Against Goldhagen?

Austin, Andrew austina at
Sun Oct 8 13:20:48 MDT 2000


Standard liberals (including conservatives) do fear the masses, and that is
precisely why such liberals deny the existence of racism as a widespread
culture-ideology or as an objective set of social relations (we have to make
an exception for welfare liberals, what Cornel West calls
liberal-structuralists, who do have something of a grasp on the real
conditions of capitalism and on this basis advocate mild reparations
programs, such as affirmative action, consistent with their positive vision
of liberty). Standard liberals as much as any entity trying to control
thought recognize that it is self-defeating for their cause (securing the
capitalist mode of production and the system of race-ethnic privilege) to
blame the masses for racism. This is why liberals typically point to two
sources of racism: (1) segments of the white working class prone to
reaction, idealized in the form of the Southern bigot or the punk skinhead
or the Idaho survivalist; (2) segments of the political class either
opportunistically preying on latent racial antagonism (Jesse Helms) or
reflecting some strain of racial-nationalist fanaticism (David Duke or Louis
Farrakhan). For liberals, racism is strictly an attitude held by
authoritarian personality types. Liberalism holds itself up as that force
that keeps racism in check, and it makes a populist appeal that the majority
of people, rational beings that they are, share their commitment to a
colorblind society (a myth that permits racism to go unchallenged).
Liberalism, its faith rooted in Enlightenment values, maintains that the
rational being is as a rule incapable of supporting or perpetrating
atrocities. The actual facts of history efface the standard liberal edifice
(which is why they do not allow actual historical relations to enter into
mediations of grievances).

It seems reasonable that to maintain the purity of this ideology an illusion
would be created that the hegemonic intellectual position is one where the
German people are blamed for racism and that Nazi atrocities are regularly
being diminished and that this illusion would then become vigorously and
publicly pummeled by the so-called defenders of the working class. Such
table-turning tactics pervade ideological warfare. In a similar fashion,
Evangelical Christians in the United States have gotten great mileage out of
the strawdog that the last acceptable form of bigotry is anti-religious

What the historical revisionist is doing by showing how ordinary citizens
have helped organized and supported residential segregation, segmented labor
markets, colonial oppression, and race-ethnic atrocities, is providing a
factual basis that leads us to a recognition that the struggle against
racism and capitalism is the burden of working people, and that blaming
elites for imposing these injustices upon us blinds us to the full character
of racist culture-ideology and structure (same is true for gender
oppression). At one level, to say that the working class is racist is simply
to recognize that the capitalist system that created the working class is a
racist system. Racism has been central to the development of the world
capitalist economy. Those who inhabit the working class, like any other
social class, operate daily with a racial-ethnic gaze. Race is fundamental
to the identity of the working class. To conceive of the matter otherwise
runs the risk of essentializing the working class, denying working class
racism, and failing to recognize that the struggle against racist/sexist
capitalism is a struggle to transcend social class and race/gender caste--a
struggle which includes the abolition of the working class. In the struggle
to achieve this emancipation, the working class will never become a
conscious political class until it struggles against those forces that put
it in the service of the present system. This was why fascism swept Europe
in the 1920s-30s.

The struggle against capitalism must be a struggle against racism. But those
of us in Europe and in North America who desire to struggle against
capitalism and racism are in the minority. Just as most members of the
working class support capitalism, they support the present race-ethnic and
patriarchal systems. I don't like it anymore than you do, but I can't deny
it. If the working class shared a different consciousness, things would now
be and would have then been different. As it stands, the same system that
puts the labor masses at a disadvantage in the structure of production, also
puts them at a disadvantage in developing the character of consciousness
that would permit them to rise up against racist/patriarchal/capitalist

My point is not to blame the working class for racism, but to blame
capitalism for racism and recognize that capitalism is a system of which we
are all a part.

Andrew Austin
Green Bay, WI

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