Colin Kaepernick, Patriotism, and the Owning Class

Colin Jenkins

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Colin Kaepernick took a courageous and principled stand this past season by kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games. This was done in response to a society that continues to systematically, culturally, and institutionally devalue non-white lives. This devaluation is played out in many areas, including politics, economics, housing, employment, and perhaps most notably, within the criminal justice system. Non-white lives are routinely extinguished by police in the streets without recourse, in the courts without pause, and in the prisons without hesitation. Entire generations of non-white Americans have essentially been destroyed through the “school-to-prison pipeline” and a system of mass incarceration.

Kaepernick recognized this and felt compelled to bring attention to it. He openly protested the national anthem, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to community agencies, and started a national youth camp program to teach children from marginalized communities about self-empowerment.

He is now a free agent, in the prime of his career, and without a job. By all “measurables” (and the NFL is big on “measurables”), Kaepernick should have a starting job somewhere. Despite playing for one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2016, he still managed to put up impressive numbers in only 12 games: 2,241 passing yard, 468 rushing yards on a 6.8 yards-per-carry average, a 16/4 TD/INT ratio, and a passer rating of 90.7. His passer rating was higher than that of 13 other starting QBs, including Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Joe Flacco.

The only reasonable explanation for Kaepernick’s newfound unemployment status is that he’s being blackballed by billionaire NFL owners. We’ve seen this before. Muhammad Ali, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Craig Hodges, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos all faced similar treatment after using their platforms to take principled stands. Kaepernick has made millions of dollars in the NFL, so he will be fine either way. But there are many lessons to be learned from this situation.

One important lesson is how the capitalist class relies on patriotism to help protect and secure its position in society. The notion of patriotism is one that tells the working class within any given country that they have a deep, common bond with the owning class. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the owning-class minority drives the working-class majority into widespread deprivation in order to secure more and more wealth for itself. One way to hide this reality is to create an artificial bond based in geographic nationalism — patriotism.

While globalizing its capital, the owning class calls for “national unity.” While laying off American workers in mass, it airs multi-million dollar ad campaigns celebrating patriotic loyalty. While employing foreign workers for slave wages, it parades its brand name during celebrations of national independence. While driving wages down and forcing American workers into welfare programs, it asks that you celebrate “American values.” While systematically exploiting the majority, it demands that this majority remain loyal to its nationalistic ties.

Patriotism is a crucial tool for the owning class. To them, Kaepernick’s refusal to submit to this nationalistic ritual was not merely “disrespect”; it was a potentially damaging challenge to this incredibly important tool that is wielded in their quest to extract all of society’s wealth. For this reason, it is vitally important that Kaepernick be taught a lesson. The NFL’s billionaire class is in the process of carrying out this lesson.

In solidarity.

 

Academia’s Other Diversity Problem: Class in the Ivory Tower

Alfred Vitale, Ph.D. and Allison L. Hurst, Ph.D.

 

“How can you know anything about the working class?” asks Ernest Everhard, the protagonist of Jack London’s 1908 dystopian novel, The Iron Heel as he addresses a group of liberal do-gooders and college administrators. They can’t possibly know the working class, he argues, because they don’t live where the working-class live. Instead, they are paid, fed, and clothed by “the capitalist class.” In return, they are expected to preach what is acceptable to that class, and to do work that will not “menace the established order of society”. While this was written over 100 years ago, for many working-class academics (those of us who grew up poor or working class and climbed into academia), this conversation rings true. Many of us have presented some variation of it at one time or another to our more privileged academic colleagues.

Watching this past election cycle has been difficult for us. It has reminded us of the gap between the places we currently inhabit (the so-called Ivory Tower) and the places we originally came from, which we still visit from time to time. We cheered Bernie when he came on the scene, because he appeared to understand this gap and promised to make things better for the people we loved. When Trump began overtaking other candidates, we were not as surprised as the people around us seemed to be, because we understood that his message, cloaked as it was in misogyny, nativism, and racism, was directed at real issues long overlooked by the Democratic Party. We held our breaths, hopeful that Sanders would take down Trump, that his message was the message of change and kindness rather than change and hate. After the primaries, we crossed our fingers but felt the DNC had made a major blunder in nominating a candidate who stood for everything that people seemed to be fighting against – business as usual, neoliberalism, paternalism.

Both academia and the DNC have a class problem. They don’t know anything about the working class because they have isolated themselves from working-class people. We have been struggling for years to change this within academia. In 2008, after a few years of discussion among comrades, a group of us formed the Association of Working-Class Academics (AWCA), a group for people like us with lives that straddled the working class and middle class. We wanted to bring class into the academy, to get people talking about it, aware of it, doing something about what we saw as an unsustainable growth of economic inequality. We had parents without retirement income, brothers with back-breaking jobs, sisters without the ability to pay for childcare, generations who faced joblessness or an attempt at a local college, with accompanying debt. We knew firsthand that things had shifted somewhere in the promise of the American Dream, that good jobs were harder to come by, that many people didn’t have the luxury to plan and save and think about retirement. We thought that having more faculty with backgrounds like ours would provide natural checks-and-balances on academic discourses that tend to move far away from the reality of class as lived by the overwhelming majority of the population.

It hasn’t exactly worked out that way. Discussion of social class has always been relegated to the margins of academia. In turn, public discourse about class is muted. By denying the opportunity for social class to be a valid academic subject in itself, or to be considered an authentic form of social identity, educated folks (academics, pundits, campaign managers, and journalists) didn’t just silence the voices of the poor and working-class, they also denied the possibility of critically engaging the problem of affluence. How to critique Trump without this? His status as a member of the billionaire class was not seen as problematic, despite all we know about the power and impact that class has on the very real experiences of the vast majority of Americans. He was lampooned as a buffoon, then excoriated for his bad manners, and finally deplored for his many bad acts, all of which left the essential issue of a billionaire running on a platform of economic populism relatively unquestioned. When we saw the picture of the Trumps and the Clintons hobnobbing in evening wear, we thought, “This will nail him!” But that picture was never used by the DNC, because it would target their candidate as well. Plus, it wouldn’t have been polite.

A society more sensitive to the complicity of the ruling classes, more willing to eschew the sycophancy and reverence given to the already overwhelmingly privileged, more capable of resisting the urge to lionize the affluent, and more attentive to the ubiquitous power handed over to the 1%, would have appropriately vilified Trump and dismissed him well before his name went on the ballot. We can spend time looking at any number of reasons for his victory, but we must ask the bigger question of why an unabashedly greedy billionaire glided through the primaries and general election without any real resistance. Could it be the case that we have consistently neglected to blame, unequivocally, the economic elites for inequality, and to hold them accountable for it? Where was the critical intellectual attack on the damages reaped by the excesses of the 1%? This takes us back to Jack London’s protagonist Mr. Everhard, and his suggestion that such critique would “menace the established order of society.” It may be true that many university researchers have studied poverty and made it their social justice duty to try to understand and ameliorate it. But the lens is most often focused downward, to poverty, and there has been virtually no research directed upward at the practices and mechanisms by which the affluent cause, exacerbate, benefit from, and rely on the steady continuation of inequality. And the occasional whispered squeaks of condemnation for the wealthy fade quickly, subsumed by the jingoistic, pragmatic liberalism of the well-educated in an academic world increasingly shaped by the whims of the donor class.

This form of economic censorship, justified by the neoliberal fabric of institutions of higher education, ensures that no acceptable critique of affluence will become sewn into the fabric of pedagogy. It is our contention that if academia was proportionately represented by faculty and students from the poor and working-classes, the influence of the donor class on the institutional structure could be counteracted at the immediate level of teaching and research as a matter of course, rather than as an occasional garnish on the obligatory “race, class, gender” courses offered in many college departments. Discourse would create a resistance to the universalizing narratives compressing “poverty” and equalize it through a reciprocal comingling with intersectional narratives condemning the oppressive presence of affluence. If social class is duly acknowledged as salient, we will have to problematize and identify the systemic sources that shape the dominant narrative. Such a critique will require an indictment of capitalism as it stands, and therein lies the problem: how can we expect a real, class-sensitive critique of affluence in a milieu that tacitly condones its pursuit and happily reaps its benefits?

But, you may be asking, is there some problem here? We all know that academia can seem far removed from the day-to-day social worlds of most people, so what does it matter if academia doesn’t want to indict affluence? Let’s consider this question in light of the recent failures of the Democratic Party, and its slow slide away from economic populism and into neoliberalism since the days of Bill Clinton. Let’s acknowledge that the increased dismissal of social class discourse in academia coincides with the current chasm in understanding between those who run the Democratic Party and those whom it purports to represent.

In many ways, the Democratic Party is like the Ivory Tower. They have both distanced themselves from a class awareness that they profess to have-so much so that they have forgotten and refused to acknowledge what social class means to actual people in the world. They have nominally acknowledged oppression, but have not really invited the oppressed into their circles; consequently, they assume they will have the support of the oppressed when it’s needed. Diversity (or, rather, the lack thereof) remains a major problem in both academia and the Democratic Party. Both the party and academia have come to rely on a cadre of affluent donors, thereby shifting their priorities to fund-raising, advancement efforts, and the doling out of reciprocal favoritism, influence and rewards to the philanthropist class.

This diminishing attention to social class, both culturally and academically, paralleled the decline of unions in the United States, the crumbling of rust belt cities, and a sweeping upswing in inequality. The poor and working-classes ceased to have even a small amount of power, and were picked clean by things like predatory lending, healthcare costs, student-loan debt and skyrocketing college costs, jobs moving overseas, and major cutbacks in the social safety net. Relatedly, while scholarly attention to other factors in human experience such as race or gender grew exponentially – and it is true that there are deliberate efforts at most universities to invite more faculty from diverse race and gender backgrounds – there remains a relative and concerning scarcity of minorities as faculty members or students, and in particular, of working class and poor faculty and students. It may be the case that the very structural class dynamics most liberal professionals have neglected could help explain why they’re having such a hard time ensuring equitable racial and gendered distributions in the University and the meritocratic beyond.

Although access to higher education has helped some members of the poor and working-classes “move up” in the world (we are witnesses to that), the numbers remain stubbornly small. Our colleges continue to serve children of the elite, or at least children of the highly educated. Proportionately speaking, faculty in universities do not reflect the existing social class strata that exists outside the walls of the Ivory Tower. This is not likely to change. Many academics from poor and working-class backgrounds are in disproportionate amounts of debt because they had to pay for the academic entry-fee themselves, and the tuition prices went up as the lines got longer. As it becomes more expensive to fund a graduate education, we will continue to find a smaller percentage of employed academics that come from poor or working-class backgrounds. The academic system keeps out the rabble, as it always has. This, in turn, comforts the donor class, who are assured that their role as instrumental philanthropists (i.e., manipulative tax-avoiders) will continue to garner them the reverence that their economic power naturally deserves – all without any means for resistance by the masses.

Thus it stands that the absence of real class awareness and the glacial pace of diversity efforts plague both the Democratic Party and institutions of higher education. Perhaps both the ivory tower and the DNC shouldn’t be publicly trying to recruit the poor and working-class to become members of the liberal elite, and privately insulting them if they aren’t. Instead, maybe we should ask ourselves what we can do to make academia privilege the voices of disenfranchised people, rather than the elite group speaking on behalf of them. Perhaps then, maybe in 2020, our collective voices will shout to the elites the same words spoken by Jack London’s Ernest Everhard:

“We know, and well we know by bitter experience, that no appeal for the right, for justice, for humanity, can ever touch you. Your hearts are hard as your heels with which you tread upon the faces of the poor. So we have preached power. By the power of our ballots on election day will we take your government away from you.”
Alfred Vitale, Ph.D. and Allison L. Hurst, Ph.D. are two co-founders of the Association of Working-Class Academics, a non-profit that was recently absorbed into Working Class Studies Association.

From Solidarity to Trump: White Working-Class Culture in the Rust Belt

Michael McQuarrie

 

Before embarking on my current career, I worked as a labor organizer, mostly in West Virginia and Ohio. In the course of doing that work, I probably did two thousand “housevisits” with people I was attempting to organize. The purpose of these meetings was to understand people’s motivations and interests in order to assess how they would vote in a union recognition election (as the union president once said to the organizers: “I don’t care if you lose, I care if you can’t count”) and assess their leadership potential for either the union’s organizing committee or for management’s anti-union efforts.

The work entailed a never-ending confrontation with the slow social death of a region. Proud people-who once possessed the social honor that came with hard work, supporting a family, and meeting one’s civic responsibilities-were confronting the fact that their skills, their values, and their mores were not only no longer valued, but had become an object of ridicule. This is on my mind these days as I look at my RSS feed, awash as it is in horror that populist revolt, which has already claimed Brexit, Poland, and Austria, will soon claim the American presidency.

I sympathized, and I understood the people I visited. Not all of it, of course; not the racism, misogyny, or jingoism-all often coded in the language of merit and worthiness. What was refreshing about it was that it amounted to a rejection of the material calculus that dominates in so much of our political culture and in academic theories of action. In school I learned that politics was about delivering material incentives to people in order to win their support. Democrats win because they deliver the welfare state. When they vote for Republicans, people are being fundamentally stupid in a way that warrants intrepid journalistic explorations of how it is that people can have motivations they do (what’s the matter with Kansas?). But of course, Republicans have much to offer too: assertive nationalism, moral righteousness, and validations of white privilege and heteronormativity, to name a few.

The working class of the Rust Belt has been in its death throes for decades. Deindustrialization first began to take hold with the “Southern Strategy” of American manufacturers who moved to the southern United States where “right to work” laws ensure an environment that is hostile to unions. But Japanese competition accelerated the problem. Then there was Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who abandoned the working-class base of the party in his pursuit of free trade agreements. Companies received tax breaks for moving jobs overseas. Then there were the tax preferences for financial investment over manufacturing investment, practically guaranteeing that money would flow out of the industrial economy. In a valiant defense of their social order, workers in Youngstown and Wheeling tried to stem the tide by purchasing their plants and hoping that they would remain viable if only profit could be subordinated as a motive. The plants closed anyway.

Wages stagnated and even shrank for many. It was open season on unions not just because of deindustrialization, but aggressive union-busting. Today, the United Mine Workers, which once had 800,000 members and the fortitude to strike in the middle of World War Two, now has 60,000 members. My partner, also a former union organizer, recalls the elderly retired miner she met on a housevisit who bragged about happily paying union assessments to cover John L. Lewis’s legal fees when Roosevelt had him thrown in jail. Lewis, unlike many labor leaders today, was happy to fight a losing battle in the name of a principled defense of working-class autonomy and dignity. His combativeness earned loyalty. But West Virginia workers don’t have unions anymore to help them fight the decline of their communities.

With income stagnation the norm in the 1990s and 2000s, Democratic policy often focused on helping people maintain their standard of living through the possession of assets. Policy encouraged homeownership and investment in securities. Predictably, people lost their pensions or retirement savings in the tech bubble, and then lost their homes in the foreclosure crisis. The Democratic President, Barack Obama, chose to bail out bondholders while leaving homeowners to rot. He then pursued more free trade policies, expanding the number of countries that American workers would have to compete with. Cities like Cleveland had a windfall in their stock of postindustrial porn. In addition to rusting plants they now had naked and rotting houses. Suburban houses lost as much as 75% of their value in postindustrial Ohio. They were never worth anything to start with in West Virginia. Since that time, the problems of disinvesment and unemployment have been compounded by drug addiction. These are problems that, thanks to scholars like William Julius Wilson, we once associated with the urban black working class. They are now the problems of white, small-town America too. It turns out race isn’t the relevant variable for explaining the crisis of the family.

Young people are rare in many of these communities. Nursing homes have replaced mines and mills. Working as a nurse’s aide is a young person’s work, but not in this part of the country, especially in rural areas. The nursing homes I encountered were staffed by women who went back to work when their partner lost his job as a miner or a steelworker. Back then it wasn’t surprising to encounter a forty year-old nurses’ aide working two jobs, “one for the bills and one for health insurance.” Not only is the structural decay of towns a constant reminder of the demise of a way of life, but the decay of the people themselves is as well. It is hard to sustain optimism when the young people most imbued with the characteristic are gone.

Men lose their breadwinning jobs, making the justification for their authority in the household precarious. Women return to work. I was organizing at a moment when women carried with them an attitude towards bosses and unions that their husbands had learned in decades of struggle in their workplaces. This wasn’t all good, workers had plenty of fights with their union representatives too. But it did sustain a culture of combativeness and solidarity that was possible to transfer into healthcare, with modifications, of course. Patients had a different significance for healthcare workers than rivets did for autoworkers. Healthcare workers wanted to use unions to defend their patients against the depredations of the profit motive, though they probably didn’t mind the health insurance and wages they won in the name of patient care. As for the men, pride and combativeness can easily become authoritarianism and misogyny when they’re dependent on a female breadwinner. A shibboleth in the local I worked for recounts ex-UMW members opposing the unionization of their wives and girlfriends: “We know that if you teach them to fight the boss at work, they’ll know how to fight the boss at home,” they said.

In order to stave off the indignity of dependence on their wives and girlfriends, some men would go to extreme lengths that illustrate the value of white working-class identity for people who haven’t known anything else. I’ll never forget the autoworker I encountered on a housevisit to his wife, a nurse at a local hospital. He liked unions and what they stood for. He told me about the notorious Lordstown Strike against GM in 1971. He participated in the torching of a motel that was housing strikebreakers. He didn’t seem to regret it. When I met him he was still working as an autoworker. His UAW contract meant he could bid on jobs in other plants with seniority rights. Laid off at Lordstown, three times per week he would carpool with friends for the five-hour drive to another plant in order to maintain his income and, one had the sense, his working-class identity. Other men figured out that staying at home and maintaining their income meant a switch to healthcare and nursing, but that work didn’t confer status in the same way as manufacturing work did, it was “women’s work.” A Youngstown-area hospital I was organizing had a huge number of male nurses (nationally, about 12% of nurses are men, in Youngstown back then it was more like 25%). Obviously for them, the money was worth more than working-class pride.

The serial destruction that has faced the Rust Belt has not occurred without a struggle. “Fighting the good fight” was extremely important to many Rust Belt workers, as if it were a matter of social honor and recognition. And fight they did, often enough anyway. Why did they fight? Was it for material gains as so many assume? Sometimes. There is always the nurse that will throw some Randian entrepreneurial freedom stuff at you (workers read too), but that particular ideology wasn’t that common, despite the assumptions of economists, pundits, and union busters.

Union busters use a kit, a sort of paint-by-numbers sequence of things to talk about and do in the run-up to a recognition election. One standard item is the checks. This is a mock-up of a check with the worker’s name and current weekly pay. Next to it will be a comparison check with the costs of a strike deducted. How do workers react? Certainly some were influenced. People have different economic circumstances and different reactions to them. But often enough the response was something like: “that’s a small price to pay to tell the boss to fuck off.” And there it is. The value that many workers place on being able to express their opinion or fight just for a chance to speak is an awful lot higher than many expect. Workers stage sit-down strikes, even though they are completely illegal and could result in the bankruptcy of the union. Transit workers did this in New York in 2006, but nursing home workers were doing it in Ohio too.

Perhaps such a fight is worth a few dollars, but surely there is an underlying material instrumentality, isn’t there? Union staff often told the story of a contract fight for county mental health workers in Mentor, Ohio. The county had told the workers that if they refused to accept the contract the county would simply stop funding mental health altogether, costing all of the workers their jobs. As the votes were counted, it became clear that the workers had placed more value on their right to protest the behavior of their employer than they did on their own job. They ratified the contract, told the boss what they thought of his threats, and, presumably, headed for the unemployment line.

In 1998, I found myself on a picket line in front of a prison in Lima, Ohio. We represented the social service professionals who worked for the state: doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers. That year the union representing the non-professionals negotiated a concessionary contract with the state. We could either also accept the concessionary contract or fight it despite having very little workplace power. But our members and our president wanted to fight, not least to show everyone what cowards the other union was. Our picket had signs like: “Grandmas shouldn’t have to strike.” Prisoners were jokingly shouting “we want a contract too!” out their cell windows. We won. The threat wasn’t because our workers were off the job, and it certainly wasn’t because the guards respected the picket (though a few did). But the prisoners rioted. State troopers had to be called in to quell riots, including one at the notorious Lucasville Prison. It turns out representing nurses isn’t such a weak hand after all, at least when you’re striking a prison. The culture of solidarity reaches far in the Rust Belt, especially when people choose to fight the boss.

I have long thought that the workers of the Rust Belt and their communities were an underutilized political resource. Unions once did important work holding white workers in the Democratic coalition, despite the fact that Democrats have been ignoring them for three decades. But unions have mostly been destroyed in the Rust Belt. Michigan, the birthplace of the UAW and Industrial Unionism, became a Right to Work state two years ago, joining Wisconsin and soon to be followed by West Virginia. States which once had 40% of their workforces represented by unions now have 10-11%. As a result, the populist outrage of the white working class is available to both the Right and the Left. Over the years various Democratic candidates, Tom Harkin, John Edwards, and Bernie Sanders among them, have attempted to recapture white workers for the Democratic Party and, in the process, reorient the Party away from its deference to finance capital. These efforts have failed. The Democratic coalition is a party of free trade, finance, and tech with a diverse base recruited on the basis of social liberalism and fluency with identity politics. This is not a party of the working class and is especially not a party of the white working class.

Trump has stepped into this political vacuum and it has served him well, enabling him to trounce establishment and Tea Party Republicans in the primaries. Trump seems to be furious at the establishment politicians that long ago wrote off the Rust Belt. He is combative, he doesn’t defer to the political correctness that is sensitive to the feelings of everyone other than the white poor and working class. Trump’s performance emphasizes action as much as words and ideas, which exasperates the educated, but appeals to Rust Belt workers. Ideas and rational consistency are not, academic dispositions aside, particularly important to people without Ph.Ds. Trump performs the combativeness of Rust Belt culture, the lack of deference to odds or the focus-grouped lowest common denominator. He seems as lost playing the politically-coded game of pandering and recognition that people in Portsmouth, Ohio, are. He is a manifestation of the “fuck you” id of the Rust Belt that leads workers to fight their bosses even when they will probably lose. And sure, it isn’t exactly about the working class, but if Trump has been consistent on any issue, it has been trade. He promises to rip up the trade agreements that forced workers to make a choice between their dignity and their jobs, and that forced them onto an unfair playing field against workers with government health insurance or lower housing and food costs. He promises to protect them from immigrants that are somehow simultaneously competing for their jobs and sucking state coffers dry.

Hillary Clinton had a word for the Rust Belt in her convention speech, just like she did for every other constituency in the Democratic coalition. She pointed out that Donald Trump’s merchandise is made overseas. My first thought was that it was a good opener, but that was it. No policy, no recognition, just “That guy is a liar”. Now, granted, Rust Belt workers do get pissed off about stuff like that. For years the draw for the Central Labor Council annual picnic in Dayton, Ohio, was the destruction of a Japanese car with a wrecking ball. Watching a crane destroy a perfectly good automobile is exciting, but it’s downright cathartic when that car represents an existential threat to your existence and an offense to your patriotism. But I fully expect that Rust Belt voters, many of whom are pretty familiar with the dynamics of these issues (thanks unions!) would hear that and think: “ok, she’s taking us for suckers… again”. Just because that stuff worked with patrician Romney (and it did) in no way means that it will work with combative, disrespectful, trade-deal trashing, and immigrant-deporting Trump. Clinton’s move was calculated and condescending. She volunteered for an authenticity fight with Donald Trump, a fight she will lose.

Trump has nailed down populism for the Right. Sanders made a bid to win it back for the Left, but no one named Obama or Clinton is going to win it back for Democrats. Now pundits and Trump’s campaign are plotting a path to the presidency through the Rust Belt. Trump’s (former) campaign manager has said that victory depends upon winning Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania . Trump has talked about extending the map to Michigan and Wisconsin which, after all, are enthusiastic enough about Republicans to vote them into power in every branch of government and watch them pass Right to Work laws and create punitive social welfare regimes. The electoral map might be realigning to situate Democrats as the representatives of the New Economy and Republicans as the champions of Smokestack industries and their workers. Trump has made it clear that this potential political opposition is real.

But the anxiety and the worry is misplaced. There is no Brexit majority here. The path through the Rust Belt is actually a cul-de-sac, not because Trump lacks appeal with white workers, but because there are so few of them left. Cities aren’t filled with factories and working-class neighborhoods anymore; they’re filled with artist studios, tech startups, coffee bars, and criminalized hyper-ghettos. Latinos have been moving to Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, but they sure aren’t voting for Trump. White people have been leaving many of these states which has increased the minority share of potential voters. Trump polled at 0% among African-Americans in Ohio during the Republican Convention. The Rust Belt economy has been diversifying. Unemployment in Ohio and Pennsylvania has mostly been below the national average since the financial crisis. Ann Arbor, Madison, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati, Lansing and others have been increasing in importance. These towns are hubs for tech and pharmaceutical startups, advanced manufacturing, and software engineering. They have concentrations of educated people who are less likely to vote for Trump.

The work of economic transformation has already been done in the Rust Belt and the demographic results are real. Trump missed the window for exploiting the alienation of the Rust Belt as a path to national office. White workers were angrier, more numerous, more combative, and more motivated twenty years ago when they were smashing Japanese cars at picnics. But back then unions had more capacity to hold white workers in the Democratic coalition. Unmoored from unions, racism and terrorism can be exploited to harvest white votes. Trump’s combativeness is the ideal vehicle for effective exploitation, but the harvest is getting smaller every year. Trump can tap into the dispositions of the white working class, and speak to the issues of Rust Belt workers, but it is doubtful that he can overcome the demographically- and economically-determined fact of their declining relevance.
This was originally published at New Politics .
Michael McQuarrie is Associate Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics. Prior to graduate school, he worked as a labor organizer in West Virginia, Ohio, and New York and as a community organizer in the South Bronx.

White Workers Resisting Capitalism and White Supremacy: An Interview with RedNeck Revolt

Devon Douglas-Bowers

 

Below is the transcript of an interview I had with the admin of the Facebook page RedNeck Revolt, where we discuss the history of the page/organization, white working-class resistance to capitalism, and how the white working class is being manipulated by Trump.

So, what exactly led you to create Red Neck Revolt?

Redneck Revolt came out of the original work of the John Brown Gun Club, a working group of the Kansas Mutual Aid Collective based out of Lawrence, Kansas from 2002-2008. The John Brown Gun Club focused on attempting to simultaneously grow a militant and armed culture within already existing liberatory and revolutionary movements, and attempting to stem the tide of right wing reactionary recruitment within white working class communities. Our work had two main focuses then: providing armed community and tactical defense trainings to build the capacity of our movements and demystify the firearm, and to be present at social and economic gatherings of white working people where groups like the Klan, Minutemen, and white reactionary militias recruited. Over the course of several years, we trained hundreds of members of social movement organizations from across the country, as well as attended dozens of gun shows and similar events to head off racist recruitment.

When Kansas Mutual Aid ended its work in 2008, the John Brown Gun Club went with it. In early 2009, Redneck Revolt was founded in Colorado, and enjoyed a limited life within local gun shows as well as being present at Tea Party rallies in the Denver area. Redneck Revolt started to focus less on armed defense within already existing social movement organizations, and to refocus on the other goal of the John Brown Gun Club: to engage in anti-racist movement building within the white working class.

Redneck Revolt went on hiatus in late 2009. A decision was made to dust off the concept and the project in June of 2016, as the rise of street level fascism and reactionary ideology has swept across the United States in response to the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. Several of us felt that it was far past time for this project to be active again. We feel that the specific analysis offered by Redneck Revolt is essential at this historical moment as part of a multi-faceted strategy for combating this rise in reactionary politics.
Do any of you have a particular political ideology? If so, what led you to it? If not, why?

Overwhelmingly, our members are anti-capitalist libertarians, or anarchists. Our politics are colored by primarily coming from working class communities and seeing the failures of capitalism and the nation-state project that protects it. We come out of communities already deeply seething with distrust for politicians, bosses, rich people, and law enforcement.

This class background and a focus on class within our organizing also makes us markedly different than groups like SURJ (Standing Up For Racial Justice) in that we are organizing around the impact that white supremacy has had on the white working class, and not just our roles in replicating and perpetuating white supremacy.

What we see is that historically, the white working class continues to align themselves as the foot soldiers of capitalism by adhering to a politics of white supremacy. We end up becoming the enforcers of the rule and will of the capitalist and political classes. Our goal is to push the understanding that this doesn’t just harm, threaten, and destroy communities of color, but also ends up ensuring that working class whites accumulate little to no economic or political power as well. White supremacy is a tool used against us, even as we end up being the people wielding it against people who are not white.

We don’t believe in a politics built upon white guilt, white savior paternalism, or merely being proper or good allies to other people’s struggle. We see our struggle as enmeshed within the struggle of working class communities of color. We understand that we have a stake in seeing white supremacy abolished and capitalism and the nation-state project also dismantled and replaced with a truly liberatory, social, economic, and political project.
Talk about white resistance to capitalism. It isn’t something we really learn about, beyond some minor discussions in school about the US labor movement.

White working people have been resisting capitalism since its inception. Just as white poor and working people resisted Feudalism and all other forms of economic and political subservience. Whenever a system of domination has been cemented into dominant culture, there has been resistance to it. From the Luddites in Europe, to the Paris Commune, to the revolutions that waged across Spain and Russia, to the massive labor movements here in the United States, there has been resistance to capitalism.

However, the times that this resistance has been truly potent in North America, is when white workers also see a joint struggle with communities of color and start to build movements across race, gender, religion, etc.. to create a truly revolutionary working class movement. We can see historical moments like that embodied in struggles like the Redneck War/Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 1921, when thousands of white workers, alongside black and Italian migrant miners, created an armed insurrection against the mining bosses and fought for nine days in open warfare. The U.S. Army was brought in to quell the worker insurrection. Ultimately, the strike was defeated by overwhelming force, but the lessons remain: the gravest threat to capitalism is when white working people see that they have mutual interests with working people of color. When white workers stop being the foot soldiers of repression and oppression and instead fight for liberation of all people, the capitalist class is in real trouble.
How did Socialists and Communists in the 19th and 20th centuries attempt to bridge the racial gap between all workers?

While not necessarily a Communist or Socialist, we can’t really talk about attempts to “bridge the racial gap between all workers” in the 19th century without talking about John Brown and the somewhat limited legacy of white militant resistance to chattel slavery in the early to mid 1800’s. While John Brown was not the only militant white to aid in the struggle against slavery, he was perhaps the most effective and has become the symbol of white resistance to white supremacy.

Brown believed that whites had to put their lives on the line and wage a revolutionary war against slavery and servitude. And he did just that. He helped wage an intense war in Kansas and Missouri for the abolition of slavery, and then eventually led a small armed band to seize and briefly hold the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry (in what was then Virginia, but now West Virginia). Brown and nearly all of his co-combatants paid the ultimate price for their attempted insurrection. But Harper’s Ferry became a pivotal moment that propelled the country toward what would be the Civil War.

Socialist, communist, and anarchist organizing in the late 19th century and early 20th century had a unique presence in recent migrant communities, mobilizing poor and working class migrant labor for strikes and other workplace action. Liberatory organizers pushed for the desegregation of trade unions, as well as building inclusive unions like the Industrial Workers of the World, that focused on organizing all workers, regardless of race, religion, language, or gender.

Later in the 20th century, one of the most important political formations of recent history was created, when the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Chicago allied itself with formations from a variety of national-liberation and working class struggles and created the Rainbow Coalition (not to be confused with the reactionary formation of the same name started by Reverend Jesse Jackson). The Rainbow Coalition was a street level working class formation that brought together groups like the Young Lords, the American Indian Movement, Brown Berets, I Wor Kuen, and Young Patriots (among other organizations) to form a cross race movement against capitalism.

This single act by Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party perhaps represents one of the most potent and dangerous efforts of the BPP, bringing together, black, brown, white, and Asian working class youth into a street level movement that could threaten the very foundations of white supremacy and capitalism in the United States. Ultimately, Fred Hampton would be assassinated for his efforts at building the Rainbow Coalition among other successes of his organizing in Chicago.
Would you say that there is currently a racial gap between workers, given the tensions surrounding immigration?

Definitely. Migration has always been among the factors that splits the working class in the United States and internationally. It was this conflict between migrant workers and “nativist” workers in the late 19th century and early 20th century that made it difficult at many junctures for the efforts of organized labor to be more effective. This was one of the main reasons why the Battle of Blair Mountain was such a potent threat. Members of the United Mine Workers had started to work directly with and encourage union membership of not only black workers, but also migrant workers, primarily Italians, who had been shipped into the region to destabilize worker cohesion and union organizing.

Migrants and people of color become easy scapegoats for the failures of capitalism. As long as you can blame some outsider for the problems you and your community are facing, you don’t look at the real enemy: the primarily white rich class profiting off everyone else’s misery and exploitation.
Would you say that due to this economic climate of joblessness, free trade deals, and outsourced labor, it is easier to espouse an anti-capitalist ideology? That people are more receptive to it?

We are at a historical moment where many people from a broad spectrum of the working class are truly questioning capitalism. However, being anti-capitalist is not enough. In fact, being anti-capitalist but also reactionary can be genocidal. As Fascism is also inherently an anti-capitalist ideology, we have to understand that at this historical moment, when many are suffering under capitalism, and looking for better ways to live, that the working class, and particularly the white working class, is much more susceptible to reactionary and fascistic ideologies and influences. It is precisely because capitalism is a failure for nearly all people, including the white working class, that white supremacy has a foothold in the first place.

We, as people who want a liberatory world, must be very committed at this historical moment to working within the white working class to help change the trajectory away from reactionary and white supremacist politics. We have to not only speak from some moral platitude about how white supremacy is “wrong”. We have to speak to the physical conditions of working class communities. We have to be able to show white working people that their misery is not caused by black, brown, or migrant working people. We have to be able to help point them at the actual enemy: the rich, mostly white people profiting at our communities’ expense.

People are becoming more desperate as capitalism continues to unravel. Will we just let them become the shock troops of a new version of white supremacy? Or will we be there to show an alternative?
Given the recent events in Dallas, what do you think are going to be the short-term effects? We are already seeing stories being spread such as there being a plot to kill Baton Rouge cops.

Obviously the game has changed somewhat, especially for those of us who espouse armed defense as a viable tactic within our toolbox. However, something important and remarkable happened after the Dallas and Baton Rouge shootings that didn’t happen after the assassination of police officers in New York City in 2014: the street movement intensified. After the attacks in New York City, the movement recoiled and allowed some relative social peace to return. The opposite was true after the incidents in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Being in the streets in the immediate aftermath, nearly no one was talking about Dallas or the police being shot. It was nearly impossible for the energy to be redirected or recuperated by the political class.

However, one immediate outcome that we must respond to is the increased response by right wing paramilitary formations to street level demonstrations by organizations like Black Lives Matter. In Phoenix, Oregon, Missouri, and other locales, there were immediately reports of demonstrations having sizeable armed reactionary elements standing against them. We have to prepare for the armed right wing to have a renewed and sizable response to our demonstrations and protests.

This is definitely the wrong time to be talking about disarming our own social movements.
What do you make of the fact, as was noted in the article This Was All Inevitable, that “the same right-wing reactionaries who call on people to arm themselves against their despotic government will rush to the defense of law and order and the state, and the police who serve these ends?”

The white working class has steadily been pushed to have more allegiance to those who protect what they assume are white interests, even if in doing so, these same white working folks contradict their supposedly deeply held stances on the state. The reactionary elements of the white working class tend to be anti-state until the topics of border patrol or law and order are discussed. It’s precisely because these white working people have been fooled into thinking their interests are determined by their race, or the relative privileges they receive because they are white or “legally” in this country. However, for most of these people, this choice isn’t as intentionally calculated as it may seem from the outside.
How is the white working class getting played by Trump? Do you think that the situation will worsen when Trump isn’t elected?

The white working class gets played by all sides; we should be clear on that. When it comes to institutional organizations and political parties, we get played by the right wing, and we definitely get played by the left wing. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have the interests of any members of the working class at heart.

But Trump is speaking a language that the white working class understands and can relate to, even using some language from more liberatory elements of the left when discussing economics and conditions within working class communities. He stands against Free Trade, for example, a hallmark of globalized capitalism. He talks about bringing jobs back to the United States. And then he mixes in attacks on migrants and other xenophobic remarks that speak to the fear in the white community. He plays off the fear and misery that white working people feel. He speaks in clear and easy to understand soundbites. Although he is a billionaire, he has convinced millions that he speaks for them and their conditions.

The problem is that for decades now, those of us on the liberatory left have abandoned the white working class to the right wing. We don’t enter those communities to do the hard work of organizing. We have relegated white working people to be backwards and inherently racist. While groups like SURJ and other “anti-racist” white groups use the same language of white supremacy to dictate that white people all experience the same privileges and power within our society, regardless of class or real economic or political power, upper class liberals have consistently positioned themselves as being superior or better to working class whites, especially from rural areas. We have all created a situation where working class whites have been alienated and pushed toward the right wing, where reactionaries stand with open arms to welcome white working people into the fold.

This is not to say that the white working class has not historically earned some of this venom and derision. After all, the white working class has overwhelmingly found itself on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the struggle of other working class people. But that said, how have the efforts of those on the Left helped cement that relationship? How has the Left been complicit, especially in the last twenty years, to handing the white working class on a platter over to the racist right wing?

Whether Trump wins or loses, the terrain is dangerous and deadly at this current moment. Which brings us back to one of the other main focuses of our former work with the John Brown Gun Club that we want to revisit and revive. We need real formulated responses for the upsurge in reactionary and racist violence. We need armed community defense programs in every community. We need to be ready to rapidly respond to the armed right wing threat that menaces our communities. We need to stop being reactionaries when it comes to the topic of armed defense. We are approaching truly dangerous times. Will we be ready?
In what ways can white people support Black Lives Matter?

Again, it’s important to conceptualize struggle in a way that does away with moral platitudes and calls for white people to feel guilt for their situations. It’s nearly impossible to get most white working people to admit they have some relative privilege in society and that racism does in fact exist, when they are struggling to make ends meet and not get evicted from their decaying home. So, we must first understand that until we start to build movements in a way where white working class people also see that their interests are tied in ending white supremacy, white working class folks will consistently be found on the wrong side of social struggles including Black Lives Matter.

It is up to us then, as whites, to organize within white working class communities, speaking to the conditions on the ground, and building off the rich history and culture of white working people standing in solidarity with poor and working people of color to challenge capitalist, state, and white supremacist power. Putting out ally checklists and having endless workshops on white privilege will never cut it, and has helped maintain the situation we find ourselves in. We need people on the ground. At the gun shows, at the NASCAR races, at the swap meets and flea markets… We need people in the white working class communities speaking their language and bringing them over to the a liberatory political orientation. We need to be able to relate the conditions that white working people face to the conditions on the ground in communities of color.

We have to abandon paternalistic ally politics that speak of white working class people through the same language of white supremacy. White working people do not have more in common with white rich people merely because we are all white. We have more in common with working class people from all races and religions. Until we as anti-racist white working people put in the work to shed light on that reality to others from our community, then we are failing.

Black Lives Matter and communities of color don’t need more feel good white allies. They need white accomplices who are preventing other whites from being the footsoldiers of genocide and colonial capitalism and bringing those whites over to our side. The real question is whether other white people are up to that task. Because we have a lot of work to do, and the current efforts of the vast majority of “anti-racist” whites are more counter productive than anything else at creating this reality.
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Drawing Class Lines through Critical Education: History, Education, and the Global Class War

Derek R. Ford

 

The following is the foreword to Curry S. Malott’s new book, History and Education: Engaging the Global Class War , just published through Peter Lang.

There is a common belief out there that capitalism is so totalizing, so all-subsuming, that even the most radical scholarship can be accommodated with its circuits of production and consumption. Curry Malott, in his newest book, History and Education: Engaging the Global Class War, seems to be out to disprove that belief. He succeeds, and in his success, he demonstrates that this belief reveals nothing about contemporary capitalism, and everything about what passes as radical scholarship today. At the base of this book, then, is a critique of-and corrective to-the deep-seated anti-communism that permeates much of the western and academic Left, especially within the U.S. Thus, it isn’t just the global bourgeoisie and its representatives who will despise the contents of this book; it’s likely to upset quite a few self-proclaimed and celebrated “critical scholars” inside and outside of education. One thing is for sure: after reading this book it’s hard to look at the field of critical education-especially critical pedagogy-the same way. With biting critique and careful historical and theoretical analysis, Malott lays bare what he, following Sam Marcy, calls the “crossing of class lines” that characterizes so much critical scholarship. The crossing of class lines is, simply, when one finds oneself shoulder to shoulder with imperialism, shouting the same slogans (“down with authoritarianism!”) and attacking the same enemy (communism).

Bringing communist theoreticians and revolutionaries into the educational conversation, Malott begins to develop a “communist pedagogy” in this book, and this pedagogy offers the field needed clarifications, historical contexts, conceptual frameworks, organizational imperatives, and future possibilities. Malott begins by tackling a question that is, for any organizer, presently absent in academia writ large today: the state. He clarifies for us what the state is and what role it plays in the revolutionary process, reminding us along the way that revolutions are, by definition “one of the most authoritarian human actions possible.” Revolutions take place when one segment of society imposes its will absolutely on another segment; there is no revolution without repression. As Marx (1867/1967) put it in Capital, “Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one” (p. 703). It is only through utilizing the state and its repressive and productive powers that a new society can arise, for the bourgeoisie, as history has shown, doesn’t go without a fight.

Once deposed they count their losses, regroup, find new allies, and launch campaigns of terror. The history of the communist movement has proved this without exception. Thus, to forfeit or bypass the state “is to surrender before the final battle has even begun.” Just months after the exploited masses of Russia took power in 1917 they were under attack from 14 imperialist armies, each of which was in coordination with the White Army that served Russia’s former capitalists and landlords. When Cuban guerrillas overthrew the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in their country, it wasn’t long before the U.S. invaded the island. The CIA’s forces were repelled by the armed Cuban masses, but the campaign against Cuba continued with assassinations and terrorist attacks. There were plans for another U.S. military intervention, and these plans were changed only when the Soviet Union sent medium-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads to the country. There is a reason that imperialist politicians constantly denounce any attempt by an independent government to acquire a nuclear weapon-and it isn’t because they hate bombs. They don’t care that Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal and that it has never allowed international inspection of its nuclear capabilities, and they aren’t dismantling their own nuclear weapons. Instead, they are attacking the DPRK for its nuclear capability, and they are denouncing Iran’s alleged attempts at a nuclear weapons program (which isn’t documented). They bully countries into dismantling nuclear weapons programs, imposing deathly sanctions and threatening more war. It is interesting to note that the two governments who have complied with U.S. dictates to abandon nuclear weapons development were Iraq and Libya. Both governments were overthrown after they complied. What is the lesson here?

The establishment of the Soviet Union in 1917 and the Communist International in 1919 provided a new hope for the world’s oppressed. This hope wasn’t merely ideological, but was also material. As Malott shows, the Soviet Union was the center of gravity in the proletarian struggle for much of the 20thcentury. It was the armory from which the world’s oppressed drew their weapons to overthrow their oppressors and it fertilized a counter-hegemonic bloc to imperialism, allowing the class war against the bourgeoisie to take on a truly global character for the first time in history. On the one side of the war stood the imperialist states and their puppet governments, and on the other side stood the socialist states and the anti-colonial states.

This was a beautiful period of struggle for humanity, although it wasn’t without its setbacks and its errors. Yet Malott argues that there is a crucial difference between critiquing the leadership or policy of a socialist state and critiquing that state’s social system. And here is where his criticism of critical pedagogy is most severe: critical pedagogy turned its weapons of critique against the social systems of the proletarian class camp, thereby crossing class lines. Malott provides several historical and contemporary examples of pedagogues such as Henry Giroux who not only denounce the proletarian camp, but even go so far as to equate the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany-its literal opposite. Democracy is opposed to totalitarianism in critical pedagogy, which is exactly how Winston Churchill framed the world struggle in his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in Missouri on March 5, 1946. Talk about crossing class lines!

There is a material basis for such class collaboration, and a history of it that stretches back over 100 years with the betrayal of the Socialist International, which was the grouping of mass socialist parties. In 1912, the Socialist International met in Basel, Switzerland for an emergency meeting. The outbreak of an inter-imperialist war was imminent, and the socialist movement needed an orientation. The outcome of the meeting was clear: in the outbreak of inter-imperialist war all socialists should oppose the war and refuse to fire on workers of other countries. For those parties with representatives in parliament this meant that they had to vote against any war credits. When push came to shove, however, the overwhelming majority of the socialist parties capitulated to imperialism, and united with their national ruling classes. The Socialist International collapsed.

Why did this happen? How was it that the parties of working class revolution united with their class enemies? Lenin answered these questions in his work on imperialism. Monopoly profits extracted by imperialist powers, those profits “obtained over and above the profits which capitalists squeeze out of the workers of their ‘own’ country” made it “possible to bribe the labour leaders and the upper stratum of the labour aristocracy” (p. 9). These monopoly profits provided the material basis for national chauvinism and reformism, the latter of which can be defined as sacrificing the gains of the entire working class for the short-term gains of a particular section of the working class. The socialist parties that betrayed the working class, like the German Social Democratic Party, were able to keep their offices, their newspapers, their positions in parliament, and so on. The Bolsheviks, who stayed loyal to the proletarian revolution, were driven underground and their parliamentary representatives were arrested.

It’s not too hard to see, then, why what Malott calls “anti-socialist socialism” is so prevalent in the academy. We are back at the limits of what counts as radical today. There are limits. You can be a socialist in the academy, but only after you denounce every socialist country and the history of the communist movement. All you need to do is add a few quick lines dismissing the Soviet Union as “totalitarian” and you will be all set, no need to worry about your tenure and promotion. It will help, too, if you stick to teaching and writing about this critical stuff, and refrain from organizing and agitating.

We should hope that these critical scholars will engage with Malott’s ideas and arguments, and do the only logical thing: repudiate their previous writings and actions. This is what Malott has done in and with this book, which is an honest political self-critique. He writes of his “long journey of self-reflection and de-indoctrination.” Malott’s work has been heavily influenced by the revolutionary critical pedagogy of Peter McLaren. More than anyone else, McLaren has been instrumental in bringing Marx into the field of education, and this book is certainly situated within the opening at McLaren’s work has created. McLaren turned to Marx at the height of the post-al era, and it was an uphill battle all the way. But, as Malott notes, the “fog and bigotry of anti-communism in the U.S. slowly dissipating.” Indeed, the crises of capitalism and imperialism have aroused new mass movements in the U.S., from Occupy in 2011 to Black Lives Matter today. The campaign of Bernie Sanders has both capitalized on and furthered the acceptance of the word “socialism.” It’s now safe(r) for communists to come out of the shadows and boldly organize, and that is precisely what this manuscript represents.

Malott doesn’t just formulate his program through critique, however, for he also points to several examples of organizations in the U.S. that have refused to cross class lines. Chief among these is the Black Panther Party, which clearly located itself within the context of the global class war. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was explicitly a Marxist-Leninist Party that saw itself as part of an international communist movement. Panthers distributed Mao’s little red book at rallies, travelled to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and aligned themselves with all foreign anti-imperialist governments. They developed their own application of Marxism-Leninism particular to the contours of U.S. capitalism, and they did not follow orders from any foreign communist Party, but they militantly defended all socialist formations and all people’s governments. A modern day example that he gives is the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which has unflinchingly stood against imperialism.

While it is common to hear dismissals of the Soviet Union as “authoritarian” or “totalitarian,” there are also the quite puzzling designations, “state socialist,” or “state capitalist,” or “deformed workers’ state” that pop up. They are labels that intellectuals in capitalist countries put on socialist governments, because they know better. The way that one arrives at these designations is by drawing up what an ideal socialist society would look like and then comparing that to actually-existing socialism. As Malott carefully shows us, however, this is idealism pure and simple. A materialist analysis acknowledges that “the tension within the co-existence of the past, present, and future represents an unavoidable, dialectical reality that carries with it the contested curriculum of struggle.” The Soviet Union, for example, erected socialism not out of advanced capitalism but out of feudalism. But socialism was constructed. It wasn’t perfect, there were ebbs and flows, but capitalism was never restored. There were income differentials, sure, but there was no bourgeoisie in the Soviet Union, labor-power wasn’t a commodity to be bought and sold, and the relations of production were not relations of exploitation (see Szymanski, 1979 for empirical proof of this).

When the wave of counterrevolutions in 1989-1991 overthrew socialist governments throughout Europe it was celebrated as an advance for democracy and freedom. And for the world’s bourgeoisie, it was: they moved in and gobbled up the countries, making private all that was held publicly before. Isn’t odd that, whenever privatization happens in the U.S. critical intellectuals decry it as “neoliberalism,” but when it happens in formerly socialist states it is seen as “democratization?” Malott’s analysis here cuts through this mystification, helping us see that these are just two sides of the same coin, two of global capital’s strategies for accumulation. We have to resolutely oppose both.

The global proletariat today is more fragmented and dispersed as a result of this freedom and democracy. With the framework of the global class war that Malott provides we can more deeply appreciate the transformations that have taken place since 1991. There are two primary phases here. The first is an all-out imperialist offensive against all socialist and independent states and peoples. Without an effective counterweight against imperialism many independent and socialist states found themselves under the immediate threat of military and economic attack. The economic blockades on Cuba and the DPRK were immediately expanded and intensified. A new war was started against Iraq-first by military means, then by economic means, and then again by military means. Thousands of bombs were dropped on Yugoslavia, Bosnia, and Kosovo to break up the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, sending the different nations within the federation into turmoil and chaos. Panama was invaded and its President was kidnapped and taken hostage in a U.S. prison. This is the context in which the recent wars on Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Yemen must be seen (in fact, the war on Afghanistan was the first step in a new war against independent states in the Middle East). It is similar with the U.S.’s policies toward states such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Iran, Sudan, China, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, and Russia.

But we are in a new historical moment, and it is a vulnerable and exciting one. The U.S.-led imperialist offensive has waned; the era of uni-polar imperialism seems to be over and new counter-hegemonic blocs are forming. While the war on Iraq did overthrow the nationalist Ba’athist government, it wasn’t as easy as the imperialists had imagined it. The Iraqi people waged a heroic insurgency against occupation forces, and the project of installing a new puppet government ultimately failed. In 2007-2008 the capitalist economic crisis shook the world. With the U.S. bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, a socialist tide gathered in Latin America, bringing socialist and anti-imperialist governments into power, most notably with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. At the same time, independent powers like China and Brazil have emerged as real economic forces. True, these states are characterized by capitalist relations of production (although that’s not 100 percent true in China’s case), but they are not imperialist. China, in particular, has opened up an avenue for anti-imperialist and independent governments to emerge. Chinese economic relations with the Bolivarian revolution, for example, have been critical in Venezuela’s independence from U.S. imperialism.

The emergence of a counter-hegemonic bloc has thrown imperialism into crisis. The strategy of installing puppet governments is no longer feasible, for these governments can easily abandon the U.S., as happened in Iraq. In the face of this reality, Dan Glazebrook (2013) argues that the strategy of imperialism today is to generate failed and weakened states. This is a compelling way in which to understand imperialist strategy in Syria since 2011. When protests against the Syrian government began that year, imperialism seized the opportunity to initiate regime change. The West had been funding opposition groups in Syria for some time, and these groups as well as radical Islamists quickly emerged as the opposition leadership (all progressive opposition groups quickly sided with the government, as they were satisfied with the reforms instituted-including a new constitution-and aware of the threat of imperialist intervention). But Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to wage war on the country. So for five years now the West has been waging a proxy war against Syria, and in the process has created the material basis for the emergence of Daesh-or the Islamic State in the Levant-and has facilitated weapons and money transfers to them and the al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda. Russian military intervention in Syria, which began on Sept. 30, 2015, has been essential in turning the tide of the war, allowing the Syrian Arab Army to liberate key cities from the terrorist forces. Of course, the U.S. doesn’t want Daesh to get too powerful, and it can’t have Daesh threatening U.S. geopolitical interests. The U.S. is flailing around trying to stay balanced on a tightrope it strung across the Middle East. If the U.S. were really interested in ending terrorism, it would immediately fall back and join in an alliance with Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah, the three groups that have actually been fighting Daesh and the terrorist groups for five years.

This is the state in which we find ourselves: imperialism is in crisis, a new counter-hegemonic bloc has formed, and social movements in the United States are gaining ground and becoming more and more militant. The veil of anti-communism is lifting. What are we to do? The question, as Malott puts it, is: “will education support the basic structures of capitalist hegemony and its domination over the Earth, or will it strive to uproot them?” This book provides us with an essential framework for understanding our history our present and, thus, for formulating the tasks ahead for critical educators. By drawing a clear class line through critical pedagogy he has offered up a new space in which to theorize and enact the possibilities of critical education.
Derek R. Ford is assistant professor of education studies at DePauw University. His most recent book, Communist Study: Education for the Commons is due out through Lexington in Fall 2016. He can be reached at derek.ford@hamptoninstitution.org .
References

Glazebrook, D. (2013). Divide and ruin: The West’s imperial strategy in an age of crisis. San Francisco: Liberation Media.

Lenin, V.I. (1920/1965). Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism: A popular outline. Peking: Foreign Languages Press.

Malott, C.S. (2016). History and education: Engaging the global class war. New York: Peter Lang.

Marx, K. (1867/1967). Capital: A critical analysis of capitalist production (vol. 1). New York: International Publishers.

Syzmanski, A. (1979). Is the red flag flying? The political economy of the Soviet Union today. London: Zed Press.

A Bayonet is a Weapon with a Worker at Each End: Rethinking Memorial Day

Colin Jenkins

 

In 1885, the Knights of Labor organized a successful strike against Jay Gould’s Missouri Pacific Railroad. In response to the strike, Gould famously growled, “I can hire half the working class to kill the other half.”

Gould was right. In any hierarchical arrangement, where power and wealth become concentrated in the hands of a few, this tactic becomes available to those wielding this power over a vast majority. Among the masses of workers, slaves, and impoverished, there will inevitably be many willing to “police their own” in order to be in the masters’ good graces. History is rife with these examples.

In ancient Greece, the “most prized” slaves were awarded authority positions over their fellow slaves, sometimes given special status as overseers. Masses of slaves captured or bought from nearby Scythia were transformed into an official police force, known as the Scythian Archers, and were “brought back to Athens to carry out the laws of the state,” which basically amounted to controlling and strong-arming the slave population in the city. Naturally, their willingness to brutalize their fellow slaves was rewarded with special privileges.

On the colonial American slave plantation there were those who became actively complicit in the subjugation of their fellow slaves. In return for special privileges, these particular slaves agreed to stay close to the master, live among the master and his family, and report to the master any wrongdoings or subversive actions on the part of the masses of field slaves. William Wells Brown, a slave from Kentucky, later described the privileged status he was awarded for his “service”: “I was a house servant – a situation preferable to that of a field hand, as I was better fed, better clothed, and not obliged to rise at the ringing of the bell, but about half an hour after.”

In Gould’s time, referred to by Mark Twain as “the Gilded Age” due to its insidious corruption and wealth inequality, social unrest among the masses of workers became commonplace. “New York City had 5,090 strikes, involving almost a million workers from 1880 to 1900; Chicago had 1,737 strikes, involving over a half a million workers in the same period.” The economic elites of the time, like Gould, had two choices in addressing this unrest: (1) share a bigger piece of the pie with their workers, or (2) use force to beat workers into obedience. They chose the latter, taking Gould’s words to heart, and proceeded to hire much of the working class to beat and kill the remainder into submission. Police forces and Pinkertons were amassed by the thousands to break strikes throughout the country. As consistent with history, Gould and his counterparts found plenty of workers willing to “serve” them in this role.

On a global scale, international warfare reflects this same dynamic. Throughout history, the ruling classes of each nation have utilized their working-class masses as tools of war, sending them off to fight and kill other members of the working class in remote parts of the world. The willingness of workers to follow these orders is preconditioned through various means, all of which stem from the need to maintain systems of hierarchy. The desperation that comes with being a worker in a coercive system creates immense pressure to merely survive. Today, those who find themselves choosing between minimum-wage jobs or unfathomable student loan debt are left with very little options in supporting themselves and their families. Material conditions force many into increasingly subservient positions. The mythological construction of boogeymen – savages, radicals, extremists, and terrorists – is all that is needed to create the illusion of an imminent threat. And grand tales of patriotism and “freedom” are all that is needed to persuade many to “volunteer” as tools of war.

So, we volunteer en masse. We literally hand over our bodies to powerful people whom we’ve never met, whose intentions and interests are not to be questioned, and whose authority over us is to be accepted as the natural order of things. We travel across the world, put our bodies in big metal machines, and take the lives of masses of working-class and impoverished people whom we’ve never met, whose intentions and interests are not to be questioned, and whose perceived threat to us is to be accepted as the natural order of things.

Much like the Scythian archer in ancient Athens, the house slave on a colonial Kentucky plantation, and the worker-turned-Pinkerton in Jay Gould’s private army, we become willing tools of powerful interests. We choose to “serve” our masters. Many of us do this because we have no other options. Many of us do this because we are promised glory. Many of us do this because we hear the boogeyman coming. And many of us do this to simply “get in the masters’ good graces.” Whatever the reason, our unquestioned participation makes us complicit in maintaining the coercive systems of hierarchy that continue to dominate our world. And, despite the pats on our backs and choruses of “thank you” directed at us a few days a year, we remain collectively buried in this system, no different than our working-class counterparts throughout the world who we’ve been ordered to extinguish for the past two centuries.

The best way to honor Veterans is to question the system that creates us, uses us, and discards us. And the best way to honor our service is to ask ourselves who we really served and for what purpose.

Marxism, Intersectionality, and Therapy

David I. Backer

 

Intersectionality and marxism are not on great terms, supposedly.[1] While some thinkers and activists recognize the need for intersectional insights in research and organizing, others maintain more negative attitudes and analyses towards such insights. The negative attitudes and analyses combine a new resent with the old tension between feminist and poststructuralist critiques of Marxist theory and the latter, sometimes named “identity politics” or “identarian politics.” While intersectionalists claim that race, class, and gender (and other categories and discourses) compound, mingle, and mix in unique ways during particular events and experiences, Marxists allege that class trumps all with respect to oppression. The intersectionalists call for specific and particularized redress of compounded oppressions which sometimes do not include class or, in other cases, are lost when class is the sole focus (or any single category of oppression by itself). The Marxists, on the other hand, call for changing the relations of production, focusing on class. Racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and other oppressions will be ameliorated, or at least the conditions for their amelioration can only begin, after that shift in exploitative, alienating, and degrading relations of capitalist production. The debate leaves two conflicting camps on the Left. One with a particularized sensitivity to the complex layers of oppression, and the other with a fervent clarity regarding the link in the chain of domination which, if broken, will release the people from their bonds.

The choice is ultimately a false one, though the divisiveness it inspires is real. The matter deserves special attention, and some have begun to seriously consider it.[2] I want to focus on the term “relations of production,” since, for the Marxists, everything comes down to a shift in these relations. Thinkers as diverse as G.A. Cohen and Louis Althusser confirm, in their readings of Marx, that relations of production are what defines a social formation as any given moment: you can have any set of productive forces, but the kind of society you have–the modes of production–is largely defined by the relations of production. Looking at the term “relations of production” again shows that the tension between intersectionality and Marxism is, frankly, dumb.

Marx defines production, at least in the Grundrisse, as tackling nature and making our lives together. [3]A “relation” of production is a kind of dynamic which forms between people when making their lives together, as well as a dynamic which forms between people and nonhuman things (like the means of production).[4] Marx’s German word for “relation” in “relation of production” is Verhältnis. In theGrundrisse and the crucial opening chapters of Capital Vol. 1, the term has two meanings which fit with the definition I just gave.[5] The first meaning is in the sense of a mathematical ratio: a relation of production can mean an absolute or relative value of commodities in terms of other commodities, like prices or wages, for example. The second meaning is in the sense of person-to-person interactions like speech, action, and working together.

This division is useful for distinguishing different kinds of Marxist critique that have evolved over the years, one example being the critical theorists’ distinction between recognition and redistribution (Nancy Fraser’s is the best articulation of this [6]). Take exploitation of labor, for example. Exploitation, in its distributive sense, occurs as a mathematical allotment based on the value of work completed and value received in exchange for that work. It is a mathematical relation between employer and employee. The value of work completed is always greater than the value in wages received, leaving employees bereft of the full value of their work. You can never be paid fully for what you do when you work for a wage, since the wage relation is an exploitative relation of production. Exploitation in its recognitive sense, in contrast (sometimes called alienation), refers to what it’s like when people are exploited, both subjectively and intersubjectively (think Hegel’s master-slave dialectic). The distributive sense of “relation of production” is mathematical and the recognitive sense of “relation of production” is more subjective, identarian.

Here’s my claim. We should read Marx as saying that relations of production are both recognitive and distributive: that a single relation of production has a recognitive and redistributive aspect. There are two meanings of “relation of production,” so why shouldn’t the term mean both? Making our lives together in production requires both recognition between persons and mathematical ratios in the distribution of resources among persons. Recognition and distribution are two senses of the same notion, two moments of one dynamic, two sides of the same coin: they are simultaneously occasioned in any given relation of production.

If a relation of production is both redistributive and recognitive, then changing the relations of production requires changing both recognition and redistribution. To reverse oppression, in other words, both are necessary and sufficient. Neither on its own is enough for revolution. Making life together justly–an emancipatory production–means having just distributions and just recognitions. TheVerhaltnissen in a just society has to have each of these, conjoined, not a disjunction or causal implication. Thinking one is more important than one or the other, or that somehow one must be antecedent to the other, is dumb. Changing relations of production means changing ratios of distribution and changing interative practices so that they are recognitive and not misrecognitive.

Radicals in the past have understood this point clearly. Fred Hampton understood it very clearly, as did many members of the Black Panther Party and others in the Black Power movement of the 1960s. Even Lenin and Marx showed evidence of understanding this point, specifically regarding the United States. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor talks about this inclusive tradition in her excellent new book, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. [7] Though they may not have put it in these terms, some of the most effective activists and deepest radical thinkers in the leftist tradition understood that relations of production are dynamics composed of recognition and distribution, especially in the United States context.

There are at least two important kinds of oppression which flow from the two senses of “relation of production,” whose conceptual relationship has been poorly formulated: distributive oppression and misrecognitive oppression. The dumb question to ask is: What causal role does an exploitative mathematical ratio of distribution play in oppression, generally speaking? How important is the first sense of verhaltnisse to the second?

One position, taken by some Marxists, is that there is a direct causal link between the two, going one way. If the mathematical ratio is evened out, if there are widespread non-exploitative distributions, then oppression’s chokehold is broken. All the recognitive problems will collapse, like a body without bones, as soon as the correct ratios are put in place. Another position, taken by critics of the Marxists, is that the two are not causally linked. Other oppressions will survive and thrive (in fact, have survived and thrived) changes in the distributive ratios: women, people of color, marginalized sexualities and genders, and others will face the same recognitive oppressions whether or not they own the means of production together with others.

That these are two opposing positions is dumb. Rather than constituting some kind of crisis for the soul of the Left, they merely delimit two important aspects of liberation that both need to occur in tandem if the goal is changing the relations of production. Recognitive (misrecognitive) oppression must be redressed, and the way in which it is redressed must focus on the complexly layered, compounded experiences and events of those who face it by finding ways to unlearn old recognitive patterns and learn new ones. Distributive oppression must be redressed, and the way it is redressed must focus on securing the right kinds of mathematical ratios in distribution through changes in ownership of the means of production.

Perhaps “dumb” is too dumb a label for this false dichotomy. Given that distribution and recognition are both necessary and sufficient for relations of production, and the point of our work on the Left is changing relations of production, I propose the following. Whenever you start to think that a relation of production is not both recognitive and distributive (or you hear someone else talking like it is more one than the other), this a therapeutic issue, not a political one. By “therapeutic” I mean a kind of problem which is adjacent, but not identical, to the kinds of oppression activist work seeks to change. Therapeutic issues are made of traumas, desires, frustrations, projections, conflicts, and ambivalences. They are social and individual, and they are important for politics, but they are not political. These issues are not rational, but rather unconscious and implicit, and can compel you and others to think that relations of production are either recognitive or distributive, rather than both.

My proposal is that conflict over the hierarchy of distribution over recognition (or vice versa) in relations of production results from therapeutic problems in the relations of activism and not political problems in the relations of production which the activism is trying to change.

I think more people should go to therapy in general, but perhaps Leftists in particular would benefit from examining unconscious ambivalences and conflicts, specifically around this issue. Why would you come to think that redistribution is more important than recognition, or vice versa, rather than part of a singular relation of production? Therapeutic issues create disagreements about the relations of production when left unaddressed, like thinking there is some hierarchy between recognition and redistribution. Most likely, these “hierarchies” are just reified feelings of loss, frustration, or disappointment which neurotic persons have insinuated into the theoretical record.

I have been in therapy for years and I consider it part of my liberation, but not identical to my activism. The therapy helps me distinguish the conjuncture from my own baggage; or, better yet, therapy mobilizes my baggage so it compels me to take a more inquisitive approach to thinking about the conjuncture. These things–baggage and conjuncture–get confused, and the confusion trickles into how we work together to make another society. Too long has activism not been accompanied by liberatory therapy; too long have therapeutic issues been mistaken for political issues; too many political spaces have been hijacked for therapeutic purposes; too many meetings and debates have been spent going in exhausting circles. The confusion can lead to unhelpful splinters, petty fractions, and mismatching views of the conjuncture. Unfortunately, unaddressed therapeutic problems in the relations of activism can ultimately leave oppressive relations of production in place. A unified and inclusive view of relations of production as both recognitive and distributive, while creating access and then going to therapy, might help. It may show that Marxism and intersectionality are on the same side and more powerful when they work together.
David I. Backer is an author, teacher, and activist. For more about him, here is his blog.

Notes

[1] Eve Mitchell, “I am a Woman and Human: A Marxist-Feminist Critique of Intersectionality Theory,Unity and Struggle, http://unityandstruggle.org/2013/09/12/i-am-a-woman-and-a-human-a-marxist-feminist-critique-of-intersectionality-theory/ ; “Is Intersectionality Just Another Form of Identity Politics?” Feminist Fight Back, http://www.feministfightback.org.uk/is-intersectionality-just-another-form-of-identity-politics/
Mark Fisher, “Exiting the Vampire Castle,” The North Star, http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11299, Julie Birchill, “Don’t You Dare Tell Me To Check My Privilege,” The Spectator,http://www.spectator.co.uk/2014/02/dont-you-dare-tell-me-to-check-my-privilege/ My own thinking about this question was spurred by a tweet passed along by Benjamin Kunkel, which said “let them eat intersectionality.”

[2] Kevin B. Anderson, “Karl Marx and Intersectionality,” Logos, http://logosjournal.com/2015/anderson-marx/

[3] Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin: New York, 1993, p. 85-90. We might reasonably stipulate that most mentions of “relation” (85, 99, 108, 109, 159, 165) are occasions of communicative recognition, though more study of the German could reveal otherwise. Marx appears to write the word Verhältnis for “relation,” which can mean “ratio” as well as “relationship.” The former sense is a correlation between ideas while the latter implies a correspondence between speakers.

[4] G.A. Cohen distinguishes the term like this in Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defense.

[5] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Penguin International, 1996, pp. 45-50.

[6] Fraser, N., & Honneth, A. (2003). Redistribution or recognition?: a political-philosophical exchange. Verso.

[7] Taylor, K. (2015). From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. New York: Haymarket, 2015, see chapter 7 pp. 205-209.