When with his unrivalled sagacity Martin Luther King said, ‘The dogmas of a quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present,’ he could have been speaking to us in the here and now, confronted as we are by a coronavirus crisis that has turned our world upside down and inside out.
For this is not like any other global crisis we have faced since the Second World War. It’s one that has already forced us to think anew about the way we live and how we organise our societies in different parts of the world, and in consequence is well on the way to producing an ontological shift.
Putting it as bluntly as I can, coronavirus has laid bare the rotten foundations of societies that have been nailed to the cross of neoliberalism over the past four decades. Greed and profit at the expense of stability and sustainability had before this crisis left us bereft of what it means to be human, reducing us to mere economic units and appendages to the machine. It had, to paraphrase Arthur Miller’s words in his classic work The Crucible, ‘pulled down heaven and raised up a whore.’
In the UK the raft of measures which Britain’s accidental man of the moment, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, has been unveiling on a near daily basis — measures designed to place an economic floor under the crisis — have in just a matter of days consigned everything Friedrich Hayak and Milton Friedman ever wrote on economics to the proverbial dustbin of history, while ripping to pieces the credibility of their contemporary champions. The anti-people creed of cruelty they have the temerity to call an economic theory is the one victim of coronavirus that is not worth saving.
An economic system is also a value system — and it’s those values that have been on display in all their noxious selfishness with the panic buying that’s seen supermarket shelves being emptied of stock. We’ve also seen them demonstrated in the cases of businesses responding to the crisis by viciously terminating the employment of workers and staff with little or no provision for their well being.
This said, as in any crisis the best of who we are has also been on display. Now we know that it’s not hedge fund managers, CEOs, celebrities or members of the royal family and various other dignitaries who litter our society and culture who matter most. Intead the people who matter most are those who work in our NHS and our supermarkets. It’s also our delivery drivers, care workers, bus drivers and cleaners — in other words those we’ve been dependent on in this time of national emergency.
Capitalism wants us to forget that life is social and instead promotes the lie that it is individual. And labouring as we have for far too long under the most extreme variant of capitalism ever devised, neoliberalism, we met this virus completely under-resourced, prepared or equipped. And this is why as these words are being written, we have a Conservative government that is marching to the left at warp speed, being driven to do so not by any kind of ideological Damascene conversion to socialism or socialist ideas, but by the powerful urgency of now.
Capitalism for the past 100 years has created crises which socialism has ended or been utilised to deal with. The Great Depression in the US in the 1930s was cured by FDR’s New Deal. The Second World War was fought and won on the basis of socialist planning, organisation and distribution. And the war we now find ourselves in against this virus will can only be won on those same principles.
It’s really very simple. Either we are a social organism connected by threads of mutuality and solidarity or we’re nothing. Let us therefore resolve that when this crisis is over so is neoliberalism and all its vile works.
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