The class character of violence, 5 part series

PART ONE

Any serious attempt to delve into the nature of violence—where it comes from and its uses—has to analyze it from a class perspective, taking into account the most oppressed among the working class.

Capitalism is a violent system, based on extracting surplus that is gained by exploitation. The ruling class perpetuates the capitalist system from this surplus. It hoards part of the profit, but uses the vast majority to increase its influence and pursue more profit by securing more markets, advances in machinery, greater and cheaper access to resources and other means.

Even during times of economic prosperity there is still exploitation. Though the capitalists may extend more to the workers, the amount given is still greatly unequal to the wealth being produced. The capitalist is merely biding time until an economic decline, when gains made by the workers are taken away.

Any system based on profit is inherently violent. Karl Marx wrote in “The Communist Manifesto”: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

The fight is perpetual. As long as classes exist, the threat of violence always looms.

How would the slave see freedom without fighting against the slave master? The goal of one is to realize freedom, while the goal of the other is wealth and greater wealth. When the slave refuses to be a slave, only force changes the equation. The slave master cares only about profit, not the humanity of the slave—but values his life over profit when the slave gives no other choice.

Violence of poverty and the state

Chattel slavery in the U.S. ceases to exist, and throughout the world it is an antiquated system, only existing in small pockets. Yet the struggle continues still, as workers fight for their rights and dignity. As the price of subsistence far outpaces wages, workers find it harder and harder to live.

The denial of a person’s right to housing, food, clothing and all the things necessary to subsist creates hardship and despair. If ever a person tries to commandeer these necessities without paying, that person is then confronted by the police and the courts.

The state—police, courts, jails, prisons and military—exist to enforce the will of those in power—the capitalist class. The state would not be necessary if there were no antagonism, no ill will in the larger society, no classes.

In “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State,” Friedrich Engels wrote that the state “is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself. … In order that these antagonisms, classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in sterile struggle, a power apparently standing above society became necessary for the purpose of moderating the conflict and keeping it within the bounds of ‘order’; and this power, arising out of society, but placing itself above it, and increasingly alienating itself from it, is the state.”

Whenever there is a strike or a rally, the police, as agents of the state, stand by—not to protect the strikers or protesters, but to protect the interests of the owners of the business being struck or of private property in general.

When the workers at Republic Windows and Doors occupied their factory in Chicago in December 2008, they faced being raided by the police. These workers acted after the owners gave them only three days’ notice that they were closing the factory, in violation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The Rev. Jesse Jackson called their action “the beginning of a larger movement for mass action to resist economic violence.” (Chi-Town Daily News, Dec. 7)

The violence of the system can be readily viewed in the imperialist U.S. There are millions of homeless on the streets. In their 2007 annual report, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty reported that between 2.3 and 3.5 million people experience homelessness every year. No doubt that figure has risen since the economic crisis began. But there is ample housing. In fact, there is a glut of empty apartments, condos and houses. The construction binge partly precipitated the economic crisis.

Millions in the U.S. go hungry, yet the problem isn’t scarcity but ability to pay. The hurricane Katrina tragedy and the deepening economic crisis both reveal to the world the precariousness of the so-called “American Dream,” which is in reality a false notion. Poverty and disparity are abundant in the world’s richest country and are growing as total unemployment continues beyond the 20 million mark.

This economic violence not only breeds struggle from workers and the oppressed, but the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism—where workers are forced to prey upon one another to climb ahead—breeds antisocial behavior and other types of violence, such as domestic violence.

The next parts of this series will focus on struggles in oppressed communities, internally and abroad, state repression of oppressed workers and fighting back.

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3 Comments

  1. […] The class character of violence, 4 part series […]

  2. […] The class character of violence, 4 part series […]

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