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Curious September 22, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Interesting to see this on Jacobin. An article with two public health experts that cleave to the herd immunity line. The odd thing is that at least one of them notes that we know very little about the virus and its impacts – particularly long term amongst those who have survived but both are utterly wedded to the idea that an immunity to it exists – though strangely they seem to believe that vaccines might not offer long term immunity. This very week the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance:

Citing the ONS study, he said it was now estimated that roughly 70,000 in the UK were infected with Covid and about 6,000 a day were becoming infected. He said being infected with Covid previously was “not an absolute protection” and the vast majority of the population was not immune. The antibody response faded over time, he said, pointing to some cases of reinfection.

That being the case such certainty in herd immunity seems misplaced.

Nor even taking their argument on its own terms do they offer a picture of how long their putative herd immunity might take to develop. Given the manner in which the virus impacts on various demographics some have posited that it would take a decade and a half to arrive at a situation where a herd immunity – even were it possible – built up (since it would need to be a slow process in order not to overwhelm health services). And then there are odd omissions. For example the following:

Children and young adults have minimal risk, and there is no scientific or public health rationale to close day care centers, schools, or colleges. In-person education is critically important for both the intellectual and social development for all kids, but school closures are especially harmful for working-class children whose parents cannot afford tutors, pod schools, or private schools.

Except there are staff in those schools, teaching and other areas, who are in many instances not young adults and who are also working class, as are those who work in many many areas, those on public transport, in shops, in other workplaces, and who are vulnerable (in the case of some groups highly so) to the disease should they contract it and who will contract it should this approach be taken (indeed ironically the line advocated in the magazine does nothing to prevent certain privileged classes or subgroups within classes remaining out of harms way home working or whatever). Yet their existence is completely ignored. There are other contradictions. The Jacobin authors note:

We do not know what percent immunity to the coronavirus is needed to achieve herd immunity, but we do know that if there are many older people in the group that is infected, there will be many deaths. On the other hand, if mostly young people are infected, there will be very few deaths.

But they’ve already noted the existence of long term and chronic health impacts from Covid-19 and yet they don’t factor them in. And again, not to be tedious, but there is no evidence as such of long term immunity.

Herd immunity can be achieved by natural infection, effective vaccination, or a combination of the two. And the process of getting to herd immunity can be managed in such a way that the more vulnerable people are protected from infection while others help the population reach herd immunity, thereby minimizing the number of deaths.

Further, if many of us incorporate fairly sustainable measures like frequent handwashing into our daily lives, the proportion infected needed for herd immunity will be less than otherwise. Laissez-faire is certainly not the only way and certainly not the responsible way to get there.

But why bother with handwashing, which by the by is a minimal response to the virus- and certainly insufficient in and of itself, if the goal is mass infection.

One doesn’t have to agree with the breathless tone of this critique or all within it to be troubled by some of what is mentioned.
Oddly Jacobin had an excellent appraisal of the situation some months back here. Difficult to know why they have retreated from that position.


1. Roger Cole - September 22, 2020

I know very little about Jacobin. Does anybody know what kind of politics the have?


alanmyler - September 22, 2020

Not orthodox communist anyway. I don’t know if they’re openly Trotskyist but they have the “anti-Stalinist” thing going on for sure.


Colm B - September 22, 2020

Sorry Alan, but beg to differ.

They definitely aren’t Trotskyist at Jacobin, though they do occasionally have a writer from that tradition.

I guess it’s a matter of perception, but I would not see them as sufficiently anti-Stalinist. They represent one of the leading faction’s in the DSA, their politics is left-reformist maybe even eurocommunist! They have a big soft spot for the popular front era and often publish uncritical pieces on the history of various CPs. To be fair they also publish critical articles on the former Stalinist states and generally take a strong position on anti-worker authoritarian states such as China, Belarus etc. And a bit like your comrade Gavin CM, they really love Kautsky, or at least early Kautsky!


pettyburgess - September 22, 2020

Colm is accurate above. Early Jacobin was a mixture of left social democrats and heterodox Trots. As time went on the left social democrat element became entirely dominant. They are critical of Stalinism abroad but romanticise the Stalinist CPUSA of the popular front period, essentially as a stand in for a social democratic movement in a country that didn’t really have one by that point. Kautsky represents their claim to a Marxist heritage for their own politics.


WorldbyStorm - September 22, 2020

It’s interesting about that functionally romanticising the CPUSA. I’ve one of Michael Harrington’s tomes on my shelf, he being a one time leading light of the DSA and just flicking through the book it’s clear how critical he is of the Soviet and in particular the Stalinist experience.


pettyburgess - September 22, 2020

Very much so, American social democrats who actually had to coexist with the CPUSA when it was a meaningful force on the left hated it. Softness on it is a retrospective thing. Also there isn’t much political continuity between today’s DSA and that of Harrington.

Liked by 1 person

pettyburgess - September 22, 2020

I forgot to say that the fondness for the CPUSA is very much filtered through the work of “revisionist” historians of the party writing in the wake of the New Left. They veered away from the actual politics of the party, its line, its subservience to the Comintern etc and concentrate instead on its social history, local history or cultural history. Much of this was valuable but collectively tended to produce what was sometimes described as a history of communism without the communism (or of Stalinism without the Stalinism). It’s not directly the politics of the CPUSA that gets romanticised.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - September 22, 2020

I can believe that. I remember in the 1989 going up to a CPUSA bookshop on IIRC 34th street in Manhattan. It was fascinating, it was like the air had gone out of the balloon, some lovely rather elderly folk who were clearly long time believers who were to my eyes absolutely baffled by what was happening in the USSR etc at that time (this was slightly in advance of the collapse of the regimes in the Eastern bloc). Their morale, albeit they sort of paid lip service to Gorbachev’s reforms, was clearly lower than low. The social history of all that – being communists in one heart of capitalism – would be fine, but to ignore the political angle as you say would be unwise.


Joe - September 22, 2020

I married a Communist by Philip Roth. Great novel.

Liked by 1 person

CL - September 22, 2020

The bookstore was on 23rd st. across the street from the Chelsea Hotel.

““She’s a lovely landlord,” Mr. Du said. “So far.”

But Ms. Wood is not just any landlord. She is a project manager for Advance Realty, a corporation affiliated with the Communist Party USA. And the building with the elegantly ridged facade at 235 West 23rd Street, near Eighth Avenue, where Mr. Du has just signed a 10-year lease, has been the party’s headquarters since 1977….

And how does Mr. Du feel about renting from avowed enemies of capital? “I come from Vietnam myself,” he said, grinning. “It’s the best party ever, in my book.”

I wonder whatever happened to Carol Marks, longtime assistant to chairman Gus Hall.


WorldbyStorm - September 22, 2020

That’s the one. great article!


Joe - September 22, 2020

I can believe that. I remember in the 1989 going up to a CPUSA bookshop on IIRC 34th street in Manhattan.

I remember visiting the CPI bookshop in Essex St around that time too. Same kind of vibe of the last few true believers in a daze. Maybe me included. A comment from one, still there to this day, leading CPIer at the time: “It’s not all bad. At least they got rid of Shevardnadze”.

Liked by 1 person

alanmyler - September 22, 2020

Billy (Bragg) said it best:

One in a while
Gennady Gerasimov drops his smile
And you can see that his aim’s
A portfolio pregnant with gains

He’s been up all night
Moving the goalposts

Like a jackdraw with a fiery brand
Spread the news all over the land
Robin Hood and his Merry Men
are never, never, never coming back again

Liked by 2 people

Pasionario - September 22, 2020

What’s left (geddit) of the CPUSA today has become remarkably moderate and tone in outlook.

To the best of my recollection, they have offered rather fulsome endorsements of every Democratic presidential candidate since John Kerry.

Jacobin tends to be more critical of mainstream Democrats, but they are also distinguished by their support for working within the Democratic Party through DSA, which the harder left rejects. As a strategy, it has paid some dividends given the rise of Sanders and AOC, who, along with Corbyn, are Jacobin’s favourite politicians. The editors are in essence radical social democrats and certainly not Trotskyists. Indeed, the DSA rule book includes the following gem:

“Members can be expelled if they are found to be in substantial disagreement with the principles or policies of the organization or if they consistently engage in undemocratic, disruptive behavior or if they are under the discipline of any self-defined democratic-centralist organization”

I think I know who they’re saying is not welcome there, don’t you?

Liked by 1 person

pettyburgess - September 22, 2020

Yes, the CPUSA remnant is very right wing. Really it has been pro Democratic Party and less critical of it than many social democrats for decades.

The history of Jacobin precedes the rise of the new model DSA by quite a few years. It had a more politically mixed and generally more radical positioning in the first half of its ten year run. When it started, DSA was a small, timid and quite quiet little group within the Democrats. The shift to a more consolidated DSA editorial line happened as DSA started to grow and to move to the left. As this happened the more Trotskyist inclined elements fell away. Jacobin is mostly positioned as the voice of the part of DSA that envisions an eventual split away from the Democrats.

DSA’s ban on Democratic Centralist groups dates from the old model Harringtonian DSA and was originally aimed primarily at Maoist and other post New Communist Movement sects, by the way. It’s from a period when such groups were plentiful and in some cases moving into the Democratic Party orbit. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition attracted a lot of them for instance.


CL - September 23, 2020

“While largely forgotten today, communist bookstores were one of the most important public spaces for Marxism in the United States in the twentieth century….
By the end of the 1930s, roughly fifty communist bookstores were open for business…..
In Birmingham in the 1930s, a young musician by the name of Herman Blount — later known as Sun Ra, the incomparable jazz bandleader — regularly visited the party’s Ella Speed Bookstore, where he enjoyed public lectures and conversations on culture and politics with employees and customers…..
communist bookstores — despite facing considerable financial and political hardships — helped their customers envision radical worlds that were often otherwise unimaginable in America.”

“For a few decades — from the 1930s until Communism’s demise as an effective political force in the 1950s — New York City was the one place where American communists came close to enjoying the status of a mass movement…

With the Depression spiraling out of control in the early 1930s, the Soviet Union began to be viewed in a new and more sympathetic light by millions of people around the world, including many in the United States….
Party-organized mass meetings in the old Madison Square Garden were packed with as many as 20,000 participants; the annual May Day parades drew tens of thousands, too….
Some neighborhoods in New York could be likened to the “red belt” surrounding Paris…
A Communist candidate for the presidency of the city’s board of aldermen received nearly 100,000 votes in 1938; and during World War II, two open Communists, Peter V. Cacchione of Brooklyn and Benjamin Davis of Harlem, held seats on the City Council….
On the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the national headquarters of the Communist Party U.S.A. remains in New York City, on one floor of a party-owned building at 235 West 23rd Street. Party members are apparently divided over whether to keep the building, which generates considerable rent revenue, or make a killing on the real estate market by selling it.
A very capitalist question, in the end, to preoccupy the remaining comrades.”- Maurice Isserman.
(NYT, Oct.20, 2017)

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - September 23, 2020

Fantastic overview


2. Colm B - September 22, 2020

As to the substantive article, I think it’s fairly woeful, denying right-wing talking points only to reiterate them in a mealy-mouthed way. And of course, given Sweden’s position in the pantheon of social democrats, they have to defend its policies in relation to it’s (also social democratic!) neighbours.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - September 22, 2020

Yeah, it’s sort of a idealised vision of Sweden as was rather than the reality of what it is today. I’d think a strong case could be made that many of its immediate neighbours are considerably more social democratic than it actually is after various ‘reforms’, etc.


3. CL - September 22, 2020

“Two open letters sent to the UK’s four chief medical officers signal the polarisation of opinion among medical professionals over how the government should tackle the emerging “second wave” of covid-19.

One group of doctors and academics is calling for segmentation and shielding of the most vulnerable groups of people rather than local or national lockdown measures. However, another group says that the government should continue efforts to suppress the virus across the entire population.

Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University, Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford, Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist at the University of Buckingham, and 30 others are calling on the government to take a more targeted approach rather than blanket policy intervention….
Meanwhile a letter from Trisha Greenhalgh, chair of primary care health sciences at Oxford University and signed by 22 others, argues against pursuing a “herd immunity” approach.
This letter…. argues that to divide a particular group of vulnerable people from those less vulnerable is practically impossible, particularly in disadvantaged groups, who may live in cramped housing and multi-generational households. They say that a goal of herd immunity rests on the unproved assumption that reinfection will not occur and that no examples of a segmentation and shielding policy having worked exist in any country”

“Now, as winter looms and the pandemic continues, another dichotomy has emerged: enter another awful lockdown, or let the virus run free. This choice, too, is false. Public-health measures offer a middle road, and even “lockdowns” need not be as overbearing as they were in spring. A city could close higher-risk venues like bars and nightclubs while opening lower-risk ones like retail stores”

Liked by 1 person

4. Colm B - September 22, 2020

That article seems to have disappeared from the Jacobin website, or is it just me?

BTW to be fair, Jacobin has lots of good articles, not all of which conform to the left-reformist viewpoint of the dominant element. I guess that’s why I like it more than a lot of other left sites. Most articles are well-written and informative regardless of perspective.

Liked by 1 person

5. sonofstan - September 22, 2020

” Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist at the University of Buckingham”

U of Buckingham was the UK’s first private university:

“Its development was influenced by the libertarian Institute of Economic Affairs, in particular, Harry Ferns and Ralph Harris, heads of the Institute.[16] In keeping with its adherence to a libertarian philosophy, the university’s foundation-stone was laid by Margaret Thatcher, who was also to be the university’s Chancellor (nominal and ceremonial head) between 1993 and 1998”

It’s motto is slightly comical ‘flying on our own wings’

Liked by 1 person

6. gregtimo - September 24, 2020

They publish a wide range of opinion, some of it wonky inevitably.
Overall it has been a valuable source for advocating a pragamtic populist left / democratic socialism educational line .
There have been bad patches of editorial bad calls such as having some badly informed English academic do a piece on Irish issues that relied on dated info (cant remember the article right off)
Lately it has gotten bad again. For instance having a guy in Australia writing an problematic OpPiece on the Italian referendum and the opinions of their Italian sister site left untranslated . That I can let go.
But on the Pandemic life and death issue, that was really bad . On the Brightside pertinent questions were asked, but one interviewee disregarding the huge difference in the death tolls, how very detached academic . A dialectic that is hardly needed . Is Bhaskar on holiday?
Who was responsible for letting that through is concerning . A but F*-ed there sadly , part of the Pandemic mental health damage it can be presumed I guess

Liked by 1 person

7. tafkaGW - September 24, 2020

One thing that gets me about the Swedish model is that they stress protecting older an more vulnerable people. Without saying how.

But there doesn’t seem to be any difference in the age breakdown of Swedish infection and death.

AFAIK – and it’s hard to find the data in a comparable format

Secondly ‘herd immunity’ is exactly what a widespread vaccination program seeks to achieve. But for the Swedish model’s fans, it is assumed that this is only feasible by means of infection of less vulnerable people. The non-lobby-driven medical consensus seems to be that a plethora of vaccines will be available in the first half of next year. A subset of these will be deployed, possibly tailored to the recipients.

Thirdly it seems to completely ignore the long term disability for many that comes with this non-vaccine path the herd immunity.

It’s a bit like saying that we should have just waited for ‘natural’ smallpox immunity to have arisen without developing a vaccine and isolating sufferers and all would be well. Which is close to Trump’s mental model, as far as he has one.

Perhaps I’m doing it an injustice – but I haven’t the time to read into it deeply. Meanwhile a close relative in the North has been hospitalised with severe Covid19.

And the rest of the article – which I only skimmed – seemed to be the banal assertion that *under capitalism* the poor have much worse health and much lower capacity to deal with a crisis.

Well, duh.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - September 24, 2020

I’m sorry to hear about your relative. I hope they’ll be okay. It’s abysmal stuff isn’t it when there’s very real-world impacts to hear this denialism and worse. I think it’s on a par with climate and other denialism. I genuinely do not understand why it is not treated as such.


8. tafkaGW - September 24, 2020

Here’s some data for age and mortality in Sweden:


And here it is for Germany:


I see no evidence that an age-targeted approach in Sweden has made any difference to the age/death profile.

If it had, you’d expect relatively higher numbers of deaths in younger groups in Sweden than in Germany.

So I can only conclude that what’s really happened is a somewhat less strict version of what’s happened in Germany.

Liked by 2 people

9. Colm B - September 24, 2020

A strong left-wing response to the Jacobin article:

Liked by 1 person

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