In a recent interview with Political Affairs magazine, novelist and social critic Walter Mosley described the Bush administration preference for neo-imperialism, war and the lies that propelled us toward war, as "the last gasp of white male domination of America." To this Mosley might have accurately added its extra-electoral power grabs, right-wing judicial appointments, anti-women stances, theocratic posturing, anti-union policies, so on. Indeed, Mosley might have added that this permanent war indicates a last gasp of a dying system. Is Mosley right? If so, what does this mean for those of us who claim politics that require us to actively transform society? Are my addenda to Mosley’s analysis jumping the gun?
What is "the white male domination of America"? An easy question with an obvious answer, right? Some of us have substituted race for class as the central organizing feature of social relations in the US because of special conditions that at moments seem to cultivate unity by race across class lines. In the past, white working-class people often collaborated with bosses to promote segregation, job discrimination and violence because of racial explanations of inferiority. But the fact that it sometimes still happens may not make the answer to these questions less difficult to untangle.
On the night of the 2000 elections, on the all-night CNN show starring Mary Matalin, now advisor to Cheney, and Bill Press a weird, telling phenomenon took place. As the night wore on, indicators pointed toward a slight margin of victory for Al Gore. State after state seemed to be falling into his column. As he racked up the electoral votes, Matalin began to look panicked and moaned something to the effect of: How can we expect Gore to govern us? All of his support comes from labor and Black people and Latinos. How can he govern the rest of us? Unspoken were the smaller female and Asian American majorities who also sided with Gore against Bush.
Her panic was palpable. Her eyes darted into the corners of that dark studio expecting barbarians to jump from the corners to cannibalize her. It wasn’t just the panic of the professional politico about to lose a hard fought campaign. It wasn’t simply the embarrassment and sorrow of being defeated by an admired rival. It was the last gasp of white male domination in America. As she figuratively clutched her throat trying to fight off the stifling specter of working-class people of color ruling this country, other political forces in the state of Florida began to express the confidence in the secret scheme they had worked out beforehand: the disenfranchisement of between 60,000 and 90,000 voters they believed to be African Americans or unlikely to vote with them. Eventually, they breathed easier. A sigh of relief. For now.
Is Mary paranoid?
Mary’s discourse about "the rest of us" is designed to evoke images of a racial collective, a pseudo group identity ("we," the non-union middle or upper class) that is more accurately described by its unspoken racial components. Her conflation of "labor" with the racial other requires a closer examination. According to recent statistics, the line that "this isn’t your grandfather’s union movement anymore" rings true. By 2005, the labor force as a whole is expected to be only 37% white males. About 9 million of the 17 million union members in this country are women, African Americans, and Latinos, with the latter two constituency groups having the highest unionization rates and pro-union outlooks in the country. Since 1983, white membership in unions has declined, while Latino membership has grown by 39%.
A quick glance at the movement as a whole shows that the most militant unions, the most progressive in their broad demands for social justice are more and more populated by people of color and women: Longshore, SEIU, UNITE!, UFCW, UAW, UFW, AFSCME, teacher’s unions, health care unions, etc.
Likewise, unions that remain entrenched in preservation of unwritten racial grandfather clauses, organize only predominately white sectors, or use union hiring halls to create two-tier employment (based on race or national origins) favor collaboration with social forces devoted to the artificial life support of white male domination of America.
The ruling class often rules not through domination or force, but through coalition with fractions of the oppressed or exploited. But the division of the US working class by race, nationality, sexuality and gender in order to secure and consolidate the power of certain sections of the ruling class is nothing new. My cursory look at the sliver of the organized working class is limited but useful for what is says about the centrality of race to the question of the unity of the working class as a decisive factor in social progress.
Is Mary’s paranoia just about race hatred? Probably for many. But a limited interpretation hides other crucial aspects of this agenda. Mary’s paranoia demands that "the white male domination of America" requires a more focused class analysis. What is she paranoid about? Loss of power? People moving into her neighborhood who don’t look like her? Probably all of these. John Ashcroft, Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, Dick Armey, Trent Lott, Pat Buchanan and numerous other lesser lights of the ultra-right have expressed these sentiments (in coded and uncoded language). They win elections with the rhetoric and policies to ensure the preservation of boundaries. Tom Delay’s district is the whitest gated community in North America. For Rick Santorum, it’s gay people that turn him on. Buchanan rails against the "the perversion of American culture" due to immigration from Latin America (not, incidentally, from Eastern Europe). "Mexifornia" is the new favorite paranoid word desperate white Southern Californians use. The far right racial idea is a siege mentality. A claustrophobia-inducing paranoia.
But along with this discourse and the far-right politics of race (and sexuality), these individuals link their racial agenda to the question of labor unions and the organized effort by working people to reduce exploitation. In a 1994 speech to launch the right-wing agenda, "Contract on America," Gingrich encouraged the entrepreneurial spirit of his formerly pre-dominantly white district with talk of "a strong work ethic" and "weak unions." Gingrich ruffled few feathers in this audience when he remarked on nearby African American neighborhoods: "What people worry about is the bus line…bringing people out for public housing who have no middle-class values." These people he warned will bring crime, drugs, violence. Gingrich’s "middle class" are the "us" Mary identifies with.
The right merged the discourse of coded racism with anti-union rhetoric and policies. Jim Crow’s child hates unions. Nothing new, but why? Clearly racial divisions have never more prominently been at the center of the drive for profit as they are today. And it is the ultra-right that has taken command of the language, the agenda and the fruits of these policies.
The recall of the centrist DLC posterboy Gray Davis was fueled by paranoia about "Mexifornia" and the influence of labor in Sacramento at least among wealthy donors, radio talk show hosts and Republican activists who manipulated Davis’ diminishing public support into thin, but wide enough support for replacing him. The GOP’s effort to redistrict in Texas, a project that is probably illegal, is intended to diminish substantially the voting power of the state’s growing Latino and African American populations. State Republican leaders along with the likes of Tom Delay and other high level officials are trying to shore up the dwindling power of their political base: wealthy white men. Colorado Republican are also fearful of the "growing Democratic majority," as the American Prospect recently referred to the demographic shifts taking place in the Southwest among Latino voters.
To shed light on the full meaning of this racial discourse and the current right-wing aim to limit the political effects of the demographic shift, let’s look at the condition of the US manufacturing sector. Some point to its decline as evidence of a new era of post-industrialization, of service and technology-dominated economic activity and global movements of goods and capital.
Imperialism, neo-imperialism, globalization are historically interchangeable ways of describing the movement of capital. In the last quarter of the 20th century, capital in the US, especially industrial capital, which had been so thoroughly organized by labor in the two preceding decades saw falling rates of profit (only now temporarily shored up by "permanent" war in Central Asia and the Middle East). The solution of course was the state ownership of all or part of the forces of production in order to at least keep them competitive and at best provide distributive social justice. Instead, corporations sought cheap labor elsewhere, so they moved. They broke contractual agreements, declared bankruptcy, hid trillions of investment dollars offshore or simply lost the money. All with the eye to moving productive capital elsewhere to reign in the falling rate of profit. This story isn’t new, is it? That industrial capital moved offshore in large quantities did not end industrial capitalism. The migration of capital from north to south in the US and the emergence of a Southern industrial working class prove this. Capital that hasn’t joined the globalization trend due to certain types of inflexibility gets "free trade." They become more competitive with weaker worker and environmental protections.
The result has been unemployment and underemployment the formation of a surplus army of labor. Since the 1980s, manufacturing jobs, generally high-paying union jobs, have disappeared hand over fist. Globalization and "free trade" have been the biggest union-busting operations in the last 3 decades. In the last 3 years, policies designed to speed up this process and to free up trillions in investment capital for the big move and to pad profit margins (tax breaks and destruction of the public sector and unions) have spurred on the loss of 2 million manufacturing jobs. The biggest problem with Clinton, in the far right’s view, was not his sexual appetites. It was his habit of restraining much needed capital for the global game at least for those sections of capital that found profits in the military industrial complex, healthcare industry, and petro-production. Job losses since 2000 have been in industrial sectors with unions that had built relatively strong political influence and had trudged down the road of racial integration, if not equality, well before the rest of the country.
The problem arises, however, that by entering the less stable, less predictable international arena (even as the sole superpower), US capital faces the competition of rising capitalists in the Middle East and South Asia and the folks who invented the old corrupt system, the Europeans, and the still highly successful remnants of the socialist countries. Result: profit declines from the late 1990s to 2003 globally. Solution: war and consolidation of regional hegemony in the international system.
So where does this story end? Broadly there remain two large blocs, as Gramsci might say, competing for power. One has taken us down the path to war, racism, sexism, and extra-exploitation. The other is much more heterogeneous and amorphous, but potentially equally powerful (except for the fact that it doesn’t have its finger on the bomb). It is more or less the official and unofficial coalition that opposed Bush in 2000 and saw a "third way" as untenable at that time. It is more or less the millions who took to the streets to oppose war on Iraq. Now more than ever, it has to include the left broadly, even those who believe themselves to be independent of the crass politics of a corrupt two-party system. We have to decide which side we’re on. We shouldn’t accept the notion that commitment to the "good" side requires ending the priorities of the diversity of the various political entities involved in that coalition, including the ultimate policy of socialism.
Why do I agree that white male domination is a dying system? Demographics, sure. But also the system of division, oppression and exploitation is on life support. The biggest union busting trend in history, coupled with domestic neoliberal austerity, the subsidization of military and domestic "security" programs with tens of trillions over the last two decades, and now the redistribution of trillions to the wealthiest amounts to the largest welfare program in human history. Is it just greed? No. It’s government policy when vital companies, for example the airlines or Enron, does when a company is about to go bankrupt. It is the policy of the ruling class to save the system that enriches it. But we know more and are doing more in broader coalitions that have the power to prevent them from accomplishing their goals.
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