We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do. — Anonymous George W. Bush administration official
Comrade, you and I can never be satisfied with sitting down before a great human problem and saying nothing can be done. We must do something. That is the reason we are here on Earth. — dubiously attributed to W.E.B. DuBois
The SARS-COV-2 pandemic — like other pandemics before and beside it, like “The War On Terror”, like settler colonialism — is not a singular concrete Event contained within a historical vacuum. It is not “over”, and may never be completely “over”. This one fact is enough to drive people into a helpless rage. And why not? They’ve been sold lie after lie from the Biden Administration and its CDC, from news networks, from The New York Times and The Washington Post. At some point, the lies and their authoritative origins become a security blanket. It’s over. We can’t live in fear. We have to live our lives. The cure can’t be worse than the disease. These thought-terminating phrases, these desperate mantras, are repeated over and over in an effort to ward reality away from peoples’ fragile egos. Fear, ironically, is what drives the utterance of these words: fear of reality, fear of one’s defenses against it failing, fear of shame, fear of one’s worldview, and thus one’s self, falling apart. The traumas borne from Covid-19, and the political response to it, are felt both individually and on a societal level, and the psychological defenses against these traumas — denial, repression, dissociation — are equally present on this dual-level.
Many pieces have already been written about the specific scientific facts of the SARS-COV-2 (Covid-19) virus and its myriad acute and chronic impacts on individual bodies: I will not repeat the bulk of those facts here. Instead, I will explore capitalism's domination of time and suppression of history (and thus the forceful relegation of the pandemic to the past as a "victory"), capitalism's extractive approach to the disabled as its "surplus," a brief history behind the liberal-capitalist push for a return to neoliberal “normalcy,” and how the radical left can start to intervene in these weak areas of capitalism (with an awareness of the consequences this current trauma has inflicted on us) instead of the current approach of capitulation to the capitalist framing of the pandemic.
Capitalist Time: The Incomplete Dominance and Necessary Avoidance of History
How does one discuss a mass-killing, mass-disabling event when it isn't a singular concrete Event with a clear-cut end? How does one discuss this ongoing event in the midst of the vast majority of discourses — from the Biden administration's press releases, from articles in mainstream newspapers, and even in most discussions on the left — that treat this event as though it IS a singular concrete Event that has already ended?
The United States is no stranger to treating structures of ongoing mass violence as distant history: settler colonialism, as mentioned earlier, is often treated as something that Happened to Indigenous people three hundred years ago; as a historical Event that impacted people long since passed. In reality, of course, Indigenous people are still alive, and settler colonialism impacts them to this day: the NoDAPL protests of 2016 and the provision of body bags (instead of personal protective equipment) to the Seattle Indian Health Board during the early days of the Covid pandemic are examples that make this perfectly clear. Other forms of mass violence, such as climate change, are constantly pushed into a distant future. The treatment of ongoing forms of harm as past events or future problems is a rhetorical move away from guilt and responsibility; a defense mechanism of avoidance against comprehending the full horror of something one is either complicit in or powerless to stop. It is also a temporal symptom and consequence of what Guy Debord calls "the spectacle": that is, the stage of capitalist development wherein "the commodity has succeeded in totally colonizing social life." Since the spectacle completely colonizes social life, it also infects our conception of time, and thus, history, which appears to us as something "alien" to ourselves; "something never sought [...] from which [we] had thought ourselves protected."
The victory of capitalism came with the implementation of an irreversible, linear, historical time of production in the place of an agrarian cyclical time, and a conception of history as a "relentless movement that crushes any individuals in its path." This time is inherently tied to, and has been shaped by, industrialization and mass commodity production: the capitalist buys a worker's labour-power for a certain amount of time each day in order to ensure the creation of surplus value, which is itself necessary for the continued perpetuation of capitalism. In this way, the bourgeoisie is inherently tied to this conception of time and is threatened by all others — it only benefits from this particular conception of time that it controls so as to ensure the continued creation of the profits that uphold its wealth and power — so, its interest is to keep time and history where they are.
The threat inherent within a non-static, historical materialist conception of time is not limited to the strictly economic sphere. A materialist understanding of history recognizes that there have been societies and economic systems before the global victory of capitalism, and that there have been revolutionary projects of varying success even within the time capitalism saw itself as thoroughly triumphant. In other words, with a knowledge of history comes a knowledge of alternatives to a system utterly determined to cast itself as something "never created and that will never end." It demystifies capitalism by putting it in its proper context as a product of particular conditions and particular human actions upon and within those conditions. When the oppressed come to the realization that they are not destined to perpetual oppression — and that those who rule over them aren't destined to perpetual rule — they can begin to shake off the paralysis and learned helplessness that the spectacle's desperate freezing of history has forced upon them. The ruling class, therefore, are stuck desperately attempting to halt the very forward motion that brought them to power in the first place. They are dependent on the repression of the very concepts and classes that they created.
The Necessity of Invisibility: The Fragile Smoothing of Covid’s Contradictions
What does this have to do with the Covid-19 pandemic? The recognition of Covid as a real and present force is the recognition that capitalism cannot satisfactorily solve the problems it creates. It is a recognition that capitalist time is constructed rather than an inherent, eternal reality. Covid-19 and the disabling conditions it creates, in other words, are a problem that capitalism (and the idealist notions it rests upon) cannot truly solve: and since the ruling class relies on the belief that capitalism can solve all things — that history has been conquered, that no other alternatives exist — Covid is rendered invisible, "rejected in principle, repressed from the field of the visible."
This invisibility, of course, is only possible through sight: it is, in the words of Althusser, defined by the visible; it is not the "outer darkness of exclusion — but the inner darkness of exclusion, inside the visible itself" due to its structure. The act of blanketing this seeing-and-not-seeing invisibility across the whole of society requires the creation and constant reinforcement of modes of motivated reasoning, cherry-picked facts, and thought-terminating cliches — "'a cynical din of knowledge production' that institutionalizes logics of eugenics and austerity" — disseminated through all levels of "authoritative" discourse via government and mass media structures. This is possible through wholesale spectacular-State capture of, in this case, industries surrounding public health and news media. Experts are chosen as mouthpieces based on their willingness to play ball with the interests of the state and of capital: in fact, it is ensured that their interests are inextricably bound with the interests of the state and of capital; as Debord says:
Their personal and professional solidarity with the spectacle's general authority and the society it expresses, make it their duty, and their pleasure, never to diverge from that authority whose majesty must not be damaged. It must not be forgotten that all mediatics, through wages and other rewards and recompenses, has a master, and sometimes to several; and that every one of them knows he [or she] is dispensable. [...] All former possibilities for independence have been almost reduced to nil by present society's conditions of organization. The most useful expert, of course, is the one who lies.
Examples of this kind of lying, lying by omission, and cherry-picking of data are littered everywhere across the span of these past few years. They create a narrative that is so suffocating, so singularly dedicated to its purpose of maintaining current capitalist hegemony, that one must go out of their way and have a decent knowledge of epidemiology and statistics in order to find proper counters to it. Most people, of course, will not have the time, energy, or knowledge to do such a thing. All they know is that things are bad, for mysterious reasons never to be divulged. And in the absence of explanation, it is easier to go along with and repeat the thought-terminating phrases constantly echoed through the media: we can't live in fear. We have to live our lives. The cure can't be worse than the disease. Covid is just the flu. Covid is just a common cold. Wearing a mask is only for protecting others. No one is wearing a mask, so I don't need to wear one. Anyone still wearing a mask is an anxious weirdo or someone who's already sick — and so on.
Yet people continue to get sick and many people stay sick despite all collective attempts to manifest a perpetual 2019. The liberal-capitalist Covid response helmed by the Democratic Party has painted itself into a corner by hitching itself to short-term solutions rife with contradictions: they’ve focused on a vaccination-only strategy with a non-sterilizing vaccine while failing to procure funding for further vaccination and treatment research and distribution, they rhetorically promise that “we” have the “tools” to fight Covid as Covid continually mutates to evade these treatment tools (and as they plan to kick most of those tools to the private market), and they’ve normalized strategies of the Trump administration such as halting support for Covid testing in order to suppress accurate data on disease spread. Covid is over, yet it’s omnipresent. Its omnipresence should be taken as a very sign of its end. Serious cases are treated as a rarity and a sort of moral failing by pointing at comorbidities, and post-acute symptoms are either considered malingering or are papered over entirely (which then fuels anti-vax conspiracies that pin heart conditions common to Covid and post-acute, or “long” Covid – such as myocarditis – to the vaccine). Masks are considered a greater burden than the disease itself (they make the invisible far too visible for the ruling class’s comfort), and settings which would have seen use for them prior to Covid — such as hospitals — are lifting mask requirements and celebrating. The dead are shrugged off as people who would have died anyway due to old age or disability. In this way, the Biden administration has taken up the mantle of the Trump administration in attempting to “numb [the masses] to the horrors of the death toll and the pain” of Covid by making that horror unspeakable, accepting reactionary frameworks of “freedom” from the “burden” of public health, and making the lives of those most vulnerable to Covid nigh-unlivable.
The radical recognition of disability — and Covid's contribution to the disabling of the masses — reveals another weak point of not only the liberal-capitalist Covid response, but of the system it’s desperately attempting to maintain. Capitalism is not only dependent on the working class, but on those it renders "surplus:" those that are in turn a "necessary product of accumulation or development of wealth on a capitalist basis" and a "condition for the existence of the capitalist mode of production." This surplus includes the unemployed "reserve army of labor", but also those that cannot work due to chronic disability or illness. The reserve army of labor — those that are unemployed due to constantly shifting economic circumstances, temporary disability, changes in societal technological capability, etc. — are eventually able to be re-recruited to employment. Those that cannot work due to more chronic means must have their value extracted through other processes beyond that of the purchase of their labour-power. This, of course, requires extra effort on the side of the capitalists (who would rather generate profit through as little effort as possible), and thus, in their resentment, they mark this type of surplus as a "drain" or "burden" on society at the same time as they create various industries dedicated to surveilling, policing, confining, studying, treating, and — ultimately — exterminating them.
History is full of the macabre consequences of this particular contradiction and capital's violent attempts at "solving" it. Nazi Germany provides the ultimate example for the full dehumanization and attempted annihilation of those it deemed incurable surplus in the form of Aktion T-4 (and, following that, the Holocaust). This ultimate example, however, could not have been achieved without the prior creation and implementation of eugenic standards accomplished by capitalists in the United States: standards which have been normalized to the present day by and through the health insurance industry. The history of how this came to be is pivotal for understanding our current moment within the covid pandemic that isn't-yet-continues-to-be.
Worker, Surplus, and the Eugenic Implications of a Health-Capitalist Normalcy
In American capitalist society, one is only entitled to the life and the health that one can buy: health, like the “American Dream,” is never a fully attained state but one that must constantly be striven for, the carrot at the end of the stick. There are those for whom this dream is already inherently foreclosed: in fact, the dream itself, and even the aspirations of it, has only been made possible by the forcefully extracted labor and lives of those that settler colonialism and racial capitalism deemed unworthy of such aspirations. The treatment of enslaved Black people in the United States — including inhumane experimentation on Black women as the origins of gynecology, and “drapetomania” as one of the origins of the use of modern American psychology — greatly informed the birth of the American eugenics movement, which in turn contributed to the beginnings of private health insurance.
Industrialist groups in the 1910s lobbied together to “conduct statistical analyses of health insurance” and study the prevalence of “malingering” or “worker absenteeism” in order to kill the idea of national health insurance. Academic journals and newspapers at the time joined this chorus, calling health insurance “scientific loafing” or criticizing sick leave as an excuse for workers to play hooky. Malingering was characterized as something “inherent” to workers, and private health insurance’s task was to cut down on and punish this supposedly-inherent tendency by appealing to a constructed “scarcity” to keep payouts to workers low, and “expert” bureaucracy high. This process coincided with the “Spanish Flu” pandemic and the wake of Taylorism, an industrial-capital division of labor, disciplining method, and ideology that gradually deskilled the labor force and relinquished much of their autonomy. This atmosphere of increased disciplining, deskilling, and pathologizing of workers and the poor via eugenics laid the groundwork for the mass acceptance of what could be called “the new normal” of its day.
This “new normal” of private health insurance and its mass acceptance had to be continually hammered into the minds of the masses from various angles across decades: it couldn’t perpetuate itself on its own, it had to be continually reproduced. The American Medical Association, for example, used its lobbying capabilities and support among other business and “professional” organizations to fight against disability insurance and smear any politician that supported a more socialized healthcare system in the aftermath of World War 2 through the invocation of communism or socialism. The Red Scare of the ‘40s and ‘50s and its structures within the State (such as the House of Un-American Activities Committee) ensured that forces among the left that could have fought against this normalization were either marginalized, directly coerced into capitulating to it, or passively made to capitulate through fear of more direct methods that could have completely dismantled leftist organization. Thus, any labor unions and leftist groups that remained in the aftermath of the Scare were either captured by more liberal capitalist State forces or otherwise more or less willing to attempt to work for reformist “solutions” within liberal capitalist frameworks. Working within these frameworks, however, was and remains a guarantee that the most marginalized groups within the working class and the oppressed are abandoned not only by the State, but by the very organized left that claims to fight for them to begin with.
This has also been the case during the Covid pandemic: once a Democratic president took power, the remains of the organized left — many of whom, especially unions, are reliant on the Democratic party for funding and a bare minimum of political protections — capitulated to this administration’s normalization of Covid and gradual dismantling of public health protections. In this way, the Covid pandemic has not only heightened existing contradictions within the capitalist state, but also among what remains of the organized left. While the left has far more potential tools at its disposal to deal with these contradictions, it is not able to make use of them without exiting the circle of static history that the capitalist State has trapped it in.
A Brief History of The Early Pandemic and the Contradictions it (Re-)Introduced
Before heading any further into potential remedies for this state of affairs, it is important to note that the normalization of Covid was not always a Democratic Party project: during Trump’s presidency, it was far easier for the Democrats to act as a counterbalance to a regime of overt disregard for public health. In the early days of the Pandemic, the Democrats were able to pass various kinds of legislation to increase and extend unemployment benefits, Medicaid, and protections against eviction, among other things. They also successfully pressured the Trump administration into providing lump-sum payments of 2,000 dollars to tax paying citizens. Wearing a mask to protect oneself and others was painted as a way to signify that you were on the “good” team: a team that truly cared about the well-being of others and about the continued existence of public health. Governmental mandates to require mask-wearing indoors and on public transit were commonplace among states with Democratic governors. In-person education for public and private grade schools and universities was shuttered, with “remote learning” via computer taking its place. Republican forces and their allies among the bourgeoisie — ever fearful of any sort of State program or collective action on behalf of the poor or oppressed — retaliated against these measures by pulling them under the auspices of a polarized “culture war” complete with incessant media campaigns and astroturfed protests against mask-wearing.
Some very smart individuals, probably. Source: The LA Times.
While various kinds of structural violence were halted or otherwise muted, quite a few cracks still existed. It became apparent from quite early on that a pandemic response capable of completely eradicating Covid was inherently contradictory to the required constant consumption and profit-generation mechanisms of capitalism. This system cannot abide a state wherein the majority of people cannot work: thus, the category of “Essential Worker” was created, and it included — among more understandable roles such as doctors, nurses, etc. — various types of retail and service labor. Dining in a restaurant, therefore, quickly became as “essential” as the medical labor required to treat the unlucky customer that contracted and spread Covid at their local chain eatery! A dichotomy thus began to form between workers who were able to work from home, and workers in industries such as service and retail (alongside health) who could not. Those who could work from home could far more successfully shield themselves from Covid than those who were forced to work in-person: especially given that many corporations were reluctant to incorporate meaningful protections at their stores and other establishments. The profession of line cook in particular became the most deadly with regards to Covid: eating at a restaurant, after all, requires people to be unmasked. Many restaurants and bars are small, crowded, and have poor ventilation capabilities. These facts remain true to this day, in the age of Covid normalization: like many other things, they have been swept under the rug in the name of the continued attempted manifestation of a perpetual 2019. No solution to them can be found under the auspices of neoliberal capitalism: thus, they do not exist.
Another type of structural violence was not halted or muted at all during the early days of the Pandemic: the everyday actions of the police. The masses had gained an increasingly radical awareness of the inherently brutal, suppressive, and racist functions of the police throughout the 2010s. The murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, and others sparked days or weeks of protests in their aftermath, which exposed more and more people to a very direct experience of police violence. These protests and movements laid the groundwork for what would be called the George Floyd rebellions, or uprisings, in May and June 2020: a period of blatantly anti-police protests and riots that saw cop cars burned, a police precinct torched, and a CNN headquarters smashed, among other actions.
The early days of the pandemic — which gave millions of people access to an unprecedented amount of free time from work or school, a meaningful increase in monetary savings, and protection from eviction — gave the masses time to more fully realize the function of police as a tool of racial-capitalist oppression. It also gave them the ability to sustain a longer protest movement and bear the brunt of its legal consequences: if going to jail for a few days doesn’t run the risk of missing days of classes, getting fired from your job or evicted from your apartment, it is an easier consequence to bear. In this way, as the early pandemic response allowed far more people to begin to see the contradictions and inherent violence of capitalism, the capitalist State was quickly beginning to see the consequences of their “capitulations” to the masses. People had to be brought to heel, and thus forced back into generating profits for their capitalist masters.
In order for workers to return to in-person jobs, their children need to be cared for. This requires schools to be open. In order to resume in-person classes, workers have to believe those schools are safe for their children. Economist pundits such as Emily Oster were hard at work from early in the pandemic sowing confusion and outright lies around Covid’s impacts on children — which laid the groundwork for continued, more believable lies regarding the sterilization capabilities of the Covid vaccines — but the final blow against remote schools was the all-out assault against, and the defeat of, the Chicago Teachers Union. The attack against a union attempting to protect its teachers and the students under their care from repeated infection was waged by Republican and Democratic politicians (including Democratic Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot), and assisted by a chorus of petty-bourgeois pundits and weaponized “concerned parents.” Without support and protection from unions, public schools across the nation folded, and the ominous siren call of “normalcy” successfully permeated society.
Joe Biden’s presidency didn’t bring an end to the pandemic: it brought an end to the conditions that allowed the masses to more seriously uncover the hidden horrors of capitalism. Historicizing the pandemic, minimizing Covid infection, and removing the most visual signs of abnormal pandemic life (masks) were necessary in order to make people more easily accept the removal of a once-in-a-lifetime safety net. Covid is over, the man behind the curtain doesn’t exist, and the violence of everyday living isn’t violent at all. That incessant coughing you hear, that exhausting malaise you feel, is normal. Normal isn’t a negative “regression” to an untenable status quo, normal is good for you! Get back to class. Get back to work. Get back to consuming.
The Psychological Toll of Abandonment and Structural Harm
In order to even begin the complicated yet necessary process of formulating an organized response to Covid normalcy, it is important to recognize the psychological impacts of ongoing trauma committed at the hands of those who refuse to acknowledge it. Living in an environment created and perpetuated by various types of currently-inescapable harm means that one has to live by the rules of that environment: at least, to the degree that one can function on a day-to-day basis within said environment. Further, it requires one to put the reality of harm at a distance through psychological mechanisms such as denial, avoidance, defensiveness, and dissociation. These defense mechanisms grow more and more essential to the everyday functioning of individuals as more and more material protections against Covid are taken away by those with the power to maintain them. They are also essential in an environment wherein helpful information about the harms Covid can cause, and protections from those harms, is difficult to find (either through outright omission or through a confusing bombardment of contradicting official advice, decrees, and media opinions).
These psychological mechanisms not only attempt to defend against external harms, but also against the cognitive dissonance one inevitably rubs up against in the process of attempting to go about day-to-day, “normal” life in the midst of a slow-building crisis shrouded in secrecy. This dissonance is experienced by individuals as various symptoms (1): persistent stress, feelings of nihilism, hopelessness, despair, guilt, emotional and physical exhaustion, burnout, aggression towards others, and so on. The deeply uncomfortable nature of these feelings (and their physical manifestations) prompts even further entrenchment of avoidance and dissociation that can still never fully soothe this dissonance. Being trapped in a circle of static history means being trapped in a circle of constant dissonance and self-soothing attempts that grow increasingly futile and must be replaced at faster and faster rates.
In this kind of environment, bluntly telling someone that they’re wrong (even if they’re obviously so!) is tantamount to ripping the one remaining source of security away from them: in other words, it is perceived as a threat. And why not? Having one’s sole remaining source of security and pseudohappiness ripped away from them without any meaningful replacement action is a kind of threat! Therefore, an organized left response to Covid normalization and abandonment must provide that which has been taken away by those in power: knowledge, safety, and confidence. This response must also recognize that we ourselves, among the present left, have been abandoned just as the unorganized masses have, and in a vacuum created by lack of knowledge or true safety, we will turn to various kinds of defense mechanisms against it as well. In other words, we must be mindful of our own psychological struggles in the face of this trauma and be there for each other for emotional and material support in order to provide it for others.
Education and Formulation of Principles
Outside of psychological concerns, it is also important to note that many of us on the left are also largely uneducated or have been miseducated about Covid and the ways we can protect ourselves from it. Much of this education can be gained through the insights of those most immediately impacted by the pandemic: disabled and immune-compromised advocates, educators, and theorists. The ability to engage in this education through inherent discomfort of admission of short-comings, gaps in knowledge, harms one may have inadvertently caused, revealed privileges that were previously invisible — and the defensiveness that will arise from that discomfort — is crucial. Learning to sit with those feelings of discomfort (as opposed to immediately reacting to avoid them or displace that discomfort onto others) will also make it easier to guide others in more extended educational settings.
Becoming appropriately educated about Covid, protection, and disability makes it easy to form basic organizing principles related to Covid: examples of which could include:
- Because Covid is airborne, and because it can disable any one of us at any given point, and because we have no way of knowing who among us is already disabled, and because disabled people shouldn’t have to out themselves as such in order to participate in society and in leftist organizing, wearing a high-quality mask at in-person meetings and actions is required, and ventilation will be prioritized.
- Because we want to include as many working class and oppressed people as possible in our organizing, and because we do not want to perpetuate the abandonment of the capitalist State, we will find ways to make meetings and events hybrid (that is, with an online component) when possible.
- Because we want our movement to be inclusive of as many working class and oppressed people as possible, we will engage with those most impacted by the Covid pandemic in order to make our actions as accessible as we can.
- Because we recognize we have been abandoned by the State, we recognize perfect Covid protections are not possible. However, following harm reduction principles, we can ensure that our meetings and actions are as safe as they can be even when other areas of day-to-day life cannot be.
And so on. The formulation of basic principles also provides basic answers to questions and remarks that might be commonly fielded by workers and others, such as “why do I have to wear a mask?”, “aren’t masks only for protecting other people?”, “Covid is completely safe now!”, etc.
Concrete Covid Actions: The Acceptance That We Start Small
Since the State has abandoned us, and since most of our existing avenues for mass labor organization are captured by the liberal arm of that State which has tied itself to its own form of Covid denialism, we must accept that our interventions in this field will begin in very humble places. We also must accept what preexisting liberal Covid awareness campaigns do not: that appealing (via online petition, etc) to a State dedicated to Covid normalization at all cost is not an effective avenue for organizing lasting change. A national movement doesn’t spring forth out of nowhere, and our leaders aren’t likely to be good listeners unless you have millions in your bank account you can flash before their eyes. Also, as previously mentioned, the Democratic arm of the capitalist State has tied its legitimacy to Covid normalization: it has no solutions outside of the circle it is stuck in. Thus, the solutions to this problem will largely be found outside of the Democratic party.
If we can’t appeal to our political leaders and if we can’t rely on the leadership of our labor organizations, what can we do? Local chapters of labor and socialist organizations can raise funds to distribute high quality masks (that is, KN95 and N95 respirators) for free at meetings, events, and actions. They can also ship masks to those in need. These groups can provide Covid education at the same time, if applicable, or combine distribution of masks with the meeting of other community needs. Local organizations can also order and distribute air filters, or hold educational events about building DIY air filters. Any type of meeting or conference could (and in fact, should) include a hybrid online component so participation from those who can’t risk in-person meetings is encouraged. Non-political events such as parties and concerts can still be held, but outdoors when possible, and with proper filtration otherwise: protecting oneself from Covid and reducing harm where possible doesn’t mean reducing fun, relaxation, or socialization! In fact, making events as inclusive as possible promotes socialization.
As knowledge of Covid increases and as protections against it become more normalized within smaller communities and groups, it becomes more possible to branch outward and apply pressure upward: for example, union members can pressure leadership to adopt protective measures in their meetings and call for protective measures in their workplaces. Organized actions against further government abandonment (for example, the end of the Public Health Emergency, the restriction of Medicaid, etc) also become more and more possible: pressure from hundreds of people is stronger than pressure from dozens, and pressure from organizations of people is stronger than pressure from a disparate group. The more momentum we are able to build in this regard, the more possibilities will present themselves.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had ramifications across the globe, and each country has had to find its way to its own “normal.” It has also impacted the economy (from a global level on down), accelerated the closing of hospitals in the United States and the privatization of the NHS in the UK, fueled school privatization efforts, and more. This essay has only focused on a few of these angles in a brief overview of the situation within the United States: this situation has itself largely influenced the path of other countries, but it is still only one small part of the whole picture. I would hope that this picture continues to be analyzed from various theoretical angles, and I present this contribution as something of a jumping pad for discovering or creating such efforts.
The radical/revolutionary left in the United States is currently trapped within a cycle of learned helplessness, tied to national organizations that rely on a capitalist party that has caught itself in a bind wherein it cannot acknowledge the reality of Covid-19 or its far-reaching effects. Escaping this cycle will take time, hard work, and a willingness to acknowledge our shortcomings up to this point in order to learn from them. The capitalist system is forced to invisibilize Covid-19 in order to perpetuate itself, but — as we are against capitalism — we are not bound to those limitations.
Covid, Long Covid, and the widespread, intentionally perpetuated denial around these issues are daunting prospects to tackle indeed: but then again, so are the existence of prisons; the police system; racism; patriarchy; capitalism itself. If we are against all of those things, despite the difficulty of our task in opposing them, there is no reason for us to give up against this particular foe, a foe that intersects with and lays so many of these oppressive structures bare. I will close with the classic words of Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
- See the introduction to Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (1992) for a general (albeit ideologically liberal) synopsis of this dynamic.
- Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 23.
- Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 80.
- Debord, 88.
- Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, 304.
- Debord, 119.
- Louis Althusser, Reading Capital, 24.
- Althusser, 25.
- Adler-Bolton & Vierkant, Health Communism, 24.
- Debord, 188.
- https://thenewinquiry.com/the-year-the-pandemic-ended-part-1/ and its sequel articles give a thorough rundown of this media blitz.
- As the New Inquiry pieces in footnote 4 make clear, the Democratic Covid response also hampered the efficacy of the vaccine near-immediately by lifting mask mandates before a majority of the United States population was fully vaccinated.
- Monoclonal antibody treatments, in particular, have been rendered useless by the accelerated appearance– brought on by uncontrolled disease spread– of variant after variant of the virus.Other treatments, such as the antiviral Paxlovid, are effective yet restricted behind physician gatekeeping and misinformation (such as the belief that it should only be taken for “serious” cases, despite working best when taken at the very beginning of an infection).
- “We want to explore in the future the ability to transition some of COVID treatments and potentially other tools to insurance-based market, like other healthcare[...]”, from a 2022 Whitehouse Covid press call
- Marx, 784.
- Ibid, 784.
- Adler-Bolton & Vierkant, 31.
- Ibid, 1.
- See Jonathan Metzl’s The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease for a thorough examination of drapetomania and other ways psychology has been used in racist ways and to perpetuate racism against Black people.
- Adler-Bolton & Vierkant,72-74.
- There are likely more detailed accounts of the H1N1 pandemic of the late 1910s/1920s elsewhere, but the CDC provides a brief synopsis that, while imperfect, is enough for a point of reference for our purposes here.
- Harry Braverman describes Taylorism and “scientific management” at length in Labor and Monopoly Capital, especially within the Scientific Management chapter, pages 85-123.
- Adler-Bolton & Vierkant, 76-77.
- Ibid, 80-81.
- Moufawad-Paul et al, On Necrocapitalism: A Plague Journal, 12.
- Outdoors mask mandates were also common during this time: at this point, of course, it was not known just how infectious Covid was, and whether outdoor transmission was a major factor or not. Precaution was, in this case, warranted. Nowadays, a widespread belief is that Covid cannot transmit outside at all: this isn’t quite true-- crowded conditions increase the likelihood of infection whether indoors or outdoors-- but outdoor transmission is generally far more rare than indoor transmission, and hosting events outdoors is a good method of harm reduction.
- As a grocery worker during this time, I recall the farce of plexiglass “shields” installed around checkout lanes before masks were ever required. While Covid was not confirmed to be airborne at this time, it was still obvious that a plexiglass shield wouldn’t do much against an ill-placed sneeze.
- While the vaccines are quite effective against severe acute Covid symptoms, they offer imperfect protection against transmission of the virus and this already-imperfect efficacy wanes after three to six months: in that way, they’re far more similar to the flu shot than they are to, say, the chickenpox vaccine. They are certainly helpful, but their usefulness is improved by being treated as one tool within a larger toolkit, as opposed to a singular panacea.
- Moufawad-Paul et al., 301.
- Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery, 2.
- The lack of consistent public education about Covid and harm reduction from its effects means that if you ask ten people about these topics, you’ll likely get ten different answers, depending on the advice they absorbed and the time at which they tuned out of the subject out of exhaustion, confusion, etc. I have seen people to this very day who might wear gloves or wash their hands but don’t wear a mask due to belief that Covid spreads mainly through fomites, or who wear insignificantly protective masks out of the false notion that masks can’t ever protect the wearer: things constantly repeated during the early days of the pandemic.
- The nature of these self-soothing attempts is, of course, mediated by the capitalist system we find ourselves in: so, people become entangled in patterns of consumption through the very system that causes their distress to begin with. There is no true escape through individual escape attempts: only a continued circular motion.
- A very rudimentary list of examples to kickstart this education– not only of covid but of various kinds of disability and disability activism and organization– would include Marta Russell, Liat Ben-Moshe, Beatrice Adler-Bolton and her co-hosts in the Death Panel podcast, and many other sources and interviewees that can be found through that podcast.The People’s CDC also includes plenty of Covid information, alongside harm reduction advice.
- Petitions and similar strategies may be more effective on a local level, and don’t have to be abandoned entirely: they just need to be accompanied by various other tactics instead of solely relied upon.
- Fight COVID NOLA is an example of a group that does mask distribution efforts, among other things.
- The Philadelphia branch of the Democratic Socialists of America continues to build and distribute filters.They also invite Philly locals to get involved!
- The Democracy Center in Cambridge, MA hosts concerts and other events all the time: they require and provide masks, and also provide appropriate air filtration so that these events are as safe as they can be. They also provide a pamphlet explaining these decisions to guests. This is a concrete, already-existing example of Covid-conscious socialization and entertainment that can be replicated elsewhere.
- The struggle around public education and Covid, for example– which I only spent a paragraph on, and spoke about in general terms– could be its own full essay.
- Some book-length analyses have already been published, such as the Maoist On Necrocapitalism: A Plague Journal, which I only had the time to briefly cite here. Chuang, a left-communist collective, has also put out its own book on the pandemic from a Chinese perspective entitled Social Contagion.
- Shakur, Assata. Assata: An Autobiography, 67.