Affirmative Action and ideology

Kenny Mostern kennym at
Wed Apr 12 10:42:36 MDT 1995

(1)  There is no way of making the historical case that racism results
from capitalism and the needs of capitalists.  In their modern forms, the
two grew up together, and while no doubt it would be possible to imagine
"ideal" capitalism without racism spread throughout social classes, such
does not exist.  In its origins,
racism does in fact have religious groundings (before their were inferior
"races" there were heathens).  Much of capitalism was built on the
extraction of surplus value from slave labor (though of course this did
not remain profitable as long as slavery did).  This really did supress
wages and opportunities, in some instances, for working class people--as,
in some instances, it does now, with 700 million unemployed in the
world.  Finally, racism really can provide psychic dividends in a social
system where the real economy provides nothing or next to nothing.
Overall the simple point is that racism cannot be correlated to class or
capitalism, but interacts with both in complicated ways to defy simple
solutions.  Much to my own regret, since as a good marxist I'd find it
perfectly convenient to pretend that race doesn't exist.

(2)  Racism is reproduced as a cultural variable at present--that is to
say, it is relatively autonomous from the economic base.  What this means
is that bourgeois racism, and proletarian racism--which are not the
same--each have their own dynamic of cultural reproduction within the
same cultural system that reproduces the "taste" for certain kinds of
foods, musics, sports, etc.  Trillions of tiny "events", occurring on a
day to day basis, produce racism in its current form--not the conscious
actions of specific people or classes attempting to oppress.  Any attempt
to fight racism must be a complex strategy that takes this into account.
Even more, it must account for the fact that, to certain racists
anti-racism will appear bourgeois or proletarian (and thus unlike them).
No one strategy can possibly account for this situation.

(3)  In terms of the theory of ideology, this is precisely to the point:
ideologies are material ways of being (like "cultures") and as such
consistent with themselves.  They are not amenable to "facts" because
their reason for being is pre-factual; to
say something is ideological is precisely to say it forms a part of a
systematic whole of behavior.  One tends to form an "identity" with those
who have the same ideology as oneself in this strong sense--not with
other socialists, or necessarily with people of the smae race or class
(though these are telling on the point of ideology), but with people
(most often
within one's political party or race or class) with whom one share this
stronger sense of dispositions and cultural tendencies.

(4)  So, Lisa, when i use "ideology" I don't mean anything so dismissive
as "self-deception", except inasmuch as we all are part of ideologies and
all have our self-deceptions.  (To those of you who contrast ideology to
marxist science, is there still are any:  marxism *is* a rigorous attempt
to avoid ideology in a number of ways, but while sometimes we can do
better there is no reason to believe we can ever "get it tight"--I take
this to be the meaning of Bhaskar's epistemological relativism--and
further, even as "scientists" we would still be caught within ideology in
our non-scientific endeavors.)  Rather I mean the total system of ideas
which, for example, your parents may have held in concert with one
another which permitted them to act, in positive ways, in the world, in
raising a daughter, etc., and which may simultaneously have included a
variety of patterned, predictable self-deceptions which are not helpful
to a more solid understanding of the social system or how to change it.
Ideologies must be able to support individual interest to an extent, or
they will not survive; any given ideology (arguably including marxism) has
specific limitations to its explanatory powers, which must be analyzed.

Kenny Mostern
UC-Berkeley Ethnic Studies Graduate Group

Against:  racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, militarism
For:  the truth--and the funk!

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