pandemic capitalism



Author introduction to newly released book

Cpandemic capitalism it is the result of several texts written in recent years. Its main nucleus is composed of two small books published abroad (one of them came out in Brazil as eBook (only in Dutch at the moment)), as well as a set of articles. In large part, they were conceived under the impact of the pandemic. We were reluctant to publish some in Brazil, as they were intended for readers from abroad. Now, in the form of a printed book, perhaps they can make some sense, grouped together as critical notes of such a dismal period in our history.

These “pandemic years” have not been easy. For days and months (and already in the third year of Covid-19) we didn't even know what tomorrow might be like. Ours, ours and, especially, that of the enormous humanity that works hard and daily to survive.

It is imperative to highlight that the consequences of the pandemic were and still are abysmally unequal and differentiated, when you have the accent of class. Precisely the one that the dominant apologetics tries to obliterate to disqualify. At the same time that it does not stop intensifying it, day after day, to accumulate more and more. Even during the pandemic. To then sleep in peace with your false conscience.

It is enough to remember that it was in the peripheries that black workers, in addition to indigenous communities, suffered the highest rates of lethality from Covid-19. Precisely the poorest population, who work informally and suffer the highest levels of unemployment.

Our working class, which was beginning to believe that the worst was over, that it had suffered the greatest misfortunes in its history, could not imagine the size of the regression that awaited it. As if the several centuries of enslavement were not enough, persistent until our days as a true plague. As if the countless massacres that follow one another weren't enough. The different forms of subjection. The killings that reappear daily in communities on the outskirts, attacked by the violence of the class and race police. As if all this were not more than enough, new tragedies are added to this historic condition that mixes and intensifies exploitation, expropriation and dispossession. In the midst of the expansion of information and communication technologies.

As soon as the pandemic began, the working class, especially in its most penalized parts, soon became the “number 1 candidate” for contamination and death. The lethality it suffered, in the hardest periods of the pandemic, revealed the prejudiced preference of class, gender, race and ethnicity present in the expansion of the virus.

Dispossessed of almost everything, the overwhelming majority of the working class that works informally could not isolate. It would lose its only source of survival. How would it be possible to carry out intermittent jobs, if many economic activities closed their doors or were in lockdown?

It is not superfluous to remember that the bourgeois classes celebrated with celebration and champagne when the dark Temer approved the labor counter-reform. A vilification that mystifyingly announced itself as “modernization” to obfuscate the hoax, pure and hard. What, according to the impostor, would generate millions of jobs was responsible not only for much more precariousness and unemployment, but also for the mortality levels that affected the most impoverished working population, which is outside the legislation protecting work.

And it was exactly this same class that filled the graves of cemeteries on the outskirts, open day and night during the worst phases of the pandemic, in greater numbers. It was this poor proletariat that mostly suffered and died asphyxiated in the corridors of hospitals in Amazonas, without having the right to breathe the last oxygen. Who couldn't wait for vaccination, postponed to the fullest by Bolsonaro's aberration of pandemonium, while thousands died from contamination.

In no corner of this great and strange world could we imagine that our daily life, amid the celebrations of the passage of the year of grace from 2019 to 2020, could find itself, a few weeks later, plunged into an unprecedented and global health crisis .

Unlike the death strike, announced in José Saramago's fiction,[1] what February 2020 gave us was the imminent risk of death for everyone who fought against the aberration of denialism.

In a single blow, we begin to face the premature anticipation of death. And that, to date, has already decimated almost 700 thousand people in Brazil and more than 6 million in the world, numbers that are admittedly underreported.

Once again, our country has returned to its secular normal: one step forward and two steps back. In the present, these two backward steps will expand into immeasurable regression.

Lives were (and are being) destroyed, rights are extirpated, miseries are intensified and inequalities exacerbated. The freedoms, those that we were lethargically conquering since the end of the military dictatorship in 1964, entered a path of enormous setback.

It was this scenario that generated the idea of ​​this book, divided into three parts, in order to better articulate the chapters.

In the first part, “The pandemic of capital”, Chapter 1 (“Coronavirus: work under fire”) is originally a eBook (only in Dutch at the moment) written at the invitation of Ivana Jinkings for Boitempo (2020) and later printed in Italy (2021) and Austria (2022). In these two editions abroad, we opted for another title: viral capitalism seemed to better express the central thesis. And they were what led us to propose to Boitempo its publication printed in Brazil, revised and updated.

Chapter 2 (“Work in pandemic capitalism”) is an abridged version of the article published in the journal Notebook, in its special launch issue.

Chapter 3 (“Pandemic, social rights and work in Brazil: the metaphor of Bacurau”), published in Brazil, was the result of our first debates and reflections on the multiple meanings of the pandemic.

In the second part, “Pandemic and pandemonium”, Chapter 4 (“The politics of the cave: Bolsonaro’s counterrevolution”) is based on a small book, published in Italy and unpublished in Brazil, written at the invitation of Editora Castelvecchi. It was written in the heat of horror, just after the 2018 elections and the inauguration of misgovernment.

Chapter 5 (“Bolsonaro: the years gone by and those to come”) continues the analysis of our pandemonium. Already published in Brazil, it is an offshoot of the previous chapter, seeking to better understand the years that followed.

Chapter 6 ("'Theres no alternatives'”) offers a summarized outline of the history of work in the Brazilian social formation, indicating some challenges that persist in perpetuating themselves.

The third part, “From the industrial proletariat to the uberized”, bundles the book and has as its guiding thread the study of the working class. It presents some of the main repercussions and consequences of the introduction of information and communication technologies (ICT) in capitalism in the digital age, one of the most harmful of which is uberized work.

Chapter 7 (“Class struggle in the Americas: so close and so different”) seeks to present, in summary, some of the main traits present in the class struggle in our continent. It is a greatly expanded and altered version of a text published in English and still unpublished in Brazil.

Chapter 8 (“Engels and the discovery of the proletariat”) allowed us to revisit Engels’ seminal work, The plight of the working class in England, and show its relevance, given the enormous regression of working conditions that we are experiencing in the middle of the informational-digital era.

Chapter 9 (“Unveiling the toyotist recipe book”) brings the preface to Satoshi Kamata’s work, Toyota, la fabrica della disperazione, recently published in Italy. Due to the scathing criticism of Toyotism in Japan, from the outset, this text has become a classic, unfortunately not yet published in Brazil.

Chapter 10 (“Work in the digital economy”) is the Preface that we wrote, also for the Italian public, to the book by Ursula Huws, Il lavoro nell'economia digitale globale, which offers a qualified analysis of the meanings of work and the digital economy in current capitalism, a theme in which the author has excelled.

Chapter 11 (“The new work experimentation laboratories”) continues the previous theme, showing how large corporations have been intensifying work precarious practices, which already existed before the pandemic, but have intensified exponentially in the present.

Chapter 12 (“Work and substantive equality”) ends the book, seeking to indicate some challenges in the arduous battle for the emancipation of the working class in Brazil.

Pandemia e pandemonium, one global and the other local, are the contours of our tragic times. So if I had to give this book another title, I could title it “Pandemic Writings”. It was in this context that we developed the idea of ​​pandemic or viral capitalism. Destructive, lethal and belligerent, the capital system finally assumes its pandemic form and brings us a succession of horrifying viruses that are the result of so much devastation: nature, work and humanity itself. This is the unretouched photograph of capitalism in our time.

We must finish this "Presentation”, adding that the elaborations present here were fed by multiform movements, without our realizing them. Of the countless debates andlives”, whose collective dialogue fed, benefited and made us think. Of the endless hours, days and months of enforced solitude, when everything seemed to collapse and melt away. And also the many literary readings that we pored over, during solitude, to see how time passes in this “age of darkness”.

It was this confluence that imposed on us the urgent need to reflect on the reasons for these deviations. And how, after all, it might be possible to overcome it.

The fine words of Valter Hugo Mãe express this feeling very well: “The power of ideas was such that thinking became a discipline of fire. Thinking was a way to burn.” Not without first indicating that “the ideas would never end by force of a blow, no matter how inaustinate it was struck”.[2]

*Ricardo Antunes is professor of sociology of work at IFCH-UNICAMP. Author, among other books, of The privilege of servitude (Boitempo).



Richard Antunes. pandemic capitalism. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2022, 152 pages.



[1] Jose Saramago, Intermittents of Death. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2008, p. 14.

[2] Valter Hugo Mother, recklessly poetic men. São Paulo, Globo, 2016, p. 169 and 54.

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