By Phil Shannon, South Australia
When he was reflecting on the seemingly interminable periods of political stasis when nothing much changes, interrupted by concentrated outbreaks of dynamic political developments, Lenin astutely observed that “there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”.
Well, the extraordinary weeks of astonishingly authoritarian, economy-killing lockdown in bourgeois democracies the world over have happened in a gigantic hurry in 2020-2021 and they have thrown up defining, once-in-an-era, political challenges. And the Left, shamefully, has been caught on the hop.
As a four-decade, veteran revolutionary working class socialist, it has dismayed me to see how the contemporary Left, whether in government, in ‘Opposition’, in the trade unions, on the activist fringes or simply as liberal Guardian-reading, BBC-listening individuals, has almost uniformly become a noisy outpost of knee-trembling Covid Hysterics who have embraced, with disturbing relish, the mania for lockdown. The Left has become an auxiliary arm of the capitalist state and its distinguishing feature has been to spruik [publicly promote – Ed] for tougher, earlier and longer lockdowns. Through its love of a lockdown which devastates the working class, lays waste to civil liberties and disrespects science, the contemporary ‘Left’ well deserves to have quotation masks attached to it.
How the ‘Left’ has Flunked the Virus/Lockdown Challenge
Threat Inflation of the virus
The Left got off on the wrong foot by misrepresenting Covid as much more scary than what it actually is i.e. a bad-to-ordinary flu season. The Left has joined the lockdown establishment elite in inflating the risk posed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus by (1) lumping together deaths ‘with’ and deaths ‘from’ Covid; (2) conflating positive virus test results – including false positives – with actual clinical cases; (3) ignoring Covid’s fatal attraction almost solely for the already-ill elderly whilst being fairly innocuous to everyone else; (4) portraying the virus as a constant menace despite its cyclic behaviour as just another recurring, seasonal, warmth-shunning, mutating respiratory virus which naturally peters out during its summer recess; (5) deep-sixing the fear-quelling concept of naturally-acquired herd-immunity including pre-existing cross-immunity from other coronaviruses, both cornerstones of immunological and virological science; and (6) ignoring the fact that Covid was the plague that never was because it had been circulating globally, courtesy of the vast international Chinese tourist trade, since as early as September-October 2019, with nobody noticing anything statistically out of the ordinary in overall death rates prior to the March Madness triggered by panicky politicians in 2020.
Lockdown policy panic
From this failure of data and basic science, it has been a logical shimmy for the Left to join the policy panic by endorsing the disproportionate, and damaging, government response of economic lockdown. The Left does so under the time-honoured and politically-resonant banner of placing ‘lives before commerce’ but, in this instance, the sterling socialist catchphrase of ‘people before profit’ is mere rote dogma because it seeks to crack the nut of a mostly humdrum virus with the sledgehammer of deep economic contraction resulting in massive job losses and a decline in working class living standards, whilst recklessly embracing a giant Ponzi scheme of stellar government debt and deficit which will inevitably be paid for by austerity, increased taxes and lost opportunity costs which will fall most heavily, as they always do, on the current and future working class.
‘New Normal’ pseudoscience
Lockdown is the central dogma of ‘social distancing’ pseudoscience, a voodoo religion which comes with a host of ineffective, superstitious, magical-thinking, placebo-like, demonstratively ostentatious ‘New Normal’ rituals, all of which the Left has uncritically subscribed to – school closures, quarantining the healthy, smart-phone QR sign-in, Perspex checkout shields, masks, the 1.5 metre rule, test-test-test, track-and-trace, elbow-bumps and fist-pumps, the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder of hand sanitiser use, high-rotation North Korean style ‘public safety announcements’, Stand-Here/Don’t-Sit-There decals, ‘support bubbles’, Covid Marshals, Hallelujah vaccines, immunity-passports, limits on public gatherings, curfews, travel restrictions, border closures …. all of these pointless political and cultural theatrics predicated on a wildly exaggerated fear of a not terribly lethal virus. By also recycling vacuous slogans – ‘flatten the curve’, ‘do the right thing’, ‘save lives’, ‘slow the spread’, ‘stop the spread, ‘stay safe’ – the Covid-deranged Left has abrogated critical thinking for simplistic advertising copy.
A reckless gamble with vaccines
With the failure of lockdowns, and the associated malarkey of ‘social distancing’, to halt the natural progression of the virus, the only way out of the Left’s lockdown trance is through mass inoculation, compulsory in all but name. Vaccines are a true medical marvel …. providing they are rigorously tested for efficacy and safety, which the current crop of experimental, inadequately-tested, risk-prone and legal-liability-waived Covid vaccines are decidedly not. The vaccines have been rush-produced to meet a political, not a public health, timeline of getting lockdown-addicted governments off their self-inflicted political hook without having to admit error (and to allow a gulled populace to dial down their virus hysteria without having to admit that they have been taken for a ride). With its Covid vaccine worship, the Left has now abandoned both science and medical ethics and has become an enabler of mega-profits for ‘Big Pharma’, an industry the Left would once have rightly scorned for its greed, deep-pocketed political influence-buying and risk of medical harm.
Aversion to policy evaluation of lockdown
All other issues aside, the one central question of lockdowns is ‘Do they work?’. If the answer is ‘Yes’ then a case could, perhaps, be made, for them for a viral threat that is genuinely civilisation-threatening. If the answer is ‘No’, then the inevitable economic, health and social costs of lockdown should consign it to the rubbish bin of useless political gestures. The Left, however, simply assumes that lockdown works and that it is the only thing that is keeping viral Armageddon at bay. The Left has shown no interest in putting lockdown to the analytical test by evaluating its real-world effect on the course and outcome of the virus, despite the dozens of reputable, double-blind peer-reviewed, gold-standard academic studies of the actual results of a global experiment in lockdown, every one of which shows that the timing and stringency of lockdown, from the merely token to the full-on manic, makes diddley squat difference to any virus metric (incidence, hospitalisations, mortality). Any Covid variations between, and within, countries are due to some combination of variables such as latitude, amount of sunshine (Vitamin D), demographic age profile, obesity and general health status, approved treatment therapies, previous exposure to SARS 1, nursing home patient protocols, etc.
The Macbeth dilemma
By shunning empirical evaluation of lockdown policy, and robotically intoning ‘Must Save Lives! Must Save Lives!’, the Left winds up in the panicked arms of Chicken Little governments across the globe whose only concern is how a policy decision not to lock down might play out electorally, scared witless that they might have to wear the media-incited blame for any Covid deaths on their parliamentary watch. So, the Lockdown Left is unable to politically reverse direction because this would mean admitting that they got it wrong the first time round and that the stunning carnage of lockdown has been entirely unnecessary and all for nought. The lockdown-lovers have to, like Macbeth (“I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er”), continue the damaging lockdown farce in near perpetuity, for every flu and coronavirus season.
An essential component in the lockdown faith is blind-eye-ism to its cost. No cognitive dissonance can be allowed to arise from acknowledging that lockdown does away with more lives (from health conditions gone undiagnosed or untreated, and from the ‘diseases of despair’) than it purports, fancifully, to save. A Left, which claims a monopoly of empathy and compassion for the victims of government stupidity and malignancy, has been noticeably lacking in these ‘caring’ virtues this time around for the victims of the Left-supported policy of lockdown.
Verbal elision – ‘Covid’ and ‘lockdown’
When not simply ignored by the Left, any lockdown negatives can always be attributed to the virus itself, rather than to lockdown, through the verbal elision of ‘Covid’ with ‘lockdown’, a linguistic sleight-of-hand taken straight from the playbook of the establishment media, including the woke liberal-left state broadcasters and other barometers of liberal orthodoxy such as the Guardian which the Left dotes on as the ‘most trusted’ source of ‘independent’ and ‘objective’ news. Every headline, talking point or en passant reference that casually pins the blame for the lockdown mess on the virus itself insinuates that there was no choice about the response strategy – lockdown is just what one has to do in a pandemic. For lockdown sceptics, shouting back at the TV or radio that ‘the virus didn’t cause this, you clowns – the response to the virus did!’ or ‘there is no pandemic crisis, you fools, it’s a lockdown crisis!’ can help the rational individual to stay sane, if somewhat hoarse, but the irrational Left takes the ‘Covid = Lockdown’ equation as gospel.
The political pathologies afflicting the Left from lockdown
(1) Obedience to Authority
The Lockdown Left has put on a dismal display of blind obedience to authority, to the autocratic authority of chest-pumping Toy-Town ‘statesmen’, to self-aggrandising men and women in lab coats, and to the ‘boys in blue’ (and the people in khaki). Normally disbelieving of every utterance that comes out of a government minister’s mouth, the Lockdown Left now takes government at its every word on the virus/lockdown. A real Left would never be that gullible towards capitalist governments.
(2) Mistaking Propaganda for ‘the News’
The Left could have been expected to at least raise a quizzical eyebrow to the dodgy data shenanigans and emotionally manipulative propaganda of mainstream state and corporate media over what is a mostly innocuous virus but the Lockdown Left now believes that the establishment media can change its ideological spots. Long experience should have taught the Left never to take the mainstream media at face value – every capitalist ideological organ has consistently lied about the Left, lied about socialism, lied about trade unions, lied about every horrid imperialist war but now the Left suddenly believes their every lying word on lockdown and the virus.
(3) It’s ‘Solidarity’, Jim, But Not As We Know It
The Left celebrates the social ‘solidarity’ of officialdom’s “we’re all in this together” refrain as the alleged key to the ‘success’ of lockdown. With every citizen pitching in by willingly participating in social distancing, ‘solidarity’ has won the day, says the Lockdown Left, but the ‘solidarity’ on display during lockdown is a compulsory ‘solidarity’ mandated by the capitalist state and enforced by fines and heavy-handed policing in an authoritarian climate of fear-mongering. Lockdown ‘solidarity’ is a top-down solidarity in which frightened subjects meekly accept the consequences of the devastating and wrong-headed policy decisions of our politicians and their partners in panic, the ‘expert’ government health advisers. ‘Do not dissent’, ‘do not resist’, is the flip-side of this sort of faux ‘solidarity’. It is a ‘solidarity’ that is all about political submission and social conformism, about snitching on lockdown miscreants and shaming the Virus Unbelievers – and apparently the Left is fine with that.
(4) Lockdown Professors – Cui Bono
There has been an epic failure of due diligence by the Lockdown Left concerning the scientific and technical integrity of the roundly-discredited, catastrophist modelling by Lockdown professors with a track record of gross predictive failure, beginning with the original mad modeller himself, the UK’s Professor Neil Ferguson (the ‘Expert Zero’ equivalent of the archetypal ‘Patient Zero’) who went on to infect other susceptible ‘experts’ who were adjacent to government power. The Lockdown Left has also been strangely silent on Ferguson’s political bias and how this may have affected his interface with a British government promising to implement a cause that Ferguson (and his lockdown-busting lover) strongly disliked (Brexit). If the anti-Brexit Left had have noticed, or cared, that would have only boosted Ferguson’s credibility in their eyes. So it was that Ferguson, the left-leaning lockdown fanatic, turned a chippy, 80-seat-majority, ‘Get Brexit Done’, libertarian-minded Boris Johnson from a ‘take-Covid-on-the-chin’/herd-immunity advocate into a menacing, lockdown zombie who refuses to die. The USA’s Democrat-friendly Drs. Fauci and Birx, the two ‘science’ heroes of the Lockdown Left in the USA, had similar political interests in spooking a lockdown-wary President into economy-devastating shutdown, mortally wounding his re-election prospects. Cui bono (‘who benefits’) was a justly favourite Latin phrase of Lenin’s but not, apparently, of the Lockdown Left.
(5) Rule by ‘Expert’
Even where political interests may not have been an appetising side dish for the ‘scientific’ Swamp, their attention-hungry and power-loving professional peers in other countries have been seduced by the policy limelight. These latter-day medical Messiahs have been intoxicated by how their proposals for lockdown/social distancing/masking have achieved instant, government-enforced, population-embraced behavioural change, unlike their ho-hum, largely-ignored public health appeals to eat less, eat better, move more and go easy on the plonk. The Left’s fawning deference to these on-side, all-wise and all-protecting Chief Medical/Science Officers has the air of puppy-love infatuation about it that is quite unbecoming of a Left that used to boast habits of mind such as ‘always question authority’ and ‘think for yourself’.
(6) Censorship – A Necessity
The loose lips of lockdown sceptics sink ships, claim lockdown-lovers. Historically the target for censorship, the modern Left now finds itself backing a clampdown by state or Big Tech censors on the expression of different opinions on the virus/lockdown as dangerous ‘disinformation’ which will literally result in murder. Caricaturing all lockdown sceptics as irresponsible Granny-killers, kooky conspiracy theorists, nutty anti-vaxxers, selfish Covidiots and callous supporters of ‘money’ over ‘lives’, aids the Lockdown Left in its transformation into intolerant, illiberal censors.
(7) Civil Liberties – a Luxury
Non-stop, visceral fear, no matter how unfounded, of a deadly enemy – of witches, of Jews, of Reds, of Covid – has tremendous power to make otherwise sane and emotionally-balanced people do all manner of absurd, illogical and anti-social things, to give up their civil liberties and their freedoms of speech, movement and assembly. Of all political entities, it is the Left that should have been attuned to the damaging politics of fear and how it swiftly generates mass hysteria and political obedience to the fear-peddlers.
(8) The Police State – Not So Bad After All
The Lockdown Left has also come to love the totalitarian monstrosity of a police state to oversee the loss of civil liberties in the name of ‘public health’. One particular manifestation of a Covid police state – police violence against anti-lockdown protestors – goes unremarked, indeed praised, by a Left which used to be the target of such police violence.
Why the Left has failed the test of lockdown
The issues central to lockdown – unemployment, working class immiseration, state authoritarianism, civil liberties, free speech, a propaganda media, scientific integrity – posed tests that the Left should have passed with flying colours but, on every one of these issues, socialist principles has been sacrificed on the altar of ‘public health’.
The Left, which once rightly mocked the 1960s US military adage during the Vietnam War that ‘we had to destroy the village in order to save it [from The Communists]’, is now apparently deaf to the irony of finding itself nodding along to the facile and equally self-defeating narrative that ‘we have to destroy society in order to save it [from The Virus]’.
So, why has the Left failed so badly on the virus and lockdown?
The ‘political distancing’ of the contemporary Left from its traditional working class base and the rise of identity politics
The Left’s lockdown pickle is not, alas, a regrettable, one-off aberration, rather it is a continuation, indeed culmination, of the ‘political distancing’ of the contemporary Left from its traditional working class base. It has been tough going for the Western Left since the 1980s ushered in global capital’s successful market-fundamentalist, neo-conservative counter-offensive, lead by Reagan and Thatcher, against a then-strong labour movement. Trade unionism had been the historical home of the Left but neoliberal globalisation, aided by automation and structural changes in the Western economies, has shrunk the profile and industrial clout of the highly-unionised, blue-collar working class, and, with it, the traditional Left has seen a decline in its political influence and a dissolution of its class-based ideological coherence.
The Left has since placed itself on political life support by hooking up to what Hillary Clinton once extolled as a “rainbow of discontents” who primarily define themselves by race, ethnicity, sex and other identity characteristics rather than class. These are the core constituencies of a ‘woke’ politics which the Left has elevated to the top of its agenda. What matters now to the contemporary Left is a person’s skin pigmentation, ethnic alignment, religious affiliation, chromosomal configuration, gender identification and ever-tinier slivers of an ever-expanding LGBTQI spectrum, rather than a person’s relationship to the means of production (how quaint that expression sounds in these times!).
So hypnotised has the contemporary Left become by identity politics that it is now largely inert on the question of political agency by a working class that, pace Marx, is the only class that can structurally challenge capitalist economic power. Social justice issues such as anti-racism and anti-sexism, which the Left once effectively championed on the back of its core economic and class orientation, have now become divorced from the issue of class power. Instead of the class war, the new, woke Left is now consumed by woke ‘culture wars’, fretting more about whether the latest production of Hollywood features the correct quota of BAME or ‘non-binary’ characters whilst conducting retrospective woke Inquisitions into old BBC comedies. The result of the Left abandoning the working class is that the working class has, not surprisingly, abandoned the Left.
Political Derangement Syndromes and ‘Populism’
This new Left, with its revamped woke politics and largely non-proletarian membership, has subsequently failed to prevail in a contest of ideas, most notably at the electoral level with Brexit and Trump. Both of these working class ‘populist’ uprisings traumatised the woke Left which has, in turn, reacted with rage and resentment at the democratic rebuff to its woke political vision.
The Left is in political denial and reacts by demonising the figureheads of working class ‘populism’ and, in a display of moral one-up-manship, showering political opprobrium on the working class ranks of ‘populism’ for being insufficiently woke, for being ‘racist’, ‘far right’, ‘fascist’ and ‘white supremacist’, for being knuckle-dragging, gap-toothed ‘Deplorables’ in thrall to demagogues, for being xenophobic Little Englander nationalists.
The Left is now populated almost exclusively by sneering Brexit-Deniers, potty-mouthed Trump-Obsessives and self-righteous Woke Supremacists. The woke Left has come to fear different ideas, diversity of opinion and freedom of speech, distrusts the working class as full of MAGA-cap-wearing Trumpists and ‘Brexit bigots’, and is terrified of democracy for its potential to deliver the ‘wrong’ result.
Now, just as the woke Left has gone bat-droppings crazy over the ‘political viruses’ of Brexit and Trump, so, too, has it lost the plot over the virus/lockdown. Both Brexit Derangement Syndrome and Trump Derangement Syndrome allowed a democratically-spurned woke Left to salve the political wounds inflicted on it by its old working class base and, at least in own mind, re-occupy the moral and political high ground. Virus Derangement Syndrome licenses the woke Left to proclaim that it is they who still deserve to be in charge of those who suffer from wrongthink and need to be enlightened by the leftwing holders of ‘scientific’ truth and moral virtue on the virus/lockdown.
The Right steals a March on the Left over Lockdown
During the lockdown lunacy, it has largely fallen to a sensible segment of the conservative Right (whether libertarian ‘Ultras’ or pragmatists concerned for the well-being of lockdown-threatened capitalism) to, almost inadvertently, stand up for a shopping-list of traditionally leftwing causes – working class jobs and living standards, education of the young, democratic accountability, critical thought, intellectual openness, freedom of speech, freedom of association, the integrity of science, and for plain old civility. For this, the Lockdown Left has only itself to blame.
The contemporary ‘Left’ is no longer worthy of the name. There can never be a case for abandoning socialist principles on any of the above issues – not for a fictitious ‘public health’ emergency, nor a (real) Climate Emergency (lockdowns are useless against a virus but work wonders on CO2 molecules), nor a ‘Stop Trump’s Re-election/Save Democracy’ emergency, nor (this, a late entry from Restoration America) a ‘domestic terrorism’ emergency, nor for any woke emergency de jour (‘transphobia’, ‘Hate Speech’, ‘No Platforming’, etc.).
Congratulations to the dissident Left Lockdown Sceptics for helping to get a real Left back into the political game over lockdown.