A morale of victory?

28 October, 2020 · Marxism> Morality

The current state of alarm in Spain is a macabre joke. With 267 deaths yesterday and ICUs increasingly saturated, the explicit goal is to avoid real lockdown the only thing that can stop the proliferation of new infections today. Even where there is no choice but to consider it, as in Catalonia, the option clarifies the priorities: weekend confinement and prompt return to work on Monday or lockdown all week for everything other than going to work. And meanwhile, with a criminal cynicism, the news again tell us the benefits of patient triage and how normal it is for ICU care to be denied to the elderly in units supposedly far from saturation.

Popular joke in Spanish social media. Text says «Learn how to identify Coronavirus of bars and restaurants (left) and Coronavirus at the underground and the workplace (right)»

The truth is that the pandemic cannot be stopped as long as millions of workers still have to march to businesses every day. All this work entails – face-to-face work, overcrowded public transportation, open schools – is what is creating the conditions for community transmission. In other words, recovering the companies’ profitability as if nothing had happened is incompatible with stopping the pandemic today. But the decision has already been made. Only if there is no other choice, that is, if the spread threatens production itself – mass casualties, fall in consumption, hospital collapse – are they willing to curb it. In the meantime, no matter what, the machine will keep going. From the madness of the commercial petty bourgeoisie who would rather spread contagion in their stores than suffer losses in their balance sheets, to the governmental discourse, everything is thrown on the shoulders of individual responsibility, that is, every man for himself. This has suddenly been reconsidered as a very effective weapon against the pandemic. Sánchez was explicit about it in his speech from the first state of alarm:

The declaration of the State of Alarm allows to mobilize, to the maximum, the material resources to fight the virus. But, you are also going to allow me to bring in a fundamental resource, which lies beyond any law or decree and to which I would like to appeal directly to my fellow countrymen. Victory depends on each one of us, at home, in our family, at work, in our neighborhood.

While the first state of alarm imposed a partial confinement that became real only during Easter holidays, individual effort was just complementary. Now it is central because in reality the only thing that is offered to us is to take care of ourselves as best we can in an environment where community transmission goes on. Sánchez was explicit in his statement last Saturday:

The law is important, but there are other weapons even more effective against the virus. The first of these is unity.[…] Unity as we have seen during these long months of the pandemic of workers and employers. […] And, above all, and in addition, the essential unity among all citizens, who respect health rules, who stay at home as much as possible, who restrict for a time unnecessary travel and contacts to reduce the chances of contagion and thus protect family, friends, colleagues and, in general, all of their compatriots. And the second is our social discipline as a Community. Spain can break this second wave with effort, resistance and a morale of victory. It is up to us to build a wall of unity to stop the virus.

No, this is not magical thinking. The tone of war and the invocation of a morality of sacrifice and victory is never without meaning. And of course, this is no novelty in the governmental discourse either. When we search morale of victory among the president’s statements, it appears 37 times, all during the months of the pandemic. Not only does the slogan appear over and over again, but the speeches express, from as early as April 4th, that its reiteration is deliberate:

Whenever I communicated with you I requested the same thing: I requested sacrifice, resistance and morale of victory to defeat the virus.

This is not just a discourse on the overall level of morale or stamina. It is a discourse on morality. It is the state separating the good guys -who resist and sacrifice themselves- from the bad guys, a bunch of selfish and defeatist cynics.

All I can offer is sacrifice and resistance. Sacrifice, resistance, and a morale of victory. […] In these days everyone, in Europe and in Spain, at work or at home, has to choose between cynicism and commitment, between selfishness and generosity, between defeatism and a morale of victory.

A bag in which denialists and their opponents are lumped together, those of us who condemn inaction in the face of the slaughter, because we would all be breaking unity and demoralizing the population, eroding faith in their ruling class and in that science of experts as fickle as the needs of governmental discourse require. Both are now defined, shamelessly, as a social disease as debilitating and dangerous as the virus, which must be treated with equal force.

But there is another type of pathological fear that seeks impossible individual solutions, that breaks the rules of lockdown, consuming hoaxes and misleading news that generates alarm and panic, frantically hoarding goods or products. This is the type of behavior that we must all combat and isolate, that we must all avoid, because it spreads at the same speed as the virus and is also harmful in our collective battle against the pandemic. There are those who spread hoaxes and falsehoods, it’s true, but there are many more people who are doing the same thing with the lies as with the virus: they are breaking the chain of transmission. So I would like to thank you for this civility. Not spreading untrue news is one way to fight the virus. And I would like the youngest, the most knowledgeable in whatsapp and networks to contrast the information that they then pass on to their friends. Because if we do not stop this chain we will be generating an alarm and disinformation that will make us weaker in the fight against the coronavirus.

To keep a healthy social body, an old obsession of the bourgeoisie since its youth, it is necessary to vaccinate healthy cells – the compliant and disciplined ones – in order to ensure respect for authority and faith in its decisions.

Respect for authority may be based on fear, obligation, or belief. But only this last option, belief, is acceptable to our society today. […] So I ask you for responsibility and discipline. I repeat. I ask you for social and civic responsibility and discipline.

And transmit it through the whole social fabric. Once again, laws are the least important thing, discipline is what matters:

I want to tell you that we have achieved the most difficult, the hardest, thanks to the responsibility and social discipline of all Spanish people. To stay at home. We have left behind the most extreme moments and we have contained the brutal onslaught of the epidemic. With sacrifice, with resistance and with a morale of victory, as we have been saying throughout these long weeks of confinement.

A morality of death and denunciation

Republican propaganda poster during the counterrevolution in Spain. Republicans and Stalinists accused the revolutionaries of being covert Falangists and invited their denunciation.

The pandemic has exposed a contradiction between profitability and human lives, which is but one more expression of the fundamental contradiction of this society: capital against proletariat. The morality of the ruling class during this pandemic is the ideological envelope of the anti-human side of that opposition. We have seen it in the official messages above: in the face of the deadly threat of the disease, every man for himself. In the face of the fall in the profitability of capital, collective sacrifice.

Civic morality, now turned into moral of victory is the morality that makes it possible to revive accumulation. Far from showing us human development at the end of the tunnel, it urges us to close ranks with one more form of sacred union with a ruling class that is not moved by the slaughter but weeps before the suffering of its accounts. A sacred union that immediately speaks denunciation, isolation of the dissident, and the quasi-militarized framing of that unity between workers and businessmen which Sánchez held up as an example.

Now more than ever, a morality of abundance

Walter Crane: “The cause of labor is the hope of the world,” 1894

Any acceptance of capitalist morality, both of the atomization it promotes and of the sacrificial framework it offers as the only alternative, is immediate and brutally destructive.

A system that has long been anti-historical, can only express anti-human values. The only morality useful to the working class, already necessary to the point of survival, is that which affirms and brings closer its emancipation and with it that of all of humanity. A morality capable of drawing the future closer to bringing about the transformation of the present, a morality of abundance.

A morality of abundance which, if it always affirmed the needlessness of scarcity created artificially by capitalist rules and affirmed the primacy of human needs over profits, now has to be imposed on an even more basic, really existential level.

We need to affirm the possible abundance against the application of triage criteria selecting the statistically most apt for the privilege of being cared for in the public ICUs. We have to face that true social triage which is the aid system, the poverty wages people suffer under temporary layoffs and the idea that pensions will be more and more complementary.

And just by saying this it is obvious that no communist morality can affirm abundance without affirming unequivocally the working class as a whole and its need to fight collectively. A collective struggle applying not only to the workplace, with our fellow workers, but also in the neighborhoods, with which we realize that we must promote class consciousness so that the struggles which daily and on a global basis really help to advance towards overcoming all this.

Fighting, organizing, and learning in a collective way is vital. Literally vital. And inseparable from the only morality that is a real alternative to the morality readying us for slaughter: communist morality.

We are waiting for you.

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