The emergence and rapid spread of COVID-19 reshaped the fabric of the world system. By December 15th, 2020 at least 73 million people were infected, with over 1.6 million dead. Over the past nine months, many have experienced lockdown, stay-at-home, or shelter-in-place orders, where leaving home is restricted for the sake of slowing the spread of the virus.
Despite the extraordinarily difficult circumstances faced by those working from home, the newly unemployed, or those commuting to their ‘essential’ jobs, many are using their sparse moments of free time to expand their political education. Remaining informed on current events is crucial, as we must monitor not only a deadly global virus, but also emergent movements for social justice. This essay highlights the exciting and rapidly expanding domain of free and open-access resources that can help inquisitive minds broaden their knowledge on critical theory, current events, and social change around the world.
Radical publishers, public intellectuals, and activists worldwide have created bountiful content during the pandemic, to help us continue learning while remaining physically distanced. Haymarket Books introduced their “Learning Together (while staying apart)” series, offering hours’ worth of content on Coronavirus Capitalism, Abolitionism, mutual aid, voices from frontline healthcare workers, and much more. True to Haymarket’s mission, these videos urge us to take up the task of better understanding how “those at the receiving end of exploitation and oppression under conditions of capitalist normality also bear the brunt of social, economic, and health impacts of the virus.”
Jacobin also launched a new political education serious to expand public access to radical insights with their “Stay at Home” series. Readers will find plenty of enriching content in this series, including episodes on the urgent need for rent control, socialist economics for the 21st century, and the politics of COVID-19. Similarly, one can check the Verso Books channel online and find in-depth discussions on class struggle and nativism during the pandemic.
The world of podcasts and livestreams offer plenty of new content for making sense of our current moment. Zero Books has interviews and videos on the vital contributions of custodial workers during the pandemic, recent Amazon worker strikes, and much more. The Red Nation—a coalition of radical writers, students, and activists working towards liberation for Indigenous and Native peoples—offers streaming commentary and interviews on issues such as Abolition and COVID-19 and COVID-19 in Indian Country.
Despite the tragic passing of Michael Brooks in July 2020, The Michael Brooks Show continues his legacy and routinely offers episodes with intellectual heavyweights like Cornel West and Slavoj Žižek, discussing how to forge a future for Left-politics under harsh crisis conditions.
For those craving a dose of humor with their pandemic podcasting, be sure to check out the Low Society Podcast for radical commentary and interviews on current events. The Katie Halper Show provides invaluable discussion with radical intellectuals and political figures like Gerald Horne, Barbara Smith, Nina Turner, and Noam Chomsky on the topics of colonialism, capitalism, dismantling white supremacy, building grassroots movements, and finding sources of strength during the crisis.
In general, many prominent writers and activists are working overtime to provide critical insights to the public. You can find Angela Davis discussing defunding the police, racism, and capitalism, or listen to Arundhati Roy’s insights on the current political, economic, and public health crises. Those interviews with David and Roy are offered by the independent, non-profit news outlet Democracy Now!
In fact, it is worth noting that the (capitalist) profit-oriented mass-media rarely offers us radical insights required to make sense of the crisis. For this reason, readers may not be surprised to learn that many of the podcasts and livestreams outlined above rely on donations from supporters, attempting to forge an independent and sustainable Left-wing media. However, producers of this content regularly upload their streams to YouTube and SoundCloud, requiring no financial contribution to access the content.
For those looking to supplement their livestreams with reading, there are no shortage of resources. Rethinking Marxism published an open-access e-book titled Pandemic and the Crisis of Capitalism, giving readers hundreds of pages of art, poetry, and essays. Two co-authors and I contributed an essay in this dossier, discussing ongoing struggles for Indigenous, economic, and environmental justice, and how they relate to the overlapping crises of COVID-19 and capitalism. Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research also released several dossiers on COVID-19 and its relationship with patriarchy, socialism, and more. The Black feminist advocacy organization Black Women Radicals provides an extensive reading list on Black Feminist Perspectives on COVID-19. And of course, Jacobin, Spectre, and ROAR offer plenty of accessible essays on COVID-19 and beyond.
Why is it important to share these resources? It is vital to build networks of solidarity across academic and activist communities, and beyond. Addressing social problems and fighting for social change requires mass mobilization. Oftentimes critical theorists and radical publishers are cut-off from the larger communities towards which their theories speak. Providing a list of predominantly free/open-access content can help bridge this divide, connecting radical thinkers who may be unaware of likeminded content being produced by comrades worldwide.
Additionally, it is imperative to share these sources right now, as more and more people are confined to their homes during lockdown, hungry to make sense of the global crisis. Simply put, this moment demands we engage in what Fredric Jameson calls “cognitive mapping.” This entails creating conditions whereby individuals can easily make sense of their current position within an increasingly complex and predatory global capitalist system, while also understanding how to go about transforming it into something altogether different.
The current moment of overlapping public health, social, economic, political, and environmental crises has shaken the world system. How we understand this moment and its relationship to short, medium, and long-term goals for transformative social change is more important than ever. The sources I’ve outlined above offer readers some places for intellectual nourishment, and perhaps future collaborations.
Jason C. Mueller recently completed his PhD in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. His ongoing research covers a variety of topics including global political economy, the politics of post-colonial development, the drivers of political violence, and the emergence of movements for racial, environmental, and Indigenous Justice. You can find his publications in Critical Sociology, Progress in Development Studies, Peace Review, and other interdisciplinary outlets. You can contact Jason at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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