The content of the article ominously entitled ‘Dealing with anti-vaxxers’ (September 16) is disappointingly like any to be found in mainstream papers and echoes government-driven propaganda. In harmony with mainstream bias it refers to alternative opinion as “misinformation”. Note also the vilifying and inaccurate term, “anti-vaxxers”, which is widely utilised by the establishment in order to delegitimise anyone who is not compliant.
The article denigrates the worldwide movement of those who are against the indiscriminate rollout of injections. This is precisely the way to alienate and sideline a significant number of people - many of whom have never before demonstrated in the streets or put up resistance to state coercion until now (the left are notable for their absence).
It is not my intention to argue any position about vaccinations, as I am not any more qualified to do so than the author is. Despite the absence of credentials Paul Demarty emphatically and confidently states that those who oppose the Covid jab are “irrational”, because there are no “scientific” reasons to refuse it. However, science is not an absolute and static truth, but rather a striving to continuously build upon and share knowledge. I can thus say equally confidently that there are scientists and medics - some of whom have had careers at the top of their profession as professors of virology and epidemiology - who regard refusal of this jab as completely rational, legitimate and wise, particularly in healthy children who do not die from Covid. Some of these professionals and experts have serious concerns about the health risks which may ensue and believe that mass, indiscriminate rollout is both unnecessary and reckless.
This international, grassroots backlash of resistance is not accurately characterised in the article to which I refer. These are not so-called “anti-vaxxers”. It is rather the case that the movement is supported by people of many different perspectives. Some of them may well be historically resistant to vaccines and this is entirely their prerogative. This group contains those who favour homeopathic remedies and promotion of a healthy lifestyle to maximise good immune systems. They do not see the dominance of drug companies and the medical model as the solution to health. A read of any prescription drug leaflet will state the numerous side effects which have been reported and some of us are old enough to remember the thalidomide scandal, when pregnant women were given sleeping drugs, which produced babies with gross deformities. There have been other drugs which have been marketed and then withdrawn, as the harmful effects came to light, and so there is nothing irrational about their perspective. It is called freedom of choice.
In the resistance there are also those who have always trusted vaccines. These people are simply opposed to this particular jab, because they do not trust that it is safe or they do not trust the motives for its rollout. Others have had the jab, but stop short of accepting it for their healthy children, who do not get ill from Covid. This one is a new technology, which is not like traditional vaccinations.
Among the movement against the jabs there can also be found those who are of child-bearing age and pregnant women who feel there is a recklessness about indiscriminate distribution to them and to healthy adults and children, when it is known that most who die are very old with other significant health problems, as is the case with any respiratory virus. They challenge why they should take any risk at all, when the general pattern is being very mildly unwell or at most feeling rotten, as with any virus. The article echoes the mainstream media by describing coronavirus as a deadly disease, but it is not harmful to those who are younger and who have robust immune systems. It is the unhealthy old who for the most part are at risk of death.
I turn to another important element of the movement, which is deeply fearful of the use of emergency powers to stop the ordinary freedoms of association and movement. The global dimensions of this repression are chilling. Previously law-abiding citizens have found themselves arrested for having too many friends close to them or for not wearing a mask. A central public health strategy has been the involvement of psychologists in order to strike terror into people from engaging in normal activity and communication. People struggling to make a living have been stopped from operating their small business with scandalous disregard for the mental health and physical health of the population, both old and young.
The article chillingly states that there is nothing wrong with legal enforcement of the jabs in principle, and coercion should not be “off the table”. Demarty describes parental rights to decide upon children being jabbed as “foolish bourgeois prejudice”. This lofty arrogance will never win the hearts of the working class, because it is out of touch with parents who love their children and want what is best for them. Parents do not want the state undermining their right to protect their children’s interests. It is preposterous to naively assume that the state will make better decisions than parents.
Many people do not want to live in an authoritarian society with control over their lives and decisions. They mistrust the government and the drug companies who have made a fortune in this vaccine rollout. They are fearful of how quickly the state was able to seize control over their lives. As a result they seek ways to explain it each in their own way - religiously, economically or ascribing sinister motives. What unites them, however, is a common knowledge that totalitarian control by the state has occurred swiftly and by consent in parliament. Ideological purists are not the solution to meeting the needs of people and lead merely to another form of oppression, in which control becomes the priority and freedom of thought and lifestyle become threatening.
I for one do not want to live in a society where I am subject to ‘No jab, no job’ and have no say in how I deal with my own health. I want to live in a world where there is irrationality, eccentricity and fun. I do not want to produce a digital identification or have big brother watching over my freedom of association and movement, whether it is by the right or by the left.
Mike Macnair’s historical investigations are always interesting and informative - his recent series on constitutions especially so. But there is a part of his last article that veers off into speculations on history as a series of ‘stages’ and tips over into a questionable metaphysic (‘Enlightened constitutions’, September 23). I’ll quote two passages and then comment on them.
First, Macnair’s view of the implications of a theory of stages: “‘Progress’ and ‘stages’ history, moreover, was as much a poisoned chalice for capital as Roman law had been - but in the other direction. The problem is that, if there has been progress from antiquity, through feudalism, to capitalism, it logically implies that there may be a future beyond capitalism: an idea which is capable of inspiring self-organisation of capital’s subordinates, especially the proletariat, and challenges to capitalist authority.”
Second, Macnair evaluates the attempt of various historical schools to reject ‘stageism’: “But all of these theories have as their underlying aim to show that longue durée history gives us no ground to believe that a future beyond capitalism is possible. It is a paradox of some Trotskyists’ opposition to ‘stageism’ that it produces the same result: socialism ceases to be grounded in historical dynamics and becomes merely an ethical imperative.”
My first comment is that this interjection of Marx’s theory of stages is out of place in a discussion of the creation of a new constitutional order that is focused primarily on the period from 1688 to the beginning of the 19th century. When Europeans first began to see themselves as the ‘Enlightened’ product of a history that began in antiquity and passed through feudalism, they didn’t conceive of themselves as living in the stage of capitalism. The ‘age of reason’, ‘progress’, ‘liberty’, the ‘free market’ or ‘self-government’ were some of the terms used to characterise their self-understanding of their new historical situation; and these conceptions of historical stages did not entail any inner logic of a further transcendent stage. Marx calling this new historical stage capitalism and projecting it to turn into socialism in the future came later.
I think Macnair compresses this history too much and loses something important in the process. That something is democracy. Constitutionalism wasn’t just the project of a new international system of capital. It also had another branch (leaving aside the murky legacy of the Putney debates) associated with Tom Paine, the radical democracy of the French Revolution, and the Chartists. Jonathan Israel in The expanding blaze (2017) labels these two strands of Enlightenment constitutional thinking the ‘radical’ and the ‘moderate’. Marx integrated this radical democratic current into his overall theory of social change, but not seamlessly. The demand for democracy as a system of self-government for regulating social relations preceded Marx’s theory of the contradictions within capitalism. It was based on the ethical theory of natural rights and was not ‘stagist’ to anywhere near the same degree as Marx’s theory.
Moving into the period of classical Marxism from 1848-1914, I question how much of the motivation of the working class and socialist movements of the time was derived from projecting a logic of stages of history into the future rather than simply demanding that the workers have a say in how their society was run. I can’t go into any more detail here, but I hold the view that an ethic of democratic rights was a stronger motivator in Europe then - and still is in the US now - than the theory of stages of history taken from only one aspect of Marx’s multifaceted writings.
Pushing their way
Ollie Douglas writes: “Comrade Siens offered us a fairly stock contribution from one side of gender debate (or should I say echo chamber?). Heavily emphasised though was a particular portrayal of ‘Marxist’ materialism, one that Marx and Engels would have labelled ‘shallow’ and ‘vulgar’ in their day” (Letters, September 16).
Having just finished everything but the appendix of Capital volume 1, I can inform comrade Ollie that Marx uses the word ‘vulgar’ in one context only: that of “vulgar economists”, who shill for capitalism. I do not claim to be an economist and I certainly do not support capitalism in any way, shape or form. Marx rejects capitalism as god-given: the same rationalisation the upper classes have used since there were upper classes for justifying their own existence - always in the name of god. One can either choose the path of material reality - hopefully approached through dialectical analysis - or some human-created myth that tells us we are supposed to labour uncomplainingly to enrich the incubus class.
Comrade Ollie then tell us: “[W]e need a positive communist vision for these oppressed peoples.” These “oppressed peoples”? This is the first group of oppressed peoples I have ever heard of who receive funding from obnoxious billionaires such as Martine Rothblatt, Jennifer Pritzker and George Soros. The Liberal Democrats in the UK got £1.3 million from the manufacturers of Lupron (it has another name in the UK; this is its American brand name), so it’s little wonder that the Liberal Democrats support giving children puberty blockers: ie, Lupron. It is unimaginable to me that anyone who calls themselves a communist supports the medical-industrial complex and its pushing of lifelong medicalisation/mutilation of children in the name of profit.
And men who want to push their way into women’s spaces - whether it’s a university group for young women to talk about these issues, or women’s toilets and changing rooms, or judges who think it’s fine to confine male serial rapists and murderers in women’s prisons (if anyone deserves our sympathy and our vision, it’s imprisoned women) - are hardly oppressed. Perhaps we need a better definition of ‘oppressed’ than the western one, which seems to have morphed into ‘I want my way all the time and I will whine, assault and murder anyone who stands in my way’.
Susan Elizabeth Siens
Arthur Bough has a nice way of reconstituting the argument, in a manner that proves whatever point he tries to make, while taking the original argument away from its original point of contention. This makes it next to impossible to engage in any meaningful discussion with him. This is why he is so tiring.
To give but one example in his latest response: “That assumes that the surplus value is always accumulated rather than consumed” (Letters, September 26). I made the point that surplus can never equal zero to counter Bough’s notion that it is competition that drives accumulation and not the social condition of the labourer. Competition does not drive accumulation; it simply divides the spoils, and regulates the price of production, etc. So can anyone explain how Bough’s comment is relevant to that original point? Who denied that surplus value is also consumed? The reality is that this point has no bearing on my original argument: none whatsoever.
Bough writes: “Marx’s point against Ricardo is precisely that, in the real world, it is not differential rates of profit that drives accumulation in the short term, but the anticipation of an expanding market, and the need to grab as large a share of it as possible.”
No, this is not Marx’s point at all! Accumulation derives from the full development of capitalism, from its prerequisites: ie, from the social condition of the labourer; the social relations between capital and labour. By stating that competition is the driver of accumulation, Bough simply repeats the assertions of the vulgar economists, who take their economic laws from the capitalists’ own world view, and surface appearances. For Bough, accumulation is the work of capitalists in competition.
Surely the whole point of volume 3 of Capital was to reveal that the ideas of the capitalists are not the whole truth - and to counter the arguments Bough is putting forward now!