By Lorraine Pratley
In part one, I presented an outline of the overlapping but distinct social groupings within the liberal-left – a kind of trifecta consisting of progressive liberal elites, the mainstream left, and the far left. The purpose was to further explore materialist, class-based explanations for the motives behind the complicity of each group in covid authoritarianism, thus adding to the large body of work that now exists which focuses more on psychological factors, although the two are linked of course. In part two, I respond to some more of the issues and concepts raised by Chris R in his article, The Left and Covid, and how a principled Left needs to relate to, and work within, the working class in a modern economy in the twenty first century.
The economy – friend or foe?
Chris provides insights into ‘anti-industrial’ attitudes on the Left. And it is correct to be appalled that the Left could countenance shutdowns imposed upon the working class.
‘Disaster capitalism’ has a way of taking people by surprise, and Covid-mania was the first to be rolled out on a truly global scale. Before March 2020 the only conceivable kinds of economic shutdown were the prospect of economic collapse sparked by financial collapse of the kind generated by greedy financial speculators; or the general strike, itself little more than a faded memory of older generations in most of the West. The former, economic collapse, being one of the most egregious expressions of the brutal and rapacious nature of an inherently chaotic system; the latter one of the highest expressions of the social power of the organised working class.
So, where do pandemic lockdowns fit into this shutdown spectrum? I would argue that they were an inherently anti-worker act, carried out by the ruling class. I agree with Chris that they represent a form of lockout; classically a powerful weapon wielded by employers to discipline striking workers and force them back to work on unfavourable terms. When I argued this at the time with members of SA, it was suggested that I had ‘lost my marbles’, such was the inconceivability, as Chris notes, of the idea that a ‘health’ measure, imposed by a social democratic state, enthusiastically supported by the entire medical profession and their unions, could being wrong. Chris puts it this way:
‘There is an aspect of Left thinking that considers the economy to be something that exists solely for the benefit of the boss class, merely a material manifestation of exploitative class relations. It’s a conceptual cousin of the anti-industrial orientation discussed later in this article.’
I commend Chris for articulating this concept. It wasn’t, but it should have been, self-evident to anyone with a modicum of working class consciousness that economic disruption of the scale of pandemic lockdowns were anti-worker. Why? Simply because they were imposed from above. If you know your Labour history, it’s unforgivable to miss the fact that it’s completely ahistorical to believe the bosses or the state would initiate any action to protect the lives and wellbeing of the population, let alone take such dramatic measures. Yet, such is the low state of working class confidence and organization; Australian union density is at a historic low and still falling, as is the case all over the West, combined with the widespread ignorance of the extent of the harm caused by mainstream medicine – it’s the third leading cause of premature death, and here, and here – that most workers (around 75%) allowed themselves to be frightened into accepting, and even welcoming, authoritarian disruptions to their lives.
Before 2020, workers have had to fight, tooth and nail, for every benefit, every improvement to working conditions and every health and safety protection. I think this explains why (non-university educated) workers tended to be more sceptical all along – they have better class consciousness. I live in an outer suburban region of mostly blue collar and low-paid service workers, the majority of whom have not had the university indoctrination of professionals, a group that includes teachers and nurses. And this is why I delineate between worker attitudes on some issues, including the pandemic, on the basis of whether or not they’ve had the inculcation of respectable liberal opinion at university, a place were young people are taught to feel superior and to fear, or at least distrust, the ‘ignorant’ masses. Face masks have long almost disappeared in the working class area where I live, and lockdowns were abandoned in Australia when the people of working class suburbs had had enough of them.
Bravo to Chris for saying it:
In this context, the class enemy is present in every individual, organisation, company and institution that connects back up the chain to the Davos conspirators and their ultimate masters. This includes sacred British cows like the BBC and the NHS… The health sector point is pertinent. The heroic age of the NHS’s foundation sustains its reputation, especially on the Left, to this day. State-media exhortations to save the NHS fell into eager ears. Clapping and pan-bashing was common. The idea that the NHS played a malign role during the covid period is antithetical to Left thinking.
Chris’s characterisation of left support for public health stemming from social democratic principles rings true. And in an ideal world (i.e. not capitalist!) health care would be driven by human need not profit. In the real world, it needs to be acknowledged and understood that the form of modern health care was not won through explicit left demands at all, rather it was the defeat of natural medicine and the elevation of chemical medicine at the hands of the likes of early American industrialist J. D. Rockefeller that shaped modern medicine. Yet almost no-one knows this history and the public largely accepts chemical medicine and surgery as legitimate dominant forms of medical ‘care’.
I therefore do not believe the fraudulent nature of the pandemic was necessarily self-evident to left wing people, as many in the freedom movement have asserted it should have been, and indeed have been incredulous of their credulousness. This is because the people of the Left are no different to most people – even including many people in the freedom movement – who really have no idea that the medical system is killing people, routinely, at a scale that is so shocking that to accept it would require the unravelling of whole segments of consciousness, including their unquestioned basic left principles of public health spending; their veneration of nurses’ unions; and even of having to take responsibility for their own personal dietary and lifestyle choices, rather than blaming the bosses for the relatively poorer health of poorer people.
As Chris points out, unless an issue can be turned into an ‘us versus the bosses’ argument it will not be considered worth discussing, let alone acted upon, by the Left. Public health funding is also such a core social democratic principle that the Left has no idea it is, in reality, a massive public subsidy to big Pharma and the rest of the medical industrial complex.
I can just hear socialists disparagingly saying things like ‘as if workers can afford organic food’, ‘as if workers are interested in this New Age stuff’. Because of their ignorance, they don’t understand the biochemistry of chemical pollution, or the devastating disruption of the Western human microbiome that has occurred. Socialists, who consider themselves deeply rational, assume the desire for ‘natural’ is founded in middle class New Age mysticism. I have personally witnessed this hostility many times, and it long preceded the pandemic. They don’t recognise the inherent Enlightenment-derived racism in their position. Nor that it is instead an industrial issue: wages are too low to afford life-sustaining nourishment. Real socialists do not celebrate ignorance within the working class, rather, they challenge workers to learn and recognise all the ways the capitalist class sucks them dry.
Discussions about health do need to be worked out on Left principles, but they need to be honest, and can only be truly useful after recognising the widespread harm caused by the mainstream medical industry. This would entail a very uncomfortable situation in the context of the significant number of workers now employed in the ‘health and social assistance’ category in a modern advanced economy. This is now the largest employment category in Australia, representing 1 in 7 workers. Which working class family cannot count at least one health industry worker of some description within their ranks?
Add to this the fact that the health industry is amongst the most union dense, and we are in quite a pickle! How does a principled, pro-union leftist navigate this situation? As difficult as this reckoning must be, it was the shying away from these hard truths that left the Left desperately lacking in such a diabolical situation. One where the medical industrial complex could employ the state and public health bureaucracy to implement largely baseless measures which have, and still are, causing harm, carried out by a significant proportion of the workforce: nurses, teachers, scientists, academics and public sector workers.
Dismissal of conspiracy theories
On this charge I raise my hand as guilty. I even had no idea the term ‘conspiracy theory’ was introduced by the CIA! Nor had I bothered to look into any conspiracy that didn’t already have a place within the left landscape, with the exception of health. As incoherent as the freedom movement is a lot of the time, it is where I’ve found many illuminating sources of information and leads. Compare this pathetic excuse in obfuscation of the very concept of conspiracy theory from Red Flag to this outstanding piece by regular Left Lockdown Sceptics contributor, Rusere Shoniwa.
Chris describes what happened at an SWP event when an audience member suggested 9/11 was an inside job. It’s highly relatable to what goes on in SA activism and organizing in Australia – I can imagine the unfolding of that exact scenario here. In my activism, I’d like to think I was never as dismissive, or rude. There were many times, when doing socialist information stalls on the street or at protests, when a member of the public would share with me their suspicions about 9/11. My position was to state that I wouldn’t put it past the deep state to do it, and we socialists knew that Condoleezza Rice had stated just months beforehand that the United States needed some such calamitous event to justify further US imperialist expansion. I would then challenge the person on how useful it is to talk about this theory, given there was little evidence – or so I had unquestioningly believed. I would follow this by probing if they were open to a class analysis of society. It was the litmus test I applied to everyone I spoke to on stalls, which is a necessary tactic when looking for a needle in a haystack, and every single 9/11 Truther failed it – they liked speculating but that was about it.
I wonder if I had shown more interest in learning the evidence that was being put together, could I have developed a relationship with people like this and eventually won them to socialist politics? This less dismissive and more open-minded tactic will be necessary for a serious and principled Left going-forward, particularly in view of the exponential loss of trust in official authorities and media narratives since the days of early lockdowns.
Drawing on George Orwell, Chris correctly describes the modern day Left, both mainstream and socialists:
There are many such radical analyses that have ‘literally never occurred’ (my emphasis) to the Left and probably never will for as long as it remains in thrall to ‘respectable’ bourgeois opinion.
I believe this closed-mindedness is evident in all three parts of the trifecta. In my experience I can most insightfully comment on this in terms of the far left. During my membership of SA in a city with the biggest branches and largest concentration of hardened cadre, I can attest to the utter lack of interest of rank and file members in discussions about health. I would point out that the pharmaceutical industry is run according to profit motives, and furthermore that there is a material basis for the fact that natural medicine persists in the face of consistent attacks, i.e. people are compelled to seek alternative solutions due to the inadequacy of mainstream medicine to address chronic disease.
In return I would get what I call the ‘blank face’. I’m fairly certain that behind the blank face is a thought process that goes something like this ‘This is sounding like something those New Age types talk about, who are middle class, and who advocate individualist solutions like meditation and “being the change you want to see in the world”; isn’t this unscientific?; and this is sounding very critical of public health, which we need more of not less; and what about nurses, who are part of the Left like us, and are staunch unionists…’ Delving further beneath these surface ideological thought terminators, blank face also stems from deeper-seated personal fears like ‘If I’m seen discussing these things I might be considered unserious, apolitical, right wing, unscientific/irrational and this would affect my social status within the organisation and may affect my career within left politics’.
Lastly, I’ll respond to some of Chris’s other arguments:
But sadly there is a strand of Left thinking that is inimically opposed to industrial civilisation altogether and would happily drag us all (or rather the minority who survived the journey) back to pre-industrial conditions. How else to explain the fanatical support so many on the Left give to the insane Net Zero agenda?
Perhaps. I find Chris’s characterisation of the Left intelligentsia on the topic of the real economy rather convincing, in the context of their separateness and/or distaste for ‘dirty’ or mundane (in their eyes) work. I certainly agree that the Left’s embrace of lockdowns indicates their potential support for climate lockdowns/restrictions of real foods, energy consumption etc., given their current state of utter cluelessness about the climate change industry. I’m concerned they will cheer in transhumanism and will be completely oblivious to the callous disregard of the ruling class towards ‘useless eaters’ in the age of AI. The Left is indeed following blindly into a future of potential shortages of energy, food, or any material need you could name. These are questions we urgently need to clarify and organise around.
How much do left wing climate change champions really think about the details? It’s a complex topic; there is no real scientific consensus at all, and there is little depth to left discussion of the topic – they discuss it only in the very narrow terms set by the climate change industry, i.e fossil fuels bad, renewables good. Just as with Covid-19, they know it’s social and career suicide to question the consensus within their milieu. Furthermore, it’s a feel good position (save the planet) from which they can join the pile on against ‘anti-science climate change deniers’ by lumping all sceptics in together. The problem is that their position requires an anti-industrial attitude which opens humanity up to the chaos of the ‘solutions’.
No one in this country should be ashamed of the Industrial Revolution.
I totally understand why someone would recoil from climate solutions that are worryingly risky and patently not thought through from a humanist, people- centered standpoint. However, I don’t see the usefulness of framing industrialisation in terms of shame or pride – other than in human ingenuity itself. We can recognise that industrialisation created the material basis for socialism while, at the same time, reject a chaotic economy that operates for profit rather than addressing human need.
We need to reject unnecessary harmful industrial practices, old or new, and struggle for worker’s self-conscious, collective control of the economy, confident that (well-informed) workers would regard policies that protect human and planetary health as essential and inextricably linked. These could be achieved if democratic decision-making ensured resources are not wasted and our vast technological capacity put towards these goals at the same time as reducing working hours. Workers are not served by either fetishising industrialisation, nor by tailing industry-directed, state-funded market-creation: biotechnology, renewables etc.
Chris goes on to state:
… the problem is that the [labour] movement has outsourced the achievement of this better world [in relation to climate change] to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Build Back Better’ agenda.
I wholeheartedly agree. I have been concerned about environmental destruction since the 1980’s, before I even became a socialist, yet the leaders of the ISO and SA deemed it a waste of time to try to update Marx and Engels’ analysis, which was advanced for their time but no longer in any way adequate. This attitude stemmed from the view that the environment was considered a middle class issue with no left engagement, and therefore not an issue with which to relate to and recruit new left wing activists. Their position was essentially that big business causes most environmental destruction and therefore workers shouldn’t be blamed for consumerism. That was the extent of it. Environmental activism was indeed dominated by middle class people, and SA left it to them to set the activist agenda, which was so easily co-opted and morphed into a corporate agenda.
Since, according to Left thinking, our propitious conditions can only have been acquired through merciless human and ecological exploitation, the descent into scarcity and even extinction is a historically just trade.
Like Chris, I believe we must reject industry-created solutions to address climate change, and come up with and fight for our own humanist, science-backed solutions to pollution – for the planet and us. However, unlike liberals, I don’t think the Left are open to extinction as a trade off. They just don’t know enough about the science of human health to understand how the Chemical Industrial Complex is killing us, and therefore they can’t understand how the war on real food and the ramping up of vaccines etc. is bringing us to the edge of extinction. However, from conversations with people with middle class consciousness, hardcore environmentalists as well as New Age mystics, the notion of the eradication of humanity may be a necessary and even planet-positive thing. People have said such chilling things to me as: ‘Human liberation? They don’t deserve liberation, the planet would be better off without us’; or ‘The planet will heal after we’re gone, just as in other cosmic cycles.’)
I share Chris’s dream of ‘an even better world’, I want to fight for it and not leave anything to chance. When deciding on the practicalities of specific activity to get involved in, we do indeed need to reject the ‘small target strategy’ of the Left. In the same vein as our approach to the medical system must be, and as challenging as it will be, a new Left must study and come up with our own demands in the struggle for the improvements to our quality and length of life that should be our due – a struggle for our share of the vast technological improvements of our collective past. What is the point of demanding a greater share of the surplus if we are too sick, physically and mentally, to enjoy it?
Workers return to the workplace only when they (and Pfizer) decide it’s safe enough, just in time to go on strike over a ‘cost of living crisis’ caused by the insane inflationary lockdown policies they cheered into being in the first place.
Lastly, while I understand the bitter frustration, I do think it’s important not to sneer at industrial action – in almost all cases it’s a positive, and it certainly is in the case of the struggle for better living standards, even if their analysis is lacking. Socialists need to struggle alongside their fellow workers, engage with them and try to convince them of the inconsistencies in their positions – this is the bread and butter of socialist trade union work. I don’t have space to take up here the further salient questions that Chris poses, but I think are each worthy of in-depth and ongoing discussion.
Lorraine is currently working on a few projects: an analysis of the left response to SARS-Cov2 in Australia in relation to the composition of the modern workforce and modern union movement; an analysis of the nature of the public health system in a modern social democratic country like Australia and implications for the Left; an analysis of the class character of the Freedom Movement; and a history of medicine/health care in class society.
If you would like to be involved, please get in touch at email@example.com. She also leads free online history study groups to help people grasp the concepts of class in past struggles.