[Marxism] Is white male privilege an "illusion"? (Was: Re: Troubledtime)

DCQ deeseekyou at comcast.net
Tue Nov 28 19:21:07 MST 2006


I'm going to go ahead and jump into this conversation here. I'll start
with the caveat that I have skipped most of this conversation--not
because I don't think it is important, but because I've heard these
conversations all before. And in the absence of anything more concrete,
they all just seem like echoes off the canyon walls, layered,
recombined, but rarely anything new. I read Joaquin's post because I
generally appreciate what he writes, even if I think he often tends to
"bend the stick" too far.

I'm constantly amazed at people who call themselves Marxists engaging in
these exchanges about "privileging" race or class or gender or sexual
orientation or nation or whatever. To me, looking at these concepts
dialectically is ABCs. Looking at race or class or gender or any other
abstraction in isolation is only useful to an extent. The whole point of
being Marxists is that we bring these abstractions back to the real
world.

In that sense, saying that class is more important than race makes as
little sense as saying race is more important than class. The two are of
course intertwined. Anyone who still thinks of a white male working in a
factory when "American working class" is mentioned is working on some
seriously warped assumptions. Even 50 years ago there were more farm
workers and domestic workers than factory workers. Today, it's absurd.

You can't begin to address issues of race if you fail to mention issues
of class--which is the secret of why the middle-class (and ruling-class)
black "leadership" is so astoundingly ineffective at combating racism.
They see racism as, at best, issues of police brutality or the odd
Michael "Kramer" Richards outburst. (Important, but even a right-wing
cretin light Bloomberg can question why cops shoot 50 times at an
unarmed black man.)

Likewise, you can't begin to address issues of class without talking
about the many different aspects that that class is made up of: race,
gender, sexual orientation, nationality, imperialism, etc. Again, I know
this is ABCs, but I just wanted to set it out there so that we all know
where we're coming from.

When Joaquin says that the working class movement was bought off, he
seems to be engaging in rhetorical flourish rather than genuine analysis
because he makes a basic error, typical of liberals who schematically
separate issues of race and class because...well...the words are
different. He has rewritten the history of "the working class movement"
to be a story of "white workers" turning their backs on "blacks,"
forgetting in the process that blacks were also workers. The "working
class movement," particularly in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, was never equal
to the AFL. There was of course the IWW, the SP, the CP, and the CIO, to
just skim the surface of a rich history of which I know far too little.

There were forces--white, black, and immigrant--in the working class
movement who did try to, and to some extent succeeded in, fighting for
exactly what Joaquin says they should have fought for. The problem
is...they, on the whole, lost. Particularly, important here is the (and
I'll go ahead and use the old words) betrayal of the Communist Party. I
don't bring this up for sectarian reasons or use the word betrayal for
rhetorical purposes. It's not even a matter of blame any more. It's just
a fact. The CP decided that an alliance with the racist Democratic Party
was a crucial necessity during WWII. That very section of the working
class movement--white and black--that was fighting against racism
essentially demobilized itself. Anti-racists either toned down their
criticism of the DP or they left the party in disgust. (The only
alternative was to join something like the SWP, which was in no position
to pick up the slack that the CP dropped.)

When that wing of the working class movement ceased to fight for workers
control, it also ceased to fight racism (and vice-versa). And by
"selling out" blacks, it also sold out itself.

This is important to get right. Because if you start wagging your finger
at "white workers" in general for not standing up against racism, then
where do you stop? Why not wag our fingers at workers for not getting
universal health care? For getting better environmental standards? For
stopping the war? For not having socialism a long time ago? Why not wag
our fingers at German workers for allowing Hitler to come to power? Why
not wag our fingers at North Korean workers for allowing imperialism to
split their country in two? Why not blame Iraqi workers for allowing the
US to occupy their lands? You end up saying stupid shit, like: "White
workers are chumps." (Which white workers? I wonder. And when? Certainly
some are. And maybe it is more common for whites to be chumps than
blacks. But have we sunk so low that we are willing to assign levels of
chumpness to people based on race and class? Where do I fall on the
chumposity scale? How about you, Joaquin? What about Louis? (Don't
answer that... :) ) )

Stupid discussion.

What Marxists should understand is that it is not simply a moral
imperative for white workers to fight against racism. It is a class
imperative (and more than that, it is a moral imperative *because* it is
a class imperative). And it is not merely a nice extra that anti-racists
support class demands. It's that you can't really talk about the real
problems of racism without talking about class and about poverty. Does
the closing of the Ford plant in Hapeville (in Atlanta) really not mean
anything to "the African American community"? Can we really talk about
addressing the problems of agricultural workers without addressing
issues of immigration? Can we seriously talk about a decent educational
system for the poor, a decent health care system for the poor, etc.
without talking about the military budget, the war, and
anti-arab/anti-muslim racism?

Actually, we can *talk* about ending racism without *talking* about
class. And we can *talk* about class issues without *talking* about
race. The real problem is that we can't *do* anything about one, without
*doing* anything about the other. Which is why nothing is really
*getting done* in this goddamn country.

Note that as soon as the immigrant rights movement began to take shape
here in the US, it ******immediately****** began taking on a
class/economic dimension.

This is not because Latino workers are somehow innately less chumpy than
anglos or blacks. Nor is it because Latinos sat down and joined email
listserves and figured out the most effective way to fight the racism
they experience on a daily basis was to attack the economic base of
American society. In the real world, race and class co-exist as one
thing. It takes an intellectual to take it apart and explain to the
migrant worker in North Georgia that this one aspect of her shitty life
is a result of capitalist exploitation and this other aspect is a result
of racist oppression.

However, having said that, I think there is actually something to what
Joaquin and others say, at least about the "American identity" and the
issue of self-determination. And basically, I think it is that white
people in general, but all Americans in one way or another, have gotten
used to the idea of "America," as a unified whole. And even
revolutionaries often daydream of a "Socialist Republic of America" or
whatever. I know I used to.

I owe a debt to those like Joaquin (and Paul D'Amato, ages ago) who,
rhetorical flourishes aside, insist on calling attention to these
assumptions.

But the reality is that America is an empire forged in the blood, sweat,
and tears of countless numbers. And I don't see a revolution being
successful here until this is recognized (whether beforehand or, more
likely, in the process of revolution itself). I'm not sure exactly what
this means, but I think I am finally aware of a (wonderful, if vague)
feeling that there will not be one Socialist America, but dozens if not
hundreds of independent nations, starting--obviously--with granting
every single Native American tribe whatever lands it wants (if they have
not already taken it). As far as I'm concerned, there's not enough land
to give back after the Native American genocide. Then--again
obviously--come Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska, and all of America's other
"possessions." I think we also need to be open to the idea of a "Black
Belt," if not in exactly the way the old CP theorized it (reparations
are due in one form or another). And why not a "Brown Belt" in the
southwest as well? ("Reconquista? Si, se puede!")

I'm not necessarily saying that any of this will come to pass, or even
should come to pass (that would just be more imperial arrogance), just
that "Americans" need to be able to allow for these thing to happen and
to accept that it is not up to them. It is strange how, say, Minnesotans
believe they have a right to say what should happen in Hawaii (or Iraq
for that matter). Would a Cherokee or an Aleut insist on having a say in
what happens in Puerto Rico?

America is a freakish Frankensteinian nightmare of a nation. The Borg of
the world. A prison-industrial complex of nations. And the sooner we all
realize this, the better for the victims of this empire of blood and
shit, here and abroad.





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