How capitalism weaponizes human connection– a Covid Christmas story.

by Davey Heller. 26th December 2022

It is not the time to tell a merry Christmas story. Christmas this year was weaponised by the Australian capitalist class to inure the population to the growing onslaught of Covid cases. The ruling class has used the natural desire for people to spend times with their loved to achieve two things.  Firstly, it meant many people welcomed the reckless winding back of public measures.  Secondly, it was used to herd people back into spending money as part of the Christmas rush. The ruling class are cynical creatures, they know what they are doing. They know the price of weaponizing this basic human desire for togetherness. The sad truth is that many people will have caught Covid19 attending Christmas parties, doing Christmas shopping or working serving the Christmas rush. They will have taken this disease to family gatherings resulting in some of their loved ones getting sick and even some of them dying.  This is part of a pattern for the ruling class of creating impossible “choices” for ordinary people to undermine support for measures that could control the pandemic. It is a deliberate policy to make people feel there is no real choice but to “live with covid”.  

This Christmas, the ruling class presented two lies. The first was that high vaccination levels would allow people to return to “normal”. Of course, vaccines are an important defensive weapon against the virus however relying solely on high vaccination levels in a handful of countries was never going to end the pandemic. It was always going to leave the unvaccinated, including the immune compromised and young children, vulnerable. It was also going to allow the virus to continue to circulate globally allowing partially vaccine resistant variants like Omicron to develop. It was never going to stop many people developing Long Covid.

The second lie used to justify this chaotic deadly Christmas surge is that it is impossible to suppress Covid19. This position is absurd on its face. It has been proven time and time again when the basic principles of Test, Trace, Isolate and Quarantine (TTIQ) are applied rigorously and on a mass scale Covid19 outbreaks can be suppressed. In Australia, after a longer nation wide lockdown to suppress the initial outbreak down to zero, early short, sharp lockdowns were used stop cases exploding again when the virus was reintroduced This policy kept every state except Victoria and NSW largely Covid19 free for most of 2020 and 2021. It is a policy that is still being used in Taiwan and the world’s most populous nation China. China has also only had to use shorter lockdowns since April 2020, after the initial longer lockdown to suppress the Wuhan outbreak. It works. Where it failed in Australia, it was largely due to the virus leaking from hotel quarantine facilities. This was a consequence of the failure to address the airborne transmission of the virus (remember our mask-less Sydney Chauffeur driver?). There was also a reluctance to lock down early enough in Sydney and Melbourne during outbreaks.

Covid testing in Beijing in October

This brings me to the other ways the Australian ruling class have sought to weaponise the desire to be connected against public health measures. Limiting travel at the international border and between states internally when outbreaks occur was a crucial tactic in maintaining suppression of Covid19. However, this policy was implemented in a heartless way. Thousands of Australian citizens were locked out of the countries or home states and families were separated. People were denied travel internationally and between states even for the most compassionate reasons, such as when relatives were dying.

All of this was avoidable. We could have maintained strict quarantining and allowed for the return of citizens and compassionate travel.  It simply would have required replicating the success of the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory, where the housing set up has meant thousands of people have passed through the facility without a single incidence of the virus leaking. Nearly two years into the pandemic and not a single extra purpose built quarantine facility has been completed.  In addition, citizens trapped overseas could have been flown home on flights paid for and commissioned by the Australian Government instead of being left at the mercy of the market who only wanted to run profitable services back to Australia.

Instead, all state and Federal Governments remained committed to hotel quarantines which resulted in repeated and deadly outbreaks in the community. Instead of building purpose-built facilities they funnelled untold millions into the coffers of the conglomerates who own the hotels in our cities. Instead of paying for the flights of stranded Australian’s overseas the Federal Government funnelled billions in subsidies into the coffers of the formerly publicly owned airline QANTAS.

However, I don’t just believe that the profits of a few companies were the only motivation. The policies inflicted real suffering through separation which helped build the political pressure to reopen the borders. The population was effectively kept hostage by harsh rules for political purposes. The government did not hide the fact that limitations on travel and quarantine were hurting the profits of Big Business by keeping out international students, tourists and cheap labour . However, they could not sell the message that the country needed to be exposed to Covid19 purely on these grounds. This is why on the day the borders reopened we were greeted with wall-to-wall coverage of crying reunited families. CEO’s crying with glee at restored profits doesn’t make as good propaganda.

Suffering was also used to undermine public support for lockdowns, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne in 2021. The rules of the lockdowns were heavily weighted towards curtailing the rights of individual movements. For example in Melbourne in 2021, during the long lockdown, citizens were under literal curfew whilst non-essential business continued. For example, construction continued which saw hundreds of thousands of workers criss-crossing the city. In Sydney in 2021 residents of working class areas were kept locked down under the eyes of the police and even the military whilst non-essential retail remained open for months. When the lockdowns were predictably unsuccessful in fully suppressing Covid19, of course millions of ordinary people were clamouring for “freedom” day.

In a similar vein, the Federal Government removed crucial income support from people on welfare and individuals and small businesses impacted by lockdowns.  They barely hid the aim was to increase people’s suffering to a level that made state’s continuing to lockdown politically untenable.

The suffering created by all of these deliberate policies has been to bolster the narrative that public health protections are “restrictions” and their removal leads to “freedom”. Such freedom is in really the “freedom” for the working class to consume and get sick working to keep profits flowing. It has helped create the narrative and political conditions where people could be convinced that they had to choose this year between being allowed to see their families at Christmas or living in a country largely free from Covid19.

Howard Springs Quarantine Facility

There is a better way! In addition to vaccines, basic public health measures of TTIQ and quarantining of incoming international travellers can once again return Australia to a largely Covid19 free status. Unfortunately now that the virus has been allowed to recklessly spread again these measures would also include lockdowns of non-essential industry, schools etc. Of course, all workers and people impacted during the necessary measures, must receive full income support and compassionate and safe quarantine facilities must be built. These measures, combined with a massive vaccine program should  be extended to other countries. Such a path is far more “realistic” than the path of ongoing illness and chaos of the “let it rip” policy. Such policies however will only be brought in however through the intervention of the working class in Australia and internationally fighting together to demand a change. The ruling class has no limits on how many people it will let die to keep the stock market rising.  

Then perhaps we can look forward to Christmas in 2022 when where we can safely hug our relatives, travel at least within Australia and safely go to cultural events. However, we must stand and fight together to stop transmission, to stop every infection. It can be done! We do not have to let capitalism make us “choose” between ongoing illness and death for many and our innate desire to spend time with each other.

Davey Heller

Davey Heller is a Trotskyist from Melbourne and long-time campaigner for Left-wing causes including anti-war, refugee rights, environmental protests and workers' struggles. He is a former secondary teacher who studied history at Monash University and currently works in the environmental field. You can follow him on Twitter at @socialist_davey

5 thoughts on “How capitalism weaponizes human connection– a Covid Christmas story.

  1. What do you mean by “short, sharp lockdowns”? The “short, sharp lockdown” strategy has been the disastrous approach of the Tory government in the UK. Each time that the “short” lockdown succeeded in suppressing the infection curve to a pre-surge level, the economy was reopened and a new surge inevitably followed. This wavelike cycle of “short, sharp lockdowns” has lead to public COVID fatigue, frustration with precautionary measures, and growing resignation and desperation in the face of the omicron variant which is overwhelming the UK today. TTIQ & vaccines & other public health measures are necessary conditions for fighting the pandemic but in themselves they will not stop the virus from circulating and mutating. In addition to vaccines and TTIQ how about a “Chinese strategy” of shutting down all non-essential economic functions and in-person learning, with full compensation and state-of-the-art-distance learning technology for all children until the virus is fully eliminated? Such a strategy requires a clean break with the profit demands of ruling class, and the. mobilization of the working class majority around these anti-capitalist transitional demands. I think we need to be clear on this Davey.

    1. I would argue that the UK has not used the “short, sharp lockdown” approach at al”. Lockdowns in 2020 in the UK dragged on for months at a time in different part of the country. With lockdowns it is important to be clear what their intent is. Is it to “crush the virus” back to Zero, as occurs in China and actually in most of Australia for most of 2020 and 2021 or is to “flatten the curve” as in the UK? The flatten the curve approach to lockdown only aims to brings cases down low enough that the hospital system is not overwhelmed. In the “flatten the curve” approach the virus is therefore reduced but allowed to spring back into a new wave as you describe. This is indeed the pattern in the UK. In China and Australia until July this year, each lockdown actually got cases back to Zero and then combined with travel restrictions/quarantine (which has never been applied in the UK despite it being an island), there was not an immediate return of the virus.

      The reason in Australia it has broken down is that the Australian capitalist ruling class, unlike the Chinese deformed workers state, was never committed to an ongoing suppression strategy. In fact when the public health measures adopted here did temporarily eliminate the virus (including shutting schools and limited if inadequate support for affected workers) , the ruling was troubled as they knew at some point they would want to open the borders and this meant they would have to effectively reintroduce the virus. Politically this was difficult so there solution was to let the quarantine system leak like a sieve and make the lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne in 2021 less effective by letting much more non-essential business continue than they did in the lockdowns of 2020.

      In the Australian context the phrase “short, sharp lockdowns” is used more to contrast the ongoing effective use of lockdowns in states like WA and Qld who continued throughout 2020 and 2021 to lockdown when only one or two cases appeared compared to Melbourne and Sydney who refused to lockdown until cases were at a much higher level.

      The Australian experience in the end has vindicated that unless the working class is mobilised to end he pandemic by demanding policies that break with the profit demands of the ruling class, even capitalist governments that have had some success in suppressing the virus, will ultimately place profit over human life and let the virus rip.

    2. Amendments made to article (from the author)

      I amended the paragraph that referred to “short, sharp lockdowns” to add more context.

      It originally read:

      “The second lie used to justify this chaotic deadly Christmas surge is that it is impossible to suppress Covid19. This position is absurd on its face. It has been proven time and time again when the basic principles of Test, Trace, Isolate and Quarantine (TTIQ) are applied rigorously and on a mass scale Covid19 outbreaks can be suppressed. In Australia, combined with early short, sharp lockdowns to stop cases exploding, this policy kept every state except Victoria and NSW largely Covid19 free for most of 2020 and 2021. It is a policy that is still being used in Taiwan and the world’s most populous nation China. It works. Where it failed in Australia, it was largely due to the virus leaking from hotel quarantine facilities. This was a consequence of the failure to address the airborne transmission of the virus (remember our mask-less Sydney Chauffeur driver?). There was also a reluctance to lock down early enough in Sydney and Melbourne during outbreaks.”

      It now reads:

      “The second lie used to justify this chaotic deadly Christmas surge is that it is impossible to suppress Covid19. This position is absurd on its face. It has been proven time and time again when the basic principles of Test, Trace, Isolate and Quarantine (TTIQ) are applied rigorously and on a mass scale Covid19 outbreaks can be suppressed. In Australia, after a longer nation wide lockdown to suppress the initial outbreak down to zero, early short, sharp lockdowns were used stop cases exploding again when the virus was reintroduced This policy kept every state except Victoria and NSW largely Covid19 free for most of 2020 and 2021. It is a policy that is still being used in Taiwan and the world’s most populous nation China. China has also only had to use shorter lockdowns since April 2020, after the initial longer lockdown to suppress the Wuhan outbreak. It works. Where it failed in Australia, it was largely due to the virus leaking from hotel quarantine facilities. This was a consequence of the failure to address the airborne transmission of the virus (remember our mask-less Sydney Chauffeur driver?). There was also a reluctance to lock down early enough in Sydney and Melbourne during outbreaks.

      I also added a reference to lockdowns in the 2nd last paragraph to make it clear that as a consequence of the abandonement of Covid Zero in Australia, they would once again be necessary.

      The original text read:

      There is a better way! In addition to vaccines, basic public health measures of TTIQ and quarantining of incoming international travellers can once again return Australia to a largely Covid19 free status. Of course, all workers and people impacted during the necessary measures should receive full income support and compassionate and safe quarantine facilities must be built. These measures, combined with a massive vaccine program should be extended to other countries.

      I changed it too

      There is a better way! In addition to vaccines, basic public health measures of TTIQ and quarantining of incoming international travellers can once again return Australia to a largely Covid19 free status. Unfortunately now that the virus has been allowed to recklessly spread again these measures would also include lockdowns of non-essential industry, schools etc. Of course, all workers and people impacted during the necessary measures, must receive full income support and compassionate and safe quarantine facilities must be built. These measures, combined with a massive vaccine program should  be extended to other countries.

  2. Thinking a bit more – short, sharp, lockdowns are applicable in the way that I meant it when you are already in a position where the virus has been controlled. Both Australia and China used longer lockdowns with shutting down of industry etc as you described in the first phase of the pandemic in 2020 and only used shorter lockdowns later. In any country (which is nearly everywhere now except China), a longer lockdown as you described would be needed to bring cases back down to Zero again. This would be fiercely resisted everywhere by the ruling class – so yes, you make a fair point.

    1. Yes. With “lockdowns” it’s a question of purpose rather than time duration. As you write, is the lockdown to “flatten the curve” of cases to the point where the authorities decide to fully reopen the economy again to ramp up production and profits? Or is it to reduce cases to zero as in China, or in New Zealand til recently? In New Zealand the Labor government eventually caved in to business pressure and moved to a mitigation rather than suppression strategy. So the political context is ultimately determinant. No capitalist government will pursue an elimination (or ZeroCovid) strategy to the point where transmission has ceased. It will take a movement of the class which actually does the work to effectively fight the killer pandemic. A united front fight around demands like TTIQ, full vaccination, targeted hard or sharp lockdowns, full PPE etc can be the fulcrum for a movement of the working class to overturn the profit system that turned a biological pathogen into a global pandemic.

Leave a Reply to Robert Montgomery Cancel reply

%d bloggers like this: