By the South Essex Heckler 
We’ve come in for a bit of criticism over the last couple of days for our views on the government response to the COVID-19 crisis. Firstly, we’d like to start off by saying that our position on the response to the crisis has changed since it started to emerge at the end of February. At that point, it felt like a massive unknown and that starting to develop our own response in terms of physical distancing and withdrawing from events we were due to participate in seemed to be the sensible thing to do.

Anarchists played a part in this process, working out other ways we could interact with each other while avoiding being physically close as a precaution. They also did and are still doing seriously good work with grassroots mutual aid projects. There was a feeling that this was something that anarchism could own.

For us, that sense of ownership was taken away once the government stepped in to impose their own measures which ended up placing all of us under restrictions that most of us have never experienced in our lives. The legislation the government brought into to implement and enforce these restrictions turned what we were voluntarily undertaking for what we thought would only last a month or so into something that is being done to us with no end in sight.

While we get that those anarchists who initiated ways of dealing what they perceived to be the threat in the early stages of the crisis want to retain ownership of that, with top down legislation and enforcement, the dynamic changed. As the lockdown went on, the negative impact it was having on people’s lives started to become more apparent. We’re talking about the social and mental health impacts ranging from disrupted relationships and isolation through to an increase in the number of suicides. Also, the long term economic impact which we’ll be paying for with mass unemployment and austerity will have a devastating impact on our lives.

As we went into May, routes out of the lockdown that involved surveillance, tracking and further losses of personal autonomy and freedom were being discussed. It was also becoming clear that in order to free up as much bed space in hospitals as possible, elderly patients with the COVID-19 virus were effectively being dumped into care homes. The ensuing tragedy in care homes staffed by low paid workers without the resources to deal with the subsequent wave of infections and deaths has been described by a fair few people as little more than a thinly disguised cull.

All of this prompted us to start asking some serious questions about the narrative we were being fed. That involved a fair bit of reading around and keeping an open mind. Yes, that process did take us into some weird areas that were veering towards what some would term as conspiracy theory. It also led us to take a look at some of the alt right takes on the issue so we could understand how they were exploiting people’s concerns about the lockdown for their own ends. All of this was a necessary research process that helped with our building the list of COVID-19 crisis readings on this blog. A list that we’re prepared to defend as not, in our opinion, going anywhere near conspiracy theory.

Mind you, what is and isn’t conspiracy theory is a grey area and one influenced by subjective understanding and opinion. What has made us more than a bit annoyed is the instant, reflexive dismissal by a number of anarchists of some of the readings we have listed as being ‘conspiracy theory’. Given the restrictions we’re already under plus what will be coming down the line at us if we don’t start showing some signs of resistance, it’s a bit alarming that what we consider as reasonable warnings are getting dismissed out of hand.

As we’ve noted before, we’re in an unprecedented situation. In a 24/7 news and social media landscape, trying to tease out the signal from the noise is a difficult task. One thing is abundantly clear, the massive number of powers the government has conferred upon itself will not be given up without the fight of our lives. That’s not conspiracy theory – it’s just paying attention to the lessons of history. Before long, it’s highly likely that powers that were ostensibly brought in to deal with the COVID-19 crisis will be deployed against us in another ‘crisis’.

All we’ve been trying to do is alert people in order that the right strategies and tactics to resist what’s very likely coming our way can be developed. The range of grassroots mutual aid initiatives that have emerged to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis certainly offer some hope. As well as dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, they will have a role in dealing with the dire consequences of an inevitable economic depression and the crushing austerity that will be inflicted upon us. We hope these mutual aid groups will also take on the task of resisting an increasingly intrusive and oppressive state, aided and abetted by the large corporations they’ve outsourced many of their functions to.

The point is that it shouldn’t be an either/or situation in being involved with a mutual aid group dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the one hand and on the other, developing a strategy of resistance to deal with and defeat the dystopia to come. It’s just that from where we are, it feels like some groups are focusing on mutual aid as a way of not having to face up to the totalitarian dystopia the government and the corporations will likely be inflicting upon us.

That is why we’ve probably come over as a bit stroppy at times because to us, it feels like there’s not the sense of urgency there should be about what’s coming. We’re not saying this to score intellectual points or to look clever. It’s because we’d like a future where we can lead a full, meaningful life as opposed to one where we merely exist as a cog for as long as the machine will tolerate us. That’s not just for us as individuals or family, it’s also for our community and all of our comrades. Basically, it’s an existential threat that we take personally.

As this is intended to be a statement, we’ve tried to keep it as brief as we can. The aim is to explain how we’ve come to our position in the hope that this can help in the discussion about where we go from here. We look forward to a constructive discussion.