This is the fifth and last piece in this series. The first set out some general ideas, the second expresses some ideas about how the ‘situation’ caused by the virus relates to production and reproduction, the third makes an argument for popular resistance based on participatory knowledge and information, the fourth explores interconnections between science and international relations.
The main point of this series is to make an argument for a united popular movement of resistance against the UK government’s ‘recovery’ strategies and to describe what I believe is the basis for it. Their apparent incompetence only faintly hides that the fact that they are interested only in sustaining their regime and to do so they must make the outcomes of their strategies profitable for the elites. They are playing the game of consensual governance but their underlying vision is of creating sufficient immunity for the continued operation of the economy. This requires them to spin information, appearing to act effectively against the impacts of the virus. Through public relations they are managing public resources, allowing the weak and dispensable to be culled, while centralising all operations in order to hand out benefits to the corporate sector. These benefits will take the form of privatised public utilities and well-packaged data. They rely on managing information, provoking and directing fear and rendering the mass of the population supine, isolated, divided and unable to effectively resist.
I have contested that this united resistance could be across all sections of the population. This movement of unity, not abstract though perhaps transitory and tactical, would present a united response to the government’s strategies deployed during and after the pandemic. It can be cultivated around the public service workers, bring together those in the Labour movement with those in the environmental movement, link the enormous creativity and inventiveness of young urban ‘horizontally’ inclined activists with the intellectual, manual and communication skills of more traditional trades and professions. This unity can be found in the need of the vast majority of the people for the truth, not handed down from on high but produced, like all useful knowledge must be, through participation. The government relies on the superiority of its management of information. This is its strength and therefore is its greatest weakness. I am recommending the setting up, not of an alternative power centre nor political movement that simply makes more radical claims than the already existing opposition, but a national network that activates the participation of local activists and ‘sectoral’ activists to collect and constantly update an information hub, at the centre of which will be an online space. This online space will enable, through the cross-referencing that is made possible by information technology, the building of a big picture of Covid-19 impacts. Specifically it will enable both a local view, for example, of ‘transport’ or ‘primary schools’ or ‘deaths’ or ‘care homes’ with a national view. It will be invested with the participation of hundreds of people. It will be infinitely more authoritative than the government’s media management.
We must replace the government from the bottom up. Obviously what I am recommending requires central organisation but only in order to facilitate a radical localisation of information sources. The template and format for the information has to be worked out by experts but the processes involved in observation and reporting would be participatory. It would engage with science disciplines in all known fields of human knowledge. It would bring together popular observation with expert analysis.
The principle of knowledge on which this is based is not individualistic or quantitative. Displacing the secretive and corrupt hoarding of knowledge as data can only be achieved by shifting the paradigm and recognising that knowledge is collective. We know deeply when we know together and we know together when we find out together what is happening by taking action. It is difficult to resist going into this in more detail. It was an ecological activist from an indigenous people in Brazil’s Amazon region who brought this home to me when she proposed ‘epistemological rebellion’. It is theatre as an art which, from its roots as an instrument of human knowing, lays bare the ability that we have to know ourselves and know the world in the same instant.
There is absolutely no comfort for me in knowing that what I am saying will be judged to be irrelevant to those who might best be able to put it into practice. Such is the awful situation that we are in. We have been rendered powerless and this means that the ruling elites only have power by having power over us. Why do we let them get away with it? Because we think they know more than us? There has been absolutely no response that would lead me to believe that this question of unity and the ‘knowing’ that I am proposing as the basis of it is considered important. My colleagues who have proposed a ‘Covid-19 HQ’ as a centre for a united response have remarked after one encounter with an influential labour movement organisation that ‘we are talking a different language’. There’s just no conversation. Nobody has said: “It’s already happening” “It’s unnecessary” “That’s no way to do it!” “What the hell are you talking about?”
The movement that has erupted in response to the murder of George Floyd has exposed the racist foundations of the US regime and the UK’s historic institutionalised link with it. This is linked in a complex way with the vulnerability of the BAME communities to the impacts of virus. In this crucible the deep issue of unity is already presenting itself. I am impressed by the slogan: ‘White silence is violence’. I’m white. How can this solidarity express itself beyond the necessary gestures and expressions? This may be the beginning of the resistance movement, far more dynamic than my arcane call for rebellion in the form of an information network but perhaps not exclusive of it.
Members of the scientific community have already shown the lead by creating an alternative voice to the Government’s co-option of ‘science’ in the setting up of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. The open letter from the opposition parties is interesting in this respect. As well as this there have been major disagreements from the remaining members of SAGE over the government’s relaxation of lockdown timing. The kind of connection I alluded to in my last piece between science, politics and commerce is exemplified by the latest issues and actions surrounding the anti-malarial drug, Hydroxychloroquine. Once again I would persist in saying that the underlying issue is that of transparency and of information management.
People have responded to the government’s track and trace app by refusing to participate because of the privacy issues involved. Months ago responsible technologists voiced their concerns in an open letter. The app was developed by Pivotal, a subsidiary of the US software company, VMware who are owned by Dell Technologies. The tracing contract has been awarded to US call centre company Sitel and the staff training is being undertaken by Serco. What public oversight of these companies is there? The government had the opportunity of mobilising our communities’ skills and talents and at the same time localising the delivery of a testing, tracking and tracing system through local NHS trusts who already have strategies in place through the organisation of responses to food poisoning and infectious disease management. There is an example of an initiative by retired Health professionals in Sheffield mentioned in an article in the British Medical Journal. Read there what Professor Alyson Pollock has to say about the importance of working through local networks centred around Doctor’s surgeries.
The government is unworried by the effectiveness of their strategies against the virus and are looking for the benefits that they can gain in the ‘recovery’ process. Why is there no coherent resistance to this? It is to do with a complete naivety about what a national emergency involves and a wholesale swallowing of the ‘story’ that these creeps have constantly re-spun that we are engaged in a ‘war’ against a dreadful virus. Their political management strategies are the only thing that is transparent yet the political culture we live in is so saturated with masculinist and idiotic ideas about strength and power that we are reduced to one dumb response to all situations and blinded to how the simple inculcation of fear is being used to herd us into grovelling allegiance.
At the moment the opposition is suspended, resistance is deferred. There is a belief that eventually there will be a settling of accounts and the government’s incompetence will be exposed and those responsible reprimanded. This is because there is a belief that the governmental chaos is to do with the extraordinarily difficult situation with which they have been presented. This is complete nonsense. Everybody gets very excited about the Chief Adviser breaking the lockdown rules. Strident calls for his resignation are bleated abroad. Given the Number 10 rose garden for his public apologia, he tells the public that this major breach was made in order to test his eye-sight. They’re having a laugh. It’s a display of power covering the use of it. What these boys have planned will make the great bankers’ bail out after 2008 look like petty theft. The great public inquiry will be just another episode in the charade and by that time it will be too late. The basic terms of the settlement, an orgy of deregulation and privatisation, that will be enhanced by the absence of a deal with the EU, will already have happened. We will be left being outraged once again.
Most of what I have said here is a repetition of what I’ve said before. It is difficult not to repeat political commonplaces in calls for unity and resistance. I’ve had a go at beating my little drum and this is the last post.