by Sara Flounders, published on the International Action Center Website, November 2, 2020
A decision by the Amazon company to block a book focused on a scientific and cooperative approach to COVID-19 amounts to corporate information control operating at a new intensity. This censorship occurs while almost every form of U.S. media permits and promotes racist, unscientific and thoroughly confusing information.
The censored book is “Capitalism on a Ventilator: The Impact of COVID-19 in China & the U.S.” This anthology of 55 articles by a broad range of social justice authors discuss the importance of free health care, social distancing, testing, protective equipment, education and social mobilizations during the pandemic.
The book highlights the differences in policy and state organization toward a virus that has so far caused fewer than 5,000 deaths in China, but more than 225,000 deaths in the U.S. The book also shows the glaring lack of social support infrastructure in the U.S. in contrast to U.S. trillions spent on elaborate military, police and prison infrastructure, both at home and worldwide.
“Capitalism on a Ventilator” is unique in challenging the sharp rise in racist attacks on Asian people in the U.S. during the pandemic that flow from government, business and media hostility to China. Its commentaries expose the attacks on China by both Democratic and Republican parties through their endorsing and imposing sanctions, military operations, trade wars, and cancelations of cultural and academic exchanges.
Censorship by monopoly control
On Sept. 24, World View Forum, a small educational not-for-profit publishing company, received this message from Amazon:
“We’re contacting you regarding the following book(s): Capitalism on a Ventilator: The Impact of COVID-19 in China & the U.S. by Sara Flounders (AUTHOR); Carlos Martinez (AUTHOR); Monica Moorehead (AUTHOR); Kevin Zeese (AUTHOR); Ajamu Baraka (AUTHOR); Deirdre Griswold (AUTHOR); Mumia Abu Jamal (AUTHOR); Vijay Prashad (AUTHOR); Margaret Kimberley (AUTHOR); Lee Siu Hin (AUTHOR). Due to the rapidly changing nature of information around coronavirus, we are referring customers to official sources for advice about the prevention or treatment of the virus. Amazon reserves the right to determine what content we offer according to our content guidelines. Your book does not comply with our guidelines. As a result, we are not offering your book for sale. To have your book reconsidered for publication, please update your book details (i.e., your title, cover image, and/or product description) and resubmit.”
World View Forum immediately tried to reverse Amazon’s decision and provided layers of authentication of information. But there is no appeal or even a complaint process to Amazon decisions. The company’s emails are sent from a no-reply address.
Amazon trumpets that it has the widest range of book titles, ease of placement, best order fulfillment and lack of censorship. As the world’s largest online book seller, Amazon claims that it resists calls to censor or otherwise restrict books, and that for it to pull a book is exceedingly rare.
The company has been more than willing to make a profit by selling white supremacist propaganda and wild conspiracy theories that the COVID virus is human-made. During the pandemic Amazon has listed products that are dangerous quack cures for the virus.
But a book that discusses how socialist countries have had great success in controlling the deadly COVID-19 virus through cooperation, free healthcare and public education – that book has information that capitalist giant Amazon has decided must be censored.
Amazon allows COVID hoax book
Right-wing media darling Alex Berenson self-published “Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns” with Amazon in June 2020. Berenson is notorious for denouncing masks, quarantine measures and school closings, and for claiming the count of deaths and infections in the U.S. is a hoax and massive overcount. He appears regularly on far right media, including Breitbart, Fox News and The American Conservative.
When Amazon sent Berenson a stop-publication message similar to that sent to left publisher World View Forum, Berenson simply turned to a powerful billionaire friend – Elon Musk, the fourth-richest man in the U.S., who has made more than $48 billion in profit during the pandemic. Demanding Amazon publish Berenson, Musk publicly threatened and pressured Amazon’s billionaire owner Jeff Bezos through the public venue of the Washington Post – which Bezos also owns.
The result? Amazon immediately backed off from its decision to pull Berenson’s COVID-hoax book.
Why? Because both Bezos and Musk are capitalist powers who have a vested interest in keeping their businesses running at top speed during the pandemic, even if this costs many lives. So promoting a book that spouts non-scientific theories that COVID is a hoax and that there is no need for protective equipment, social distancing, testing of workers or shut down of businesses is also in their economic interest.
Musk, with his multi-billion-dollar Tesla auto advancing down production lines, has shared tweets like “Coronavirus panic is dumb” and “It’s the lockdown, not the virus, that causes the problems.”
Bezos also has his multi-billion-dollar reason to allow COVID hoax publications: to keep Amazon’s global distribution system of warehouses operating at full capacity during the pandemic. With Walmart first, Amazon is the second-largest employer in the U.S., with 1.5 million workers.
On Oct. 1 Amazon admitted that 19,816 of its workers had tested positive or been “presumed positive” for COVID. But its production lines roll on.
As for Berenson’s right-wing COVID book, the Bezos-owned Washington Post gave full coverage to the Bezos-owned Amazon reversal and highlighted the agreement to print and distribute the book.
Capitalist hostility to China
Controlling the narrative on responsibility for this global pandemic is a high priority for the entire U.S. ruling class.
On the surface the two U.S. imperialist political parties appear to have sharp differences in response to the pandemic. But they are united in promoting hostility to China.
Nevertheless, the stunning difference in results between the U.S. and China in response to COVID-19 – and the pandemic’s impact on the two very different economies – has been impossible to ignore.
The corporate media response is to suppress any mention of the positive impact that China’s free health care, guaranteed income during quarantine, coherent national planning and deep community participation has had on pandemic illness and mortality rates.
Instead, the only explanation given by big business media for the sharp difference is that China is “authoritarian,” “heavy handed” and “dictatorial,” and that the population is “resentful and repressed.”
The New York Times summarized this hostile approach in an Oct. 31 article: “Authoritarian Strategy: Effective, but Suffocating.” This lengthy “analysis” failed to mention a basic fact: that at this time, China’s COVID-19 deaths are under 5,000, compared to U.S. deaths of over 225,000. And the U.S. has only one-fourth the population of China!
Other censorship of left communication
Amazon is not the only corporate media monopoly censoring left-leaning news and organizing. Google and other major search engines have reset their algorithms to filter and restrict almost all alternative and socialist news sites. With search traffic rerouted away from these sites, this drastically reduces the number of views by more than 50%. Google claims that this is to combat “fake news.”
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are stepping up their blocking of antiracist organizing and anti-imperialist solidarity. This is done by their equating posts by violent white supremist organizations and neo-Nazi militias with antiracist, anti-capitalist organizing.
In the current censorship sweep, YouTube has directly intervened to block a webinar featuring a Palestinian leader, Leila Khaled. Thousands of Twitter and Instagram accounts have been disabled and hash tags eliminated. Shutdowns have impacted It’s Going Down, CrimethInc and the PNW Youth Liberation Front in Portland, Ore.
Plans by the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly for a Peoples Mandate were shut down on Facebook, along with the accounts of connected organizations and accounts of the administrators of the Facebook sites. This in turn impacted a Cuba Solidarity Conference as well as a SanctionsKill Facebook account that was threatened with shutdown for posting news of the impacted Cuba Conference.
A mobilized pushback forced Facebook to step back from this sweeping attack.
Fighting Amazon’s ban on scientific truth
The publication of “Capitalism on a Ventilator” was organized by the anti-imperialist International Action Center, in collaboration with the China-U.S. Solidarity Committee. These organizations and the authors have affirmed their determination to get the book published as part of the ongoing political struggle against the virus and for socialism.
The banned book’s table of contents and list of authors, along with four chapters, is available at https://wp.me/p4Yme1-404. Readers are urged to break the ban on “Capitalism on a Ventilator” by sharing the link and your short reviews widely on social media. Maintain pressure against Amazon banning books with a left perspective by tweeting the Washington Post @JeffBezos.
*Featured Image: People walk past an Amazon Books retail store in New York City © REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Sara Flounders is an American political writer who has been active in ‘progressive’ and anti-war organizing since the 1960s. Sara is Co-Director of the International Action Center (IAC) and a member of the Secretariat of Workers World Party She also frequently writes for Workers World newspaper and publishes articles on the International Action Center website.