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Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.
- Mark Twain



Capitalism Kills But Not Always With Guns

Alan Spector


Marxists and others who are critical of capitalism are often faced with mainstream social scientists who like to separate out "political" oppression from "economic" oppression. That allows them to politically attack governments with whom they disagree if their political forms do not follow the forms approved by capitalist "democracies", while at the same time, dismissing those victims of capitalist oppression if those victims are not actually killed by bullets. It's an argument we face again and again.

Just the other night, I saw a bit of a "debate" between Christopher Hitchens of The Nation magazine and the editor of The New Republic, where it was said that history has shown that the socialist experiments utterly failed to economically improve the lives of the people. Well, one can certainly criticize many aspects of the USSR and China from 1917 until the present, but the economic improvement in the lives of people, especially up to about 1965 or so, was very profound, especially taking into account the unbelievable losses both countries took during World War II. But it is as if those wrongful, criminal killings of 500-1000 associated with Tienamien Square in 1989 somehow is more worthy of public attention than the great increase in life expectancy in China, as compared to allegedly "democratic" India, where 250 million people are living with incomes of less than 400 dollars per year and where tens of thousands more die as a consequence of that poverty. Of course the killings in Tienamien Square were wrong. The point of this post is to raise questions of proportionality, not of the crimes, but of the outrages that people feel at different sorts of crimes.

My point: A thousand people died horrible deaths in Nigeria this week. Some burned to death, some trampled, some drowned. Many, many children. Why? Because of capitalism. Because a military munitions dump is placed in an area where many people live and work. Because nobody can protest against those sorts of things. Because those sorts of things are "acceptable" to the Nigerian government and its sponsors, including the U.S. government, which has become friendlier since the more outrageous, corrupt gangsters in Nigeria faded into the background. But those thousand were killed by capitalism just as surely as those three thousand in NYC were killed by terrorism on September 11, 2001.

It is racism, the racism of "benign neglect" that is what underlies the silence on this issue. Sure, some people are bothered by it. Maybe some will mention it in their classes. But it is exactly these kinds of incidents that cry out for explanation, for us to discuss with students, friends, and neighbors. It is easy to express outrage at the bombings in New York. It is more important to discuss the less obvious - that is our responsibility, to expose the connections that reflect the underlying processes, and to discuss the racism that underlies the comparative silence to the deaths of these thousand black Africans, compared to the outrage over the deaths of three thousand on September 11. Of course it was important to discuss September 11 in all its implications. But what is the overall context of imperialism, racism, capitalism? How do we weigh the massive oppression that people, especially in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (and increasingly, Eastern Europe) experience everyday?
As we discussed in one of my classes, in order to change the world it is important to first determine why "good people" believe erroneous things, or weigh things inaccurately, or de-emphasize certain crimes. But in order to determine why "good people" believe erroneous things, it is especially important for us to look inside ourselves and try to understand why we believe erroneous things, or weigh things inaccurately, or de-emphasize certain crimes.

The above article is taken from an internet posting, but has been slightly abridged by the author who can be contacted at



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