Capitalist competition: deadlier than Covid-19!

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
February 8, 2021

Capitalism, competition and private property have always ruined the best discoveries and that’s what’s happening now with vaccination.

The scientists have done their job. They’ve found efficacious vaccines in only ten months, an achievement that many didn’t think possible. The challenge now is rapid mass production in order to save lives and stay ahead of the different variants.

The industrialists of the pharmaceutical world should all be concentrating their work and energy on doing so. They should be sharing their knowledge and their production lines, and pooling their efforts to build new ones. It would mean mobilizing workers, technicians and engineers, some of whom are currently destined for unemployment.

Instead of doing this, labs are competing ferociously and jealously protecting their patents. Even if they sub-contract one phase or another of production, they always keep control of their production secrets because of course there’s no way they’re going to share the goose that lays the golden eggs. Too bad if precious time is lost!

The vaccine that was a great hope has become a source of tension and pettiness: labs cashing in but not supplying the vaccine; Pfizer demanding payment for the sixth dose that can be squeezed out of their vaccine phials; overbidding on vaccine orders pushing the price out of reach for poor countries. And states are unleashing national egos, bickering over who gets to be served first and blowing their own stupid nationalistic trumpets.

The capitalist organization of society, with its competition and profit seeking, is praised for its efficiency and its capacity for innovation. In actual fact, it delays, deforms and wastes society’s almost limitless possibilities. Nuclear power and the atomic bomb have shown us how society can turn extraordinary progress against humanity itself!

The wanton waste that comes from capitalism is epitomized in the way that millions of women and men are condemned to unemployment. People’s selflessness, their devotion, their skills, are all dismissed by capitalist society for reasons of profitability and competition and for greed.

Staunch defenders of capitalism explain that it’s the lure of financial gain and competition that have accelerated vaccine discovery. They’ve lost their bearings. The promise of profits from Covid-19 vaccination gave research a gold-rush feel but that wasn’t the motivation behind the researchers who worked night and day!

Epidemiologists, biologists and geneticists spend their lives studying, with no guarantee that their work will bring results. They don’t do it for personal gain and even less so to increase the fortunes of a handful of parasites. Competition and secrecy are not advantageous to them: they slow down the development of knowledge and obstruct shared thinking.

The leaders of society, its politicians and intellectuals are not blind. They’re forced to recognize that such a pandemic means uniting all available forces on a global scale. That’s why even those who are the most respectful of the interests of the bourgeoisie have expressed the need to have the patents in the public domain or to requisition certain production lines.

Because of the urgency of the situation, Macron himself promised “not to subject the [Covid-19] vaccines to the laws of the market”. He can’t do that. Not him, not any future government. Politicians who are candidates for running the system are too closely linked to big business and too subjected to its interests to be able to impose anything.

For the vaccine to be common property, the monopoly of pharmaceutical trusts would have to be dismantled. Pharmaceutical companies would have to be requisitioned and the research and production resources shared and used to answer the needs of the whole population.

A call to requisitioning, collectivization and a planned economy would be a declaration of war on capitalists. They are not ready to let go of even half their profits or their power. Wherever there are shareholders, they’re out to get their money’s worth, especially when they’ve bet on the winning horse.

Making society work collectively is in the interest only of the workers, those who are exploited and have nothing to lose but their chains. Is this utopic? The pandemic has made it clear that, for millions of women and men, it’s a question of life or death.