White Workers Resisting Capitalism and White Supremacy: An Interview with RedNeck Revolt

Devon Douglas-Bowers


Below is the transcript of an interview I had with the admin of the Facebook page RedNeck Revolt, where we discuss the history of the page/organization, white working-class resistance to capitalism, and how the white working class is being manipulated by Trump.

So, what exactly led you to create Red Neck Revolt?

Redneck Revolt came out of the original work of the John Brown Gun Club, a working group of the Kansas Mutual Aid Collective based out of Lawrence, Kansas from 2002-2008. The John Brown Gun Club focused on attempting to simultaneously grow a militant and armed culture within already existing liberatory and revolutionary movements, and attempting to stem the tide of right wing reactionary recruitment within white working class communities. Our work had two main focuses then: providing armed community and tactical defense trainings to build the capacity of our movements and demystify the firearm, and to be present at social and economic gatherings of white working people where groups like the Klan, Minutemen, and white reactionary militias recruited. Over the course of several years, we trained hundreds of members of social movement organizations from across the country, as well as attended dozens of gun shows and similar events to head off racist recruitment.

When Kansas Mutual Aid ended its work in 2008, the John Brown Gun Club went with it. In early 2009, Redneck Revolt was founded in Colorado, and enjoyed a limited life within local gun shows as well as being present at Tea Party rallies in the Denver area. Redneck Revolt started to focus less on armed defense within already existing social movement organizations, and to refocus on the other goal of the John Brown Gun Club: to engage in anti-racist movement building within the white working class.

Redneck Revolt went on hiatus in late 2009. A decision was made to dust off the concept and the project in June of 2016, as the rise of street level fascism and reactionary ideology has swept across the United States in response to the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. Several of us felt that it was far past time for this project to be active again. We feel that the specific analysis offered by Redneck Revolt is essential at this historical moment as part of a multi-faceted strategy for combating this rise in reactionary politics.
Do any of you have a particular political ideology? If so, what led you to it? If not, why?

Overwhelmingly, our members are anti-capitalist libertarians, or anarchists. Our politics are colored by primarily coming from working class communities and seeing the failures of capitalism and the nation-state project that protects it. We come out of communities already deeply seething with distrust for politicians, bosses, rich people, and law enforcement.

This class background and a focus on class within our organizing also makes us markedly different than groups like SURJ (Standing Up For Racial Justice) in that we are organizing around the impact that white supremacy has had on the white working class, and not just our roles in replicating and perpetuating white supremacy.

What we see is that historically, the white working class continues to align themselves as the foot soldiers of capitalism by adhering to a politics of white supremacy. We end up becoming the enforcers of the rule and will of the capitalist and political classes. Our goal is to push the understanding that this doesn’t just harm, threaten, and destroy communities of color, but also ends up ensuring that working class whites accumulate little to no economic or political power as well. White supremacy is a tool used against us, even as we end up being the people wielding it against people who are not white.

We don’t believe in a politics built upon white guilt, white savior paternalism, or merely being proper or good allies to other people’s struggle. We see our struggle as enmeshed within the struggle of working class communities of color. We understand that we have a stake in seeing white supremacy abolished and capitalism and the nation-state project also dismantled and replaced with a truly liberatory, social, economic, and political project.
Talk about white resistance to capitalism. It isn’t something we really learn about, beyond some minor discussions in school about the US labor movement.

White working people have been resisting capitalism since its inception. Just as white poor and working people resisted Feudalism and all other forms of economic and political subservience. Whenever a system of domination has been cemented into dominant culture, there has been resistance to it. From the Luddites in Europe, to the Paris Commune, to the revolutions that waged across Spain and Russia, to the massive labor movements here in the United States, there has been resistance to capitalism.

However, the times that this resistance has been truly potent in North America, is when white workers also see a joint struggle with communities of color and start to build movements across race, gender, religion, etc.. to create a truly revolutionary working class movement. We can see historical moments like that embodied in struggles like the Redneck War/Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 1921, when thousands of white workers, alongside black and Italian migrant miners, created an armed insurrection against the mining bosses and fought for nine days in open warfare. The U.S. Army was brought in to quell the worker insurrection. Ultimately, the strike was defeated by overwhelming force, but the lessons remain: the gravest threat to capitalism is when white working people see that they have mutual interests with working people of color. When white workers stop being the foot soldiers of repression and oppression and instead fight for liberation of all people, the capitalist class is in real trouble.
How did Socialists and Communists in the 19th and 20th centuries attempt to bridge the racial gap between all workers?

While not necessarily a Communist or Socialist, we can’t really talk about attempts to “bridge the racial gap between all workers” in the 19th century without talking about John Brown and the somewhat limited legacy of white militant resistance to chattel slavery in the early to mid 1800’s. While John Brown was not the only militant white to aid in the struggle against slavery, he was perhaps the most effective and has become the symbol of white resistance to white supremacy.

Brown believed that whites had to put their lives on the line and wage a revolutionary war against slavery and servitude. And he did just that. He helped wage an intense war in Kansas and Missouri for the abolition of slavery, and then eventually led a small armed band to seize and briefly hold the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry (in what was then Virginia, but now West Virginia). Brown and nearly all of his co-combatants paid the ultimate price for their attempted insurrection. But Harper’s Ferry became a pivotal moment that propelled the country toward what would be the Civil War.

Socialist, communist, and anarchist organizing in the late 19th century and early 20th century had a unique presence in recent migrant communities, mobilizing poor and working class migrant labor for strikes and other workplace action. Liberatory organizers pushed for the desegregation of trade unions, as well as building inclusive unions like the Industrial Workers of the World, that focused on organizing all workers, regardless of race, religion, language, or gender.

Later in the 20th century, one of the most important political formations of recent history was created, when the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Chicago allied itself with formations from a variety of national-liberation and working class struggles and created the Rainbow Coalition (not to be confused with the reactionary formation of the same name started by Reverend Jesse Jackson). The Rainbow Coalition was a street level working class formation that brought together groups like the Young Lords, the American Indian Movement, Brown Berets, I Wor Kuen, and Young Patriots (among other organizations) to form a cross race movement against capitalism.

This single act by Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party perhaps represents one of the most potent and dangerous efforts of the BPP, bringing together, black, brown, white, and Asian working class youth into a street level movement that could threaten the very foundations of white supremacy and capitalism in the United States. Ultimately, Fred Hampton would be assassinated for his efforts at building the Rainbow Coalition among other successes of his organizing in Chicago.
Would you say that there is currently a racial gap between workers, given the tensions surrounding immigration?

Definitely. Migration has always been among the factors that splits the working class in the United States and internationally. It was this conflict between migrant workers and “nativist” workers in the late 19th century and early 20th century that made it difficult at many junctures for the efforts of organized labor to be more effective. This was one of the main reasons why the Battle of Blair Mountain was such a potent threat. Members of the United Mine Workers had started to work directly with and encourage union membership of not only black workers, but also migrant workers, primarily Italians, who had been shipped into the region to destabilize worker cohesion and union organizing.

Migrants and people of color become easy scapegoats for the failures of capitalism. As long as you can blame some outsider for the problems you and your community are facing, you don’t look at the real enemy: the primarily white rich class profiting off everyone else’s misery and exploitation.
Would you say that due to this economic climate of joblessness, free trade deals, and outsourced labor, it is easier to espouse an anti-capitalist ideology? That people are more receptive to it?

We are at a historical moment where many people from a broad spectrum of the working class are truly questioning capitalism. However, being anti-capitalist is not enough. In fact, being anti-capitalist but also reactionary can be genocidal. As Fascism is also inherently an anti-capitalist ideology, we have to understand that at this historical moment, when many are suffering under capitalism, and looking for better ways to live, that the working class, and particularly the white working class, is much more susceptible to reactionary and fascistic ideologies and influences. It is precisely because capitalism is a failure for nearly all people, including the white working class, that white supremacy has a foothold in the first place.

We, as people who want a liberatory world, must be very committed at this historical moment to working within the white working class to help change the trajectory away from reactionary and white supremacist politics. We have to not only speak from some moral platitude about how white supremacy is “wrong”. We have to speak to the physical conditions of working class communities. We have to be able to show white working people that their misery is not caused by black, brown, or migrant working people. We have to be able to help point them at the actual enemy: the rich, mostly white people profiting at our communities’ expense.

People are becoming more desperate as capitalism continues to unravel. Will we just let them become the shock troops of a new version of white supremacy? Or will we be there to show an alternative?
Given the recent events in Dallas, what do you think are going to be the short-term effects? We are already seeing stories being spread such as there being a plot to kill Baton Rouge cops.

Obviously the game has changed somewhat, especially for those of us who espouse armed defense as a viable tactic within our toolbox. However, something important and remarkable happened after the Dallas and Baton Rouge shootings that didn’t happen after the assassination of police officers in New York City in 2014: the street movement intensified. After the attacks in New York City, the movement recoiled and allowed some relative social peace to return. The opposite was true after the incidents in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Being in the streets in the immediate aftermath, nearly no one was talking about Dallas or the police being shot. It was nearly impossible for the energy to be redirected or recuperated by the political class.

However, one immediate outcome that we must respond to is the increased response by right wing paramilitary formations to street level demonstrations by organizations like Black Lives Matter. In Phoenix, Oregon, Missouri, and other locales, there were immediately reports of demonstrations having sizeable armed reactionary elements standing against them. We have to prepare for the armed right wing to have a renewed and sizable response to our demonstrations and protests.

This is definitely the wrong time to be talking about disarming our own social movements.
What do you make of the fact, as was noted in the article This Was All Inevitable, that “the same right-wing reactionaries who call on people to arm themselves against their despotic government will rush to the defense of law and order and the state, and the police who serve these ends?”

The white working class has steadily been pushed to have more allegiance to those who protect what they assume are white interests, even if in doing so, these same white working folks contradict their supposedly deeply held stances on the state. The reactionary elements of the white working class tend to be anti-state until the topics of border patrol or law and order are discussed. It’s precisely because these white working people have been fooled into thinking their interests are determined by their race, or the relative privileges they receive because they are white or “legally” in this country. However, for most of these people, this choice isn’t as intentionally calculated as it may seem from the outside.
How is the white working class getting played by Trump? Do you think that the situation will worsen when Trump isn’t elected?

The white working class gets played by all sides; we should be clear on that. When it comes to institutional organizations and political parties, we get played by the right wing, and we definitely get played by the left wing. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have the interests of any members of the working class at heart.

But Trump is speaking a language that the white working class understands and can relate to, even using some language from more liberatory elements of the left when discussing economics and conditions within working class communities. He stands against Free Trade, for example, a hallmark of globalized capitalism. He talks about bringing jobs back to the United States. And then he mixes in attacks on migrants and other xenophobic remarks that speak to the fear in the white community. He plays off the fear and misery that white working people feel. He speaks in clear and easy to understand soundbites. Although he is a billionaire, he has convinced millions that he speaks for them and their conditions.

The problem is that for decades now, those of us on the liberatory left have abandoned the white working class to the right wing. We don’t enter those communities to do the hard work of organizing. We have relegated white working people to be backwards and inherently racist. While groups like SURJ and other “anti-racist” white groups use the same language of white supremacy to dictate that white people all experience the same privileges and power within our society, regardless of class or real economic or political power, upper class liberals have consistently positioned themselves as being superior or better to working class whites, especially from rural areas. We have all created a situation where working class whites have been alienated and pushed toward the right wing, where reactionaries stand with open arms to welcome white working people into the fold.

This is not to say that the white working class has not historically earned some of this venom and derision. After all, the white working class has overwhelmingly found itself on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the struggle of other working class people. But that said, how have the efforts of those on the Left helped cement that relationship? How has the Left been complicit, especially in the last twenty years, to handing the white working class on a platter over to the racist right wing?

Whether Trump wins or loses, the terrain is dangerous and deadly at this current moment. Which brings us back to one of the other main focuses of our former work with the John Brown Gun Club that we want to revisit and revive. We need real formulated responses for the upsurge in reactionary and racist violence. We need armed community defense programs in every community. We need to be ready to rapidly respond to the armed right wing threat that menaces our communities. We need to stop being reactionaries when it comes to the topic of armed defense. We are approaching truly dangerous times. Will we be ready?
In what ways can white people support Black Lives Matter?

Again, it’s important to conceptualize struggle in a way that does away with moral platitudes and calls for white people to feel guilt for their situations. It’s nearly impossible to get most white working people to admit they have some relative privilege in society and that racism does in fact exist, when they are struggling to make ends meet and not get evicted from their decaying home. So, we must first understand that until we start to build movements in a way where white working class people also see that their interests are tied in ending white supremacy, white working class folks will consistently be found on the wrong side of social struggles including Black Lives Matter.

It is up to us then, as whites, to organize within white working class communities, speaking to the conditions on the ground, and building off the rich history and culture of white working people standing in solidarity with poor and working people of color to challenge capitalist, state, and white supremacist power. Putting out ally checklists and having endless workshops on white privilege will never cut it, and has helped maintain the situation we find ourselves in. We need people on the ground. At the gun shows, at the NASCAR races, at the swap meets and flea markets… We need people in the white working class communities speaking their language and bringing them over to the a liberatory political orientation. We need to be able to relate the conditions that white working people face to the conditions on the ground in communities of color.

We have to abandon paternalistic ally politics that speak of white working class people through the same language of white supremacy. White working people do not have more in common with white rich people merely because we are all white. We have more in common with working class people from all races and religions. Until we as anti-racist white working people put in the work to shed light on that reality to others from our community, then we are failing.

Black Lives Matter and communities of color don’t need more feel good white allies. They need white accomplices who are preventing other whites from being the footsoldiers of genocide and colonial capitalism and bringing those whites over to our side. The real question is whether other white people are up to that task. Because we have a lot of work to do, and the current efforts of the vast majority of “anti-racist” whites are more counter productive than anything else at creating this reality.
How can people keep up with RedNeck Revolt?

Facebook: www.facebook.com/RedneckRevolt

Website: redneckrevolt.org

Email: redneckrevolt@riseup.net

Violence, Counter-Violence, and the Question of the Gun

Colin Jenkins & Devon Douglas-Bowers


In June 2016, the Democrats had a sit-in on the House floor to push for gun legislation that had been blocked. It has been noted by numerous writers the myriad of problems with this bill[1][2] [3] as well as the hypocrisy of the sit-in itself.[4] However, this article is to talk about something deeper: the question of violence, so-called “gun control,” and how these issues relate to politics and the working-class majority in its place within the socio-capitalist hierarchy.

There are arguably three main types of violence which will be premised in this analysis: state violence, group violence, and revolutionary violence. The first two forms of violence, coming from the state and groups empowered by the status quo, are designed to oppress. The third form, coming from revolutionaries and the systematically oppressed, is designed to strike back at this oppression for the purpose of liberation. The first two types (state and group) are violent, or offensive, by nature. The last type (revolutionary) is counter-violent, or defensive, by nature.
State Violence

Violence and politics are historically intertwined, so much so that the definition of the state is “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” [5] Due to this monopoly of violence, the state is able to put restrictions on what kinds of weapons people can have, and if they can have any at all. Because of the state’s monopoly on the use of violence, which is directed at citizens of that state whenever deemed necessary, the issue of “gun control” is rather peculiar. It is also fairly unique to the United States, a country that was born at the hands of the gun, and a country that has been largely shaped by the degrees of “liberty” reflected in gun ownership among the populace. In modern society, gun control seems like a common-sense measure as it is quite obvious to many that people shouldn’t have the right to possess tanks, Javelins, Scuds, nuclear weapons, and other military-grade weaponry. However, as technology in weaponry increases, so too does the power of the state in its monopoly of violence. Because of this natural progression of state power based solely in military hardware, a side effect of gun control is that it creates a polarization of power between the state and its citizenry. In other words, the state continues to build its arsenal with more powerful and effective weaponry, while the citizenry continues to face restrictions on access to weaponry. While this scenario may seem reserved for the Alex-Jones-watching, prepper-obsessed fringes, the reality is that, within an economic system (capitalism) that naturally creates extreme hierarchies and masses of dispossessed people, it is (and has been) a serious problem in the context of domestic political and social movements.

In the U.S. (as with many countries), there are underlying class and racial issues related to the state’s monopoly of violence and its restriction of access to guns for its citizens. Looking from a historical perspective, when it comes to violence at the hands of the state, it is regularly used on the side of capital. One only need look at the history of the American labor movement during the first half of the twentieth century, which was an extremely violent time. Within the context of class relations under capitalism, whereas the state represents moneyed interests and a powerful minority, the working-class majority has faced an uphill battle not only in its struggle to gain basic necessities, but also in its residual struggle against an increasingly-armed state apparatus that is inherently designed to maintain high levels of dispossession, poverty, and income inequality. A primary example of the state using violence to aid capital is the Ludlow Massacre.

In the year 1913, in the southern Colorado counties of Las Animas and Huerfano, miners (with the help of the United Mine Workers of America) decided to strike. They argued for union recognition by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, an increase in wages, and an eight-hour work day, among other things. In response, the company kicked a number of miners off of the company land, and brought in the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency which specialized in breaking coal strikes. The Agency initiated a campaign of harassment against the strikers, which “took the form of high-powered searchlights playing over the colonies at night, murders, beatings, and the use of the ‘death special,’ an improvised armored car that would periodically spray selected colonies with machine-gun fire.” The purpose of this harassment “was to goad the strikers”[6] into violent action so the National Guard could be called out to suppress the labor strike. It worked.

In October 1913, Governor Elias A. Ammos summoned the National Guard, under the command of General John Chase, who declared martial law in the striking area. Under control of the National Guard, a state-controlled militia, a number of atrocities took place against the striking workers, such as the “mass jailing of strikers, a cavalry charge on a demonstration by miners’ wives and children, the torture and beating of ‘prisoners,’ and the demolition of one of the [workers’] tent colonies.”[7]

The situation came to a gruesome ending when on April 20, 1914 gunfire broke out between the striking miners and National Guard troops. When miners who had taken up arms to protect themselves and their families went to a railroad cut and prepared foxholes in an attempt to draw the National Guard away from the colony, Guard troops sprayed the colony with machine gun and rifle fire and eventually burned the tent colony to the ground. An estimated 25 people died that day, “including three militiamen, one uninvolved passerby, and 12 children.”[8] Unfortunately, this example of the state using its monopoly of violence to represent the minority interests of capital against the majority interests of workers. The state had previously come down hard on the side of union-busting with violence in the 1892 Homestead Massacre in Pennsylvania, and in 1894 when President Cleveland sent out over 16,000 U.S. Army soldiers to handle the railroad strikers in Pullman, Chicago.[9]

In 1932, state violence targeted a large group of war veterans who had assembled in Washington, D.C. demanding payment from the federal government for their service in World War I. The Bonus Army, an assemblage of roughly 43,000 people consisting primarily of veterans, their families, and affiliated activists, marched on D.C. to demand payment of previously received service certificates only to be met with violent repression. First, two veterans were shot and killed by Washington, D.C. police, and then, after orders from Herbert Hoover, Douglas Macarthur moved in on the veterans with infantry, cavalry, and six tanks, forcing the Bonus Army, their wives, and children out of their makeshift encampment and burning all of their belongings and shelter. “Although no weapons were fired, cavalry advanced with swords drawn, and some blood was shed. By nightfall, hundreds had been injured by gas (including a baby who died), bricks, clubs, bayonets, and sabers.”[10]

Later in the 20th century, state violence continued, yet it had switched targets from union members and striking workers to political activists. An example is the Kent State shootings, where on May 4, 1970 “members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University [antiwar] demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine.”[11] Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom had requested Ohio Governor James Rhodes to summon the Guard due to “threats had been made to downtown businesses and city officials as well as rumors that radical revolutionaries were in Kent to destroy the city and the university.”[12]

The rhetoric of Governor Rhodes escalated the situation as he called the protesters “the worst type of people in America and [stated] that every force of law would be used to deal with them,” which created a perception among both soldiers and university officials that “a state of martial law was being declared in which control of the campus resided with the Guard rather than University leaders,”[13] and on top of this, all rallies were banned. This helped to foster an increase of tension in an atmosphere that was already extremely tense.

On the day of May 4th, around 3,000 students gathered to protest the Guard’s presence on the campus. At noon, it was announced the General Robert Cantbury, the leader of the Ohio National Guard, had made the decision that the rally was to disperse; this message was delivered to the students via the police. When this was met with shouting and some rock throwing, the Guard was sent in to break up the protest and, due to the students retreating up a hill and on to a portion of the football field, the soldiers who followed them ended up somewhat trapped between the football field’s fence and the protesters. The shouting and rock throwing continued as the soldiers began to extract themselves from the football field and up a hill, and when they reached the top, the soldiers fired their weapons back toward the crowd, with a small amount firing directly into the crowd.

No matter how one looks at it, the entire point of the National Guard being deployed to Kent State University was to squash the protesters who had gathered under their perceived constitutional rights to express their collective displeasure with the Vietnam War. The state chose to deploy its monopoly of violence as a tool to end these public protests.

Assassination campaigns by the state, directed by the FBI or CIA, and often times carried out by local police departments, have also been deployed under this monopoly of violence. There is the notably disturbing case of Chicago Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton, who was assassinated by Chicago police due to his political views and membership in the Black Panther organization.[14] There is also speculation and credible evidence that the U.S. government was involved in both the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. [15] and Malcolm X.[16]

Today, state violence has manifested itself in daily public displays of police brutality and violence against citizens. This endemic use of state force has become so bad that a recent report from the UN Human Rights Council noted concerns “for police violence and racial discrimination” in the U.S. [17]Yet, despite this widespread recognition of state terror being directed at citizens, we see that the federal government (the highest level of state) is protecting its enforcers, with President Obama signing into law what is effectively an Amber Alert for the police[18], and states such as Louisiana passing ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bills which designates “public safety workers” (a clever euphemism for police) as a specially protected class of citizens, opening the door for possible “hate crime” legislation that further protects those who carry out state repression.[19]

This rampant use of state violence against U.S. citizens has also gone international. In the age of the Global War on Terror, the U.S. government has gone so far as to decide it has the power to use its monopoly of violence on its citizens abroad. The case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was killed via drone strike in Yemen in 2011, provides a notable example of this.[20] The significance of this extension to the parameters of “international warfare” or the often vague “fight against terror” is that any U.S. citizen deemed to be under suspicion of associating with “terrorists” may be immediately executed without due process. Since al-Awlaki, the U.S. government has officially acknowledged that it has killed four American citizens abroad, while claiming that three of those deaths were by accident.[21]

In looking at the state’s (in this case, the U.S. state at multiple levels) monopoly of violence and its continued use against its own citizens, we see that this deployment of violence is always done in the favor of capital (a small minority) in order to expand and strengthen capital’s influence, through its state surrogate, over the working-class majority with no regard for life.
Group Violence and Its Enablers

Group violence manifests itself in numerous citizens joining together in a common cause to perpetrate violence against other citizens who in some way fit the intended target of that cause. When discussing group violence, it should be noted that the subjects are non-state actors. While these groups may be directly or indirectly supported by the state, they essentially carry out their acts of violence as groups autonomous from the state apparatus.

The Ku Klux Klan (which is currently attempting to make a comeback[22]) has for decades engaged in numerous acts of group violence, from public lynchings to terrorism and coercion to bombing churches.[23] The purpose of this group violence has been to maintain a social order in which Anglo-Saxon, Protestant white men are able to keep their hands on the reins of power in the U.S., if not systematically, then culturally and socially.

In many cases, because they may share interests, group violence intertwines with and complements state violence. During Reconstruction following the U.S. Civil War, the KKK had well-known ties to the more official southern state apparatus of power. In the modern era, white supremacists who adhere to notions of group violence have purposely and strategically infiltrated formal arms of state violence, including both the U.S. military and many local police departments around the country.[24][25] A similar group that is making major headway today is the Neo-Fascists, who can be seen in Europe being legitimized and assimilating into mainstream political parties such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, the UK’s UK Independence Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, and France’s National Front. Like the Klan, these groups seek to maintain a race-based, social status quo that benefits their own group. In the polls, they seek to gain some influence on the use of state violence, whereas on the streets they adhere to group violence and domestic terrorism.

A difference worth noting between the old-school group violence of the Klan and the new-school group violence (or at least contributing to an atmosphere of violence) that neo-fascists encourage and enact is that the new-school violence has been legitimized in many ways by both the media and the public at-large. In other words, we now have large segments of the population who are openly defending the neo-fascists through legitimizing means.

Back in the heyday of the Klan, there was violence, yet no one defended it under the banner of free speech or attempted to legitimize it through mainstream channels. It was certainly supported by mainstream power structures, and even gained steam through the insidious white supremacy which characterized American culture, but it wasn’t openly defended. The KKK often carried out its operations in a clandestine manner, attacking and terrorizing at night, and wearing hoods to maintain anonymity. And many black people actively took up arms to defend themselves against it. [26][27] Today, the situation has been turned on its head, with many people arguing that fascists have the right to free speech and that they should be protected.

An example of this changing paradigm regarding right-wing extremism and group violence could be seen after a recent fight between Neo-Nazis and antifascists in Sacramento, California in late June 2016.[28] The incident brought out many defenders. Sacramento police chief Sam Somers stated that “Regardless of the message, it’s the skinheads’ First Amendment right to free speech.” [29] Debra J. Saunders, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote in an article that “the bullies who were protesting against fascists seemed to have a lot in common with fascists – they’re also thuggish and simpleminded” and that “An informal army of anarchists uses violence to muzzle unwanted speech.”[30] The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote that they agreed with Antifa Sacramento that racism shouldn’t be tolerated, but “What we disagree with is the idea that skinheads and neo-Nazis, or anyone else with a wrongheaded view, shouldn’t have a 1st Amendment right to free speech.” [31]

There are a number of problems with these statements. First, by defending fascists through arguments couched in free speech, such commentators are not only ignoring the underlying group-violence historically perpetrated by these groups, but also misusing the First Amendment itself. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” [32]Note, the Amendment says nothing about how other citizens may respond to free speech, nor does it say that groups of citizens can’t abridge free speech; rather, it specifically applies to Congress and its prospective legislation. In other words, the Constitution of the United States applies strictly to thegovernment and how it relates to its citizens, whereas the laws created by the government apply to the individuals and how they relate to the government.

Then there is the matter of ignoring power dynamics and creating a false equivalence. These responses create the illusion that each side is doing something negative and so neither side should be supported. This ignores the fact that one side (the neo-nazis and fascists) are assembling with the purpose of oppressing others, while the other side (the anti-fa and anarchists) are assembling to stop (violently, if necessary) the one side from oppressing. While the former adheres to violent means to oppress people based on the color of their skin, or their sexuality, or their Jewish heritage, the latter adheres to violent means to resist this oppression, or essentially oppress the oppressor. To equate their motivations is irresponsible and dangerous. This false equivalence that has been deployed by much of the media, both liberal and conservative, amounts to placing a murderous and whip-lashing slave owner in the same light as a rebelling slave who murders the slave owner to gain freedom. By using this hypothetical, it is easy to see that there is a fundamental difference between violence and counter-violence.

Another side effect of this public defense of the oppressor, and subsequent legitimization of group violence, is that it is used to increase state violence. Marcos Brenton, a writer at The Sacramento Bee, argued that “I would bet that future demonstrations will see a shared command center between the CHP and Sac PD instead of what we saw Sunday: CHP officers overwhelmed by warring factions. […]Law enforcement wasn’t ready this time, but they have to be next time. In a climate where life isn’t valued, life will be lost.”[33] This is an argument that is implicitly in favor of an increase in state violence from an already hyper-militarized police force. And, when used in this context, the deployment of state violence will almost always be directed at those who assemble to stop oppressive group violence, because arguments housed in free speech and false equivalencies erase any and all distinctions between violence and counter-violence.

This is where the connection between state and group violence often manifests itself. As mentioned before, there is a rather long history of the police and the KKK being connected: On April 2, 1947, seven black people in Hooker, GA were turned over “to a Klan flogging party for a proper sobering up” by Dade County Sheriff John M. Lynch. In Soperton, GA in 1948, “the sheriff did not bother to investigate when four men where flogged, while the sheriff of nearby Dodge County couldn’t look into the incident”[34] due to his being busy baby-sitting.

There is also the famous case of the Freedom Riders, three Civil Rights activists who were killed by the Klan, which amounted to three individuals being “arrested by a deputy sheriff and then released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders.” [35]

This connection has yet to end. In 2014, in Florida, two police officers in the town of Fruitland Park were linked to the Klan [36] and in 2015 in Lake Arthur, LA, a detective was a found to be a Klan member and even attended one of the group’s rallies.[37]

These connections allow for the state, and all the power and resources it wields, to be used directly to further the ends of white supremacy and empower fascistic, racist group violence in the streets. It also puts racial minorities from within the working class at greater risks since many of these bigoted individuals who carry out group violence on their own time are also allowed to carry out state violence while on the job. As agents of the state, they can kill, terrorize, harass, and imprison racial minorities with impunity vis-à-vis their roles as state enforcers and are further empowered by the public’s and media’s reverence of oppressive forms of assembly and “free speech,” as well as the police officers who defend this.
Revolutionary Violence

Revolutionary violence is realized in two distinct forms: self-defense and/or counter-violence. It is a type of violence in which the goal is either self-defense for an oppressed people and/or full liberation for a people, whether that liberation take the form of autonomous communities, a nation state, or something else. It is also resistance to encroachment on the land by oppressive forces, such as in the case of indigenous resistance to expansionist Americans. Revolutionary violence may come in different forms and be carried out through various means. It includes everything from individual acts of “propaganda by the deed” to large-scale revolutions against a state.

Examples of revolutionary violence are abound throughout history, and include the slave revolts of Spartacus and Nat Turner, the Reign of Terror against the French monarchy, the Spanish revolt against the fascist Franco regime, Alexander Berkman’s attempted murder of Carnegie Steel manager Henry Clay Frick, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Reconstruction-era blacks taking up arms against the KKK, the Mau Maus in Kenya [38], the Cuban revolution[39], and a number of national liberation movements in the mid-twentieth century that occurred around the world.

Revolutionary violence is different from state and group violence in that it manifests itself as a response to violence often stemming from one of these two opposing sources. For this reason, it is strictly counter-violent (or defensive) in nature, designed to break the violent oppression that its adherents find themselves under. The benefit of being able to deploy revolutionary violence is obvious in that it allows the oppressed to strike back at their oppressors. It is in this beneficial scenario where the question of guns and “gun control” come back into the mix. How are people supposed to free themselves, or even defend themselves from state and group violence, if they are unable to have guns? How are people able to protect themselves from oppressive violence if they do not have access to the same weaponry used by their oppressor?

When faced with systemic violence that is rooted in either a direct extension of the state (police, military) or an indirect extension of the power structure (the KKK, the Oath Keepers, neo-Nazis, neo-fascists), written laws constructed by the same state and power structure aren’t typically useful. And when doubled-down on by media and liberal establishment cries of free speech and false equivalencies, oppressed sectors of the population become even more vulnerable to state and group violence. Often times, armed self-defense becomes the only option to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s community from these deeply embedded, existential threats.

Formulating revolutionary counter-violence and self-defense measures became a staple of the American Civil Rights movement. From Malcolm X’s calls to defend the black community “by any means necessary” to the original Black Panther Party’s organizational emphasis on armed self-defense, the Civil Rights movement as a whole gained strength due to these more militant strains centered around revolutionary violence. In 1956, after a “relentless backlash from the Ku Klux Klan,” Robert F. Williams, a Marine Corps vet, took over the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and strengthened it with militancy by “filing for a charter with the National Rifle Association (NRA),” forming the Black Guard, “an armed group committed to the protection of Monroe’s black population,” and delivering weapons and physical training to its members.[40] In 1959, following the acquittal of a white man who was accused of attempting to rape a black woman, Williams summed up the need for oppressed people to take up arms in their own self-defense. “If the United States Constitution cannot be enforced in this social jungle called Dixie, it is time that Negroes must defend themselves even if it is necessary to resort to violence,” responded Williams. “That there is no law here, there is no need to take the white attackers to the courts because they will go free and that the federal government is not coming to the aid of people who are oppressed, and it is time for Negro men to stand up and be men and if it is necessary for us to die we must be willing to die. If it is necessary for us to kill we must be willing to kill.” [41]

Revolutionary violence often finds itself up against difficult odds, being deployed by marginalized peoples with limited resources against powerful state and group entities with seemingly unlimited resources, professional military training, and advantageous positioning within the given power structure. The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising reflected this exact scenario, as a Jewish resistance in the hundreds, armed with handguns, grenades, and Molotov cocktails faced off against the powerful Nazi paramilitary Schutzstaffel (SS). When reflecting on the uprising over two decades later, one of the Jewish survivors, Yitzhak Zuckerman, encapsulated the need for an oppressed and degraded people to strike back:

“I don’t think there’s any real need to analyze the Uprising in military terms. This was a war of less than a thousand people against a mighty army and no one doubted how it was likely to turn out. This isn’t a subject for study in military school. (…) If there’s a school to study the human spirit, there it should be a major subject. The important things were inherent in the force shown by Jewish youth after years of degradation, to rise up against their destroyers, and determine what death they would choose: Treblinka or Uprising.”[42]

This human spirit referred to by Zuckerman is the same that compelled Nat Turner to take up arms against slave-owning whites, the same that led to the formation of the original Black Panther Party, and the same that motivated Robert F. Williams in 1950s North Carolina. Without access to weapons, this human spirit would result in nothing more than gruesome massacres at the hands of state and group violence. With weapons in hand, this spirit is presented with a chance to stunt pending attacks of physical oppression and terrorism, if not repel them.

The modern gun control debate has taken on two, stereotypical, opposing sides. The first side is representative in the Congressional sit-ins on the House floor this past June. They represent a common liberal viewpoint that gun-control measures should be taken to restrict or, at the very least, delay the acquisition of guns by citizens. Popular demands coming from this side include the banning of all automatic or semi-automatic weapons, the blacklisting of certain people (including those suspected of “associating with terrorists,” the mentally ill, and felons), and the implementation of more stringent forms of clearances. The other side is represented by a reactionary right, mostly white, that is backed by both the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its surrogate, the Republican Party. These who oppose the liberal attempt to stifle the Second Amendment historically come from privileged strata of the status quo, including whites of all classes and those occupying advantageous positions in the socioeconomic hierarchy.

Both sides of the modern gun-control debate cling to very problematic positions and ideologies that are tantamount to their respective arguments. Both sides, in their own ways, reinforce the embedded racial and class privileges that repress much of the working class, the poor, and people of color – in other words, those sectors of the population that are most likely faced with extremely dire economic situations, occupying police forces that resemble foreign armies, and (literally) daily, life-or-death interactions with both police (state violence) and vigilantes (group violence). The liberal or Democrat argument for gun control, like those represented by the Congressional sit-in, almost always target extremely marginalized groups, like felons who have been victimized by the draconian “drug wars” of the ’80s and ’90s, as well as those who have been victimized by the “war on terror” and find themselves on terrorist watch lists for little more than their chosen religion or Islamic-sounding name. The reactionary opposition to gun control, represented by the NRA and Republicans, remains embedded in white supremacy, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and classism, and thus also ends up targeting these same marginalized populations. This latter group’s motivation is evident in the overlap between fringe groups that historically adhere to group violence, like the KKK and Oath Keepers, and the more “mainstream” operations of the NRA.

Both sides of the gun-control debate, whether consciously or subconsciously, are motivated by what Noam Chomsky (paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson) recently referred to as a fear of “the liberation of slaves, who have ‘ten thousand recollections’ of the crimes to which they were subjected.” These “fears that the victims might rise up and take revenge are deeply rooted in American culture” (in racialized institutions of slavery and white supremacy) with reverberations to the present.”[43] The liberal insistence on preaching strictly non-violent and pacifist tactics to poor, working-class, people of color exposes their privileged, white-supremacist leanings. The fact that they do this while also passing draconian legislation that has led to the virtual genocide of an entire generation of blacks (through drug laws and mass incarceration), and in the face of brutal, daily murders of black citizens by police, further exposes them. The recent silence from the NRA regarding the police killing of Philando Castile[44], who was licensed to carry a gun in Minnesota and properly identified his status to officers before being shot for no reason, has exposed the NRA’s white supremacist leanings. Also, the split that occurred within the Oath Keepers when one of their members in the St. Louis chapter, Sam Andrews, encouraged black residents in Ferguson and Black Lives Matters protestors to practice their Second-Amendment rights [45] has exposed their own white supremacist leanings which they regularly disguise as “constitutionalism.”

While white supremacy has an intense and insidious hold on every aspect of American culture – social, economic, political, etc. – it is especially strong within the gun-control debate. So much so that it drove then-California governor, Ronald Reagan, in 1967, to sign extensive gun control legislation under the Mulford Act[46] in response to armed patrols by members of the Black Panther Party. The classist nature of gun control can be found in the targeting of the most marginalized of the working class, along with the historically brutal state repression against workers collectively striking or standing up for their rights against bosses. The most common argument from the authentic, anti-capitalist left (not liberals or Democrats) against the idea of workers collectively exercising their constitutional right to bear arms has been housed in the insurmountable strength and technology owned by the government’s military. Left-wing skeptics claim that an armed working-class will simply have no chance against an overpowering military. The problem with this is that it is preoccupied with a large-scale, pie-in-the-sky revolutionary situation. It ignores the reality faced by many working-class people who find themselves in small-scale, daily interactions with police and vigilantes, both of whom are heavily armed and not afraid to use their weapons to kill. It is in these very interactions, whether it’s a black citizen being racially profiled and harassed by police or an activist being terrorized by reactionary groups, where the access to a gun may become vitally important and life-saving.

Advocating for disarming those who need protection the most simply doesn’t make sense, especially in an environment such as the modern U.S. – a heavily racialized, classist landscape with over 300 million guns in circulation. Nobody wants to be drawn into a violent situation that may result in the loss of life, but our current reality does not allow us that choice. Unfortunately, we live a society where police oppress rather than protect; where violent reactionary groups are allowed freedom to carry out their terrorizing of marginalized people; and where politicians readily use their monopoly of violence to enforce capital’s minority interests against masses of workers. Because of this, modern gun control can only be viewed as anti-black, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-poor, and anti-working class because it leaves these most marginalized and vulnerable of groups powerless in the face of a violent, patriarchal, white-supremacist power structure that continues to thrive off of mass working-class dispossession. The conclusion is simple: If the oppressor cannot be disarmed, the only sane option is to arm the oppressed. In the U.S., the Constitution makes this a practical and legal option.
“Sometimes, if you want to get rid of the gun, you have to pick the gun up.”

-Huey P. Newton


[1] Philip Bump, “The Problem With Banning Guns For People On The No-Fly List,” Washington Post, June 13, 2016 ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/12/07/the-no-fly-list-is-a-terrible-tool-for-gun-control-in-part-because-it-is-a-terrible-tool/ )

[2] Alex Pareene, The Democrats Are Boldly Fighting For A Bad, Stupid Bill, Gawker,http://gawker.com/the-democrats-are-boldly-fighting-for-a-bad-stupid-bil-1782449026 (June 22, 2016)

[3] Zaid Jilani, “Dramatic House Sit-In on Guns Is Undercut by Focus on Secret, Racist Watchlist,” The Intercept, June 22, 2016 ( https://theintercept.com/2016/06/22/dramatic-house-sit-in-on-guns-is-undercut-by-focus-on-secret-racist-watchlist/ )

[4] Tom Hall, “Congressional Democrats stage ‘sit-in’ stunt on gun control,” World Socialist Website, June 25, 2016 ( https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/06/25/dems-j25.html)

[5] Fact Index, Monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, http://www.fact-index.com/m/mo/monopoly_on_the_legitimate_use_of_physical_force.html

[6] Mark Walker, “The Ludlow Massacre: Class Warfare and Historical Memory in Southern Colorado,”Historical Archaeology 37:3 (2003), pg 68

[7] Walker, pgs 68-69

[8] Walker, pg 69

[9] Ronald J. Barr, The Progressive Army: U.S. Army Command and Administration, 1870-1914 (New York, N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), pg 7

[11] Thomas R. Hensley, Jerry M, Lewis, “The May 4 Shootings at Kent State University: The search for historical accuracy,” The Ohio Council of Social Studies Review 34″1 (1998), pg 9

[12] Hensley, Lewis, pg 11

[13] Ibid

[14] Ted Gregory, “The Black Panther Raid and the death of Fred Hampton,” Chicago Tribune, July 3, 2016 ( http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/chi-chicagodays-pantherraid-story-story.html )

[15] The King Center, Assassination Conspiracy Trial, http://www.thekingcenter.org/assassination-conspiracy-trial

[16] Garrett Felber, “Malcolm X Assassination: 50 years on, mystery still clouds details of the case,”The Guardian, February 21, 2015 ( https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/21/malcolm-x-assassination-records-nypd-investigation )

[17] Natasja Sheriff, “US cited for police violence, racism in scathing UN review on human rights,” Al Jazeera, May 11, 2015 ( http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/5/11/us-faces-scathing-un-review-on-human-rights-record.html )

[18] Gregory Korte, “Obama signs ‘Blue Alert’ law to protect police,” USA Today, May 19, 2016 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/05/19/obama-blue-alert-law-bill-signing/27578911/ )

[19] Elahe Izadi, “Louisiana’s ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bill just became law,” Washington Post, May 26, 2016 ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/05/26/louisianas-blue-lives-matter-bill-just-became-law/?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.6d262fdb3218 )

[20] Joshua Keating, “Was Anwar Al-Awlaki Still A US Citizen?” Foreign Policy, September 30, 2011 (http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/09/30/was_anwar_al_awlaki_still_a_us_citizen )

[21] Adam Taylor, “The U.S. keeps killing Americans in drone strikes, mostly by accident,” Washington Post, April 23, 2015 ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-u-s-keeps-killing-americans-in-drone-strikes-mostly-by-accident/ )

[22] John Bazemore, “Ku Klux Klan dreams of making a comeback,” The Columbus Dispatch, June 30, 2016 ( http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/national_world/2016/06/30/0630-is-klan-making-a-comeback.html )

[24] Hampton Institute, Rising Nazism and Racial Intolerance in the US. A report gathered and submitted to the United Nations, http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/Rising-Nazism-and-Racial-Intolerance-in-the-US.pdf (April 30, 2015)

[25] FBI report on white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement agencies in the US.http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/402521/doc-26-white-supremacist-infiltration.pdf

[27] Akinyele K. Umoja, “1964: The Beginning of the End of Nonviolence in the Mississippi Freedom Movement,” Radical History Review 85:1 (2003)

[28] Ellen Garrison, Stephen Magagnini, Sam Stanton, “At least 10 hurt at chaotic, bloody neo-Nazi rally at Capitol,” The Sacramento Bee, June 26, 2016 (http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article86099332.html)

[29] Ibid

[30] Debra J. Saunders, “Saunders: Freedom of speech stifled by Capitol rally fracas,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 2, 2016 ( http://www.recordnet.com/article/20160702/OPINION/160709984)

[31] Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, “How anti-racists play into the skinheads’ hands,” Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2016 ( http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-neo-nazi-rally-20160627-snap-story.html )

[32] Legal Information Institute, First Amendment,https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment

[33] Marcos Brenton, “Madness came to Sacramento, and the cops weren’t ready,” The Sacramento Bee, June 29, 2016 ( http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/marcos-breton/article86556112.html )

[34] David M. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan, 3rd ed. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1987), pg 336

[35] Civil Rights Movement Veterans, Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs,http://www.crmvet.org/mem/msmartyr.htm

[36] Michael Winter, “KKK membership sinks 2 Florida cops,” USA Today, July 14, 2014 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/07/14/florid-police-kkk/12645555/ )

[37] Bill Morlin, Police Chief Demands Resignation of KKK Cop,https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/09/01/police-chief-demands-resignation-kkk-cop (September 1, 2015)

[38] “Mau Mau Uprising: Bloody history of Kenyan conflict,” BBC, April 7, 2011 (http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-12997138)

[39] Andres Suarez, “The Cuban Revolution: The Road to Power,” Latin American Research Review 7:3 (1972)

[40] PBS Independent Lens, A synopsis on the film, “Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power,” http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/negroeswithguns/rob.html

[41] Ibid

[42] A. Polonsky, (2012), The Jews in Poland and Russia, Volume III, 1914 to 2008, p.537

[43] Hampton Institute, On the Roots of American Racism: An Interview with Noam Chomsky,http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/chomsky-on-racism.html (April 22, 2015)

[44] Brian Fung, “The NRA’s internal split over Philando Castile,” Washington Post, July 9, 2016 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/09/the-nras-internal-revolt-over-philando-castile/?utm_term=.b0f673e3221c )

[45] Alan Feur, “The Oath Keeper Who Wants To Arm Black Lives Matter,” Rolling Stone, January 3, 2016 ( http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-oath-keeper-who-wants-to-arm-black-lives-matter-20160103 )

The Science of Corrosive Inequality

Dr. Nicholas Partyka


As the Presidential campaign season begins to get into full-swing, inequality will become a prominent topic, and misleading conventional narratives will abound. Both the presumptive nominees of the two major political parties have addressed this topic at length already, and will certainly have much more to say as the general election phase kicks-off. Inequality is a prominent topic because we are still dealing with the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis that spawned the Occupy Wall-Street movement, which did much to put the issue of economic and political inequality back on the table for discussion. This is why the topic came up in the 2012 Presidential election cycle, and why during this election cycle one candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary was able to attract a very large following by focusing predominantly on this issue. The success of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump shows that the issue of inequality, and its various social, political, and economic effects, still resonates deeply with large portions of the electorate on both sides of the mainstream partisan divide. This is the case, principally, because a great many non-elite Americans are still living with the economic consequences of the financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession.

Inequality, political and economic, not only helped to inflate the bubble whose bursting caused the crash, but it also determined in large measure who benefited from the bailouts and the “recovery”. Rising inequality from the 1970s on helped funnel more and more wealth to the top of the income scale. These people spend their money very differently from others. When this group has surplus income, they are very likely to purchase financial instruments. As more and more wealth was channeled into their hands by the economic and political policies of neoliberalism, as championed by the likes of Reagan and Thatcher, the demand for financial products grew correspondingly. Further, after the financial sector was deregulated in the late 1990s, this process of financialization only picked up speed. Once home mortgages were securitized, that is, made into financial instruments, the stage was set for the collapse. After the crash, elites used their political and economic clout to divert bailout funds from America’s proverbial ‘main streets’ to Wall-Street. This, combined with fiscal policy choices, that is, the choice by bourgeois politicians not to use it as a tool to combat unemployment, is why the so-called “recovery” has not extended all that far down from the top of the income scale.

In order to know what kinds of solutions are necessary to address the problem of inequality it is important to know what kinds of problems it produces, as well as their scale. Scientists and scholars studying inequality, and its various impacts, have revealed a number of striking conclusions about the nature and extent of the social, political, and economic, impacts of inequality. When taken together these various research results paint a very clear picture of the corrosive effects of economic inequality on society, economy, and democratic politics. The totality of these wide-ranging effects constitutes a significant threat to a society aiming to be democratic and egalitarian. In what follows, we will examine some of these interesting studies and their results to see what they reveal about the multifaceted impacts of inequality on persons, societies, and democracy. What we will find is that the scale of the problem far outstrips the scale of most of the mainstream solutions proposed; even those put forward by the self-proclaimed (though quite incorrectly)”socialist” candidate in the Presidential primaries.
Piketty on Inequality

It seems a safe bet that few would have predicted the overwhelming success that a hefty tome on economic inequality by a French economist would achieve in the spring of 2014.[1] The 2011 Occupy Wall-Street movement did much to bring the issue of economic inequality in society, as well as its many social and political effects, into the public consciousness, as well as into political debates. Nevertheless, Thomas Piketty’s book, and its success, caught many totally by surprise, and set off a vigorous debate, and vitriolic reaction, upon its translation into English. Both liberals and radicals pointed to his work as evidence, as confirmation, of what they have been saying for many years. On the other side, conservatives seemed wither to accept his findings, but dismiss his policy suggestions, or to find technical “flaws” with his data or methodology as a way of undermining all his conclusions. Using mainly tax-return records, from several countries, Piketty’s work presents the most comprehensive view of the historical evolution, and structure, of income inequality throughout the industrialized world. Several highly significant, and well-established, conclusions result from his research.

First, Piketty confirms empirically several notions the left has asserted, namely, income inequality in the United States has returned to a historic high level, and it has been rising since the 1970s. The level of income inequality in the United States, especially the growth of incomes at the very top of the income spectrum, has, according to Piketty, revived the social significance of capital in the 21stcentury, and is bringing back the more patrimonial economy that dominated earlier centuries, until the period between 1914 and 1975. That is, once dynamic and equalizing societies are now increasingly reverting to the kinds of more rigidly defined, and largely hereditary, social relationships and attitudes that dominated the economy and society of the Gilded Age, as well as preceding centuries.

Second, and very importantly, Piketty’s research provides much needed context for perceptions of growth, both of capital and wages. What Piketty’s historical research reveal is that average annual growth rates, even in this most recent and most fecund epoch, are actually rather small. Average annual growth rates for the most productive societies, in the most productive era, are still only about 1 – 1.5% per annum. Capital, on the other hand, has grown on an average of 4-5% per annum over the same historical period. This observation gives rise to one of Piketty’s fundamental conclusions, namely the law (r>g).[2] This law is the biggest source of divergence in market economies, because it directly implies that a capital, however small, will with time invariably become a large capital; exogenous shocks, natural catastrophes, and acts of God notwithstanding. What this law also implies, and very significantly, is that the economic and social landscape of the mid-20th century is an economically and historically unique, and likely non-replicable period.

Why did economic inequality decline in the United States during the middle part of the 20th century? Piketty’s answer is that this decline was largely the result of the confluence of historical events, namely the World Wars and the Great Depression. It is the historical conjuncture of these events in this period, as well as the political and social response to them, that accounts for the uniqueness of this era. Piketty’s fundamental law (r > g) was able to be broken in this period because of the exigencies of combating foreign military foes and domestic economic woes. One of the most significant results of the efforts to combat both is that working people in the Unites States accumulated during the war years the largest stock of disposable income ever. It was the spending of this money, as well as exploiting the United States’ position as global hegemon, that fueled the post-war economic boom up until the mid-1970s. When the economic effects of the 1914-1945 period wore off, inequality began to rise again.
Inequality & Social Mobility

One of the major implications of Piketty’s conclusions was on the topic of social mobility in the United States. Many on the left have been arguing for some time that social mobility in America is much lower than commonly thought, and Piketty’s data on inequality seems to support just such an argument. If economic inequality in a society is very high, and growing, then social mobility is likely to be low. The reasons for this are that as economic inequality increases, so the economy comes to be more and more patrimonial, and thus economic divisions come to settle more and more into sharp caste divides. This is, of course, because in a capitalist society, income determines the extent of an individual’s, or a family’s, ability to consume, that it, their income determines the range of their consumption choices.

One thing Piketty’s work demonstrated clearly was just how stark income inequality is in America. What he also, very importantly, showed that the growth of inequality in the United States since the 1970s is due principally to the rise in the incomes of the wealthiest 1%, and .1% of income earners. [3]This increasing concentration of wealth among the wealthiest certainly bodes ill for high levels of social mobility. One of the main features of a patrimonial economy is that, at least from the point of view of social mobility, it is not dynamic. Piketty appeals to interesting evidence from 19th century Victorian literature to demonstrate this fact. In a highly patrimonial economy the ability of individuals at the very bottom of the economic scale to advance into the “middle-classes”, let alone into the top 10% or 1%. A patrimonial economy also makes it very easy for those who have accumulated wealth to be fairly confident of never falling below the “middle classes”, if one falls out of the elite classes at all. One of the most striking features, at least to modern readers, of Piketty’s use of the economic evidence in Victorian novels, is that with conservative management an accumulated fortune is unlikely to be dissipated, and thus to be transmitted to the next generation.

The notion that classes, or castes, define American society is anathema to many pundits and commentators. Thus the vigorous attempts to rebut, dispute, and discredit Piketty’s work and conclusions. This image of a patrimonial economy does not square well with the cherished nostrum of capitalist society as dynamic and highly socially mobile. To some extent this belief in mobility is evidenced in empirical studies. What these studies often compare are the economic, or educational, outcomes achieved by parents and their children. What they reveal is a strikingly low-level of social mobility, at least as defined by the “rags to riches” mythos of America. Indeed only .2% of those born into the bottom 20% of the income scale will end up rising into the top 1% of income earners. And, as one might expect, the picture is more bleak for persons of color, and other marginalized groups.

What some researchers found is that the picture of social mobility in America is much more complex than simplified narratives from right or center-left suggest. The reality for the majority of Americans is rather fluid, in that people enjoy bouts of relative prosperity and affluence, as well as bouts of relative poverty and deprivation. If such a picture of social mobility were not shocking enough, research taking a different tack suggests that social mobility is actually much lower that the picture presented by inter-generational studies mentioned above, and has been very low throughout history. [4] Economist Gregory Clark studied the prevalence and endurance of ‘elite’ surnames in elite institutions as a way of measuring social mobility with societies.

Using a variety of sources, including Census records, tax returns, death records, graduation records, and others, Clark makes a case that the rate of social mobility in the United States is much lower than contemporary estimates suggest. He argues that the common perception of very slow long-term mobility is more accurate than the estimates presented by social scientific research. For the case of the United States, Clark first identifies certain elite surname groups, as well as underclass surname groups. Then, he looks to test the prevalence of both groups among occupations identified as high status. Clark uses membership lists, mainly from professional associations, of doctors and lawyers as the high status occupations. Among the elite surname groups in America Clark lists Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, what he calls the 1923-1924 rich, and pre-1850 Ivy League graduates. The underclass groups are black Americans, and a groups Clark terms New French settlers. What his research concluded was that elite surnames show a very strong persistence, between 0.7 and 0.9, over the long-term, that is, for Clark, at least three generations.[5]

Another very interesting body of research suggests that humans have innate physiological and physiological reactions to the particular stresses induced by scarcity, by having less than is needed to make ends meet. Researchers found that these reactions impair humans’ long-run decision making faculties, even if boosting short-term focus, resulting in patterns of behavior that lead the poor to be likely to remain in poverty. [6] The experience of scarcity causes people to ‘tunnel’, that is, focus on immediate goals and concerns, and thus to neglect many other important goals or other things one values. While this focus does yield an important benefit in increased productivity, the long-run consequences can lead to what researchers call a ‘scarcity trap’. As one tunnels in on pressing immediate goals, the things that fall outside ones view are neglected, and thus become shocks as they suddenly appear on the tunnel of the person experiencing scarcity. As one reacts to each successive shock, even when “shocks” are predictable and routine events, one resorts to increasingly dodgy schemes to make ends meet. This is how people end up in, and unable to extract themselves from, one or another of the many kinds of scarcity trap.

This is only compounded by the fact that the experience of scarcity imposes a kind of tax on humans’ cognitive capacities, such that as scarcity increases one comes to have less and less of the most important mental resources for escaping scarcity. Will-power is a finite resource, and the effects of scarcity are such that this resource is heavily depleted by scarcity, and the tendency of humans to psychologically obsess about their deprivations. Moreover, scarcity erodes intellectual capacities, in some studies the effect was the equivalent of as much as 13 or 14 IQ points. Thus, as scarcity taxes one’s cognitive capacities, shocks continue to arise, and one must constantly react, always seemingly one step behind. Thus, one will end up making poorer, more impulsive decisions that meet short-term needs, but at the expense of the individual’s long-term goals and interests. Scarcity, in this way, perpetuates scarcity, leading people to remain locked into debt and poverty. Unfortunately, even when poor people do escape poverty, or debt, they often fall back in because they lack any kind of buffer or cushion. The truth is that the poor tend to stay poor because of the physiological and psychological effects of the experience of scarcity, and the rich tend to stay rich because of the effects of abundance.
Inequality and Personality

Beyond its effects on the rates of social mobility, and how this affects people’s lives, inequality also seems to change who people are on a deeper level. Inequality has some interesting, and disquieting, impacts on what people think, their attitudes, their moral values, their perceptions of situations and of other people, and more. Wealth, or the lack thereof, impacts on individual’s personality in many ways. It directly provokes the question of whether the wealthy and the poor are qualitatively different sorts of persons, or whether they are constructed that way by their social environment. The results of empirical research suggest that the experience of inequality, from the top or the bottom of the economic scale, has profound effects on our personalities. The clear implication is that our personalities are in some very significant ways shaped by the contingent realities of the social environment.

In the wake of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis, and its aftermath, came much scorn, and condemnation of Wall-Street’s recklessness and greed. The Great Recession brought increased scrutiny to the 1% as a class, and to the mis-deeds and cupidity of the finance industry and financial institutions in the lead-up to and during the 2007-2008 Crisis. The treatment of the whole matter by the federal government angered many citizens, and further fueled the public’s fury and indignation. One of the threads that emerged from this storm of vitriol that was poured on Wall-Street bankers was comparing corporate CEOs to sociopaths. The callousness, selfishness, and nonchalance with which many in the financial industry profited from the crash which they themselves had both created and precipitated, even as others were being fired en masse, made many Americans think of corporate CEOs as basically sociopaths. Some pundits took this to the logical conclusion and compared clinical symptoms ofsociopathic behavior to the characteristics of successful CEOs. As it turns out, a growing body of empirical research is suggesting that the wealthy are indeed very different from others, e.g. morally and emotionally, as a result of their wealth.

A series of creatively designed studies by researchers Paul Piff, Dacher Keltner, Michael Kraus, Stephane Cote, and a host of collaborators, has revealed some very interesting results about the moral and emotional differences of rich people from persons of lower social class. Piff and Keltner, et al , demonstrated in both naturalistic and laboratory settings that those of higher social class, i.e. the wealthy, are more likely to lie, cheat, steal, and break the law than their counterparts in lower social classes.[7] On the naturalistic side, they found that wealthier drivers, as determined by the model of the car, were more likely to illegally cut-off both other drivers at intersections and pedestrians at crosswalks. On the laboratory side, they found that in experimental simulations those of higher social class, even if artificially created, were more likely to lie, cheat, and steal in order to win prizes. Moreover, in experimental simulations, even those whose position of wealth and dominance had been engineered as part of the experiment, showed the signs of feeling entitled to their totally un-earned wealth. Other research found that those who had attitudes characteristic of social dominance were found to be more likely to come to feel entitled to their position in the inequality hierarchy, or to believe the “legitimizing myths” of inequality. [8]

Other studies have produced similarly striking results. One study showed that lower-class individuals were more “empathically accurate” than their wealthier counterparts. ‘Empathic accuracy’ here refers to the ability of persons to correctly judge or predict the emotional states of others. [9] They hypothesize that since poorer people have to rely more on others to get by, they become more accurate at judging other people’s emotional states, since their success in obtaining cooperation depends on managing the emotions of others. In another study, Kraus & Keltner demonstrated that the wealthier subjects in their experiments were less likely to pay attention to others, as demonstrated by a prevalence of “disengagement cues”, e.g. looking at one’s cell phone while others are talking.[10] A further study revealed that the wealthier subjects were more likely to have a predominance of “self-oriented affect”, that is, the rich are more likely to think about themselves before others. [11] In yet a further study, Stellar, Keltner, & colleagues, demonstrated that wealthier subjects were not only slower to feel compassion, but reported feeling less compassion, for others experiencing suffering.[12] Higher social status individuals were also shown in one experiment to be stingier than their less wealthy counterparts.

Inequality, in addition to warping the perceptions and sensibilities of the rich, also distorts the perceptions of the working-classes. Kraus, Piff, and Keltner found in one study that those of lower social class position were more likely to favor contextual explanations over dispositional ones, because of a perceived lack of personal control over the outcome.[13] This means that poorer people tend to explain, or rationalize, their own choices, or the events of their lives in terms of external causal factors, that is, factors over which they as individuals do not have control. This perceived lack of control is characteristic of how researchers Melvin Kohn, Carmi Schooler, and their collaborators, understand the concept of alienation.[14] Their research demonstrated important connections between inequality in levels of alienation between high and low status groups in the workplace. The difference between the high- and low-status positions in the workplace roughly matches the colloquial “blue collar”, “white collar” distinction, where the latter type of jobs contain an abundance, and the former a paucity, of opportunities to exercise “occupation self-direction”, that is, control over their work. Each of these groups was found to have a distinct set of values and social orientations associated with it.

The correlation between the social stratification position of lower-status workers within the firm, and the personal values, social orientations, and psychological functioning that predominate among these workers is troubling.[15] The results obtained by Kohn and Schooler, et al, demonstrate that the more alienated low-status group are more likely to have specific set of values, attitudes, and social orientations. In particular, more alienated, “blue collar”, workers tend to take on personality traits like authoritarianism, conformity to authority, resistance to change, and a focus on the letter rather than the spirit of the law. This is in turn related to the lower levels of psychological functions, or intellectual flexibility, observed among the high-alienation, low-status workers. This research also shows that the observed connection between these traits and social-stratification position within the firm are mediated by the division of labor in the typical capitalist firm, whereby the low-status workers are denied opportunities to exercise self-direction at work. Of course, we should note that an individual’s social-stratification position with the firm is in many ways correlated with, and even determined by, that individual’s social class in society generally. This latter is not a conclusion issued by the research we’ve been discussing, but rather a more general observation about the fit, under capitalism, between low-status persons and those who perform the low-status work in society.

One very telling, and worrisome, result of the work of Kohn and Schooler, et al, is that alienation experienced in the workplace spilled over into the non-work life of workers, effecting their leisure time preferences. The rate of interest in discussing non-political matters was found to be consistent across both the high- and low-alienation groups. However, interest in discussing political topics was distinctly lower among the high-alienation group. Moreover, the intellectuality of the preferred leisure time activities among highly alienated workers was seen to be much lower than among their counterparts in the low-alienation group. As a further kind of informal test, the researchers conducted their survey in two separate parts. One part of the survey covered non-political topics, the other political topics. After controlling for Swedes’ cultural tendency to comply with researches requests, they found, quite suggestively, that the political part of the survey was returned later on average by the high-alienation group. This specifically political withdrawal by the high-alienation, low-status workers will have profound implications for the well-being of political democracy.
Inequality & Health in both Individuals and Societies

A growing body of research in public health has shown that economic inequality is highly related to certain significant socials ills, e.g. high levels of violence, as well as higher rates of illness and early death among those of lower class position in society. Building off this work on the “social determinants of health”, Richard Wilkinson presents an argument that societies with more inequality are also, e.g. less trusting, less cohesive, less sociable, more prejudiced, and more violent. [16] He begins by noting an apparent paradox. Modern societies are more wealthy and productive, and with more luxuries readily available, than most of our ancestors would have ever dreamed. He cites the example of indoor plumbing and hot and cold running water as luxuries often taken for granted. And yet, modern societies also appear rife with unhappiness, e.g. high rates of suicide and depression, illness, violence, and early death. Wilkinson links the sources of these manifestations of unhappiness with economic inequality and its social, as well as physiological, effects.

Wilkinson’s work successfully showed that almost all the social problems that are indicators of unhappiness, are more concentrated in poor areas, and more common among poor people. He argues that, as a result of the “epidemiological transition”, the most common causes of death for all in developed countries shifted from infectious diseases to degenerative diseases. What he found is that health is graded by social status, that is, largely by income. His results demonstrated that as income increased so did health, according to a range of metrics, and vice versa. He appeals to a range of studies to help show that social problems indicative of unhappiness are caused by the same sources of stress as chronic diseases. Wilkinson points to three main categories of psychological risk factors, namely, early childhood social and emotional development, being more socially isolated, and high or low social status.

As inequality in a society rises, Wilkinson argues, the social relationships of that society increasingly become characterized by relations of dominance and subordination, that is, by increasing social distance. The more this latter is the case, the more the sense of autonomy, or of self-direction, decreases for the proverbial have-nots as their dependence on the haves increases. In Wilkinson’s causal mechanism, increased inequality leads to increased competition for social status, and subsequently the adoption of anti-social values and attitudes as people become more detached from and less reliant on others. These latter values progressively erode social relations and community life, and thus contributing to the social problems afflicting society. Basically, the psychological factors that create unhappiness, produce ill health and other social issues through increases in stress associated with inequality, and deprivation. For, indeed, as Wilkinson acknowledges, the connection between economic inequality and ability to access consumption goods will play a large part in explaining the connection between inequality and ill health.

On the one hand, inequality makes societies less healthy. For example, one study based on data from the U.S. General Social Survey by Kawachi and Kennedyet al, Wilkinson cites, demonstrates that states with higher inequality were less trusting than in more equal states. [17] Two studies by Robert Putnam and colleagues, one conducted in the U.S. and the other in Italy, found that the strength of community life varied with the level of inequality. The more inequality there was, the less likely people were to be involved with social, or civic organizations or activities.[18] Building off others’ data for ten U.S. cities, the more inequality there was the more hostility three was.[19] Moreover, as Wilkinson notes, there are more than fifty studies showing a relationship between inequality and homicide rates.[20] Other studies have shown that higher rates of economic inequality were related with increased racial prejudice, as were lower social status for women. [21] Lastly, but by no means least, studies have shown that where inequality is greater political participation decreases, when participation is measured by propensity to vote.[22]

On the other hand, inequality also makes individuals less healthy, resulting in the early death of those on the short-side of social inequalities. All three of the main psychological risk factors for unhappiness and stress, and thus illness, that Wilkinson identified are directly related to economic inequality. Pre-natal and early childhood stress have been linked by studies to a range of later life health problems. The scientific evidence points to the stress hormones like cortisol as an important influencing factor.[23] Social isolation, that is, lack of embeddedness with a robust network of friendships, and other social connections, has been shown to be related to higher mortality rates. [24] Low social status has also been shown to be related to higher rates of mortality. What may be the most striking thing about what some of the research in this area suggests that, yes the material conditions attached to poverty matter, but that the position of inequality, of subordination and deprivation, itself produces negative consequences for health.[25]

Compounding these effects of inequality on health is the visibility of inequality, which research has found further increases inequality. [26] Subjects were experimentally manipulated into higher and lower status groups, the higher the status the more the initial endowment of the participant. The subjects participated in a game designed to test their choices given specific incentives. Basically, the experiment consists of a turn-based game where fake money is waged. The participants can choose to act cooperatively, i.e. contribute to a common pool or bank. Alternatively, players can also choose to act selfishly, and defect from cooperation, and thus gain more money for themselves than if they had cooperated. The outcome of each round depends on the choices of each of the players, and each of the player’s choices effects the choices of each of the other players. The researchers found that when the levels of inequality were more visible in these experiments the outcomes of the games were more unequal distributions of wealth than in games where the levels of inequality were invisible to the players. If the visibility of wealth increases inequality in the distribution of wealth, then it stands to reason that, given the link between inequality and social health, visibility of inequality will exacerbate the negative health effects of inequality.
Inequality is Anti-Democratic

I am in deep agreement with Wilkinson when he asserts that the surprise should not be so much that inequality is as harmful to ourselves and to society as it is, but rather that we should have forgotten this. For, indeed, when we look back into the history of our modern democratic political culture, we see that the concern about economic, and thus social and political, inequality has been a major one. Both the ancient Greek and Romans had important laws, not always scrupulously abided, that limited land ownership by individuals. The idea behind these laws was to attempt to preserve a wide distribution of land-ownership, because owning land and political and social independence were linked. Indeed, in ancient minds, the former was the necessary material foundation of the latter.[27] For the Greeks , someone who depended on another for work, for a livelihood, would be thought of as an unreliable citizen. This was because the relationship between employer and employee, patron and client, is one of domination and subjugation. If one’s ability access important subsistence goods hinges on the disposition of another, then one is unlikely to oppose that other politically; especially in a time when political debate and voting was done face to face, and in public. The rise of patron – client relationships was in part responsible, in the case of the Romans, for the fall of the republic.

Consider the classic slogan of the French revolution, “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”, or liberty, equality, and solidarity. As Wilkinson rightly notes, each one of these values, is a demand, and is addressed or related to inequality. We’ve seen already that inequality lead to subordination, which is the anti-thesis of democratic political relations. Solidarity has to do with our understanding of social relations themselves, and their quality. A robust democratic culture must maintain a certain level and quality of social cohesion, built on relationships that affirm liberty and cooperation. We’ve see already that research shows that as inequality increases the quality of social relations decreases, importantly, inequality was found to decrease levels of participation. Equality can thus be seen as the basic pre-condition for liberty and solidarity. This is because of the importance of the material bases of liberty and solidarity, and the link between access to these material bases and income. Thus, the most essential foundation of any democratizing reform must be a change in the distribution of levels of access to the material pre-requisites of a decent life, the enables substantial political participation.

Inequality is also anti-democratic because it skews the outcome of public political deliberative institutions and processes, as well as “competitive” elections. A recent study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page demonstrated that that the majority of the U.S. electorate had little or no control over the legislative outcomes of their “democratic” institutions. That is, as their research shows, there is no statistically significant connection between the preferences of the majority of voters and the legislative outcomes of their political institutions.[28] The wealthiest elites have a statistically significant lead over the rest of the American citizenry in the likelihood of their preference being realized in public policy and law. The recent Citizens Untied ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court only further entrenched the role of money in the contemporary American political system, by legally equating money with speech. It is very likely because people perceive the way that their political elites serve economic elites and their interests much more than those of the proverbial “common man”. This is also very likely behind the deep decline in voter participation in America over a period of many years. It is also almost certainly part of why other research found that a full one third of survey respondents replied “not at all” when asked, “(H)ow democratically is your country being governed?”[29]

Economic inequality is thus highly corrosive of democracy because it limits social mobility, creates ill health and social problems, warps the personalities of those involved in un-democratic ways, and distorts the outcomes of the political process in favor of the wealthy. Inequality lowers mobility and results in more rigid social hierarchies divided by class, that is, by income. The result of this is a society in which a great gulf opens between these classes as their social, political, and economic experiences become increasingly divorced from each other. Further, because of the link between income and consumption, there is a connection between income inequality and health; both in persons and in societies. Inequality makes people more stressed, triggering physiological reactions, that when sustained over long durations produce consequences leading to more illness and earlier death. Inequalities in societies, in particular inequalities in income, resources, and opportunities, help produce unhealthy social maladies like increased violence and crime, reduced levels of compassion, higher levels of hostility, reduced levels of trust. In essence, inequality tends to decrease social cohesion, and the robustness of participation in community life, leading to increased levels of social isolation. Inequality also leads to the creation of social and economic conditions, and structures of work, under which individuals are incentivized to become persons with anti-democratic values, attitudes, and preferences. Increases in exposure to relationships of domination and subordination lead those subordinated to taken on adaptive preferences, e.g. the specifically political withdrawal noted in the work of Kohn & Schooler et al.

What we can see now is that the responses to the problem, really problems, of inequality are woefully inadequate to address the wide range of maladies created or exacerbated by inequality. Raising taxes on the rich, and spending that money on social programs sounds like an appealing solution. But, from what we have just seen, this strategy is not capable of providing real solutions to the variegated social, economic, and political problems related to high levels of inequality in society. Tackling the problem of inequality will require much more robust measures. What should be clear from what we’ve discussed here is that the political and economic problems of economic and political inequality cannot be addressed singly or in isolation. Only a comprehensive strategy addressing them all simultaneously will suffice to effect real change. The economic power of capitalists gives them political power, which they use to preserve and even enhance their economic power. Unless the very social and economic foundations of this feedback loop are extirpated, the hold of bourgeois elites on both economic and political power is unlikely to be broken. This is why even a successful “political revolution” would be ineffecti ve in combatting inequality; let alone reversing the four decade old trend towards rising inequality. The only effective means of combatting inequality, and its myriad of detrimental consequences, is the seizure of political and economic power from the capitalist class by a working class that is conscious of itself as a class both in-itself and for-itself.

[1] Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the 21st Century. Tr. Arthur Goldhammer. The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2014.

[2] In this equation r = average annual rate of growth of capital, and g = average annual rate of growth of income, or output. See Piketty, (2014), 25.

[3] See Piketty (2014); figs.8.5 – 8.10

[4] See Clark, Gregory. The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. Princeton University Press, 2014.

[5] See Clark (2014) ch.3.

[6] See Mullainathan, Sendhil & Eldar Shafir. Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives. Picador, 2014.

[7] Piff, Paul, et al. “Higher Social Status Leads to Increased Unethical Behavior”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Vol.109 no.11 (2012): 4086-4091.

[8] See Wilkinson (2005), 196.

[9] Kraus, Michael W., Stephane Cote, & Dacher Keltner. “Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy”. Psychological Science. Vol.21 no.11 (2010):1716-1723.

[10] Kraus, Michael W., & Dacher Keltner. “Signs of Socioeconomic Status: A thin Slicing Approach”.Psychological Science. Vol.20 no.1 (2009): 99-106.

[11] Kraus, Michael W., Paul Piff, & Dacher Keltner. “Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm”. Current Directions in Psychological Science. Vol.20 no.4 (2011): 246-250.

[12] Stellar, Jennifer, V.M. Manzo, Michael W. Kraus, & Dacher Keltner. “Class and Compassion: Socioeconomic Factors Predict Response to Suffering”. Emotion. Vol.12 no.3 (2012): 449-459.

[13] Kraus, Michael W., Paul Piff, & Dacher Keltner. “Social Class, Sense of Control, and Social Explanation”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol.97 no.6 (2009): 992-1004.

[14] Kohn, Schooler, and their colleagues take their conception of alienation from work done by Melvin Seeman in the early 1960s. See; Seeman.”Alienation and Social Learning in a Reformatory”. American Journal of Sociology. Vol.69 no.3 (1963): 270-284. Also see; Seeman, & John W. Evans. “Alienation and Learning in a Hospital Setting”. American Sociological Review. Vol.27 no.6 (1962): 772-782.

[15] See; Kohn, Melvin. Class and Conformity: A Study in Values. 1969. University of Chicago Press, 1977. Also see; Kohn and Schooler, et al. Work and Personality. Ablex Publishing, 1983.

[16] See; Wilkinson, Richard. The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier. The New Press, 2005.

[17] Kawachi, I., B.P.Kennedy, K.Lochner, &D.Prothrow-Smith.1997. “Social Capital, Income Inequality and Mortality. American Journal of Public Health. Vol.87 no.1: 21-32.

[18] See; Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon & Schuster. 2000. Also see; Putnam, R.D., R. Leonardi, & R.Y. Nanetti. Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton University Press, 1993.

[19] Wilkinson (2005), 51.

[20] Wilkinson (2005), 47-50.

[21] Kennedy, B.P., I. Kawachi, K. Lochner, C.P. Jones, & D. Prothrow-Smith. “(Dis)respect and Black Mortality. Ethnicity & Disease. Vol.7 (1997): 207-214. Also see; Blau, F.D. & L.M. Kahn. “The Gender Earnings Gap – Learning from International Comparisons”. American Economic Review. Vol.82 (1992): 533-538.

[22] See Mahler, V.A..”Exploring the Subnational Dimension of Income Inequality”. Luxembourg Income Study Working Paper 292, January, 2002. Also see; Blakely, T.A. B.P. Kennedy, & I. Kawachi. “Socioeconomic Inequality in Voting Participation and Self-rated Health”. American Journal of Public Health. Vol.91 no.1(2001): 99-104.

[23] Wilkinson (2005), 81-85.

[24] Wilkinson (2005), 78-81.

[25] Wilkinson (2005), 73-76. Also see; Shively, C.A., & T.B. Clarkson. “Social Status and Coronary Artery Atherosclerosis in Female Monkeys”. Arteriosclerosis & Thrombosis. Vol. 14 (1994): 721-726.

[26] Nishi, Akahiro, Hirokazu Shirado, David G. Rand, & Nicholas A. Christakis. “Inequality and Visibility of Wealth in Experimental Social Networks”. Nature. Vol.526 Oct., (2015): 426-429.

[27] See; ; Havell. H.L.. Republican Rome. 1914. Oracle Publishing, 1996. Also see; Hanson. Victor Davis. The Other Greeks. University of California Press, 1999.

[28] Gilens, Martin & Benjamin I. Page. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”. Perspectives on Politics. Vol.12 no.3 (2014).

[29] See World Values Survey Wave 6 (2010-2014).

To Live Among Broken Men: Theorizing Rape and Incest

Danny Shaw


On April 9th, Ronald Savage rocked the hip hop world with his testimony about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Zulu Nation founder, Africa Bambaataa. Initially, the Zulu Nation dismissed the allegations “as nothing more than a continuation of the decades long HIP HOP COINTELPRO campaign to discredit and destroy the Universal Zulu Nation.” However, as more survivors of Bambaataa’s abuse emerged, the momentum shifted. It was clear that Bambaataa had abused children, other leaders had covered up for him and that a thorough investigation and process of healing was necessary.

While many people are understandably shocked that sexual abuse could penetrate the inner-most circles of pioneering Zulu Nation, this is also an opportunity for our communities to reflect on just how commonplace sexual abuse, incest, pedophilia and rape is.

The May 21st gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl in Brazil by 33 men and Brock Turner’s rape of a 23-year old woman behind a dumpster at Stanford University are the latest high-profile examples of the everyday terror exercised against women.

Ronald Savage’s story, my family’s story, my story and so many other stories of survival highlight the need for a Marxist historical interpretation of sexual violence & incest. Marxism-the painstaking, socio-economic investigative method-does away with the vacuous theory that sick, depraved abusers are merely an aberration of the human spirit. The wide prevalence of sexual violence speaks volumes about the criminal, decadent nature of capitalism. There is a specific system that engenders the widespread abuse of women and children. The facts speak for themselves-one in four girls will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old and one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives.[1] 40-60% of Black women are abused before they reach 18 . 3% of men report they were raped.

A political orientation towards sexual violence and trauma reveals that it is the product of a specific, temporal confluence of factors. The dialectical materialist method, a profound examination of the deep-seated causes of a social phenomenon, explains why sexual violence and incest are both widely prevalent and inevitable under capitalism.

This article will examine the connections between poverty, patriarchy, rape and incest both in my own life and family and in the writing of organic intellectuals and community leaders who have honestly grappled with this urgent issue.
My story

I am a survivor of sexual abuse. Two different AAU basketball coaches, Jim Tavares and Jack McMahon, whose teams I played on, were known pedophiles. A 1999 Sports Illustrated article , “Every Parent’s Nightmare,” outlined the sexual abuse that hundreds of us survived at the hands of Jim Tavares.

Tavares preyed upon me and other young boys who came from poor homes where there was only one parent trying to make ends meet. He gained access to our homes by giving us money and taking us on trips across the U.S. to play in national Junior Olympic AAU championships. If I had a father or a family with money, I would not have been an easy prey.

Just as the marksman knows how to hunt and snipe, the molester knows how to prey on children and attack.

There is no need for me to repeat the details as the article outlines Tavares’ pattern of abuse. Predictably, the authors, William Nack and Don Yaeger treat Taveres and the other coaches as society’s outliers, extremely demented individuals who went astray. This article argues a different perspective-that rape and incest are inevitable and predictable products of a specific social system that we have the power to unmask, confront and overcome.
Theorizing rape and incest

I was raised by woman warriors. Many of the women in my family survived horrific episodes of rape, incest and sexual terrorism which I have written on elsewhere. From my earliest memories, I felt the pain and trauma of my mother, my sisters, aunts, grandmother and other women in my family seethe through my own being. Why did my loved ones and I endure degrading, sadistic abuse? Their scars and my own have been formative in my story. With no strong male role models, I was mentored by the pain and survival of women. All of the suffering they experienced and survived made me question from an early age the source of so much horror.

Sexual violence is bigger than African Bambaataa, the priests convicted of child molestation within the Catholic church and the sexual violence that occurred within my own family. Sexual violence is an endemic, society-wide phenomenon that we must tackle and resist with a broad, revolutionary approach if we want to spare our children from the trauma so many of us survived.

My family of mixed Irish, Scottish, English and Finish roots was not unique in terms of the intensity of what we survived. As I discovered through my travels to other continents, hearts, islands and memories, there are survivors of rape and incest spread across the world. The U.S. has the thirteenth highest rate of rape in the world.[2] My family, then, was not an exception, but rather the very incarnation of larger social forces at work.

A critical view of rape and incest challenges the widespread view that men intrinsically act like “pigs” and “dogs.” No one can dispute that many of us men act like pigs and dogs, but what explains thepigicization or dogification of male behavior?

Feminist sociologist Maria Mies explains that “human sex and sexuality have never been purely crude biological affairs. ‘Human nature’ has always been social and historical. Sex is as much a cultural and historical category as gender is” (Patriarchy and Accumulation 23). In more proletarian terms, men are not born as piglets but are rather pigified-or groomed to be pigs-over time. The inverse is also true; we can fight to undo patriarchal socialization and create a safer, healthier world to raise our children in. It is this political orientation towards sexual trauma that guides our work as revolutionaries. We fight for another world not just because of the pain of the present but because of the infinite promise of the future.
Scarred children

The social scientist seeks to unearth the nature of the childhood that the rapist / molester experienced. A baby is not born a rapist or a sadist. The mainstream media’s dominant perspective that rapists are biologically-flawed, unredeemable sociopaths projects a pessimistic view of humanity. While there may be individual examples of perpetrators who were biologically or mentally engineered towards violence, this is a rare exception and not the rule.

According to Family Violence Interventions for the Justice System, men who witnessed their fathers’ violence are 10 times more likely to engage in spouse abuse in later adulthood than boys from non-violent homes.[3]

Men who commit brutal violations of children’s inner-sanctity most often experienced this violence themselves as children. They internalized their own skewed view of themselves and the world. They never knew what it meant to be complete, integral, loved or healthy. Broken from an early age, if not in the period of gestation, they learned to reproduce the insidiousness. Buried in their own self-torment and self-hatred, they struck out against what was most precious and vulnerable around them, children and women. Deprivation begat deprivation.

A system of patriarchy shapes the behavior of the rapist who shows an utter disregard for the humanity of women. The potent combination of poverty and patriarchy mold the acting out of the self-depreciation in a particular way. Having never known inner peace, the impoverished and unhealthy psyche annihilates the peace closest to it. Only a thorough exploration of the violator’s childhood and formative years can begin to connect the missing dots.
Broken men

In addition to being criminal and perverse, sexual violence against children, women and men is a self-effacing behavior. To subject a defenseless child or woman to sexual abuse is the work of a broken man. The question before us is what overarching forces convert so many men into vile, demented creatures, who carry contempt for life itself in their fractured hearts?

Black Panther Soledad Prison Field Marshal, George Jackson asserted before white supremacy: “You will never count me among the broken men!”

A 25-year-old sociologist-with a PhD earned in the streets of LA and the prison cells of San Quentin-Jackson theorized about the outward reflexes of the broken man. Informed by a keen understanding of the wanton ruthlessness that surrounded him in America’s internal colonies (ghettos) and prisons, Jackson refused to become ensnared in the trap that pitted Black on Black, man against woman, and oppressed against oppressed.

In Soledad Brother, Jackson charted the source of the broken reflexes-petty fights, alcoholism, rape and murder. From solitary confinement, within an 8-by-12 foot prison cell, Jackson sought to dominate the insidiousness so that it did not dominate him.

Like another great anti-colonial thinker, Frantz Fanon, who was writing in the same time period in Algeria, Jackson observed how his contemporaries acted out their trauma in reactionary ways because of their conditioning and precisely because they were deprived of a penetrating, revolutionary understanding of social reality.
The political economy of rape, Part I: The abuser

It is only in the social laboratory of intense class exploitation and misogyny that so many rapists can be called into existence. My analysis is not an attempt to justify Bambaataa’s abuse nor apologize for the rapist but rather an effort to explore the malignant social forces that call so many rapists into existence.

In such a profoundly patriarchal society, different social-psychological forces act on men and women’s psyches. Men are expected to be protectors and breadwinners. But what happens when their whole world-and with it their entire self-image-has been obliterated by material reality?

Too many men-conditioned by misogyny and deprived of employment and dignity-are broken men. In their deranged psyches, formed in the crucible of a materialist and patriarchal society, they seek to assert and insert themselves in twisted ways as “men” in a society that rejected and emasculated them. The inability to live up to their socially contrived ideals renders them depressed and broken.

Women in oppressed communities are hit the hardest by rape. Some 34.1% of Native American women have been raped. The next highest percentage was among mixed race women, 24.4% of whom reported being raped.[4] Incapable at this historical juncture of articulating their social rage in a revolutionary direction, the oppressed misdirect their fury in reactionary ways.

Rape is about power. Rape is one demented form of misdirected vengeance in which the oppressed assert power when they have lost control over their surroundings. Soldiers, under stress of battle, also often become ruthless perpetrators of rape, or gang rape, while pillaging the wealth of the conquered.[5] Alcohol and drugs-the traditional opiates of the oppressed-further distort reality, ensuring the stunting of proactive, revolutionary sentiments.
The origin of patriarchy

Two questions now confront us: what is the nature of the dog-eat-dog, patriarchal rat race that defines everyday working-class survival and how did we arrive at this point?

Bourgeois science argues that sexism and racism are inevitable. Because they see these learned behaviors as a product of man’s nature, they seek to convince everyone that these systems of domination have always existed.

History proves otherwise, debunking the prevailing ideas of the historical defeatists.

Friedrich Engel’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State documents the existence of matriarchal societies for thousands of years. Thoroughly researching what he calls “primitive communist societies,” Engels shows that for the bulk of the human timeline, women were in positions of power in the family and community.

One prominent example was in the Taíno culture of Quisqueya, what is today Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The warrioress and cacica (chief), Anacaona, went off to battle and led resistance against the Spanish invaders, with her partner, Caonabo, taking charge of the home and raising the children. In 1503, upon capture she was publicly executed because she refused clemency in exchange for being the concubine of one of her captors. The Spanish colonizers were determined to eradicate the leaders of any resistance to their double enslavement of Native and African women.

Marxists pinpoint the emergence of private property, surplus and profits-or class society-as the origin of patriarchy. The origins of rape, incest and violence against women are the result of what Engels called the “world historic defeat” of women. With the development of private property and “the right” to inheritance, the son was elevated above the daughter as the heir to the estate. Just as the enslaved of the colonized countries existed as chattel property for the colonizers, women too were converted into their property; the masters and lords could do as they wanted with “their” women.

Under feudalism, the lord’s “droit de seigneur” empowered him to take a “serf’s wife” into his bed before she married and slept with her husband for the first time. In other words, the lord was allowed to rape the daughters and mothers of the exploited class because they were his property. This “droit” or “right” also entitled the lord of the estate to prey on peasant girls and to violate their virginity whenever he chose. This was often ceremoniously witnessed by male members of the court who were powerless to intervene.[6]
Social systems theory

Every social system merits its own analysis but feudalism, slavery and capitalism share these predominate features: 1) the sanctity of private property 2) the prioritization of profits over human dignity and 3) the relegation of women to a position of the slave’s slave in the productive process.

Where does patriarchy fit into this exploitive economic base?

Maria Mies’ Patriarchy and Accumulation tracks how for centuries women’s unpaid, invisible work enabled the massive theft of the surplus labor of the wage earner. The productive process rested on the exploitation of the workers’ labor which was not possible without the wife’s behind-the-scenes toil. The woman then was the serf’s serf, the slave’s slave and the wage laborer’s laborer.

To dig up the historical roots of the monstrous epidemic of rape and incest in the U.S. context requires a profound historical reckoning with one of its original sins-slavery.
The legacy of slavery

Through the dehumanization of Blackness, the slavocracy justified infinite predations upon the bodies of Black women and Black men.

The entire slave quarters were at the disposal of the slave traders and masters. The Portuguese slavers built their castles with a master bedroom that had two doors leading to two corridors. One corridor led to the slave quarters, where there was an army of slaves at the master’s sexual disposal. The other corridor led to confession, where the slavers asked their priests and their gods for forgiveness for their acts, before committing the next round of transgressions.

W.E.B. Du Bois’ masterpiece Black Reconstruction in Americacaptured the white Southerners’ attitude toward the Black man and woman. In order to capture the dehumanization process, Du Bois cited a visiting German sociologist, Carl Schurz, who was hired by President Andrew Johnson to study the South: “Men who are honorable in their dealings with their white neighbors, will cheat a Negro without feeling a single twinge of their honor. To kill a Negro, they do not deem murder; to debauch a Negro woman, they do not think fornication; to take the property away from a Negro, they do not consider robbery.”[7] In his gripping sociological portrait of the antebellum South, Du Bois breached theunbreachable and spoke the unspeakable: “Southerners who had suckled food from black breasts vied with each other in fornication with Black women, and even in beastly incest. They took the name of their fathers in vain to seduce their own sisters. Nothing-nothing that Black folk did or said or thought or sang was sacred” (p.125).

The very essence of slavery was the breaking of the Black mind, body and soul.

A culture of white rape of Black women-hiding behind its antithesis, the publicly-flaunted, genteel South and morally-robust Bible Belt-has traversed centuries. The myth of the “Black rapist” was used to mask the identity of America’s original rapists-a wealthy class of roughly 60,000 white slave owners. The myth of the Black rapist served to deflect focus away from the slave master’s abuse of Black and white women and funnel mass discontent into “populist” campaigns, such as lynching and state executions. Society was mobilized in pursuit of “the boogey man” while the true “boogey-man” held the noose.

Describing the typical slave master, Du Bois wrote: “Sexually they were lawless, protecting elaborately and flattering the virginity of a small class of women of their social clan, and keeping at command millions of poor women of the two laboring groups [Black and white] of the South” (p. 35).

Lawrence Konner’s remaking of Alex Haley’s Roots in June 2016 served as a vivid reminder that the slave owning class used rape as a weapon against the Black family.

Slavery birthed patterns of rape and incest that our society has yet to heal from.
Rape and brokenness in Beloved

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a gripping account of the twin terrors of sexual violence and slavery.[8] A cursory examination of the central characters of Beloved reveals the wanton, white supremacist terror unleashed on Black America.

Halle and Paul D represent generations of Black men pinned down and broken by slavery. Sexual violence against Black men, women and children was one of slavery’s preferred weapons “to break” their slaves.

Halle was Sethe’s partner and father of her children. After witnessing a gang of white men rape his wife, Sethe, and then drink her breast milk, Halle went crazy. Feeling powerless, he disappeared for ever from the family unit because what “he saw go on in that barn that day broke him like a twig” (68).

Paul D, Sethe’s friend, confidante and a fellow slave, alludes to a rape he suffered on the Sweet Home plantation: “Saying more might push them [Sethe and Paul D] both to a place they couldn’t get back from. He [Paul D] would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its lids rusted shut. He would not pry it loose now in front of this sweet sturdy woman, for if she got a whiff of the contents it would shame him” (73).

The scars from the whip, tattooed onto Sethe’s back, form a chokecherry tree, symbolizing the slave experience. The barefoot, poor white woman Amy who helps Sethe deliver her fourth child, Denver, describes the scar: “A trunk-it’s red and split wide open, full of sap, and this here’s the parting for the branches. You got plenty of branches. Leaves, too, look like, and dern [darn] if these ain’t blossoms. Tiny little cherry blossoms, just as white. Your back got a whole tree on it. In bloom” (79). According to Morrison’s’ poignant metaphor, “the fire on her back” is the Black nation, which despite the indescribable abuse, is strong and full of life, giving birth to future generations who will carry the scars but resolutely confront the slave master’s terror.

Slavery and rape pushed Morrison’s characters to extremes. When the slavecatchers came to abduct Sethe’s four children and sell them out of state, Sethe resisted the only way she could. As she breastfed her youngest daughter, Denver, she simultaneously beat her other daughter, Beloved, to death, to save her from the horrors of slavery. Her two young boys and Denver were soaked in their sister’s blood and only survived the grueling scene because of the intervention of another slave.

Toni Morrison recreated these tormenting images in order to bring slavery alive for the reader. Without understanding this original sin, little else can be understood in the American narrative.
Historical trauma

Dr. Joy Degruy Leary explored the effects of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome on generations of African Americans.[9] The slave system was a breeding ground for incest within the slave quarters, as well. Upsetting the traditions and stability of the family, slavery disempowered the husband figure and humiliated the father figure. Slavery was crafted to make the oppressed internalize a sense of shame and humiliation.

Men, women and children were packed into barns and stables unfit for human existence. In his autobiography, Frederick Douglas described the barbarism he was born into in Baltimore, Maryland.[10] Deprived of space and privacy and unable to clothe their children, the masters packed multiple families into shacks, without mattresses, blankets or adequate clothing. Slavery was a vortex of bestiality that spiraled out of control destroying human connections.[11]

Unable to stand down the oppressor, the emasculated slave-the trapped lion-projected his hatred towards those at home.[12] Sexual transgressions were the reincarnated transgressions of the master, once again unleashed on the double victims, Black women and children.

This historical trauma-set in motion-by a four-century long reign of terror reappears in families today. The conventional wisdom and oft-repeated, racist claim that “slavery occurred so long ago and Black people should just get over it” is designed to disconnect the terror of the past with the terror of the present. Sethe, Baby Suggs, Beloved and Toni Morrison’s other characters remind us that the legacy of slavery lives within, and part of that legacy is sexual trauma.

History offers context for the harrowing fact that 40-60% of Black women are sexually abused before they are 18 . Failure to spiritually and consciously come to terms with the historical trauma damns the present fighters to wallow, unconsciously or semi-consciously, in the past. This is an apt metaphor for the survivor of sexual violence, whose only way out of the trauma, is through it.
From chattel slavery to wage slavery

The enslavement of Africans in the Americas was one branch of the patriarchal system Engels denounced and the most vicious reenactment of boss-worker relations which played out in other social systems. Slavery was America’s original sin, upon which the descendant systems of exploitation were based.

The heir to slavery, capitalism-through its disempowerment of women-continues to be a breeding ground of sexual violence.

The following formula synthesizes the reproduction of the class system and the cycle it sets in motion. An exploitative economic base (i.e. serfdom, slavery, industrial and extractive capitalism) gives birth to internalized discord, self-hatred and a distorted sense of identity among the exploited, leading to the acute need to numb and escape (i.e. alcoholism) which is intertwined with violence projected outward and acted out at home, resulting in the victimization of the next generation, which grows up damned by both the exploitative economic base and a demoralizing family environment.

This exploitative economic base and internalized oppression again sets in motion a cycle that repeats itself with individualized symptoms that are reflective of the same disease.
The political economy of rape, Part II: The abused

The disempowerment of women is both economic and psychological and transcends national borders. Rape has a specific economic, not geographic, terrain. Not unique to the U.S., the dominant economic model-patriarchal capitalism-produces dependency.

Because housework is not compensated, the mother figure finds herself trapped.

Deprived of an empowering education, self-esteem and social and economic rights, many oppressed women cannot see beyond their immediate environs. The coterminous forces of women’s oppression feed off one another, trapping women and children within the male-dominated, misogynist household.

The testimonies and writing of organic intellectuals struggling against patriarchy and capitalism highlight the fact that the political economy of rape traverses national boundaries.

A scene from Germinal, Émile Zola’s epic novel, captures the power dynamics within the miner’s home. Half-starved and still sullen from the coal mines, the protagonist, Maheu arrived from the bowels of the earth demanding his dinner and sex. Showing total disregard for his wife, Maneude’s humanity, he bends her over, raping her in front of the children, as they prepare to bathe in a basin. This scene from a French mining family’s home was a snapshot of the twin evils of capitalism and patriarchy that have acted upon women for centuries.

In Don’t Be Afraid Gringo, Elvira Alvarado described the typical social existence of the Hondurancampesina (peasant woman). In her testimony, Elvira provides poignant snapshots of the cruel social terrain where patriarchy and economic disempowerment produce violence against women and children. Like the French miner a century before, the banana plantation worker existed to produce surplus value for transnational business. The housewife in the plantation worker family produced the conditions necessary for the exploitation of the wage laborer. She was doubly exploited. For both the boss and the sub-oppressor, for 365 days a year, it was open season on women like Elvira Alvarado.

Describing her everyday routine, Alvarado explained that she worked the land and attended to her husband and eight children: “Even when we go to sleep, we don’t get to rest. If the babies wake up crying, we have to go take care of them-give them the breast if they’re still breast-feeding, give them medicine if they’re sick. And if our husbands want to make love, if they get the urge, then it’s back to work again. The next morning, we’re up before the sun, while our husbands are still sleeping” (p. 52). Robbed of autonomy in both spheres of her life, Alvarado existed to produce for the oppressor and sub-oppressor.

Enraged by his powerlessness, Elivira’s husband subconsciously recreated his exploitation lower down on the social hierarchy where his violence had no repercussions. The state’s monopoly of violence ensured that his humiliation had no positive, externalized revolutionary social outlet. Meanwhile, he was socially sanctioned to drink himself into oblivion and lash out at home. Family was the private domain where the exploiteds’ pent-up anger crystalized. Having learned well from his boss, he recreated the violence onto his wife and children, the only social figures disempowered enough to tolerate the wanton abuse.

What the husband considered sex or “his marital right,” constitutes rape for many women like Elvira Alvarado. Her words deliver the point home: “I’ve heard that there are men and women who make love in all different ways, but we campesinos don’t know anything about these different positions. We do it the same all the time-the man gets on the woman and goes up and down, up and down and that’s it. Sometimes the woman feels pleasure and sometimes she doesn’t. We don’t have any privacy either, because our houses are usually one big room so we have to wait until everyone is asleep and then do it very quietly. We just push down our underpants and pull them back up again” (47). For the Honduran housewife, sex, like cooking and cleaning, was a chore or an obligation. Stripped of her self-determination, both the home and the wider society were a forcing house of male domination.
‘Stay in your place’

Employing the same literary genre as Elvira Alvarado, the Bolivian mining activist, Domitila Barrios de Chúngara, wrote Let me Speak! The Testimony of Domitila A Woman of the Bolivian Mines.[13]

Her autobiography deepens our understanding of patriarchy as a weapon to divide the miners. The misnamed “barzolas” were working class women employed by the mining bosses as reactionary shock troops to attack and humiliate the miners’ wives.[14] When the Housewife Committee refused to stay quiet and confined in their homes and came into the streets to protest, the “barzola” shock troops threw tomatoes at them, accused them of sleeping around and physically attacked them.

The disempowerment of the Housewives’ Committee was the disempowerment of the working class. Preoccupied with secondary contradictions, the exploited protagonists-the miners-lost sight of the primary contradiction between labor and capital. Blind before the oppressor’s strategy to keep them in their confinement, they prevented the fruition of class unity. The divide and conquer strategy sought to confine women to the home, “shame” them and stunt their ability to make world-historic change.

Women hold up half the sky” but when they are held back, the entire working class is confined to a social inferno. Capitalism and patriarchy have a codependent relationship; they feed off one another. The crushing of one hierarchical system necessitates the overthrow of its twin.

Women’s liberation is humanity’s liberation.
The role of class

Centuries of state-sanctioned and state-enforced rape established a legacy that continues to play out today.

Angela Davis’ Women, Race and Class looks at the triple burden Black women confronted the span of American history.[15] Davis examined the rampant sexual abuse committed by white male employers within the home against Black women forced by poverty into domestic labor. How many bosses, supervisors, sex tourists and other men in high positions still believe they have unfettered access to Black and Brown women’s bodies?

There is also sexual abuse in other layers of class society. Daughters and sons of rich families have survived sexual trauma. The widespread occurrence across class divides illustrates the omnipotence of sexism under capitalism. A rich woman may also find herself psychologically stuck. In contrast to a working-class woman, she may possess the economic resources to flee but may face the judgement of her family who will threaten to “cut her off” if she dares to forge her own independence. Raised to be pretty and thin, some upper class women may not possess the skills to move on. Patriarchy is pervasive and even privileged women-who from an outside perspective appear to have it all-struggle within their gilded cages.
A culture of impunity

In addition to raising the rapist, capitalism offers the rapist free reign.

The story of the anonymous young woman who was drugged and raped behind a dumpster at Standfordis chilling. Although her rapist, Brock Turner was caught and found guilty by a jury, a judge only gave him six months in jail because “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.”[16]

Turner’s light sentence is not the exception. Factoring in unreported rapes, only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail; 15 out of 16 will walk free.[17] Every 107 seconds a woman is raped in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, twenty million women in the United States have been raped. The study asserts that the number could be three times as high because only 1/3 of sexual assaults are reported.[18] There is no accountability. There are no popular reprisals. In too many cases, no one dares confront the perpetrator. Often, the sadist moves from one generation to the next.

In my own abuse case, when I was 16, I contacted the Plymouth county District Attorney’s office in 1997 to file a report. It was four years after the abuse. The DA said he had 73 similar complaints against the basketball coach, Jim Taveres. After hearing my statement, the public official concluded, for at least the 74thtime, that he “did not have conclusive proof” to put Jim Tavares back away in jail.

Capitalist society, from the U.S. to Brazil is, in essence, a school of unchecked patriarchy and pedophilia.

On May 21st on this year, a 16-year-old Brazilian girl was gang-raped by 33 men, some of whom then went on social media to boast about their acts. It is tragic that it took such a heinous case to re-highlight the rape culture that threatens every Brazilian woman.

In Brazil, the statistics are even more deplorable than in the U.S. According to the Brazilian women’s organization, Rio de Paz, every 72 hours, 420 women are raped in Brazil.[19]

The liberal observer remains shocked at the harrowing rape statistics while failing to realize the very cause of the horror; a depraved system can only produce depravity. Incest and rape are not natural or inevitable phenomena, but rather symptomatic of the current economic and social order. Token efforts to raise awareness among children about their rights and to facilitate violence prevention workshops are important in the short run but will do little to erase the overall problem. An end to the suffering requires a systematic overhaul of existing class relations.
Denial is complicity

There is another rung in the social inferno that is oppression to which we must descend in order to more fully understand the plight of the survivor.

There are other social actors who become complicit in the crimes spawned by a criminal system. Many mothers-too traumatized to stare the truth in its eyes-became indirect apologists for the offender, giving cover to the crimes with their silence. Feeling powerless before the crime of the century, too many times they have internalized and projected their own subconscious guilt and self-hatred onto the victims. Instead of appearing on the historical stage as the ultimate defenders of their daughters, how many mothers have appeared as collaborators of the crime?

Silence, reproduced between generations, extends the lease life of the pain. Silence within the family is collusion. Denial is collusion. Covering up is collusion.

Sapphire’s novel Push, brought to the cinema in the 2009 film Precious, graphically documented the complex relationships that resulted from incest.[20] Sixteen year-old Claireece “Precious” Jones is pregnant with her father’s second child. The heartbreaking novel examined how Precious’ mother, Mary, instead of protecting and defending her daughter from her rapist husband, Carl, turned the blame on her daughter. Precious was the object of her mother’s scorn. Stripped of a childhood and her parents’ affection, Precious had to learn to navigate society on her own.

The mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles who looked the other way were knee-deep in the swamp of insidiousness. Patriarchy pervaded their lives; more concerned with protecting the reputation of the family before the good town-folks, they sacrificed their children’s health and happiness-their childhoods-so they could keep smiling at church on Sundays. They too were deeply affected by patriarchy and rape culture. Converted into silent bystanders, enablers and perpetuators of the insidiousness, they ignored the truth and blamed the victim. They too were broken; the illusion of an “American dream” was worth more to them than truth and redemption.
Internalized blame

When we paint the entire sorry portrait, we see the convergence of the different social-emotional factors acting on the survivors. Overwhelmed by the insidiousness, the matriarch escapes into booze or god. The primary witnesses often subconsciously rewrite history. Denial buries the dagger deeper into the chest of the abused. Searching for acceptance and validation, they find blame and hatred.

Unable to externalize their anger; the pain consumes the survivor, resulting in the cyclization of the insidiousness i.e. heroin, addiction, cutting, anorexia, morbid obesity, alcohol etc. Every form of self-injurious behavior is an agonized cry for help.

Heroin, bulimia and other self-loathing behaviors are a giant middle finger to America; no one ever cared about me, so why should I care about myself? Heroin and bulimia are rebellions devoid of direction and grit, a quest without a compass.

Robbed of support from the patriarchal society, the survivor slips into self-torment. Nince Inch Nails’ lyrics, famously covered by Johnny Cash, capture the “Hurt:”

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything.

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end.
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt.

The Somali writer, Warsan Shire writes: “Not everyone is okay with living like an open wound. But the thing about open wounds is that, well, you aren’t ignoring it. You’re healing; the fresh air can get to it. It’s honest. You aren’t hiding who you are. You aren’t rotting.”

The suppression of pain is ineffective because pain will only find other outlets. We, survivors, can run and escape all the way to the grave but until we cough up all of the pain, there can be no thorough-going healing. Silence is not an option. Some form of therapy is necessary to help survivors understand the roots of their self-harm and to find meaning in an alienating society.

Ronald Savage and other survivors of abuse are heroes. Protectors of future generations, the survivors fought to overcome “the shame” patriarchy imposed on them and tell their stories.

Digging up and speaking the pain is the first step but it cannot happen without outside support. Because class society seeks to atomize and isolate the survivor, there must be an effort to collectivize our pain in a supportive, conscious community setting. There are 12 step programs and support groups called Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous and Incest Survivors Anonymous. There are also research-validated treatments such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that are effective for assisting those whose trauma has led to severely self-harming or suicidal behavior. These methods help the survivor see things differently and not blame themselves. Healing occurs when the survivor recognizes that they are good and beautiful and let’s go of the poisonous negative thoughts and low self-esteem that the abuser and patriarchy have instilled within them.

As I argued in an article on trauma, addiction and capitalism, a survivor who is able to theoretically grasp the hell-hole they were born into, begins to empower themselves to turn on the class system, the source of their trauma. A revolutionary’s work is to provide a political orientation towards trauma. If overcoming fear and denial is the individualized part of healing, revolutionary organizing against the monster, responsible for the crimes of the century, is the collective part of healing.

Therapy, support groups and the party, working together, all play their role in helping the survivor rise up on the society that violated them.
Our responsibility

Afrika Bambaataa was a pioneering hip hop voice who resisted injustice and capitalism, but this did not mean that he was beyond all of its insidiousness-patriarchy, white supremacy and homophobia.

On June 1st, 2016, Julien Terrell, cofounder of The Renaissance Zulu Chapter 64, issued the following statement condemning the covering up of Bambaataa’s sexual violence against teenage boys and announcing the chapter’s separation from the traditional Zulu Nation: “Many have said that Bambaataa’s accomplishments in hip hop should not be included in the critique of his so called personal life. I say that any so called political and cultural commitment that does not transfer to your personal actions is NOT a commitment at all. It’s nothing but talk and the time for putting ego aside has come. He [Bambaataa] is still lying but there is space for humility and compassion that the victims have offered despite the pain he caused. I hope those that are close to him support him in stepping to the allegations with integrity. That is what this culture is supposed to represent.”

As revolutionaries and community leaders, we all carry the social baggage of the old world and must hold one another accountable for our actions. As Terrell explains, we have a responsibility to uproot and go to war with all of the contradictions, less they chaotically spill out and hurt others.
Socialism is healing

Experiments in rehabilitation in the U.S. are limited today because of the “lock them up and throw away the key” strategy of the state. In a transformed society, the abuser would undergo isolation, therapy, rehabilitation and slow reintegration. Reconciliation would involve the recounting of their own childhoods and the social crimes they went on to commit. There is no healing in denial. Anything short of a full, public admission and acceptance falls short of justice.

In a socialist society, inherited with all of social baggage of capitalism it will take generations to do away with all of the wicked inheritance-white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, individualism, consumerism etc. As the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and other socialist societies can attest, in a new world born of the old-with all of the birth marks of wickedness and depravity-there will be no shortage of challenges for nations reborn.

The ruling class vilifies these human experiments in social re-organization in order to contain our dreams and ground our visions, less we conceive of emancipation from the current social disorder. The unofficial religion of the U.S. today is anti-communism, for this very reason.

From the perspective of the extractors of surplus value, what has to be protected is not the right of a little girl to a childhood but their own unfettered access to profits. The anonymous survivor of rape at Stanford, the 16-year-old Brazilian girl, Ronald Savage and all of the nameless survivors-caught in the crosshairs of patriarchy and exploitation-demonstrate the urgency to organize for the toppling of the capitalist system.

Dr. Martin Luther King called for “a revolution in our nation’s priorities.” A socialist society would immediately and decisively intervene to halt and reverse the monstrous patterns of incest and rape.
Towards a culture of women’s liberation

What would a world based on freedom-as opposed to necessity-look like? There is no way to predict the future but we can assert that it will not look anything like the degradation-what Engel’s called “pre-history”-that today’s oppressed communities and families confront.

In a healthy future, crystal meth, domestic abuse, and trauma itself will be remnants of a dark, distant past from which we will have emerged.

The goal then is to convert our current society into a school of women’s liberation.

Society’s superstructure must be torn up from the roots and reorganized to concretely confront the scourge of misogyny. The advertising industry sexually objectifies women. Viacom, General Electric and the entire mass media produce music and videos based on chauvinist caricatures of women as objects, shallow gossips, video vixens, hoes, thots and gold-diggers. Many actors in capitalist, consumer society are guilty in playing a role in the reproduction of rape culture. They cannot be let off the hook.

Socialist society will project empowering reference points through billboards, education, TV and social media.

In Cuba, where class relations are organized differently, the incidence of such crimes against women and children is far less common. After 1959, Cuba outlawed the exploitation of women in advertising. Housing, education, transportation, health care and a job were guaranteed social and economic rights. A society that had ceased to be a patriarchal, dog-eat-dog world took the bite out of the dog.

Though we can only make conjectures about the future, we can be sure that it will look nothing like this hell-on-earth that exists today.

Only a new, socialist society can provide real healing and in the words of martyred Irish revolutionary, Bobby Sands: “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.” We fight so that no little child or adult ever again has to live with what Ronald Savage and all survivors live with-the pulsating scars of incest, abuse and rape buried beneath their skin.
Thank you to Emmanuella Odilis for the feedback, edits and support. As the tears and truths emerge, the words and strength stream fourth…
This was originally published at Liberation School.

[1] “Statistics about Sexual Violence.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 2015.

[2] Chemaly, Soraya. “50 Actual Facts about Rape.” Huffington Post. December 8th, 2014.

[3] 1993.

[4] National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence against Women Survey. 1998.

[5] It is not uncommon for cops to use their batons to violently penetrate their captives. This has nothing to do with homosexuality, but are rather acts of aggression, power and contempt.

[6] Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s well-known opera Marriage of Figaro is about precisely this, peasants and servants, in the early dawn of the revolutionary movement in France, conspiring and outsmarting a philandering count who sought to prey upon the young women of an Italian village.

[7] Page 136. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1935.

[8] New York: Penguin. 1987.

[9] DeGruy, Joy. Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing. Uptone Press, 2005.

[10] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Boston: 1845.

[1] Frederick Douglas’ testimony conjured up images of what Haitian families endure today in exile in the Dominican Republic. According to my research living and organizing within the Haitian communities of the D.R., the results are eerily similar with women and children twice victimized – by a system of anti-Haitianismo and by the alienated male sub-oppressors within the exploited Haitian community.

[12] There is a reactionary, “nationalist” trend that posits that Black men are damaged because they were not allowed to play a “traditional” patriarchal role. This chauvinist position submits that the solution is to allow the Black male to assume their “proper” place as patriarchal protectors. It should be stated that patriarchal “protection” in any class society, including pre-colonized Africa, has its own antithesis of rape and abuse.

[13] Originally published in Spanish as Si Me Permiten Hablar. New York: Monthly Review Press. 1978.

[14] This group expropriated the name of Maria Barzola, an Aymara activist assassinated in 1951 by the Bolivian government.

[15]On the plantation, Black women were at the same time domestic, breeder and field slave. As she picked cotton, tobacco or sugar, she laid her baby down beside her just out of arm’s reach. Still reeling from the pain of childbirth, she was forced to contribute to the productive process. She was thrice enslaved.

[16] Fantz, Ashley. Outrage over 6-month sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford rape case. CNN. June 7, 2016.

[17] Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) calculation based on US Department of Justice 2010 Statistics.

[18] “Raising Awareness about Sexual Abuse Facts and Statistics. U.S. Department of Justice.

[19] Bearak, Max. “Women’s Underwear Strewn on beach in Rio to protest Brazil’s rape culture.” The Washington Post. June 8th, 2016.

[20] Vintage. 1997.

Ending the Unconstitutional Assault on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement: A Call To Action

Mona Alsoraimi-Espiritu


As an educator at an urban core institution I readily accept the responsibility of teaching social justice themes in my courses. As students begin to understand the injustices that shape their own worlds, they crave solutions. “So what can we actually do?” “Have our idealistic teachers been lying to us about being able to change the world?” As they learn tools to change their realities, they become empowered. But what happens when politicians take those tools away from activists? Recent legislation designed to “chill” activism undermines the work of social justice educators, parents and activists everywhere. It sets a precedent in which a small group of politicians decide what we can’t boycott based on their own political or religious ideologies.

I recently watched Jamila Raqib’s TED talk titled ” The Secret to Effective Nonviolent Resistance .” Raqib acknowledges that street protests alone will not create change and highlights the importance of employing methods of political and economic protest such as boycotts. The Harvard Law Review tells us “Since the outset of the civil rights movement in the 1950s organized economic power has become an increasingly important and powerful tool for advocates of social change.” The civil rights movement successfully used bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama as a form of economic protest and changed the course of history as a result. The grape boycotts in the 70s led by Cesar Chavez changed field worker conditions forever. The South African apartheid boycott and divestment campaign in the 80s contributed to their liberation and ended apartheid.

We are now faced with the very real possibility that our right to boycott and divest as a form of peaceful resistance to oppression may be curtailed by state or federal government legislation, such as AB 2844. AB 2844, similar to legislation that is being proposed and pushed through in New York, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, South Carolina, Indiana and Arizona, seeks to prohibit all state-affiliated institutions from engaging in contracts with businesses boycotting Israel. In real life it could look like this: I run a business that sells office supplies to a state agency, and I, a small business owner and activist, am against the occupation. I choose to boycott Israeli products that I feel are unethical. Under this legislation, the state agency can no longer do business with me or I must choose to give up boycotting unethical businesses.

Equally important, AB 2844 will impact student bodies who have resolved to divest, including UC Berkeley, UCSD, UC Davis, and UC Irvine. This means that student bodies who strongly oppose the unethical elements of the occupation, including illegal Israeli settlements which force Palestinians out of their barely visible territory, will lose their voice. These students, who in an effort to create change peacefully, clearly stated that their tuition should not be contributing to illegal occupation and human rights violations. In a democracy as great as ours, student bodies must be able to exercise their right to boycott and divest from governments that even the United Nations have cited for continued human rights violations.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and target of this legislation has organized large scale divestment and boycott campaigns in an effort to end illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and human rights violations of Palestinians. In 1948, a portion of Palestine, a land inhabited continuously for millennia was simply given to European Jews by Great Britain – this began a 65-year process of ethnic cleansing. Millions of Palestinians have been displaced and thousands have been killed. BDS and other boycott campaigns against illegal and inhumane Israeli government practices have recently gained popularity as legitimate, peaceful forms of resistance to the occupation and as powerful alternatives to violence. But AB 2844 and the politicians behind it seek to silence BDS and shut down their efforts.

There are those, specifically Israeli lobbyists and Christian Fundamentalists, who say that boycotting Israel is discriminatory and anti-Semitic. This argument is a gross oversimplification. These accusations are problematic in that they imply that opposing the Zionist right-wing government of Israel is the same as opposing Judaism. Obviously this is not the case. Jewish Voice for Peace in the Bay Area urges citizens to “Tell our state legislators that our tax dollars should not be used to defend Israel’s abuses and they should not be bullied by the Israel lobby to defend Israel’s abuses.” The goals of boycotting are not in conflict with Jewish beliefs, but rather, extreme Zionist beliefs.

Anti-boycott legislation of this type is dangerous for a number of reasons. The first amendment gives us the right to organize peacefully to petition our government. Limiting this first amendment right creates an environment of fear and powerlessness for those who seek to create change. In a letter to Richard Bloom, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states that “This bill is suspect because it evidently seeks to burden and deter constitutionally-protected speech…” If we can’t engage in this type of peaceful resistance, what can we do? As I consider this, I think about suicide bombers, snipers, and other who have committed horrendous acts in a botched attempt to seek liberation from oppression or make a statement about injustice. As an educator and activist I wonder, what happens when we limit the use of powerful tools for nonviolent resistance? How can we tell students that they can change the world when legislation like this makes us question that belief?

On August 1, 2016 the California Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote on AB 2844 and I hope, for the sake of all of our first amendment rights, that the committee will do the right thing and vote no. Contact CA Senate Appropriations Committee Members at (916) 651-4101. Urge them to vote NO on AB 2844, a bill to chill speech, punish dissenters, and silence the debate on Israel and Palestine.

Mona Alsoraimi-Espiritu is a community college professor and has been a social activist for 15 years. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer that lived both in Mongolia and Jordan, she currently works with Pillars of the Community, a nonprofit based in Southeast San Diego. She is one of the editors and a contributor for Reclaiming our Stories, an anthology of powerful narratives of injustice and resilience in the community that will be released in fall 2016. She has also published a work on whiteness in TESOL that can be found here: http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolicis/textonly/2015-03-04/3.html

There is No “Honor” In Killing: The Problematic Language Used To Describe Violence Against Women

Cherise Charleswell


The term “honor killing” is used to describe an act of murder against a relative, usually a girl or woman, who is perceived to have brought dishonor to the family’s reputation by engaging in what is deemed an “immoral” act within their given culture or society. In this respect, they can be looked at as a form of domestic violence, one that is colluded and facilitated, not only by a family, but also the external members of the same community; patriarchal views are used to justify these murders. Also, in many cases, these murders are carried out based on rumors and unfounded suspicions, which resemble witch hunts. It is believed that the only way to restore the family’s “honor” is through murder – or punishment by death. These “honor” killings have been carried out by fathers, brothers, and cousins; and female relatives, including mothers – out of fear and/or cultural indoctrination – often are complacent and remain silent about these murders. Even worse is the complacency of society, in that these murders often go unpunished. There are no arrests or trials carried out to seek justice for the deceased. Instead, it seems that the social norms justify the murders – finding the women guilty of inappropriate behavior and thus deserving of capital punishment.

Currently the practice is most commonly associated with regions (and cultures) in North Africa and the Middle East, and with those in the Islamic faith; however, these acts pre-date Islam, and have been carried out in other regions of the world. The practice has a long history, and this likely has much to do with the fact that women and girls, for many centuries, have been subjugated and treated as nothing more than property. It was carried out in the ancient world, including ancient Rome, where the pater familias, the senior male of a household, was afforded a number of rights that were not extended to Roman women, including the right kill a daughter or other female relative engaged in pre-marital sex, or a wife having extra-marital relations (Goldstein, 2002). In fact, the Roman law justified homicide “when committed in defense of the chastity either of oneself or relations”. (Blackstone, 1966). The Hammurabi Code of the Babylonian civilization had a number of rules that pertained to adultery, and among these rules was that an adulterous wife must be tied to her lover and thrown in the river to drown. The specific text is as follows for laws 132 and 133:

[132] If the “finger is pointed” at a man’s wife about another man, but she is not caught sleeping with the other man, she shall jump into the river for her husband.

[133] If a man is taken prisoner in war, and there is a sustenance in his house, but his wife leave house and court, and go to another house: because this wife did not keep her court, and went to another house, she shall be judicially condemned and thrown into the water.

While ancient civilizations in the Americas, such as the Aztec and Incas, allowed their own form of “honor” killings: Inca laws allowed husbands to starve their wives if they were suspected of adultery, while Aztec laws permitted stoning or strangulation as punishment for adultery (Goldstein, 2002). Honor-based murders were also codified and practiced in medieval Europe, where early Jewish law mandated death by stoning for an adulterous wife and her partner (Brundage, 1987). Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of England’s King Henry VIII, was beheaded based on allegations of adultery, as was the fictitious character Desdemona, in Shakespeare’s play, Othello.

Women’s roles, and increased independence, sexual liberation, etc., did not begin to take root until the 19th century, and was not advanced until the latter half of the 20th century. For many women in the world, these things have not yet been achieved, and the persistence of “honor” killings is an example to this. The following are some of the recent and brutal murders that have been described as “honor” killings:

– The killing of a 26-years-old Pakistani social media star and model Fauzia Akeem, known as Qandeel Baloch, by her brother in the name of preserving their family’s honor. Fauna challenged social norms with her glamorous photos and videos that she posted on social media on sites such as Instagram. Reports about her death stated that she was strangled and/or subjected to things that were far more sinister.

– The case of Mohammad Shafia an Afghani man residing in Ontario, Canada, who murdered his three daughters, Zainab 19, Sahar 17, and Geeti 13, after he deemed them to be treacherous. Shafia’s anger stemmed from the fact that he felt ashamed that his eldest daughter married a Pakastani man, and he reportedly stated the following when speaking about his daughter’s deaths, “I would do it again 100 times,”

– The 2008 movie, The Stoning of Soraya M., is based on the true story of an Iranian woman who was falsely accused of infidelity by her husband, because she refused his request for divorce so that he could marry a 14-years-old girl, only to be ostracized by her community, rejected by her sons, and ultimately sentenced to death by stoning. Soraya was subjected to beatings by her husband before he began the plot against her, and his need to rid himself of her was because he could not afford to support his wife, their children, and the other bride that he sought after. Soraya’s story was recounted by her aunt, to a French journalist, and it provides an example of how barbaric these acts of violence against women are, while also illustrating how vulnerable women are in various societies and within their families. This vulnerability stems from the fact that a family’s honor is tied to a girl’s/woman’s body, ultimately stripping them of their rights to decide how to adorn their body, in which settings to allow themselves to take up space, whose company they can keep, and most importantly who they share their bodies with. There was also the movie Sound of Tears, made by Cameroonian director Dorothy Atabong and set in Canada. The movie followed the lead protagonist, a young woman and immigrant, who made the decision to forego a pre-arranged marriage in order to run-off with the man who she loved, and whose child she carried; a man who happened to be White. The movie ends with her being murdered by her brother, and closes with a scene of her mother knowingly sitting in a chair, waiting to receive confirmation that the deed had been done.

These twisted and illogical beliefs allow people within these communities to deem the act of murder as “honorable”, or capable of restoring honor, and these out-dated beliefs continue to be a problem in the modern world, where according to United Nations statistics, some 5,000 “honor” killings are reported a year, worldwide. This count, of course, does not include the murders that go unreported. Further, they are not a problem that only affects those living in the Middle East or Africa, as there have been cases taking place in the United States, Europe, and Canada. In 2015, a report found that there were 23 to 27 documented honor killings in the United States each year (again, does not capture what is undocumented). In 2009, a report released by the Council of Europe warned that so-called honor killings were far more extensive in Europe than previously believed. The Department of Justice of Canada has even launched a preliminary examination of so-called honor killings.

These acts of violence carried out against women by their relatives should not be referred to as “honor killings” because they are actually dishonorable in nature. There simply is no honor in carrying out brutal and premeditated murder. Therefore, I offer a few suggestions to replace the term “honor killings”:

• Family-Directed Killings

• Patriarchal Killings
Masculinity So Fragile

What these acts of violence against women and girls, and in some cases men, particularly LGBTQ men, make clear is that masculinity is extremely fragile, in that the actions of another, and what they choose to say or do with their bodies, allows men to feel as if their masculinity has been diminished and their honor ruined. Any time someone chooses to tie their worth and dignity to the actions of another, it speaks to their fragility. It also speaks to their need to overcompensate and protect their fragile masculinity through the use of brute force and oppression.

Ultimately, masculinity is so fragile and readily becomes problematic because it is often steeped in patriarchy, which not only oppresses and negatively impacts women and girls, but also the men who have to uphold it. Patriarchy dictates to them what actions are deemed acceptable, such as what color clothes they should wear, how close they can respectfully sit next to another man, as well as making it shameful to cry or show any emotion. Consequently, patriarchy makes masculinity fragile, leaving men in a constant and daily battle to protect it. This constant assertion of manhood is often done at the expense of women and girls, and is carried out through oppressive and sexist cultural and social norms, and in some cases through public policy. An example of the political aspect would be laws such as those in Saudi Arabia which prohibit women from driving. To be clear, it is not an official or state law, but one that is upheld by societal views, based on deeply held religious beliefs of clerics who wield a great deal of power and influence. They argue that female drivers “undermine social values.” There has been a great deal of pushback to these archaic beliefs, such as the 2011 campaign “Women2Drive” organized by women in Saudi Arabia, which encourage women to disregard the laws and to even dare to post images of themselves driving on social media in an attempt to raise awareness and spark dialogue for reform. Unfortunately, campaigns such as this have not been a major success, and womencontinue to face punishment for getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. In this case, masculinity is so fragile that the mere thought of women being able to move about freely without the approval and assistance of men is viewed as a challenge to their manhood – a manhood that once again depends on the actions of another.

So, this is what makes masculinity so fragile – the fact that it can be diminished and stripped away by the actions of another. It is extremely problematic in that the ways in which men must prove their masculinity- through specific labels and behaviors – often result in mental, emotional, and physical consequences for both men and women.
Your Honor Cannot Be Based on Ownership of Women’s and Girl’s Bodies

The most critical problem with “honor” killings is the fact that the entire concept of honor is based on ownership of women’s bodies. The ability to dictate what the women in one’s family does with their bodies, and being able to show or prove that they have adhered to these rules, and have not rebelled or done what is forbidden. Even when the forbidden involves them taking agency over their bodies and lives.

This cannot be stated in a more simple manner — No one’s honor can be based on the ownership of women’s and girl’s bodies.

A joke made by comedian Chris Rock comes to mind when thinking about this topic of honor-by-ownership. It is a joke where he shared that his “Only job in life is to ensure that his daughters stay off of a pole,” or something to that effect. Basically, stating that his honor as a man and success as a father is inherently tied to his daughters’ sexuality and personal decisions. One can only imagine what would occur if father’s of the millions who engage in sex work, such as strippers, decided that their daughter’s profession was so dishonorable that they too had to be punished by death. Another problem with the joke is that it exemplifies the sexist views held by many, and reinforced by both women and men. It is the same view that deeply condemns, vilifies, and looks down upon the strippers but not the men who spend their money and time to simply gaze at naked women’s bodies. Their morality is not called to the table. Also, these views are the same that criminalize prostitutes while not applying the same degree of scrutiny and punishment to the johns that pay for sexual services. In many societies, including those in the Western World that likes to pretend it is more progressive, prostitutes – including those who are forced into sex trafficking — are ostracized, while the men who exploit prostitutes are again often free from shame and public scrutiny. Many former prostitutes or those still engaged in this work often speak about this shame and how it affects their ability to return home to their communities, villages, etc. and ever have a “normal life.” (More on thathere,here, and here)

These “honor” killings uphold a patriarchal dichotomy that views women as either Virtuous or Whores. There is no in-between, and worse yet men are not held to similar standards. They are not deemed to be whores based on the number of sexual partners that they may have had, or their chosen style of dress. In fact, the opposite occurs. Men are praised for their sexual prowess, and are often referred to as “lady’s men” when their sexual exploits gain notoriety. Even within cultures where these “honor” killings take place, men are not condemned to death or shunned if they engage in premarital sex, sex with prostitutes, or sex outside of their marriages. These acts are acceptable because of the perceived belief that men have sexual needs and desires that must be fulfilled, while ignoring the fact that women may have the same. So, men can engage in dishonorable and immoral activities as long as they have control over women’s bodies. This control can be used to ensure that their honor remains intact.
Before We Condemn Let’s Discuss Western Hypocrisy

When hearing about these so-called honor killings it is easy to respond with condemnation, as well as xenophobic reactions about a certain culture and religion – particularly Islam – but the truth of the matter is that those responses are hypocritical. Violence against women, particularly rape culture, is just as problematic for women in the West, and within other cultures and societies. Sure, those carrying out these acts may not be carried out primarily by relatives (although incest, pedophilia, intimate partner violence is often carried out by relatives), it does not take away from the fact that women and girls are victimized by gender-based sexual violence. A recent study in the UK, referred to as the “Femicide Census,” found that the vast majority of homicides and violence committed against women were due to the result of intimate partner violence (More on thathere, and here). These killings may not be motivated by a need to restore “honor,” but they have commonality in the need to control women and their bodies. If the United States government would restore funding for gun violence research originally earmarked by the 1996 Dickey Amendment (which interestingly restricted the CDC from using its funding to “advocate or promote gun control”), I am quite sure that a similar pattern regarding homicide and women would be revealed. One-hundred and forty-one medical, public health, and social organizations, including the Southern California Public Health Association, for which I serve as President, have joined in on a coalition being led by Doctors for America, which is urging Congress to Restore Funding for Gun Violence Research. Letters have been sent directly to four senior members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee. (See the press release from Doctors for Americahere)

The language used to discuss violence against women and girls is quite problematic globally, because it is steeped in patriarchy and masculine fragility which normalize victim blaming. Those who speak out against street harassment and molestation are simply told that they are being whiny and cannot take a compliment, even when that compliment involves another person believing that they have a right to place their hands on another’s body. These arguments are being made despite the fact that women/girls have been killed for simply stating ‘no’ – for saying that they did not want to give a man their number or didn’t want to stay in a relationship with a man. One of the most graphic examples of this occurred when a young woman was stabbed to death in the middle of a crowded commuter train in Chicago. At the root of these retaliatory acts of violence is the fact that these men felt not only rejected, but as if they had been dissed–and thus disrespected. In other words, they too believed that their honor was diminished.

Normalized language of violence against women/girls made it possible for people like Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma police officer convicted in December 2015 of rape, sexual battery, forcible sodomy and other charges, to sexually abuse and exploit women; as well as for the exploitation of Celeste Guap in Oakland, California, who has spoken out about engaging in sexual acts (while under the age of legal consent) with dozens of police officers from throughout the Bay Area under the guise of protection. Guap’s ordeal has led to a scandal that involves the resignation of a number of police chiefs. In each case, the women involved remained silent because of the way they are viewed in society, and referred to by the media. They are rarely seen as the victim, and in other cases victims are simply blamed for what has transpired against them. This is the basis of rape culture, and rape culture has become so toxic with the advent of social media that men have used these platforms to harass, stalk, and make threats of rape and murder against women (Examples of this problemhere,here, and here).

In consummation, the current language used to describe violence against women and girls is beyond problematic. It helps to perpetuate patriarchal views of ownership and control of women and their bodies, particularly in the use of the term “honor killings,” which ties a man’s perceived honor to the choices made by a woman, regarding her life and body. There is absolutely no “honor” in killing.


Matthew A. Goldstein, “The biological roots of heat-of-passion crimes and honour killings,” Politics and the Life Sciences 21,2 (2002): 28-37.

William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765- 1769, Book Four, Public Wrongs, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1769, reprinted by Wildy & Sons Ltd., London, 1966): 181.

James A. Brundage, Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, 55.

Democracy, Brexit Stage Left: A Socialist Critique of the Brexit Vote

Bryant William Sculos


Of the People or For the People?

How do we understand an instance when a demos votes for something that is largely motivated by anti-democratic sentiments and produces anti-democratic results? Now, imagine a similar scenario but the people doing the voting have little to no say in the process leading up to voting, and some of the people who will likely be most dramatically harmed by the outcome lack both a vote and any power in the process. This second scenario is the kind of “democracy” that we’re witnessing in the Brexit referendum-a democracy hardly worth the name.

In Marxist theory, this first scenario is typically categorized as an instance of false consciousness-when peoples’ subjective perceptions of their interests are different than their objective class-based interests (of which they are ostensibly unaware). This is often where the role of communist party and leftist intellectuals comes up; their role being to cultivate a class consciousness among the oppressed workers so that their subjective and objective interests are identical. This is relatively familiar to those on the Left, and could seem like a good enough reason to criticize how democracy currently manifests, but there is a better more principled reason to reject democracy as it is practiced under capitalism and this approach can be understood by examining the recent Brexit vote calling on the United Kingdom to extricate itself from the European Union. The result in this essay is a democratic critique of “democracy.”

The people voted, right? Right. There were no organized gangs intimidating voters or forcing them to vote a specific way, right? Right. There was even fairly high turnout across demographic groups, right? Right. Given all of this, how could socialists oppose this process without opposing democracy itself?

Without staking out a firm position on whether Brexit was indeed an instance of a working class voting against its own interests, Brexit, at the very least, brings important questions to the surface: how should we understand this vote-hailed by those on the Right and Left, even among Remainers, as at least a victory for democracy-if indeed it is actually against the interests of most working people in the United Kingdom? Beyond that though, we should not limit ourselves to simply thinking about whether the results of the vote were in the interest of the people of the UK. We need to think about whether the process by which the results came to be were actually democratic.

Socialists inspired by, and forthright believers in, socialism-from-below cannot accept democracy under capitalistic conditions, because capitalism is systematically in contradiction with anything worth considering democracy. This however does not make us in any way opponents of actual democracy. In fact, quite the opposite.

Under (neo)liberal capitalism, democracy equals voting-and usually under extremely limited circumstances that themselves were not voted upon. We could call this “democracy-in-name-only.” Democracy-in-name-only, as mere voting, cannot be the basis for socialism in principle, that much is obvious to most on the Left who value at the very least some kind of economic democracy, to say nothing for the fact that democracy as mere voting under capitalism often produces very harmful and regressive politics.

This is where false conscious and ideology are indeed important. Because of the ideological power of capitalism to reproduce itself through the very people that it exploits and oppresses, democracy manifests itself in conservative and often undemocratic policies. Democracy-in-name-only identifies non-democracy with democracy and gives capitalism an ideologically sophisticated discursive advantage. If capitalism has democracy, it is easy to paint socialists as anti-democratic, regardless of our protestations to the contrary. This is exacerbated by leftist arguments based on false consciousness-whatever the actual merits of such arguments.

The agents of capitalism, business and political elites, have, for centuries, convinced working people to support policies that are manifestly opposed to (socialist) interpretations of the interests of the working class. There is more justification for opposing the capitalistic performances of liberal democracy beyond just capitalism’s propensity to get working people to vote against their own interests and the interests of others whom they should be in solidarity with.

Even if one tends to reject this idea of false consciousness explaining the Brexit vote as elitist, verticalist, or otherwise undemocratic, socialists should still refuse to consider the Brexit vote as an example of democracy. Socialist democracy (or as we call it, socialism), is about process as much as it is about just, egalitarian results.

Why isn’t Brexit an example of democracy then? Why must we refuse to think about it-despite our academic or personal political views about the EU and the UK’s place within the EU-as a glowing example of democracy in action, as an example of the people speaking out and registering their displeasure and dissatisfaction with the very undemocratic and neoliberal capitalist European Union? (as has been suggested by Green Party US candidate Dr. Jill Stein)?

Brexit was not an example of genuine democracy, not because the people voted against their own interests (again, for the moment, I’m arguing based on the contingent assumption that this is true), but rather because my mother asking me if I want either dirt or smelly gym shoe flavored ice cream is not a democratic choice. Put more seriously, being able to only choose between two bad options, with little to no say in altering or expanding those options, should never be considered anything close to democracy, never mind the kind that socialism demands.

While it is worth making the respective cases whether the results of the referendum do or do not serve the interests of the British, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and the multitudes of non-European residents and citizens on the islands, the point I want us to focus on here is about process. The Brexit vote was undemocratic, not only because the potential perniciousness of false consciousness, not only because of the lack of genuine workplace democracy that fosters class-consciousness and national and global solidarity among the oppressed (while that is entirely true), the primary reason the vote was undemocratic was because those people who will be most detrimentally affected by the vote had absolutely no say in the decision, nor in the decision-making process to determine how the eventual decision would be made. This is a violation of what Jürgen Habermas has called the “all-affected principle”-the legitimizing norm that all those people who are affected by a decision should have a say in that decision, even if the eventual decision goes against their interests.

Despite that, for Habermas, his broader theory of discursively-legitimized democracy has never been adequately connected to socialist politics, it seems like a natural fit. Why do workers deserve workplace democracy? Because they are the people most affected by the policies, practices, and maldistributive consequences of their work environment. This is a socialist application of the all-affected principle.

Given the motivation of so many Brexiters to expel immigrant workers and reject future migrants and refugees entrance into the UK, it is absolutely crucial for the Left to not only criticize the bigotry of those motivations and the harmful consequences of it being implemented in policy, but even more so to emphasize the undemocratic truth that even the migrants who have been working in the UK for years who lack citizenship (and do not come from a Commonwealth country) could not participate in the political process that very well may result in their expulsion from their homes-to say nothing for the thousands of potential refugees “residing” outside the UK hoping to immigrate or be granted asylum. This is where the Brexit referendum was most horribly undemocratic.

Even for the citizenry of the UK this was not democracy. The referendum was foisted upon them, and their “democratic” power was strictly limited to saying “yes, exit” or “no, remain.” Occasionally getting to say “yes” or “no” has got to be one of the most impoverished definitions of democracy around, and yet since it was solidified by thinkers like Schumpeter and Huntington, it remains a very popular understanding of democracy.

This is what socialists must refuse. Beyond whatever you may think about Brexit, the people of the UK and the immigrants who will be most affected by this vote, did not have any functional power in determining the process by which this decision was made. This was a narrowly, nearly completely non-participatory plebiscite. Plebiscitary democracy can never be socialist democracy-and should hardly be considered democratic in any substantial way, just like this referendum.
Inclusivity, Participation, and Left Democracy

Socialists interested in purely democratic forms of socialism must not hesitate to criticize something that may superficially appear to be a democratic process and result for fear of being called elitist or undemocratic. Socialists should take up a stronger mantle against false mirages hailed as democracy simply because some people’s voices were momentarily audible. Socialists must call for an inclusive, participatory version of democracy that stands opposed to liberal, nationalist, exclusionary, plebiscitary democracy.

While the debates on the Left about the consequences (bothpositive and negative) of Brexit will and should continue to be had, it is absolutely necessary that we not overlook the process by which these consequences came to be. It is not irrelevant whether the results are good for the working people of the UK and the EU more broadly, but it would be easy to overlook the extremely undemocratic process if the focus is nearly exclusively on the manipulation, fear, anger, and nationalism that motivated the core constituency of Brexit.

Socialism is as much about process as it is about results, and while the consequences are being explored, taking a step back to remind ourselves that process is intimately related to the consequences is important if we want to limit the possibility for a resurgent right-wing shift in the UK, the EU, the United States, and around the world.

Democracy is more than the momentary voice of people. It is a way of structuring society and life itself, and it is a social, political, and economic form that the EU has militated against since its inception. This is the kind of ideological perversion of democracy that the democratic Left can be proud to oppose without ever risking tip-toing into the waters of anti-democracy.

Bryant William Sculos is a Ph.D. candidate in political theory at Florida International University whose research uses Critical Theory as a basis to explore the relationship between capitalism, democracy, and global justice. His work has been published inClass, Race and Corporate Power, Political Studies Review, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books, New Politics, and with The Hampton Institute. Bryant is also an at-large member of Socialist Alternative in the US.