Originally published in Spanish on Rebelión, March 22, 2021 | Sirio López Velasco
Translated into English by Jane K Brundage
In this article, the author takes stock of the capitalist response during the pandemic to the educational and health challenge in contrast to the eco-communitarian response.
Around the world, and especially in Latin America, the coronavirus pandemic revealed a major fact of capitalist society: businesspersons and governments have prioritized the slogan “the economy cannot stop”, to the detriment of people’s health. This led to the fact that by not taking the almost total lockdown of economic activities demanded by various medical and scientific institutions, such prioritization contributed to the progressive worsening of the pandemic.
The causes of this are very simple. It is enough to cite, among others, the spread of infection among the millions of workers packed together on public transport to get to their jobs, and/or workers who crowd together in workplaces in which minimum distance is not maintained (even when workers wear face masks and sanitize their hands with soap or alcohol as often as necessary).
The logic and thirst for profit that characterize capitalist production and distribution has prevailed, as always, to the detriment of human health. And when governments have agreed to suspend for some time economic activities that they deemed “non-essential” (leaving in operation mainly food production, food distribution, and pharmacies), an “unsuspected” need came to light: in order to remain in their houses people need income that allows them to eat and take care of their health, that is, to survive. In some countries, this led to the adoption of “emergency aid”, which, however, has been of limited duration and inadequate amounts.
The result: millions of the poorest were forced to continue working in their informal jobs, or (sometimes spurred and pressured by their employers) to ask to return to work, exposing themselves and millions of their family members and neighbors to the renewed danger of infection.
With regard to economic activities considered “essential”, it is worth noting that working conditions were not systematically or seriously controlled, nor was workers’ exceptional effort recognized through salary increases and other benefits.
At the same time, in tackling the care of the millions already infected, capitalist societies revealed another shortcoming. They lack a public health system capable of caring for millions of people — effectively and free of charge — in sudden need of aid to preserve their lives, the lives of their family members, and the life of the community in general (due to the social danger presented by those who are now potential transmitters of infection). Thus was confirmed the lack of facilities, professionals, equipment, remedies, and something as basic as oxygen to meet this massive demand. Hundreds of thousands of desperate people crowded into the available facilities, or were simply rejected by the health system and sentenced to die at home, without receiving the care they needed.
At the same time, another facet of capitalism surfaced with the decision to suspend face-to-face school activities temporarily to try to reduce the infection rate, and to adopt remote teaching via the Internet: a good number of poor children simply did not have internet access, or the access they had was unstable and of little power. Both phenomena created for millions of children a new gap in the learning conditions. This new gap joined the one in place prior to the pandemic due to the structural division of capitalist society, which rendered the children inferior in relation to the schoolchildren of the upper and middle classes. In those class levels, in addition to the Internet, there are many televisions, books, and mothers or fathers with schooling and time available to give students the required support.
Finally, another joins these discriminations typical of capitalism: racial discrimination. Thus in Brazil, among other countries, an investigation by the ABRINQ (Association of toy manufacturers) revealed that black children (among whom the proportion of poor people is noticeably higher than among whites; this phenomenon is also found in the capitalist so-called “First World” — in, for example, the United States) suffer notoriously more from the aforementioned hardships than white children.
All these phenomena reveal a fundamental characteristic of capitalism: social production accompanied by the private appropriation of goods and services leads to a profound inequality in living conditions. It also has a racial component, since the number of poor people is much higher among nonwhites (especially, in Latin America, indigenous people and blacks) than among whites.
In contrast to all this, eco-communitarianism proposes an ecological economy without bosses that applies the motto “from each one according to their capacity and to each one according to their need, respecting ecological balances and interculturality”. In this economic organization, ownership of the means of production is communal, as is the equitable and supportive distribution of goods and services. Moreover, the productive activities rotate, such that each person (who has previously obtained free of charge the necessary training from the community) can exercise their various vocations on a rotating basis and fulfill themselves as a total individual. In such a way, each person (regardless of the type of activity that they develop at that time in the social fabric of the distribution of what in capitalism is that torture called “work”) receives from the available Common Community Fund what they need to support their health and develop as an individual. The same can also be done for their family.
When a natural and / or social emergency such as the current pandemic seriously affects the organization of production, the eco-communitarian response is singular. To the extent that all goods and services that the family household takes out are common, the community — governed by the “politics of all”, which is based on direct democracy (greatly facilitated today by internet resources) — will determine a new, tighter, but always supportive, redistribution so no one is excluded or unduly privileged at the expense of others. Simultaneously, in the transport to / from each production and distribution center of workers whose job activity is essential, and in said centers, all measures will be taken to protect the health of those who work there. At the same time that all their fundamental material needs are satisfied, workers are honored with public and repeated encouragement and moral rewards, in grateful recognition of their dedication to the collective good.
Noteworthy is the disappearance of money and wages in that economy: the first [money], because it is no longer necessary, and the second [wages], because wage slavery has been overcome through the supportive and equitable communal distribution of goods and services. Among the latter is an extensive free public health network, prepared in advance to receive everyone without distinction and with the same high quality of care, both in normal times and in emergencies.
At the same time, general eco-communitarian environmental education keeps watch that both in normal times and in emergencies, such as that of a pandemic, all social life develops respecting ecological balance and interculturality, thus overcoming the destruction-devastation-irreversible contamination of the health of non-human nature that characterizes capitalism. The practice of intercultural and inter-ethnic solidarity thus overcomes the racism prevalent in capitalism (which with regard to that cancer, is also heir of the classist societies that preceded it).
In eco-communitarian education, each child receives from and within the community free of charge all the facilities, advice, equipment, goods and services that he needs to develop as a universal individual. Thus, for example, the Internet is free and of quality for all students, regardless of their place of residence or the type of work activity that their respective parents are temporarily performing.
For all the qualities cited (and others not addressed here), eco-communitarianism makes the three fundamental ethical norms a reality in day-to-day life (the ethical norms are deduced argumentatively from the deep grammar of the question that Ethics poses, namely, “What should I to do?”). This question obliges us, respectively, to guarantee our individual freedom of decision, to realize that freedom in the search for consensual responses with others to the various situations that life brings us, and to preserve-regenerate the health of human and non-human nature.
Sirio López Velasco (2009). Ética ecomunitarista, Ed. UASLP, México, freely available [in Spanish] at https://issuu.com/filopoiesis/docs/etica_mexico_final_2009
Sirio López Velasco (2017). Contribuição à Teoria da Democracia: uma perspectiva ecomunitarista, Ed. Fi, Porto Alegre, Brasil. Freely available [in Portuguese] at https://www.editorafi.org/196sirio
Teaser photo credit: Ivan Radic Discarded FFP2 face mask on wet ground during a rainy night, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)