Power and the Question of Truth in Covid Leftism

Is the analysis of power and the demand for truth reactionary?

“All serious politics against the status quo—is thus fascism.” Glypticfille

To say that those in power will do anything to stay in power amounts to a tautology. That, however, does not make it any less true.

And yet, although the mechanisms by which the state exerts power, control, and coercion over its citizens has not changed since John Milton’s fiery Areopagitica address advocating freedom of the (book) press in 1644, in the 21st Century, it has notably become the Left, and especially the Covid Left, that has become dismissive to the mechanisms of political power.

Indeed, during the Covid crisis, the Left’s agency has pretty much exhausted itself in actively promoting and advocating state power – to the point that the governmental trias politica (legislature, executive, judiciary) or separation of powers granted by the democratic system had been single-handedly transferred to only one of these branches, the executive. As though this was not reason to be cautious of where the Covid state is headed under the pretense of a medical emergency, the Left, to the contrary, has viciously persecuted anyone not in line with the targeted panic-inducing, hyped-up “warnings” issued by clearly deranged individuals like German medical expert Karl Lauterbach or his US equivalent, Anthony Fauci, whose public announcements will at one point serve as case studies in narcissistic personality disorder.[1] The so-called NPI (non-pharmaceutical interventions) that were introduced in the spring of 2020 to allegedly stop the spread of the Sars-Cov2-virus (and conveniently included personal tracking apps collecting personal data), now proven thoroughly ineffective, but effective in the destruction of millions of people’s income, social life, and mental health (among other things), have never been democratically legitimised. Looking back 20 months on, this was the beginning of the end of democracy as we knew it, and the heure de naissance of totalitarian biopolitics. It was also the hour of the Left’s radicalisation from merely “woke” to biopolitical authoritarianism, as I’ve shown elsewhere.[2] 

Before Covid-19, and even before the Left’s insane cancellation spree, it was common sense that censorship benefits no one except those in power. But for decades now, the Left has been comfortable with censorship, cancellations, and silencing, indicating how friendly it has become to the very power mechanisms its “anti-capitalist/anti-state” stance once decried. The topsy-turvy view of power in the Cancel Culture Movement is particularly telling. Not even mentioning professors or NGO employees like the Bret Weinsteins/Heather Heyings or Maya Forstaters of this world, it has become common practice to target small-to-middle income level individuals, often in the name of  groups of extreme minority (like transgender people) to get them sacked or even arrested, as the Marion Millar case has recently shown.[3] But power lies not with an accountant for a small human rights organisation who sends off a Tweet: power lies with the bureaucratic management elites fired up by an insidious moralistic mission to destroy people’s livelihood. The alleged interest in protecting minority groups trumps not only the individual’s protection of free speech, but his/her very source of income, and in Millar’s case, her liberty. The very fact that the authorities could pull this thing off to the applause of thousands of neoliberal subjects fantasising about their own “non-conforming” status as individuals, shows just how unhinged the Left’s image of power, and vice versa, its own self-image as “rebels” has become. But now as in John Milton’s time, it is true that if you can make someone lose their livelihood, you are not the oppressed: you are the oppressor. You are the one in power.

The cancellation of individuals and social movements critical against Covid measures that the Left has recently assigned its entire political practice to, is usually supplemented by a new linguistic convention that seeks to divide, exclude, pathologise, criminalise, and dehumanise its opponent. Covid coverage in very respected news outlets like the German Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Swiss Tagesanzeiger or the NZZ, and the global left-wing/Social Democrat commentariat has provided us with a fantastic repertoire and examples of neologisms, to avoid saying “Newspeak”, that serve its authoritarian ends: critics of state despotism in the introduction of vaccine passports and mandatory vaccines have been decried as “Schwurbler” (swindler, talker of nonsense) who allegedly promote “crude theses” and invest themselves in “murmur”, and who should be denounced as “cases for the psychiatry ward”, and, more pervasively, “conspiracy theorists“, “Corona-deniers”, or simply “Corona cranks”. Angela Merkel herself has denounced the presence of critics of state measures as an “attack on our entire mode of life” – dehumanising her opponents. Stanford statistician John Ioannides has been called a “controversial provocateur”, and Der Spiegel has dubbed philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who has gone off the rails according to Covid hegemony, a “star philosopher under suspicion of rage (“Starphilosoph unter Wutbürgerverdacht”). Especially the term “Corona denier”, and “denier” in general, is interesting here – as used in “climate change denier” -, because linguistically and semantically it suggests proximity to the figure of the Holocaust denier. It is in this particular linguistic mechanism that an unleashed authoritarian gesture has been subsuming the discourse about Covid. Now someone is supposed to be an anti-Semite, i.e. a Jew-hater, who addresses the authoritarian features of the Covid regime, although the one has nothing to do with the other. In consequence, the warning against a new authoritarian form of government, as formulated by the last Holocaust survivors in an urgent letter to the EMA[4], is equated with authoritarianism, and victims of anti-Semitism are branded as anti-Semites. And yet, we – critics of the Covid regime – are the “real” fascists.

How deeply the Left is immersed in the discourse of power can not only be seen in the way it targets its opponents. It is also getting more obvious from its own theorisation of the crisis, and the characterisation and analysis of a new civil rights movement that is growing by the day, both in Europe and the United States, but also in beleaguered Australia – which, in Marx’s words, is very likely to show the rest of the world “the image of its own future”. As one Felix Bartels writes about Covid resistance in the daily newspaper of the German radical Left, the Junge Welt (“Young World”), a “petit bourgeois defiance of statehood has created a negative coalition of Corona cranks”[5], as though a basic critical stance against “statehood” were something completely alien to traditional left values. What Bartels aims at, however, is something higher: demonstrating that the new coalition of average people and their families, civil rights activists, political dissidents, and the occasional heretic intellectual against his beloved “statehood” have thoroughly missed the mark about the correct analysis of the pandemic. For those “cranks with the urge to create a counter-universe” (Bartels) do not realise that politics is not about truth and demanding that truth be conveyed – rather than misinformation – is an essentially misguided political demand. “Truth as a category of the political is elusory, and the concept of truth, as it is around in political business today [is] a fruitless hypostasation.” The image he conjures up is that of the rabbit hole, a powerful metaphor originating from Alice in Wonderland, designating the increasing compulsion to have one’s own understanding of the world confirmed over and over, supplied by YouTube and other algorithms. The image is also found in the first installment of The Matrix films – Neo follows “the white rabbit” (a woman with a rabbit tattoo), which will soon lead him to his awakening: the red pill/blue pill decision which has now become culture/Twitter speak to proclaim one’s own beliefs as “redpilled”, awakened to the real world, while the opponent who still meanders in the Matrix, the illusory, yet comfortable world of pure anti-humane technological domination remains pitifully “bluepilled”. Bartels contends that the taking of the red pill/blue pill scene in The Matrix does not signify anything beyond itself: “In order to understand the world … one has to consume a drug.” It simultaneously means more than that: “The focus of world knowledge moves from the conclusion to the premise. Truth – defined since Thomas Aquinas as the correspondence between thing and definition (sic), which required that it be at the end of the work of knowledge, not at its beginning – becomes a question of decision here.” With this world view, Bartels contends, critics of the Corona regime save themselves the effort of truth, they become “receivers” of a truth existing “outside of themselves”. “Corona cranks” therefore become Platonic “veritates” by believing “alternative facts”. They allegedly create a narrative about the “who-when-what” instead asking about political interests. They, Bartels concludes, have left the historical materialist analysis behind: “Materialist analysis asks about geostrategic and economic interests, next to ideology and cultural mechanisms, it is little in need of the ‘who-when-what’ level of analysis.”

But since when is the critique of political actors like Bill Gates and the WHO, of Jeff Bezos’s neo-Dickensian accumulation strategy, of experts and administrations like the FDA, working hand in hand with pharmaceutical companies and representing their interests, not a “materialist analysis”?  By which standard does the leftist journalist discourage the attack on the most extreme upward transfer of wealth in the history of modern capitalism[6], ever so often addressed by the very critics of the Covid regime Bartels denounces, as “non-materialist”, as “alternative facts”? Since when are leftists no longer interested in the cui bono-question brought up by no-one in the political spectrum today, except by the critics of the Covid measures? Since when have leftists begun denouncing critics of state power and the demand for the protection of civil rights in times of crisis as an “misguided” demand? And since when is the demand for truth – that is, for truthful information, for truthful decisions, for a transparent communication faithful to democratic principles like reason over emotion – reactionary? Bartels mentions none of these very obvious, and not at all “conspiratorial” facts, which renders his own claim to a “materialist” approach arbitrary, hollow, and vain.

This strange hollowing out of the materialist analysis in the Covid Left, reduced to paying lip service to the mere term, is supplemented with a dismissal of any kind of “personification” of the red vs. blue pill, contending that the government “experts”, i.e., proponents for mass vaccination programmes, and its critics are indistinguishable: “There are no worlds between Wolfgang Wodarg [a prominent critic of the Covid vaccine] and Karl Lauterbach, Ken Jebsen [a Joe Rogan-style podcaster] and Angela Merkel…The busy conjuring up of truth is an escape from truth. Namely, that there is disagreement only on the question of personnel.” That proponents of the regime and its critics were ideologically the same, regardless of their politics, is the Master Signifier for any ideological move that declares the status quo as unquestionable. It implicitly denounces any kind of rejection of the grim reality we are confronted with as “being on board” with the powers that be. The ideology of Nihilist Leftism finds its home here: it exhibits a deeply neoliberal, T.I.N.A.-version of society that sees the essential democratic victories like free speech, the right to assemble, and the integrity of the self as “liberal illusions”. The smug dismissal of civil rights that leftists exhibit time and again directly corresponds to their smug dismissal of the working class as a political agent whose struggles are and have historically always been focused on the realization of true – and not just formal – democracy. The denouncement of basic rights like bodily autonomy as a “liberal illusion” is leftist paternalism of the worst kind, a mystification of bourgeois interests the Left has mastered so well over the past years. Writers like Bartels advance this mystification by insisting on the self-sameness of the rejection and the consolidation of the status quo, a seemingly radical, but necessarily affirmative gesture disinterested in any kind of challenge to the structures of elite (media, academia, NGO complex) brokerage that sustains the power of state and capital. Indeed, as the writer Daniela Dahn has noted, “[the] professional watchdogs of capital have succeeded in biting away all thinking about interests as ‘conspiracy theory’. Ingenious.“[7]

Bartels’s plea for a return to “the leftist assignment” (and he admits the “leftist assignment is difficult today”) embodies a postmodern, anti-enlightenment bias against truth and emancipation. His denunciation of “truth-seekers” is in line with the reactionary line in contemporary thought that suspects anyone insisting on the possibility of having a deeper cognition of the social and political nexus as a “crank”. In that sense, Karl Marx himself would have to be characterised as a “crank” for leftists like Bartels. But as political commentator Geoff Shullenberger has recently shown, [the] suspicious sensibility of modern thought … regards surface appearances and conventional meanings as deceptive, and powerful forces as doing the deceiving. Thus, for   Marx, the universalist values of the modern state and the rights it grants to citizens conceal    the class interests of the bourgeoisie, for whose benefit the state operates … For disciples of all these thinkers, the right theory functions as the red pill. Just as taking the pill allowed Neo to perceive the functioning of the Matrix beneath what he had previously taken to be reality, the “masters of suspicion” offer systemic accounts of what underlies a deceptive  surface reality.[8]

A truly historical materialist analysis would first insist that power will do anything to stay in power. It would show that a phenomenon such as the Covid pandemic – a fundamentally non-natural, thoroughly socialized phenomenon – is necessarily structured in such a way as to benefit no-one except those in power: technological/pharmaceutical “players”, the political class that undermines the trias politica, NGOs and neoliberal lobbyists like the WEF with its bio-totalitarian restructuring plans. The impersonal imperative of capital accumulation, the drive to expand, and the need to develop new accumulation techniques and regimes is structurally necessary to the capitalist, the powerful class. That a critique of capital without a critique of power is useless is an insight, a truth, that has been known for centuries. Thanks to Marx, and some of his contemporaries, the “work of cognition” lies behind us. Only utopian reactionaries like today’s leftists would insist that this is something yet unfulfilled.  

What would Marx have done in the face of a bourgeois left, serving as the ideological foot soldiers of capital decrying materialist interests of the capitalist class as a “conspiracy”?

Well, I have no idea. But I assume he would have fought today’s left much in the same way he fought the bourgeois and utopian leftists of his own time.

And I recommend doing the same.

[1]     Fauci‘s “Attacks on me are, quite frankly, attacks on science” in June 2021 has become legendary (not legendary enough to prevent the making of a Kim Jong-Il-style movie about Fauci’s life), and Lauterbach’s incessant denunciation of critics as somewhat lesser beings – “Our solidarity with unvaccinated people is exhausted” would have scored very high on the F-scheme in Adorno’s Authoritarian Personality survey.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExhlVU2Gr_E

[2]     https://beefheart.substack.com/p/the-myth-of-objective-constraint

[3]     Millar was arrested for a Tweet: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jun/04/gender-critical-feminist-charged-over-allegedly-transphobic-tweets

[4] https://doctors4covidethics.org/holocaust-survivors-write-to-the-european-medicines-agency/

[5]     Felix Bartels, „Querdenker im Kaninchenbau“ (“Third-positionists in the Rabbit Hole“), junge Welt, October 16th/17th, 2021.

[6]     See Alex Gutentag’s “Revolt of the Essential Workers”, at https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/revolt-essential-workers Oct. 26th, 2021.

[7] https://www.berliner-zeitung.de/politik-gesellschaft/daniela-dahn-was-ich-bei-ungeimpften-in-meinem-umfeld-beobachte-li.190726 Oct. 25th, 2021.

[8] https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/redpilling-and-the-regime, Summer 2021.

taken from here

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