In the past months (in particular in July and August) protests have been multiplying in various parts of the world in which voices against mandatory vaccination and health passes, which are judged to be “liberticidal”, were expressed in an anarchic and contradictory way. There have been demonstrations from Australia to Spain, from Canada to Kazakhstan, and with Europe as the centre stage. In France in particular the demonstrations took on mass proportions with tens of thousands of people coming onto the street seven weekends in a row. In many cases these demonstrations were a melting pot of individuals or families indignant about this or that governmental declaration or decision, isolated proletarians and, as in France, even the participation of political parties ranging from the extreme left of capital to the extreme right, as well as demonstrators claiming to be part of the Yellow Vest movement. It's hard not to get lost in such a formless magma.
These demonstrations were in no way an expression of proletarian struggle. On the contrary, they expressed a primary impulse of nationalism, with the presence of numerous national flags (France, Latvia, Italy, Slovakia), and of Christian fundamentalism, with the presence of wooden crosses (Greece) in the ranks of the protesters, extreme confusion, admission of impotence, disarray, and the dominant irrationality in the face of a health and social crisis which affects the whole capitalist world. This crystallisation around multifaceted claims that combine distrust of science with calls for the defence of “individual liberties” is indeed the talk of the media, where contradictory, divergent and sometimes far-fetched interests are weighed against governmental measures that are falsely presented as the expression of the defence of the common good in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and the outbreak of a fourth wave of infection. As usual, everyone is called upon to position himself as a “citizen”, to choose his side, in the face of this or that health, political and social problem, taken in isolation, thus obscuring the responsibility of the capitalist system as a whole.
Even if a minority of proletarians, sickened by the attitude and the lies of those in power, participated in these demonstrations, they expressed above all a feeling of frustration, of impotent anger proper to the petty-bourgeois strata, and an absence of any perspective. In the US, Greece and Italy the unions, these bourgeois organs for controlling workers’ struggles, supported the protests. In Italy the six largest trade unions reacted to the fact that teachers need a Green Pass to teach at schools, calling it “a unilateral choice” and a “diktat”. In Turin, 650 employees went on strike calling the need for a Green Pass for restaurants discriminatory. In France unions even seized the opportunity to launch strikes.
In particular SUD-Santé and certain CGT federations, unions that present themselves as the most “radical”, seized the opportunity to launch a series of strike notices in different cities such as Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Bastia or regions (Hauts-de-France) to call on health workers to mobilise against the compulsory vaccine and demand the repeal of the health pass. Even among firefighters, where the same restrictive measures have been decreed, the autonomous “in-house” union had followed suit. All this in the name of the defence of “freedom of choice”, i.e. on the terrain of bourgeois law, which constitutes a real poison for the working class and its revolutionary perspective.
The extreme left organisations also took advantage of this to further disorientate the working class by feeding the confusion between workers’ demands and the defence of “citizens' rights”, by falsely presenting this movement as “a springboard for future workers’ struggles”. The bourgeoisie and its various political offices, especially those of the left and the far left, know how to use all available resources to spoil the workers’ reflection about the crisis, the ambient chaos, the negligence of the previous months, making full use of the decomposition of the whole capitalist system, explaining, with false airs of respectability, how the bourgeois state should organise the management of the crisis.
In reality, the worsening of the situation is a new expression, not only of the negligence of the bourgeoisie, but above all of the generalised impotence of all states for almost two years, incapable of pooling medical advances and expertise and the means to fight the pandemic. We have witnessed the unbridled competition of laboratories owned by different companies and the use of vaccines as an imperialist weapon by all states, all under the sign of the universal law of capitalist profit.
Why is there so much distrust of vaccines?
How could a part of the population not be afraid that we could be heading for a health scandal, a new edition of the Thalidomide affair, after almost two years of daily lies from the authorities? Governments have been decorating themselves shamelessly with claims to be basing themselves on a rational and scientific vision, when they often blatantly ignored the advice of scientists in the first waves of the pandemic, while at the same time manipulating the most opportunistic of them in the media, to justify the unjustifiable regarding the shortage of masks and sanitary protection at work or in transport. All these lies, government half-truths and lame justifications have obviously created a climate of suspicion in the population. But at the same time, the pandemic has been the occasion for a profusion of wild theories and delusional claims, not only on social networks where conspiracy theorists are most active, but also from the media and politicians themselves.
While billions of people have been vaccinated since the first tests were conducted, the rare “cases” of suspected (and rarely confirmed) dramatic side-effects are being blown out of proportion by pseudo-experts, in defiance of any scientific approach, when they are not simply invented from scratch. Yet Covid-19 has killed more than 4 million people worldwide, probably more... not vaccines! Covid-19 continues to mutate, infect and kill, especially in parts of the world too poor to afford a major vaccine campaign. It also continues to infect and weaken an increasingly young, unvaccinated population in core countries. Some people, however, still doubt the efficacy of vaccines, denouncing a supposed “lack of disinterested research” in the face of “new techniques” (which in fact are not new). Doubt and scepticism are scientific virtues, not irrational mistrust!
The irrational concerns that are more or less reflected in the claims of all vaccine opponents are also not new. Superstitious reticence towards scientific research was already expressed at the end of the 18th century when the first smallpox vaccines were being developed. Pasteur himself, when he discovered the rabies vaccine in 1885, had to deal with these “anti-vax” discourses. He was accused of mistreating animals and of inventing vaccines only to line his own pockets! Nearly a century and a half later, despite unprecedented progress in science and medicine, distrust remains in the most backward sectors of the ruling class and of the population. Today, conspiratorial irrationality even goes so far as to imagine possible genetic modification by RNA technology or political and medical manipulation for state control of the population via the inoculation of microchips during vaccination.
If these various obscurantist discourses resist scientific demonstration, it is because they adapt to each era and each context. But today, the dynamics of ideological decomposition in capitalist society, the feeling of powerlessness in the face of the crisis and the mounting chaos, are impacting on a more educated population and do nothing but rot the entire capacity for logical, scientific and political reasoning in a miasma of sometimes delirious reactionary conceptions and visions.
The bourgeoisie is no stranger to this process: not only have we seen politicians from the far right and even from the ranks of the traditional right propagating totally delusional ideas, but these aberrations have manifested themselves right up to the highest levels of the state. The cases of Trump in the US and Bolsonaro in Brazil are well known, but we have also seen the “progressive” Macron and his clique in France openly denigrating scientists or distorting their words in an attempt to justify their short-sighted policies, as when the head of state claimed to have been right alone against the epidemiologists.
The only freedom under capitalism is the freedom to exploit
In the demonstrations, the less irrational participants do not question vaccination but are opposed to the health pass, imposed initially on carers on pain of dismissal, and reject the disguised obligation to show a pass in order to engage in the most classic social activities such as going to the supermarket, a bar or the cinema.
However, these two realities, anti-vaccination and anti-health pass, coexist with very porous borders in common demonstrations where the same individualistic logic of defiance prevails, with an absence of collective concern about the continuation of the pandemic, its ravages that are still present and those to come. This is done in the name of the attack on “individual liberties”, a totally bourgeois terrain. This slogan for the defence of democratic freedoms is the crudest cover for the defence of the bourgeois state, the most anti-working class ground there is. The workers’ movement has repeatedly denounced this trap and affirmed that “as long as the state exists, there can be no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state”.
The revolutionary perspective is the only alternative
The governments are taking advantage of the situation to turn people against each other, stirring up tensions and resentments. By multiplying propaganda campaigns, by more or less openly making all the individuals who harbour doubts and are afraid look like totally delusional “anti-vax conspirators”, the bourgeoisie has pushed a part of the vaccinated to see the opponents of vaccines as easy scapegoats who can be blamed for the new waves of contamination, clearing capitalism and the state of the utter irresponsibility which led to the dramatic situation of today. For the anti-vaxxers, their mobilisation against the “dictatorship” of governments is a pledge of responsibility to keep democracy alive and defend it, by denouncing the servile “sheeple” for putting up with the “liberticidal” laws of forced vaccination. These divisions are part of a disastrous logic of confrontation in which the real issue, the need to end capitalist chaos, disappears under a jumble of confusion and impotence.
The exasperation expressed in the “anti- compulsory vaccines” demonstrations takes the form of feelings of being subjected to the diktats of an arrogant government which has multiplied inconsistencies in the face of the pandemic, imposing repeated confinements after continually opening up too soon, boasting of a scientific approach while bourgeois negligence is uppermost. But protests of this kind can in no way lead to a development of consciousness in the proletariat of the irremediable impasse of the capitalist system.
This is essentially an impotent rage against governments that are seen to be the source of all the evils and perceived as bad, incompetent and inefficient managers of this system.
Faced with such a social and ideological quagmire, which the bourgeoisie feeds and stirs up on a daily basis, it will not be easy for the proletariat to react on its class terrain of solidarity to counter the real frontal attacks to come, attacks on its working and living conditions. Its class terrain is not that of the defence of the state, the defence of the national economy and the national flag. Its class autonomy in the struggle will have to be defended against all the forces of the state, in power or not, independently of the inter-classist movements or the false friends, generally of the left, who will try to divert its anger. The proletariat needs lucidity and confidence in its own forces to thwart all these traps.
Stopio, 13 August 2021
1 Lenin, State and Revolution, 1917