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One Question
COVID-19 and Capitalism

One Question
COVID-19 and Capitalism

One Question is a regular series in which we ask leading thinkers to give a brief answer to a single question.

This time, in the midst of economic and healthcare crises triggered by coronavirus, we ask:

How has the COVID-19 pandemic exposed inherent flaws in the capitalist system?

With responses from: Cinzia Arruzza; Neel Ahuja; Neil Faulkner; Seiji Yamada; Helen Yaffe; Michael Roberts; Sandro Mezzadra; Lindsey German; Dario Azzellini; Jodi Dean.


Cinzia Arruzza

When Western governments started taking into consideration harsh measures such as lockdowns and shelters in place, many on the Left focused on the disruptions and suspension of individual freedoms such measures would entail, fearing an authoritarian turn. While we must be cautious and think about what kind of long-term consequences these policies may have (such as further push towards online education and work from home in regular times), we should also be careful about not misinterpreting the current situation and the contradictions among interests currently at play.

As a matter of fact, the present crisis is exposing the fundamental contradiction between life-making and Capitalism and it should be analysed in these terms.

Governments have been extremely slow in putting in place suppression measures and are still particularly reticent about stopping non-essential production. Having to mediate between concerns about public health, the survival of healthcare systems, and limiting as much as possible the number of casualties, on the one hand, and catering to the interests of powerful capitalist corporations and their organisations, on the other, governments have regularly tended to privilege the latter.

Two prominent examples are the Italian government which, in addition to consistently shifting the blame onto individual behaviours, announced a stop to non-essential production that was a mere mockery (wallpaper production, to give an example, was included in the list of essential productive activities), triggering a wave of wildcat and legal strikes; and obviously Donald Trump, who recently announced that lockdowns will be over at Easter, that is, when experts predict an acceleration of the pace of contagion in the United States. Some GOP politicians, such as the Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, have even gone so far as to make explicit that some lives are dispensable when it comes to saving ‘the economy’.

This is the current, crucial, frontline of struggle today. Capitalist interests and the financial market would like to make millions of lives dispensable in the name of continuing to grow the economy; workers are fighting back, organising spontaneous work stoppages, using mass sickouts, calling for legal strikes, and demanding protections and rigid social distancing rules in essential workplaces that cannot be shut down.

The stories of these rebellions against being literally worked to death have rarely made it to the front pages of mainstream media, yet, it is this refusal to work that can manage to tip the balance in determining how the current crisis will be handled: whether it will be a moment of reckoning with the profound harms caused by neoliberalism or whether neoliberal capital’s logic will once again put us at work until we die. READ MORE