Covid-19 is not the first virus to make a species leap. Nonetheless, this time the leap occurred inside the global market, inside an unprecedented system of connections and mobility. Just when capital became pandemic, raising a global claim of domination, one way or another most part of these connections must be interrupted in order to stop the contagion. With different shapes and intensity, quarantine regimes, social distancing and isolation are imposed even in those places where governments declared they wanted virus to run its course. Exceptions to the principle of distance multiply when women and men have to go to factories, sanitize workplaces, guarantee the flow of goods or the operation of logistics warehouses, where work volumes are substantially increased by the purchases of people who have to stay at home. Inside these states of exception, in the heat of crisis, hotbeds of antagonism lit up: strikes impress an unforeseen political mark to the interruption of the social; by claiming health protection, struggles trigger a transnational communication in which the refusal to be exploited and dominated at life-cost takes shape. It’s the living labour which insists in not becoming dead labour. We don’t think that in history manuals we will read «a species leap turned to be fatal for capitalism», nor we believe that experiences of solidarity and struggle which multiply during the pandemic are announcing the end of capitalism. Nonetheless, we do know that we are facing the crisis of the neoliberal program and that crisis is not an end, but a suspension which sets up and accelerates new ways of organization of exploitation and domination, producing the same tensions with which future struggles will engage. We don’t think that this crisis will do us any favour. It is not ‘the end of Europe as we knew it’, because the EU will keep on being a powerful articulation of the command on our lives. It is not, therefore, the out-of-time-revenge of sovereign States, despite their noisy protagonism. It is not the sudden end of neoliberal agenda, but it certainly shows that, at this point, its twenty-year-shape is unbearable. Actually, this crisis is many crises and will produce many distinctions, although without marking an end. But it will mark some new beginnings.
Virus hits without making differences, but its social effects are differentiated. However, recognizing that some women and men are paying the heaviest price is not enough. Pandemic capital is already facing the moments in which neoliberal agenda shows its limits and meets its crisis. It is the crisis practised and deepened by the upheavals which took place all over South-America in the last months and by the long French strike: if nowadays millions of women and men don’t even have a wage to reproduce their lives, it is clear that it is no more possible to dump on salaries the cost of millions of lives doomed to exploitation, or misery. It is the crisis practised and deepened by those women who for years have been refusing en masse the subalternity imposed through the violence of male domination: while the closure of schools forced the mothers to stay at home and take care of their children, there are hundreds of thousands of women who can’t do that because the sexual division of labour stuck them, as nurses or cleaning workers, inside working positions which are fundamental in the fight against the epidemic. Finally, it is the crisis practised and deepened by millions of women and men who move across the borders refusing war and exploitation, violence and misery. In Italy, while the measures to prevent the contagion impose to asylum seekers a forced gathering in the reception centres, whose doors open only to let migrants go out and work in the logistic warehouses and in the agri-food chains, the newspaper of Confindustria [the Italian entrepreneurs’ union] warmly suggests to fire caregivers appealing to the emergency as a right cause (at least in those cases in which the absence of a regular contract does leave the chance to dismiss them without explanations). Most part of the two millions domestic and care workers, largely migrants, are losing their job, along with their home and income; others, even if under a care-wage regime, won’t take advantage of the forthcoming «care-Italy» decree. Domestic women workers are made socially invisible; meanwhile, the pandemic brings to the fore specific segments of living labour removed by the widespread post-industrial imagery. The virus circulates along long-standing patterns of domination inscribed inside social production and along these lines distributes its effects, with such a dramatic radicality that it is able to put at risk life itself. Virus takes root in the crisis of the neoliberal way of social reproduction.
Clearly, the current crisis neither hits everywhere at the same way, nor is handled homogeneously. It is very easy to appreciate the unbridgeable gap between the 550 billions in credits to industries allocated by Germany, and African States which are already admitting their structural incapacity to face the impact of a health-crisis, in the absence of minimum infrastructures. Nobody had seen this coming and everybody is reacting in a different way. Italy tries to guarantee to Confindustria the flexibility required to keep production in activity even during this complicated contingency (made more complicated by workers’ protests which bother even big unions); Macron – with a move worthy of the worst charlatan – stops the pensions’ reform which millions of workers, women and men, have been contesting for months; Johnson, who seemed to believe he could handle the crisis by letting the virus freely spread in one country, is now facing the chance of a lockdown in a country which hasn’t had a good healthcare system for ages; Trump – after contemplating the possibility of sentencing to death hundreds of thousands of people with no health-insurance – is now getting ready to monetize the management of the economic effects of the pandemic with a plan of quarantine income for some individuals – confirmed in their fictitious sovereignty of purchasers – and big loans for industries. The suspension of some neoliberal policies and some reassessments are necessary in order to let capital survive the contagion and make some profits out of it.
Not too surprisingly, the EU has removed the cap of austerity by suspending the stability-pact, while the European Central Bank is granting for public debts and money supply without, at least by now, imposing the usual harsh agendas of adjustments. It is not the end of neoliberalism by decree, it is neither the umpteenth occasion to invent another progressist Europe, nor the return of nineteenth-century welfare-state with its universal healthcare system; rather, it is the recognition, which has been growing in the last years, that market is an insufficient dictator to safeguard the conditions of reproduction of capital. In Europe, healthcare and work thus become the new frontiers of public expenditure to ensure the stability of a system which is undergoing an unheard stress-test; facing this situation, the Union fluctuates between a political coordination, inevitable if you want to contain the economic side-effects of contagion, and the equally strong claims advanced by capitalists of any kind who claim to govern the choices of States and take advantage of the situation, or to keep the business open like nothing happened. The fluctuation is the clue of a reactive strategy which aims at preserving the overall system, by measuring the interventions on its specific parts, in order to avoid the blows of a transnational dimension which presents itself as crisis in the shape of both the pandemic and the strikes that run along the patterns of goods’ distribution. Afterall, Europe is able to show its political unity only when is called to use the army to push away migrants from the Greek-Turkish border and finance Erdogan’s war against Kurdish people. Put in a transnational perspective, the pandemic is not only the end of souverainism; more specifically, it marks the limit of the logistical reason which leads neoliberal governance. This because the virus cannot be governed under the schemes of predictability of an algorithm conceived to overcome any kind of friction.
We have to look at this crisis knowing that the suspension of neoliberal agenda is preparing something new. We are not at war, but we are in a situation where the occasion is given both to experiment things that would have been unthinkable until few weeks ago, and to break resistances. The military rhetoric which pays tribute to the heroes at work in the hospitals to beat the virus, or to the workers’ sacrifice for the homeland, is not simply a return to the past; rather, it marks the difficult management of this transition. Where there has been a lock-down, the passage from on-line teaching to the progressive extension of remote working has not taken much time. This kind of measures can’t be generalized, partly because capital has always been suspicious regarding job which can’t be strictly under control, partly because production and distribution, even when managed through platforms, can’t be moved onto the internet; it is not by chance that the most visible insurgencies, in Italy and throughout the world, took place where work couldn’t be distanced. Remote working, on the other hand, is a widespread measure to have work and social distancing live together. It could have stable and not only exceptional consequences on the intensification and extension of the global working day, as well as – especially for women – in terms of simultaneity of jobs: the one that can be provided on-line, and the one which requires the physical presence for care. The reconversion of pandemic economics won’t be hurtless and we will have to face new forms of fragmentation and isolation, with new demands of sacrifice which, in the phase of «reconstruction», will affect the same people who, in order to «stay at home», are giving up holidays and sick leaves thanks to which bosses have been discharged of paying the social costs of the pandemic. It is true: precarious people, workers and migrants are not the only ones who are paying for the crisis; capitalists are paying as well. In a global system already shaken by the commercial war between China and US, the current crisis is deepening pre-existing processes of reassessment of the productive chains through a strong competition between industries and national strategies. As a matter of fact, it is not only a temporary economic block, but a realignment of global chains which will inevitably end up in both a process of destruction of fixed capital, and new forms of accumulation. So, what’s at stake in this crisis is not the health of every single capitalist, but the continuity of a social relation of domination and exploitation. The pandemic is the incubator of new inequalities. It is already used to harshly domesticate work and to draw new lines of division in order to govern production and social reproduction. To impact the crisis means to turn these divisions upside down. It means to think our initiative on the same level which is now keeping in check the logistical reason, which is capable to bypass local blocks, but cannot neutralize those struggles which follow the transnational patterns of its domination.
In this complete disorder under heaven, nobody dares to say that the situation is excellent. Still, we do have to be bold enough to seize for spaces which open up, swerves and novelties, without repeating what’s already been said with slightly different words, without idealizing nor condemning the singing-balconies which, in these days of forced solitude, look for collective relief. In Italy, between stations and prisons the spectre of indiscipline wanders along the hotbeds of pandemic, growing in parallel with the fear which supports old and new hierarchies. When solitude is broken by the national anthem that proves an unprecedented support for the government; when the demand for security takes the shape of racism and the request of measures of surveillance and punishment; when the absolute individualism of neoliberalism presents itself in behaviours uncapable of accepting any criterion of safety or collective solidarity, signs are not very promising. When self-care and care of other people is invoked against work, inadvertently resulting in the acceptance of the long and intense rhythms of remote working and in the tacit acceptance of the sexual division of roles which we have been questioning lately, even exalting ‘care’ as the revealed secret of social cooperation shows its limits. The very conditions of that cooperation and of its antagonistic practices seem to be undermined by a contagion that breaks every link, that isolates and divides. However, it is equally true that somebody managed to transform the present in an unexpected chance: from Castel San Giovanni (Piacenza) to Passo Corese (Rome), from the Polish, French and American warehouses, Amazon is being challenged by a transnational strike. Facing the virus of strike which is spreading in Amazon warehouses all over the world unexpectedly but highlighting the existence of a long-standing transnational communication, Seattle grants higher wages (to be managed by every single warehouse according to local conditions and power relations) to put back at work those workers who are striking to raise the price of their lives. Amazon workers’ refusal to put their lives in danger in order to let the giant of Seattle be the ultimate tutor of global logistical order, has practically shown how we can take care of ourselves. The feminist motto «if our lives have no value, we strike», conceived to counter male violence with the strength of the strike, is now taking the shape of an experience of transnational working struggle. In Chile – which for months have been the incubator of new austerity policies, firstly contrasted by social upheavals and now by the pandemic – strike has been claimed, once more, by the feminist movement to demand their right to «stay at home», the same slogan which some out-posts of Latin-American neoliberalism are refusing to practice, thus putting in danger the life of millions of people.
Even if we don’t have agendas or recipes to propose, here lays our hope of healing. Here stand the hotbeds of a struggle which lives and transforms itself even inside the crises of pandemic capitalism.