[gG:] Why the Left Should Oppose Lockdown

Pream­ble

The con­tem­pora­ry left’s sup­port for an eco­no­mi­c­al­ly devas­ta­ting, aut­ho­ri­ta­ri­an lock­down, which doesn’t even achie­ve its limi­ted public health aims, is one of the more remar­kab­le deve­lo­p­ments in cur­rent poli­tics. With its sup­port for extre­me ‘social distancing’, the left has reached a new nadir in the ‘poli­ti­cal distancing’ bet­ween it and its tra­di­tio­nal working class con­sti­tu­en­cy, a rela­ti­ons­hip that has been fray­ing bad­ly sin­ce the demo­cra­tic, natio­nal, working class popu­list upsur­ge of recent years as sym­bo­li­sed by the Bre­x­it refe­ren­dum, the thum­ping Get-Bre­x­it-Done elec­to­ral vic­to­ry of Boris John­son, and the sur­pri­sing Trump mira­cle.

The left’s lock­down betra­yal of the working class fur­ther acce­le­ra­tes its decli­ne into poli­ti­cal irrele­van­ce. This is not a cau­se for cele­bra­ti­on, espe­cial­ly for someo­ne like mys­elf, a four-deca­de Aus­tra­li­an vete­ran of working class socia­lism inclu­ding as a tra­de uni­on acti­vist, and mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty of Aus­tra­lia and more Trot­s­ky­ist grou­plets than you could shake a Pro­gram of the Fourth Inter­na­tio­nal at, who still cooks on the left bur­ner (see author’s page here).

What fol­lows is an attempt to under­stand how and why the left has got into such a pick­le over lock­down and how it can begin to resur­rect its poli­ti­cal inte­gri­ty.
Why the left (and not just the left) should oppo­se lock­down
Sci­ence

The virus is not the virus to end all viruses. The herd immunity threshold is apparently much lower than expected because of cross-immunity due to the common cold and other coronaviruses. Most people (other than the aged with specific comorbidities) who contract it are either asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms. Panicked by one spectacularly bonkers epidemiological model, however, health authorities and politicians across the planet have done their most flamboyant ‘Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!’ impressions, and massively overstated the virulence and lethality of the virus to justify the lockdown lunacy they rushed to institute in order to be seen to be doing something. The virus did not herald the End Times, there never was a curve to be flattened, it never gave cause for draconian lockdown measures.

Public Health

Lockdown simply doesn’t work on its own terms. Regardless of if, or when, lockdown was implemented, or how draconian its scope, within and between different countries, the trajectory of the virus, as of other viral pathogens, has followed a natural bell curve of exponential rise, plateau and rapid decline (over just a month or two for the current one) as it hits the limits of natural or acquired herd immunity (Farr’s Law – still going strong since William Farr formulated it in 1840!).
Lockdown will kill many times more people (from health conditions left undiagnosed and untreated, and from the so-called ‘diseases of despair’ that accompany economic distress) than the virus could ever manage.

The Eco­no­my

Quarantining the healthy is economically catastrophic, with Depression-era levels of unemployment, business closures, and mind-numbing long-term government debts and deficits. A demographically-targeted, strategic approach of protecting the vulnerable would have had far better financial (as well as health) outcomes both for the vulnerable and for the whole population.

Liber­ty and Free­dom

With pre­cious litt­le oppo­si­ti­on, lock­down has ushe­red in:

‘Police-state’ powers conferred by emergency decree
Suspension of democratic accountability – both parliamentary democracy, and the democracy of the streets (unless it’s for an approved, i.e. woke, cause such as #BLM – that’s allowed!)
Fettering the rights to free speech
State surveillance (there’s an app for that!)
Tech giant censorship
Nauseous government propaganda, and
Simplistic, in-your-face agit-prop from the establishment media, both private and state

What the left could uni­que­ly con­tri­bu­te to oppo­si­ti­on to lock­down
An eco­no­mic, working class per­spec­ti­ve

The left should be empha­sising the eco­no­mic aspect of lock­down becau­se it is the working class who are the princi­pal vic­tims of lock­down. The poli­ti­cal right, by con­trast, are more authen­tic when repre­sen­ting the pro­fit-making owners of capi­tal rather than the pro­le­ta­ri­ans they employ, the lat­ter having to con­tent them­sel­ves with, at best, an amal­gam of con­ser­va­ti­ve eco­no­mic nostrums such as ‘trick­le-down theo­ry’ and ‘a rising sea floats all boats’.

Inclu­ding reti­red workers and the young who are desti­ned for a wage/­sa­la­ry-ear­ning future, the working class, tho­se who have to sell their labour to an employ­er, are the vast bulk of the popu­la­ti­on. The left thus has the big­gest con­sti­tu­en­cy, by far, affec­ted by the eco­no­mic devas­ta­ti­on of lock­down.
A view from the glo­bal poor

The rural and other sub­sis­tence poor in deve­lo­ping nati­ons are also big losers – from their own coun­tries’ lock­downs and from the con­trac­tion of eco­no­mic demand in the lock­dow­ned richer coun­tries. Three-quar­ters of new coro­na­vi­rus cases now detec­ted occur in deve­lo­ping coun­tries and are fore­cast to incre­a­se the pre­va­lence of glo­bal ‘extre­me pover­ty’ (living on less than US$1.90 per day) by some 400 mil­li­on, incre­a­sing glo­bal ‘extre­me’ pover­ty from one in ten of the glo­bal popu­la­ti­on to around one in seven, and total pover­ty (living on less than $US5.50 a day) to one in two of the world’s peop­le. This eco­no­mic hit to the glo­bal poor is a result part­ly of the direct health-rela­ted cos­ts of the virus its­elf but is likely to ari­se most­ly from a popu­la­ti­on-wide lock­down impac­ting on the pro­duc­ti­ve, working age popu­la­ti­on in deve­lo­ping coun­tries becau­se the aged, the most at-risk for the virus, are a much smal­ler pro­por­ti­on of the total popu­la­ti­on in poo­rer coun­tries than they are in the West.
How the left has fai­led on the virus/​lockdown

So, it should be a lay-down-mise­re for the left to oppo­se the lock­down on the left’s bread-and-but­ter eco­no­mic issu­es affec­ting the working class (and the glo­bal poor).

It should also be ent­ry-level poli­tics for the left to oppo­se lock­down on tho­se non-eco­no­mic issu­es whe­re lock­down poli­cy dilu­tes civil liber­ties and free speech, and streng­t­hens poli­ti­cal aut­ho­ri­ta­ria­nism, cen­sor­s­hip, media power, etc.

In the past, the left would have gone off like a fire­cra­cker on all the abo­ve issu­es, not least becau­se, his­to­ri­cal­ly, it has been the working class which has been the left’s core poli­ti­cal stom­ping ground, and it has been the left which has been the tar­get for repres­si­on, cen­sor­s­hip and deni­al of free speech by the capi­ta­list sta­te.
The ideo­lo­gi­cal fai­lings of the lock­down left

What the left has deli­ve­r­ed re lock­down, howe­ver, are stun­ning vol­te-faces on fun­da­men­tal ques­ti­ons of working class mate­ri­al living stan­dards and on the issu­es of poli­ti­cal and ideo­lo­gi­cal power, such as:

The economic hit to the working class: The left has displayed either mute unconcern over the economic cost of lockdown to the working class, or passive acceptance of the ‘necessary evil’ of lockdown in a bizarre twist of the old Vietnam War saying that ‘to save the village [from communists/COVID] we had to destroy the village [the people/the economy]’.
The global poor: Finding the developed world’s (white) working class insufficiently reverential of the ‘Other’ (the West’s BAME people – Black and Minority Ethnic – are the sum total of the left’s attention nowadays), the left has increasingly switched its focus to the world’s poor (BAME writ large), who are now, however, to be thrown under the lockdown bus by the left as lockdown drastically ramps up global poverty.
Science: The left has rightly demanded that science should prevail over ideology (on climate change, for example) when determining public policy, yet ‘The [Selective] Science’ invoked by politicians, and uncritically embraced by the left, to justify lockdown is either bogus, not proven or still up-for-grabs, and now serves the role of self-justification for promoters of an (ineffective) lockdown.
Obedience to authority: ‘Question authority!’ used to be the operating principle of the old left. Now, however, on lockdown, the stance of the left appears to be ‘bow down and obey’ as it welcomes policy dictation from above, including the various placebo-like, theatrical ‘social distancing’ rituals (facemasks and tracing apps and social spacing) that dramatically hype the limited threat of the virus. For the lockdown left, the punchline to the old joke set-up of ‘How can you tell when a politician is lying?’ (answer – ‘When their lips move’) has stolen away in the pandemic panic night.
The media: ‘Always believe the opposite of what the media say’ was once the default setting of the left which was clear-eyed about the establishment media’s role as the propaganda arm of the wealthy ruling class. Now, however, the lockdown left has proven itself to be disappointingly susceptible to a media-confected atmosphere of dread and hysteria foregrounded against the omnipresent graphic of a scary virus, or a harried doctor in full PPE, or a nurse in scrubs, that forms the visual backdrop to every emotionally manipulative virus news item, all invoking a sense of Crisis! Crisis! Crisis! and demanding severe lockdown in response. The left’s political compliance with government lockdown guidance, rules, regulations and laws has been surprisingly cheaply acquired.
Hypocrisy: Cognitive dissonance is the order of the day for the lockdown left. The imperative to elevate woke pieties above class priorities has, for example, highlighted the woke left’s support for the #BLM protests-cum-riots which flouted the very ‘social distancing’ norms that the left had been, up to then, enthusiastically pushing. Of course, the same leftist priests of social-distancing pronounce anathema on anti-lockdown protests or a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For the woke/lockdown left, we’re not ‘all in this together’ – hypocritical political exemptions apply.

The beha­viou­ral fai­lings of the lock­down left

The ideo­lo­gi­cal fai­lings of the left on lock­down are accom­pa­nied by a pro­noun­ced ten­den­cy to behave in poli­ti­cal­ly-reve­aling sty­listic ways, inclu­ding:

Belligerence: Converse with most lockdown leftists and you will be struck by their hostility to sceptical views and their lack of respect for the holders of those views. Calm discussion of evidentiary and political differences on lockdown has been replaced by the left’s need to beat down lockdown apostates in heated argument, not with better ideas but with belligerence. In politics, as in fashion, ‘the style is the man’ and the lockdown/woke left’s antagonistic and intimidating behaviour reflects poorly on a political grouping that claims to value liberalism, tolerance and ‘diversity’.
Straw Men: Say that lockdown doesn’t work and is worse than the disease and the sceptic will swiftly be accused of being a callous granny-killer, a moral monster who places ‘money’ ahead of ‘lives’, and profit over people (cf. the facile “No life is worth losing to add one more point to the Dow” of Joe Biden, or the rhetorical doing whatever it takes to “save just one life” homily of New York governor, Andrew Cuomo). Setting up straw men (lockdown sceptic = murderer) to knock down is so much easier than respectfully contesting an exchange of ideas or exploring strategies such as demographically-targeting the vulnerable for protection from the virus.
Smear by association: Oppose the lockdown? Why, says the lockdown leftist, you must be one of those kooky 5G conspiracists or whatever. Case dismissed. Yes, it is true that some strange political life-forms attach themselves to the fringes of lockdown scepticism. But neither is the left free from a history of its own unwanted and unattractive political relatives, particularly the wild and fundamentally anti-democratic anarchists, up to and including the Antifa goons and Extinction Rebellion loons. Guilt-by-association is a tawdry debating gambit whether used by left or right. Neither the left nor the right can enforce an ideological purity test to control who marches under their banner. There is not much either can do about the loose threads in the great tapestry of political life.
Virtue-signalling: Left lockdown lovers portray themselves, overtly or by implication, as a better class of person who is superior to the lockdown sceptic – intellectually superior to those they misrepresent as ‘Deniers’ of ‘The Science’ and morally superior to those whom they caricature as being more concerned with ‘the economy’ over health. We, say the left, may have lost a democratic national referendum or an election but we are still better than the nativists, the xenophobes, the gap-toothed, knuckle-dragging deplorables and, now, the heartless lockdown sceptics who are prepared to cruelly cull society of its old geezers.

Why has the left got it so wrong on lock­down?

Given the sign-off in the US and UK on natio­nal lock­down gui­de­li­nes by both Donald Trump and Boris ‘Get-Bre­x­it-Done’ John­son, the­re was a glim­mer of hope that the left could come out swin­ging against a lock­down endor­sed by their inten­se­ly-hated bêtes noi­res. Oppo­si­ti­on to lock­down could have chi­med with the left’s noi­sy impre­ca­ti­ons about evil Tories and wicked Repu­bli­cans respon­si­ble for a lock­down which has sava­ged the working class. This never mate­ria­li­sed, howe­ver. Why?
The defeat of the tra­de uni­ons: Neo-libe­ra­lism, That­cher-Rea­gan and the rise of Woke

The left’s aban­don­ment of the working class for woke poli­tics is the sour fruit resul­ting from the defeat of the wes­tern labour move­ment in the 1980s when capi­tal, hit by a seve­re oil cri­sis, sought to res­to­re capi­ta­list pro­fi­ta­bi­li­ty by making the working class pay. At the fore­front of this res­ur­gent neo-libe­ra­lism was the neu­tering of the then-power­ful tra­de uni­on move­ment, an ass­ault led by the dozy Rea­gan and the flin­ty That­cher, who pro­ved to be more aggres­si­ve class braw­lers than the defen­si­ve organs of labour. In indus­tri­al batt­les of Iwo Jima pro­mi­nence (Rea­gan vs the air traf­fic con­trol­lers, and That­cher vs the coal miners), the neo-libe­ral vic­to­ry over mili­tant tra­de uni­ons demo­ra­li­sed the who­le labour move­ment, sent tra­de uni­on mem­bers­hip into free­fall (aided by struc­tu­ral chan­ges in the eco­no­my) and jui­ced up a “glo­ba­li­sa­ti­on” which impor­ted cheap for­eign labour through ‘open bor­ders’ and off-shored domestic indus­try to cheap labour coun­tries.
Bereft of its cru­cial labour sup­port base, a left that once defi­ned its­elf by the princip­le of ‘class strugg­le’ now reaches out to a coali­ti­on of the social frin­ges, what Hil­la­ry Clin­ton extol­led as a “rain­bow of dis­con­tents” who pri­ma­ri­ly defi­ne them­sel­ves by race, eth­ni­ci­ty, sex and other iden­ti­ty clas­si­fi­ca­ti­on rather than class.
In this break-up bet­ween the left and the working class, the left did a rever­se ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ rou­ti­ne and bla­med the working class for the moral and poli­ti­cal fai­lings (‘White pri­vi­le­ge,’ ‘toxic mas­cu­lini­ty’ and other woke ana­ly­ti­cal con­cepts) of the rela­ti­ons­hip, woke con­cerns which now preoc­cu­py most of the left.
Der­an­ge­ment Syn­dro­mes aff­lic­ting the left

Trump Der­an­ge­ment Syn­dro­me (TDS) and Brexit/​Boris Der­an­ge­ment Syn­dro­me (BDS)
In respon­se to being jil­ted by their long-term working class part­ners, most of the left has suc­cum­bed to what the right duly, and accu­rate­ly, mock as poli­ti­cal Der­an­ge­ment Syn­dro­mes. The demo­cra­tic, popu­list, asser­ti­ve working class revolts mani­fes­ted in the Brexit/​Boris and Trump elec­to­ral out­co­mes has see­min­gly trau­ma­tised the woke left which refle­xi­vely dis­mis­ses such poli­ti­cal phe­no­me­na as racist, xeno­pho­bic and reac­tion­a­ry natio­na­list erup­ti­ons ins­ti­ga­ted by ‘far-right’ dem­ago­gues. The Trump and Brexit/​Boris phe­no­me­na were wrong, ill-infor­med and moral­ly bad choices, says the woke left, wil­ful choices made by a working class ina­de­qua­te­ly ena­mou­red of the eco­no­mic won­ders of glo­ba­li­sa­ti­on, par­ti­cu­lar­ly mass Third World immi­gra­ti­on and out­sour­cing, and its atten­dant woke poli­tics.
Impli­cit in every woke leftwinger’s spitt­le-fle­cked rave about how Trump, for examp­le, is eit­her Bozo the Clown or ‘liter­al­ly Hit­ler’, is a distas­te not just for the unli­kely popu­list figu­rehead but for their voters and sup­por­ters, who are lar­ge­ly indus­tri­al and blue-col­lar working class (and still lar­ge­ly, and unf­or­giv­a­b­ly to the woke left, white). Both the US and UK ver­si­ons of Der­an­ge­ment Syn­dro­me are mar­ked by poli­ti­cal fero­ci­ty towards all popu­list poli­ci­es as the work of the poli­ti­cal devil, and which are often accom­pa­nied by beha­viou­ral par­oxysms of rage and resent­ment, inc­redu­li­ty and incom­pre­hen­si­on, and into­le­ran­ce and illi­be­ra­lism, not to men­ti­on fre­quent ver­bal pro­fa­ni­ty. The various Der­an­ge­ment Syn­dro­mes allow a rejec­ted woke left to sal­ve the poli­ti­cal wounds inflic­ted on it by its old working class base, to re-occu­py the moral poli­ti­cal heights by pre­sen­ting its­elf as poli­ti­cal­ly and moral­ly vir­tuous, des­pi­te its demo­cra­tic rebuffs.

From TDS and BDS to Virus Der­an­ge­ment Syn­dro­me (VDS)
The seam­less tran­si­ti­on of most of the left from TDS and BDS to VDS (Virus Der­an­ge­ment Syn­dro­me) is not sur­pri­sing. Just as TDS and BDS allo­wed the left to rage against the poli­ti­cal virus of right-wing popu­lism, VDS licen­ses the left to pro­c­laim that it is us, the left, who still deser­ve to be in char­ge of tho­se who eit­her suf­fer from igno­ran­ce (and need to be enligh­te­ned by the left-wing hol­ders of truth on the virus/​lockdown), or are stu­pid (con­ge­ni­tal­ly inca­pa­bly of grasping ‘The Sci­ence’ of social distancing) or who are sim­ply Bad Peop­le who choo­se to be immo­ral, elder-kil­ling delin­quents for the sake of their own con­ve­ni­en­ce and pay packets, and who thus deser­ve to be shamed and demo­nis­ed for wrongt­hink on the virus/​lockdown.

The cava­lier dis­mis­sal of the dis­astrous eco­no­mic fall­out for the working class (and for the glo­bal poor) ari­sing from lock­down is the see­dy ter­mi­nus for a left which has swap­ped class strugg­le in favour of woke cul­tu­re wars and iden­ti­ty poli­tics. As mil­li­ons of workers join the dole queue and lose their free­doms and civil liber­ties under lock­down, the left is con­su­med by sta­tua­ry, osten­ta­tious BLM his­tr­io­nics, ‘can­cel cul­tu­re’, trans­gen­de­rism, ‘belie­ve all women’ and the other woke fads of iden­ti­ty poli­tics.

For the left to drop what should have been easy home games (on favoura­ble eco­no­mic grounds of lock­down-cau­sed reces­si­on, unem­ploy­ment, etc.) against a third-tier virus oppo­nent, is an exis­ten­ti­al poli­ti­cal cri­sis for the left if ever the­re was one.
Pro­gno­sis for the left after lock­down

Can the left learn from its self-made poli­ti­cal dis­as­ter of embra­cing the dama­ging lun­a­cy of lock­down?
Signs unhope­ful

It will be hard to admit error for a left (as with so much of the sci­en­ti­fic, poli­ti­cal, media and cul­tu­ral eli­te) which is so hea­vi­ly inves­ted in the myth of an apo­ca­lyp­tic virus neces­si­ta­ting dra­co­ni­an lock­down. Poli­ti­cal humi­li­ty is a rare com­mo­di­ty across the left-right spec­trum, and the lock­down left is in the same cogni­ti­ve-psy­cho­lo­gi­cal space as were tho­se who were strong sup­por­ters of inva­ding Iraq becau­se of (mythi­cal) WMDs and who still belie­ve that WMDs were inde­ed found after the inva­si­on. So, too, does the left have so much poli­ti­cal capi­tal tied to the ‘war’ on the virus that the mytho­lo­gy that lock­down actual­ly saved lives will fore­ver inform the domi­nant nar­ra­ti­ve of lock­down as a tri­um­phant vin­di­ca­ti­on of the lock­down left’s ‘lives ahead of money’ stra­te­gy. Any self-reflec­tion by the lock­down left will be drow­ned out by the racket of self-congra­tu­la­ti­on for sup­por­ting lock­down and, inde­ed, for being more hard-line on lock­down than reluc­tant and half-hear­ted lock­down con­ser­va­ti­ves.
Signs hope­ful

The­re are some lef­tist heart­beats being detec­ted amongst the lock­down rub­ble, howe­ver. Lock­down Scep­tics, for examp­le, has flus­hed out a hear­tening num­ber of dis­si­dent lef­tists who oppo­se the dead­ly non­sen­se of lock­down (and who, if they’re anything like me, get a litt­le buzz of poli­ti­cal dopa­mi­ne from each issue). New life for the left could yet emer­ge from the poli­ti­cal cri­sis of lock­down.

Alt­hough it is far easier for the left to never agree with the right on anything, it is pos­si­ble for the left and the right to agree to be all grown-up and adult on what divi­des us whilst working pro­duc­tively on oppo­sing, and lear­ning from, the dis­as­ter of lock­down. Brea­king bread with your tra­di­tio­nal enemies does car­ry poli­ti­cal risk (to which the ex-lef­tists which lit­ter the poli­ti­cal land­s­cape testi­fy) but any fear of lock­down scep­ti­cism being a con­ser­va­ti­ve Tro­jan Hor­se is over­blown. Stran­ge lock­down times make for stran­ge poli­ti­cal bed­fel­lows but if the grea­test poli­ti­cal blun­der and eco­no­mic own goal in living poli­ti­cal memo­ry doesn’t throw up some novel and much nee­ded poli­ti­cal cou­plings, then what will? And who knows what new poli­ti­cal charms and plea­su­res we may dis­co­ver in each other’s arms?

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