The World After
the Pandemic

In its current efforts to conceive and organise a “different” future, Biennale Warszawa has been exploring the causes and workings of contemporary mechanisms that destabilise political, social, economic and environmental systems, and lead to conflicts or crises that threaten the entire planet. It is easy to find a connection between the spread of animal-borne diseases and environmental degradation, destabilisation of ecosystems, industrial farming and animal production, all of which are features of the extractivist model of capitalism that we have been analysing and trying to address.

The present pandemic is substantially changing the way these mechanisms are perceived. At the time of writing, there have been 802,831 confirmed cases of the virus and 39,020 deaths around the world, and the weaknesses of the system have become more exposed than ever before. They are apparent in footage from hospitals that lack ventilators and personal protection equipment, in on-line discussions about unemployment and the precarious status of many professions, and in messages addressed to employers who refuse to change their policies even at the cost of endangering their employee’s health.

The pandemic has also changed people’s relation to public space. It has brought anxiety and depression, but it has also individualised the experience of illness, imposed forced isolation, increased the danger of greater social atomisation, and impeded relation and community-building. Seen this way, the coronavirus pandemic is the perfect illness from the standpoint of neoliberal capitalism, as it forces everyone to fend exclusively for themselves.

The pandemic may be used as an excuse to make the system more oppressive, to commodify every aspect of life and to introduce authoritarian measures. The impact of extreme crisis-mitigation programmes might, once again, be hardest felt by the most vulnerable social groups. Curtailment of civil rights and increased electronic surveillance, as the only way for the system to survive unchanged, might become the norm in many countries. Closing borders and limiting freedom of movement, a measure that has so far targeted migrants and refugees, might not only become commonplace but turn into a permanent policy of isolation that keeps certain groups in society apart from others or even strips them of citizenship.

But the pandemic is also helping us see the political, economic and environmental alternatives more clearly. We are witnessing the birth of new alliances and the development of new models of activism putting forward demands and proposing new social and democratic solutions which might ultimately shape a different politics. Whether the progressive change will be enacted or not, largely depends on how well we identify the problems and develop and flesh out programmes that will need to be consistently implemented. We want to take part in this debate, and that is why we are inviting our collaborators to write texts that describe the present state of play, share the experience of various social groups in an age of pandemic, and put forward ideas that might help usher in the change we all need. In the coming months, we will try to make this the core of our artistic practice and activism.

We have published so far:
1. Jan J. Zygmuntowski, “A Decade of Regeneration. How We Beat the Coronavirus, and the Crisis of Capitalism Too”

2. Agata Dziuban, Zuzanna Dziuban, “Conditioned Support: Necropolitics and solidarity in times of crisis”

3. Jonas Staal, “The Red Virus”

4. Yassin Al Haj Saleh, “Coronavirus in a Syrianized World”

5. Jan Sowa, “Post-in-Between-Capitalism”

6. Jerzy Kociatkiewicz, Monika Kostera, “Management in a Schrödinger’s World”

7. Łukasz Moll, “Latex-Clad Princess or Syrian Nurse? What Europe after the Pandemic?”

A Decade of Regeneration. How We Beat the Coronavirus, and the Crisis of Capitalism Too

Jan J. Zygmuntowski

Over the last decade, we have managed to repeat the greatest achievements of the 1920s. Just as, more than a century ago, technology and mass culture brought modernity to the people, the socio-economic transformation we are now completing is set to bring about a new age in human history. But it is worth recalling that the beginning of this “decade of regeneration” was an extraordinarily difficult time of uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the first days of April 2020, when the official number of people infected with the new virus around the world passed one million, it seemed that a worst-case scenario was imminent. Caused by inadequate sanitary control and sale of meat from wild animals at so-called wet markets in China, the unexpected outbreak of the pandemic exposed the ravages of short-term thinking by governments and businesses intent on pursuing neoliberal economic policies.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus was highly infectious and in a matter of weeks, the skyrocketing infection rate transformed it from a regional into a global problem. Some countries were able to “flatten the curve” thanks to restrictive social distancing recommendations that shut down stores, restaurants and places of worship. But years of underfunding and spending cuts or – in extreme cases – a reliance exclusively on private health care, ruled out universal testing and treatment of the worst affected patients who needed ventilators to survive.

At the same time, government policies brought about an economic slowdown. This was best seen in the exponential growth of Americans registering as unemployed, with some commentators ironically comparing the bar on the chart to the wall which then President Trump had promised to build on the border with Mexico.

The crisis caused by the spread of SARS-CoV-2 became a platform for conflicting interests. In keeping with the shock doctrine defined by Naomi Klein, it was used as an opportunity to cut social spending, curb workers’ rights and bring about the controlled collapse of small and medium-sized enterprises, whose assets and market share were taken over by the largest players. Tech companies seized the chance to whitewash their image and spin their ubiquitous surveillance and value mining as “technology for good.” Shifting towards a low-emission economy to save the climate now seemed impossible.

The so-called Anti-crisis Shield adopted in March 2020 by the Polish government was designed in this spirit. Not wanting to raise public debt, a measure European governments were – despite the recommendations of many economists – reluctant to apply since the adoption of the Maastricht criteria, the scheme drained existing resources, barely providing minimum security for employees while “dismantling” their rights. As a result, the first-ever quantitative easing by the National Bank of Poland did not produce results because it failed to provide similar easing – a sweeping fiscal package that experts recommended should equal 10% of the GDP – to the people. The health care system was given pennies and businesses gained a few months’ reprieve before a wave of bankruptcies.

An Epidemic Without Shock Therapy

The arrival of yet another exceptionally warm summer in the northern hemisphere – the third hottest on record in Poland – and the severe drought that followed, together with a wave of bankruptcies and mass unemployment, caused mounting social discontent. In the United States, the crisis led to the establishment of armed militias, as demonstrators clashed with police forces throughout Europe. The line between protesting and looting became blurred, and thousands of buy to lease properties, once intended for tourists, were occupied by the homeless.

The breakthrough in Poland was precipitated by a call for a general strike by diverse workers’ groups and even small entrepreneurs. This form of industrial action, the so-called “nuclear option”, was banned at the time (only solidarity strikes in support of groups not allowed to strike were permitted). The government’s response to the strike, scheduled for September, was to announce the reintroduction of harsh restrictions, allegedly due to concerns about a second wave of coronavirus infections.

In keeping with our annual tradition, I now wish to celebrate the solidarity of all social groups, workers and others, who took part in the strike. Shutting down all schools for over a week, halting supply chains, store and factory closures, even a planned nationwide blackout, showed that not only epidemics can bring economies to a standstill.

Donations collected on the streets and on-line by social activists, a tactic that had been successfully used in the spring, helped support the groups most vulnerable to legal and economic repression. The COVID-19 epidemic finally showed us the power of coordinating and organising and allowed us to develop immunity to the virus of capitalism that had been blighting society for a long time.

The government of Poland was forced to negotiate a relief package that would thoroughly transform the country’s economy. In early 2021, the president of the Trade Unions Forum, former nurse Dorota Gardias, was appointed technical prime minister in charge of transition. The Doctor’s Cabinet, as people called the government made up, among others, of cardiologist and former health minister Łukasz Szumowski, neurologist and former senator, Wojciech Konieczny, and nurse Joanna Wicha, proposed a new social contract based on a very popular manifesto drafted by the academic community.

The Polish Regeneration

The economic miracle which The Economist would call The Great Polish Regeneration was made possible by abandoning the dogmas related to public debt and state intervention. The assumption behind this “debt arbitration” was that failure to provide greater aid would lead to a lasting crisis and, ultimately, spiralling debt. On the other hand, substantially increasing public debt might entail some risk (e.g. servicing costs), but would offer a chance for economic and social stability.

The economic miracle which The Economist would call The Great Polish Regeneration was made possible by abandoning the dogmas related to public debt and state intervention.

Poland’s national debt at the end of 2019 stood at 44.5% of its GDP. Even with the dramatic 6% decrease in GDP in 2020 and the resulting increase of sovereign debt to about 50%, the arbitrarily adopted 60% threshold was still 10 percentage points away. Historical data shows moreover that 70% of that was safe, domestic debt. The state of public finances was also better than claimed at the time by the Civic Development Forum associated with Leszek Balcerowicz, the architect of Poland’s economic transformation in the early 1990s. In contrast to that austerity programme, Polish Regeneration did not rely on shock therapy but was an opportunity for the welfare state to spread its wings.

The government ultimately adopted a fiscal regeneration package worth 250 billion new zlotys (ca. 11.3% of Poland’s GDP at the time). It relied on issuing low-interest government bonds, mobilising domestic savings (the monetary overhang was estimated at two trillion zlotys) and the redemption of these securities by the National Bank of Poland on the secondary market. As a result, Poland was able to carry out its first strategic quantitative easing and create money in line with Modern Monetary Theory. The new assets had three main purposes: 1) prioritizing health care and public services; 2) solidarity and social justice, and 3) achieving social-environmental balance.

The scheme to rebuild a public health service and the associated stimulus package have placed Poland among the world’s top countries in terms of access to health care. The regeneration budget of 2021 set public spending at 8% of the GDP (compared to around 5% for 2020), which then rapidly rose to its present level of 11%. As a result, all hospital debt was liquidated and health care has become an appealing career option for the younger generation.

The doctors and nurses, as well as technicians, paramedics and care providers who, like their peers from Cuba, now go on medical missions around the world are the pride of the nation. Transformation of the Territorial Army into the Humanitarian Corps and the reintroduction of some elements of national service is still seen as controversial, but the Corps’ successful relief effort for refugees on the Greek border during the flood of 2028 has made even critics think twice.

Support for employees and employers has also been extended, with the government pledging to keep the employment index unchanged.As in other European countries, the state now pays 75% of salaries up to twice the average wage.

Support for employees and employers has also been extended, with the government pledging to keep the employment index unchanged. As in other European countries, the state now pays 75% of salaries up to twice the average wage. In some sectors, this has been done under the heading of state aid. The state has also invested directly in some industries, and especially large enterprises, via its Economic Regeneration Facility, which acquires shares in the companies it bails out. Thanks its controlling stakes, the Facility has had a say in corporate policy: ensuring high standards of corporate governance, investment in low-emission and clean technologies, employee consultation and minimizing wage inequality. The Economic Regeneration Facility is a new type of institutional investor that uses its leverage to democratize the workplace.

A Sustainable Economy for All

One simple decision that worked was to pay out what would become today’s guaranteed income for several months and give people employed on the basis of so-called junk contracts (flexible forms of employment similar to zero-hours contracts, with no right to social benefits) access to all the privileges of the welfare state. Social benefits were extended by loosening the rules on eligibility for housing and designated benefits and removing artificially high thresholds. In neoliberal Poland, it was considered normal that only 15% of the unemployed were entitled to benefits.

One simple decision that worked was to pay out what would become today’s guaranteed income for several months and give people employed on the basis of so-called junk contracts (flexible forms of employment similar to zero-hours contracts, with no right to social benefits) access to all the privileges of the welfare state.

Already in 2022, nearly all the funding of the Institute of National Remembrance, a controversial historical institution, was transferred to the State Labour Inspectorate, thereby doubling its budget. By 2023, the Inspectorate had a uniformed enforcement branch with the power to prosecute. Abolishing junk contracts and fictitious self-employment by the end of 2024 solved the problem of precarious working conditions affecting around 2 million members of the workforce. This coincided with the appointment of the Employee Rights Commissioner, an institution that now enjoys a similar degree of esteem as the Civil Rights Commissioner.

These changes were, for the most part, welcomed by the business community in spite of the rapid decrease in social inequality and the phasing out of passive, rentier income. In 2020, the structure of the economy was based on unsustainable SMEs with little capacity for innovation. Consolidating struggling enterprises (mostly by merging them into larger, more resilient entities) and rolling out a strong fiscal package with specified strategic goals made it possible to create modern workplaces geared to the production of competitive goods for the public sector or the green industry. In light of the above, it is no wonder that the last component of the social justice model, namely switching the regressive Polish tax system over to a truly progressive one with a high personal allowance and three brackets (the highest at 45%) in 2028, also gained widespread support.

The Global Green Deal

While the Regeneration was a turning point in our history it was not entirely exceptional. Almost as soon as the crisis began, some countries like Spain and Portugal decided to implement radical relief measures by extending unconditional support to refugees and migrants. What was more surprising was the European Commission’s decision to introduce, by the end of 2020, a European wealth tax as proposed by Thomas Piketty and the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO)(levied at a rate of 1% on assets exceeding 1 million and 1.5% on assets over 5 million), and to use the annual revenue of over 150 billion euros to establish a fiscal health pact.

The US relief package, originally amounting to 2 trillion dollars (9% of GDP), partly in the form of helicopter money (basic income), and the rapid emergence from the recession of China and other Asian countries, brought the world economy back from the edge. Central banks had a unique opportunity to support the Green New Deal. Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, and Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, agreed to make “greenness” a precondition of government bond redemption schemes (quantitative easing) and development loans.

Like South Korea after the crisis of 2008, most countries decided that the lion’s share of new capital investment would be in renewables, clean technology and the circular economy. By 2026, there were 1000 nuclear power plants under construction globally, mainly small modular reactors in the emerging countries of Asia and Africa. A decade earlier it had seemed impossible that we would ever flatten another curve – that of global temperature growth – and avert the climate disaster that a 2-degree warming would trigger.

Poland also launched a vast program of energy transformation whose benefits we are partly enjoying already.

Poland also launched a vast program of energy transformation whose benefits we are partly enjoying already. The use of hydrogen fuel in transport, local government investment in rail transit systems and modernisation of the heating industry solved the problem of smog and helped achieve low emission targets. The decommissioning last year of the hard-coal fired power plant in Bełchatów and its replacement by the country’s first nuclear reactor was a milestone in the “second electrification” campaign. Along with building wind farms on the Baltic Sea, and a vast grid of smaller cooperative facilities and power clusters running on recyclables, this made it possible to eliminate coal from power and heating, almost exactly in line with the International Energy Agency scenario that we described ten years ago.

Fig. 3.2. Decarbonisation of the power and heating sector in Poland based on an extrapolation of the B2DS model for the EU (IEA ETP 2017)

percentage change over 2010
90-95% reduction

IEA ETP Power generation from coal
IEA-ETP CO2 emissions from the power sector.
PEP2040 Power generation from coal.

IEA-ETP Installed capacity in coal-fired power plants (excluding CCS)
PEP2040 CO2 emissions from the power sector
PEP2040 CO2 emissions from the power sector

Source: Own research based on IEA ETP 2017

The role of social dialogue within the framework of the Committee for Just Transition also has to be recognised for finding the right way to gradually reduce employment in the coal industry with the right instruments: fixed-term financial relief and retraining programmes. An excellent decision on the part of the negotiators was getting both sides to agree that talks should be held in the spirit of intergenerational solidarity.

Regenerating the Welfare State

The last decade was a time of groundbreaking change. It proved that a socially equitable and egalitarian economy were not just possible but necessary if we are to survive.

Prioritising care for others in the wake of the real threat posed by the pandemic led society to reassess the value of various professions and services.

Prioritising care for others in the wake of the real threat posed by the pandemic led society to reassess the value of various professions and services. Today, nobody finds it strange that spending on health and education has gone up severalfold, and that nurses and teachers earn salaries comparable with middle-management positions in large corporations. The recognition of care work and social reproduction in the budget was followed by gradual improvement in the quality of public services as well as the work ethic. Consequently, the state successfully replaced market entities when it came to providing quality benefits.

Another hugely important factor was the gradual introduction of standards of teleworking and automated solutions in the public sector. Socialising data from various sources and using them in public databanks, allowed scientists, innovators and start-ups to develop new concepts benefitting from the wealth of information available. Polish telemedicine solutions, now commonplace in public health care, are being successfully exported. Instead of relying on Western technology, Poland has become an active player in the field of education, environmental protection and smart-city solutions, and its trade with developing countries is flourishing.

The modern-day welfare state whose overhaul we are about to complete had been within reach earlier. The pandemic cost millions of lives but it served as the last and most tangible reminder of how fragile our civilization is. Appealing to the imagination and opening people’s eyes to a multitude of possible futures was the key to introducing an equitable economy in 2020. It will have to continue to be so if we want to stay on the track we have chosen.

Translated by Artur Zapałowski

Conditioned Support: Necropolitics and solidarity in times of crisis

Agata Dziuban, Zuzanna Dziuban

A couple of days ago, one of us posted a request for support on the website of a grassroots self-help group. Over the last few weeks, numerous virtual communities of this kind have been established, including hundreds of local “Visible Hand” forums, dozens of initiatives to sew masks for healthcare workers, and fundraisers for groups particularly affected by the epidemic – i.e. precarious workers, artists, or homeless people. The emergence of communities of this kind is perhaps one of the most positive developments in the current situation. They are inspiring examples of the spontaneous grassroots self-organization and mobilizations that have been made in the name of solidarity, mutual support and care.

The reproduction of life, both in a literal sense and as a typically devalued and low-paid reproductive labour, is increasingly being taken over by citizens.

Yet, the fact that such initiatives are needed at all exposes the weaknesses, inadequacies and failures of governmental institutions and existing care systems, whose responsibilities are being taken over by them. The reproduction of life, both in a literal sense and as a typically devalued and low-paid reproductive labour, is increasingly being taken over by citizens. The preparation and delivery of meals to people facing homelessness, care for the elderly, supplying medical staff with protective equipment, offering legal assistance to laid-off employees, providing psychological support – all these forms of work are spontaneously becoming the domain of community- and solidarity-based outsourcing. This outsourcing fills the void left by the state and its agencies – a void for which there is no room in the times of crisis. The mandated lockdown and self-isolation, severe restrictions on mobility and travel, the radical shrinking or absence of income, and the fear for oneself and one’s loved ones, make our reliance on those infrastructures that create and sustain our biological and social existence even more evident and tangible. The absence of state-based care mechanisms exposes the extent to which we are, in fact, dependent on one another. For some, access to these informal support networks and solidarity-based assistance is literally a matter of life or death.
The aforementioned post on a local online forum concerned precisely this kind of support – providing a meal to a person who had no means of subsistence. Deprived of access to the internet and stranded in a foreign town with no-one to turn to, she asked one of us to post the request online on her behalf. The responses to this post came as a shock. Some forum participants questioned the credibility of the person in need: they asked how it is possible to have no money; some wanted to learn about the details of her circumstances. The validity of such questions was legitimized by fear of “swindlers and freeloaders” preying on the web. The plea for support itself was seen as controversial and a sign of entitlement. Also, the credibility of the person who published the request was challenged: one of the forum members posted screenshots from a private Facebook profile promoting an Emergency Fund for Sex Workers. He suggested that both the person posting the plea and the person in need are sex workers, and so they should not be granted support. Of course, the post was also followed by sexist and discrediting jokes. Several members of the group decided to help, but almost all of them, in private exchanges, asked whether the friend was providing sexual services as if this translated into the reality of her hunger and the importance of her needs.

This kind of conditioning and negotiating of solidarity and support is not rare. It manifests in many grassroots, community-based exchanges, including those where help is offered.

Alas, this kind of conditioning and negotiating of solidarity and support is not rare. It manifests in many grassroots, community-based exchanges, including those where help is offered. This was an experience of the second of us, whose post (on another self-help forum) – providing information on the availability of emergency contraception and abortion at the time of the pandemic – was first met with harsh criticisms by group members and deleted by the site administrators in a matter of minutes. This reaction expressed not so much the administrators’ disapproval of the post content as their caution against the potential risk that keeping it could entail: the threat that the website could be reported or left by people for whom abortion is a normative and ideological no-go. Thus, against their own beliefs, the administrators were disciplined to impose restrictions on what forms of assistance are justified and which appeals for support could appear in the spaces created by spontaneously-arising grassroots communities.
To be clear: this text is not meant to question the value of such initiatives and groups. Nor does it intend to criticize mechanisms that govern the dynamics of spontaneously-created web-communities, which organize around immediate problems and at the intersection of many political and social subjectivities. The multiplicity of often contradictory or agonistic voices, positions and perspectives constitute an unquestionable value of such communities. We are interested instead in the ways in which established and institutionalized frames of recognition for specific practices and forms of subjectivity impose an unfair, unequal and conditioned/conditional distribution of support. The examples described above show that requests for help coming from certain positions or articulating certain types of needs allow for support to be withdrawn and its obviousness to be called into question. In fact, such instances of withdrawal or repudiation of support reproduce and reinforce existing structures of inequality and precarity, (de)legitimize particular forms of life or work, and (de)valuate those forms of life as (un)deserving of engagement and aid. The contemporary moment in which solidarity once again organizes the social and political imagination and mobilizes community action, ought to create a space for the visibilization and dismantling of those frames of recognition. Their exclusionary and hierarchizing effects shape material conditions of human existence and determine the ability of many people, if not entire communities, to live and survive, both in times of crisis and in times of “normality”.

The pandemic-related crisis and the emerging forms of mobilization, driven by solidarity and an ethics of care, make the conditionality of living and survival more evident and visible.

The pandemic-related crisis and the emerging forms of mobilization, driven by solidarity and an ethics of care, make the conditionality of living and survival more evident and visible. What the present-day situation makes us realize is the extent to which this conditionality is naturalized in moments that, from the perspective of the pandemic, may seem “normal”. For some individuals and communities, the present crisis is yet another obstacle in one’s access to decent life conditions and the possibility of making one’s own decisions. There are also individuals and populations for whom the struggle for survival is not an exceptional but a permanent state. We are thinking here about those whose low pay means that they live under the subsistence level – on a wage that allows the mere maintenance of one’s basic necessities and life functions. We are thinking here about domestic workers, nurses, ward nurses, paramedics, nannies, care workers, and teachers, all of whom perform care labour for which they are poorly remunerated or are denied a continuity of employment. We also have in mind those populations that are, on a daily basis, subjected to violence motivated by racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia. This pertains, too, to the situation of those who, for years, have been confined to the disastrous and life-threatening conditions of refugee camps and detention centres. At the moment, responsibility for the dramatic situation in those places is being placed on the pandemic – as if the agency of the virus was constructing a new reality marked by suffering and peril, thus erasing the visibility of threats inherent to the “pre-virus” one.

All these individuals and populations (as well as many others) are, in the times of “normality”, anyway left to themselves. Hence, it is no surprise that, in times of crisis, they are subjected to conditional and conditioned support. The differential valorization and hierarchization of certain claims for help, distinguishing between those that must be addressed immediately and those that can be disdained, postponed or discredited, activate often unconscious, unarticulated and unproblematized frames of recognition. Under conditions of limited availability of resources, such as of healthcare, financial support, legal aid, attention and empathy, these frames dictate who is to be left out – because they would be left out anyway. This follows from their position in a hierarchy that assigns a different value to various forms of subjectivity: the life and survival of some are regarded as unquestionably valuable, while the life and survival of others are perceived as less valuable or deprived of any worth. Such devalued life is subjected to violence, expressed in neglect or indifference, and, occasionally, by a strategic refusal to help – i.e. necropolitical violence by omission.

The conditionality of support, dictated by the assumption that the person in need is (perhaps!) a sex worker, or a decision to deny access to information on abortion, are forms of grassroots crisis-driven necropolitics..

The conditionality of support, dictated by the assumption that the person in need is (perhaps!) a sex worker, or a decision to deny access to information on abortion, are forms of grassroots crisis-driven necropolitics. This necropolitical violence, manifested in the debates, actions and decisions of virtual communities, does not come from nowhere. It constitutes a spontaneous enactment of deeper, structural violence that devalues the life and survival of different individuals, communities and groups, also in times of “normality”. This violence is expressed in public discourse, political decisions, law and institutional practices. It is inscribed in the logic of global capitalism and neoliberal labour markets; it is at the core of conservative ideologies, and patriarchal, xenophobic, nationalist political projects. It is the tissue and framework that lays the grounds for our day-to-day coexistence.

Also in times of so-called normality, necropolitical violence is the principle organizing the lives of sex workers: it is evoked in their stigmatization, social marginalization, and deprivation of access to social rights and protections. It compels them, by the force of law, to work in criminalized contexts and to remain in criminalized employment relations. This institutionalized and legally established necropolitics strips sex workers from protection against exploitation and violence, legitimizing, in fact, and allowing for non-institutional forms of physical, sexual and symbolic violence against them. During these times of crisis caused by the pandemic, sex workers and their problems – workplace closures, the loss of income, a lack of health insurance and social benefits, high financial penalties for continuing work, or the risk of detention and deportation – remain outside the scope of society’s solidarity-oriented imagination. Sex workers become invisible; indeed, they are invisibilized. Even if they are addressed in public debate, they are cast as potential epidemiological threats, and not as members of a community particularly vulnerable to the virus and struggling for survival.

Necropolitical violence organizes legal and cultural discourses around abortion, determining whose life and survival deserve sustaining and protection. By putting more value on the survival and development of a fetus than on the survival and development of a pregnant person, it condemns the latter to an existence over which they have no control. In times of crisis, those who are seeking safe home-based abortions or access to legal procedures abroad – both of which are almost completely criminalized in Poland – encounter an array of additional barriers, including limitations on their ability to access information. This radically curtails the already drastically restricted horizon of choice. Grassroots necropolitics around abortion constrains the possibility to exercise one’s reproductive rights, deny people control over their lives, bodies and futures, the shapes of which we can hardly imagine today. It generates more of the insecurity, uncertainty and anxiety that underlie the daily experiences of those with an unwanted pregnancy in Poland. The slogan “abortion saves lives”, so scandalizing for its opponents, exposes the necropolitical dimension of the anti-abortion violence, which – in the name of saving the fetus – invalidates the experiences, perspectives and socioeconomic positions of people with unwanted pregnancies. This slogan does not refer exclusively to the situations in which pregnancy and birth pose a direct threat to the person’s life but pertains to all circumstances when access to abortion directly translates into the quality of their life and survival.

By exposing the malfunctions of the healthcare system, the deficits of welfare institutions, the anti-worker and antisocial logic of market mechanisms and political decisions (as exemplified by the governmental anti-crisis shield), today’s crisis exposes, first and foremost, the necropolitical violence underlying the pre-crisis world.

By exposing the malfunctions of the healthcare system, the deficits of welfare institutions, the anti-worker and antisocial logic of market mechanisms and political decisions (as exemplified by the governmental anti-crisis shield), today’s crisis exposes, first and foremost, the necropolitical violence underlying the pre-crisis world. Revealing the scale of our interdependence and the need for, if not the necessity of, mutual aid, the pandemic demonstrates, too, how small and seemingly benign decisions of grassroots support groups can reinforce violent structures of exclusion. These decisions determine the material conditions of life and survival of the most disadvantaged individuals or groups. This is why it is so important to critically reflect on (and subject to ongoing reflection) not only the governmental and institutional structures of support, which are in and, in fact, contribute to the crisis, but also on the frames that structure grassroots solidarity. If it is true, as many of us hope, that after the pandemic there is no return to the world as we knew it, then we should, perhaps, consider this moment as an opportunity to negotiate new principles to govern our collective life. The time has come to develop new, (anti-necro)political projects. The starting point could be to reconsider the notion of solidarity by replacing conditional and conditioned support with a form of solidarity that values every life equally. We dream of solidarity that does not hierarchize, condition or exclude.

The prospect of such unconditional and unconditionable solidarity, and of its institutionalization in public debate, law, and economic and social order – which would also include the full decriminalization of abortion and sex work – is more than a dream that we share. This prospect offers, too, an antidote to a fear of the future, haunted by radicalizing forms of necro-capitalism and necro-nationalism. Now already under the guise of the state of emergency and the fight against the pandemic, we are witnessing a sanctioning of the use of direct force by the state, “prophylactic” criminalization and militarization, brutal forms of eugenics, expanding surveillance, and the domination of corporatism and the logic of exploitation, which deprive ever-new categories of subjects of their fundamental rights. The post-crisis world could be a world in which the number of individuals and populations pushed outside the frames of recognition and, thus, condemned to extinction, would increase drastically.

That is why a hope arising from the impossibility to return to the world as we knew it ought to become the organizing principle of our grassroots political praxis. This praxis could be founded in the demand for a radical anti-necropolitics: a politics oriented towards safeguarding the life and survival of each and every one of us.

The world of the future that emerges in front of our eyes is not new. This is but an extension and amplification of the reality we inhabit now, of the world we lived in before the crisis. That is why a hope arising from the impossibility to return to the world as we knew it ought to become the organizing principle of our grassroots political praxis. This praxis could be founded in the demand for a radical anti-necropolitics: a politics oriented towards safeguarding the life and survival of each and every one of us. As exemplified by the cases of abortion and sex work, at stake is not just securing the mere maintenance of existence, but the possibility to create conditions that would render all lives livable: empowered, safe, free from exploitation and state or non-institutional violence, with an open horizon of the future. Only an inclusive and non-hierarchizing solidarity, rooted in the awareness of our fundamental interdependence and shared responsibility, would allow for such an anti-necropolitics to emerge. In order to destroy our necro-world, we need to restructure the existing frames of recognition and appreciate life in all its forms – regardless how different some of those lives might be from our own.

Emergency Fund for Sex Workers in PL





The Red Virus

Jonas Staal


Uncredited “Comrade Britney” Meme, 2020, adapted from Vladimir Serov, “Lenin Proclaims Soviet Power” (1947)

1. Comrade Britney

In March, when the coronavirus began spreading fast in the United States, #ComradeBritney became a trending topic after pop singer Britney Spears posted an Instagram text by Mimi Zhu, a queer Chinese-Australian artist and community organizer from Brooklyn [1]. The media quickly latched onto one sentence “We will feed each other, re-distribute wealth, strike,” causing even the democratic socialist magazine Jacobin to feature an article titled “Comrade Britney Spears, We Salute You [2].” Zhu’s full text, which has sparked a wave of “Comrade Britney” memes, reads as follows:

During this time of isolation, we need connection now more than ever. Call your loved ones, write virtual love letters. Technologies like virtual communication, streaming and broadcasting are part of our community collaboration. We will learn to kiss and hold each other through the waves of the web. We will feed each other, re-distribute wealth, strike. We will understand our own importance from the places we must stay. Communion moves beyond walls. We can still be together [3].

The slogan “It’s Comrade, Bitch” – paraphrasing Spear’s famous “It’s Britney, Bitch” from her 2007 single “Gimme More” – highlights a contextual shift in which capitalist pop culture gains an unexpected critical capacity. Suddenly, the lyrics from Comrade Spears’ 1999 debut single “…Baby One More Time” read fundamentally differently. In our present predicament, we hear the first couplet’s “my loneliness is killing me” as referring to millions of people in self-quarantine, but also to our atomization and individuation under global capitalism. But the subsequent phrase, “I must confess I still believe,” emphasizes that this atomization is not a given and that the alienating and exploitative order under which we live is in no way natural. Comrade Spears’ belief (“I still believe”) thus emphasizes the necessity for political organization and unionization. This becomes even more clear when she calls “give me a sign,” which should be understood as the democratic socialist spark – a twenty-first-century specter, following the twentieth-century “specter of communism” – the collective awakening of the precariat. Closing with “hit me, baby, one more time,” now becomes a double entendre. On one hand, it articulates a threat to the system: hit me one more time – keep oppressing me, and our collective response will be relentless. Simultaneously, Comrade Britney alerts us to the fact that challenging the means of production of our terrifying reality will not come without a struggle.

The virus that has awakened Comrade Britney – the virus that gave her a sign, so to speak – is the same one that has turned millions into reborn socialists, suddenly convinced of the importance of universal health care, well-paid care workers and cleaners, and basic income.

Now, why should we take any of this seriously, considering that there are actual contemporary popular artists – from the highly politicized work of M.I.A. to The Coup – that build on the political-cultural struggle of decades past? The reason is because, in the context of our current pandemic, such moments of “going viral” pertain to a different kind of virus. The virus that has awakened Comrade Britney – the virus that gave her a sign, so to speak – is the same one that has turned millions into reborn socialists, suddenly convinced of the importance of universal health care, well-paid care workers and cleaners, and basic income. Here we witness the spread not of a physical infection, but of an idea, which consists of a series of egalitarian principles through which we can confront and collectivize our present [4]. This red virus, to which even the former Britney Spears is not immune, spreads new forms of egalitarian life.

“Collectivize Facebook” (2020), Jonas Staal and Jan Fermon
HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin. Image: Remco van Bladel and Jonas Staal

2. Going Viral

Obviously, the red virus is far from the only ideological trope trying to overtake the “master narrative” on how to interpret the origins and consequences of the current coronavirus crisis [5]. Ultranationalists and the alt-right see this as a chance to double down on their call for border walls and other fortifications, shamelessly equating migrants and refugees with the virus. Transnational corporations are lining the halls of congress and the European Central Bank for fresh handouts and bailouts. Big Pharma, the securitization industry, and “flash traders” see their chances to ruthlessly profit on the deaths of, potentially, hundreds of thousands of people. And a dangerous belief is taking hold, pointed out by Sherronda J. Brown, that humans themselves are the virus as if this pandemic were nature taking its revenge on us [6].

Those who tell us not to “politicize” the coronavirus crisis aim to do so in order to naturalize their own ideological narrative as constituting the “new normal” to which to return. But this supposed return to normality – mimicking nostalgic slogans such as “Make America Great Again” (a return to a sovereign nation that never was) or the notion of the “post-truth” era (a return to the pre-Trump era from which we inherited the nightmare of global capitalism) – is not a solution, it is precisely the problem. The fragility of global capitalism and its structural inequalities is further exposed by the pandemic, leading to desperate attempts by transnational corporations and neoliberal governments to restore this deeply unsustainable system. The very machine that undid our future (wait for the climate crisis-fueled pandemics yet to come) now manically tries to spread the notion that it can save our present. What is not political about this process? We have not a moment to spare in setting the conditions for our red virus to go viral and call liveable forms of life into being. As Donna Haraway noted, pre-pandemic: “I’m really interested in propaganda as a form that need not be full of alt-anything, that can be a practice of collecting each other up and telling important truths with certain kinds of tonalities [7].”

Art and culture play a crucial role in the process of propagating such “important truths,” which we should understand in terms of a propaganda struggle: a battle of infrastructures, narratives, and imaginations that shape our past, present, and future.

Art and culture play a crucial role in the process of propagating such “important truths,” which we should understand in terms of a propaganda struggle: a battle of infrastructures, narratives, and imaginations that shape our past, present, and future [8]. The red virus delineates the battle lines between those infected by a vision of new shared forms of resilient, egalitarian life and those who believe a continuation of murderous global capitalism is the cure, rather than the source of our misery. It is through such a delineation that we articulate a space of comradeship, in Jodi Dean’s words: “toward the sameness of those fighting on the same side [9].” The red virus thus creates a reverse kind of infection: it does not leave us to our own survival, every individual for her- or himself, but it makes us more the same (which is not to deny the violent class differences that are only more aggressively made manifest in our pandemic present) [10].

But how to propagate when the preferred means of emancipatory politics, such as the assembly, become impossible due to self-quarantine, a condition in which we see the atomization and individuation of global capitalism fully manifest in our day-to-day choreographies – that is, if you are even privileged enough to be able to self-isolate and “social distance.” What does it mean, in these conditions, to say, as Mimi Zhu does, that “we can still be together”?

“TRANSUNIONS” (2019), Jonas Staal, produced by Biennale Warszawa
Photo Jonas Staal

3. Collectivization as Assembly

This past year, I was working with lawyer Jan Fermon on an indictment against Facebook, titled Collectivize Facebook. Together, we conceptualized what we call a “collectivize action lawsuit”: a court case with thousands of co-claimants. Our aim is to engage in a concrete legal struggle to enforce the recognition of Facebook as a public domain, and subsequently as public ownership while organizing collective gatherings to discuss what we would do once we win. I know, the notion of “winning” is rare in emancipatory political discourse, as we have come to adopt Samuel Beckett’s famous line from Worstward Ho (1983) as a mantra: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Of course, Beckett’s words challenge us to think beyond the doctrine of the win-lose dichotomy, a linear winner-takes-all mentality inherently tied to the (self)exploitative system we must abolish. But is a form of collective winning – as trialled in practices of cooperative gaming for example – not also a way to overcome this dichotomy? And is it not for the fear of repeating the tragedies of real existing socialism that we have come to fetishize failure as a kind of tragically heroic gesture – a guarantee we succeed (at our failure) while shedding the responsibility to affect real change?

Fermon and I aim to organize what we call “pre-trials,” which will lead up to submitting our indictment at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. These pre-trials are preliminary procedures in which we present and discuss the indictment in order to gather more co-claimants, while simultaneously calling upon the collective imaginary to begin shaping the world after our victory. If we can turn Facebook into a transnational cooperative of 2.2 billion active users, how will we collectively govern it? Will we vote for a new social contract, or install a transnational people’s committee to oversee this socialized social media? Do we ban the storage of data, ensure encryption and privacy to all, forbid any form of advertisement, and compose our own algorithms as a form of comradely Artificial Intelligence, rather than as an invisible force that further fortifies our individual echo chambers [11]? A collective exercise of shaping the worlds we can still win, but simultaneously an exercise in overcoming our fear of collective governance – a fear that might have sound historical justifications, but that has led us to abandon the infrastructures through which our struggle can propagate and construct new egalitarian realities.

When the coronavirus began to emerge worldwide, holding the first pre-trial – which was to take place on March 26, 2020, at the HAU Hebbel am Ufer Theater in Berlin – would have been irresponsible. And if half the world was not being streamed already, the pandemic certainly made sure of it: corporate social media has spiked, Zoom installed on nearly every home office computer, theatre and discussion programs hooked to Youtube channels and Facebook live streams. There are two sides to this development. The first is possibility, the desire to shape new forms of culture in the crisis, create new forms of nearness, with the significant consequences that more cultural institutions have moved to open-source shared content than ever before. The second is the risk of maintaining a criminal normalcy, with teachers finding themselves made to work even more low-paid hours on Zoom than before, cultural workers paid even worse, office meetings dragging on endlessly, as if this pandemic was just a massive corporate exercise to explore how to make budgets even leaner than they already were. Those who can claim some form of cultural capital in the digital world benefit; those who do not (if they have access at all) have lost yet another way to maintain their precarious survival. But this was precisely the reason for still launching our Collectivize Facebook campaign, for as our dependency on corporate “social” media and monopolized tools of communication increases in this crisis, so is the need to challenge their means of ownership. The red virus must contaminate these new digital sites of struggle, and the material infrastructures that sustain them.

Fermon and I claim that the current model of ownership of Facebook fundamentally undermines people’s and individuals’ right to self-determination, as enshrined in various international human rights treaties – while we are, of course, well aware of the deeply problematic liberal and individuated meaning of this emphasis on the “human” in human rights [12]. Facebook has turned us into neo-feudal data workers, profiting off our data without compensation, while making us increasingly dependent on the platform – Amnesty International even calls Facebook “inevitable [13].” The corporation is further implicated in its surveillance of its users, not only through “shadow profiles,” but also by sharing information with governments, possibly endangering dissidents’ and activists’ lives, and by enabling companies such as Cambridge Analytica to collect data from millions of users’ profiles. Facebook wilfully advises authoritarian regimes, such as that of Duterte in the Philippines, which now uses the platform as its main organ of public communication. But of course, these arguments – which sustain the larger human rights violation that is Facebook – apply not merely to this corporate giant alone, but to various other trillion-dollar companies as well.

The question we now face – which has gained additional urgency in the context of the coronavirus crisis – is what forms of life the red virus can propagate into being. Not forms as we have known them, which leave us only to decide between strengthening the power of the nation-state or those of private capital, or – more often than not – deeply entangled combinations of the two. Our common crisis goes well beyond the borders of the nation-state, but the borderless transnationalism of high-finance capitalism represents nothing of the redefined internationalism that we need at this moment [14]. Would a strange hybrid between the two, a cooperatization – a making collective – of the transnational corporation become an imaginable form exactly at this moment of crisis? The liberal former presidential candidate Elisabeth Warren has already called to “break up Facebook” [15], while ideas for the nationalization of Amazon are gaining ground as our self-isolation only further expands its already vast monopoly [16]. And so a propagation – a replication – ensues, Collectivize Facebook, Collectivize Alphabet, Collectivize Amazon, Collectivize Apple, Collectivize Microsoft, Collectivize Bayer…

This moment we find ourselves in, where unexpected comrades crop up and where the reasons for our brutal precarization become increasingly visible, is one where we can assemble through collectivization rather than through the immediate nearness of our bodies.

In self-isolation, we miss the assembly, but maybe there was also something missing in the assembly itself. Of course, reducing the vastly different practices and scales of precarity and urgency that underlie what Judith Butler has termed “performative assembly” would be undesirable [17], but at least in my own experience – from the Occupy movement to the Amsterdam University occupations, as well as in my own organizational art practice, ranging from the alternative parliaments I developed in the New World Summit to the transnational New Unions campaign – there has been a recurring risk of relying on the rather liberal idea of the so-called “wisdom of the crowd.” The danger is in an opinion-driven, rather than a principle-driven propagation. This moment we find ourselves in, where unexpected comrades crop up and where the reasons for our brutal precarization become increasingly visible, is one where we can assemble through collectivization rather than through the immediate nearness of our bodies. It is this assembly of the means of production and communication which, when cooperatized, allow our renewed comradeship to manifest into new forms of life.

* * *

[1] Katherine Gillespie, “Meet Mimi Zhu, the Socialist Who Convinced Britney to Join the Cause,” Paper Magazine, March 25, 2020:

[2] Dawn Foster, “Comrade Britney Spears, We Salute You,” Jacobin, March 25, 2020:

[3] These and other text-based works can be found on Mimi Zhu’s Instagram official Instagram account,

[4] See also: Jonas Staal, “Coronavirus Propagations,” e-flux conversations, March 17, 2020:

[5] Terence McSweeney, The “War on Terror” and American Film: 9/11 Frames Per Second (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), p.10.

[6] Sherronda J. Brown, “Humans are not the virus, don’t be an eco-fascist,” Wear Your Voice, March 27, 2020:

[7] Transcribed from a lecture by Donna Haraway, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, March 25, 2017:

[8] See further: Jonas Staal, Propaganda Art in the 21st Century (Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2019).

[9] Jodi Dean, “Four Theses on the Comrade,” e-flux journal, #86, November 2017:

[10] Arwa Mahdawi, “The coronavirus has exposed the truth about celebrity culture and capitalism,” The Guardian, March 31, 2020:

[11] On AI and “other intelligences” see James Bridle’s lecture, “Other Intelligences,” HAU Hebbel am Ufer, March 19, 2020:

[12] See: Radha d’Souza, What’s Wrong with Rights: Social Movements, Law and Liberal Imaginations (London: Pluto Press, 2018).

[13] Amnesty International, “Surveillance Giants: How the business model of Google and Facebook threatens human rights,” Amnesty International, 2019:

[14] Kuba Szreder, “Independence always proceeds from interdependence: A Reflection on the Conditions of the Artistic Precariat and the Art Institution in Times of Covid-19,” L’Internationale Online,

[15] Lauren Gambino, ‘Too much power’: It’s Warren v Facebook in a key 2020 battle,” The Guardian, October 20, 2019:

[16] Paris Marx, “Nationalize Amazon,” Jacobin, March 29, 2020:

[17] Judith Butler, “Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly”, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).

Coronavirus in a Syrianized World

Yassin Al Haj Saleh

At the beginning of April this year I had a chance to visit a Berlin clinic for a general medical checkup. In the waiting room, an assistant wearing a mask covering her mouth and nose handed me a similar mask before guiding me to a masked doctor. It took a second or two before I realized that I had covered my eyes instead of my nose and mouth as if my hands had “remembered” what they did every night during the sixteenth year of my imprisonment. It was in the Palmyra prison, Syria, in 1996, where we, the political prisoners, were ordered to sleep blindfolded, on our side, and not to move during sleep.

This time the mask is meant to be a protection against the coronavirus specter that is haunting Berlin and the world, spreading a greater fear than Marx and Engels’ communist specter aroused in European bourgeoisie circles in the mid-19th century. Covid the 19th, the crowned king of kings, is this new sovereign that wields more power than Trump and Putin, Europe and China, and proves even more powerful than the Palmyra and Saidnaya prison tormentors in Assad’s Syria, seasoned experts in inflicting torture and murder.

In the present situation of uncertainty and unpredictability, a refugee today, I ask myself whether we had not seen all this before?

In the present situation of uncertainty and unpredictability, a refugee today, I ask myself whether we had not seen all this before? Didn’t we experience, back ‘home’ over there, isolation and confinement? Now we are confronting this virus-induced crisis together after a number of other global crises where this kind of togetherness was missing. For one, I cannot experience the coronavirus time as if I haven’t experienced anything before, nor can I refer to its crisis without my memory going back to my forsaken country. That time of cruelty and trauma was inevitably referential time for me. It is heartbreaking that that time is being extended now, renewed, rejuvenated, eternalized.

Less than a year ago I thought that we were just one major crisis away from a worldwide disaster. I was envisioning Syria’s course being followed by bigger countries such as Egypt or Iran. What I did not imagine was a COVID-19. It is not evident if we are already having that worldwide disaster, but nothing can reassure us that we are not. Nowadays, one can see it clearly that solidarity, which the Syrians have been deprived of for nine years, is even scarcer in the world than hospital beds and ventilators are. Trump’s attempts to seize control of the German laboratory that is working on a coronavirus vaccine, are a sign that the pandemic may not be the greatest of the dangers we are facing.

And we need to be humble, to open our eyes to see – the first thing to do in an unprecedented situation, lest we follow the suit of army generals and the Western left, forever fighting the previous war.

The unexpected and fast-spreading global crisis shows that in spite of economic, technological, political and cultural differences among nations and cultures, we are quite alike in our ignorance. We need to combat our shared illiteracy and learn to read. The plague is obliterating the differences between countries and societies and, above all, annihilating the borders that the countries are trying to strengthen, as they have done when confronting the “refugee crisis”. While governments are saying we are worlds apart, the virus announces: “you are one world”. Faced with the challenge of the invisible microbe, we are all starting almost from the scratch – unless we are Slavoj Žižek who could publish a whole book while most of us are still putting our first words together. And we need to be humble, to open our eyes to see – the first thing to do in an unprecedented situation, lest we follow the suit of army generals and the Western left, forever fighting the previous war. This is not a war, contrary to what Macron was able to repeat six times in his March 16 speech. In all probability, this diagnosis is rooted in the paradigm of the war on terror – from there, it is not a long way until viruses are seen as terrorists, or vice versa, terrorists as viruses, which could extend to all refugees and migrants. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made it clear: the coronavirus and the migrants are two sides of one problem, human mobility, which must be stopped. Not far from such views is the populist right in Germany (and not only there), whose political thought can easily be translated into the language of illness and immunity. Genocide may, therefore, appear as the most appropriate sanitary measure. Already in June 2011, Bashar al-Assad spoke about conspiracies and bacteria, about bactericide and bodily immunity. Now, this comes really close to the political imagination of the Nazis who sought to “cleanse” Germany of degenerated races, the sick and the antisocial, to create a healthy environment for the pure Aryan blood. In August 2017, six years after the speech on bacteria, bactericide and immunity, Syria’s heir president was able to talk about the benefits of the war he had unleashed: he hailed the “homogenous society” that had rid itself of discord and divisive elements. The biopolitics of doctor Bashar al-Assad has over nine years killed half a million people and drove more than six million out of the country. A few weeks ago, his minister of health typically responded to the question concerning Covid-19 infections in the country by paying tribute to the regime’s armed forces who had “cleansed Syria of bacteria”!

The war imaginary is not helpful in confronting the coronavirus epidemic. It only serves to create enemies and foster conflict. Yet, the proliferation of this imaginary is an indication of the tenacity of the instinct of a sovereign state, which in the face of a threat, even if its source is an invisible microbe, is only capable of announcing a mobilization for war. Sovereignty has impoverished imagination and language, so we no longer have words and images to describe crises other than those associated with danger and war, with the closing of borders, with things that require military and police intervention, reinforcing the monopoly for “legitimate” violence. As sovereign states are equipped with the hammer of legitimate violence, they think of everything, even the virus, as a nail to beat.

Even more dangerously, the war imaginary has a way of creating enemies, those who are not sufficiently self-disciplined so they have to be disciplined by force. In this way, instead of uniting to face the misfortune, we end up creating new divides, albeit for the most part overlapping with the old ones.

Courage is another quality that is essential in this “non-war”, especially in a world where numerous bullies are putting on a display of their military potential targeting those much weaker than them, and armed conflicts have degenerated to the level of torture and genocide.

Courage is another quality that is essential in this “non-war”, especially in a world where numerous bullies are putting on a display of their military potential targeting those much weaker than them, and armed conflicts have degenerated to the level of torture and genocide. There is no “war on terror”, no one should be fooled about it. There is only torture used by states who possess air forces, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear arsenal against much weaker societies, and the victims are very rarely limited to alleged terrorists. This can be seen in Syria, Palestine and practically everywhere. This alleged war served to justify torture on a global scale and undermine democracy all over the world. I call it a “torture war”, which is truer and more representative a term than the “war against terror,” since it has no qualities of war. Under the cover of the torture war, racism has advanced throughout the world. A fundamental distinction has emerged between the tortured and torturers – be it beating up, starving and humiliating prisoners in the dungeons of security services, or dropping barrel bombs on civilians, or bombing hospitals and bazaars with white phosphorus and thermobaric weapons, as practised by Russian forces in Syria. The moment we talk about fundamental distinctions we are in effect talking about racism. Racism is a torture relation, one between the torturers and the tortured. Courage lies in refraining from this game, in changing the course.

To think about and with others, to contact them and think with them is the third right thing to do.

Today we are avoiding meeting with the Other quite literally. We are being discouraged from that, all the time. But it is not clear that we think about, or with, others when meeting them physically is undesirable. To think about and with others, to contact them and think with them is the third right thing to do. Quarantine is not an obstacle, rather, it should encourage us. This is a global crisis and as many people in the world as possible should join to think about it, work towards overcoming it and plan what next. It is also essential that we preserve our ability to contact and to meet, not allowing acquired habits that were born during the crisis and are tainted with it, to confine our thought. It is quite probable that the isolation and new atomization do not get to be inscribed in our bodies, perhaps after some time, we say goodbye to the Wuhan style of greeting each other, by only touching each other ‘s feet. Still, the panic and isolation, ghettoization generated by the new sovereign, Covid 19, and his agents – sovereign warring powers of the world–may well breed their own panicked isolated habits and panicked isolated type of personality and community, which suits well ruthless dictatorships all over the world. The aforementioned war imaginary is a proof of high demand for something to frighten the masses with, and that our present-day proneness to fear and isolation is a just a revival of what we have already seen, that is isolation and fear of terrorism.

We may emerge from this global health anomaly with massive casualties, or with few. According to some estimations, they are likely to amount to 1 per cent of the planetary population, that is over 70 million, but our whole present world is unhealthy. The coronavirus is just a test showing how sick the world is, how it lacks youth and determination, how it gives in to fear and despair, how it opposes change like an old man, how it refuses to accept the risks of meeting others to face the dangers. The Other is a threat, say the new tribalists around the world.

Today, a real state of exception is needed, as Walter Benjamin called for to face up the normalized state of exception. When Giorgio Agamben considers the coronavirus to be a pretext for introducing a state of exception (which is already there according to the Italian philosopher), he looks like someone looking for his lost key under the street lamp (where theory is), instead of the place where he actually lost it (that is, where the problem lies). Macron did the same by looking for the virus in a battlefield of another previous war.

As a Syrian, I can see a problem related to the permanent state of exception that was imposed on my country in 1963. The problem is that we were deprived of a real state of emergency when it was really needed (more than once over the last nearly sixty years). If we are under a state of emergency all the time, and if we know that it is being used to silence and divide us, what would we do when a real emergency broke into our lives? Nothing. The result of a prolonged emergency is prolonged apathy and mental and moral torpor, rather than vigilance and open eyes.

We live in a suffocating present, where we can hardly move, much like prisoners in Bashar Al-Assad’s overcrowded torture dungeons. The world is in the crisis of disorientation, and of stifled imagination. We are in a no-alternative jail.

Sixty years ago, Hannah Arendt wrote that while the future is unpredictable, we can make promises that render it less unknown and terrifying. She also argued that what happened in the past is irreversible, but we can forgive, allowing the past to pass away. Many things in our world are unforgivable, specifically, when people are treated as if they are dispensable or ‘superfluous,’ as the author of The Origins of Totalitarianism put it, and like a million Syrians of Idlib learned within just the two first months this year. This world has very few promises, that is to say, very little future. For this reason, we may recover from the coronavirus, but the past is not passing away since dehumanizers and torturers ask nobody’s forgiveness. Neither is future welcoming us since the powerful actors give no promises whatsoever. We live in a suffocating present, where we can hardly move, much like prisoners in Bashar Al-Assad’s overcrowded torture dungeons. The world is in the crisis of disorientation, and of stifled imagination. We are in a no-alternative jail.

Furthermore, we know that the crisis is complex and chronic. If racism, torture wars and an acute public health crisis are not enough, we have a long-term environmental crisis of enormous proportions. These are all global problems that ask for global thinking and global action. This is not to say that we are to call for the abolition of existing States or to deny the need for local thinking and action. On the contrary, we may need more of the State, but less of sovereignty. States could be thought of as intermediaries between networks of international institutions and local communities. This, of course, raises the questions of the desirable degree of democracy in international organizations, their representativeness and legitimacy. The current predicament invites pondering on these questions. The United Nations and their agencies are not, unfortunately, a good example to follow, nor do they make a suitable framework for reflection on the present crises. It is already apparent that the most reactionary forces which resist global change are those that gain the most from the current situation of privilege. They are in the most favorable position when it comes to access to resources, information and weapons that are used in torture wars. The ideology of these forces refers to the principle formulated forty years ago by Margaret Thatcher: There Is No Alternative – TINA for short. This is the slogan of neoliberal fatalism that has prevailed in the world for at least thirty years. Incidentally, the same was used to justify the survival of the genocidal regime in Syria. We must say goodbye to that kind of world if we do not want Syria to be the future of the world.

China, contrary to what the head of the World Health Organization seems to believe, is not an alternative. The drawbacks of liberal democracy are real and growing, but a semi-slave regime that has a monopoly on information and decides on its own what to do and what to abandon, not to mention the monopoly on ‘legitimate violence’, is not the solution. The Chinese regime opposes alternatives and change, being for its subjects the equivalent of Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberalism. This is not the fate the world should aspire to.

What we need today is a new political imagination that will embrace all the three big crises: those of racism, environment and health.

What we need today is a new political imagination that will embrace all the three big crises: those of racism, environment and health. Our possible foothold in the near future will not come from governments, but from new ways of thinking and organizing, movements that may arise, freeing the imagination by overcoming the stifling reality, and from the coming together and joint struggle of people harmed by racism, capitalist fatality and the cult of profit. The motto of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2001 was: “Another world is possible”. For my part, I can see this possibility coming true if we do the right thing during the crisis opening our eyes to what normally went unperceived. It will come to be, if we get angry, change our habits, act fair and stop resisting knowing better about others and the world. Shortly speaking, if we bring about a genuine state of exception, of real difference from what we are used to. An event, as the Italian philosopher Rocco Ronchi argues, opens the way for changes that were not attainable before, and generates true possibilities. This is, in his opinion, the virtue of COVID-19. Our today’s crisis may precipitate new and various possibilities. If the creative energy of the event is lost, we will be plunged for years, an entire generation or even longer, into the swamp of a crisis of disorientation. And such a state suits those who want the present to last forever, that is, the powerful and the rich.

A true state of exception would be a revolution against the realities of today’s self-stifling world, a way out to where we can feel angry and be astonished by the fact that we are really living in a permanent present.

A true state of exception would be a revolution against the realities of today’s self-stifling world, a way out to where we can feel angry and be astonished by the fact that we are really living in a permanent present. In Syria, a revolution broke out against a state of exception which had become a rule. It was super brutally crushed, and a TINA card was raised before our unbelieving eyes. Today, more than sixteen million Syrians are living in the prison of no alternative. The number may grow up to eight billion in a Syrianized world, if decisions concerning alternatives and a state of exception are left in the hands of Trump, Putin and their likes.

We must not go back to a world of no alternatives, where masks are worn on the eyes. We have to “fight against those who call on us to go back to the way we were before”, as Cynthia Fleury said at the end of this March. Our fight is not for the masks to be moved from our eyes to our nose and mouth, but for a world without masks, a world of clean air, and where emergencies are better handled.

Translated into English by Jerzy P. Listwan

The text in Arabic is available as a file:

Tekst w języku oryginału jest do pobrania w postaci pliku:




Jan Sowa


Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men


We live in the times of obsolescent capitalism—an era of decay, disintegration, fragmentation, contradictions and impasses. It condemns us to the poetics of fragments, allusions, metaphors, pastiche and patchwork. It sometimes happens that great, coherent and unambiguous syntheses are created at times of climax or even in periods of decline—such as the late thirteenth century’s Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas, or the early twentieth century’s Economy and Society by Max Weber—but then they portray a world which is beginning to fall apart or even one that no longer exists (in these particular cases, the world of Christian theocracy in Aquinas, and a triumphant Europe in Weber); perhaps they allow us to understand what was, but not what is just around the corner. Fragmentary assemblages such as Benjamin’s The Arcades Project or Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus are better at grasping a world in flux and de/re-composition, like the one we are living in.


Humanity has already experienced many an epidemic, and while none have been as global or rapidly spreading as the current one, many have dramatically affected the trajectories of entire civilizations. For instance, the Black Death—the bubonic plague epidemic in the fourteenth century—shattered the feudal world, permanently upsetting its social and economic balance. The decline in Europe’s population by 30–60%, depending on the region, destroyed the demographic foundations of the manorial economy, and the falling supply of labour stimulated evolution towards a typically capitalist hired-labour model. Polish territory remained almost untouched by the epidemic, which was one reason for the ensuing divergence between the developmental paths of the continental East and West, as well as the emergence of a ‘second serfdom’ in the East, a tightening of the serfdom regime.

Although the Black Death occurred during a time when capitalist globalisation was not even on the horizon, the origins of this epidemic were linked to transcontinental influence and flow. The extension of the Great Wall of China between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, and later, the political emancipation of the Chinese, resulting in the Mongols losing control of Far East Asia in the fourteenth century, pushed the Golden Horde to the West, intensifying wars and conflicts on Europe’s eastern fringes. From 1344 on, Djanibeg Khan tried to conquer Kaffa (present-day Theodosia), a city on the Crimean Peninsula that the Genoese had bought back from the Horde less than a century earlier. The Mongols then brought the plague with them from Central Asia, and they used what might now be called a biological weapon in the siege: Djanibeg’s soldiers catapulted the bodies of those who died of the plague over the walls and into the city to infect the Genoese defenders. The attack on Kaffa proved unsuccessful, and in 1347, the Golden Horde signed a peace treaty with the Republic of Genoa. However, as Genoese ships returned from the Crimea, they dragged the plague into Europe – first into northern Italy, then to the south of France, and from there it spread throughout the entire continent.

COVID-19 is neither the first nor the last disease that humans have contracted from other animals. The history of viral diseases tells us of the fundamental intermingling of various animal species in a single web of life. Regardless of how many arguments for the uniqueness of human beings continue to be invented by philosophical anthropology and how much effort religions put into proving the supernatural origin of human beings, the Real will always find traumatic and disturbing ways to remind us that we are just one of many animal species that coexist in the web of life, sharing genes and diseases.

In this sense, the origins of the COVID-19 epidemic have little to do with our culture, conceived as a comprehensive way of life, and could well be explained as mere biological facts. Of course, the domestication of animals has been instrumental in the transmission of other species’ viruses to man, though this also happens throughout the animal and plant kingdoms. However, everything that followed the seminal event of SARS-CoV-2 first spilling onto human beings has nothing to do with unmediated nature and was dictated by the structure and functioning of capitalist modernity.

The first significant outbreaks of the COVID-19 emerged in Europe towards the end of February 2020. At that point already, in Northern Italy, more than ten new cases were registered every day, and the first person infected by SARS-CoV-2 died in the small village of Vo’ Euganeo near Padua on February 21, having been hospitalized for two weeks. This did not affect Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, who remained reluctant to talk about a global pandemic during a press conference on February 24, when he virtually restated his opinion from early February, arguing that no regulations should be introduced that would be ‘detrimental to travel and trade’. One might have believed that Ghebreyesus was heading the World Trade Organization rather than WHO, but his action adhered to the ideological coordinates of global capitalism, where the difference between WHO and WTO is actually much less than the middle letters in the two names.

Criticisms of capitalism are sometimes equated with moral condemnation of greed. This is not the point. Greed is a possible disposition of a subject, not limited to any one form or type of socio-economic organisation. While obviously predominant in capitalist societies, this disposition is not their defining feature, which is the extension of the principles of market exchange to the entire realm of social relations. This is what Marx called its real subsumption (subordination) under the rules of capital accumulation: everything becomes commodified, and all areas of life become regulated according to the market model: education, culture, environment, science and everything else becomes a form of merchandise, and schools, forests, art galleries or universities start to be viewed as businesses, i.e. organisations meant to generate profit. This goes far beyond greed as a character trait; it is the very structure of te capitalist world that makes a certain way of doing things the only one possible, even when the entities involved are not, or even actively refuse to be greedy. The legal framework that regulates how corporations function separates ownership from management, imposing the imperative of maximizing financial profits upon its managers. Officially, this must be done within the framework of existing legal regulations, but the law, unlike annual company profit reports, is not a meaningful element of the market game; semi-legal or even illegal profits look exactly the same on the charts as profits from completely legal activities. Pecunia non olet. The management of a corporation has no choice but to strive to maximize profits, and if it does not deliberately do so, shareholders may sue it for acting against corporate interests. In this system, the interests of any other individual or collective entities, human or inhuman, can only be expressed in terms of the profits or losses of commercial entities, because capitalism has no other language in which to talk about anything. With the ongoing subsumption of society under capital, the same logic becomes grounds for reorganizing all areas of social life. WHO and WTO become fundamentally indistinguishable, regardless of whether Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is greedy or not.

The problematic nature of this situation does not involve any moral judgement. It is a far more structural issue—to make it short and sweet, the social machinery functions well at a price. Social expenditures are much more than charitable aid for the poor, as liberal critics of welfare policies would have it. Sociologists who have researched welfare states, from Thomas Humphrey Marshall to Niklas Luhmann, emphasize that the inclusion guaranteed by such states is a key factor in building a civic ethos—it allows anyone and everyone to identify with public institutions which tangibly serve their interests. This strengthens the sense of belonging to a political community and concern for its institutions. Just as social capital is a side-effect of grassroots civic activity—hence American sociologist Robert Putnam joking that whoever cares about the state of democracy should form amateur brass bands and organise neighbourhood picnics—so identification with political institutions is linked to the sense of support individuals receive from society. The defenders of the ‘free courts’ in Poland would achieve more if they also uncompromisingly fought for the highest standards in public health services, education or transportation. For the time being, many of them would like to have a world without taxes—and without populism. Everything seems to indicate that this is quite impossible—a good political system, like anything else, has its price. This should be understandable for the economically thinking enthusiasts of the free market. As the English saying goes: You pay peanuts—you get monkeys.

After years of cutbacks in the West and neglect in the East, we have the best health service that neoliberal capitalism can buy, which is still very bad. The coronavirus epidemic painfully shows the flaws of the private alternative. It is not just that private health care is only available to the rich, which is difficult to come to terms with when thousands of poor, elderly people will literally suffocate without access to specialist equipment. The very structure of private medical services makes them a poor alternative in times of pestilence—clinics that offer cosmetic surgery or those specialized in treating flu and colds, dental and dermatological offices or specialist oncology institutes are of little use against the coronavirus. Only a well-organised and widely accessible public health service can cope with it. This, however, requires the existence of two things: structures for collective action, and higher taxes—precisely those things that, according to fundamentalist market orthodoxy, is totally superfluous or even harmful, since everything can be dealt with by the private entrepreneurship and the invisible hand of the market. We have yet to see how ventilators operated by that hand might work…

Κρίνω (krino), the ancient Greek verb meaning ‘select, sort out, judge, or put in order’, is the root of the word crisis. Crisis is a moment of judgement, as well as choice: Is our world working as it should and could? Why do we find ourselves where we are? Do we want this to continue? What order of things would we like to substitute for this one, which is obviously failing? Thus every crisis is also a possibility, an opportunity to restructure the world. What kind of world will emerge from the crisis we are experiencing?

Our predicament is paradoxical in many ways. For the first time in decades, even almost a century since the depression of 1929, the absolute foundations of the capitalist order have been undermined, exposing its fundamental weakness, one its critics had been describing for a very long time: its inability to reproduce the social relations that its very existence relies on. The ‘tightening the belt’ (austerity) policies went so far as to make the belt a means of deadly torture. Over the first two decades of this century, the numbers of beds in intensive care units per 1,000 inhabitants fell from 7 to 6 in Germany, from 4.5 to 3 in France, and from 5.5 to 2.5 in Italy. It did not happen because we suddenly stopped getting ill, but because, in keeping with the neoliberal orthodoxy, public expenditures were slashed all over the world, leading to inevitable reductions in the services funded. These austerities brought no gains to the public, not even material ones – Western economies are struggling to achieve a growth rate of around 1%, whereas they were growing by more than 5% in times of high taxation. The main ‘achievement’ of the cuts and austerity policies was the transfer of wealth towards the top of the social ladder: the rapidly growing class of billionaires, mass transfers of money to tax havens, spectacular profits of the wealthiest 1%. The human cost is overwhelming and familiar to us all: tens of thousands of victims, whose lives could largely have been saved if the health care system had worked more efficiently. But even the purely economic cost will most likely be devastating—the British economy may soon shrink by as much as 35%, and Africa may be on its way to losing even half of all its jobs.

We may begin to sound silly even talking about all this. The essence of critical theory is to hermeneutically uncover and expose things that are disguised by the veil of ideology. Here, however, everything is already exposed, nothing is left to unmask, the emperor obviously has no clothes. One would like to think: great, now everything will definitely change. Well, not necessarily, or at least not necessarily for the better. In the twentieth century, capitalism went through a whole series of upheavals and transformations, some as serious as the present one, others far more important: World War I, the revolution in Russia, the Great Depression of 1929, World War II, the construction of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe, the revolution in China, decolonisation, the Cold War with the haunting spectre of nuclear conflict, and finally, the collapse of the USSR and the radical reorganisation of the world order at the end of the twentieth century. Out of each of those clashes, capitalism emerged victorious, and this is the historical foundation of capitalist realism by which we are surrounded. I am not writing this to preach defeatism—on the contrary, now is the time to fight and revolt more than ever. True, a rift has now opened that may explode the system, but to seize that chance we need to understand what and why did not work out before.

Every crisis creates opportunity, but the opportunity alone is not enough. Capital knows how to turn such opportunities to its advantage, because, firstly, it pursues a clearly defined goal (maximum accumulation), and secondly, it has created structures of action to achieve this goal: multinational corporations, lobbying groups, foundations to fund political parties, think tanks etc. Although the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, we can already see how the titans of surveillance capitalism are taking advantage of the situation to feather their own nest: Apple and Google, while competing in many areas, have announced that they will jointly develop technologies to better supervise and monitor people infected with SARS-CoV-2. As always, it is all, of course, for our own good… Under His Eye… This will further push the limits of access to our private data, which for surveillance capitalism are what gold, coal and oil combined were for the earlier forms of mercantile, industrial and monopolistic capitalisms, respectively.

In his relatively short essay of 1908 titled “Civilized” Sexual Morality and Modern Mental Illness, Sigmund Freud presented the anthropological foundations of his psychoanalytical thought. For a long time—at least since Kant and Herder—philosophical anthropology had tried to determine what distinguishes man from animals. These attempts were bound to fail, for the very formulation of the question was unfortunate to say the least, even somewhat comical, like asking the difference between a table and furniture. Freud, in keeping with his logic of dethroning the human species and questioning its uniqueness, which, in his own opinion, placed him on par with Copernicus and Darwin, seems to have approached the issue with more common sense, preferring to ask what distinguishes mankind from other animal species. His answer is one of the most interesting parts of the psychoanalytic theory. Freud tracked the process of human psychosexual development, pointing out that, in the process, various objects (body parts) subsequently become the site of investment (cathexis) of psychic energy (libido): the mouth, anus, one’s own genitals, and only finally, other people’s sexual organs. Freud pushed the wedge of his ground-breaking thought into the narrow morality of his time, insisting that the only proper, final and non-pathological way of organizing the libido is to direct it towards the sexual organs of the opposite sex (which means that the only correct way to have sex is, according to Freud, by genital intercourse with a person of the opposite sex), but never mind. Columbus also thought that his feat was just a confirmation of what he already knew about the world (he believed that the land he reached was India)—which does not detract from the fact that his quest helped dismantle the old, local world and construct a new, global order. Much more important is the general conclusion to which Freud’s sexual ontogenesis led him: that the constitutive and distinctive feature of human beings is the fluidity of their libido and its capability to move around within the psychic apparatus. The psychic energy that animates our lives is not assigned to any particular object, place or process once and for all. We have the capacity to detach it from its source and direct it to virtually anything. According to Freud, this particular capacity is the foundation of human culture, a necessary condition for sublimation, or, formally speaking, the detachment of the libido from pursuits that are deemed socially unacceptable and its redirection to ‘higher’ purposes. Therefore, in Freud’s view, while in other animals the urge to copulate can only lead to the mating act or to conflicts and rituals around it (the struggle for a position in the hierarchy of the herd and access to mates), in human beings, the frustrated sex drive begets poems, as exemplified by medieval court poetry. Thus, of all the other animal species, human beings most resemble mussels: while other creatures may scratch themselves when irritated by a grain of sand, the Bivalvia will build a pearl around it.

Libido fluidity, however, is only a form or mechanism, and it can be used in all kinds of ways, not only sublimation. The opposite of sublimation, desublimation, or reducing things sublime to the lowly and crude, works in exactly the same way, equally contributing to the creation of ‘culture’. In the era of real subsumption of life under capital and digital repression we are experiencing desublimation as never before: we have Tinder instead of romance, Facebook instead of friendship, Google News instead of knowledge, corporate social responsibility instead of ethics, and in place of politics we have a media spectacle, certainly more reminiscent of professional wrestling than matter-of-fact debates between people concerned with the common good.

In this regard, a collective subject is neither different nor better than an individual one—both are governed by the same laws, which should come as no surprise since even the so-called individual subject really constitutes an internal multiplicity, which a common misunderstanding tends to view as a consistent single entity. Freud established a perspective which sheds some light on the turnabouts and displacements of the last century’s socio-political history: World War I gave birth to movements that saw Communism as their main enemy, although it is not difficult to show that the war was largely caused by the internal dynamics of the capitalist world-system; the crash of 1929 paved the way for the triumph of Nazism, whose primary victims were Jews, though only a small minority of them was part of the financial elites responsible for the economic failure of the late 1920s and early 30s; ‘Solidarity’ was an unexpected product of the ‘people’s’ rule in Poland, and the fall of the Soviet bloc and its concomitant triumph of liberal democracy, far from ushering in a period of political progress, gave rise to reactionary demons, recently dubbed ‘populism.’ Displacement is the libidinal mechanism which makes these and other surprising turnabouts possible. It would be naive to expect it to stop working just because a number of us have come down with COVID-19.

If there is still a valuable lesson to be learned from the October Revolution of 1917—which ultimately failed, if its goal is to be understood as the creation of communism, as not even Lenin doubted towards the end of his life—it is that our struggle against the capitalist status quo can be successful if, at a time of historic upheaval, we have a goal, and create the organisational means to achieve it. Do we have such a goal and such mechanisms today? Marx believed that mankind only sets goals for which it has the material means, yet the fates of labour movements over the last 150 years seem to prove the contrary: back when no cheap flights or airlines existed, when travelling was expensive, the knowledge of foreign languages was restricted to the elites, the telegraph was the only swift channel of intercontinental communication, and the army and police regularly shot protesters in the streets, international labour movements became a power that capitalists and politicians feared. Today, material opportunities for self-organisation are greater, and punishments for disobedience more lenient than ever, and yet the goals that even the ‘radical’ left sets for itself today appear ridiculously bland and uninspiring indeed. The common-sense centrist social democracy embodied by Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders looks like extreme radicalism, which is a measure of the reactionary nature of the times we live in.

So, what should we do? We are all waiting for a leader, a messiah to tell us at last what to fight for and how. For all the rhetoric of individualism and autonomy, people love being told what to do. Or don’t they? This is what every cynical politician, every efficient marketer and every resigned left-wing intellectual knows. If we remain stuck in passivity with this kind of somebody-tell-me attitude, we will end up ruled by cynical politicians and expert marketers.

“Educate, because we’ll need all your intelligence. Agitate, because we’ll need all of your enthusiasm. Organize, because we’ll need all your power”—these words by Antonio Gramsci have lost none of their relevance. We do not need politicians or parties to save us—we are not Christians waiting for the messiah, or a herd of sheep that need a sheepdog to watch them. What we need is democracy—not a parliamentary representation that will say one thing and do another, only to come back and lure us with new promises four years later, but a real chance to collectively wield power and collectively decide on our collective priorities.


Walter Benjamin died on September 26, 1940, a refugee in Portbou, a little Catalan town on the Mediterranean, bordering France. Arrested in an attempt to illegally cross the border, he feared being taken to a concentration camp. He preferred suicide. On the last page of his diary, he wrote a sentence from Kafka summing up a specific mix of optimism and resignation that filled his life and much of his writing: ‘There is an infinite amount of hope in the universe … but not for us.’

Management in a Schrödinger's World

Jerzy Kociatkiewicz, Monika Kostera

As it happens, the world as a whole and every place in it have transformed into Schrödinger’s cat.

As it happens, the world as a whole and every place in it have transformed into Schrödinger’s cat. In the famous thought experiment of 1935, illustrating quantum uncertainty, a cat is locked up in a box together with a container of poison, one unstable atom and a radiation detector which will release the poison when triggered. Regardless of the passage of time, we cannot know if the cat is dead or alive – both states are equally possible until the moment the measurement is taken. The state will only become real when observed. Up to the moment the box is opened, the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. At present, the same can be said for all social systems, small, medium and large. The state of absolute suspension which we are experiencing so intensely did not come from nowhere. It has existed for quite a while, though the box was closing ever so slowly, gradually, in fact imperceptibly for a great many of us; the younger ones amongst us do not even know another world. As one of our students once put it, in young people’s world, changes have always been for the worse. As soon as they got used to something that was quite uncool, that thing would become even worse, making you long for the previous ‘uncoolness’. Echoing Antonio Gramsci, Zygmunt Bauman called this state of affairs an interregnum: a suspension period of, as yet, unknown duration, a time of uncertainty between two stable states: the old social system, which has already exhausted its potential, and a new one, still unknown and not adequately defined, which will one day replace it. In his Letters from Prison, Gramsci wrote: ‘The old is dying and the new cannot be born. In this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear’ [1].

Retrotopia is, as a rule, the opposite of inspiration and learning; it is the state of the dormant mind of the benighted cat locked in the box, neither mobilising for action nor presenting a sober review of her life. The cat is both alive and dead, and, at the same time, neither alive nor dead.

These symptoms are, above all, what the student talked about: the inevitable, somewhat nostalgic backward gaze, even if involuntary. Sometimes this manifests itself as a certain fixation of the gaze, even bedazzlement, and then there are attempts to restore the imaginary, untrue, and above all, impossible past, a style of politics and management that Bauman called retrotopia. Leaders, managers, and politicians act as if they wanted to turn back time, which is, in itself, an absurd strategy. The past they refer to is a sentimental, nostalgic image that has more to do with the world of fairy tales than real history: dreams of tribal communities based on blood and honour, of the deserved superhumanity of some that legitimises social inequality; narcissistic fantasies about their own perfection, supposed to bring us happiness. This is not a mere fascination with the past, or a search for inspiration from the difficult lessons of history. Retrotopia is, as a rule, the opposite of inspiration and learning; it is the state of the dormant mind of the benighted cat locked in the box, neither mobilising for action nor presenting a sober review of her life. The cat is both alive and dead, and, at the same time, neither alive nor dead. It is hardly surprising that the best she can do in this liminal state is dream up lunatic visions: the kind of narratives prevailing in ‘mainstream management’ since several decades ago. Polish mainstream media, as well as managerial education, keep telling us tall tales of management, voiced with unanimity and conviction unheard of in any other area of life or social thought. These are met without criticism, reflection, without even the healthy scepticism typically found in the media when it comes to other topics and areas of social life. It has simply been assumed that management is about satisfying the narrowly understood interests of shareholders, i.e., profit maximization, financial optimization of organizations, treating ‘human resources’ on a par with buildings, cash reserves, and products stored in warehouses. Managerialism for all occasions. If something sounds different, it is by definition dismissed as ‘not management’. We know this from experience, as we are both management professors, and one of us has solely dealt with management studies since her first years of college. It would be right to suspect that if something is so monolithic and obvious, if it is approached without critical reflection, without a possibility of expressing opposition or doubt, and without ethical evaluation of the consequences, it is not science but fanatical faith. But a faith without a possibility of salvation, redemption, or enlightenment is not a religion, it is simply an ideology. It is hardly a comprehensive understanding of reality. British cultural theorist Mark Fisher referred to this narrowing of perspectives as ‘capitalist realism’, an illusion suggesting there is only one way to organize an economy, business management, and social relations.

Education is what contributes to maintaining this illusion, from the so-called entrepreneurial classes for schoolchildren to study curricula offered by business schools and management departments. Almost all Polish and foreign schools of management are creating and disseminating a simplistic, falsified, unsound and highly retrotopian image of the world.

Education is what contributes to maintaining this illusion, from the so-called entrepreneurial classes for schoolchildren to study curricula offered by business schools and management departments. Almost all Polish and foreign schools of management are creating and disseminating a simplistic, falsified, unsound and highly retrotopian image of the world. It is a world in which the Balcerowicz Plan was, and indeed still is, both necessary and constructive. It is a world in which the pillaging of the common good during the transformation is regarded as hard work, for which the pillagers deserve not only wealth, but also our utmost respect. Finally, it is a world of no alternative to a system profuse with words such as ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’, yet incompatible with human life, or indeed that of animals and plants. On the other hand, it proves perfectly compatible with the coronavirus, which, just like poor Schrödinger’s cat, is neither dead nor alive. The delusions of the golden calf of free enterprise are the delirium of a convict caught in a limbo between life and death.

The pandemic engulfing the world has, however, clearly demonstrated how fragile and vulnerable the global economy is when based on the worship of efficiency, growth and profit ownership (not necessarily in that order), how quickly the supply chains of essential products (including food) can be disrupted, how difficult it can be to produce and deliver sufficient quantities of technologically unsophisticated products such as masks and protective clothing, hygiene products or simple medical equipment when there is a sudden increase in demand or when the intricate last-minute supply system is disrupted. It has turned out that ‘unproductive’ strategic reserves help organizations to absorb economic shocks, and local supplier contacts enable them to survive. Another thing that has become evident is that one can respond to the crisis either with massive lay-offs  and increased exploitation of employees, or by making an organization’s resources available to help address the pandemic.

At this point, let us return to Schrödinger’s image of numerous coexisting possibilities. We do not and cannot know how management will be transformed after the pandemic is overcome. We are convinced that this period of pausing, of limiting contacts, and of damaging, at the very least, many branches of the economy will not pass without consequences. In our opinion, nor will the demonstration of how interdependent we all are, how much our lives and comfort depend on some of the worst paid employees. However, these consequences can take various forms, both sinister and liberating.

In the short run, there may be an attempt to return to the forms of management and economic models that have enjoyed (dubious) triumphs around the world over the last few decades: the financialization of management, the authoritarian control of employees, the socialization of costs while privatising profits. This seemingly simple solution petrifies the existing distribution of wealth and power, so there will be many voices demanding precisely this kind of ‘return to normalcy’. But this system is incapable of dealing with our uncertain environment, with problems stemming from the despoliation of nature and voices calling for solidarity and co-operation, with the worldwide human and planetary interdependence that the epidemic has highlighted. If we choose this path, as a global society and as the European Union, we can expect not just one painful recession, but a whole series of increasingly severe crises, the ongoing destabilization of the global economy, and an overwhelming sense of impotence against the climate catastrophe.

We are facing a unique opportunity to abandon the collective delirium of society conceived as the sum of individual pursuits of profit. We can replace this with other dreams, underpinned by science and also proven in practice.

Fortunately, this is not the only way. We are facing a unique opportunity to abandon the collective delirium of society conceived as the sum of individual pursuits of profit. We can replace this with other dreams, underpinned by science and also proven in practice. For this, we will need the concept of the common good, rarely present in current public debate and especially in reflections on management.

In a delirious Schrödinger’s cat world, the common good is mostly familiar through a 1968 article by biologist Garrett Hardin, which portrays it as a pathetic, even tragic phenomenon, a mediocre form of ownership, fortunately displaced by the much more effective private property. In general, this claim is never even discussed, as if it were the truth revealed. Yet Hardin’s thesis has been repeatedly called into question and falsified.

The example of communal pastures Hardin used features a peculiar story of the common good dismantled and destroyed by the triumphant advance of dynamic capitalism. It portrays an economy of pillage and irresponsible exploitation of the earth to the community’s detriment. Rather than describing what he called the tragedy of the commons, Hardin in fact recounted the tragic beginnings of capitalism. What is more, this approach completely disregards the question of governance, central from the viewpoint of sustainability and effectiveness. The commons, such as the communal pastures, were historically managed and regulated by communities. Management of the commons is premised on principles unlike those of private profit maximization. One risk it prevents is the irresponsible individual use of the commons: precisely what lies at the heart of capitalist management. As emphasised by Nobel Prize winner in economics Elinor Ostrom, communities establish their own rules of managing common resources, including traditions, structures, and cultural norms, thus maintaining a balanced relationship with their environment, which does not always equal maximal efficiency. This is not the same as the state’s top-down control, and its much more democratic nature is not the only difference. The structures resemble mixtures of the ‘private’ and the ‘public’, since they act fast, without the constraining effect of plans and procedures, but also without maximising investor profits or being driven by financial indicators. A frequent mistake commentators make, associating this sort of governance with ‘communism’ (probably meaning state communism, rather than, for example, the Paris Commune), lies in equating the common with the public (state-owned). This is not the case. The commons are owned by a particular community, not by impersonal institutions. Nor does the notion of common good require ideologies, be they market-oriented or statist. What it does require is fundamental shared values and principles.

Organizations of the common good exist and prosper even under the very unwelcoming conditions of neoliberal capitalism. They function in various areas of social life, from the economic sphere, through local communities, to larger urbanised regions (Polish scholars describing this variety include economist Zofia Łapniewska and urban planner Krzysztof Nawratek). Our own research, by no means unique in its focus on alternative organizations , shows that organizations of the common good are more resilient in unstable environments, but also that they provide opportunities for meaningful, unalienated work. They are characterized by horizontal, rhizomatic dynamics, combining horizontal, dynamic growth and an intensive relationship to the environment, meaning suppliers, customers and the like. They do not necessarily rely on the principle of competition (which, in a modern market replete with monopolistic practices, very often constitutes a commandment still preached, but honoured only in the breach), but often on reciprocity. Management of such organizations has its roots in the co-operative movement (and they often take a form resembling democratic co-operatives), based on the participatory negotiation of values and goals, and the principle of pursuing the common good.

Up until now, a serious obstacle to the development of organizations of the common good was their invisibility in a world focused on the financial success of listed companies. Absent from management course syllabi and the media, they do not set a recognisable standard for other organizations, students or legislators. The structure of an individual profit-oriented company is assumed of any new organization, and the law presupposes this is the form most economic entities will take. Students who might wish to learn how to found and manage a cooperative are condemned to searching for solutions on their own.

Therefore, organizations which might help us to reinvigorate management and the economy will not develop spontaneously. They need an extensive support system, ranging from regulations that regard the values of the commons as just as deserving of protection as owners and shareholders’ individual profit, to access to resources currently dedicated to fostering businesses. Moreover, they need to be embedded in an environment, a specific place and time, to coexist with the territory, as French sociologist Bruno Latour wrote in Down to Earth: ‘Belonging to a territory is the phenomenon most in need of rethinking and careful redescription; learning new ways to inhabit the Earth is our biggest challenge. Bringing us down to earth is the task of politics today’ [2].

So that, when the kitty is released from her quarantine and is proved to be alive (of this we cannot yet be sure), she will have the will and the energy to jump out joyfully and start to build a more pleasant, less alienated and more resilient world.

We suggest this kind of management should be promoted all around, tirelessly, by whoever has access to the media. So that, when the kitty is released from her quarantine and is proved to be alive (of this we cannot yet be sure), she will have the will and the energy to jump out joyfully and start to build a more pleasant, less alienated and more resilient world. Shared institutions are both more solid and more sustainable, since they rely directly on other institutions, working through culture and trust. Our actions cannot guarantee the cat’s survival, but we can offer her something that will make her feel like living if she happens to leave the box alive.

Meanwhile, the box is locked tight and the cat is both dead and alive, and also neither dead nor alive. And yet, as we are reminded by Massimo De Angelis and David Harvie, ‘the spectre of commonism may already be haunting the planet’ [3].

* * *

[1] Gramsci, A. (2005), Selections from the Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence & Wishart, p. 276.

[2] Bruno Latour (2018) Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. Oxford: Polity.

[3] Massimo De Angelis, David Harvie, The Commons [w:] The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organizations, red. Martin Parker, George Cheney, Valerie Fournier, Chris Land, Routledge, Abington 2014, s. 292.

Wyjątek i globalna kontrrewolucja

Marina Garcés

Niniejszy tekst piszę w sytuacji odosobnienia, narzuconego nam z powodu globalnego kryzysu zdrowotnego wywołanego przez koronawirusa. Dzisiaj mija siódmy dzień mojej izolacji w Barcelonie. Chiny, Włochy, kraje Europy i Ameryki Łacińskiej oraz wiele innych państw na świecie zamykają mieszkańców w domach, o ile takowe domy mają. Przekierowuje się ich do pracy zdalnej, jeżeli ich praca na to pozwala. Przyjmuje się do szpitali tych, którzy już zachorowali, jeśli znajdzie się dla nich jakieś wolne łóżko. Już wcześniej przygotowywałam szkic i materiały do napisania artykułu o trwałych stanach wyjątkowych w epoce globalizacji. Nie sposób dłużej z tym zwlekać, zważywszy na doświadczenie wpływające w tych chwilach na nasze ciała, uczucia, zdolność skupiania uwagi oraz interpretacje i analizy rzeczywistości.

Na czas, gdy znaleźliśmy się w sytuacji globalnego zamknięcia, przypada czwarta rocznica zawartego między Unią Europejską a Turcją porozumienia w sprawie zarządzania zamknięciem wschodniej granicy Europy. Po dziewięciu latach wojny toczącej się w Syrii kraje europejskie nadal nie zamierzają przejmować się tym, co dzieje się w tym kraju: życiem uwięzionym pod bombami, równie globalnymi jak sam wirus. To uwięzienie okupione jest pieniędzmi i politycznymi układami, obozami po drugiej stronie granicy, tolerancją wobec polityki represji oraz aresztowaniami obywateli i działaczy przez Erdoğana. Te gospodarcze i polityczne układy mogą ulec bezlitosnej rewizji, jeśli Erdoğan „wyzwoli” parę tysięcy osób, by rozpierzchły się w ucieczce przed policyjnymi strzałami, a następnie padły ofiarą ksenofobicznych napaści dokonywanych przez Europę, jej instytucje i obywateli coraz łatwiej podatnych na autorytarne i faszystowskie odruchy. Lesbos, wyspa kobiecej miłości, stała się polem krwawej bitwy toczonej o to, by granice i zasieki zmienić w obozy śmierci w tym stanie permanentnej wojny.

Stan alarmowy, ogłaszany przez kolejne kraje świata w obawie przed masowymi zarażeniami koronawirusem, dołącza w ten sposób do listy wcześniejszych stanów wyjątkowych. Zapomnienie łączy je ze sobą i zamienia w nową normę wielowarstwowej sytuacji wyjątkowej. W lutym 2019 roku Donald Trump ogłosił stan pogotowia na południowej granicy USA, a mimo to wszystko pozostało bez zmian. W istocie stan pogotowia panował tam już od dawna, tyle że pod innymi postaciami, był wdrażany na stałe w życiu codziennym na całym świecie. „Zamierzam ogłosić na szczeblu krajowym stan pogotowia, który wprowadzano wcześniej wielokrotnie. […] Rzadko wiązały się z tym problemy. Jak dotąd nikt zbytnio nie przejmował się tym, że go ogłaszano. Nie było to aż tak ekscytujące, jak mi się wydawało” [1]. Słowa Trumpa zawarte w oświadczeniu oddają sens współczesnej sytuacji wyjątkowej: nie ma ani normalności, ani wyjątku, jest tylko normalność wyjątku dla wyjątkowej normalności.

Gdy Trump wygłaszał swoje oświadczenie, w Hiszpanii rozpoczęła się kampania wyborcza, w której głównym punktem programu politycznego proponowanego przez jedną z partii opozycyjnych było uruchomienie na stałe artykułu 155. hiszpańskiej konstytucji w odniesieniu do Katalonii. Oznaczać by to miało bezterminowe zawieszenie autonomii regionu i przejęcie przez państwo wszystkich katalońskich instytucji, w tym środków przekazu oraz systemu edukacji [2]. Artykuł 155. hiszpańskiej konstytucji otwiera drzwi do interwencji o charakterze wyjątkowym, prezentowanej jako środek zapobiegawczy wdrożony na czas nieokreślony. Zastosowano go po referendum w sprawie niepodległości, które odbyło się 1 października 2017 roku i świętowano jako akt nieposłuszeństwa wobec zakazu forsowanego przez państwo. Jeśli tego typu środek obowiązywać może przez czas nieokreślony, to w czym leży jego wyjątkowość? Oczywiście nie w samym wprowadzeniu, ale w skutkach, umożliwia on bowiem wdrożenie dowolnych wyjątków. Innymi słowy pozwala on władzy odzyskać moc. O tym właśnie wspominał Trump, składając swój podpis pod dekretem o stanie pogotowia: „Podobne dekrety, oddające władzę w ich ręce, podpisywali od roku 1977 inni prezydenci” [3].

Z drugiej strony, od 2016 roku, a zwłaszcza przez cały rok 2019, na świecie ogłasza się „kryzys klimatyczny” [4]. UE uczyniła to 28 listopada 2019 roku. Barcelona, czyli miasto, w którym piszę te słowa, 15 stycznia 2020 roku [5]. Wszędzie, gdzie się obrócić, na całej naszej planecie, życie ma się toczyć pod znakiem zagrożenia stale odraczanego dzięki podejmowanym w ostateczności działaniom. Wyjątkowe przepisy, interwencje bankowe, operacje ratunkowe, obozy dla uchodźców i wewnętrznych przesiedleńców, zarządzenia wprowadzane ad hoc… pożary w Australii, do których doszło w styczniu 2020 roku – wszystko to ukazuje przytłaczający obraz kryzysu zawierającego w sobie i zaogniającego wszystkie pozostałe sytuacje.

Charakterystyczną cechą wszystkich tych wyjątkowych działań jest to, że nie rozwiązują żadnego z wymagających tego problemów, a raczej pozostawiają je niedomknięte. Nie przezwyciężają kryzysu, a go podtrzymują, nie usuwają go, a nim zarządzają. Rządzący uzyskują i umacniają swoją potęgę, pozostając w kryzysie, nie zaś go pokonując. To władza, która nie tyle decyduje i rozwiązuje problemy, ile zawiesza wszelkie decyzje i uniemożliwia jakiekolwiek rozstrzygnięcia. Ta sama logika rządzi dziś wszelkimi kryzysami politycznymi, zarówno tymi, które właśnie wymieniliśmy, jak i wieloma innymi, łącznie z kryzysami gospodarczymi i środowiskowymi. Nie chodzi przy tym o to, że utrwaliły się one z racji swej nieprzezwyciężalności, lecz o to, że ich nierozwiązywanie pozwala na stałe stosowanie wyjątkowych środków, dzięki którym władze tylko się umacniają.

W sytuacji, w której wyjątek staje się czymś powszechnym i ulega normalizacji, musimy sobie postawić następujące pytanie: „Na co jest on odpowiedzią?”. Czy to wyłącznie reakcja na nieudolne rządy i katastrofalny stan deregulacji będący skutkiem globalizacji kapitalizmu? Czy może jest to przejaw nowej logiki rządzenia, która kształtuje się przez trwałość wyjątku jako sposób zarządzania obecną złożonością społeczną, gospodarczą i polityczną?

Hipoteza proponowana w niniejszym artykule głosi, że globalny ustrój trwałego wyjątku jest przejawem powszechnie dokonującej się kontrrewolucji, przybierającej rozmaite oblicza w zależności od kontekstu kulturowego i politycznego danego kraju czy terytorium. Mówienie o powszechnej kontrrewolucji wymaga jednak prześledzenia oznak rewolucji, które być może przeoczyliśmy. Kiedy się rozpoczęła i jakie podmioty były w nią zaangażowane, jakiego rodzaju praktyki stosowano? Jakich przemieszczeń dokonała i jakie przeobrażenia za sobą pociągnęła? Jaką postać przybierają one w obecnej sytuacji?

Rewolucja, która nie ustaje

Krwawe dzieje XX wieku zakończyły się uroczystą deklaracją: „Nie ma alternatywy”. Miało to oznaczać triumf kapitalizmu oraz nadejście ery globalizacji. Daleka jednak od ustanowienia wspólnoty, kapitalistyczna globalizacja uprawomocniała jedność świata, który poza historią pozostawiał inne formy politycznej i społecznej organizacji, zamknąwszy w przeszłości samą ideę rewolucyjnych działań mogących przynieść radykalną zmianę stanu rzeczy.

Stanowisko głoszące, że „rewolucja nie jest już możliwa” da się utrzymać jedynie z perspektywy rządzących. Dzierżenie władzy to właśnie dążenie do zapanowania nad określoną przestrzenią możliwości: tego, co możliwe, gdy co innego jest niemożliwe, tego, co może się zdarzyć, gdy nic innego zdarzyć się już nie może. W tym przypadku wyrażenie „już nie” więzi rewolucję między minioną możliwością a przyszłą niemożliwością. Dławi rewolucję, traktując ją jak przebrzmiałe doświadczenie historyczne. Ale dla tych, którzy pozbawieni są władzy, to, co możliwe, pozostaje na zawsze więzieniem, przestrzenią panowania. Dlatego rewolucja nigdy nie była ani możliwa, ani niemożliwa. Rewolucyjne bowiem jest właśnie takie zbiorowe działanie, które zwraca to, co możliwe, przeciw możliwemu, ponieważ prowadzi do wyłonienia możliwości nieprzewidzianej, radykalnej nowości, która nie mieściła się w wąskich ramach tego, co mogło się zdarzyć.

Marks opisywał rewolucję jako przywłaszczenie całości sił wytwórczych przez stowarzyszone jednostki, które równocześnie odzyskują wolność, stowarzyszając się ze sobą i poprzez to stowarzyszanie. W obecnej fazie kapitalizmu siłami wytwórczymi nie są już tylko środki produkcji przemysłowej. Są nimi wszystkie te środki, które reprodukują życie, zarówno w sferze materialnej, jak i symbolicznej. Rewolucja polega na zbiorowym ich odzyskaniu, przywłaszczeniu ich sobie dzięki zdolności do stowarzyszania się i współpracy, czyniącej nas wolnymi. Pytanie brzmi zatem: „Czy nie to właśnie dokonało się w ostatniej fazie kapitalizmu wbrew jego planom totalizacji?”. Czy w ruchach społecznych i praktykach kooperacyjnych, w tak wielu zakątkach świata uniezależniających się dziś w swej zdolności do samozarządzania i rodzenia rozmaitych form życia, chodzi o coś innego niż o proponowanie i urzeczywistnianie form zbiorowego przywłaszczenia życia? Możemy zatem zadać sobie pytanie: „Co, jeśli rewolucja, zamiast »być czymś już niemożliwym«, okazuje się tym, co nigdy nie ustaje?”.

Hipoteza ta może wydawać się sprzeczna z intuicją, a nawet z faktami. Ale jeśli spojrzymy na obecny układ kontrrewolucyjnych sił w ich politycznym, gospodarczym i kulturowym wyrazie, być może zasługuje ona na głębsze zbadanie. Dlaczego neoliberalny, odpolityczniony, indywidualistyczny kapitalizm oparty na wzroście gospodarczym i obietnicy niewyczerpanych szans musiał przejść w fazę narastającego autorytaryzmu politycznego, nasilającego się wykluczenia społecznego, by ostatecznie pozbawić nas jakichkolwiek perspektyw życiowych – w fazę wojny kulturowej i neokonserwatyzmu moralnego? Tendencje te wydają się sprzeczne z tym, co początkowo głosiło nam zwycięstwo kapitalizmu i globalizacji, świętowanej jako otwarcie ogromnego rynku towarów, giełdy szans i okazji, apoteozy komunikacji.

W 1989 roku ogłoszono koniec dwubiegunowego świata, a tym samym napięcia między totalnymi alternatywami. W końcu świat miał odzyskać „jedność”, ale bardziej niż wspólnotą stał się jedynością. To, co jest jedyne, buduje się nie na wzajemności, ale na wykluczeniu, ucisku oraz skazaniu na niewidzialność wszystkiego tego, co nie pasuje do jego projektu. Wkrótce jednak na tym harmonijnym obrazie zaczęły się pojawiać rysy, a ukazujący go dotąd wielobarwny wyświetlacz zaczął gasnąć i z wolna się psuć. Dla całego pokolenia i całej epoki punkt zwrotny stanowiły Chiapas oraz Seattle. Mowa o okresie 1994–1999, czyli pięciu końcowych latach minionego wieku, w których odmówiono wykonania kary śmierci na społecznych, gospodarczych i politycznych alternatywach [6].

Przekonywano, że nie ma alternatywy dla gospodarki wolnorynkowej i jej finansjeryzacji, napędzanej przez banki, korporacje i ponadnarodowe instytucje, jednak ruch antyglobalistyczny z lat 1999–2001 wskazał instytucje odpowiedzialne za nowe i dawne formy niesprawiedliwości (Davos, MFW, Bank Światowy, UE, G8…), wypróbowując nowe metody współpracy, produkcji i konsumpcji, które do dziś kreślą mapę innej ekonomii politycznej na świecie. Kryzys z 2008 roku i jego mobilizujący wpływ odczuwalny na całym świecie, znajdujący kulminację w ruchach z roku 2011 (Ruch M15, Tahrir, Occupy, Gezi Park itp.), dowiodły, że obietnice kapitału pociągają za sobą śmierć i że istnieją inne sposoby, by w centrum uwagi umieścić życie.

Twierdzono, że nie ma alternatywy dla demokracji liberalnej, opancerzonej przez samoreprodukujący się system partii i reprezentacji politycznej oraz wspieranej przez instytucje ze strukturalną domieszką korupcji. Ruchy zbiorowe w ciągu ostatnich trzech dziesięcioleci przeszły długą drogę wypróbowywania różnych form deliberacji, podejmowania decyzji i rozmaitych odmian organizacji politycznej, które wykraczają daleko poza formułowane przez obecne parlamentarne lewice, nawet te najnowsze, propozycje kontrolowanego i ograniczonego uczestnictwa obywateli.

Opowiadano, że nie ma alternatywy dla globalizacji państw i ich sojuszy w formie bloków wojskowych i gospodarczych jako jedynej możliwej formy geopolityki. Tymczasem rodziła się już inna, ponadnarodowa, transgraniczna i międzykulturowa społeczność, sprzymierzająca się, koordynująca i mnożąca swe działania zarówno w świecie fizycznym, jak i wirtualnym. Sieci wzajemnego wsparcia, łączności i informacji, solidarności oraz wspólne walki, praktyki i dyskursy działają w czasie rzeczywistym.

Za pewnik przyjmowano, że nie ma alternatywy dla własności prywatnej, prawdziwego świętego prawa dawnego i obecnego ustroju kapitalistycznego, a kiedy już wszelkie próby podważenia tej świętości wydawały się przebrzmiałe, walki toczone o dobra wspólne (zasoby naturalne, terytoria, mieszkalnictwo, naukę i kultura, dobra materialne i cyfrowe itp.) nadały nowy impet stosunkom swobodnego i wspólnego użytkowania. Tendencje prywatyzacyjne wprawdzie nadal dominują, a wręcz przybierają na sile, ale wychodzą na jaw wiążące się z nimi ograniczenie możliwości podtrzymania i przetrwania życia na naszej planecie.

Wydawało się też, że nie istnieje alternatywa dla globalnej wojny z terroryzmem, która od 2001 roku każdego dnia na nowo wykreślała mapę spadających pocisków, kontroli granicznych, wewnętrznego nadzoru, ataków wyprzedzających, rasizmu i antyislamizmu. Jednak 15 lutego 2003 roku potężny ruch antywojenny zwołał pierwszą demonstrację o globalnym zasięgu, by głośno, na oczach całego świata, powiedzieć, że chodzi o ich wojnę, ale naszą śmierć. Zgromadzenie pod hasłem „stop wojnie” okazało się bowiem czymś więcej niż kolejnym ruchem pacyfistycznym, doprowadziło do zmiany znaczenia wojny i pozwoliło nam zrozumieć, że w XXI wieku wojny (zdaniem niektórych mogącej przybrać wyłącznie postać trzeciej wojny światowej) nie wypowiada się już z dnia na dzień ani z dnia na dzień się jej nie kończy, że nie toczy się ona wyłącznie z użyciem broni i wojska, ale ogarnia nasze życie i wnika w nie na wielu frontach.

Wreszcie, wydawało się, że nie ma alternatywy dla społeczeństwa konsumpcyjnego, w którym style życia miały być indywidualnie do każdego dopasowane przez modę, formy życia, opcje egzystencjalne, emocjonalne i seksualne, tożsamości dobierane z dostępnego menu… Ale na przecięciu ruchu na rzecz ochrony środowiska i feminizmu, coraz prężniej współpracujących, powstała mnogość ruchów rzucających nowe światło na relacje współzależności oraz sprzeciwiających się konsumenckiej arogancji jednostki i jej drapieżnym, brutalnym stylom życia. Dbałość o życie i stawianie go na pierwszym planie pokazały nam granice czegoś, co wydawało się nieograniczonym zestawem opcji do wyboru, pouczając nas o potrzebie współpracy i wzajemności, emocjonalnej bliskości i wzajemnego wsparcia. Do tego jednak konieczne jest również dzielenie się wiedzą na gruncie pluralizmu epistemologicznego oraz krytyki kulturowej hegemonii patriarchatu i Zachodu, które jako istotne intelektualne, estetyczne i kulturowe trendy w ostatnich latach przeorały nasz sposób myślenia o nas samych, pogłębiając naszą wiedzę o sobie i poszerzając pole doświadczania samych siebie jako grup i społeczeństw.

Moglibyśmy wydłużać tę listę alternatyw i przeciwwładz wspieranych kolejnymi walkami przez ruchy społeczne, polityczne, kulturalne i kolektywne w ciągu ostatnich trzech dekad. Moglibyśmy ją uściślić, umiejscowić, wskazać lokalne, kulturowe i terytorialne różnice. Ale w najogólniejszych zarysach obejmuje ona to, co moglibyśmy nazwać „rewolucją, która nie ustaje”. Paradoks tej rewolucji polega na tym, że jej równocześnie mnogi, wewnętrznie zróżnicowany, wieloraki, ciągły i nieciągły, lokalny i globalny, epizodyczny i podziemny charakter sprawił, że lepiej zna swoich wrogów niż bohaterów i bohaterki. Tak lokalne, jak globalne, tak ekonomiczne, jak polityczne potęgi kapitalizmu w napięciu i pełne obaw obserwowały nadejście rewolucji, przeczuwały ją, lękały się jej i toczyły z nią walkę. Dlatego postanowiły, że nie będą dążyć do tego, by zapewnić sobie jakiś spiżowy, trwały i przejrzysty ład, ale wolą zarządzać chaosem wprowadzanym przez sam system w postaci zakłócenia i nieustannych zmian, zagrażającym wszystkiemu wokół. Z czasem dopiero okaże się, czy kryzys wynikający z epidemii koronawirusa da odpowiedź w postaci takiej kontrrewolucji. Wszystko zdaje się wskazywać na to, że zarządzanie danymi jako fundament władzy nierozerwalnie gospodarczej, technologicznej, politycznej i wojskowej zdominuje w najbliższej przyszłości zarówno mikropolitykę, jak i globalną geopolitykę.

Codzienne zakłócenia

Największą nowością współczesnej kontrrewolucji jest to, że bynajmniej nie powstrzymuje ona toczących się rewolucji, ale przewyższa je zdolnością do wywoływania zakłóceń i lawirowania między nimi, niczym w nowej formie normalności. Zamiarem władzy nie jest zaprowadzenie jakiegokolwiek porządku ani jego utrwalenie. Ten, kto ma władzę, przemienia się w pilota chaosu, biorąc na siebie zadanie rządzenia bezładem i za jego pośrednictwem, umiejętnie go obserwując, sprawując nad nim coraz większą kontrolę i zdobywając coraz więcej danych na jego temat. Porządek staje się w ten sposób ustrojem codziennych zakłóceń, kontrolowanym w najdrobniejszych szczegółach. Jakiego typu działania byłyby zatem obdarzone mocą dokonywania przeobrażeń? Jak zmienić bieg rzeczy, skoro nie ma dla nich żadnego określonego kursu, żadnego kierunku?

Zakłócenie to modne hasło, które jest jednak czymś więcej niż tylko modą. To objaw, oznaka. Pojęcie utworzone w 1995 roku przez Claytona M. Christensena z „Harvard Business Review” wskazuje na zalety płynące z nagłego przerwania lub zatrzymania w dziedzinie gospodarki. Przedsiębiorca, dawniej chcący zapewnić wzrost i dobrobyt przez innowacje, obecnie dąży do położenia kresu wszystkiemu temu, co ustalone, po to, by zająć dogodną, dającą przewagę pozycję. Nowość nie tkwi w produkcie ani w usłudze, ale w samym polu, w którym dokonuje się taka ingerencja. W tym celu przedsiębiorca zmuszony jest wprowadzić zamęt i rozpętać chaos, wysadzić w powietrze obszar tego, co daje się pomyśleć, by otworzyć się na to, co niepomyślane. Oto przypadkowość przemieniona w biznesową ideologię, dziś przenikającą wiele dziedzin życia publicznego, w tym praktyki edukacyjne, kulturalne i artystyczne. Trump z jego nieprzewidywalnymi decyzjami jest doskonałym ucieleśnieniem tego rodzaju polityki zakłócania. Jaką postać przybiera posłuszeństwo w takim ustroju? Jeśli wszystko to, co może się przydarzyć, sprowadzone zostaje do nieustającego zakłócenia, ponowne przemyślenie statusu działania staje się koniecznością.

Rewolucję ujmowano dotąd jako działanie historyczne par excellence i tak też ją przeżywano. Wymagała ona ukonstytuowania się pewnego podmiotu, rozpoznającego się w niej i jednocześnie przeobrażającego świat przez wdarcie się w nią. Dialektyka, jak pojmował ją Marks, włączała rewolucyjny wyjątek, moment cięcia, zmianę kierunku, przerwania lub wydarzenia, w ciągłość walki klasowej. W ten sposób dialektyka wpisywała negatywność antagonizmu i zerwania (negatywność wolności) w potwierdzenie ustanowionego na nowo pola możliwości, w którym ziścić miała się równość rodzaju ludzkiego. Takie włączenie wyjątkowości i ciągłości, zerwania i możliwości, wolności i równości, przeczenia i twierdzenia, zapewniało postęp emancypacji jako procesu zarazem ciągłego i nieciągłego, niszczycielskiego i budującego, afirmatywnego i negatywnego, nakierowanego na jakiś ostateczny cel.

W obliczu kryzysu sensu historii, wraz z rozkładem ruchu robotniczego jako podmiotu politycznego idea rewolucji rozproszyła się w mnogości czasów i miejsc, oderwanych od siebie i wobec siebie niewspółmiernych. Wszystko stało się polityczne, tyle że nie wiadomo, jak i kiedy do tego doszło. Z tego samego powodu narracja odwołująca się do celów oraz konsekwencji uległa domknięciu, a wraz z nią przepadła również sama idea skutku i przyszłości. Emancypacja odmienia się w nieciągłej i samowystarczalnej teraźniejszości. Jak o wydarzeniach Maja ’68 pisał Blanchot: „Trwać nie ma już potrzeby, nie trzeba brać udziału w żadnego typu trwaniu” [7]. W tym samym duchu, acz z uwzględnieniem tragicznego aspektu tego zjawiska, Hannah Arendt prowadziła swój namysł nad nieziszczonym i nieziszczalnym wymiarem działania. Jego nowość, niczym błyskawica rozdzierająca rzeczywistość, pozostawia zawsze coś, co określa się bądź to przez zerwanie, bądź to przez niemożliwość instytucjonalizacji. Jak kontynuować coś, co się przydarza? Z tego niepokojącego pytania rodzi się znane określenie „utraconego skarbu” działania, zapożyczone przez Arendt od poety Renégo Chara [8].

Wraz ze zwrotem w interpretacji momentu rewolucyjnego rewolucja przestaje być historycznym działaniem par excellence i zaczyna się jawić w większym stopniu jako zdarzenie niewczesne i nieuchronne, potencjalne bardziej niż aktualne, obdarzone mocą uwidocznienia granic rzeczywistości społecznej, politycznej i kulturowej na gruncie doświadczenia nowości, przemieszczenia bądź inności. Innymi słowy: rewolucja staje się doświadczeniem tego, co nie mieści się w systemie, nie daje się reprezentować, wymyka się, stwarza inne możliwości życia, nawet jeśli nie uda im się okrzepnąć, zorganizować ani utrwalić. Bardziej niż jedynie historycznym działaniem, rewolucja staje się przeto ciągiem scen własnych przeobrażeń. Tym zaś, co łączy je ze sobą, jest ponowienie zerwania, rytmiczne tempo przerywania.

Co takiego dzieje się jednak z wybuchową siłą, mocą nowości i przeobrażeń właściwymi rewolucyjnemu wydarzeniu, kiedy stan wyjątkowy się utrwala, a sytuacje pogotowia nakładają się na siebie pod postacią nowej normalności? A to, że wydarzenie traci wszelką moc przerywania i zrywania, ponieważ utrzymywany przez władzę porządek sam staje się reżimem opartym na zerwaniu. Gdy ład wspiera się na nieustannym rozrywaniu każdego porządku, wydarzenie jako źródło nowości i zmiany wysycha. W tym trybie działa globalna kontrrewolucja w jej obecnej fazie, a koronawirus będzie jednym z wielkich bohaterów toczonej przez nią wojny. Zarządzanie globalnym więzieniem doskonale łączy te dwa paradoksalne wymiary: ścisły ład z ciągłym nieładem, pełną wiedzę o wszystkich z całkowitą niewiedzą o tym, co tak naprawdę dzieje się z naszą teraźniejszością i przyszłością. Kryzys wywołany przez koronawirusa jest doświadczeniem radykalnego zakłócenia zamienionego w podstawę nowej codzienności, zakłócenia, które dopiero zaczynamy dostrzegać i które najprawdopodobniej zmieni sens całej naszej przyszłej codzienności. Czy pozostaje nam jedynie się do niej dostosować?

Niewola dostosowania

Kiedy suwerenna decyzja stanowi o tym, co nierozstrzygalne, zawieszeniu ulega sama możliwość decydowania. Nie oznacza to jednak, że władza ta ulega paraliżowi, ale że przechodzi w stan nieokreśloności i rozwija się jako ciągłość działań, zasad, procedur, wyjątków itp. Wówczas nie ma już żadnego przed ani po, zostaje wyłącznie czas rozmyty, pozbawiony wyraźnego kierunku. Obecna sytuacja bezterminowego przetrzymywania i braku przesądzających działań stanowi paradygmat tego rodzaju nadaktywnego stanu zawieszenia, obfitującego w rozporządzenia, zakazy i oświadczenia, ale nie w rozstrzygnięcia i rozwiązania.

Groźba zawieszenia jako najwyższy akt suwerennej władzy prowadzi do normalizacji zagrożenia, które włącza się w bieg życia jako jeden z jego najbardziej właściwych wymiarów. Schemat ten rozpoznać można w dowolnym zjawisku współczesnego życia politycznego: wojen już się nie wypowiada ani ich nie kończy, ale się je kontynuuje, nieustannie zmieniając taktykę, a międzynarodowe rezolucje w sprawie rozwiązań wspólnych problemów (takich jak ochrona środowiska, globalna sprawiedliwość, kryzysy zdrowotne, ubóstwo lub głód) prowadzą jedynie do kolejnych rezolucji, które odraczają realizację celów, jakie poprzednio sobie postawiono, zaś katastrofami, czy to naturalnymi, czy też wynikającymi z oddziaływania człowieka na środowisko, zarządza się przez odsuwanie w czasie ich konsekwencji, mając w nich jednocześnie współudział i czerpiąc z nich zyski.

To samo dotyczy granic, na których terytorializuje się państwo, oraz monopolu na podejmowanie decyzji. Sandro Mezzadra wraz z Brettem Neilsonem w swoich analizach zawartych w pracy zatytułowanej Granica jako metoda [9] wykazali, że granice nie tyle wyrysowują jakąś trwałą mapę, ile raczej służą zarządzaniu twórczym zniszczeniem, ciągłej rekombinacji przestrzeni i czasów w dzisiejszym zamęcie świata. Obecne w nim praktyki i dyskursy ogarniają społeczeństwo jako całość w sposób elastyczny, a zarazem niepowstrzymany, administracyjny i brutalny, uogólniony i uszczegółowiony, dzięki zastosowaniu technologii strefowania. W jej logikę uwikłane jest nie tylko zarządzanie terytoriami i przepływem ludności. Rządzi ona również w ramach umysłowych, poznawczych, emocjonalnych i technologicznych, które w coraz szybszym tempie zniekształcają kontury każdego świata i zawężają granice możliwego doświadczenia.

W jednym ze swoich licznych filmów promocyjnych Klaus Schwab, niemiecki inżynier i pomysłodawca Światowego Forum Ekonomicznego w Davos, wyjaśnia, czym jest to, co sam ochrzcił mianem „czwartej rewolucji przemysłowej”, czerpiąc inspirację z obrazu fali tsunami, która już się rozpoczęła i do której należy się przygotować. Należy się przygotować na tę rewolucję – nawołuje inżynier. Nie wyjaśnia jednak, kto stoi na jej czele, jak się nią kieruje ani też tego, czy można nad jej przebiegiem dyskutować lub go zmienić. Ona po prostu się dokonuje, a wszelkie działania, jakie można podjąć w tej sytuacji, sprowadzają się do przygotowań, innymi słowy do dostosowania się w odpowiednim czasie do nadciągających zmian, żeby nie pozostać w tyle ani nie dać się stratować sile, z jaką rewolucja wdziera się w rzeczywistość. A raczej ją zakłóca. Takie podejście nie jest typowe wyłącznie dla globalnych elit ekonomicznych i technicznych. Jest również rozpowszechnione w dziedzinie edukacji i świecie pracy. Nabiera wręcz wymiaru politycznego i egzystencjalnego: jedynym dostępnym działaniem jest najlepsze dostosowanie się do warunków niepewności, przygotowanie się na przyszłość, o której nic nie wiadomo i której autorów nie znamy. Trwa także gospodarczy i polityczny wyścig o to, który kraj lub blok najlepiej dopasuje się do nowej sytuacji pandemii.

We współczesnej podmiotowość dokonuje się zatem przedziwny zwrot. Znika pytanie o to, kto kieruje działaniem, zaś na pytanie o to, jak ono przebiega, odpowiada się przez sprowadzenie go do przystosowawczego wymiaru. Nie jest to tak sprzeczne z ideologią zakłócania, jak mogłoby się wydawać: działanie jako przystosowanie jest najprostszą odpowiedzią na ciągle zachodzące zakłócenia. Skoro ustalone ramy bezustannie ulegają gwałtownemu rozpadowi, najskuteczniejsze będzie takie działanie, które w możliwie najodpowiedniejszy sposób umiejscowi się w owych pęknięciach i najlepiej je wykorzysta.

Permanentny stan wyjątkowy łączy zatem w sobie dwie logiki: logikę posłuszeństwa / nieposłuszeństwa z logiką przystosowania / nieprzystosowania. Prosty system posłuszeństwa, będący porządkiem stworzonym z chaosu albo chaosem służącym utrzymaniu porządku, by nie wystarczył. Posłuszeństwo wymaga pewnej trwałości reguł lub norm oraz uchwytności granicy między wnętrzem a zewnętrzem danego systemu. To z kolei rodzi potrzebę sprawowania władzy w oparciu o rozpoznawalny i przewidywalny system rozróżnień. Choć ten całkowicie nie zniknął, w ustroju trwałego wyjątku można rozpoznać dwie tendencje, wzmacniające się wzajemnie na zasadzie sprzężenia zwrotnego: mnożenie przepisów i norm w niezamierzony sposób prowadzi do zwielokrotnienia liczby przypadków oraz możliwości odmowy posłuszeństwa. Przemieszanie norm administracyjnych, karnych, obywatelskich itp. znacznie przy tym utrudnia ustalenie, gdzie i kiedy to nieposłuszeństwo się zaczyna.

Dlatego dzisiaj każdy obywatel jest potencjalnie nieposłuszny, podejrzewa się go o to, jeszcze zanim podejmie jakiekolwiek działania czy decyzje. Podejście to wzorcowo realizuje się w odniesieniu do migrantów: niezależnie od tego, w jaki sposób przekroczyli granicę, w pewnym momencie zostanie to uznane za potencjalne nieposłuszeństwo. Nigdy nie będzie im dane poznać zasad, norm ani przepisów na tyle dobrze, aby ich nie naruszyć. Przywołajmy tutaj jeszcze raz pracę Sandro Mezzadry i Bretta Neilsona, którzy wyjaśniają to w następujący sposób:

Ta osobliwa forma rozszczepienia, przez które państwa wydzielają strefy i enklawy, pozostawiając je poza zasięgiem obowiązywania przyjętych ustaleń normatywnych, prowadzi do powstania mnogości odmiennych porządków prawnych, ustrojów pracy, wzorców rozwoju gospodarczego, a nawet stylów kulturowych. Twierdzimy, że strefy te, wyodrębniane w coraz większej liczbie, a także różnicujące się pod względem rodzaju, odwracają logikę wyjątku, która ostatnimi czasy służyła wielu badaczom do wyjaśnienia nowych form sekurytyzacji syntetyzowanych w terenie. Okazuje się, że nie tyle panuje w nich próżnia prawna, ile przepełnia je wielość sprzecznych norm i rachunków, nakładających się na siebie, a czasami wchodzących ze sobą w konflikt, przybierający nieprzewidywalną, ale podlegającą również negocjacjom postać [10].

Przywołując określenie Aihwy Ong, cytowane przez Mezzadrę i Neilsona, obecne „technologie strefowania” udoskonalają reżim posłuszeństwa wobec wszelkiego rodzaju norm, praw i reguł i poszerzają jego obszar, począwszy od znanej z życia codziennego biurokracji akademickiej po granice porządku terytorialnego, w których dochodzić może do najpoważniejszych i najgroźniejszych przypadków naruszeń. Koronawirus upowszechnił i nasilił dodatkowo praktyki strefowania, dom po domu obejmujące docelowo, przynajmniej potencjalnie, całą naszą planetę. Póki co jeszcze w granicach stanu pogotowia. Ale jaką mamy pewność, że praktyka wyodrębniania stref sanitarnych w tym czy innym wydaniu przestanie obowiązywać po okresie kryzysu wywołanego wirusem?

Oprócz logiki posłuszeństwa uwidacznia się inny jeszcze trend organizujący wszelkie możliwe działania wokół osi dostosowania / niedostosowania. Działanie nie musi odznaczać się nieposłuszeństwem, by uznano je za przejaw niedostosowania. Wystarczy, że zareaguje się nieodpowiednio, czy to przez niezdolność, czy przez nieporozumienie, czy przez wypadnięcie z gry. Z tym mamy do czynienia na przykład w przypadku publicznej edukacji, która nie chce przysposobić sobie nowych technologii i metod. To samo ma miejsce w przypadku ruchów społecznych, które nie „chwytają” logiki instytucjonalnej ani logiki reprezentacji. Podobnie dzieje się z niezliczonymi sprekaryzowanymi istnieniami, niereagującymi w odpowiednim tempie i we właściwy sposób, który wymaga od nich nieustannego wynajdywania się od zera w odpowiedzi na nowe potrzeby rynku. W ten sam sposób nęka się i nadwyręża życie osobiste wielu osób, zmuszonych do tego, by uznawać za fizyczne lub psychiczne zaburzenie coś, co jest po prostu przejawem niemożności przystosowania się do nieustannej zmiany planów. We wszystkich sferach instytucjonalnych, ekonomicznych, politycznych i osobistych grozi nam to samo niebezpieczeństwo niedostosowania.

Takie podwójne oblicze współczesnej niewoli wymaga dwóch rzeczy: uznania normy i rozpoznania sytuacji. Po nich poznaje się rządzącego – tego, kto ma moc ustanawiania i narzucania norm i kto potrafi generować coraz to nowsze sytuacje – a rolę tę odgrywać mogą technokraci, politycy i guru, ale też wielkie banki, korporacje i władze sanitarne. Ostatnia instancja suwerenności pozostaje nieodgadniona. Ustanawia się zaś dzięki takiej podwójnej operacji uznania / rozpoznania.

„Back” and „again”

Jeśli kontrrewolucja dokonująca się przez zakłócenie, z użyciem przemocy i za pomocą stanu pogotowia, jest procesem szerzącym połączenie posłuszeństwa z przystosowaniem, należałoby zadać sobie pytanie: „Co dzieje się z tymi, którzy są posłuszni i dostosowują się do wymogów scenariusza permanentnego wyjątku?”. Jak widzieliśmy, współczesną niewolę znamionuje coś, co czyni ją wyjątkową: nawet ci, którzy wykazują się największym posłuszeństwem i najchętniej się dostosowują, żyją w poczuciu zagrożenia. W przypadku koronawirusa i katastrofy klimatycznej zagrożenie to przestało być jednak poczuciem wyłącznie subiektywnym.

Jeśli współczesne państwo oferuje spokój w zamian za posłuszeństwo, co takiego może nam dać? Jeśli potencjalnie cała ludność znajdzie się w stanie zagrożenia, niezależnie od miejsca pobytu, to czy wspólne poczucie niebezpieczeństwa nie zjednoczy jej lepiej niż cokolwiek innego? Czy strach jest wobec tego głównym narzędziem współczesnej polityki? Przyjmując hobbesowski punkt widzenia, można by odpowiedzieć, że tak było od zawsze. Ale przecież współczesne państwo jako urządzenie prawno-wojskowe wynaleziono właśnie po to, by osłabić i utrzymać w ryzach destabilizujące skutki jego działania. Kiedy dzień po dniu strach wsącza się w życie społeczne, nieustannie zakłócane w swych ramach i najistotniejszych punktach odniesienia, co takiego zaoferować może suweren? Zasadniczo tylko jedno: pozór bezpieczeństwa.

To właśnie pojęły nowe reakcyjne siły polityczne. To one dowodzą chaosem, zarazem czerpiąc moc z oferowania nam pozorów bezpieczeństwa: murów, które tak naprawdę od niczego nie odgradzają; praw wyjątku, które nie do końca są tym, za co się podają; stanów wojennych, które nie zarządzają bezwzględnego stanu pogotowia; zagrożeń zdrowotnych i klimatycznych, które nie pociągają za sobą realnych zmian w obszarze produkcji i konsumpcji… a przede wszystkim wspólnego horyzontu znaczenia, retrotopijnego bezpieczeństwa reakcji. Nie są to siły konserwatywne w tradycyjnym tego słowa znaczeniu. Nie dążą do zachowania żadnego z aspektów rzeczywistości. Podejmowane przez nie działania polityczne łączą spustoszenie z reakcją, nowatorstwo z zakłócaniem, przemoc z życiem codziennym. Ich przewaga zależy od umocnienia tego typu relacji, zniewolenie zaś polega na dostosowaniu się po to, by przetrwać.

Zygmunt Bauman w swojej ostatniej książce wspominał o retrotopijnym charakterze dzisiejszych ideałów. Większość przemówień i haseł politycznych głoszonych w językach romańskich charakteryzuje się wszechobecnością wskazującego na powtórzenie przedrostka „re-”, występującego w takich wyrażeniach, jak recuperar („odzyskać”), reapropiar („przystosować się na nowo”), retomar („wznowić”). W czasie dwóch wielkich kampanii politycznych, które odciskają największe piętno na teraźniejszości i najbliższej przyszłości anglosaskiego świata, pojawiły się nader interesujące zwroty językowe. Donald Trump przywrócił do obiegu slogan Make America Great Again („Uczyńmy Amerykę znowu wielką”), zaś w Wielkiej Brytanii, w trakcie kampanii na rzecz „wyjścia” z UE, tzw. brexitu, sformułowano hasło Take back control („Odzyskajmy kontrolę”). W obu przypadkach, jak sądzę, kluczowym elementem są na pozór nic nieznaczące cząstki. Ani „Ameryka”, ani „kontrola” – o znaczeniu tych zdań przesądzają słowa back („wstecz”) i again („znowu, z powrotem”). Bez nich zabrakłoby jakkolwiek wyznaczonego kierunku.

Pozór bezpieczeństwa musi wskazać swoich wrogów. Co zatem dzieje się z tymi, którzy ani nie uznają normy, ani nie rozpoznają sytuacji, czyli z tymi, którzy nie są posłuszni i / lub się nie dostosowują? Każde nieposłuszeństwo i każdy przejaw niedostosowania interpretuje się jako formę przemocy równie odhistorycznioną i odpolitycznioną, jak ta, którą stosują potęgi polityczne i gospodarcze. To zatem nie przypadek, przywołując nasze przykłady, że Trump mówi wprost o inwazji przestępców na południowej granicy Stanów Zjednoczonych, we Włoszech o przemyt osób oskarża się tych, którzy ratują uchodźców w basenie Morza Śródziemnego, a państwo hiszpańskie traktuje jak przestępców organizatorów referendum w sprawie niepodległości Katalonii. Podobnie dzieje się z feminizmem. Głównym narzędziem walki z nim, używanym przez globalną prawicę, jest oskarżenie feministek o przemoc: od piętnowania aborcji jako morderstwa i nazywania walczących kobiet feminazistkami i radykałkami po nieuzasadnioną podejrzliwość wobec ruchów takich jak #MeToo. Do tego należałoby teraz jeszcze dodać „niewidzialnego wroga”, jakim jest koronawirus i wszyscy jego potencjalni sojusznicy [11]. Globalna kontrrewolucja czerpie bowiem siły nie tylko z wyjątku, ale również z szermowania oskarżeniami. Potrzebuje wroga równie rozproszonego, jak stałego. Jakikolwiek sprzeciw czy przejaw nieposłuszeństwa uznaje za zagrożenie dla chwiejnego i wiecznie wystawionego na niebezpieczeństwo porządku wyjątkowego, zaś najdrobniejsze oznaki niedostosowania czynią tego, kto je przejawia, podejrzanym i potencjalnym wrogiem. W reżimie stałego wyjątku wróg również jest stały.

Przemoc bez zwycięstwa

W stanie trwałego wyjątku dowodzi chaos. Kontrrewolucje zwykły kończyć się wojną. Tak stało się w różnych okresach rewolucji w XVIII i XIX wieku, w trakcie dwóch tak zwanych wojen światowych, wojen kolonialnych, wojny domowej w Hiszpanii w 1936 roku… Dziś kontrrewolucyjne starcie przybiera postać przemocy bez zwycięstwa, wojny bez końca. Dynamika ta znajduje potwierdzenie w nader różnorodnych kontekstach, w których formy, jakie przybiera przemoc, mogłyby się wydawać wobec siebie niewspółmierne, gdyby nie analizować ich w świetle tego paradygmatu.

Tragicznie wzorcowym przykładem jest tutaj przypadek Meksyku, czyli kraju, w którym symbolicznie zaczęła się wspomniana „rewolucja, która nie ustaje”. Strukturalna przemoc osiągnęła w Meksyku takie rozmiary, że ogarnęła wszelkie wymiary życia, od struktur państwowych po parapaństwowe, od strumieni globalnego kapitału, które zatapiają ten kraj, po najbardziej nawet prywatne praktyki życia społecznego. Nieprzypadkowo zatem wielu tamtejszych analityków, badaczy akademickich i dziennikarzy stało się wiodącymi światowymi ekspertami w zakresie współczesnych form przemocy. Jak wyjaśnia argentyńska antropolożka Rita Segato w pracy La escritura en el cuerpo de las mujeres asesinadas en Ciudad Juárez (Pismo w ciele kobiet zamordowanych w Ciudad Juárez), przemoc nie jest czymś obcym ani zewnętrznym wobec racjonalności. Gwałtowne wdarcie się czystego okrucieństwa, łącznie z najbardziej nawet potwornymi formami przemocy, jest nie tyle przejawem „inności”, ile wyrazem pewnej polityki, ponieważ zakłada istnienie określonych kodów rozpoznania oraz efektów panowania. Segato opisuje rzecz jako rozgrywającą się na pewnej:

[…] scenie, na której akty przemocy zachowują się jak język zdolny do skutecznego działania u tych, którzy biegle się nim posługują, którzy są w nim wprawieni, tych, którzy zabierają głos, nawet jeśli nie uczestniczą bezpośrednio w czynności wypowiadania (…) Konstytutywna i okrzepła w formie systemu komunikacji przemoc przeradza się w trwały język i zaczyna funkcjonować niemal równie samoczynnie jak każdy inny język [12].

Dlatego nie tylko nie jest ona zewnętrzna wobec racjonalności politycznej, ale stanowi jej nieodłączny element. Natura suwerennej machiny jest dwojaka i z niej bierze się „szerzenie strachu pod każdą możliwą postacią jako urządzenie powszechnego społecznego zarządzania, kontrolującego ruchome granice między rzeczywistościami” [13].

Pozostając przy meksykańskim kontekście, jeden z badaczy Narodowego Uniwersytetu Autonomicznego Meksyku, Daniel Inclán, swoje najnowsze prace poświęcił konstytutywnemu charakterowi przemocy na obecnym etapie procesu reprodukcji kapitalizmu. W eseju Abyecciones: violencia y capitalismo en el siglo XXI (Upodlenie: przemoc i kapitalizm w XXI wieku) [14] Inclán podejmuje próbę systematycznego wyodrębnienia elementów tej nieodłącznie towarzyszącej mu przemocy, funkcjonującej jako główna forma rządzenia kryzysem. Umiejscawia ją w ramach stanu pogotowia rozumianego jako kryzys cywilizacji. A zatem nie tylko mamy tutaj do czynienia z zawieszeniem porządku politycznego, ale znaleźliśmy się w jakościowym i wielowymiarowym kryzysie, który wykracza poza rozróżnienie na porządek i nieład, wyznaczając strefę nieokreśloności i strukturalnego rozchwiania. W tak zakreślonych ramach przemoc pełni rozmaite funkcje, spośród których należałoby wyróżnić: społeczne klasyfikowanie ciał, odpolitycznienie przez konflikt oraz odhistorycznienie doświadczenia. Podsumowując:

W ramach swojego poruczenia przemoc spełnia funkcję odhistoryczniania procesów komunikacyjnych, bądź to ze względu na wieczną powtarzalność, bądź ze względu na swą śmiercionośność, co uniemożliwia dokonywanie powiązań i operacji służących wpisywaniu jej w czasowość zbiorową [15].

Coś, co dzieje się zawsze i nigdy się nie kończy: oto stan trwałego wyjątku, wyłaniający się z kryzysu cywilizacji i rządzący nim z użyciem przemocy. W ten sposób przypadkowość przemienia się w arbitralność, która jako swojego narzędzia używa – co paradoksalne – prawa. Znajdujemy w tym na powrót pomysł na mnożenie praw, który Inclán nazywa „globalnym fetyszem mocy prawa” [16]. Pełnoprawna i arbitralna zarazem, konstytutywna przemoc „buduje upodlone podmioty – pomioty, wobec których stosować można skrajne okrucieństwo […] odarte ze wszelkich historycznych uwarunkowań” i stanowiące narośle na tym systemie. Ostatecznie, zdaniem Inclána, stan wyjątkowy, utrwaliwszy się, nie tylko rządzi z użyciem przemocy bez zwycięstwa, ale w ten sposób wypowiada historii wojnę, przekraczającą granice rozumienia i wrażliwości. Istoty bez historii tracą wspólną pamięć, a wraz z nią możliwość przepracowywania, podważania i przekształcania sensu możliwego doświadczenia. W ten sposób jasno zostaje wyłożona kontrrewolucyjna funkcja przemocy bez zwycięstwa.

Trwałość stanu wyjątkowego sprawia, że kryzys znaczenia staje się orężem panowania. Nie jest już doświadczeniem egzystencjalnym ani indywidualnym, ale stanem, który skazuje życie na nieodwoływalną „nieprzeżywalność”. Przemoc nie potrzebuje zatem zwycięstwa, ponieważ właściwą jej formą panowania jest rządzenie kryzysem, w którym doświadczenie – osobiste i zbiorowe – nie nadaje już znaczeń ani nie pozwala ich uwspólnić.

Dlatego tak ważne jest to, aby obecne odosobnienie zrodziło wspólnotę doświadczenia i nie przyczyniało się do prywatyzacji cierpienia w formie przemocy. Znajdą się tacy, którzy zechcą upatrywać w tym kryzysie swojej szansy i wyciągną z niego wnioski. Oczekiwanie jednak, że kryzys sam nas oświeci i pouczy o czymś, czego do tej pory nie widzieliśmy, zalatuje moralizatorstwem i religianctwem. Stawką tutaj jest bowiem dzielenie się konkretnym doświadczeniem, pogłębianie go i wzbogacanie, w zastanym świecie pracy i w sytuacji gospodarczej, w której się znaleźliśmy, przy mnożących się problemach natury afektywnej, ale też dzięki wzajemnemu wsparciu, usytuowanej wiedzy, wymianie myśli, coraz to nowszym i liczniejszym formom komunikacji itp. Co przeżyjemy wspólnie w tym czasie odosobnienia? Czy wyjdziemy z tego stanu jeszcze bardziej osamotnieni, odizolowani, przerażeni, czy też wręcz przeciwnie?

Świat się nie zatrzymał, choć wiele i wielu z nas pozostaje w izolacji. Nasze uwięzienie połączmy jednak z więzieniami, które już istnieją w rozmaitych formach i w których przemoc jest stosowana w różnym stopniu. Świat się nie zatrzymał, ponieważ w miejscu nie stanęła kontrrewolucja, wręcz przeciwnie. Ale nie ustały również rewolucje, których nic nie zdoła powstrzymać. I właśnie rozmaite zmagania z tym systemem rujnującym życie, nasze oczekiwania, więzi i naszą wspólną przyszłość, mogą nas wyprowadzić z obecnego kryzysu mniej niesprawiedliwą, mniej niszczycielską i mniej autorytarną drogą.

Barcelona, marzec 2020


Przełożył z hiszpańskiego Sławomir Królak

* * *

[1] Trump declara emergencia nacional en frontera sur, „CNN Espanol”, 15.02.2019,

[2] „Celem przywrócenia zgodności z konstytucją i ochrony właściwego sprawowania autonomii w Katalonii, zgodnie z procedurą przewidzianą w artykule 155. hiszpańskiej konstytucji, na czas nieokreślony, stosować będziemy wszelkie środki, jakie okażą się do tego konieczne. Ze szczególną uwagą przyglądać się będziemy poprawności wykonywania kompetencji w dziedzinie edukacji, więziennictwa, publicznych środków przekazu oraz finansów publicznych”. Program wyborczy Partii Ludowej w wyborach 2019 r., s. 14,

[3] Trump declara emergencia nacional en frontera sur, dz. cyt.

[4] Zob.hasło: „Climate emergency declaration”,

[5] Zob.hasło:„Barcelona i l’emergència climàtica”,

[6] Chętnych do zapoznania się z pierwszoosobową relacją na temat tego punktu zwrotnego oraz jego politycznych, filozoficznych i osobistych konsekwencji odsyłam do mojej pracy Ciudad Princesa (Galaxia Gutenberg, Barcelona 2018 ).

[7] Maurice Blanchot, La communauté inavouable, Minuit, Paris 1984, s. 56.

[8] Hannah Arendt, La brecha entre el pasado y el futuro, [w:] De la historia a la acción, Paidós, Barcelona 1995.

[9] Sandro Mezzadra, Brett Neilson, La frontera como método, Traficantes de Sueños, Madrid 2018.

[10] Tamże, s. 243.

[11] W przemówieniu z 22 marca 2020 roku premier rządu hiszpańskiego nazwał tych, którzy nie przestrzegają zasad izolacji, „sprzymierzeńcami wirusa”.

[12] Rita Segato, La escritura en el cuerpo de las mujeres asesinadas en Ciudad Juárez. Territorio, soberanía y crímenes de segundo estado, Tinta Limón, Buenos Aires 2013, s. 32.

[13] Tamże, s. 6.

[14] Daniel Inclán, Abyecciones: violencia y capitalismo en el siglo XXI, „Nómadas” 2015, nr 43, s. 13–27.

[15] Tamże, s. 19.

[16] Tamże, s. 16.

[17] Tamże, s. 24.

The Virus of Capitalism

Przemysław Wielgosz

The truth of the inhuman and anti-democratic nature of capitalism has rarely been as evident as during the present pandemic. At the same time, it could be an opportunity for mass-scale progressive social change. Can we say, as Mao Zedong did, that because the world is plunged into chaos, things are excellent?

The pandemic crisis has seen the convergence and intensification of all the negative tendencies of recent decades. Today, we are threatened by a real virus as well as really existing capitalism. Considering the links between the epidemic and the insatiable mining and farming industries and various forms of natural exploitation, primarily deforestation, which has shortened the distance between the animal and human worlds, we are actually dealing with one particular virus, the virus of capitalism. That is the primary killer today. The fact that it creates the conditions for the interspecies transmission of diseases on an unprecedented scale is not the only reason. It suffices to compare the statistics of pandemic fatality in Italy and Spain with those in Germany and Korea. The main thing to be learned from this comparison is that even infections in the tens of thousands do not have to mean a death toll of catastrophic dimensions. The virus is not as virulent as the mortality rate for Lombardy might suggest.

Those defending the European Union against Russian trolls are telling a half-truth when they reassure each other that the EU is doing its best and it is the individual governments that are failing. Actually, the fact that they are failing is largely due to the Union’s own long-standing policies of promoting neoliberalism as the only economic practice, pushing financial sector interests and sacrificing social needs on the altar of competition, dismantling the public sector and social security, and finally, brutally imposing the cutbacks which ruined the Greek, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese societies during the 2007–2015 crisis. It is no accident that the present catastrophe hit countries whose economies were then ‘cured’ with austerity treatments administered by the Troika. The low mortality rates in spite of the high number of infections in Germany and Korea—two countries that did not pare down their health care and other public services—are the clearest sign that the real killer is, more than anything else, the neoliberal orthodoxy. Years of defunding the state, intoxicated cost-cutting, tax reductions, privatizations and austerities are now bearing poisonous fruit. This is also true for Poland, whose political class is mostly still immersed in its neoliberal slumber and seems determined to change Polish people’s lives into a daymare. The way statistics are spruced up through short supplies of tests to improve the stakes in the presidential election makes it clear that, for the politicians of PiS, staying in power is worth sacrificing lives for.

Epidemic Malthusians of All Persuasions

The crisis reveals much more than the bankruptcy of the neoliberal doctrine. It exposes the worst traits of the capitalist culture. In times of stability, they stay well hidden behind the façade of political correctness and ignorance. So long as they can only be seen in the peripheries of the global system (where, incidentally, some eighty percent of the planetary population live), they are not taken seriously in London, Paris or Warsaw. We are used to coping with scenes of violence, starvation and genocide, assuming them to be cultural specificities of Africa or the Middle East, which supposedly have less appreciation for the value of human life. This somewhat racist explanation no longer applies when persons such as Boris Johnson extol the beauty of the more vulnerable and the elderly perishing [1]. The British prime minister’s Malthusian discourse was just one episode, but one that will translate into tens of thousands of infections and deaths. Yet this was no isolated incident. What surfaced was the old colonial outlook of the British conservatives, the same one that drove the politics of the empire upon which the sun never set. In fact, Johnson exemplified the same logic followed in the mid-nineteenth century by Indian Viceroy Robert Bulwer-Lytton, who responded to recurring droughts on the subcontinent with a liberal policy of population adjustment – he abolished the granary system providing food for the population in the affected areas and relied on the invisible hand of the market when the disaster struck [2]. Certainly, there are considerable differences – Lytton was responsible for the deaths of some ten million Indians, Johnson decided to go down in history as the man who allowed five hundred thousand Britons to die. Otherwise, they both represent the same tradition of civilised barbarity. They are of the same sort as epidemic (and, lest it be forgotten, climate) denialist Donald Trump, and at least equally reality-proof Jarosław Kaczyński, dazzled by a vision of an election on May 10th.

The pandemic has become a stage for much more exotic alliances. Here we have conspiracy theories of some liberals spinning a new, fearsome version of the yellow menace story which harmonise with surrealist right-wing geopolitics exploiting a vision of war against China, but also, and worse, with very real acts of violence against Chinese minorities. We see the Malthusian Tory chiming in with a philosopher devoid of empathy who equates hospitals with concentration camps; supporters of the ‘good change’ as well as its critics, a media tycoon and the head of a leftist magazine speaking in unison. Boris Johnson says things which please Giorgio Agamben, who, by the way, borrows some of his ideas from the anti-vaxxers. We see the Civic Coalition joining forces with the ruling party to push Premier Morawiecki’s anti-crisis shield through the Polish parliament, and Sławomir Sierakowski getting disturbingly close to Grzegorz Hajdarowicz and Radosław Sikorski [3]. Polish national conservatives and neoliberals, backed by economic experts of the only legitimate political line, have decided to sacrifice the health and lives of the public on the altar of productivity. Their model might be Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, who forces hundreds of thousands of employees to risk their health for the sake of profit while announcing a charitable operation on their behalf.

It is not only hypocrisy for the Polish authorities to tighten social distancing requirements once again while remaining indifferent to the dramatic situation in Amazon’s warehouses, which employ almost twenty thousand people. More than anything else, it is a clear indication of whose interests are being represented by the Morawiecki government and which stakes it deems more important: the citizens’ lives and well-being, or the profits of a global corporation. Contrary to appearances, this is not about saving the economy and jobs. In a pandemic, forcing people to travel many kilometres and stay in one building with hundreds of others will not save the GDP, but it does guarantee a sharp increase in the number of people stricken by the disease. [4] The tools to keep the economy alive are to be found elsewhere. Certainly not in the hands of Bezos, Hajdarowicz and the like.

More of the Same

Yet, things may play out differently. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen is —at last!—breaking the unholy rules, pulled out of thin air, that restricted EU countries’ deficit levels to the three percent and public debt levels to the equally baseless figure of sixty percent, and she is encouraging governments to spend, and spend again, to save economies and people. [5] One feels like saying: too little too late! If anything can save the Union today, it will be courage to break the neoliberal muzzle that it imposed on European societies through the Maastricht Treaties and the Stability and Growth Pact. This is why the key question today is whether the vast pumping of public money into EU economies will mark a departure from another pathology, which was financing bonuses for the bankers who brought about the collapse of 2007–2009. The banks do not need more liquidity (because they have been using what the European Central Bank created for years); societies and public services need it as they do the ventilator air.
At a moment when the European Commission itself is ripe to adopt Keynesian measures, the Polish government and the opposition alike are proposing more of the same old story. The Anti-crisis Shield is, in fact, a sword pointed at millions of employees and self-employed people, as well as the health service. Whatever stands behind this project—be it cynicism, political calculation, or plain stupidity—a comparison between the planned expenditures to sustain the liquidity of banks (seventy billion zloty) and support for the health care system (seven and a half billion) prompts us to give failing grades to those who developed and voted for it. With this project, Poland has become the first state to use the pandemic to impose Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine on its society. [6] This mixture of economic ultraliberalism and state of exception would have no chance to pass under normal conditions. Yet it has become quite real now, with the prevailing sense of physical danger, reinforced by the widespread and very rational awareness of the inefficiency of the Polish health care system. We will all feel the consequences of today’s assault on societal democracy when the virus is gone. This is not a matter of a dictator coming to power, but the fact that, once the labour code is suspended, we will be effectively deprived of all formal civil rights to the same degree as the impoverishment that the majority of society will suffer.

Is the Pandemic Changing the World?

Does this mean we are already doomed? Will the advocates of tightening the economic and political screws treat us to their Thanos-style capitalism? What if, in exposing the truth of capitalism, the pandemic fuels its opponents?

History provides examples of positive changes that resulted from plagues. The Black Death of the fourteenth century is a classic example. It coincided with a great wave of peasant rebellions, which led historians to make it part of the context of the liberation of peasants from feudal dependence (in Poland, only temporarily) and the strengthening of the position of labour. We may also hypothesise links between effects of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1917–1920 and the simultaneous rise of a revolutionary tide in Europe and Asia. The present pandemic has similarly exposed the fragility of the global accumulation regime based on manufacturing that is delocalised to China and on globalised value and supply chains. What, until recently, seemed to be capital’s source of colossal advantage over labour and democracy confined by national boundaries has turned out to be the system’s weakest link. The blockage of manufacturing in one particular place and increased costs of transportation have brought globalisation enthusiasts and worshippers in the church of dematerialised economy down to earth. Capital may need them to turn more profit, but what societies need for their survival is material production, material products reaching material places.

This is not the end. By interrupting the global economic bloodstream, the pandemic has accelerated several processes that have long heralded the exhaustion of the current economic model. In particular, we can expect the end of the era of cheap nature, to be plundered and poisoned with impunity. The link between this practice, responsible for a rapid and radical decline in biodiversity and the proliferation of new viruses, is too evident to be ignored. Its costs, economic or otherwise, have become dramatically apparent. Nevertheless, it is important that even after the pandemic, capital will no longer pursue its race to the bottom in search of the cheapest labour force on the current scale. The cheap labour zones scattered all over the globe, previously available due to liberalisation of the flow of capital and underpricing of transportation (thanks to subsidies for the oil industry), will be less accessible. The effects of these limitations will certainly not be evenly distributed. Some places and sectors may see improvements for the workforce, but others, especially in the global South, are likely to see a regression. But while the negative effects of the pandemic guaranteed by the very logic of capitalism, the odds for positive effects depend on a number of factors.

Politicise the Baseline Communism

However ambiguous the historical examples of the fourteenth century and 1917 are, they show that neither the epidemic nor the elite of the ancien régime do any good by themselves. After all, nobody in their right mind believes that the invisible hand of the market will save us from an economic collapse any more. Clearly, socialism for the wealthy and ultra-capitalism for the poor, which are at the heart of the Polish government and neoliberal opposition projects alike, will only exacerbate inequalities, poverty, and ultimately, recession. A real alternative is needed. Could it be the baseline communism that David Graeber describes? [7] Certainly, grassroots solidarity and mutual aid are now proving necessary for society to function. We are literally being saved by spontaneous forms of community that neoliberal capitalism has tried to eliminate and replace with market-driven consumer choices. Philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy has gone so far as to name this communovirus. [8] It is enough to compare its expression with the class particularism so striking in the discourse of media pundits and the predominantly conservative-liberal political class. While the former stokes hopes of overcoming the crisis and a bright future, the latter represents the opposite and a sure way to disaster. But in keeping with Graeber, and confirmed by the crisis experience, baseline activity is not sufficient (or sufficiently political). Grassroots activities – sewing masks, the Visible Hand and balcony concerts – are not enough. It goes without saying that it is impossible to imagine a better world after the pandemic without this movement. What we must realize, however, is that even the most magnificent acts of horizontal cooperation and heroism are no substitute for an efficient public sector, no more than occupying squats can substitute for national housing policy. The energy activated at the grassroots must find its way into reorganising the social order. This requires us to formalise new forms of self-organisation and propose a political project.

Growth? What Growth?

The mainstream debate in Poland resounds with calls to sustain production and growth. But haven’t we just learned that growth for its own sake is of no value? Isn’t it the same growth that has risen alongside precarity, the degradation of the public sphere, impoverishment and growing consumer debt over the past few decades? Neoliberal capitalism has long since severed the link between GDP growth dynamics and human development which was in place for four decades after 1945. Today, growth will not keep all the boats afloat; for a long time now, it has been sinking the smaller ones.

We hear that banks need money because they are using it to lend to consumers. Well, this is actually the best argument against them. The problem is not banks lacking liquidity. It is that the wages are so low that workers have to go into debt to buy a washing machine or go on holiday. Not only has the share of wages in GDP been declining for years, but much of them has been transferred to financial institutions by servicing consumer loans.

Whenever the idea of supporting wages arises, the neoliberal chorus responds: Where is the money for that? The answer is extremely simple: it could come from the same resources that fund bank bailouts. It would be cheaper and more effective. Even a solidarity income program to be paid to the three and a half million unemployed every a year (this is how numerous they can be in a few months) would cost fifteen billion zloty less than the amount being offered to banks. [9]

We Can’t Afford Austerities

Now is the time to ask strategic questions: Do we need growth? If so, what kind? What kind of financial system do we need: one that supplies the economy with liquidity or one that, conversely, drains it of liquidity through fiscal giveaways, privatisation of pension schemes or interest rate policies that result in inflating assets and encourage pumping profits into financial markets? And finally, can we afford to continue the austerities now that it is well known that the only effective way to boost the economy and reduce the debt is through public investment? Conventional economists and governments (like Poland’s) that are influenced by them are only interested in production (supply), adhering to the archaic notion of supply creating its own demand. Yet both experience and economic theory indicate that such one-sidedness simply does not work. What is needed most of all is the stimulation of demand. Certainly, this will not be achieved by encouraging consumption alone. While the latter is necessary for millions of people to survive, sufficient demand can only be created by public investment.

This is a time for spending. But not on a bailout to save the big fish. Because in reality, just as the classics teach, workers spend as much as they earn, and capitalists only earn as much as they spend. We are being given an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of 2008–2009: instead of wasting funds once again, we could assign them to a goal that we should have long been pursuing anyway. This goal is the transformation of the energy system and a Green New Deal. The project is costly, demands technological innovation, is capital- and labour-intensive and bound to take years… which means it is perfectly suited to be a driving force for social development that will break with the capitalist idols of low cost and short-term profitability. The new economic consensus should favour deficit over austerities, public investment over the consolidation of markets, democratic rather than corporate-driven regulations, fostering cooperation within the EU, and ultimately, on a global scale, rather than bowing to the principle of competition, common goods rather than privatisation, protection of wages and jobs instead of rewarding profits, ending the era of precarity by taking all those employed under the umbrella of code agreements, and finally, establishing truly progressive taxation (including possession taxation). [10]

Socialise and Breathe

The present crisis shows that, contrary to what the uncritical and anachronistic readers of Michel Foucault might expect, we are not only threatened by an excess of panoptic institutions at present, but also by the weakening of democratic ones. To be sure, Big Brother is not a mere confabulation. The prospect of a Western surveillance capitalism or social credit in the Chinese model has become even more immediate in the pandemic. The spectre of the digitalisation of public life, which only recently stoked some technoenthusiasts’ minds, is now being associated with the collapse of the democratic community. It is one thing when political movements make use of new communication technologies, and quite another when actually existing common space is being amputated, and what was once a tool begins to dictate a society’s conditions of existence. This is particularly dangerous when the tool and network of communication, such as social media, are controlled by private capital. What will become of a democratic debate when its conditions and terms are set by Google or Facebook? We are in danger of the model for social life becoming a shopping mall, with its privatised, commercialised, secure and totally depoliticised space. In such a reality, the struggle to break the monopoly of private digital concerns and make cyberspace public has emerged as one of the most important political stakes of our time.

Today, freedom requires more democratic biopolitics, not a new libertarian Malthusianism. Democracy needs good public services, public hospitals, public drug factories and public research, whose results will find their way into the public domain. Instead of a state of exception, we need changed normalcy where the socialisation of part of the economy will be a sustainable solution, not a public-money drip for private capital. Who needs private health care if it only proves useful to its shareholders when it is most needed?

Who Creates Social Value?

As we redefine our priorities, we must ask what we can actually afford. Whose work do we really need in terms of the social value it generates? The epidemic is brutally verifying the pyramid of the relative importance of occupations. In this context, it is important to ask who should be more highly valued – a hospital cleaner and a courier service person or a marketing director and an HR manager? A paramedic and a packer in a logistics centre or a manager in a private health centre and a public relations department head in a corporation? When redesigning pay and prestige scales, the value of survival must be kept in mind. This is what workers in the USA and Poland are fighting for, as well as all those who accept the quarantine. Today, stopping work means survival, and that is why it should be rewarded. [11]

Are we seriously meant to believe that the people essential to saving lives and keeping society going are superfluous when it comes to making the political and economic decisions that affect it? This is a question of the political organisation of society and, at the same time, of the real meaning of constitutional provisions. Without economic democracy, without the real influence of workers and employees on strategic decisions concerning production and redistribution of wealth, formal rights, even if they survive, will become a mere façade for class privilege.

Interdependence or Exterminism

The crisis also provokes political questions, because even if the vaccine is soon developed and the pandemic controlled, this will not alter the fact that we are not going back to the old regime. It can only be much worse or finally get better. Signs seem to show that we are on the verge of the era of exterminism Peter Frase announced, a world of new hierarchies and shortages. [12] It will resemble the reality presented in Neill Blomkamp’s film Elysium—combining the effects of the pandemic, neoliberal orthodoxy and global inequalities, nationalism and the climate crisis. Nevertheless, the stakes of an egalitarian, abundant, and the ecological world have lost none of their relevance. On the contrary, it turns out to be the raison d’être of our societies and projects such as the European Union. Today, this is more obvious than ever. The suspension of laws and border closures will work in the short term, delaying the pandemic, but they will not stop it, or any that come in its wake. This can only be achieved through more democracy, more public sector and more egalitarianism. It is their deficit that will prove to be the greatest hazard.

The pandemic has done nothing to rehabilitate the nation-state. Indeed, it has highlighted all of its limitations. In Poland, distrust of statistics, ministers’ competences and authorities’ claims to be in control of the situation is pervasive. The same goes for the USA, Brazil, India, or Russia. As Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval observe, what we need is not more state sovereignty, but more public services. [13] These are not to be equated, as the pandemic situation adamantly proves. Historically, public services have not been gifts of the state but gains the subordinate classes have torn from the hands of governments and the capital they supported. The same is true today, as the Polish example clearly shows. What we are talking about is the issue of the presidential election. The drive to be elected during the pandemic was a sovereign expression of the authorities’ will, dramatically at odds with conserving lives, public health and social bonds. The logic of the right wing’s imperative to stay in power clashed against the democratic community’s logic of self-preservation. In this way, we had a first-hand experience of two conflicting orders: one in which the state is harnessed to satisfy social needs and one where society is subordinated to the needs of sovereign state and capital.

In a situation where countries are failing, it is very symptomatic that the real source of dependable knowledge and support has turned out to be the World Health Organization (WHO)—an institution that has been underfunded for many years and is challenged by the current Washington administration, which decided to reduce its contribution to the maintenance of the organization by fifty-three percent in early 2020. [14] The world needs far more structures like the WHO today. In other words, we need to democratise forms of global interdependence, so that they are no longer burdened by the logics of the accumulation of capital and geopolitics, which only exacerbate the global polarisation. This is the only way to promote equal chances for survival and interdependence as a source of sustainable development. The extent of the catastrophe that awaits the global South without solidarity from the North and China is unimaginable. In the local European arena, an agenda of this kind would mean making such ideas as European health and environmental policy and European minimum wage a reality. If neoliberal globalisation is co-responsible for the pandemic, the vaccine will not mean erecting walls, but globalisation of social, sanitary, environmental and employment standards.

We have become citizens of a global pandemic and we need the kind of institutions that will reflect this shared citizenship.

For this reason, if times have become even harder on us in the early spring of 2020, we must not stop at criticising the actions of those in power, we cannot afford to be moderate and conservative. If we want to preserve the social gains previous generations have struggled to win, if we do not want simply to survive, we cannot afford to do no more than look back. We have to go far beyond what has seemed possible.

* * *

[1] J. Olender, Brytyjczycy na czołówkę z koronawirusem, Krytyka Polityczna, March 17, 2020, [accessed: April 2, 2020].

[2] M. Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, El Nino, Famines and The Waking of the Third World, London–New York: Verso, 2001.

[3] G. Agamben, The state of exception provoked by an unmotivated emergency in: Positions, February 27, 2020 [accessed June 8, 2020]. Originally published in: il manifesto, February 26, 2020. A. Leszczyński, Think-tank Instrat: rządowa tarcza pisana pod naciskiem wielkiego biznesu. Cofa nas do XIX wieku, OKO.Press, March 31, 2020, [accessed: April 2, 2020]. S. Sierakowski, Lekarstwo gorsze od choroby?,, March 23, 2020, [accessed: April 2, 2020]. G. Hajdarowicz, Koronawirus: konieczna natychmiastowa zmiana polityki, Rzeczpospolita, March 23, 2020, [accessed: April 2, 2020]. R. Sikorski, Poważny głos polskiego biznesu, [accessed: Apr 2, 2020].

[4] See research by scholars of the Cambridge University economic department, Economic Damage Could Be Worse Without Lockdown and Social Distancing—Study, [accessed: April 2, 2020].

[5] This quotation comes from a video posted on Ursula von der Leyen’s Twitter account: ‘Today we triggered for the very first time the general escape clause. This means that national governments can pump into their economies as much money as they need to. We are suspending all limitations that have been preventing this’. For more information on the activation of the escape clause, see the communication on the European Commission website:…/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_459 [accessed: April 2, 2020].

[6] N. Klein, Coronavirus Is the Perfect Disaster for “Disaster Capitalism,ʼ, March 13, 2020, [accessed: April 2, 2020].

[7] D. Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, New York: Melville House 2011.

[8] J. L. Nancy, Communovirus, Libération, March 24, 2020.

[9] Ł. Komuda, Popyt, panie premierze, Le Monde diplomatique – edycja polska, March–April 2020.

[10] More about the economic transformation can be found in Regeneracja zamiast tarczy, manifest środowiska naukowego badań nad gospodarką, [accessed: April 2, 2020]. J. Zygmuntowski, A Decade of Regeneration: How We Beat the Coronavirus, and the Crisis of Capitalism, [accessed: June 8, 2020].

[11] A. Temkin, Przeżycie to zysk. Kim chcemy być po drugiej stronie pandemii, Polska The Times, March 25, 2020.

[12] P. Frase, Four Futures: Life after Capitalism, New York: Verso 2016.

[13] P. Dardot, C. Laval, L’épreuve politique de la pandémie, Mediapart, March 19, 2020, [accessed: April 2, 2020]. Echoing Léon Duguit, the writers contend that public services are not an instrument of state power, but a concession to the needs of society, an obligation towards them. Through this sector, citizens can control the functions of the state and hold it accountable.

[14] S. Shah, Dlaczego pandemie są coraz częstsze?, Le Monde diplomatique – edycja polska, March–April, 2020.


Tekst jest fragmentem książki Przemysława Wielgosza „Witajcie w cięższych czasach. Polski kapitalizm, globalny kryzys i wizje lepszego świata”, która nakładem Wydawnictwa RM ukaże się w maju 2020.


Latex-Clad Princess or Syrian Nurse? What Europe after the Pandemic?

Łukasz Moll

There are many reasons to include Europe on the list of coronavirus victims. We do not yet know whether it will be as a fatality, or if it will join the ranks of survivors after it runs its crippling course. There are those who claim that she has been on a ventilator since at least the economic crisis of 2008. She is suffering from a lack of internal solidarity, combined with an inhospitable attitude towards all those who are denied the opportunity to become European. Competition to buy protective equipment, followed by a lack of political willingness to pool the debts of the Eurozone countries, may add further chapters to the chronicle of the disintegration of the European Union. At this time of Brexit and the growing support for right-wing sovereignists, from Italy to Hungary, such steps may convince the patient to make the desperate decision to terminate the treatment, as it has often been worse than the disease itself. There is a real risk that the next round of budget cut policies, applied to deal with the recession we have just entered, could prove deadly for Europe. The high priests of neoliberalism would then probably call the operation a success, except for one minor complication—the patient failed to survive. There is no shortage of visions and demands to quarantine Europe from the virus of neoliberalism. Intellectuals were the first to voice them. One manifesto—titled, incidentally, Patient Europe—calls for European solidarity to save democracy, the economy and integration [1]. The open letter Work: Democratize, Decommodify, Remediate proclaims the need to redefine work as a good that is irreducible to resource or commodity [2]. There is a hopeful expectation that the coronavirus will make everyone, including the political elite as well as common citizens, aware of the need for closer European integration. That if the patient wins the battle and finally comes off the ventilator, she will start to breathe fully, and now with both lungs—if the first one is the common market and currency, the other would be a social and environmental union.

‘More Europe!’ is less than enough

We have grown used to seeing Europe’s post-war history as the realization of the almost metaphysical task of unifying parts once brutally separated but intricately intertwined by fate, overcoming temporary difficulties to recover their lost wholeness. From Robert Schuman, Alexandre Kojève and Denis de Rougemont to Bronisław Geremek, Krzysztof Pomian and Jürgen Habermas [3], European ideologists have provided a variety of stories about how Europe, divided by national, religious or ideological particularisms, thrives on its contradictions, aiming for its final goal. The destination of this journey was seen as reconstruction of the medieval Christianitas or the République des Lettres of the Enlightenment, but on a new, more perfect and rational basis. The current crisis will surely increase the demand for forecasts of this kind. The answer to the damage caused by the coronavirus might simply be ‘More Europe!’

But before we rush to subscribe to this view, a dose of caution may be essential. Today more than ever, zealous Europeanism strikes me as very naive, even with the loftiest of motivations. Europeanism has become a secular religion, too often blinding its adherents to glaring facts. The facts are that, in practice, European integration cannot work without a considerable amount of disintegration, nor its unification without the demarcation and consolidation of new boundaries. Fractures between creditor states versus debtor states, EU citizens versus illegal denizens, or uprooted cosmopolitan globalists versus the necessarily marginalized localists of the peripheries are only the most tangible symptoms of the polarising tendencies being reinforced by Europeanisation. Outrageous expressions of these symptoms include the PIIGS or GIIPS discourses, the plights of shipwreck victims on the Mediterranean, and the criminalisation of ‘crimes of solidarity’, or actions taken to prevent those dramas from unfolding. Before we end up proposing a single Europe as a solution to our problems, Europe itself must be seen as a problem to be solved.

The perils of sanitary discourse

Long before the coronavirus era, philosophers of Europeanness suggested that the continent be treated in terms of ‘autoimmunity’, so it seems worthwhile juxtaposing the analyses of the course and long-term effects of the pandemic with the reflections of these theorists. Roberto Esposito [4], Étienne Balibar [5], Roberto M. Dainotto [6] and numerous others have tried to demonstrate that the concept of Europe as a nascent, increasingly coordinated political organism cannot continue without the side-effect of a growing obsession with order and cleanness. The issue of ‘Europe’s immunity’ to the viruses of jihadism, terrorism, uncontrolled immigration, communism, Euroleftism, ecologism, gender theory, LGBT or the ‘civilization of death’ is not the exclusive domain of the extreme right, it also permeatesmainstream politics. The ease with which this happens should not be reduced to how efficiently these discourses goviral and infect communication networks. It also has a lot to do with the endurance of sanitary imagery that has historically grown into the idea of Europe.

Modern Europe has been struggling with its intruders, Orientals, barbarians, heretics, ‘second class’ Europeans and so on for a long time. Researchers into the field of European identity observe that it depends on the designation of a ‘constitutive outside’ and, what is even more worrying, this process is currently manifested by the return of the seemingly archaic and once abandoned category of ‘anthropological differences’ [7].

In this way, the Other is subject to ‘racialization’, and not necessarily on the basis of skin colour or biology. Cultural differences, such as the fact of being influenced by Islam or lacking the ‘proper’ work ethic—anything can be a good criterion for delimitating ‘Europeanness’. The process of the stigmatization and rejection of the Other generates special pressure in peripheral countries, who are aware of how easy it may be to end up on the wrong side of the line. Hence the supposedly ‘native’ racism of Eastern Europeans is more a result of a discursive game initiated by the European centre. In this game, as József Böröcz and Mahua Sarkar note [8], Poles and Hungarians, along with their politicians, are aware of the capital that ‘whiteness’ constitutes. Particularly in emigration, this capital helps one to be distinguished from those who occupy the lower segments of the labour market and the worse neighbourhoods: Pakistanis, Somalians or Syrians. The latter, as Achille Mbembe argues [9], become the shifting physical borders of Europe—an African’s skin, his or her biometric material, serves to draw new lines of exclusion.

Consequently, the paradox is that Europe, which, according to its apologists, was meant to overcome exclusionary—racist, xenophobic, identarian—attitudes, is doing nothing to dismantle these borders, but is stimulating their revival in new, extremely glaring and disturbing forms. The coronavirus that came from China, which spreads through the networks globalisation has created—airports, supply chains, migration—fits and strengthens the sanitary discourse ofEurope as a besieged fortress all too easily.

Exorcising slumbering demons

Alas, it must be conceded that Europe’s immunity to racism is clearly overestimated. In this respect, the history of the European idea teaches us about its structural dependence on the fear of the exterior breaking in. This dependency can already be seen in the ancient myth of Princess Europa abducted (in some versions: raped) by Zeus. It manifests itself in the Europe/Orient dichotomy, which dates back to the Greco-Persian wars and has significantly contributed to the construction of modern European identity [10]. Subsequently, we find it in the first use of the term Europeans, the origins of which are closely linked to the spread of Islam [11]. Finally, the list ends with a sort of ‘continentalization’ of Europe, an array of processes such as the conquest of the New World, the expulsion of Moors and Jews from Spain, the Christianisation of pagans in the East, the cessation of the Viking raids and the consolidation of a bulwark against steppe nomads [12]. Modern Europe has emerged by defending and purging itself of what is different. It is no accident that the European discourse was so easily hijacked by supporters of the Holy Alliance (referred to as ‘all powers of old Europe’ in Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto), colonizers believing in the ‘white man’s burden’, and even the Nazis with their Neue Europa project.

The European Union was meant to be a political and economic vaccine against awakening demons. They were to be stopped by a quest for peace and shared prosperity. From the beginning, however, the pursuit of this goal had fragile foundations, as the integration structures never questioned the autoimmune character of Europe. It was latent when the post-war reconstruction and first communities developed under American tutelage, and the problem of the exterior was temporarily ‘solved’ by the existence of the Iron Curtain and the Eastern Bloc. However, when the fall of the Berlin Wall initiated a new stage of the integration, things happened exactly as Jacques Derrida warned: the discourse about the return of the post-communist countries to Europe was an apparent opening that obscured the formation of a new Holy Alliance [13]. In the enthusiasm that accompanied the merger of the two halves of the continent separated by the turmoil of history, the question of European borders was not given due consideration. What was missed out was not so much where the borders should be—we have witnessed incessant debates on who is to be admitted, and when—but how they should be.

Your skin is the new Lampedusa

The borders are undergoing dynamic transformations. These cannot be encapsulated in simplistic narratives of either ‘a flat world without barriers’ or ‘new walls’. Although superficial observation does indeed note the drift of border crossings and controls in one place, and the growth of new fortifications and forms of control elsewhere, modern circulation regimes are much more complex and sophisticated. Their focus is on life management—strengthening certain flows, and selecting, modulating or extinguishing others [14]. The coronavirus pandemic may make their operations more readily visible.

During the recent emergency lockdowns of states and economies, Europeans had first-hand and tangible experience of the operations of various elements of circulation regimes, many of which never used to generally bother them. Living in forced isolation, having civil rights restricted, and dealing with ingenious and flexible technologies of control—all this is the daily bread of those whose mobility Europe is trying to carefully control, even after the pandemic. Paul B. Preciado put it bluntly:

The new necropolitical frontier has shifted from the coast of Greece toward the door of your home. Lesbos now starts at your doorstep. And the border is forever tightening around you, pushing you ever closer to your body. Calais blows up in your face. The new frontier is the mask. The air that you breathe has to be yours alone. The new frontier is your epidermis. The new Lampedusa is your skin. For years, we considered migrants and refugees infectious to the community and placed them in detention centers—political limbos where they remained without rights and without citizenship; perpetual waiting rooms. Now we are living in detention centers in our own homes [15].

There is, of course, a risk that the biopolitics employed to stop the spread of the coronavirus will further consolidate the biopolitics of human migration after the pandemic, giving it political legitimacy and better technological tools. If the untamed movement of human bodies—the ‘sowers of pestilence’—has proven to be a source of danger, this desire for safety, which the Leviathan was meant guarantee, might grow even stronger [16]. This will then be accompanied by a new post-pandemic racism, the seeds of which we are already observing. It targets not only ‘strangers’, but also the ‘strangers among us’. Instances of ordinary citizens’ animosity towards nurses who have had contact with infected persons, miners from infected Silesian mines, or truck drivers crossing borders justify the suspicion that one mental repercussion of the coronavirus will be increased resentment towards ‘loose’ people, which is known to typically follow large-scale epidemics. It will not exclusively affect groups that have been traditionally stigmatised in such circumstances—migrants, homeless, beggars or the Roma people—but is likely to have spread further, affecting those workers who are not privileged to be able to resign from hired work and are thrown to the front lines of the battle against the virus.

But this does need not be the case. In spite of the ‘spectacle of sovereignty’—imposed decrees, ministerial press conferences and closed international borders—the last few weeks have made it clear that all those political acts would not be to much avail without the dedication of the many groups who kept social reproduction going. Mass-scale isolation in homes would be impossible were it not for the circulation of protective measures, caring work or necessary products in the spaces where the virus was circulating. The flip side of the #stayathome campaign was a certain amount of openness and mobility, which sustained the necessary exchange of fluids within Europe’s body politic. Due to the key roles of migrants in many European countries—for example, migrant women in caring for the elderly—Europe’s dependence on its exterior is coming to the fore. This provides an opportunity to dismantle the sanitary narrative of Europe.

Europe needs by-passes

Before it found expression in rationalised cartography, the ‘continentalization’ of Europe took the visual form of a queen, as in the popular fourteenth-century Europa regina maps. Sovereign over seas and oceans, unified into one body—most frequently, as a symbol of imperial aspirations—the image clearly alluded to the mythical Princess Europa [17].

Figure 1. Europa by Frans Hogenberg

Actually, apart from their superficial similarities, the two characters have little in common. The ancient Europa was a nomad who set off, riding Zeus, who had been turned into a bull, from some seaside site in today’s Syria or Lebanon, to reach the island of Crete. It is difficult to find similarities in her fate to Europe the queen, placing herself in the centre of the world and wanting to control it. The former might be better suited to be patroness of the present-day refugees crossing the same waters, hoping to reach the continent bearing her name.

Figure 2. The Rape of Europa by Valentin Serov

The theme of Queen Europe, ‘the world’s number one’, perfectly served expansionist tendencies, but also paranoid fears of what lay outside. Europe the queen was portrayed in an entourage of servants bringing treasures from faraway lands. At the same time, her image was a virginal one: she was constantly threatened by an uncivilized world, at risk of being raped again.

Figure 3. Like a succubus, Africa weighs on the repose of Europe. Le Rire magazine

Europe the vulnerable was also a perfect fit for seemingly contradictory nationalistic discourses: Britannia, Marianne and Germania functioned as her national incarnations. In recent years, the motif of the virgin Europe penetrated by intruders has been utilised by Islamophobic groups trying to depict Muslim refugees as rapists.

A cover of the wSieci weekly warned against an ‘Islamic rape of Europe’: a young woman, dressed in the EU flag is being shoved and stripped by perpetrators’ swarthy hands (Fig. 4). The voluminous collection of visual representations of the European idea that is Michael Wintle’s book The Image of Europe shows that this Polish cover is consistent with a long tradition of images of the princess’ rape or abduction. All too often, Europe has been presented in works of art, propaganda, satire or pop culture as victimised by foreign forces—not only Muslims and ‘savages’, but also American consumerism, Soviet communism or even the bureaucracy of Brussels. On the other hand, an equally widespread opposite tendency consists in holding Europe to blame for her abduction. This is not necessarily in the sense of the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ or, even worse, a hidden desire to be raped. Europe as a perky rider of the bull, controlling her fate, confidently heading towards the horizon, as in the picture by Valentin Serov (Fig. 2), is presently juxtaposed with images of refugee boats, deceptively reminiscent of her own peregrinations. The best known literary version of the myth of the princess, a poem by Moschos, pictures a Europe dreaming of two lands, one close by and one far away, which take on feminine forms and try to pull Europe from the other’s hands. This encounter with a foreign woman arouses Europe’s desire to travel and carries (‘abducts’) her away to the West. Hence some philosophers, such as Denis Guénoun, suggest we should not think about Europe in terms of a land, a civilisation or a continent (which it is not, in a strict geographic sense), but to see it as an isthmus between seas, a bridge or a terminal [18]. Not accidentally, the strait historically seen as separating the European continent from Asia is called the Bosphorus, which literally means ‘cow’s passage’ (from bous – cow and poros – passage).

Figure 4. A cover of wSieci

The pandemic will probably add further chapters to the saga of these two contradictory images of Europe. There is a danger that the narrative of rape and the imperative to defend the threatened virgin will develop into a princess clad in latex, protective mask and gloves, who sees the Other primarily as a pathogen—remember that, even before the pandemic, Jarosław Kaczyński accused refugees of carrying germs. The cynical European migration policy is based on ritual appeals to limit the influx of people and strengthen the external borders, though in reality, migrants are essential to Europe’s politically defective subjects and sellers of cheap labour at a bargain price—Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson described this manoeuvre as ‘inclusion through differentiation’ [19]. As if it were not enough that migrant workers do the dirty work, they are also to be blamed for all the evils of this world.

The cynicism of xenophobic politicians was brilliantly captured by British Labour Party veteran Dennis Skinner, now eighty-eight years old, who shouted at a representative of the United Kingdom Independence Party during a parliamentary address: ‘I’ve got a United Nations heart bypass… and it was done by a Syrian cardiologist, a Malaysian surgeon, a Dutch doctor and a Nigerian registrar…’ [20].

It seems that for large segments of society, the pandemic has, at least temporarily, brought an increased recognition of their reproductive work. If it is to be more than a carnivalesque reversal of normality and become an enduring basis for economic reconstruction, with care for others and the environment at its heart, we must not forget to equip that heart with bypasses against post-pandemic racism. If Europe is a patient, her full recovery means she needs nurses, including Syrian ones.

* * *

[1] Europe, a patient:. e need economic solidarity to save the community from coronavirus’, YouMove.

[2] Work: Democratize, Decommodify, Remediate, transl. Miranda Richmond Mouillot .

[3] Denis de Rougemont, The Idea of Europe, transl.Norbert Guterman, Cleveland and New York: Meridean Books, 1968; Bronisław Geremek, Nasza Europa, od. Izabella Sariusz-Skąpska, Fundacja Centrum im. prof. Bronisława Geremka, Krakóo: Towarzystwo Autorów i Wydawców Prac Naukowych ‘„Universitas”’ 2012; Jürgen Habermas, The Crisis of the European Union:.  Response, transl.Ciaran Cronin, Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press, 2012; Krzysztof Pomian, L’Europe et ses nations, Paris: Gallimard, 1990.

[4] Roberto Esposito, A Philosophy for Europe. From the Outside, transl.Zakiya Hanafi, Cambridge and Medford: Polity Press, 2018.

[5] Étienne Balibar, We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, transl.James Swenson, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004.

[6] Roberto M. Dainotto, Europe (In Theory), Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007.

[7] Marc Crépon, Altérités de l’Europe, Paris: Galilée, 2006.

[8] József Böröcz, Mahua Sarkar, ‘The unbearable whiteness of the Polish plumber and the hungarianpeacock dance around “race”,’, lavic Review 2017, vol. 76, no. 2, pp. 307–14.

[9] Achille Mbembe, ‘Vu d’Europe, l’Afrique n’est qu’un grand Bantoustan’, Jeune Afrique 2018, no. 3,024.

[10] Peter Burke, ‘Did Europe Exist Before 1700?’, History of European Ideas 1980, vol. 1.

[11] Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Europe, Oxford: Malden and Carlton, 2003, p. 27.

[12] Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe. Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950–1350, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994; Michel Mollat du Jourdin, Europe and the Sea, transl.Teresa Lavender Fagan, Oxford UK and Cambridge MA: Blackwell, 1993; Tzvetan Todorov, Conquest of America: The Question of the Other, transl.Richard Howard, New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

[13] Jacques Derrida, The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, transl.Pascale-Anne Brault, Michael Naas, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

[14] Nick Vaughan-Williams, Europe’s Border Crisis: Biopolitical Security and Beyond, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

[15] Paul B. Preciado, ‘Learning from the Virus’, Artforum 2020, vol. 58, no. 9.

[16] Giorgio Agamben, ‘The state of exception provoked by an unmotivated emergency’, in: Positions, February 27, 2020.

[17] Michael Wintle, The Image of Europe:.Visualizing Europe in Cartography and Iconography throughout the Ages, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

[18] Denis Guénoun, About Europe:.Philosophical Hypotheses, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013, pp. 21–22.

[19] Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, Border as Method, or:,the Multiplication of Labor, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013.

[20]  ‘Veteran MP Dennis Skinner slams Ukip’s new MP’, Channel 4 News, November 21, 2014.