Via: The South Essex Heckler
We’ve come in for a bit of criticism over the last couple of days for our views on the government response to the COVID-19 crisis. Firstly, we’d like to start off by saying that our position on the response to the crisis has changed since it started to emerge at the end of February. At that point, it felt like a massive unknown and that starting to develop our own response in terms of physical distancing and withdrawing from events we were due to participate in seemed to be the sensible thing to do.
Anarchists played a part in this process, working out other ways we could interact with each other while avoiding being physically close as a precaution. They also did and are still doing seriously good work with grassroots mutual aid projects. There was a feeling that this was something that anarchism could own.
For us, that sense of ownership was taken away once the government stepped in to impose their own measures which ended up placing all of us under restrictions that most of us have never experienced in our lives. The legislation the government brought into to implement and enforce these restrictions turned what we were voluntarily undertaking for what we thought would only last a month or so into something that is being done to us with no end in sight.
While we get that those anarchists who initiated ways of dealing what they perceived to be the threat in the early stages of the crisis want to retain ownership of that, with top down legislation and enforcement, the dynamic changed. As the lockdown went on, the negative impact it was having on peoples lives started to become more apparent. We’re talking about the social and mental health impacts ranging from disrupted relationships and isolation through to an increase in the number of suicides. Also, the long term economic impact which we’ll be paying for with mass unemployment and austerity will have a devastating impact on our lives.
As we went into May, routes out of the lockdown that involved surveillance, tracking and further losses of personal autonomy and freedom were being discussed. It was also becoming clear that in order to free up as much bed space in hospitals as possible, elderly patients with the COVID-19 virus were effectively being dumped into care homes. The ensuing tragedy in care homes staffed by low paid workers without the resources to deal with the subsequent wave of infections and deaths has been described by a fair few people as little more than a thinly disguised cull.
All of this prompted us to start asking some serious questions about the narrative we were being fed. That involved a fair bit of reading around and keeping an open mind. Yes, that process did take us into some weird areas that were veering towards what some would term as conspiracy theory. It also led us to take a look at some of the alt right takes on the issue so we could understand how they were exploiting people’s concerns about the lockdown for their own ends. All of this was a necessary research process that helped with our building the list of COVID-19 crisis readings on this blog. A list that we’re prepared to defend as not, in our opinion, going anywhere near conspiracy theory.
Mind you, what is and isn’t conspiracy theory is a grey area and one influenced by subjective understanding and opinion. What has made us more than a bit annoyed is the instant, reflexive dismissal by a number of anarchists of some of the readings we have listed as being ‘conspiracy theory’. Given the restrictions we’re already under plus what will be coming down the line at us if we don’t start showing some signs of resistance, it’s a bit alarming that what we consider as reasonable warnings are getting dismissed out of hand.
As we’ve noted before, we’re in an unprecedented situation. In a 24/7 news and social media landscape, trying to tease out the signal from the noise is a difficult task. One thing is abundantly clear, the massive number of powers the government has conferred upon itself will not be given up without the fight of our lives. That’s not conspiracy theory – it’s just paying attention to the lessons of history. Before long, it’s highly likely that powers that were ostensibly brought in to deal with the COVID-19 crisis will be deployed against us in another ‘crisis’.
All we’ve been trying to do is alert people in order that the right strategies and tactics to resist what’s very likely coming our way can be developed. The range of grassroots mutual aid initiatives that have emerged to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis certainly offer some hope. As well as dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, they will have a role in dealing with the dire consequences of an inevitable economic depression and the crushing austerity that will be inflicted upon us. We hope these mutual aid groups will also take on the task of resisting an increasingly intrusive and oppressive state, aided and abetted by the large corporations they’ve outsourced many of their functions to.
The point is that it shouldn’t be an either/or situation in being involved with a mutual aid group dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the one hand and on the other, developing a strategy of resistance to deal with and defeat the dystopia to come. It’s just that from where we are, it feels like some groups are focusing on mutual aid as a way of not having to face up to the totalitarian dystopia the government and the corporations will likely be inflicting upon us.
That is why we’ve probably come over as a bit stroppy at times because to us, it feels like there’s not the sense of urgency there should be about what’s coming. We’re not saying this to score intellectual points or to look clever. It’s because we’d like a future where we can lead a full, meaningful life as opposed to one where we merely exist as a cog for as long as the machine will tolerate us. That’s not just for us as individuals or family, it’s also for our community and all of our comrades. Basically, it’s an existential threat that we take personally.
As this is intended to be a statement, we’ve tried to keep it as brief as we can. The aim is to explain how we’ve come to our position in the hope that this can help in the discussion about where we go from here. We look forward to a constructive discussion…
We’ve been activists in one guise or another for more decades than we care to remember. The ongoing and still evolving COVID-19 crisis is shaping up to be the most significant and seismic event we’ve experienced. In a situation like this, it can be all too easy to allow yourself to be sucked into the day to day passage of events and in trying to deal with and process them as best as you can, to not take a few steps back and try to see the bigger picture. A 24/7 bombardment of news (or what passes for news), opinion, speculation, rumours and a fair few outright lies from a range of news, comment and social media platforms makes the job of trying to isolate some signal from the cacophony of noise a difficult task.
We’ve done our level best to analyse the COVID-19 crisis with an open mind. If you take a look back at the posts we’ve written about the crisis since it started to hit in early March, it’s pretty clear that our thinking has evolved since that early point. In a dynamic, fast moving situation, having a rigid mindset and refusing to alter that will undermine any serious attempt to understand what’s happening, let alone devise the strategy and tactics needed to deal with what you’re facing.
In the early part of March, we took the attitude that in light of what we knew at the time about COVID-19, a sensible response was some form of lockdown and a degree of self isolation. This was seen as a reasonable precaution to take while we took stock of the situation, with the intention of allowing our analysis, strategy and tactics to evolve as our understanding improved. We actually withdrew from participating in an event in March because we were concerned about the possibility of contracting the virus in what was a confined and busy environment. Knowing what we know now, would we have made the same decision? No, we most likely would have concluded that attending didn’t carry any significant risk and would have participated in the event. However, based on what we knew at that point in early March, withdrawing from the event seemed to be the right decision to make.
The major factor that made us change our thinking about the crisis has been the response of not just the UK government, but pretty much all governments across the globe, in dealing with the coronavirus. Speaking from our personal experience, we’re over two months into an unprecedented level of restrictions on who we can associate with, how and where we shop, where we can go to get some fresh air and for us as non-drivers, on (not) using public transport. We’re now at the launch of the app for our phones that will alert us if we’ve been in contact with anyone who has COVID-19 and then, we’ll be pretty much told to self isolate for fourteen days. As an aside, from what is admittedly the social and political bubble we inhabit, the demand for cheap and cheerful burner phones will be soaring over the next few weeks from people who rightly don’t want to be tracked and monitored 24/7.
On top of the restrictions on movement and association plus the roll out of an alert app which is basically a means of monitoring our every move, the economy has taken a massive hit. The kind of hit that will wipe out many small, independent shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants, music venues…the list goes on. The kind of hit that allows the large corporations to suck up more assets for themselves. The kind of hit that the hedge funds and their like are making obscene amounts of money from. The kind of hit that will lead to more wealth being concentrated in fewer hands while the rest of us face an increasingly restricted and impoverished future.
Faced with all of this, it would be negligent of us to not do our level best to draw attention to what’s going on and to prompt people to start asking the questions that need to be asked about why we are where we are. The problem is that as soon as you start to do this, the accusations of ‘conspiracy theory’ start flying around. Some of those accusations have come from so called ‘anarchists’ who we hoped would have know better. That is most likely down to many of them having been taken in by the relentless barrage of what we would term as ‘fear porn’ we’ve been subjected to for the last few months. A barrage that is a form of psychological warfare, also known more colloquially as psyops.
Fear is an amazing tool for securing compliance from the populace for whatever nefarious aims the government of the day and their corporate backers may have in mind. After two months of ‘stay two metres away’ from any other human, the constant pavement dancing needed to adhere to this, interacting with masked up retail staff through plastic screens, seeing plans for school re-openings that will see kids physically kept apart from their peers, it should be all too clear we’re being conditioned to fear each other. As we’ve written before, what makes us truly human with the need for face to face and physical contact is being torn away from us as we’re reduced to atomised, fearful and increasingly easier to control individuals ever more reliant on authority to guide us through the ‘crisis’.
The problem is the number of political activists we know who we thought would have known better, yet have been taken in by this climate of fear. Once you succumb to this fear, it’s harder to take a few steps back and try to form an objective assessment of what’s going on. As well as what we’ve touched upon above, what is also going on is what seems to be a profound reformulation of political and social divides. The labels left and right are starting to become less relevant. What is starting to emerge in the ongoing confusion and chaos is a divide between those of us who value personal and collective autonomy at the grassroots on the one hand and on the other, those who look to the state to provide ‘solutions’ to problems, regardless of how totalitarian those ‘solutions’ may turn out to be. The point is that those who are willing to trade their freedoms for what is an illusion of safety will end up with neither.
After more decades in political activism than we care to remember, we’ve learnt that nothing is ever clear cut. The divide that’s emerging between those who value autonomy and those who look to the state for their security is far from clear cut! What has struck us are the ‘anarchists’ who appear to be quite happy with the lockdown and all of the restrictions that come with it. ‘Anarchists’ who have succumbed to the fear porn to the extent that they are accusing the UK government of ‘incompetence’ in suppressing the spread of COVID-19. Sadly, this is what happens when you buy into the fear porn and render yourself unable to take a step back to ask the critical questions that need to be asked about what’s being done to us. Suffice to say that there are a number of ‘anarchists’ we once regarded as comrades who we no longer feel we can work with.
As old political definitions and divides become redundant while new ones emerge, we’ll find ourselves with some strange bedfellows. Some may end up as firm allies, some may eventually end up as opponents or enemies. The point is that we have to remain open minded and flexible during this ever evolving and often confusing situation. We’re not always going to get it right and yes, if we get through this, in a few years time we may well look back and ask ourselves why the heck did we align ourselves with these particular people?!
To come to some kind of conclusion, given that our personal and collective autonomy is on the line, it’s better to remain open minded and willing to experiment with new alliances. A rigid adherence to a particular line, a refusal to countenance new alliances and condemnation of those of us who are open minded and willing to experiment will inadvertently usher in a techno totalitarian future where we’ll merely exist as opposed to living a full life. A caveat… Pieces like this are a snapshot in a dynamic, constantly evolving and often, confusing situation. Some of these may survive the test of time, some most definitely won’t. As ever, constructive criticism and comradely debate are welcome. Abuse and accusations of ‘conspiracy theory’ will be neither welcomed or tolerated so basically, if that’s all you can manage, don’t bother!
We’ve had week after week of wall to wall coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in the media. The question is, how many people are still paying attention to it and how many, for the sake of their sanity, are choosing to switch off from it? If this ever ends, it would be an interesting exercise to conduct research on what effect this barrage of coverage has had on people’s mental health. It would also be interesting to see how much this relentless coverage has further undermined people’s already shrinking faith in the media.
We’ve been doing what we can to try and keep up with developments but to be honest, we have days when the stress of trying to discern any meaningful signal from the cacophony of noise is so overwhelming, we simply switch off and try to re-focus the following day. Having said this, a still somewhat scratchy picture is starting to emerge of what we face in the coming months and years as the COVID-19 crisis evolves and morphs into something that will quite possibly be sinister and dystopian.
Fault lines are emerging. On the one hand, there are those who by and large accept the lockdown and the need for it to go on for some considerable time and also, are largely supportive of whatever tracking and monitoring measures have been mooted to ostensibly limit and eventually eliminate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On the other hand, there are those who have taken a look at the relentless coverage of the crisis, smelt a rat and are starting to question the narrative we’re being fed, particularly when that is being used to justify measures which will restrict our freedom and subject us to more surveillance. As regular readers of the Heckler may have gathered, we tend towards the latter. We’re anarchists and as we’re supposed to accept no higher authority than ourselves and those we collectively organise with, it would be downright negligent of us to not question the narrative we’re being fed!
Coming right in over the top of this is the threat of more austerity to ‘pay’ for the money the government has spent in ‘dealing’ with the COVID-19 crisis. The impact of the last round of austerity is still being felt and has decimated the lives of millions of working class people. Another round of austerity will leave millions with nothing left to lose. That will have consequences as Dr Lisa Mckenzie clearly sets out in this piece: If the UK government brings in a new round of austerity to pay for Covid-19, it’ll spark civil unrest that will see cities burn.
So, all of the extra powers the government has conferred upon itself and all of the surveillance and tracking that’s coming our way, ostensibly to deal with COVID-19, will certainly come in handy when the shit hits the fan as the next wave of austerity is sent to crush us. Just one example are the powers that could see restrictions or bans on large gatherings for the rest of the year and quite possibly, into 2021. As we’ve mentioned previously, large gatherings will take in demonstrations and radical/anarchist bookfairs. Which leaves us with mutual aid work and online propagandising. If you keep your mutual aid work away from digital networks as far as possible, avoid any hierarchy, keep it grassroots and face to face, you’ll get by. Those of us who are basically propagandists and because of the dearth of opportunities to physically distribute our material, pretty much have to rely on being online, will be facing a very uncertain future as we slide towards more authoritarianism.
On the subject of restrictions, there are strong rumours that many cafes, pubs and restaurants will not open again until close to Christmas. Bear in mind, many of these establishments face the prospect of going to the wall: Pubs in the UK Might be Closed Until Christmas – If They Survive at All. As we’ve written before, that’s a massive loss of opportunities to meet up with friends for company, drink and/or food. While those of us whose jobs have survived this massive economic shock will be gradually returning to work, there will be little or no socialising because there won’t be anywhere to go. Life will be reduced to work, commute, eat, sleep, commute, work…repeat on loop, ad infinitum. Entertainment will not be the company of friends but whatever is being piped down to our TVs. A diet of fear-mongering so called ‘news’ designed to keep us frightened and reliant on the authorities to look after us. Sprinkled with a toxic dose of divide and rule to keep us divided, atomised and easier to manipulate and control.
That’s for those ‘lucky’ enough to still be in ‘steady’ work. For the millions more who’ll be on precarious zero hours contracts or unemployed, struggling to find work in an economy that’s been gutted and reliant on Universal Credit, life will be grim. For those who are disabled and rely on Universal Credit and a gutted public sector for the support they need, life is already horrendous as they find themselves increasingly thrown to the margins. As it is for the elderly in care homes pretty much unable to access hospital treatment and finding that they’re subject to ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ notices. We’re in a society where some lives are seen as worth considerably less than others – based on how much people can or can’t contribute to the ‘bottom line’. When that narrative starts to become widely accepted, what is essentially a cull by a combination of neglect and malice starts to become normalised.
The lockdown is tearing us apart from each other. If a loved one has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 before they passed away, not only were you not allowed to be with them in their final hours if they were in hospital, you’re not allowed to see their body before cremation. Numbers are strictly limited at the funeral with physical distancing enforced and no wake afterwards. At a point in life where you need to emotional and physical support of family and friends, it’s denied to you. People are going to be mentally scarred by experiencing the passing of a loved one in this way for the rest of their lives.
We live opposite a park with play equipment, now taped off. It’s been silent since March when the lockdown was brought in. Along with the closure of nurseries and schools, kids have been denied the opportunity to play with each other. Play is not a frivolous activity. From toddlers onwards, play is how kids learn to interact with each other. It’s how they learn to negotiate, compromise and co-operate with each other. It’s how they learn from mistakes and go on to become fully rounded human beings. Denying kids the opportunity to play for any significant length of time is going to cause long term developmental and mental health issues down the line.
Adolescence is when kids really start to work out who they are. It’s when kids quite rightly want to assert their independence and get out into the world. It’s when long term friendships are formed. It’s when they develop a support network of their peers. Can you imagine what an adolescent will be feeling when all of this is denied to them as they face what is to all intents and purposes, indefinite house arrest? A ‘normal’ adolescent will find this hard enough. Anyone with mental health issues will find this agonising. Tragically, this has already led to adolescents feeling they have no option but to take their lives.
Lockdown with an abusive partner or parent is a nightmare that doesn’t even bear thinking about. It’s a potential death sentence. Anyone advocating the continuation of the lockdown really needs to have some thought as to what urgently has to happen to prevent any more tragedies where an individual has been killed by an abusive partner or parent.
As we’ve written previously, it really does feel like we’re being subjected to a massive psychological experiment: A few readings and thoughts on the psychological impact of COVID-19 anxiety and the lockdown. One in which we’re simultaneously being subjected to an unprecedented level of fear-mongering and being torn apart from each other. One in which we’re being made to feel that the only option of being able to move forwards is to subject ourselves to a loss of autonomy through increased tracking and surveillance, ostensibly for our own good. One in which our hopes and plans for the future have been trashed. One in which we’re being atomised and made ever more dependent on the whims of our rulers for our survival. One which has already turned into a fucking nightmare for a lot of people and will do for many more of us.
It seems that when a commentator uses the word ‘reset’ to describe the social and economic turmoil that’s coming our way, the accusations of ‘conspiracy theory’ start flying around. The last few weeks have been quite revealing in terms of where those accusations have been coming from because a fair number of them have come from people who consider themselves to be ‘radical’ and a few from so called ‘anarchists’. The point is that the global lockdown has caused an economic shock of historic proportions that like previous shocks, will end up seeing more wealth concentrated in fewer hands. As has already been seen in the years since the banking crash of 2008.
So, people who may think they’re doing the right thing by supporting restrictions on movement and gatherings, as well as increased tracking and surveillance are actually supporting the creation and enhancement of an apparatus that will completely screw our lives and freedoms. All we ask is that you take a deep breath, take a few steps back, do your best to get some perspective and start to ask some hard questions about what’s being done to us. If those questions aren’t asked and we continue on the trajectory we’re on, for many of us, life will become mere existence as we’re effectively plugged into a dystopian matrix. Many may not even survive to experience this.
You may find this hard to believe but we’d really love it if we were wrong on everything we’ve written above and ended up with a copious amount of egg on our faces. Trust us, we want to wake up and find this has all been a bad dream. The thing is, we wake up every morning, check our news feed, see the deserted playground opposite us, feel that tightening, sickening feeling in our guts and realise this is reality. We’ve got an all too narrow window of opportunity to act and start to resist what’s happening to us. If we don’t, not only are we screwed, generations to come will be as well…