The killing of yet another Afro-American citizen of the USA, George Floyd, on May 25th, has once again revealed that alongside the Covid-19 biological virus pandemic, there run much older intellectual viruses of prejudice. Intellectual as well as biological viruses are disproportionately killing human beings. Intellectual virus forms are particularly virulent in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America. The one responsible for Afro-American deaths is located in the brain and creates prejudice against people of colour. It has been active since it emerged during the 17th to 19th centuries.
Elites at the time, needed a justification for the dispossession of native people’s land and the exploitation of their labour. Consequently dualistic categories of superior and inferior races were invented in colleges and university departments. Since that time the virus of colour prejudice – based upon manufactured differences – has been embodied in the language and culture of capitalist nations.
Like biological viruses, socio-intellectual viruses – such as prejudice against people of colour – can be asymptomatic, mildly symptomatic or extremely symptomatic before visibly manifesting themselves. Essentially the same also goes for the ‘intellectual viruses’ of prejudice against females, homosexuals, disability etc. Obviously, an intellectual virus, such as colour prejudice (extreme or mild) occupying the brain does not present the same outward symptoms as a biological virus, but it can nevertheless be easily seen.
For example, consider the face of the police officer who, whatever the prior circumstances, knelt for eight minutes on the neck of George Floyd. This officers facial muscles or eyes did not register any degree of concern for the pain and suffering he was deliberately causing to the handcuffed human being lying helpless on the ground. George’s plea to be allowed to breath left this perpetrator completely unmoved. [Google: ‘George Floyd video’]
The expressions on the faces of the other attending officers also did not express any concern for the pain and suffering caused to the helpless human being whose life was being drained out of him. Those missing expressions of concern along with subtle facial expressions between the police unit members were the visible manifestations of the virus of extreme prejudice. That virus determined and controlled how these men acted. Their collective indifference to the calls of the bystanders also demonstrated the institutional and cultural indifference of law enforcement to the plight of their victim.
The obvious conclusion is that the victim of this particular intellectual virus was not considered as an equal human being by those arresting, abusing and hastening his death in custody. Incidentally, this de-humanisation of victims and the indifference to their suffering is also manifest in the incidences of rape and violence against women and children. It is also there in gang violence and warfare. The intellectual virus of colour prejudice is therefore one of a family of intellectual viruses firmly embedded within the entire culture of the capitalist mode of production.
As an activist, I have personally seen essentially the same callous disregard for the suffering of Palestinians on the faces of Jewish soldiers beating them in occupied West Bank. I saw the same indifference on the faces of British police beating up pickets during the miners strikes of the 1970’s. I have also witnessed it in the actions of Trotskyist and Stalinist group members as they confronted each other during the 1970’s in the UK. We also know it existed (and still exists) in the actions of religious zealots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
It therefore can come as no surprise that the protest demonstrations against what happened to George Floyd and many other Afro-American victims of police violence all across the USA, were met with with extreme prejudice and violence by baton wielding police.
By including all these examples of prejudice and violence, the common defense of the entire system can be successfully refuted. Apologists for the system assert that the above examples (and others) are simply the result of a few bad apples or rogue elements in society. This allows supporters of the system to ignore the fact that intellectual viruses of prejudice are widespread, integral and functioning parts of the system. This is why bad apples keep popping up over generations and why those around them do not expose them, look the other way or when they are embarrassingly caught out, re-assign them to other duties or provide them with golden handshakes.
Much hypocrisy is displayed by the middle and upper classes, with regard the minority of working-class people who use the distraction of demonstrations to loot shops and destroy businesses. I class this as hypocrisy, because the entire system of capitalism is built on looting and destruction. European capitalists violently looted, resources and destroyed property from their own peasant classes, then from their working classes, before going to Africa, Oceana, North and South America, enslaving foreign peoples, stealing their labour and looting their wealth.
Moreover, the productive, commercial and financial sectors of capitalism are still based upon daily stealing and destroying, by means of profit-making, shorting, insider trading and looting pensions. Those middle-classes who now condemn looting, rarely, if ever, expose or refer to the looting and stealing from people in the past or the present – and from which many still benefit through shares or interest.
Nevertheless, if one form of looting and stealing is wrong – and I agree it is – then all forms of looting are wrong. Also if one form of prejudice, exploitation and brutality is wrong – and again I agree it is – then all forms of prejudice, exploitation and brutality are wrong.
Whilst working class anger and frustration has built up over decades and is now exploding in many forms, particularly in the USA, it needs to be stated that some acts of anger will not lead to comprehenve or lasting changes in prejudice. Furthermore, some acts motivated by anger will be tragically counter-productive. Additionally, if we want to end one form of prejudice, exploitation and violence, we must want to end all forms of prejudice, exploitation and violence. So campaigning just to punish four Minneapolis ‘virus carriers’ – and stopping there – will not eliminate systemic contamination.
The revolutionary-humanist, Karl Marx, noted that the humanist purpose of the working class during a severe crisis would be to ‘found society anew’. Smashing things up, burning buildings and dehumanising the ‘other’ belongs to what he classed as the – ‘muck of ages’.
Roy Ratcliffe (June 2020)