Reflections on the Orlando Massacre - More “Horror Without End”

Many decades ago, Lenin characterized capitalism as “horror without end,” As if to prove the point, in the early hours of Sunday, June 12, an armed Omar Mateen stormed into a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and massacred those inside, leaving forty-nine people dead and fifty-three wounded.

The outpouring of grief, outrage, and solidarity from the masses was overwhelming. For their part, the Republicans and Democrats moved quickly to use this massacre to divide ordinary working people by whipping up an anti-Muslim mood. This is nothing less than a grotesque exploitation of the consequences of their own crimes. Who has for centuries instituted a regime of cultural, legal, financial, and moral terror against LGBTQ+ individuals? Who sponsored the Taliban and other fundamentalist counterrevolutionary outfits in the Middle East in the first place? No one else but the ruling class and these creatures of American capitalist democracy, whether they be the old faces of the Establishment, like Clinton, Obama, and the “moderate” wing of the Republicans, or the more exotic specimen of Donald Trump the right-wing demagogue.

Mateen attacked the Pulse nightclub on “Latin Night”. His victims, by and large, were Latinos. This did not faze Trump, already famous for his verbal abuse levelled at Latin American immigrants, as he immediately took the carnage as an opportunity to level new abuse against his other favorite target, Muslims. Clinton, true to form, pandered to both sides at the same time. She adopted Trump’s “radical Islamism” language, which he  at once claimed as a win on Twitter. Whatever the form of language deployed, American politicians of both of the bosses’ parties consistently use fundamentalist Islamic terrorist attacks as a means to attack ordinary Muslim workers, bombing their homes abroad and whipping up a lynching mood against them at home.

The Republican Party has generally explained Orlando as an attack on America from some far off, alien barbarism, with Governor Rick Scott going to pains not to pronounce  the letters “L-G-B-T”. The Democratic Party, while they may be just as ready to scapegoat Islam for this latest horror spawned by capitalism, also partially explain the events as a glitch in America’s own social coding, a glitch that supposedly could be solved by the simple intervention of gun control. All of this cynical gesturing and crass scheming refuses to address the homophobic context in which the massacre took place and only insults the dead by parading their names for the careerism and opportunism of the political representatives of the status quo.

Homophobia and Islamophobia, sibling minions of the ruling class

The media, always hungry for a marketable headline, has dubbed the Orlando massacre as “America’s worst mass shooting”. But a cursory look at American history reveals numerous atrocities - on a far larger scale - against Native Americans, blacks, and Mexicans in the course of American capitalism’s conquest and subjugation of the continent. American history is littered with violence inflicted by the capitalist class against American workers, such as the Ludlow massacre in Colorado. The homophobic massacre in Orlando, far from an aberrant intrusion into the “American way of life”, is a natural occurrence in capitalist society here at home. Further, we should not forget is  that the worst American shootings and massacres have taken place outside of the borders of the US, in imperialist military adventures or proxy wars, all financed and managed by the American ruling class.

The Middle East is a prominent recent example. A wave of revolutions in the region, such as the 1978 Saur Revolution in Afghanistan, the 1968 Pakistani revolution, the 1979 Iranian revolution, and more were eventually derailed and crushed by counterrevolution in the form of Islamic fundamentalism, a force cynically promoted by American imperialism.

Groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were set up and financed by the American state to cut across the class struggle and to combat the threat of communism. The ensuing war in Afghanistan between the Red Army and the fundamentalist mujahideen would reduce a historic cradle of civilization to a permanent war-zone. All of this had its roots in the role of capitalism in the Middle East. Colonial borders drawn by British yardsticks and protractors would shape the conflicts for generations to come, and throughout all of this tumult the long fingers of imperialism would be at work, as the economies of this part of the world, like all of the former colonial world, were dominated by Western multinational corporations. As a consequence of its past interventions, American imperialism today finds itself in an untenable position in the Middle East. Mateen’s declared support for multiple fundamentalist outfits that are actually at war with each other is not so far removed  from the policies of Washington, which has created a situation where CIA-armed groups feud with Pentagon-backed groups across Syria.

In reality, Islamic fundamentalism is a foreign menace to the masses of the Muslim world, not to the US government. Yet this never restrains the shamelessness of American politicians in demanding Muslim repentance and bloodshed (via increased NATO bombings) in response to terrorist attacks. Nor does the Democratic Party’s demand for gun control ever acknowledge that the American state, which would regulate and monopolize the use of firearms under gun control policies, is also the most nefarious and prolific arms dealer internationally, not to mention the world’s greatest user of weaponry against civilians. The hypocrisy of the Democrats was put on full display when Clinton tweeted that no one should be able to purchase firearms after an FBI investigation, which would be tantamount to giving the FBI unilateral power to take away the Second Amendment rights from targeted individuals. This from the candidate running for President of the United States while under an active FBI investigation!

Marxists are obviously not advocates of capitalist gun culture, which has fastened commodity fetishism on an instrument of death in a society where abuse and unhealthy individualism is the norm. However, the idea that all of this would be improved if only the police and the military were the sole possessors of firepower is wrong, and ignores the real roots of violence in capitalist society, namely the class nature of capitalist society itself. Instead of “gun control” as envisaged by the likes of Clinton, we stand for the working class - as the only progressive force in the world - to organize and take sole “control” over guns and other weapons.

LGBTQ+ people know the real nature of the capitalist state firsthand, having been on the receiving end of state violence and harassment to the present day. One of these incidents of state persecution (Stonewall) in fact launched the LGBTQ+ rights movement as we know it.

In addition to their hypocritical inaccuracy, the politicians also completely ignore that this was the worst physical attack on LGBTQ+ people in the Western world since Hitler. The story of Omar Mateen and his actions reveals a sharply different picture of events than the one given by Obama, Clinton, or Trump.

Omar Mateen, a specimen of capitalist alienation

Omar Mateen was a closeted homosexual man born in New York to first generation Afghan immigrants and raised in the United States. He was Muslim, but in no way a practicing one, and minimally involved in his local mosque.

Omar Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen is the founder of a right-wing pro-Taliban irredentist TV show called the Durand Jirga. He goes on many TV channels talking about the Afghan civil war. Most of his claims are about how it is Pakistan and the ISI (Pakistani intelligence) that are in charge of creating this havoc in Afghanistan, which is partially true. However, Seddique Mateen is often known for his conspiracy-like claims, and his arguments are based in a counterrevolutionary position on the events in Afghanistan over the last decades. It is likely Seddique and his wife fled Afghanistan during the aftermath of the 1978 Saur Revolution.

Omar received an associate degree in Criminal Justice Technology and was employed by one of the largest private security companies G4S, an entity comparable to Blackwater in its high-level operations. He adored the NYPD and had dreams of becoming a police officer himself. His first marriage ended in shambles, and his wife had to be rescued by her family from the home and Mateen’s constant abuse.

He was a regular at the Pulse nightclub himself and used gay dating and hookup apps. However, his friends at Pulse cut ties to him after he became emotionally unstable and physically threatened them after drinking.

Nightclubs occupy a historic role in LGBTQ+ culture. When all of capitalist society refused to allow any sexual or gender expression that deviated from the norms of the bourgeois family, underground clubs were a place of cultural and sexual refuge, where a gay individual could be “out of the closet” and into their own skin. For Omar, only his friends at Pulse accepted his secret LGBTQ+ identity. Those who knew him at work only knew him as a bigoted and violent individual who often made threats of violence against minorities. His ex-wife reported that Omar had “gay tendencies” and was often derisively called gay by his father. Omar lost the one place in his life where he found acceptance and camaraderie, the Pulse nightclub. It was here that he later returned for a suicide attack.

We will never know what motivated him to claim allegiance to IS on a 911 phone call twenty minutes into the attack. In the past he had seen in Islamic fundamentalism an expression of his own violent and antisocial tendencies, but he had never radicalized in religion or even grown a beard. But the fact that he had declared sympathy for groups like Hizbollah, a Shia sectarian group fiercely opposed to IS, clearly shows that these were more acts of a desperate and mentally unstable man rather than a devout Islamic Fundamentalist. Not to be bothered with facts, the American capitalist state and media and the reactionary Islamists wasted no time in using Orlando to promote their brands of chauvinism. When the Islamic State opportunistically took credit for the attack - after the fact - they could not have had any idea they were welcoming as a martyr a homosexual who associated with drag queens in his private life.

Homosexuality and the Class Struggle

It has to be said, however, that the persecution of homosexuals by IS is not entirely consistent with the history of Islam and really the whole of human life. In early and medieval Islamic societies, homosexuality could often be found openly in literature, paintings, and the lifestyles of major cultural figures, albeit while it was officially forbidden. This situation is common throughout history, and during the primitive periods of human development in which there were no classes or private property, there were often honorary social roles for practices we would now recognize as LGBTQ+. The European colonialists, serving the primitive accumulation of capital, were the most adamant crusaders against deviations from their bourgeois family in places like India and the Americas, where they instituted eradication campaigns against the hijras and berdaches. The rise of a new social order of universal markets and powerful nation-states required an unchallenged and far-reaching bourgeois morality and family norms.

Today capitalism has survived long past its natural “expiration date” thanks to the defeat of past revolutionary movements. The birth of a new society is overdue. Glimpses of humanity’s potential under socialism, which can only be fully actualized after capitalism is ended, are present today, but in a contradictory and distorted form. The breakdown and discrediting of the bourgeois family and bourgeois morality is one striking example. One recent YouGov poll found that one in three 18–29 year olds did not identify as entirely heterosexual. Another poll conducted by Benenson Strategy Group found that 50% of 18-34 year olds believe that gender identity lies on a spectrum. Even the Supreme Court has been forced to legalize same-sex marriage. However, the basic conditions of capitalism remain in place, and LGBTQ+ youth homelessness is one example of the stultifying straitjacket effect the old society necessarily has on people’s rights to develop and express themselves freely.

An example nearly one hundred years old breathtakingly proves the necessity of a social revolution to guarantee equality in questions of gender and sexuality - and not just equality under the law, but equality to free development in life. As a Socialist Appeal (US) article explained:

“Once upon a time, same-sex marriage was legalized, transgender people were allowed to serve in the army, an openly gay man was minister of foreign affairs, discrimination was removed from the law, and it was a simple administrative matter to have one’s gender changed on official documents. Where was this wondrous place? When was it that such laws—which went further than those of any modern country in terms of basic democratic and human rights—were enacted? Most importantly, why aren’t such laws in place everywhere today? Not surprisingly for Marxists, the country in question was the Soviet Union, and the laws in question were passed during the ascendant phase of the revolution, from 1917 until 1926, under Lenin and Trotsky’s leadership. Also not surprisingly, these laws were subsequently repealed by the Stalinist counterrevolution, which crushed all the social and political gains of Bolshevism underfoot.”

The crocodile tears of the capitalist class betray their nature when all of the politicians are ready with the distraction of a gun control bill or a chauvinistic speech against Muslims yet no reform has been proposed to address the homophobic basis of the attack. A mass socialist party, the potential of which Sanders only began to reveal, could fight for demands like “Rent for all housing, including Section 8 and government-owned housing, to be fixed at not more than 10 percent of wages, as part of a voluntary, socialized plan for housing”, “For a socialized, national health care system”, and “No discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, gender identity, or expression”, all tied to a broader program of the socialist transformation of society. Such a party would rightfully put all of the acting and chattering of the capitalist politicians to public shame and open up struggles of revolutionary proportions.

Monstrosities like the Orlando massacre painfully reveal the need to end this “horror without end”. The words of Rosa Luxemburg echo forth from the 20th century: “Friedrich Engels once said: ‘Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.’ What does ‘regression into barbarism’ mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means.”