Tuesday 9 November 2021

Carefree Calumnies: Vaccination Policies Under Nazism and Communism.

Revolutionary Duty: Up until the death of Stalin in 1953, the primary focus of the People’s Commissariat of Public Health was on the education of the masses – mostly by means of unceasing propaganda. Being a healthy Soviet citizen was a revolutionary duty.

ACCUSATIONS OF NAZISM are being flung around “in a carefree manner”. That, at least, is the observation of Dr Kate Hannah, Lead Researcher of the Disinformation Project. Established in 2020 under the auspices of Te Pūnaha Matatini at the University of Auckland, the Disinformation Project seeks to separate fact from fiction in the increasingly fetid ideological climate of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

“We’ve really witnessed a downgrading of social discourse”, argues Hannah, “an acceptability of really vulgar, obscene, denigrating, rude, misogynistic, racist terminology just being used.” She reports that terms such as Nazism, Communism and Authoritarianism are being attached almost casually to political opponents.

Certainly, the prospect of New Zealanders having to carry Vaccination Passports, and Government-mandated “No Jab. No Job” regulations coming into force, have raised the ideological temperature considerably. Nor is it the case that strongly expressed reservations about increased levels of state coercion are restricted to the Right. In a widely read Daily Blog post entitled “This Is Wrong”, the veteran leftist John Minto comes out swinging at the idea of dividing New Zealand society into the Vaccinated and the Unvaccinated.

More pronounced upon the Right than the Left, however, is the tendency to compare the Labour Government’s Covid-19 strategies with the behaviour of the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s and 40s. The conservative clergyman, Pastor Peter Mortlock, for example, recently warned the congregation of his evangelical City Impact Church that: “Nazi Germany has arrived in New Zealand”. Adding for good measure that the unvaccinated were at risk of becoming “Yellow Star citizens”. (The reference is to the yellow Star of David all European Jews were required to wear by their Nazi tormenters.)

Perhaps inspired by the Pastor’s words, a group of Anti-Vaxxers last weekend posted a photograph of themselves, all wearing Yellow Stars, on Twitter.

If Pastor Mortlock, and those he has inspired, had “done their research”, however, they might have hesitated to include the Nazis in their propaganda sermons and stunts.

As Branko Marcetic explains in a sharply pointed piece for Jacobin magazine, the Nazis were far too sensitive to right-wing public opinion to enforce the compulsory vaccination legislation that had been on Germany’s statute books since the Imperial Vaccination Law of 1874.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the 1874 law was actually in abeyance. A tragic medical misadventure, in which 70 children had died three years earlier, had mobilised the already large anti-vaccination movement in Germany, and the Government had responded by simply ceasing to enforce the law. Far from re-instating compulsory inoculation, Hitler and his confederates decided to keep the moratorium in place.

Partly this was in response to the very strong anti-Semitic flavour of the German anti-vaccination movement which, like the anti-vaxxers of today, was prey to all kinds of lurid conspiracy theories. Mostly, however, it was because the Nazis were enthusiastic eugenicists.

For Hitler and his comrades vaccination was regarded as a Darwinian test of evolutionary fitness. Intelligent and conscientious German citizens would not hesitate to get vaccinated. Those who refused were declaring themselves to be either politically or congenitally unfit to remain a part of the German volk. When it came to the conquered peoples of Eastern Europe, the eugenic message was unequivocal. Vaccination was only for the Master Race – among the untermenschen Nature must be left to take its course.

Hitler had no need of Vaccination Certificates, he would have looked upon Pastor Mortlock and his ilk as a self-correcting problem.

Marcetic’s article serves as a timely reminder that there really is nothing new under the sun. Human nature remains a depressingly consistent factor in the way politics unfolds. Equally bracing, however, is the realisation that Hitler’s Darwinian cast of mind is very far from being dead. The briefest scan of Twitter and/or Facebook will produce numerous examples of eugenicist thinking. Indeed, as Auckland’s Level 3 Lockdown threatens the Christmas plans of thousands, the notion that the anti-vaxxers should be treated as a self-correcting problem is only likely to find additional supporters.

But if Hitler (teetotaler, non-smoker and vegetarian that he was) was less than keen to enforce compulsory vaccinations on the civilian population of Germany (the armed forces were a very different story!) what about his Soviet equivalent, Joseph Stalin?

Up until the death of Stalin in 1953, the primary focus of the People’s Commissariat of Public Health was on the education of the masses – mostly by means of unceasing propaganda. Being a healthy Soviet citizen was a revolutionary duty. Campaigns were waged against smoking, drinking and sexual promiscuity (i.e. Venereal Disease). Basic sanitation was drummed into a population that, historically, had known nothing of such matters.

Essentially, the People’s Commissariat made a virtue of necessity. In its early years, the Soviet Union simply had too few doctors, and nothing like enough medicines, to do much more than exhort the population to look after their health.

The extraordinary population losses experienced in the Soviet Union, first as the result of the Stalin-led Communist Party’s murderous policies, and then under the hammer blows of the Wehrmacht, forced a major re-think of Soviet health policies. Human labour was now too precious for the Communist Party to squander in the manner of Stalin and his homicidal comrades. With Stalin dead, however, and the gulags “downsized”, public health provision became a way of demonstrating the “benevolent” aspects of Soviet rule.

As Stephen L Hoch writes in his 1997 paper The Social Consequences Of Soviet Immunization Policies, 1945-1980:

Soviet society used coercive immunization campaigns to demonstrate the superiority of an administrative order over a legal one . The state mandated compliance with a public good and in the process demonstrated the benefits of vigorous state control in the public realm . The public was to be passive in this process. Vaccination campaigns were used to show that if a good was truly important the state would do it, indeed, the state must do it. And, it must be recognized that in spite of all the abuses of Soviet power, the political leadership in the former Soviet Union repeatedly pointed to immunization campaigns to illustrate the success of its administrative order.

That enforced public passivity was to come back and bite the Russian people when the Soviet system finally fell in 1991. In the “new” Russia, the human and material resources required to continue the massive state-run immunisation campaigns of the Soviet era were no longer available. Until Russian parents learned to take the immunisation of both themselves and their children into their own hands, many of the diseases conquered in the post-war years were bound to reappear – which they duly did.

History is seldom a clear-cut thing. Hitler declined to enforce vaccination out of a combination of political and eugenicist considerations. Similarly, while Stalin reigned over the Soviet Union, public health campaigns were largely exhortative, propaganda-driven affairs. Following Stalin’s death, however, coercive vaccination was presented as evidence of the Soviet system’s paternal benevolence. No longer a regime that killed millions without compunction or remorse, the Soviet Union presented its post-war compulsory mass vaccinations as proof that it was now committed to saving millions of lives.

As the Delta variant of Covid-19 sweeps through the largely unvaccinated Russian population with renewed energy and alarming lethality, there will be many older Russian citizens who recall with some nostalgia the regime that lined them up and jabbed them whether they liked it or not. To avoid the evils of the Soviet Era, however, a great many younger Russians will happily run the risk of contracting Covid. After all, as diseases go, it is considerably less deadly than Stalinism.

A proposition with which – “carefree” Anti-Vaxxer accusations of Nazism, Communism and Authoritarianism, notwithstanding – New Zealanders from both the Right and the Left will likely find themselves in rare agreement.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 9 November 2021.


Tiger Mountain said...

New Zealanders at large seem political illiterates, equating “politics” substantially with Parliamentary Party politics. Describing Jacinda Ardern and the neo liberal capitalist NZ Labour Caucus as communists or Nazis, is ignorance on steroids–all displayed for thousands to see online.

n.b. Author Norman Ohler in his 2017 book ”Blitzed” looked at how methamphetamine, oxycodone and morphine fuelled the Third Reich and Hitler in particular. So while Adolf may not have been a pisshead or smoker he was certainly a speed freak.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You know what, if it wasn't for the fact that there is a danger of infecting innocent people I'd say let them go for it. A 1.5% chance of winning a Darwin award, a somewhat greater chance of suffering long-term effects.
Seems to me many of these clowns are too young to remember rooms full of people in iron lungs, deafness because of measles, sterility because of mumps. But some of them are old enough to know better. All in the name of freedumb.
And all because they've "done their own research"– something they good right on the tombstones perhaps – as the joke goes "Honey, I've just discovered something that millions of doctors and scientists have missed."

Tom Hunter said...

Over at the No Minister blog I had to deal with a troll who commented that I was just like Hitler because he also opposed vaccine mandates. He did not provide the link but I quickly found the Jacobin article that had set his brain on fire.

The really hilarious thing about that article was it's title, You Know Who Else Opposed Vaccine Mandates? Hitler. Which is precisely one of Chris's points.

As I pointed out to the NM troll it was as if these Incredibly Serious People had never been on the Internet, where such titles have deservedly been the subject of mockery for years. As I responded to him:

Hey, you know who else built expressways? Hitler.
You know who else was a vegetarian? Hitler.
they could have had the headline read:
You Know Who Else Opposed Vaccine Mandates? Scheidemann! or..
You Know Who Else Opposed Vaccine Mandates? Adenauer

But of course that would not have sent the message they were gagging to send.

Kat said...

Hitler was also known to pick his nose and pass wind with impunity..

Spike does an entertaining skit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgontSmBwv4

David George said...

Bravo Tom!
The programme to demonise the doubters is in full swing, the feigned attempts to understand them simply cover for derision and division. Witness "Shane Te Pou: What did the Beehive protesters actually stand for?" in The Herald. How have we come to this; the state mandating who can work and who can't, travel and not travel?

A great essay on the broader implications: https://unherd.com/2021/11/the-humiliation-of-america/


"The chafing humiliations of the Covid police are just part of a surge of social friction that was gestating for years and exploded with the election of President Trump five years ago. Strong political passions, multiplied, amplified, and frequently concentrated on specific targets by corporate media and big tech, have destabilised our essential public and private institutions, virtually all of which, through some demonic Oedipal fatality, now seem intent on repudiating their founding principles and betraying their core missions.

Some of those who, by reason of experience and accumulated wisdom, might still be capable of righting these institutions have been purged; the rest have mostly retired or retreated under fire, withdrawing much good and necessary energy from our common national life. Depleted and uncharacteristically depressed, the American people now spin and shudder along the edge of the abyss. What future awaits us if we forget how to live and work together in amity, and if, emptied of honest debate on matters of pressing concern, the public square echoes with blood curdling war cries?"

"Our technocratic mandarins dislike such questions and recoil from the political uncertainties of democratic debate. Whatever its psychological causes, their longing for certainty in practice leads them to insist on it in theory, and so to end debate by any means necessary. This is an engine of comprehensive despotism because it can be satisfied only with the advent of univocal global answers."

David George said...

I meant to add: The PM's "They are not us" response to the protestors indicates a worrying totalitarian instinct. I'm not antivax or in agreement with many of the protesters but this sort of thing is disgusting, not the Kiwi way. I'm not a fan generally but Hone H. said it well: the antivaxx are whanau too.

David George said...

A small but significant correction. Hone said the unvaccinated (not antivax) are whanau too.

Kat said...

Here's another correction just for the record.

"Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says vaccination protesters outside Parliament were not representative of the “vast bulk” of Kiwis.

Many carried signs accusing the media and Ardern of corruption or being a communist, and there were loud demands for her and other politicians to come out and face the crowds.

Ardern said most Kiwis did not agree with the protesters, but they had a right to protest........."

greywarbler said...

PM HJacinda has briefly recognised how commonality and cohesion in a country is built and becomes something firm and reliable, when she criticises people who do not respond to our problem affecting all when they have the opportunity and power.

But it's a picture of Dorian Gray situation. That's actually a view of Labour that people see clearly now. How shocking it will be if PM Jacinda and the rest of the lost Peter Pan social warriors catch a view of their degraded selves with transient expressions of concern mirrored on a glossy building as they come in sight of the people, these 'envoys from the mirror city.'

maxx said...

This is the reason Bowalley Road is so enjoyable. While concerned Kiwis unimaginatively accuse the government of totalitarian tactics and TVNZ breathlessly reports that the protestors are the real extremists Chris enlightens us all with the historical facts just to remind us of our own ignorance. It's classic Trotter, what a great read.