Rodolfo/Kateri Pino – April 20, 2020
We chose the above cartoon because it illustrates the relations in “the economy”. To begin, there is an assumption by the major Western intelligentsia that the economy has a life of its own, independent from other social and political entities in society. This myth leads to the position that unless we really understand “the economy”, (carefully cloaked in obfuscating jargon) we are unable to comprehend society and “how it works”. The cartoon depicts crudely the real social relationship that people experience: Government, Big Business and Banks taking the profits, Citizens producing (or carrying the so-called economy), and a blind Justice taking a nap.
Incidentally, this type of economy (control of natural resources, labour, commercial, military, air and maritime routes), is at the core of every effort to expand geopolitical control throughout human history. This is the social system presented as Western values, principles, our way of life, our democracy, etc. And the supporting cast, the Media, undertake the task of convincing a middle class (in all its segments) that with effort, dedication and discipline, everybody could enjoy a life of abundance.
Into this dystopian society the New Corona Virus appeared, producing the illness named Covid-19. It swiftly became a pandemic, at first presumed to affect mainly the elderly and those with existing disease conditions, primarily respiratory. But we quickly learned that Covid-19 stops at no borders of age or geographical setting, or “race”. However, the dead tend to be primarily from the exploited and impoverished classes and the marginalized ones ignored by statisticians or academics: those in crowded and unsanitary living conditions. A grave effect of the social isolation imposed as an infection reduction measure is the alarming increase in domestic violence against women and by extension against children.
The quarantine has several levels, where the class factor plays a very important role. Those with nowhere to stay (homeless), those providing essential services, informal economy workers (nearly half the work force in the entire continent from Rio Bravo to Patagonia) with no steady salary, no insurance, no government support in most of these nations: people who simply cannot afford to quarantine and cannot afford the necessary care suggested to prevent covid-19. Most of these people do not have clean and running water, nor any hygienic capacity to protect themselves. They are Eduardo Galeano’s “Nobodies”. And they are dying in great numbers.
With the enforced (and necessary) quarantine, labour relations take an unexpected turn. Now, some middle-class workers can do their jobs from home. Central governments need to find a way of maintaining income and welfare for everybody, but this is not universally done. Most Western governments are more concerned with saving “the economy” (some might disguise this by the euphemism “protecting jobs,” which simply is ensuring the wealth producers keep producing while owners ensure the losses are taken by the state, NOT the private sector). Yet, working from home might entail reduced salaries to save on costs. In Neo-liberalism, enterprises are continually moving to further reduce the labour force, salaries, taxes for business, and so on. The quarantine could even eliminate the need for office spaces, with work-from-home becoming the norm.
The appearance of Covid-19 has brought out both the best and the worst of people and nations. From individuals hoarding consumable goods while planning marked-up resales, to nation-states dismissing Covid-19 as something exclusive to China because of their cultural food habits; from people assuming Covid-19 is a disease only for those with poor hygienic habits to nation-states closing borders to undesirables; and from some nation-states returning to piracy while others developed their solidarity and internationalism by sending medical teams and supplies to nations in need; we have seen both sides. Although the so-called West wants to obscure Cuba’s enormous contribution of sending medical teams and supplies to several countries, including some in the First World, all people of good will see and recognize the immense generosity of Cuba, and China and Russia. We note that each of these nations is laboring under unjust and illegal US sanctions.
The criminal blockade imposed on Cuba by the US since 1960 –more exactly, since 1958- and tightened in later years, continues despite massive repudiation by the UN General Assembly year after year, and despite numerous calls by multiple nations and organizations to lift it today in the pandemic. Yet, the little island has demonstrated its enormous capacity for solidarity as always. As well, we witness China and Russia sending health supplies and medical teams to many struggling nations.
Where is all of this going? Many voices are imagining this pandemic will bring the end of capitalism. Knowing this system all our lives, we are not that optimistic. However, we risk making a few projections:
1) it may bring an end to Neo-liberalism as know it, and the State would be forced to reassume a more prominent role in the governance of nations;
2) the existing geopolitical relations will change. The planet will see a multi-polar union and co-operation where impoverished nations will have a better chance for less draconian trade relations and development;
3) the European Union will go through vital revision and will never be the same;
4) US hegemony won’t ever be as formerly and there also must be a profound revising of the role of the UN in the new geopolitics emerging and new international relations;
5) the very role of the state will have to undergo profound restructuring in the new circumstances;
6) consumer behaviours will shift, changing existing patterns of over-consumption by the privileged (and near-zero consumption by the impoverished many.)
In today’s World Order some powers consider it acceptable to reduce the unnecessary population: the dispossessed, elders, the disabled. A clearly inhumane order, but openly expressed in a number of quarters.
The practice of solidarity has existed in human history since the beginning. Even more, it is the main precept of every major religious philosophy. This health crisis is not over yet; it might even worsen. Nevertheless, the true colour of humanity’s heart might reappear strengthened by a spiritual awakening, stimulated by the measures that the pandemic has forced upon us.