We translated this text as part of our debate on Covid-19 related state measures and resistance to them. To be continued…

Anyone who has followed Trump’s presidency a little more closely, and especially the campaign that led to his defeat, would have noticed that he and his supporters have constantly stressed that they want to defend individual freedom.

Freedom, liberty, is a mantra that has been invoked, sometimes more strongly, sometimes more weakly, throughout American history. During the confrontation with communism, for example, it was equated with everything that communism was not. Most notably with the freedom of the market, the opposite of the communist planned economy. The concept of freedom, which the French Revolution made the highest good and the basis of the bourgeoisie, had already changed in the 19th century into a concept of freedom as the essence of a certain economic order, along with its institutional framework. First it gave its identity to a class, namely the bourgeoisie, and then to capital – the subaltern classes waved the banner of solidarity instead.

Today, something different is going on, because the notion of freedom of the extreme right – to which Trump belongs – must translate into behaviour understood by the “multitude,” which bears no mark of a class. It emerged after the end of the confrontation between the Western model of democracy and the communist regime (which then became the general opposition between “right” and “left”) and through the dissolution of the middle class and the fragmentation and division of the working class.

It is no longer synonymous with a particular social, economic and institutional order, but a biological, “natural” substance of a humanity in search of pure wellbeing. Thus, freedom becomes simply the right of the single individual to do whatever he wants, for his own benefit, not only outside of any rule, order, or institution – again, Trump can serve as an example – but also outside of any thought of the Others: the individual has the right to do whatever he wants without thinking about whether that is good or bad for Others. The others exist at all only if they oppose him, on an equal footing, and use the same right for their advantage. If they are not equal to me, I assert myself; if they are, I fight them to assert myself. The regression is obvious: from Locke’s society, from Rousseau’s social contract, and from Mill’s liberalism (the exercise of my freedom must not limit that of others) to Hobbes (homo homini lupus) and to the Social Darwinism that characterized the predatory, racist-colonialist, and neoliberal capitalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The notion of freedom expressed in the behavior and propaganda of anti-vaxxers is of the following nature: I do what I want, where I want. Therefore, we assume that the anti-vaccination movement is an expression of the extreme right (and it is paradoxical how the neo-fascists and -nazis call those who are in favour of vaccination fascists and nazis). We think that this movement has very confused ideas about vaccination and its application (even ours are not crystal clear, not even those of the WHO…); and that people with very different and also opposite political ideas participate in it, but all of them are firmly convinced that the true concept of freedom is this: everyone has the right to do what they want, and no one has the right to forbid it, certainly not the dispositif [1] that we call the state.

(We mustn’t confuse the anti-vaccination movement with the protest against the Green Pass. They are two different things and we should deal with them separately. Mixing them up has resulted in the far right taking ] over the leadership of the square demonstrations. This shows how big the confusion is in the minds of many comrades, workers and decent people…).

It is becoming increasingly clear that the anti-vaccination movement is, at its core, against the state. It is not alone in this. Of course, anarchist tendencies also have an affinity with the movement. But anarchist anti-state is not the dominant matrix. In the U.S., the “Trumpist” right and the anti-vaccination movement have been very strong together. The attack on the Capitol in January 2021 was the most accomplished and eloquent example of this. We saw the circle close in Italy too, when an anti-vax demonstration led to a fascist attack on the CGIL [2] headquarters and the attempt to advance to Palazzo Chigi [3]: From the attack on the Capitol to the attack on the CGIL, from “we take over Washington” to “we take over Rome.” Moreover, the attack on the unions should remind us of how the Camere del lavoro [4] were destroyed and set on fire by fascists a hundred years ago.

The anti-vax movement has nothing to do with a class, but it fits perfectly with the dissolution of the middle and  working class, with the crisis of the middle classes and the transformation of the world of work. Even if it shows itself here as a movement that does not refer to a specific economic order, it clearly does: to neoliberalism. To be against the state is to be against public services, implicitly saying that healthcare, education, public transport, water supply, etc. cannot or should not be public. Because if they were, the cost of them would take something away from me and let others benefit. Everything must be left to the private sector, and those who cannot pay are out of luck.

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We have to say goodbye to the stereotypes with which we have always defined the extreme right, especially that of Nazism and fascism. Today we are talking about a “neo-Nazism without Hitler”, because the National Socialism of the thirties was the opposite of an individualistic ideology, it was based on the idea of the Volksgemeinschaft (the German people). Trump’s authoritarianism fits perfectly with individualism: it is an individualism on a global scale, on that of the Internet; the virtual universe of the Net is one of individuals without institutional ties, without institutional order, without regulating authority. It lends itself wonderfully as a space into which individuals belonging to the modern “multitude” project their behavior. In the virtual space of the Web, the individual thinks he can do whatever he wants, no government – or institution, or intermediary body – can impose rules on him, no power can discipline him.

We used to think that the reign of the multinationals was the peak of capitalism’s evolution. But even that is now obsolete. The new order of “big tech” that the leviathans of Google, Amazon, Facebook and some others are imposing represents a new stage of capitalist development with different characteristics. One of them is the “democratization” of access to communication; the individual can communicate with the world and theoretically act on the market. The old model of multinational capitalism maintained hierarchical command and exclusive access of companies to the market. The individual’s material and economic survival was solely in the hands of the companies who employed them as a dependent and subordinated workforce. Today, the natural inclination towards individualism is increased by the belief that access to the Internet can be access to the market and thus to survival, without the mediation of any institution through subordinated labour and the wage – in this sense, the freelancer is the symbolic figure of our time . Intermediary bodies such as unions are presented by companies as obstacles to self-realization, and perceived as such by workers.

We have to go to the social roots of individualistic behaviour in order to understand this tendency to adopt certain ideas of freedom.

To base one’s behavior on the idea that everyone should do what they want is the most radical way to negate all the values on which the labour movement, socialism, “the left” are based. It negates solidarity, community, mutual aid, values on which the social fabric and social conflicts are based. Values that also inspire our magazine [5], no need to explain.

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But we can also address the benefits of public healthcare, issues that the anti-vaccination movement simplifies: everyone does what they want, public healthcare is not my problem, I only think about my own health, there is no science of health, there is no science at all, therefore there can be no regulating power that has greater knowledge than the individual.

The idea that the individual’s freedom to think from and for themselves is “knowledge” and, moreover, a higher knowledge than that of the assumed “experts” – identified as functionaries or agents of state power or as servants of multinational pharmaceutical companies – denies all value to things like competence, education, and scientific inquiry. This does not mean returning to the Rousseauian “noble savage,” however, but to the grace of the market. Individuals who think of themselves as independent beings, who don’t need anyone, who base their existence not on relationships with others but on individualism, are precisely those who lose their freedom to a large extent, especially in employment relationships: they negate solidarity, community and mutual help and find themselves the objects of the most unbridled exploitation because, as individuals, they have the weakest position in the market.

Those who fanatically defend their individual freedom, who do not recognize any regulating institution and therefore not the social state, entrust themselves completely and unconsciously to the market, which crushes them and condemns them to an existence as the working poor. They think they are free and then stand weakly, not before the old bosses, but before faceless, often nameless powers for whom individuals mean nothing at all – this contributes to the creation of fantasies: not the dynamics of power relations in society, but obscure enemies change the world around me and conspire “against me.” I don’t know who they are, but I know they exist because someone must be responsible for my problems. The highest institution, elusive but immediately recognizable, is the state. It is also at this point that mistrust, aggression and violence turns towards those who are different, the more so against those who are in close proximity, who stand out (because of the colour of their skin, their clothes and the smell of their kitchen), and who are socially weaker than themselves.

The anti-vax movement has no concept of health or public healthcare because, besides the concept of public services, the dimension of the collective is completely foreign to it.

Why do people who relate to very different values than the Trumpists, to more or less vague “left” values, join this bunch of irresponsible people? This behaviour is all the more incomprehensible because public health and epidemics have long been addressed and fathomed in our experiences, struggles, research and considerations.

To give just one example: Starting in the mid-1970s, there was the journal ‘Epidemiology and Prevention’. It was the expression of that “movement for health” that led the political and legal struggles that led to the recognition of the dangers to which workers were exposed to by toxic substances, such as asbestos, tetraethyl lead, vinyl chloride and betanaphthylamine, etc. – and the right to compensation. Let’s remember the names of Giulio Maccacaro and Ivar Oddone [6]. This magazine was born to educate health workers; to fight against the arrogance of pharmaceutical companies and industry, which deny the evidence of harm from their ventures and fund studies to demonstrate the lack of risks; and to fight against a model of public healthcare that only comes from large, highly specialized hospital centres and private clinics, for those who can afford expensive treatments.

The social struggles of the 70s have left us this knowledge and experience, a legacy that renews itself with each generation. We don’t need to resort to convoluted conspiracy theories to denounce the crimes of pharmaceutical companies, we just need to recall the Marxian concept of profit. We don’t have to join the anti-government actions of Fratelli d’Italia [7] to criticize the Draghi government’s alarming cuts to the healthcare system. The struggle for healthcare for all and for prevention, based on a sense of responsibility towards others, is one of the struggles we have been fighting for half a century, not the business of sorcerer’s apprentices.

N.B: After the fascist attack on the CGIL headquarters in Rome, voices have been raised to ban [the far-right] Forza Nuova. The resurgence of fascism has been a serious problem in Italy for several years. The left, the press, large sections of the intellectual milieu and the judiciary have not only ignored this problem, but in some cases have supported the worst tendencies of the extreme right, as in the case of Foibe [8] massacres. Maybe they think that by banning Forza Nuova, they will fix the problem? Continue to ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist? Instead of banning them, if the police would repress them like they do striking workers, then the attack on the CGIL wouldn’t have happened. It’s not about banning them, it’s about putting them out of political existence. And that’s our task, it’s our responsibility to create the conditions in which they can be isolated and defeated.

[1] Dispositif is a term used by the French intellectual Michel Foucault, generally to refer to the various institutional, physical, and administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body. [Wikipedia]

[2] CGIL stands for ‘The Italian General Confederation of Labour’, which is a national trade union in Italy.

[3] Where the Prime Minister lives.

[4] This is an organisation comprising the different trade union federations of the CGIL that exist in a defined geographical area.

[5]  ‘Primo Maggio’, the magazine in which this article was featured

[6] Workers inquiry activists who launched important investigations into the toxicity of industrial plants in Italy.

[7] Another far-right party

[8] The foibe massacres, or simply the foibe, refers to mass killings both during and after World War II, mainly committed by Yugoslav Partisans against the local ethnic Italian population [Wikipedia]