The Pandemic and People’s Rights
Written by: Central Committee on 28 July 2021
Statement by the Central Committee, Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
The Pandemic and People’s Rights
The Covid-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, continues to threaten the health of people around the world.
That threat is complicated and magnified by the health measures that states are taking to enforce compliance with steps taken to deal with the pandemic.
These include mandatory vaccinations for some categories of workers; the lockdown requirements to stay at home except for very limited exemptions for food shopping, obtaining essential medical services, being in an essential area of work, and the like; mandated wearing of masks in public; and logging in with QR codes, or a sign-in sheet, when entering any business, agency or sporting event for the purpose of contact tracing. It is not alarmist to say that, for the authorities charged with administration of the capitalist state, this is all a very useful dress rehearsal for future political crackdowns. In Sydney, the step from lockdown-lite with almost every business sector open – as demanded by capitalism – to lockdowns and lock-ins accompanied by mass police presence, heavy surveillance including searches of shoppers without warrant, sets a particularly dangerous precedent.
Epidemiologists and other health professionals chosen by experts rather than government should be in control as they were in the AIDS crisis, when Australia’s response led the world. This would include thorough mass messaging in appropriate languages and media created and distributed by experts.
It is right that people want their rights and liberties protected. It is healthy that a certain skepticism exists towards the pronouncements of state authorities. The fact that “big pharma” sees the pandemic as a source of mega-profits, protecting its interests with vaccine patents and controlling the sale and distribution of its products adds another layer of popular anger to the mix.
Australian soldiers sent to Vietnam were compulsorily vaccinated with a dangerous cocktail of vaccines. The failure to stagger doses and monitor health was pushed aside in the rush to throw them into US imperialism's brutal war. Some veterans say these vaccinations affected them as much as Agent Orange, and that their health was ruined. A complex set of factors has given rise to vaccine hesitancy, and this is certainly not to be conflated with the nonsense of anti-vaxxers.
This set of circumstances tests the ability of a Marxist-Leninist Party to “apply this Marxism daily, hourly, in the most diverse, peculiar, unprecedented circumstances” (Mikhail Kalinin, President of the USSR during the Stalin era).
For example, what leadership should we offer on the question of mandatory vaccination?
At one extreme, there are anti-vaxxers who simply refuse vaccinations on principle. Aligned with them are a small number of otherwise politically advanced members of the working class who are suspicious that the Covid-19 vaccinations could “turn out to be biological class warfare”.
The question of vaccinations is certainly a class question. Under a system of privatised and corporatised medicine, the right of workers and their children to free vaccinations must be upheld. Together with vaccines should go a raft of social measures to support prevention of the spread of illnesses including the provision of nutritious foods, non-crowded housing, and secure and well-paid employment. Vaccines alone can never be the whole answer.
But workers should not fear vaccinations, and except where there are other underlying, verifiable medical issues, should accept mandatory vaccination particularly in health, education, aged care, disability and working class settings, such as the abattoirs, public transport, food processing, etc.
Vaccinations, including those that were mandatory, were definitely a part of the socialised medical services of the Soviet Union and China during the time of Stalin and Mao respectively (see Background Notes 1).
We therefore reject the proliferation of conspiracy theories that seek to encourage people to refuse to be vaccinated. We know that these theories come in a number of guises and, unlike the one that suggested that Bill Gates would surreptitiously place micro-chips in the vaccines, others themselves adopt a “scientific” veneer to oppose the science of vaccines.
There is also a group of people who object to the necessary coercive measures taken to protect public health on the grounds of individual liberties. They raise the slogans of “freedom” and “the rights of the individual”.
The question of rights is also a class question. The bourgeois revolutions that overthrew feudal relations of production advanced the concept of universal human rights so as to secure the support of the broadest ranks of the people for the introduction of capitalist relations of production. Feudal obligations of the serf to the landlord were replaced by the right of individual workers to sell their labour power to whomever they chose. Mass struggles led by the working class broke out in countries where capitalism was taking root to demand that substance be given to these “universal rights”. Every political, industrial and social right contained in the promises of the slogans of the bourgeoisie had to be fought for and won by the organised working class. Knowing the sacrifices made for these rights by earlier generations of workers makes us determined to resist their erosion.
However, we cannot support the reactionary demands and actions of libertarians, far-right activists and a minority of anarchists. Those who rally against the compulsory wearing of masks, who demand the premature lifting of lockdowns, or who oppose the science of vaccination, are objectively aligning with a right-wing agenda that hides behind slogans of “freedom” and the “rights of the individual”. Mao Zedong said “It is right to rebel against reactionaries”. It is not right to rebel for reactionary causes. The storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters clearly illustrates this point.
None of this is to defend the Australian government, or governments elsewhere, from either their incompetence in the handling of the pandemic (see Background Notes 2), or their response to demonstrations and rallies held during the pandemic. The police, for example, are refining tactics of suppression and control that will be used to restrict our freedoms long after this pandemic has passed. We also note the highly coercive police practices in working class areas such as Fairfield, in Sydney, compared to the light treatment of affluent suburbs. This is the standard behaviour of capitalist states, but intensified (and exploited) by the circumstances of the pandemic.
Against the anti-vaxxers and the various vested corporate interests, we demand:
• free and effective vaccination for everyone in the world.
• all data and research related to vaccination against COVID-19 be made public domain and everyone must have the right to develop vaccines based on it.
• all vaccines developed be scientifically tested and reviewed expeditiously by an independent body such as the WHO. All safe vaccines must be approved for use immediately.
• all vaccine production be taken over in the public interest and that all vaccines produced be centralised and transparently delivered worldwide, based solely on society's need for the vaccine.
• the costs of the entire vaccination process be recovered from the major corporations around the world in proportion to their profits.
• There must be purpose-built quarantine facilities in each state and territory of Australia to replace the use of medi-hotels.
• the government should establish a single National Emergency Storage (NESt) facility, completely owned and operated by the government and publicly accountable through an annual report to parliament; its directors should answer questions by committees of the parliament. It should not only have emergency medical supplies to pandemic levels of requirement, but bushfire chemical fire retardants, firefighting PPE, oxygen bottles, flood pumps and other requirements for dealing with unprecedentedly critical natural climate catastrophes.
• that libertarian agendas and anti-vaxxer theories be countered with campaigns of education and persuasion, and that the government publicly commit to lifting socially necessary coercive measures at an identified point in the suppression and control of the virus and its variants.
Capitalist governments have as their first priority the protection of capitalist relations of production in which the pursuit of private profit obtained through the exploitation of working people is central.
Anti-imperialist independence and socialism alone will allow us to prioritise the needs of the people whenever national crises arise.
Background Notes 1:
Here are some passages from Socialised Medicine in the Soviet Union (1937) by Henry E. Sigerist (Left Book Club edition).
Much more serious than plague, however, was cholera…between 1823 and 1922 5.5 million people suffered from it and 2.2 million succumbed to the disease…The figures for the years from 1918 to 1922 are the following:
The epidemiological measures applied consisted mostly of vaccination. In 1922, ten million people, including the entire Red Army, were vaccinated… Between 1923 and 1926 a few isolated cases were observed, but after 1927 cholera completely disappeared. (pp231-2)
Anti-typhoid vaccination is now used extensively, and it is compulsory for those groups of workers, such as people living in camps, who are in particular danger. (p. 232)
Smallpox is a presentable disease which can be controlled through vaccination. Tsarist Russia had no law making vaccination compulsory…In 1919 immunisation was made compulsory, and at present more than 10 million people are vaccinated and re-vaccinated each year. There are still regions in the Soviet Union where the vaccinator hardly penetrates…not a single case was reported in the first two months of 1937, and now it appears that the disease has been practically overcome. (pp232-3)
The contagious diseases of childhood, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and measles do not present any particular problem…The extension of nurseries and other institutions for the protection of infancy and childhood has been the best possible method of preventing the spread of these diseases. Diphtheria immunization is compulsory in many cities…Mass vaccinations against scarlet fever are carried out in many cities. It is interesting to note that the health authorities encounter no difficulty whatever in persuading parents to have their children immunized. On the contrary, people are eager protect their children against diseases. This fact shows that it is readily possible to enlighten even a backward population in health matters. (p. 233)
Here is a passage on China from ‘Away with all pests…’ An English Surgeon in People’s China (1969) Paul Hamlyn and Co.
The first task (of mobile medical teams in the countryside) is to provide preventative and therapeutic services in the area served and, in accordance with policy, preventive work is given priority. All children are immunized against infectious diseases by a travelling inoculation team which visits the villages whenever primary immunization or ‘booster’ doses become due…Smallpox, typhoid, diphtheria, infantile paralysis and whooping cough have now practically disappeared from this area and recently Chinese medical scientists have developed a method of active immunization against measles which has greatly reduced its incidence and severity. (p. 130)
Here is the Wikipedia entry on contemporary China’s vaccination policy:
China has passed the World Health Organization's (WHO) regulatory vaccine assessments, demonstrating that they adhere to international standards. The Chinese government's Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) was created in 1978 and provides certain obligatory vaccines, named Category 1 vaccines, for free to all children up to 14 years of age. Initially, the vaccines consisted of Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, oral polio vaccine (OPV), measles vaccine (MV) and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DPT vaccine). By 2007, the vaccine list was expanded to include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, A + C meningococcal polysaccharide, mumps, Rubella, hemorrhagic fever, anthrax, and leptospirosis. Category 2 vaccines, such as the rabies vaccine, are private-sector, non-obligatory vaccines that are not included in neither EPI nor the government health insurance. Due to the privatized nature of Category 2 vaccines, these vaccinations are associated with low coverage rates.
Background Notes 2:
During a webinar held by the International Coordination of Revolutionary Parties and Organisations (ICOR), the following incompetencies of the Australian government were identified:
1. There was a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Although the federal government had established a National Medical Stockpile 16 years ago, its management had been outsourced to a private company. In early February a privately-owned Chinese company sent 90 tonnes of PPE to Wuhan. In late February, another Chinese company sent a further 82 tonnes. You can imagine how many surgical masks and protective gowns would be needed to make up this combined amount of 170 tonnes of equipment! And in such quantities, it could only have been sourced from the NMS. By March, our hospitals were running out of PPE, none of which was made in Australia. Private companies were urged to retool to manufacture these essential items.
2. Australia has placed itself at a disadvantage by not maintaining local capacity for the production of medicines and vaccines. The government-owned Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL), established in 1916, was privatised in 1994 under a Labor government. Although it is the world's second largest influenza vaccine company, it did no research on a vaccine for Covid-19. It was contracted to make Astro-Zeneca under licence from the British in September 2020, although its first batches did not become available until March 2021. Medicine shortages in Australia were a "pre-existing problem" before COVID-19: somewhere in the order of 89 percent of all day-to-day prescription medications are supplied from overseas, mainly China and India. Having previously boasted that Australia would be at the front of the queue for vaccines, and was hoping to have 4 million people vaccinated by March and the entire country inoculated by October, the vaccine rollout has been very slow. So far, 6 million have had their first dose but only 900,000 or 4.3% have had their second dose.
3. Australian quarantine facilities have many shortcomings. Active cases not requiring intensive care are placed in hotels for the mandatory two-week isolation period. However, casual staff working across different facilities and inadequate ventilation have contributed to the spread of the virus from quarantine hotels. There is only one facility that really meets the required standards, and that is an accommodation facility at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, originally built by a Japanese mining company for its workers, but taken over in February 2020 to quarantine arrivals from overseas. Despite the demand for more such facilities (tens of thousands of Australians are stranded overseas and unable to return home), the federal government has only belatedly agreed to help the state of Victoria construct its own purpose-built quarantine facility. Quarantine is a federal government responsibility. The federal government has failed to provide adequate resources.
4. Aged care is another federal government responsibility. The sector has far too many casual staff, precariously employed, and working across multiple facilities. The majority of deaths from Covid-19 in Australia have occurred in aged care facilities, often run by the larger Churches as for-profit undertakings. After major break-outs last year, the Federal government imposed restrictions on these facilities to stop part-time staff being moved between them to minimise the risk of transmissions. Late last year these restrictions were lifted as a result of pressure from privatised facilities claiming they couldn't pay decent wages under the new arrangements. The federal government has failed to provide regulatory oversight and adequate resources for this area.
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