Quite a long, but interesting article. Upon finishing it, I began thinking about my own silences and complicity during my years in the communist party. Whenever I shake the dust off my mini memoir (maybe that makes it sound more than it is) and resume writing, I will have to give this dynamic more attention than I perhaps would have. Silences and complicity happen in many settings. Some are big and consequential like the ones the writer in the article describes, some not so much. Mine (and most people’s) comfortably fit into the latter.


No unalloyed blessing

Scholars going back to W.E.B. DuBois have made a convincing case, and life has confirmed, that racism allows white workers to accrue privileges — higher wages, superior health care, better access to quality schools, safer neighborhoods, more job opportunities and promotions, wealth accumulation, longer life expectancy, and more — compared to their brothers and sisters of color. What is more, they not only enjoy these privileges, but they also enable the reproduction of structures of racial inequality and privilege.

And yet, racism isn’t an unalloyed blessing for white workers. It allows the capitalist class to heighten, directly and in roundabout ways, the exploitation of all workers, including the scaling back of funding for education, health care, food stamps, welfare benefits, retirement security and more. A quick glance at the conditions of working people over time shows that class inequality tracks almost always in the same direction as racial inequality.

It corrupts their class consciousness in powerful ways too. It turns whiteness into the lens through which they determine who’s in the working class and who’s out. It weakens their connection to strategic allies and inflames hostility toward immigrants. And it leaves white workers easy prey for racist demagogues like Trump, and his brand of white nationalist, anti-democratic authoritarian rule.

Racism also degrades the moral sensibilities of white workers and cuts them off from the rich cultures of people of color. Like acid, racism eats away at the vitality of our democracy and democratic institutions.

It sends young workers — Black, brown, and white — to fight unjust wars of aggression. It undercuts and weakens progressive organizations and movements.

Finally, racism reinforces other forms of oppression, while making a society free of class, racial, gender, and other divisions a distant dream.

This contradictory role of racism — relative privilege on the one hand versus reinforcement of exploitation and right wing extremism on the other — is a source of tension within the working class movement. Any supporter of labor, if they have their head on straight, would hope that this contradiction is resolved in a class way, that is, a vigorous, challenge to the racialized privileges of white workers and the unequal status of workers of color.

A resolution along these lines, as difficult as it may be, is the only solid ground to unite a diverse and divided working class at a moment when working people are facing a crisis of an order of magnitude that rivals the Great Depression.

What might make sense on paper, however, isn’t as clear cut in life. Most white workers will likely resist to one degree or another giving up their privilege, embedded and ubiquitous as it is in their day to day life. In their eyes, their privileges aren’t privileges at all, but something they earned, fair and square. Separation, segregation, and inequality in the workplace, school, neighborhood, place of worship and other social settings are their normal, not shared spaces of equality.

What is more, they see images and hear stories that reinforce their sense of entitlement on the one hand and legitimize the unequal and subordinate status of people of color on the other. Millions of white working people, for example, regularly watch Fox News and listen to Rush Limbaugh. Thus, their “common sense,” derived from lived experience and shared perceptions leads them, or at least some of them, to dig in their heels and cling to their privilege, as some are now doing by supporting Trump.

Let’s hope most choose another course of action. White privilege is, after all, a sinking ship in an ocean of unprecedented turbulence. America’s workers, all of them, are facing multiple crises, living through a once in a lifetime anti-racist uprising, and only a few months from the most important election in their lifetime. The moment cries out for unity, active engagement, and a politics of equality that is the adhesive agent of such unity as well as the only gateway to a secure future for the vast majority.

Or to frame it differently, protecting white privilege is fool’s gold and akin to strike-breaking. It flies in the face of a growing multi-racial majority that desires a new assault against inequality and structural racism, while understanding that to move forward on these (and many other) measures in a fundamental way will only happen if a new president sits in the White House and a Democratic majority occupies the Senate and House.

A better world awaits!



An immense majority

If socialism only took the energy and initiative of the left, we would have arrived at its gates long ago. But, obviously, the road to socialism takes more than the good intentions, clever speeches, and radical demands of the left. As Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, only “a movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority” has the wherewithal to bring humanity to the gates of socialism and then across the finish line.

Perilous course?

Here we are in the midst of a pandemic, an imploding economy, and an unprecedented surge in anti-racist action, and what are Senate Republicans doing? In coordination with the White House, this noxious and spinless cast of characters are promoting a number of “recovery” measures that can be characterized as “neoliberalism at warped speed.” These include more tax cuts for the corporations and the wealthy elite, sweeping deregulation of the economy, and handouts to corporate and business cronies.

And there is more.

Trump and the GOP are also plotting to liquidate the post office and force states and cities into bankruptcy, while opposing a second stimulus bill to assist millions who are drowning in a tsunami of economic hardship and pain. And it’s being done in the name of allowing “free” markets to work their magic and the argument that the economy can’t stay closed forever (as if anyone is saying that), even if, in doing so, millions are left without income and the coronavirus spikes and takes more lives.

On its face it sounds like a suicidal path for Trump and Congressional Republicans to pursue in an election year. Looks like a death wish? Aren’t they worried that a big swath of the electorate, angry at their callous indifference to their economic plight and health, will take out their anger on them on election day?

So why would they choose such a perilous course of action?

The only answer I can come up with is this. No longer able to claim the “greatest economy ever,” they decided to double down with a two pronged strategy. One prong is to gin up turnout of his base, especially high school educated white men, with ample and sustained doses of brazen lies and demagogy, particularly racist demagogy. The other prong is suppress the vote by means, foul and fouler. And together, they will take to Trump over the top on election day.

This is a big gamble. It may have worked 4 years ago, but even then only because they drew an inside straight and won by a hair. This year looking at current polling, including in the battleground states, and the resoluteness of voters to dump Trump and his Congressional enablers, they will have to draw 4 aces to come out on top. And that’s rarely done.

No slouch

Lenin the often insightful analyst and leader of the Russian revolution said that politics begins where there are millions. Over the past month we saw the materialization of that observation as the politics of racism and anti-racism commanded the attention of the world, energized millions and turned politics as we had know it upside down.

In such moments, Lenin also would say that the challenge for activists is to turn a spontaneous uprising (any uprising that reaches the scale of millions has a spontaneous element to it) into a durable social movement able to combine and move from one to another form of struggle, as conditions change and new opportunities arise.

The guy wasn’t perfect, far from it. But, to use an old expression of my parent’s generation, he was no slouch.

Share This