Civil liberties or the Chinese model?

Submitted by AWL on 13 April, 2021 - 5:05 Author: Jim Denham
China, Covid sign

Back in the early days of the pandemic (24 March 2020, to be precise), theMorning Star carried two articles, side by side: “Instead of chauvinism towards China, we must learn from China. All anti-racists have a duty to campaign for the government to drop any racist inhibitions and adopt the Chinese approach that saves the maximum number of lives”, began an article by Sabby Dhalu.

Alongside, another writer had a piece about the emergency powers being enacted in the UK: “Concern as state control tightens — As the government races emergency powers through parliament to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, Stephen Walker looks at Britain’s record of creeping authoritarianism and asks if we should be afraid” (Walker’s answer being “yes”).

Given that supporters and critics alike agree that China’s “ambitious, agile, and aggressive disease containment effort” (to quote the WHO) involved a ultra-tight lockdown of Wuhan and nearby cities in Hubei province, which put at least 50 million people under a police-imposed quarantine, and an massive expansion of the state’s already extensive system of surveillance and tracking, the contrasting responses of two Morning Star contributors was — to put it mildly — striking.

From November 2020 the paper began championing the Zero Covid campaign, whose chief demand is a “full” and indefinite lockdown of everything which is not “absolutely essential” until we get to zero or “near-zero” infections.

Zero Covid has always been a somewhat vague and incoherent campaign. Its proponents often appear to accept that even the longest and fullest lockdown won’t reach absolute “zero”. In last Friday’s Morning Star (April 9) Ian Sinclair seemed to admit as much when he wrote “even if it is not possible to completely eliminate new cases in Britain right now, a government committed to zero Covid would significantly reduce cases, and therefore significantly reduce deaths.”

Self-evident

But two things about Zero Covid are self-evident:

1/ If all workers other than those doing “absolutely essential” work are staying home, workers’ action is by definition no factor in the program except in improving precautions within “absolutely essential” workplaces

2/ It must mean more coercive restrictions on democratic rights from the State. Logically, demonstrations and picket lines should be banned or at least severely limited in numbers, and such restrictions can only be enforced by the police.

Yet, continuing the contradiction first demonstrated by those two articles over a year ago, the Morning Star has (correctly) supported protests like Black Lives Matter and, more recently, the demonstrations against the Police and Crime Bill and the Sarah Everard vigil so brutally broken up by the police.

In fact, an editorial (16 March) proclaimed “Our rights are under attack, but the left’s response has been piecemeal, criticising some authoritarian laws while endorsing others, failing to orientate ourselves consistently as a democratic movement opposed to concentrating power in the hands of the capitalist state.”

Meanwhile, the Morning Star’s political masters have stuck a similar note: The paper reported (26 March) that “Communist Party executive member Alex Gordon told the party’s political committee ... that the policing and spycops Bills currently going through Parliament are examples of the growing centralisation and empowerment of the state and its police and intelligence services ... the danger now is that some of the drastic but temporary restrictions of our hard-won civil liberties might be made permanent” ... like they are in China, he didn’t add.

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