The article which follows comes from the November Annual General Meeting of our Italian affiliate, the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista). It reiterates what all the affiliates of the Internationalist Communist Tendency have said from the beginning of this pandemic; that the virus is not only the result of developments within capitalism but that the capitalists, by putting profits before people’s lives, have also vastly increased the death rate.
Officially the global figure is now close to 5.5 million but this is a massive understatement. The Economist, for example, now reckons that the real excess death rate is 17 million.(1)
Currently the overwhelming number dying are the unvaccinated. Thus getting the vaccine is a no-brainer. It can not only spare the individual from a horrible death or life-changing debility, but also can help to control the spread of the virus by not leaving space for new variants to develop, and thus reduce the length of the pandemic for us all. As the document which follows says, it is the socially responsible thing to do. If we were already in a socialist society we would have no hesitation about persuading everyone to get vaccinated. But we live in a class society, and for both the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie profit comes first. At the beginning of the pandemic the bourgeoisie who dominate the political system tried to ignore the virus. At first the danger was talked down as if it were just the common cold. Once Covid revealed what it could do, we were told “herd immunity” would eventually halt the spread of disease. As a result tens of thousands died from contagion in their workplaces or in their care homes where the danger was multiplied by Covid cases released from hospitals. In the UK, and elsewhere, PPE was inadequate (when it did exist it was often past its sell-by date so they just stuck new stickers on with new dates). Test and trace was also a disaster despite the boasts about being “world-beating”. It was only when the epidemic threatened to overwhelm the health systems that had been underfunded for decades (and thus threatened to become a threat to the entire capitalist system) that lockdowns, and other social distancing measures, were brought in.
Lockdowns forced states everywhere to conjure up the money to pay for furloughs but most of the money went to business. In the US, for example, Congress passed the $2.7 trillion CARES Act but only $610 billion went to households – the rest went to firms. Whilst the rich got richer (US household wealth has risen by $18 trillion since the pandemic began) those petty bourgeoisie in every country who either didn’t qualify for support schemes or did not feel they got enough from the state, started to scream the loudest. First they denied Covid was a threat and happily followed populist leaders who said the same. Like the bourgeoisie itself, they were unmoved by the numbers dying at work, and when the vaccines came along they were the first to refuse them, to spread all kinds of conspiracy theories about them, and the scientists who developed them. In a shifting scenario like a pandemic, science naturally has to be guarded about the hypotheses it puts forward. Some research can appear to contradict earlier theories as new data becomes available. It is a perfect situation for conspiracy theory and rumour, so easily circulated on social media, to take root and flourish. Burning 5G phone masts in the early days of the pandemic was little more than a repeat of the late 19th century hysteria that came with the mainstream use of electricity being blamed for influenza outbreaks.
In Australia our comrades reported that:
"Since July (2021), there have been regular protests and riots (known as “freedom rallies”) cropping up in major cities and in some smaller towns around Australia … Attendees at these events not only are against mandatory vaccination and opposed to the pseudo-lockdowns implemented by the state but they also by and large don’t want workers to be paid to stay home, to keep ourselves and those around us safe. This same crowd also rejects masks and vaccines in general. Indeed, many of them minimise the threat posed by the coronavirus or even deny, against all empirical evidence to the contrary, that it exists."(2)
These rallies have been dominated by elements of the petty bourgeoisie, who care little or nothing about the well-being of workers and are instead acting out against the forced closure of their businesses during the lockdown, which for them means smaller profits. Small-business owners within affected industries, such as construction, are chief among these. It is this same social element that has been peddling several anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and enthusiastically embracing the most virulently xenophobic figures in the far right.
Unfortunately this has also touched some elements of the working class around the world. This is partly attributed to the mismanagement of the pandemic in many states. In Italy the Draghi government has perhaps employed the most draconian version of the European Digital Covid Visa or Green Pass. To get it you have to be either fully vaccinated, recently recovered from Covid or tested negative within the previous 72 hours. Originally designed to facilitate travel throughout the EU, it became necessary for all travel or to enter places of public entertainment. As of 15 October all Italian workers had to have it to enter the workplace or face suspension and/or dismissal. This led some workers, perhaps fearful of the Green Pass being used as an excuse to lay them off, to strike and demonstrate. Some port workers in Genoa, Trieste and Ancona have struck and demonstrated against the Green Pass. In Genoa this was no more than 300 (and the videos show outside supporters making the most noise in front of the picket). However in Trieste (in Friuli-Venezia Giulia province), a stronghold of the political right, only 40% of port workers are vaccinated against Covid and at least 5,000 demonstrated (although it is not clear how many were actually workers as here too many came from “outside”). The organisers actually turned away contingents from the fascist Forza Nuova and CasaPound because they had trashed the offices of the main union, the CGIL in Rome the previous week.(3) The irony of one banner which carried the slogan of “no to the fascistic Green Pass” or seeing fascists chanting against “dictatorship” has not escaped us.
Comrades report the same from other countries, like France and Germany, where the banners of anarchists, the capitalist left and fascists mingle in demonstrations.(4) These popular non-class movements reminiscent of the “yellow vests” in France are declining in the face of the now overwhelming evidence that vaccines save lives. But not before some political organisations claiming to be “revolutionary” and “libertarian” have lined up with the “No Green Pass” campaign, supposedly a campaign for “freedom” against the state.
Yet what kind of "freedom" are we talking about here? Individualistic, petty bourgeois, anti-statism is not the basis of our opposition to the capitalist state. The assertion of the individual right of the unvaccinated to do what they like is not a liberating idea for the majority of workers. Nor is the idea that we stop carrying out all the other measures of social distancing, mask wearing, hand cleaning, etc. As the WHO keep saying, in a pandemic “no one is safe until everyone is safe”. Irrespective of what the capitalist state decrees, our first responsibility is a collective one – to each other. Unfortunately much of the collective strength of the working class has been lost in the last four decades of retreat in the face of an onslaught from our capitalist masters. Their notion of “liberty” is the freedom to exploit without any form of restraint (such as health and safety measures) and to avoid any social responsibility for the consequences of their actions. This idea of individual freedom gives those with wealth the power to determine the fate of all of us (just look at the way lobbying groups and those who fund the ruling parties get contracts and the laws to suit their interests). It is based on a lie. We are not all equal before the law as the law costs money, and is in any case based on the protection of property rights. Under this system (with a few high profile exceptions) the more you have of it the more “justice” you can obtain. The poor go to court at their peril.
This individualistic approach to “freedom” has gained traction the more fragmented the world working class has become. The break up of larger production units, the impersonal anonymity of firms owned by financial predators like hedge funds, the adoption of the gig economy, zero hour contracts, the subcontracting of work so workers have to become “self-employed” and so on, have all deliberately undermined the conditions for collective action. In the course of this, workers’ wages as a share of the wealth they create have declined globally for the last 40 years. And the more that we concede the more the capitalists come back for more. The Green Pass is not our big problem (especially if you just get vaccinated) but the imminent reduction in the purchasing power of wages, and the general increase in precarity, will not end unless we collectively fight back in the coming period. As the document which follows makes clear, this is the real task which internationalists have to focus on. We are already seeing in the US and Iran(5) that some workers have begun that task but there is a long way to go because the only real solution to all the problems, which this system is intent on foisting on us, is its destruction. That demands a much clearer political compass than that offered by the “No Green Pass” activists.
Communist Workers’ Organisation
On Vaccines, the Vaccine Campaign, the Green Pass and Bourgeois Responsibility
Vaccines have shown they contain the infection and drastically reduce the number of hospitalisations and deaths. This of course has its limits due to the fact that only a part of the population has been vaccinated, as well as the failure to apply a series of other interventions necessary to limit and contain the pandemic, but these do not invalidate the fact that the numbers of infections, hospitalisations and deaths are currently significantly lower than in the same period last year. The newly infected are overwhelmingly unvaccinated, and the number of serious and very serious adverse cases due to vaccines is, in any case, massively lower than equivalent situations of seriousness due to Covid in the unvaccinated. Given these statistics (this winter it will also be interesting to see how the pandemic fares in Italy and Portugal, which have the highest number of vaccinated in Europe, compared with the tendency in the least vaccinated countries), we strongly maintain that vaccination should be shared and disseminated as a primary public health measure.
Those who do not get vaccinated increase the risk of contagion, not only for themselves, but also for their workmates and family members, as well as for the general population (as it seems that the viral load of the unvaccinated is greater, and more contagious, than that of the vaccinated). The most serious consequences of the disease have hit social classes across the board, of course, but especially the working class. The pandemic has raged amongst the countless proletarian and dispossessed masses of the “developing countries”, in the immense slums that surround their cities, but also in the greatest imperialist superpower on the planet, the USA. Those masses, our class brothers and sisters, have been, and continue to be, deprived of the first and, for now, the most effective tool for containing and combating the pandemic, the vaccine. It is yet another demonstration of how the bourgeoisie is a parasitic social class, with no concern for public or general health, but only its own economic interests, i.e. profit.
However, affirming the need for the maximum diffusion of vaccination practice does not stop us criticising, as we have always done, both the methods of bourgeois management of the pandemic (bent on maximising profits, containing the costs of any health measures and seizing opportunities to restructure the labour market) as much as the alleged “opposition movements” to vaccines, or to the Green Pass, which, in the name of an ambiguous “anti-system” attitude, and despite the fact that there may be elements in them that claim to be communist, are in fact, above all, vehicles of the worst irrational reactionary and obscurantist ideologies, which divert the conflict towards conspiracy theories, towards “another kind of capitalism”. But let’s proceed in order, starting with the application of the Green Pass.
The Green Pass
The positions taken on vaccines (and “the right to freedom of treatment”) and on the Green Pass have literally split groups and movements (if not families or friendships), in a totally cross-class way. The Green Pass has a dual purpose: on the one hand – as a simple document – it is a tool that has proved useful and positive in massively increasing the number of vaccinated; on the other hand, it represents a hateful tool of blackmail, discrimination and punishment against those workers who, for some reason, have not got vaccinated, by imposing the cost of testing on them. In short, it represented the “fig leaf” behind which the bourgeoisie hides the shame of not having implemented any other health measures (besides the vaccine and the Green Pass) to limit and contain the pandemic. In short, yet another cowardly bourgeois hypocrisy.
We understand the need for vaccination to be accompanied by a document certifying the successful execution, or the negative outcome of the swab, especially for those workplaces considered high risk, such as healthcare and the care sector. However, we refuse to accept the identification of this certification (or whatever you want to call it) with the Green Pass: the first might be useful in certifying vaccination (or the negative result of a test) but the bourgeoisie would then have the problem of how to manage these workers; the second combines this useful purpose with an unacceptable targeting of the working class – wage cuts, suspension, dismissal, etc., in order to make us bear the costs and the consequences of their mismanagement of the pandemic. The bourgeoisie has no “moral” title (though it has, of course, the power) to invoke and impose punitive measures against those workers who do not adopt behaviour aimed at mitigating the risk of infection. This is because the bourgeoisie caused the pandemic (and deaths) to spread in the spring of 2020, and have not implemented adequate measures subsequently. Indeed, it has taken advantage of the conditions created by the pandemic to perpetrate the attack on workers and defend profits. Having clarified these aspects, it now makes sense here to re-propose and update our criticisms of the bourgeois management of collective health and of the movements that have developed in recent months, with particular attention to the “No Green Pass” movement.
The Virus is Capitalism
Capitalism is primarily responsible for the Covid pandemic. Whether or not it was the result of leap for animals to humans or a leak from a laboratory experiment, doesn’t much matter. The virus has found the most effective ways to expand its rapid spread through the capitalist system’s productive and social structures. Decades of cuts in health spending, and very polluted and congested mega-cities, have all favoured the spread of the virus which followed the trade routes of the globalised capitalist economy.
The approach of the bourgeois states towards the pandemic was too little, too late (when not in open denial of the danger), thus fostering a multitude of avoidable deaths. A pandemic had been predicted for years by many scientific committees, yet the bourgeoisie has hampered research, reduced hospitals to a minimum, cut beds and both medical and nursing personnel. This not only happened in Italy, but in all the “advanced” countries, not to mention those of the “periphery”, where the health provision was already largely inadequate.
Bourgeois Management of the Pandemic
During the lockdowns of spring 2020, with the gamble of the ATECO codes,(6) most of the industrial proletariat continued to work, and therefore the virus circulated. In the summer of 2020, the race to reopen the accommodation and recreational facilities, with the bourgeois sectors most linked to tourism and hospitality clamouring “to go back to doing what could not be done”, was the basis for the spread of the second and third wave in the following autumn/winter. The British case, where masks and social distancing was ended in July 2021, is a good example. Returning to Italy, almost two years after the start of the pandemic, no significant practical changes in the structure of how we live and work have yet been implemented. School classes have not been reduced (starting with the so-called “hen coops”)( with schools just advised to keep the windows open (!!). The number of public transport runs (for students and commuters) have not increased, no air purifiers have been installed in public places, the track and trace system has not been strengthened in order to limit and contain outbreaks. Containment and prevention measures have not been prepared for subsequent waves, despite the fact that they were, and still are, widely predictable. On the other hand, precarious work has increased with the Covid contracts and the times and methods (see again the school with the three cases needed today) of the quarantine have been reduced.(8) In the meantime, healthcare spending has remained virtually unchanged, with the result that hospitals are congested and numerous hospital operations, including serious ones, continue to be postponed indefinitely. In healthcare, with the new Covid precarious contracts and the savings made by postponing a whole series of operations, profits have grown. The bourgeoisie made a clear choice: the virus cannot be eradicated in a time frame that suits the demands of capital therefore we just have to live with it. For capital, the pandemic is an opportunity to strengthen its policies.
The Vaccination Campaign
Vaccinations, in the richest countries, started late and with many problems, especially with the AstraZeneca “mess”: in Italy first recommended to teachers and law enforcement agencies, then suspended for the “under 60s” following some serious adverse events, suspected to be related to the vaccine.(9) The way in which the bourgeoisie manages the vaccination campaign must be denounced in terms: of patent restrictions, of the limits placed on research, etc. and even of the rich countries letting “their” doses expire whilst most of the world’s population still has no access to vaccines. Above all, this opens the door to the development of even more dangerous variants of the virus.
Despite these critical weaknesses, from the available data so far, it is obvious that in countries where the number of vaccinated is greater, such as Italy and Portugal, the incidence of the virus is at a minimum, while in countries where the number of vaccinated people is much lower the numbers of deaths and in intensive care is higher.
Vaccines and Safety at Work
The logic behind the bourgeoisie’s pandemic policy runs the risk of reproducing and favouring new catastrophes. For the sake of the safety of workers and of our class, here and in the rest of the world, we must start from the obvious observation that vaccines are necessary, but at the same time we must denounce our rulers for lowering their guard on health and safety in general (as seen in the growing number of accidents at work) and the pandemic in particular: masks and sanitisers are now used less, social distancing is not observed. The vaccine is a first line of defence, at the moment by far the most important, but it is not the be-all and end-all. This means we strongly denounce the following: working from home is made difficult (let’s leave aside the problems for the workforce related to this new form of work), the State has not paid for tests by making them free for both workers without a Green Pass and for all those people who, for whatever reason, fear they may have come into contact with the virus. The movements “against the Green Pass” – mostly animated by sectors of the petty bourgeoisie – and its conservative or openly fascist ideology unfortunately drag in minority fringes of the confused and disoriented within the working class. Limiting their denunciation to this single issue, they play the bourgeois game by focusing the whole question of workers’ safety around the false dichotomy: “Green Pass yes – Green Pass no”. They ignore all the other problems of workers’ insecurity from the increasingly frequent deaths at work to non-application of health and safety measures, from precarious contracts for undeclared work, to lack of employment insurance!
The Pandemic: The Responsibility of the Individual and the System
On an ideological level, the bourgeoisie, to conceal its enormous responsibility for the pandemic, has from the start used one, and only one, line: the responsibility for the proliferation and spread of the virus, of the dead and those hospitalised in intensive care is to be down to individual behaviour. It is true that many appeal to individual freedom when talking about getting vaccinated, and this is a delicate subject (although collective health has to prevail over the doubts of individuals), but from our point of view, based on available data that the vaccine is effective, we believe that bourgeois responsibility must be strongly denounced, both for the spread of the virus and in the inadequacy of measures to deal with it. The bourgeoisie moves in the contradiction between avoiding closures and letting the virus circulate, and wisely chooses the maximum result with the minimum expense: i.e. vaccinating without carrying out other safety measures. Indeed, they are using the opportunities generated by the epochal event of the “Covid Pandemic” to carry out the restructuring that the system needs in order to face the new phase of the crisis that is opening up before us. Asking the bourgeoisie to act in any other way would be to take on the illusions of radical reformists, who put forward demands that capital could never accept, even if we were not in an era of structural crisis (full wages for the unemployed, drastic reduction of hours with the same salary, etc, the usual shopping list). This does not mean resigning oneself to capitalism and its laws but, on the contrary, giving even more force to the denunciation of bourgeois society and spreading the awareness that the interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are irreconcilable, to the point where it becomes, literally, a question of life or death. The pandemic and the impending environmental catastrophe are clear demonstrations of this.
The “No Green Pass” Movement
In the weeks after 15 October 2021, a movement against the Green Pass developed which then found its expression in the Saturday demonstrations and the strike that blocked Pier VII in Trieste from 15 to 18 October. We have three basic criticisms of this movement: the first is its “popular and inter-class” character. In fact, you could find everyone in it, from shipping contractors to workers, from priests to “new agers”, from fascists to anarchists, all united by the same struggle against the Green Pass. The movement does not therefore have a class character; although some sectors in hospitals, in the port of Trieste, and a few in Genoa and other ports, have joined in. None of them ever clearly posed the question of class, that is, they have not linked criticism of the Green Pass to the general attack on working conditions, precariousness, safety at work, cuts in wages and pensions, the increase in exploitation – seen by the bosses as a necessary condition for economic recovery – as well as the contraction of the “welfare state”.
The second is that since it lacks any reference to class and let alone revolution, the movement could thus only end up where it started, in the arms of confused, cross-class, individualistic, if not openly reactionary sectors, generically called “anti-system”, moved by “conspiracy” theories and an irrational conception of the world. What we have seen on the streets is the rejection of any class logic, which did not even mention capitalism by name. The narrow and ambiguous horizon (many criticise vaccines tout court and make reactionary conspiracy ideologies their own) of this movement characterises it as episodic and with reactionary characteristics; the “refusal of politics” was one of its characteristics and where, as in Milan, a confused “left” was more massively present, this led it to move away from minimal class demands to line up with petty bourgeois ideology, anti-system in words but always demanding a phantom “freedom” within a capitalist economic framework.
The third is that it is only from the world of work and from the defence of class interests that a resumption of the struggle can start. We are well aware that the fuse can be lit from anywhere, but if the movement does not immediately take up a class position, that is, if the class does not emphasise its immediate and general interests, giving strength to its own revolutionary party, every movement is destined to be reabsorbed by the system. This is even more important given that these protests had little or no class content from the beginning. Instead they fueled confusion and legitimised the presence on the streets of the most reactionary elements.
Communists and What Awaits Us
As the bourgeoisie has decided, we will continue to “live with the virus”. For this reason it is necessary on the one hand to be cautious, to continue to take all precautions, beginning with vaccination, but the vaccine itself, fundamentally, if not for criticisms mentioned above, is not a terrain in which class consciousness can mature or grow. Our class is facing epochal problems such as defining the imperialist fronts in a new possible war; a war that would be the final solution to an equally epochal economic crisis (and perhaps of life on the planet); the background to this scenario is the climate crisis which capitalist governments are unable to solve; in the foreground, on the other hand, is our class that must find in itself the reasons to shake off its slumber and give life to a new opposition to cuts, sacrifices, precariousness, and that needs to find for itself a solid political reference point. It is a banality to say that this cannot come from just anywhere, certainly not from those who make their own “conspiracy theorists”, reactionary and anti-communist, but not even from the political and trade union world of radical-reformism, regardless of the subjective intentions of those who are a part of it. It is therefore up to us internationalist communists to present a viable alternative of general opposition to the system and, beyond what we have written, we do not believe there is much more to say about vaccines and the Green Pass. So, after an intense discussion that involved the whole organisation, we turn the page and proceed to build an alternative that can represent a banner around which we can all gather in the long night of the class struggle, but also of the capitalist crisis.
17 November 2021
Photo from: commons.wikimedia.org
(4) And for the USA see https://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2021-10-25/covid-capitalism-is-still-killing-workers-across-the-world
(5) See https://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2021-11-25/usa-striketober-an-unprecedented-wave-of-strikes and the various articles from the Iran oil workers on our website https://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2021-iran-oil-workers-strike
(6) ATECO codes are what the state gives to each enterprise to denote its purpose and branch of industry. This enabled the state to identify those enterprises which provided essential services to those that did not but in fact the Government colluded with firms to manipulate the code so that many workers went on working in non-essential sectors and mostly with no personal protection. It was probably the major source of the spread of infection at that time. See https://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2020-06-12/the-virus-is-capitalism-the-revolutionary-proletariat-is-the-cure and https://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2020-03-14/italy-we-re-not-lambs-to-the-slaughter-class-struggle-in-the-time-of-coronavirus
(7) This refers to the classrooms of the lower age groups where over 30 children would often be crowded together with no chance of social distancing.
(8) Originally if one pupil in a class was infected the whole class had to go into quarantine with teachers having to prepare distance learning lessons. This has now been increased to 3 before the class are sent home and the quarantine time is now 7 days for the vaccinated and 10 for the unvaccinated.
(9) The AstraZeneca “mess” was due to reports in March 2021 from Germany where 7 out of 1.6 million people vaccinated with AstraZeneca displayed rare blood-clotting symptoms. A further 2 people in Norway died from similar symptoms. The New York Times (15 March 2021) reported that:
"The European Medicines Agency, or E.M.A., said Monday that it would continue to investigate a possible connection between the AstraZeneca shots and blood clots or bleeding in the brain. But the agency said the numbers of such problems reported in vaccinated people did not seem higher than those usually seen in the general population. Germany, for instance, reported seven cases of a “rare cerebral vein thrombosis” out of 1.6 million people who received the vaccine there. Among the millions of people who have received the AstraZeneca shot in Britain, 14 reported cases of deep vein thrombosis and 13 reported cases of a pulmonary embolism, conditions that can both be caused by blood clots. Only one of those people died. There were 35 reported cases of thrombocytopenias, a condition involving a low blood platelet count. That also led to one death. However the reaction of the Italian state was one of panic. They had previously ordered Astrazeneca for teachers and the police but on Monday (police) began seizing nearly 400,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine on the orders of local prosecutors investigating the death of a teacher who had received the vaccine. The Italian Medicines Agency said in a statement that the suspension of the vaccine, among the most commonly distributed in the country, was “precautionary and temporary.” Its director, Nicola Magrini, said on television Monday night that “there is no reason to instill doubts at this moment and to lead people to prefer one vaccine over another.”" (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/15/world/europe/astra-zeneca-vaccine-europe.html)