Guns, bombs and workers’ control

Recent events have sent the media into a feeding frenzy. War in the Balkans. The high school massacre in Colorado. Nail bombs in London. Jill Dando, the TV presenter, is shot dead outside her house. War, violence and guns dominate the headlines. 

Whatever tidal wave of inconsequential nonsense the bourgeois media may generate, all the instances mentioned above raise issues of crucial importance for socialists and revolutionaries.

None more so than the mayhem which visited the quintessentially Middle American town of Littleton in Denver, Colorado. Two students - Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris - walked into the Columbine High School and shot 25 of their fellow pupils. Twelve died. They then turned their guns on themselves.

Inevitably, this terrible and seemingly inexplicable act ignited a moralistic panic. Klebold and Harris were middle class kids from respectable families - no white trailer-trash or underclass lumpens. Indeed, by all accounts they were intelligent and brighter than average teenagers. Yet something went terribly wrong. They developed a murderous hatred for the suburban high school values of Littleton - especially the ‘jocks’ who excelled at sporting activities. This antipathy to official values took the form of becoming part of the ‘Trenchcoat mafia’ - a distinctly anti-Middle American grouping. Klebold and Harris were fascinated by the mechanics of guns and bombs. The politics of white supremacism and racism also provided a strong pole of attraction. It seems that Adolf Hitler became hero and role model to the increasingly disaffected pair.

How could all this happen? The ruling class needed to find answers - quickly. The usual suspects were rounded up. Such as the worldwide web. Klebold and Harris obsessively trawled the internet looking for neo-Nazi and rightwing sites - Harris’s favourite being called Ich bin ein Auslander (I am a foreigner). Then there were computer games and videos. Watching violent films and playing shoot-’em-up games occupied inordinate amounts of time. Next there was the music - another major suspect looms. The high school killers belonged the ‘goth’ subculture, whose musical antecedents can be found in groups like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division. Klebold and Harris’s favourite group were a Seattle-based ‘industrial goth’ band from Germany called KMFDM. This band has previously released albums called Angstfest and Nihil. Even worse, the two youths adored the ‘shock-rocker’ performer Marilyn Manson (name derived from Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson), who has openly declared war on the values of Middle America. A second-rate Alice Cooper only with more make-up, Manson’s speciality are songs which hinge on nihilistic and suicidal themes, all nicely spiced with chic-occult imagery. Are Marilyn Manson and KMFDM to blame for the Colombine high school tragedy?

Of course, this is all nonsense - and nothing we have not heard before. The Oliver Stone film, Natural born killers, was blamed for a rash of seemingly motiveless murders in France and America. Strenuous attempts in this country were made to link the video, Child’s play III, to the Jamie Bulger killing. As for music, not that long ago it was ‘orthodox’ heavy metal which was held responsible for the corruption of Middle American high schools kids - with Ozzy Osborne standing in for Marilyn Manson. Before that it was rock ‘n’ roll and Elvis Presley who were a mortal threat to the American way of life.         

Such facile explanations hold no water. For instance, KMFDM claim loyalty to the ideology of anarchism and anti-fascism. Its bandleader, Sascha Konietzko, issued a press release saying: “From the beginning our music has been a statement against war, oppression, fascism and violence against others.” Likewise it would be monstrously inadequate, and anti-Marxist, to simply portray Klebold and Harris as Hitler-loving weirdos devoid of all humanity. Objects to be condemned. And to make us feel more righteous.   

For communists, the responsibility for Littleton lies elsewhere. In the consumer-driven conformity which pervades American society, and its subsequent fear of all ‘outsiders’. An education system which has more of the features of a gigantic warehousing-cum-policing operation. A country, in the words of the conservative historian Niall Ferguson,

“in which, for all the efforts of the multitudinous churches, traditional moral values have been more or less replaced by the value of stocks and shares ... where the parents track the Dow Jones and trade internet shares via Charles Schwab while their offspring spend the proceeds in endless, indefatigable consumption” (The Sunday Telegraph April 25). 

And look at Littleton itself, which seems to have been designed by an evil genius for maximum alienation. The identical - scrubbed clean - houses. No public spaces or parks. No cafes. No pubs. No ‘alternative’ bookshops, record shops or clothes stores. Just a large shopping mall stuffed with security guards looking for ‘punks’ (or goths). A curfew which keeps young people off the streets after 11pm. The intolerance of ‘the jocks’, who taunted members of the ‘Trenchcoat mafia’ for being in a ‘gay gang’. An intolerance quickly picked upon by the ambitious David Duke, white supremacist and former Ku Klux Kan leader, who opined of Klebold and Harris: “Diversity is what caused this shooting. These guys were radical homosexuals.”

The overwhelming response - at least in Britain - to the Colombine killings has been a media-orchestrated chorus calling for gun control. Bourgeois liberal common sense dictates that more gun control equals less violence. This has seen liberal and left-leaning journalists, whether implicitly or explicitly, contrast the more civilised British society to the backward, gun-loving culture of the United States. Hurrah for Britain, where the (anti-racist) bourgeois state has a virtual monopoly over automatic guns and weapons of mass destruction. We can easily recall the immediate and reflex reaction from official society to the Dunblane school massacre, which was to inaugurate an emotive crusade to ban all handguns. An understandable reaction for liberal humanists and for members of the bourgeoisie with a conscience.

Dismally, but predictably, this was also the Pavlovian response of economistic groups like the Socialist Party in England and Wales. It tailed the Snowdrop campaign to ban handguns and in general argued for greater ‘local authority control’ over weapons. In other words, it capitulated to bourgeois common sense in its haste to be respectable. Weapons, guns and violence are bad things. Socialists are against bad things. Therefore we do not want anything to do with guns or weapons. Leave them in the capable hands of the bourgeois state instead.

Communists do not join the call for gun control. We actively oppose it. Or rather, the gun control we favour is that by which the workers, organised into a political class, have access to and control over the most advanced weaponry available - with which it seeks to overthrow the bourgeois state and disarm the bourgeoisie. Without workers’ militias - the people armed - the workers can never become the ruling class. The American tragedy is that the right to bear arms - a progressive concept as such - has become the right of atomised and alienated egos to murder each other. The war of all against all. But the solution is not gun control, for American workers to disarm themselves - it lies in working class politics.

Narrow anti-Americanism can easily take an anti-democratic form. Already some are favourably contrasting the German bourgeois state’s anti-free speech laws to the first amendment bourgeois democracy of the United States. Displaying the swastika, owning a copy of Mein kampf (unless state supervised) and disputing the six-million holocaust figure are criminal offences in Germany. Some people in the German media are keen to point out that the outward behaviour of the Littleton killers would have been illegal in Germany. Ergo if the United States adopted German-type laws restricting freedom of speech … Is it not obvious?

This would be a ‘cure’ worse than the illness. To make it illegal to own, possess or even read Mein kampf - or to ban far-right groups - would be deeply irrational, and could only help to give an air of mystique and glamour to fascist and neo-Nazi ideas. The CPGB has long said that openness and full democracy is the best antidote to reactionary ideas and prejudices.

Yet over the last week there have been more voices raised calling for German-type laws. After the first two nail bombs in Brixton and Brick Lane, Ken Livingstone wrote in The Guardian: “The BNP should be banned from gaining the rights accorded to genuine political parties in the coming elections. We should ban the BNP, which is no more than a racist criminal conspiracy” (April 28). A plea which has often been made by authoritarian anti-racist liberals like Yasmin Alibah-Brown, a regular contributer to The Independent. And after the Soho bombing, Michael Mansfield QC, one of the architects of the SLP’s witch-hunting constitution, bellowed in The Observer (May 2) about “proscribing” organisations like the BNP, in order “to demonstrate to the Afro-Caribbeans, Jews, Asians and gays, and for that matter to the police themselves, that we mean business”. Mansfield conscientiously added:

“There is always the risk that such laws may be invoked against pure political dissent, but this risk post-Macpherson has been substantially reduced, now public recognition has been given to the need to define, identify and counter racism.”

How long before Mansfield and Livingstone start demanding that certain politically incorrect publications and books be banned - starting of course with Mein kampf. Authoritarian and statist views like these are not confined to ambitious bourgeois politicians and lawyers. Astoundingly, members of ‘revolutionary left’ groups have been known to express very similar sentiments. The CPGB has been told by some SWP members that Mein kampf should be prohibited from public libraries and bookshops. Only duly-accredited students should be allowed to read it. Perhaps the SWP thinks that the very print, or even the actual paper itself, is impregnated with a supernatural evil that corrupts all those poor souls who gaze upon its dark words.

What all this indicates is the complete absence of any independent working class agenda. There is a big void where the left should be. The reaction to the London nail bombs dramatically demonstrates how official society is “on the crest of an anti-racist wave”, to quote the apt words of Ateeq Sidique of the Bradford Commission for Racial Equality. The bourgeois class has had carte blanche to promote and agitate for its inclusive, anti-racist vision of a new Britain. It is now the essence of unBritishness to subscribe to any form of racist and, so it seems, homophobic bigotry. The old Revolutionary Communist Party (later Living Marxism, now LM) adage that “racism is as British as Lady Di” needs to be urgently amended: anti-racism is now as British as Princess Diana. Everyone from Sir Paul Condon to Prince Charles has loudly and ostentatiously condemned the nail bombings, and lauded to the skies the values of multiculturalism, tolerance and diversity. With the possible exception of the Sunday Sport, all the newspapers have joined the PC anti-racist chorus.

But it is also very British indeed to wave the flag - vigorously. Addressing an international conference at Birmingham to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Sikh faith, Tony Blair delivered an impassioned and Churchillian defence of the ‘British’ values of tolerance and decency. Directly linking the ‘just war’ by Nato forces against Serbia with the hunt for the London nail bomber(s), he told his rapturous audience: “Patriotism in Britain no longer excluded people because of their colour, religion or ethnic background, but took pride in a diversity which enriches and unites the country. The true outcasts today, the true minorities, those truly excluded are not the different races and religions of Britain, but the racists, the bombers, the violent criminals who hate that vision of Britain and try to destroy it.” Unsurprisingly, the Sikh delegates were well impressed by Blair’s anti-racist sincerity.

David Cesarani, professor of Jewish history and director of the Wiener Library, referred to the fascist and neo-nazi fringe as the “stay behinds”. Confronted by Blair’s hegemonic programme for an inclusive Britain, these forces feel that

“all that remains is to hurt this new, plural, cosmopolitan society; to wipe the smirk off its face, as Jews, muslims, blacks, gays and Asians mingle happily in street markets, pubs and cafes” (The Independent on Sunday May 2).

However, you could talk about another group of “stay behinds” - the left. The increasingly bizarre left which still insists - as an article of infallible faith - that the bourgeois state is inherently racist. Which clings on to the Macphersonian belief that all the bodies and organisations of bourgeois society are “institutionally racist”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Until the left even starts to grapple with the political-ideological realities of Britain and high politics, it is doomed to impotency - shouting anti-racist slogans from the sidelines, slogans which the ruling class are only too happy to incorporate into their own vision of an impeccably anti-racist and inclusive bourgeois Britain. This dovetailing makes it most unlikely that any effective opposition to Blairite ideology will come from the revolutionary left as it is presently constituted.

Eddie Ford