Mass killings, Marxism, and skin in the game

BY:Len Yannielli| October 8, 2019
Mass killings, Marxism, and skin in the game

My nephew remembers everything about the first time he let his daughter, and two friends, attend a local event without parent supervision. Here’s what he said to his daughter as he left them at the entrance of an annual festival:

“I am not thrilled about you going to this thing without me, but you can go for two hours. Stay together. Keep your phone ringer on full volume, and meet me at this exact same place at 6 PM sharp.”

My nephew lives in Gilroy, California. The shooting at the Garlic Festival began at 5:45 PM. Here’s what happened next.

When they heard popping sounds, the young women ran in the opposite direction of the gunfire. His daughter helped her two friends over a five-foot chain-linked fence. She told them to follow her through a patch of woodlands. That led them into a field. While on the run, she called her Dad.

My nephew described his mental state as “insane.” He sped off.

After he rammed his car through a festival barricade, he spotted the girls at the edge of a field and picked them up. His daughter, relatively composed, hopped in the car. The other two girls, crying hysterically, followed. My nephew added, “It all ended well for us, not so well for many others.”

The Gilroy shooter’s online presence indicated violent ideologies. The victims were young people of color. Mass shootings like the one in Gilroy are part of broader white supremacist violence sown by the U.S. ruling class. Building an effective struggle against that violence means finding the links between different issues and the movements struggling for solutions.

The National Rifle Association functions as a lobby for weapons manufacturers. In addition to their political advocacy, they work through other organizations like the National Sports Foundation, using “youth ambassadors” to introduce gun culture to grade school children.

As recent NRA advertising makes clear, the organization’s ties to the neo-Confederate platform of the Republican Party run deep. The defense of the Second Amendment is historically tied to white supremacy and slavery.  In fact, the “well-regulated militias” that the amendment refers to were patrols used to police the enslaved population and suppress rebellions.

Mass shooters frequently target people of color, and also Jews–an echo of European fascism. On their web sites, the extreme right splashes pictures of people of color and depicts them as other than human. Once again, we see the persistence of the racist myths used to justify slavery.

Extensive background checks, including gun shows and internet sales, ridding our country of AK47s and weapon multipliers are a must. Working broadly along with exposure and isolation of extreme right-wing groups, as purveyors of racism and anti-Semitism, goes hand in hand with these.

Let’s start in another, equally important place.  August is a month connected to this infamy of mass terror and violence – the threat and the dropping of the atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. imperialist manifesto has been clearer ever since.

These mass killings of an overwhelmingly civilian population were rationalized with two claims: it ended the war, and it saved lives. The first is a distortion of the truth. The second is a bald-faced lie.

On the night of March 9th/10th, 1945, the U.S. firebombing of Tokyo destroyed 16 square miles of the city and killed an estimated 100,000 people. By June 1945, Japan’s 6 largest cities were in rubble. Japan’s military could not defend its people. On June 18th, the emperor Hirohito contacted his Supreme War Council. He favored a quick restoration of peace. On August 6th and 9th, 1945, the USA dropped atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An estimated 200,000 people were killed. Lives saved? Imperialists don’t count civilians of color.

Here again, the link between white supremacy and violence becomes apparent.

U.S. wartime propaganda drew a distinction between evil Nazi leaders and “good Germans.” Not so with the Japanese. Internment camps were set up for our Japanese population, not Germans. The term “yellow monkeys” became prevalent. Time magazine, July 5th, 1943, wrote, “Perhaps he (Japanese) is human. Nothing . . . indicates it.”  Claims of subhuman status of the Japanese eerily bring forward one of first crude theories to justify slavery… not to mention the poisonous right-wing ideology espoused by many perpetrators of mass shootings.

Explaining the detailed history of mass intimidation and violence perpetrated by the U.S. ruling class from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Guatemala, Iran, Vietnam, Chile, Iraq, and Libya is crucial. The big business and high finance administrations that gave them the “go” signal must be exposed.

We could not have a better example than the U.S. War in Iraq and former vice-president Dick Cheney. This former chairman of the oil company Halliburton had 189,000 shares of its stock in 2001. Their value was $10/share. Three years into the U.S. War in Iraq, it was $41/share.

Climate change, like wars and mass shootings, involves violence that kills. It also dislocates millions of people.  In the spring of 2017, it was environmentalists who pointed out to local officials in my Connecticut town that there was no plan to help climate refugees. Six months later, Puerto Rico was devastated by a super storm and then again by the [lack of] response from the United States. Climate refugees came to Connecticut cities in large numbers.

Trump’s verbal attacks aimed at women of color in Congress are aimed at all of us. His labeling them socialist is an attempt to build on the debunked anticommunism of the 1950s.

Blunting racism and militarism, are key tasks to avoid fascism in our country. The military budget, at 62% of federal discretionary spending, is sucking the lifeblood out of us. The trillion dollar updating of our nuclear weapons is an example. How can we fund much needed programs like the Green Peace New Deal if this continues?

Karl Marx’s dictum in Capital was written in the fury of the U.S. Civil War. “Labor in the white skin can never free itself as long as labor in the black skin is branded.” The truth is our collective skin has been in these struggles from the get-go. Racism and anticommunism blinded so many from these connections in the mid-1940s and beyond. We have to rip the blinders off.

We have to expose the white supremacist violence of imperialism and climate change and connect it to mass killings closer to home, the ones that threaten all our people, those of color in particular.

What to do? The antidotes are in local struggles connecting to broad topics.

Progressive women, including communists, showed us how in the throes of the Cold War 1950s. Radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing was showing up in baby teeth. Utilizing this information, these courageous women in St. Louis, Missouri informed their communities and allowed the ban the bomb movement to reach a much larger audience. Where will the money come from to pay for climate change planning and the Green Peace New Deal? Cut the Military Budget! Tax the rich!

A working class, peoples’ history must accompany these fights.





    Len Yannielli is professor emeritus, Naugatuck Valley Community College, Waterbury, Conn. He was the 2009 National Association Of Biology Teachers Evolution Educator of the Year.

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