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COMMENT:KEEANGAYAMAHTTA TAYLOR

Marxism

Race,classand

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Marxismhasbeenaccusedbyitscriticsofmisunderstandingraceanddownplayingthestruggleagainst
racism.KeeangaYamahtta Taylorsetstherecordstraight.
January4,2011

FORREVOLUTIONARYMarxists,
thereisaninextricablelinkbetween
racismandcapitalism.Capitalismis
dependantonracismasbothasourceof
profiteering,butmoreimportantlyasa
meanstodivideandrule.Racismis
necessarytodriveawedgebetween
workerswhootherwisehaveeverything
incommonandeveryreasontoallyand
organizetogether,butwhoare
perpetuallydrivenaparttothebenefit
oftherulingclass.
Thus,anyseriousdiscussionaboutBlackliberationhastotakeupnotonlyacritiqueof
capitalism,butalsoacrediblestrategyforendingit.ForMarxists,thatstrategyhingeson
therevolutionarypotentialofaunified,multiracialandmultiethnicworkingclass
upheavalagainstcapitalism.
Marxistsbelievethatthepotentialforthatkindofunityisdependantonbattlesand
strugglesagainstracismtoday.Withoutacommitmentbyrevolutionaryorganizationsin
thehereandnowtothefightagainstracism,workingclassunitywillneverbeachieved
andtherevolutionarypotentialoftheworkingclasswillneverberealized.
Yetdespitealltheevidenceofthiscommitmenttofightingracismovermanydecades,
Marxismhasbeenmalignedas,atbest,"blind"tocombatingracismand,atworst,
"incapable"ofit.Forexample,inanarticlepublishedlastsummer,popularcommentator
andselfdescribed"antiracist"TimWisesummarizedthecritiqueof"leftactivists"that
helaterdefinesasMarxists.Hewrites:
[L]eftactivistsoftenmarginalizepeopleofcolorbyoperatingfromaframeworkof
extremeclassreductionism,whichholdsthatthe"real"issueisclass,notrace,that
"theonlycolorthatmattersisgreen,"andthatissueslikeracismaremere"identity
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politics,"whichshouldtakeabackseattopromotingclassbaseduniversalismand
programstohelpworkingpeople.Thisreductionism,byignoringthewaythateven
middleclassandaffluentpeopleofcolorfaceracismandcolorbaseddiscrimination
(andbypresumingthatlowincomefolksofcolorandlowincomewhitesareequally
oppressed,despiteawealthofevidencetothecontrary)reinforceswhitedenial,
privilegeswhiteperspectivismanddismissesthelivedrealityofpeopleofcolor.
Evenmore,aswe'llsee,itignoresperhapsthemostimportantpoliticallesson
regardingtheinterplayofraceandclass:namely,thatthebiggestreasonwhythereis
solittleworkingclassconsciousnessandunityintheUntiedStates(andthus,why
classbasedprogramstoupliftallinneedaresomuchweakerherethanintherestof
theindustrializedworld),ispreciselybecauseofracismandthewaythatwhiteracism
hasbeendeliberatelyinculcatedamongwhiteworkingfolks.
Onlybyconfrontingthatdirectly(ratherthansidesteppingitasclassreductionists
seektodo)canweeverhopetobuildcrossracial,classbasedcoalitions.Inother
words,forthepoliciesfavoredbytheclassreductionisttoworkbetheysocial
democratsorMarxistsoreventocomeintobeing,racismandwhitesupremacymust
bechallengeddirectly.
SOCIALISM AND BLACK LIBERATION
Howisthestruggleagainstracism
connectedtothestruggleforsocialism?
SocialistWorker.orgwritersexplainwhat
Marxistshavetosay.
Therootsofracism
RaceandtheU.S.socialisttradition
Race,classandMarxism

Here,WiseaccusesMarxismof:"extremeclass
reductionism,"meaningthatMarxistsallegedlythink
thatclassismoreimportantthanracereducing
strugglesagainstracismto"mereidentitypolitics"
andrequiringthatstrugglesagainstracismshould
"takeabackseat"tostrugglesovereconomicissues.
Wisealsoaccusessocalled"leftactivists"of
reinforcing"whitedenial"and"dismiss[ing]the

livedrealityofpeopleofcolor"which,ofcourse,presumesLeftactivistsandMarxiststo
allbewhite.

WhatdoMarxistsactuallysay?
Marxistsarguethatcapitalismisasystemthatisbasedontheexploitationofthemanyby
thefew.Becauseitisasystembasedongrossinequality,itrequiresvarioustoolsto
dividethemajorityracismandalloppressionsundercapitalismservethispurpose.
Moreover,oppressionisusedtojustifyand"explain"unequalrelationshipsinsocietythat
enrichtheminoritythatliveoffthemajority'slabor.Thus,racismdevelopedinitiallyto
explainandjustifytheenslavementofAfricansbecausetheywerelessthanhumanand
undeservingoflibertyandfreedom.
Everyoneacceptstheideathattheoppressionofslaveswasrootedintheclassrelationsof
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exploitationunderthatsystem.Fewerrecognizethatundercapitalism,wageslaveryis
thepivotaroundwhichallotherinequalitiesandoppressionsturn.Capitalismused
racismtojustifyplunder,conquestandslavery,butasKarlMarxpointedout,italsoused
racismtodivideandruletopitonesectionoftheworkingclassagainstanotherand
therebybluntclassconsciousness.
Toclaim,asMarxistsdo,thatracismisaproductofcapitalismisnottodenyordiminish
itsimportanceorimpactinAmericansociety.Itissimplytoexplainitsoriginsandthe
reasonsforitsperpetuation.Manyonthelefttodaytalkaboutclassasifitisoneofmany
oppressions,oftendescribingitas"classism."Whatpeoplearereallyreferringtoas
"classism"iselitismorsnobbery,andnotthefundamentalorganizationofsocietyunder
capitalism.
Moreover,itispopulartodaytotalkaboutvariousoppressions,includingclass,as
intersecting.Whileitistruethatoppressionscanreinforceandcompoundeachother,
theyarebornoutofthematerialrelationsshapedbycapitalismandtheeconomic
exploitationthatisattheheartofcapitalistsociety.Inotherwords,itisthematerialand
economicstructureofsocietythatgaverisetoarangeofideasandideologiestojustify,
explainandhelpperpetuatethatorder.IntheUnitedStates,racismisthemostimportant
ofthoseideologies.
Despitethewidespreadbeliefstothecontraryofhiscritics,KarlMarxhimselfwaswell
awareofthecentralityofraceundercapitalism.WhileMarxdidnotwriteextensivelyon
thequestionofslaveryanditsracialimpactinsocietiesspecifically,hedidwriteabout
thewayinwhichEuropeancapitalismemergedbecauseofitspilfering,rapeand
destruction,famouslywriting:
ThediscoveryofgoldandsilverinAmerica,theextirpation,enslavementand
entombmentinminesoftheaboriginalpopulation,thebeginningoftheconquestand
lootingoftheEastIndies,theturningofAfricaintoawarrenforthecommercial
huntingofBlackskins,signalizedtherosydawnoftheeraofcapitalistproduction.

Healsorecognizedtheextenttowhichslaverywascentraltotheworldeconomy.He
wrote:
Directslaveryisjustasmuchthepivotofbourgeoisindustryasmachinery,credits,
etc.Withoutslaveryyouhavenocottonwithoutcottonyouhavenomodern
industry.Itisslaverythathasgiventhecoloniestheirvalueitisthecoloniesthathave
createdworldtrade,anditisworldtradethatisthepreconditionoflargescale
industry.Thusslaveryisaneconomiccategoryofthegreatestimportance.
WithoutslaveryNorthAmerica,themostprogressiveofcountries,wouldbe
transformedintoapatriarchalcountry.WipeoutNorthAmericafromthemapofthe
world,andyouwillhaveanarchythecompletedecayofmoderncommerceand
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civilization.CauseslaverytodisappearandyouwillhavewipedAmericaoffthemapof
nations.Thusslavery,becauseitisaneconomiccategory,hasalwaysexistedamong
theinstitutionsofthepeoples.Modernnationshavebeenableonlytodisguiseslavery
intheirowncountries,buttheyhaveimposeditwithoutdisguiseupontheNew
World.

Thus,thereisafundamentalunderstandingofthecentralityofslavelaborinthenational
andinternationaleconomy.Butwhataboutrace?
DespitethedearthofMarx'sownwritingonraceinparticular,onemightlookatMarx's
correspondenceanddeliberationsontheAmericanCivilWartodrawconclusionsasto
whetherMarxwasasdogmaticallyfocusedonpurelyeconomicissuesashiscriticsmake
himoutbe.
Onemustraisethequestion:IfMarxwasreductionist,howishisunabashedsupportand
involvementinabolitioniststrugglesinEnglandexplained?IfMarxwastrulyaneconomic
reductionist,hemighthavesurmisedthatslaveryandcapitalismwereincompatible,and
simplywaitedforslaverytowhitheraway.W.E.B.DuBoisinhisMarxisttomeBlack
Reconstruction,quotesatlengthaletterpennedbyMarxastheheadoftheInternational
Workingmen'sAssociation,writtentoAbrahamLincolnin1864inthemidstoftheCivil
War:
Thecontestfortheterritorieswhichopenedtheepoch,wasitnottodecidewhether
thevirginsoilofimmensetractsshouldbeweddedtothelaboroftheimmigrantorbe
prostitutedbythetrampoftheslaverdriver?Whenanoligarchyof300,000slave
holdersdaredtoinscribeforthefirsttimeintheannalsoftheworld"Slavery"onthe
bannerofarmedrevolt,whenontheveryspotswherehardlyacenturyagotheideaof
onegreatDemocraticRepublichadfirstsprungup,whencethefirstdeclarationofthe
rightsofmanwasissued...whenontheveryspotscounterrevolution...maintained
"slaverytobeabeneficialinstitution"...andcynicallyproclaimedpropertyinman'the
cornerstoneofthenewedifice'...thentheworkingclassesofEuropeunderstoodat
once...thattheslaveholders'rebellionwastosoundthetocsinforageneralholywarof
propertyagainstlabor...
TheyconsideritanearnestsignoftheepochtocomethatitfelltothelotofAbraham
Lincoln,thesinglemindedsonoftheworkingclass,toleadhiscountrythroughthe
matchlessstrugglesfortherescueoftheenchainedraceandtheReconstructionofa
socialorder.

NotonlywasMarxpersonallyopposedtoslaveryandactivelyorganizedagainstit,buthe
theorizedthatslaveryandtheresultantracediscriminationthatflowedfromitwerenot
justproblemsfortheslavesthemselves,butforwhiteworkerswhowereconstantlyunder
thethreatoflosingworktoslavelabor.
Thisdidnotmeanwhiteworkerswerenecessarilysympathetictothecauseoftheslaves
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mostofthemwerenot.ButMarxwasnotaddressingtheissueofconsciousness,but
objectivefactorswhenhewroteinCapital,"IntheUnitedStatesofAmerica,every
independentmovementoftheworkerswasparalyzedaslongasslaverydisfiguredapart
oftheRepublic.LaborcannotemancipateitselfinthewhiteskinwhereintheBlackitis
branded."
Moreover,Marxunderstoodthedynamicsofracisminamodernsenseaswellasa
meansbywhichworkerswhohadcommon,objectiveinterestswitheachothercouldalso
becomemortalenemiesbecauseofsubjective,butneverthelessreal,racistandnationalist
ideas.LookingatthetensionsbetweenIrishandEnglishworkers,withanodtowardthe
AmericansituationbetweenBlackandwhiteworkers,Marxwrote:
EveryindustrialandcommercialcenterinEnglandpossessesaworkingclassdivided
intotwohostilecamps,EnglishproletariansandIrishproletarians.Theordinary
EnglishworkerhatestheIrishworkerasacompetitorwholowershisstandardoflife.
InrelationtotheIrishworkerhefeelshimselfamemberoftherulingnationandso
turnshimselfintoatoolofthearistocratsandcapitalistsofhiscountryagainst
Ireland,thusstrengtheningtheirdominationoverhimself.Hecherishesreligious,
socialandnationalprejudicesagainsttheIrishworker.Hisattitudeismuchthesame
asthatofthe"poorwhites"tothe"niggers"intheformerslavestatesoftheUSA.The
Irishmanpayshimbackwithinterestinhisownmoney.HeseesintheEnglish
workeratoncetheaccompliceandstupidtooloftheEnglishruleinIreland.
Thisantagonismisartificiallykeptaliveandintensifiedbythepress,thepulpit,the
comicpapers,inshortbyallthemeansatthedisposaloftherulingclasses.This
antagonismisthesecretoftheimpotenceoftheEnglishworkingclass,despiteits
organization.Itisthesecretbywhichthecapitalistmaintainsitspower.Andthatclass
isfullyawareofit.

Outofthisquote,onecanseeaMarxisttheoryofhowracismoperatedincontemporary
society,afterslaverywasended.Marxwashighlightingthreethings:first,thatcapitalism
promoteseconomiccompetitionbetweenworkerssecond,thattherulingclassusesracist
ideologytodivideworkersagainsteachotherandfinally,thatwhenonegroupofworkers
sufferoppression,itnegativelyimpactstheentireclass.

HowtheMarxisttheoryofracismdeveloped
ThesequestionsgettotheheartofMarxismandreallybegintoaddresswhetherMarxism
subsumespoliticalquestionstoeconomicones.
Here'showMarxdescribedtheissueofideasthemselves:
Theproductionofideas,ofconceptions,ofconsciousness,isatfirstdirectly
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interwovenwiththematerialactivityandthematerialintercourseofmen,the
languageofreallife.Conceiving,thinking,thematerialintercourseofmenappearat
thisstageasthedirecteffluxoftheirmaterialbehavior...Menaretheproducersof
theirconceptions,ideas,etc....Consciousnesscanneverbeanythingelsethan
consciousexistence,andtheexistenceofmenistheiractuallifeprocess.

Thisdoesnotmeanthathumansareonlyautomatonswithnothought,creativity,ideasor
agency,andthatlifeisalinearanddeterminedexistence.Humanactionorinaction
constantlyimpactsandchangestheenvironmentandtheworldaroundus.Buthuman
activityisshapedbythematerialworld.Racismisideological,butithastangible
implicationsintherealworld.Statingthatracismisideologicaldoesnotsomehow,then,
renderitlessimportant,butdistinguishesthedifferencebetweenaquestionofmaterial
conditionsandconsciousness.
ItisundeniablethatsomeinthesocialistandMarxisttraditionsprimarilyinthe19th
andearly20thcenturyassumedthatbecauseAfricanAmericanswereoverrepresented
asworkers,simplyfocusingontheclassstrugglewouldbyitselfliberateBlackworkers
andthepoorfromtheiroppression.ButMarxisttheoryonthe"Blackquestion"has
certainlyevolvedsincethen.Marxismshouldnotbeconceivedofasanunchanging
dogma.Itisaguidetosocialrevolutionandpoliticalaction,andhasbeenbuiltuponby
successivegenerationsofMarxists.
Buttheorydoesn'tprecedematerialandsocialconditionsitflowsfromthem.Inthemid
1920s,whenhundredsofthousandsofAfricanAmericansmadetheirwaytotheurban
North,socialistsandcommunistswereforcedtotheorizehowtheywouldrelatetoBlack
workersonamassscalesomethingthathadneverbeenanissuebefore.Black
revolutionaryClaudeMcKayreportedasadelegatetotheCommunistInternationalin
1922:
InassociatingwiththecomradesofAmerica,Ihavefounddemonstrationsof
prejudiceonthevariousoccasionswhenthewhiteandblackcomradeshadtoget
together,andthisisthegreatestobstaclethattheCommunistsofAmericahavegotto
overcomethefactthattheyfirsthavegottoemancipatethemselvesfromtheideas
theyentertainedtowardNegroesbeforetheycanbeabletoreachtheNegroeswith
anykindofradicalpropaganda.

TheRussianrevolutionaryLenindirectlyintervenedintheAmericanCommunistParty
(CP)anddirectedittoimmediatelybeginpoliticalagitationamongAfricanAmericans.
Thus,thefoundingconventionoftheCommunistPartyin1919statedmerelythatthe
"racialoppressionoftheNegroissimplytheexpressionofhiseconomicbondageand
oppression,eachintensifyingtheother."By1921,afterLenin'sinvolvementonthe
question,thestatedapproachoftheCPhadshifted,withitsprogramstating:
TheNegroworkersinAmericanareexploitedandoppressedmoreruthlesslythanany
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othergroup.ThehistoryoftheSouthernNegroisthehistoryofareignofterrorof
persecution,rapeandmurder...BecauseoftheantiNegropoliciesoforganizedlabor,
theNegrohasdespairedofaidfromthissource,andhehaseitherbeendriveninto
thecampoflabor'senemies,orhasbeencompelledtodeveloppurelyracial
organizationswhichseekpurelyracialaims.
TheWorkersPartywillsupporttheNegroesintheirstruggleforLiberation,andwill
helpthemintheirfightforeconomic,politicalandsocialequality...Itstaskwillbeto
destroyaltogetherthebarrierofraceprejudicethathasbeenusedtokeepapartthe
Blackandwhiteworkers,andbindthemintoasolidunionofrevolutionaryforcesfor
theoverthrowofourcommonenemy.

Bytheearly1940s,thousandsofBlackshadjoinedtheCommunistParty.Thepoliticsof
communismbecamethedominantpoliticalframeworkformostofthenonwhiteworldas
hundredsofmillionsofpeopleofcoloracrosstheglobewereinspiredbythewritingsof
Leninontherightsofoppressednationstofightfortheirownfreedom.Leninwrote:
Theproletariatmuststruggleagainsttheenforcedretentionofoppressednations
withintheboundsofthegivenstate...Theproletariatmustdemandfreedomof
politicalseparationforthecoloniesandnationsoppressedby"theirown"nation.
Otherwise,theinternationalismoftheproletariatwouldbenothingbutemptywords
neitherconfidencenorclasssolidaritywouldbepossiblebetweentheworkersofthe
oppressedandtheoppressornations...
Ontheotherhand,thesocialistsoftheoppressednationmust,inparticular,defend
andimplementthefullandunconditionalunity,includingorganizationalunity,of
theworkersoftheoppressednationandthoseoftheoppressornation.Withoutthisit
isimpossibletodefendtheindependentpolicyoftheproletariatandtheirclass
solidaritywiththeproletariatofothercountries.

SoitisanoddchargethatMarxismisincapableofcomprehendingtheracializednature
ofcapitalism,whilesimultaneouslybecomingthepoliticsthatledthevastmajorityof
nonwhitenationalliberationmovementsinthe20thcentury.ThecritiqueofMarxism
alsominimizestheextenttowhichBlackrevolutionariesandtheBlackstruggleitself
shapedandimpactedthetrajectoryofMarxistthought.
Thus,C.L.R.James,theBlackrevolutionaryfromtheCaribbeanandcollaboratorwith
RussianrevolutionaryLeonTrotsky,advancedMarxisttheorywhenhewrotepresciently
in1948,yearsbeforetheemergenceofthecivilrightsmovementintheU.S.South:
Wesay,numberone,thattheNegrostruggle,theindependentNegrostruggle,hasa
vitalityandavalidityofitsownthatithasdeephistoricrootsinthepastofAmerica
andinpresentstrugglesithasanorganicpoliticalperspective,alongwhichitis
traveling,toonedegreeoranother,andeverythingshowsthatatthepresenttimeitis
travelingwithgreatspeedandvigor.
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Wesay,numbertwo,thatthisindependentNegromovementisabletointervenewith
terrificforceuponthegeneralsocialandpoliticallifeofthenation,despitethefact
thatitiswagedunderthebannerofdemocraticrightsandisnotlednecessarilyeither
bytheorganizedlabormovementortheMarxistparty.
Wesay,numberthree,andthisisthemostimportant,thatitisabletoexercisea
powerfulinfluenceupontherevolutionaryproletariat,thatithasgotagreat
contributiontomaketothedevelopmentoftheproletariatintheUnitedStates,and
thatitisinitselfaconstituentpartofthestruggleforsocialism.
Inthiswaywechallengedirectlyanyattempttosubordinateortopushtotherearthe
socialandpoliticalsignificanceoftheindependentNegrostrugglefordemocratic
rights.Thatisourposition.ItwasthepositionofLenin30yearsago.Itwasthe
positionofTrotskywhichhefoughtforduringmanyyears.Ithasbeenconcretizedby
thegeneralclassstruggleintheUnitedStates,andthetremendousstrugglesofthe
Negropeople.

Thequestionofwhiteworkers
MuchofthecontroversyaboutMarxismandraceisoverwhetherMarxisttheory
appropriatelycomprehendsthecentralityofraceinU.S.societyandbeyond.Butwhatis
reallyattheheartofthedebateistheviewofrevolutionaryMarxiststhat:one,white
workersdonothaveaprivilegedstatusinthiscountrytwo,whiteworkerscangain
revolutionaryconsciousnessandthree,thereforeamultiracialandunitedworkingclass
revolutionispossible.
Marxistsstartwiththepremisethatallworkersundercapitalismareoppressed,butsome
workersfacefurtheroppressionbecauseofadditionaldiscriminationlikeracism,sexism,
homophobia,antiimmigrantideas,religiousoppression,etc.Thus,intheUnitedStates,
whiteworkersareoppressed,butnottothesamedegreeasnonwhiteworkers.
Oppressionisnotjustanideologicaltooltodividegroupsofworkers,buthasrealmaterial
consequencesaswell.Becauseofracism,forexample,themedianhouseholdincomefor
whitefamiliesasof2006wasover$50,000ayear.ForBlacks,itwasjustunder
$32,000.ByeverymeasureofthequalityoflifeintheU.S.,whitesareonthetopand
Blacksareonthebottom.
Marxistsdonotdenythatthesedifferencesexist,nordowedenythatoppressionmeans
thelivesofsomeworkersareactuallyworsethanothers.ForMarxists,thequestionisthe
causeofthedifferences.Arethedisparitiestheresultofwhiteworkersbenefitingdirectly
fromtheoppressionofBlackworkers?Thatis,dowhiteworkersmakemoreonaverage
becauseBlackworkersmakeless?
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Toacceptthisexplanationmeanstoignorethebiggestbeneficiaryinthedisparityin
wagesemployersandbosses.Thatemployersareabletouseracismtojustifypaying
Blackworkerslessbringsthewagesofallworkersdowntheemployersenjoythe
difference.
ThisisnottodenythatwhiteworkersreceivesomeadvantagesinU.S.societybecause
theyarewhiteinaracistsociety.Iftheydidnotgetsomeadvantageandwithit,the
illusionthatthesystemworksforthemthenracismwouldnotbeeffectiveindividing
Blackandwhiteworkers.
Thedistinctionsanddifferencesamongworkersfunctiontocreateadistortedviewof
realitythatturnsthetraitsattributedtotheoppressedintoakindof"commonsense,"
whichinturndeepensthosedivisions.AfricanAmericansarepoorer,haveworsehousing,
gotoworseschools,haveashorterlifespanandgenerallyliveinworseconditions,which
helpstoperpetuatetheimageinthemindsofwhiteworkersthatAfricanAmericansare
inferior.
Buttheproblemwithsocalled"commonsense"isthatitisbasedonsurfaceappearances
andinformation,anddoesnotreachdeepertogiveasystemicexplanationforthe
disparitiesthatexistinsociety.Instead,itcreateswhatFrederickEngelswasthefirstto
call"falseconsciousness."
Falseconsciousnessissimplyrulingclassideologythatisusedtoexplainawayorcover
upmaterialreality.Thepointisthatwhiteworkers,totheextentthattheyacceptwhite
supremacy,contributetocapitalism'sabilitytoexploitthemmoreeffectively.Thepurely
"psychological"advantageobscurestheveryrealmaterialdeficitthatracistoppression
helpsreinforce.
DuBoisexplainedhow"falseconsciousness"workedintheSouthandwhyalabor
movementneverdevelopedthereintheaftermathofslavery:
Theraceelementwasemphasizedinorderthatpropertyholderscouldgetthesupport
ofthemajorityofwhitelaborersandmakeitmorepossibletoexploitNegrolabor.But
theracephilosophycameasanewandterriblethingtomakelaborunityorlabor
classconsciousnessimpossible.SolongastheSouthernwhitelaborerscouldbe
inducedtopreferpovertytoequalitywiththeNegro,justsolongwasalabor
movementintheSouthmadeimpossible.

ForDuBois,racismwasn'tmetaphysical,nordiditexistautonomouslyfromclass.Its
developmentisaresultofoneclass'effortstokeeppowerawayfromanother.DuBoisdid
comeupwithafamousformulationofpoorwhitesgaininga"psychologicalwage"as
opposedtoamaterialwagefromracism.Butthepsychologicalwagewastomakethe
whiteworkerfeelsuperiorbecausehewasn'tBlack,eventhoughhewouldhavenothing
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materialtoshowforit.
Thisleadstothequestion:Ifitisn'tintheinterestofwhiteworkerstoberacist,thenwhy
dotheyacceptracistideas?Butthesamequestioncouldbeaskedofanygroupofworkers.
Whydomenacceptsexistideas?WhydoBlackworkersacceptracistantiimmigrant
ideas?WhydomanyBlackCaribbeanandAfricanimmigrantworkersthinkthatBlack
Americansarelazy?WhydoAmericanworkersofallracesacceptmanyracistideasabout
ArabsandMuslims?Ifmostpeopleagreethatitwouldbeintheinterestofanygroupof
workerstobemoreunitedthandivided,thenwhydoworkersacceptreactionaryideas?
Therearetwoprimaryreasons.Thefirstiscompetition.Capitalismoperatesunderthe
lawsoffalsescarcity,whichsimplymeansthatwearealltoldthereisn'tenoughtogo
around,sowemustcompetewitheachotherforhousing,education,jobsandanything
elsevaluedinsociety.Whilethescarcityisfalse,thecompetitionisreal,andworkers
fightingovertheseitemstobetterthemselvesortheirfamiliesareoftenwillingtobelieve
theworstaboutotherworkerstojustifywhytheyshouldhavesomethingandothers
shouldnot.
Theotherreasonis,asMarxwroteintheGermanIdeology,thattherulingideasofany
societyaretheideasoftherulingclass.Weliveinaracistsociety,andthereforepeople
holdracistideas.Themoreimportantquestioniswhetherornotthoseideascanchange.
Theconsciousnessofworkersisbothfluidandcontradictorybecauseoftheclashbetween
the"rulingideas"insocietyandpeople'slivedexperience.So,forexample,whilethe
mediainundatespeoplewithconstantimagesofBlacksascriminalsoronwelfare,
people'sexperiencewithBlacksatworkcompletelycontradictsthestereotype.
TheItalianMarxistAntonioGramsciexplainedthephenomenonofmixedconsciousness
thisway:
Theactivemaninthemasshasapracticalactivitybuthasnocleartheoretical
consciousnessofhispracticalactivitywhichnonethelessinvolvesunderstandingthe
worldinsofarasittransformsit.Histheoreticalconsciousnesscan...behistoricallyin
oppositiontohisactivity.
Onemightalmostsaythathehastwotheoreticalconsciousnesses(orone
contradictoryconsciousness):onewhichisimplicitinhisactivityandwhichinreality
uniteshimwithallfellowworkersinthepracticaltransformationoftherealworld
andonesuperficiallyexplicitorverbal,whichhehasinheritedfromthepastand
uncriticallyabsorbed.Thepersonisstrangelycomposite:itcontainsStoneAge
elementsandprinciplesofamoreadvancedscience,prejudicesallpastphasesof
historyatthelocallevelandintuitionsofafuturephilosophywhichwillbethatofa
humanraceunitedtheworldover.

Whetherornotagroupofworkershasreactionary,mixedorevenrevolutionary
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consciousnessdoesnotchangetheirobjectiveandrealfunctionasexploitedand
oppressedlabor.Thequestionofconsciousnessaffectswhetherornotworkersareina
positiontofundamentallyalterthatfunctionthroughcollectiveaction.
Justbecausewhiteworkers,totakeaspecificexample,mayatdifferenttimesfullyaccept
reactionaryideasaboutAfricanAmericansdoesnotchangetheobjectivefactthatthe
majorityofthepoorintheU.S.arewhite,themajorityofpeoplewithouthealthinsurance
arewhiteandthemajorityofthehomelessarewhite.WhileBlacksandLatinosare
disproportionatelyaffectedbytheeconomicrealityoftheU.S.today,inacountrythatis
morethan65percentwhite,itisarealitytheysharewiththemajorityofwhiteworkers.
Thissharedrealityshowsthepotentialforaunitedstruggletobettertheconditionsofall
workers.Butbythesametoken,losingthebattleagainstracismunderminestheoverall
projectofworkingclassrevolution.AsDuBoisexplainedinBlackReconstructionabout
thedefeatofthepostCivilWarReconstructionpoliciesthatbrieflyputthepowerofthe
federalgovernmentbehindequalrightsforthefreedslaves:
Thepoliticalsuccessofthedoctrineofracialseparation,whichoverthrew
Reconstructionbyunitingtheplanterandthepoorwhite,wasfarexceededbyits
astonishingeconomicresults.
Thetheoryoflaboringclassunityrestsupontheassumptionthatlaborers,despite
internaljealousies,willunitebecauseoftheiroppositiontoexploitationbythe
capitalists.Accordingtothis,evenafterapartofthepoorwhitelaboringclassbecame
identifiedwiththeplanters,andeventuallydisplacedthem,theirinterestswouldbe
diametricallyopposedtothoseofthemassofwhitelabor,andofcoursetothoseof
theblacklaborers.Thiswouldthrowwhiteandblacklaborintooneclass,and
precipitateaunitedfightforhigherwageandbetterworkingconditions.
MostpersonsdonotrealizehowfarthisfailedtoworkintheSouth,anditfailedto
workbecausethetheoryofracewassupplementedbyacarefullyplannedandslowly
evolvedmethod,whichdrovesuchawedgebetweenthewhiteandblackworkersthat
thereprobablyarenottodayintheworldtwogroupsofworkerswithpractically
identicalinterestswhohateandfeareachothersodeeplyandpersistentlyandwho
arekeptsofarapartthatneitherseesanythingofcommoninterest.

MarxismandBlackAmericatoday
Today,theneedforarevolutionaryalternativetothefailuresofcapitalismhasneverbeen
greater.TheelectionofBarackObamacame40yearsafterthepassageofthe1968Civil
RightsAct,thelastpieceofcivilrightslegislationfromthecivilrightseraofthe1960s.
DespitetheenormousshiftinracialattitudessymbolizedbytheelectionofaBlack
presidentinacountrybuiltinlargepartontheenslavementofBlackpeople,thecondition
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ofthevastmajorityofAfricanAmericanstodayisperilous.
Foralmosttwoyears,Blackunemploymenthasfluctuatedbetween15and17percent.
Almost20percentofAfricanAmericansundertheageof65arewithouthealthinsurance
comparedto15percentfortherestofthepopulation.AccordingtotheCenterfor
ResponsibleLending,ahomeownedbyanAfricanAmericanorLatinofamilyis76
percentmorelikelytobeforecloseduponthanawhiteownedhome.
ThewipeoutofhomeownershipamongAfricanAmericansthreatenstowidenevenmore
thegapinmedianfamilynetworth.In2007,theaveragewhitefamilyhadanetworthof
morethan$171,000comparedtolessthan$29,000forAfricanAmericanandLatino
families.Morethan25percentofBlacksandLatinoslanguishbelowtheofficialpoverty
line,andmorethanathirdofBlackandLatinochildrenliveinpoverty.
Thedistressingnumbersthatdocumentthefullimpactofracismanddiscriminationin
theUnitedStateshavenoend.ButwhileconditionsacrossBlackAmericathreatento
wipeouttheeconomicgainsmadepossiblebythecivilrightsmovement,millionsof
whiteworkersaremeetingtheirBlackbrothersandsistersonthewaydown.Tensof
millionsofwhiteworkersarestuckinlongtermjoblessness,withouthealthinsuranceand
waitingfortheirhomestobeforeclosedupon.
Thus,thequestionofBlack,Latinoandwhiteunityisnotabstractoracademic,butmust
beaconcretediscussionabouthowtocollectivelygoforward.
Formostofthe20thcentury,legalracismbothNorthandSouthcreatedatensionfilled
crossclassallianceintheAfricanAmericancommunitythatwasfocusedonfreedomand
equaltreatment.Thelegislativefruitionofthatintheformoflegalcivilrightsremoved
thebarrierstoadvanceforasmallsectionofBlackAmerica.Tobesure,the"Blackmiddle
class"istenuous,fragileand,formany,apaycheckortwoawayfromoblivion,butamore
stableandambitiousBlackelitemostdefinitelyexists,andtheirobjectivesand
aspirationsareanathematothefutureofthemassofBlackpeople.
NoseriousMarxistorganizationdemandsthatBlackandLatinoworkersputtheir
strugglesonthebackburnerwhilesomemythicalclassstruggleiswagedbeforehand.This
impossibleformulationrestsontheridiculousnotionthattheworkingclassiswhiteand
male,andthusincapableoftakingupissuesofrace,classandgender.Infact,the
Americanworkingclassisfemale,immigrant,Blackandwhite.Immigrantissues,gender
issuesandantiracismareworkingclassissuesandtomissthisistobeoperatingwitha
completelyanachronisticideaoftheworkingclass.
GenuineMarxistorganizationsunderstandthattheonlywayofachievingunityinthe
workingclassovertimeistofightforunitytodayandeveryday.Workerswillneverunite
tofightforstatepoweriftheycannotunitetofightforworkplacedemandstoday.Ifwhite
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workersarenotwontoantiracismtoday,theywillneverunitewithBlackworkersfora
revolutiontomorrow.IfBlackworkersarenotwontobeingagainstantiimmigrantracism
today,theywillneverunitewithLatinoworkersforarevolutiontomorrow.
ThisiswhyLeninsaidthatarevolutionarypartybasedonMarxismmustbea"tribuneof
theoppressed,"willingtofightagainsttheoppressionofanygroupofpeople,regardlessof
theclassofthoseaffected.Andthisiswhy,despitetheantiMarxistslursfromacademics
andevensomewhoconsiderthemselvespartoftheleft,theideathatMarxismhasbeen
ontheoutsideofthestruggleagainstracismintheU.S.andaroundtheworlddefies
historyandthelegacyofBlackrevolutionarieswhounderstoodMarxismasastrategyfor
emancipationandliberation.
ThechallengetodayistomakerevolutionaryMarxism,onceagain,apartofthe
discussionofhowtoendthesocialcatastrophethatisunfoldinginBlackcommunities
acrosstheUnitedStates.

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