Of Chainsaws and Moralism: What Does the Covid Moment Tell us About the Contemporary Left?

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Left Lockdown Sceptics is pleased to publish this article by guest contributor Keith Johnson.

Science or Superstition?

One thing in which Covid-19 has outstripped previous pandemics, including far deadlier ones, has been in the depth and severity of the global response. Draconian ‘lockdowns’ and border closures which restrict normal taken-for-granted freedoms of movement and association, generalized masking, social distancing and the various forms of performative rituality associated with it, are by now all too familiar and require no elaboration here. After over fourteen months of this, however, there is now increasing discussion and speculation as to what this will mean for everyday existence as a new form of ‘biopolitics’ takes shape.    

As the lockdown-critical Marxist, Panagiotis Sotiris has noted, Covid has provided not only a health challenge, but “a strategic challenge for any politics of resistance, struggle and transformation.”[1] It is a challenge that the left has failed disastrously. Instead, the left- whilst acknowledging that such a term covers a wide gamut of opinion – has been integral to the construction of a narrative around the pandemic which both relied upon and fed into a loop of hysteria, whereby the sheer scale of constantly negative and context-free coverage within the mainstream media[2] prompted more and more extreme and in many cases irrational measures, which themselves prompted greater fear. As one CNN staffer let slip to an undercover reporter, “Fear is the thing that really keeps you tuned in.” More pertinently, as the Sci-Fi author, Frank Herbert once observed, fear is also a “mind killer…the little-death that brings total obliteration.” 

As pro-lockdown commentators on the left have been keen to point out, the political constituency most associated with opposition to the range of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions associated with Covid sprang initially at least largely from what we might call the libertarian right. This allowed any legitimate questioning of these unprecedented mitigation measures to be lost under the weight of ad hominin attacks and guilt-by-association arguments on what were, for those of us aligned to the left at least, seemingly easy targets. They were emboldened in this by the fact that they were cutting with the grain of a hastily established consensus, as voices of dissent from even respected experts in the field were systematically sidelined by both state broadcasters such as the BBC and the powerful privately-owned behemoths which control the flow of information under modern capitalism. Lower-level medical professionals who found themselves questioning the new normal in pandemic response were finding themselves even more vulnerable to ostracism.[3]

This psychological ‘nudging’ over Covid has been spectacularly successful,[4] partly because it has tapped into pre-existing existential insecurities. This allowed the left to be both genuinely caught up in it and able to politically capitalize on it. Those now lumped together under the label of ‘lockdown sceptics’, although never of course a homogenous group, were generally sidelined for the same reasons. The wisdom and efficacy of these measures, however, is now being more widely questioned. The enormous protest in London on April 24 this year and others subsequently stands testament to that and came as something of a shock to the lockdown left. To help us understand why the majority of those identifying as left-wing have embraced this psychosis with such evident, uncritical enthusiasm is an ongoing investigation, but it is worth starting with a look at some of the reactions to this event. 

The immediate response was the familiar one of simply gaslighting those who attended. Twitter came alive with messages such as that from @NHSMillion the following day, which read “today NHS staff across the country were devastated to see thousands of people marching through London. We’ve buried our colleagues. And we won’t let you spit on their graves.” This was accompanied by a photo of NHS staff in full PPE hugging each other (ironically illegal under Government rules!). Various low-level celebrities pitched in. Sue Perkins commented in despair at the protests, suggesting it could lead to a situation like India (which, of course, it didn’t) and ex-SWPer and Radio 4 comedian Mark Steel, for whom any questioning of the dominant narrative is always unarguably an example of mental illness, made a stab at satire by tweeting “I’m organising a march for the right to wave a chainsaw in ASDA and chuck rattlesnakes onto a packed bus. WHY AM I DENIED MY FREEDOM? For YEARS this has been banned. Now we’ve HAD ENOUGH!!”,  

While some left-wing platforms, such as Socialist Worker, took what we might call the BBC approach, choosing to pretend that one of the largest protests London has seen for a long time simply hadn’t happened, others at least attempted analysis. Whilst on one level these also displayed the cognitive dissonance long evident on the mainstream left on this issue, which has been well documented elsewhere,[5] they also provided some framework for understanding the political nature of left wing lockdown enthusiasm. 

Eddie Ford, writing in the Weekly Worker,[6] conceded that the demonstration “seemed to represent a reasonable cross-section of society” and went on to list some of the issues that had drawn people there, focusing on the prospect of vaccine passports. “Communists certainly do not trust the government, which obviously has an authoritarian agenda”, Ford wrote. However, that was the last we heard of that, as vaccine passports were then simultaneously misunderstood and justified via a succession of by now familiar lockdown tropes, none of which were subjected to any critical scrutiny. He would “not want granny or anybody else to be placed unnecessarily in danger” by being “looked after by staff that refused to get vaccinated in the middle of an ongoing pandemic,” without further exploring the mistrust this implies in the efficacy of the vaccine granny has presumably had and for which he wants passports introduced, or indeed the questionable veracity of the idea that the pandemic was ‘ongoing’ in the UK at the time of writing. 

We then move on to speculation that the UK “could easily get Covid variants/mutations from India, Mexico, Brazil or anywhere else with a high prevalence of the virus.”  There is no discussion of social conditions or quality of healthcare in these societies. Drumming up fear of ‘mutant variants’ has become prevalent amongst those now addicted to top-down technocratic control sustained by evidence-free panic, and in truth Ford is simply sermonizing from the same hymn book, ignoring the fact that viruses routinely mutate, that the mutations that have been observed in this virus have so far all involved very small changes in the viral genome, and that there is currently no evidence at all that any of the ‘variations of concern’ incessantly hyped by an over-excited media do indeed pose any significantly enhanced risk, as much as some pro-lockdown opinion appears to be longing for that to be the case.[7] 

There is a logic to Ford’s argument here, even if it is not one he chooses to explicitly follow through. If the UK does indeed need to be constantly vigilant of ‘new variants’, irrespective of any widespread rollout of vaccines or establishment of herd immunity, that would require lockdowns and tight border controls in perpetuity. It is the desire to agitate for this that motivates all such discussion. As he writes, “We just cannot risk another wave breaking out again.” As for vaccine passports and all that they imply, ultimately you should “just shrug your shoulders and accept it.” In fact, he goes on to liken opposition to lockdowns and vaccine passports as being akin to wanting to drive on the wrong side of the road or mow down pedestrians on zebra crossings. At least he doesn’t mention going berserk with a chainsaw in ASDA. 

Far left publications such as the Weekly Worker and Socialist Worker reach a small and shrinking audience. Far more popular in left-wing terms are the glossier, millennial-friendlier platforms such as Novara Media, founded in 2011 by two ex-student activists. Reaching its apogee during the Corbyn leadership period, it can still pull in relatively sizeable viewing numbers for its online content. 

On April 27, their resident host, Michael Walker responded to the anti-lockdown protest three days before with undisguised shock that it appeared “quite a lot bigger” than any previous event and was “fairly surprised” at how diverse it appeared.[8] There then followed a discussion, not with a participant, which may have been both more interesting and more fruitful, but with the ubiquitous media-friendly communist Ash Sarkar, who of course agreed with everything Walker had said. She informed us, by way of analysis, that the people on the demonstration were “vulnerable to misinformation and conspiratorial thinking” and in a “state of denial” over the severity of the threat posed by Covid.  As an indication of how rattled they were, this was followed up by two more discussions in the following week. On April 28, they attempted a hatchet-job on professors Carl Heneghan and Sunetra Gupta[9], referring to them as “supposed ‘experts’”, in which Sarkar (presumably a real expert?) was again on hand to bizarrely claim that such lockdown sceptic scientists have enjoyed a “close relationship” to Johnson’s government, alongside “light, soft-touch” interviews on the BBC, revealing a detachment from reality truly difficult to fathom. And then on May 1 they were weighing in on U.S. podcaster Joe Rogan’s eminently reasonable opinion that healthy 21-year olds didn’t particularly need to have a Covid vaccine.[10] 

The approach running through Novara Media’s coverage should now be familiar, based upon a refusal to critically evaluate or even acknowledge substantive issues. The modus operandi appears to be to have the host give their opinion, preferably in the most condescending moralistic tone they can muster, and then invite one of their mates to agree with them. And so, rather than invite Sunetra Gupta on to discuss the pros and cons of lockdowns, or a protester to explain why they were on the April 24 protest and argue with them, using the evidence they claim is on their side, they remain stuck in their own unchallenged, self-righteous loop. The superficiality of these discussions on the left is quite stark. 

To be sure, this is indicative of a wider problem observable in modern forms of discourse fostered by social media platforms in general. This matters, however, far more with an issue such as Covid as the repercussions for political action and policy decisions not subject to sufficient critical examination carry such high stakes, fostering an atmosphere in which, as an article in the liberal Atlantic recently conceded, many ‘progressives’ continue to “embrace policies and behaviors that aren’t supported by evidence.”[11] 

Nowhere has this been clearer than around the question of children, Covid, and school closures. Despite the growing number of studies which strongly suggest that not only are children at minimal risk, but there is little risk of secondary transmission from young children,[12] the incessant doom-mongering promoted by left wing media outlets and teaching unions over the return to in person learning in both the US and the UK has stubbornly refused to abate.[13] This, however, is not the sort of falsified predictions or misinformation Novara Media is interested in examining. There has occurred no reassessment in respect for emerging evidence, something they claim to cherish. Instead, one of the arguments deployed by Walker when discussing young people and the vaccine was that this was like giving a flu jab to children, because they tend to be ‘super spreaders’ of the flu. And so, everybody, whether at risk or not, whether children or adults, have a social responsibility to get vaccinated to protect others. Leaving aside the fact that despite spending eleven years in the British state school system I don’t once recall being asked to take a flu jab ‘to protect others’, this appears to casually brush aside the absence of empirical evidence to suggest that children have not been super-spreaders of Covid. “It’s not the flu!” might be screamed at lockdown sceptics should they dare draw any comparisons, but apparently drawing totally false comparisons such as this, if you’re a lockdown zealot, is fine. In this world, it is the performative and signifying value of mask wearing and vaccination that takes precedence over any evidence-based considerations. This is not science, it is virtue-signaling underlined by superstition.  

The hollow solidarity of the Zoomocracy

This toxic mix of fear and knee-jerk opportunism alone cannot explain how the left has positioned itself on this issue, however. There are other key strands which must be considered if we are to arrive at an understanding the predicament the left finds itself in. To do this requires stepping back somewhat to examine the historical background to where we are. 

The key factor is the legacy of neoliberalism, both structurally in terms of working-class employment, organization, and culture and specifically the effect this has had on the organic links the left has previously had with the working class. This is a complex story and what follows is bound to fall prey to oversimplification, but here goes. 

The twentieth century saw the left in its various forms advance on several fronts. Both Social Democratic and occasionally Communist political organizations were an expression, whatever their many shortcomings, of the solidarity which bonded working people together. The economic and political crises that gripped the world economy in the late 1970s, however, prompted a decisive break with the previously hegemonic Keynesian consensus, which suddenly appeared incapable of resolving the social and economic malaise in which the world economy had sunk, and a concerted pushback began against social and labour movements which had become, for the employers, far too strong. A good definition of neoliberalism, which gradually established itself as a new consensus, was provided by the late French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, who in 1988 referred to it as a capitalist utopia of endless exploitation, involving “the destruction of all collective structures that could serve as an obstacle to the market.”[14] 

Over recent decades, traditional political organizations on the left have faced an enormous erosion of their once dependable working-class base. The reasons may be complex and the results uneven but are due in large part to both structural changes within capitalism wrought by neoliberalism and the failure of such organizations to effectively challenge the ever-growing share of wealth going to the super-rich. Meanwhile, the amorphous ideas of Postmodernism and its close ally, poststructuralism have given intellectual expression to this retreat of working-class politics. The political space for this was provided by the failure of the socialist project, and the material base was provided by the post-war expansion of a professional salaried ‘new middle class’, precisely the social milieu which now dominates what remains of the organizations of the left.  Along the way, the identification of class solidarity, rooted in a shared experience of exploitation, has given way to the muddied waters of identitarian politics, often based upon the pursuit and elevation of singularities, which serves as intellectual balm for those who may wish to retain the appearance of critical social engagement, but who have largely rejected or are simply unaware of the more class-based tradition left politics once stood upon. 

Novara Media serves as a case in point. Whilst they represent a revulsion at the iniquities promoted by neoliberalism, they do not attempt to appeal to a specifically working-class constituency or see the potential collective power of such a constituency in pursuit of social change. It is in one sense a recognizably social-reformist politics, but one occurring in a context in which the traditional social base of reformism – a confident, assertive, and relatively unified working class with strong organization – is receding, engulfed in what appears to be an inexorable trend towards atomization and individualism. 

Much of the contemporary left stands in a contradictory relationship to this. It is at once pulled towards it because that is the dominant culture of the milieu it inhabits, whilst also desiring to break free from it. In this environment, Covid has generated a specific type of solidarity absent in their daily experience, one peculiarly attuned to the historical moment. As Sarkar noted in the previously mentioned discussion on Novara Media, whilst previous pandemics did not seem ‘real’ to millennials or western leftists, the lockdown experience, however, has provided a disruption to the day-to-day fractured reality of neoliberalism, an opportunity to both feel part of a collective experience but crucially one which intersects with, as one critical observation has aptly summarized, “aversion to risk, a desire for safety above all other considerations including privacy and freedom, and an excessive need to control and police others’ language, behaviour and ultimately thought.”[15]

Another sense in which this performative solidarity is particularly suited to the historical moment is that we are not enjoined to particularly do much as participants, save stand upon the sidelines and cheer along something called ‘the science’, transformed from a method of engaging with a material, changing world to “a pompous oracle that speaks in a single mighty voice.”[16] Sotiris argues that this has involved a fundamental betrayal of a critical approach to science which was once a trait of the left, transformed from a philosophy that “has confidence in science and fights against all forms of irrationalism” to one which “subscribes to the logic that policy should be simply dictated by unelected specialists.”[17]

In place of scientific method and rationalism there has emerged an unquestionable consensus, supported by a range of governments, technocrats and corporations, as well as organizations across the spectrum of the left, drawing upon a tradition of technocratic ‘scientism’ not traditionally predominant amongst socialists, but now embraced, with suitable irony, by a post-postmodern left, seeking to provide justification for a totalizing system of managerial control which could have provided Foucault with enough material to chew on for a lifetime.

The link with a postmodern approach remains in that implicit within this is new orientation is a rejection of the rational assessment of available evidence. This was graphically displayed by Fauci, darling of liberal America, seriously claiming during a recent Senate hearing that states that had lifted Covid restrictions were not seeing the surge in cases he predicted because people in those states were in fact locking themselves down.[18] We should not be particularly surprised by this response. Fauci was, after all, only voicing his own version of ‘alternative facts.’ The pro-lockdown liberal-left, for the most part, will simply not discuss the still tentative conclusions being reached by an increasing number of studies, that remarkably similar virus patterns and peaks have been observed in a variety of contexts regardless of the severity of lockdowns, as this simply does not fit with the narrative they have carefully constructed over this virus.[19]

It is not tenable in 2021 to maintain that enthusiasm for lockdown is buttressed by unquestionable evidence, all pointing in the same direction. It is, rather, a political position tailor-made for the salaried, professional layer of the workforce – the new ‘Zoomocracy’ -that dominates the contemporary left, and for whom it arguably does afford a measure of protection, albeit at the expense of others. In the UK, this has amounted to around thirty-five per cent of the workforce, although the geographical distribution is extremely uneven, and not surprisingly tends to be concentrated in more highly paid, secure jobs, [20] although there is some unevenness, too, in the employment predicament of those working from home, with some on precarious, zero-hours contracts and others fairly secure and seemingly happy to go on doing so indefinitely.

When Eddie Ford suggests in his riposte to anti-lockdown protesters that “the horrors unfolding in India” provide justification for such measures, we can see a clear example of how this social layer has become willfully blind to the impracticalities and adverse social effects of what they advocate, alongside an under-appreciation of the social determinants of health that would one have been central to any analysis. Lockdowns, for these people, equal good pandemic management and you would have to be some sort of psychopath with a chainsaw whirling in the air to disagree. If there is a social cost, let’s gloss over it. So, there is no mention of the fact that when Modi announced the first lockdown in India in April 2020 it was accompanied by images of the police beating impoverished Indians who had been left destitute. [21] Even the BBC reported at the time several hundred migrant workers living under a bridge next to an open sewer, without work or the prospect of finding any. What greater image could be conjured of the chasm existing between the smug virtue-signaling of the Zoomocracy and the brutal reality of lockdowns as experienced by millions?

A year on, a U.N report revealed that such measures across South Asia had led to an estimated 239,000 maternal and child deaths, with 228,000 additional deaths of children under five as crucial services and immunization programs were halted. A rise in child mortality had been the most severe in India, where it was up by 15.4%, [22] while as far back as April 2020, Oxfam was warning that the economic fallout from these measures was likely to push up to half a billion people into poverty.[23] These basic facts allow us to understand why in May this year 32 farmers’ union organizations in the Punjab vowed to oppose any further lockdowns, explaining that “Governments are imposing lockdowns to hide their failures and to take anti-people decisions, which are affecting the lives of farmers, labourers, shopkeepers and common citizens.”[24] One might legitimately ask here, just who is in a state of denial?

A break with neoliberalism?

This state of denial extends to the question of changes to the economy shaped by lockdowns. The idea that the crisis will somehow lead to a more ‘humane’ or rational economic order were voiced early on in this by the Blairite centrist, Will Hutton in the Guardian [25] but has been subsequently developed, often by those closely associated with the sort of left reformist project represented by Corbyn. [26] However, the notion that the suppression of certain economic activity and the ‘solidarity’ of lockdowns will somehow reverse the mainstream neoliberal consensus of the last forty years is alas not borne out by any realistic observation of a world where the top 614 billionaires in the U.S. alone have expanded their net worth by $931 billion[27] during a pandemic that has seen millions of others thrown out of work and driven into despair.

The lockdowns, after all, are being driven by powerful capitalist states and corporate interests and their implementation and character is wholly determined by these forces. The illusion amongst sections of the left that this promises some progressive outcome is rooted in an unstated belief that any agencies of democratic self-emancipation, be that political or workplace organization, have departed the historical stage. Even where trade union organization has been mobilized, most notably in the education sector, it is ultimately to the advantage of powerful anti-union edtech corporations and lobby groups who have long been pushing for the digital takeover of public education.

Many teacher union activists seem determined to not only endanger the well-being and human development of students, but their own terms and conditions of employment as well. A depressing example of all this is James McAsh, a Labour councillor and National Education Union activist, advocating in Novara Media that working from home be established on a permanent basis post-pandemic,[28] with the argument that whilst “Any employment relationship, by definition, gives your employer control over what you do…if they have control over where you are too then their power is greater still.”

This is staggeringly naïve, but profound in its implications. There are several reasons why working from home benefits employers. Not only do they reduce their own direct costs, which are transferred onto us, there is clear evidence that this method of working intensifies exploitation.[29] This pressure to put in ‘free’ labour and unpaid overtime affects all workers but tends to fall disproportionately on women. The decisive gain for employers is weakened trade union organization, as it not only adversely impacts the practicalities of organization, but our sense of being a collective. When we come together in a physical space where face to face interaction is possible, it is our power that is greater, not theirs.

If you consider yourself part of the left, you must question what all this is enabling. If you are still unsure, consider the way that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has unashamedly used the Covid lockdowns to welcome in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to ‘reimagine education.’ The ‘visionary’ Gates, of course, has no qualifications as an educator but has long been an extremely influential lobbyist for the increased use of digital learning, privatization, testing, and union busting in US public schools. “I think we now have a moment in history” Cuomo announced, “where we can actually incorporate and advance those ideas.”[30] He went on to deride the “old model” of education, where teachers and students come together and interact in a physical space. Young, healthy, fully vaccinated teachers insisting that genuine in-person learning be indefinitely postponed may feel that they are performing some distorted act of ‘solidarity.’ What they are actually doing is smoothing the way for an even more anti-social, atomized conceptualization of society than even neoliberalism has so far dared to imagine, closing down not only education as a multi-faceted human experience but our lives generally, overseen by hyper-powerful global corporations. This is precisely Bourdieu’s “destruction of all collective structures”, only now with the blessing the left, mistaking it for some sort of advance of a progressive agenda.

What can be done?

It is not so long ago that Sotiris’ warning of the “erosion of sociality” and the “extensive use of authoritarian measures”[31] being something somethings socialists should not accept would not have appeared controversial. And yet it is precisely this “normalization of a very authoritarian state of exception” that we have witnessed in what many of us once considered our natural political home that makes it an urgent necessity to restate this elementary principle.
As David Cayley has described in his very perceptive recent overview of this experience, there were many preconditions which “converged in a perfect storm” with the arrival of Covid, including “Apocalyptic fear, sanctification of safety, heightened risk awareness, glorification of management, habituation to a state of exception, the religion of life and the fear of death.”[32] He doesn’t single out an historically weakened left, estranged from its traditional constituency, absent of vision of an alternative to capitalism shaped by collective working class politics, but this needs to be added to the mix.

Perhaps we should conclude by stating that if this appears overly gloomy, it is worth reminding ourselves that resistance matters. The massive scale of the London demonstration on April 24 shocked the establishment and the lockdown left and did shift the conversation, if only slightly. Direct action such as the hundreds who protested outside the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting in May against vaccine passports did manage to force at least a pause in this egregious erosion of civil liberties.[33] This activism needs to be extended, and socialists should be at the forefront of these events. After fifteen months of this, there are the first tentative indicators emerging of cracks in the liberal-left consensus. This space needs to be pushed open by socialists who oppose lockdowns and vaccine passports. The way we argue will be crucial to this.

When Ash Sarkar discussed the lockdown protests on Novara Media, she stated that “These aren’t people with whom I share values or politics.” As fear and panic hopefully give way to greater questioning, and realization grows of the long-term consequences of these terrible decisions, we can only hope that there will be some honest reassessment of the values and politics which have willingly opened the door to such socially damaging authoritarianism, if not from Sarkar then from many others who have lent them some support, as they may come to understand that the metaphorical madman with the chainsaw was the lockdown itself.

Footnotes

[1] Panagiotis Sotiris, 2020. ‘Thinking Beyond the Lockdown: On the Possibility of a Democratic Biopolitics.’ Historical Materialism, Vol 28/3, pp 3–38. doi:10.1163/1569206X-12342803 

[2] Examples are too numerous to document. For background to this, see Gordon Rayner, 2021. ‘Use of Fear to Control Behaviour in Covid Crisis was ‘Totalitarian’, Admit Scientists’, Daily Telegraph, May 14. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/05/14/scientists-admit-totalitarian-use-fear-control-behaviour-covid/ Christopher Hope, 2020. ‘Government Has ‘Terrorised’ Britons into Believing Coronavirus Will Kill Them, Says Adviser.’ Daily Telegraph, May 7. For a specific example, see Emily Jacobs, 2021. ‘CNN Staffer Tells Project Veritas Network Played Up COVID-19 Death Toll for Ratings’, New York Post, April 14. Available at:  https://nypost.com/2021/04/14/cnn-staffer-tells-project-veritas-network-played-up-covid-19-death-toll-forratings/  

[3] For a small sample of this, see Paul Cullen, 2020. ‘GP to Close Practice After Threat of Suspension Over Anti-Mask Views’, Irish Times, October 8. Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/gp-to-close-practice-afterthreat-of-suspension-over-anti-mask-views-1.4375726 and Sally Hinde, 2020. ‘NHS Nurse Suspended After Branding Covid a ‘Scamdemic’ and Spreading Conspiracy Theory Lies’, Daily Record, November 17. Available at: https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/nhs-nurse-suspended-after-branding-23020112  

[4] See Michael Lee, 2021. ‘Public Vastly Overestimates Risk of Hospitalization from COVID-19: Study.’ Washington Examiner, March 21. Available at: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/americans-overestimatehospitalization-covid-study and Gabriella Swerling, 2020. ‘UK Public ‘Believe Coronavirus Death Toll 100 Times Higher Than It Really Is’. Daily Telegraph, August 20. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/08/20/uk-public-believe-coronavirus-death-toll-100-times-higher-really/

[5] Keith Johnson, 2021. ‘Left-wing Cognitive Dissonance and the Art of Bullshit in the Covid Era.’ Left Lockdown Sceptics blog, March 22. Available at: https://leftlockdownsceptics.com/2021/03/left-wing-cognitive-dissonanceand-the-art-of-bullshit-in-the-covid-era/?doing_wp_cron=1620625315.5042788982391357421875  

[6] Eddie Ford, 2021. ‘Necessity of Social Control.’ Weekly Worker, April 29. Available at: https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1345/necessity-of-social-control/

[7] For a fuller explanation of this, see Dr John Lee, 2021. ‘Covid: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?’ YouTube, May 3. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spmPax0rq5A

[8] ‘Anti-Lockdown ‘Unite for Freedom’ Protest Hits London’, 2021. Novara Media, April 17. Available at: https://youtu.be/khGTcBfNcIY

[9] ‘The Covid ‘Experts’ Who Have Been Constantly Wrong’, 2021. Novara Media, April 28. Available at: https://youtu.be/GfZRjldvzco

[10] ‘Joe Rogan Gives Terrible Covid Advice to Young People’, 2021. Novara Media, May 1. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74U7hxa0kmc 

[11] Emma Green, 2021. ‘The Liberals Who Can’t Quit Lockdown.’ The Atlantic, May 4. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/05/liberals-covid-19-science-denial-lockdown/618780/

[12] See, for example, Emily Oster, 2020. ‘Schools Aren’t Super-Spreaders; Fears from The Summer Appear to Have Been Overblown.’ The Atlantic, October 9, Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/schools-arent-superspreaders/616669/ J Ehrhardt et.al, 2020. ‘Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Children Aged 0 to 19 years in Childcare Facilities and Schools After Their Reopening in May 2020, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.’ Euro Surveillance, September 10; 25(36): 2001587. doi: 10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2020.25.36.2001587. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7502898/ MacCartney, K et. al, 2020. ‘Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Australian Educational Settings: A Prospective Cohort Study.’ Lancet Child Adolescent Health. November 4(11): 807–816. Published online August 3. doi: 10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30251-0. Ludvigsson, J.F, 2021. ‘Open Schools, Covid-19 and Child and Teacher Morbidity in Sweden’. The New England Journal of Medicine, January 6. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc2026670 Available at: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2026670 and ‘COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey Round 4, England: March 2021’ ONS. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/covid19schoolsinfectionsurveyround4england/march2021

[13] For a representative sample of this opportunistic doom-mongering, see David MacAllister, 2021. ‘Schools: 8 March Reopening is Unsafe.’ Counterfire, February 18. Available at: https://www.counterfire.org/articles/opinion/22088-schools-8-march-reopening-is-unsafe

[14] Pierre Bourdieu, 1988. ‘Utopia of Endless Exploitation: The Essence of Neoliberalism.’ Le Monde Diplomatique.

[15] ‘Choose Life, Not a Simulation’, April 30, 2021. Available at: https://enheduannaspirit.wordpress.com/2021/04/30/choose-life-not-a-simulation/

[16] David Cayley, 2020. ‘The Prognosis: Looking the Consequences in the Eye.’ Literary Review of Canada, October. Available at: https://reviewcanada.ca/magazine/2020/10/the-prognosis/?fbclid=IwAR0vUO17QSatZKbuKeJHI8HvNVUOPr_uGk0TQNm623UK09mtmt4Z7oPjlQ0

[17] ‘To Defend Public Health, We Need More Than Lockdowns: An Interview with Panagiotis Sotiris’, 2021. Jacobin, May 4. Available at: https://jacobinmag.com/2021/04/covid-19-lockdowns-panagiotis-sotiris-democratic-biopolitics

[18] ‘Drs. Fauci, Walensky, Kessler Testify on COVID-19 Pandemic’, 2021. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyjzWqK3FWo

[19] For an overview, see Professor Marilyn James, 2021. ‘Lockdowns – Do They Work?’ March 28. Available at: https://www.hartgroup.org/lockdowns-do-they-work/

[20] Richard Partington, 2021. ‘Britons Working at Home Spend More Time on Job in Covid Crisis, ONS Finds.’ The Guardian, April 19. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/apr/19/working-at-home-job-covid-ons-off-sick

[21] Geeta Pandey, 2020. ‘Coronavirus in India: Desperate Migrant Workers Trapped in Lockdown.’ BBC, April 22. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52360757

[22] ‘Covid-19 Disruptions Killed 228,000 Children in South Asia, says UN report.’ 2021. BBC, March 17 March. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56425115

[23] ‘Virus Could Push Half a Billion People into Poverty.’ BBC, 9 April 2020. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52211206

[24] ‘Govt Failed’: Punjab Farmers to Oppose COVID Lockdown on 8 May’. 2021. The Quint, May 5. Available at: https://www.thequint.com/news/india/government-has-failed-farmers-to-oppose-covid-lockdown-on-8-may#read-more

[25] Will Hutton, 2020. ‘Coronavirus Won’t End Globalisation but Change it Hugely for the Better.’ March 8. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/08/the-coronavirus-outbreak-shows-us-that-no-one-can-take-on-this-enemy-alone

[26] Simon Mair, 2020. ‘Could the Huge Shifts in Our Way of Life Being Introduced as Part of the Fight Against Covid-19 Pave the Way for a More Humane Economy?’ March 31. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200331-covid-19-how-will-the-coronavirus-change-the-world

[27] Stebbins S and Suneson, G, 2020. ‘Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk Among US Billionaires Getting Richer During Coronavirus Pandemic’, USA Today, December 1. Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/12/01/american-billionaires-that-got-richer-during-covid/43205617/

[28] James McAsh, 2020. ‘The Right to Work from Home Should Be a Demand Far Beyond the Pandemic.’ Novara Media, May 15. Available at: https://novaramedia.com/2020/05/15/the-right-to-work-from-home-should-be-a-demand-far-beyond-the-pandemic/

[29] ‘Homeworking Hours, Rewards and Opportunities in the UK: 2011 to 2020’, 2021. UK Office for National Statistics. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/labourproductivity/articles/homeworkinghoursrewardsandopportunitiesintheuk2011to2020/2021-04-19

[30] Evie Blad, 2020. ‘New York State Teams with Gates Foundation to ‘Reimagine Education’ Amid Pandemic.’ Education Week, May 5. Available at: https://www.edweek.org/education/new-york-state-teams-with-gates-foundation-to-reimagine-education-amid-pandemic/2020/05

[31] Jacobin, opp cit

[32] Cayley, opp cit

[33] Tony Cabrera, 2021. ‘OC Supervisors Pause Vaccine Passport Plan as Hundreds Protest Outside Meeting.’ May 12. Available at: https://abc7.com/health/hundreds-protest-against-ocs-vaccine-passport-plan/10616027/

8 thoughts on “Of Chainsaws and Moralism: What Does the Covid Moment Tell us About the Contemporary Left?

  1. I salute you. I am not a man of the Left, have written a few things for the other Lockdown Sceptics, but of course consider that the test of any sort of good sense in our era is having a clear-eyed vision of the appalling collusive misscientificising world we currently live in. Excellent work.

  2. In the US, 50 years of cultural counterrevolution has done a number. The organized “left” last had a significant working class presence in the early 1950s, the anti communist witch hunts disposed of that. In the ’70s, as an outgrowth of the generalized insurgency in American society and the entrance of many aware Vietnam War vets into the workforce, a period of heightened working class militancy took place. But it did not get self organized, all too often was subjected to attempts by know nothing sects trying to build up their fiefs. And the growing cultural counterrevolution i mention (see Rich Media Poor Democracy by Robert McChesney and The Cancer Stage of Capitalism by John McMurtrey) left the aware people isolated and pushed into conformity. The “left” was further decimated by post-modernism and pushed into identity politics.

    And the bonds which make society were themselves devastated by the growing withdrawal into personal bubbles of self-absorption, greatly aided by the growth of what i call MeDevices. 9/11 resulted in the “left” largely parroting the official story of “terrorism” even if not supporting the war making, and the “epidemic” resulted in even greater conformity and indeed strident support for the official narrative, as the “left” was targeted by successful niche-marketing and sold the narrative of “public health,” “people over profits” and “it’s all Trump’s fault.” This is as big a blow to the “left”‘s credibility as its general support for WWI.

  3. I don’t think the left understands how badly they have undermined their own cause. When the pandemic approached, the left had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to advance its agenda with common sense policies, including robust public services (health and education) social safety nets, workers rights, and wealth taxes to reduce inequality. Unfortunately their response has undermined their own case, and the damage will be so severe that nobody alive today, except for a few people who are very young, will ever live to see the left regain credibility. Johnson rightly points out how the Zoomocracy is the antithesis of solidarity, even as the left claim it is about protecting the community. Suddenly, everyone who can is working from home behind their computers, to be served by those who can’t and have to work. How are the working class supposed to feel about that? Take a look at what’s happening in schools. The closures have put families through hell. Any family that has the means is now either doing home school or private school, which will undermine the teachers unions in the long run. The same thing is happening in countries with universal health care systems, like the United Kingdom and Canada. Those countries pride themselves on providing health services, until last year when untold numbers of services were put off because of the lockdown response. Anybody who has the means is not waiting and paying to get the services somewhere else, perhaps another country. I know as lefties we are supposed to be about universal services and against this kind of queue jumping, but can you really blame these individuals when the system is letting them down? Going to the United States will undermine the left even further. The mantra of the Republican right is the freedom to live your own life without Big Government on your back telling you what to do all the time. It was mostly Democrat states that had the strictest lockdowns, and although Democrat-led states are opening up, they did not take the lead on that the way Republicans in Florida, Texas, and South Dakota have. We are going to see over the next 18 months leading up to mid-terms clear differences between states that did lock down and those that didn’t. The Republicans are well positioned to ride that freedom wave because it delivered. Meanwhile, what can the left offer? Government-run health care that was shut down? Public schools that closed and hurt the very vulnerable families that rely on schools and in-person classes the most? Meanwhile in Canada, it was the left-wing NDP that asked to bring in the Emergencies Act (https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/the-latest-news-on-covid-19-developments-in-canada-for-monday-april-19-2021). How does the left claim to stand for civil liberties and human rights while supporting such draconian measures?

    It seems very clear to me that the left in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Ireland has no regard for civil liberties and human rights. I have serious doubts about not only left-wing parties, but left-wing organizations are beyond redemption, and that new structures need to be built. I don’t know what that looks like, but I believe that is a conversation we need to start having yesterday. It’s mainly the right that has expressed these concerns. Unfortunately, I feel if we don’t start having conversations about how we can be (to use a clumsy term) left against lockdowns, then by expressing anti-lockdown views through available political channels we get all sorts of troublesome right-wing policies (racist anti-immigration laws, more corporate deregulation and power, gutted labour standards, etc) coming along with that.

    1. Agree with every point you make. It was a golden opportunity but instead the left’s lack of questioning has aided a power grab which we will not see reversed. Global corporations adept at tax avoidance and exploitation have got richer and more powerful whilst small businesses go to the wall. Teachers have basically argued themselves out of a job – why pay for thousands of teachers when one can put lessons online? The NHS has shown itself not fit for purpose. It’s already being sold off to Centene and that will now continue apace. It’s a disaster for the left except for one chink of light… It does feel like capitalism is now so excessive that perhaps it can only burn itself out? I fear though that there will be much much more pain before that happens.

  4. Thank you so much, been a fan of novara for awhile but since Michael et al have started to position themselves as experts on the subject i find it increasingly hard to listen.

  5. It’s like turkeys voting for Christmas. Except of course that the ‘left’ in this context comprises a particularly middle class hand-wringer who has actually been the scourge of any left wing politics for years – the kind of person who focuses on gender politics and mocking the working class ‘right wing’ while upholding end-game capitalism as they buy shit from Amazon.

  6. Thanks for this and as always for this site.
    A few things on the left that have left me slack-jawed this past year:

    • journalists who have specialised for years in covering corporate crime falling under the spell of covid
    • people who have focussed on wealth and income inequalities for decades all but silent on this most massive transfer of wealth upwards ever
    • people who work in ‘solidarity’ movements saying almost nothing of the effects of lockdown on informal workers, while they bleat about vaccine equity

    I could go on and on. The failure of many friends and people I admired on the left to apply any critical analysis to the covid debacle, much less class analysis, beyond the latest bit of government corruption in handling contracts – it has made me despair.

    But this has really just been (yet another) failure of the professional left, young and old. If anything good comes out of this I hope at least one thing will be the dismantlement of the professional classes altogether. I knew from my neighbours on the estate where I live that there wasn’t much buy-in about this from the beginning amongst working class people, We laugh about not being able to keep up with the latest guidelines. We exchanged food when we couldn’t eat out and were bored with our own cooking. The anti-snitching code held up despite severe government and media pressure. That’s what’s kept me going all this time, and gives me hope for the future.

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