[Marxism] Effacing the radical tradition in the American Jewish community

Lüko Willms marxmail at lws-media.de
Fri Nov 28 10:32:09 MST 2014

on Donnerstag, 27. November 2014 at 15:55, Marv Gandall via Marxism wrote:

> Here’s a long but interesting piece (h/t Gordon Peffer) by Rachel
> Cohen, a writer for the liberal bimonthly American Prospect, on the
> expunging from the Jewish American historical memory of the
> community’s secular, left-wing, working class origins. 

  What a coincidence. As it happens, I am currently reading the 1998 book by Karen Brodkin, "How Jews became White Folks, and What That Says About Race in America". Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ. ISBN 0-8135-2590-X

  I am in the middle of the fourth of five chapters, "Not quite white: Gender and Jewish Identity". 

  Based on what I have read up to now, I can highly recommend it. Here is the "Summary" of Chapter 2: "Race Making": 

> Summary

>   Initially invented to justify a brutal but profitable regime of
> slave labor, race became the way America organized labor and the
> explanation it used to justify it as natural. Africans, Europeans,
> Mexicans, and Asians each came to be treated as members of less
> civilized, less moral, less self-restrained races only when
> recruited to be the core of America’s capitalist labor force. Such
> race making depended and continues to depend upon occupational and
> residential segregation. Race making in turn facilitated the
> degradation of work itself, its organization as “unskilled,”
> intensely driven, mass production work.
>   Although they worked in jobs that were termed “unskilled,” that
> label cannot be taken at face value. Workers often possessed skills
> that they were not allowed to exercise. It is also important to
> distinguish conceptually the skills actually required to perform a
> job from the job’s classification as skilled or unskilled. As
> Patricia Cooper has noted of the racial and gender pattern to
> occupational segregation generally, it
>    seems to have little relationship to anything concrete. It does
>    not relate to the physical difficulty of the job or to the
>    technologies involved. . . . Given the arbitrary and artificial
>    nature of skill definition and its ideological construction, job
>    sorting is not related to some abstract definition of skill.
>    Women’s jobs are often marked as less skilled because it is women 
>    who hold them. The same argument applies to the jobs of nonwhite men. 
>    Indeed, race and gender job segregation are interlinked.
>   In line with Venus Green’s findings, others have noted that when
> women of color replace white women, or when white women replace
> white men in significant numbers, the result is job degradation,
> which takes the form of marking the job as less skilled while
> driving the workers more intensely. Although hostility from male
> workers presents a barrier to access by women and workers of color
> to white-male-type jobs, employers are in ultimate control. They may
> recruit women with an eye to cutting the price of skilled white male
> labor, or they may transform a requirement to hire women into an
> opportunity to de-skill and degrade the job. Such actions, not
> natural processes, reproduce occupational segregation by race and sex.
>   In sum, the temporary darkening of Jews and other European
> immigrants during the period when they formed the core of the
> industrial working class clearly illustrates the linkages between
> degraded and driven jobs and nonwhite racial status. Similarly, the
> “Indianness” of Mexicans and Asians, as they became key to
> capitalist agribusiness, stands as another variant on the earlier
> constructions of blackness and redness. I am suggesting that this
> construction of race almost is the American construction of class,
> that capitalism as an economic organization in the United States is
> racially structured. Just as the United States is a racial state, as
> Michael Omi and Howard Winant have argued, so too is American
> capitalism a racial economic system. This does not mean that there
> are no white workers in degraded jobs. However, it does suggest that
> such workers may experience their position as somewhat contradictory
> or as an out-of-placeness in the American racial way 
> of constructing class.

Lüko Willms
Frankfurt, Germany


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