Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Capitalism: Hate, Conflict and Violence

That a killer should cold-bloodedly plan and carry out a ruthless killing of men, women and children at mosques in New Zealand - even broadcasting this live via so-called ‘social’ media platforms; this was an event which sent a collective shudder round the world.

There was no doubt about the killer’s motivation: he had published on-line his paranoid ‘white supremacist’ ideology.

Collectively politicians round the world shuddered and spoke of shock and horror, sympathy for the bereaved and survivors. But this violence could not and should not be such a shock. The US recorded several major incidents of mass shootings over the last year or so: often in schools or colleges (e.g. Parkland, Florida), some in places of worship - churches and a synagogue, and even one where the killer shot from a hotel room into a folk music festival. Sometimes the motive was ideological, political or racist, sometimes not.

But always there were these common factors: the killers all had a murderous mindset. And they were able to get hold of powerful weapons. But this is not hard in the US where any gun law reform is fiercely resisted by the powerful gun lobby, the NRA, with its controlling stranglehold over US politicians. In Paris and Manchester where killers attacked at pop music concerts, their victims were mostly young people - of all religions and none, and of all races.

As in the US, motives for such attacks are not always to do with white supremacist, nationalist, racist, neo-Nazi ideology. There are other - political - motives for terrorism: Islamic ‘radical’ jehadism is apparently the greatest threat. There are fears of a return to IRA violence as Brexit uncertainty and the question of a new border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic leaves Irish people unsettled. And some mass killings are not politically motivated.

The growth of populism

Nationalist politicians and rabble-rousing demagogues have promoted divisive ‘politics of identity’ ideologies, based on racism, nationalism, religion and culture. And divisive issues like these drown the sound of the Socialists’ call for workers to unite on the basis of their class interests - as a “class in and for itself”.

The role of nationalist political demagogues has been to fan the flames of hatred, intolerance and division. Some of these actors are well-known figures: e.g. Trump, Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage (UKIP), Marine le Pen (France’s Front Nationale), Putin, Hungary’s Orban, Italy’s Salvatini, India’s Modi, etc. Other influencers include ‘preachers of hate’ in extremist mosques; some mass media journalists and radio presenters using ‘dog-whistle’ signals to incite racist prejudice; and media moguls like Rupert Murdoch, with pro-Trump propaganda on his Fox News.

So why does this poison of divisive hatred find so many willing ears just now?

What is it about social and political conditions now that have enabled such hate and bile to dominate political rhetoric?

Politicians and pundits have been quick to point to the role of Facebook and other ‘social’ media platforms in enabling the viral spread of poisonous race hatred. But historically there have been similar terrorist atrocities and indiscriminate killings for decades, even back in the late 19th C - long before social media, before the Internet, before TV and even before radio broadcasting.

But those who study the role of the ‘social’ media businesses have noticed that, in the last 3-4 years, the number and nastiness of extreme posts has grown to the extent that nasty is now the norm. And what is seen as ‘nasty’ is far, far worse than it used to be.

Now, Facebook and others employ thousands of ‘moderators’ whose unhappy job it is to filter out the nonstop streams of unspeakably vile, violent, hate-filled stuff that appears on-line. That job is so dreadful that moderators quit, suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. One former moderator told of “the rise of hate... and the normalisation of nastiness... that saps your faith in ordinary people, that affects your world view” (SUNDAY TIMES - from The Week, 16 March 2019).

But why is there so much hate propaganda? In the late 19th C, William Morris argued that capitalism had created such an unbearably hideous and horrible world that the result is either numbness or irrational hatred:

[Capitalism’s] politics and ethics force us to live in a grimy disorderly uncomfortable world... [so] a man who notices the external forms of things much nowadays must suffer .... must live in a state of perpetual combat and anger; and he really must try to blunt his sensibility, or he will go mad, or kill some obnoxious person and be hanged for it (The Society of the Future, 1887, from POLITICAL WRITINGS OF WILLIAM MORRIS, ed. A L Morton, p200).

So to find the origins of the warped mindset of those who set out to slaughter their fellow humans, we will not get far if we focus only on the ideological influences on these murderers. The answer to this question is to be found in our social conditions, as Marx wrote: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being determines consciousness” (preface to the CONTRIBUTION A CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, 1859). The inhumanity of mass killers is a by-product of an anti-social world.

Some would argue that, after the global banking crash of 2008-9 and a decade of ‘austerity’ with drastic cuts to public services and average UK wages still no better than they were ten years ago, there are a great many frustrated people feeling hard done by. Expectations of a reasonable pension in old age have mostly gone; young people have hardly any hope of decent housing; state benefits for the disabled or unemployed are meagre and hedged with impossible and degrading conditions, too many jobs are in the low-paid ‘gig economy’ or sweatshops, and everywhere there are the hopeless and homeless - and food banks.

So in the working class, there is a strong sense of being let down. The result is that many now look for a scapegoat, for someone to blame - just as they did in the past. In the aftermath of Germany’s defeat in 1918, mass unemployment, hyperinflation and hardships helped the Nazis to power, and the Jews were seen as the target. German workers were led to turn their anger mistakenly against a perceived ‘other’, a group they blamed for all their problems.

The US is a melting pot of all races and nationalities under the sun Yet there has always been discrimination and prejudice, most obviously on grounds of skin colour - the Ku Klux Klan lynchings still cast a long shadow, but also against Europeans such as Poles, nicknamed Polacks.

Now, Trump bellows about a supposed “invasion” of Mexicans, threatening many lawful residents with arrest and deportation.

In America, anti-Semitism lingers still. In Charlottesville, on a neo-Nazi, KKK-style, torchlight march, the marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us!” and the old Nazi slogan “Blood and Land!” and displayed the swastika, symbolic of their murderous neo-Nazi ideology. A new conspiracy theory is now promoted, globally, claiming that white men are under threat as within a generation other races will have replaced them. That ‘Replacement Theory’ was echoed in the racist, white supremacist manifesto of the Christchurch mosque killer.

The production for profit system

While targets and victims may vary, the real problem remains: too many of the working class are easily divided, persuaded that their tribal enemy is some ‘other’ group of the working class, rather than the capitalist class and the whole vile, vicious, ‘production for profit’ system.

Remember, just days before the New Zealand mosque massacres where 50 victims were killed and 50 injured, a Boeing 737 Max plane crashed within minutes of take-off. An earlier crash, in October 2018, had killed all 189 people on board, and this second crash in Ethiopia killed all 157 people on board. In total, within just a few months, Boeing’s latest plane had killed 346 people, all the crews and passengers in just two planes, and it was obvious that the two crashes of these Boeing planes had happened in near-identical circumstances.

Even so, days after the second crash, the US regulators and Boeing’s directors were still reluctant to ground their planes, leaving passengers and crews at risk. While many airlines and many states did ground those planes, the US was the last to act. Of course, the respectable Boeing boardroom execs were simply doing business as usual - they were not cold-blooded killers surely!

Consider again that cold-blooded killing in New Zealand with a death count of 50, and tons of ‘shock, horror’ and sympathy for the victims. Then contrast that with the 346 people killed in those two crashes, and the meagre news coverage they attracted. Remember this curious contrast.

Experience has shown, over and over, that capitalism kills. Boeing’s management deliberately kept silent for months about pilots’ reports of problems, even when they must have known crews and passengers were at risk. But when profits are at risk, aircraft manufacturers will do anything to keep their planes flying and the orders coming in.

This latest plane disaster was also cold-blooded killing, mass murder. But the Boeing motive was not hate or racism - just greed, profit, sales and ‘business as usual’.

Hatred and horror

We live in a society which glorifies violence, when done by paid killers in Army uniforms, one where the individual is supposed to fend for himself - a Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes, one where competition governs almost all our social interactions. In this jungle, many individuals are at a disadvantage and become frustrated, warped, bitter - and angry.

Add to this guy with a chip on his shoulder the easy availability of powerful weapons, such as semi-automatics, then you have your armed killer just looking for a suitable target, to kill as many as possible.

Socialists also argue that a better future - a peaceful and pleasant one - is ours if we want it.

For now, that means fostering not hatreds but social solidarity, not tribal divisiveness but class-conscious unity and fraternity. Social solidarity is always there, even in this competitive, war-torn, capitalist world: solidarity appears every time there are disasters. It was evident in the grief and support of people in New Zealand after the mosque murders. It is seen also whenever there are floods, mudslides and other natural disasters - a natural spontaneous reaction whenever we see fellow humans in difficulties.

Marx and Engels argued that humans are by nature social beings but capitalism counters this social-ism with competition:

Competition has penetrated all the relationships of our life and completed the reciprocal bondage in which men now hold themselves. Competition is the great mainspring which again and again jerks into activity our aging and withering social order, or rather disorder (Engels OUTLINES OF A CRTIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, 1843-4).

Later Morris, writing of capitalism’s “grimy disorderly uncomfortable world”, suggested as THE SOCIETY OF THE FUTURE the very different world he would like to be reborn in:

It is a society [where] the social bond would be habitually and instinctively felt... the family of blood -relationship would melt into that of the community and of humanity.

The choice is ours: between a dark world, a jungle of ugly hate, greed and violence or a better future based on social bonds and mutual co-operation and support.

To achieve this liberating change requires us to organise politically, democratically and socially; to recognize and prioritize our shared class identity and class interests; to refuse to be divided by nationalism, racism and the deceptive ‘politics of identity’; to ignore the ridiculous ranting of populist demagogues; and to work together to build a brighter future based on social solidarity.

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