This piece is a belated response to “You Can’t be Anti-State & Pro-Lock-down”, which is itself a response to our “Anarchy, Lockdown and Crypto-Eugenics” (a critique in turn of “On the Anarchist Reponse to the Global Pandemic”).
The state has blood on its hands. Anarchists know this. Police killings are normalised – it takes riots to be noticed. Mass death beyond fortress Europe is all too usual, even as it intensifies. But it is unusual for the West to dispose of its own citizenry on such a large scale, and to do so with such a steady manner. In the UK, the pandemics’ mass of dead bodies is the greatest since the second world war.1 And yet, at this very moment, we hear comrades slip into apologetics. They excuse the state and its economy of death. They wash the blood from its hands and blame “nature” in its place. Yes, we attack the curfews, the policing, the evolving surveillance and disciplinary techniques. We wouldn’t expect anything less. But some anarchists enter new topics; in the same breath, they shout for the freedom of business, of pubs and retail, the return to schools, the reopening of Churches. Their rallying cry: “Anti-lockdown”! The existential threat faced by the disabled and the elderly is simply an inconvenient footnote to liberal rights.
In our critique, “Anarchy, Lockdown and Crypto-Eugenics”, we didn’t begin with abstract notions of “consent”, but from this reality of an existential threat. From there we located targets for attack and provided some speculative points of unity. We welcome the space given to our piece and the wider discussion. We agree with our recent critic that such discussions often “devolve into name-calling”; indeed, we found it amusing to be compared with Italian futurists, Soviet and Trumpian propaganda and (unexpectedly!) the Spanish Inquisition. (On top of all this they described us as British!) We won’t bother refuting these labels in this piece, but will focus on their other claims; (1) that our critique, particularly our use of crypto-eugenics, was in “bad faith”, (2) that we refuse to critique the pharmaceutical industry and (3) that we are “pro-lockdown”.
A very short genealogy of “crypto-eugenics”
In our original piece we located eugenics (and its father, Malthusianism) as a logic of capitalism and the state. The notions of degenerate bodies in need of improvement, efficiency and elimination, and of surplus, disposable bodies, burdensome and unnatural, have a long and deadly history – one which is intimately tied with the modern state and colonialism in particular. As our critic notes, eugenics is the most statist of the concepts – but this does not necessarily make it obvious. The term “crypto-eugenics” was first used in a 1957 memorandum of Dr. C. P. Blacker, Honorary Secretary of the (British) Eugenics Society, to describe a policy of “pursuing eugenic ends by less obvious means” – the obvious being unfashionable in light of Nazism’s recent horrors. (Policy (b) was “to campaign for the control of immigration, and for a reduction in the total population of Great Britain”).2 Confusingly, the term has more recently been appropriated by anti-Semitic conspiracists (claiming a worldwide Jewish plot of secret eugenics) and the Christian evangelical right (who see a grand eugenic plan in reproductive rights and gay parenthood). Decolonial and disabled critics on the other hand have long pointed to the continuity between classical eugenics and post-war state policies, particularly with regards healthcare, welfare and immigration. We used the term in our piece in a double sense: to refer to an ideology, either covert (as in Blacker’s proposal) or unconscious and “accidental”, and to a eugenics which is increasingly technological, encrypted in a proprietary care algorithm.3 We then used it in a third sense, proposing that “capitalism itself could accurately be described as an algorithm of crypto-eugenics”.
Our discussion of crypto-eugenics certainly proved to be provocative, but we assure our critics that it was done in good faith. We do not believe our friends are secretly engaged in an eugenic plot, but we do argue that eugenics is a creeping logic, a logic which has crept to certain corners of anarchist thought. Our words were chosen with careful forethought. Claiming that Covid isn’t a risk, because it is only deadly for specific minorities, is crypto-eugenics. Claiming these deaths are simply “natural”, that death from Covid is nature’s plan for certain bodies, is crypto-eugenics. Masking the risk for specific minorities with statistical averages (the “normal” body) is crypto-eugenics. Perhaps tellingly, our friend did not engage with this part of our critique. Instead, they simply quote further statistical averages (from an article which in fact emphasises our very point – that Covid-19’s lethality is highly differentiated across population groups).4 They limit any notion of “eugenics” to reproduction in its narrowest sense (procreation) and claim that we are not only in bad faith, but off-topic! We would point out that it’s difficult to procreate once dead, and that eugenics concerns not only procreation, but the altered reproduction of populations as a whole and the non-reproduction of specific minorities. They protest that we make an accusation which is impossible to refute: that our accusation of crypto-eugenics is an unfalsifiable claim in the style of “the Spanish Inquisition”. We counter that our claim is clear. Rather than engage with it or refute it they have chosen simply to repeat their friend’s initial argument.
Beyond “big pharma”: biopower
According to our critic, our analysis of eugenics is simply a distraction, a smokescreen to avoid critiquing the pharmaceutical industry. We would argue that it is only through an analysis of eugenics that we can properly critique the pharmaceutical industry. Rather than limit ourselves to “big pharma”, we argued in our last piece that the entire field of public health is based on eugenic logics. The problem isn’t just drugs – but healthcare in general, as a process of ranking, disciplining, saving and disposing of bodies. Our friends’ problem is really that our critiques are not quite the same.
Medicine under capitalism is of course based on exploitation and domination, rather than free desire. The animal liberation movement has done much to critique and attack the specific violence of the technical-production of medicines. And we agree with our friends, that capitalism in turn complicates questions of dependence in relation to medicines as commodities. In the context of Covid-19 this is clear – in the name of the economy it spreads everywhere, and now (unless we are to celebrate mass death) we are dependent on vaccines. Vaccines are powerful – not because Bill Gates will control your mind, but because they can prevent death in a world of death. The urgent question now is not their composition, but their availability: their artificial scarcity. Vaccine capitalists have reaped super-profits through monopolisation, patents (including process patents) and subsidies, on an incredible scale even for pharma corporations. These patents are written in the blood of postcolonial populations. Just as death was displaced on to racialised and migrant bodies within the UK, intensified death-worlds are being created in the “Global South”. We saw world leaders discussing these intensities in the G7 spectacle – how many vaccines to distribute, whether “too much” contagion and death might or might not undermine global racial capitalism. Many anarchists pay lip-service to Foucault’s notion of biopower, but few remember that this is the power to “make live and let die”. The biopolitical state is indeed “letting the bodies pile high”.5 Our critic’s original piece described anarchism as a set of liberal rights, as a subject’s freedom from “external” coercion. As a result it fails to understand the full power of the modern state, and ends up apologising for its violence.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Now partially vaccinated, the UK government is once again actively pursuing contagion as state policy, with “only” 60 average daily deaths at the time of writing. The eugenic violence remains, particularly for the 500,000 immuno-compromised, a group for whom Covid-19 is a far higher risk and for whom vaccines are suspected to be ineffective.6 This group faces peak rates of infection in the wider community, forced to try and survive in the midst of England’s maskless “Freedom Day” celebrations. They face a situation worse than even the Barrington Declaration’s proposals, which at least suggested some support for those forced to isolate to survive. Many hundreds of thousands more will suffer from long Covid, many it would seem from long term organ damage. Meanwhile, the UK, already a mass exporter of the Delta variant, is feared to be a “variant factory”, producing the existing virus and new variants on a mass scale to infect the unvaccinated world.7
Anti-Lockdown or Anti-State
For recognising the state’s violence for what it is, we are accused of being “pro-lockdown” and, consequently, statist non-anarchists. In our original piece we discussed how “lockdown” in fact refers to a nebulous set of measures – from curfews and policing to closing retail premises and schools. We argue that anarchists should locate our targets, and not allow ourselves to be reduced to one side in the latest culture war. Let’s take schools for example. Anarchists, since Godwin, have critiqued education. We recognise that schools lie on the same continuum as factories and prisons. Hierarchical institutions, which in turn judge and rank pupils, made to produce docile, disciplined bodies, future productive workers, housewives, bureaucrats and prison guards. Why would anarchists support a return to these schools? Of course, a virtual-classroom computer stuck in the walls of the nuclear family household is just a different problem. An anarchist approach must reject both these worlds. In the strikes against unsafe schools, the pupils who faked infection tests to get a day off (or the students burning the union jack at Pimlico) – it’s here we begin to see the possibilities of anarchy.
The “anti-lockdown” narrative offers us nothing. In the UK the organised anti-lockdown demos have clearly shown their colours. Anti-Semite David Icke has regularly topped the bill of speakers amongst other similar reactionaries. They decry the “Covid conspiracy”, masks and vaccines and celebrate the deaths of the disabled. This is not some diffuse gilets jaunes movement of oppositional tendencies and diverse, separated riots. Unless you hate masks and vaccines and are happy to walk under union jacks with known fascist groupings, you cannot join in good faith.
But these are weird times. Simply for affirming violence to achieve disabled liberation, our critic associates us with Italian Futurists and proto-fascists. (They might remember that anti-fascist anarchists, such as Renzo Novatore, were also part of the Futurist movement.) Our critic is half-right however: we should all heed the cautionary tale of those “anarchists” involved with early Italian fascism. The far-right have had a field day, and with little anti-fascist opposition to the London conspiracy demos the anarchist scene has opened itself to entryism. We have heard concerns of crypto-fascists gaining affinities with anarchists and squatters in London, and others sharing videos with and allowing a far-right youtuber to accompany and film the black block at kill the bill demonstrations.8 9 Without a critique of eugenic state violence, creeping fascism remains a threat to the anarchist scene.
Away from the anti-lockdown demonstrations we can see real antagonisms against the state. Renewed protests against police murders in South Wales, the kill the bill riot at Bristol police station and even a resurgence in political squats (despite tremendous repression). But with regards the mass of Covid death, anarchists in the UK have been outmaneuvered. There have been mutual aid groups and some syndicalist attempts, but little critique and even less attack. The black flag was at one time a flag of mourning: we call on comrades to remember, and to avenge the dead.
- 1Total UK civilian deaths in the second world war numbered around 67,000. As of 23rd of July, total deaths within 28 days of a positive test number over 129,000; total deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate over 153,000. This makes it the highest death toll from a disaster or war since the total casualties of the second world war. https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/deaths The third measure used, excess deaths, numbered over 90,000 for the UK in 2020, again the highest on record since the second world war. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jan/12/2020-was-deadliest-year-in-a-century-in-england-and-wales-says-ons
- 2Blacker’s Memorandum claimed that “crypto-eugenics … was apparently proving successful with the US Eugenics Society”. In 1960 it was “generally” agreed that “the Society’s activities in crypto-eugenics should be pursued vigorously”. See “The Activities of the Eugenic Society” (1967) in it’s own Eugenics Review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2906074/pdf/eugenrev00003-0012.pdf . Documents relating to the 1960 Extraordinary General Meeting, which reference Blacker’s 1957 Memorandum, can be found here: https://wellcomecollection.org/works/gew94w8y/items?canvas=1 . The original “rolled-off” Memorandum is detailed as being digitised here, but appears to be missing: https://wellcomecollection.org/works/umfds5vk The point for us as anarchists isn’t to overstate the influence of the Eugenics Society (later renamed The Galton Institute), but to expropriate their terminology.
- 3“Unfortunately it directly stems from the COVID-19 critical care referral algorithm which mentions those with learning disabilities or autism with the under 65-year-olds as being potentially frail and therefore not in line for ITU [Intensive Care Unit] care.” https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/246490/catholic-doctor-calls-for-independent-inquiry-into-dnr-notices-for-covid-19-patients-with-learning-disabilities An algorithm is also mentioned with regards “blanket do-not-resuscitate orders” in the context of care homes here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/mar/18/blanket-do-not-resuscitate-orders-imposed-on-english-care-homes-finds-cqc
- 4As the article cited by our critic states: “COVID-19 death risk shows tremendous risk stratification with over 1000-fold variability between children and elderly nursing home residents … Divergence may be larger in some low-income countries, for example, India … Within several countries, disadvantaged minorities have a greater toll … UK has almost 5-fold higher COVID-19 death rate in blacks and Bangladeshi/Pakistani than in whites … Regardless, COVID-19 is a disease of inequality and it also creates even more inequality … Substantial increases in death risk (1.5- to 5-fold) are conferred by organ transplantation, severe obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, severe chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, liver failure, kidney failure, haematological malignancy and recent cancer.” Notably, the article’s speculation that “the proportion of people who need to be infected to reach herd immunity [i.e. without vaccination] may be much lower than originally estimated”, with specific reference to estimated seroprevelance in India (!), has since proven catastrophically incorrect. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eci.13423 The other journal article cited by our critic regarding the effectiveness of lockdowns has been marked controversial by its own publisher.
- 6“With just over a week to go before the so called ‘Freedom Day’ in England, a coalition of 16 health charities are calling on the Government to do more to support around half a million people(1) who are immunocompromised or immunosuppressed, and so may be less protected by the Covid-19 vaccine(2).” https://www.kidneycareuk.org/news-and-campaigns/news/lack-awareness-covid-19-protection-puts-half-million-risk/
- 7“Government advisers expect about 1,000 to 2,000 daily hospital admissions over the summer as restrictions are lifted, and 100-200 deaths a day under what was described a “central scenario”… Minutes published by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) also highlighted the threat of a new vaccine-resistant variant emerging in the UK, which they warned would pose a risk to the whole world.” https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jul/12/boris-johnson-urges-covid-caution-amid-warnings-of-1000-hospitalisations-a-day
- 8ResistanceGB is a classic case of calculated fascist entryism. British symbolism is frequent but ideology generally covert. In this video however they can be seen carefully encouraging viewers to get on the “alternative” social network Gab (a neo-Nazi, alt-right and Q Anon fork) and 4chan following Trump’s ban from twitter and Parler’s demise, and complaining about “communists”: https://youtube.com/watch?v=A27zmatEEGY In another live-stream they complain that the filmed “communist” demonstration (one of many following Sarah Everard’s murder by police) is left alone by police. Within moments of the live-stream starting, known fascists can be seen commenting in the chat: https://youtube.com/watch?v=WTSHoUoIbi8 In addition to a Gab account they also maintain a Bitchute channel (far-right youtube alternative).
- 9As others have pointed out, our critic also cites the “anarchist voices” of “Winter Oak, and the Acorn” (in reality one website) as having informed the original piece – a UK blog which has turned to full blown “Great Reset” and anti-mask conspiracies. Winter Oak was already fond of conspiracies, having previously deduced that those who confronted the TERFs at the London Bookfair must be undercover police (!). They have also taken a whole host of other bizarre and damaging positions as detailed here: https://nothingiseverlost.wordpress.com/2018/06/20/in-defence-of-anarchism-and-antifascism-a-reply-to-the-winter-oak/