Response to "Public health or private wealth"?

By request, a few points on a new Covid article by Jeremy Loffredo and Max Blumenthal.

I’ve been asked to respond to the article Public health or private wealth? published on The Grayzone by Jeremy Loffredo and Max Blumenthal. Initially started this as a private response, but I thought it was worth sharing publicly.

There’s a lot that could be said in response to this article, but I’ll be frank: I’ve written two posts on these Covid controversies in the past four days, multiple others since all this started, and I have yet to hear a word of response to them by any of my critics on the left. I think the reasons for this are obvious, but regardless I’m just not going to invest too much time into a one-sided dialogue, especially since many of the points I’d make are points I’ve already spelled out in the articles above.

That said, a few points:

1) Agree that the global response to Covid is resulting in all kinds of unnecessary suffering, draconian restrictions on movement, austerity measures, censorship, and so on. Also agree that capital is using this as an opportunity to extend systems of control over the working class. My position is that this is what happens when instead of biting the bullet and rolling out absolute emergency lockdowns — ones that quickly lose their justification because they actually work, that everyone can clearly recognize as a radical departure from the status quo, and that everyone thus has the opportunity to resist when the powerful try to ratchet them in permanently — when instead of that, we spend years and years normalizing an endless parade of half-measures and policy tweaks. The problem here is directly implicit in the very necessity of articles like Jeremy and Max have written; they are having to spell out all of the often subtle, distant, and slow-rolling changes that are settling in because people just don’t notice them anymore, and it is that obliviousness that creates the opportunity for all kinds of suffering and power grabs. Say what you will about an immediate absolute lockdown, but there would be nothing subtle about it and no one would be oblivious.

2) I am a big fan of a global system of individual identification. I’ve been calling for it for years, long before 2020. Just last month I wrote about how Marxists used to just take for granted the necessity and inevitability of a one-world government. As far as I can tell mandatory individual IDs are an indispensable component of any plausible system of central economic planning; the only alternative is to hope that various problems of distribution and production organically take care of themselves, and the term for that system is “markets”. This is why literally every historical communist government I can think of had some system of mandatory identification. Capitalists condemned this as a draconian invasion of privacy (think the common caricature of the Soviet militsia stopping a citizen and asking for his papers), and Marxists developed a whole literature about how what they called “bourgeois privacy rights” could not prevail against the basic necessities of socialist governance. I agree with the Marxists.

3) A week or so ago I had a pretty funny dustup on Twitter: I parodied the sort of leftist who argued that Soviet breadlines were no big deal, and a massive wave of anticommunists assumed that I was in earnest. But there was also something very instructive about their response, because taking shots at me as some breadline-loving monster was mostly an afterthought; look through the commentary, and almost all of it beelines directly towards wielding the breadlines as a damning indictment of socialism and a vindication of capitalism. No interest in understanding them as administrative / logistical failures (as they often were); no interest in placing them in the context of an impoverished but rapidly industrializing agrarian economy; no interest in placing them in the context of directly comparable famines and food shortages caused by capitalism. This has of course been a staple of anticommunist rhetoric for years.

So I have to admit, at least some of this article (particularly the opening paragraphs about the Aadhaar system) read very much to me like the breadlines rhetoric: it seems like we are to conclude that these undeniably tragic incidents are the inevitable outcome of government ID systems! I think this is very dangerous rhetoric, particularly because the problems at hand here are not systematically different from ones that other government programs encounter all the time. Simple example: I’ve spent several months now fighting attempts by my home state of Virginia to take back thousands of dollars in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance I received in 2020, and all because of a simple administrative mistake having to do with my registration. Is this a terrible outcome emerging from a government system that needs to be fixed? Absolutely. Should we allow it to discredit the PUA program, which resulted in the greatest poverty reduction our country has seen in decades? Absolutely not.

4) I can’t help but suspect that a lot of this article is beating around the bush. To see what I mean, let’s look at a simpler case — something that Max tweeted out earlier today:

Is Max right to condemn what Chomsky said here? I happen to think he is! But I also think this is completely beside the point because Max would also reject an absolute lockdown or quarantines for the unvaccinated even if they came with a robust government food program, as I have argued that they should. So even though I think this criticism of Chomsky is entirely justified, I also think it’s completely unproductive and does nothing to advance the debate.

I agree with Jeremy and Max that the status quo is unacceptable, and for many of the reasons they touch on in their piece. I think a lot of socialists do too. The problem is that this article is presented as a case for opposition to aggressive government action, much like Chomsky’s food take is supposed to be a case against quarantines, when in fact one can (as touched on in point 1) move in the exact opposite way. Don’t like these mandates that make employment contingent on vaccination? Neither do I, which is why I think they should be a mandatory state program like paying your taxes that has nothing to do with employment. Don’t like this endless slow-rolling escalation of movement controls, surveillance, and so on? Neither do I, which is why I think we need to bite the bullet with a lockdown so that we can actually have a chance to put all of this behind us.

I’m not familiar with Jeremy’s politics on this, but if Max and I were having a productive conversation, I think he would just flat out say that the government doesn’t have a right to force him to get vaccinated, period. Or that it doesn’t have the right to launch an absolute lockdown, period. Or that he doesn’t think either of these could actually work. These are all, again, points I’ve expanded on at length in much of my previous writing, and I personally think they’re the ones worth debating. If comrades who oppose robust government action against Covid would like to engage with them, perhaps I’ll have more interesting things to say.