The novel coronavirus has been emphasizing and exacerbating the effects of a widening wealth gap, years of policies of austerity, and the extent of social inequality all over the world. The uncertainty over what the future will look like increases concerns surrounding the future of crucial matters such as labour, the housing market, and higher education. This piece focuses on the practices of solidarity, how this has shaped people’s experiences of the lockdown in Istanbul, Turkey, and the ways in which the local and national state can—and did—exploit public concerns and confusion that have been evoked by the pandemic to fast-track their controversial urban projects and decisions.
More than 6,400 families have been evicted from their homes and another 19,000 remain threatened with eviction in Brazil since March 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak started in the country. In the state of São Paulo, 1,681 evictions were carried out and up to 5,000 families can be evicted from their homes at any one time. This startling data relates to informal settlements—evictions for non-payment of rent are not included—and numbers may be even higher, as this reflects only the cases identified by popular movements and the organizations participating in the “Zero Eviction” campaign.
Many influential voices have pointed out, with different degrees of optimism, that the COVID-19 pandemic might finally have ushered in the final days of neoliberalism. However, if we understand neoliberalism as a set of practices and institutional mechanisms that shield market relations from popular deliberation, we reach a different conclusion. In these terms, neoliberalism is not dying. If emergency measures are aimed more at safeguarding the profits of banks and large corporations than securing wages and welfare programmes, then this crisis is in fact an opportunity to increase wealth inequality, and not to address it as a problem.
Even though the current crisis astonished most of us, it also came as no surprise. During the last decade, we have witnessed a densification of what Alex Demirovic calls “crises of denormalization”, i.e. crises that profoundly undermine the hegemonic neoliberal security dispositive. From the financial crisis in 2008–9, through to Europe´s so-called “migrant crisis” (in fact, a momentary collapse of Europe´s inhumane border regime), up to the climate crisis, world capitalism seems ever more prone to destroying its economic, social, and natural basis, and less and less capable of dealing with the consequences.
While governments across southern Africa have been imposing State of Emergency-type COVID-19 regulations, a number of ‘people’s coalitions’ have emerged in several countries, including community structures, trade unions, informal workers’ organizations, civics, social movements, rural groups, and national and provincial NGOs across all social sectors.
The COVID-19 crisis has put our whole lives on pause. Not because life has stopped or ended but because our world as we knew it seems to be coming to an end. We are at the beginning of a new era. This is a capitalist crisis, not a health crisis. This is the latest crisis in the era of capital; the Capitalocene has put us on the verge of annihilation. This crisis has hit us hard and in multiple ways. The resulting global financial crash is hitting every territory, country, and city in a different way. Changes abound in our way of living and working. Social reproduction as a whole is changing and so are social struggles.
The more we dive into the coronavirus pandemic analysis, the more we perceive how its emergence, development, and devastating consequences are marked by the precepts of the Capitalocene. This means we cannot disassociate the logics of exploitation, accumulation, and consumption—which characterize the current era—from the velocity, extension, and force exerted by the pandemic.
Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has struggled to keep his administration under control in recent months, destabilized by the government’s failure to stop the spread of COVID-19, confusion among his supporters, and now, potentially, an impeachment trial initiated by former supporters.