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Winning the Culture War, Losing the Class Struggle
by Yoshie Furuhashi
May 4, 2004

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The Culture War is over, and conservatives have lost. No less an authority on the conservative camp in the Culture War than Paul M. Weyrich declared in 1999: "I believe that we probably have lost the culture war. That doesn't mean the war is not going to continue, and that it isn't going to be fought on other fronts. But in terms of society in general, we have lost. This is why, even when we win in politics, our victories fail to translate into the kind of policies we believe are important." If we have won the Culture War, though, why are we in such bad shape?

* Union density peaked in 1953.

* The GINI index was at its lowest in 1968.

* The real hourly earning peaked in 1973.

* The real value of the average AFDC grant peaked in 1977.

That is because our social and cultural victories have been made to serve an economic agenda that is against our class interests.

The Democratic Party successfully harnessed the liberalization of social mores to the political and ideological power of economic neoliberalism during the Bill Clinton years. The best example of the Democratic Party's success in marrying social liberalism and economic neoliberalism is welfare reform. The partial victory of the women's movement made new assumptions dominant: the assumptions that able-bodied women ought to work for wages rather than bear and raise children as the primary duty of women, and that mothers and fathers should bear equal financial responsibilities for their children, so fathers should pay child support instead of making mothers depend on the government. The assumptions are not so much feminist assumptions per se as liberal petit-bourgeois feminist assumptions in particular. In any case, the Clinton administration effectively exploited the newly dominant assumptions and abolished AFDC: poor women should work and make the fathers of their children pay and become economically independent of the government (or so went the ideology).

The liberalization of social mores, tragically married off to economic neoliberalism, has given birth to fraternal economic twins: decreasing gaps between races and genders within each class; and an increasing gap in economic power between classes.

[B]lack households have been doing a bit of catch-up with whites. This is the combined result of broad income gains for black households -- at all income levels, even the poorest -- and stagnant-to-declining incomes for the bottom 80% of the white population. The gap remains huge, with average black incomes just 63% of white, but there's no denying progress over the past decade. (It remains to be seen whether this progress will survive the attack on affirmative action.) This has brought the black poverty rate (see chart nearby) to an all-time low. . . .

News on the gender gap is even more dramatic. . . . Average incomes for all women were 54% of men's in 1996, a vast canyon for sure, but a lot better than 1980's 39%. . . .

As with the black-white gap, this income narrowing is the joint product of eroding male incomes and rising female ones; men's real incomes in 1996 were 5% below 1989 levels, while women's were 5% above. . . .(Doug Henwood, "Income and Poverty," May 9, 2000)

The same economic transformation that made the gaps between races and genders within each class narrower than before also made the gap between classes wider than ever. Robert Pollin sizes up the chasm between the classes: "The average corporate executive, even at the end of the George Bush I administration, was making a lot lot more than the average worker. 119 times more. But by the end of the Clinton administration, so that's only over a course of eight years, the average corporate executive is making 449 times more than the average worker. So, an astronomical increase in inequality. . ." (NOW with Bill Moyers, November 21, 2003).

What, then, does it take for us to build on gains on the social and cultural front -- most importantly, increasing racial and gender equality within the working class -- to win economic victories? First of all, we need to take back the championship of liberal social mores -- such as defense of reproductive rights and advocacy of the equal right to marriage -- from the main advocate of economic neoliberalism in the United States: the Democratic Party (which is less given to xenophobic protectionism and more committed to fiscal discipline than the Republican Party). As long as a million queer and feminist activists show up in Washington, D.C. not to define and advance the queer feminist political agenda on our own, but to rally for the floundering political campaign of a man who voted for the abolition of AFDC, sacrificing the lives of desperately poor women, it is impossible to build a mass movement and political party on the left to harness the promise of more gender and racial equality within the working class to an economic program that is in the true interest of the working class.

Yoshie Furuhashi is an activist in Columbus, Ohio. She is a steering committee member of United for Peace and Justice. Her blog "Critical Montages" is available at: