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A worker sanitizes a street on the fourth day of an unprecedented lockdown across of all Italy

Econ-apocalypse: economic and social aspects of the coronavirus crisis

The text is the translation of the transcript of an oral intervention carried out online on April 10, 2020, for the Confederazione Unitaria di Base, with some minor corrections and additions, but maintains the colloquial style. The author took advantage of some comments by Francesco Saraceno. The paper has been translated by Daniele Tori. A few updates are signalled by square brackets.


1. This is not an ‘exogenous’ crisis: nature and social form

I will try to provide a preliminary skimming of the problematic horizon within which I read this crisis. I will go by points, in a speech that is divided into different movements.

First movement. This crisis is not, as we often read, an ‘exogenous’ crisis, i.e. something that from outside (nature) invests the economic sphere. This could be, at most, a ‘semi-exogenous’ crisis since in some respects it is independent of the social form, but its true substance is inextricably tied to the capitalist organization of production, the circulation of goods, distribution, and ways of life. It is also not true that this crisis can be considered an unexpected event. A crisis like the one we are currently going through was predicted, for example, in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2005, in a prophetic article about the pandemic to come.

This crisis highlights the perverse relationship between society and nature, which in recent years has already been at the center of the discussion on the so-called ‘climate change’. However, this issue has never been taken seriously by politics and economic policy. Of course, one could say that the problem is not capitalism per se, rather its industrial structure. However, the primacy of a production system stretched to the extreme for profit extraction went together with a deepening in global inequality, in some cases also in an extreme way, therefore with malnutrition, forms of intensive farming, housing overcrowding, and excessive urbanization. A role has been played, of course, by trans-national value chains. All this has meant that viral transmissions that otherwise would have had a slow evolution have seen a dramatic acceleration.

Exponential growth in the spread of viruses has been the consequence of an alleged exponential growth in capital. This is presumably the future ahead of us. In my view, the alternative is not ‘degrowth’ (which is still within the horizon of growth, even though aiming at negative figures) but, if anything, a radically different qualitative development.  The horizon of growth entirely internal to the capitalist social form is precisely what produced the so-called ‘neo-liberal’ policies of the last forty years, starting with the privatization of health.

The speech just made challenges the reasoning, widespread on the left, of wanting to hunt for ‘ culprits ‘ or to pose the question about ‘who’ is going to pay for the crisis.

Let me say it this way, with a joke: the culprits are to be found in between a bat in China and our social system, that same system from which income and labour are obtained. They do not have to be found in ‘bad finance’ or within this or that industrial association. It is not a matter of people; the culprit is the system.

2. Mario Draghi: it is good that the public debt increases

The second movement of the reasoning. We begin to face the issue of the economic situation in which we find ourselves. Here we cannot do without taking Mario Draghi’s article in the Financial Times of March 25, an important article, as a reference. In this crisis, the problem is not the lack of effective demand or the overpowering of finance. This is not a crisis for which Keynes is the answer. Draghi tells us that this is a crisis in which the survival of companies, especially small and medium ones where most of the workforce is employed, is directly put into question. It is a crisis where there is a problem with families’ survival. Given this, subsidies must be provided, both to businesses and families.

The SURE (Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency) approved by the European Commission is a form of guaranteed income in the face of employment problems. It is clear that this is a deeply problematic measure, much of which originated in the inherited structure of the labor market, hence how support for workers is designed. From this point of view, I agree that income support is more than appropriate, it is necessary, but remains a subsidy: someone named it ‘quarantine income’, and it does not have much to do with ‘basic income’.

In this context, Draghi says, banks can only intervene by providing unlimited liquidity while eliminating the costs of accessing it. This is a set of measures that, of course, Draghi sees as temporary. But they are inevitably perceived as quantitatively massive, and as a completely new phenomenon that marks a turning point. Hence the issue of the guarantee to be given to banks: not long after, guarantee from the State intervened in Italy. As has been argued, it is not clear why a nationalized bank should not intervene at this point. In any case, the problem exists, and it is a real problem. Just as there may be a problem of temporary suspension of corporate and labor taxation. Draghi has gone as far as to speak of the cancellation of private debt.

3a. How to finance the public debt: ESM and Coronabonds

The key point, however, is that Draghi said loud and clear not only that the public debt can only increase, he clarified that it is a good thing that it increases. And here a question obviously arises, perhaps the most debated today, that of ‘financing’: the third movement of my reasoning. How can this increase in public debt be financed, and what is the role of taxes?

Let’s start with the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which was approved between 2011 and 2012. When Draghi declared that he would do everything possible to save the single currency, he was resorting to the Outright Monetary Transactions, which consisted in allowing the European Central Bank to purchase in unlimited quantities short-term securities issued by countries in need, thus circumventing the bottlenecks imposed to monetary policy actions: but that country must have agreed to the ESM program. The problem is that the ESM involved heavy conditionalities. In its new guise designed as a consequence of the current crisis, these conditionalities seems to have been removed. At least according to some, it is still true that, given the structure of the European treaties, there is a risk that these conditionalities could be re-inserted later: others stress that Italy, given the weight of its share, could (like France and Germany) veto a change in conditions. In the first case, it would be very unattractive to activate this procedure (a bit like, it should be remembered, the OMT, which remained on paper: it was not that mechanism, never used, but Draghi’s “whatever it takes”, that worked to get out of the crisis) . Italy declares at the moment that it does not want to use it.

The alternative that is being discussed is the financing via Eurobonds which, in this circumstance, have been renamed Coronabonds. In recent years, within the community, if a State wants to finance its public deficit through securities, it issues securities sold to investment funds, pension funds, and so on, in exchange for long-term interest. This interest obviously depend on how the market assesses the country’s risk. Hence the infamous ‘spreads’: Germany now has negative interest rates on its 10-year treasury bonds, while those of Italy are much higher, even if still a thousand miles away from the level that was reached in Greece. The idea of Eurobonds intervenes here: it is a matter of proceeding with an issue of securities not as a single national State, but as an entire European Community, thus giving rise to a collective guarantee and hence risk-sharing. There is therefore talk about debt ‘mutualisation’, which would allow most of those involved countries to obtain much lower interest rates.

At this point, an initial dilemma is: what should we use the revenue from these Coronabonds for? An idea, to some extent minimalist, is the one proposing to cover the expenses of the various countries, evidently starting from the currently most affected ones. There is another idea, let’s say maximalist, which is the only really interesting one in my opinion, which changes the subject of expenditure (even if it does not alter the view about those who should take advantage of it) that says: let’s start from these Coronabonds to finally build a public budget of the European Community worthy of the name.

We would have substantial EU public expenditure immediately at European level, finally linked to a public budget of some (increasing) weight. The next step would obviously be to be able to collect taxes at the Community level, so that we could really speak of a common fiscal policy, of a more immediate integration of monetary and fiscal policy, and therefore also of a political Union, developing behind the monetary union.From this point of view the real knot lies in this possible connection: ability to issue European debt => ability to spend at community level => political union. If this were never achieved, one could not speak fully of the authentic single currency, and sooner or later its current simulacrum could not hold up.

That said, the ESM versus Coronabonds debate is still perhaps not the most important thing and certainly not the end of the story, because if one focuses only there, the risk is to not grasp what is going on. The Stability Pact, at this moment, is simply no longer there: this is what ‘suspended’ means. In theory, Italy can spend as much as it wants. But who finances it? Basically, the European Central Bank which, at least at the moment, is buying its securities without any upper boundary. And this is the second novelty: every limit to the purchases of the institute in Frankfurt [European Central Bank, successor to the European Monetary Institute], after the (welcome?) gaffe by Christine Lagarde, has blown up. Thus, albeit not in a completely transparent way, but also quite clearly, the ECB acts as a lender of last resort. As with the Stability Pact, having the ECB acting as a financier of nation states means that there has been a 180 degrees turn, a drastic and sudden one. In both cases, precisely on the two points (rightly) at the core of criticism of Brussels’ ideology, the speed of the metamorphosis was equal to the spread of the virus.

[Note: the notes translated here were set out on April the 10th for an audience of left trade-unionists. Two subsequent events are briefly mentioned here, as an update. The first is the presentation, on April 19th, of the Spanish ‘non-paper’, which contains the sketch of a plan for the European recovery. It is a welcome radicalization of ideas that were already circulating (I think in particular of the version of the Coronabondsprovided by Boitani and Tamborini). The European Union should issue irredeemable securities to finance, through its own budget and to the extent of 10% of the same, ‘grants’ (perpetual donations) and not loans (to be returned). This mutualisation – not only a mutualisation of the risks, also a mutualisation of the expenditure – should be carried out in a massive measure, with a minimum up to €1,500 billion, to be used within a period of no more than 2-3 years starting from January 2021, according to an assignment rule based on the population affected by the virus and to health issues, but also to the negative social and economic impact of the pandemic. The content of the expenditure would have to be identified within the objective of an ecological and digital reconstruction of the economy, together with that of promoting industrial and technological autonomy. The ‘principal’ collected on the market, as it has been said, would never be repaid. Therefore only the interest portion has to be serviced, at a positive but minimum rate fixed from the start. It seems to me this is the way forward, precisely in the spirit of these notes.

The second event is the disappointing postponement, if not the freezing, of any choice as decided in fact at the European Council on the 23th April. Beyond the monetary amounts of the ESM and the SURE, and the credit lines linked to the European Investment Bank, there is not much. We are dealing with uncertain amounts, with figures we may doubt they truly can be added up, in the form not so much of grants but mostly of ‘guarantees’ and current or potential credits, playing on leverage effects. It does not seem to me that we can count too much on the hope that this stalemate will be unlocked, except through a deepening of the crisis that will force a paralyzed Eurozone politics to finally wake up.]

3b. Public debt as a ‘political’ problem: monetization and helicopter money

Allow me to add that debt is never a technical problem, it is always a political one: this cannot mean it is something ‘arbitrary’, rather it is a central node linked to the capitalist form of production, strongly linked to the command over money and to the control of the monetary sanction of (surplus-)value production. Precisely for this reason, critics of capitalism should pay due attention to what is happening. That debt can never be reduced to a merely technical problem also means this: debt does not operate as a constraint provided it is simply rolled over, as it can be done. In short, and right now, the real problem is the payment of interest. It is also true that monetary policy can ensure that the interest rate remains stable and low. [This is what is actually implied in Spain’s ‘non-paper’.]

Again, here we face – as for the Coronavirus – a ‘battlefield’, nowadays a wide-open battlefield: certainly neither thanks to us, nor due to positive evolution in [class] power relations, but as a consequence of the gravity of a (viral) crisis that is grafting onto a double crisis (Global and European).

How open the present state of affairs is can be understood from two other considerations on the theme of ‘financing’. The first one is this. [A few weeks ago], the Bank of England, after having falsely said that it would never do so, opened to debt monetization, declaring that in the emergency the Bank will finance government’s expenses through advances on the Treasury account. Obviously, both how significant (at the moment it appears small, but it is the first step) and how temporary (it depends on the course of the crisis) this intervention is will still need to be verified. The second, which if you want can be seen as a radicalization of the first but precedes it, is the proposal by some economists, which is improperly defined as Helicopter Money. According to this proposal, all expenses, from investments in health to the support of incomes and companies, should be sustained via direct non-repayable financing from the issuing institution. Here, of course, the issue of the growth of the public debt ratio on the gross domestic product also disappears. Of course, ‘temporarily’ should always be added. And it is precisely a battlefield.

3c. What about taxes?

Another point often raised, as if it had to do with the financing of expenses, is an accentuated tax levy. The reasoning is as if the [currency issuing] State would have to collect taxes to spend, and as if, insofar as the taxes were not enough, it would have searched for funding elsewhere, by issuing public debt securities or by borrowing with the central bank. It is not quite like that. The State has the power to spend in its currency, ‘autonomously’. The State does not need to collect taxes for this, which happens after expenditure. This does not mean that a higher tax levy for ten thousand other purposes, entirely acceptable, may not be appropriate – for instance, to reduce inequality, or to shape the structure of consumption. One goal may be to adjust the distribution of income, another to affect wealth. And it is also true that the tax levy can affect the temporal trend of the government deficit and debt, affecting the costs and benefits (including distributive ones) of the management of the latter.

My point of view, as you might understand, is different from the usual ones among alternative economists (punctually represented in the usual ballet of appeals, often conducted not looking at the state of things but with the glance glued to the rear-view mirror). I will try to put together the issue of ‘financing’ with the issue of building a European Union worthy of the name. Here one could (should) be even more courageous, not only on a European scale but on a global scale (just think of the true time bomb represented by the situation in emerging countries). If it makes sense to refer to this crisis as a war it is also because, just as it happened after the Second World War, it may make sense to ‘forgive’ the past debt, as it did then in favour of the losers. The sign of the beginning of a new history must be given, and nowhere as in the case of the European Union would this be appropriate. The form – not strictly of cancellation, but of reallocation of cost – could be that of conversion of past debt into securities with very long-term maturity, such as of 50 years if not irredeemable, at a minimum interest rate. This would be a sign of collective political investment. Unfortunately, we cannot count on this.

4a. The Coronavirus crisis is in continuity with the great financial crisis of 2007-2008

We come to the fourth movement of my discourse: questioning  the nature of this crisis which, on the one hand, is the continuation of the 2007-2008 crisis, and on the other, the exact opposite. Why it is the continuation of the Great Financial Crisis? Just look at what happened. China has been hit by the virus likely since at the end of December 2019. Still, at the end of January, the virus is still seen by everyone, sightlessly, only as a ‘China problem’: China gifted us with a time advantage (of at least a month) to get us ready, and this has been completely wasted. At the end of last February, even though it was then clear that Bergamo (where I live) and Lombardy were the main outbreak of the infection in the European continent, still local administrators downplayed the situation and indeed invite us to continue as in ‘normal’ times. In March, the virus from Italy spreads to the rest of Europe. In April it has now violently reached the United Kingdom and the United States.

In a very short time, with great speed despite some initial uncertainty, the monetary authorities and financial technocracy reacted to the shock, ‘hooking’ their action exactly to the point where they stopped in the previous crisis: namely to a set of policies and procedures that back then they had conquered slowly and indecisively, some more than others. In particular, the Federal Reserve has taken centre stage again, vigorously reopening the taps of the World liquidity governed by swaps contracts granted on increasingly favourable terms to more central banks than in the previous crisis.

Once again, a potential hegemonic crisis has strengthened the primacy of the dollar and therefore of the United States. Their monetary-financial technocracy, as much as we may regret to recognize it, has acted to some extent as a hegemonic and benevolent “agent” – if nothing else to prevent the building from collapsing. Otherwise, the market for the raw materials would have exploded (and that was the first alarm bell of a possible extension of the social and economic crisis to the financial sector), or the emerging countries would have drowned (the second alarm, which also has been temporarily put on hold). The developed countries would have blown up, this time at the centre of the pandemic. All this, after the initial fears, did not occur.

As I clarified, the European Central Bank itself did not take four or five years, as in the other crisis, to arrive at the positions of whatever it takes. The ECB got there almost immediately (if not instantly), and unlimited and unprecedented funding in the single currency area has been activated. In this sense, we have witnessed the success of technocrats in repressing the financial crisis.

On the ground of real action, unfortunately, this is not the case. The answer to the crisis has been effective in China, that is, in an authoritarian communist regime. The problem primarily concerns the United States or Europe. Nobody, it must be said, now questions the need for massive State intervention (someone even uses the term ‘socialism’). No one makes the state of the commercial or current account balances act as an analytical variable. However, the gap between the behaviour of monetary technocracy and Trump’s political management in the United States, and the gap between the ECB and the slowness of Brussels in Europe, are impressive.

4b. The coronavirus crisis is in discontinuity with the great financial crisis of 2007-2008

What is the big difference between the 2007-2008 crisis and the current crisis? The main difference is that then, beyond the management of the financial crisis, the question arose of how to get out of the real crisis in which we had fallen, hence there was the problem of a return to growth. The idea of a large ‘Keynesian’ type of public expenditure as the axis of the revival could have made sense, basically by looking at the impulse on the side of effective demand (as China did between 2008 and 2009). In this crisis, however, the point was not a revival on the side of effective demand. The immediate need was that of a huge mobilization to ‘put the production system into a coma’, to mobilize to demobilize: to stop industry, services, transport, and so on, thus effecting both consumption and investments. A crisis just as serious, if not more serious than that of the 1930s, but induced and managed from above, which must be organized.

This is, in a paradoxical sense, and somewhat in the opposite direction, truly a war economy, where it is the ‘planning’ (of supply and demand together) that must precisely ‘command’ first the blockade and then the resumption of production. In this historical conjuncture we are faced with the risk of a double temporality. The double temporality that I have in mind is that between saying, ‘now let’s make the economy restart quickly’, adding ‘later we will think about its contents’. It is an illusion. And a dangerous illusion.

It is already dangerous only for this fact. In recent weeks we have experienced a brutal choice, between health and the economy, the number of deaths to be tolerated so that the cost in terms of production and income was not too ‘high’. For the time being, with many contradictions (and the scandal of the work that has continued in many of the non-fundamental productions), the need to defend health, to reduce mortality has prevailed. But the intention to promote a dynamic of V-shaped income (collapse and sudden recovery to return to where we were), or at worst U-shaped income (with a stimulus expanded over time), as the crisis continues, which would be neither really addressed nor truly understood, can easily result in a revision of that trade-off. Given that production still means employment and wages, and perhaps given the disappointment concerning the results hoped for by the lockdown, there is an increasing risk that the cost willing to be paid in terms of health, brutally of deaths, will be higher. The ‘rest of society’ has to move forward: this will be said. [And it is what is actually happening in Italy now moving to Phase 2.]

5. If this is not of the Keynesian type, what kind of crisis is it?

To understand the senselessness of reasoning in a two-steps logic, we need to return to the fundamental question from another visual angle: what kind of crisis is this? Here I move to the fifth movement of my reasoning. From the foregoing, it appears that this is not a Keynesian crisis, in almost any sense. This is not a crisis of demand, and one cannot come out of it in the standard Keynesian fashion.

Let me, for a moment, go back to the line of reasoning that has always been in my various works. If we look at the great crises that have gone through capitalism, Keynes is not very useful. I want to be clear: we can write and think only after Keynes, but to some extent also against and beyond Keynes.

The great capitalist crisis of the late nineteenth century was a tendential fall in the rate of profit in the traditional Marxist sense, because the ratio of machines and workers increases, and this depresses profitability (the capital at the denominator is too high for the surplus-value in the numerator to be sufficient: overproduction of capital). In the thirties of the twentieth century, there was a problem of realization of surplus value (the potential surplus value is too high, the problem is the numerator of the rate of profit: overproduction of commodities). If you want, Keynes has something to say this time, at least in part.

From the mid-sixties and in the seventies of the twentieth century the crisis is not on the demand side, it is rather a problem on the supply side, again on the profitability side. However, apart from the conflict between industrialized countries and producers of raw materials (and taking for granted the inter-capitalist conflict) the central reason for the crisis lies in the struggles of the working class on the field of distribution, and even more so in the struggles in the production and ‘use’ of labour power (at the time the struggles over the workers’ bodies were essential: ‘health is not for sale’). The extracted surplus value was not ‘enough’, but without any mechanistic objectivism.

The crisis of 2007-2008 is, once again, a crisis on the supply side, but this time of the supply of financing (as it is said in the Anglo-Saxon literature, not always appropriately, a funding crisis).  how the activities were financed was very short-term, and its breakdown causing the entire building to collapse. This is a great financial crisis, but it is linked to that capitalism of funds and money managers that subordinately included families in the financial universe of capital, which I defined elsewhere as real subsumption of work to finance and debt.

At least from the sixties/seventies of the twentieth century, the social knot of the crisis – of that as of all subsequent ones – is ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘how much’ and ‘for whom’ to produce. And here lies the deeper continuity of this with previous crises. Here lies the impossibility of separating the periods, the time of the ‘recovery’, and the time of the ‘reform’ (but in reality, revolution) of the modalities and contents of production. Obviously, it is not a question of remaking the world from scratch, of destroying the inherited capital stock, but it is a radical reorientation of both production and consumption: not undertaking this along with the recovery means never doing it. [To go out from the quantitative growth-oriented capitalism we are currently living in, and to properly think of a different qualitative development, we may well have to go through a kind of ‘alternative stagnation’: the so-called L-shaped turn  every economist fears these days; but it needs to be truly alternative.]

This is a crisis that in this sense recalls the war, this time really ‘the’ War, the First World War, because then the problem of a ‘planning’ first arose (here more than Marx or Lenin, Otto Neurath counts): but as my discussion about the crisis of the seventies makes clear, it is not enough to invoke Leontief, it is not enough to sing the praises of the plan, if there is no close and binding link with ‘workers’ as the social subject, as well as alternative movements. But this also refers us back to the Great Crash of the 1930s, to the (not strictly Keynesian) way out which was the New Deal which, as I will say in conclusion, must be re-read in the light of a radicalization of the Minskyian ‘socialization of  investment’.

The knot of the ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘how much’ and ‘for whom’ to produce has been stressed by – in its way, of course: but how we miss her in recent weeks – even Greta Thunberg. Therefore, the connection of this capitalist crisis with the question of nature is immediate.

6a. A couple of conclusions, to start thinking about it: a revolution on the supply side

The sixth movement is the first reasoning on the prospects. If this is not a Keynesian crisis and a generic reference to planning that is not tied to male and female workers, to a social control from below, is not enough, how can we represent it? Let me make use of two somewhat unusual quotes.

In economic theory, you know, to the right of Keynes, there is monetarism, that is Milton Friedman, and to the right of Friedman, there is Robert Lucas or the school of the New Neoclassical Macroeconomics. What do we find if we go even more to the right? The school of the Real Business Cycle, which claims that there are only technological shocks, as they came from the sky, and the central bank can only offer endogenously the money that is requested, while economic systems have to adjust on their own. Any State intervention is deleterious, we are always on the optimal path defined by individual agents’ voluntary choices.

Well, one of the most interesting interventions in the crisis was a tweet from John Cochrane, which is part of the latter school of thought. On the 4th of April, he essentially wrote that we could, of course, get to contain the virus eventually, thus forgetting that we entered a world where pandemics are likely to be ‘normal’ events. For a while, we can go back to living as before, but after that, the same virus or others return even stronger. This is the pessimistic hypothesis. The optimistic hypothesis is that we don’t forget: that we realize that the virus is like a huge negative technological shock, therefore on the supply side, which can only completely change the way of life, the type of demand, of transportation, of consumption.

We will have to learn to live with testing and continuously resort to health systems. Workers in logistics, nurses, and so on, are worth more than we thought. It is a labor-intensive world (with many respects paid to the umpteenth version of the disappearance of work due to artificial intelligence) and individuals have to “adjust” themselves – in  Cochrane’s view in a miraculous way, without any political intervention. Well, I think he understood almost everything, except that society does not adjust itself via market mechanisms. But what we cannot fail to stress as a task now, not tomorrow, is a revolution on the supply side. A task that is, politically and programmatically, urgent.

6b. A couple of conclusions, to start thinking about it: a radical break

A second quote that might surprise you. Take the Financial Times, which is the great newspaper of the British and international bourgeoisie. On the 3rd of April, the FT published an editorial whose title proclaims that “The virus exposes the fragility of the social contract”.

In the middle of the article, it is written that radical reforms that break with the last four decades are needed. Governments must get used to being more active and public services such as education or health care must now be viewed not as a liability, but as an investment in the future of society. We cannot afford labor markets characterized by widespread precariousness anymore, work must go back to being guaranteed. A substantial redistribution is necessary, proposals such as basic income or property taxes (on wealth) can legitimately be part of it.

This – it is written in black and white in the editorial – should not be tomorrow’s thinking, it should be thought as of today, starting to build it. Like at the time of the Second World War. The Beveridge Report (dated 1942, which gave rise to post-war welfare) and the Bretton Woods conference (of 1944, which gave rise to the system of fixed exchange rates and, let us remember, actually included repression of finance) are cited. The Financial Times ends up being far more radical than most economists.

Le dernier metro

A few months ago, Francesco Garibaldo and I wrote a piece on Europe, intended for Slavoj Žižek’s journal (Crisis and Critique), which continued the discussion in our book L’euro al capolinea? (The Euro at the terminus?). We named it Le dernier metro.

In this text, we argued that in Europe, from 2013-2014, the emergence out of the crisis had also been via net exports, and this would have been a harbinger of another crisis. The Eurozone managed to get out of the crisis by generalizing the Germanic model. All countries, even those in the periphery, exported to the rest of the world so that the net exports of each country of the Eurozone were in surplus, and for the whole area, the net exports on the gross domestic product of the Eurozone had reached 4%. Historically there had never been a substantial difference from a zero balance. Now the situation had changed.

This state of affairs, far from signalling a strength, revealed a weakness, in that it coupled the European continent to foreign demand, and just when the feared (and then realized) Brexit, Italy’s uncertainties, the growth of Souverainism, the Trump presidency, the return of protectionism, the automotive crisis, were gathering new clouds. This led us to foresee growing difficulties and a possible serious crisis in Europe. This has been the case since 2019, before the coronavirus crisis, with the German gross domestic product in sharp decline, and the consequent effects on Italy and Europe.

We concluded our piece by writing that this is the worst of times, but this is also the best of times. What we called a ‘perfect storm’ was approaching: and yet it has been clear for a long time that the Eurozone (in its monetary technocracy, in its political head) is not going to change unless it is stood up against the wall. In this sense, and without any optimism, the worst of times could prove to be the best that could have been delivered to us. We did not expect Coronavirus. But the pandemic only multiplies the weight of our argument by a thousand compared to how we thought about it. The time is now.

Given that we are discussing reorienting production by directing it to immediate social use-values, given that this is the challenge, I would have once put it this way: that the extreme conditions in which we live signal the ‘maturity’ of communism. [The argument goes in fact as far back as to the Theses proposed by il manifesto in 1970.] Even today I think so, even if, I know, it is no longer ‘respectable’ to say it. Maturity of an ‘untimely’ communism: because we must be clear about our inability to live up to that problem. But still, that is the problem. What comes against us, what the ‘movements’ of my reasoning reveal, is the absolute urgency of a command upon money and production, under the control of a social subjectivity ‘from below’, which in my view sees workers at the centre, making it possible to think and start practicing an alternative model of being together.

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