Content Warning – Descriptions of Genocide, Ableism,
A newspaper running the headline ”Governing party kills 17,000 disabled civilians” or ”130,000 citizens disappeared by government” would most likely prompt reactions of pure disgust, as images of the holocaust and genocides all across history come to mind, with the thought of disabled people being dragged from their homes and shot against walls flashing across shocked eyes. But how about when it’s not done with a rifle or a bomb but is the everyday function of capitalism? This violence is not done with mass graves and camps, but in benefits offices. It’s carried out with files and letters telling people to seek work.
If the results are the same, it doesn’t matter how it happened. It’s easy to be insensitive with these statistics, but it’s important to remember that these 17,000 people aren’t nameless and faceless. These were people who have been killed; brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and all the rest, people who loved, cried and dreamed. People who have been killed, and who killed them?
Ultimately we can blame the system of capitalism for their deaths, no system that treats people entirely as production numbers will ever be friendly to disabled people and even those of us without great power can be forced to make immoral decisions against the threat of systemic consequences. But within this system there are those who seek to create more suffering for their own cruel benefit, these are landlords, bankers, capitalists, but also the lawmakers that facilitate suffering. How come to shoot one person on the street would get someone a lifetime in jail, but a policy killing thousands can be excused on the basis of politics? I say that those who cause mass deaths deserve to face justice.
Anyone who can see that policies that kill thousands are no better than bombs that kill thousands should be angry to the point of action. Emma Goldman once said that ”The most violent element in society is ignorance” and to be ignorant now, of what politicians who govern for only their class, the rich, have done to innocent people and specifically minority groups such as British Muslims is to condone violence. Imagine how we would treat those in history who have stood by and watched as their government killed thousands of innocents, and then think, what will you do now?
Of course to keep things vague is to play into the hands of the political class, they hide behind the guise of just being politicians, not executioners. So we must focus on each name and identity of those who so liberally cause suffering and death for those most vulnerable. The names of Jacob Rees Mogg, Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Chris Chope and Esther McVey come to mind and these people should be held accountable, but it is worth remembering there is no ‘soft’ Tory and there is no politician that has clean hands – Labour, the supposed party of the people – had 28 landlords MPs as of 2017.
Those like Rees-Mogg who have led the attack on the poor should be looked at first as criminals and mass-murderers, because where there is murder there is a murderer, with or without a smoking gun, and the people who have taken so many innocent lives always have names and addresses.
Writing lengths about the despicable nature of Tories is fun, but what is more important is realising that the mass killings that take place every day are not just the result of a group of aristocrats who use their power to attack the poor and vulnerable, but are a deliberate result of the system we live in.
The way we can illustrate how deaths that otherwise are shown to be commonplace are deliberate and structural is how deaths vary from region to region. The stark difference between infant mortality, a regular indicator of strong infrastructure and wealth, from traditionally richer areas of the UK like the South West and South East to the substantially poorer areas of the UK such as the Midlands and the North.
This huge disparity in infant mortality is the result of poorer infrastructure. A study showing that in two thirds of areas in the North, women’s life expectancy is lower than the South’s lowest female life expectancy, and that southern regions get more than four times as much funding for research and development; this inequality in funding equates to £21.95 per head in the North compared to £51.02 per head elsewhere in the UK – the government have clearly come to the conclusion from Eton dorms and country estates that lives in the south are just more important than those in the North and the Midlands.
The big question is, if deaths due to poor funding were preventable, yet the government chose not to prevent them, how different is this to killing them outright? Peter Singer*, in his famous ‘pond analogy’ for Effective Altruism, displays how really, the gulf between acting and not acting is not so large, that the government could have prevented deaths and chose not to, is a form of murder.
The ‘Pond Analogy’ from Peter Singer aims to show that not helping others when it is possible to do so is as if one has caused the harm themselves. It goes: Imagine you are walking along a pavement to work or school, and pass a shallow pond where there is a small child that appears to be drowning, you can easily wade in and save the child’s life at the inconvenience to you that your clothes would be muddy and wet.
Singer then asks, do you have an obligation to save the child? If you answered yes, as almost everyone does, then surely it makes no difference if the child is far away or even if you never see them. Following this logic, it is morally wrong to choose not to help someone if it relatively easy for you to do so, meaning the rich, who could easily end world hunger and other problems, are morally culpable for all the people they choose not to save.
It may take a large amount of mathematics and variables, but it means theoretically that you could count the ‘Capitalist death toll’ as many have tried to do in the past – BadMouseProductions gives a good explanation here.
Often communism is discussed in the west by its purported death toll. The number of 100 million deaths via communism has historically been thrown around by publications like the Black Book of Communism, but as Noam Chomsky points out in ‘Counting the Bodies’, the deaths in one country alone, India, that has wholly embraced capitalism, has a death toll that outnumbers the entirety of communism’s 20th century death toll, even with the dubious numbers provided by the ‘Black Book of Communism’. The big difference is that when the system is named communist or socialist, even if it is largely state capitalist, every death is attributed to systemic failure, whereas within capitalism each death is blamed solely on the individual.
This is how violence becomes the invisible backbone of capitalism; without the millions of workers who die and suffer as a result of terrible working conditions or the millions of children who die every year as a result of their poverty-stricken conditions, their blood oiling the machine of capitalism.
Capitalists will tell you that those in poverty are either there through poor choice or are a problem that cannot be avoided, but the system of capitalism enforces poverty. In the words of arch-capitalist Adam Smith ”for one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor.”
It is for this reason, this entrenched violence within capitalist society, that resistance, even militant resistance, is ultimately an act of self-defence.
Once you have come to the sane conclusion that within capitalism lies an entrenched violence and capitalists, the ultra-rich and right wing politicians have more blood on their hands than any famed serial killer, the immediate thought is how should we go about achieving justice? Surely given the biblical logic of an eye for an eye, at the very least capitalists should be tried and killed by people’s courts or hunted down by mobs or attacked on the street. These may all be just actions, but they wouldn’t be solving any problems.
Ultimately, the capitalists, as disgusting and deserving of hatred as they are, are only playing to the system they’re in, and until the system is completely and totally destroyed, there will always be a continuation of structural violence.
Take for example, Allan G Johnson says in his People, Systems and the Game of Monopoly speech when discussing race, people are no more than the system they are in. For example, when playing monopoly with family or friends, it would be insane to say that you are a terrible, self-interested person for charging your elderly relative rent when they land on your property with a hotel, you are just playing to the system. To go against the system would cause you to quickly lose your money and be eliminated from the game. No one can be a kind monopoly player, and equally, there will always be self-interested action that causes structural violence within capitalism.
Justice may be had if a group were to massacre billionaires, but without a complete destruction of the system, a revolution, there will just be another set of parasites to fill their places and do the exact same thing. Sure, if you see Tory MP or a billionaire on the street, give them hell, but remember that what you’re doing may be justice, but it isn’t change.
*Peter Singer has awful and extremely ableist views and this discussion of his analogy is not an endorsement. Read more about Singer being grim here.