Neoliberalism wasn’t prepared for the coming of the Coronavirus and the country that was least prepared was the United States and why was that ? Because Neoliberalism has destroyed that country’s institutions’ ability to deal with a national emergency. The Neoliberal society ( if it can be called such ) as a collection of individuals all at odds with one another , all seeking to grab a piece of the national pie with those at the very top seeking to grab and hold on to to a bigger and bigger share was never going to produce the collective effort needed in a crisis . Every poor American is propagandised into believing he is a millionaire down on his luck and with just a bit more effort he can propel himself into becoming an actual millionaire. But quite apart from the obvious absurdity and the mathematical impossibility of this proposition the mutation of the Neoliberal virus was well put by the writer Luc Sante several years ago ‘ And then Reagan came in and everything changed. The past was systematically destroyed, and so was our idea of a ( non-capitalist ) future, replaced by a mercantile society in which everything had a value of about five minutes, which corresponded to the limits of collective memory – and that was even before the internet .’
In Volume 1 of Capital Marx gives many examples of unsafe workplaces – factories and mills – which the owners refused to address . He says ‘ What could be more characteristic of the capitalist mode of production than the fact that is necessary, by Act of Parliament, to force upon the capitalists the simplest appliances for maintaining cleanliness and health ? In the potteries the Factory Act of 1864 ‘ has white washed and cleansed upwards of 200 workshops, after a period of abstinence from any such cleaning, in many cases of 20 years, and in some entirely ‘ ( this is the ‘ abstinence ‘ of the capitalist ! ), ‘ in which were employed 27.800 artisans, hitherto breathing through protracted days and often nights of labour, a mephitic atmosphere, and which rendered an otherwise comparatively innocuous occupation, pregnant with disease and death. The Act has improved the ventilation very much.’
Now compare those conditions described by Marx in the 1860’s with those in an Amazon warehouse in the US where no proper provision had been made to protect the workers during the Coronavirus pandemic as described by an engineer – Tim Bray – who resigned in May 2020, disgusted by the failure of the company to address the potentially fatal conditions ‘ Amazon treats humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential . Only that’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century capitalism is done .’
160 years separates these two examples of exploitation . And we talk about progress !
The justification for the existence of the capitalist system is that it has raised the standard of living for millions of people around the world. This is the Big Lie in its most simplistic and dismissive form because the fact is that all material gains experienced by workers since the very beginning of capitalism in the late 18th century have been achieved and are the result from collective demands made by the workers on the capitalists themselves allied with legislation demanded of the governing class to improve working conditions across the board.
The Coronavirus has woken some of us up , in a state of disgust , at the realities of what Luc Sante called ‘ the mercantile society ‘ spread across the world by the Neoliberalism virus; a society found completely wanting in the face of a global crisis .