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Engels in the New Century

Friedrich Engels memorably describes the poor sanitary condition of working-class neighbourhoods in mid-19th century England. At a certain point, typhus and cholera epidemics began to threaten bourgeois neighbourhoods, and only then was the government forced to take remedial action. Well, with the pandemic of the century, it is as if Engels had entered the 21st century, and the same contradiction was laid bare for the whole world. The Covid-19 catastrophe in India shows an elementary truth: Europe, America and China are completing colossal vaccination plans, but they will never be truly safe if the rest of the world, in Asia, Africa and Latin America, remains at the mercy of the virus and its mutations. And yet, even in the face of the evidence, the contention between powers to take advantage of vaccine diplomacy does not cease. The United States has put forward the promotional idea of suspending the patents of the pharmaceutical giants, perhaps in order to counter the Chinese offensive and drive a wedge between the EU and Beijing; Europe has laid the blame precisely on British and American protectionism; China, and to some extent Russia too, are always on the offensive in offering their vaccines. But those offers are a drop in the ocean of the billions of doses which are required. India, which aspired to be the world's pharmacy and a supplier for Africa and Asia, has been dragged into the maelstrom of its worst crisis since independence - one that is casting a shadow over its viability as a state and its ambitions as a power. It is now acknowledged that the world population must be vaccinated, but there remains a gulf between words and deeds. Furthermore, how many millions of deaths, in the end, will the deadly mixture of a lack of foresight, the struggle between capitals, the struggle between powers and the inability to unite efforts towards a collective goal have cost?

We can only repeat the same thing: the pandemic simultaneously shows the enormous potential of the productive forces, but also the fatal contradiction of which they are prisoners — that of a society divided into classes and the contention between states. Communism is a necessity for humanity: that is where the commitment to a truly humane society lies.

Engels in the New Century. (2021, June). Internationalism, 12.