This is the second part of an analysis provided by British writer Chris R on the failure of the Left to stand up to covid authoritarianism, and it pulls no punches. In this part he examines some of the fundamentals of contemporary Left thinking that might explain why and how it failed to respond correctly to the covid challenge, including a horror of ‘conspiracy theories’, a pernicious anti-industrial mentality, and, amongst the intelligentsia, alienation from productive economic work.
Part 1 of this article surveyed the Left’s dismal record during the covid crisis, focusing on its most egregious areas of failure. With covid, the Left has been completely played by the ruling class but collective credulousness alone does not explain the catastrophe; yes, the Left has been credulous but what were the philosophical, attitudinal and ideological factors that caused it to behave in this way?
I believe that there are aspects to the modern Left ‘personality’ which predisposed so many in the movement to the ruling class’s narrative. The following segments aren’t intended to be exhaustive and they are necessarily subjective, drawn from my own experiences with members of the Left during the crisis, along with occasional (but diminishingly frequent) reading of the Left press, and the oppositional critique developed by LLS and others.
It’s alight, Marx (it’s only the bleeding economy)
In the same way that quantitative easing disproved the claim that there is no magic money tree, so lockdowns proved that there really is a big red button that stops the economy.
The idea that anyone should ever think it a good idea to press that button was anathema to most sentient creatures until March 2020. Left enthusiasm for this particular strand of covid lunacy was typical of its general response and just as dismaying.
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.
A common complaint of Left discourse during the covid period was that the callous bosses wanted the workers back in the workplace even as ‘wave after wave of the virus were crashing down on the working class’ as the ardently covidian World Socialist Web Site was wont to put it. ‘Don’t let the bosses put profit before people’ was a popular bromide of the time.
Arguments in support of preserving economic activity or warnings of the inevitably terrible consequences of slamming the brakes on economic activity were routinely described as heartless and right wing. Saving human lives, it was maintained, was more important than keeping shops and gyms open.
I would suggest that the prevalence of this way of thinking is a consequence of the preponderance of bourgeois academics and professionals in leadership positions in Left organisations. In general, this cadre has little experience of productive labour or wealth creation and often has an ambivalent relationship to the material fruits of industrial civilisation, which it is apt to find vulgar and meretricious. For many of them, the lockdown period was an opportunity to settle into a prolonged bout of online activism until they felt safe enough to step outside in support of George Floyd.
In this regard as in so many others, the habits and preferences of the bourgeois leadership cadre are worlds away from the working class they aspire to represent.
The pretend economy of the Left can be turned on and off like a tap. Billions of pounds can be pumped into the system to keep people away from the workplace. 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.
The real economy, on the other hand is the motive force for our material reality and the idea that it is something that can and should be brought to a halt is both practically and philosophically preposterous. Only by thorough alienation from economic reality can such a position be arrived at. The economy is everything – toothpaste, buses, pavements, art, hospitals, bicycles, cheese and gyms; it sustains relationships, homes, intellectual enquiry and public and private health. Socialists have a responsibility to preserve economic activity when the ruling class is attempting to deprive workers of the means of subsistence as it did during the lockdown (actually lockout) period.
No conspiracies please, we’re socialists
An aversion to ‘conspiracy theories’ goes deep with the Left. Although state-corporate media has persuaded many on the Left that ‘conspiracy theories’ are consistent with right-wing political positions, the aversion is more deeply rooted than that; state-corporate media has played on an existing predisposition which has its roots in the enlightenment-rational Left world view and in particular an understanding of history being driven by impersonal forces, a view which rejects the role of individuals or small groups acting independently of objective class dynamics.
I don’t think that this is a fully worked out philosophy for many on the Left, rather it is apprehended at an instinctual level. Antagonistic class interests are identified with ‘the establishment’, the ‘Tories’ or ‘the bosses’ but there is no serious discussion about what the representatives of these interests might be talking about when they gather at Davos and Bohemian Grove. The World Economic Forum has generally been given a free pass by the Left. The notion a small group of interested individuals (conspirators?) might be developing policies (plotting?) at the World Economic Forum or the Trilateral Commission is alien to the rational Left mind. The notion that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, GAVI and the World Health Organisation might be in on it is incomprehensible.
I recall a conversation at Tolpuddle a few years back. A discussion was taking place on US foreign policy in the SWP tent, specifically on the subject of 9/11 being ‘blowback’ from US imperialist actions in the Middle East. The official line was, reprehensible as the attacks were, they were explicable responses to US actions. A man in the crowd said that he believed that 9/11 wasn’t in fact the work of Islamic terrorists but that it was organised and executed by deep state actors. He set out some of the more obvious absurdities in the official 9/11 narrative. The speaker, his face radiating incredulity, denounced the man’s contribution as a nonsensical conspiracy theory which had no place in a political discussion about US foreign policy. Most of the rest of the group agreed with him.
I mention this as an example of the limits of Left enquiry on critical events. The same structural approach was present during the covid programme – accept the system’s premises of the narrative but take issue with the manner of the system’s response. The difference between the two events, of course, is that the Left deplored the ‘War on Terror’ absolutely but criticised the ‘War on Viruses’ for not being belligerent enough.
Good socialists don’t give house room to conspiracy theories. They want to be taken seriously by the opinion formers and influencers that matter, whether that be in the shape of peer respect in the movement or credibility with the opposition.
This is a fundamentally bourgeois attitude consistent with the academic/professional purlieus many Left leaders inhabit. This attitude trusts authority figures such as scientists, health professionals, experts, academics and the BBC and recoils from the heterodox slew of ‘disrespectable’ ideas that sit beneath the crust of respectable bourgeois thinking.
The distaste the Left expressed towards the mass protests during the covid period (‘flat earth f***s’ as one prominent Left pundit put it) arose from the squeamishness it feels when faced with ideas and opinions that have not been approved by respectable authority. The limits of Left intellectual enquiry have narrowed steadily since … the advent of Blairism? the demise of the Soviet Union? the end of the Miners’ Strike? 1968? … anyway, narrow they are, and more than ever in the grip of the dead hand of group think. An imaginative and open-minded Left would have got stuck into the mass protests. It would not have default condemned the Canadian Truckers movement as ‘right wing’. And it would have debated competing narratives (aka ‘conspiracy theories’) about covid.
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Julia’s intellectual irreverence and scepticism brings the more cautiously ‘rational’ Winston up short:
Once when he happened in some connection to mention the war against Eurasia, she startled him by saying casually that in her opinion the war was not happening. The rocket bombs which fell daily on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep people frightened’. This was an idea that had literally never occurred to him.
More recently, the German writer Eugyppius, prompted by an analysis of the murky circumstances of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, observed parallels between the activities of anti-terror security forces and the pandemic planners:
All of this confirms my growing conviction, that the pandemicists have begun more and more to function like the anti-terror establishment, in that they’ve established a symbiotic relationship with the ills they’re meant to cure. Just as a non-trivial number of terror plots (foiled or otherwise) turn out to be anti-terror entrapment and infiltration schemes, so too I think we’ll increasingly have to wonder how many of the scary viruses paraded before us by the pandemicists would ever be an object of concern, if it weren’t for the pandemicists themselves. Every bomb that goes off in an urban centre represents an increase in the funding and the regard of the anti-terrorism security services, and every new virus outbreak redounds similarly to the advantage of the pandemicism establishment. And just like their anti-terror counterparts, the pandemicists maintain tight control over information about their activities and interests, preventing this dynamic from ever coming to wider notice.
There are many such radical analyses that have ‘literally never occurred’ to the Left and probably never will for as long as it remains in thrall to ‘respectable’ bourgeois opinion.
If covid, Net Zero and sanctions on Russia are the three wrecking balls busy demolishing our civilisation, on at least two of them the Left are swinging from the chains whooping and hollering in approbation.
Covid and the climate have been inseparable narrative companions throughout the past three years.
Very early in the first lockdown, state-corporate media produced stories and pictures showing the alleged environmental benefits of the shutting down of normal economic activity.
These content themes quickly had the desired effect on public consciousness. The following comments were commonplace: ‘You can really see the stars at night.’ ‘The air has never felt as fresh.’ ‘You can hear birdsong where all you used to be able to hear before was traffic.’ ‘The canals of Venice have never been cleaner.’
All of this was a coordinated propaganda programme calculated to play upon ‘green progressive’ sentiments. It was a subset of the global ‘Build Back Better’ agenda and it provided the utopian visuals for the ‘New Normal’ drive.
These messages resonated with a Left already that had already signed up to ‘climate emergency’ ideology.
The Left’s enthusiasm for the lockdown programme is explained as much by its atavistic distaste for industrial civilisation as by the alienation from economic reality detailed above.
Many socialists may be in good faith when they talk about ‘climate justice’, a ‘just transition’ and ‘one million climate jobs’, deluded and destructive as such policies might be, 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? For many on the Left, lockdown was an act of faith with a de-carbonised future, a ritual that we can expect to be repeated in the future in the name of the climate just as it was first acted out in the name of public health.
The exploitation of cheap, easily extracted and calorific energy is the condition upon which our very existence is predicated and it continues to transform human society for the better today, nearly three hundred years since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Industrial culture made socialism possible in the first place.
Socialists should be proud to declare themselves industrialists. They should be fighting for the best possible standard of living for the working class. This can only be delivered by an industrial society powered by coal, oil and gas. Outside of the degenerating economies of the west, the world understands this. The green-eyed fanaticism that has gripped the contemporary Left, on the other hand, is anti-human, anti-civilisation, anti-proletarian. To this reactionary, back-to-the-land liberal fascism, real socialists say: Re-open the coal mines! Build more ships! Down with the wind turbines! And while we are at it: Defend the real economy! Fight for small businesses! Cash first – smash CBDCs!
No one in this country should be ashamed of the Industrial Revolution, let alone support paying ‘reparations’ to other countries for non-existent climate crimes. But for many on the Left, industrial civilisation represents an economic original sin that must be expiated through the renunciation of cheap energy and material abundance. 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. I am afraid that as ludicrous as this line of thinking is, many on the Left cleave to it.
A predisposition to catastrophic thinking partly explains the ease with which many people on the Left adopt extreme environmental positions. I am reminded of a conversation I had outside a railway station with an Extinction Rebellion activist some years ago. She said that the world had just nine harvests left. She was very matter of fact about it. There were definitely nine harvests left. In every country in the world at the same time? Yes, probably. It sounds ridiculous but no more so than the idea that there is an average global temperature that can be identified to precise decimal places or that variable quantities of the trace gas carbon dioxide are bringing about the collapse of the global climate system.
The labour movement has always maintained that a better world is possible. The problem is that the movement has outsourced the achievement of this better world to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Build Back Better’ agenda. The Net Zero, energy deficient, deindustrialised future the Left is advocating for will be the worst of all possible worlds, and it happens to be the future the WEF has planned for us.
The Left’s notion of a better world being possible assumes that the present one is wholly unfit for purpose. But what if it is really the case that an even better world is possible, built upon the industrial civilisation that has served us so faithfully for almost three hundred years but this time wholly in the hands of the working class?
WHO is the ruling class?
The Left is stuck in a rut with its ideas about the ruling class and has failed to comprehend the characteristics of the new global elite system which has consolidated its grip on power during the covid programme. The real ruling class is not what the Left thinks it is and it is much worse than it can imagine.
The atavistic Left image of the boss – a cigar-puffing Bradley Hardacre type – is irrelevant in an age where power over the life and death of billions is wielded the obedient technocrats of the biosecurity state serving a remote money-power elite – an elite which does not necessarily require the labour of exploited workers to sustain its privileged position, or at least not as many.
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 mass protests of 2021 were totally on the money – they understood that the media and the health sector were being used to wage war against the people of the country.
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.
The golden conception of the NHS proceeds by extension to the World Health Organisation, which is rarely subject to critical treatment or even mild scepticism as to its motives.
Yet the WHO is the international representative agency of the pharmaceutical industry just as NATO is to the arms industry. People might imagine that it’s the Council of Elrond in lab coats but there is nothing benign about the WHO. It is an instrument of global ruling class power.
Vaccination programmes, meanwhile, are regarded on the Left as an indubitable public good and rolling up your sleeve a comradely duty, though not without a spasm of concern for the victims of vaccine inequality in the global south.
The narrow conception the Left has of the ruling class means that it is easily co-opted into supporting ruling class narratives that a proper Left would have no truck with, such as the ‘climate emergency’ or ‘trans liberation’, two anti-human, ruling-class agendas designed to immiserate and confuse the masses.
Left resistance still largely confines itself to the usual small group of targets, typically the ‘boss class’ and the Tories. As if the Tories or any government is ever really in charge! Railing against the Tories is like trying to smash Nazism by taking on the Hitler Youth. When the targets aren’t structural entities like boss classes or political parties, Left campaigning energy is directed towards the liberation of sectional interests and groups, political positions that are not properly Left at all but species of extreme liberalism. None of this activity makes the ruling class tremble, much of it makes it laugh.
During the covid period, the people were left utterly exposed to the raw power of the ruling class. All the intermediary social, political, spiritual and civic institutions melted away or revealed themselves to be collaborators. Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques suspended worship and re-opened with strict mask requirements. Some even turned over their premises for the injection programme. Trade unions fell in step with the narrative, maxing out on a state-sanctioned health and safety binge and helping enforce the lockout on the ground. Charities overlaid their fundraising drives with good citizen-directed injunctions to get jabbed. The Humanist Society pumped out pro-jab propaganda. GPs vanished.
The heroic global resistance movement stood up to the onslaught whilst the Left put on its muzzles, took the knee and looked the other way. The Left played the role allocated for it in the covid narrative – champions of the ‘People’s Lockdown’, the moral conscience ever vigilant for signs of weakening of the state’s mitigation resolve, sticking it to the bosses by staying at home, and reliably excoriating resistance to the greatest ruling class crimewave of modern times as racist and right wing.
I wonder how much of the dismal behaviour of Left activists during the covid period can be ascribed simply to adherence to outmoded patterns of thought or crude credulousness. I am sorry to say that there is probably something more sinister going on and that many Left organisations and institutions have been captured by hostile interests, and that there are individuals in leadership or influencing positions who are not acting in good faith. How else to explain the perverse strategies and inexplicable campaigns?
This didn’t start with covid. It’s been going on for years. Why is activist energy dissipated across so many causes? Why are there so many ‘revolutionary’ groups? Why are they all obsessed with single-issue campaigns and sectional ‘liberation’ interests? Above all, why has the Left never sustained a powerful political challenge to the apex parasite of our world, the banking and finance system, in the presence of which all other considerations melt into air?
Lord Acton is supposed to have said that:
The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks.
If we add at the end ‘and the entire apparatus of the biosecurity state’ there is no better expression of the task facing the global resistance movement. What is to be done about the Left’s role in this movement? The fact we need to ask whether the Left has a role to play in a global working-class insurrection probably renders that question redundant.
This article was first published at Real Left (formerly Left Lockdown Sceptics).
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent or reflect those of The Looking Glass.