Thinking Through the Threats and Opportunities as a Far-Right Initiative Gains Momentum
Opponents of vaccine mandates have established protest encampments in Ottawa and elsewhere around Canada, blockading several routes crossing the United States border. Far-right organizers and former police officers have prominent positions in this movement, and police have taken a relatively hands-off approach thus far; it appears likely that the model currently being tested in Canada will appear elsewhere around the world shortly. In the following extensive report, our correspondent in Montréal explores the sequence of events that led up to these developments, reviews the agendas of the various forces vying for control, and reflects on what we can do in a situation in which the far right has gained the initiative.
To preface this report, it is necessary to deal briefly with the question of whether the anti-mandate protests in Ottawa represent a movement for “freedom,” as the participants insist.
On October 25, 2021, officers of the New York City Police Department participated in shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge—where they famously kettled and arrested Occupy protesters almost precisely ten years earlier—to protest against a vaccine mandate for municipal employees. While we passionately believe that people must be free make their own medical decisions and determine their own risk tolerance, the police were effectively demanding the right to expose those they arrest to even greater medical risk. This is a particularly clear-cut case showing that the movement against vaccine mandates is not necessarily a movement against state control or in favor of medical autonomy.
An authentic movement for freedom and medical autonomy would oppose all the forces that compel workers to expose themselves to COVID-19 against their wishes—in other words, it would be explicitly anti-capitalist. Likewise, such a movement would support striking students intent on determining for themselves which risks they wish to take.
When anti-mandate protesters maintain that borders should be tightly controlled by passport checks, yet decry vaccine passports as “fascism”—when they complain about police checking for vaccine cards, but support police in arresting and imprisoning people by the million—when they object to the government placing limits on economic activity, but not to the vast economic disparities that force workers to face potentially lethal risks simply in order to pay rent—they are not taking a stand in favor of freedom so much as they are willfully changing the subject from the encroachments of state power as a whole to a few details of state policy. This is part of the process through which a spurious right-wing opposition functions to redirect rebellious impulses into ersatz movements that ultimately strengthen state institutions.
It is possible that a consistent movement opposing state control in favor of medical autonomy could serve as a space in which those who oppose vaccine passports could go through a process of political development. But for this to be possible, these movements would have to foster a systemic analysis of power, whereas in fact, they are dominated by right-wing elements intent on limiting their political horizons. Therefore, at the minimum, it is necessary to oppose and outflank the right-wing elements in these movements—which is the subject of the following text.
The paranoid fears concerning vaccination and the conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19 concern entirely the issue of the loss of autonomy. They allegorically (and distortedly) project real economic and social experience onto the body. In this manner, they both express and repress the experience, just as dreams, and more generally, the language of the unconscious, do: it’s not, allegedly, that the small store owner or the small businessman has been crushed by large states’ economies of scale, but rather that there is a plan to control his/her brain, or his/her body, his or her reproductive capacities.
Because the anti-vaccine unconscious is, like every form of mass irrationalism, the exact opposite of what it believes it is—because, in other words, it is a deeply conformist way of thinking—it is also a particularly fertile ground for the development of forms of racism, among which the anti-semitic and the Sinophobic elements are predominant.
Without further ado—the report.