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“The Coronavirus is Man-Made:” the Conspiracy Theory Trap 

In this trying time, have you heard some of your friends say that the U.S. government created this pandemic or that the pandemic is not real at all?

It is worth responding to these outlandish claims because in times of social tumult, there are no lack of conspiracy theorists irresponsibly tossing these ideas around. It is right to distrust the people in power and “it is right to rebel.” Poor and oppressed people instinctively know this system does not work for them but it is important that we critically read the mainstream news and back up our counter arguments with history and science.

The Battle of Ideas

Overwhelmed by the spread of the virus, and the plague of poverty and injustice, our people are searching for answers. Deprived of history and a critical education, some of our friends come up with all types of ideas. Religious zealots say that the coronavirus is the work of god on high intervening in earthly affairs to “clean things up.”

The liberatory perspective sees things differently than conspiracy theorists or bible thumpers. An organization that defends human life and the environment puts forth a worldview and program to challenge the social class that today seeks to dominate us whereas reactionary worldviews, consciously or not, buttress the power of the dominant social class because they offer justifications of the status quo. It is important to be able to understand all strands of thought and their social origins, such as religious ideology, liberalism, fascism, conspiracy theory and of course Marxism. History will judge our line of thinking and program for action, especially whether we have done all that is feasible, used democratic procedures, and acted to defend all human life by transforming the prevailing capitalist system.

Where does conspiracy “theory” lead us?  

We should all be reading far and wide to understand this virus and historical moment. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense encouraged their cadre to read the news for two hours every morning. Today this remains relevant. Wake up and read The New York Times, CNN, Foxnews, BBC and then read what the Chinese, Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan leadership is saying. With a dictionary by your side, (or nowadays with dictionary.com saved as one of your favorite websites) read what CounterPunch, The Gray Zone, Liberation News and other critical media sites are saying.

Yes political education is hard work and takes years of training. How much easier to just throw your hands up and say: “it’s the government!” or “its the hand of god!” Don’t waste your valuable time on conspiracy theorists because they only entertain ideas which confirm their own narrow view. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To ignore the dangers of the virus is to also ignore the resistance of working people.

Detroit bus drivers went on strike and won greater protection from the virus. Amazon workers are on the frontlines of struggle right now. Peasants in Haiti are forming networks through WhatsApp and organizing teams on pickup trucks with bullhorns to raise awareness about the virus. The people and leadership of Wuhan, China coordinated an entire campaign to overcome the coronavirus. In another example of medical internationalism, China and Cuba are now sending doctors to dozens of countries to assist in the global fight against corona. In the column marked new deaths, which skyrockets every day in the West, the Chinese column has read zero for three consecutive days. We also cannot ignore the enormous hardships imposed upon the Iranian people who have a duel battle — one against the coronavirus and the other against an airtight U.S.-led military and economic blockade.

This unforeseen historical moment is pregnant with conversations and possibilities for building a new world in the aftermath of this pandemic that we could not have imagined last month.

Understanding the State

When we are walking down Utica, 149th or 125th St. we see the conspiracy documentaries. They are readily available. These conspiracy documentaries do more to retard and isolate than advance the struggle. They shroud the class enemy in mystery instead of exposing it. Why can’t you find any revolutionary documentaries or books in our communities? Because they are a threat to the powers that be.

How do the rich maintain their stranglehold over society? Through the state, universal surveillance, and the armed repression of one social class by another.

There is now extensive documentation exposing the government’s role in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the need to neutralize any other “Black Messiah,” as the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover put it. Just in 1969, the FBI and local police departments tracked hundreds of Black leaders and assassinated 28 of them. This was not merely the doing of a handful of specific individuals who were pulling some invisible strings. This was an entire system that is antagonistic to true empowerment of the Black community and all oppressed communities. The state is presently a tool of class oppression because corporate power is entrenched in the three branches of government; the elites created the police, courts, prisons and military to protect their monopoly over the wealth of society.

Know your Enemy

Conspiracy “theorists” are not theorists in the critical sense at all but charlatans who make it seem like the enemy aka the ruling power structure is a mysterious, shady worldwide network that is unable to be pinned down. As 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment last week and millions of other families anxiously await a meager check of $1,200; the billionaires are right before us in plain view, with their companies, property, mansions, yachts and stunning accumulation of wealth. As our families have to decide between intensified poverty because of layoffs or continuing to work and putting our loved ones at further risk, the bosses hide behind their laptops, cutting millions of jobs and moving billions of dollars.

The same individuals who run General Electric or Disney also own and run NBC, Telemundo and CBS. The social class that owns the means of production also controls the images, information and ideas that circulate through society. It’s up to us to challenge them, using every means of communication at our disposal.  Conspiracy theories do not encourage us to fight back; they distract our attention when what we really need to do is organize around real-life issues.

Most of the big endorsers of conspiracy theorists are privileged dilatants who are just interested in promoting themselves and their “theory.” As we saw with the “9/11 truthers,” the “Zeitgeist” people and those obsessed with the “Illuminati,” their style leads to a cultish gathering around one “enlightened” thinker but organizes very little, if anything, for our communities. Show me a conspiracy theorist who does anything besides talk! It is a dead-end.

Which Way Forward? Fight to Learn, Learn to Fight

Cowering before such mesmerizing challenges, many good people fall into the conspiracy theory trap. But we propose another way forward. Join a union, student or tenant organization or study group.

We believe in the formation and training of multinational leadership and we believe in a broad struggle organized around every issue that affects our class i.e. access to healthcare, a people’s bailout, budget cuts, sexism, police brutality, wars of recolonization and military recruiting in our neighborhoods.

What will ever free us from the dictatorship of the rich and spare the planet more abuse by the corporations? Unity and struggle behind a program that seeks to overcome the multiple hierarchies of domination and create a democratic socialist economy aimed at meeting people’s needs rather than private accumulation.

Danny Shaw teaches Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Race, Ethnicity, Class and Gender at the City University of New York and is an adjunct lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. A Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, he works to keep young people out of the military and prison industrial complex. He is the author of six books: 365 Days of Resistance, Shedding that which is Not Us: A Working-Class Guide to Life Foods Training and Healing, The Saints of Santo Domingo: Dominican Resistance in the Age of Neocolonialism, My Son Blazes within Me: So Many Contradictions, So Little Time, Paisajes de Amor y Combate and Los Santos de Santo Domingo.

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