COVID-19 appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Initially the disease was portrayed as being contained within China. In a matter of weeks, however, it was spreading around the globe, drastically affecting the lives of millions.
As such, many have been left with valid questions about the deadliness of the disease, its rapid spread, and its origin. Many are also speculating about the reasons behind the woeful response from governments across the world.
Given the confusion, anger, and mistrust, it is not surprising that certain ‘theories’ - apparently providing an ‘explanation’ for the pandemic, and differing from the scientific ‘consensus’ - have gained traction.
The ruling class and their media have a long history of misinformation and outright lying. Distrust towards the establishment is rising. A YouGov poll from last year, for example, showed that less than half of Britons (44%) trust the BBC to tell the truth.
There is also the fact that, in Britain especially, the advice and guidance from the government has been exceptionally obtuse and contradictory, leaving many to make up their own minds about the virus and what to do about it.
It is no wonder then that many people distrust the mainstream media and the various announcements by politicians.
A deadly virus, not a conspiracy
We must be clear: the origin, rapid spread, and rising death toll of the pandemic is not part of a grand conspiracy. Rather, it is a genuine health crisis - one that has been exacerbated by the rotten capitalist system.
One pernicious conspiracy theory is the idea that this virus is a bioweapon engineered by the Chinese state. This is nonsense.
Why would the Chinese government release such a virus on its own people, given the devastating effects it has had on production in the country? Export growth, for example, fell from 7.9% in December 2019 to -17.2% in February of this year.
Even if, as some theories say, it was released accidentally, why would China be developing such a virus in the first place - one that has a relatively low fatality rate compared to, say, anthrax? What use is a bioweapon that sees most of its victims recover, whilst simultaneously affecting one’s own citizens and economy? Such an ‘explanation’ does not hold water.
Some theories in this vein also suggest that the disease is not meant for use as a weapon of war, but for population control.
It is true that certain sections of the ruling class and various establishment commentators have clearly welcomed the fact that the disease is especially fatal for the elderly and the vulnerable - those who are disproportionately ‘economically inactive’.
Boris Johnson, meanwhile, initially advocated a ‘herd immunity’ strategy, where we were all supposed to simply “take it on our chin” and allow the virus to sweep through the population to “run its course”.
Such neo-Malthusian ideas are hardly surprising coming from a government that recently got in hot water for hiring a eugenicist as an advisor.
But these reactionary views are just a particularly naked example of how the ruling class perceives human life in general: as expendable cannon fodder, to be put in the firing line for the needs of capital.
Distractions from the class struggle
There is another important reason for socialists to reject such conspiracy theories: that they distract from the real source of all our problems - the capitalist system.
In some cases, the divisive nature of conspiracy theories is even helpful for the ruling class, who are not adverse to employing hysteria to their advantage. By manufacturing stories and events, they are able to divert attention from their own criminal actions, point the finger at various scapegoats, and place the blame on anyone or anything but themselves.
The forged Zinoviev letter of 1924, published by The Daily Mail, is one clear example of this. This Tory lie helped bring down the Labour government at the time. Fast forward almost a century, and history has almost repeated itself with the character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn and the antisemitism smear campaign run against the Labour left.
It is telling that little has been done by the Tory government or the capitalist press to dispel the myth of supposed links between 5G masts and COVID-19. No doubt because such conspiracies take the focus away from the genuinely scandalous acts and murderous mistakes of Boris Johnson and the Tories.
On the other side, however, when the truth does emerge about real scandals that discredit, embarrass, or damage the authority of the ruling class, the capitalist press is always quick to themselves cry ‘conspiracy!’.
Understand the world
New viruses are inevitable. Deadly outbreaks have occurred throughout human history. In fact, the scientific community has been warning about a global pandemic for years. Just last year, government ministers were warned about the potential danger they pose, and were urged to stockpile PPE in preparation. Yet nothing was done.
Under capitalism, it is the needs of big business that are always put first. The needs of people and the planet come a distant second. The last decade of austerity is a clear demonstration of this. In fact, it is precisely these cuts that have made the impact of the virus so devastating.
As Marxists, in total contrast to the capitalists, we are only interested in understanding and explaining reality. We do not need to rely on conspiracies to explain the world around us. The facts are damning enough, without the need for conspiracies: capitalism is holding society back, posing an existential threat to humanity itself.
Only the revolutionary ideas of Marxism can provide a real alternative to conspiracy theories. Marxist ideas alone provide a clear explanation of the real culprit behind this deadly pandemic and all the horrors we see around us today: the capitalist system.
Only by arming the working class with the ideas of Marxism can we put an end to the barbarism of capitalism. Join us in this fight for the socialist transformation of society and a future fit for humanity!
Conspiracy and crisis
By John Russell, Norwich CLP
Ideas like the earth actually being flat, or that the Royal Family are actually lizard-aliens wearing human skin, are obviously mad to most of us. There is no rational reason to believe these things, and the vast majority of us do not even entertain such ideas.
But conspiracy theories are on the rise - the most recent being the idea that 5G networks are linked to coronavirus. But there is clearly no scientific way that radiation could cause a virus.
Hi conspiracy theorists! A few q’s. If 5G is related to Coronavirus how come Italy and Iran have covid but no 5G? Also why would billionaire capitalists want to lockdown capitalism? Also if our rulers are hyper-intelligent alien lizards why are they so shit at stuff?— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) May 6, 2020
The ‘evidence’ given for these ideas is sometimes so laughably bad that in order to believe it, you’d have to want to believe it.
Hack scientists who are widely discredited are wheeled in to spout rubbish. Total leaps of logic are taken, to connect one phenomenon to another. But occasionally, just one or two of those mad ideas might feel disturbingly like they could be true.
Back in 2014, a study in the US found that 50% of Americans believed in “at least one conspiracy theory”. But what these studies deem a ‘conspiracy theory’, is worth looking at.
The most commonly held ‘conspiracy theory’ polled in that study - with 25% of Americans agreeing - was that “the 2008 Wall Street crisis was deliberately caused by a small cabal of Wall Street bankers”.
A different study in the US in 2016 found that 53% of Americans believed that their “government was concealing what it knew about the 9/11 attacks”. And another survey carried out in 2016 found that 46% of German respondents and 45% of British respondents agreed that “Donald’s Trump election team knowingly worked with Russian agents to get him elected as president”.
Regardless of what the politics of these people are, or the veracity of these statements, what these figures show is that there is a deep distrust in the capitalist establishment.
There is a general understanding that there is a small group of people, operating in shadowy and secretive ways, with a lot of power, who are seeking to advance their own interests at the detriment of the rest of us.
Conspiracy theories tap into that intuitive sense that ordinary people have, based on their own lived experience of the world and how it works. However, without a scientific and rational approach to understanding society, the real nature of this ‘conspiracy’ will remain shrouded in mystery.
With a Marxist analysis of class society and the capitalist system, we can sort the wheat from the chaff. We can sift out the nonsense - like chemtrails and the illuminati - from the very real facts about the intrigues and misdeeds of the capitalist class.
There is no conspiracy if we understand what is happening. And we don’t need fantastical ideas - like mind-controlling technologies, or extra-terrestrials, or planned disease outbreaks - to explain the madness of the anarchic, irrational, and crisis-ridden capitalist system.
The ideas of Marxism provide the tools with which our class can undo all poisonous superstitions and prejudices - and by scientifically understanding the world, fight to change it.