Most governments on the European continent had adopted the “pandemic is over” approach grounded on the high vaccination rates. However, reality shows that an ever stronger fourth wave is under way, even in the richest countries like Germany. At the same time, in several countries of the continent there are important mobilizations against measures to curb people’s mobility (such as the so-called “health pass”) and mandatory vaccination.
By Alejandro Iturbe
A recent article by BBC stated that Europe is once again ‘the epicenter’ of the covid-19 pandemic, as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned a few days ago after observing a constant increase in cases across the continent. At a press conference, the WHO director for Europe, Hans Kluge, stated that the region could register half a million more deaths in the next three months.(I)
The article considers two reasons for this increase. The first is that in recent months the rate of vaccination has decreased throughout the continent. The second, according to Kluge, is that the relaxation of public health measures has contributed to the increase in infections in the European region of the WHO. In this context, two large countries of the continent present an extremely serious outlook.(II)
On October 19, Russia reached a new record of 1,015 deaths in a single day by the Delta variant grounded on slow vaccination and the reluctance of the Vladimir Putin administration to impose a national shutdown. Despite the country having a national vaccine (Sputnik V), only 32% of the Russian population were fully vaccinated by October. The news cited refers to the “skepticism and mistrust” of the population with the vaccine.(III)
At the same time, beyond the “reluctance” of the Putin government, the situation forced Moscow authorities to impose a four-month quarantine for those non-vaccinated aged over 60 years and the national government proposed a non-working week to stop the rebound in the Covid-19 pandemic as well as home-office for the unvaccinated.(IV)
Despite these resolutions, health chief Anna Popova assured that the measures currently adopted are insufficient due to the considerable increase in infections. The development of the epidemic situation requires a greater number of measures and a much faster reaction.(V)
Meanwhile, in this other major European country, a new record of infections was registered on Tuesday, November 16. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) of virology, the country registered 32,048 new cases of Covid-19, a figure 47% higher than last week. In parallel, deaths from the disease also continue to grow to 265 deaths, 169 more than last Tuesday, figures that raise the total number of coronavirus related deaths to 97,980 since the beginning of the pandemic. This means that the number of daily infections exceeds the peak at the end of last year and the number of deaths per day reaches that of the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020).(VI)
In Germany, 66% of the population are vaccinated but there is a “stagnation” of the vaccination process. According to health expert Karl Lauterbach, counting on the number of cases right now, hospitals across the country will reach capacity in the first two weeks of December.(VII)
In this framework, the German Parliament planned to vote on Thursday, November 18, a new legal framework for the restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which could be stricter than previously planned. Regardless of what Parliament votes, various tourist destinations have already been affected in their activity and the temporary closure of the central market in Munich has been determined.(VIII)
The WHO report also gives an overview of the region mentioning that in the United Kingdom, which exceeds 37,000 cases a day, the concern is centered on the possible effects of the fourth wave of infections: a large number of deaths and saturation of the health system. Some of those numbers are already worrying, because on the last day 165 deaths were reported compared to 126 a week ago. Ukraine had 3,800 deaths and a record 27,377 new cases in the last 24 hours. Both countries have very low vaccination rates. In Romania, the highest number of deaths in 24 hours was recorded this week: 591; while in Hungary daily infections by Covid doubled in the last week to reach 6,268. Croatia, for its part, registered 6,310 new cases on Thursday, its highest number so far, while Slovakia reported its second highest number of cases. Furthermore, Czech contagions are back at the levels recorded since the boreal spring. Other countries have proportionally lower numbers of infections and deaths but also on the rise.(IX)
Faced with this picture, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical director for Covid-19, warned that in the last four weeks, cases in Europe have skyrocketed by more than 55%. For his part, Dr. Mike Ryan stated that what is happening in Europe is a warning shot to the world. Right now it seems that we are hell-bent on believing that the pandemic is over and that we only need to vaccinate a few more people. That is not like that.(X)
The pandemic continues
So, the starting point is that, as this specialist says, the pandemic continues and generates new waves, even in countries with medium or high levels of vaccination and whose governments affirmed “it is over.” Why is it so persistent?
The most important factor is the one we pointed out in an article last June, in which we rejected the idea of the “end of the pandemic”. “We affirm that this is a major falsification: this scourge and its aftermath are far from over. To understand this statement, it is necessary to start from the very concept of a pandemic given by the WHO (World Health Organization) as “an epidemic disease that extends to many countries and several continents.”(XI)
This means that although in the imperialist countries, thanks to the massive vaccination that was guaranteed at the expense of the poor and dependent countries, the contagion and death curves are falling; on the contrary, in the world as a whole they grow. In summary, the Covid-19 pandemic, considered in the world as a whole, far from having ended or nearing its end, continues through new powerful waves in those countries that have a very slow vaccination rate or that is practically non-existent.
The article particularly analyzed the case of India. “In this context, in several of these countries, as a result of genetic mutations, new strains of the virus emerge. Some of them are contagious faster and even more dangerous than the 2020 coronavirus because they cause more lung damage and are very resistant to the treatments that have been experienced: therefore, their mortality rate is higher. This is the case of the variant called Delta plus, which emerged (or at least identified) in India and is already beginning to be detected in other countries ”.(XII)
The conclusion was that when speaking of the “end of the pandemic” and acting as if that were a reality, the governments of the imperialist countries applied “a denialist and suicidal policy since, in the current dynamics of freight transport and travel of people around the world, it is inevitable that these new strains will return like a boomerang and enter the imperialist countries themselves. Sadly, that is what happened.(XIII)
Recently, a new mutation has appeared, called Omicron. It was identified for the first time in South Africa, a few days ago, but there are already cases in the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Israel, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. According to scientists it is very likely that it is found in many more countries. The WHO has already described it as a “variant of concern” and several countries have already begun to impose restrictions on passengers from South Africa.(XIV)
The Criminal Politics of the “New Normal”
At the “official” start of the pandemic (March 2020), the bourgeoisie of the different countries and the governments at their service were divided into two sectors. One of them, such as Donald Trump in the U.S. and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, had a policy of denying the seriousness and impact of what was happening and, thus, they did not adopt any measures to combat it. “Nothing should stop because of a flu” they said.
The other sector did adopt measures to restrict the movement and concentration of people. They were partial measures that were never part of a global combat plan that included the public investments necessary to rebuild public health systems, weakened by decades of treating health as a private business.
However, beyond their limitations, these measures strengthened the international economic crisis that had already been coming since 2019 and caused, in the first half of 2020, a historic drop in world GDP.(XV)
Faced with this situation, the bourgeoisies and their governments began to remove their masks and openly show their character as defenders of capitalist profits: without having defeated the pandemic, since July 2020 they began a broader opening of economic activities (with the sinister slogan of the “new normal”), thus multiplying the possibilities of contagion.(XVI)
The bourgeoisies promoted a broader reopening of the economy and other activities and this exploded in their hands with new waves of the pandemic. Faced with this, they convulsively reintroduced some restrictive measures (such as nightly “curfews” or the earlier closing of bars) that, isolated from a global policy to seriously combat the pandemic, ended up being sterile.
In this policy of imposing the “new normal” of exploitation at any cost, the denialist bourgeois governments, such as those of Trump and Bolsonaro, did not differentiate themselves from those “concerned” and supposedly “progressive” such as some Europeans and that of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina. Ultimately, the latter were only more hypocritical. This was one of the underlying reasons for the persistence of the pandemic: the bourgeoisie’s greed for profit, even at the cost of the lives of millions of workers.
At this point, the bourgeoisies and their governments sought to accelerate the development of vaccines and their availability for mass application, essential for a deep fight against the pandemic. However, they did not do so out of humanitarian considerations or factors but to move more quickly into the “new normal” of exploitation and profit.
For this reason, this great advance represented by vaccines was also handled with criteria of imperialist capitalism. On the one hand, it was done without an internationally centralized development plan but rather in fierce competition between the large private pharmaceutical conglomerates that produced them and safeguarding their profits through “patent rights”. In this way, vaccines came at a high price.
In this framework, the imperialist countries bought and hoarded gigantic doses of vaccines for their population while, at the other extreme, the poorest countries had no possibility of buying them and, even today, they still have very low or non-existent percentages of vaccination.
One country that expressed this contradiction most acutely was India, which, on the one hand, is the main vaccine manufacturer in the world (in laboratories owned by the imperialist conglomerates) and, on the other, because of the high price generated by the patent rights, it had no conditions to buy them en masse for its population. The consequence was that a very strong second wave of the pandemic developed in the country that originated the very dangerous Delta variant. As we have already seen, this variant quickly spread to the imperialist countries.(XVII)
Faced with this panorama, we claim that the IWL-FI’s proposals were and are totally correct: vaccines for all, breach of the patent rights of the laboratories that manufactured them and the need for an international mass and free vaccination plan, extended to all countries of the world.
Beyond the weaknesses that they may have, regarding what is still being investigated, if the global numbers are considered, vaccines have proven to be a very useful tool in the fight against coronavirus: they reduce the number of infections and reduce the danger of the disease and, with it, the risk of death in vaccinated people. If the proposed measures had been applied, today we would be much more advanced in that fight. Imperialist capitalism has been responsible for the pandemic manifesting itself, recurrently, in new waves, even in the imperialist countries. Due to the overexploitation of natural resources that cause more and more zoonoses (like this pandemic), the initial partial combat, the criminal policy of the “new normal”, and the imperialist capitalist criteria of vaccination.
Those who do not want to be vaccinated
It is in this framework of central responsibility of capitalism that a new factor has begun to influence, in recent months: that of sectors of the population of the imperialist countries (although it is also manifested in other countries) who refuse to be vaccinated, despite the fact that their governments have the vaccines for it. Thus, they end up being the sectors most vulnerable to the new waves driven by the Delta variant.
This was shown by the wave that the U.S. experienced a few months ago. A New York Times note reported that many of the COVID-19 patients now arriving at the hospital are not only unvaccinated but are much younger than 50, a clear difference from frail and older patients who were infected when the pandemic first emerged last year. Doctors say that unvaccinated patients in their 20s and 30s get sicker more seriously and faster. According to experts, this is not only due to the greater danger of the new strains but also to that the change in patient demographics is the result of the lower vaccination rates in this group.(XVIII) Something similar is happening now in Europe.(XIX)
In that section of these societies that do not want to be vaccinated, different sectors are combined with different arguments. The former always denied the existence of the pandemic (that is why they were called “deniers”) and considers that science is a conspiracy of secret groups to dominate the world. An extreme example of this sector is the Q-Anon organization that became famous during the assault on the U.S. Congress. From this country, it has spread to others, such as Germany. It is a retrograde and reactionary sector with which it is useless to argue because their arguments are irrational.
Other sectors use reasoning (sometimes combined) that expresses sectors of workers and the people. On the one hand, those who see that governments and capitalists have used the need to combat the pandemic to advance repressive measures and police control of society, and that the large pharmaceutical conglomerates have made fortunes with vaccines and the sale of the technical means necessary to care for those infected. Both facts are totally true, but they do not deny the existence of the pandemic and the profoundly negative impact it has had on the health and standard of living of workers and the people, and therefore, the need to combat it. It is about making serious progress in this fight (vaccination is part of it) and, as part of it, fighting the capitalism that generated it and allowed it to grow, and now uses a need (vaccination) in a reactionary way.
Finally, there are those who do not deny the pandemic and even support a mass and free vaccination at the expense of the State, but they are against making it mandatory and defend the individual right to refuse to take the vaccine.
To dialogue with this argument, it is necessary to address a very deep point: compulsory vaccination falls within the field of public health, that is, of the interests and needs of the social group. And these interests and needs are superior to individual freedom of choice and are imposed on it if they are in contradiction. If a worker refuses to be vaccinated, that is a decision that affects not only himself but also his co-workers, his family, his friends and his neighbors, because it is a potential source of transmission and contagion. Saving the distances, it is an argument very similar to the one used by the reactionary and denialist president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro: “No one can force anyone to take the vaccine … If someone does not want to be treated, they should not be … [if I do not want to vaccinate] the problem is mine”.(XX)
In this context, there have been some important mobilizations in several countries against the measures adopted by various European governments, such as the “health pass” (given to those who have been vaccinated) that is required to enter public places and that, even, it could be used in the workplace as justification for sanctions and dismissals, as a mechanism to pressure (or force) those who have not done so to be vaccinated. In Belgium, the rapid test entitles you to a temporary health pass, but you have to pay for it and it costs between 20 and 25 euros. In Italy, a temporary pass is also given with the rapid test and a “super-pass” has been created that is only given to those who are vaccinated.
According to media reports, there have been mobilizations of several thousand people in Austria, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands. In the last three, there were clashes with the repression. (XXI) In France, last July and August there had been mobilizations that anticipated this process, which is now tending to spread, against bills of this type by the government of Emmanuel Macron.(XXII)
We have seen that the bourgeoisies and their governments are responsible for the emergence and development of the pandemic. Now, with the excuse of advancing in a fight that never took place seriously, he wants to use it to continue attacking the working class and divide it into vaccinated and unvaccinated. Therefore, as a way of denying its responsibility in the entire pandemic, it harshly attacks the unvaccinated as responsible for the current situation.
For example, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rute, stated: “I understand that there are tensions in society because we have been dealing with the misfortune of the coronavirus for a long time, but I will never accept that idiots use violence against the people who keep this safe country [the police]”.(XXIII)
So, before these mobilizations, we have a first problem of understanding what they are about. Are these mobilizations of retrograde and reactionary sectors and, therefore, should they be repudiated? Or, on the contrary, are mobilizations that express the just fringes of the working class and the people with capitalism and their governments and, in this framework, express the confusion about the pandemic and vaccination to which we have referred?
This last understanding is the one contained in the referred article of the comrades sympathizing with the IWL-FI in France, noting that, both due to their social composition and geographic location and the growing anger towards the Macron government, they were reminiscent of those of the “vests yellows ”of January 2019.
A similar view is offered by an article by a leftist organization on the recent mobilization in Vienna (Austria): “Most of the participants [were] sectors of workers and the lower middle class, coming from a non-academic background. For many and many it was the first demonstration in their lives and, furthermore, their first political experience. The posters, handcrafted by the majority, had slogans such as “my body, my choice”; ‘Vaccinated – not vaccinated: we are not divided, we are united’, and very popular: ‘when injustice became law, resistance became duty’ [phrase attributed to German playwright Bertolt Brecht, NdA]”.(XXIV)
In other words, in both cases, we must characterize them as essentially progressive mobilizations of mass sectors that, within this framework, contain elements of confusion in the sectors that participate and, therefore, we must intervene in them. A policy that involves promoting and developing the anger and exhaustion against capitalism and its governments, unifying the struggles of the working class and the people, and, at the same time, dialogue to convince them of the need to incorporate the demand into those struggles from a real fight to the pandemic that punishes us.
In Italy, there have been mobilizations of a contradictory nature. Several of them were organized directly by the fascists of Fuerza Nueva, with slogans from this sector. One of them ended in an attack on the CGIL labor federation. It is evident that mobilizations of this type cannot be supported or “disputed”. Other demonstrations against the pass had other content, such as that of the Livorno dock workers and some specific strikes. In the latter, we have an obligation to intervene and support them. In Belgium, the demonstrations have been called by the extreme right. For this reason, the IWL-FI organization in this country did not call for participating in them.
In this framework, it is important to understand that the most reactionary extreme-right manages to gain a foothold in popular sectors to the extent that there are no organizations that intervene in the reality of the pandemic with a revolutionary policy to combat capitalism and its governments, in all countries. Here is an urgent task that we revolutionaries must face in order to find a way out of the crisis of the capitalist pandemic.
(IX) See note I
(XIII) See note I
(XXII) Ver https://litci.org/fr/quelques-reflexions-a-propos-de-la-mobilisation-contre-le-passe-sanitaire-en-france/