‘The most authoritarian thing in the world is capital,’ says Prof. Aijaz Ahmad


Prof. Aijaz Ahmad

In the light of protests in the US, Prof. Ahmad says that the reproduction of capitalism is not possible without the constant presence of violence, or the possibility of it.

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis triggered a series of protests in the US, and across the world. Despite a deadly virus waiting in the wings, a killing has resulted in thousands taking to the street. In this interview with Vijay Prashad, the Executive Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Professor Aijaz Ahmad, one of the foremost Marxist intellectuals, elaborates on why the capitalist structure is struggling to cope with the nature of these protests, and on how its systems, designed to punish into obedience, look helpless at the moment. The following is an edited transcript of the interview:

Vijay Prashad: Well, the world seems to be on fire after the terrible death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. There have been protests, not only within the United States, but also around the world, as people are really outraged by what they are seeing. Could you reflect a little bit on the death of Mr. George Floyd, and the level of unrest about the role of the police in American society?

Aijaz Ahmad: One thing that occurs to me is, of course it has been boiling. American police is in the habit of killing one black person per week on an average – typically, a man, but they also have killed women; and that has just been building up. Ferguson was the earlier episode where there was a very large uprising. All that gave rise to the organisation Black Lives Matter. So, one of the things is that it has been building up more recently.

Second, these are cyclical things that happen in America. When I was living here in the 70s there was the same sort of thing – extreme police brutality – sometimes covertly it would be staged as a non-police or [inaudible] so on.

And great protests around that and so on. So, part of it is that it is cyclical.

The third thing that seems to me is, and that is where the difficulty, I think, is in comprehending, that everyone talks about white supremacy as if it were something pathological out there from which x number of people suffer. Joe Biden just said 13% to 15% of Americans are bad people, whatever that means. You know, as if it is out there.

Now, white supremacy is second skin [inaudible] in racial societies. And a lot of the police are white supremacists running around with guns.

Finally, in order for them to do the kind of controlling of populations that they are required to do, they are also given a great deal of protection. They can get away with anything, and they expect that it is their right.

One of the very significant events, in my view, that just happened, is there is a video – there is an older man, who is an old activist – a white man, who must have been known to the police because he is an old man, and he has been doing this in Buffalo for between 30 to 40 years. He must be well-known. In the video, the two policemen push him. He falls down and hits his head somewhere. After much reluctance, the police department takes action against those two, and 57 of [their] colleagues resign from duty in solidarity with those two men, who had been seen doing this on video.

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