Self-isolation for socialists
Self-isolation for socialists

Staying at home and washing your hands a lot is tough on everyone. But for left wing people, whose stock in trade is protests, mass meetings and political interaction, it is particularly hard. It is therefore timely to remember the contribution many great radicals have made from isolation, exile or imprisonment.

Kurdish-Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani, for example, spent five years imprisoned on Manus Island, during which time he produced one of the most important denunciations of Australia’s militarised border policy. No Friend but the Mountains was sent line by line as WhatsApp messages from a smuggled phone.

Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, from a German prison cell in 1915, penned the Junius pamphlet, a polemic against World War One and the reformist socialist leaders who sided with their own governments to support it. Luxemburg declared that humanity was at a crossroads: “Either the triumph of imperialism and the destruction of all culture, and, as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration, a vast cemetery; or, the victory of socialism”. Her writing helped galvanise the anti-war movement at the time.

Leon Trotsky was also forced to work from exile throughout the 1930s, chased from Russia and harassed across the world by Stalinist police agents and capitalist governments. He waged polemics against the atrocities and betrayals of Stalin’s regime, and attempted to build organisations that stood in the genuine, democratic tradition of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky was pushed to the margins of the socialist movement, but still he declared in 1935: “The work in which I am engaged now, despite its fragmentary nature, is the most important work of my life”.

Our tasks today are more modest, but these heroes show how time in isolation can be used to learn, organise and agitate. Instead of surrendering to despair, it’s important to focus on what we can do to keep up the fight against capitalism and keep ourselves sane during the lockdown. Here are a few ideas.

Educate yourself

Trotsky once quipped that he enjoyed his first exile to Siberia as a young revolutionary because it gave him time to read and think. Lockdown gives us time to read and learn without the unpleasantness of Siberia.

As the world hurtles into recession, Chris Harman’s Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx is indispensable for understanding capitalist crises and how the 2008 financial crisis shaped the world we are living in today.

The return of fascism has been recently overshadowed by a more corporeal pandemic. But far right leaders are now at the helm in some of the centres of world capitalism. Dave Renton’s The New Authoritarians – Convergence on the Right attempts to explain the rise of the far right in the wake of austerity and state-sanctioned racism.

Subterranean Fire by Sharon Smith examines the history of working-class radicalism in the US. The chapters covering Depression era struggles for union rights and against unemployment are a particularly valuable resource for socialists today. These books, and more, can be found at

Organise a rent strike

Calls for a rent strike have spread across the world as the economic impact of the crisis has started to bite. Despite a moratorium on evictions being formally announced, the government is doing little to protect renters who can’t or won’t pay. Reportedly, some landlords are asking tenants in financial distress to provide evidence of grocery and entertainment costs.

If you’re unlucky enough to be in this situation, you could take the initiative by conducting an audit of your landlord’s income and assets instead. How many houses do they own, and how much are they spending on streaming services? Are they so hard pressed that they need to continue receiving passive income from their investment property while millions face wage cuts and job losses?

Of course, you’re much more likely to be successful in taking on your landlord if you can organise collectively. Join Renters Organising Activism and Resistance on Facebook to link up with others who are trying to do the same thing. Be like the socialists and radical trade unionists of the 1970s who built barricades and defied police to prevent the eviction of working-class people from their homes in Sydney.

Put money on which world leaders will succumb to COVID-19 

“I shook hands with everybody”, Boris Johnson was recorded boasting just weeks before he was hospitalised for coronavirus symptoms. This sort of flippancy is unsurprising from a well-heeled Tory whose wealth and connections always insulated him from the consequences of his own actions. Usually, he has failed upwards into a more senior position, but this time he’s failed right into the intensive care unit.

It’s admittedly a small consolation, but the prospect of Johnson, Peter Dutton or Prince Charles being struck down is enough to lift your heart rate. Get in touch with a few of your friends and start a tipping competition.

OK, Zoomer

The coronavirus crisis has raised political questions that Marxism can answer. Socialist Alternative is hosting weekly livestream forums covering the politics of the pandemic. These happen every Sunday and are followed by online discussions in which you can link up with activists from your city. Find the details at the Socialist Alternative – Red Flag Facebook page.

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