Ioannis Papagaryfallou By: Ioannis Papagaryfallou
Research Assistant in Global Health
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31 Oct 2020 : COVID-19 and Internationalism II

In my previous post, I explained why COVID-19 undermines the political credibility of neoliberal globalism and nationalism and should therefore give way to internationalism. Although critiques of nationalism abound in academia and elsewhere, more work is required to elucidate the concept of internationalism. Noam Chomsky’s short but illuminating volume Internationalism or Extinction was composed before the pandemic, but offers insights that could be applied to the post-COVID international landscape. The book’s point of departure is the advent of the ‘Anthropocene’ in the aftermath of World War II and the unprecedented effect of human activities on the environment. The unfolding of those activities according to the imperatives of capitalist growth has brought humanity at the brink of extinction. Chomsky is primarily concerned with the twin threats of nuclear weapons and climate change, that cannot be addressed by any state acting alone. To the extent that states cannot anymore preserve themselves or the planet, internationalism becomes a matter of survival. Following the pandemic, Chomsky explained how the capitalist search for profit hinders the search for an effective coronavirus treatment, and drew attention to the special responsibilities of the Republican Party. Chomsky’s analysis provides support for the idea that internationalism cannot be based exclusively on the cooperation between sovereign states but it should also be the expression of global social movements. Such movements should apply constant pressure to governments in the United States and beyond.

Within the United States, Chomsky’s radical approach has provided intellectual and moral legitimacy to Bernie Sanders’ espousal of the cause of Medicare for All. As a former presidential candidate and influential voice within the Democratic Party, Sanders promotes policies that promise to bring the United States closer to Europe in social terms, and give an end to a problematic version of ‘American exceptionalism’. The abolition of college fees and the establishment of a comprehensive, single-payer, national health insurance program could bring the United States closer to other developed nations. For Slavoj Zizek, establishing universal health care in the United States is the first step towards creating a global health network. It is worth emphasizing that universal access to health care was an essential aspect of the Democratic platform until 1980, and it provides the only way to meet the needs of the thirty million unemployed created in the United States alone because of the pandemic.

Chomsky’s political support for the Progressive International promoted by Sanders and the former finance minister of Greece Yanis Varoufakis proves how necessary it is to reinvent internationalism in an age of global health inequalities accentuated by COVID-19. Next week’s American presidential election will have far-reaching consequences not only for the United States but also for the world at large. That said, in the event of a Joe Biden victory, it is important to continue criticizing the romantic view of the capitalist system and consequent belief in private health insurance that have by no means been abandoned by the Democratic Party and place unnecessary limits to the version of internationalism defended by Chomsky, Sanders, and others.


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