A couple of months ago in a Facebook discussion with a supporter of Zero Covid I argued that if he really did believe that Covid-19 represented the threat to humanity that he appeared to claim he should demand (albeit critically) more coercive restrictions on democratic rights from the State. Nothing, after all, is more important than life.
He disagreed, insisting that socialists can never support restrictions on democratic rights by the capitalist state.
Unfortunately the proponents of Zero-Covid supported all the previous restrictions and if they are to be consistent then these new restrictions must also be an unfortunate necessity. All the rest of the Zero-Covid demands have been made to the state and who else is going to implement them? Again, it was they who have been hysterical in their claims that capitalism was engaged in what amounts to mass murder.
Of course, Covid-19 did not and does not represent the existential threat claimed and much of the left is wrong about this. Their position becomes more and more untenable as people appreciate the personal threat to themselves, they tire of lockdown restrictions and more people, especially the vulnerable, get vaccinated. Were it to become clear that Covid-19 is endemic and therefore requires regular vaccination, as with the flu, their policy would become obviously stupid.
So it should only be embarrassing that they now condemn the rough tactics adopted by the Metropolitan police when it broke up the protest of the murder of Sarah Everard. To be consistent they should have defended the policy of the police while salving their conscience by condemning the roughness of its implementation.
Of course, the Tories have taken advantage of the widespread acceptance of restrictions of social interaction by proposing to introduce new laws that go a long way to criminalising protest altogether, as should have been feared from the start. I recently posted another comment on Facebook pointing this out and suggesting that those who didn’t see this coming should avoid politics and find something else to do.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party is to engage in ‘parliamentary warfare’ over NHS pay while forgetting that austerity would be worse had the Tories implemented the greater lockdown restrictions demanded by Labour. The cost would have been even greater had the Zero-Covid policy of some on the left been adopted; a policy that is the product of an opportunist attempt to attack the Tories but like all opportunism is incapable of taking a longer-term view.
It is no defence of this policy to declare that you also have a policy against austerity; one which makes heroic assumptions about the capacity of the working class to resist it. Opportunism here is accompanied by ultra-left perspectives that envisages the capitalist class paying hundreds of millions of pounds for furlough payments, loans and grants to business and the shortage of tax receipts from workers etc.
Again, the Tories will claim the legitimacy of the bill to be paid and the left will again be exposed as it argued a policy that would have needlessly cost more. The policy of Zero-Covid simultaneously relies on the repressive apparatus of the state to work, while positing that this state can be defeated in the implementation of austerity that the policy requires.
We will leave aside any stupid notion that the combination of pandemic and austerity will somehow galvanise the working class to revolution; although these conceptions are precisely how much of the left envisages socialist revolution coming about – capitalist crisis producing a mass political consciousness that their political conceptions and interventions are incapable of envisaging coming about in any other way.
Despite their serial corruption and incompetence in most of their response to the pandemic the Tories are ahead in the polls. Their bedrock support has relied, and continues to rely, upon their support for Brexit. The pandemic has been used to hide the damage done by it and the Labour Party has been too afraid and too stupid to lead a political attack on it.
The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee can write that “Labour will plug away, exposing myriad flaws in the dreadful trade deal” but this is meaningless if you don’t oppose it. It looks hypocritical, since Labour supported the deal, and it looks like the dishonesty typical of politicians given Starmer’s avoidance of even mentioning the word, refusal to seek renegotiation of the deal, and previous policy of pushing the Tories to ‘get Brexit done‘.
But once again, while Labour fails, much of the left is actually worse, having supported Brexit from the start and campaigned for it in the referendum. The damage to working class living standards and the austerity it will entail is on them. They too, just like the Tories, are relying on Covid and the Tory press to hide Brexit’s damaging effects and just like Boris Johnson they will – child-like – deny any responsibility.
Two alternative narratives have developed – the fault is with Brexit or the fault is with the big bad EU. The left that thought it could move on will be cut in two by these scissors but there is little chance that it will fess up and admit a mistake. As a rule the left does not admit mistakes and certainly not ones as big as this, especially as they cannot consign it to history.
A few years ago a comrade on the left from the Official Republican tradition said to me, while we were watching the May Day parade in Belfast, that so much of the left was rotten that it basically had to die away before a new generation of socialists could make progress. He may even have included his own tradition in that, and in my view this should certainly be the case, but it isn’t as simple as that. The corruption of Marxism perpetrated by the nationalist and statist left both in Ireland and Britain will not be easily cleansed.
In the meantime, you can hardly blame the British working class if it ignores much of the left, it is quite right to do so.