Will the coronavirus crisis break the neoliberal political consensus?
With capitalism shaken by the pandemic, the possibility for change is there, but it won’t be won without a fight, says SOLOMON HUGHES
WHEN we emerge from the viral shutdown, will the politics of cuts, precarious employment, low wages and privatisation be left behind?
THURSDAY, MARCH 26, 2020
Many people — including on the right and centre — are saying so.
I think there is a strong possibility the crisis creates a new chance to contest the consensus. But it isn’t automatic. The “empire” will try to strike back.
It’s not at all uncommon to go through a crisis that “shakes the system” and end up with an even worse settlement.
There were those who said the Islamist terrorist attacks after September 11 2001 would unite the West against terrorism, but also lead to a “road map” to settle the Palestinian question and a new commitment to “multilateral action.”
Instead — and under a Labour government — we joined the US in mad, unilateral wars and the reinstitution of torture and left the Palestinians in a worse place.
The 2008 financial crisis really profoundly shook the economic system. The banks were only stabilised by huge bailouts and nationalisation.
There were widespread protests and talk of “new politics.” Instead we ended up making ordinary people pay for the bailouts through a decade of austerity.
The coronavirus crisis is certainly opening up a new possibility of change, but we will have to be prepared to fight for it: the virus shows that capitalism can’t work without huge help from the state.
It shows that all kinds of ways that ordinary people were made to pay for the 2008 crisis have made us weaker.
The virus is relentlessly exposing the dangers of weak healthcare and social services, precarious work, phoney “self-employment,” low pay and handing over millions of people’s housing to private landlords.
Important people in the Establishment are worried about this. Macquarie is a major Australian bank, known as the “Giant Vampire Kangaroo” because of its national origins and ability to suck money out of businesses — Macquarie squeezed billions out of our own Thames Water, for example.
The Australian — the leading broadsheet newspaper Down Under — reports that Macquarie Wealth Management is very spooked by the crisis.
It has issued a note to investors warning that “conventional capitalism is dying” and the world is headed for “something that will be closer to a version of communism.”
According to the shaken Macquarie analysts, “this transition will be marked by cross-currents and external shocks.
“Ultimately, a fusion of monetary and fiscal levers will lead to MMT [Modern Monetary Theory]-style policies, effective nationalisation of capital, universal income guarantees and deep changes in work practice.”
I suspect Morning Star readers will be disappointed that nationalisation, higher government investment and income support is seen as a “version of communism,” but the changes they describe could shift a lot of wealth and power back to working people.
The possibility for change out of the viral crisis is certainly there.
Alongside Macquarie’s notes to investors, there are quite a lot of editorial columns in “centrist” broadsheets saying something similar. If their side seems nervous, our side should take heart.
But you don’t win anything without fighting. The right will certainly fight back. When we come out of the crisis, there is also going to be a big push about us having to “pay the debts” and “return to normal.”
There will be a big effort to argue that some public services or wages need to be cut to “pay” for the virus rescue mission.
We need to make sure that the principles — the state must invest in the people, the employers and landlords must bear costs, not push them onto workers and tenants, tax should be raised on the rich not the poor — are fought for and maintained.
We should also be very wary of the distraction techniques that will be used to try and claw back the right-wing consensus.
When the system is under threat, its hangers-on lash out: There will be much trying to blame the public for being “idiots” and not following the (actually inadequate and confused) government advice. Or simple racism, trying to blame “the Chinese” for “dirty” habits and so on.
The current government was elected on a wave of the crassest propaganda, supported by phalanxes of crawlers, liars and turncoats.
We might have a chance to press for a better world, but none of those people have gone away, and all of them are going to be very active trying to return us to the old, broken world.
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