Against the Health pass: getting organised and facing up
Here are some writings on the Health pass translated from texts published in France. We share them because we think it is important to share reflections that concern us all, even across borders, especially in this historical period when, in many parts of the world, the health pass is creating deep divisions and greatly increasing discrimination and social control. In the next period, we will try to share other reflections from different parts of the world on the same theme.
Published on 1/09/2021 on Marseille Infos Autonomes – https://mars-infos.org/contre-le-passe-sanitaire-s-5896
Against the “health pass”: getting organised and facing up
The current reality almost makes 1984 look like a banal romance novel. Faced with this reality, a movement is developing that is itself complex and in part worrying. In spite of this, it seems important to identify avenues for political intervention.
The question of the vaccine
First and foremost, we must separate the issue of the vaccine from that of the “health pass”, although both are linked. With regard to the vaccine, the following points are questioned: a) the effectiveness of vaccines, which seems to be relative since, even when vaccinated, one is apparently not completely protected and, moreover, the virus can be transmitted (1); b) the danger of vaccines, since they are based (for those inoculated in Europe) on new technologies based on genetic modifications, put on the market while the study of long-term effects has not been completed, which corresponds to an experiment on a few billion people “live” (2) ; c) the “vaccine strategy”, which seems suspicious since nothing is proposed to prevent or cure Covid-19, but only and necessarily the vaccine, despite the doubts expressed above about its effectiveness and danger.
These questions are all valid and relevant. However, this is not the only place for political debate. Moreover, one can be pro-vaccine and against the “health pass”. We must get out of this binary trap imposed by the government: to be for or against the vaccine.
The state uses a method that consists of disguising the obligation to vaccinate under the guise of a “free” “choice” that each citizen would make in isolation with the altruistic goal of protecting his fellow human beings. It returns everyone to the status of an isolated individual, who does not in fact make a ‘free’ ‘choice’, but instead submits individually and in isolation to the injunction. Consequently, on the subject of vaccines, two camps are roughly opposed: on the one hand, those who are in favour of vaccines, and therefore automatically in favour of the “health pass”, who are considered altruists, and on the other, the egoists, who are supposed to be “anti-vaccine” and therefore “conspiratorial”, etc. This division into two categories is not only unacceptable, but it also makes it difficult for the public to understand the reasons for this. This division into two categories is not only absurd but also particularly harmful for any construction of a struggle, which requires reflection, creating a common thought beyond individual choices. It is therefore possible to be in favour of vaccination and opposed to its obligation.
It therefore seems necessary to focus the reflection and the struggle on the law that instituted the “health pass”, in a forced march.
What is the ‘health pass’?
The “health pass” constitutes two categories of people, with different “rights”, allowing some of them to be excluded from transport, health care, work, etc. This is already the case for foreigners, who are deprived of most of the rights enjoyed by French citizens. Our society is theoretically based on citizens enjoying the same formal rights. Of course, the actual exercise of these rights is conditioned by social position and determined by multiple dominations.
The ‘health pass’ now discriminates on the basis of the (real or perceived) health of the individual concerned. What are the rights of the non-vaccinated (or those who refuse to use the “health pass”) that are being denied? On the one hand, it is a question of access to leisure activities (going on holiday, going to restaurants, etc.), the possibility of social life, of visiting one’s relatives in a retirement home, of entering media libraries, of taking the train, etc. Existence is practically reduced to the prospect of going to work.
The “health pass” reserves access to “non-emergency” care for its holders; this discrimination is unprecedented: a part of the population no longer has the right to be treated – and the blame is put on itself. Moreover, who decides whether the desired intervention is “non-urgent” or “urgent”? The doctor? The nurse? The hospital secretary? The security guard at the entrance? Just as the covid19 crisis highlighted the catastrophic situation of the health system (remember the nurses who wore garbage bags as protection last spring), the “health pass” accentuates it. The strategy of the disguised vaccination obligation allows the deepening of the famous “break-up” of the hospital, by getting rid of a part of the staff that is resistant to the vaccine. Fewer people will have legal access to basic care, and many will forgo it, giving the state additional reasons to continue not funding the health sector. This also has serious consequences for the overall health of the population.
Regarding access to schooling, control and exclusion will also be the rule: the protocols are not yet definitively established but it has been announced that unvaccinated pupils will be excluded from classes in which a case of Covid is declared.
In addition to the loss of rights, compulsory vaccination also means a threat to work, i.e. to livelihoods. Exploiters will now be able to “suspend their employment contract” and the salary that goes with it, which, let’s face it, is not much different. And what will happen to temporary workers without a “health pass”? In the health sector, health workers who refuse to be vaccinated are threatened with being barred from working. Once this has been established, it becomes clear that the question of “choice” or “freedom” is pure nonsense: we are dealing with an obligation which, if not complied with, leads to the loss of access to health care, of the possibility of a social life and even of one’s job.
At the same time, a “health pass” will not be required to take the metro, any more than it will be required of truck drivers in roadside restaurants. From then on, the project is quite clear: it is a question, as during the first confinement, of keeping the poor at work in certain sectors, vaccinated or not, whatever the cost. The vaccine, which had been presented to us as a “liberating” tool, is in reality both a means of coercion and a means of ensuring the smooth running of the economy.
In general, the “health pass” is a brutal, delirious intensification of the control of each of our acts. With this measure, the security management of the epidemic has reached a new level. Surveillance capitalism is flourishing without limit; our movements are now even more closely tracked. The digitisation of our “health status” gives every employer, every restaurant owner, every security guard, every train conductor access to information that was previously supposed to be a medical secret.
National inequalities & global inequalities
We are therefore dealing with a discriminatory system based on an improvised and risky prophylactic strategy. The ‘freedom’ to choose to be vaccinated or not is of course illusory. However, to claim this same freedom is to fall into a trap. There is no such thing as individual freedom; it is collectively that we can be free, not each in our own corner, secure in the belief, good or bad, that we are the ones making the “right choices”. The way out of this trap is to shift the question to the terrain of equality. In this way, we give ourselves the means to develop a collective position that goes beyond individual positions (such as pro-vaccine/anti-vaccine).
Two categories of citizens with different rights is a legalization of inequality. Moreover, the “vaccination strategy” is not even based on universal access to the vaccine: we are being asked to vaccinate even though, on the first day of the introduction of the “health pass”, the number of doses of vaccine was largely insufficient and, in order to enjoy the “rights” conferred by the sesame, we have to wait at least three weeks after the first injection. We were condemned to be at fault first, and therefore already punished, before we could even “regularise” ourselves. Moreover, when you look at the vaccination map and superimpose it on the map of poverty zones, you see that they are practically a mirror image of each other: the poorest areas are those with the fewest people vaccinated. While the bourgeoisie of the upper class can present their “health pass” to gulp down mojitos in the August sun, the poor are condemned to wait in line for the “right” to obtain the “health pass”.
Everyone will have noticed in passing that the police or the National Assembly are institutions where the “health pass” is not required… The flip side of discrimination is the privilege that is granted to oneself or to those who are most in need.
To this national inequality, we must absolutely add the obscene global inequality: last May, more than 75% of the vaccine doses had been administered to the populations of the ten richest countries (4). Even the WHO, which is not an ultra-left organisation, is calling for future third doses from the rich West to be given to the poorest countries (5); but the governments concerned do not care and are already announcing that they will distribute these third doses to their own populations.
The accelerated design and manufacture of vaccines, which has led to a “race”, as they say, has made competing pharmaceutical companies deliriously rich. They have been supported to unprecedented levels by governments, which have also conveniently removed regulatory barriers to the rapid introduction of vaccines. They have even been financially guaranteed by the EU in case of a health problem arising from the vaccine (6). We can risk people’s health, but not the economic health of pharmaceutical companies. The repeated refusal to lift patents on vaccines is a further obscenity, demonstrating (if proof were needed) that the advanced capitalist countries have no concern whatsoever for the populations of poor countries, except as cheap labour.
The state and fascism
With each crisis, the state suddenly grows a little bit more, and increases its hold on people’s lives, its control of social relations and its grip on all sectors of life. It never retreats, except through the stubborn resistance of those in power. The demonstrators are called fascists by the government, even though it is the government that implements measures reminiscent of a fascist regime. In the capitalist socio-economic form, the difference between fascism and democracy is not one of nature but one of degree: in times of crisis, parliamentary democracy acquires tools that belong to what we call fascism.
What is particularly noteworthy here is the delegation of state power to a whole host of citizens, small shopkeepers, civil servants, medical secretaries, security guards and security forces, who are responsible for monitoring each other with their own smartphones without costing the state a penny. Deleuze wrote as early as 1977 that what he called “neo-fascism” was based on “the concerted organisation of all the little fears, all the little anxieties that make us so many micro-fascists, in charge of stifling every thing, every face, every slightly strong word, in our street, our neighbourhood, our cinema” (7).
Moreover, the “management of the health crisis” has been accompanied by a government of lies that has also reached absolutely delirious levels. Everyone will remember the bewildering litany of successive lies from the state since the beginning of the covid crisis19 (the mask is useless, there will be no mandatory vaccination, etc.). But these lies, it seems, are not errors or inaccuracies; they are a mode of government which, by placing everyone in a state of permanent uncertainty, produces stifling, prevents reflection, and reinforces constraint. In reaction to the infamous and constantly contradictory slop served up by the authorities, an infinite number of abstract truths are created. From then on, it is enough for each individual to make a ‘free’ ‘choice’ among these different positions, which become ‘his’ reality. It is therefore not really surprising that the most outlandish or abject positions have acquired the force of truth; what we must bear in mind is that those who defend or profess such outlandish or abject positions (the ‘conspiracists’) are in the final analysis only reacting to the mode of government by lies. In other words, it is governments that are responsible for what they themselves castigate as ‘conspiracy’.
Let’s get organised
While the ecological, political and social situation of the entire planet is more catastrophic than ever, people have never been as little able to respond collectively. Constantly referred to our condition as individuals, made to feel guilty, forced to make the ‘right choice’ individually, and repressed individually, we desperately lack a common response. Isolated, we cannot react to a bourgeoisie that is clearly pulling together on a global scale.
The first thing we need to do is to expel the extreme right-wing militants from the movements against the “health pass”; the fact that these scumbags cry “freedom” even though they are in favour of an even more coercive state, if only on the so-called migration issue, is a further smearing of this term. The “freedom” they claim often turns out to correspond to the freedom of the strong to crush the weak. This movement cannot be built “with everyone”: the presence of far-right ideas only serves the government in power, by making the government look “moderate” or even “centrist”, by allowing it to publicly associate all opponents of the “health pass” with “fascists”, and by preparing the endless Macron / Le Pen confrontation for next year.
In addition to the repeal of the “health pass” law, this movement could call for the immediate lifting of patents on vaccines, the accountability of pharmaceutical companies for any public or private health problem resulting from the vaccine, investment in public hospitals, universal access to healthcare, etc. It is also necessary to question the general logic of collective health.
When we deplore the “health dictatorship”, we forget that parliamentary democracy is already the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, which will only act against its interests if it is forced to do so by a sufficiently combative mass movement. It is advisable to reconstitute collective logics as quickly as possible, by organising without leaders on the scale of one’s neighbourhood, one’s village, one’s company, etc. It is obviously only by building collective political thought and action that we will have a chance to resist the capitalist hell.
There will be other pandemics, other catastrophes. At the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, it was widely noted how the current conditions of capitalism were favourable to the birth, mutation and rapid circulation of new viruses (8). Moreover, the so-called “climate emergency”, which the bourgeoisie clearly doesn’t care about (even if its own reproduction as a class is thereby threatened), generates year after year its share of infernal dramas, giant fires or floods, insect invasions and species extinctions by the legions. Should we, each time, accept that each disaster is an opportunity for an additional turn of the screw, for greater coercion and control over our lives? More than ever, it is time to organise ourselves to abolish these conditions on a short and large scale, and to establish as soon as possible a collective regime in which we would all have a say; otherwise we will have to resign ourselves to observing the agony of the world with an electronic bracelet in our pockets.
A trio of Ariegeans
23 August 2021
(1) “Covid-19: face au variant Delta, l’efficacité et les limites des vaccins à ARN”, Le Monde, 14 August 2021.
(2) « Covid-19 : les essais de phase 3 des vaccins sont-ils terminés ‘depuis des mois’, comme l’affirme Olivier Véran ?», Le Monde, 8 July 2021.
(3) Sébastien Leroux, “Face au passe sanitaire obligatoire, nous ne partons pas tous égaux”, Le Monde, 21 July 2021.
(4) “Covid-19: WHO denounces ‘scandalous inequality’ in vaccine distribution”, France24, 24 May 2021.
(5) ‘Covid-19 vaccine: WHO opposes potential third dose, not a ‘priority”, (« Vaccin contre le Covid-19 : l’OMS s’oppose à une potentielle troisième dose, pas une ‘priorité’ ») LCI, 12 July 2021.
(6) ‘Vaccines Covid-19: l’UE indemnisera les laboratoires en cas de problèmes’, Le Figaro, 27 August 2021.
(7) Gilles Deleuze, “Deux régimes de fous”, texts and interviews, 1973-1993, Minuit, 2003.
(8) “Social Contagion. Microbiological class warfare in China” (« Contagion sociale. Guerre de classe microbiologique en Chine »), Chuang Review, March 2020.