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Capitalism, Ecology and the Corinavirus outbreak

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Spikymike
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Feb 9 2020 16:05
Capitalism, Ecology and the Corinavirus outbreak

Whilst I have been reading Kohei Saito's new book on 'Marx's Ecology' with reference to the 'Metabolic rift' my attention was caught by this short comment on possible connections between modern global capitalism, the commodification of nature and the current economic crisis with the spread of the corinavirus in China:
https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2020/01/31/corinavirus-nature-fig...

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spacious
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Feb 9 2020 22:35

I read the article that is linked to from that blog post, by Rob Wallace, which sparked my interest to learn more, e.g. about how viruses emerge and circulate alongside the chains of commodity supply and processing. Obviously viruses that affect humans don't only move through human movements but also via the production processes in which human movement, human social health conditions, animal life/death, bacterial life etc. are all mutually implied.

https://climateandcapitalism.com/2020/01/29/coronavirus-a-deadly-result/

This is from near the end:
"Let’s realize a creaturely communism far from the Soviet model. Let’s braid together a new world-system, indigenous liberation, farmer autonomy, strategic rewilding, and place-specific agroecologies that, redefining biosecurity, reintroduce immune firebreaks of widely diverse varieties in livestock, poultry, and crops.

Let’s reintroduce natural selection as an ecosystem service and let our livestock and crops reproduce on-site, whereby they can pass along their outbreak-tested immunogenetics to the next generation."

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Feb 23 2020 17:27

Coronavirus – an exercise in intensified social control:
http://dialectical-delinquents.com/coronavirus-an-exercise-in-intensifie...

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Feb 27 2020 11:09

Here's a couple of articles from left perspectives on the Corona outbreak and emergency responses to it:

Angela Mitropoulos - Against Quarantine
https://thenewinquiry.com/against-quarantine/

Giorgio Agamben in Il Manifesto
http://positionswebsite.org/giorgio-agamben-the-state-of-exception-provo...

And two on Jacobin:
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/02/coronavirus-prevention-public-investm... and https://jacobinmag.com/2020/02/coronavirus-outbreak-free-market-pharmace...

And Chuang - Social contagion: microbiological class war in China
http://chuangcn.org/2020/02/social-contagion/

ZJW
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Feb 27 2020 11:26

I was just about to post the following:

'Anyone who followed my suggestion made on Jun 25 at https://libcom.org/forums/asia/interview-10102018#comment-614188 to subscribe to the Chuang blog will have already seen 'Microbiological Class War in China' http://chuangcn.org/2020/02/social-contagion. '

Spikymike
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Mar 9 2020 13:17

This article from the ICT/CWO translated from tthe Italian:
www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2020-03-09/initial-thoughts-on-coronavirus-a...

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R Totale
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Mar 9 2020 20:07

Italy: Coronavirus and Prisons – Statement from Anarchist Group ‘Bakunin’ (Rome & Lazio), translated from Umanità Nova

“We have been silent for so many years”: Interview with a Hong Kong nurse on strike

Hong Kong hospital workers strike

I don't really know what I think about it myself, but I would be really interested to hear more about what people think about what it means to have an anarchist (or whatever) position against border controls in a pandemic/potential pandemic situation, one where, as mentioned in the HK interview above, you have things like a strike movement developing among health workers with its main demand being to close the border. Where does maintaining a principled stance against borders cross over into Trump-style denial of inconvenient facts, how can we find a way through that and so on?

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spacious
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Mar 10 2020 09:19
R Totale wrote:
I don't really know what I think about it myself, but I would be really interested to hear more about what people think about what it means to have an anarchist (or whatever) position against border controls in a pandemic/potential pandemic situation, one where, as mentioned in the HK interview above, you have things like a strike movement developing among health workers with its main demand being to close the border. Where does maintaining a principled stance against borders cross over into Trump-style denial of inconvenient facts, how can we find a way through that and so on?

As for borders somehow preventing the spread of pathogens: even closed borders are zones of human activity, which don't prevent contagion. The materiality of the border contrasts with the idea of neat separation. This might be one solid element for an anarchistic critique of "borders as panacea", apart from all the classist and racist assumptions that underlie border discourse in past and present.

Most "closed borders" are only closed for those considered to be undesirable by economic and political criteria, but the 'desirable' ones (people bringing money, business, exploitable skills) can also bring in contagion, so the border is not effective against microbiological risks. Instead, the people treated as undesirable, who are refused at the border, are amassed there in unhygienic, harmful and brutal conditions, which produces the very thing that the border pretends to keep at bay. I think the hygienic idea, the "selective border" idea and the ideas justifying granular social control are really strongly interlinked.

Adapting to the current outbreak would likely require relinquishing various aspects of moneyed social discipline, offering universal healthcare, universal sick leave, health access irrespective of citizenship status, etc. but this goes against the grain of a society which has commodified all the most important conditions of life, and which most of all wants to insulate economic power from the impact of the current looming healthcare crisis.
Minimizing the peak of contagion requires access to healthcare, and time and space for recovery for those affected, and there is a lot that militates against those solutions if the priority is "business as usual" to continue, for work and consumption to continue, instead of people being allowed to adapt and prioritize their health and providing them with what they need.

Scheveningen
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Mar 15 2020 12:02

There have been wildcat strikes in Italy over the decision not to shut down factories - one of the few businesses that are still running - for the duration of the quarantine.

The plants that have been specifically mentioned in the news are multiple ones of the Arcelor Mittal group (steelmaking), Electrolux (home appliances), IRCA (heating and air conditioning systems) in Vittorio Veneto, Bitron (electronics for the automotive industry) near Milan, Corneliani (clothing) in Mantua, Iveco (automotive) and Relevi (detergents and deodorants) near Mantua, plus others in Bergamo, Genoa and Terni.
Nearly all of these are in North, in the areas that have been hit the hardest by the outbreak. Some don't even make essential goods, but are still continuing work even in absence of safety measures (lacking gloves or hand sanitizers, failure to keep a minimum distance from one person to another), aside from possible exposure during commuting.

In some cases (various plants of the Brescia area) unions had reached agreements for temporary closure, while Fiat had taken the decision to close on its own for a few days before this happened, but there was plenty of pressure from bosses to have factories excluded from recent decrees imposing containment measures. Especially ridiculous situation given the contrast with a major public campaign to stay home and the imposition of draconian measures (people getting fined for being outside with "no valid reason", etc.).

The major unions (CGIL-CISL-UIL) have since demanded a shutdown of all plants until March 22, and the government should meet with union and employers' representatives today.

Source: https://ilmanifesto.it/scioperi-spontanei-degli-operai-in-fabbrica/ (in Italian)

Delivery workers may also protest.

Dyjbas
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Mar 14 2020 17:31

On the spontaneous strikes and prison riots in Italy: leftcom.org

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R Totale
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Mar 15 2020 10:49

Just coming back on this a bit:

spacious wrote:
As for borders somehow preventing the spread of pathogens: even closed borders are zones of human activity, which don't prevent contagion. The materiality of the border contrasts with the idea of neat separation.

This might be my living-on-an-island bias, but isn't it the case that a huge amount, perhaps the majority, of cross-border journeys are by things like air travel? Like, talking about the US-Europe travel ban, there's no material US/Europe border, so if you shut down air travel between the two then you genuinely do shut down human activity and contagion? Or am I missing something there? I appreciate that there's a lot of borders where the situation is different, though.

Quote:
Most "closed borders" are only closed for those considered to be undesirable by economic and political criteria, but the 'desirable' ones (people bringing money, business, exploitable skills) can also bring in contagion, so the border is not effective against microbiological risks. Instead, the people treated as undesirable, who are refused at the border, are amassed there in unhygienic, harmful and brutal conditions, which produces the very thing that the border pretends to keep at bay.

I mean, that certainly works as a critique of points-based systems and the like, but it was my understanding that that's not the case for things like the US-Europe travel ban, it's more of a complete shutdown. Also, since so much of this seems to be based on numbers, isn't it still the case that, while any given individual Tier 1 migrant might be as likely to spread contagion as any given "undesirable" migrant, reducing the total number of people in circulation would reduce the overall chance of contagion? Sorry if that's playing devil's advocate, but I think it's important for our arguments to be accurate.
In some ways, the current situation reminds of me of way back in the 2000s, when there was a climate camp at Heathrow Airport opposing the air travel industry, and another No Borders camp at Gatwick opposing restrictions on migration - just like that, I don't think there are unsolvable contradictions here, but there are certainly potential contradictions that need to be navigated.

Quote:
Adapting to the current outbreak would likely require relinquishing various aspects of moneyed social discipline, offering universal healthcare, universal sick leave, health access irrespective of citizenship status, etc. but this goes against the grain of a society which has commodified all the most important conditions of life, and which most of all wants to insulate economic power from the impact of the current looming healthcare crisis.
Minimizing the peak of contagion requires access to healthcare, and time and space for recovery for those affected, and there is a lot that militates against those solutions if the priority is "business as usual" to continue, for work and consumption to continue, instead of people being allowed to adapt and prioritize their health and providing them with what they need.

Oh, sure, I agree with all that, but then I'd be in favour of universal healthcare, universal sick leave, etc, anyway, I suppose I'm more interested in what, if anything, the present crisis requires us to do differently (in terms of our politics, rather than in terms of staying home and things). I suppose there's also a contradiction that we'll have to navigate in terms of "everyone should stop working right now" and "everyone should have continuing access to healthcare and other resources" - perhaps some of the questions addressed in "Insurrection and Production" might become relevant sooner rather than later.

Spikymike
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Mar 15 2020 15:50

And there are strikes and at least threats of strikes in both the USA (eg autos) and the UK (eg post) and probably elsewhere as well?

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R Totale
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Mar 15 2020 16:32

Another thing I've been thinking about: certainly, there are some social distancing/quarantine measures that are against the interests of capital and the state and will be resisted as much as possible, but they'll also be looking at this crisis as an opportunity, and we should be careful of those things too. The possibility of increased state powers and restrictions over movement is one pretty obvious starting place, beyond that I've been thinking about the shift to online teaching stuff after talking to some UCU strikers this week, and in general I think that anywhere where there's potential for cost-saving through automation and redundancies, this crisis gives an opportunity to push that stuff through with less resistance than usual, under the cover of "it's just responsible social distancing, why do you want workers to commute in on public transport and then go home to their relatives when we could just have machines do the same thing instead with less risk of contagion?"
And that's not to say "actually, schools and universities should stay open", but I think it's worth having more discussion about what we do actually think about these issues, and what measures are necessary and how far that necessity goes.

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spacious
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Mar 15 2020 21:55

Thanks. Good criticisms and thoughts all.

You're probably right about air travel and borders, temporary air travel closures do mean that a country has less interactions with other countries. Is it enough to prevent the spread of viruses, or is it largely a fetish of control, a reflex and a placebo? It seems few, if any, of those attempts have been successful in preventing the emergence of domestic footholds for the current viral outbreak. In essence, our bureaucratic-political-economic borders need to be permeable to all the stuff that capitalism needs to circulate, and they don't ultimately negate the fact that humanity is a material community, whatever the separations and control mechanisms imposed on it.
Indeed we should be on the watch for new paradigms of control being imposed throughout this crisis, because now they can be easily legitimated and then normalized in the aftermath.

On the social level, it's striking to think how many directions the situation might go. It's like a slowdown in the global social factory, imposed seemingly "from the outside" by microbiology, but revealing stark social conflicts. Perhaps I'm too optimistic, but I think the initiatives coming from self-serving, worried and defensive capital in this situation - its unwillingness to grant an exception or a break in "life as usual" are going to run into a lot of objections, conflicts and spark many-sided struggles. Capital is right to be worried, because any concession shows a possibility, and will lead to attempts to make it the new rule. The fact that it is about life and death and that it is a global event really raises the stakes and makes these conflicts a lot more explosive and impactful in a subjective sense.

In a way the crisis this creates a sort of precedent for the worsening of climate and ecological collapse, and the sort of antagonisms and responses that might become generalized when that happens. It already seems to be a sort of prefigurative event in that sense, a general rehearsal for what's to come.

Especially when the outbreak gets worse, the demands of self-isolation, childcare during school closures, and care for others is going to impose a big burden on those normally doing the bulk of unpaid reproductive work. As it spreads, transforms and shifts that burden, or as it exceeds the capacity of unpaid care work and professional healthcare, it becomes quite ludicrous to assume we'll all keep doing the sort of stuff that barely makes sense in "normally functioning capitalism". Why keep doing inessential stuff (all the types of work that only make sense within capitalism as a limited social form) while there are many places where help is needed, care is called for. Why aren't the rules of the commodity suspended in what for many is a life-threatening situation?

You already see demands, mutual aid and autonomous kinds of "subtraction" emerging in many places where the outbreak is only just gaining speed. It's really the simultaneous assumption that everything needs to continue as if nothing is going on, and that workers need to make all the sacrifices (because we're all in this together etc.), which is going to lead to clashes.

Workers are assumed to keep going, make profits, suffering health consequences, take up the burden of caring, enforced isolation and non-isolation, and whatever else down the line. It may change a lot when full lockdowns are imposed, but as noted in comments above, capital tries to get its own exceptions to the rule and will elicit a response from workers, making up their own minds in the shifting situation. The notion of stubbornly keeping business as usual going appears quite ludicrous.

Scallywag
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Mar 15 2020 23:41

Any thoughts on coronavirus accelerating the collapse of capitalism?

Does the crisis provide an opportunity to organise and build alternatives to capitalism or should we be more worried about it providing an opportunity for states to flex their totalitarian capabilities?

What about climate change? Is it not interesting that governments are prepared to harm their own economies to tackle the virus yet don't do the same for climate change?

ajjohnstone
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Mar 16 2020 01:21
Quote:
Any thoughts on coronavirus accelerating the collapse of capitalism?

SPGBer, the late Pieter Lawrence, wrote a novel called "The Last Conflict" which had as its theme the impending destruction of the world's population by an asteroid hit.

The world had to come together with urgency and mobilise all its resources without regard to the pounds and pence costs to build shelters for everybody. It ended capitalism.

Similarly we can perhaps speculate if the coronavirus becomes such a huge liability, society will also ignore the laws of capitalism and put people before profit.

https://libcom.org/library/last-conflict

Maclane Horton
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Mar 16 2020 10:28

ANARCHIST LITANY

(to be intoned as a chant)

Wash your hands
Pandemic

Quarantine
Pandemic

Self-isolate
Pandemic

Empty shelves
Pandemic

Empty streets
Pandemic

No more lawcourts
Pandemic

No more judges
Pandemic

No more bosses
Pandemic

Bring out your dead
Pandemic

Good lord deliver us
Pandemic

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Mar 16 2020 19:00
Scallywag wrote:
Any thoughts on coronavirus accelerating the collapse of capitalism?

That seems a very deterministic & mechanistic outlook.The relation between conscious agency & inherited circumstance is complex but deliberate agency is surely crucial; there must eventually be some deliberate intention to abolish class society. I'm not convinced this kind of crisis encourages that, especially given the weakness of class struggle in recent years and the dependence on the State that the crisis forces on people.

But, as noted in earlier comments, this crisis does have a side-effect of a convenient opportunity for the ruling class to restructure labour relations and justify new measures of 'temporary' social control to become normalised. It's also a convenient time for States to try out crisis management tactics & logistics to draw some conclusions that could also be applied against later more subversive threats from class & social movements.

Quote:
Is it not interesting that governments are prepared to harm their own economies to tackle the virus yet don't do the same for climate change?

The threat of an impending overwhelming of health services and consequences for social breakdown appear very immediate and real - and measures to combat it don't require the permanent restructuring of industry & production with all its possible social implications that effective response to climate change requires.

Scallywag
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Mar 16 2020 20:08
Red Marriott wrote:
That seems a very deterministic & mechanistic outlook.The relation between conscious agency & inherited circumstance is complex but deliberate agency is surely crucial; there must eventually be some deliberate intention to abolish class society.

I was thinking that maybe capitalism is so weak and unsustainable that if you throw something like coronavirus at it then everything shuts down and we have an economic crash. Then it could not cope against the many issues it faces and in the midst of economic collapse and climate change people would utterly loose all faith in the system and organise against it. I would have to agree with you though that human agency is ultimately always the deciding factor, but I don't really know what to think about the weakness of capitalism or its supposedly inevitable collapse at some point under its own contradictions.

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Mar 16 2020 21:42
Scallywag wrote:
Does the crisis provide an opportunity to organise and build alternatives to capitalism or should we be more worried about it providing an opportunity for states to flex their totalitarian capabilities?

Yes wink

Quote:
What about climate change? Is it not interesting that governments are prepared to harm their own economies to tackle the virus yet don't do the same for climate change?

As RM says, very different timescale - the climate change we're seeing now is the result of decisions made years and decades ago, and today's politicians can tell themselves it'll be someone else's problem by the time the full effects of today's carbon emissions kick in. That's very different to the day-by-day crisis of coronavirus, which moves at the kind of speed that's much more suited to 24-hour news coverage.

I do think that stuff like the proposed covid19 walkout is interesting, as has been the sheer explosion of local neighbourhood mutual aid groups - nearly 900 in the big spreadsheet now, I had a look at my local fb group and they'd already moved on to setting up whatsapp groups to co-ordinate on a street-by-street basis. There is some potential there, I think, although too early to say what, if anything, it'll become. Would be an interesting irony if it takes self-isolation and social distancing for us to actually get to know our neighbours.

wojtek
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Mar 16 2020 22:59
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A Chinese citizen living in Massachusetts became ill this month, with symptoms consistent with the coronavirus. She went to a local hospital and asked to be tested three times, but was denied. Frustrated, she flew to China — and tested positive upon arrival.

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-03-15/coronavirus-test-u...
Shortly prior to all this, my warm Dr in Korea whom i could see whenever showed me an article in the local paper. It noted an elderly gentleman had visited the hospital hundreds of times as it was so cheap. Comparatively, American healthcare was too expensive, according to his North American English teacher, whilst his Korean acquaintances had to wait so long for an appointment in the UK, they simply flew back to Korea for treatment.

The idea that we can't isolate as in Korea because Brits are not as obedient is bizarre - the former has a stronger tradition of protest (whether liberal or conservative), stronger voter turnout, they ousted PGH impressively enough. At least they have a social ethos and no/far less anti-social behavior there; social distancing seems like common sense. What is 14 years of consecutive Conservative rule if not servility?

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jef costello
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Mar 16 2020 23:19

Closing borders doesn't mean much, but I don't think anarchists can have a problem with restricting movement to limit the spread of infection. That said, as we are about to have troops on the streets enforcing a curfew it does fell like it is going very badly. I was actually surprised, Macron has suspended the pension reforms during the crisis.

ajjohnstone
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Mar 17 2020 01:16

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/mar/16/vauxhall-owner-psa-car-...

This story sort of reminded me of the Lucas Plan from the 1970s. Defence work could be re-tooled for socially necessary production

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Mar 17 2020 08:49

Are there any epidemiologists suggesting closing borders will do any good? I'm not following this stuff very closely but it seems that most are against this? If my barely researched info is correct then it's pretty clear that states gonna state and have a fair bit of head start in setting the agenda. Naturally preferring authoritarian measures along with helping business.

I'm aware of the potentially terrible consequences of the virus and is currently at home caring for a kid who just started coughing a lot (likely just a cold), work at a business that was already quite close to the edge and live in a city whose healthcare was already mayhem (Stockholm). Despite this I have to admit that I welcome the disruption to my own life and feel a bit energised by the cracks appearing in the 'economy is everything' thinking. The thing that really worries me is the though of the various refugee camps/cities and the contagion getting a foothold there.

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R Totale
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Mar 17 2020 21:52

A rent strike kicking off in SF

Covidnomics: Facing the Contradictions, Imagining New Worlds (Plan C)

Pandemic Demands and Mutual Aid (Plan C - includes some stuff I'd been thinking about about the new neighbourhood groups and 2011's infamous "broom army")

Against the Coronavirus and the Opportunism of the State: Anarchists in Italy Report on the Spread of the Virus and the Quarantine (Crimethinc)

Lifting the Mask of Capitalist Disaster: The Coronavirus Response (Black Rose)

Also, it is weird trying to have local neighbourhood groups when most of the most basic activities such groups could do as groups are ruled out by social distancing - any advice on that point welcome.

zugzwang
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Mar 18 2020 05:11
Plan C wrote:
In summary, we must not underestimate the moment we are in and what is fundamentally required to face this pandemic is a communisation of society to provide for our needs. For the owners of capital and the politicians in government, this potential scares them as much as COVID-19. For the rest of us, it is about our survival in the face of accelerating hardships and disease.

Fail to see what is communist or "communizing" in a quarantine income, or the "funds for precarious workers" demand. Ubi is something both left and right reformists are advocating for now and under otherwise normal circumstances. Besides if providing for needs is the objective then expropriation of capitalists and the steering of production in the direction of producing for need, not exchange on the market, woud be the way to go.

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Mar 18 2020 11:07

Two articles from the ICC

https://en.internationalism.org/content/16823/covid-19-pandemic-symptom-...

https://en.internationalism.org/content/16810/more-evidence-capitalism-h...

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Mar 18 2020 17:30

A text from Sandro Mezzadra: "Only the intensification of social struggles, now and in the following months, can give way to spaces of democracy and 'care' of the common."

https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4598-politics-of-struggles-in-the-time-...

And Bifo: "The recent convulsions of the planetary body have provoked a collapse that obliges the organism to stop, slow down, desert the crowded places and the frantic dally negotiations?"

https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4600-bifo-diary-of-the-psycho-deflation

And this two-part interview with Rob Wallace (mentioned in earlier posts) is good:

Part I - Where did coronavirus come from, and where will it take us?
http://unevenearth.org/2020/03/where-did-coronavirus-come-from-and-where...

Part II - Pandemic Strike
http://unevenearth.org/2020/03/pandemic-strike/

wojtek
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Mar 18 2020 19:20

Since there is not testing or tracing, how do those volunteering know it is ok for them to do so?

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Mar 18 2020 20:01
zugzwang wrote:
Besides if providing for needs is the objective then expropriation of capitalists and the steering of production in the direction of producing for need, not exchange on the market, woud be the way to go.

If anyone has any ideas about how to do that while maintaining social distancing/social isolation, I would be very interested to hear them.

wojtek wrote:
Since there is not testing or tracing, how do those volunteering know it is ok for them to do so?

There's minimal physical contact, my only face-to-face interaction with anyone so far has been when picking up the leaflets from a neighbour's house, and I applied hand sanitiser immediately before going out to post them. It's possible to do and deliver shopping without having any direct contact with the people as well, which doesn't completely eliminate any possibility that contagion could be passed via the handle of a shopping bag or whatever but does certainly sharply reduce it. If anyone else has any best practice to share on this, that would be very useful.

I am keen to hear more what people think about the groups - how does the UK's situation compare to elsewhere? I don't usually think of us as particularly well-organised compared to other countries, but the sheer explosion of groups has been amazing, my local neighbourhood group now has 15-20 smaller street-level groups. What functions can/should these groups perform? Is there any particular role that we, "as anarchists/communists/revolutionaries/whatever" should be looking to play? And does anyone have any examples of really good work by local groups, or just good stuff in general, to share?

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Mar 18 2020 21:29
wojtek wrote:
Since there is not testing or tracing, how do those volunteering know it is ok for them to do so?

Oh, also to mention that Queercare Network have a good resources page giving advice about this stuff: https://queercare.network/our-work/resources/covid-19/