“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb
Capitalist society values profit over human life. Every year in the United States hundreds of thousands of people die due to poverty, hunger, lack of housing, inadequate healthcare, and other social conditions that could be addressed with the resources available. The government response to the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how heartless the ruling class can be. All of these needless deaths are a form of social murder carried out by the corporate oligarchy controlling the government. Until the capitalist system is replaced, social murder will remain a leading cause of death throughout the world.
In The Condition of the Working Class in England, Friedrich Engels defined the concept of social murder:
“But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.”Friedrich Engels
This description could just as easily have been written about the conditions created by capitalism in the modern world. The crime of social murder is being committed by the United States government and other capitalist systems throughout the world on a grand scale.
“Capitalists…should never be allowed near a health care system. They hold sick children hostage as they force parents to bankrupt themselves in the desperate scramble to pay for medical care. The sick do not have a choice. Medical care is not a consumable good.”Chris Hedges, This Isn’t Reform, It’s Robbery
A very clear case of social murder is the lack of a universal, single-payer healthcare system in the United States. A study done by The Lancet has estimated that Medicare for All would save 68,000 lives per year. When President Barack Obama failed to implement single-payer, even when he had a supermajority, he was committing murder against the least privileged in society by attaching healthcare to for-profit insurance companies. Failure to support a universal healthcare system is condoning the murder of all those who die each year because they can not afford healthcare. Lack of support for a universal healthcare system during a global pandemic would be unthinkable to anyone with a sense of empathy – yet when asked whether he was reconsidering single-payer with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Joe Biden said, “Single-payer will not solve that at all.” The only reason politicians do not support a single-payer system is that they are sold out to the insurance lobby. Corporate wealth is their priority over the health of the people. While those convicted of murder can be executed or spend a lifetime behind bars, politicians who are guilty of social murder are running the country and getting rich from it.
“In order to make an end of this housing shortage, there is only one means: to abolish altogether the exploitation and oppression of the working class by the ruling class.”Friedrich Engels, The Housing Question
A study done by Doctor James J. O’Connell in 2005 found that “homeless persons are 3–4 times more likely to die than the general population.” Over 500,000 people are homeless on any given night in the United States. This number is disproportionately composed of minorities as, “Studies from different cities have found that people of color comprise about eighty percent of those facing evictions.” With roughly 1.5 million vacant homes in the United States, it is absurd cruelty that homelessness should be an issue at all. The means exist to house our homeless, but the political will is not there.
Evictions have only increased with the onset of the pandemic. “A review of more than 8,000 eviction cases by the Center for Public Integrity found that almost two-thirds of the tenants lived in areas with above-average minority representation with a median household income below $42,000.” And this is just the start of the eviction crisis brought on by the failure of the government to address the material needs of those impacted by the economic downturn. A study by the Aspen Institute has found that between “29-43% of renter households could be at risk of eviction by the end of the year.” This would amount to between 30 and 40 million renters, real people! Unless the government acts on this, the homeless numbers are going to see unprecedented growth.
“We have the temerity to declare that all have a right to bread, that there is bread enough for all, and that with this watchword of Bread for All the Revolution will triumph.”Peter Kropotkin, Conquest of Bread
It is a travesty that in the year 2019 in the richest country on earth, over 10% of households lacked “access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.” This poses a direct threat to health. The children who are “born into food-insecure households risk birth defects and children living in food-insecure households tend to have a lower health-related quality of life, higher rates of asthma, less nutritious diets, anemia, and cognitive and behavioral problems that affect well-being and school performance.” These food-insecure households are primarily made up of minorities. In 2019, black households had a 19.1% rate of food insecurity, Hispanic households 15.6%, and white households had a rate of only 7.9%. The United States has a malnutrition death rate that is 10x that of Russia. And the country wastes 30-40% of their food supply. The resources are there to feed everyone in the country, yet hunger is still an issue.
Even though food security is crucial to the health of our citizens, after passing the disastrous Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, Democrats defunded SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. A fiscal aid bill cut 11 billion dollars from SNAP. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a priority for Michelle Obama, cut SNAP by 2.2 billion dollars. These cuts were completely unnecessary and heartless. Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “While I want a strong and robust reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, we cannot do it on the backs of the unemployed, underemployed and chronically poor.” The act of making this cut was an act of social murder.
These inequalities have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. A study released in June by Northwestern University found that since the pandemic started “food insecurity has doubled overall, and tripled among households with children.” The failure of the United States government to adequately address the crisis brought about by the pandemic is a perfect example of social murder in action. As Engels explained, “But indirectly, far more than directly, many have died of starvation, where long-continued want of proper nourishment has called forth fatal illness, when it has produced such debility that causes which might otherwise have remained inoperative brought on severe illness and death. The English working-men call this “social murder” and accuse our whole society of perpetrating this crime perpetually.”
As of November 28, 2020, there have been over 13.6 million cases and 272,000 deaths due to Coronavirus in the United States. The United States is reporting 525 new daily cases per million population while Cuba has reported 2.9 per million and Vietnam is reporting less than .1 per million. The response in Vietnam was remarkably different than that in the United States, “The motto for the first phase was that if we stay alive, the question of wealth and the economy can come later.” The United States took a different position and reopened the economy after a brief shutdown and a $1,200 one-time payment. This reckless stance values the profits of corporations over the lives of the people and condoned the social murder of hundreds of thousands. President Trump was found to be the single largest spreader of false information about the coronavirus and these deaths can be directly attributed to his administration’s failures.
Poverty rates have risen since the beginning of the pandemic. A Columbia University study released on October 15, found that “The September [poverty] rate climbed to nearly 26 percent for Black and Hispanic individuals, compared to 17 percent for Asian individuals and 12 percent for white individuals.” According to CNN, “Another 1.1M Americans filed initial claims for unemployment benefits in the week ending November 14, including claims through states and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.” This increase in poverty will only result in more suffering and death. Inequality is directly related to shorter life spans for the poor. “An extensive biomedical literature indicates that people are more likely to experience stress-related diseases when they lack control over, and social support for dealing with, stressful conditions. The poor disproportionately face such conditions.” Poverty is social murder.
“If we never negated the fact that there was racism in America, but we said that when you, the by-product, what comes off of racism, that capitalism comes first and next is racism. That when they brought slaves over here, it was to take money. So first the idea came that we want to make money, then the slaves came in order to make that money. That means that capitalism had to, through historical fact, racism had to come from capitalism. It had to be capitalism first and racism was a by-product of that.”Fred Hampton, It’s a Class Struggle, Goddammit.
A clear pattern emerges from the various forms of social murder taking place in the United States – it always has a greater impact on minorities than on whites. The numbers of job losses from the pandemic are a good example of this phenomenon: 61% of Hispanic and 44% of Black households had either lost wages or a job due to the pandemic. Only 38% of white households experienced the same thing.
The reason why minorities are always taking the brunt of these shortcomings is that it is a part of the capitalist system. All capitalism is racial in nature. Cedric Robinson explored this relationship in-depth in his monumental work “Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. In it, he says, “The tendency of European civilization through capitalism was thus not to homogenize but to differentiate-to exaggerate regional, subcultural, and dialectical differences into ‘racial’ ones.” Ruth Wilson Gilmore has put this more simply saying, “Capitalism requires inequality, and racism enshrines it.” These inequalities along racial lines are illustrated by the racial disparities in social murder in the United States. The United States was founded on racism and inequality and these characteristics remain today.
In order to overcome these racial issues, it will be necessary to follow the demands of the Black Lives Matter movements for racial justice. Robin DG Kelley describes these demands in the following, “The movement has also proposed a plan to divest from a society of punishment, inequality, environmental degradation, and white supremacy and invest in a future built on free education, healthcare, housing, living-wage jobs, decriminalization, restorative justice in lieu of caging, food justice, and green energy.” This is essentially a call to end social murder and replace it with social justice. These are not incremental reforms – but a call for a truly revolutionary change in policy.
The United States is in need of a government that cares about the people, not just upholding the inequality of a broken capitalist system. As a country with monetary sovereignty, the United States could easily fund Medicare for All, universal housing, and provide a Federal Jobs Guarantee. All that is lacking is the political will to do so. Both Democrats and Republicans come together to support increased spending for the military but refuse to support bills that would help the people. For example, Ilhan Omar’s H.R.5244 – Homes for All Act of 2019 only received six co-sponsors. It is not a matter of lack of funds – it is a matter of priorities for Federal spending.
If a government is capable of providing housing for all and healthcare for all and does not do so, it stands to reason it is guilty of social murder. It is not that the United States government is incapable of taking care of these basic needs – it is that they refuse to do so. Until there is a fundamental change in thinking that includes providing healthcare and housing for all, the government will continue to murder the poor and working-class with minorities topping the list of their victims. As the Declaration of Independence puts it:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”Thomas Jefferson
Engels would agree with this sentiment when he wrote, “Let the ruling class see to it that these frightful conditions are ameliorated, or let it surrender the administration of the common interests to the labouring-class.”
While social murder is a major issue in the United States, it is even more prevalent in other countries that have been targeted for resource exploitation by the global capitalist class. It is of the utmost importance to remember that this class struggle is an international one, not restricted to the borders set up around nation-states. Much like the coronavirus pandemic, the evils of capitalism ignore borders and pervade the globe. The solution to this problem must be a restructuring of society on a global scale – replacing the exploitation and racism of capitalism with a more just socialist system. Robin DG Kelley says it best in his interview with The Intercept, “So, to me, this is not a matter of a slight redistribution, like let’s give more crumbs to the poor. Nor is it about just ending poverty as we know it. It is really about creating a structure of caring and repair in which we all can benefit from our labor and our kind of collective generosity and create a whole new ethos, not just for the United States but for the world.” If social murder is to be ended, the system must be changed.