[Marxism] Surveying the Red Sea

Lou Paulsen loupaulsen at sbcglobal.net
Thu Nov 4 20:48:26 MST 2004


(The "Red Sea" in the subject line refers to the areas of the United
States between Virginia and Nevada where right-wing ideology is
apparently especially strong.  However, at some point we should try to
reclaim the color red for ourselves, or support Native American
initiatives to do so.  The red flag is our flag!  "Red Power" is not
Republican rule!  Actually, with reference to the Russian Civil War I
might call it the "White Sea" .)

How do Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Texas, Idaho, etc., really differ
politically from Illinois, California, New York and Massachusetts?  Or
- to nail down what this is really about - how do the LARGE
metropolitan areas like Chicago differ politically from the smaller
metropolitan areas, large towns and small towns?  

This is by no means a final product; the following is a set of notes
and speculations and hypotheses, not mutually exclusive.  Almost a
research proposal.

Rather than start on the idealistic side, with the power of
Christianity and so on, I would like to start on the material side.  

A. Labor legislation

Someone, I think Joe? pointed out that the "red states" are also
"right-to-work" states, which, for people outside the U.S., means that
there are state laws which outlaw the "union shop".  The employer
always has the option of hiring non-union workers.  He then said that
this accounted for the strength of conservatism, because the workers
were bullied by their employers.  This is important, I'm sure.  (But
then the question arises: why are THOSE states the "right to work"
states?)

B. Racist history

The historic legacy of the old slave / apartheid South, which in turn
has weakened workers overall.  (On the other hand, Chicago is pretty
much an apartheid town too.  So why is there a Black Democratic
senator-elect from Illinois (don't get too excited, he's a Kerry war
Democrat all the way), but not from Mississippi?)

C. Wealthy agricultural petty bourgeoisie

Throughout this belt of states you have middle farmers who are
millionaires.  Idaho reportedly has the highest proportion of
millionaires to the general population of all the states.  These "big
petty bourgeois" (yes, I know that sounds oxymoronic) are oppressed by
agribusiness and financiers, hate the billionaires of the coasts, and
despise all taxation, so they grasp for power at the local and state
level.

D. Workers are trapped

Regardless of whether they have union contracts, a worker in a small
town or small city has fewer opportunities than a worker in a major
metro area.  The consequences of losing one's job are more acute.  As a
consequence, it is more dangerous to struggle against one's employer.

E. Multinationals vs. small communities

A national or multinational firm which employs labor in a small city is
almost unassailable, not only by its own employees but also by the
organized working class or even the local government.  If the firm
threatens to close the plant, this is like slapping an Egyptian God
Card down on the board (to use a Yu-Gi-Oh analogy).  Furthermore their
power over local politicians is virtually complete.  In a big city, the
government can sometimes act "objective" - it is the executive
committee of the capitalist class, but it can sacrifice the interests
of one particular capitalist if it wants to.  In the small city, there
is no objectivity.  The government belongs to a small group of ruling
capitalists, absolutely, completely, without hope of appeal.

Thus, the whole idea of class struggle comes to be seen as unthinkable
and insane.

Of course there have been some very heroic strikes and other struggles
in small cities, but victories have been very few; more often the heads
of the workers are posted on poles as a warning to others. 
(Figuratively.)

F. Identification with the exploiter

Not only is the community unable to struggle against the capitalist, it
is locked into a situation where it has no obvious choice but to
identify with the fortunes of the capitalist.  It must defend the
capitalist against anything which could bankrupt it or impair profit
margins: pollution control, lawsuits about racism and sexism, taxation.
 The people of the community are like galley slaves on a Roman war
vessel.  They are chained to the oars, and if the Romans lose the
battle they drown or burn; they must pull their hardest and strive for
victory.

G. A sense of occupation

There is a sense that the decisions that affect your life are being
made by elites in the big centers of power: New York, Chicago, LA, and
of course the hated Washington.  They are controlling your cultural and
economic world.  You are in the periphery of the core, not in the core
of the core.  "Success" requires that you leave and go to the
metropole; those who stay behind, who can't get out, feel like losers. 
There is a growing sense of resentment and oppression, which, however,
is then played upon by the local bourgeoisie and wealthy
petty-bourgeoisie.  (By contrast, if you are in the big metro area, you
are in the midst of the arguments among the big bourgeoisie about
mighty questions of the day.)  

H. Cultural paucity vs. the cultural diversity of the big metro area

Note: the Internet threatens this.  Which should mean that young
inhabitants of the Red Sea are a source of hope.  However...

I. Political self-segregation

More progressive people tend to move to the diverse, exciting,
culturally enriched, and more progressive metro areas, leaving Oklahoma
City to its own devices.

J. Too few activists

Even if leftists were distributed randomly across the country, there
would be a lot of small cities where you would not find the "minimum
number" to organize anything.  To illustrate, if you have a group of 20
leftists in a city of 3 million, you can get a lot done; if you have 2
leftists in a city of 300,000, it is incomparably more difficult;  if
you have one leftist covering 5 different cities of 30,000, it is
obviously more difficult yet, even though the ratio is the same in each
case.

In fact, the leftists tend to migrate to the big cities.  Furthermore,
because of all the other reasons why practical struggle is so
difficult, fewer leftists are recruited or retained or created.  As a
result,

K.  The right wing has a complete monopoly on local political
discussion.

Newspapers, radio, everything.  Anything leftist or centrist comes via
the mistrusted metropolitan mass media and is seen as a scheme by the
powerful elites.

L. What can you do?  Who can you struggle against?

If your life is getting worse, and you CANNOT struggle against the
capitalist class, who can you struggle against?  Well, there is THE
GOVERNMENT which taxes you and spends your money on things which you
have no control over.  You can't increase your wages, you can't reduce
your expenses, so the only hope for improving your life is to bring
down the numbers on your paycheck that represent what THE GOVERNMENT
takes.  But of course the right wing manipulates this so you are not
struggling against war taxes, you are struggling against "government
programs", that is, against schools and healthcare and welfare
payments.

M. Then of course you can turn to God.

If things are bad, and there is no possibility of changing things,
maybe it is because people are leading an ungodly life.  

N. More substitutes for the real struggle

The workers face a deterioration of their standard of living,
insecurity, and anxiety, but no genuine avenue for struggle is
presented to them.  Their level of tension impels them into a series of
diversions and substitutes presented to them by the right wing: 
fighting "crime", obsession with prominent criminal trials, moral
panics, fighting drugs, homosexuality, abortion, and Darwinism, and
scapegoats: Jews, Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, immigrants, gays,
communists, Muslims, the French, the Japanese, "tax and spend
liberals", "activist judges" who have taken prayer out of the schools,
etc. etc. etc.  War itself is presented as an outlet for this tension:
you go to war to "defend America" against the destruction which is
being inflicted by the foreign foe.

- - -
A very great deal of US manufacturing, not to mention food production
and processing, takes place in smaller metro areas and small towns.  In
fact I believe the proportion is increasing.  The Interstate Highway
System, and cheap fuel, make it possible to move production out of the
large cities, built at railroad junction points, and into just about
any locale that has a highway interchange.  This is desirable because
of lower wages, lower property values, slavish governments offering
immunity from regulation, tax breaks, free money, etc., and an isolated
and helpless work force, or more correctly a constellation of such work
forces dispersed across the continent.  This is an argument against
ignoring the small cities and towns. 

I think very little can be done about this until we are able to think
and act more regionally, nationally, and internationally.  We have to
find ways to support those who are fighting out there in the heartland.
 But this is not going to be easy.  During the 1990's there were
important efforts in Chicago to support strikes that were going on in
downstate Illinois, but they were not enough.  It's a tough problem. 
The Internet is going to make it easier for us but it's still a
struggle.

I hope this makes some sense,

Lou Paulsen
Chicago






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