By: Comrade Redbeard
California has become an epicenter of the coronavirus. Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in Los Angeles County, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States and the world. In a local population of roughly 10 million, there are over 1 million confirmed cases thus far: in other words, about 1 in 10 Angelenos have the virus. Over 15,000 people have died, or almost half of the total COVID deaths recorded in the entire state, and there are currently 6,486 people hospitalized because of the virus across the county. The COVID-19 death rate in hospitals has doubled in recent months, a staggering figure made all the more real by the apocalyptic accounts given by families of the sick and dead, health care workers, and others on the front lines. The demand for vaccines is far outstripping the supply, forcing city and county vaccination centers to shut down new appointments entirely. While the flood of new cases that all but brought local hospitals to their knees earlier this month has slowed somewhat, the “facts on the ground” are still grim, despite multimillionaire governor Gavin Newsom’s recent decision to cancel California’s stay-at-home orders.
Why is this the case? After all, California was among the first states to declare the coronavirus an emergency and enact wide-ranging lockdowns and other measures to fight it. Los Angeles hardly ignored the virus as it spread further and further. The reasons are many and deeply rooted.
Los Angeles, like so many other large urban areas in the US Empire, is home to unimaginable wealth sitting just a stone’s throw away from abysmal poverty. This poverty and wealth is profoundly racialized. To name but one example, there are roughly 15,000 “chronically” homeless people in L.A. County, (this number is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years), and 34% of them are Black, despite the fact that Black people make up less than 10% of L.A. residents. The very layout of the area, and particularly the City of Los Angeles itself, is characterized more by the segregationist infrastructure put in place last century rather than any coherent, sensible public need or want. This means that many neighborhoods, and particularly Black and Brown neighborhoods, are incredibly dense, with overcrowded housing, embarrassingly inadequate public transportation, and unreliable access to quality health care. It’s no wonder that the poorest and least white sections of L.A. have seen the highest mortality rates during the pandemic. Furthermore, L.A. County has a massive manufacturing sector and two of the largest ports in the country, where many people work in conditions that can easily facilitate transmission of the virus. Given these factors, it is perhaps surprising that the toll of COVID-19 in L.A County hasn’t been even worse.
COVID fatigue, which has become more of a problem in Los Angeles with each passing month, has become another major factor. This fire is fueled in part by motives many of us can sympathize with, such as a desire to reconnect with our loved ones and our larger communities, or the desperation we feel when we have to choose between paying rent and our bills or working in an unsafe environment. They are also driven by shortsighted selfishness and hyper-individualism. Because of class ideology and the psychological warping of settler-colonialism, this latter phenomenon is largely seen among bourgeois and petty-bourgeois white people. In Long Beach, a coastal city of nearly half a million people that replicates many of the social conditions found in Los Angeles proper, the author has observed this dynamic firsthand. The fascistic “anti-lockdown” protests that plagued much of the country last year were almost unheard of in Long Beach until recently, and there has been a noticeable decrease in mask-wearing and social distancing.
COVID-19 is not a man-made conspiracy, but neither is it a mere act of nature. It has spread so widely, killed, sickened, and further impoverished so many, and endangers certain groups of people more than others because of conscious political decisions and the overall structure of global capitalism. As far as the United States is concerned, it has surfaced many of the tensions and atrocities in capitalist-colonial society that would otherwise be easier to bury or obscure. This is what we mean when we say the pandemic is political. COVID-19 has helped reveal the political and moral bankruptcy of capitalism and the capitalist order, both in Los Angeles and elsewhere. We must imagine and fight for a better world.
While undoubtedly healthier and more humane than the capitalist dystopia we currently live in, a socialist society would not be magically free of sickness or immune to pandemics. A socialist society would, however, prioritize the public good over private profit. Under socialism, we could harness our collective scientific, organizational, and economic powers to ensure that the masses and the most vulnerable among us are protected and supported. We would not be encouraged to watch passively as the ruling class bickers about how many bread crumbs to toss at us, as millions fight to keep their heads above the water. There would be no need to worry about making rent or paying for food, water, power, or other human necessities, because housing and things like these would be provided free of charge. All essential workers would be able to work in a safe, sanitized workplace, without fear of bosses sacrificing the health of working people to protect their profit margins. Health measures would be based in science and the common interest, not whatever is politically convenient for an influential minority. In a socialized, universal health care system, all resources necessary to combat and control the virus would be available, from PPE to tests and vaccines, and medical racism would not be tolerated. The State, the communist party, and mass organizations would work together to help society as a whole steer through this crisis with as few lives lost as possible, keeping a steady eye not on the stock market, but on the health and well-being of the masses. In Los Angeles, the particular shapes the new society would take would depend much on how we develop the struggle here, but if the incredible creativity, wealth, intelligence, and hustle of the L.A. masses could be harnessed to revolutionary ends, the possibilities are endless.