Guest Contributor

Coronavirus & Carceral Capitalism

From a prison cell in 1930, Antonio Gramsci wrote: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old world is dying and the new cannot yet be born; in the interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” The political economic and biological relevance of Gramsci’s words and the conditions under which they were written extend well beyond historical parallel and literary metaphor. A crisis has metastasized from the micro-biological to the political economic. Now, neoliberalism is dying. In the interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms have appeared: social distancing, crisis policing, death camps, and pandemic labour. Of what disease are these symptoms? Not coronavirus. Carceral capitalism.

Coronavirus, the Economic Crisis and Indian Capitalism 

Here we are, on the 30th of April, with a recession around the world, where there are now millions of cases of coronavirus which has hit almost all regions, making it a pandemic. We also have an increasing number of deaths, particularly in the United States and Europe. The number of cases is also increasing in other parts of the world—in Latin America, Asia, and to some extent, also in Africa. Clearly, the disease is spreading across the world and it is not over yet. We need to analyze what it means and also how it is impacting the economy. 

Working Hypotheses for the Political Economy of Modern Epidemics

During the last 30 to 40 years, capitalism has become more and more prone to epidemics, in contrast to the prevailing belief that the advances in medicine and the creation of universal and developed health systems had put an end to such phenomena. Especially after 1975, we have the appearance of the ‘emerging epidemics’, i.e. dozens of new diseases, mainly due to viruses, with a frequency that has no analogue in history. These new epidemics are mainly zoonoses, i.e. animal viruses transmitted to humans.

A Better Performance than Prior Presidents?: Trump and the Pandemic

Historian Allen Guelzo argues (that Donald Trump has done “substantially more than [George] Washington, [Andrew] Jackson or [Woodrow] Wilson did in the hour of a health crisis.” But is Guelzo guilty of comparing apples and oranges, contexts that are radically different? Perhaps true for the first two presidents. But the Wilson administration was only a century ago. Is it unfair to subject the most academically credentialled of all White House occupants to a comparison with the current one? Who on the face of it ought to have been more open to the best science of his day? And whose Presbyterian certitude ought to have been superior to arguably one of the most morally challenged U.S. presidents?

Death from COVID-19, Collateral Damage, and the U.S. Capitalist-State

The concept of collateral damage is the death and injury to civilians or other damage inflicted as the unintended result of military operations. In this conceptualization, collateral damage, similar to the military euphemism for the killing of civilians, is the idea that there is unintentional, but acceptable death, injury, and damage associated with the carrying out a stated goal. However, unlike the goal of winning a war or when this concept is used in an Orwellian way to describe the “unintended” deaths of non-combatants killed in counterinsurgency operations, designed to kill, injury, and ultimately terrorize a people into submission, the death, injury, and destruction of COVID-19 can be seen as collateral damage because it is unintended, yet deemed acceptable, for the continuation of U.S. capitalism.