Covid, Lockdown Rules and Anarchist Communism

  • “I don’t see why the vulnerable can’t just stay in and the rest of us get on with our lives.”
  • People arranging to meet friends and family from other households both indoors and out, even though they know this is against the rules
  • Thousands attending parties, raves and big gatherings all over the summer and even during the second lockdown
  • Churches rebelling against lockdown and holding services
  • Workplaces still open that aren’t Covid- secure, including schools, colleges and universities
  • Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown rules
  • Johnson having to self-isolate because he clearly broke his own rules at number 10 Downing St
  • Thousands demonstrating against lockdown

Given anarchism’s attitude towards authority and the State, you would have thought that we would have been all for the way people are rebelling against the various lockdowns and rules, which have been imposed by the State and enforced by the police. After all, isn’t anarchism about freedom?

There may be some anarchists who would fit this description, however, in the ACG we are anarchist communists and though freedom from coercion is a key part of our politics, so is collective responsibility, mutual aid and solidarity. We take a different approach to being safe during the pandemic, both from the government and those who claim to be rebelling against curtailments of their freedom.

Firstly, we need to be clear about two things:

  • Everyone’s life is valuable, no matter what their situation. Protecting the old and vulnerable, people with underlying conditions, is as important as protecting the lives of more ‘productive’ members of society. Some people use this as an excuse for their own behaviour – they and their friends won’t die so why worry about those who would die soon anyway? This attitude we find despicable. Who is to decide who deserves to live?

  • The pandemic is far from over, despite a vaccine hopefully on its way. Thousands are still getting the disease and many dying. It is spread by people coming into contact with someone who is already infected and because many are asymptomatic, it is impossible to know who has it and who doesn’t. Track and trace has helped to an extent but you can still never be sure because the system is far from being completely comprehensive. Therefore, if we are to stop the spread of Covid, people have to drastically limit the contact they have with others. We can see this for ourselves; we don’t need to be told by government, who often rely on their own version of science that suits them, or don’t fully understand the often complicated scientific explanations. The evidence in front of our own eyes and that of the NHS and care home staff should be enough for us to understand what needs to be done. It is not just people dying from Covid. Many more people will die from untreated cancer and other diseases because of the way Covid cases have dominated health care services. 

Anarchist communists believe in self-organisation. We do not follow rules because the government says we have to, we follow rules that we ourselves have collectively developed. It is this that lies at the heart of the problem with lockdown; rules have been imposed on people without a sense of them arising from people themselves. They do not come from the experience of people in the community and the workplace but are developed with other agendas in mind. This has resulted in confusing and contradictory messages and has created a general mess, leading to many ignoring guidelines, whether that be individuals, workplaces or other institutions. One example was the rule that all pubs needed to close at 10 pm. This was not thought through and led to people piling into the street at the same time and workers having to travel home in crowded transport.

One of the key problems is that the government, despite following the advice of scientists to an extent, continues to put the economy and profits first. This has resulted in workplaces staying open that are unsafe. Many of these workplaces have no union organisation or unions that do very little to protect workers because there are often no independent health and safety reps. A major part of the problem is that workers are in fear of losing their jobs and many would not be eligible for furlough. The fact that so many workers have no security or income makes them willing to work in any conditions, leading to increases in Covid cases.

The policies on education have also caused the increase in cases. Students, many of whom had been travelling and mixing socially all over the summer, were encouraged to start their university courses, many crammed together in halls of residence. It was not surprising that Covid spread like wildfire. Though schools were also opened (supposedly for the benefit of children’s education but really as a way of making sure people went back to work) and this has led to a rise in cases as well. Though children and young people may not suffer in the same way as older people, they still bring the disease home and also can infect their teachers.

Meanwhile, in order to show that they are doing something, the government in England has imposed a second lockdown and closed non-essential shops and services and the hospitality sector. Though there may be some cause to do this – pubs and restaurants were the source of some cases – people are resentful because many other sources of the disease are still open, eg universities. And, many shops, services, such as gyms and hairdressers, and pubs and restaurants have spent a lot of money to ensure they are Covid-secure. Yes, there were some places that were not and did not enforce basic safety rules, but most did. And, it will be the workers who suffer, with employers in these industries quick to lay people off.

The end result of these policies is that it is unlikely that the pandemic will get under control, with many more deaths, before a vaccine is fully rolled out.

So what should we be doing, regardless of what the government says, to end the pandemic?

  • All workplaces need to be Covid-secure in order to open, under the control of the workers. (For more ideas about making workplaces safe see: nosafetynowork.org). If they cannot be made safe, then they should not be open and the workers furloughed with job security. Covid-related sackings must not be tolerated.
  • Universities and colleges should end face-to-face teaching until the crisis is over.
  • Schools need an influx of money to make sure that they are Covid-secure – more space is needed for social distancing and home schooling. If parents and teachers are not happy with arrangements then they should refuse to have children at school.
  • Local communities should take more control over what is open and what support is offered to people who are on their own. Track and trace and testing needs to be under the control of local communities so everyone knows what is going on and who actually has the disease.
  • People should resist the temptation to meet up with others unless they really are in a bubble – not one that keeps changing to suit. Mutual aid groups are important here to support people both physically and mentally. Socially distanced outings and meet ups can be organised.
  • The government has always been lukewarm and contradictory about wearing facemasks. But common sense tells us that they are a good idea – both inside and when walking around if a lot of people are about. Just because something isn’t a rule doesn’t mean we don’t have to exercise common sense.

All these ideas are based on the basic anarchist communist principles of self-organisation, solidarity and mutual aid. We don’t need the government to tell us what to do, nor do we have to go against our own common sense just because the government wants to keep the economy going. Of course, it is hard for people to do what is best when they are in precarious positions at work. This is why class organisation and struggle is the vital element in any strategy.

Visit the No Safety No Work website for more Covid 19 articles, info and resistance

One thought on “Covid, Lockdown Rules and Anarchist Communism

  1. This is confused and contradictory. A plea for individual and collective responsibility is concatenated with state-generated concepts such as “lockdown”, “households” and “rules”. When the ruling class feels the need to tinker with the language we ought not to encourage it.

    “Lockdown” is prison terminology and will be offensive to many of our Class; a measure taken by prison governors to facilitate searching of inmates for contraband, apprehending a fugitive or putting down disorder. It is predicated on the idea that prisoners have no agency. Incarceration in the United States is an extension of chattel slavery as permitted by the Thirteenth Amendment; in Britain it originates from the custom of holding a person hostage pending payment of a debt. Other cultures find their own justifications; the first use in the present context was in China, which is of course nothing but a big gulag. The World Health Organisation – a failure in terms if ever there was one – praised the Chinese state for its diligence in basically quarantining people at gunpoint.

    Many of us do not live in “households”. This is a bourgeois concept for which there is no universal definition. It implies property ownership and servants, women and children subject to abuse. The privatisation of domestic space that accompanied the separation of production from reproduction encouraged Working Class folk, contrary to their traditions, to mimic the bourgeois household and abuse their own. The nuclear family is simply the most efficient unit for wage labourers to reproduce at their own expense. We have always drawn our strength from the extended family, tribe or village; the atomisation of these support mechanisms has been high on the capitalist agenda since the industrial and agricultural revolutions.

    In a microcosm of the false dichotomy between free market and state control, covid-sceptics are being pitted against covid-authoritarians. Somehow the state has been rehabilitated without ever lifting a finger on our behalf. Taking responsibility for your actions is incompatible with devolving your decision-making to a third party. Everyone has to do their own research and make their own risk-assessments. Sometimes you have to balance one risk with another, the probability of harm with its severity in a particular case, and what that means to you personally. No-one can do that for you. The track and trace arrangement for those who have access to the technology, as I understand it, determines by algorithm that you have been close to someone who tested positive, but not who or where, and that you should be quarantined. Thus asking you to take the word of someone you’ve never met, regarding information you have no means of verifying! Only religion and internet con artists make such demands.

    “… we follow rules that we ourselves have collectively developed” when did this happen and who participated? Was it a consensus or majority decision? The only people making “rules” are a bunch of clueless cartoon toffs. The health minister Matt Hancock has no relevant qualifications whatsoever. As economist at the bank of England he was given responsibility for the housing market just before the housing market took out the global banking system. He was hired by Pfeffle to run down and flog off what remains of the NHS, and like the rest of the cabinet because he supported ‘brexit’.

    Nor is it true that that the state follows the advice of scientists to any extent. Professor David Knutt, one of the most accomplished academics who ever worked for a government, was fired for writing an article that ridiculed its drugs policy. Scientists are like car mechanics, there are good ones and bad ones and some who will lie to you and rob you blind. Remember what Bakunin said about indulging men of genius, there are precious few of those in evidence, unless they’re keeping their heads down. The honest ones will tell you they don’t know much more than you do, and most don’t speak because they are contracted not to. SAGE are political appointees on the payroll. Vallance is knee-deep in GSK whose headquarters are at Barnard Castle, where Cummings went to test his eyesight, they got a government contract the next day.

    A politician typically only has a short few years in office to cash in for themselves and their corporate sponsors. The virus has given them countless opportunities to do so and unlimited public funds to do it with. People don’t trust politicians because they lie more often than not. If they are ever right by accident, as when a stopped clock tells the time twice a day, we remain sceptical. No one should be under any illusion that their control measures are informed by epidemiology, they are simply to cover for the inadequacy of public health provision left by decades of pillage. If the hospitals had been adequately resourced and staffed as in my youth, they would be neither necessary nor desirable. Meanwhile people are dying alone with their relatives locked out behind glass panels, some who were due to die this year anyway spent their final months in isolation for their own good, autistic and learning-disabled kids held in solitary confinement in private hospitals who take a grand a day for drugging and abusing them.

    Masks may give a little comfort to those who are especially worried about catching the virus and most I have seen are placebo, pieces of loose-fitting, porous cloth or paper. If they absorb viral material they are hazardous waste and should be incinerated, but they are littering tesco’s car park. As you exercise and the carbon dioxide builds up, you puff and blow in your mask forcing material around the sides and through the pores. If you had a demand valve and a HEPA filter, it would remove all particles down to a third of a micron. Corona viruses are typically around a tenth of a micron and the filter would remove a proportion of these. Can you smell smoke with your mask on? Ever smoked a chillum through a cloth? Cigarette smoke particles run from a third to half a micron, wood smoke one to four, the smallest are comparable with corona viruses and fall within the colloidal range, in other words they are capable of being indefinitely suspended in air by Brownian motion.

    Some workplaces are intrinsically unsafe: last year 111 were killed at work, 1.6 million suffered from work-related illness, 65,427 injuries reported under RIDDOR, 2,446 mesothelioma deaths. It’s the compulsion to wage labour itself we should be fighting. The greatest threat to Working Class life and limb is the liberal-bourgeois-military-industrial-prison complex; we must not make common cause with it under any circumstances. We must strive to derail the bosses’ plans and thwart them by hook or by crook.

    On the plus side, the money economy is going to take the biggest hit of its entire history. It was not fully developed during the Black Death, in fact that pandemic played a part in its establishment. We are now seeing a form of military Keynesianism or corporatism as states can presently borrow money for free. Twentieth Century Wars attracted huge state subsidies to the bosses for the development of technologies they would come to own and protect with patents. Almost everything we take for granted was invented this way, underwritten by the Working Class. This is entirely different, it’s a straight contraction of commercial activity; it has not served any of the functions of war: to destroy surplus production, to cull the working population*, no lucrative technologies have been developed and there will be no rebuilding of infrastructure. Capitalism will not survive unless we sacrifice to make up the lost profits, and why would we do that? Some form of socialism is the only alternative.

    * Appalling though it is, the death toll will not have a significant effect on the labour market.

    There is going to be mass unemployment, homelessness, failure of health and welfare systems, and vast numbers of empty buildings – what are we going to do about it? We have to take over. We come from a tradition that asks comrades to dodge bullets and shells, never mind viruses. If the anarchist movement has any value in the modern world we must be on hand to offer credible alternatives, bring our experience to bear and lead by example. This is the moment we have been waiting for.

    – Mal C.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *