From one side, our lives are threatened by a new virus; from the other side, our freedom is menaced by nationalists and authoritarians intent on using this opportunity to set new precedents for state intervention and control. If we accept this dichotomy—between life and freedom—we will continue paying the price long after this particular pandemic has passed. In fact, each is bound up in the other, dependent upon the other. In the following report, our comrades in Italy describe the conditions prevailing there, the causes of the escalating crisis, and the ways that the Italian government has taken advantage of the situation to consolidate power in ways that will only exacerbate future crises.
At this point, the strategy of the authorities is not aimed at protecting people from the virus so much as controlling the pace at which it spreads so that it doesn’t overwhelm their infrastructure. As in so many other aspects of our lives, crisis management is the order of the day. Our rulers don’t intend to preserve the lives of everyone affected by the virus—they already wrote off concern for the destitute long before this crisis began. Rather, they are determined to preserve the current structure of society and their perceived legitimacy within it.
In this context, we have to be able to distinguish between two different disasters: the disaster of the virus itself and the disaster wrought by the ways that the existing order responds—and does not respond—to the pandemic. It will be a grave mistake to throw ourselves at the mercy of the existing power structures, blindly trusting that they exist to save us. On the contrary, when our rulers say “health,” they mean the health of the economy much more so than the health of our bodies. Case in point: the Federal Reserve just allocated $1.5 trillion to prop up the stock market—$500 billion for the banks—but most US citizens still can’t get tested for coronavirus.