Crisis and Contagion

Crisis and Contagion

Conversations on Capitalism and Covid-19

Edited by Ian McKay


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Crisis and Contagion is a selection of fourteen interviews conducted by Ian McKay of the Wilson Institute at McMaster University. Interviews with Nancy Fraser, Mike Davis, Mack Penner, Andreas Malm, and Merrill Singer explore capitalism’s organic crisis and the ways it has made this and future pandemics inevitable. Nora Loreto, Tithi Bhattacharya, Chandrima Chakraborty, Merlin Chowkwanyun, and Sanjay Nepal discuss the experiences of ordinary people in the pandemic. J. Michael Ryan, Laura Spinney, Naomi Klein, and Noam Chomsky explore the long-term effects and likely historical legacy of a pandemic that has changed millions of lives–and, maybe, the trajectory of human civilization.

These scholars propose that to understand the impact of Covid-19, we have to understand the conflictual history of capitalism–and to ward off future pandemics, we need to start building a post-capitalist alternative to the disease-generating and highly unequal global neoliberal order. As capitalist forces work to shove what we have learned from the Covid-19 pandemic down the memory hole, Crisis and Contagion offers a must-read for those wanting to seize this moment of change and revolution.

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“While global profit-seekers and the states that protect them push to normalize the Covid-19 pandemic, Crisis and Contagion conveys the urgency of international solidarity amongst the wretched of the earth. There is nothing natural about the premature deaths and disposability caused by our current world order. The interviews in this book provide us with the sharp analysis we need to understand that the social and material crises inherent to capitalism are as mutable as the virus.”

– Nanky Rai, MD MPH CCFP, physician and organizer with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society and Toronto Street Medics 

“This immersive, wide-ranging collection of interviews reveals many potential ways forward for organizers and activists to reclaim health as politics, away from the control of technocrats and professionals. These engaging, personable interviews rightly contextualize Covid-19 as an expression of multiple crises created by capitalism—with its atomization and commodification—which beg for a transformative vision from the Left. Crisis and Contagion is essential reading for all those invested in centering health, care, justice, and liberation in the world we are now building.”

– Baijayanta Mukhopadhyay, MA MD CCFP DTM&H, author of Country of Poxes and A Labour of Liberation, co-coordinator of People’s Health Movement Canada

Crisis and Contagion supplies an intriguing addition to the growing critical literature on Covid-19. Assembling interviews and commentaries from a host of interdisciplinary thinkers, the volume examines how converging systemic factors have shaped the global coronavirus pandemic, engendering myriad forms of harm as well as new opportunities for resistance. The book’s call for a ‘revived and reimagined Left’ to confront these challenges could not be more timely.”

– Martha Lincoln, PhD, associate professor, Department of Anthropology, San Francisco State University, author of Epidemic Politics in Contemporary Vietnam: Public Health and the State

“The Covid-19 pandemic exposed how health inequities follow the fault lines of societal injustices. SARS-CoV-2 was the virus that wreaked havoc around the world, but the crisis of our times remains capitalism. In Crisis and Contagion, scholars, journalists, and activists call for an end to the neoliberal capitalist violence that wages war against life on earth. They remind us that our grief and rage can be marshalled for transformative action through social movements rooted in global solidarity. Indeed, collective resistance struggles that nurture just and caring societies are not only possible, but illuminate our way forward.”

– Samir Shaheen-Hussain, MD, author of Fighting for A Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada

“This expansive collection draws connections between capitalist and imperialist exploitation, inequality, environmental crisis, and the unequal impact of disease in an unjust and vulnerable world. From the late Mike Davis’ humanity and intelligence, to Merlin Chowkwanyun’s insight into history, race, and the power of the local, these interviews present astute thinkers from the broad political Left seeking to understand a global disease event—even as they lived it. Crisis and Contagion is essential reading for the historically conscious.”

– Esyllt Jones, author of Radical Medicine: The International Origins of Socialized Health Care in Canada

“Covid-19 was not a one-off public health emergency, but a full-blown crisis triggered by internal contradictions within capitalism. In this provocative and often dazzling collection of interviews, the underlying link between the pandemic and capitalism is meticulously exposed, assiduously dissected, and scrupulously scrutinized.”

– Vittorio Bufacchi, Department of Philosophy, University College Cork, Ireland, author of Everything Must Change: Philosophical Lessons from Lockdown 


Part One: The Organic Crisis of Neoliberal Capitalism
Nancy Fraser
Mike Davis
Mack Penner
Andreas Malm
Merrill Singer
Part Two: Sacrificing the Subalterns
Nora Loreto
Tithi Bhattacharya
Chandrima Chakraborty
Merlin Chowkwanyun
Sanjay Nepal
Part Three: Choppy Waters Ahead
J. Michael Ryan
Laura Spinney
Naomi Klein
Noam Chomsky