The coronavirus, instead of becoming a cohesive factor in the fight against a common enemy, turned out to be the opposite, because of absurd ambitions within the neoliberal model, which has not only lost legitimacy, but constitutes one of the greatest threats to both humanity and the planet.
The pandemic called into question many of the political certainties that seemed to have been consolidated over the last four decades, especially in the Western world, those that constituted (constitute) the neoliberal order.
These certainties were the final triumph of capitalism over Soviet socialism; the priority of markets in the regulation of economic and social life (with the privatisation and deregulation of the economy and social policies and the reduction of the role of the state); the globalisation of the economy based on comparative advantages in production and distribution; the brutal flexibilisation of labour relations as a condition for increasing employment and economic growth.
These certainties were annihilated by reality, and the coronacrisis demonstrated above all that it is the state (not the markets) that can protect the lives of citizens.
It also showed that globalisation only benefits transnationals and can endanger the survival of citizens if each country does not produce essential goods; that workers in precarious jobs are the most affected because they have no source of income or social protection, an experience that we in the South have known and suffered from for a long time.
And the harassment of the South does not stop. Twenty years ago, according to intelligence agencies, the greatest terrorist threat to the United States came from far-right Muslims on the other side of the world – in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East – and today it comes from within, from far-right Christian Americans and their allies, who have expressed themselves through violence, even murder, in various parts of the country, and even attempted a coup on 6 January by invading the Capitol to overturn the national electoral process.
Now, the White House and Pentagon have released a series of documents stating that climate change poses a potent threat to their national security, and warning that they will take steps to prevent its consequences.
According to the documents, the US must anticipate that existing problems will worsen and new ones will emerge, which traditional rivals Russia and China will be able to remove them for their own benefit and to the detriment of their interests. One area of particular concern is migration, which they believe will increase due to catastrophes caused by the increasingly uncontrolled fury of nature.
The late historian Howard Zinn pointed out that the US establishment relies heavily on historical amnesia, on the fact that people in the US do not know this history. “Not only do they not know what happened in the late 19th or early 20th century; they don’t know the history of 15 or 20 years ago. That makes it easier for the government to tell the people things that are immediately accepted”, to impose collective imaginaries. Today, memory is the key to a different future.
Even Pope Francis realised this: he assured that the current pandemic crisis cannot be overcome “without evolving towards the peripheries”, and after demanding that the most powerful countries recognise the world’s asymmetries, he called for “opening up and looking towards the future, above all in this end of the pandemic (which) has to be done in a creative way. You don’t come out of a crisis in the same way, you come out of it better or worse. And that end of the pandemic has to be for the better. Otherwise we will go backwards,” he said.
“In the collective imagination there is an idea that we can start again with a reconstruction of things as they were until now, but that is not going to happen. The pandemic is a challenge to change, it is a crisis that leads us to change. If we don’t, we come out worse off, even if we don’t feel it,” he added. Amen.
Humanity has lost control over the gigantic experiment that it itself unleashed and which is leading it irremediably to catastrophe. Contrary to what the vast majority assumes, we are at a time of definitions and decisions that will determine the destiny of a large part of humanity and its creations, thinks Mexican Víctor Toledo.
The Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos points out that social democratic and socialist alternatives have returned to the imagination of many, not only because the ecological destruction caused by the infinite expansion of capitalism has reached extreme limits, but also because, after all, the countries that have not privatised or decapitalised their laboratories seem to be the most efficient in the production and fairest in the distribution of vaccines (Russia and China).
Russian President Vladimir Putin – who can hardly be described as a communist – said that the current model of capitalism has been exhausted and that within this system it is impossible to get out of the knot of increasingly complex contradictions that affect everyone in areas ranging from the ecological crisis, environmental degradation, unfair distribution of material goods, to water shortages, lack of electricity or difficulties in receiving adequate medical care.
Far from Moscow, the former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, pointed out during his visit to Mexico the incongruence of the defenders of neoliberalism, who before the pandemic clamoured for more market, market, market, but in the face of the health and economic emergency demanded all the solutions from the same state that they had so weakened and shrunk.
He indicated that societies face two alternatives: control natural resources through state administration or hand them over to the transnationals that act under the slogan of plunder. On the basis of this alternative, Evo criticised the parties that come to power under the acronym of socialism, but once in government keep the privatisation structure intact; a betrayal that he compared to the US political system, where Democrats and Republicans alternate without substantial changes.
We all know that in our capitalist systems, companies and entrepreneurs are more important than people and institutions. As an example, from the last week, the Spanish energy multinational Iberdrola made it a condition that the incessant rise in electricity prices – which reached 500% – be halted if the government of President Pedro Sánchez refrains from charging taxes that he described as harmful.
Rising energy prices in Spain, a European, capitalist country with a socialist party president, have put industry in check and driven families into absurd situations such as washing clothes or vacuuming in the early hours of the morning to avoid peak-hour fees, and have pushed people to seek help from food banks because they can no longer afford to cook at home.
It is another example of how, when given control of a strategic sector such as energy, private initiative turns it into a weapon to blackmail and extort money from the state and Spanish society on the eve of the European winter, when the use of electric or gas heating (also in the hands of private companies) becomes a matter of life and death for a wide swathe of the population.
An editorial in the Mexican daily La Jornada points out that when we have reached the point where the board of directors of a transnational directly threatens millions of people and puts a state in the dilemma of either collecting taxes or facing an outbreak of social unrest, it is clear that the neoliberal model has become indefensible in every respect, and that dismantling it is a matter of survival for the great majorities.
Neoliberalism is also in trouble in the south. The declaration of states of emergency in Chile and Ecuador is the best example of the failure of the so-called liberal democracies. In Ecuador, it comes after the Pandora’s Papers revealed that President Guillermo Lasso has hidden accounts in tax havens and shields military and police officers from prosecution for their actions.
In Chile, President Sebastián Piñera sends soldiers, tanks and helicopter gunships into Mapuche territory to stop the movement’s land reclamation. This is taking place while the Constituent Convention is in session to draft a text that will supersede the charter inherited from the Pinochet regime.
Things that are settled in the middle of the night tend to be undemocratic. Decisions that affect communities are the product of pacts or impositions. If the agreement is broad, we say that it is a democratic arrangement. On the other hand, when the decision is made by a few who can impose it, we speak of autocracy, dictatorship, tyranny or plutocracy.
Plutocracies establish the dominance of the richest class in a country. Is capitalism, therefore, an essentially plutocratic system? If capitalism and democracy are considered as one and the same thing, life will simply not be dignified (or possible) for vast sectors and “social insecurity” will be the keynote of coexistence: the street, social outburst seems to be the only response of the many.
The world is in crisis. Or rather, it is the capitalist model of the world that is in crisis. Despite its distractionist policies such as the misnamed “green revolution”, an escape hatch for the reconversion of a stagnant capitalist system and ultra-concentrated ownership to continue as the dominant model, with the environmental, climatic and nuclear war threats endangering the existence of humanity.
One thing is clear: our Latin American-Caribbean societies will no longer be the same as they were before the pandemic. And then we will have to “invent” a way of thinking appropriate to the new social reality. There will be millions more unemployed, much more hunger, parallel to an unpayable and odious foreign debt and the adjustment policies demanded by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
One of the main challenges facing Latin American critical thought is to critique the legitimising discourses of the colonial order and the vision of the inferior “other”, that is, to analyse the decoloniality of knowledge and the need for a situated knowledge, that is, the geopolitics of knowledge.
As the gaucho Martín Fierro – a poem considered exemplary of the gaucho genre, written by the Argentine poet José Hernández in 1872 – said: Come, miraculous saints, come to my aid, for my tongue is growing stale and my mind is troubled….