Why the Left must return to the streets

18 February 2021

Except for the Black Lives Matter protests early last summer, the British Left has not been involved in mass action for a year. This has always been problematic writes Neil Faulkner.

Capital and the state are both highly centralised. The bosses can decide to sack workers, cut pay, tear up contracts, and bully people into working in unsafe conditions. The billionaires can move money at click-button speed and continue to rake it in. The Tories can hand crony-capitalist contracts to profiteers for services like test-and-trace that they fail to deliver. They can use the media to pump out lies to cover up their colossal mismanagement of the pandemic. They can decide these things on a Zoom call and then enact them by email.

Ordinary people – the working class and the oppressed – are not centralised. We can meet on Zoom and share ideas on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But we control neither corporate wealth nor police power. To make a difference, to have an impact, we depend on the power of collective action – in the workplaces, on the campuses and estates, on the streets.

An army that does not fight becomes sclerotic. The working class is like an army. It creates mass organisations – trade unions, protest movements, campaign groups – and these mobilise people in active resistance, so they become a social force, agents of their own destiny. People engaged in struggle are empowered, their confidence rises, they acquire new skills, they build networks and relationships with others. Activity is how we change both the world and ourselves at the same time.

New movements are rising all over the world. The people of Myanmar are fighting to reverse a military coup. The small farmers of India are fighting the destruction of their livelihoods by corporate agribusiness. The people of Russia are fighting for basic democratic rights. The women of Poland are fighting for a woman’s right to choose. The students of Greece are fighting a bill to impose police power on the campuses. The people of Tunisia are fighting government austerity and police violence.

There are many other examples. The world is on fire as neoliberal regimes use the pandemic to crack down on dissent, to bludgeon people into submission, to lock in the dominance of the corporations, the rich, and a corrupt political class that does their bidding. Covid authoritarianism has become an arm of creeping fascism.

We have no choice but to return to the streets if we are to make ourselves visible, project an alternative, and build movements of resistance.

The Tories are planning to open schools and allow the virus to surge again. They have no proper test-and-trace system in place. Millions face destitution and despair as small businesses fail, jobs evaporate, and rents and bills go unpaid. We have to demand: full lockdown to suppress the virus; 100% public-run pandemic response; full support for everyone impacted; a ban on redundancies and evictions; a doubling of universal credit; the reversal of all NHS privatisations; and so much more.

Zoom calls and twitter storms are not enough. We have to be seen and heard. We have to advance an alternative narrative and a radical vision.

The ruling class never lets a crisis go to waste. It is making full use of the pandemic to siphon wealth to the top and increase police power. The official ‘opposition’ – Starmer’s Labour – has become a cowardly, reactionary, class-collaborationist mouthpiece for the British elite. This can only get worse if we do not organise, mobilise, and fight.

The Zero Covid campaign is calling for public protest against the premature lifting of lockdown, against ongoing Tory failure, and against corporate profiteering from the pandemic. We plan to organise a safe, fully-masked, socially-distanced, and risk-assessed protest in Central London on 13 March, supported by local protests elsewhere, and linked to static online solidarity action by those at risk and shielding.

Get in touch via the A*CR if you live in or near London and want to get involved with Zero Covid London and the 13 March action and either register here or send us an email and we’ll add you to the ZCL group we are now setting up.

Neil Faulkner is an archaeologist, historian, and author of A Radical History of the World, Creeping Fascism: what it is and how to fight it, and System Crash: an activist guide to making revolution.

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