The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Violence, Frustration and the Profit System

Jun 7, 2021

The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of May 30, 2021.

Eight people, working in a light-rail yard in California, were killed by a co-worker, who apparently then killed himself. The idea that someone comes in, prepared to gun down as many people as he can, horrifies us.

But there is a horror far beyond that: the ongoing, every-day violence that pervades modern-day American society. Not mass murder. Just “simple” every-day murder, one-on-one murder, someone-who-kills-by-gun-or-by-knife-or-by-club-or-by-fist murder.

In 2020, there were more than 20,000 people murdered in this country, 5,000 more than the year before. Almost double that many people were victims of “aggravated assaults,” subjected to the trauma of sudden physical attack.

The vast majority of this violence was not tied to car jacking, nor to drug gangs, nor to ordinary criminal activity. Most murders and assaults were unplanned. They were sudden physical explosions, up-close and personal. A large share were carried out by someone the victim knew or at least had been around.

Last year, this violence was many times worse than before, even while crimes against property once again decreased.

This “every-day” violence speaks to the incapacity of modern-day American society to answer the grinding problems in which the population is caught. The rapid increase in violence also points out to what extent the problems are created by capitalist society itself—along with profound frustration in the population.

The United States, with all its wealth, was unable medically to meet the threat of a new virus. It reverted to means coming straight out of the Middle Ages. For month after month, we were quarantined, caught in a virtual lockdown. Cut off from much of the human contact we knew before, we might have been in prison.

Many of us found ourselves without work—many still do. But even if we had work, we were “locked down.” Some worked holed up at home. Some were physically at work, separated from each other by “social distancing” and masks. Some were at “essential workplaces,” in real danger from contracting the virus, one of the major places where it spread, along with nursing homes and retirement facilities. These facilities, without adequate medical means, locked the elderly away in their rooms, shut off from family and almost all human contact. And children were deprived of their grandparents and their education.

For most of us, there was no place to go. It was a human catastrophe, and not only because of the many people who died.

This crisis, which seemed like a medical crisis, was in fact just another crisis produced by an economic system that puts profit before all else. Capitalism and its government had stripped public health and other medical facilities bare, leaving them inadequately prepared to meet the virus when it got here.

The capitalist system prioritizes putting money in the hands of “investors,” instead of protecting the health of the population. It prioritizes profit, over improving conditions of work. It prioritizes streams of wealth sent to the sharks of Wall Street, at the expense of an ever growing number of people unable to find decent jobs at decent pay.

The consequence of this drive for profit, even in the midst of Coronavirus, gave Wall Street banks an enormous increase in their wealth, while the population suffered.

We have lived through an intolerable year, which created enormous frustration. Increasing violence is only a symptom.

Until the system that creates the problem is done away with, until it is ripped up and replaced by a humane system, there is no remedy.

What can give us hope is the fact that the working class, simply because of its position in society, has the potential to rip it up and replace it.