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Periodisation and Covid-history

As I write, today the very first people in Britain are being vaccinated for C0vid-19. It’s an exciting time. The tide is turning.


Steve Latham


But while politicians engage in mutual backslapping, we must remember there is still a long way to go.

It reminds me of Winston Churchill’s comment, after the battle of El Alamein, which formed a turning point in World War Two.

He said: “Now this is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

One of the preoccupations of Marxist historians is that of ‘periodization’. They are ideologically compelled to divide the timeline neatly into periods of transition.

Initially this meant the switch from feudalism to capitalism, and then the different phases of capitalism, as it nears the (supposedly) inevitable change to socialism, and eventually communism.

But the attitude leaks into a general predilection for temporal categorisation. If we applied this to the time of Coronavirus, we’d get something like the following:

  • From January to the summer: when the virus spread and we went into lockdown. Despite those hardships, as Žižek surmises, we already feel a certain “nostalgia” for this era, when we thought it would be over by the autumn (I remember fixing our budgets, to get us through to October, in the hope our finances would be back to normal by then).
  • Autumn-winter: when we realised it was a longterm problem, and wouldn’t be finished this year, and even that the virus would be with us for ever, now it had been unleashed on the world. A certain pessimism began to set in at this point, especially as we went into a second lockdown: people’s inner resources were now significantly depleted.
  • December into 2021: the news of three vaccines (in the West) begins to stir hope and optimism, and even to begin rolling them out in practice.
  • 2021 into the future: it’s hard to prognosticate, but we anticipate, in Britain, the majority of people being vaccinated by summer. Still a long time to wait, but real progress.

And yet, as Žižek writes, the Covid-apocalypse doesn’t possess any final ‘end’, but rather, ongoing endlessness. We must learn to live with the virus, and permanent precautionary regimes.

Some, like Srecko Horvat (in Everything Must Change!), foresaw this as an opportunity to imagine fresh possibilities of how to organise our social life.

In the immediate, however, there could be a third wave of infections during January, after our Christmas socialising

Plus, the forces of control will certainly use this as another chance to strengthen their rule. Already our government is trying to recover the millions spent on the crisis.

While the pandemic has exposed the already-existing social divisions in society, it has also caused a further increase in poverty, especially in northern Britain, to be exacerbated by any new austerity.

The post-Covid society will be samo-samo. In the words of The Who:

Meet the new boss
same as the old boss.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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