U.S. Communists demand Trump use Defense Production Act, say coronavirus exposes capitalism’s failings
A person is taken on a stretcher into the United Memorial Medical Center after going through testing for COVID-19 Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Houston. People were lined up in their cars in a line that stretched over two miles to be tested in the drive-thru testing for coronavirus. States continue to beg for more testing kits and medical supplies, but the Trump administration still refuses to make extensive use of the Defense Production Act to coordinate production and distribution of supplies. | David J. Phillip / AP

U.S. Communists are condemning the Trump administration’s bungled COVID-19 response and say that the health crisis has quickly morphed into an economic and political one. It’s not just Trump that’s coming in for criticism, however. In a statement issued Tuesday—just a day before the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States passed the 200,000 mark—the Communist Party USA said the global health crisis has “exposed the ways in which capitalism, a system that puts profits before people, has epically failed.”

The party issued a long list of measures it argues are necessary for a people-oriented solution to the crisis, saying that an essential part of addressing it is removing Trump from the White House in November and ending Republican control of the Senate.

At the top of the Communists’ list is a demand that the president make more extensive use of the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law which allows the government to command private industry to manufacture the essential medical supplies and equipment currently in short supply. Trump invoked the act on March 18, but he has hesitated to actually put it in practice, preferring instead to rely on individual companies’ own initiative to turn out test kits, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and more.

The party criticized the auction-like atmosphere now prevailing in which hospitals and states are bidding against each other for needed supplies. “Trump refuses to use the Defense Production Act,” the party said, “forcing governors to compete over scarce resources.” Even though he could use the federal government to coordinate production and distribution on a nationwide scale, Trump has left the free market in charge. Meanwhile, states across the nation are running out of equipment and supplies, putting thousands of lives in immediate danger.

An emergency extension of free health care—covering not just coronavirus testing and treatment, but all health issues—including for the undocumented, was also highlighted by the CPUSA as a necessity for making it through the coming period. It lamented the chaos of the private health system, where “mass confusion and wasted time” have left people unsure of what costs are covered or by whom. In the longer term, the Communists are recommending “national, universal health care with coverage for everyone” to prevent future public health disasters like COVID-19.

The sharp differences between how the U.S. health system has crumbled under the weight of the pandemic and the response in socialist-oriented countries like China and Cuba were also noted by the party. “Acknowledging early mistakes, the government [of China] quarantined Wuhan and Hubei province when it understood the nature of the crisis.”

The CPUSA credited China with giving the rest of the world a chance to prepare—a chance that too many other governments, including that of the U.S., squandered. It praised that country’s effort to supply the rest of the world with medical equipment now that it is exiting its darkest days of the pandemic. Cuba also got positive marks from the party for its extensive offer of doctors and health specialists to other countries, particularly hard-hit Italy.

With stay-at-home guidelines shuttering workplaces and making millions jobless, the CPUSA is also arguing for a gigantic economic response by the U.S. government to avert a possible global depression. “The wealthy made a bundle before the market crashed, and corporations are being bailed out…[while] price gouging and hoarding essential supplies,” its statement read.

The recently passed $2 trillion relief bill will only alleviate some of the most immediate and severe aspects of the recession facing working people in the United States, the party argues, though it was better than the original Republican proposal that sought to create a corporate slush fund for Trump to dole out without oversight.

CPUSA co-chair Joe Sims told People’s World that “the worker-oriented measures of the stimulus bill were a plus,” and said the scale of the bill “demonstrated not only the depth of the crisis but the strength of public opinion for putting people first.”

The party wants to know what’s going to happen, though, when the $1,200 checks and unemployment run out. Social distancing guidelines are expected to still be in place for weeks or even months, leaving rent and bills to pile up—not to mention food costs for families with no income.

Sims said he’s convinced, “As the crisis deepens, the measures will have to go further, toward public solutions like those taken in the 1930s.” People will draw deeper conclusions as the situation escalates, he believes, about the inabilities of the capitalist system to deal with the outbreak and prevent a future one. “The socialist moment begins where capitalism fails,” Sims said.

CPUSA

To deal with the mounting financial toll, the Communists demand an immediate moratorium on rents, mortgages, loan payments, evictions, and repossessions. Cancellation of student debt, facilities for the homeless, and free food for those who need it are among their other policy proposals—along with hazard pay for all essential workers.

But the Communist Party’s statement projects optimism that the coronavirus can eventually be beaten through a combination of community solidarity, efforts to protect the safety of front-line healthcare and other workers, and by millions of people joining the #StayHome movement.

Rossana Cambron, also a CPUSA co-chair, in a conversation with People’s World, encouraged people to look for new ways to keep in touch with their family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow activists during this period of social isolation. “The best use of our time right now is to find forms to connect with our community.”

Observing some of the activities that have linked people together and built solidarity in other places, such as Wuhan or virus-stricken cities in Italy, Cambron said, “You can sing at your doorstep, write a song that challenges the way things are.” She says the shutdown of public life requires a re-think of how activism and organizing can work in an environment of limited social contact.

Internet and social media-based campaigns, digital “marches” like the one planned by the Poor People’s Campaign, lobbying for the expansion of mail or online voting, and more—all take on fresh importance when we people are unable to attend rallies or protests in person or meet with one another on the job.

Even when physical connection might not be possible, Cambron said, “We can still connect with each other and lift our spirits.”

The Communist Party USA’s statement and its full list of demands to fight the COVID-19 crisis are available at CPUSA.org.


CONTRIBUTOR

C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.

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