Left, Right, Left, Right, Left
Marching to the beat of a redundant political drum in the Covid era?
The full version of this article was originally published at Left Lockdown Sceptics
Below are selected excerpts:
If you had been catching forty winks under a rock sometime early in 2020 but had seriously overslept and had only woken up some two years later, you would have thought that some practical joker had somehow managed to reverse the earth’s political polarity and gotten the left sounding like the right, and vice versa, over something called Covid.
For, now, we have almost the entirety of the modern left lining up to support the authoritarian ‘pandemic’ policies of the world’s capitalist states, and its neo-Stalinist ones, that the left of old would have once instinctively screamed blue murder about, including:
Most leftists, in thrall to the Covid State, are now sounding just like their rightwing foes of the past … and it’s not just the leaders, activists and intellectuals of the Covid Left whose politics have descended into self-parody. In the US, as found by a January 2022 Rasmussen survey, a whopping 59% of Democrat voters would favour a government policy requiring that the unvaxxed “remain confined to their homes at all times, except for emergencies” (by contrast, 79% of Republicans thought this beyond the pale). Almost half (48%) of Democrat voters think governments should be able to fine or imprison individuals who “publicly question the efficacy of the existing Covid vaccines on social media, television, radio, or in online or digital publications” (compared to just 14% of Republicans). Almost one in two (47%) of Democrat voters think the government should be able to put a “tracking system, like an ankle monitor or a locked collar, on people who refuse the vaccine” (only 14% of Republican voters thought so). Deaf to precedent, 45% of Democrats would favour governments compelling unvaxxed citizens to live in “designated facilities or locations” until they bare their shoulder (78% of Republicans would strongly oppose this). Camps! The ‘anti-fascist’ modern Left have finally lost their historically-anaesthetised minds.
The failure of the Left to side with the working class against Covid tyranny is not something entirely out of the blue for a Left which has allowed identity politics to usurp class struggle and which had declared that Brexit (which was strongly supported by the British working class) and the surprise election of Donald Trump (with his strong appeal to the hard-hats and other workers of America) were nothing but ‘racism’ by white workers who lacked sufficient fervor for all matters woke (BLM, #MeToo, transgenderism, a ‘borderless’ world, etc.).
As with the identitarian emphasis on keeping vulnerable groups ‘safe’ from ‘offence’ and discrimination by granting power to the state or Big Tech (through censorship, outlawing ‘hate speech’, enforcement of Diversity quotas, etc.), state power has been similarly called upon by the modern Left to keep us all ‘safe’ from Covid. It is no surprise that, for such a Left, everything is Covid-headline simple – Covid is the greatest existential threat ever to humanity and only the all-wise, all-caring state can protect us through lockdowns, ‘social distancing’ restrictions and masks, culminating in the Holy Vaxx from Big Pharma as the crescendo to the whole comic opera of deranged Covid policy.
‘Freedom’ has a contested history. When used by the political right and by establishment sources it has mostly been as a cover for the ‘freedom’ of capital to exploit workers, for the state to bludgeon trade unionism, for governments to roll back regulation, etc., all to maximise profits. ‘Freedom and democracy’ is the phrase that has ridden rhetorical shotgun in every Western imperial military endeavour. This sort of top-down ‘freedom’ is no freedom at all.
‘Freedom’, however, has a positive history, when used from the bottom-up. Every anti-colonial struggle and every movement for greater democracy within the developed world has waged its struggle behind the word for centuries. It is no different now for the Covid Freedom movement. Freedom is very real to all those battling the Covid State who want to work, or study, or manage their own health as they see fit, or travel, or dine out, or buy a pair of shoes from a shoe-shop, or play or go to the football, or to meet up with friends, or visit aged parents in nursing homes, or not to wear a germy facerag – all such freedoms have been made contingent on lockdowns or having to undergo a dangerous medical experiment, all because of a virus that 99.85% of people who get infected survive without raising much of a sweat, if any.
The left needs to stop being suspicious about the word ‘freedom’ and it also needs to stop running an ideological purity ruler over the grass-roots makeup of the Covid freedom movement – which consists of the petit-bourgeois shop-owner whose business has tanked as well as the classic proletarian who has faced job loss; the veteran of a real war as well as the civilian veteran of an anti-war movement; the first-time ‘mum-and-dad’ protester as well as the old hippy; the ‘anti-vaxxer’ as well as the credentialed medical scientist; the ‘Jesus is my Vaccine’ Christian as well as the militant atheist; the elderly conservative as well as the Millennial progressive. The Covid freedom movement is similar in class composition, ideological variety and political dynamic that led to a successful rebellion against neo-Stalinist state autocracy in Eastern Europe three decades ago. It is not something to be scared of.
To be sure, the right flank of the Covid resistance are coming from motives that socialists would be wary of such as a commitment to the capitalist free market (whose free-wheeling profit-making is hampered by lockdowns and restrictions) and an aversion to ‘big government’ (and the Covid regimes are these to a capital B and capital G) which can get in the way of making money hand over fist. Others on the political right, however, are just sensible, independent-minded thinkers who haven’t fallen under the spell of Covid mania. They are sound opponents of Covid pseudoscience, inhumane restrictions and medical coercion/apartheid. They are people of good motives and calm heads who have judged the virus and the response to it on their merits and found those merits profoundly lacking.
In the end, however, it really doesn’t matter where anyone who is opposed to restrictions/mandates is coming from politically. The more the merrier is a good movement-building principle, after all. What matters is the unity of all those who have any sort of beef with the new public health tyranny.
By now most people have moved on from two years of Covid mania to an “it’s endemic, let’s live with it” mode (and even some of their governments are letting go) but the Left hasn’t moved with them and remains bunkered down with an ever-shrinking corps of Covid ‘bitter-enders’ still terrified out of their minds about Covid and seeking deliverance from a hypodermic Hail Mary pass, unable to fully concede that the war against the virus is lost and was never, indeed, winnable.
If the left wants to avoid a Covid-induced spiral into political oblivion, it should return to its roots and ‘go where the people are’ – or stay masked-up and muzzled, lockdowned and cattle-tagged, obedience-trained and bar-coded to the Covid State and Big Pharma. As a five-decade, veteran revolutionary socialist in a non-revolutionary era, I am regrettably used to being on the losing side but Covid should be a chance to break that run of outs if the left knows what is good for it.