Posted: 9th May 2020
From the power of public opinion, to how we might organise to win major progressive victories during this mother-of-all-trigger-points, to the urgent need for progressives to integrate international solidarity with the majority world in their campaigning: PN chooses ten of the most politically pertinent responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
FCM Communicatie / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
1. ‘Governed by Opinion? Governments and the Public Mood In a Crisis’ by Ian Sinclair, ByLlne Times, 1 May 2020
The public played a key role in forcing the government’s hand to introduce a national lockdown on 23 March. Don’t take our word for it: as Ian Sinclair reports in this must-read piece, it’s what a ‘cabinet source’ told the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph. Even more ominously, the same source explained the government’s so-called ‘exit plan’: ‘They are waiting for the public to change their mind. We didn’t want to go down this route in the first place …’
2. ‘Don’t buy the lockdown lie – this is a government of business as usual’ by Caroline Molloy, openDemocracy, 1 May 2020
Consistent with the fact that the UK government was dragged kicking and screaming into instituting effective social distancing measures in the first place (see ‘Governed by Opinion’ above), this important piece argues that ‘[t]he government has allowed people to continue to go to work – and allowed bosses to make people continue to go to work – far more than we’re being led to believe, and far more than most of the media seem to have noticed.’ Indeed, ‘across large sections of the economy, many workers in ‘non essential’ jobs are being forced to show up to potentially dangerous workplaces. And some have already got sick. And some have already died.’ Clearly, another possible site for cross-class solidarity.
3. ‘1.2 million private renters at high-risk of job loss and missing out on income support schemes’, New Economics Foundation, 4 May 2020
‘Up to 1.2 million renters are at high-risk of having to rely on Universal Credit after losing their jobs or hours and falling through the gaps in the government’s job and income protection schemes’, according to the latest report from the New Economics Foundation (NEF). ‘A single, full-time minimum wage worker who is forced to rely on UC could face a 45% reduction in their income. For those living in London, this would leave just £55 a week (£238 a month) to pay for all essentials outside rent, such as food and utility bills. With average bills, before food, coming in at £237 a month.’ This press release from NEF also outlines four key measures that the government should be taking to forestall this disaster, including the immediate suspension of private rents and mortgage costs.
4. ‘Social distancing won’t just save lives. It might be better for the economy in the long run’ by Dylan Matthew, Vox, 31 March 2020
With vocal sections of the right clamouring for an early end to the ‘lockdown’, dismantling the false dichotomy between ‘saving human lives’ and ‘saving the economy’ remains a crucial political priority. This useful piece looks at recent research on the 1918-1919 flu pandemic that suggests that cities in the US with stricter social distancing actually reaped economic (as well as health) benefits. For ongoing updates on the science of COVID-19, we recommend BBC Radio 4’s weekly statistics programme More or less (which, among things, recently exposed the UK government’s shameless deception over its ‘100,000 tests a day’ target – which it actually failed to meet) and New Scientist: www.newscientist.com.
5. ‘Five quick thoughts on the limits of Covid-19 mutual aid groups & how they might be overcome’ by Anna Kleist, Freedom News, 5 April 2020
‘Mutual Aid Groups: Five reflections for ‘Activists’ going local for the first time’ by Ross Chrisdale, Freedom News,17 April 2020
Hundreds of COVID-19 ‘mutual aid’ groups have sprung up across in the country since the beginning of the pandemic. Here, two UK-based anarchists reflect on their experiences of these. Anna Kleist: ‘Local mutual aid groups are helping to build – at incredible speed – links of friendship and solidarity that have been worn away by 40 years of racist neoliberalism. In the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with neighbours over the last few weeks, there has been a consistent air of surprise that people are going out of their way to help one another. This suggests that mutual aid groups have the potential (though only that) to challenge people’s ideas about what is possible: that they can act as living proof that things can be different, that we can choose care and solidarity over competition and profit and – most importantly – that it is better for all of us when we do.’ Ross Chrisdale: ‘If we try to organise our local mutual aid groups along the same lines we might organise a protest camp, we’ll end up talking to ourselves. We – especially those of us who are less-impacted by the various toxic and oppressive ideas that are floating out there in our neighbourhoods – are going to need to find ways to be patient and to talk through some pretty major differences, rather than immediately banning or excluding folks [be]cause they think we need the police to protect us from irresponsible neighbours, or because they think 5G causes COVID19.’
6. ‘The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations’ by Kim Stanley Robinson, New Yorker, 1 May 2020
For decades science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson has been helping us imagine ways we might take collective action to avert environmental catastrophe and build a more equitable society. In this piece for the New Yorker he wonders whether we may now be ‘learning our way into a new structure of feeling’ as a result of the pandemic – and what this might mean for the even larger crisis of climate change.
‘For the past few decades, we’ve been called upon to act, and have been acting in a way that will be scrutinized by our descendants. Now we feel it. The shift has to do with the concentration and intensity of what’s happening. September 11th was a single day, and everyone felt the shock of it, but our daily habits didn’t shift, except at airports; the President even urged us to keep shopping. This crisis is different. It’s a biological threat, and it’s global. Everyone has to change together to deal with it. That’s really history … What about afterward, when this crisis recedes and the larger crisis looms? If the project of civilization—including science, economics, politics, and all the rest of it—were to bring all eight billion of us into a long-term balance with Earth’s biosphere, we could do it. By contrast, when the project of civilization is to create profit—which, by definition, goes to only a few—much of what we do is actively harmful to the long-term prospects of our species. Everyone knows everything. Right now pursuing profit as the ultimate goal of all our activities will lead to a mass-extinction event. Humanity might survive, but traumatized, interrupted, angry, ashamed, sad. A science-fiction story too painful to write, too obvious. It would be better to adapt to reality.’
7. ‘Coronavirus Capitalism — and How to Beat It’ by Naomi Klein, The Intercept, 16 March 2020
Thirteen years ago Naomi Klein literally wrote the book on how the right uses disasters – natural and otherwise – to push its regressive agendas, as well as how we can resist. As she explains in this snappy 9 minute video: ‘If there is one thing that history teaches it’s that moments of shock are profoundly volatile. We either lose a whole lot of ground, get fleeced by elites and pay the price for decades or we win progressive victories that seemed impossible just a few weeks earlier. This is no time to lose our nerve. The future will be determined by whoever is willing to fight harder for the ideas they have lying around.’ According to recent polls, only 9% of Britons want life to return to ‘normal’ once lockdown is over, 58% think that it is important that climate change be prioritised in the economic recovery from COVID-19, and 71% (versus 13% against) believe that the government’s response should be to tax the wealthy as opposed to another round of austerity cuts to public services.
8. ‘Coronavirus is a historic trigger event — and it needs a movement to respond’ by Paul Engler, Waging Nonviolence, 16 March 2020
From rent freezes and vaccines for all, to universal basic income and a green new deal, progressives have no shortage of good ideas ‘lying around’ (see ‘Coronavirus Capitalism — and How to Beat It’ above). What’s often missing, as activist, author and director of the Centre for the Working Poor explains in this prescient piece, is ‘a platform and vision for mass participation — a means through which people can join in and collectively take part in a movement to create the type of just response our society needs. A movement [that] can support, amplify, and fill in the gaps left by government and the health care infrastructure.’ Here Engler explains how progressives can use story, structure and strategy to ‘build momentum for popular, symbolically-resonant demands that would form the backbone of a progressive [response]’. Groups like the global climate change campaign 350.org have already begun to make moves in this direction with their 5 Principles for a JustRecovery from COVID-19: https://350.org/just-recovery
9. ‘The Pandemic is a portal’ by Arundhati Roy, Financial Times, 3 April 2020
On 21 April the BBC reported the head of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) warning that the world ‘could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months’ as a result of the pandemic, with perhaps as may as 30 million people dying. The organisation’s senior economist, Arif Husain, explained that the economic impact of the pandemic was potentially catastrophic for millions ‘who are already hanging by a thread’: ‘It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock – like Covid-19 – to push them over the edge.’
Yet, for the most part, the likely impact of COVID-19 on the global south has received little in the way of mainstream media coverage.
One stark exception was Arundhati Roy’s piece in the FT. Here she describes how, after India’s Prime Minister gave the country of 1.38 bn people four hours notice that they were being put on lockdown: ‘millions of impoverished, hungry, thirsty people, young and old, men, women, children, sick people, blind people, disabled people, with nowhere else to go, with no public transport in sight, began a long march home to their villages. They walked for days, towards Badaun, Agra, Azamgarh, Aligarh, Lucknow, Gorakhpur — hundreds of kilometres away. Some died on the way. Our towns and megacities began to extrude their working-class citizens like so much unwanted accrual They knew they were going home potentially to slow starvation.’
‘Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could,’ she writes. ‘Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.’
Roy discusses her FT article with academic Imani Perry, in an interview for US radical publisher Haymarket Books, here: https://www.haymarketbooks.org/blogs/130-arundhati-roy-the-pandemic-is-a-portal. Rick Turse provides an overview of the possible impacts in the Global South in a 4 May piece for The Intercept: ‘“Exceptionally Dire”: Secondary Impacts of Covid-19 Could Increase Global Poverty and Hunger’.
10. “In a Plague Year” by Mike Davis, Jacobin Magazine, 14 April 2020
Surveying the history of the 1918-19 pandemic, when some 60% of global mortality (at least 20 million deaths) occurred in Punjab, Bombay, and other parts of western India, Mike Davis – author of the 2005 book The Monster at Our Door – The Global Theatre of Avian Flu - notes that ‘this history — especially the unknown consequences of interactions with malnutrition and existing infections — should warn us that COVID-19 might take a different and more deadly path in the dense, sickly slums of Africa and South Asia.’
‘Access to lifeline medicines, including vaccines, antibiotics, and antivirals, should be a human right, universally available at no cost’, he writes. ‘If markets can’t provide incentives to cheaply produce such drugs, then governments and non-profits should take responsibility for their manufacture and distribution. The survival of the poor must at all times be accounted a higher priority than the profits of Big Pharma … [W]e need to agitate our progressive friends and their political idols to demand a massive scaling up of the production of test kits, protective supplies, and lifeline drugs for free distribution to poor countries. It’s up to us to ensure that Medicare for All becomes foreign as well as domestic policy.’