For some time now I have felt the need for a healthy distance (what a euphemism these days) from most of what is called the radical left in this country. After Chemnitz, after Halle, after Hanau, I was struck by deep shame when I attended those compulsory exercises which, free from hatred and honest grief, meandered through the “scene districts”, leaving nothing behind but a short report in the regional news, so on the evening of February 19 I noticed for the first time that the whole affair started to disgust me.
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Ten people had been massacred by a fascist just a few hours earlier, and I had hurried to Neukölln after work. So I stood there on the sidelines and let the demonstration pass by, looking for familiar faces. I looked into these faces, among which there were also honest ones, it is important to say that, for the sake of justice, and not to finally fall into madness, but I also saw so many with a smile on their faces greeting friends and political comrades, embracing them, falling into spontaneous small talk, that I felt physically sick. Shortly afterwards I met an old comrade, who is actually much younger than me, but at my age you quickly get old comrades. We looked at each other only briefly and exchanged a few words. What for. It was all so obvious.
So now we are experiencing the most comprehensive worldwide establishment of a pandemic fascism of (post)modernity, which by means of decrees (not even by laws, just to keep up the appearance of a bourgeois democracy) abolishes all so-called basic rights overnight, isolating and imprisoning people without judgement and without the possibility of a hearing only on suspicion. And a (German) radical left, most of which voluntarily crawls into its caves, mantra-like murmuring #FlatTheCurve and #StayAtHome. Posting denunciatory pictures of people in the spring sun, while they themselves, in deepest abstinence, save the world by abstaining from demonstrations, resistance, yes, only pure assembly for the purpose of exchange and organization. All this in the deepest chest-note of the conviction that it is about the protection of the old and sick. Those old and sick people, who die here every day in the nursing homes, hospitals and hospices in deepest loneliness, without any other scene being interested.
Overnight, everybody here is practically a qualified virologist, can pray down the potential course of the corona pandemic, and parrot the same old stuff from the few luminaries who are passed around on the talk shows and who preach with a firm voice the true way out of the crisis. That one or the other has told the exact opposite of what he or she is saying today is only of interest to notorious troublemakers. Nobody, really nobody really knows what will happen, no matter how many charts and diagrams will be sent and printed. If there will be mutations of the virus, a large part of the population will not become carriers of the virus in the course of the next 12 or 24 months anyway and 99% of them will survive. Questions upon questions for which there are no certainties. Yes, people will die, and yes, we have to fight for every human life, what kind of people would we be if we did not try. But this must not lead to blunting the weapon of criticism, to entrusting ourselves to our mortal enemies, whose rule costs tens of thousands of lives every day anyway. Dead and murdered by hunger, war, poverty, lack of health care and inhuman working conditions.
Around 80,000 people in China were tested positive for the corona virus by mid-March, and 3130 people lost their lives. That is terrible. But we are talking about a country with 1.4 billion inhabitants, where every year a large number of people are killed by the conditions of a merciless state-controlled capitalism. The civil war in Syria, which began with massacres of unarmed demonstrators by the government army, has so far cost over half a million people their lives. The last Ebola epidemic, which raged in West Africa from 2014 to early 2016, caused the illness of more than 28,000 people, almost half of the people infected, over 11,300 people died.
The really horrifying, the real drama of this pandemic that is racing across the world, spreading worldwide in real time, is not the virus that will take root in our bodies, that will cost us our lives when we are old or weak, or just unlucky. The real monstrance is the crisis management that captures and evaluates all of our lives, and believing in it is sold to us as the only alternative. The tragedy or the farce, the repetition is in this case the narrative “of the end of history”. There seems to be so little hope as I write these lines, but how can one write without hope, so one clings to what is still there. Under the rubble. Written at the epicentre of the European state of emergency, under the conditions of almost omnipresent isolation and quarantine. An excerpt from the “Virus Diary” of the Wu Ming Collective from Bologna, whose books were made available to the inclined reader through publication at Association A. The translation was made from the version published today on Lundi Matin, 16.03.2020. For any inaccuracies in the translation I ask for your understanding.
Bologna in times of the Corona Virus – The Wu Ming diary
The Wu Ming (“Anonymous” in Chinese) are a collective of four writers from Bologna, whose works, both in the way they are written (collectively or individually, but always anonymous) and in the way they are advertised (they refuse to appear in pictures), question the present, even when they write about the American War of Independence or the wars of the 14th century. In their blog they keep a virus diary, a diary about life in their city, which has been subject to unprecedented state restrictions for several weeks now, which have never been seen before in Western Europe and which are related to the coronavirus epidemic. First of all, here are the latest additions to Wu Ming 1 to this diary, which shows what we can probably expect in France in the coming weeks. The translation of the whole diary is in progress. To be continued… (Lundi Matin)
The ban on assembly has in fact turned into a curfew, here in Bologna dozens of people are being prosecuted for going around “without reason”. They did not meet with anyone, they were not even close to anyone: they had simply gone out into the fresh air.
They tell us that we must withdraw and remain paranoid, if it continues like this, we will soon experience a summit of incapacitation, mental crises, feminicides, domestic massacres and forced internment. From now on, many people in mental suffering are without social contacts, without support services. I know some of them.
The order “Stay at home” arose from a very precise idea of “home”. It is related to the wish that strangers stay “at home” and feel safe “at home”. It is the brother of the expression “this guy doesn’t know where he lives” to refer to someone who is not normal. It arises from the contrast between the home as private territory and the public, open places that can be entered by everyone. At its core, it expresses the will that these places too become “home”: increasingly private, closed, clean. It bears witness to the growing agoraphobia of the present. To counteract the spread, close contact with other people should be avoided, but this commandment could be conveyed in many other ways: It is significant that the dictate “stay at home” was chosen. A mantra that requires not only a certain type of home – from the point of view of interior space, comfort, space – but also a home as a “safe place”, whereas, as one commentator noted, for many women home is not a place where they feel safe at all. On closer inspection, it is also not safe for many older people who move quietly outside, while at home they often suffer serious domestic accidents and experience even more loneliness. “Stay at home” has always been a patriarchal refrain aimed at women who do not stay in their place. Here too, unfortunately, there is a slowdown in critical thinking: how many of us, women and men, have pointed out this coincidence? How many have investigated this slip of the tongue?
“Stay at home” tells us that our home is no longer a place of conviviality, of meeting, of encounter. The decree tells us that our homes are no longer “places”, because a place is a place only when it serves as a crossroads between several paths, and not by the grace of a door, a gate. Ambrose Bierce, in his “Dictionary of the Devil”, gives this definition of the house: “Hollow construction, built to be inhabited by humans, rats, cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes, fleas, bacilli and germs”. On the contrary, we are lulled into the illusion of having aseptic, clean accommodation without uninvited guests. Or better said: without any guests at all. But there are houses that still accommodate different people: family houses, shared flats. These days, many educators who work with disabled and fragile people are in great difficulty because the day centres where these people used to spend their days and have activities, talk and let themselves go are closed. Now they have to “stay at home” and they are not well at all because they “do not know where they live”. “We stay at home”, frightened by the trap of the economy – which on the contrary should be the “nomos”, the law, the “oikos”, which should be the house. “We stay at home” because we have abandoned ecology, the ability to think about our common “oiko”.
(…) The closure of public parks is a despicable and infamous measure. I wonder what miserable idea of life the Governor of Piedmont can have, who declares as justification: “It is an emergency, not a holiday!” I wonder what outrageous idea of the city have those have those who say that the closure was inevitable because the foolish and stupid people with the children are sledging and gathering on the benches. But in the public space – and on the street, for example – there have always been people who have made themselves liable to prosecution. Some people do not respect the speed limit, others park in illegal car parks, but that is not the reason why the streets are closed. Because they are indispensable for traffic and the life of the city. Parks are obviously not that important to them, despite all the gooey green rhetoric that some characters can unravel from time to time. (…)
The fact that public authorities act in a crude and improvised manner, by engaging with the like-minded people they collect on the networks and the virality of the headlines referring to their announcements, does not in any way prevent the systemic functionality of this emergency from being improved. On the contrary, it enables us to grasp it better.
This turn of events shows indeed how much the sphere of political decision-making now depends on how capital has reconfigured itself around the extraction of large data. Extraction that takes place through the networks, the platform economy, the gamification of the entire sphere of communication, etc. And as by chance, as many have pointed out, all the measures taken ultimately serve precisely the interests of the big platforms: Online education has been appropriated by Google, commercial activity has been almost entirely placed in the hands of Amazon, we are constantly urged to close ourselves off from home, where we end up spending even more time producing large amounts of data, staying on the networks, exchanging millions of messages on Whatsapp and watching series on Amazon Prime or Netflix.
If this is the case, it’s not because Conte or anyone else woke up one morning thinking, “Let’s exploit the Covid 19 epidemic to boost the profits of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Deliveroo and other major technology powers…”. Only an idiot would think that and we don’t think we are idiots. It’s because the capitalist system works in a certain way, it has its basic logic, which consists of stock ownership, power relations and inertia force.
The same applies to public policies in urban areas, which have already been attacked by security policies for years through various states of emergency: “the deterioration of neighbourhoods”, “the invasion”, etc. This alleged state of emergency, which feeds the culture of suspicion and leads to feelings of guilt and denunciation, also leads to a further reinforcement of all kinds of security thinking, and big tech companies will also benefit from this, whether through the sale of hardware for control and surveillance or through the additional data storage that guarantees the development of this network.
It’s not just that “it could happen”: it happens.
Wu Ming 1
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