Summary: An examination of how class divisions and opposed concepts of freedom underpin the radically divergent approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe and the U.S. — Editors
On whose side do we stand in the face of this horrible epidemic which, in my country of the United States, causes at least a thousand deaths a day (a total of 155,000 certified deaths, not counting thousands of poor, undocumented people who die without a trace) and which resumed in July to double its national extent? With the neo-liberals denying the danger in order to bring in the salaried workers without taking health measures and risking their lives to produce profits and inflate the stock market? Or with the resistance of emergency workers, teachers and frontline workers who want to protect themselves and others by strengthening public health measures?
The two camps
The class line is clearly drawn. On the one hand, neoliberal and fascist governments, such as those of Trump in the US and Bolsonaro in Brazil, both of which are denialist, minimize in their massive propaganda the danger of Covid-19, refuse to wear masks, denigrate science, and discourage any effort to control the virus. Their objectives?
For Bolsonaro, it is the genocide of the indigenous people of the Amazon in order to open it up to agricultural exploitation by cutting down and burning the trees that give the planet a large percentage of its oxygen). Trump was already a denier of global warming, which he dismissed as a “Chinese myth.” As soon as he came to power, he took away all the laws that protected the environment to benefit his buddies in the oil industry.
As for COVID, Trump denied it from the beginning (“a bad cold”) and refused to wear a mask. Every day, in Tweets and press conferences, Trump spreads false statistics and ridicules science by dismissing Dr. Fauci, the official head of public health of the Republic. This denialist propaganda is quickly taken up by the Republican party (in power in the Senate and in many federal states), by the mass media such as FOX News, and it floods the Internet.
Christian-fascist militias armed with semi-automatic rifles organize threatening anti-mask demonstrations under the protection of the police, normally so brutal against the demonstrators, but who sympathize with Trump.
Result? The USA, the richest country in the world, has the most sick and dead people on the planet. Thanks to Trump’s policy, which only thinks about his re-election and the stock market, with 4% of the world’s population the US has more than a quarter of the population affected. (“We’re Number One!”) Compared to France, an American, like my daughter Jenny in NY, is much times more likely to die from the virus than a Parisian. And I don’t count her autoimmune condition, severely declared, which could multiply this danger a lot. As for New Yorkers my age, it’s dropping like flies.
Same phenomenon in Germany, where the neo-Nazis, who are becoming more and more numerous and active, are using the idea that they are defending “freedom of expression” by rejecting masks to mobilize the masses. Far from defending freedom, these Nazis are part of an international right-wing negationist movement financed by neoliberal right-wing groups of which Trump and Bolsonaro are champions.
Between these deadly neo-fascist movements and the revolt of the nurses and teachers who defend human life and the public health service, I have no difficulty in choosing my side.
An explosive video
A propos of Germany, I just watched a video in German language (with titles) entitled “2,000 doctors explode governments on coronavirus management” recommended by Gilet Jaunes [ort Yellow Vest] comrades here in France who consider it a “bomb”. (Time bomb: if you don’t know German, you have to be patient and read tiny subtitles).
Far from criticizing the lack of tests, masks, respirators, and hospital beds typical of the neo-liberal management of this public health crisis, which has long been starved for credits, the consensus of these German experts (not all doctors) is that the danger of the pandemic is being scandalously exaggerated in order to impose liberticidal laws. (Here in France, we have been flanked by liberticidal laws to crush the Yellow Vest revolt just before COVID, but it doesn’t matter).
This impression is supported by a few examples that are probably authentic (no notes). Federal governments in Germany exaggerating their controls, examples of deaths falsely attributed to COVID, comparisons with the Black Death (surprise! It was much worse) and predictions that there will not be a “second wave” (as was the case with the Plague, “Spanish” flu and other epidemics). We’ll see in 2021, but in the meantime why not produce tests, masks, respirators as a precautionary principle?
Worse still, for these experts, the scientific journal The Lancet is accused of having published an article denying the usefulness of CLOROCOQUINE. For German experts, this is an indication of a conspiracy among specialists. But The Lancet had to withdraw this article under the criticism of other scientists, which seems rather to confirm that the international scientific system knows how to correct itself.
I am willing to accept that these German experts are bona fide with their open secrets, and not puppets of the neo-fascist deniers demonstrating in Berlin. But what can we do politically with their message?
Organize real scientific experiments with control to demonstrate the usefulness of CLOROCOQUINE used in the right doses and at the right time? Yes!
Join forces with Donald Trump, Jair Bolosonaro? Join the ranks of neo-fascist gangs who demonstrate against masks, divide the masses, and put at risk thousands of innocent people like my daughter and I who need to breathe? No!
I’ve been fighting for individual freedom for over 60 years and I ask myself, “Do certain forms of confinement violate human rights?” It’s not impossible, but most of them don’t. On the contrary, they assert people’s right to live, which Trump and the neo-liberals neglect. I don’t have the right to put a neighbor’s life at risk by walking into a store without a mask. I don’t have the right to force my employees to put their lives and the lives of their families at risk in order to make a profit.
Oppressed communities know how to put the community first. Those who define “personal freedom” as freedom from responsibility to others follow a totally bourgeois conception of freedom. Especially since Donald Trump, a racist and misanthropist, knows perfectly well that the poor, the oppressed, the racialized, the immigrants, the workers die in greater numbers than the white petty bourgeois. He does everything he can to divide. I do not have the right to ignore the problem of hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths and continue to consider myself a Yellow Vest.
The role of the Yellow Vests
I have always understood that the role of the Yellow Vests was to give an authentic voice and a rallying point to the 99% independents from parties, unions and sects in order to change the system, establish direct democracy and defend public services, especially health, by supporting the resistance of workers, for example nurses and emergency doctors who, poorly paid and overworked, are still demanding protective equipment and masks that can be changed while they risk their lives to save ours.
Our class role is to attack our billionaire governments who, for “economic” and profit reasons, are closing hospital beds and cutting budgets in the face of a global pandemic of a new virus that we don’t yet know when (or if) it will stop.
The neo-liberals in power are taking advantage of this crisis to privatize public health and get rid of the duty to protect the population. On the contrary, they minimize the gravity of the situation to force poor workers to risk their lives, often without adequate protection (it’s expensive!), to run their machines for profit.
And to “free” the parents of wage-slaves, the neo-liberals want to open schools in September without installing adequate protection, especially rapid and frequent testing to isolate those who are contagious. In the U.S., teachers’ unions are already planning a strike under the slogan “I love to teach but if I’m dead I can’t teach.” You have to be with them.