Crisis and Virus: COVID-19 in Context

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2158 ... July 30, 2020

Crisis and Virus: COVID-19 in Context

Carlo Fanelli and Heather Whiteside

"Toward the end of the twentieth century a sickness struck the world. Not everyone died, but all suffered from it" -- Samir Amin.

It has been over forty years since Thatcher and monetarism, thirty years since the Canada-US Free trade agreement came into effect, and twenty years since the launch of the Euro. More recently, 2020 marks twelve years since the Great Recession and bank bailouts began, ten years since the turn to stimulus and sharp return to austerity, and three years since the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. These historical milestones already offered an opportunity for a retrospective with future implications; however, 2020 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year of the virus with all the attendant hardship and hope that might bring.

Circulating since late 2019 through global trade and travel connections from its epicentre in Wuhan, China, by early March 2020 the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic. Soon, some eighty countries had implemented lockdown... measures to curb the spread, from restrictions on the movement of people, to commerce and border closures. Stalwarts of neoliberal governance quickly became bastions of state intervention: from stimulus and neo-mercantilism to seizing the means of production and interfering with circulation and accumulation. Proving the Marxian insight that capital is value in motion, lockdown breeds a new ill: grim forecasts for 2020-21 predict economic recession harkening back to the depths of the Great Depression. There can be no doubt that the immediate and dire emergency of the current crisis is directly related to COVID-19; its roots, however, can be traced much deeper to the contagion that struck centuries earlier: the ‘liberal virus’.

Samir Amin summarizes the liberal virus in the following way: "Social effectiveness is equated by liberals with economic efficiency which, in turn, is confounded with the financial profitability of capital. These reductions express the dominance of the economic, a dominance characteristic of capitalism. The atrophied social thought derived from this dominance is ‘economistic’ in the extreme. Curiously, this reproach, wrongly directed at Marxism, in fact characterizes capitalist liberalism." The paired opposition of social classes, fractured along crosscutting registers of social identity, provides the basis for this exploitation and propels the capitalist contagion forward. Clarifying the underlying causes of illness, whether coronavirus or liberal virus, is not only an important diagnostic in its own right, it is also crucial for future well-being.

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