the whole situation in the US is also significantly amplified from the additional doses of Trumpite imbecility, ignorance and time-wasting.
Perhaps most troubling of all, however, is another latecomer to COVID chaos, Brazil – whose president, Jair Bolsonaro, would be lucky to even merit the “crypto-” prefix. Bolsonaro is already disastrously handling one crisis, in which he blames environmentalists for the ongoing Amazonian rainforest fires to shift blame away from his profiteering corporate buddies, and with corona, he’s at it again. This time, he blamed his own Congress for overhyping the “little flu”, and publicly discouraged any locally imposed lockdowns and quarantines in the country. The level of testing occurring in Brazil makes even the UK look like a world leader in the field, and experts have predicted up to two million deaths could be on the way. Despite having far fewer cases than the USA at the time being, Brazil and the US often have comparable numbers of new cases per day. With these facts in mind, there seems to be a clear trend: the states who have corporate sellouts at their head, who serve the lobbyists funding them before the people electing them, whose purpose is to defend the malicious will of private capitalists – these states leave themselves unwilling to help their own citizens overcome crisis if it means adjusting the profit machine.
Instead of following the liberal media’s idolisation of South Korea, let’s instead take a look at Vietnam: a country of almost 100 million people, bordering and regularly trading with China, that conquered its outbreak with only 324 cases, and not a single fatality. How, you ask? Well, Vietnam has a record of forgoing private profits when they are detrimental to the good of the population. For instance, Vietnam has some of the strictest price control regulations in the world, to guarantee its citizens food. Its government had to sacrifice some of its major profit from the tourism industry in order to act against coronavirus, but it had the courage and benevolence to take action anyhow. Whilst Vietnam has temporarily opened itself up to a certain amount of capitalism in recent years so as to survive in our hostile, neoliberal world order, its government remains firmly committed to socialism and Ho Chi Minh Thought, which advocates turning the Vietnamese people towards socialism before fully adopting it (not dissimilar to Chavismo, which we’re getting to).
Other similarly people-oriented governments which have been more resistant to capitalism than Vietnam have also had great degrees of success with the pandemic. Vietnam’s neighbour Laos charted only 19 reported cases, the lowest tally on the Asian continent, and Cuba has quelled not only its own outbreak, but helped quell the outbreaks of nations all over the world. With help from their own Interferon, their death:case ratio is roughly three times better than that of the UK. Seemingly, these governments that prioritise their people over lobbyists’ profits, and it’s working.
And, now reaching the crux of the article, this is what makes the Bolivarian government of Venezuela so impressive, in that it’s a case where a democratically elected government is prepared to do what needs to be done in times of crisis. Defending a revolution that has brought women’s rights, literacy, equality and a social safety net to the long-ignored corners of Venezuela on an unprecedented level, Maduro has been unafraid to hit back against private capital, when corporations such as Empresas Polar stockpiled food and medical supplies to exacerbate a Western-led sabotage. In part due to his decisive action, even at the height of the crisis, Venezuelan food security was still higher for the average Venezuelan than in the pre-Chavez era, according to the FAO. In a country so reliant on capitalist controlled industries, the poorest Venezuelans are able to use democracy to retain the benefits they gained for the first time from the Bolivarian revolution. Maduro is one of the few remaining leaders of the modern day that is both elected by the people, and also prepared to actually prioritise his citizens over private profits.
Not only did the Venezuelan democracy manage to overcome the crisis of the 2014 sabotage, but it also has experienced only around 880 cases of coronavirus, with no deaths from COVID-19 recorded over the past 30 days. Yet meanwhile, the Western assault on Venezuela has only intensified over this time of global uncertainty. The US pin-up, Juan Guaido, has lost confidence not only amongst the Venezuelan opposition, but even by his own mercenaries from Silvercorp, who immediately turned on him after their planned invasion went awry at the beginning of this month, yet Trump and Bolsonaro continue to press for regime change in the country. Even more recently, the most valuable foreign asset of the Venezuelan government, Citgo – once used to fund social welfare programs – has been seized by the US to sell off for private profits.
Readdressing the question from the beginning of this article, the common characterisation of economically independent governments, such as that of Maduro’s Venezuela, is that of a failed state. Yet to contrast the USA, UK and Brazil, three states which have been prepared to sacrifice human life for profit, to that of a government willing to challenge any institution standing in the way of its population’s needs and security, such as Vietnam, Cuba or Venezuela – which of these seem to have truly failed in their purpose as a state?
Image: Bex Wade via Flickr