The Difference Between Us and Them: Left and Right Responses to COVID-19

(Note: All information about various group actions have been pulled from public social media statements)

Since Trump’s first presidential campaign, many liberals have been quick to bemoan the increasing social fragmentation of American society. One frequent complaint has been that both the left and the right have moved in more radical directions, flirting with forms of organizing and ideology that liberals often refer to with the catch-all term “extremism.” As the concept of the alt-right began to gain popularity, liberals were quick to apply a similar term to those to their left, referring to communists, socialists, and even some social democrats as the “alt-left.” This rhetorical move has been a part of a broader strategy of liberals and centrists to imply that the far left and the far right are somehow comparable to each other, by virtue of both being outside the bounds of tepid American liberalism. This plays into a naive horseshoe theory that liberals love–it allows them to pretend that socialists are somehow equivalent to nazis, thereby dismissing both groups. 

Now that the Democratic party has consolidated around the most tepid and moderate candidate available, the liberal elite within the party have been quick to turn their ire towards those to their left who they see as a threat to a potential Biden victory in November’s general election. This has once again sparked a condemnation of “extremism” which refuses to note that there are fundamental differences between right and left-wing radicalism. 

Fortunately, this sort of centrist elitism cannot withstand even basic investigation into the current activities of both the radical left and the radical right. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light just how stark the difference between these two camps is. We can look to each camp’s response to this crisis in order to see not only how incorrect it is to lump these two camps together under the label of “extremism,” but also how weak the liberal response to COVID-19 has been. 

One thing that is clear is that COVID-19 has created an acute crisis in American society. Unemployment rates are soaring to levels unseen since the great depression, the overall economic outlook for the future looks extremely bleak, and there has been no coherent national response to the ensuing health and economic emergency. This is of course because a decentralized capitalist state like the United States is incapable of formulating such a response. The virus has laid bare the contradictions already present within the decaying husk of American capitalism, and we see now just how incapable the capitalist government is of overcoming those contradictions. Given the failure of an substantial or effective state response, both the far left and the far right have indeed mobilized under the current crisis. We can look to the differences in this mobilization in order to see just how different the goals and current practice of these two camps are, and to demonstrate how absurd it is for liberals to group both under labels of “extremism” and “radicalism” without paying any attention to the differences in class politics between the two. 

The far right’s response to the crisis has been given the most attention by far. The media has paid close attention to the mobilization of so-called “anti-lockdown” protests throughout the country. A coalition of republicans, libertarians, and outright fascists have taken to the steps of state capitals to demand that the lockdown be lifted. That these protests represent the angry and pathetic tantrums of the petty-bourgeoisie is obvious. Signs at these protests have ranged from demanding that the economy reopen so that protestors can get haircuts again to open invocation of Nazi language, with some protestors holding signs emblazened with the slogan “work makes you free” (infamously inscribed on the gates of Auschwitz), and others with signs depicting Jews as rats, featuring the words “the real plague.” These signs reveal the actual politics represented in these protests: a demand that workers be forced to die for the sake of profit and businesses as well as a desire for genocidal violence to be enacted against those who stand in the way of that process. 

Protestors using explicit Nazi language at various “anti-lockdown” protests.

Many of these protestors appeal to a vague sense of working class populism by pointing out the economic hardships that people are facing as a result of the lockdown, but this surface level appeal does not reflect the actual class politics of these protestors or their class composition. A quick look at the cars they are driving, the thousands of dollars in weaponry and armor they are bringing, and the general compositions of these crowds makes it quite obvious that these are not workers protesting for their own well being, these are primarily bourgeois and petty-bourgeois individuals worried that this lockdown will hurt their ability to profit off the exploitation of the working class. These are not your coworkers, these are your bosses demanding that you risk COVID exposure so they can make money. Inasmuch as there are some working-class people present at these far right protests, we should note that they are largely white working class. This demonstrates that these members of the white working class are so invested in white supremacy and the capitalist system that props it up, that they will actively work against their own class interests so long as it benefits their racial interests.

This generally bourgeois and petty-bourgeois composition of the far right protests is attested to as well by the fact that these protests have been planned by well funded right wing groups. These are not grassroot movements but rather intentionally manufactured protests, funded by billionaires like the DeVos family. These protests are an instance of armed and violent fascist thugs having a meltdown in the streets at the behest of the capitalist class. It is clear that in response to this crisis, the far right has done nothing productive to provide real relief. Their politics remain genocidal, reactionary, and openly supportive of mass death from the virus. It should not surprise us that individuals attending these rallies have turned to individual acts of violence against those providing even basic news coverage of these protests. It is clear that the distinguishing factor of the far right response is its class composition and politics: bourgeois and petty-bourgeois defense of capitalism and a bloodlust for workers to die for the sake of the economy. 

We must ask, is this response comparable to the left wing response on the basis of both sides falling under labels of “radicalism” and “extremism?” In order to answer this we must look to the actions being undertaken by the various sectors of the left more broadly. 

Here in Long Beach, we can look to the actions of multiple left groups to get an idea of how things are playing out. The response here has largely been one of solidarity, with left wing groups going out of their way to ensure that the workers who are suffering from the lockdown have their needs met, while also providing for the needs of unhouse community members who have been largely forgotten by the official state response. For example, the Long Beach Anarchist Collective has taken to distributing food and supplies to unhoused people in the Long Beach area. Such actions are crucial as the entire focus of state “stay at home” orders assumes that individuals have a traditional home they can isolate themselves in, but this is obviously not the case for many unhoused people. These actions show that the focus of the left has been on actually meeting people’s needs during this crisis. 

Long Beach Anarchist Collective providing food and supplies (Images from Twitter)

In addition to the work of the anarchist collective, the Long Beach chapter of the DSA has been delivering groceries to families who are currently in need because of the lockdown. Many working families are out of work because of business closures, and this has necessitated mutual aid organizing in order to make sure that families are still able to eat. At one distribution on May 7th, the Long Beach DSA chapter was able to deliver groceries to over 45 families. 

Long Beach DSA prepares groceries for distribution (from twitter)

Additionally, the People’s Revolutionary Party – Long Beach has begun to develop mutual aid capacity in order to respond to the crisis. Working with other progressive organizations, the PRP-LB has been able to provide groceries to just under 80 people total on a weekly basis alongside providing over 100 meals a week to unhoused community members. The PRP-LB distributions are paired with propaganda and are used to facilitate conversations with community members about how the failure of capitalism is at the core of the current crisis and the need for revolutionary organizing in response. 

PRP-LB members prepare groceries for distribution (from twitter)

The response to the COVID-19 crisis has not been limited to the local movement in Long Beach. Throughout the country there has been a movement to address the specific needs of the masses during this pandemic and lockdown. For example, For The People Chicago have been distributing groceries and meals in Albany Park. They have also taken control of the empty lot nearby (pictured below) in response to community members stating that they would like a community garden to supply food to the area. In their own words, this act “represents a radical act which disrupts the assumptions and logics of the status quo: it allows people to see the illusory nature of private property and it returns the lot back to the colonized working class” Similar actions were undertaken by members of For The People Saint Louis who now are working on restoring another abandoned lot. For The People Philly has also begun fundraising for a community medical fund which will provide medicine for those who cannot afford medication during the pandemic.

For The People Chicago members distribute food (from facebook)

Meanwhile in Newark, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party have launched a Serve The People Survival program in order to provide for the needs of the masses of Newark. Uniting this work with slogans calling for prison abolition and solidarity over charity, the NABPP are a fantastic example of the way that socialist organizers are not only helping people survive the COVID-19 crisis but are going further to connect this crisis to broader struggles for justice.

New Afrikan Black Panther Party distributing food (from facebook)

Another example of a solid left wing response is the work being undertaken by WHOA-GSO, a self described “irrevolutionary alliance dedicated to the emancipation of the working class by uniting incarcerated, migrant, and houseless struggles.” They have also stepped up to distribute goods and flyers to unhoused people in Greensboro, North Carolina. Their mutual aid work has also ensured that unhoused people have access to hand sanitizer in order to protect unhoused communities from COVID-19.

WHOA-GSO members preparing for a distribution (pictures from twitter)

Additionally, a group in Boston called the Solidarity Supply Distro has been distributing food in the city to those who are housebound and out of work because of the virus. SSD recognizes the limits of charity and the non-profit sphere, writing “Nonprofits can only reach so many people, and often it is only those who are connected to their services already.” As such, the work SSD is doing is meeting the needs of those most overlooked by the official state and non-profit response to the pandemic.

Supplies ready for distribution by the SSD (image from facebook)

All of these responses represent an approach to the crisis that stands in stark contrast to the far-right’s response. While fascists and reactionaries threaten violence against the workers, the left actually puts itself on the front line of the crisis to simultaneously make sure that the needs of workers are being met, and that political consciousness is developed. While the left wing response has not been unified, and there are obvious differences and contradictions in the ideologies of various left wing groups, the overall focus of left wing organizations in the long beach area has been on solidarity and meeting people’s needs. Some of these groups might not even identify as “far-left” but the mainstream liberal core of the Democratic Party has applied this label to all those to their left. Only those with ulterior political motivations could pretend that this response is in any way similar to the response of the far-right or that these the far-right and the far-left represent some sort of coherent political phenomena of “extremism.” 

What is clear is that COVID-19 has created a crisis that demands a response. Furthermore, it is clear that it is left wing organizations who have actually mobilized a meaningful political response to that crisis. The broader left will have to work out its own strategic and tactical differences over time, and it is clear that a proletarian politics must come to the forefront, but in the more immediate moment, the development of mutual aid networks and consciousness building is a promising sign. The far-right will inevitably continue to organize, and will likely continue to grow as more petty-bourgeois people find their interests disrupted by this crisis. Only a militant and organized socialist movement will be able to effectively combat these rising tides of reaction. Liberals continue to rally behind Biden, their chosen racist creep candidate. They continue to believe that a political program which does nothing to challenge capitalism and imperialism will be capable of surviving this crisis as well as future crises. They are wrong and COVID-19 has shown just how ineffective liberalism is at dealing with these sorts of emergencies. 

As a result of their own ineptitude, liberals lash out against those to their left through slanderous accusations of “extremism” and “radicalism,” hoping to convince the people that the left is in some way comparable to the reactionary right. We have seen here, through a very basic investigation, that this is not at all the case. It is our hope that the emerging left wing forms of organizing can consolidate into a militant and socialist united front to not only combat the growing reactionary movement, but to finally go on the offensive against capitalism itself. 

If you would like to donate to the work being done by the organizations mentioned here, you can do so with the links below: 

Long Beach Anarchist Collective:

People’s Revolutionary Party – Long Beach:

DSA Long Beach Venmo: @dsa-longbeach

For The People STL Cash App: $CPSDSTL

For The People Philly V-enmo/Cash App: @FTP-PHL/$ForThePeoplePHL

New Afrikan Black Panther Party: Cash App/Venmo: $SZulu/@Shaka-Zulu-14


Solidarity Supply Distro:

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