VA Tech shootings show barbarism of capitalism’s decomposition

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As this issue of Internationalism goes to press, details are still emerging regarding the senseless mass slaughter of 33 people-including the apparent shooter who committed suicide-on the campus of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, VA. Based on what we can gleam from media accounts so far, this event appears to be but the latest in a long series of horrific school shootings that have rocked the planet over the last decade and a half. These killings serve as prime evidence of the complete bankruptcy of the capitalist social order, a system that puts the accumulation of profit and the interests of the imperial state before the satisfaction of human needs and the nourishment of human potential.

In fact, what these shootings really demonstrate is the decomposition of the very foundations of the capitalist social order itself, with its inability to offer the younger generation any real perspective for the future. More and more young people grow increasingly depressed and isolated as they are marginalized by unemployment, the ruthless competition of academic life-which foreshadows the future awaiting many of them in an increasingly precarious job market, the poor state of mental health care and the overall decline of social solidarity, as life under capitalism becomes an increasingly Hobbesian struggle for individual survival.

The shooter in this particular case, Cho Seung-Hui, appears to have been a very isolated and depressed individual who had extreme difficulty forming any social bonds with others of his generation. The capitalist media will inevitably seize on this and interpret his actions as the result of an individual mental health crisis resulting from his anti-social nature and his cultural isolation as a Korean immigrant. While these factors probably played a role in pushing this particular individual to take these desperate and senseless actions, the media will try its best to pass the shootings off as the actions of a lone "nut case" that no amount of foresight and intervention could prevent. Their goal is to make us all accept that events like this, as unfortunate and terrible as they may be, will happen from time to time and there is nothing we can really do about them. While some left-wing bourgeois politicians will raise the issue of gun control and argue for more restrictive legislation to prevent such tragedies[1] and those on the right will seek to hold a supposedly permissive and violent popular culture responsible, the main thrust of the media campaign will be to convince us that these murderous events-just like terrorism-are something we are going to have to learn to live with.

In fact, something of this very sense of inevitability was revealed in the video tape the shooter sent to the news media shortly before launching his killing spree. In the tape, which is mostly an incoherent mix of anarchist hatred of the rich and puritanical and misogynistic ravings, he laments the injuries that the privileged and depraved in society have inflicted upon him, but irrationally concludes that he has no choice, no option at all, but to strike back against random innocent individuals in the murderous way he did. The sense that there is no alternative but to resort to violence is the very argument the bourgeoisie uses to justify its own military barbarism. And in the U.S., this same argument is used constantly to explain why we must keep the troops in Iraq. According to this cynical view, no matter how much in error the initial decision to send troops may have been, we now have no choice but to stay the course.

It is no surprise that this mentality has penetrated throughout society and helped cultivate an increasingly pervasive sense among many disaffected young people that there is "no future" and thus "no alternative" for assuaging one's pain than to strike back against society with individualized violence. At least that way, one can gain some recognition and attention and make society take them seriously for once, even if it means going out in a hail of bullets or the blast of a bomb. We see this same sick logic play itself out in suicide bombings in the Middle East, as well as the senseless acts of destruction carried out by many young people in the supposedly politically aware anarchist milieu.

However, the fact of the matter is that an alternative does exist to this senseless spiral into hopelessness and violence-both state and individual-that is currently engulfing the capitalist social order. But this alternative will not be found by turning to the capitalist state to protect us with more legislation-they have already proven incapable of doing that-or to the religious hacks who try to comfort us with the absurd notion that such events are part of God's master plan.

Today, it is only in the struggle of the working class against capitalism that we can find a road to a different type of society, one that is based on the collective solidarity of all, rather than the private enrichment of a few. While we cannot say that all forms of mental illness will disappear under communism-this part of the human condition is still just too poorly understood today-we do know that the establishment of a truly communist society will require a level of social solidarity we do not have today. This solidarity, while not a panacea for all human problems, is something we communists think will go a long way to alleviating many of the psychological pressures that young people like Seung-Hui face in a decomposing capitalist society which itself has no future use to the human species and whose continued existence can only serve prolong human misery.

Internationalism

April 2007


[1] In fact, as soon as news of the shootings was released, the bourgeois media in Europe, Australia and Canada seized on the event to cynically berate the United States' "gun culture" and trump the superiority of their societies over that of the American hegemon. However, while it is true that due to historical reasons it is much easier for individuals to purchase a gun in the United States than elsewhere, this same type of irrational youth violence has occurred across the capitalist globe, from the 1989 shootings at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, which killed 15 people, to the 2002 school shooting in Erfurt, Germany which claimed 17 lives.