As teachers and students rally in the United States, France, Italy, Greece and beyond against official pandemic protocols, the Permanent Revolution a group linked to the Pabloite New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) is working to block a fight to stop mass infections in schools.
A chasm of class separates it from the call by the Socialist Equality Party (PES) to create independent grassroots committees to lead a united international fight against the pandemic. While calling on teachers to join mobilizations like today’s French schools strike, he is working to tie them to the bankrupt national framework of union talks with President Emmanuel Macron.
While calling for new one-day strikes after the January 13 French teachers’ strike, Permanent Revolution above all abstains from the necessarily international struggle to end the pandemic. Tacitly accepting Macron’s arguments about accepting mass infections and “living with the virus”, he advances demands for a few mitigation policies to slightly slow the spread of the virus, combined with calls for wage increases. In his article “Historic Strike in Education: Continuing and Deepening the Struggle”, he calls for more one-day strikes in a purely national framework:
It is indeed a question of “hitting the hot iron”. … It’s the only way to get what teachers have been asking for for months or even years: a health protocol to match, hire enough full-time staff for public education, reduce class sizes during the pandemic , raise wages after a decade. one-year wage freeze, the end of [Education Minister Jean-Michel] The reform of the Blanquer baccalaureate, the Parcoursup university reform, and the cancellation of tests in the context of a two-year pandemic, which condemns students to a selection by class on their future.
A “health protocol up to par”, however, can only mean one that puts an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 18 million people have died from the virus worldwide, 1.5 million in Europe and 127,000 in France; it kills more than 1,000 people every week in France and 20,000 in Europe. Striking teachers described children going to school terrified of infecting their parents and grandparents or traumatized by the experience of transmitting a virus that killed loved ones. The long-term impact of the virus, which remains in children’s brains and other vital organs, is unknown.
Given the highly contagious and airborne nature of the Omicron variant, reducing class sizes during the pandemic, as Permanent Revolution demands, will not stop the pandemic. After France recorded almost 500,000 cases for two consecutive days, around 5.5 million people, or 8% of the French population, are now infected with COVID-19. With the relaxation of isolation protocols so that employers can force the sick back to work, the virus will continue to circulate massively in society, including in schools, even if pupils are seated a little further apart. others in the classrooms.
The only way to stop the massive circulation of the virus is an international lockdown, halting non-essential production and switching to online learning. Unlike the strict confinement in France in the first months of the pandemic, this requires significant financial support for workers and small businesses affected by the confinement; massive investment in e-learning; and contact tracing after the end of confinement, to avoid a resurgence of contagion and pursue a Zero Covid policy.
Permanent Revolution maintains a deafening silence on the fact that several Asia-Pacific countries, including China, Taiwan and – until it capitulated to the banks’ demands – New Zealand have pursued a Zero Covid policy. This successfully curbed the pandemic within months and halted resurgences of the virus imported from abroad. China’s population of 1.4 billion has suffered fewer than 5,000 deaths, far fewer economic dislocations and far fewer restrictions on personal movement than Europeans.
Permanent Revolution is silent on the need to end the pandemic, not because it is impossible, but because it goes against the political orientation and material interests it defends. Aiming to carve out a place for himself in the French petty-bourgeois trade union bureaucracy and to work within the framework of his negotiations with the capitalist state, he advances the political fiction that these bureaucracies mobilize the working class in the fight against Macron.
Calling to “amplify the movement, by organizing and expanding the assemblies of strikers at the local level”, he writes:
More broadly, we must seek to build and demand from the trade union leaders a battle plan for the whole of the world of work, among other things with a view to building the most massive day of strike possible on January 27th. We all take advantage of such a junction. …As wage strikes take place and corporate profits soar, we must insist on the need for wage increases for all. Finally, we must urgently impose an alternative health strategy to that proposed by the government, controlled by the workers and the population, and not under the orders of the employers’ federation of the Medef.
No need to demand from the union bureaucracy a “battle plan” against the Macron government. After a massive turnout in the nationwide strike on January 13, union officials said only they would try to get Blanquer to keep his promises to provide a few more N95 masks to the most vulnerable staff and hire a few more substitute teachers. . They have presented no plan even to slow the tidal wave of COVID-19 infections tearing schools apart, let alone end the ravages of the pandemic.
Unions have simply worked to sell the policies of the Macron government, which has already rejected e-learning out of hand, to the public. Assemblies of strikers, i.e. rank-and-file committees accountable to the workers, must be formed to fight Macron’s policies of austerity and mass infection. However, they can only be built on an international basis, independent of national trade union bureaucracies, and in a conscious and open struggle for socialism against the capitalist system.
The PSE, the French section of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), insists that the fight against the pandemic ultimately requires a conscious rejection of the petty-bourgeois politics of groups like the NPA, Permanent Revolution and its Argentine affiliates, the Parti Socialiste Ouvrier Morenoite (PTS) and the Izquierda Diario websites.
Like World War I – which could only be stopped after the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia and the revolutionary uprisings of the German working class in 1918 – the pandemic is a triggering event in world history. The inability of Europe’s ruling elites to pursue a science-based policy against COVID-19 is linked to a deep and intractable crisis of the capitalist system that can only be reversed by its overthrow in an international working class struggle for socialism.
The financial aristocracy has responded to the pandemic by demanding massive state bailouts in the United States, Britain and the eurozone, to transfer public wealth directly into their pockets. While European billionaires alone added more than $1 trillion to their wealth in the first year of the pandemic, those sums were financed by massive increases in public debt. Sovereign debt has now reached an unsustainable level of 116% in France, 122% in Spain and 155% in Italy.
Under such conditions, a struggle for the wage gains of teachers and wider layers of working people results in a direct confrontation with the super-rich financial parasites who dominate society and their defenders in the capitalist state machine.
Critical political lessons must be drawn from the experience of the NPA’s Greek allies, SYRIZA (the “Coalition of the Radical Left”). After the European Union (EU) imposed bitter austerity that inflated Greece’s public debt to levels currently reached by major European economies, SYRIZA, a coalition of Stalinists and allies of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP ) of the British pseudo-left, was elected in 2015. Hailed by the NPA, he pledged to end European austerity.
SYRIZA, linked to nationalism and the Greek trade union bureaucracy, was however terrified of the demands of the working class which went far beyond what it could accept. In just a few months, he has reneged on his electoral promises, aligned with the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie, and imposed tens of billions of euros in new social cuts. He then armed Saudi Arabia for its bloody war in Yemen, set up mass detention camps for refugees on the Greek islands and, for good measure, said he shared “common democratic principles” with billionaire then US President Donald Trump.
A powerful movement is emerging among workers and young people internationally, against a virus that knows no borders and needs no passports, and can only be stopped globally. Arming this movement with the political consciousness and program it needs to stem the pandemic and subordinate the economy to the crucial needs of society requires a break with the forces of the pseudo-left which, like SYRIZA before them, are covering up the capitulation of the ruling elite in the face of the virus.
The ICFI is conducting a global workers’ survey of the COVID-19 pandemic to equip workers with a scientific understanding of the pandemic, the responsibility of the ruling class and how to stop it. Fighting to stem the pandemic and impose scientific policies, however, requires the formation of independent rank-and-file committees that break with the orientation of the trade union bureaucracies and Permanent Revolution negotiate with Macron and undertake an international struggle for socialism.