Thursday, May 10, 2007


Mass rage murders seem to come as a great shock in this country even though they happen all the time. The experts, media and the authorities are always groping for answers. Usually they blame video games, music, guns, hate, craziness etc. Yet as is pointed out in the book Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond by Mark Ames few simply blame the school culture or the workplace culture. It was the same as in its time no one blamed slavery for slave rebellions and murder. In an interview with Abe Books and published at Reading Copy Ames states:

Everyone keeps crying “Why?” after each rage massacre. For 20 years now they’ve been repeating this “why” as if they plan to really answer it. My question is, “Why the hell are you still asking why?” We know from FBI and Secret Service studies that there is no way to profile rage murderers in workplaces or schools. That’s because every type of person has carried them out. We also know that this type of crime has a specific time and place, a specific context: mid-1980s America. So I propose we profile the socio-economic conditions, and what changed in 1980s America, as a possible cause. Then it becomes fairly obvious. Since the Reagan Revolution, life has become quantifiably worse for most Americans – more work, less pay, far less leisure time, less security, exponentially greater stress, a massive shift of wealth from the middle-class to the very top layer of the plutocracy, all whitewashed by a culture that celebrates these violent appropriations as if it’s all just swell, and only losers complain. Just to give one telling statistic: in 1978, CEOs of large US corporations made on average 30 times their workers’ salaries; by 2001, CEOs made 571 times their average workers’ salaries. American workers work 184 hours more per year than 30 years ago, but they earn almost the exact same in real terms, with far fewer benefits. Management consciously instills fear and stress into their workforce in order to squeeze more and more for less. Obviously this creates an unbearable situation. And unbearable situations sometimes lead to violent reactions. This type of crime began in the mid-1980s in the workplace, that is just as the Reagan Revolution’s effects first started taking place, and has spread ever since. The same dynamic of increased stress and rage worked its way down to the schoolyard, where they prepare you for a life in the workplace, with the same tragic results.

I'm just about done reading the book and I would recommend it.

Anyway the article below makes an attempt to put the shootings Virginia Tech in some sort of historical perspective. It is in no way, in my opinion, as incisive of the thesis laid out by Ames, but it is interesting in its own right.

The following was taken from
ChickenBones: A Journalfor Literary & Artistic African-American Themes. It appeared originally in Black Agenda Report.

The Origin of Violence in Virginia: A Brief History
By Jonathan Scott

The present is also history.
—José Carlos Mariátegui

While Seung Hui Cho was purchasing the two Glock 9 mm handguns as well as fifty hollow point bullets he would use a few months later on his classmates and professors at Virginia Tech, the state of Virginia was into its third month of spirited quadricentennial festivities dubbed by the state "America's 400th Anniversary."

There is certainly a great deal of distance between the two events, and Seung Hui Cho himself appears to have been either oblivious or completely indifferent to the fact that he was carrying out single-handedly one of the worst massacres in Virginia history at the exact same time the state was proudly remembering its historical beginning.

All the same, Seung Hui Cho's elaborately planned act of gruesome revenge against Virginia Tech is now having the effect of a sudden paradigm shift, from romantic and windy invocations of Jamestown's iron-willed Captain John Smith and his enabling and admiring Indian mistress Pocahontas, to Virginia's totally unregulated gun weapon market: in a word, to America's culture of blood-curdling violence.

In this spirit, let us review Virginia's history of violence, for it's truly second to none. Before that though it should be noted that so-called "Pocahontas" and the precious legend of her passed down for the past three centuries is pure fiction. As many American Indian historians have pointed out, "Pocahontas" was entirely the invention of Captain Smith. In fact, as Jill Lepore points out in recent article ("Jamestown at four hundred," New Yorker, April 2, 2007), American historian Henry Adams had already proved in 1867 that Smith made it all up. Smith's story, wrote Adams, is nothing more than a collection of "falsehoods of an effrontery seldom equaled in modern times."

Virginian violence is by now a many-headed hydra, yet it has a singular historical origin. Because of the necessarily schematic presentation here, I've reduced violence in Virginia to three salient characteristics: (1) the preference for mass murder along ethnic lines or genocide; (2) capitalist barbarism aimed at workers; and (3) racial terror of the kind that in the late 1930s had an envious Hitler sending Nazi scouts to the US to closely study. This distinctly Anglo-American style of violence is intimately familiar to most of the world's poor and oppressed, but unfortunately it continues to be barely recognizable by most Americans themselves.

In terms of the first, the systematic slaughter of the Powhatan Indians by Governor Berkeley's colonial militiamen reached its apogee in Virginia during the 1650s, yet it proceeded without interruption until the entire Chesapeake had been ethnically cleansed of its diverse indigenous peoples. Estimates vary on the number of Chesapeake Indians dispossessed and massacred for their rich tidewater lands, but whatever figure to which historians eventually agree is beside the point. All acknowledge it was conscious and deliberate genocide. By the end of the seventeenth century only charred remains were left of Chesapeake Indian society. Virginia colony administrators referred to the genocide as "land improvement."

The second is the massacre of Virginia's tenantry. While massacring the Chesapeake Indians, colony elites were also seeing to the massacre of Virginia's laboring classes. Here they didn't use long smooth bore-iron guns, for the aim of course was not to murder the new emigrants but rather to reduce them to chattel. Between 1607 and 1625 only one of out every six of the immigrants who came during that period was still breathing by the end of it. The death rate was seven times that of the England, around 80 percent. It takes no genius to understand why. The English emigrants arrived in Virginia in the midst of the English imperialists' rapid and aggressive encroachment upon the land. The new immigrants from England were mere cannon fodder. The Anglo-American plantation bourgeoisie achieved the massacre of the tenantry by attacking the social status of the laboring people in the colony. They used two tactics.

First, every share of Virginia stock entitled each capitalist investor a free title to 100 acres of land. The four incorporators of Berkeley Hundred, for example, purchased forty-five shares of the company and were given a patent for 4,500 acres of Virginia's finest soil. That is, the newly arrived laborers had no rights that a wealthy planter was bound to respect: unless they were capitalist investors, they had no legal claim to either land or civil rights.

Second, the wealthy planters devised a "headright" system whereunder each laborer they brought to the colony earned them fifty acres of free land. This is how America's slave trade began, not along the coast of West Africa (that would come next) but rather from London and Liverpool, where tens of thousands of poor English were "spirited away," as they called the practice of legal kidnapping, to Virginia by slave traders. Consequently, by the end of the seventeenth century Virginia's laboring people consisted mostly of bond laborers, 70 percent from England, Scotland, and Ireland and the other 30 percent from Africa via Barbados colony.

A traveling London merchant to the area in the late seventeenth century recorded his impressions. Those in bondage, comprising more than sixty percent of the people in Virginia colony, endure conditions "far worse than the poorest gypsy in England," he noted. "Their usual food is maize bread to eat, and water to drink, which sometimes is not very good and scarcely enough for life, yet they are compelled to work hard. Thus they are by hundreds of thousands compelled to spend their lives in Virginia in planting that vile tobacco, which all vanishes into smoke, and is for the most part miserably abused. The servants and negroes after they have worn themselves down the whole day, and gone home to rest, have yet to grind and pound the grain, which is generally maize, for their masters and all their families as well as themselves" (see James Horn, Adapting to a New World, Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1994, p. 275).

The third component of Virginian violence is racial slavery. As seen in components one and two, the English capitalists that founded Virginia colony in 1607 possessed a singular vision of America, in which all the indigenous were violently disappeared, all the laborers violently reduced to chattel, and gargantuan profits accumulated instantly without the annoying presence of parliaments and other such regulatory bodies. They were corrupt and scheming right-wing royalists recently forced out of England by Cromwell's army, their sights set solely on fertile Virginia tidewater land and how they might exploit it to the fullest.

Thus it comes as no surprise that these particular men were eager to get in on the African slave trade. Yet they soon found themselves in a very difficult dilemma, for the newly transported Africans entered an already chattelized labor force. It's true that the kidnapped Africans were sold into lifetime hereditary slavery whereas the kidnapped English, Scots, and Irish had been sold into limited-term slavery. Yet in the oligarchic plantation monoculture of seventeenth-century Virginia, the two groups of bond laborers found themselves in exactly the same boat. They lived together in the same slave quarters, fell in love together, escaped together, revolted together. Bacon's Rebellion of 1676-77 was the outcome of their common chattelization under Virginia's plantation bourgeoisie in which thousands of African slaves and thousands of European slaves took up arms together (15,000 in total), seized control of Virginia colony, murdered slave-owners, and drove the entire ruling class of capitalist planters into exile for more than eight months straight.

This third component of Virginian violence, racial slavery, is the most barbarous for obvious reasons and it's not necessary to delve into it here. Suffice it to say that Virginia's planter elite responded to Bacon's Rebellion by masterminding a system of racial slavery through which they could continue the chattelization of Virginia's laboring people by now imposing it exclusively on African Americans.

Bacon's Rebellion had forced the capitalist planters' hand: to continue with chattel slavery in Virginia they had, from now on, to prevent such bond-labor uprisings in advance, preemptively. This they achieved by passing laws in the early eighteenth century prohibiting the enslavement of European Americans (now called "whites," for the first time incidentally). In return, that is to say the condition on which they had the right of non-enslavement conferred on them, these poor and propertyless European Americans were to make certain that African American bond laborers stayed under the lash and had their labor exploited by capitalist planters as efficiently as possible; thus the birth of the "poor whites" as overseers, patrollers, slave-catchers, county sheriffs, and lynch mobs.

The scarcely comprehensible scale of violence in Virginia that followed the imposition of racial slavery and racial oppression, the hundreds of thousands of nameless African Americans starved, raped, lashed, kicked and beaten, tortured, and murdered, which then spread like a cancer everywhere else in America, is really just beginning to be felt and understood by Americans, thanks largely to our greatest writers, beginning with the antislavery activists and authors of the nineteenth century (Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs, Fred Douglass, Ida B. Wells), down to Charles Chesnutt (his 1901 masterpiece The Marrow of Tradition is one of the fullest descriptions of it) and W.E.B. Du Bois. Then Mark Twain, Richard Wright, Sinclair Lewis, Langston Hughes, William Faulkner, John O. Killens, Margaret Walker (Jubilee), William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner), August Wilson, Toni Morrison (Beloved, of course, but it's in all her novels). There are many others. It's difficult to come up with a good American writer who hasn't been preoccupied with this society's most dominant tendency, that of violence on a mass scale.

Yet and still, we can expect the corporate media to go on calling Seung Hui Cho an unfathomably bizarre lunatic and all that. He was clearly a sociopath, but compared to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said she felt the mass murder of 500,000 Iraqi children, through starvation, under her and Clinton's sanctions policy was "worth it," he's small fry. And with the so-called US Left, we're already seeing their predictable response: they blame it all on non-existent gun laws in Virginia and are barking again for tighter restrictions.

In a country whose origin is so deeply drenched in the blood of workers, Indian, European, and African, and that has never for a moment strayed from this origin but rather expanded and systemized it in the most horrific and catastrophic ways imaginable, including against the nation of Korea where between 1950 and 1953, the US military murdered more than a million civilians, through death squads and napalm, tighter gun laws are at best a political diversion and at worst a transparent means to keep America's laboring people in the same defenseless position they've always been, where the sociopaths above have all the guns and everyone below is at their mercy. American violence and mass murder, which began in Virginia, will not be prevented by gun control laws in Virginia today or any time in the future. This kind of violence can only be ended by putting a stop to the law superseding it and every other one, the law of rich eat the poor and the use of imperialist war to keep the rule of money continuously functioning.

In communiqués to NBC that the network aired and that the authorities are now trying to suppress, Seung Hui Cho returned again and again to the class character of his violent rage. While the comparison of himself with Jesus Christ seems outrageous and beneath contempt, it was after all Jesus who said, "Woe unto the rich! For ye have received your fill." He was also known to violently attack loan sharks doing business in the temple of God.

Only the faint-hearted and delusional will try to twist Seung Hui Cho's massacre at Virginia Tech and his explicitly stated reasons for doing it into the work of an isolated psycho. Had we only acted more decisively on his obvious cries for help, so they say, he could have been heavily medicated and then properly disposed of in some local lunatic asylum.

What he did was barbaric, and this barbarism is what made Seung Hui Cho finally into the true American he always wanted to be.

Source: Black Agenda Report

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