Commentary. A paradigm shift is being invoked—fortunately also at the European level—with the COVID emergency said to be a litmus test for a neoliberal model that is destroying nature and humanity.

The symptom of another epidemic

The protest that erupted on Friday night in Naples was certainly not like the revolt of Masaniello, the popular protest that broke the power of the Spanish viceroy. But neither can we reduce the events that took place to a matter of urban violence, just as we cannot be dismissive due to the fact that right-wing groups, soccer ultras and Mafia gangs were stoking the fires of the protest. Because the people who went into the streets of Naples also included workers and shopkeepers affected by the crisis, people who are living every day under the dire threat of poverty.

Naples has offered a wake-up call: the violent protest might repeat itself, and even extend to other cities. Like a social epidemic.

For eight months, the country has been in great suffering. The living conditions of millions of Italians have greatly deteriorated. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. According to Caritas, the newly poor have risen in numbers from 31 to 45 percent in 2020. And after the summer break, the pandemic virus has resumed its march with an unexpected and disquieting power. To such a degree that the Minister of Health, who was already preparing to present his book, had to take a step back and wait for better times.

No one is exempt from responsibility, no one is innocent—including the right with its slogan of “freedom, freedom.” Within the fabric of society, which the uncaring virus aims to tear apart by cutting every private thread, live fear, anger and resignation, because here, as in many other countries of the planet, we have entered a tunnel and we cannot see the light at the end of it.

As we know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions—and accordingly, despite the good intentions of the government that has distributed money to meet the needs of families and citizens, the impression is that the measures taken were mere band aids, insufficient to meet the needs of a large part of the population.

There is an objective malaise that is easily explained, and just as easily understandable. Especially because the virus seems to have no intention of going away in the short term.

On the contrary: many experts are saying that the pandemic will be here until next summer. And how can an entire country withstand these harsh blows that are inflicted on everyday life, social relations, the activity of every economic sector, school and university education? Without forgetting the health sector, which is already making it clear that it cannot withstand the impact of the possible explosion in the number of sick and hospitalized patients and the very heavy pressure that medical and healthcare personnel have been under since March.

To shut down, whether with a total lockdown or not, is a decision that is up to the government and the regions, after listening to the opinion of the scientific world, which in its vast majority is highly pessimistic and has made it clear that postponing the most drastic decisions makes no sense.

It is clearly pointless and self-contradictory to put the economic problems caused by a lockdown first in the order of consideration, because if the pandemic is not stopped immediately, it will certainly cause even more damage. We do not believe that Italy will be able to withstand the same climate as that created by the tens of thousands of deaths in March. And this is perhaps the worst danger that must be countered quickly.

But there is another very prominent risk, the economic one, which requires a total commitment that would meet the needs of the country. Today, we are seeing that what has been done so far was not enough, and will remain a patch-up job for a fabric with so many tears that it might be reduced to shreds in its entirety in the coming weeks.

If it will not be able to respond to the urgent demands of millions of people and do so in a short time, the government will come to a bad end, regardless of the internal fibrillation of the majority and the exhausting and tiring dance between using ESM funds or not.

Some have rightly observed that we will either come out of this pandemic better or worse—tertium non datur. And President Mattarella has done well to admonish those responsible for the management of the public sector to take charge of the inequalities. These already ran deep before COVID times, and we run the risk of them growing deeper if the new instruments for assistance don’t begin to take into account that not all of those who benefited from them before had the right or need. Not to mention that our patchwork welfare system lets all those who don’t have a tax return to file fall through the cracks.

Furthermore, the artificial windfall of the subsidies enacted (including extending the citizenship income for three million people) has left the invisibles, those who are not on anyone’s radar, to starve. Meanwhile, tax evasion, a phenomenon unfamiliar only to those who refuse to see it, is bleeding us dry (for the personal income tax alone, the proportion of evasion is estimated at 30%). At the same time, a paradigm shift is being invoked—fortunately also at the European level—with the COVID emergency said to be a litmus test for a neoliberal model that is destroying nature and humanity. However, there is no movement from the economic theory to the social practice of a basic income.

Precisely because there is certainly no shortage of those who have an interest in stoking the fire of malaise, and will try hard to ride the anger in an attempt to blow up an equilibrium that is already shaky, it would be appropriate to reflect on the possible boomerang effect of these metropolitan curfews, as little effective in the containment of contagion as they are hated by the youth sectors of the population.

It is easy to close the streets. It is more difficult to organize the machinery of public services, especially in the face of the morning panorama of buses packed with people who still have jobs and are risking getting ill to keep them.

The trade union forces and left-wing parties, especially those in government, must take charge of the most dramatic moment in our history and face up to the explosive social mix. Not only by running the proverbial soup kitchen, but by putting forward the prospect of a radical change.

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