Guest Article: Tommy Lawson - Geelong Anarchist Communists - Image: A man holds a pro vaccine placard at an anti-fascist demonstration in Italy, held after neo-Nazis attacked the CGIL trade union headquarters.
Across Australia, anti-mandate and anti-vaccine "Freedom Day" protests continue to be organised and promoted by an assortment of new age and alternative health grifters, fundamentalist christians, and far right organisations. In Melbourne, "Kill the Bill" is specifically targeted at the Victorian Labor government. In response to the ongoing right-wing mobilisations, counter-demonstrations in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney have been called by anti-fascist groups.
On the Left there has been a degree of hesitancy amongst some in supporting the efforts of anti-fascists in confronting anti-vax rallies. There are a small range of arguments proposed why counter-demonstrations might not be the best idea. These include a degree of sympathy with the opposition concerning the increase in government and police powers, or ‘lining up’ with state mandates. There is also the worry that large portions of those attending the anti-vax protests are ‘average people’, who are hard-done by and looking for answers in the wrong places. The concern is that counter-protesting will potentially drive such anti-mandate protestors into the arms of the far-right. At first glance there may appear to be logic behind these concerns, they largely mirror liberal discourse. Arguing against counter-protests is effectively creating political excuses for doing little in the face of a mobilising far-right.
It should be clear that opposing the far-right does not mean endorsing the heavy handed, authoritarian way the state has handled lockdowns. We can recognise that there are benefits to lockdowns as a means of controlling Covid-19. That the left would advocate a totally different model, one that puts poor and working people first should be self-evident. The left's notions of what can makes measures like lockdowns successful requires nuance based on scientific data and trends in the spread of the virus. Any meaningful left-wing response would require the centering of support for workers and the poor. However, refusing to acknowledge the real measures it takes to contain Covid means giving ground to the opportunistic arguments the right-wing employs.
The hypocrisy of the right should be self-evident. While the far-left responded with support for the community during the lockdown of largely migrant public housing in Flemington, the Australian right-wing was, of course, silent. When parts of the Left broke lockdown laws by holding car-convoy protests for social welfare and over the treatment of refugees, the right-wing did nothing. During Black Lives Matter, the left mobilised in a covid safe manner for racial justice, and all the Right did was complain. Workers are still forced to work in unsafe conditions, risking catching covid, and the right-wing is silent. Meanwhile unionists have refused work due to issues with sanitation, social distancing and Covid-related safety. We have, at the least, won compensation for catching Covid in the workplace. The right-wing have only raised their voice now that they are required to do something simple, getting a vaccine. An easy ask that helps take care of everyone else.
Despite the rhetoric around freedom and individual liberties, it is clear that the right-wing understanding of freedom is extremely restricted and selfish. It is a crude liberal notion that is not the same as the socialist sense of liberty, which is guaranteed by equal rights and responsibilities of all.
Overall, there is no right-wing monopoly in resisting injustices exacerbated by the Covid crisis. Space should not be made for right-wing arguments that the left is ‘lining up’ with the state and authoritarianism. It is public health and science that the revolutionary left supports. Sections of the far-right have seized upon the argument that the left supports uneven and authoritarian state power and employed it to some success in mobilisation. But it does not reflect that they are winning over ‘average people.' Most Australians are rapidly taking up the vaccine, despite the gigantic mistakes of the Federal and State governments. Life is rapidly moving towards the ‘new normal’ across the country.
But anti-vax, anti-lockdown protests are increasingly dwindling to a hardcore of various sectors of the right. It doesn’t matter which flavour these are; fascists, racists, right-wing evangelicals, conspiracy nuts or grifters, they should be opposed. Leaving aside the out-and-out fascists for now, all of these groups are undermining the general movement towards public health, on top of whatever backwards agenda they usually advocate. ‘Alternative’ health, covid-grifter conspiracies are ridiculous. They ignore the very basic fact that capitalism wants an open and unrestricted market. Capitalist interests wanted Australia to open up a long time ago, with no concern for vaccination rates or the lives that would be lost. But wealthy nations have poured money, resources and logistical power into developing safe vaccines for their own workforces. After all, to function capitalism needs workers.
If there are issues with the science behind the current vaccines the alternative is not natural immunity, mystic crystals or drinking small amounts of bleach. Fixing the healthcare system and biased investment in research requires at the least massive reform (or abolition) of the market. Furthermore it requires an international response. With rich countries buying up all the worlds vaccine supplies, poorer nations are left exposed to not only the existing strains but the development of new, more virulent ones. Finding serious solutions to the Covid crisis simply isn't part of the right-wing agenda. Responses to the crisis that ask us to ‘let Covid rip’ without vaccines, lockdowns or public health measures are something to counter-demonstrate in and of themselves. It goes without saying that the right-wing has no conception of how capitalism itself helped create the virus and the crisis we are in.
But the anti-vax "Freedom Day" protests are now, more than ever, recruiting ground for far-right groups. In Victoria, the intervention of the far-right has shifted the messaging towards the Kill the Bill campaign. The targeting of Dan Andrews and the Victorian Labor government is tied less to genuine concerns around unrestricted state power, and more geared towards drawing people towards conspiracy based rhetoric. This feeds directly into fascist anti-Semitic, anti-communist propaganda.
Those who have already bought into the conspiracies through the pandemic are vulnerable to falling further down the rabbit hole. Fascist and neo-nazi propaganda is founded on the very basis of anti-semetic conspiracy theory. It is no suprise anti-vax telegram channels are full of neo-nazi commentary. There was clear fascist involvement in the anti-CFMEU riots. Serial pest and far-right pseudo-journalist Avi Yemini has enthusiastically promoted the protests. All across the world, the anti-vaccine, anti-mandate cause is the latest cover the fascist right has employed to recruit.
In the past, through organisations like Campaign Against Racism and Fascism anarchists and socialists challenged the far-right. We know that allowing the far-right space to organise is always a mistake. As such we have always employed various tactics to engage in direct resistance to fascists groups. Now we need to do it again. It was the pressure from the far-left that helped fracture and marginalise Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front, leaving them to degenerate into smaller and smaller irrelevant sects. Before them, it was National Action.
No matter what cover the far-right uses, fascists should be hounded out and confronted wherever they attempt to organise.
See you at the counter-rallies.
Brisbane: Saturday 20th of November, Oppose the Far-Right Anti-Vaxxers, King George Square, 11am.
Melbourne: Saturday 20th of November, Oppose the Anti-Vax Far Right. 8 Hour Monument, Corner of Russel and Victoria Street, 12pm.
Sydney: Saturday 20th of November, Oppose the Anti-Vax Far Right. Town Hall, 11am.