Affirmative Action and ideology

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Tue Apr 11 09:09:10 MDT 1995

Scott and I were debating white working class racism and sexism in the
context of Marx's theory of ideology. We agree largely on What Is To Be
Done, so the issue may be "scholastic," but it's intreresting. In the
passage quoted below I claim that Marx has a two-stage theory of racism
(and sexism):

1. Workers from relatively privileged groupo develop hostility to
underprivileged workers based on the economic conditions of their life,
notably competition for jobs and other social benefits.

2. The bourgeoisie seizes on these hostility and whips them up maintain
class divisions and thus class rule.

What's important about thisa model is the idea that racist and sexist
ideology is a natural and normal product of working class life, something
that spings from within it and is not, in particular, imposed from without
by brainwashing. A different model is the Enlightenment picture of
religion, on which religious ideology is something people don't believe on
their own but come to believe because cynical priests and kings have it
taught inb church and school to maintain their power. Marx's theory of
ideology always opposed this picture. In his early remarks on religion you
can clearly see the two stages:

1.1 "Religios sentiment is the cry of the oppressed, the heart of a
heartless world..."

That is, people come up with religion themselves to deal with their
unhappy condition.

2.1 "It is the opium of the people."

And the kings and lords (and capitalists) take advantage of the producer's
response to damp rebellious tendencies.

Scott objects that this reading ignores the fact that the ruling class is
already involved at stage 1, in producing the conditions of subordinbate
group life which create ideology. Thus, he says, it changes MNarx's whole
meaning, and is also an error, to say that the RC does not produce racist,
etc., ideology. I reply that the RC involvement cannot bhe assimilated to
the Enlightenment brainwashing model. True, the RC is involved at stage 1,
but the way racist, etc. ideology is produced there is not that the RC
thinks, wouldn't it be good if the workers (peasants, whoever) hated each
other, let's create diviusions. Rather, ideology arises unintentionally as
a result of conditions created by the class structure of society and the
operation of its laws of motion. At stage 2, the RC says, in effect, Oh
good. The workers hate each other. How convenient. Let's do what we can to
keep things that way. (Of course the RC shares in the racist, etc.
attitudes, so this does not exactly capture their motivation.)

This matters in part because we have to acknowledge that racist, etc.
ideology will _continue to spring_ from the normal course of working class
life. Fighting racism, etc., isn't a matter of convincing people that what
they've been told is a lie. Well, that too, but (and I don't think Scott
disagrees), it's a matter of redirected the anger, suffering, and
diminishment people feel from each other to the bosses. But the bad
attitudes will tend to recur and recur.

I don't agree with Scott that raacism (and sexism) are primarily due to
capitalism orf generally to economic factors. These matter, but there is a
lot of other stuff going on as well. Winthrop Jordan has a good book,
White Over Black, discussing the psychosexual roots of white supremacy in
early America. Sexual identity matters a lot in sexim, obviously--what's
involved in being a Real Man or a Real Woman. And David Roediger has done
some good and degressing work--see his short book (Jordan's is long) The
Wages of Whiteness--on how the US white working class constituted itself
in racist terms from very early.

--Justin Schwartz

On Tue, 11 Apr 1995, Scott Marshall wrote:

> Justin said:
> >I didn't say that white workers are innately morally deficient. But we
> >must drop the brainwashing model of ideology. See Marx on anti-Irish
> >racism--Marx to Meyer and Vogt, 9 April 1870:
> >
> >"The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who
> >lowers his standard of life. In realtion to the Irish worker he is a
> >member of the ruling nation and so turns himself into a tool of the
> >aristocrats and capitalists of his country against Ireland, thus
> >strengthening their dominatioin over himself. He cherishes religiousm
> >social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attititude
> >towards him is much the same as that of 'poor whites' to 'niggers' in the
> >former slave state of the USA. The Irishman pays him back with interest in
> >the same coin...."
> This doesn't contradict my approach at all, it fully recognizes the source
> of, and who profits by, anti-Irish prejudices. To me the key phrase here is
> "thus strengthening their domination over himself." Clearly the "himself" is
> the English worker, and the domination is by the "aristocrates and capitalists."
> >
> >Thus far, all this prejudice arises from the circumstances of the working
> >class itself. Now the bourgeoisie comes in:
> "Now the bourgy come in!!!" This is not simply a "chicken and egg" question
> surely. The circumstances of the working class in a capitalist system are a
> product of the capitalist system. Capitalist exploitation in a country that
> has national and racial minorities has built into it a system of
> discrimination and racism that is the **primary** source of racism. This is
> not simply brainwashing - though it is that too from the Bell Curve to
> welfare reform to great chunks of television, news media and etc, - it is
> also the systems of discrimination, insult, assault on dignity and etc that
> are the direct hand of the capitalist class and it's state superstructure.
> >
> >"This antagonism is artificially kept alive"--note, not created, but
> >maintained--"and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers.,
> >in short by all the means at the disposal of the riling classes."
> IMO - Your insert changes the whole meaning of what he was saying.
> >
> >I don't quote the Old Mole for religious reasons, but because, as usual,
> >he's right. The case is exactly analogous to the one we are discussing. So
> >it is worth quoting the conclusion too:
> >
> >"This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working
> >class, despite its organization [into unions]. It is the secret by which
> >the capitalist class maintains its power. And that class is fully aware of
> >it."
> Thus the importance of winning white workers to the fight against racism and
> discrimination. Thus the importance of Black and white unite and fight. In
> my experience this is not very well done by making moral arguments (though
> I've rarely talked to a white worker who could not be moved somewhat on
> moral grounds about racism). But more fundementally if you can show the
> white worker that racism and prejudice "thus increase 'capitalist'
> domination over himeslf" then you are getting at his broader class self
> interest. But to do this then your starting point **must** be who does
> racism benefit and who does it hurt - source can't be separated from the
> question. IE: white workers don't have the power to deny jobs to others, the
> corporations do, white workers do not produce and peddle books like the Bell
> Curve and produce all the racist images in media etc, white workers do not
> have the where-with-all in any significant way to deny equal housing, equal
> education, etc etc.
> True they (we) do reflect the racism of the dominant culture and are fooled
> very often and persistently into assuming attitudes that are in direct
> contradiction to our own true interests - thus the importance of struggle,
> of militant anti-racist fights among and lead by the working class - thus
> every time the labor movement takes up the question of fighting prop 187 or
> for affirmative action (ie: Weber case) it is of far more importance and
> significance than any poll or liberal or conservative opinion.
> >I would have hoped that someone else would bite on a discussion of
> >affirmative action in this context. Do we want to talk about the
> >determination of consciousness by social being? Here's a concrete case. Do
> >we want to discuss interests and overlapping group membership? No better
> >case could present itself. And this one matters in terms of concrete
> >politics. As Scott says, it is even possible we could win this one. So
> >let's hear it, eh?
> Agreed whole heartedly!
> Scott
> >
> >--Justin Schwartz
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >     --- from list marxism at ---
> >
> >
>      --- from list marxism at ---

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