The morning of Sunday, May 15 in Buffalo, NY saw scenes of horror as a white supremacist terrorist opened fire at a supermarket, murdering ten people and injuring three more. Almost all of those killed were Black, as the shooter had intentionally targeted a grocery store with a majority-Black clientele. This is an utter tragedy and an attack on the entire working class.
The shooting follows a string of racist and anti-Semitic massacres in the past few years, including the 2015 Charleston Church shooting, the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, and the 2019 shooting in El Paso. Although there has been an uptick in such incidents in recent years, this is not a new phenomenon or isolated incident. Rather, it is part of a pattern of right-wing terrorism in the United States—one of the many consequences of the centuries-long history of racism that is completely intertwined with the history of American capitalism.
The liberals have predictably provided their standard response to this phenomenon, namely, making the case for further gun control legislation, which in their view could have stopped the shooting. But there is clearly something deeper going on. We must seek to understand what kind of society produces these kinds of scenarios in the first place.
Liberals have also pointed to the role of social media, as the shooter was radicalized by right-wing online platforms and even posted a 200-page manifesto expressing his white supremacist views before the shooting. Yet, at various points in the history of this country, right-wing terrorists—both as individuals and as organized forces—have successfully carried out their activities, long before the advent of the internet. This is not the consequence of social media but rather the product of the growth of the forces of reaction, and above all, a violent symptom of a society in decline, greatly compounded by the influence of racism, which the ruling class has fomented for centuries.
There is also the question of the broader resonance of the shooter’s beliefs. Many commentators have observed that a significant portion of the Republican voter base believes in elements of the “Great Replacement Theory,” a far-right conspiracy suggesting that elites have a coordinated plan to replace America’s white population with nonwhite people, particularly immigrants. The right-populist Fox News commentator, Tucker Carlson, has played a truly despicable role in popularizing these ideas. To be sure, this does not necessarily mean that millions of Republican voters sympathize with the terrorism in Buffalo. But the fact that millions of people believe this reveals a deep distrust in the status quo.
In times of boom and upswing, when the capitalist system can provide jobs, security, and stability to a large portion of society, these kinds of ideas hold less sway. But in our period of terminal capitalist decline, racist, conspiratorial, and anti-immigrant sentiments are growing among certain segments of the working class, enthusiastically egged on by Trump and his ilk in the GOP. This is the poison that fills the vacuum in the absence of a class-struggle lead by the labor leaders.
For his part, Biden used the opportunity to score political points and express banal statements such as “hate will not prevail” and the like. His administration has suggested the need for stricter gun laws and also “digital literacy programs” to train the public to identify hate speech and resist the messaging of “extremists.”
But workers and youth should not have an ounce of confidence that the Democratic Party can do anything meaningful to address this crisis—a fact that is increasingly understood by millions. As a 27-year-old Buffalo resident told The New York Times, “I could care less about what Biden said. I want to see action. I want to see our community actually get help. I want to see people actually be protected. We work, we pay taxes, we pay for our protection, and we’re not getting it.” Some confusion aside, this expresses the growing frustration with the utter inaction of the capitalist Democratic Party.
As Malcolm X famously explained, you cannot have capitalism without racism. The liberal dream of a stable, “post-racial” 21st century of capitalist prosperity is now a faint and bitter memory. But the massive Black Lives Matter uprising in 2020 shows that the balance of forces is greatly in favor of the vast majority of workers and youth, who oppose racism and bigotry in all its forms. If it is not apparent now, it is only because the vast potential strength of the working class remains untapped.
We must fight for socialism to uproot the foundations of racism and put an end to all the horrors of capitalist society. The interests of all workers, of all races, whether legally documented or not, are the same, and a mass socialist party could bring that reality to the forefront. A bold lead from the labor movement, including class-independent political action, would massively cut across the growth of Trumpism and racial chauvinism. The strength of the united working class would send far-right terrorists crawling back into their holes. That is the perspective we must fight for, and if you agree, we invite you to join us.