Covid: another missed opportunity for the left

Illustré par :

Ninon Mazeaud
Ninon Mazeaud

« The multiple partial conflicts that make up the fabric of social existence seem less and less likely to be related to a central macro-conflict, so that the right and the left, which were the agents of this centralization and drew their raison d’être from it in return, seem irretrievably obsolete and as if they were « beside the point ».(1).

Alain Caillé, 1991

n his books published over the last fifteen years, the socialist and Orwell admirer Jean-Claude Michéa draws an uncompromising assessment of the left and of progressivism. He notes, among other things, the « intellectual coma » into which these movements have fallen, through renunciation, opportunism and cowardice. The institutional left first abandoned the reference to Marxism in 1959 at the Bad Godesberg Congress, and « naturally » ended up rallying to the Washington Consensus in the 1980s. François Mitterrand opened the ball in 1983 with the « austerity turn »; Tony Blair (with his « proactive social state ») and Gerhard Schröder completed the job in the 1990s and 2000s. This long-standing neoliberal drift could have ended with the covid event, which could have acted as a salutary electroshock. Could have… Because since the beginning of this bad viral affair — in both senses of the term -, it is necessary to note, in all the left (institutional, trade-union, radical, ecologist), the atony or the obedience to the diktats of the psychobiopower(2)In some cases, a cautious criticism with a velvet glove, keeping in the middle or in the « nuance » [sic]. In Belgium, on the political side, we first saw a socialist minister, Elio Di Rupo, going on and on about the danger of the virus, the absolute necessity of measures 

non-pharmaceutical and barrier actions, and ultimately vaccination. His colleague in the federal government, Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit), took over from Maggie De Block at the Ministry of Health in a more rigid and authoritarian manner. For a year, Marc Van Ranst, the number one Flemish virologist and opponent of the N‑VA, has been urging the executive to maintain the measures, and even to tighten them, as if the eradication of Sars-Cov‑2 and its variants had become a personal matter. We saw the PTB content itself with demanding equal treatment of people regarding vaccination, as well as the end of patents on vaccines that are to become a public good. Without showing much imagination, he also proposed that the rich be taxed to help the struggling self-employed. The ecosocialists and part of the degrowth movement(3) also drink without complex to the dominant doxa . In May 2021, the PS and Ecolo, members of the government majority, did not flinch at the anti-democratic character of the future « Pandemic law ». In France, Olivier Faure, secretary general of the PS, is silent. Only Jean-Luc Mélenchon (LFI) spoke out in the spring of last year, warning the National Assembly of the threat to freedoms posed by health measures, quoting André Comte-Sponville:  » I would rather contract covid in a free country than escape it in a totalitarian state  » (see interview in this issue). In July 2021, he warned again about the unconstitutional drifts in his country, before strangely disassociating himself from the demonstrations against the health pass (by electoral calculation for 2022?). For the rest, it’s radio silence: left-wing politicians and their militant supporters — including the antifas — have deserted the debate, except to howl against the outbursts of the extreme right and the « conspiracy theorists » to whom they leave the monopoly of contestation, look for the mistake… 

Intellectuals, from the left as well as from the right, have been disappointing since the beginning of the « crisis ». The humanist-deontological-Kantian philosopher Francis Wolff was delighted that the public authorities had « chosen life over the economy », forgetting that the economy is also life, and that behind it there are real people who, once ruined, fall into depression and for some commit suicide; his American colleague Michael Sandel, also a humanist-dontologist-Kantian, did not see any moral fault in the fact that the younger generations are pushed to sacrifice themselves for the survival of the older ones — of which he is a part -, in the name of intergenerational solidarity; in the spring of 2020, the star astrophysicist of the Web Aurelien Barrau unfolded a sorry plea in 20 points in favor of wearing masks, some of whose predictions turned out to be wrong(4) The polytechnician-philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy, who certainly sees in the epidemic a syndrome of his more enlightened catastrophism, while Michel Onfray, Raphaël Enthoven, Philippe Marlière and the economist Thomas Porcher, who wasappalled, launched himself into the apology of vaccination and the moral condemnation of those who refuse it. If the anti-capitalist analyses of Daniel Tanuro(5) are mostly convincing, they have not prevented him from supporting all the health measures, but dissociating them from the neoliberal ideological background of the governments. On the side of the communists, Alain Badiou defended Macron’s policy of generalized containment, castigated the social networks as dens of the fachosphere while omitting to incriminate television, radio and the daily press for their role in the conversion of the masses to the new covidist religion; and to top it all off, the sociologist Danielle Bleitrach(6) is now advocating for mandatory vaccination. Meanwhile, the best criticism — if any — came from the liberal and conservative camps. Not everyone is happy about this, but honesty forces us to acknowledge it. Now we expect the heralds of the left to be as covid-skeptical(7)It would be to their credit… 

For their part, the left-wing people and their activists did not protest too much against the totalitarianism that had been taking place for a year. On the contrary, by their strict observance of the barrier gestures, they were plebisciting him unwillingly. Is it out of naivety, thinking that the occurrence of an epidemic would have succeeded in making the rulers suddenly benevolent and concerned about the common interest? Is it a political calculation? Certainly among some whose Marxist dogmatism does not prevent them from making provisionally — but for more than a year anyway — the sacred union with a bourgeois government against the viral enemy, hoping for a « dialectical reversal » afterwards, counting on the famous « internal contradictions of capitalism that it is necessary to make play as never in these historical circumstances to finally end up with true socialism ». When ideological purity replaces thought… 

The spiritual and philosophical explanation is also valid. When one has evacuated all transcendence, the risk is to find oneself imprisoned in anguishing immanence, desymbolization and a desiccating form of materialism. Secretive towards God but devotees of Science, the voters-consumers have chased away the priest to better welcome the expert. Progressives have always bet on the inevitable benefits of the Science and Technology fetishes, which are supposed to appease social antagonisms and bring happiness and prosperity to humanity. When one does not believe in the Kingdom of heaven of the Christians, in the houris of the paradise of Allah or in the reincarnation of the Buddhists, one is left with only one small biological life (or naked life) to preserve « whatever it takes », since without it one loses the whole stake.  » What freedoms [en effet] are the populations not willing to compromise, what subjection are they not ready to accept, in order to flee from this terror [editor’s note: death], with which no rite can be composed?(8) « , asks Olivier Rey. That the psychobiopower forbade funeral rites during the first confinement is certainly not a coincidence. By reifying the mortal remains considered as always contagious and by keeping the relatives away, the anguish of death, already latent in normal times, has intensified, for lack of being metabolized in ceremonies. And an anxious population is all the more manipulable. If the religion(9) still has a psychosocial role to play, it is indeed in a catastrophic context, as Bertrand Méheust indicates: « […] if the adhesion to a religious conception of the world encloses the human condition in a particular dimension, at the same time it enlarges it by opening it on a symbolic elsewhere(10) « ; he deplores that  » secularization […] ends up « attacking » all the symbolic software that gave meaning to human life(11) « .

The left also defends the therapeutic state with its longstanding call for health care refinancing(12). Through elections, it still intends and hopes to recolonize the executive and legislative powers acquired by neoliberalism so that the generous left hand (re)becomes more powerful than the regal right hand. Why not? Except that in covidism, sinister and dexter are confused: with which hand does a police officer or an official of the FPS Public Health issue a fine for infringement of sanitary measures? We will spontaneously answer « from the right », but it would be wise to answer « with both hands ». What characterizes our situation is a totalitarianism with a health pretext, with a face that is alternately gentle and ferocious, wielding the carrot of protection and the stick of repression, « benevolent » towards its population, to which it has sworn to do everything possible to keep it alive: « My dear fellow citizens, you will survive the covid(13)we are committed to it! On our conditions, however: the price to be paid in terms of restriction of your civil liberties will be exorbitant ». Suddenly disinterested in the freedom they cherished until March 2020, and obsessed only with their own security, consumer-voters are nodding in agreement. The « I do what I want » has given way to « I do what they want ». And those who do are dragged through the mud by the dominant media and the packs of asocial networks, all united in the « sanitary correctness ». 

This umpteenth downfall of the contemporary left calls for an umpteenth plea for it to get its act together. How do you do it? A first step would be to revive the ideal of the utopian socialists who worked to articulate equality, justice and freedom. As the philosopher Martin Buber (1878–1965) explained,  » The non-Marxist « utopian » socialism wants a path that is identical to its goal. He refuses to believe that, counting on the « leap » to come, we must prepare the opposite of what we aspire to. Rather, he believes that, in order to achieve what one aspires to, one must now create the space now possible, so that it can be realized later(14) « . His friend Gustav Landauer (1870–1919) went in the same direction by specifying that socialism would not be built in the continuity of capitalism, but against it(15). However, the precondition is to first get rid of totalitarianism, if we follow George Orwell. And as a further precondition, to make that to the technical system, to follow Jacques Ellul, Lewis Mumford and Theodor Kaczinsky. The task is titanic! A second path — which is not antinomic to the first — is to re-examine the anarchist proposal. It aims at reinforcing the social link, today in danger despite the official calls to solidarity[sic] which give birth to the total social fact of individualistic submission, which one could summarize by the lapidary formula « I obey in my own interest ». Franck Lepage, leader of the association L’Ardeur, did not lose his mind during this epidemic, he saves the honor of the left(16)but of a left close to the Yellow Vests that we like at Kairos. More than ever the outcome of the struggle is uncertain, considering what Dwight Macdonald (1906–1982) wrote:  » The historical process presents itself today as a much more complex and tragic problem than it appeared to socialist and anarchist thinkers […] The sphere of unpredictability, and perhaps even of the unknowable, seems much wider today than it did then(17) « . Is despair totally viral? Let us cling to the idea of emergence, unpredictability and improbability, to pay tribute to Edgar Morin, who became a centenarian on July 8 and is the dean of francophone intellectuals. 

Bernard Legros

Notes et références
  1. Revue du MAUSS. « Droite ? Gauche ? », La Découverte, n° 13, 1991, p. 8.
  2. À l’ère des médias de « nasse », d’Internet et de l’essor des neurosciences, il me paraît judicieux d’ajouter le préfixe « psycho » au traditionnel biopouvoir identifié par Michel Foucault.
  3. Dans un article publié sur, Aude Vidal et Michel Lepesant appellent de leurs vœux une « démocratie sanitaire ». Dieu nous préserve d’un tel régime politique !
  4. Comme celle prétendant que les gouvernements feraient tout pour enlever les masques le plus vite possible, car l’identification des individus dans l’espace public est une nécessité. Eh bien il semblerait au contraire que le port de la muselière présente davantage de bénéfices que de coûts. En Chine, le coût est déjà surmonté : les caméras à reconnaissance faciale ont été reprogrammées pour identifier les individus masqués. Quant au bénéfice, en Occident, il s’appelle soumission individualiste. Cf. Martin Steffens, Pierre Dulau, Giorgio Agamben (postface), Faire face. Le visage et la crise sanitaire, Première partie, 2021.
  5. Cf.
  6. Coupons l’herbe sous le pied des nouveaux héros, les très populaires fact-checkers : elle a quitté le PCF l’an dernier, après des décennies de bons et loyaux services.
  7. Précisons : sceptiques de la politique sanitaire et non de la réalité virale elle-même. Il me semble aussi fondamental de séparer covido-scepticisme et climato-scepticisme, bien que les deux postures aillent hélas souvent de pair.
  8. Olivier Rey, L’idolâtrie de la vie, Gallimard, 2020, p. 44.
  9. Certes, le covidisme peut être considéré aussi comme une nouvelle religion, mais une religion immanente, sans arrière-monde, qui n’a plus pour fonction que de relier (re-ligere) par la peur des individus atomisés.
  10. Bertrand Méheust, La nostalgie de l’Occupation. Peut-on encore se rebeller contre les nouvelles formes d’asservissement ?, La Découverte, 2012, p. 177.
  11. Ibidem, p. 153.
  12. Refinancement dont la condition est la croissance qui pollue et tue. L’ouroboros, serpent qui se mord la queue, est l’analogie qui convient dans ce cas.
  13. Quant aux autres causes de mortalité, elles sont ignorées.
  14. Martin Buber, Utopie et socialisme, L’Échappée, 2016, p. 47 (première édition en 1950).
  15. Cf. Gustav Landauer, Appel au socialisme, La Lenteur, 2019 (première édition en 1911).
  16. Avec lui, on pourrait encore citer Aurélien Bernier, Barbara Stiegler, Christian Laval, Manuel Cervera-Marzal, Laurent Mucchielli.
  17. Dwight Mcdonald, Le socialisme sans le progrès. The root is man, La Lenteur, 2011, p. 134.
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