Zero Covid: their lockdown and ours

24 February 2021

Roy Wilkes, Chair of the Zero Covid campaign, puts the case for public protest against Tory shambles.


As Marxists, our starting-point is the level of development of the productive forces, which have never before in human history so starkly outgrown the (capitalist) social relations of production. The over-development of those productive forces, in the context of the established order’s deepening structural crisis, is already undermining the elementary conditions of humanity’s survival.


It is only because there are layers of mystification – arising ultimately from the commodity fetish, amplified to an astonishing extent under the contemporary dominance of finance-capital – that the system is able to chain us to the treadmill of permanently reproducing capital, the social relation that is destroying us.


That veil of mystification began to lift a little during the first lockdown. Millions stayed off work, kids stayed off school, communities began to self organise, the roar of traffic was quietened, we heard the birds sing.


Government ministers took fright. Workers must not be allowed to think that they can survive without wage labour. Finance-capital feared a hit to rental income as office spaces stood empty. But it was petty capital that faced wipe out. The libertarian petty bourgeoisie turned sharply towards the Far Right and mobilised a Covid-denying anti-lockdown movement.

The bourgeois state’s approach to lockdown is always to protect finance-capital and to shift the burden onto the working class.

The bourgeois state’s approach to lockdown is always to protect finance-capital and to shift the burden onto the working class. Regulations are imposed which target some sectors of the economy (in particular high-street retail, hospitality, and entertainment), while leaving most sectors untouched. Non-economic social intercourse and mass political action are severely restricted and heavily policed, whether there is any public health justification or not. The priority is always public order, not public health.


Our approach to the suppression of viral transmission would do the opposite and would be based on collective solidarity and on rebuilding working-class communities. We would aim for rapid suppression of transmission by closing all workplaces other than those that are absolutely essential for providing the basic necessities of life while using that time to invest in the infrastructure needed to make all workplaces Covid-safe (for example with improved ventilation and physical spacing).


Their approach is to invest tens of billions of pounds in centralised corporate systems of test-and-trace which fail miserably. Ours would be to invest in local community-based public sector systems of find, test, trace, isolate, and support.


They force millions of low-paid and insecure workers to risk serious illness and death in order to make ends meet, and offer no support to those who need to self-isolate, thereby prolonging high rates of transmission. We would provide full financial and social support to those who need to self-isolate, not only those who have tested positive, but also their contacts, and the contacts of contacts.


Their approach impoverishes millions and abandons them to their fate. Ours would shift the burden onto finance-capital.


‘Stay at Home’

Throughout the various stages of lockdown, mockdown, and regional tiered systems, ‘stay at home’ has been the recurring message. But ‘stay at home’ is not about preventing the transmission of Covid. ‘Stay out of enclosed workplaces’ is the only way to do that. Covid spreads through aerosol transmission indoors. It is extremely rare for it to be transmitted outdoors. Even the government admits this scientific fact, although many on the Left seem to struggle with it.


‘Stay at home’ serves a purpose other than public health. It atomises and demobilises the working class and allows us to be scapegoated when infections rise. ‘Stay at home’ fits with the containment strategy of protecting (minimally, and only enough to prevent a politically destabilising total collapse of the NHS) those who are most at risk. How successful this approach has been from a public-health perspective can be gleaned from the grim statistics: over 125,000 dead and counting.


The UK government’s key messaging throughout this pandemic – ‘Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ – has been horribly ironic. ‘Stay at home’ does not suppress transmission. The real need is not to ‘protect the NHS’ from the social behaviour of working-class people, but from a state that is determined to exhaust and then privatise it. And to suggest that government policy has been in any way predicated on the need to ‘save lives’ is beyond a sick joke.

Alongside other enclosed workplaces, schools are dangerous vectors of Covid transmission and should be kept closed for as long as it takes to bring transmission rates down to levels that can be managed by a reformed system of find, test, trace, isolate and support.

Throughout this crisis, the state has been desperate to get the kids back in school. This is not surprising. School is where we are conditioned for wage labour, and where we are sifted and graded for placement in the hierarchical social division of labour. The youth have always posed the biggest threat to every established order, and that threat must at all costs be disciplined out of them.


The establishment’s argument that children need to be back in school for the sake of their mental health is laughable. Where was their concern for mental health over the preceding decades of high-stakes testing and relentless exam pressure?


Alongside other enclosed workplaces, schools are dangerous vectors of Covid transmission and should be kept closed for as long as it takes to bring transmission rates down to levels that can be managed by a reformed system of find, test, trace, isolate and support.


But that is not to say that children should be forced to ‘stay at home’. There is no public-health justification whatsoever for keeping millions of kids under house arrest. Confining them indoors with nothing but social media for company is just about the worst thing we could do to their mental health. Children are actually far more socially responsible than most members of the UK parliament and should be respected accordingly. They should spend as much time outdoors as possible, running, climbing, playing, socialising … being kids. The onus should be on the rest of the society to keep children safe, not the other way around. One way we could do that would be to ban most motorcar use during the lockdown, except perhaps for disabled cars and scooters.


‘Stay at home’ has also contributed to a terrible increase in domestic violence. Rising levels of poverty and insecurity have combined with the ‘stay at home’ regulations to turn millions of households into seething cauldrons of violence and abuse.


Making lockdown as unpleasant as possible, putting all the pressure and blame on members of the public, focusing the measures on restricting social life instead of on preventing workplace transmission, dragging the restrictions on for months on end, all of this has an added benefit for capital: it ensures that a lot of people get fed up with the restrictions and become desperate for the lockdown to end, whatever the risk.


Despite this cynical tactic, most people have refused to be cowed into accepting the herd-immunity approach that the state tries to impose on us. Time and again opinion polls confirm that most people want to keep measures in place to effectively suppress Covid transmission. The working class is far more socially responsible and community-minded than either the capitalists or the petty bourgeoisie.


Misconceptions

There are two widespread and damaging misconceptions within the movement, and it is the responsibility of revolutionaries to dispel them:


Firstly, that all government regulations should be gratefully accepted and complied with, regardless of whether they have any impact on Covid transmission, and regardless of how authoritarian and repressive they are.

Whether or not we defy any particular government regulation is a tactical question that is determined by the balance of forces. But always our aim should be to shift the balance of forces in our favour, which means winning the political argument against unconditional compliance.

Whether or not we defy any particular government regulation is a tactical question that is determined by the balance of forces. But always our aim should be to shift the balance of forces in our favour, which means winning the political argument against unconditional compliance. One of the reasons for the demoralised and pessimistic acquiescence to government regulations is that we have become so used to trade-union compliance with the anti-union laws. But the trade union bureaucracy has a material interest in not only complying with but also policing the anti-union laws, whereas we do not. We must do everything we can to avoid the whole movement getting infected with this defeatist acquiescence.


And secondly, that outdoor public assembly for the purpose of political protest contradicts our demand for the implementation of measures to suppress viral transmission, is therefore hypocritical, and should be opposed on principle.


Inhibiting the movement’s capacity to take action is thus presented as ‘solidarity with those who are at risk’. This approach is not only scientifically incorrect, it obstructs our capacity to fight for the measures that would actually suppress transmission. It, therefore, abandons those at risk to the mercy of capital. This is not an act of solidarity but of abandonment.


It is sometimes argued that protest action would confuse us with the Far Right and libertarian anti-lockdown conspiracists. This is an entirely spurious argument. There is no possibility that a fully-masked and socially-distanced protest would be confused with a far-right rabble. It has never happened before, and for good reason: the suggestion is absurd. It would be like suggesting before Covid that because fascists organise marches, any march would be confused with fascists.


During Covid, this argument is even less convincing than it would have been previously. The very form of action itself, and the visual spectacle of it, would stand in immediately clear distinction from the anti-lockdown actions. A socially-distanced rally has a high visual impact, not only because of the wide geographical space it occupies, but also and more importantly because it openly projects the dignity and discipline of the movement, in stark contrast with the anti-social indiscipline of the anti-lockdown marches. Our actions set a positive example of socially responsible behaviour and therefore have a wholly positive social impact.


It is said that even if our protests are safe, the media and our political opponents would use them to attack the movement. Of course. Whenever we have an impact we will be attacked. The only alternative to being attacked is being ignored. But their attacks give us the opportunity to both rebut the allegations of hypocrisy and to advance the measures that would be needed to actually suppress transmission of the virus.


The insistence that there are ‘other ways of protesting’, in particular Zoom rallies, Twitter storms, and other applications of ‘social media’, is an acceptance of the atomising mediation of the corporate tech giants and confines the movement to their algorithm generated echo-chambers. Social media has its place as a tool for building the movement, as does the bourgeois media generally, but it can never substitute entirely for physical assembly. The ruling class understands this, which is why parliament still assembles in person and why our class is denied that right.


However well-intentioned their motivation, those who advance these arguments against political protest action are nevertheless conceptualising the crisis from the standpoint of capital. The role of revolutionaries within the movement is to counterpose a conceptualisation from the standpoint of labour, in order to help develop a tactical orientation that can actually take the movement forward.


Action


So, what is to be done?


1. Actively counter the anti-action misconceptions in every forum.


2. Actively campaign for our right to protest by taking action.


3. Build actions that push the boundaries of action to whatever extent we can. This might mean banner drops and flash mobs that go just far enough beyond the restrictions that we can take people with us.


4. For the Zero Covid day of action on 13 March, organise a mix of public action – banner drops, flash mobs, media-bait stunts, etc – linked with social media activity to transmit the news. This will link those able and willing to go on the streets with those at risk and shielding in a co-ordinate public/social-media event.

The Zero Covid campaign aims to build a movement to force policymakers in the U.K to adopt a Zero Covid strategy to eliminate the virus. Whilst the U.K suffers in a cycle of surge and lockdown other countries have applied Zero Covid policies – we can do the same.

92 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

©2020 by Anti*Capitalist Resistance. Proudly created with Wix.com