Anti-lockdown protests: the trap of “partial” struggles

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Poster of May 68 against state repression

In recent months, in public meetings and online forums, there have been criticisms and misinterpretations of our positions regarding the state measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic: lockdowns, curfews, bans on gatherings on public places, and compulsory vaccination for essential professions. Some of the critics have even concluded that the ICC in fact supports these measures of the state. The aim of this article is to respond to these critiques, both by reaffirming our opposition to the current anti-lockdown protests and by explaining the difference between the so-called “protective measures” of the bourgeois state and the precautions we recommend to communist militants and the working class.

In the past year the policy of the bourgeois state, in its attempt to counter the spread of the pandemic, has given rise to different campaigns and protests. Some of these campaigns plead for the abolition of the measures altogether, others for more human measures, and others even for a tightening of the measures.[1]

The first campaign is well-known. Behind slogans such as “against the violation of our rights”; “we want our freedom back”, “tyranny versus freedom”, “down with the mask”, numerous demonstrations have taken place in the past months, in various countries, to protest against the lockdown measures. In the framework of the so-called “Worldwide Rally for Freedom” the weekend of 20-21 March 2021 saw protests in some 40 countries in Europe and beyond.[2] These rallies were often characterised by an anti-elite rage and in certain cases even led to vandalism, nihilist riots, massively violating the imposed restrictions. In Holland there were even attacks on testing stations and hospitals.

A second campaign has taken place in French Canada, where demonstrations are organised under the slogan “Ensemble pour les mesures sanitaires et solidaires – Non au couvre-feu”. In a statement, the organisers denounce the curfew of the government as “an attack on our freedom and on our relations and aspirations of solidarity”. They think that the curfew further marginalises vulnerable communities, like homeless people, sex workers, drug users, and non-status workers. The protesters, who reject a police solution to the health crisis, “refuse the dichotomy between blind obedience to the government and the silly manipulations of conspiracy theorists.”[3]

In its political combat against the policy of the state in response to the pandemic, the ICC has - in several articles - denounced the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie and its complete neglect of the health of the population. Despite the lockdown measures the bourgeoisie “continues its negligence, which it masks by trying to make us feel guilty, by making us bear the blame for the infections, for the exhaustion of the care workers who are victims of the "irresponsible behaviour" of individuals. (…) The state imposes curfews as early as 6pm or lockdowns at weekends, while proletarians are openly allowed to infect themselves in the workplace or on public transport.”[4]

One organisation of the proletarian political milieu even goes a step further and tells us that the essential motivation for the lockdown measures is to prepare for economic attacks in the future. “The proletarians are confined, not to protect their health, but to impose a discipline that will be necessary in the face of the next economic and social measures that are planned to be applied.”[5] But even if the bourgeoisie does not hesitate to make a virtue out of necessity and will not fail to use the opportunity to prepare for future confrontations with the working class, the main goal of the lockdown is not to discipline the proletariat but to block the spread of the virus, which for the moment poses a greater threat to the economy and social cohesion.

The danger of “partial” struggles

In the past year the ICC has not supported any of the protests against obligatory lockdown put into place by the state in an attempt to block the rampant spread of the Covid-19 virus. The reason for this is that these protests remain completely on the surface and do not touch the roots of the capitalist mode of production, which has brought the bourgeois state into existence with the function of defending the capitalist system. The ICC opposes the aims, methods and slogans of the current protests which, however radical they sometimes may seem, call on us to defend certain “rights” as citizens within capitalist society. Such a position is the subject of a special point in our platform.

 “It is wrong to think that it is possible to contribute to the revolution by organising specific struggles around partial problems, such as racism, the position of women, pollution, sexuality, and other aspects of daily life. The struggle against the economic foundations of the system contains within it the struggle against all the super-structural aspects of capitalist society, but this is not true the other way around.”[6] These “partial” struggles are incapable of attacking the root of the problem, i.e. exploitation of one class by another, in the form of capitalist wage slavery.[7]

The working class has nothing to gain from reclaiming “our freedom as citizens”, which has supposedly been taken away from us by the “authoritarian” restrictions of the bourgeois state. It has also nothing to gain from demands for “social justice” and for “our rights”. Such protests do not open the prospect of a solution, which can only gain momentum in and through the struggle for the proletarian perspective. On the contrary, “By their very content ‘partial’ struggles, far from reinforcing the vital autonomy of the proletariat, tend on the contrary to dilute it into a mass of confused categories (races, sexes, youth, etc.) which can only be totally impotent in the face of history”.[8]

“Partial” struggles increase the division and the confusion within the class and therefore represent a dangerous trap for its struggle. They will inevitably lead into the dead-end of calling for a more “democratic” and a more “human” society, which is and will remain a class society, based on repression and exploitation. And from experience we know that “bourgeois governments and political parties have learned to recuperate and use them to good effect in the preservation of the social order”.[9]

The most important examples in recent years of the “recuperation” of such protests by the bourgeoisie were the “Youth4Climate” and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, which pulled in many young people, often young proletarians.

The ICC has not supported the demand, put forward during the BLM protests, that the police should be “defunded”. As we already explained in a previous article, the call to defund the police or even to abolish the police altogether is, on the one hand, “completely unrealistic inside this society: it is akin to the capitalist state voluntarily dissolving itself. On the other hand, it spreads illusions in the possibility of reforming the existing state in the interest of the exploited and the oppressed – when its very function is to keep them under control in the interests of the dominant class.”[10]

The same applies to the demands to lift the lockdown measures. We agree that these measures are contradictory and doubly coercive since they confine the workers in their free time, but oblige many of them to go to work, when it is obvious that most infections occur at the workplace. Even if we don’t say that they are essentially aimed at controlling the working class, as Le Prolétaire claims, we agree that despite the measures the exploited class is the main victim of the pandemic. Nonetheless we don’t support demands to put an end to these measures. Demands to lift the lockdown cannot contribute to the development of the proletariat’s class consciousness, its combativity and its solidarity. On the contrary: they only raise obstructions against such a development and have no other perspective than reinforcing illusions in bourgeois rule, whether democratic or openly despotic.

Moreover most of the anti-lockdown protests, with their outright demand for the abolition of all the state’s measures against the pandemic, don’t offer any viable perspective other than a further spread of the virus, and thereby show the completely irrational considerations behind these protests. They frequently claim that the virus is just a hoax, something intended to deceive or defraud, but this is more and more refuted every day by the millions of people worldwide who have died and still will die from Covid-19. In a recently published article[11], we denounced the irrational theories and apocalyptic ideologies behind these protest and the danger they pose, not only for the health of the people, but also for the class consciousness of the proletariat.

The state is repressive by nature

Since Marx wrote The Civil War in France, the position of the revolutionaries about the state has been quite clear: the bourgeois state, as the expression of the dictatorship of the ruling class, has to be destroyed in the course of the proletarian revolution. For “in reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy”.[12] That’s why the ICC supports any proletarian struggle against attacks by the state, as it did for instance during the struggle in France in 2006 against the CPE (First Employment Contract - a new law designed to increase the casualisation of the workforce and especially of new employees) In this particular case, the students’ movement, by threatening to extend to the employed sectors, obliged the government to withdraw the CPE. This was an expression of proletarian resistance to a direct attack by the bourgeois state, and it did not concern itself with taking the legal or electoral path to persuade the government to change its mind.

But the current anti-lock down protests take place on a completely bourgeois terrain and in no way open the door to a movement that can really challenge the legitimacy of the bourgeois state. On the contrary, their alternative to the lockdown and similar measures is simply to call for a more liberal or “laisser faire” policy, often connected to the electoral game between different bourgeois factions.

Throughout its existence, the ICC has warned the class against the risk of being drawn onto the bourgeois terrain. The historical phase of decomposition only multiplies these risks, not least because it has been marked by a serious loss of class identity, of the proletariat’s awareness of itself as a distinct social force, making the working class more vulnerable to being dragged into all kinds of protests which take it away from the defence of its own interests and dilute it in a vague mass of citizens or a myriad of competing “identities”. Faced with the increasing dangers for the proletarian struggle, and to show the class the way to fight for its safety, the task of the hour for revolutionaries is to affirm proletarian solidarity and class autonomy.

The struggles of the past year, in particular at the beginning of the pandemic, have shown that the working class does not limit its struggle to economic demands. In the spring of 2020 workers in various countries went on strike, not demanding better payment, but better safety measures against the virus. History has also given several examples of the workers coming out on strike against the repression of the state.[13] And in contrast to the protests of the past year, these workers had no illusions in the bourgeois state and did not demand for legal changes in order to make the state less “authoritarian” and “more friendly” to its citizens. During their fights against state repression the workers relied completely on the strength of their autonomous action as a class.

The fight for our safety

As we wrote in the summer of last year “this proletarian sense of responsibility, which also prompts millions to follow the rules of self-isolation, shows that the majority of the working class accepts the reality of this disease, even in country like the US which is the ‘heartland’ of various forms of denialism about the pandemic”.[14] Since the publication of this article the class struggle has continued, although on a lower level. But in nearly all its struggles the rules of social distancing, and in the bigger mobilisations the use of protective clothing (PPE), were respected.

If the ICC doesn’t support the measures of the bourgeois state, this does not mean that it completely neglects the necessary precautions to protect its militants against the danger of the virus. It follows the example of the working class. The policy of the ICC is to listen to the science and the science tells us that, as long as there is no other solution, social distancing (including PPE) is the best protection against infection by Covid-19.

If the ICC respects this scientific advice, such advice is not swallowed blindly; on the contrary it must always be critically evaluated. As revolutionaries we are wary of any form of applied science under capitalist conditions since we know how it is utilised; the most striking example being the war industry of course. But also science used for commercial purposes is something that has to be approached with the necessary suspicion. The first and main goal of the pharmaceutical industry is to make profit, even if it is at the cost of the health of the population. But this isn’t a reason to distrust science as such.

The Covid-19 pandemic has faced revolutionaries with an extraordinary situation. The bourgeois state is an enemy of the communist movement and the virus is an enemy of human life. But if the ICC follows the advice about social distancing and the use of PPE, this doesn’t mean it is supporting the state and the ban on protests, which will inevitably be used against any attempt by workers to come together on a class basis, whether to demand adequate safety measures at work or to fight the wage reductions and lay-offs that will accompany the lockdown and its aftermath. The ICC is fully aware that the only alternative to the measures of the bourgeois state is the struggle for a fundamentally new society, the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the elimination of capitalist exploitation.

Dennis, 13 May 2021



[1] Besides the two campaigns mentioned in the article, there is also a third campaign, called “ZeroCovid”, supported by different extreme leftist groups, which calls for the closure of “all non-essential workplaces until community transmission is close to zero” (UK Government sinks to new low on Covid – Zero Covid; 13 January 2021). Such a closure should not be done “from above” by the bourgeois state, but “from below” and not only against the pandemic, but also against the measures of capital and its governments. This is not an authoritarian, but an emancipatory strategy, so we are told

[2] In the title The dictatorship will fall!”, the Anarchist Federation also made publicity for these demos. This anarchist group calls them “freedom rallies” which, as they write, would leave rulers “quaking in their boots”.

[7] In Le Prolétaire no. 538, (August-September-October 2020) the PCI published an article Non au couvre-feu ! Non au retour de l’«état d’urgence sanitaire» !, which calls upon the workers to fight “the “state of health emergency”!” But since this measure of the French government is also a phenomenon of the superstructure of capitalist system, this political organisation of the proletariat tends to fall into the trap of “partial” struggles and to open the door for the infiltration of the bourgeois ideology in the form of protests that, by definition, are not able to put into question the roots of state repression.

[13] Some of the most striking examples of workers’ resistance against state repression:

  • In November 1905, when mutinying soldiers at the Kronstadt were threatened with death, the Soviet of Petrograd called a strike. In a massive response the workers gave a demonstration of solidarity;
  • In November 1905 the Soviet of Petrograd formed a militia in order to protect revolutionaries against arrest by the police or troops, and to defend Jewish neighbourhoods from state-backed pogroms;
  • In February 1941 the workers in various cities in the Netherlands went on strike for two days to express their indignation about round-up of  Jewish people in Amsterdam;
  • In May 1968 the workers in France came out on strike in solidarity with the students, who were victims of severe state repression.


Covid-19 and state measures