OK, let's put an end to all this

Greg Schofield gschofield at SPAMone.net.au
Tue Jun 19 05:21:54 MDT 2001

John I still have to catch up to your previous posts, but as this is short
I thought I would jump straight back.

>Have the white people of North America across the board not benefited
>materially from the oppression of black and native people in the USA?

First, I think both David and myself are talking about a "new" thrift
ideology which is pretty far removed from the things you are talking about,
but it does not matter as these are important as well.

Benefit is a broad term, as I could well say I have benefited by world war
2, by being descended from survivors of the Black Death, hence the bubonic
plague had directly benefited my ancestors (by sparing them and taking
others - the effect was to raise the price of labour and my ancestors were
poor peasants made into rural workers). I could also benefit by having a
bomb drop on my house - by providing me with a large supply of firewood.

What and how, are the important aspects, so lets examine the two cases
separately - yes there was a general benefit of the removal of native
americans - it made available great vast amounts of natural wealth which
spurred in capitalist development and created vast armies of workers - an
odd sort of benefit and a very abstract one as it assumes the wealth was
absolutely essential and the bloody removal as the only method. The current
oppression of native americans bestows no benefits on white workers that I
can make out bar some very poor psychological benefits of having someone
else to despise and this only to some and only sometimes and perhaps where
native americans and "white" workers directly compete for jobs (I suggest
mainly in rural areas) which I touch on more broadly below.

On the oppression of black america well this is completely different as
this comprises a large section of the working class (forgive me but I am
assuming that native americans might constitute a few percent - I am
probably wrong on this but I am arguing abstractly).

The oppression of black workers because of the colour of their skin (in
otherwords for no real reason at all) not only bestows no benefits on
"white" workers it actively works against their interests. It creates a
poor competing labour source and is fundamental to the reason that despite
the wealth of america, much of its working class have traditionally enjoyed
appalling wages and conditions.

I would argue the tradition of ethnic oppression in america has this
source, and native americans and many others are pulled into the maelstrom
(I know this is a gross simplification and does no justice to the specific
oppression, or its history). It is natural for workers to see their
immediate competitors as the main danger especially when they have no other
means of political expression. Witness the bloody anti-negro riots when
Lincoln announced the proclamation of freeing slaves. Poor irish workers in
NY went on a murderous indiscriminate rampage, such was their hate for
their immediate competitors for work.

These things are not unusual in history and are with us still, but
essential benefit, I cannot see it, except in this immediate competition
for jobs, where of course it is also self-defeating. The act of securing
work against the other section (however identified) creates the competing
force which keeps wages low.

John the very broadness of the concept of benefit is self-defeating,
benefits flow in all directions and under all circumstances to one degree
or another for it resides in gaining some satisfaction, so long as that is
achieved benefit is enjoyed, hence it is a largely meaningless term unless
the benefits themselves are specifically identified.

So on the general point of racial oppression in the US which appears to
place the "white" worker on top, my reply is sure but such benefits come
but at a cost which is "white" worker's economic position is disastrously
undermined as well. Of course capital benefits enormously and directly by
such oppressions - the surplus proportion is increased.

The only thing natural about working class racism, is that it is natural to
identify a competitor and the first impulse is to wage war against them,
race is a convenient and obvious identifier (hence its use) but it would
mean nothing unless it was also historically connected to different
cultures of what constitutes the reasonable minimum for wages - here the
history of slavery is still with us.

The problem occurs time and time again, seen in Australia everytime there
is a new wave of immigration, the workers at the bottom (the most
vulnerable and most unorganised) are immediately threatened by newly
arrived workers whose cultural expectations are lower and hence can be made
to work for less. I suggest to any one in Australia to travel to the
country to meet rural workers in order to find some real racial hatred of
aboriginals, interestingly this is no-where universal, and sometimes great
inter-racial comradery can be found in the most unlikely spots.

Where history has allowed these cultural differences to be perpetuated by
the application of oppressive measures, one can only expect the friction to
be ongoing, moreover one can only expect hierarchies of hate to emerge as
one group is more or less detested than another.

However, the solutions have been with us for as long as working class
struggle has been, I think for this reason CLR James quiet rightly stated
that leadership of the american working class would stem from the struggles
of black workers - I believe this is still the case.

Now I must again apologise for the off-hand way I have dealt with native
americans, who hold a similar position to aboriginal people in my own
country. There are things in this struggle  which make it very different to
mere ethnic differences and they stem back to the very definitions of
property, in both cases native people are an embarrassing and living proof
that the natural wealth was taken by force from others - a special hate,
one which is integrated into the bourgeois national identity, is reserved
for native people. Black culture might be despised by the "white"
bourgeoisie, but native culture is an anthema - they want it extinct, they
pretend it is extinct, but it persists and it annoys them no end.

The existence of native peoples is a constant reminder of the bourgeoisie's
own historical mortality - "what we took from them, may be taken from us"
seems to sum up the response best - better they were physically dead and
gone and culturally evaporated then exist to remind bourgeois ideology that
not only were they the original owners, but the descendants persist and by
their culture criticise what has been done, like the ghost of christmas
past. Worse the living persistence of native people is also the ghost of
christmas to come, for they seem to be saying to the bourgeoisie "we are
still here when you have gone".

I have taken this little detour because I think it goes in some way to
explain why bourgeois ideology had to create the idea of a dying native
culture and people and why cultural and actual genocide is never far away.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

PS I put "white" workers in quotes but not black for a simple reason, from
what I can work out people with some Negro ancestry are often considered
black because they identify with black culture and are seen as part of it
(this is natural with any cultural group). On the other hand I think it
might still be the case that those who appear "white" but may have some
Negro ancestry are, if this is known, not considered "white" (this is
unnatural and artificial). What is considered "white" is not comparable to
what is considered black (these things are only meaningful in terms of
shared culture). The latter is simple self identity, but the former seems a
very strange thing because it over-rides cultural identity for some
biological fictions.

The nature of discrimination is that while some "white" people (that have
no determined Negro ancestry) could be considered part of the black
community (suffering only the occasional jibe and misunderstanding - I am
thinking of those non-afro americans who grow up in the midst of black
culture), but a black person would always remain a black person in a
"white"cultural community no matter how integrated with that culture they
were. I may be wrong on this for it is an observation made from far away
and mostly based on media images.

I don't pretend to know a lot about such things so better informed people
please correct me in this. My main point remains that of competition for
work amongst the working class and its historical expression.

More information about the Marxism mailing list