In the midst of this pandemic, many have watched in awe as American people in Texas, Wisconsin and Colorado to name a few took to the streets protesting against lockdown restrictions. Interestingly, their chosen tactic is not often at home in right wing politics. Whilst many have found watching protestors’ complete disregard for social distancing measures uncomfortable viewing, Marxists see the left-wing tactic of protesting commandeered by those urging for a return to capitalism as normal.
Most of the protestors regard the imposed lockdowns as an infringement upon their liberty. The acts of civil disobedience are bound by desires to return to work and regain a decent standard of living. Nevertheless, perhaps it is something deeper than this, something within the American mindset which fuels these protests. One protestor in Colorado was filmed shouting, “Go to China if you want communism”.
Whilst the government have increased unemployment aid to reduce the hardship of the crisis, deeming this ‘communist’ seems inaccurate. The language of the protest echoes the rhetoric of the Cold War.
The irony is that frustration towards America taking a marginally less neoliberal approach has been voiced through protests; a method of engagement associated with leftist politics. Marxists are likely puzzled by this phenomenon. The initial sting of coronavirus has paused the hamster wheel of making ends meet, with this hiccup the security of routine has been discarded.
Whilst protesters have consciously realised their frustration with capitalist decision makers, perhaps they have not yet associated this with the broader capitalist system. Put simply, Marxists might argue that workers are grabbing at the security blanket of capitalism without recognising the holes in the blanket which leave them without sufficient means of healthcare or income in this crisis.
It is unclear what the result of these protests will be. The complex nature of the federal system inherently means that the response won’t be uniform.
Most recently, Brian Kemp, the Republican Governor of Georgia has announced plans to reopen businesses starting on the 24th April. Trump has spoken saying that he “disagrees strongly” with Kemp’s decision, but that Kemp must “do what he thinks is right”. The President has however expressed aspirations of states reopening before May 1st. Some question whether his executive powers will be stretched, states being forced to follow executive guidelines on when to lift lockdown.
On a more ideological note, Marxists might expect that workers attending the protests will develop class consciousness. As infection spreads, perhaps disillusion towards decision makers will fuel disillusion towards the system.
One indication of growing public frustration might be in the upcoming presidential elections. Whilst the Trump administration has sanctioned a significant increase of unemployment aid, perhaps voters struggling under the pressure of the virus will begin to affiliate more strongly with socially responsible politics.
One issue with the American political system however is the lack of a left-wing political party. The election results are thus unlikely to herald a clear shift to more socially considerate policy. Nevertheless, the brutality of coronavirus might make Obama’s aspirations of meaningful reform to the healthcare system more achievable.
In spite of this, support for Trump seems to have risen slightly. The rally around the flag effect is common in America. When in crisis support for the President goes up, as was the case for President Bush after 9/11. However, this is no guarantee that he will succeed in the election. Indeed, his support ratings have risen less so than that of previous presidents leading under crisis. This is not to mention that support ratings can have the potential collapse rapidly.
Trump has not responded the protests as one might expect. He has shown little frustration at the breaking of lockdowns. Likely because the election looms and he does not wish to discommode his core voting base or slip into recession.
Whether protests continue or are squashed, coronavirus has definitely exposed the weaknesses of America’s neoliberal political and economic organisation. As Americans struggle under the weight of the crisis, perhaps the nation will shift to implement social safety nets, although there doesn’t seem to be a communist revolution on the current agenda.