By Riccardo Petrella* – Wall Street
“No one will be left behind”
In the name of “national”
health security, the dominant groups have taken measures that run counter to
the much-vaunted objective of “no one will be left behind”. In
reality, “vaccine nationalism” is a good alibi, behind which powerful
multinational and global oligarchies act.
Even before the
marketing of vaccines, whose exclusive right of ownership and use for 20 years
was granted by the medical authorities to private companies pursuing a
profit-making objective, the public authorities admitted that by the end of
2021, between 70 and 80% of the world’s population would remain outside the
scope of vaccination.
UN secretary-general António
Guterres confirmed on 17 February that 75% of all available vaccines have been
used by only 10 countries and 130 countries have not received a single dose of
vaccine to date. If all goes well, which is not guaranteed, we will have
to wait until the end of 2024 to hope that the world’s population will reach
the minimum level of herd immunity.
In the meantime,
tens of millions of human beings will have disappeared prematurely with the
blessing of the pharmaceutical companies’ shareholders. In addition, a few
hundred million more people will have gone to swell the army of the
impoverished and the working poor. Finally, the world’s top twenty billionaires will have seen their wealth
increase by tens of billions (1).
The sovereignty of the people in all this?
Since the 1970s and
1980s, among the most significant processes of the demolition of democracy, we
can include, in addition to the traditional opposition to democracy:
—anti-statism linked, among other things, to the anti-communism of important
fringes of associative movements, even progressive ones;
–the interest in “the costs of politics”. In the name
of efficiency and the reduction of direct taxes, all forms of political choice
have been reduced to a question of optimal management of the limited resources
available and the reduction of public spending (with the exception of military
–the promotion of the “third way” in the name of “beyond
state and market”. This has turned out to be what it really is,
namely “much less state” and “much more market”.
way” was the Trojan horse by which the political class that had been
elected to promote and defend universal rights, social justice, the most
exploited and marginalized social classes, liberation from the abuses of the powerful,
peace (to put it simply, Western social democracy), literally abdicated,
submitting life on the Earth to the economic predatory imperatives of
devastating globalization of nature and the society.
Blair and many other leaders like him in Europe and elsewhere (not to mention
the American “progressives” who preach the cult of transition) bear a
great historical responsibility for what has happened over the past 40 years.
specifically to the “global waves” of liberalisation, deregulation
and privatisation of all forms of economic activity and in particular of all
previously common and public goods and services.
We have thus
seen the replacement of the rule of law and of the social and democratic
government by a system called “global economic governance”, based on
competition/exclusion, trade/negotiation/conflict between stakeholders.
This is the
famous “stakeholders governance” based on the commodification of all essential
and irreplaceable goods for life; on the marginalisation of human and social
rights; on the privatisation of political power, as demonstrated by the
imperial power of the world’s major private economic groups such as GAFAM
(Google-Apple-Facebook-Amazon-Microsoft), Big Pharma.
These waves have
been facilitated, and “justified” by the dominant groups, by the
increasing scientification and technologisation of life, increasingly
dissociated from the values of social-democratic political constitutionalism
(the Scandinavian model).
The dominance of
the so-called “reasons” of science and technology in favour of a
mystifying and utilitarian use of technoscience has played a major role in the
processes mentioned. In two key manners. On the one hand, by making it possible
to sweep away temporal limits (“the instant economy”,
nanotechnologies, finance to the millionth of a second…) and spatial limits
(the biological borders between species have jumped, “the economy without
On the other
hand, by pushing local (national) governments to transfer the power of
ownership, use and control, and therefore regulation of life on Earth, to the
producers of new technology-intensive systems and services organised on a
The evaporation of people’s sovereignty
In this context,
the decisive role of patents on living beings and artificial intelligence,
granted to private for-profit companies, is clear. Patents are the highest
expression, together with the market capitalisation of companies, of the
primacy of the right of private interests to rule the world.
(industrial, commercial…), like copyrights, have existed for a long time. But
patents on living organisms (cells, molecules, genomes… of the plant, animal,
and human world) are recent. They date back to 1980, when the Supreme Court of
the United States authorised, for the first time in history, a company (i.e.
General Electric) to patent for profit a molecule that it had “discovered”
and which could be used for environmental purposes. For purely commercial and
economic “reasons”, in 1998 the European Union adopted a directive on
the patentability of life, following the example of the United States, despite
strong opposition from important scientific, political, cultural, social, human
and religious circles.
Since then, the
river of patents (more than 110,000 in total on life and artificial
intelligence) has overflowed everywhere, encouraging rapid and widespread
private appropriation of the ownership and governance of life.
The case of the
patents on vaccines against Covid-19 is an unfortunately dramatic confirmation
of the evaporation of people’s sovereignty. At three levels.
The decision-making level
national parliamentary institutions been directly and meaningfully involved in
decisions on the promotion and funding of drug research and development and
production (by whom, where, how many doses, how to fund…). Everything was
decided by “technical” committees, often mixed (public and private),
dominated by representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and the world of
finance. In this context, scientists acted as servants and governments as
supporting notaries, adopting legislation by government decrees, thus reducing
the role of parliamentary institutions to little or nothing.
The level of knowledge and information
Not only did
people not participate, but they were systematically ignored and kept in the
dark. The European Parliament had to bang its fist on the table to gain access
to the contracts/agreements signed with a handful of global pharmaceutical
companies by European public authorities on behalf of 650 million citizens. And
when they gained access to the contract with AstraZeneca (an Anglo-Swedish
multinational), the text was concealed, with 90% of the contract made
Parliament was ridiculed, and the Commission is responsible for this ridicule.
A scandal. The European Commission claimed the obligation of secrecy imposed by
companies and accepted by the public authorities. But how can representatives
appointed by the elected representatives of the people grant the right to
secrecy to companies and, on the other hand, deny access to information to the
people who are the source of their power?
What is even
more serious is that neither the citizens of Europe nor the majority of MEPs
have fought to defend to the end the sacrosanct right of the people to
information and democracy (2).
We still do not
know how many billions of euros have been granted to private companies by
public authorities. Some figures go as high as 93 billion. What we do know is
that no Western pharmaceutical company would have started the development and
production of vaccines if there had been no public authorities to finance them.
The refusal to share knowledge and to give relevant information to the people
through their representatives is an explicit act of violence against the right
to knowledge. How can the people, how can citizens act with freedom and
conscience if they are kept in ignorance? Based on what principle of legitimacy
do governments continue to claim that they cannot give relevant information to
increasingly scientific and technological world, the right to relevant
knowledge is just as fundamental as the right to clean water and air. The
choice made by our leaders is extremely serious, especially since they have
long claimed that governments decide on public health based on what scientists
say. In so doing, they are instilling a conception of policy, not only in the
field of health but also in the economy in general, where the main
“reason” determining political choices is the “reason” of
unshared, secret, insider (technocratic) knowledge.
A knowledge that is incomprehensible to almost the entire
world population and de facto, the impregnable monopoly of the great lords of
financial technocracy. In other words, the rulers admit that most human beings
are ignorant and must remain so, and that, as in the past they had to obey
essentially the will and reasons of God, they must today obey the reasons of
science and technology.
The level of responsibility
private companies, public authorities have accepted that companies should not
be held responsible for the negative consequences of vaccines and unforeseeable
“accidents”. States have decided to assume such responsibility! The
peoples were not even warned. Not only are people not put in a position to
participate in decisions and to assume their responsibilities accordingly, but
they are being given serious responsibilities without their knowledge and
without recourse. The mockery of people’s sovereignty, made in the name of the
current patent regime, could not be more discouraging.
Only one proposal. Farewell to the
sovereignty of the people? No
social groups in the most powerful countries claim that their decisions are
dictated by scientific and technical reasons. Science, they say, and with-it
technology, dictates political choices. They claim that the sovereignty of the
people belongs to the people but that it is expressed through the class of
scientists and technologists, in practice through the class of their financiers
and stakeholders. Ensuring the proper functioning and sustainability of this
system is the function of patents regulated by the WTO TRIPS treaties. The
power of science is not open, transparent, shareable. It is increasingly
centralised and exclusive.
We are facing a
massacre of democracy. Of course, vaccines and medicines are not designed or
manufactured in parliamentary halls or ministerial offices. But science and
health policy are. This is not and should not be done in the stakeholder clubs
at the World Economic Forum, in the stock exchanges and in the shareholder
offices of pharmaceutical and life science companies, but in “citizens’
houses”, in open public debates, in committees of elected representatives
of the people, in referendums and popular consultations, in institutions of
Our proposal is
the following: the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and other endemic
diseases for the universal right to health and for the abolition of patents
must be part of a clear and coherent struggle, at all levels, for the
liberation of humanity and life from the domination of private finance and
enslaving technocracy. Their domination is fuelled and reinforced by the
processes of concentration of the private appropriation of scientific and
technological power (precisely patents, among other tools). The time has come
not for a transition (ecological, energy, digital or other) according to the
rules of the existing system, but for the liberation of humanity from the
“lords of life” and their new forms of colonisation of the world,
which are at the root of the current mega upheavals and crises.
(1) – Together, the 20 richest people in the world earned around $1.77
trillion, or €1,440 billion more than in 2019, and increased their wealth by
24% over the previous year. Only 13 countries in the world have a GDP
greater than the personal wealth of the 20 richest billionaires. Intolerable.
At the top of the list, Jeff Bezos, 56, the head of Amazon, boasts a personal
net worth of $193.7 billion in 2020, a 68.7% increase over 2019. Only 52 countries in the world (out of nearly 190) have a higher GDP. (2) – On 18 February, thanks to
a leak from an unknown source, the television programme Report was
able to view the contract with AstraZeneca without deletion or concealment. This
confirmed the clear subordination of public authorities to the interests of
*Riccardo Petrella, 79, Italian academic living in Belgium. Emeritus
Professor, Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium). Dr H.C. of eight
universities from Sweden, Denmark, France, Canada, Argentina and Belgium. His
research and teaching fields have been regional development, poverty, science
and technology policy, globalisation.