Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.
It is hard to remember that just a few weeks ago, the planet was in motion. There were protests in Delhi (India) and Quito (Ecuador), eruptions against the old order that ranged from anger at the economic policies of austerity and neoliberalism to frustration with the cultural policies of misogyny and racism. Ingeniously, in Santiago (Chile), during its wave after wave of protests, someone projected a powerful slogan onto the side of a building: ‘we won’t go back to normal, because normal was the problem’. Now, in the midst of the novel coronavirus, it seems impossible to imagine a return to the old world, the world that left us so helpless before the arrival of these deadly microscopic particles. Waves of anxiety prevail; death continues to stalk us. If there is a future, we say to each other, it cannot mimic the past.
Certainly, the coronavirus is a serious matter and certainly its spread is a consequence of its own danger to the human body; but there are social issues here that bear serious thought. Key to any discussion has to be the sheer collapse of State institutions in most of the capitalist world, where these institutions have been privatised, and where private institutions have operated to minimise costs and maximise profit.
This is most clear in the health sector, where public health institutions have been underfunded, where medical care has been transferred to private corporations, and where private hospitals and clinics operate without any surge capacity. This means that there are simply not enough hospital beds or medical equipment (masks, ventilators, etc.) and that the nurses, doctors, paramedics, janitors, and others on the front line are forced to operate in conditions of acute scarcity, in many cases without basic protection. It is often the people who make the least who are putting the most at stake to save lives in the face of the rapidly spreading pandemic. When a global pandemic strikes, the private-sector austerity model simply falls apart […]