I agree generally with the Klein doctrine of Crisis Capitalism. There is no doubt that the social and economic system under which we live lurches from one crisis to the next. The crises are the direct consequences of how the system works, effectively produced by the dominant mode of production – exploitation and accumulation.
Competition creates war, accumulation produces famine, alienation creates hatred (of self as well as others). The dominant ideology of Capitalism divides in order to rule through white supremacy, male domination, physical elitism and most of all, fear of the unfamiliar “Other”.
Now, COVID-19 has been used to compound the privatisation of the individual as the unit of consumption. As a starting point, being packed together in the forced-family unit has inevitably caused a further rise in domestic abuse of children, women and older relatives. And COVID-19 has usefully created the latest “Other” to be fearful of and consumed by. We all want to be free of it.
Deeper, and more powerful still, is the powerlessness that has been instilled in us all. Whether we are feeling ineffective against the virus itself, at the whim of air-currents or touched-surfaces, or in the hands of an untrustworthy government offering contradictory advice, we have seldom felt more alone in our self-isolation.
Such “loss of Agency” – the correct political term for self-determined choice and action – creates passivity, as does lack of exercise or purposeful activity. Generally, as a sensation, the less you do the less you feel the energy for doing. Conversely, the more you do the more energy appears available. If you want something done, ask a busy person!
I have found the Lockdown to be deeply affecting. I have stopped writing whilst having all the time in the world to think. On the one hand I’ve busied myself with gardening in order to stop the fearful thoughts, and on the other scoured all media by the hour for information by which to make some sense of this crisis. The effect, the synthesis, has been to live in limbo.
I’m waiting for the crisis to be over. It will be over, won’t it? Or is, as Klein suggests, global Capitalism now based upon lurching us from one crisis to the next in order to prevent any coagulation of thought and experience by which to agree upon a better future: a real change of system?
Our powerlessness is essential to maintain the status quo: accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few; endless wars; mass poverty; mounting exploitation and climate collapse. And in such isolation we can contrive just about any set of opinions about reality and Truth. The mind in a vacuum, filled with emotion, can imagine anything it likes. Ideas overtake reality.
So it is that we have seen the attempt, worldwide, of protests against the Lockdown by people proclaiming liberty and freedom from the tyranny of the State. COVID is presented as Conspiracy. Attempts last weekend, following the UK Prime Minister telling all to go back to work, to have parties in local public parks fell flat. Clashes with police at Hyde Park’s Speakers Corner showed protesters, undeniably fascist in motive, proclaiming “freedom of speech and action” against the far-right Tory government they probably voted for just months ago.
Those who would deny human rights on the basis of their skin colour let alone ethnic background, now proclaimed freedom of assembly as a fundamental human right. By way of response, mainly virtual, anti-fascists condemned the assemblies and called-upon the working classes to “stay at home” despite the opening-up of Lockdown.
Superficially it would appear, the worm had turned. The Right were now proclaiming “Freedom,” the Left, social control. The far-Right who seek totalitarian White supremacy faked an anti-State stance, the Left apparently supported the eugenicist, racist far-right government.
Confusion, part of Klein’s “Fear Doctrine”, has been assured. But only if there is no method by which to test and understand reality. For budding Marxists, dialectical materialism offers such a method. Learn from past historical experiences, acknowledge situational facts over ideological presumptions, assess the societal conditions of the time as well as the motivations behind people’s actions.
In short, there is a Reality but only understandable in hindsight because everything is in a state of flux and therefore constantly changing. The “flux” is the point in the middle of the tension between all opposing forces. That takes a bit of working on. Over simplification ends up suggesting “thesis, antitheses, and synthesis”.
So the thesis is “self-isolate for the common good of weakening the spread of the virus until we can find a way of killing it off as a threat to human life”. The antithesis is “herd-immunity” – let the virus take its course and become part of the human experience, like the common cold (and lets not talk in detail about just how much more debilitating and deadly COVID-19 actually is), and get on with our normal lives.
This allows those anti-humans (from Malthusians to Nihilists) to demand freedom of movement when in fact they believe in State Power to prevent migration; and allows those who are pro-humanity to call for State support and restrictions in order to ensure proper protection of everyone, when in fact we believe wholeheartedly in universal liberty.
The tension at the heart of reality is between self-determination and mutual aid. Unbridled freedom is dog-eat-eat antisocial survival-of-the-fittest. Our own self-determination has to include consideration fo the impact of our behaviour upon the lives of others as well as the environment and ecology. So Freedom requires self-determined restrictions.
The synthesis is a human society based upon collective need, not individual avarice. The very antithesis of Capitalism. The fascists are seeking to impose survival-of-the fittest by demanding the right to free movement and the freedom to spread disease and death willy nilly. The socialists are respecting isolation as the temporary cost of collective safety – self-determination begins with survival.
Away from political philosophy, the day-to-day reality is that the UK’s far-Right government is seeking in all ways possible to bring about a “herd-immunity” regime. They are demanding schools to start reopening on 1st June, and as such, allow the virus to run rampant.
Thankfully, the People are not stupid. With 60,000+ premature deaths in the UK associated with COVID-19, no-one trusts the government’s call. Even those who don’t care if “the Others” die don’t want to die themselves (many of the “Freedom” fascists were wearing masks in the open-air). Right now, coughing at each other and holding hands is simply not safe.
So there’s a Movement against the schools’ opening, with much online discussion and plenty of organising that is bringing people together. The effect can be a successful boycott, not simply of the schools but also of the Government’s “Profits before People” campaign.
The right-wing’s response is to suggest we, the socialists and the trade unions, don’t care about the poor and the abused children who need schooling and release from the horrors of toxic family life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yet the apparent contradictions, the dialectical tensions in this situation are immense.
Those who have slashed State funding of health and social welfare, those who cover-up child abuse and have done so much to increase child poverty now use the reality of inequality against those who have fought and campaigned against the causes of human suffering all our lives.
The very depth and strength of these tensions offer hope for the near future. The pressure is immense, and that suggests there will be real social upheavals – pressure cookers explode when the safety valve is shut. Indeed, the release from confinement, the end of powerlessness, however tentative and carefully organised, could produce a synthesis of human collaboration for real social change.