[Marxism] Quiting Marxism, embracing what?

Wayne S. Rossi felianan at yahoo.com
Thu Dec 7 09:26:07 MST 2006

Joaquin wrote a very long post on how race has today trumped class, winding up with:

"OUR" CLASS does not EXIST as a political subject in this country, "race"
--whiteness, white privilege and the arrogance that comes with it-- has IN
FACT "trumped" class, I don't see how you can possibly think about or write
about post-WWII U.S. politics or society and not recognize this reality.

In my estimation Joaquin is a very good writer, and uses this to write at extreme length on a number of topics.  But this has gone off the deep end politically.

Considering Joaquin's whole political narrative, which intertwines the post-Marxist line about "whiteness," I have to say it is completely off, because there are quite simply glaring holes that you could drive a truck through.  Fundamentally, his whole view of "post-WWII U.S. politics" has no accounting for any of the things that have prevented a radical left from coalescing, or the things that have smashed the reformist left.

First, the radical left.  "Whiteness" has very, very little to do with the sad state of affairs here today.  The organizational basis of the radical left was crushed between the twin vises of McCarthyism and Stalinism.  On the one hand, all red groups were persecuted actively and openly for decades going into the McCarthy era, and that simply cleared away what had managed to grow.  On the other, the largest and most active group, the Communist Party, was systematically undermined by its flagrant bowing to Moscow's foreign policy needs, which were for an organization that actually alienated the genuine radicals who joined it.  And the lack of this meant that any and all gains of the '60s mostly went into organizations like SDS, which was simply incapable of turning the radicalization into something concrete, or at best groups like the SWP, into which sectarianism was deeply embedded and which simply could not thrive as a mass party of any sort.

Second, the labor movement.  The fact is that, except for the upsurge in the early '70s, for the most part the last seventy years have been characterized not by labor peace, but by a massive, sustained offensive on the part of the bosses.  Ever since the strike wave of the '30s peaked, the bosses have been scrambling to return to prior circumstances; and for the most part, they've won.  Beginning in the '80s, this has continued to diminish the role of the labor movement to the point where all unions can do is fight for less cutbacks, across the board, if they even continue to exist; very few are in a position to win on this basis.  This bosses' offensive has been accomplished, in part, thanks to the division of labor by racist means; the South, where unionization never took hold, has particularly functioned as one of the bulwarks by creating a domestic "reserve army of labor" (although globalization has done this on the world scale.)

Now:  if the action of the white proletariat as a proletariat is greatly diminished, let us simply ask why?  Is it because of "whiteness"?  The answer turns out to be -- no.  And this is the most damning thing about Joaquin's case:  for all that whiteness has been a tool of the bosses in their offensive, the simple fact is that the boss assault on the organs of the proletariat, *and not whiteness itself*, is the root cause of the lack of movement.  It may not be obvious in Joaquin's analysis, because Joaquin leaves these factors out of his equation, but whiteness simply doesn't exist separate from nor is it above the very real class struggle that the working class has been fighting rearguard fights in -- and for the most part losing! -- over a 70-year period.

("Post-WWII" is actually a terrible frame of reference, because it implicitly tries to exempt the decline of unionism from the massive blows delivered to it during the war by the "No-Strike Pledge" and the chauvinism of the labor bureaucracy then, and of radicalism from the capitulation of the CP and the beginnings of Smith Act repression as practiced against the SWP.  Sharon Smith lays out the course very well in her recent book *Subterranean Fire*.)

Fundamentally, the fact is that unions haven't been abandoned; they have been smashed.  Systematically and legally, the right to unionize has been denied much more fervently than it has been "abandoned," and this in and of itself puts the lie to the whole notion that the class struggle is simply abandoned due to whiteness.  The struggles of Wal-Mart workers are instructive here; the company literally has a squad of specialists who can be flown in on a day's notice to crush a unionization drive.  If Joaquin's thesis rings hollow, it's because it overlooks the fact that a member of the white working class is shot down whenever he or she tries to break out of the "priveleged" white trench as swiftly as Black or Latino workers are, and tries to pin the blame on a subjective but nonetheless extremely important factor, namely, racism.

Joaquin can continue to rail at Marxists about how they ought to abandon class perspectives, but overlooking class factors and then blaming everything on race is as short-sighted and fundamentally at odds with Marxist method as would be overlooking race and reducing everything simplemindedly to class.  Just because you're choosing a different type of reductionism doesn't make it right.

 - Wayne

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