Categoria: English
Creato Giovedì, 23 Luglio 2020

COVID-19 and illiberal democracy, by Luciano Nicolini

Governments of industrialised countries are taking advantage of the health emergency to change many things: and not for the better

In my view, the photograph chosen for the front cover of this issue of Cenerentola, taken by Maria Elisabetta Luciani in Dubai, is significant: camels and skyscrapers, invisible workers (someone must have built those skyscrapers) and holidaymakers in the foreground.


We live in a world that is hard to understand using yesterday's classification systems, but which nevertheless exhibits striking contradictions. During the 1970s, libertarians in industrialised countries fought for anarchic communism: we were under no illusion that it would be easily attainable, but we took for granted that said countries were set on a path towards social democracy. Many feared the spectre of an authoritarian social democracy but there was a conviction that the ongoing struggle could have, at the very least, provided a solid foundation for freedom and solidarity in said context.

Then the eighties arrived, which were perhaps the darkest years, and the prospect of social democracy disappeared from view. Capitalism triumphed everywhere but it seemed to be accompanied by a certain "liberal democracy" that on the one hand allows subjects to choose their ruler (within certain limits), while on the other guarantees minorities freedom to exist and to express their opinions.

The authoritarian turn

During this century, we are instead witnessing a change of direction: governments (and their puppet masters) are showing increasing intolerance for so-called "liberal democracy" and are steering towards that which Orban and his admirers advocate as "illiberal democracy". There is no intention (for now) of abolishing elections (the outcome of which can in any case be largely influenced through the control of information). Instead, the aim of such governments is to significantly restrict individual and collective freedoms and, in this regard, the COVID-19 emergency fell into their laps (and in part was made to fall) like pennies from heaven.

The last issue of Cenerentola included a supplementary pamphlet edited by Gianpiero Landi entitled "Democracy, Fascism, Populism" which provided an analysis of the authoritarian turn. As indicated on the back cover, it was produced entirely before 21 March 2020, when the COVID-19 emergency was still in the early stages in Europe. Over recent weeks, the march towards authoritarianism has picked up pace, and not only in Hungary, but also in other countries. 

Will things go back to the way they were before the health emergency? There are reasonable grounds to doubt it.

Firstly, as we predicted in our March issue of Cenerentola, the teleworking sector is likely to expand (and teleworking means, in addition to increased exploitation, increased control) as will the remote teaching sector (which means, in addition to poor education for the lower classes, increased control). 5G technology will also be rolled out, making it possible to record our every move, what we earn, what we buy and what we say.

And it may not end there.

The social question

Gianpiero Landi concludes his analysis with a phrase taken from an article written by Toni Iero in 2018: "In all likelihood, the next struggle for which we must prepare ourselves will be focused not on the realisation of libertarian socialism but on defending the liberal democratic spaces that still remain in western societies".

I agree in part.

The COVID-19 emergency has on the one hand enabled governments (particularly the Italian government) to bring about a suspension of constitutional freedoms that is without precedent in the history of "liberal democracies", while on the other it has triggered (along with said suspension) an economic crisis from which it will not be easy (particularly in Italy) to recover.

The stark reality of the unresolved social question, therefore, has reappeared and it would, in my opinion, be a mistake to neglect the goal of libertarian socialism in order to concentrate our efforts on the defence of those free spaces that remain. 

What needs to be done, in my opinion, is to "move like fish in the water", in other words, to press on with the libertarian socialist project both terms of its equalitarian aspects and those pertaining to individual and collective freedoms, prioritising those goals that can more easily engage a population that has been rendered politically illiterate by the mass media; use images rather than incomprehensible texts in order to advertise the message; use battle tactics that cause the least disruption possible to those not involved in the struggle (what is the point, except in special circumstances, of setting up a roadblock?).

This does not mean that any attack on individual and collective freedoms and minority rights should not be met with force, but rather that the response should take into account the fact that these days the majority of the population is not libertarian (except to complain about restrictions on their own personal freedoms) and has little regard for workers' organisations (except when they have nobody else to turn to for support, including colleagues) and for the rights of minorities.



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COVID-19 and illiberal democracy, by Luciano Nicolini (n° 235) - Cenerentola Info
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