Here is another anarchist perspective on the COVID-19 Corona virus crisis from CrimethInc.
Surviving the Crisis
Let’s be clear: totalitarianism is no longer a threat situated in the future. The measures being implemented around the world are totalitarian in every sense of the word. We are seeing unilateral government decrees imposing total travel bans, 24-hour-a-day curfews, veritable martial law, and other dictatorial measures.
This is not to say that we should not be implementing measures to protect each other from the spread of the virus. It is simply to acknowledge that the measures that various governments are implementing are based in authoritarian means and an authoritarian logic. Think about how much more resources are being poured into the military, the police, the banks, and the stock market than into public health care and resources to help people survive this crisis. It’s still easier to get arrested for loitering than to get a test for the virus.
Just as the virus shows us the truth about how we were already living—about our relationships and our homes—it also shows us that we were already living in an authoritarian society. The arrival of the pandemic just makes it formal. France is putting 100,000 police on the streets, 20,000 more than were deployed at the high point of the gilets jaunes protests. Refugees in need of asylum are being turned away along the borders between the US and Mexico and between Greece and Turkey. In Italy and Spain, gangs of police attack joggers in empty streets.
In Germany, the police in Hamburg have taken advantage of the situation to evict a self-organized refugee tent that had been standing for several years. Despite the quarantine, the police in Berlin are still threatening to evict an anarchist collective bar. Elsewhere, police dressed in full pandemic stormtrooper regalia raided a refugee center.
Worst of all, all this is occurring with the tacit consent of the general population. The authorities can do virtually anything in the name of protecting our health—right up to killing us.
As the situation intensifies, we will likely see the police and the military employing increasingly lethal force. In many parts of the world, they are the only ones who are able to gather freely in large numbers. When police comprise the only social body that is able to gather en masse, there is no word other than “police state” to describe the form of society we live in.
There have been signs that things were heading in this direction for decades. Capitalism used to depend on keeping a massive number of workers available to perform industrial labor—consequently, it was not possible to treat life as cheaply as it is treated today. As capitalist globalization and automation have diminished dependence on workers, the global workforce has shifted steadily into the service sector, doing work that is not essential to the functioning of the economy and therefore less secure and well-paid, while governments have become increasingly dependent on militarized police violence to control unrest and anger.
If the pandemic goes on long enough, we will probably see more automation—self-driving cars pose less threat of infection to the bourgeoisie than Uber drivers—and the displaced workers will be divided up between the repression industries (police, military, private security, private military contractors) and precarious workers who are forced to take on great risk to make a few pennies. We’re accelerating into a future in which a digitally connected privileged class performs virtual labor in isolation while a massive police state protects them from an expendable underclass that takes most of the risks.
Already, billionaire Jeff Bezos has added 100,000 jobs to Amazon, anticipating that his company will drive local stores everywhere out of business. Likewise, Bezos won’t give his Whole Foods employees paid leave despite the constant risk they face in the service sector—though he is giving them a $2 raise through April. In short, he still considers their lives worthless, but he admits that their deaths should be better paid.
In this context, there is bound to be revolt. It is likely that we will see some social reforms aimed at placating the population—at least temporary ones to mitigate the impact of the pandemic—but that they will arrive alongside the ever-increasing violence of a state that no one can imagine doing without, insofar as it is misunderstood as the protector of our health.
In fact, the state itself is the most dangerous thing to us, as it enforces the drastically uneven distribution of resources that compels us to face such imbalanced distributions of risk. If we want to survive, we can’t just demand more equitable policies—we also have to delegitimize and undermine the power of the state.
Strategies of Resistance
Towards that end, we’ll conclude with a few strategies for resistance that are already getting off the ground.
In San Francisco, the housing collective Station 40 has led the way by unilaterally declaring a rent strike in response to the crisis:
“The urgency of the moment demands decisive and collective action. We are doing this to protect and care for ourselves and our community. Now more than ever, we refuse debt and we refuse to be exploited. We will not shoulder this burden for the capitalists. Five years ago, we defeated our landlord’s attempt to evict us. We won because of the the solidarity of our neighbors and our friends around the world. We are once again calling on that network. Our collective feels prepared for the shelter-in-place that begins at midnight throughout the bay area. The most meaningful act of solidarity for us in this moment is for everyone to go on strike together. We will have your back, as we know you will have ours. Rest, pray, take care of each other.”
For millions of people who will not be able to pay their bills, this makes a virtue of necessity. Countless millions who live from one paycheck to the next have lost their jobs and income already and have no way to pay April’s rent. The best way to support them is for all of us to go on strike, rendering it impossible for the authorities to target everyone who does not pay. Banks and landlords should not be able to continue profiting on renters and mortgages when there is no way to earn money. That’s just common sense.
This idea has already been circulating in many different forms. In Melbourne, Australia, the local branch of the Industrial Workers of the World is promoting a COVID-19 Rent Strike Pledge. Rose Caucus is calling for people to suspend rent, mortgage, and utility payments during the outbreak. In Washington state, Seattle Rent Strike is calling for the same. Chicago tenants are threatening a rent strike alongside people in Austin, St. Louis, and Texas. In Canada, there is organizing in Toronto, Kingston, and Montreal. Others have circulated documents calling for a rent and mortgage strike.
For a rent strike to succeed on a countrywide level, at least one of these initiatives will have to gain enough momentum that large numbers of people will be certain they will not be left high and dry if they commit to participating. Yet rather than waiting for a single mass organization to coordinate a massive strike from above, it is best for these efforts to begin at the grassroots level. Centralized organizations often compromise early in the process of a struggle, undercutting the autonomous efforts that give such movements power. The best thing we could do to come out of this experience stronger would be to build networks that can defend themselves regardless of decisions from on high.
Labor and Transit Strikes
Hundreds of workers at the Atlantic shipyards in Saint-Nazaire went on strike yesterday. In Finland, bus drivers refused to take payments from riders in order to increase their safety from contagion and protest against the risks they are being exposed to, showing in the process that public transit could be free.
If ever there was a good time for the embattled and precarious working class to show strength through strikes and work stoppages, this is it. For once, much of the general population will be sympathetic, as the interruption of business as usual can also diminish the risk of the virus spreading. Rather than seeking to improve the individual circumstances of particular employees through wage increases, we believe the most important thing is to build networks that can interrupt business as usual, disrupt the system as whole, and point towards the revolutionary introduction of alternative ways of living and relating. At this point, it is easier to imagine the abolition of capitalism than to imagine that even under these circumstances, it could be reformed to serve all of our needs in a just and equitable manner.
Revolts in Brazilian and Italian prisons have already resulted in several escapes, including mass escapes. The courage of these prisoners should remind us of all the targeted populations that are kept out of public view, who will suffer the most during catastrophes like this.
It can also inspire us: rather than obeying orders and remaining in hiding as the entire world is converted into a matrix of prison cells, we can act collectively to break out.
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