The socio-political makeup of the coronaskeptic movement

This overview of the findings of this German paper is fascinating. It’s part of an insightful essay about the strange coalitions taking shape which transcend the left-right binary in a way I’ve come to think of as lumpen-libertarian. I particularly valued its focus on “the freelance media hustlers, movement messiahs, and entrepreneurial contrarians who have every motivation to sharpen social tensions”.

Yet the first academic study of the “coronaskeptic” movement in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland puts even these tentative labels into question. Sociologists at the University of Basel find that, in German-speaking countries anyway, right-wingers do not completely dominate the movement. In the most recent election, the largest percentage of those active had voted for the Greens (23 percent) and the second for the Left Party (18 percent) followed by the right-wing Alternative for Germany (15 percent). The majority showed no particular antagonism to foreigners or Muslims nor did they believe that women should return to traditional roles. Most denied neither the science of climate change nor the Holocaust. One denialism did not imply all others.

What they did believe in was a high level of elite closure suturing together media, government, big business, and finance. They feel that the media and the state were working to create excessive fear in the population, conceal the truth, and deceive the people. Nearly two thirds believed the Bill and Gates Melinda Foundation want a forced vaccination for the whole world.

From a class perspective, the movement was far from lumpen. Participants mostly self-identified as middle class and were disproportionately self-employed (25 percent compared to 9.6 percent in Germany overall). Protests worldwide have frequently been led by small business owners and the self-employed, who conventionally lack the social ties of trade union membership and have less job security than civil servants or the employees of larger businesses permitted to work from home in “white-collar quarantine.”

Small-business owners and the self-employed have reason to be angry. The so-called “K-shaped recovery” has favored large corporations, which have reaped gains—and access to credit from both private and public sources—as smaller enterprises suffered. This has been most marked for providers of in-person services. In some of the more notable examples of escalating frustration, men armed with assault rifles stood guard at a Dallas hair salon that refused to close in April. In October, restaurant owners in chef’s hats demonstrated in the streets of Rome as a trumpet played “Taps” for their businesses. In London, a gym owner who refused to close his business was among twenty-nine people arrested as five police officers were injured in a protest against the city’s return to Tier 4 lockdown.

Even though these movements shouldn’t be conflated, this piece from Richard Seymour spoke to aforementioned issues. I thought the focus on the experience of downward class mobility amongst those who benefited from asset Keynesianism which was such a key part of the 90s/00s centrist settlement was a particularly important point:

About those who breached the capitol, we know that they are disproportionately white, male, middle-aged and middle-class. About forty percent of them were either business owners or white-collar professionals. However, they’re also downwardly mobile. About 60 per cent of them had a history of debt and financial trouble, including 18 per cent who had faced bankruptcy. This is problematic for those who force an unproductively rigid distinction between ‘economic anxiety’ (downward class mobility) and ‘status anxiety’ (racism), but otherwise unsurprising. Essentially, these appear to be people who became very affluent during the long boom, and have since had their living standards shaken. Financialised precarity radiates right up the chain of classes and class fractions.

The point he makes about the organisational grammar through which we make sense of such movements limiting our comprehension of them sits well with the themes I’ve explored concerning fragile movements:

For example, we might think of leadership as ‘distributed’, i.e. as something that circulates through a network. We might think of ‘platforms’ as non-party and non-militia types of organisation that provide a limited set of homogenised but flexible tools for political action. And we might think of ‘vanguard functions’ as tasks that are performed, not necessarily by any historically privileged party, but by a range of ‘organising cores’ that could include parties, unions, horizontalist cooperatives, networked clusters of activists, and so on. The way in which leadership circulates in the organising ecology reflects the relative success of different bids, slogans, strategic gambits. Hence, in part, the ‘liquidity’. 

2 responses to “The socio-political makeup of the coronaskeptic movement”

  1. I’m reminded of Eric Fromm’s discussion of libertarian and authoritarian personalities and how those contrast with political beliefs.

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