Moments of crisis like the one we are currently experiencing can allow us to see through the surface of our world and grasp with greater clarity some hitherto hidden truths. It is with this in mind that we present this provisional and far-from-comprehensive analysis of the reaction to the coronavirus situation from anarchist and left-libertarian outlets.
Mutual aid features prominently in the anarchist response to the current situation.
Here is, after all, a perfect opportunity to put theory into practice and to show that acting together, by and for ourselves, is more effective and empowering than waiting passively for the state to save us.
There is also the possibility that the self-help community networks built up now could evolve into the bases of future revolutionary activity.
“Within communities, mutual aid has been proven as the only way to get through the privations of lockdown and the fear of serious or fatal illness. Communities have acted quickly to share basic supplies and resources”.
“We are seeing Mutual Aid groups spring up in local communities across the UK as crisis sparks compassion in many who want to help out and reach our most vulnerable, our isolated, the many left behind by successions of uncaring governments”.
There has been occasional reflection on the limits of such an approach, asking how we can ensure that mutual aid networks do not simply turn into temporary means of helping people adapt to a situation they maybe ought not to be adapting to…
“If our capacity to care for one another fails to be instantiated in qualitatively different forms, they may very well simply be reintegrated into novel expressions of privation, dispossession, and precaritization in whatever new legal and economic systems that may attempt to establish themselves”.
Anarchists have also been vocal in their support for rent strikes, industrial action and prison revolts.
“With millions of people now wondering how they are going to make ends meet and pay rent, let alone survive the current epidemic, a new wave of struggles is breaking out across the social terrain. Prisoners and detention center detainees are launching hunger strikes as those on the outside demand that they be released, tenants are currently pushing for a rent strike starting on April 1st, the houseless are taking over vacant homes in Los Angeles, and workers have launched a series of wildcat strikers, sick-outs, and job actions in response to being forced onto the front lines of the pandemic like lambs to the slaughter”.
“The first wave of this countermovement are the worldwide prison revolts, which now have spread to almost all continents. Simultaneous revolts in two dozen Italian prisons (with more than 20 dead prisoners), a wave of rebellion also in the prisons and internment camps for refugees in France, in Colombia the wings are burning, in Bogota alone more than 20 prisoners die in the process. Uprisings also in Argentina, on the African continent…”
“As renters and mortgagors we need to pledge, en-masse, that we will collectively withhold all rental and mortgage payments while the COVID-19 pandemic requires vulnerable people to isolate without security of income and housing”.
“Getting free from rent (which is to say, theft) and debt amid a full-blown pandemic crisis seemed like the best possible way to start. We believe that the simple tactics of refusal (rent strike, sick-outs, redistribution of resources, mutual aid) are essential to getting through this situation. We hope the rent strike spreads. We have the best chance of survival and victory together”.
Criticism of the capitalist system is obviously very relevant today, not least the massive corporate handouts being justified by the virus.
Attention has also been drawn to the “the short-selling millionaires bet against the shares of companies in corona-hammered sectors: for example, travel companies, restaurants, and real estate investment“.
Anarchists are pointing out that, as ever, the fall guys for these latest capitalist scams are the people with the least wealth and (therefore) power.
“The casual way in which workers have either been discarded without wages and adequate redundancy measures or exposed to further risk, depending on what best suited the needs and tendencies of the employing class”.
Part of this criticism of the capitalism system involves highlighting its failure to adequately fund public health services. Anarchists point to “the British government’s own systematic destruction of the NHS” and to “unnecessary cuts to our public services”.
We have witnessed, they say, “over a decade of cuts to the NHS and other front-line services”.
The myth of national unity is also being widely challenged by anarchists.
Some have in fact used the term “we’re all in this together”, in the context of mutual aid, while others suggest a need to be careful with the use of this kind of system-friendly language…
“A big part of the state’s narrative is unity — the idea that we need to come together as a society around a singular good that is for everyone… We can begin rejecting it by reminding ourselves that the interests of the rich and powerful are fundamentally at odds with our own”.
This sometimes extends to a general warning about falling into the trap of obeying the men in white coats in the name of a “common good” as defined by authority (see the famous Milgram Experiment).
Unsurprisingly, anarchists and libertarian leftists are unenthusiastic about the police-state measures currently being rolled out across much of the world.
There are powerful warnings against “power grabs that capitalists and state authorities are preparing to carry out”.
“Let’s be clear: totalitarianism is no longer a threat situated in the future. The measures being implemented around the world are totalitarian in every sense of the word. We are seeing unilateral government decrees imposing total travel bans, 24-hour-a-day curfews, veritable martial law, and other dictatorial measures… Worst of all, all this is occurring with the tacit consent of the general population. The authorities can do virtually anything in the name of protecting our health—right up to killing us”.
“It will not be a surprise if the rhetoric of ‘responsibility’ will be used to further refine the disciplinary and social control mechanisms, to further restrict freedom of movement, to further restrict the freedom to strike and demonstrate, which is now in fact suspended”.
Looking beyond the immediate measures being taken to “control the virus”, there is also criticism of the “new normal” which seems to be on its way, a post-coronavirus world of “biosecurity” and virtual “connectivity” which looks very much like the beginnings of a nightmare high-tech dystopia.
“We’re accelerating into a future in which a digitally connected privileged class performs virtual labor in isolation while a massive police state protects them from an expendable underclass that takes most of the risks. In this context, there is bound to be revolt. It is likely that we will see some social reforms aimed at placating the population—at least temporary ones to mitigate the impact of the pandemic—but that they will arrive alongside the ever-increasing violence of a state that no one can imagine doing without, insofar as it is misunderstood as the protector of our health”.
Among the details of this “new normal” now emerging are “terrifying” plans for a mobile phone app that tracks people to check if they have been in contact with someone testing positive for the virus – initially optional, this may become obligatory in the post-crisis smart-fascist world.
We should also note what is generally absent from anarchist analysis. Fortunately, there is no take-up of the eco-fascist line that “humanity is the virus” or that the coronavirus represents nature’s “revenge” against humankind.
But unfortunately, there is also little critical questioning of the reality of the coronavirus “threat” which is being so ably manipulated by the capitalist system to push its own agendas.
This is despite mounting evidence of something extremely fishy going on, presented by intelligent sources like the Off Guardian, Cory Morningstar, Club des Cordeliers, Helen of desTroy and Charlotte Gracias.
It increasingly looks as if the coronavirus scare has been whipped up as cover for a power grab by the network of capitalists promoting the Fourth Industrial Revolution of 5G, smart meters, the internet of things, nanotechnology and AI.
These are broadly the “climate capitalists” who have been flying the false flag of environmentalism to engineer massive “emergency” state subsidies for their “exponentially” lucrative investment projects.
There is not a complete lack of questioning of the coronavirus narrative in the broader world of the libertarian left:
“Our current fear is an enemy to our developing and maintaining a critical perspective. The more we are frightened by graphs, by deaths, the more we are likely to submit to whatever we are told will keep us safe”.
“In New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, the number of virus cases have been falling. This real news, which should reassure the isolated, is buried in daily media scaremongering as an effective police state is declared. Beware the new virus of unleashed authority”.
“Currently, the count goes so far that, for example in Italy, corona tests are still carried out after death. If there is a disease, the person is counted as ‘corona dead’, although it is unclear whether the person died of the CoronaVirus or merely – incidentally – infected by it”.
However, it seems that most fellow anarchists feel obliged to respect the prevalent social taboo. They insist that they are “not downplaying the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic” and are anxious to distance themselves from the dreaded “conspiracy theorists”.
Analysis of the way the crisis is being instrumentalised usually stops at the point of the “opportunism” of state and capital.
Thus it is perfectly fine to point out the “nationalists and authoritarians intent on using this opportunity to set new precedents for state intervention and control”, but any suggestion that there is something more dodgy going on is generally considered beyond the anarcho-pale.
Even someone who insists that “we need to break free of the narrative we are given” feels able to go on to speak, a few lines later, of “the benefits of an infection-control protocol” and limits the possibilities of narrative-challenge to merely “being critical of the ways the state is using this moment for its own ends”.
Because they accept at face value the narrative around coronavirus being pumped out by the corporate media, too many anarchists end up reinforcing and amplifying the fearmongering message.
They repeat, without the ideological-distancing practice of using quote marks, the language of their enemies. We are left in no doubt that “the global pandemic is upon us”.
Some are actually opposed to ending of police-state lockdown restrictions – “a move which threatens to undo anything that has been achieved by social distancing and attempts at quarantine”.
Others warn that “the virus could resume spreading exponentially again as soon as the measures are suspended”and helpfully provide a link to the controversially alarmist modelling from Imperial College in London.
The epidemic (rather than the response it has triggered) is regarded “a national and international emergency” in which “human life is presently threatened on a planetary scale”.
Some anarchists have been uncritically relaying alarmist predictions from the WHO and the Center for Health Security of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, linking to government sites and even declaring that “we want to help the government in the fight against this pandemic”!
Others not only declare that “we are facing a pernicious virus that terrifies the world” but add that “watching the news has become an essential activity to get through the day”.
It is unsettling to note that there are comrades who not only insist on absorbing and regurgitating corporate propaganda, but also join the likes of the sinister “Center for Countering Digital Hate” in a mission “to combat fake news and conspiracy theories”.
They react hysterically and irrationally to the new heretics of the day – termed “Covid Deniers” by the CCDH, which incidentally played a key role in smearing former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn with alleged “anti-semitism”.
Drawing the public’s attention to official statistics, or to the fact that the UK government itself has declared the coronavirus mortality rate to be “low”, is regarded as the spreading of irresponsible “misinformation“.
A sceptical attitude to the tsunami of fear-mongering is interpreted, bizarrely, as a eugenist desire to wipe out old or vulnerable people: anyone who suggests that the coronavirus death toll has been massively over-hyped is held to be somehow morally responsible for the deaths of those who have succumbed.
Retweeting the thoroughly lucid coronavirus analysis of Peter Hitchens is considered a thoughtcrime because his general politics are not of the left.
Anyone questioning the official line risks being smeared with “right-wing” or even “fascist” associations, even when they are exposing a manipulation which is imposing a very real form of fascism on much of the global population.
This is, of course, a classic authoritarian liberal gaslighting technique, as outlined here.
So why this head-in-the-sand refusal on the part of so many anarchists to even consider the possibility that the risks from coronavirus have been massively and deliberately exaggerated, let alone to examine what might lie behind such deceit?
There are several possibilities. One of these is that they are making a tactical or strategic decision. In order to make their message understandable to the general public, it has to be be based on something which the public recognises as reality.
Rather than trying to tell people that everything they have been told is a lie, it is more effective to go along with the reality of the “danger”, but to point out that bosses are sacrificing workers to health risks.
The argument about neoliberal cuts to the health service also involves no contradiction of the mainstream message. Indeed, suggesting that the risks from the virus have been overhyped would undermine this line of attack.
However, accepting the official narrative as a strategic ploy would be not only dishonest, but would risk undermining long-term anarchist credibility.
Another, ostensibly more plausible, possibility is that these people simply do not accept the dissenting narrative, being firmly convinced that the fear is justified.
However, the panicked and emotive tone of their responses (including a wave of blocking on Twitter) suggests that there is something else in play here, namely fear.
There is the fear being whipped up over the virus, of course, and with that the fear of being seen by society as a whole not to be respectful of other people’s concerns and well-being. But beyond that there is the fear of being rejected by other anarchists.
In particular there is the fear of being considered a “conspiracy theorist”. We have questioned in the past why this anxiety is so prevalent in our circles and seems now to be so deeply embedded in anarchist culture.
People seem uneasy even talking about well-documented historical phenomena like the “Gladio” network of NATO-sponsored terrorists in late 20th century Europe.
Any such reflections concerning more recent “terrorist” atrocities are considered completely out of bounds. Even investigations of contemporary capitalist manipulations, by “green” capitalists or Big Pharma, are rejected as “conspiracy theory” by people who nevertheless lay claim to opposing capitalism…
Beginning with the work of US intellectual Richard Hofstadter in the 1960s, the industrial-military complex has worked hard to create an intellectual climate in which analysis of its nefarious activities is considered illegitimate.
Those anarchists who have fallen for this trick are, per se, victims of ideological manipulation.
It would be very helpful if the anarchist milieu could assess whether further manipulation has taken place to the point where its capacity for collective critical thinking has been severely compromised – disabled, even – by state-corporate interference.
But, of course, it won’t do that because any such reflection has been rendered impossible in advance by that very same “conspiracy theory” taboo.
Happily, this worrying drift into conformity with state-capitalist agendas is countered by the nature of anarchism itself.
The anarchist idea remains intact and independent of those who claim to speak on its behalf at any given point. It is instrinsically opposed to all physical or psychological submission to authority.
As the weeks pass, disagreements over the severity and extent of the coronavirus, about the means by which we arrived at this new point in history, will become less relevant.
Instead, the sole issue will be how to come together to fight and organise in the context of whatever it is that is facing us – whether a collapsing economic order ripe for toppling or a totalitarian new fascist order.
The fighting spirit of anarchism, its life-affirming call to revolt, to risk everything for our freedom, is still much in evidence as we write.
Some anarchists are already calling for grassroots “non-party political insurgent movements, fighting for revolutionary change”, declaring that “alternatives must emerge from below”.
And there is a growing feeling that these strange “virus” days herald the beginning of a battle of monumental proportions.
“Let’s rebel in the streets, in the prisons, in the camps, like the prisoners of 30 Italian prisons, who, faced with the ban on visits imposed on them by Covid-19, rebelled, devastated, burned and in some cases even escaped their cages”.
“Rioting and fighting back is the only real solution, not staying in your house and being afraid. The supermarkets and the other companies which are profiting massively from this ‘crisis’, – which is solely the responsibility of the structures of power and capital-, are valid and understandable targets for the nihilistic and anti-social rage against this situation. The lies of the media tell us that we are ‘all in this together’ but it’s clear that we are not, and never will be. It’s the fight of the young people and the irreducibles against this sick system and this is but one drop from the storm to come”.
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