The horrifying mass shooting that killed 21 children and teachers at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, has sparked heated debate and mutual accusations of blame on the left and right of capitalist politics. None address the root cause of the massacre carried out by Salvador Ramos on May 24, nor the one just days earlier of 10 people at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. Nor the daily violence that takes place in Black communities across the country.
Mass shootings like this are part of the violence that increasingly confront working people. In 2020, 45,222 people were shot dead in the U.S. That’s 123 people a day. Shootings grew in most major cities, rising 70% in New York City alone. That year was also the worst for killings in Chicago in three decades. And cops make no serious attempt to stop gang violence in many workers’ neighborhoods. Their attitude is “let them kill each other,” reflecting the capitalist rulers’ disdain for the “deplorable” working class.
After multiple signs of serious psychological problems — like self-mutilation and threats of rape — 18-year-old gunman Ramos went on a killing spree. He shot his grandmother before driving her truck to the school in Uvalde. There he shot at people at a funeral parlor across the street for 12 minutes. Then he walked past local cops while carrying his firearms, entered the school, barricaded himself into a classroom and started killing students and teachers. Cops waited outside for an hour while students called 911 begging for help until finally a Border Patrol tactical unit entered the school and shot Ramos dead.
Long before the patrol arrived, parents tried to rescue their children and berated cops for their refusal to go into the school to stop the killings. U.S. Marshals instead handcuffed one parent to prevent her from trying to get into the school to rescue her child.
President Joseph Biden lost no time attempting to make the issue Republican opposition to new gun control measures. “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” he demanded.
For their part, Republicans largely respond with calls for sharply increasing police forces on all levels, including in schools, and for relaxing restrictions on their use of spies and weaponry. They blame liberal social laxity for killings like those in Texas.
“Check on the men in your life,” Democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warned the day after the shooting, pointing to the fact the killer was male. She pinned blame for the deaths on “patriarchal values.” Like others in the middle-class left, she advances views that mask class divisions between the toiling majority and the exploiting capitalist class, which underlie all social and political questions. Instead, they insist conflicts based on race, skin color and what they call “gender” are the driving force of history.
To bolster support for tighter gun control, Biden slammed Republicans who argue mass shootings are a product of a mental health crisis, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said hypocritically days after the Uvalde killings. Only a month earlier Abbott had slashed $211 million from state mental health programs.
People with mental illness are treated like all workers under capitalism — if you’re not working to make profits for bosses, they would rather you didn’t exist and you’re left to fend for yourself. Treatment facilities and programs for the mentally ill have been systematically shut down, leaving its victims homeless or bound for prison. Ramos was clearly a sick person.
But the abysmal lack of mental health care provisions under capitalism doesn’t alone explain the root cause of mass shootings and why violence is a perpetual feature of society today.
Violence built into capitalist rule
Senseless murder and other anti-social violence are a byproduct of a system based on the brutal exploitation of the toiling majority by the capitalist ruling families and the dog-eat-dog values it breeds. Saying this is not to excuse the inhuman rampage of Ramos, and others who have laid waste to innocent lives. It is where we have to start in charting a working-class course to deal with this reality.
All class societies based on private property have depended on oppression and state-organized violence to maintain the rule of the exploiting minority.
Capitalist rulers are different only in so far as they take that violence to savage new heights with their imperialist wars of the last century, their stockpiling of an arsenal of nuclear weapons, and the brutal violence they unleashed against colonial peoples fighting for their independence.
At home, the daily brutality of their drive to profit off our backs and their criminal “justice” system with its prisons and death penalty, all breed a system of “look out for number one” and violence.
Despite workers’ hard-fought efforts to unite, to form unions and fight for gains for all, the capitalist class continues to drive production with complete disregard for workers’ lives and limbs. Every year more than 5,000 workers are killed on the job in the U.S. Many more die from work-related diseases. Other workers are sentenced to death by the capitalist rulers’ for-profit “health care” system and nursing homes.
Working class is bearer of solidarity
But the working class can overthrow capitalism and its inherent brutality. Since capitalism emerged, the working class has grown massively, and, since the Second World War has become a majority in every corner of the world. Along with it have grown habits of mutual trust, working-class solidarity and opposition to racism and other forms of prejudice that workers learn through our common struggles. When we join together to defend ourselves we begin to recognize our self-worth and collective capacities.
During mass struggles, violent crime within the working class begins to diminish. That was true during the Black-led working-class movement that uprooted Jim Crow segregation, as millions discovered they had something worth uniting and fighting for. That victorious struggle was made possible by our determination to stand up to the state power of the capitalist class. It involved both the power of our numbers and, when necessary, disciplined armed self-defense against state-sanctioned violence and the terror from those trying to uphold racial segregation.
In the course of coming class struggles, workers and farmers will face violent assaults from the cops and fascist thugs that the rulers unleash to try to crush our efforts to fight for the jobs, wages, conditions and rights we need.
Ultimately it will take a fight to take political power out of the hands of the capitalist rulers to end the violence inherent in their system. That’s what workers and farmers in Cuba showed can be done.
Through a revolutionary war led by Fidel Castro and the July 26 Movement, working people took power, and did so with as little bloodshed as possible. They refused to mistreat or demean regime troops they captured. Their victory and the course charted by their communist leadership laid the foundations for workers and farmers to take the factories, land and banks from U.S. companies and native capitalists alike and for millions to begin transforming their conditions and themselves.