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The pandemic that stripped neoliberalism

Covid-19 unleashes a crisis of enormous proportions that increases the one which had already been incubating since the previous year.


Juan Diego García


The recurrence of the economic crises confirmed that neoliberal discourse was false on such a decisive matter as this.

The current pandemic confirms how neoliberal politics (which have dismantled the Welfare State in the rich world and have cancelled out, almost totally, the tenuous forms of democracy and reform on the periphery of the system) were translated into the enormous limitations that so many governments have when facing up to the challenge. Neoliberalism has been a very hard blow to the legitimacy of leaders. The drastic reduction of the central role of the State as economic computer and the almost total freedom of capital to dominate in labour relations suggests a delicate panorama.

This is why, in the sacrifices that must be made, and which are imposed by recovery after the pandemic, workers (the new proletariat and the other hard-working classes, including small and medium businesses) will take on the hardest burden. For its part, large capital will reap abundant benefits, such as those they are already seeing.

The local correlation of social and political forces will taint those results.

Where trade unions and the left-wing have certain solidity, burdens will most probably be distributed in a more equal manner.

The opposite will happen where the political right and, especially, large capital hold a hard hegemony.

The pandemic shows that another of the foundations of neoliberal discourse is nothing more than an ideological resource destined to legitimise certain interests, in this case, especially of large capital.

In effect, the private initiative, so benefitted by neoliberal politics to the detriment of the public through privatisation in a key sector like health, leaves social majorities almost defenceless in the face of the health challenges that Covid-19 brought with it.

In nations where the public health system is keeping a certain solidity (although very reduced if compared to the classic model of the Welfare State of the past) care for the affected population functions relatively well.

However, it is a profound drama in those nations where these public services are reduced to a minimum. This is what happened in the United States, or where practically none of such services exist, as is the case in Brazil, Colombia and Peru, for example.

The conclusion is obvious: key issues such as health, education and social services (including pension systems) cannot function with the logic of business profit.

To be effective, they should abide by principles of social solidarity, outside of the immediate considerations of the employer.

Having a healthy and well-trained population serves everyone, even the capitalists as a class and not necessarily the individual entrepreneur.

The strength of the State is another of the key factors in the pandemic process. Its modern and effective system allows the leaders to adequately carry out the necessary measures.

However, being modern and effective means having reached reasonable levels of citizen participation and democracy in general; having a sufficient degree of legitimacy that is only born from the approval of the social majorities.

The State should not only call for citizens to be responsible for confining themselves. It should also guarantee healthcare and material sustenance for the confined population. This is what happened in China, Cuba and Venezuela. In China, the immense majority of the population is in agreement with the authorities that govern them. This would explain why it has responded massively and in an orderly way to the official orders without registering such dramatic rejections as happened in the United States or other developed countries, where it is very complicated to coordinate official decisions with the actions of the citizens.

What is happening in many countries in Latin America proves, categorically, the divorce between authorities and the social majority, and could explain their mass civil disobedience. Chile is inflamed; Colombia is right behind them.

In the case of Cuba it would prove that this fluid link between authorities and population works satisfactorily as people have an effective public health system and with rationing that covers their basic necessities, despite the enormous material limitations, stemming, particularly, from the inhumane US blockade.

In the case of Venezuela it is criminal that London has prevented Nicolas Maduro from using the Venezuelan gold kept in the central bank in London to pay for food and, especially, medicine destined to combat the pandemic. Furthermore, Caracas had given up managing those funds and gave them over to the UN.

It is justified then to debate over the pertinence of keeping the neoliberal model, of reforming it or simply disregarding it definitively as one more trick from the great capital, turned into a tragedy for the social majorities of the planet.

The reality is a greater and disproportionate concentration of wealth, a considerable loss of legitimacy for the capitalist social order (with the worrying resurgence of fascism) and scenes of poverty and even misery in the Metropolitan centres themselves; the scene on the periphery is even worse.

The pandemic strips this situation, putting in place, in the most dramatic way, all the limitations and weaknesses of the system.

But if the social forces of work do not manage to generate a correlation of sufficient forces, the great capital (national and international) will impose their solutions that range from moderating the combination of factors that makes the system work in the current time or intensifying them.

It would not be prudent to rule out the worsening of conditions that the majorities have to bear. Therefore, proposing and seeking the dismantling of the current order of things and building another one that is essentially different, should not be ruled out.

(Translated by Donna Davison – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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