An anarchist analysis and critique of the current pandemic as an opportunity for State authority and capitalist relationships to solidify themselves amidst the pandemic. Originally published to Montreal Counter-Info.
The Covid19 crisis has presented a challenge to anarchists and others who believe in a fully autonomous and liberated life. We write this today because we feel too many people who in better times carry these political and philosophical banners are setting aside their core beliefs – or worse – twisting and contorting those beliefs in wholly disappointing ways, conforming to the mandates of technocrats and politicians, and are convincing themselves that doing so is some grand act of solidarity with the most vulnerable people in our societies.
We say loudly that if the political tenets you promote and encourage in the best of times whither and shrink in times of crisis, then your political tenets are worthless. Any system of organization or any belief about human autonomy that needs to be set aside when history lays a challenge at our feet, is not worth keeping around when the emergency subsides. For truly, it is times of difficulty and challenge that place our ideas on the scale of utility to tell us whether or not they are as robust as we may believe.
As anarchists, autonomy over one’s own mind and body are essential to our values. We believe that human beings are intelligent enough to decide for themselves how to assess their surroundings and to make determinations on how to go forth living in a way that meets their needs and desires. Of course, we recognize that this autonomy comes packaged with genuine responsibility not only to one’s self, but to those with whom they are in community – including the non-human world. We certainly recognize that individuals may be asked for their cooperation in achieving a collective goal. But we also recognize the fundamental importance of consent in such situations, and that force and punishment are antithetical to an anarchist worldview.
That is why we write today. To reach out to our friends, our comrades, our intellectual and philosophical allies to ask that if you haven’t yet, that you please begin to seriously critique and question the state responses to the Covid19 pandemic that we are witnessing around the world. We have watched over the proceeding year, meekly, quietly, as other anarchists have toed the lines drawn by state bureaucrats. We have remained silent when witnessing anarchists act with hostility towards those who have pushed back against state mandated curfews and lockdown orders, only because those doing the most pushing are affiliated with right wing politics, unfortunately ceding this ground to the right wing, instead of forging their own critiques of state policy and thus providing an intellectual home for those who have in isolation grown antagonistic towards those in power who are trifling with our lives.
The impetus for this behavior amongst anarchists seems to be rooted in their desire to do well by those in need, and as this particular crisis is being caused by a virus, that seems to unfold as an enthusiastic willingness to accept state mandates and to shame those who would violate them. It is admirable to want to do well by the elderly and infirm, but that instinct is where the conversation should begin, not where we should resolve to set aside our fundamental principles and to justify this by taking technocrats and politicians at their words, using the pronouncements of sanctioned experts as a gospel by which to claim our lack of resistance to mandate is because the mandate makes such good sense.
Politicians lie. They select the analysis and the technicians who promote their agendas. Corporate executives line up to support them, knowing that the public purse is open to them when they do so. And the media, always wanting to be in the good graces of those with political and financial power, manufacture consent in twenty-four hour news cycles. We know this. We have libraries full of books that we have read and recommended explaining in detail the workings of this reality. Therefore, to be critical of politicians who declare that their emergency violations of basic freedoms are warranted by crisis is always a necessity. To be critical of pharmaceutical executives who tell the public that only they hold the keys to a future of freedom and safety, and of the media who act as propaganda machines in service of official narratives, is always a necessity.