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How the organized Left got Covid wrong, learned to love lockdowns and lost its mind: an autopsy

It is hard to destroy your own cause and feel righteous while doing so, yet the American left has done it. After more than two centuries at the vanguard of the struggle for freedom, the American left, broadly defined, executed a volte face and embraced anti-working-class policies marketed as purely technical public health measures.
 
by Christian Parenti
 
Part 8 - The Liberty Issue
 
The left has turned its back on liberty. Worse yet, the left now campaigns against freedom. ACLU luminaries editorialize for de facto forced vaccination and vaccine passports. This has devastating social, political, and economic consequences; and the left’s failure to acknowledge and understand this will haunt it for years after the pandemic.

The left invokes “the greater good” to justify support for vaccine mandates, vaccine passports, lockdowns, and censorship; in so doing the left supports undemocratic rule by unaccountable bureaucrats. During the Covid crisis, there have been no lockdown and mandate related periods of public comment, no environmental impact reports, thus there has been no public scientific debate about disease severity, vaccine efficacy, and the unintended consequences of mandates and lockdowns.

Left forces, broadly defined, have for our national history fought for personal liberties while elites have opposed such freedoms. The Bill of Rights itself is a concession to the people. The only way the framers could compel the states to ratify the new US Constitution was to agree that ten amendments protecting personal liberty and autonomy (the Bill of Rights) would be passed into law upon ratification.

Recall all the struggles: Abolitionists vs. slavery, the Slave Power, and the gag rule. The Industrial Workers of the World’s multi-year, nationwide campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience in defense of free speech. The now pathetically debased, pro-mandate and pro-lockdown ACLU was born of resistance to the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918. 

The left was always at the vanguard in the struggle for civil liberties. When First Amendment rights were finally affirmed as applying to the states in Gitlow v. People of New York, (1925) the hero was Benjamin Gitlow, convicted of “criminal anarchy” for distributing his “Leftwing Manifesto.” In 1931, when the Supreme Court finally extended speech rights to nonverbal symbols like flags, the hero of Stromberg v. California was a nineteen-year-old communist named Yetta Stromberg who had violated California’s “red flag law” which banned display of the red flag for being “an emblem of opposition to the United States Government.

Roe v Wade is part of this history. Even if the woman at the heart of that case became a conservative, her right to bodily autonomy and privacy were championed by the left. Today the left mostly seeks to strip away those same rights as broadly applied to those who oppose vaccine mandates, vaccine passports, lockdowns, and censorship.

During the coordinated attack on Joe Rogan, for example, Spotify announced that it had removed more than 20,000 podcast episodes related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. And the left mostly applauded or stayed silent. Its justification of this sort of top-down intellectual control involved all manner of ugly semantic backflips. Roxane Gay, the New York Times’ resident liberal culture warrior, described Spotify’s censorship of Covid content as mere “curation.” 
 
Numerous radical friends of mine have sought to disabuse me of what they see as my excessive concern for free speech. They explain to me how censoring Joe Rogan is not really censorship. Rather, it is “an interesting case” because, as the typical dissembling goes, it was not the government doing the censoring.  

To such nonsense I protest, regardless what word or phrase you use to describe a major corporation undemocratically limiting the population’s access to information, the action itself is still wrong.  
 
You can call corporate censorship “content polishing” or “informational cleansing” or “message smoothing” or “ideological right-sizing” or “happiness making curation for social harmony,” but the PR-style language will not alter the reality. The action still constitutes oppressive, top-down, ideological control. When corporations limit people’s ability to communicate with each other about political issues – as is performed routinely by social media companies when they remove and prevent the sharing of content – capital is repressing labor, capital is ruling undemocratically, capital is dominating the intellectual battleground, and you as a worker and citizen are getting shafted.   

As for the left’s embrace of Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the 1905 case that upheld the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination, they forget that ruling was precedent for other terrible laws that followed. Most notoriously the legalization of forced sterilization in Buck v Bell 1927 in which Justice Holmes wrote: “The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”  

As regards the specific vaccine-related punitive elements of Jacobson, that 1905 law is actually mild compared to current Covid mandates. Under it, those who declined the vaccine were fined $5 (about $150 in current prices). They were not forced out of their jobs, removed from school, or banned from public accommodations like baseball diamonds and museums.

Consider what Covid hysteria has done to the left: The years 2018 and 2019 saw working-class protest reach recent heights. Across the globe workers, students, and the poor took to the streets in opposition to policies of austerity and repression that impacted both the realm of production and reproduction. With good reason, 2019 called “the year of the protest.”

Even in the US, after decades of decline, we were seeing an uptick in class struggle. The wildcat teachers’ strikes of 2018 seemed to herald the return of grassroots labor radicalism. In 2019 there were “25 major work stoppages involving 425,500 workers, the highest number since 2001.

But Covid lockdowns stopped most of that. Now some unions – a minority of them it should be said – are even collaborating with bosses to force workers to get vaccines or be fired.

It is the same across most OECD states. For the autumn of 2021 and early winter of 2022, Austria put the unvaccinated under a form of soft house arrest: they were allowed out of their homes only to work and shop. In Australia, by late 2021, about 3,000 people –many of whom tested negative for Covid – had been forced into quarantine camps for two weeks at a time if they were in contact with a person who tested positive. 

The largest of these detention centers, with a capacity of 2,000, is at Howard Springs outside Darwin. When three aboriginal teens, all Covid negative, jumped the fence in late November 2021, the police manhunt that followed involved checkpoints, traffic stops, vehicle searches, and aerial surveillance. 

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