Correcting an Error on the CCP and COVID-19
We recently received a note from a former Spartacist cadre with whom we have not had contact for years which, among other things, pointed out a mistaken formulation in “The Myth of Capitalist China.” The article, published in November 2020, focuses on the class character of the Chinese deformed workers’ state, but includes a mistaken formulation that suggests the Chinese Communist Party has no responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic. The following excerpts from our correspondence discuss the CCP’s response to COVID-19.
Subject: Fwd: Comments on “The Myth of Capitalist China”
I want to address some major deficiencies in your article “The Myth of Capitalist China”.
The article does a good and thorough job in proving that the capitalist sector and market mechanisms in China remain within a strong framework of nationalised industry and central planning. Recent events only add to and underscore this analysis.
However as a statement of the Trotskyist program it has major faults and omissions. The first thing that leaps out at you in the article is the following statement.
“The absurd attempt to blame the CCP for the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic is the latest phase of an imperialist misinformation campaign promoting xenophobic hostility to China.”
First of all there is no attempt at all on your part to establish the known facts and timeline of what happened in Wuhan. This was, at the time, and has been ever since, recognised by all sides as a critical period. It is critical to understanding how a mushrooming Chinese epidemic of a new coronavirus turned into a world pandemic. It is critical as a flash point for controversy worldwide in regard to China-US relations.
It is the responsibility of the communist platform, independent both of the imperialist powers and the CCP ruling caste, to analyse and draw out the truth for the peoples and workers of the world from the facts as they unfolded during this period – from the first acknowledged case of a new and virulent virus causing pneumonia on 1 December 2019 to the lockdown of Wuhan on 23 January 2020.
Dialectical materialism starts with the facts in their historical development and time line. Even a cursory examination of the facts show that the Xi Jinping regime was, at the very least, criminally negligent in refusing to shut down international travel once they knew they had a new coronavirus on their hands.
Nor can the regime’s failure be blamed on “provincial authorities”. Xi Jinping took over direct control on 7 January when the virus had already reached epidemic proportions. It is estimated that in the period up until the Wuhan lockdown up to 5 million people flew out of Wuhan, not only to other parts of China, but internationally, to join with Chinese relatives and friends in the West for Chinese New Year celebrations, a tradition that often spans 10-14 days around this period.
A workers republic in China would have closed the borders at the first signs of danger and contagion. The CCP knew what it was dealing with. China had already had the 2003 experience of SARS. Instead, for their own reasons, the CCP obstructed, covered up and used the World Health Organisation to delay decisive action. Thus, studying the time line, and the CCP’s refusal to halt international travel, you are forced to face the terrible fact and truth that the CCP allowed, whether by default or conscious intention, the virus to escape from the Chinese mainland and into countries all around the world.
These facts and truth you dismiss as “absurd”, echoing the CCP, and you then align yourself with the CCP’s chief tactic of turning any criticism into race hatred (“xenophobic hostility to China”). This is precisely what the CCP regime did when countries such as the U.S. and Australia soon after halted overseas arrivals from China, publicly attacking these moves as “racist”.
Your dismissal of the facts of this period also leads you to dismiss, forget and disappear the heroism and martyrdom of Li Wenliang, the doctor at Wuhan Central Hospital who sounded the alarm early on. Wikipedia states –
On 30 December 2019, Wuhan CDC issued emergency warnings to local hospitals about a number of mysterious “pneumonia” cases discovered in the city in the previous week. On the same day, Li, who worked at Wuhan Central Hospital, received an internal diagnostic report of a suspected severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) patient from other doctors which he in turn shared with his Wuhan University alumni through WeChat group. He was dubbed a whistleblower when that shared report later circulated publicly despite him requesting confidentiality from those with whom he shared the information. Rumours of a deadly SARS outbreak subsequently spread on Chinese social media platforms, and Wuhan police summoned and admonished him on 3 January for “making false comments on the Internet about unconfirmed SARS outbreak.”
Even this emasculated history cannot hide the fact that Li Wenliang was arrested, forced to publicly recant, and that all remnants of his alerts were deleted by CCP censors. In this case the regime showed its real nature, its police and dictatorial hostility to the interests of the Chinese people. Li Wenliang died on 6 February 2020 of this same coronavirus. The public announcement of his death led to a millions-strong outpouring of grief, honour and hatred of the regime across China.
Here too it is your method that is doubly faulty for you omit the subjective factor in your lack of analysis, both the ugly and horrific face of the regime, and the heroes that stepped forward in a time of crisis.
We received your letter of 22 September on our article “The Myth of Capitalist China” and would like to thank you for identifying the problem with our statement that: “The absurd attempt to blame the CCP for the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic is the latest phase of an imperialist misinformation campaign promoting xenophobic hostility to China.” As the CCP has some responsibility for the spread of the pandemic it is hardly “absurd” to say as much. The fact that the somewhat belated response by Chinese authorities was better than those of the leading Anglo imperialist powers does not absolve the CCP from its share of responsibility for the pandemic. Our formulation was wrong and we retract it.
What we had intended was to rebut the widespread allegations by various anti-communists that COVID-19 was deliberately unleashed by the CCP. We should perhaps have cited an example of these baseless smears and pointed out their “absurdity.” In November 2020 the New York Times published an account of the genesis of the right-wing disinformation campaign about the CCP and COVID-19:
“Dr. Li-Meng Yan wanted to remain anonymous. It was mid-January , and Dr. Yan, a researcher in Hong Kong, had been hearing rumors about a dangerous new virus in mainland China that the government was playing down. Terrified for her personal safety and career, she reached out to her favorite Chinese YouTube host, known for criticizing the Chinese government.
“Within days, the host was telling his 100,000 followers that the coronavirus had been deliberately released by the Chinese Communist Party. He wouldn’t name the whistle-blower, he said, because officials could make the person ‘disappear.’
“By September, Dr. Yan had abandoned caution. She appeared in the United States on Fox News making the unsubstantiated claim to millions that the coronavirus was a bio-weapon manufactured by China.
“Overnight, Dr. Yan became a right-wing media sensation, with top advisers to President Trump and conservative pundits hailing her as a hero.”
The unsubstantiated claims about the CCP deliberately initiating/spreading COVID-19 inevitably intersected and inflamed anti-Chinese/anti-Asian racism in North America and presumably elsewhere.
In our April 2020 article on the COVID-19 outbreak we cited a report on China’s role in alerting global health authorities to the problem and its involvement in the initial attempts to control the outbreak:
“A test for the coronavirus was quickly developed as a result of cooperation between Chinese and European scientists and the World Health Organization [WHO]:
“‘On January 10th, three days after Chinese government officials announced that a novel coronavirus, now known as sars-CoV-2, was responsible for an upsurge of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, a team of Chinese scientists uploaded a copy of the virus’s genome to an online repository, and virologists around the world set to work to develop diagnostic tests for the new disease. On January 21st, a team in Berlin, led by Christian Drosten, one of the scientists who discovered the original SARS virus, in 2003, submitted the first paper to describe a protocol for testing for SARS-CoV-2. (That protocol would form the basis for a test disseminated, early on, by the World Health Organization.) That same day, [Dr. Nancy] Messonnier announced that the C.D.C. [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] had finalized its own test, which it used to confirm the first known case of covid-19 in the U.S.”
—newyorker.com, 16 March 
“The CDC’s preference for a made-in-the-USA test meant that none of the hundreds of thousands of tests the WHO sent out internationally went to the U.S. Precious time was lost as it became clear that the CDC’s initial test was defective and a new batch had to be produced. The resulting interruption in testing allowed the epidemic to spread rapidly.”
We noted that after a badly flawed initial response the CCP made a course correction:
“While local Chinese Communist Party authorities initially attempted to suppress news of the COVID-19 outbreak, the central leadership eventually managed to restrict the spread of the virus to Wuhan and its surroundings. The 7 March issue of the Lancet reported:
“‘By striking contrast [with Northern Italy], the WHO-China joint mission report calls China’s vigorous public health measures toward this new coronavirus probably the most ‘ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history’. China seems to have avoided a substantial number of cases and fatalities, although there have been severe effects on the nation’s economy.”
“Chinese authorities, using draconian police measures, enforced mass quarantines, travel bans and the shutdown of daily life. This, like the rapid expansion in the production of medical equipment and supplies, was facilitated by China’s centrally planned, although bureaucratically distorted and capitalist-infested, economy. While similar results were achieved by capitalist Singapore’s authoritarian regime, China’s record contrasts sharply with most of the self-styled ‘Free World.’ A 13 March New York Times opinion piece was bluntly headlined: ‘China Bought the West Time. The West Squandered It.’”
Many Western experts initially objected to the measures imposed by Chinese authorities, as a 20 February 2020 article on a health website run by the Boston Globe reported:
“When the Chinese government blocked most travel into and out of the city at the center of the Covid-19 outbreak in late January, many public health experts took to social media and op-ed pages to decry the measure as not only draconian and a violation of individual rights but also as ineffective: This largest quarantine in history—the city, Wuhan, has a population of 11 million, and the lockdown has been expanded—would have little effect on the course of the epidemic, they argued.
“The last few days have seen a perceptible flattening in growth of Covid-19 cases in China, raising hopes that the epidemic has peaked. (Though there are doubts about the accuracy of China’s count.) That supports the emerging consensus on the Wuhan quarantine in particular: that, at minimum, it bought China and the world time to prepare. Crucially, the time lag allowed public health agencies to devise and distribute a diagnostic test that hospitals can use to identify patients ill with the novel coronavirus. “‘Measures on movement restriction have delayed the dissemination of the outbreak two or three days within China and a few weeks outside China, Sylvie Briand, director of Infectious Hazard Management at the WHO, told reporters this week. ‘Those measures, if well implemented, could have an impact on the propagation of the outbreak.’”
—statnews.com [emphasis added]
Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published an article a few days later, crediting China with providing the rest of the world with a month’s lead time:
“China’s extraordinary cordon of Hubei province and other areas bought the world at least a month of lead time to prepare. The past week’s news means that the world must take these steps, and fast, to limit the health, social and economic harms of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
. . .
We certainly do not “dismiss, forget and disappear the heroism and martyrdom of Li Wenliang, the doctor at Wuhan Central Hospital who sounded the alarm early on.” His actions were indeed heroic and he can rightly be described as a martyr. As you may be aware, in March 2020, bowing to popular outrage, the CCP “exonerated” him and belatedly apologized.
. . .
Yours for a socialist future,