The Violence of Capitalism in Chicago
At least 16 people were killed and 82 suffered gunshot wounds during last year’s July the 4th holiday weekend in Chicago, according to a newspaper report. Five people were shot by the police, two fatally. It was one of the deadliest weekends of gun violence in 2014.
What can revolutionaries say to the mothers who are losing their babies, to the brothers and sisters of those dying on our streets? Violence, that once reflected the expansion of capitalism during the era of industrial expansion, has transformed to reflect capitalist society in decay.
Chicago was one of the world’s mightiest industrial centers. In the 19th and 20th centuries, millions of immigrants came to work and live in its factory neighborhoods. By the mid-20th century, they were stable enough to support churches, schools, clubs, and businesses. The city’s history tightly weaves the strands of class struggle, race, ethnicity, crime and party politics.
Republican mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson (1915-1923 and 1927-1931) benefitted from the money and muscle of Al Capone, himself a Republican, who famously said: “Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class.”
When he was 17 years old, future mayor Richard J. Daley belonged to the Hamburg Athletic Club, which was based in his South Side neighborhood and whose patron was a Democratic alderman. That club took part in attacks on African Americans during the 1919 race riot. In 1924 (at the age of 22) he became club president and held the post for 15 years. (Decades later, as mayor, Daley refused to discuss his activities during the riot. By then the African American community had become solidly Democratic and its bloc of votes guaranteed his six terms as mayor from 1955 to his death in 1976.)
21st Century Chicago
Cities around the country are decaying as working people cannot find work. Twenty-first century Chicago is no different. The social impact has spread past the now-gated factories to emptied and obliterated housing projects, closed schools and public services. While the crisis is citywide, the starkest changes have been on Chicago’s far south and southeast sides, with their factories, steel mills, railroad yards, grain elevators and international harbor.
Many jobs are gone forever. Many of the people who are still around will never work again. The barely employed eventually will join them as corporations keep downsizing. Giant stores such as Walmart have killed the shopping areas and streets, leaving abandoned storefronts, vacant lots and food deserts. Chicago’s extreme poverty is not only from low pay, it is also from no pay.
Increasingly the relations between employers and employees are being broken. Due to electronic technology the need for large numbers of workers is gone from today’s society. What has become known as the “1%,” – the ruling class – has an agenda different from the working class – even more so when those workers are cut loose and without jobs to support themselves. Chicago’s corporate rulers – the Commercial Club and the major bankers and industrialists like Boeing – are remaking the city in their own image. There are fewer jobs for a small section of highly skilled and educated technical professionals, and only cuts in education, housing, social services, pensions, and healthcare for the vast majority of the city’s residents.
In a thousand ways these economic changes upset and disrupt the personal and social lives of the workers, but they do not know or understand why. The first step is to analyze the reasons for the poverty, inequality and deprivation. Such an analysis can inspire an alternative vision of a society that can change those conditions.
The reality is that people who cannot support themselves for lack of money all have the same need to survive. That need is their basis for uniting politically around a different plan than what the ruling class wants. With consciousness that a cooperative society is possible and necessary, they can replace a society and laws that force people to “buy what you need” with a society and laws that guarantee that everyone is provided the wherewithal for a decent, safe and stable life.
Violence upon the Working Class
The same changes taking place in the economy are forcing a change in the State. If the capitalists do not need you, they do not feed you. You cannot feed yourself – even from a dumpster – because the laws, police, and violence of the capitalist State stand between you and what you need to survive. In short, that is America today.
Special bodies of armed people are basic to the State’s task of keeping the rulers on top. The difference between a cop and a soldier is diminishing. Chicago deployed militarized police forces from all over the U.S. during the 2012 anti-NATO march. In 2014 the world saw the police in Ferguson, Missouri do the same.
In August 2014 a Chicago police commander was charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct for putting the barrel of his gun into a suspect’s mouth. In February 2014 a federal lawsuit accused Cook County Jail authorities of maintaining a “culture of lawlessness,” where officers used handcuffs as brass knuckles and beat inmates out of view of security cameras.
In November 2014, eight young Chicagoans traveled to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, to charge the Chicago Police Department with genocide. The working class is coming to understand that the police have become a law unto themselves and answerable to no one. That kind of power is summed up in the term fascism.
Meanwhile, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and his unelected public school board have ravaged the city by closing or “turning around” public schools and replacing them with private charter schools. They have torn out professional educators and replaced them with business sharpies. With similar brutality, Emanuel has closed six of the 12 municipal mental health clinics.
Inevitably a response comes from below, where people contrast the scarcity in their lives with the abundance of the Walmarts. Particularly in Ferguson in August 2014, demonstrators took what they needed from the stores and rejected the calls for calm from the old reformist leaders.
By the end of 2014, grand juries refused to indict the police killers of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, while more new videos of police atrocities are becoming public each day. Thousands of protesters against fascism and racism are taking to the streets across Chicago, the United States and the world. An ever stronger and broader young people’s movement for justice and human rights is standing toe-to-toe with the police and with private property everywhere, from shopping lanes to expressway lanes. The chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot” “I can’t breathe” and “Black lives matter” represent new practical demands to which the discredited rulers will not yield – and cannot yield.
Solution: A Cooperative Society
Frederick Engels wrote: “Everything which sets men in motion must go through their minds, but what form it will take in the mind will depend very much upon the circumstances.”
Because capitalist propaganda messages drown out everything else in this society, many dispossessed people still believe in capitalism even if they are poor. After all, they see other individuals go from rags to riches, so the messages must be true. With dreams of success, and faith in their bootstraps, they strive to move up in the world. But capitalism is cruel. It crushes the many and blesses the few.
Meanwhile, the gap between wealth and poverty grows. The rulers equate militarism with patriotism. They cultivate a culture that exalts acts of individual and collective violence, starting with White House war and torture policies, through certain computer games, to TV, radio and movies.
Never has the hypocrisy of the ruling 1 percent been as glaring as it is today. If a Wall Street banker throws thousands of people out of their homes in the Chicago neighborhoods of Roseland, Hegewisch or Englewood, he is a genius who gets paid a big bonus. But if you squat in those same boarded-up houses or flats, then you are a criminal to be punished.
Life has become cheapened or even worthless. Many of the young feel hopeless and nihilistic. “This world will never change. There is no way out. Why care?” These feelings reflect the violence of poverty that they see and feel more or less constantly.
The impoverished of Chicago live completely outside of or, at best, on the fringes of the marketplace, blocked by the law and the police from obtaining food, clothing, and housing. A cooperative economy shares the abundance. In a society based on a cooperative economy, fulfilling the needs of humanity would be the guiding principles. That is true civilization.
The one and only group that can usher in such a new society are those who can unite in order to lead the way to a system of distribution according to need. Among the employed, they are the part-time, contingent, minimum-wage and below-minimum-wage workers. As robots constantly replace humans in production, these workers pass into the unemployed and the destitute.
Truly, the working class is the future of the world – especially its children. A cooperative society without classes or scarcity is really possible, not someday, but now. Revolutionaries strive to be the voice of that cooperative society to our brothers and sisters who are forced to fight each other because of the crisis. Revolutionaries point out the real cause of violence: capitalism and its destruction of society. Revolutionaries appeal for unity around the practical demands of the class and to secure humanity’s imperiled future.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011