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Class violence and national oppression

Published Feb 19, 2009 8:41 PM

“Nonviolence is fine as long as it works.”

“I don’t even call it violence when it’s in self defense; I call it intelligence.” (africanamericanquotes.org)

The quotes above from Malcolm X don’t negate one another. In fact, one quote validates the other. It is a question of tactics.

The inherent violence of the capitalist system has been demonstrated time and again throughout history. It is not necessary to peruse a history book, but simply to pick up a newspaper, walk outside or observe everyday relations. Putting profit before need is violent and as established before, class society produces struggle of the opposing classes, from whence violence inevitably arises.

But, as the words from Malcolm X illustrate, working and oppressed people are not bent on bloodthirsty revenge and the movements of workers and the oppressed don’t needlessly resort to violence as a matter of course.

Rather, the tactics grow out of a necessity to defend oneself and ultimately one’s interest. As Marx wrote, “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers.” (“Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels”) This is because of the nature of the system, because workers and the oppressed struggle for every advance and concession.

The pressure exerted in the interests of one class over the other brings qualitative change—this is dialectics. Either a material change is won or from the resistance for material change comes a change in consciousness.

The original or primitive accumulation of capital in the U.S. was attained through naked brutal means—rape, murder, theft of land and slavery. If capital came into the world “dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt,” (“Capital, Karl Marx”) then the story of the U.S. ruling class is so mired that the blood may obscure the bludgeon.

Though the European imperialists built their societies using the same basic means, the U.S. was founded through the most extreme exploitation and trapped within its borders are nations of people, upon whose backs and from whose superexploited labor, the U.S. built its wealth and laid its foundation.

Vladimir Lenin referred to tsarist Russia as “the prison house of nations” because across its great expanse, through colonialism, there were over one hundred distinct ethnicities. The U.S. has replaced tsarist Russia as the prison house of nations with over 2 million incarcerated people.

Indigenous people, the many distinct North American Indian tribes, the peoples of the Pacific Islands, the people of Puerto Rico, Mexican people and Black people have been imprisoned within a country founded on the doctrine of white supremacy over darker skinned people.

And through constant violence, nationally oppressed people in the U.S. have been kept disproportionately impoverished and subjected to legal and extralegal violence in order that the status quo is maintained.

The question of oppressed nations, of the national question, underlies all other questions in U.S. society. So, throughout U.S. history, when the issue of violence and its use by working people has come up, regardless of its timeliness—whether or not the ire of the working class in general is up enough—it has been important to defend the right of oppressed nationalities to respond to their oppression however they see fit. Self-determination of oppressed people has to be affirmed by revolutionaries.

Bourgeois ideology’s grip on the minds of workers is loosened when contradictions are brightly glaring and for oppressed nationalities the contradictions have been ripe.

The contradictions of racist U.S. society and the legal and extralegal ways by which oppressed people have been held under foot have produced heroic resistance.

That resistance, whether nonviolent or violent, has been effective and it can be said that history shows, that ultimately, the use of violence by the oppressed is more justified.

Next installment will deal with the history of struggle in the U.S. and the various forms of struggle and national liberation.