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Editorial: The pandemic is straining relations between peoples and states

AS EARLY as February this year, when only four cases of coronavirus were known in Britain, Chinese people who live here reported a sharp rise in xenophobic attacks.

Bizarrely, because the routine wearing of face masks, now regarded as necessary and desirable, is more common among people in Asia, Chinese students here faced harassment precisely because they were masked.

The Italian city of Prato, where a significant number of Chinese people work in the garment industry, reports a lower than average infection rate precisely because locals — already switched on to the danger of the virus — were wearing face masks weeks before it caught on in the rest of Italy.

Crises of this nature produce counter-intuitive responses from both officialdom and ordinary people.

Just weeks ago in France, Muslim women were harassed by reactionary citizens and racist police for wearing the hijab. Today, wearing a mask is regarded as a normal and rational thing.

Almost universally recognised as a key resource in the global fight against the virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has had its authority undermined by nation states. 

Britain is distinguished by its wilful neglect of the test, trace and isolate strategy that the WHO recommended. 

Donald Trump has plumbed new depths of anti-Chinese bigotry and ignorance combined with attacks on the WHO of Stone Age crudity.

On our continent, the abstract and largely imaginary construction of a pan-European solidarity failed to withstand the first shock of the virus with shipments of protective equipment hijacked and bans placed on their export.

The European Central Bank antagonised millions of Italians and earned a rebuke from their prime minister when, in response to the pressure on Italy’s finances, the ECB president Christine Lagarde declared that it was not her job to intervene to support national economies.

Again, just how fragile are the bonds of amity between the states of the EU was demonstrated yesterday when the Federal German Constitution Court in Karlsruhe ruled that the German government should lean on the ECB to make a “proportionality assessment” of its government debt purchases.

In doing so it subverted a European Court of Justice ruling backing ECB bond purchases which the bank itself instituted to shore up the eurozone, the EU itself and its own reputation.

Stripped of opaque language, the constitutional court of the dominant EU power has subordinated the EU’s own judicial instrument, the ECJ, which is supposed to regulate matters in the collective interest, to the interest of German capital and its banks.

No wonder social media in Italy is stuffed full of images of communes replacing the EU flag with those of China and Cuba in tribute to the unswerving solidarity these two nations have shown communities stricken with the virus.

That the EU is not only a cartel of capitalists but also the cockpit of their competing interests is not a surprise to anyone except the most starry-eyed.

That its institutions are the plaything of the biggest capitalists; that when big business comes into conflict with weaker elements or even when this power play threatens the illusions which sustain the whole enterprise, that big business acts in its narrow interest is an indication of just how serious this crisis is.

Labour’s task in this situation is to find a mechanism that can unite our national interest — difficult though that concept is to invest with a progressive content in present times — with the common interests of working people here and worldwide.

This Covid-19 crisis and the deeper crisis of the system which it highlights cannot be overcome by an accommodation with big business and the banks, but only at their expense.

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