Marching to the Beat of a Redundant Political Drum in the Covid Era?
This week we’re publishing two reflections from writers from Oceania. First up, our correspondent in Australia Phil Shannon asks how the left can avoid spiralling into Covid-induced irrelevance…
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:
- shutting down entire economies and throwing masses of workers out of jobs whilst slashing wages for those left idling in the limbo-land of state-paid furlough,
- trashing civil liberties (freedoms of speech, association, protest, movement, etc.) which have been the fruit of centuries of working class struggle,
- saturating the media with totalitarian-intensity government propaganda whilst censoring dissident views and debate,
- forcing the wearing of filthy face-rags and other rituals of regime loyalty,
- cancelling children’s education,
- micro-managing people’s everyday lives with arbitrary, ever-changing and ludicrous Public Health Orders on what is and isn’t allowed using made-up ‘science’ which is kept hidden from the public,
- forcing an unnecessary for most, harmful for many, and ineffective for all, experimental gene-therapy on the population,
- demonising, marginalising, scapegoating and discriminating against a subset of second-class citizens who decline to hand over control of their body to the state,
- facilitating Big Pharma to turbo-charge its profits ledger as a reward for its stage-magic of the Saviour Vaccine; and
- suspending working class recreational and cultural pursuits whilst generally sucking all the pleasure and joy out of life.
As if all that weren’t enough, the modern left has deemed, as both necessary and unproblematic, cockamamie levels of ‘pandemic’ government expenditure which is seeding a major rise in inflation (at thirty/forty year highs) which will erode real wages and reduce living standards, and which our economic managers will attempt to control by lifting interest rates, increasing taxes and cutting social expenditure, all of which are the precursors to a recession which will be further deepened by the servicing of a stonking great ‘pandemic’ debt through the giant financial Ponzi scheme of yet more government borrowing and money-printing (‘quantitative easing’) at the expense of the next generation of the working class. A macro-economic program all socialists could get behind!
Before Covid, the left would have put a big red cross against all of these anti-working-class policy disasters but, après Covid, the pro-restriction/mandate left are the new reactionaries arguing for state authoritarianism, police state repression, censorship and medical discrimination whilst it is the anti-restriction/mandate right which has now found itself in the, largely unaccustomed, space of standing up for working class well-being, civil liberties and free speech and standing against the criminal, profiteering beneficiaries of the madcap response to the virus. It is the Covid-crazy left, the self-proclaimed ‘party of science’, which is now defending the state-approved voodoo science of job-killing lockdowns, restrictions, the dud vaxxes and their unethical mandates and passports, whilst it is the ‘science-denying’ Right that is now defending science and the scientific method on all things Covid.
How to sound like a rightwing reactionary – the Covid left
Here is just a sample of how most leftists, in thrall to the Covid State, are sounding just like their rightwing foes of the past
Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, two of rock culture’s anti-establishment icons, have recently uncorked their inner censor and demanded that the world’s largest audio streaming service, Spotify, remove the Joe Rogan podcast for peddling “fake information about vaccines” whilst Noam Chomsky, the veteran anarchist academic long admired by socialists has recently stated that “people who refuse to accept vaccines, I think the right response for them is not to force them to but rather to insist that they be isolated” to avoid becoming “a danger to the community”. Chomsky does not seem aware that such isolation is unethical state coercion to get jabbed, with a Covid Goo which doesn’t even work, making the forcible exclusion of the unjabbed pure ‘public health’ punishment theatre.
The uber-woke Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is the current title-holder for anti-working-class hostility by the Left with his remarkably deranged, stream-of-consciousness woke outburst containing every identity-politics pejorative he could fit into one tweet, branding the Canadian Freedom Convoy truckers, Hilary-Clinton-like, as knuckle-dragging deplorables by vilifying them for alleged “antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, homophobia, and transphobia” who were engaging in an orgy of far-right hate. The state repression he ordered fixed all that.
Up there with their Canadian brother is the Communist Party of Canada which has dumped on the truckers big time, calling the Freedom Convoy a “convoy of hate” filled by bigots trying to screw over “immigrants, women, Black and Indigenous People, Muslims”, a “public expression of the increasingly organized and assertive far right”, funded by conservative ‘dark money’, and not at all a “spontaneous working-class demonstration”. They are to be countered by legislating such “hate groups as criminal organizations”, enacting “hate speech laws” and whatever else comes to hand to “defeat the rise of the ultra-right” (like sending in the mounted troopers).
The Teamsters Union has jumped on the ‘hate’ bandwagon, too, vilifying the Canadian truckers’ wild-cat strike as a “despicable display of hate led by the political Right”, whilst their Australian cousins, the Transport Workers Union, has so schooled their members into an irrational terror of the virus that they now see all the restrictions on their freedoms, including job-threatening vaxx mandates, as the necessary price to be paid for ‘workplace health and safety’, with a survey finding that nine out of 10 of them (most of them vaxxed to the max) do not want to work alongside close contacts of people who have tested positive for the virus.
The truckers’ Freedom Convoy also comes in for some polemical mauling from The Jacobin, a self-proclaimed Marxist on-line journal, which disdains the “so-called” Freedom Convoy as a “right-wing, pro-business social movement” pretending to be a “scrappy coalition of working people” but whose leaders’ political allegiances are to “the far right”, including “white nationalist hate groups” (oh dear, this ‘hate’ thing is really starting to become tiresome, comrades). The Jacobin (fans of the ‘Defund the Police’ slogan) have also criticised the “gentle hand” of the police (this was before the violent breaking of the strike) on the basis that state force is exactly how one should deal with fascists and hate-mongers, isn’t it?
Nor should we forget Naomi Klein, the high profile socialist intellectual and author, who has put aside her laptop to go into the trenches by joining a (tiny) ‘socialist’ counter-protest to the truckers’ strike, exulting that “it was a very good day in Ottawa today. Huge gratitude to everyone who took to the streets. The people are doing what the cops won’t. That’s quite a 2-for-1: knock back the fake-freedom convoy and make the case for defunding the police. It seems the left’s not dead yet!”.
Britain’s Fabian left is with her, where Paul Mason from The New Statesman has gone full Battle of Cable Street by writing “there is no mystery as to what kind of movement this is: it is 21st-century fascism”, calling for the full force of the state to break the strike (his smile of satisfaction must be wide, indeed, by now). ‘Self-defensive democracy’, Mason calls it, without any trace of irony.
To round out this tour-from-hell of the Covid Left, Australia’s Green Left Weekly has simplistically written-off the protest marches against Covid restrictions and mandates as “far right pandemic populism”, whilst being supportive of anti-working class lockdowns, the experimental pharmaceutical hooch and its coercive ‘Get the Vax or Get Axed ‘job mandates, and, of course, that MAGA cap of the virtue-signalling Left, the facemask. It’s all GLW can do to refrain from labelling the protesters as public health ‘saboteurs’, ‘wreckers’ and ‘political hooligans’, indeed ‘fascist agents’. Considering that GLW had its origins in sixties’ Trotskyism, such historical illiteracy is remarkable – there was a time when it was Trotskyists who copped the same sort of terminological spite from their Stalinist opponents.
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 Covid left – not something out of the blue
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.
Thus has the left has been amongst the most extreme supporters of authoritarian virus suppression strategies ranging from the disastrous nuttiness of Zero Covid, to ‘earlier, harder, longer’ lockdowns, to prolonged border closures, to the degrading theatrics of universal masking, to coercive vaxx mandates, to discriminatory vaxx passports, to states of emergency. This is a left so alienated from the class it was founded to champion as the agent of revolutionary social transformation that it is now supporting police actions against them when they organise to resist handing over the country to epidemiologists and the mad jabbers of Big Pharma.
‘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.
Left is left, and right is right, and never the twain shall meet?
During the Covid era, many socialists have seen the organised Left marching away from the ideals and values that formed our politics whilst it is the right that has colonised the political space vacated by the Left. This doesn’t mean, however, that by opposing the damaging Covid nonsense, leftists will turn into raging Tories. Dr.Toby Rogers is an American academic who “still identifies with many of the goals of the progressive movement” and he has wryly expressed such a fear by saying, tongue-in-cheek, that “my Covid conspiracy theory is that the entire pandemic was a plot to turn me, personally, into a conservative”.
I know what he means. My first ports of call when following the bizarre Covid mania are (apart from some politically heterodox free spirits who inhabit the wonderful, censorship-free Substack online publishing platform) invariably situated on the conservative end of the political spectrum (TCW Defending Freedom, Brownstone Institute, The Daily Sceptic, The Spectator, etc.) who all share a general antipathy to socialism. On Covid, however, these conservative sources have recognised the ‘public health’ Expertocracy and government tyranny for what it is whereas uninquisitive left sources (unlike Left Lockdown Sceptics) are content to simply recite regime-approved talking points with accompanying arm-waving histrionics.
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. As the invaluable, and eloquent, Jeffrey Tucker puts it:
“One might consider a conjectural history in which principled voices from the left, right, and libertarian worlds united early on, perhaps from the first sign of lockdowns in January 2020, and said this will not stand. This violates human rights. This contradicts the whole history of public health. This is anti-democratic. This contradicts equality, tradition, constitutional law, freedom, human rights, property rights, free association, and every other principle that built the modern world. Whatever our disagreements, we can surely agree that in order even to have debates on the particulars of policy or philosophy, we need a functioning society and economy in order for them to be realized”.
What a pity the left abdicated from this potential joint project right at the start.
Risks for the left from its Covid conformity
The Left has been on the wrong side of the greatest public policy disaster for generations and, because of this, it risks sinking into complete political redundancy. The working class gains nothing, and loses much, from the left-supported Covid balls-up and workers are not excited about the Left’s woke obsessions like gender fluidity, critical race theory, defunding the police, or still harping on about ‘Orange Man Bad’. Much of the rest of the Left’s policy platform, however, is worth salvaging – off the top of my head, issues like abortion, the monarchy, trade unions, pollution, affordable higher education and economic inequality (the ten richest men on the planet doubled their wealth from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion during the Left-supported pandemic restrictions, giving them six times more wealth than the world’s poorest 3.1 billion people).
People who have opposed and resisted the threat to their freedoms, livelihoods, and very lives, from all the Covid restriction/mandates are entitled to ask why, if the left has so consistently thrown in its lot with those responsible for the threat, then why should the left be trusted on anything else? By the same token, if the Right is so often right on Covid what else might they be right about? The left will have only itself to blame for any conclusions people draw that are unfavourable to the Left.
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.
By picking the wrong side in World War Covid, what passes for the Left these days has completely lost its remaining scientific, ethical and political bearings. There have been similar times in the past when such crossroads faced the Left. At the outbreak of World War 1, the Second International socialist left, which consisted of most social democratic parties (all claiming some sort of allegiance to Marxism), caved to nationalist war hysteria and backed their respective political and economic ruling classes in a horror show of bloodletting, prompting the breakaway of a revolutionary, anti-war left. This left (the Third International), itself, reached its own political crunch point after hitching its wagon to Moscow and underwent its own anti-Stalinist splintering into various Trotskyist organisations and non-aligned New Left currents.
The Covid policy disaster of 2020-2022, with the global conflict between freedom and tyranny, between liberty and postmodern quasi-fascism, must surely rank as another watershed for a Covid Left which is now sounding quite rightwing whilst it is the Right which has started humming Lennon’s (and Lenin’s) ‘power to the people, right on’. Covid has spectacularly posed the age-old political question of who rules, the question of power, and the left has so far flunked it.
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.