This article first appeared in The Anvil, Vol 10 No 1, published 28 Feb 2021.
Vaccines against COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, have started being deployed in industrialised countries and the pandemic is beginning to abate there. In a number of countries, new case numbers have fallen dramatically and deaths have also fallen substantially. New data indicate they the vaccines substantially prevent transmission of the virus as well.
We’re a long way from Paradise, though. A number of obstacles stand in the road of defeating the virus and economic and social fallout will follow. Most importantly, vaccines are scarce in the Third World. Many countries haven’t had the resources to test for the virus properly, so the official case numbers are wild under-estimates. And now effective vaccines are available, prices demanded by the big drug companies are unaffordable. A World Health Organisation fund exists to pay for vaccines for the very poorest countries, but contributions by rich countries are miniscule compared to what is needed. As a result, vaccinating the entire world is projected to be six years away. The rich countries, many of which (including Australia) have very low case numbers, will be done in one year. That’s an extra five years of misery and death for being poor. Having the wrong colour skin doesn’t help, either.
Another problem is that the virus is mutating, leading to what the WHO calls “variants of concern”. These are more infectious and some may be more deadly. Further, some may be more resistant to existing vaccines, which must be modified to deal with them. While some researchers have said this could be done quickly, it would be unwise to assume this as a certainty. Meanwhile, natural selection always presses a new virus to evolve towards being more infectious and more vaccine resistant. Allowing it to run rampant in the Third World while rich countries vaccinate themselves allows maximum opportunity for new variants to emerge.
Thirdly, we face the malign influence of the anti-vaxxers. Peddling an eclectic mix of conspiracy theories and unscientific fruitloopery, they are attempting to discourage people in developed countries from being vaccinated. Although convinced anti-vaxxers are only a very small percentage of the population, they have a much larger audience of people hesitant and susceptible to misinformation. If enough people are persuaded to reject vaccination, society will remain vulnerable to it.
The anti-vaxxers intersect with some extremely bad politics. Some of the conspiracy theories are merely nutty. Those concerning Big Pharma mix valid concerns with wild misinformation. But other theories are much darker. The worst of them are outright anti-Semitic, usually cloaked in coded language about George Soros or unspecified globalists. These people are Fascists and should be dealt with as such.
In addition, we will still face the economic and social consequences. The pandemic has imposed a massive cost on capitalist economies around the world. Part comes from measures governments have taken to stop the spread of the virus, but the larger part from decisions individual people have made to protect their health when governments have failed to suppress transmission. Public finances are in a state of ruin worldwide. The fallout has been suppressed by the extraordinarily low interest rates prevailing, but if rates increased even by a fraction, every State would experience a fiscal crisis of massive proportions.
Economic inequality has also increased at a staggering speed. After falling initially, stock markets have soared to new heights. Tech billionaires with major stakes in corporations which have flourished in the crisis are making out like bandits. Jeff Bezos, largest shareholder in Amazon, makes the 19th Century robber barons look like paupers. Unemployment has increased and widespread wage freezes have been imposed. Even wage cuts are not uncommon. There’s a class war going on and, so far, one side is winning hands down.
As the pandemic subsides, workers in industrialised countries want to make up for the sacrifices they made while the virus was raging. Right wing “libertarianism” has been totally discredited and governments have put neo-liberal orthodoxy on the back burner for the duration of the pandemic. Although the Fascists have recruited amongst the anti-vaxxers, broader society has been freed from the hegemony of neo-liberalism. That hegemony will be difficult to re-establish.
At the height of the pandemic, capitalist governments worldwide told us “We’re all in this together”. It was always a lie, but they needed to say it and it spoke to the deepest desires of the working class. We need to build the movement that can create a society where we’re all in it together. We need a labour movement built on Anarchist Communist principles. And we need the revolution which alone can bring about libertarian communsm.
VACCINATE EVERYBODY, WORLDWIDE
BUILD THE CLASS STRUGGLE