Jahi Issa recently asked me what I thought Theodore W. Allen meant when he argued that "white race' privileges and white supremacism were disastrous for European-American workers.
I try to address this question at some length in my article “The Developing Conjuncture . . . ,” (see below *). For now, however, I offer a few brief comments based on Allen’s work and some recent statistics.
Allen’s research argues:
1. The “white race” was invented as a ruling class social control formation and a system of “racial slavery,” a form of racial oppression, was implemented in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the latter (civil war) stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77).
2. A system of racial privileges was deliberately instituted as a conscious ruling-class policy in order to define and establish the “white race.”
3. The consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of the African-American workers, it was also disastrous for “white” workers.
Allen explains that in Virginia the colonial period, among the masses of European workers, “the bourgeoisie established the dominance of race consciousness as against proletarian class consciousness.”
He emphasizes “there were too many [European-American workers] . . . to be promoted to the bourgeoisie” so they were made members of “the ‘white race’” and this “white race,” this “all-class association of European-Americans held together by ‘racial’ privileges conferred on laboring class European-Americans relative to African-Americans – [has functioned] as the principal historic guarantor of ruling-class domination of national life” in the U.S.
For Allen, “the ‘white race’ must be understood, not simply as a social construct, but as a ruling class social control formation.” The ruling class created and maintains the “white race” in their own interests and it continues to serve their interests.
Under capitalism those ruing class interests are opposed to the class interests of the workers. Allen emphasizes that “ . . . their (the poor “whites”) own position, vis–a-vis the rich and powerful . . . was not improved, but weakened, by the white-skin privilege system” that the ruling class established.
Based on this understanding Allen describes “white race” privileges as a “poison bait” and explained that the privileges “do not permit” the masses of European American workers nor their children “to escape” from the working class.
“It is not that the ordinary white worker gets more than [s]he must have to support [her/]himself,” but “the black worker gets less than the white worker.” By, thus “inducing, reinforcing and perpetuating racist attitudes on the part of the white workers, the present-day power masters get the political support of the rank-and-file of the white workers in critical situations, and without having to share with them their super profits in the slightest measure.”
Allen would frequently provide statistics showing that in the South where race privilege “has always been most emphasized” the “white” workers have fared worse than the “white” workers “in the rest of the country.”
Allen goes further, however, and continually stresses that “white race” privileges are not “benefits,” but that they are “poison,” “ruinous,” a baited hook, to the class interests of working people.
He cites other important examples with great relevance for today. He describes how “The normal course of capitalist events brings on a deterioration of the conditions of the laboring classes” as happened in the 1870s, 1890s, and 1930s.
Then, in the accompanying “three periods of national crisis [the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populist Revolt of 1890s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s] characterized by general confrontations between capital and urban and rural laboring classes . . . The key to the defeat of the forces of democracy, labor and socialism was in each case achieved by ruling-class appeals to white supremacism, basically by fostering white-skin privileges of laboring-class European-Americans.”
In the face of attacks by bosses and the ruling class workers need to unite and organize to fight. When workers break ranks and collaborate with bosses the interests of workers are weakened. This is what happens when “white workers” put “white” interests before worker interests.
For Allen, “The ‘white race’ is the historically most general form of ‘class collaboration.’”
The international implications of this are that “the greatest political, social, and ideological bulwark of the imperialist warmakers and colonial oppressors is precisely white supremacy in America.”
Based on his research Allen wrote, “history has shown that the white-skin privilege does not serve the real interests of the white workers, it also shows that the concomitant racist ideology has blinded them to that fact.”
He emphasized, “‘Solidarity forever!’ means ‘Privileges never!’” and he elsewhere pointed out, “The Wobblies caught the essence of it in their slogan: ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’”
About two years ago I pulled together (see my article* The Developing Conjuncture . . . linked to below) statistics showing some of the ways that the existing white supremacist capitalist order was disastrous for working people. While conditions have generally worsened since then, here is some of what I found--
After-tax income gaps between the richest one percent and the middle and poorest fifths in the United States had more than tripled between 1979 and 2007. The concentration at the top of the income scale was the greatest at any time since 1928, immediately prior to the Great Depression.
On July 1, 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 14.6 million Americans were unemployed, 45.5% of these were long-term unemployed (27 weeks or more), and the official unemployment rate was 9.5 percent.
Another 8.6 million were listed as involuntarily working part-time and 2.6 million more were marginally attached to the economy (they hadn’t looked for work in the four weeks preceding the survey). Included in this group were 1.2 million “discouraged workers” who had given up looking for work “because they believe no jobs are available for them.”
Overall, the BLS counted 25.8 million workers unemployed/underemployed, some 17 percent of the workforce.
Other workers were turning to the Social Security Administration’s disability program for help and the SSA’s chief actuary predicted “roughly a million more disability applications from 2009 through 2011 than it would have without the recession.”
Approximately 40 million Americans, 13.2% of the population, were living in poverty, fifty percent of children would need food stamps while growing up, over 46 million Americans were without healthcare, home foreclosures hit a record high of 937,840 in the third quarter of 2009, and a newly developed Economic Security Index found that 20 percent of Americans without a financial cushion experienced a 25 percent or greater loss of household income in 2009 (and conditions were expected to worsen).
The World Health Organization reported that “the U.S. health system spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country,” but it ranked 37th in performance.
The Social Security Administration found that “50 percent of wage earners had net compensation [wages, tips, and the like] less than or equal to . . . $26,261.29 [$505 per week/$12.63 per hour pre-tax] for 2009.
The U.S. “the highest rate of incarceration in the world,” “incarceration rates have increased 800 percent in the last 30 years,” and “90 percent of all criminal defendants fall below the poverty line.”
The Economic Policy Institute compared the U.S. to 19 other industrialized countries and found that workers in the U.S. it had “weaker unions, lower minimum wages, [and] less generous social benefits” than the other countries. Not only do U.S. workers work more hours than those in these other countries, they do so without statutorily paid public holidays and they are alone amongst this group in not receiving statutorily paid vacation time.
Most significantly, on the two major measures of household income inequality (the Gini coefficient and the ratio of 90th-to-10th percentile), the U.S. showed the greatest inequality.
Such statistics could go on and on, and each and everyone is shaped in a horribly white supremacist fashion (which is documented in my longer article).
"White race" privileges and white supremacism are found in every aspect of U.S. society and they should be opposed by all. Victims of racial oppression have led in opposition to "white race" privileges and white supremacism. It is in the class interest of European-American workers to vigorously join in this struggle.
I think the point is clear – working people in the U.S. are not faring well, weapons for fighting back (including unions, workers organizations, labor parties, left parties, etc. are weak), white supremacy is central to understanding this situation, these conditions are worsening, and working people in the U.S. need to wage a concerted struggle against white supremacy as they challenge their bosses and the ruling class.
* An in-depth treatment of Theodore W. Allen’s thinking on this subject can be found in my article "The Developing Conjuncture . . ." (esp. pp. 8-11 and 30-109. A link to the PDF of that article can be found at www.jeffreybperry.net (top left) Click Here
and the article refers to many other Allen articles including some that can be found at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/_center__font_size__3__b_4__theodore_w__allen_br___with_audio_and_video_links____86151.htm Click Here
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