Youth and Covid-19.
The incredible unity and diversity of young people in the May and June 2020 George Floyd demonstrations around the world protesting police violence are to be welcomed in spite of the risks to life posed by Covid-19. (Would anything change without mass demonstrations?) There is an explicit and implicitly correct recognition by these multi-ethnic protestors that the present socio-economic system poses a greater existential threat to their present and future lives than a virus. The primary demand is for an end to targeted police violence motivated by ethnic prejudice, but there is also an understanding that police violence is not the only form that ethnic discrimination and wealth disparity takes.
In all countries, large sections of humanity find themselves at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid erected upon the capitalist mode of production. They are the current slaves and wage slaves of the system. Their lives are only deemed important by the elite when they are needed to do ‘essential work‘ for the good of the wealthy upper and middle-classes. Consequently the bottom layers of capitalism, have always had the lowest incomes, the poorest housing, the worst education, the shortest life expectancy, the most precarious existences, highest unemployment and the most brutal forms of control imposed upon them.
Modern wage-slaves are predominantly the sons and daughters of former slaves, conquered peoples or home-grown workers – all used and abused in earlier wealth creating periods of capitalism. However, young people, highly educated or not, find themselves living during a stage of capitalist development where the forms of production need less numbers of them due to automation, artificial intelligence and outsourcing. When not needed for work, (by unemployment or lock-down) wage-slaves and potential wage-slaves, are expected to remain unemployed, patient, docile and obedient until needed again.
Therefore, demonstrations against the death of George Floyd in 2020 are also implicit protests against the entire system of elite control of citizens by economic, financial, social and law enforcement mechanisms. Will young Afro-Americans multi-ethnic women and gay men demonstrating in such great numbers – at such great risk to themselves and each other – be satisfied with a few jail sentences and the introduction of anti – racist training for new and existing police officers? Will a fantasy scenario of polite, sensitive, humane interactions between poverty stricken, desperate citizens and a re-educated state law-enforcement agency, be realisable or end discrimination in general?
Of course not! Young people, sooner or later will be forced by the circumstances of their lives during the ongoing crisis of the capitalist system to press on for a wider range of reforms than one narrowly aimed at preventing ethnic beatings and deaths in police custody. The problems facing young people are many and include issues of class, gender, sexuality, disability and age. The challenge for young people will be to maintain and develop the present and future unity of struggle to include and campaign for a wider range of transitional demands which address fundamental issues of how wealth is created, who controls it’s production, how it is shared out and how its detritus is re-cycled.
In any transition between partial and more radical reforms other serious problems will be encountered. In this regard, we should not allow ourselves to be confused by those who simplistically lump together those who are opposed to violence against property because they wish to preserve capitalism and class discrimination and those who are opposed to such violence for different reasons. Some of us advocate a disciplined and humanitarian approach to struggle in order to ensure a path toward ending the domination of capital.
Statues of historically toxic men may be fair targets for democratic pulling down, but buildings and equipment from a revolutionary-humanist perspective are the products of scarce natural resources and working peoples labour. They should be considered community resources to be protected and re-purposed if necessary.
To introduce a new mode of production which fully respects and celebrates all humanity and the other life forms on the planet, an entirely different mode of community engagement, than burning and looting, will be required. The contradictions within the ruling class and it’s armed supporters, (and there are many) need to be studied and worked upon. Blanket condemnation and aggression by anti-capitalist opposition will only cause elite unification. Understanding and communication will expose contradictions, which will only become serious divisions when a genuine alternative becomes visible and available.
Of course there will be a minority whose anger, frustration and lack of understanding will result in acts of violence and desperation. They should be understood as inevitable, but not defended as acceptable or as natural. They are neither. The humanist perspective on real transformative change requires a longer and more measured determination – alloyed with humanitarian concern and generosity.
Good examples are a far greater threat to ruling elites future stability than bad ones. So much so that an astute ruling elite will attempt to place its agents of provocation into oppositions and trigger counterproductive actions. Such ‘agent’ infiltration’s are a classic elite reaction. Causing fires, explosions, outrageous acts and confusion within movements for change is intentional. Such toxic acts will be easier to counteract, within a movement not driven by anger, impatience and dualistic reasoning.
Meanwhile it should also be remembered that some anti-capitalists have inherited the virus of past sectarianism, and carried it into the present. These ‘lefts’ arrogantly presume there is only one valid version of strategy and tactics on how to secure change – their version. Equally they assume there is only one view of how to defend against viruses (biological and intellectual) – their view.
Prior to (and during) this capitalist crisis, such intellectual virus carriers can become strangers to genuine solidarity against capitalism and all it stands for – and so weaken that struggle. They fail to understand that genuine solidarity means accepting that people in struggle will have different methods and views (as well as different skin colours, genders and sexual preferences etc.) on how to proceed in collective forms of solidarity.
Roy Ratcliffe (June 2020)