Skip to content

China Sets the Pace in Global Covid-19 Battle

May 3, 2020

Part 1 of a three-part series

By John Riddell. April 30, 2020: Joe Cressy, head of Toronto’s board of health, told Canada’s national broadcaster today that the city has no road map for the period of 18 to 24 months before an effective Covid-19 virus can be deployed.

“We’ll need extensive infection tracking,” he told CBC Radio, “and we’ll have to test nearly every city resident.” But the Covid-19 tests needed for such an effort are unavailable, he said. Indeed, in Ontario they have been in chronically short supply.

The spread of the disease has slowed, but it is still quick enough, by my rough calculation, to double the Ontario caseload in five weeks. In Canada as a whole, the recorded infection rate is rising a bit faster; in the U.S., a bit more slowly, but in all cases the virus still poses an urgent danger.

As for the eighteen-month target for vaccine development, the New York Times portrays it as grossly overoptimistic; a goal of deployment in four years would be more realistic. Add to that the time and effort needed to break the stranglehold of rapacious drug companies and the barriers posed by imperialist sanctions in order to make a vaccine genuinely available to all the world’s peoples.

The Example of China

Our public health strategists should draw inspiration from the gains of China in combating the Covid-19 pandemic is both unique and exemplary. The world’s most populous nation, only recently emerged from deep poverty, China was the first country to face Covid-19 and had to develop countermeasures on its own.

China and Covid-19: A Three-Part Series

1. “China Sets the Pace in Global Covid-19 Battle,” by John Riddell
2. “Karl Marx in Wuhan,” by Carlos Martinez
3. “How Chinese Socialism Is Defeating Covid-19,” by Carlos Martinez

Two other states born of anti-capitalist revolution have also scored major achievements in combating Covid-19: Vietnam has experienced fewer than 300 infections while Cuba, in addition to its ambitious national prevention program, has set a high standard in internationalist assistance while offering a drug for treatment of the disease, with promising results.

Alone among the world’s great nations, China set the ambitious goal of not merely slowing the spread of the virus but of eradicating it entirely. At the time of writing, the number of active cases in China has fallen to only 619; the corresponding U.S. figure, on a per capita basis, is 5,600 times greater (based on The rate of new infections per capita in the United States is greater than that in China by a similar proportion.

A Torrent of Criticism

Yet Western major media tell us little about China’s Covid-19 achievements. Instead, many writers have attacked China for an allegedly inadequate response to the virus. Most references to China are negative, sometimes verging on racism, as in President Trump’s irresponsible charge that the virus was produced in a Wuhan lab, or in recent Conservative Party attacks against Canada’s Chinese-born Chief Public Health Officer Director, Theresa Tam, for allegedly working for China.

For an antidote to such slanders, note the well-informed webinar by experts in China and the west, “How China Defeated the Coronavirus: A Lessons for the World.” See also Vijay Prashad’s  reasoned defense of the virus response by China and the World Health Organization.

Medical team from China arrives in Burkina Faso

UK-based socialist Carlos Martinez, while coming to the same broad conclusions, also asks a pertinent question. Why was the Covid-19 response in China (and, we can add, in Vietnam and Cuba) so different from that by Western imperialist powers such as the U.S. and Canada? His article, reposted on this website in two parts, was first published March 25, 2020, in under the provocative title “Karl Marx in Wuhan: How Chinese Socialism Is Defeating COVID-19.”

A Needed Discussion

In my view, Martinez’s article points to a fundamental truth yet also opens the door to misunderstanding.

Chinese society today rests on the heritage of a great socialist revolution 75 years ago. The great social achievements of this revolution provide the foundation for China’s achievements against Covid-19. In that sense, yes, the spirit of Karl Marx was evident in Wuhan.

However, Martinez goes further. China is responding in such a responsible and effective manner to the COVID-19 pandemic, he contends, because it’s a socialist country and its government is primarily accountable not to capital but to the people. The non-negotiable top priority of the government is “meeting people’s needs.”

As a description of the Covid-19 experience, this stands up well. But Martinez’s generalization is less satisfactory as a description of Chinese society as a whole.

In China today, social production is shaped by capitalist ownership and exploitation, organized to maximize corporate profit and to withstand the challenge of cutthroat global competition and worker contestation. Predominantly capitalist production generates the all-too-familiar evils of inequality, alienation, and exclusion.

Class contradictions are further aggravated by all the inherited evils of pre-revolutionary society, such as the chasm between rural and urban life.

Thus, by the “Gini” measure (2016-17), social inequality in China (38.5), although less than in the U.S. (41.4), is considerably greater than in Canada (33.8).

Given the dominance of capitalist market relations in China, the government, whatever its intentions, cannot avoid accountability to capital. Moreover, from the point of view of working people, government actions in China often favour the interests of capital as against those of workers and farmers.

For my own limited comments on China’s recent development, posted to this blog some years ago, see “Suffering and Struggle in Rural China.”

The Meaning of Socialism

Martinez is wrong to describe China as “socialist” without qualification.

The word “socialism” is used in many ways, and we must take care to avoid falling into a merely terminological dispute. However, the Marxist understanding of the word is suggested by the following brief passages in two classic texts:

“The first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.” The Manifesto of the Communist Party, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, 1847.

“The same amount of labor that the worker has given to society in one form is received back in another.” Critique of the Gotha Program, Karl Marx, 1875.

In a word, socialism means workers’ rule and an end to capitalist exploitation.

By this standard, China is certainly not socialist. Any assessment of China today needs to analyze the obstacles standing in the way of advancing toward these socialist goals.

Discussion of China needs to be informed by a close examination of China’s gains in the struggle against Covid-19, and here the article by Carlos Martinez makes an important contribution.

The Covid-19 epidemic has seen China once again come under attack from U.S. imperialism and its allies, as it has in its trade relations, its wireless technology development, and many other arenas. In this conflict, all socialists should stand with China in opposing the U.S.-led attacks.

See Also Articles by Carlos Martinez

Other Posts on China on this Website:

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: