From The Medical Republic, 10 June 2021:
“[Society] has placed the workers under conditions in which they can neither retain health nor live long … society knows how injurious such conditions are to the health and the life of the workers, and yet does nothing to improve these conditions. That it knows the consequences of its deeds; that its act is, therefore, not mere manslaughter, but murder.”
– Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England, 1845
In the United States, a man works shoulder-to-shoulder with his unmasked colleagues in a cold, damp, meat-packing facility. He has had a fever and cough for a week, but can’t afford to skip work to go to a covid-19 testing facility.
In Singapore, construction workers – whose work is deemed essential during a lockdown – labour at worksites that become covid-19 hotspots, then sleep in crowded dormitories with little ventilation.
In Melbourne, 3000 residents – many from immigrant or non-English-speaking backgrounds – of nine public housing towers find themselves surrounded one afternoon by police and, without warning, are confined to their homes during a covid surge. They are forbidden to leave for groceries, work or exercise.
In India, a first-wave lockdown halts all public transport, abandoning workers to walk hundreds, even thousands, of kilometres back to their home towns. Hundreds are thought to have died on the way.
In Michigan, Black people with covid but no comorbidities are 12 times more likely to die from the disease than white people.
In high-income countries, one in four people has received a dose of covid-19 vaccine. In poorer countries, one in 500 have been vaccinated.
In the mid-1800s, German philosopher Friedrich Engels coined the term “social murder” after witnessing the appalling conditions in which the English working class lived.
When someone inflicts bodily injury on another person, knowing that injury will be fatal, it is called murder, Engels reasoned. Yet when society deprives people of the “necessaries of life”, forcing them “through the strong arm of the law” to live in such conditions, knowing that these people will die early because of those conditions, “its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual”. It is, he wrote, “quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet.”
Rarely, if ever, has the tragedy of Engel’s social murder been writ so large as during the covid-19 pandemic. Read more.