Large corporations, especially Big Pharma, Silicon Valley and giant online retailers like Amazon.com, have profited enormously from COVID-19, increasing their already massive wealth—and political influence—to record highs not seen since the Gilded Age of the 1890s.
To put a fine point on it, “The wealth of the richest 0.00001% of the U.S. now exceeds that of the prior historical peak that occurred during the Gilded Age.” Since the pandemic began, the number of millionaires worldwide has grown to 56.1 million—and to add insult to injury, many of these millionaires pay virtually no taxes because of loopholes that their political power has enabled them to write into law.
Understandably, this huge explosion of corporate profits and personal wealth has been a cause for rejoicing in corporate boardrooms and gated communities. But it has also been a cause of worry bordering on outright fear.
What has worried the elite?
The sudden spike in financial inequality engendered by COVID—on top of the rising inequality that had taken place over the preceding decades—brought with it concomitant immiseration of large segments of the population, including millions who had once thought of themselves as comfortably middle class, but now faced job insecurity in the new “gig economy” or were homeless, food-insecure, and prey to alcoholism, drug addiction and a host of illnesses they could not afford to treat because of inadequate—or non-existent—health insurance.
These impoverished millions were not happy; in fact, they were resentful, angry and ripe for rebellion against a system that had deprived them of so much for the benefit of so few.
So the worry of the elites was—now that they had their wealth—how to hold on to it, how to protect it from those who had none and might try to take it away from them.
After all, they knew from history what happens when lives of ostentatious splendor are enjoyed by the few while the many struggle merely to survive.
Resentment and anger quickly turn to unrest and protest, as occurred during the Gilded Age, when the government responded to public outrage by enacting the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 followed by the Clayton Anti-Trust Act of 1914, which gave off the illusion of breaking up the giant trusts and monopolies that had enabled a tiny minority to amass so much of the national wealth for themselves, leaving so little for the rest of the population.
But frightening as the protests and corporate breakups of the Gilded Age may have been to the elite, they did not disturb the existing order; they left it intact, along with the great fortunes that had already been amassed. The elite could survive that.
What they really feared were the kind of mass protests that led to mass violence and even revolution, of the kind that had erupted across Europe in 1848, transforming the existing order, overthrowing entire governments and stripping away many of the fortunes of the rich.
Preventing a “New 1848”
Kees van der Pijl is a former professor at the University of Amsterdam and Sussex, known for his book, The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class (Schocken Books, 1984).
His latest book, States of Emergency: Keeping the Global Population in Check (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2022), sees the COVID-19 crisis as having been manufactured by today’s oligarchic elite in order to quell the kind of mass protest and revolutionary violence that broke out in Europe during 1848—and nearly did in America during the 2010s.
But whether you agree with this argument that COVID was deliberately “manufactured” by the elites—or merely seized upon by them as a lucky opportunity they could turn to advantage—the fact that they deliberately used the COVID panic to tighten social control over “the masses” is not in dispute.
Also hard to refute is that, whatever the origins of the pandemic, the elites have used psychological warfare tactics borrowed from military and CIA playbooks to install fear in the public, resulting in the suspension of critical judgments like in a wartime climate as authoritarian-style measures were adopted.
These measures included medically unjustifiable lockdowns and curfews, mask-wearing mandates, quarantining of non-sick persons, vaccine passports, travel restrictions, closure of schools and universities, and heightened levels of media and internet censorship in collusion with the dominant IT companies.
The U.S. government’s policies have been modeled after China’s and Toronto’s response to the 2003 SARS epidemic—including use of scare tactics, quarantining of persons without symptoms and the tracing of contact histories—which were regarded by at least one World Health Organization (WHO) expert as “medieval.”
The Gates Foundation became the switchboard by which the blueprint for dealing with pandemics was passed on to national governments and the WHO, which ceded leadership to a group of public-private partnerships where Gates provides key funding.
Bill Gates’s own wealth has increased by an estimated $20 billion since the COVID-19 crisis began. Staffed by many former pharmaceutical company executives, his Foundation was found to have more than $250 million in investments in companies working on COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics or manufacturing.
Since Obama’s presidency, Gates has been a big-time donor to the Democratic Party which has increasingly become a tool of the oligarchy and the intelligence-IT-media bloc in the U.S. and leading purveyor of illiberal policies with regard to the COVID-19 crisis that are mirrored by center-left parties in numerous other Western countries.
False Threat Inflation
Kees van der Pijl believes that, while many have suffered from its ravages, COVID-19’s dangers have been inflated—just as the threat from various foreign nations has been inflated to justify war.
The COVID-19 death toll given in the media is unreasonably high as many people were reported to have died of COVID-19 who merely died with it—a huge distinction (the real cause of death was from other illnesses).
In Italy, in the first months of the “pandemic,” half of the deaths attributed to the virus suffered from three other serious illnesses; one-quarter from two; and the remaining quarter from one. Only 0.8% of those who died appeared in good health.
The WHO reported a mortality factor (percentage of people infected and dying from the disease) of 0.14%.
Tellingly, the countries that refused the imposition of the global state of emergency—notably Tanzania and Belarus, which refused $940 million from the World Bank if it imposed lockdowns and curfews—suffered no substantially different rates of infection and mortality compared to their neighbors (Belarus’s death rate from COVID-19 was in fact among the lowest in Europe).
The greatest mystery about COVID-19 remains its origins.
Van der Pijl does not purport to have all the answers but suggests that COVID-19 was produced in a laboratory through gain-of-function research (research that alters organisms and creates viruses or makes them more transmissible or dangerous for humans) and then likely leaked—probably deliberately.
The U.S. government had long supported research into bioweapons at the secret U.S. Army biolab in Fort Detrick, Maryland, where anthrax and germ warfare capabilities were developed.
According to van der Pijl, the official story about COVID-19 originating from a bat is implausible because no bats were among the live animals for sale in Wuhan where the COVID-19 virus was allegedly first contracted by humans.
In addition, the genome of a bat is so distant from that of humans that a virus cannot easily be transmitted between humans afterwards; that requires upgrading in a laboratory.
Numerous researchers believe that COVID-19 was fabricated in China’s now-infamous Wuhan laboratory and then leaked. According to bioweapons expert Francis Boyle, Harvard biology professor Charles Lieber was involved in smuggling bioweapons materials including the coronavirus from the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg—the “Fort Detrick of Canada”—to China.
Lieber was later arrested under the FBI’s China Initiative and convicted of six felony charges for illegally accepting research money from China.
Information War As Counterinsurgency
Kees van der Pijl writes that “the Covid crisis has been seized on, if it was not actually unleashed for this purpose, to restore discipline within the population through a fear-based information warfare campaign [which has] been developed in U.S. counterinsurgency operations.”
General Stanley McChrystal, a veteran counterinsurgency specialist, headed a consultancy group that characteristically played a key role in the information warfare campaign. He told Forbes that the fight against COVID-19 should be “waged like a war” without opposition, otherwise it will “end, as in Vietnam, with a “retreat instead of a victory.”
To prevent this latter outcome, McChrystal and his allies in the media modified an old technique of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Instead of branding pacifists as traitors, the term “anti-vaxxer” was invented to denigrate and shame skeptics of the government’s approach.
The psy-war trick worked so well that even former stalwarts of the pacifist left were calling for the social ostracism and internment of this alleged breed of sociopath.
The groundwork for the information warfare in the U.S. was set with the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which enabled the merger of cable operators, radio, film, and newspaper corporations along with telephone companies and TV stations as well as internet providers.
The 50 or so companies which divided the U.S. media market in the 1980s has been condensed to about six.
The latter succeeded in controlling global information flows with the assistance of NATO-funded think-tanks and a CIA public relations firm, Visible Technologies, which tracks and tries to censor social media posts.
As with the Ukraine conflict, the framing of neo-McCarthyite attacks and censorship as being part of a battle against disinformation was vital. It made the foot soldiers feel good about what they were doing, ensuring their loyalty to the cause.
The long sought Orwellian goal of total information control has been enabled by the nexus between companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, and the CIA which helps police internet thought.
Prior to the pandemic, France was a hot spot of popular discontent in the European Union (EU), resulting from a policy of deindustrialization and cutbacks in its social security system.
In 2019-2020, the battle against pension reform was assuming the characteristics of a general uprising, bolstered by local movements that had emerged against factory closings and layoffs.
For all their differences, these popular movements were an expression of social exhaustion with the dominant neoliberal economic model, to which the answer, according to van der Pijl, was the COVID-19 state of emergency.
France was the only country to militarize its response to COVID-19. Police-state methods were evident in the arrest of pharmaceuticals professor Jean-Bernard Fourtillan in December 2020 for his revelations on the origins of the COVID-19 virus through a Wuhan laboratory leak.
Not to be outdone, the British government established a special cyber-warfare unit and assigned a secret military unit to target opponents of vaccination, while in Germany, a special branch of the domestic intelligence service was tasked with tracking down dissidents contesting the validity of the virus narrative.
Resistance Led by Populist Right
The main resistance to the state of emergency bred by COVID-19 has not come from traditional left-wing groups, but from the populist right.
Van der Pijl notes that what has “remained of the progressive forces in the U.S. [and the rest of the West as well as Brazil] tends to judge the pandemic and lockdowns, as well as available medications, through the prism of what populist demagogues like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil’s right-wing President) say about it.”
If the latter say something is good (as they do with hydroxychloroquine), then it must be bad, and if the latter say something is bad (mask mandates, lockdowns, vaccines), then it must be good.
The Pandemic As Disaster Capitalism
Van der Pilj sees the pandemic as an example of what Naomi Klein termed “disaster capitalism,” where corporate vultures use the pretext of a natural disaster to gain more profits and power for themselves.
The biggest winners in this case are the IT companies and pharmaceutical giants that have manufactured the vaccines (which van der Pijl characterizes as gene therapies), like Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
The latter all have a long record of white-collar crime and lawsuits directed against them, and of corrupting scientific research and medical journals to sustain their billion-dollar profits.
The effectiveness of the vaccination campaign is brought into doubt by the fact that, according to van der Pijl, in the eight weeks after the start of the vaccination campaign, the total number of COVID-19 deaths doubled compared to the ten months before.
Numbers of the vaccinated experienced side effects and van der Pijl says it is possible that those who are vaccinated will become spreaders of the virus and even of mutants that are more dangerous because, in a number of cases, new symptoms appeared.
How Far Will They Go and When Will There Be a Revolutionary Response?
Van der Pijl raises questions in his book about how far global elites will go to try to control populations.
They clearly want to move to a digital currency and to block social solidarity by having schools and workplaces become all virtual; and want to continue to use the pretext of a public health crisis to advance surveillance and censorship, helping all the while to keep all the wealth and power to themselves.
Van der Pijl points out, however, that a revival of the protest movements and unrest that predominated before the pandemic is likely as the public becomes tired of increasing social control measures and rekindles its previous fighting spirit.
Already before the summer of 2021, more than 1,000 lawyers and over 10,000 medical experts, led by the German lawyer Dr. Reiner Fuellmich, initiated legal proceedings against the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S., WHO and World Economic Forum, pointing to the pernicious social impact of lockdowns and violations of the Geneva Convention with the introduction of experimental vaccines on the public who were basically functioning as human guinea pigs.
Van der Pijl writes that, “with every passing day, the discrepancy between the official narrative and the contrary evidence is seeping through the ever-widening cracks in the media firewall. Given that governments, acting for the oligarchy and the internationalized state, will not let go, the question is: will there be a revolutionary response?”
According to the BMJ, published by the British medical association, this outcome was attributed in part to Belarus’s high hospital capacity and excellent health care system resulting from socialist policies disdained in the West. ↑
While Marxism has practically disappeared from intellectual life in the West, populists never tire of fulminating against it—never mind that the actual left has been absorbed into the broad center of politics and often lends a helping hand in executing the policy choices of transnational capital, U.S. imperialism as well as the COVID-19 state of emergency. While, in a few cases, national populists like Marine Le Pen have adopted the former Keynesian program of the left, they mostly act as shock troops for the neoliberal project—which they seek to advance at times on steroids. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018).
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Ah, conspiracy theories are running riot on both the left and right today – certainly a sign of our dangerously divided and suspicious times. Somehow we must continually struggle to get a sense of balance and a grip on the evidence as much as possible, however hard.
Here in Aotearoa/NZ, the Jacinda Ardern Labour Party Government has, I believe, achieved a justified excellent and well-deserved international reputation for the handling of the Covid pandemic. It used lockdowns, travel restrictions, masking, etc. for the most part in accordance with the best medical advice.
At one point in our recent history, ironically during a period of eased restrictions, there was a very nasty far right anti-vaxxer occupation of our Parliament grounds, which finally ended in clear-out conducted by our police against a number of violent protesters.
This far-right movement is still currently trying to subvert democracy here. It is obviously inspired by the primary American version, peddling a whole raft of wacky ideas. It has ominously nihilistic overtones – just wanting wanton destruction!
On the other hand, the impression that I have of the rest of the Anglo-American axis is that very rightwing leaders like Trump and Boris Johnson were happy to rely on Social Darwinist herd immunity. The least interference with the market the better was the mantra.
Yes, for sure, the traditional capitalist ruling right definitely want continuously beefed up control of the police and military to repress the rest of us but the pandemic running free has killed millions of poor and disadvantaged people. Brazil’s Bolsonaro would be the worst perpetrator this syndrome!
In general, the political right wants to run down governmental public health services and condemn the poor to gross disadvantages. We need to keep this in mind.
[…] Are Coming, Again’ co-authored with John Marciano. His recent piece at CovertAction, ‘How Much is Covid Being Used as a Pretext for Imposing Ever Greater Levels of Social Control?‘ addresses the largely unasked question lurking behind the Pandemic […]
“…the fact that they deliberately used the COVID panic to tighten social control over “the masses” is not in dispute.”
Even if we assume that COVID was expressly used to tighten social control, we also have to contend with the fact that it completely failed to socially control anyone! The author seems to ignore this fact because it doesn’t fit the narrative of COVID being some kind of government creation with the goal to control people.
The most obvious example has to be the BLM protests in 2020- the largest protests in American history. This alone calls into question the author’s thesis of COVID being designed as a way to prevent a “new 1848”. And then there’s the fact that the American “lockdowns” (if you could call it that) were essentially a bunch of nothing and weren’t enforced hardly at all outside of deeply-blue urban areas. Similarly, the mask and vaccine mandates were ignored by a massive chunk of the population. Case in point, we have some of the highest rates of catching COVID or death by covid in the world. And now we’re at a point where the “restrictions” (again, they did not exist in any meaningful way, as shown by the amount of cases and deaths) are non-existent.
Certainly, the use (or passive allowance) of culture war rhetoric is a version of a tactic well known to the ruling classes of any epoch: divide and conquer. Capitalists taking advantage of crises is nothing new and the point about Disaster Capitalism is relevant.
“the Covid crisis has been seized on, if it was not actually unleashed for this purpose, to restore discipline within the population through a fear-based information warfare campaign [which has] been developed in U.S. counterinsurgency operations.”
this is a conclusion that has no basis in fact and is completely refuted by the aforementioned examples I provided. Where and how is the population of the US more disciplined? The backing of the war in Ukraine? I think it’s much more salient to bring up nationalist fervor that exists anytime the US has been involved in a war (opinion didn’t turn against Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam until American bodies started coming home) and the nearly-decade long propaganda campaign against Russia. And generally speaking, I would say the population is less disciplined. We can even see this with the support of sending weapons to Ukraine lowering.
Even if the idea of COVID as social control were the case, the author doesn’t acknowledge that this supposed “operation” was an outright failure, and I have to assume that’s a purposeful omission, lest he’s living under a rock.
In reference to Van der Pijl’s assertion that “in the eight weeks after the start of the vaccination campaign, the total number of COVID-19 deaths doubled compared to the ten months before” is not supported by by a very thorough study conducted by Yale University
the results of which are shown below.
The United States reported the highest daily COVID-19 cases worldwide for much of 2020 and the beginning of 2021.12 Since the start of the U.S. vaccination program in December, more than 303,000 Americans have died and more than 1.5 million have been hospitalized. The swift early rollout of the vaccine program, which ramped up during February and March and exceeded 3.3 million doses administered per day in April 2021, played a critical role in curtailing the pandemic.
Our results demonstrate the extraordinary impact of rapidly vaccinating a large share of the population to prevent hospitalizations and deaths. The speed of vaccination seems to have prevented another potential wave of the U.S. pandemic in April that might otherwise have been triggered by the Alpha and Gamma variants. Additional new variants such as Delta will pose a special threat to unvaccinated populations in coming months. A renewed commitment to expanding vaccine access will be crucial to achieving higher levels of vaccination necessary to control of the pandemic and prevent avoidable suffering, particularly for those in historically underserved groups and areas of the U.S. with low vaccination rates.
How We Conducted This Study
To evaluate the impact of the vaccination program in the United States, the researchers expanded their age-stratified, agent-based model of COVID-19 to include transmission dynamics of the Alpha, Gamma, and Delta variants in addition to the original Wuhan-1 variant.11 The model’s parameters included the population demographics of the U.S., an empirically determined contact network accounting for pandemic mobility patterns, and age-specific risks of severe health outcomes due to COVID-19. The model incorporated data on daily vaccine doses administered in the U.S.2 Vaccine efficacies against infection and symptomatic and severe disease for different vaccine types — for each variant and by time since vaccination — were drawn from published estimates.13–19 The model was calibrated to reported national incidence data between October 1, 2020, and June 28, 2021, and validated with hospitalization and death trends during the same period.
The researchers evaluated the impact of vaccine rollout by simulating epidemiological trajectories under two counterfactual scenarios of no vaccination program and a temporal vaccination rate reduced to half the actual pace. For each of the scenarios, epidemiological outcomes of total infections, hospitalizations, and deaths were compared to the current pandemic situation in the U.S. under status quo vaccination between December 12, 2020, and June 28, 2021.