A contribution by break isolation, Munich
The debate about the positions of the #zerocovid campaign shows that the left has lost many positions and assumptions that were previously considered to be common, and that the understanding about them must be conducted anew.
The most accurate information about the motivation of the initiators of #zerocovid is a sentence that disappeared from the call. The original version, which was presented to first-time signatories for signature, included in the programmatic third paragraph the claim that “the decisive action of several countries has shown that it is possible to stop the spread of the virus “* and concluded the paragraph as follows:
“We can do it, too, so that, step by step, we can return to a normal daily life.”
This sentence was a central part of the appeal that was sent out via numerous distribution lists in the days before the official start of the initiative, in order to win over as many prominent academics, cultural figures and “opinion leaders” as possible to sign the petition. But in the version first published on the campaign website on January 14, 2021, the sentence was suddenly no longer included. It simply disappeared. Without explanation and without transparent communication.
The radical left in the metropolises was once united in fighting together against the prevailing normal state, aware that “a normal everyday life” in the metropolises is racist and patriarchal, as well as the cause of exploitation, war and destruction worldwide. This realization is a prerequisite to stand up collectively and globally for justice and freedom: no justice – no peace!
For a strategic determination of emancipative politics in the centers of global capitalism this position is fundamental – especially in times of a pandemic, which can be fought successfully and sustainably only globally and in solidarity and not nationally or in a single country.
As a solidarity-based left, we have always started from the social distortions of state measures and taken action against them. This is where our critique and our practices start: Our solidarity and the strategic orientation of our politics are thus first and foremost directed at the most vulnerable and disadvantaged social groups. We also demand this for a political process and a substantive critique and practice especially during a pandemic. #zerocovid has reversed this stance. The call #zerocovid constructs a “we” that only captures an exclusive part of society and its everyday reality, speaks in the interest of this privileged “we” and hides behind it the factual acceptance of the exclusion of the majority of humanity. The longing to experience a “normal everyday life again” is perhaps understandable for this “we”, but in view of the global conditions it is ignorant and cynical.
1.) The objective of the initiative: hopeless and life-threatening
A virus that has already spread diffusely worldwide and two thirds of which continue to spread unrecognized and undetectable (i.e. via symptomless or only mildly ill infected persons) cannot be dealt with by a shutdown. A successful strategy needs targeted and concrete protective and preventive measures as well as a partisan and empathetic objective: our absolute priority as a left that stands up for the life and freedom of all people must be to reduce the severe and fatal courses of the disease by systematically protecting the elderly, the chronically ill, and residents and forcibly housed persons in all inpatient facilities (and without isolation and repression against those affected). To date, this has not happened: During the first shutdowns in Europe, hospitals and nursing homes were open to the virus without restriction, and this remained so in Germany – with a few exceptions – until mid-December 2020. The facts speak for themselves: almost 90 percent of Covid 19 deaths in Germany to date have been people over the age of 70 (as of March 2021), with well over half of them residing in nursing homes. By November 1, 2020, a total of 10,541 people had died of Covid-19 in Germany; on December 12, 2020, there were already 21,900 and on February 24, 2021, there were already 68,740 people; on March 23, there were 74,752, of whom nearly 35,698 were between the ages of 80 and 89; and on December 2, there were already 101,626. And tens of thousands will probably die again in the current wave (source: RKI, statista and Federal Statistical Office).
It was already evident in the first wave that, in addition to the elderly and the chronically ill, those who live in completely cramped living conditions and have to ensure their survival under precarious working conditions were particularly at risk. For them, there was no shutdown: instead, risky conditions driving to work, at work, and afterward a high-risk daily routine, confined to far-too-cramped apartments and neighborhoods that are particularly affected by the spread of the virus and thus high rates of infection and mortality.
As suggested by a few initiatives since April 2020, a nationwide mandatory protection and testing strategy for nursing homes, clinics and inpatient facilities (i.e. no isolation of residents!) as well as for those affected by precarious living and working conditions could have prevented a large proportion of these deaths: For example, a U.S. study examined the effectiveness of precautionary testing in 28 nursing homes. In 13 homes where all staff and residents were tested preventively, 17 of 1,163 people (staff/residents) became ill and three people died (0.26 percent). In 15 comparison facilities where testing was done only after the first case of illness occurred, 723 of 1,705 people became ill and 109 died (6.4 percent). From these figures, the researchers* estimate that preventive testing reduces the death rate by 96 percent in relative terms (source: https://www.ebm-netzwerk.de).
However, just as there are no binding testing structures, there are still no structured cohort studies in Germany on the occurrence of the virus and its mutations, in order to be able to take targeted measures at an early stage.*²
In addition, there has been a massive political failure in the vaccination campaign: in addition to the elderly and the chronically ill, people in precarious living and working conditions in particular should have been offered vaccination as a matter of priority: Accompanied by education and participation in democratic health structures and thus the targeted use of area-wide mobile health advisors with language skills and mobile vaccination buses. Bremen was an exception in the German-speaking world. Instead, police measures that were senseless in terms of health policy were used to enforce bans.
2.) Generalizing and exclusionary
The #zerocovid campaign lacks empathy and does not develop a relationship to the concrete everyday and working realities of people. On the contrary, the #zerocovid measures would further worsen working and living conditions for many people. The massive increase in sexualized violence as well as the loss of social and educational prospects for children and young people are also ignored.
The call #zerocovid conceals who is concretely endangered in this pandemic and, above all, who predominantly falls seriously ill and dies.
It simply ignores the fact that there has been no targeted protection of the most vulnerable groups and the call provides no idea of this. At best, this is all based on ignorance due to vested interests and panic. In fact, the #zerocovid policy legitimizes the policies of neoliberal governments (whether grand coalition or traffic light), cosmetically talking about a solidarity emergency brake instead of a national one.
3.) Eurocentric and irresponsible
The #zerocovid call is Euro- and metropolis-centric. It is written in an exclusionary way from a privileged perspective and encourages state authoritarian tendencies; it legitimizes them without concretely standing up in solidarity for the most vulnerable social groups in Europe and globally. The frame of reference “Europe” defined arbitrarily and without justification by the initiators remains unexplained, the propagated measures in the fight against the pandemic are doomed to failure. If #zerocovid wants to put Europe into a “waking coma” by means of the states’ monopoly on the use of force, the external borders will inevitably be made absolutely tight for as long as possible. Is #zerocovid none of the “rest of the world’s” business in this global pandemic? But there is also not a word about the racist labor hierarchy in Germany: in the same way, it is concealed who has been doing the “urgently needed” work also in Europe for 12 months and is therefore increasingly seriously ill or dying and will continue to do so. Is it a coincidence that in this phase the right of asylum can even be completely suspended by the EU without significant protests at the external borders?
#zerocovid is irresponsible: But the collateral damage of a Europe-wide #zerocovid shutdown would be catastrophic in health terms even beyond Covid-19. Currently, many more people than usual are already dying from the consequences of the lack of medical care and additional illnesses caused by the lockdowns in all their gradations. In the next three to four years, their share of excess mortality worldwide is likely to be as large as that of Covid 19 victims. And so far, we haven’t even touched on the political and social consequences, as well as the devastating economic impact, especially in the Global South: The first shutdown has already plunged hundreds of millions of people worldwide into even greater poverty. Once again, South Africa as an emerging market is being economically punished by the reaction in the capitalist centers for having announced in an exemplary manner the distribution of the new omicron variant. But it is not likely to stop there; negative consequences for a large part of the African continent are to be expected. The pandemic massively intensifies the unjust world economic order of capitalism and the exploitative production and trade chains like a catalyst. But the pandemic also brings the question of the further exploding inequality all the more urgently back on the agenda. And thus the systemic question as a prerequisite for a successful strategy against the current pandemic and future pandemics.
4.) Criticism of science is criticism of authority
A false frame of reference, panic, repression and above all promises of salvation that cannot be guaranteed end fatally in the fight against pandemics and are always methods of authority that pursues other interests. The authors of the #zerocovid appeal also proclaim a promise of salvation with reference to the supposedly objective evidence of science: according to this, countries could “end the spread of the virus. A left that, instead of fighting for concrete improvements for the weakest and poorest people worldwide in its practice with as many people as possible, makes false, national promises or pretends to be the better government, is at best doomed to irrelevance. In the worst case, it becomes jointly responsible for reactionary options. It is remarkable that the initiative refers to those scientists and bourgeois scientific institutions that have advised or supported many wrong decisions for 24 months without a pandemic plan. Whoever suggests scientific objectivity and gives up his critical view of “the sciences”, gives up criticism of rule and the state.
Those who do not want to know about this should finally take note of the sad experience of the AIDS pandemic with more than 35 million deaths so far: Millions of people worldwide had to die only because the prices of life-saving drugs were unaffordable for most of those affected for well over a decade (to this day, only just under 70 percent of patients* have access to drugs). It took years of global struggle by social movements against the pharmaceutical industry and their government advocates to at least lower the prices of HIV medicines. Again, patents on vital vaccines and medicines guarantee secure profits for the pharmaceutical industry, killing millions of people. These issues cannot be postponed to a supposedly carefree period after the shutdown. It would be worthwhile to adopt the experiences from the successful fights against a repressive AIDS policy at that time (CSU politicians like Gauweiler & Co. wanted to lock up infected people in camps at that time) for a communal and public welfare oriented health policy for all people.
5.) Social struggles and communal self-organization instead of obedient rhetoric
Many leftists have (tactically) justified their support for the campaign with the alleged discourse success of the #zerovovid initiative. We think this is a fatally flawed decision and cannot see this success: Neither a “possible opportunity” nor a “window of time and discourse” of the left can emerge from a misguided approach. The attempts to use or complement #zeroCovid from within could not work either. For the call for the state to now enforce the saving lockdown and thus end the pandemic (at least for once in our country) is characteristic of an appellative demand policy in the digital space. After months of silence, the campaign is now calling for an immediate “solidarity emergency brake” in a renewed statement: In the new position paper “Stop dying – no more COVID-19 deaths!”, which was published at the end of November without any signatories, the outlined analytical errors are largely reproduced and partly reinforced. Measures supported by solidarity and democracy from below are postulated in order to appeal to the state: The state should organize a redistribution program with continued payment of wages. On the one hand, it should discontinue unspecified “non-urgent” parts of the production process in order to reduce the risk of infection to zero; on the other hand, it should organize community facilities for nursing and child care. Let the health care system be nationalized – not communalized, mind you. Knowledge about the vaccine manufacturing process should not be socialized through radical disclosure and subjected to global scientific control and improvement, but rather passed on from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Although individual strands of criticism outlined above have been taken up by filler paragraphs, in the end they remain inconsequential: #zerocovid is now simply declared to be the global approach that promises to successfully combat the pandemic.
Thus, #zerocovid once again becomes a cue for a possible next lockdown that masks the failure of neoliberal pandemic policies.
Already the appendix points of the first #zerocovid call for the socialization of the entire health sector, the care sector, global vaccination policy and the expansion of occupational health and safety, solidarity-based financing of costs, and coverage for all the precarious, the illegalized and the homeless. All correct. But these demands are completely meaningless in real terms, because the movement has not yet fallen from the sky, which quickly fights for the appendix catalog and the initiative also wants to start only after Europe will be released from the shutdown again. To blow a media plea for one of the most repressive lockdowns into the world under the real prevailing conditions, which #zerovovid is not able to concretely improve at any point, is not only irresponsible and cynical, but also life-threatening for many people who will be exposed to these measures.
This fails to recognize that struggles to municipalize hospital and nursing home health care, as well as a massive upgrade in care work and occupational health and safety, are indispensable components of an immediate change in strategy to successfully combat the pandemic, and especially to reduce deaths. Whether concrete improvements for people in need or a system change – they remain dependent on the development of social struggles and communal self-organization of society!
*It is the essence of a pandemic that a virus has already spread globally and thus can only be controlled permanently, sustainably and successfully through global action with complex measures (testing, masks, vaccinations, medicines, protective measures). In contrast, the last two years have shown that temporary or regional measures merely reduce the course in phases, and at the price of an increased risk of mutations that can spread even faster.
*²On the basis of current cohort studies on the spread of the virus including genome sequencing, measures could be implemented in a timely, targeted and, above all, proactive manner to replace a policy that dabbles in phases between panicky repression and irresponsibility.
More info at: https://breakisolation.net