The Importance of a Scientific Understanding and Approach
by Bob Avakian
August 23, 2021
As I have noted recently, there is a serious problem in this country that many people are refusing to get the vaccines against COVID, when in fact these vaccines have been clearly demonstrated to be safe and effective against serious illness and death from COVID. If the great majority of people in this country were vaccinated, this would mark a huge step toward getting the COVID pandemic under control—even as it is also necessary for people all around the world to be vaccinated as well, with special importance to getting people vaccinated in the poorer oppressed countries of the world, where vaccination rates, and access to the vaccines, are terribly limited now (for example, in Africa only something like 2 percent of the people have been vaccinated, mainly due to the extreme shortage of vaccines). So the refusal to get vaccinated, on the part of so many people in this country—where vaccines are widely available and are free—is enabling the pandemic to keep going, killing large numbers of people in this country, especially Black people, Latinos and Native Americans, and enabling the virus to continue to mutate, with the prospect of producing even more dangerous variants. And, as I have emphasized:
people are not just refusing to get the vaccines because of any legitimate concerns about the safety (or the effectiveness) of the vaccines. Far too many people—especially lunatic anti-scientific fascists but far too many others as well, including among those hardest hit by the COVID pandemic—are refusing to get the vaccines because of a combination of crazy conspiracy theories, other anti-scientific garbage, and rampant individualism.1
Among these “crazy conspiracy theories” and “other anti-scientific garbage” are the claims that COVID is not real—is a “hoax”—or that it is not really that serious (is not worse than a cold or the flu) and nobody, or not that many people, are actually dying from it… OR that it is real, and dangerous, but it has been deliberately manufactured by forces in the government of this country (and/or some other country) or by some other sinister (and seemingly secret) forces with the intent of killing off certain people (which people depends on which conspiracy theory is being put forward). And so on. For all, or any, of these conspiracy theories to be true would require the involvement of huge numbers of people conspiring in this—not just powerful people, but ultimately millions of ordinary people, including large numbers of scientists and even greater numbers of doctors and health care workers, not only in this country but in many other countries as well—all collaborating to promote such a conspiracy. NO. Come on—get real—this is all bullshit!
The work, and the overwhelming evidence-based understanding, of scientists, and the experience of huge numbers of people—including those who have in fact died from, or been made seriously ill by, COVID, as well as their family members, and the large numbers of doctors and health care workers who have made great personal sacrifices to treat people with COVID, and have in significant numbers been stricken with COVID themselves—all this has made very clear that COVID is very real, can in many cases be very deadly, and has been (and is being) spread not by some shadowy forces of sinister conspiracy, but by the means that science has demonstrated to be true: the COVID virus spreads mainly through the air, when people are in close proximity to each other, simply breathing, coughing, etc. (especially in indoor environments), and particularly when people are not wearing masks, when one or more person is infected with COVID, or when someone is just a “carrier” of the virus (even if they themselves are symptom-free, as can be the case with many vaccinated people).
And the scientific evidence—and widespread experience—is also very clear: the vaccines that have been developed to combat COVID are safe and very effective in preventing serious illness and death from this virus. And, if the great majority of people were vaccinated, in the U.S. and worldwide, this devastating pandemic could be brought under control. So, get the vaccine!—and also wear a mask and social distance wherever and whenever medical science indicates that this is necessary.
As I have emphasized previously:
there is no good reason NOT to get these vaccines—and refusing to do so not only puts those refusing at risk of serious illness and possibly death, but also exposes others to the same risks.”2
Along with lunatic conspiracy theories about the vaccines, spread particularly (but not only) by fascist followers of Donald Trump, Fox “News,” etc., one of the common forms of opposition to the vaccines is the idea that the vaccines are not really (or not so much) a means to actually combat COVID but are essentially a conspiracy by the government and the big pharmaceutical companies to control people and to make big profits from the pandemic (whether the pandemic is seen as real, or a “hoax”). This is a kind of “populist” notion, which essentially reduces the problem in society to simply one of people being oppressed and harmed by powerful forces above them—big government and big corporations—a notion that, in somewhat different forms, is taken up by people on the right, but also on the so-called “left” (among some “woke” and “progressive” people). This is a basically unscientific understanding of things, both specifically in relation to COVID and the vaccines and fundamentally in terms of the essential nature of this system we live under, the system of capitalism-imperialism, and how this system actually functions.
It is of course true that corporations (and other big capitalist enterprises and financial institutions) dominate the economy under this system. As I have previously pointed to:
This is a system dominated by capitalist corporations, banks and other financial institutions controlling vast sums of money, all of which is based onexploiting people—masses of people here, and billions of people throughout the world, including huge numbers of children.
But also very importantly:
These capitalists are locked in cutthroat competition with each other, and this drives them to penetrate every part of the world, especially the poorer countries, in order to exploit people even more viciously, while leaving many people without a way to work at all, within the regular (“formal”) economy.3
For these reasons, in an overall sense, these capitalist corporations (including the major pharmaceutical companies—“Big Pharma”) will seek to turn everything—including the health needs of the people—into a means for making greater profit and out-competing rival capitalists, even as some governments (and other institutions) have made some efforts to encourage cooperation in order to promote the development and distribution of vaccines (and other measures to deal with COVID).
Another important part of the picture is that this rivalry among capitalists also takes place along “national” lines—with contention between different capitalist-imperialist countries. At the same time, with the domination of this system of capitalism-imperialism, the world is divided into a handful of capitalist-imperialist countries and a large number of poor oppressed countries in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia—the Third World.
All this is why, despite some governments’ efforts to curb the effects of this in dealing with COVID, capitalist competition and striving for greater and greater profit, and for a top-dog position in the world, gets in the way of and undermines the cooperation that is necessary—and that many scientists are actually striving to achieve—in dealing with the pandemic. It is why things like the vaccination rate (and access to the vaccines) is so low in the Third World.
But that is only part of the picture, and does not get to the heart of the situation with the vaccines and the fact that the government (or some in the government) of this country (and other countries) would actually want to get people vaccinated as a major means of “getting on top of” the COVID pandemic.
It is true that, because their system is based on exploiting and oppressing people, the governments of capitalist countries want and need to control the people. But, first of all, these governments do not need something like vaccines to do this—they already have many means of doing so, including the ways that people’s use of social media and the internet generally provide these governments with easy access to extensive, even intimate details about people’s lives, the ability to track where people are at any given time, their movements, and so on. At the same time, however, the role of capitalist governments is not simply to control people, but more fundamentally it is to ensure the firm foundation and stability of capitalist rule and the more or less orderly functioning of this system, particularly in the “home” countries (such as the U.S., Germany, Russia, Japan, China, etc.) where the major economic and political institutions of the different capitalist-imperialist powers are “anchored.”
Therefore, when faced with a serious pandemic like the current COVID crisis, it is objectively in the interests of the ruling capitalists and their governments in countries like this actually to bring this pandemic under control, because it is highly disruptive of the overall functioning of the economy and of the society as a whole—and major disruptions like this can raise big questions among people about the ability of this system to maintain the orderly functioning of society and meet people’s basic needs. And getting this pandemic “under control” is also objectively in the interests of the ruling capitalist-imperialists in their efforts, in the “international arena,” to secure and strengthen their position.
For these reasons, normally the entire capitalist ruling class in this country, and its political representatives, in both the Republican and Democratic parties, would be united in their desire to take the necessary measures to “get on top of” this pandemic—especially to get the population vaccinated, and to enforce things like mask mandates where that were deemed necessary.
But these are not “normal times.”
This Rare Time—How the Profound Bitter Divisions Within the Ruling Class Are Deepening the Crisis, And What Is the Way Forward Out of This Madness
This is a time when a section of the ruling capitalist class in this country, represented by the Republican Party—which has all along resisted even partial concessions to the fight against racial and gender oppression, and other struggles against discrimination and injustice—has become convinced that these changes have now gone too far, that they threaten to destroy what has held this country together and enabled it to dominate the world. As a result,
The Republicans have become a fascist party—a party based on open and aggressive white supremacy, male supremacy, and other oppressive relations—a party convinced that only it deserves to rule, moving to manipulate elections and suppress votes in order to gain and hold onto power, refusing to accept the outcome of elections it does not win, determined to gut and pervert “the rule of law,” trample on people’s rights, and adopt what amounts to an undisguised capitalist dictatorship, ready to use violence not only against masses of people but also against its rivals in the ruling class.
These Republicans have mobilized a significant section of people who believe, with an intense, irrational passion, that white supremacy, male supremacy, and other oppressive relations (as well as unrestrained plunder of the environment) must be firmly upheld and enforced. They have been driven to a state of vicious insanity, embracing all kinds of lunatic conspiracy theories, along with a crazed Christian fundamentalism, as a response to the threat they see to their entitled (or “god-ordained”) position and their insistence that further concessions to the struggle against oppression will destroy what has “made America great.”4
It is for these reasons that the fascists in the Republican Party, and in the larger society, have eagerly and viciously promoted and rallied behind lunatic conspiracy theories about and rabid opposition to the COVID vaccines (and other measures such as mask wearing) and have spread this anti-scientific disinformation as widely as they can throughout society. Since it is Biden and the Democratic Party which now dominate in the federal government, the fascists are determined to sabotage and undermine the ability of Biden and the Democrats to govern effectively—this is more important to the fascists than dealing with the COVID pandemic and achieving some kind of relative “stability” and “normal functioning” of the economy and the society overall.
For the masses of people in this country—as opposed to the capitalist-imperialist ruling class, and all its representatives—our interests lie with the great majority of humanity, who continue to be devastated by this pandemic, with already more than 4 million deaths worldwide and an intensification of the suffering that the functioning of this system of capitalism-imperialism and its domination of the world forcefully imposes on people everywhere. From this perspective, it is definitely in our interests and of immediately great importance to promote scientific knowledge about vaccines (and COVID generally) and win as many people as possible to get vaccinated; to fight with real determination against the fascist obstruction and resistance to COVID vaccines, and to insist that vaccines be mandatory—and masks as well, in situations where science indicates that masks are necessary—and that the vaccine actually be made available, in the necessary quantities, to people throughout the world, without consideration of cost and profit, and in opposition to all reactionary political objectives, including rivalry among capitalist-imperialist powers.
In most fundamental terms, what this pandemic has further revealed about the utterly bankrupt and outmoded (“past its date of expiration”) nature of this system—and more particularly howthe rare situation that now exists, with the “deepening and sharpening conflicts among the ruling powers,” which have been sharply expressed in relation to the COVID pandemic, and in countless other ways—all this “provides a stronger basis and greater openings to break the hold of this system over masses of people.”5
The way forward—the only way forward—out of this madness is revolution: a real revolution to overthrow this monstrous system of capitalism-imperialism, and bring something much better into being. It is this, ever more urgently needed, revolution that all those who hunger for a world without all the unnecessary suffering to which the masses of humanity are subjected under the domination of this system must work for tirelessly, on a consistently scientific basis—seizing on this rare situation where such a revolution becomes possible, even in a powerful country like this.
As an important “background” for what I have written here, the following from V.I. Lenin—leader of the first successful socialist revolution, in Russia, who also made crucial contributions to the development of communist theory—is of very definite and immediate relevance and importance:
People always were and always will be the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes.
This is from V. I. Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism” (March 1913, Collected Works, Vol. 19, pp. 23-28, Progress Publishers) as cited in my book The New Communism, Insight Press, 2016, p. 11. (Emphasis in the original.)
1. From Bob Avakian: “On COVID, The Importance of Getting People Vaccinated, And The Very Real Problem Regarding Rampant Individualism.” Available at TheBobAvakianInstitute.org and revcom.us. [back]
2. “On COVID, The Importance of Getting People Vaccinated, And The Very Real Problem Regarding Rampant Individualism.” [back]
3. From Bob Avakian—Revolutionary Leader, Author of the New Communism: THIS IS A RARE TIME WHEN REVOLUTION BECOMES POSSIBLE—WHY THAT IS SO, AND HOW TO SEIZE ON THIS RARE OPPORTUNITY. Available at TheBobAvakianInstitute.org and revcom.us. [back]
4. THIS IS A RARE TIME WHEN REVOLUTION BECOMES POSSIBLE. [back]
5. THIS IS A RARE TIME WHEN REVOLUTION BECOMES POSSIBLE. [back]