The Guardian June 16, 1999


"Culture of violence" rooted in capitalist system

by Scott Marshall,
head of the Illinois District of the
Communist Party of the USA In the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre much is being said about a culture of violence in American society today. What is this "culture of violence" and where did it come from?
To hear the President, Congressmen and pundits tell it, it seems to be a kind of wild virus. For them, it has mysteriously appeared out of nowhere, full blown, like a hurricane. These wise men and women are good at pointing out some of the symptoms, like violent video games, music lyrics and movies and even the easy access to personal weapons of mass destruction. Of course, they point to the deadly symptom of two disturbed young men who murdered 12 of their fellow students and a teacher. They ignore other symptoms like the persistence and growth of fascist-like organisations such as the KKK, militias, racist skinheads and other violent racist sects. They ignore the years of violent hate rhetoric from talk shows, ultra-right Republican demagogues and the so-called Christian Coalition. They ignore the scapegoating language used by both Republicans and Democrats in their attacks on welfare and the poor. They ignore the alarming rise in police brutality and racist police profiling. They ignore the increased use of private paramilitary thugs against unions and strikes. Either from ignorance, or to deliberately hide the truth, these "leaders" also fail to deal with the real roots of this very American culture of violence. The current drum beat of reaction, phony and hateful nationalism, racism, and heightened culture of violence began with the Reagan years. He was the tough guy saviour of all the most backward in American capitalism and imperialism. He used mass firings to smash the air traffic controllers' union. He "got tough" on crime except in the corporate suites. He set the stage for unthinkable new levels of police brutality and racial profiling. He began the attacks on affirmative action and on welfare programs. He helped the so-called Christian Coalition spawn a hateful backward brand of family "values" that has led to incredible violence against minorities, abortion clinics and gays. He heightened the Cold War and anti-communism to new violent levels (remember the famous "In five minutes we start bombing Russia" outtake). But was this a case of a second-rate actor leading the whole country down the wrong road? Of course not. Reagan was simply the willing servant of a capitalist system in deep crisis. And it is the deepening crisis of capitalism, the system, that is intensifying the culture of violence. The roots of this culture are in a system that must increasingly use force and violence to maintain its dominance and rate of profit. This is true at home and abroad. From SWAT teams in our big cities to smart bombs in Yugoslavia, escalation and intensification of violence are deemed necessary by the ruling class. Does this mean, as some liberals say, that since we live in a capitalist society then we are all responsible for the culture of violence? Not at all. We Marxists know that in a class-divided society there are really two cultures. To be sure, the ruling class' culture of violence is dominant. How could it be otherwise when the huge monopoly corporations own the media and the dominant cultural outlets? But there is also a working class and oppressed people's culture in this country. It is in the music, films and other creative endeavours that come out of struggles against both the capitalist system and the symptoms of its decay. It's in the real family values of most working class and oppressed people. It's in the new and developing class struggle trade unionism. It's in the non-violent marches and demonstrations against the death penalty, police brutality and the dirty war in Yugoslavia. And it is in the efforts of youth and students to outlaw child labor and sweat shops, to fight for quality integrated schools and for young people's general rights to earn, learn and live. One last point. We Marxists don't excuse ourselves from the struggle because the culture of violence is rooted in capitalism and is a "mere" reflection of that system. We are not so mechanical. Violent movies, violent video games that teach how to maim and kill, violent lyrics that spread hatred and racism, are not to be ignored. They do influence and interact in society including with the working class. And a mighty campaign to rid our country of all handguns and assault weapons is a critical reform for the health and safety of the working class. It's true, the malignant and complex developments that led to the Colorado school massacre are rooted in the capitalist system. But fighting the effects of the culture of violence is part of fighting the system they are rooted in. In the fight against the culture of violence, Communists will show the need for socialism to bring forward the truly human and working class culture of racial and national unity and solidarity, and of internationalism and peace.
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People's Weekly World, paper of the Communist Party, USA

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