Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 23:34:03 -0500 (CDT)
From: Workers World <>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: The Class Nature of Violence
Article: 64778
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
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Summit rhetoric hides the class nature of violence

By Greg Butterfield, Workers World, 27 May 1999

The terrible shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on April 20 have prompted a dialog among various sectors of society, including poor and working people. Many feel that violence by youths is rising and that a solution must be found.

Unfortunately, the discussion has been framed by politicians and corporate-dominated television and newspapers. These mouthpieces for the wealthy are working overtime to channel people’s legitimate concerns to suit ruling-class interests, and away from the real needs of the vast majority.

In Littleton, two white-supremacist youths—Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold—opened fire on their classmates and teachers on the anniversary of Adolph Hitler’s birth. They targeted one of the school’s few Black students plus 12 other students and two teachers before turning their guns on themselves.

It was the latest in a string of school shootings since the mid-1990s. Most of these incidents have occurred in rural, predominately white areas.

Politicians and groups across the spectrum of capitalist politics have raised demands for more police in schools, more metal detectors, gun control, curfews, and censorship of films, television and the Internet.

But are more repressive measures a legitimate solution? Or does state repression in fact feed the climate that spawns these reactionary acts of violence?

Those crying loudest for greater restrictions are liberal supporters of the Clinton administration—which at this very moment is waging a brutal, violent war against the people of Yugoslavia. The far right, which openly fans the flames of racism, sexism and homophobia, joins in, chanting about the breakdown of moral values.

Both views are completely divorced from the realities of capitalist society. Neither has any value for the working class and oppressed.

See how Clinton brought together a gaggle of media moguls, corporate lobbyists and politicians May 10 for a high-profile summit on youth violence in Washington. New York Times reporter Katharine Q. Seelye described this farce:

Sarah Brady, a crusader for gun control, found common ground with Robert A. Ricker, a lobbyist for gun makers. Steve Case, head of America Online, and Doug Lowenstein, a lobbyist for video-game makers, agreed to try to prevent children from buying some games on the Internet. And Eric Heydenberk, 12, of Quakerstown, Pa., said he was creating a Web page to tell other kids how to handle being bullied.

Lots of small moments emerged from President Clinton’s three-hour `summit’ meeting today on youths and violence, as did a pledge by the Administration to campaign against violence.

But one immediate result of the talkathon, at which 50 people spoke and which reporters were barred from viewing, was to diffuse blame for the school shootings in Littleton.

Clinton wasn’t interested in laying blame at the feet of the gun industry or Hollywood. High-ranking Democrats and Republicans rely on them for major funding and political sway.

No, his sights are fixed on increasing the violent powers of the capitalist state—the police, the military, the courts and prisons—by hiring more cops and forking more billions of dollars into the Pentagon trough.

In that vein, discussion of state-sanctioned violence— police brutality, the death penalty, the war—was strictly taboo.

Afterward Clinton said: This was exactly the kind of session I had hoped for, where everyone was talking about the problems and the opportunities. No one was pointing the finger of blame. Certainly not at the government or the profit system.

Yet on the same day all that hot air was being pumped in Washington, a revealing admission came from Columbine High School officials. Klebold’s and Harris’s English teacher had warned their parents a month before the shootings about the violent character of their sons’ writings.


When the teacher learned that Harris’s father was a retired Air Force officer and that his son hoped to enlist in the military, the teacher concluded that the essay was consistent with his future career aspirations. (New York Times, May 11)

Democrats, Republicans and the media condemn violence in general while carefully avoiding any mention of their involvement in the brutal U.S./NATO war targeting civilians in the Balkans.

Clinton may mildly rebuke the movie industry for excessive violence, as he did in his May 15 radio address. But he’s not calling for an end to the glorification of the police in movies, video games, or the evening news. Yet the epidemic of racist police terror against Black and Latino youths is well documented.

The truth is, all the hypocritical condemnations of violence are part of a war of ideas being waged against young people. The ruling class wants to twist the real lesson of the Columbine tragedy by telling people they must never, ever struggle against the powers that be.

Violence is often horrible—especially in a reactionary climate like the one that has permeated the U.S. for a generation. In the hands of the capitalist state, or those influenced by it, guns are a means for enforcing the system’s built-in bigotry.

But armed resistance can be progressive and liberating. That’s the case when an oppressed community takes up guns to defend itself against police and Klan terror—as the Deacons for Defense and Justice and the Black Panther Party did in the 1960s. Or when an armed people rises up to oust imperialism, as the Cuban and Vietnamese people have done. Or when, as happened often in this century, workers take up arms to defend their picket lines from goons and strikebreakers.

The real solution to reactionary outbursts of violence is to build a militant, mass movement of the working class against the racist and imperialist official violence wielded by the government at home and abroad.

It’s not an easy solution. But history has shown it is the only real one.