Everywhere we turn today, we are constantly reminded of the coronavirus and its lethal effects. From travel restrictions to food insecurity, the Western world is experiencing what billions of people around the world experience daily under the capitalist economic system. Ironically, it is these downtrodden and oppressed communities that we should look to as examples of resilience and hope in a time of desperation.
Tens of millions of people in Venezuela, Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have braved shortages in basic essential goods and medicines for decades. Despite these shortages, which are caused by illegal U.S. and European sanctions, the majority of people in these countries have managed to pull together and overcome hardship thanks to their collective efforts.
In Cuba, for example, when the Soviet Union fell due to global capitalist pressure, the people of the revolutionary island pulled together and managed to overcome what could have been a major catastrophe. Without Soviet trade, and with U.S. and European sanctions strangling them, there were shortages of essential foods and medicines that affected millions. Cuba’s socialist government tackled the shortages by developing sustainable agro-energy programs that produced organic farming cooperatives and a switch to renewable sources of energy. Instead of cowering in fear and desperation during this life-threatening period, they deepened their principles of collective, revolutionary change.
During this pandemic, Cuba was the only country in the Caribbean that allowed a British cruise ship with over 1,000 people, some of whom tested positive for coronavirus, to dock at one of its ports. Despite multiple Caribbean islands forming part of the Commonwealth, a legacy of British colonialism that is supposed to solidify relations between these regions, it was the socialist island that showed compassion and human solidarity in a difficult moment. This act of solidarity shows the level of social and cultural advancement in Cuba since Britain is one of the main countries that has helped to impose brutal measures against them for decades.
In Venezuela, where the U.S. and Europe have attempted to collapse the socialist government through economic sanctions, the people have also managed to overcome hardship through collective action and revolutionary optimism. In 2018, when the multinational U.S. food manufacturing company Kellogg’s pulled out of the country after pressure from Washington, the people did not just sit idly and watch yet another food source disappear. Former employees of the factory formed a worker’s collective; and with the support of President Nicolás Maduro, they took over production and continued operations.
In contrast, we have seen how masses of people in the Western world have selfishly emptied the shelves of large supermarket chains and pharmacies at the first signs of crisis. This individualism, the opposite of the collectivism practiced in Cuba and Venezuela, is no doubt a cultural phenomenon with roots in the capitalist world system. This is a system in which competition among individuals is encouraged at all levels and in all situations. The effect of this is that the most vulnerable people in society are more likely to perish; if not because of the virus, then because of lack of access to basic goods, medicines and community support.
This crisis is an opportunity for the Western world, especially those of us from oppressed groups who are tired of living under the boot of capitalism, to develop revolutionary optimism and take urgent action. Rather than letting fear and desperation consume us and act selfishly as individuals, we can let the examples of Cuba, Venezuela, and others, guide us toward a profound transformation of society.
Let’s share our hand sanitizers, our toilet rolls, basic foods, and, above all else, our collective spirit. Let’s build a great socialist society out of the ashes of the old.