Parasitism, Pandemic, and the Needless Horrors of a Lopsided World

Letter from a member of the Revolution Tour



I was reading a couple of articles in the New York Times a few days ago.1 One was about the desperate lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) for front line health workers in the U.S. and a few pages later one about the production of some of that PPE in Malaysia under horrible conditions.2 It really illustrated some of what Bob Avakian (BA) was pointing to in his summation from BREAKTHROUGHS: The Historic Breakthrough by Marx, and the Further Breakthrough with the New Communism, A Basic Summary that an increasingly globalized capitalism:

relies to a very great degree for production and for maintaining the rate of profit on a vast network of sweatshops, particularly in the Third World of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, while capitalist activity in the capitalist-imperialist “home countries” is increasingly in the realm of finance and financial speculation, and the “high end” of (not the production of the basic physical materials for) high tech, as well as the service sector and the commercial sphere (including the growing role of online marketing). As Lenin phrased it, this puts the “seal of parasitism” on the whole of societies such as the U.S.

I thought these two articles were real-world, “grabbed from the headlines” illustrations of the process and that parasitism and the tightly entwined but profoundly unequal relationship BA is talking about.

As the Times article “Ten Months Have Passed. Protection Is Still Scant” reports, unbelievable as it might seem, nine months into this pandemic, there is STILL a shortage of PPE for front line workers in the U.S., including medical staff in hospitals around the country. In Minnesota, health care workers are forced to use N95 masks that have been sterilized again and again even though, as a cardiac nurse reports, the masks sag after 2-3 shifts, leaving gaps for the virus to get through.

To quote the article, “‘Our days are filled with fear and doubt,’” Mr. Rubesch [a cardiac nurse] said. ‘It’s like driving a car without seatbelts.’” The article goes on to explain the shortages as being the result of several things: skyrocketing global demand and the Trump regime’s hands-off approach to the production and distribution of PPE—“That has left states and hospitals to compete for limited supplies.” Later in the article is the story of a manufacturer of N95 masks in Texas who offered to ramp up his production in January when he first began to think these shortages might be a problem, but he didn’t hear anything back for months.

Under this economic system, this mode of production, production is determined by the anarchy of various producers scrambling for a larger share of the market with no plan, no thinking, no priorities based on people’s actual needs, no matter how urgent those needs are. So part of this situation is because foreign equipment is cheaper to produce (as the next article which I will get to is a vivid picture of), but even on their own terms they aren’t able to meet people’s health needs with this mode of production and all the disarray and anarchy that flows from that.

Those immediately involved—health care workers, public health experts and so on—are hoping that the new Biden administration will “put an end to profiteering” and the shortage of PPE that has “pitted states and deep-pocketed hospital chains against nursing homes and small rural hospitals.” We shall see. And even if they are able to at least temporarily solve those problems, new ones will be spawned by the underlying contradictions of everything being produced as a commodity, something to sell not because it is needed but to satisfy the relentless competitive drive for profit.

The resulting morality is deadly and nauseating. “Price gouging has become the norm, and scores of desperate institutions have been duped into buying counterfeit products.” Single-use gloves are essential for medical care but the prices have soared from $30 a case before the pandemic to $300 a case currently. There are problems in the “free-wheeling distribution system” which “enables [note: not just allows but enables] hoarding by wealthy hospital chains.”

Then the article notes that part of the problem is that the supply networks are “overly reliant on overseas manufacturers.” And that “problem” leads to these “solutions” by the incoming Biden administration: “create financial incentives and ‘buy American’ policies to boost the handful of domestic companies that make PPE.” The article goes on to quote industry executives to say that the only way to ensure a reliable supply of high-quality PPE items is to “recognize the sector as essential for national security, similar to the Pentagon’s approach for ensuring companies that make fighter jet components and military uniforms remain viable even in peacetime.”

So here is a problem: not enough PPE for health care workers who are risking their lives to save other people’s lives on a daily basis—and what is the solution of the capitalist-imperialists, both fascist and the Democrats? It is to define that as a national security problem and solution. This has the benefit, to them, of reinforcing and bolstering American chauvinism in the face of a deadly pandemic, training people in the U.S. to identify their “personal interests, prospects and status with the dominant position of—and the plundering of the world and the masses of humanity by—U.S. capitalist imperialism.”(Bob Avakian, Hope for Humanity on a Scientific Basis: Breaking with Individualism, Parasitism and American Chauvinism)

Global Supply Chains and a Lopsided World

Where does this PPE come from and how is it produced? We need to step back further, beyond the U.S. borders to a country in Asia like Malaysia, to see how the horrible impact in the U.S. is based on a deadly expression of imperialism in parts of the rest of this lopsided world. The other New York Times article—“Arming Globe with PPE, But Not Its Sick Workers”—tells about Top Glove in Malaysia, which controls about a fourth of the rubber glove market in the world.

The workers, who live in dormitories 20 to a single room, produce 220 million disposable gloves a day for “roughly $300 a month in salary.” They produce these gloves wearing masks “soaked in sweat,” never receiving the results from any COVID tests that were given, working week after week of overtime. Under these conditions, it is hardly surprising that these workers are suffering from “a ferocious outbreak of Covid-19.” Of their 11,215 employees, 5,700 in a single complex have tested positive since November. And Top Glove fired both a whistleblower who warned about the unsafe conditions as well as a quality assessor from their own company who circulated photos of the lack of social distancing at the work place.

This is what is happening to the workers in the production of the PPE that are shipped off to health care workers in the U.S. As heartbreaking as what’s happening to health care workers in the U.S. is, the relationship of the U.S. to Malaysia, and to the other countries the U.S. capitalist-imperialist system sucks its profit from, is one of U.S. parasitism, feeding off the labor of people where U.S. capital has its network of sweatshops, mines, refineries, and agri-businesses.

Because all of the things people produce to live, all that humanity creates, all the necessities of life have to go through this capitalist-imperialist mode of production, with its heartless and irrational systems, this is the world the masses of people have to try and live their lives in. The values, the ideas, the morality that support this system are the values, ideas, and morality that are fostered and given backing by this system.

Bob Avakian reveals the underlying reality of this capitalist-imperialist system in his article “Capitalism-Imperialism—The Suffocation of Seven Billion—And the Profound Need for a World on New Foundations”:

This system crushes and deadens the human spirit as well as grinding away the life—or outright stealing the life—of billions of people in every part of the world.

Think of the tremendous waste—and outright destruction—of human potential that results from this. All this is the consequence of the fact that the world, and the masses of humanity, are forced to live under the domination of this system of capitalism-imperialism.

All this is the basis on which a relatively small part of the people within this country, and a very small part of humanity as a whole, has the conditions and the “freedom” to develop and apply their initiative and creativity—only to have this serve, under this system, to reinforce the “lopsided,” highly unequal and profoundly oppressive conditions in the world as a whole and for the masses of people in the world.

And all this is completely unnecessary.

The interests of humanity can’t be served through this system of capitalism-imperialism, this mode of production, this way of organizing the needs of society, but could be with a whole different way of producing economic and production relations, and a morality, ethos, and resulting unleashing of creative ideas from humanity around the world for the good of all. This will take an actual revolution by the masses of people in their millions to do this. And the new society that is possible to build after that is concentrated in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.

Take your outrage at the present world, and your hopes and dreams for a better future, or a future at all given what this planet and humanity face, dig into what the leader of the movement for an actual revolution is saying by reading Bob Avakian at And get into the movement for revolution, contributing your ideas, your energy, and struggling to understand the world and how to change it more deeply as you do, to be part of actually making this better world possible.


1. “Ten Months Have Passed, Protection Is Still Scant” (Online headline, “Health Care Workers Still Face Daunting Shortages of Masks and Other P.P.E.”), December 20, 2020; “Arming Globe With P.P.E., But Not Its Sick Workers” (Online headline, “A Company Made P.P.E. for the World. Now Its Workers Have the Virus”), December 20, 2020; both from the New York Times. [back]

2. Personal protective equipment, PPE, is protective clothing and equipment designed to protect the wearer’s body from injury or infection. For people working in health care during this pandemic, PPE includes gloves, gowns, eye/face protection (goggles, face shields), and N95 filter masks. [back]

The workers at Top Glove factory in Malaysia live in dormitories, 20 to a single room, produce 220 million disposable gloves a day for “roughly $300 a month in salary.” (Photo: AP)

Afghan workers make PPEWorkers in an Afghanistan make protective gear that will be shipped off to the United States. (Photo: AP)

Nurses Protest lack of PPENurses at UCI Medical Center, Orange, California, protest desperate lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) for front line health workers, April 2020. (Photo:AP)

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CONSTITUTION For The New Socialist Republic In North America

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