Should Leftists and Progressives trust Pfizer and Big Pharma?

Josh Kaye

Josh is the main author of Northern Currents – A Leftist perspective on Canadian politics. Josh is an electrician of 10 years and has been interested in radical politics for even longer. Follow on Twitter at @ncjoshkaye.

Like most articles with a headline posed as a question, the answer is no. Pfizer and other Big Pharma companies are classic examples of everything that is wrong with our global, corporate, new world order. While this is true, we should make the distinction between these large corporations and the scientific community as a whole.


There has been no shortage of controversy over supposed “Leftists” such as Jimmy Dore promoting all sorts of explicit anti-vaccine and covid-denying propaganda. The result of this is a small portion of Leftists parroting these propagandistic talking points, making themselves appear no different than far-right PPC supporters.

These Leftists may as well join the conspiracy caucus of the federal Conservative party, whose supporters have an all-to-friendly relationship with conspiracists. While their intentions – skepticism of corporate and government power – may be honourable, they are simply displaying their lack of understanding of how science works.

Skepticism vs Denialism

On the one hand, corporations such as Pfizer do have a terrible track record of choosing corporate profit over human life. Pfizer has a history of illegal marketing of drugs such as gabapentin, valdecoxib, sirolimus, Geodon, and Lyrica. They have a history of suppressing internal whistleblowers. About 500 people died because of defective heart valves they produced.

During an outbreak of measles, cholera, and bacterial meningitis occurring in Nigeria, Pfizer was also accused of “using the outbreak to perform unapproved human testing, as well as allegedly under-dosing a control group being treated with traditional antibiotics in order to skew the results of the trial in favor of Trovan. Nigerian medical personnel, as well as at least one Pfizer physician, said the trial was conducted without regulatory approval.”

All this information is freely available for the public to see on Pfizer’s Wikipedia page. It is as damning as it sounds, people needlessly died or were injured due to corporate negligence and the pursuit of profit.

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On the other hand, it would be a mistake to conclude that because Pfizer committed horrible acts in the past, that they are currently doing the same with the Covid-19 vaccines. This is simply fallacious reasoning. Pfizer also has a plethora of more commonly used medications listed on its website such as Advil, Chapstick, and Robitussin that haven’t had any controversy surrounding their use.

A healthy mistrust of large corporations is always a good thing, but if taken too far, one will find themselves deviating into the realm of conspiracy very quickly. Our criticisms must be evidence-based.

More crucially, this left-anti-vaccine crowd misses the broader structure of quality control in the scientific community. We all understand (or should at this point) how peer-review works. Pfizer did the clinical trial for their vaccine which was then peer-reviewed by the journal.

Once published, the results are made available to the entire scientific community to scrutinize and analyze. This process of community scrutiny often leads to retractions of studies that prove to be incorrect or fraudulent. This same process has led to Ivermectin studies being retracted. Thus far, nobody has found any issues with the vaccine data.


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Real-world data has also confirmed the safety and efficacy of vaccines in every country they have been made available to the masses. Vaccine mandates are working and are the key to ending this pandemic.

More recently, covid-denialists have trotted out one BMJ article of a supposed whistleblower exposing “falsified data, unblinded patients, employed inadequately trained vaccinations, and [slow follow up] on adverse events reported in Pfizer’s pivotal phase III trial.” These claims have been shown to be lacking in evidence and important details, and are a fraction of the study.

So what do we as Leftists make of all this?

The Left has always had a strong tradition of emphasizing the importance of science and empirical understanding of the world. Remember that foundational socialists such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels considered their approach to economics as “scientific socialism.” Marx himself admired the scientific advances made possible by Capitalism:

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?

Manifesto of the Communist Party

As Leftists, we should not dismiss the labour of the workers of these pharmaceutical companies. Years, even decades of research, testing, education, and development of these vaccines would not be possible without these essential workers. Of course, this is all in the context of an economy driven by profit and capital accumulation which is less than ideal. It’s not the science we want, it’s the science we get.

Under capitalism, large private corporations monopolize and privatize scientific inquiry. We should be pushing for the nationalization of big pharma and medical production – with democratic control. What we should not do is dismiss the global scientific consensus that Covid-19 is a serious problem, and that vaccines are essential in fixing this problem and saving lives. We should not align with conspiracists, conservatives, or fascists. This shouldn’t be a controversial opinion!

Leftists should abandon the term “Anthropocene” in discussing the climate crisis

Andrew McWhinney
Andrew McWhinney

Andrew McWhinney is an MA student at McMaster University, looking at class politics and Canadian fiction. He is also an editor at Negation Magazine.

For some on the left concerned about the climate crisis, the term “Anthropocene” has been a useful go-to term for describing the state of affairs that has led us to the ecological disaster we’re currently facing. I would implore leftists using the term to discard it, for it merely serves to paper over the real core source of the climate crisis: capitalism. 

Photo: JuniperPhoton

The term “Anthropocene” refers to an unofficial geological epoch, named in order to signal that we currently live in a time where human activity is having a massive impact on the Earth’s ecologies and geologies. The most prominent of these impacts is anthropogenic climate change, and its use has begun to become popularized through its use in documentary films such as Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (2018), which documented various areas on Earth where human activity — mostly industrial — is having massive geological effects.  


Etymologically, Anthropocene is built from the term Anthropo — Greek for “human” — and cene — from the Greek kainos, meaning new or recent. The term lends itself for specific problematic use in our environmental narratives — ones that take place in late capitalist societies and are thus characterized by their emphasis on individual responsibility — that assume equal responsibility of all human beings for the devastating ecological effects of the Earth. It’s presumed that we, as a species, have made this devastating impact together; in some extreme examples, this can lead to thinking that presumes that humans are a virus and that with the elimination of humanity, the Earth can return to an ecologically “pure” state. 

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Like the assumed universal human subject of liberal democratic states — presupposing equal treatment under the law while eliding the structural realities that prevent such things from happening — the dangerous lie of the Anthropocene omits the political and structural history of anthropogenic climate change, which, as many on the left know, has been and continues to be propagated primarily by capitalist industry.

Capitalism’s ecocidal logic

The inherent ecological destructiveness of capitalism can be demonstrated through how it alienates humanity from nature. 

One of the key components of capitalist alienation that Karl Marx highlighted was the alienation of humanity from nature. In a Marxist model, humans and nature interact in what Marx referred to as the “social metabolism” of matter. In pre-capitalist times, with humanity recognizing themselves as a part of the natural world, mineral matter from nature used to produce means of life as shelter, clothing, food, and technology would eventually be returned to the soil, thus allowing for nature to continue to reproduce itself and make matter available to humanity once again. 

Nature and humanity are able to reproduce each other and co-evolve together over time through a balanced exchange of matter. As Marx puts it plainly, “that (humanity’s) physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for (humanity) is a part of nature.”

With the rise of capitalism, humans have become alienated from nature, just as they become alienated from the products of their labour and other human beings around them. Alienation from a healthy social metabolism means that nature is conceived of as infinite and costless, to be extracted and exploited without compensation, instead of cared for. 

With this new attitude towards nature, capitalist production pushes ecologies past their metabolic limits, causing lasting ecological damage that even the use of fertilizers can’t solve. As Marx aptly stated in Capital: Volume 1, “all progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress towards ruining the long-lasting sources of that fertility.” 

Colonialism and its disproportionate effects of ecological destruction 

As capitalism’s insatiable drive for profits comes up against its exhaustion of local ecologies and resources, capitalism must begin to look outward for resources and populations to exploit. To this end, capitalism has and continues to employ violent seizure of land through imperialism and (settler) colonialism, a process Marx referred to as “primitive accumulation.” 

In his book Red Skin White Masks, Yellowknives Dene political theorist Glen Coulthard reformulates primitive accumulation to focus on the colonial relation and the question of land, rightfully claiming that in the Canadian context, “the history of dispossession, not proletarianization, has been the dominant background structure shaping the character of the historical relationship between Indigenous people and the Canadian state.” 

In the colonial context, capitalism dispossesses Indigenous populations through the seizure of land, not only causing ecological destruction but also enacting genocide through the transformation of the land from “a system of reciprocal relations and obligations” to a resource to be exploited. Thus, the destructive logics of capitalism and settler colonialism disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples in Canada more than anyone else — something that maps with global data demonstrating how marginalized groups are disproportionately suffering the effects of industrial climate change.

Two recent examples can illustrate this point. The effects of the oil sands on Dene and Cree communities in Alberta, for example, has been well-documented; in a 2019 review of literature pertaining to the oil sands and Indigenous peoples, the literature overwhelmingly proves the presence of carcinogenic and toxic pollution from oil sands runoff that has lowered biodiversity and harmed ecosystems. This ecological destruction negatively impacts the ability of these communities to engage in traditional practices of hunting, fishing, and gathering, as well as access sacred land, halting the transmission of traditional knowledge and contributing further to genocide. 

All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil

Marx, Capital: Volume 1

More recently in Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaq fishers, exercising their Treaty rights, began fishing in the off-season. Racist, colonial violence erupted, resulting in the cutting of Mi’kmaq fishing lines, the assault of the chief of the Spikekne’katik First Nation, attacks on two lobster storage pounds, and the destruction of a Mi’kmaq lobster boat. Arguments made against the Mi’kmaq fishing in the off-season cited the fear that lobster populations might not have the time to reproduce in order to return to sustainable levels. 

The painful irony of this claim is twofold: firstly, the increasing temperature and acidification of the oceans caused by industrial climate change are what pose the most risk for the sustainability of fisheries, even as short-term warming brings more lobsters into Nova Scotian waters. Secondly, Fisheries and Oceans Canada found that out of 2,252 charges laid between 2015 and 2019 related to conservation policy violations, all but “a small fraction” were related to non-Indigenous fishing crews. The violence in Nova Scotia simply proves that the dispossessive logic of the colonial relation, working alongside capitalism’s ecologically destructive logic, is still at work today. 

We are living in the Captialocene 

With the facts in front of us — and with even further evidence that corporations have and still overwhelmingly produce the majority of our global greenhouse gas emissions — it’s clear that responsibility for the effects of climate change is not universal and flat like the Anthropocene narrative claims. 

Any leftist who cares about the environment recognizes the disproportionate impacts of and responsibilities for solving climate change and recognizes the key role that Indigenous communities and knowledge play in combatting the climate crisis, should eject this word from their vocabulary and adopt an alternative. Out of the existing options being floated around, the best, I argue, is “Capitalocene,” which centres the true cause of the crisis in its name and thus cannot be pulled into “equal responsibility” narratives. 

So speak of the Capitalocene, and rally against capitalism and colonialism’s destructive logics; speak not of the Anthropocene, which masks the structural reality of the climate crisis.