We are mourning again. Violent deaths continue: African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Gays and Lesbians, Women, Youth, Jews, and the list goes on. And the media pontificate about root causes: guns, a divided society, hate speech, the internet, and politicians. Analysts usually lock onto one explanation and deduce one or two cures. But there are other analysts, for example “realists’ and religious fundamentalists, who say there will always be violence. There are no solutions.The reality that undergirds the killing of masses of people on a regular basis is not easily discovered. That is, there are “deep structures” that have created a brutal and violent world. And movements to transform these deep structures, although complicated, can have some substantial success.
First, and I write this at the risk of being dismissed as an ideologue, the contemporary state of the capitalist economic system must be examined in rigorous detail. What might be called “late capitalism” is an economic system of growing inequality of wealth and poverty, joblessness, declining access to basic needs-food, health care, housing, education, transportation. The increasing accumulation of wealth determines the ever-expanding appropriation of political power. In the era of late capitalism, economic concentration resides in a handful of banks, hedge funds, medical conglomerates, real estate developers, technology and insurance companies, and media monopolies.Second, late capitalism continues to marginalize workers of all kinds. Agricultural and manufacturing work, the staple of two hundred years of economic development, is disappearing. Highly skilled electronic workers and others with twenty-first century skills are employed as needed by corporations, with little or no job security. Once secure workers who have lost their jobs live in communities with declining access to food, growing environmental devastation, and limited connection to information and the ability to communicate with others. And, of course, conditions are worse for workers of color, women, the young, and the old. A new working class has emerged, the “precariat,” with skilled but insecure jobs; the service sector, workers in health care, home care, fast food and other low paid and overworked occupations; and workers in the “informal sector,” desperate people who take short-term jobs or are forced to sell drugs, peddle products on the street, engage in prostitution, or engage in other activities so they and their families can survive. In addition, the most marginalized are homeless and hungry. Late capitalism has increased the marginalization of majorities of working people, in core capitalist states and the Global South.
Third, the history of capitalist development has paralleled the development of white supremacy and patriarchy. If capital accumulation requires the expropriation of the wealth produced by workers, what better way to increase profits can be found than marginalizing sectors of the working population and setting them into competition and conflict with each other by creating categories of difference. Racism, sexism, homophobia, the demonization of immigrants, Anti-Semitism and Anti-Muslim hysteria all serve, in the end, profit and the accumulation of wealth and power.Fourth, systems of concentrated wealth and power require the development of political institutions, institutions that enhance the control of the behavior of workers. From monarchies, to constitutional democracies, to institutionalized systems of law and custom, such as segregation, voter suppression in our own day, the behavior of the citizenry is routinized and controlled. In most political systems electoral processes create some possibilities for modest, but necessary, policy changes. However, as Nancy MacLean points out in Democracy in Chains, economic and political elites use their resources to restrict and limit the influence of democratic majorities.
Fifth, this economic and political edifice requires an ideology, a consciousness, a way in which the citizenry can be taught to accept the system as it is. This ideology has many branches but one root, the maintenance and enhancement of the capitalist economic system. The elements of the dominant political ideology include: privileging individualism over community; conceptualizing society as a brutal state of nature controlled only by countervailing force; acceptance of the idea that humans are at base greedy; and, finally, the belief that the avariciousness of human nature requires police force and laws at home and armies overseas.Sixth, a prevalent component of the political ideology is the idea that violence is ubiquitous, violence is justified, and violence is to be applauded. The trope of living in a violent world pervades our education system, our toys, our television and movies, our sporting activities, and our political discourse. Violence is tragic (we pray for the victims) but it is presented in popular culture as liberating and justifiable. And to survive in this world of evil and strife, everyone needs to be armed.
These are the backdrops, the “deep structures,” that frame the contemporary context. And this context includes a politics of economic super-exploitation-destroying unions, fighting demands for economic justice, shifting wealth even more to the super-rich, and taking away basic rights and guarantees, such as healthcare, education, water, and even the air we breathe. And to justify the growing immiseration of everyone, the Trump Administration, most of the Republicans and some of the Democrats justify their policies by a racism, sexism, homophobia, and virulent rightwing nationalism not seen since the days of racial segregation in the South. And Anti-Semitism, long a staple of political ideology in Europe, reached its most virulent form in the United States in the 1930s, when Father Coughlin’s nationwide Anti-Semitic broadcasts found their way into many households. As late as the 1950s, property deeds included “restrictive covenants” forbidding the sale of homes in specific neighborhoods to Jews or people of color. Local political initiatives led to whole communities excluding African Americans from living there (“sundown towns”) and racial segregation exists today in virtually every United States city.Given these deep structures is it any surprise that brutal violence flairs up against sectors of the population? Is it any surprise that targeted groups feel intimidated, threatened, and angry? Is it any surprise that volatile and life-threatening cycles of economic insecurity facing most people create fears leading some of them to follow false prophets? Is it any surprise that the economic and political institutions in which we were born and raised, justified by powerful ideologies about the “realities” of life develop in us a propensity to be taken in by arrogant, racist, classist, sexist, and ignorant politicians? In addition to national politics, people at the state level and in their local communities accept unquestioning leadership in economic, political, and cultural institutions that in subtler ways promote the agenda of the rich and white.
The problem is historical, structural, political and cultural. Identifying the “deep structures”- economic, political, ideological, and cultural-masses of people can begin to mobilize around change. Social movements may begin by addressing political ideology, or addressing public policy concerns, or participating in the electoral arena. Each is of vital importance. However, progressives need to recognize that the violence and poverty today, the racial hatred, the environmental crises are connected to the deep structures. They must work today on what is possible to change right away. In addition, progressives must organize, over the long run to radically restructure society, challenging the capitalist system and the political institutions that maintain it.