Communism Is Looking Pretty Good Right Now

Communism has excelled at fighting COVID-19

COVID-19 street art in Hanoi, Vietnam

I don’t have any illusions about communism. A communist party almost Khmer Rouged my country and we ended up with thousands dead. After years of bloodshed, those rebels survived as a political party which ended up backing gay rights and a lot of other sensible policies at the last election. They’re still commies, but not so murderous anymore. It’s been this way with communist parties across the globe.

Parties that spent the last century killing thousands through malice and incompetence are now saving thousands of lives. They are fighting off COVID-19, feeding the poor and reopening their economies while capitalist countries suffer from shortages and massive unemployment. It’s a strange turn of affairs.

Who am I talking about exactly?

The only communist dominoes left standing are China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. I’ll also include the state of Kerala in India, which has had communist governments for years. These countries/states have all done remarkably well. Here are their current death tolls:

China — 4,700 (double it if you like)
Cuba — 0
Laos — 0 (?)
Vietnam — 0
Kerala, India — 4

Excluding Laos, which I can’t find much reliable information about, all of these countries are also done with the first wave. They have flattened the curve down to almost complete elimination. It’s a long fight, but the first battle has been won. By communism.

Is success unique to communism? No. South Korea, Taiwan, and New Zealand have done well and have robust democracies. Korea even recently had an election. But it remains a fact that the last communist states standing have withstood a global pandemic remarkably well.

Let’s look at them a bit closer.

China

China used some hilariously aggressive slogans to help fight COVID-19

China showcases the problems with communism more than anyone else. During the Great Leap Forward, regional authorities just made up grain figures and Mao thought everything was going great. People were starving. Tens of millions of people died.

During the Great Leap From Bats, Wuhan authorities acted like everything was fine and censored doctors like Li Wenliang (RIP) rather than listen to them. The Politburo finally caught on in late January, but valuable time was lost.

It’s tempting to blame China for this, and they — having direct SARS experience — should have known better. But most countries delayed their responses by vital months — Germany, the UK, etc. America still hasn’t responded coherently, over four months in.

Denial is a part of human nature, not any particular form of government.

Once the center woke up they snapped into action fast. They fired all the local authorities, shut down entire regions, and bought precious time to set up an intense test/isolate/trace regime. Their scientists quickly sequenced and shared the viral genome and published a series of vital research papers. The government fed the people of Hubei, who were nonetheless hard-done-by and pissed, and somehow crushed the curve down to zero.

The world dumps on China, and there are many things evil about the state, but you can’t deny this accomplishment. They eliminated a major outbreak and reopened their cities very quickly. It’s a random metric, but right now the only Apple stores still open are in China, and now Korea.

Chinese communism was slow to recognize a threat, but once they did they didn’t waste time debating whether to sacrifice their elders. They snapped into action with an intense state response and beat back the first wave. The Chinese government and moreso the brave Chinese people need to be commended for their sacrifice. They bought us all precious time, which most of us wasted in denial.

Vietnam

Motorists in Hanoi, Vietnam

But not Vietnam. You don’t see Vietnam turning around now and blaming China. They have a huge land border with China, 90 million people, and an economy 16x smaller than Germany’s and yet they successfully beat down this virus. They have zero deaths. Zero.

Germany gets praise because Angela Merkel was a scientist, but this is just white privilege. By any objective measure, Germany is an abject failure, with a death toll similar to Iran’s. Western media tries to say that white women will save them, but those leaders have still racked up a hefty death toll. Vietnam is a real success story, but they’re not white and therefore remain invisible.

Vietnam is not a rich country, but they somehow managed to develop fast, affordable test kits, provide free quarantine facilities for anyone, and they did it all transparently. Oh, and they also worked with young people to promote amazing music like this:

Vietnam is a textbook example of good public health in action, if the textbooks and media weren’t so white. It’s honestly a loss to the world because Vietnam showed how a poor, sprawling state could beat this down. The short answer is reacting early (they had SARS experience), reacting with overwhelming force, and having an organized state that could do this.

Laos

I don’t know what the fuck is going on in Laos. Holla if you do.

Cuba

Cuban doctors arriving in Italy

Communist Cuba has the most doctors per capita in the world. Enough that they could send physicians to help fight outbreaks in Italy and South Africa.

The country itself is struggling under cruel and pointless US sanctions, but at home, they’ve managed to keep the virus mostly at better. Certainly better than, say, Florida. They reacted early (in January), shut borders, tested, and traced aggressively. The trouble, however, is that tests are expensive and lack of access to international finance could ultimately cripple their response. Like in Iran (and, indirectly, Palestine), US sanctions plus COVID-19 create a potent biological weapon, deployed against the most vulnerable people. But Cuba is trying, and doing better than much richer countries. Well enough that they can even help the world.

Kerala, India

Kerala isn’t a country, but this Indian state of 33.4 million people is relatively independent, and has been unusually communist for decades. Kerala has the highest health spending in India and trained its epidemic response against the Nipah virus in 2018. They also seem to give a shit about their people, including migrant workers.

Kerala’s government implemented a lockdown before India’s center and used an old-school, shoe-leather tracing regime to find and isolate the sick. At the same time, they provided food to children, citizens, migrant workers, and communicated clearly with the public.

India’s national response has been delayed, racist, and viciously draconian leaving migrant workers and children to march hundreds of kilometers to their death. Kerala’s response, in contrast, has been an example to the world. A communist example. A strong state response, driven by care for all of its people. Basically what communism was advertised as, before it devoured its children.

So, Communism?

In the last century, communism killed millions of people, under Mao, Stalin, and bloody revolutions throughout the world. The idea came to be rightly associated with incompetence, ineffectiveness, and death. If the communists had overthrown my government in the 70s or 80s (they tried) I wouldn’t be living here and my parents would have easily been dead. I know that. But communism has changed.

The communist governments that survived have adapted and now largely coexist with markets, democracies, and capitalism. In Kerala, for example, the medical system is largely privatized. One-party states like China and Vietnam are not democratic, which comes with a host of abuses and injustices, but it’d be hard to argue that they’re not capitalist.

I’ve been to all of these countries except Cuba or Laos and they look like everywhere else on the surface. How they are different is that they have functioning states, not the small-government dogma of the west or the debt peonage of neo-liberalism they have imposed across the world. While the west worships the private sector and has been systematically dismantling its institutions, communist governments are — by definition — strong states.

This is not something unique to communism, Taiwan and South Korea match strong institutions with robust democracies, but it’s hard to argue with how communism has performed in this pandemic. Public health requires a strong public sector, and communist countries have it. From killing millions last century, they have saved millions of lives in the 21st.

Honestly, communism is looking pretty good right now. Today’s communists have reached a detente with capitalism, one that enables you to get a burger and also not die in a plague. Am I advocating revolution? Hell no, commies killed my relative in the garden while his parents had to stay inside and watch. They weren’t allowed to raise his body to bury him, he had to be dragged along the ground. Revolution was a terror, but the revolution is over.

Communism has evolved. It has become capitalist (and corrupt), but also come closer to the ideals of its youth. Government that exists, which provides public services, which serves the poor. Are these states dodgy and cruel as well? For sure. But they have at least fulfilled their basic duty to preserve the lives of their people. If we can put down our biases for a minute, there’s a lot we could learn.

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He/him. indi@indi.ca. Videos: tiny.cc/indication and podcast: anchor.fm/indication. patreon.com/indication

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store