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The Relation Between the Working Class and Nonclass Oppressions

category international | the left | opinion / analysis author Monday August 20, 2007 14:48author by Wayne Price - NEFAC (personal capacity) Report this post to the editors

Part 2 of What is Class Struggle Anarchism?

Why do we call ourselves class struggle anarchists instead of feminist- antiracist-Gay liberationist-green-class struggle anarchists? What is the relationship among class and nonclass forms of oppression, such as gender and race? Instead of the base/superstructure metaphor, we should have a model of an overlapping network of oppressions, of which class is at the center. This leads to strategic conclusions.

PART 1: Why the Working Class

As I argued in Part 1, the working class is central to the fight against capitalism. But what is its relation to other sections of the population and their systems of oppression? How does class relate to women and patriarchy; to African-Americans and white supremacy; to “Third World” nations and neocolonialism; to immigrants and nativism; and to other oppressions, too numerous to name? How does class relate to apparently nonclass issues such as war or global warming? I am not discussing the morality of oppression, let alone whether one form of oppression is worse than another (such as anti-Semitism vs. discrimination against the Deaf). All oppression is evil and should be opposed. I want to discuss an analysis of the relations among oppressions and the strategic conclusions which can be drawn from this.

The Base/Superstructure Model

Marxists have traditionally used a model of a base and a superstructure. The base is supposed to be the process of production as it is organized in any particular society, particularly the relations among the classes. The superstructure is everything else: the state, culture, gender and racial relations, etc. The advantage of this metaphor is that it points to the enormous influence of class relations upon every aspect of society; this is the strength of historical materialism. But there are difficulties with this model. For example, if the state is essential to the maintenance of capitalism, then why is it in the superstructure and not the base? Strategically, this image can lead to regarding every nonclass issue as only derivative. It may be taken to mean that revolutionaries should only focus on class issues, because nonclass oppressions will automatically be resolved once a classless society is reached. In this view, nonclass issues are irrelevant distractions from the real issue. They are not quite real. Once the workers seize power, it may be felt, nonclass oppressions, just like the state, will “wither away”, without any special effort to deal with them.

Sophisticated Marxists have a subtler, more dialectical, interpretation, but the model lends itself to this mechanistic politics. Consider the statement by the libertarian Class War Federation (U.K.) that the middle class functions “to promote ideas that keep us divided like racism and sexism.... to divert our energy into harmless activity that is called reformism, e.g. Greenpeace, CND [Committee for Nuclear Disarmament], feminism, unions....” (Unfinished Business..., 1992, Stirling, Scotland: AK Press; p. 57) The book has a cartoon in which rich people are dancing on a platform which is being supported by people who are foolishly thinking ( in balloons), “Ecology; No Nukes; No Meat; Feminism; Third World; Save the....” (p. 8) At least in this statement and cartoon, movements for ecological balance, women’s liberation, national liberation, and opposition to nuclear war are not seen as possible allies of “ class war” but only as middle class diversions. Racism and sexism are seen as problems only because they divide the working class, rather than as issues in themselves.

On the other hand, the Marxist historian, Ellen Meiksins Wood, concluded, “The base/superstructure metaphor has always been more trouble than it is worth...It has been made to bear a theoretical weight far beyond its limited capacities....” (Democracy Against Capitalism, 1995, Cambridge, Britain: Cambridge Univ. Press; p. 49-50) (As I stated in Part 1, class struggle anarchism overlaps to a great extent with libertarian Marxism; I regard myself as a Marxist-informed anarchist.)

There is an alternate metaphor which I also reject, that of a strict pluralism. The different oppressions of society are seen as parallel to each other, each by itself, standing on its own. Women’s oppression is seen as real but distinct from racism, which is separate from the oppression of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transexuals, and they are all parallel to something called “classism.” While this view accepts the reality of distinct oppressions, it leads to a reformist view: that it is all right for the women’s struggle, for example, to ignore class and race (and therefore be dominated by white middle class women who accept capitalism), just as the parallel workers’ movement can ignore sexism and racism, since these are distinct oppressions. Instead, I would emphasize that all oppressions are intertwined and overlapping, leaning on and supporting each other. I like the metaphor of a pile of pickup sticks, all leaning on each other, although some may be more central in the pile than others.

White Supremacy

Many treat oppressions as distinct populations, as though workers were over here, women over there, and African-Americans in another area. This is misleading. The U.S. population, for example, can be analyzed in terms of class: capitalists, workers, and middle sections. It can also be analyzed in terms of race and nationality/ethnicity: European-Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and others. It can be analyzed in terms of gender: male and female. It can be analyzed in terms of sexual orientation: heterosexual, GLBT people. Etc., etc. But these remain the same humans. These analyses are abstractions: we abstract (take out) certain features in order to understand them better. The analyses of systems of oppression are true, that is, they are useful for understanding how people behave and how they identify themselves. But this is still the same population. The systems overlap and interact. For example, an African-American working woman is not oppressed part of the time as Black, and then part of the time as a woman, and then oppressed/exploited part of the time as a worker (considering that even her non-working hours are dependent on her income earned as a worker). We could analyze her that way, but in fact her life is a totality.

Consider white supremacy. Africans were first kidnapped and brought to North and South America for clearly economic reasons: to be a kind of laborers, namely slaves. They produced commodities (tobacco, cotton, etc.) which were sold on the world market. Today African-Americans are overwhelmingly in the working class, most being in the poorest sections. Their oppression serves two class purposes: it creates a pool of workers who can be super-exploited at low wages, and it weakens the overall working class, due to racial divisions and the white workers’ belief in their superiority. While ethnocentrism is as old as the human species, racism as an ideology was first invented during slavery to justify slavery and the robbery of Native Americans. It was elaborated in the era of imperialism to build support for colonialism.

But this analysis does not mean that white supremacy is only a matter of economics. There are, after all, some rich African-Americans, who may still be arrested for Driving While Black. Whatever its origins, racial oppression is real. In their struggle against it, African-Americans created themselves as a people, with their own culture and consciousness--a people which still fights for its freedom. As a set of opinions, racism is near-universal among whites, ranging from the liberal “blindspots” which even we antiracists have, to the moderate prejudices of most whites, to the virulent race hatred of fascists. Racism affects not only the economy but also the politics and the culture of society. This will not go away just through reasonable arguments; it requires mass struggles--struggles by Black people as Black people, in alliance with white antiracists.

The struggles of African-Americans overlap with all other struggles. In the fifties and sixties, the rebellion of African-Americans played a key role in shaking up all of society, inspiring the antiwar movement, the women’s movement, the Gay movement, as well as working class struggles (M.L. King was shot while in Memphis to support a mostly-Black sanitation workers’ strike). Great progress was made in limiting white supremacy--namely the end of legal (Jim Crow) segregation. But the various mechanisms of racist-capitalist society have kept African-Americans on the bottom of society. It will take a total revolution to change that.


Patriarchy--male supremacy--also interacts with all other aspects of our oppressive, authoritarian, society. Women’s lives are directly affected by their race and by their class. Approximately half of adult women are employed workers. Even nonemployed homemakers depend on the incomes of their husbands, which depends on their class, and is influenced by their race.

More fundamentally, women’s lives are determined by their role in the family, which is shaped by the kind of society it is in. The nuclear family of late capitalism is a center of consumption of commodities. It is where the labor power commodity of workers (male and female, adult and children) is created and re-created. It is where the social psychology of our society is passed on to the next generation. The relations between the family and capitalism is subtle and complex but very real. The image of women is directly related to their role in the family (and before capitalism, in the families of feudal, slave, etc., class societies).

Interestingly, Engels included the role of women as being as much in the “base” of society as was the production of goods. “According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance [Note--WP], the production and reproduction of immediate life. This, again, is of a twofold character: ...the production of the means of existence...; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species.... The social determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labor on the one hand and of the family on the other. “ (Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, 1972, NY: International Publishers; p. 71-72) He speculated that the oppression of women predated class society and was its origin.

Without accepting Engels’ base/superstructure model (note his highly qualifying “in the final instance”; do we ever reach the “final instance”?), I agree that “the production and reproduction of immediate life” strongly influences all other social processes. I also agree that the oppression of women goes way back in prehistory and is very deep in the structures of our society. It directly affects, and is affected by, the class structure and all other aspects of our politics and culture. This too will take a total revolution to end.

I could go on to cite many other forms of oppression and to relate them to each other and to the class structure. For example, national oppression is directly related to imperialism, rooted in capitalist class relations. Ecological destruction is related to the drive of capitalism to constantly accumulate capital, treating the natural world as a mine. Homophobia is directly related to the social definitions of gender, rooted in the capitalist family structure and its social psychology. And so on, in complex forms of interaction. The point is that each oppression supports all the others; they all support capitalist exploitation and are supported by it. The fight against each requires a fight against all; the ending of each requires the ending of all. There will be no classless society unless there is also a society with the liberation of women, People of Color, etc.

In his study of trends in anarchism, Benjamin Franks summarizes the view raised here: It “regards capital relations to be dominant in most contexts, but not the sole organizing force....Capitalism interacts with other forms of oppressive practices that may not be wholly reducible to economic activity. Here different subjugated identities are formed.... However, as capitalism is still a significant factor, economic liberation must also be a necessary feature.” (Rebel Alliances, 2006, Edinburgh: AK Press; p. 181)

The Special Role of Class

Each form of oppression must be analyzed in its concreteness. For example, the oppression of women does not work the same way as the oppression/exploitation of the working class. Looking at the class system, there are specific aspects which distinguish it from other forms of systemic oppression.

First, is the goal. The goal of women’s liberation is not the destruction of men but the reorganization of relations between women and men (although the definition of what men and women are is likely to change over time). The goal of Black liberation is not the destruction of white people but the reorganization of relations between European-Americans and African-Americans (although, in the long run, the races may dissolve as separate groups). But the goal of a working class revolution is the total overturning of the capitalist class, its destruction as a class, and replacing it with the stateless rule of the working class (moving toward a classless society).

Second is the power of the rulers. As a collectivity, men dominate women. But that does not mean that men--all men--run society. There are no meetings of men to make decisions on how to run the government. (If there are, I have not been invited.) Most men are in the working class and have little power. Given their choice, they would probably prefer child care programs and an end to job discrimination against women (who include their wives and daughters). Similarly white people, as a collectivity, dominate People of Color. But white people do not have special meetings where they decide on domestic or foreign policies. Again, most European-Americans are in the working class and are really powerless (whatever they imagine).

However, the capitalist class really does run society! This is why it is called the ruling class. (Of course, most businesspeople are white and male.) The capitalists own their businesses and run them (directly or through hired managers). Although only 1 to 5 percent of the population, they control the production of goods and services by which we all live. They determine employment and unemployment for the workers. By their wealth and influence, they control the two political parties. They own and run the mass media, which are the main outlets for news and which shape popular culture. They dominate the government at all levels. Their class rule must be completely overturned if there is to be a better world.

Third is the potential power of the oppressed. As already stated, the struggles of African-Americans in the fifties and sixties shook up all aspects of U.S. life. I should also point to the influence of the Vietnamese, an oppressed nation which resisted U.S. imperialism. Their struggle for national liberation greatly added to this period’s shake up of the U.S. (and the world). The women’s liberation movement also affected all our culture and politics. The Gay movement was more marginal in size, but its impact was quite large in causing reconsideration of sexual stereotypes. (Women’s rights and Gay rights are still major issues in U.S. politics.)

However, the working class is unique among oppressed groups in its possible power. As I said in Part 1, only the workers (as workers) can actually stop this society altogether. And only the working class can start it up again on a new basis. Our class produces the goods; we transport them; we distribute them; we serve the people’s needs. We have an enormous potential power. Anyone who has been in a city during a major strike knows how true this is. One successful general strike in a major city would transform U.S. politics. Almost the whole of capitalist politics exists to prevent the working class from being aware of this power and using it.

Strategic Conclusions

From the above analysis, I draw conclusions on a strategic (not a moral-only) level. The first is that we are right to call ourselves class struggle anarchists. We are right to put class struggle specifically at the center of our politics. Strategically, the key enemy is the capitalist ruling class and its allies. We seek to mobilize the enormous, unique, power of the working class majority against them.

Second, we revolutionaries should support each and every struggle against oppression, no matter how big or small, whether obviously connected to class or not (although all such issues overlap with class). Besides having its own sources, each system of oppression supports capitalism, and is supported by capitalism. Which is to say that fighting against each oppression undermines capitalism, as fighting against capitalism undermines each oppression.

This system is very powerful and complex. It will take everything we have to overthrow it. We must point to every evil in this society to open people’s eyes to the need for revolution. We need every issue which might mobilize people to fight on their own behalf . In practice, a revolutionary group needs to prioritize its limited energies, but in principle we must oppose every evil effect of this society, and to be on the side of everyone willing to fight for a better world.

These two strategic conclusions do not contradict each other. It is at the intersection of exploitation and nonclass oppressions that we find the greatest potential for revolutionary passion--among working class immigrants or working class women, for example. In every workers’ struggle, we should look for its effects on women, African-Americans, immigrants, youth, etc. We should use such connections to strengthen the struggle--otherwise they may become sources of splits and weakness. On the other hand, in every nonclass movement, we should be looking for the class conflicts. We should oppose the middle class, pro-capitalist, leadership of the women’s movement, African-American movement, peace movement, etc.--and also of the unions! Instead, we raise a program which is in the interests of working class women, African-American workers, etc., and which exposes the capitalist causes of war. Capitalism is at the center of the authoritarian network of oppressions. They all must be abolished.

The Communist Manifesto states (and class struggle anarchists would agree), “All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent, movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.” Alternate translation: “The proletariat...cannot stand erect without bursting asunder the whole superstructure of strata that make up official society.” (in H. Draper, The Adventures of the Communist Manifesto, 1998, Berkeley CA: Center for Socialist Studies; p. 133)

In other words, the rebellion of the working class, especially those on the very bottom, shakes up everything, raising evey issue of every section of capitalist society. However, Marx and Engels knew that, even in Britain at the time, wage-workers were not a majority, let alone in other countries. (Even today, when we have a working class majority in many countries, the core of the proletariat, industrial workers, remains a minority--if a large one.) They saw the working class as winning allies among the oppressed (even if they did not have a full understanding of all oppressions). Twenty years later, Engels wrote, “The class exclusively dependent on wages all its life is still far from being a majority of the German people. It is, therefore, also compelled to seek allies.” (in Draper, 1998; p. 232)

A working class-led revolution is not going to be a seizure of state power by an elite but the conscious self-liberation of the “immense majority”: all the oppressed, at the center of which is the proletariat. And it is only the proletariat--the multi-national, multi-racial, multicultured, (etc.,) working class--which can hold together all these rebellious forces, and channel them into a revolution. The existence of a majoritarian proletarian movement is not to be found but must be created through revolutionary practice.

For approximately two centuries our class has fought. It has achieved victories and suffered terrible defeats. This working class of capitalism has been ground down, bought off, massacred, lied to, had its worst prejudices appealed to, denied all rights, granted limited democratic rights, sent off in wars, had its unions and parties turned against it, been slandered and counted out by middle class theorists. Yet in this brief time, it has fought more than any other exploited class ever did over millenia. It has built mass organizations, had major and minor strikes, forced the capitalists to grant it democratic rights, and made world-shaking revolutionary uprisings. Is there some guarantee that our class, with its allies among all the oppressed, will destroy capitalism and all oppressions? Will we--”inevitably”--overturn capitalism before capitalism destroys the world with nuclear wars and/or environmental disasters? No, there is no guarantee. This is an issue to be decided in struggle! But neither is there some fatal flaw which guarantees that our class will never triumph. History is far from over.

Written for

author by Waynepublication date Fri Aug 24, 2007 06:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

After Part I of Class Struggle Anarchism, Joe Licentia
wrote the following question:

"If you agree with the analysis in this article but also believe that other oppressions (racism, patriarchy, the state) are equally important are you still a class struggle anarchist? If so, what would you call someone who thinks class is the most important oppression?"

I responded that I would answer this after Part 2 (the above). So, my answer is this: Joe compares two views, that of anarchists who see class struggle as one of several main oppressions, and those who see class struggle as the only or most important issue.

I would regard both views as those of class struggle anarchists. I would be willing to work with both. But I am most in disagreement with the second, ccentrally focused on class, due to its sectarian denial of issues which affect everyone. In the past, I have argued with revolutionary anarchists and libertarian communists who reject national liberation as a significant issue., because it is supposedly not a "class" issue.

I do not completely agree with those who regard class as just one of several issues and who do not see its centrality. However, in practice there may be little difference in our programs, so long as we both agree that class overlaps with all the other issues.

author by Steffipublication date Fri Aug 24, 2007 18:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks so much, Wayne, for writing this article! I am really happy to read something like this, especially after having discussions with class-struggle anarchists who see class-struggle everywhere, like, even saying that women’s oppression is only class-oppression and implying that it will go away with the class-struggle or leaving it to women’s groups to deal with that issue. They also think that I, as an Anarcha-feminist, am dividing the movement. That is bullshit, I am a class-struggle anarchist just as they are, but I know that some issues need special treatment, such as women’s issues. I am not trying to unite all women against men, across class, after all I am an ANARCHA-feminist! I think men who only think that the class-war is all we need to focus on are in fact splitting the movement and make people who think all issues are relevant set up their own movements. THEY are being sectarian and to build a better world we shouldn’t be sectarian but work together, especially when we agree on the main issues, that is being pro-organisational or platform-inspired and the like.

Saying that only class matters is a gross simplification and human life cannot be simplified. These anarchists may only want to focus on class because it is easier to just focus on one issue and leave the rest to special organizations such as the women’s movement. (Even though they actually reject the women’s movement because it is not a class movement. That is why it’s even more weird to also reject Anarcha-feminists). There are many oppressions and we need to deal with all of them, but always keeping in mind that we want a society without any oppressions, and class is central to that. But to say that women’s oppression is just class oppression is bullshit, even in class-less societies, and yes, they exist (just take a look at anthropological literature and most African societies where capitalism has not lead to a class structure, but macho-cultures that still oppress women because they think it is ‘African’ to be a macho).

Sometimes it makes me think that these men who think that women’s issues are only a side-issue are men who don’t want to lose their privilege or who are afraid that their issues might be side-lined because they are aware that working class women are worse treated than working class men. But Anarcha-feminists don’t want to put women’s issues in the front. We just want to show that women’s issues need special treatment, that’s all. We are not forgetting about men! (I am singling out women’s issue but of course all forms of oppression have to be dealt with the same way)

I totally agree with you that all forms of oppression are intertwined but we should not forget that some are more central than others, i.e. we as Anarcha-feminists totally agree with this and don’t see women’s issues as central but class. This is what anthropologists call cross-cutting cleavages, multiple cleavages that affect us, sometimes only one of the cleavages is the most important one, but at other times all can affect us. The example of an African-American woman and the different forms of oppression from which she is suffering is a great example and it will help me in my discussions! :)
And yes, it will take a total revolution to get rid of all forms of oppression because only then will they fully go away.

I think supporting groups that deal with ‘other’ oppressions is not enough. We need to take in all forms of oppression in our movements as well, just because they are all intertwined. That is, we need to say every time, just as you say, that women face double oppression, that people of color face double oppression, women of color triple oppression and so on. These things go together. Otherwise we will lose people to other movements that neglect class-issues, we will lose women who are working class but who think they suffer more because of the way they get treated (because they are women) to women’s movements that don’t care about class. I don’t think we need to prioritize but those things can go together easily. If we prioritize we will lose people exactly because of that.

But once again, I think this is a great article and I agree with you! Thanks for writing this!

author by Waynepublication date Sat Aug 25, 2007 02:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Steffi, very well said. You expand--and illustrate--my points well.

author by A. Weaverpublication date Sun Aug 26, 2007 18:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thank you as well for a well written article. I enjoyed your analogy of oppression as a number sticks that are leaning on each other (like you would make in trying to start a fire) with class as a central one of those sticks propping up the others. I'm not sure if your analysis would be the same as what feminists call "multi-systems analysis" or if that term would fall under the catagory of seeing oppression as all equal.

One aspect of the simplistic class reductionist analysis that Steffi wrote about (and is more often associated with vulgar Marxist analysis of class) is that it does not analyze the make up of the working class. People of color, women and queer folks are part of the working class and as those aspects of their lives effects effect them, their issues are working class issues. And historically, because white and male workers would not recogize women and people of color as equals in the class struggle.

Some good examples of this is here in the western US during turn of the century white workers violently attacked Chinese workers as a threat, arguing that they brought down wages. But even though Chinese workers made as much efforts to strike and organize as other workers would (their main demand being to raise their wages to the levels of white workers), the white labor movement would not recognize them as workers and refused to support them (See "Orientals
Asian Americans in Popular Culture" by
Robert G. Lee, chapter 2 'The Coolie and the Making of the White Working Class'). Much the same today, a proclaimed Anarcho-syndicalist I know, dismissed the incredible May 1st 2006 marches of Latino and immigrant workers in his city of Chicago as a 'political movement' because the demands were for citizenship and some waved flags (US as well as Mexican and other Central American countries). A very surface analysis despite the fact that their undocumented or immigrant status is the crucial factor in why these workers are at some of the lowest paid jobs, or are even openly paid less than other workers at the same job site because the employer is aware of their status. Secondly, many of the workers participating in the marches were following the strike call and not showing to work en masse, which shut down many factories in the city. Though it is not without contridictions, if this is not a working class movement taking direct action (and the only thing that we've seen along these lines in the US for decades) , then what is? Workers that are oppressed by race and/or gender are often lead some of the most militant struggles, but class reductionist politics cannot seem to get a graps on this.

I'm just using one frame of reference to reinforce Wayne's point (others could apply), but why is it when race comes into the picture, good sense and anlaysis of white revolutionaries suddenly breaks down? Their class reductionist politics and framework for understanding class prevents them from understanding the basic picture. Whenever white workers organize it is considered class struggle, but when people of color do so, it is always something else?! I believe that revolutionaries having a clear (or at least some) understanding of race and how it has effected working class strugle and a comittment to fight agsinst this legacy seperates the wheat from the chaff as far as serious revolutionaries, at least in the US.

author by Waynepublication date Mon Aug 27, 2007 09:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yes, it was perhaps the most exciting thing I have seen in a long time to see Latino workers (and others from Asian, etc. countries) march against discrimination and oppression. One of the most oppressed sections of the working class was mobilizing. The overlapping of nationality and class was there to be seen. Of course, there were many contradictions, such as the support for liberal Democrats, liberal union bureaucrats, and nationalism. What else can we expect? But we certainly cannot change these factors unless we revolutionary anarchists are prepared to participate in and support such struggles--contrary to the view of your anarcho-syndicalist friend.

author by Tom - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Wed Aug 29, 2007 00:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

i just wanted to say i agree with Wayne, and with the comments by Steffi and A. Weaver. The working class is heterogeneous, especially so in the USA, and ignoring the non-class aspects to oppression only makes achieving unity more difficult because the working class is divided internally by racism and patriarchy. these other forms of oppression have to be dealt with. i think because the oppression of various groups of people are not identical this a reason to respect autonomy of different social movements.

author by Dave B - world socialist movementpublication date Sun Sep 02, 2007 03:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think this idea, simplified , that capitalism and the capitalist state creates ideology or in this case prejudices amongst the working class and that is the end of it is not the ‘Marxist’ position. Although it has undoubtedly been adopted by people who call themselves Marxists.

The correct ‘understanding’ of Marx and Engels position is that ruling class propagate or develop ‘ideas’ in society that serve their own economic interests. Using their position of power as members of the ruling class to do so and manufacturing consent to an ideological or cultural position that suits them, at the time.

These ideologies can then later ‘react’, kickback or blowback at the ‘state ideology’ later on. Particularly when due to changing ‘economic’ circumstances they become inconvenient

Thus from Engel’s;

"And if this man has not yet discovered that while the material mode
of existence is the primum agens [primary agent, prime cause] this
does not preclude the ideological spheres from reacting upon it in
their turn, though with a secondary effect, he cannot possibly have
understood the subject he is writing about.

However, as I said, all this is second hand and little Moritz is a
dangerous friend. The materialist conception of history has a lot of
them nowadays, to whom it serves as an excuse for not studying
history. Just as Marx used to say, commenting on the
French `Marxists' of the late [18]70s: `All I know is that I am not
a Marxist'."

To take an extremely simple example, it was not all that long ago that the capitalist media was encouraging the Afghan Mujahadine to resist infidel invaders, after a tribute to Orwells 1984;

The New York Times of January 1st 1984 stated

“The Afghans need no encouragement to resist. But they could use better weapons especially against warplanes.” And given the difficulties of supplying such weapons “ Airdrops . . . might be one way round the problem.”

Sentiments you won’t hear echoes of today in the New York Times. One can just imagine the Administration’s reaction to anybody belatedly taking up that advice today.

On April 26th, same year

“Afghans look upon Russians not only as invaders but also infidels and take up their arms for both nation and Islam. Even if Soviet brutality prevails it can give powerful impetus to Islamic fundamentalism throughout the region.”

The problem that the ruling class can have is that sometimes it is a lot easier to put an ideology or prejudice into the heads of the working class when it is convenient than it can be to remove it when it becomes ‘economically’ inconvenient later on.

A case in point is the bigotry of the ex Protestant planters of Northern Ireland, the culture of prejudice clearly has an economic origin. This ideology has become embedded into the culture of working class ‘Protestants’ who seem to be the only ones interested in perpetuating it now.

Whether or not it ‘serves’ a purpose for these bigots in providing a tangible object on which vent their repressed anger and frustration on is another question.

The capitalist system which sets worker against worker in a competitive struggle that mirrors the competitive struggle amongst the capitalist class themselves is always going to provide fertile ground for mutual hostilities and phobias amongst the working class.

Hostilities that can be selectively fuelled at will by the ruling class as and when it suits them.

It is a question of cutting the thing off at its root, capitalism, rather than forever chopping off the poisonous serpent heads of an ideological hydra.

Having said that the two things are not mutually exclusive as getting rid of capitalism requires working class solidarity on both a rational and emotive level.

Speaking personally as a member of the World Socialist Movement

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author by Tom - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Sun Sep 02, 2007 03:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Dave B.'s comments are the traditional Marxist view, and I find this view still common among European anarchists. But this is not the majority view among the radical left in the USA nowadays, whether Marxist or anarchist. Because there has been a reduction in overt expressions of race prejudice or racist ideology in the USA over the past 30 years, this is why conservatives say that nothing further needs to be done. so Dave's conception of racism plays into the hands of the conservatives.

Racism is not merely a conscious state -- "prejudice" or "ideology" -- but a pattern of relative advantage or disadvantage. The persistence of this pattern explains the persistence of prejudice. Let's say that you seek out job leads from family and friends, and you are white, and the hiring managers are white. The fact that you are part of a network with better links to job openings, and are more likely thus to be hired, means you've benefited from an unacknowledged form of "affirmative action," affirmative action that tends to favor white guys. Given this advantage, it provides people with a material motivation to defend it.

Moreover, employers have an incentive to defend this system of hiring that privileges men and whites. That's because it exacerbates resentments and distrust among the various groups that make up the working class. By undermining working class solidarity, it strenthens managements' hand. Thus it works to the advantage of capital and to the disadvantage of the working class.

author by Dave Bpublication date Sun Sep 02, 2007 09:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I do not quite understand how it can implied that as regards ‘racism’, that I can somehow agree with the conservatives that nothing further needs to be done when I said;

‘getting rid of capitalism requires working class solidarity on both a rational and emotive level.’

Calling for solidarity amongst all the various so-called ‘races’ or ‘ethnic’ groups that comprise the working class is an anti-racist position. There is only one ‘race’ and that is the human race.

There can be no solidarity amongst the working class as long as they are divided and pre-described sections of it consider themselves as not equal to others based on some emotive prejudice.

Divisions within the working class, eg racism, feed off the possibility ‘of relative advantage or disadvantage’ amongst them and it is capitalism that provides ‘the fertile ground for these mutual hostilities’.

Or economic competition amongst a divided working class.

Once divided into sections on the basis of some previous spurious ‘reason’.

Whether or not the capitalist class wishes to maintain certain divisions amongst the working class or create new ones for its own economic advantage or ‘to the advantage of capital and to the disadvantage of the working class’ is something that concerns the capitalist class. Or to put another way;

‘Hostilities can be selectively fuelled at will by the ruling class as and when it suits them.’

It is certainly the case that the ruling class can be infected themselves with their own ideological bullshit as well as the workers, long after it has any economic relevance to either of them.

The fact that these ‘isms’ and the hatred and suffering that flow from them are repugnant in their own right is another, albeit moral issue. But again that is part and parcel of the ethos of capitalism itself and therefore entirely consistent with it.

Hopefully all these strange fruits of capitalism will wither away on the vine, like the state, once the thing that produces them is finally uprooted.

author by Tom - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Wed Sep 05, 2007 10:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

dave B. simply doesn't respond at all to my point. Instead he repeats the same view of racism he started out with, e.g.:

"There can be no solidarity amongst the working class as long as they are divided and pre-described sections of it consider themselves as not equal to others based on some emotive prejudice."

Racism isn't just "some emotive prejudice." In the USA racism became institutionalized, it became an entrenched pattern of disadvantages or advantages to different groups. For example, consider a building trades union. These are relatively well paying jobs, and they have been traditionally overwhelmingly white men. the way a person gets into this line of work is, say, one of their relatives or friends recommends them for an apprenticeship or to be accepted as a union member, or recommends them to a (white male) contractor. The effect of this pattern is to perpetuate the fact that a particular ethnic group or groups, usually white, continue to get the jobs.

Now, it does not have to be based on "emotive prejudice." If you ask a worker in the building trades, they might say it is simply "natural" to recommend your relatives and friends. the individual worker may not be overtly prejudiced. but in a segregated society, one's friends are likely to be of the same shade. this method of filling jobs is effectively racist but it doesn't necessarily require overt, conscious prejudice to continue to exist.

to break this what's required is some positive action such as developing programs to recruit and train women and non-whites for the building trades. merely being "color blind" or non-racist in one's personal attitude isn't sufficient.

author by Jonathan - ZACFpublication date Wed Sep 05, 2007 23:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Both parts of this article are now available in PDF here:

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author by ajohnstone - Socialist Party of Great Britainpublication date Thu Sep 06, 2007 09:35author email ajsc21755 at blueyonder dot co dot ukauthor address Edinburgh , Scotlandauthor phone naReport this post to the editors

Tom rightly describes that racism can be institutionalised , and Dave B. concurs referring to what he describes as the "embedded " bigotry in Northern Ireland , and adding to the irrationality of the situation , DaveB says "how the ruling class can be infected well as the workers, long after it has any economic relevance to either of them."

i don't believe DaveB or anyone would dispute that the basis of his analysis is that of one of a Marxist - the materialistic conception of history - eg in Northern Ireland "...the culture of prejudice clearly has an economic origin..." but for Tom that is a crime in itself , it appears .

For Tom , the solution is " positive action such as developing programs " - reformism

For DaveB , it is to chop away the underlying cause of divisions - revolution .

In South Africa we see how colour blindness , can blind some to the existence of the black capitalist elite that has assumed control because the root cause of exploitation was never challenged and no amount of "affirmative actions programs " will displace this capitalist class .

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author by Jonathanpublication date Thu Sep 06, 2007 16:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I don't think that you can rightly call South Africa colour blind; it is anything but that. People are not blind to the black capitalist elite; many are still just under the illusion that, with Black Economic Empowerment, this elite will expand to include more and more of the lower classes into the middle class and bourgeoisie. It is probably precisely because the new elite is black that they are not challenged by the majority of society, but that is not colour blind; it is colour conscious.

You are right that the root cause of exploitation was never challenged, and that is why people still have faith in BEE; because they do not recognise the root cause of their exploitation, and are convinced by the ANC rhetoric that attracting foreign investment etc. will solve the problem. With the result that the new elite sits comfortably in the drivers seat of a neo-liberal economy, supposedly intended to benefit and empower the poor - despite the increasing opulence of the new elite. They are visibly in that seat, but many people don't see there anything wrong with that, they are just working hard and biding their time until their chance for empowerment comes along.

author by dave b - world socialist movementpublication date Mon Sep 10, 2007 02:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

In response to;

racism is structural, not mere prejudice or ideology
by Tom - WSA (personal capacity) Wednesday, Sep 5 2007, 2:08am

Dear Tom

I do not understand the point of this building workers example it just looks like obfuscation. What you are saying is that another kind of ‘ism’, in this case nepotism can look like racism when in fact it isn’t. In other words nepotism is not racism.

And then we get a 180 degree change of direction with nepotism is ‘effectively racism’ because the members of each tribe or extended family tend to be of the same ‘race’.

I object to the whole stupid concept of race and hate having to embrace it even if it is to argue against it.

It is only making a difficult subject more difficult when you start mixing ‘isms’ up together. That is not to say that nepotism and racism can’t operate together and you would just need to get inside the bigots heads to try and find out which is more important to them, even if they understood it themselves.

You also seem to be implying in your example that nepotism or tribalism or what ever you want to call it isn’t an ‘emotive prejudice’ and is somehow natural. One ism eg racism is as bad another when it comes to discriminating against or for someone based on some arbitrary immaterial accident of birth.

When I said that the “ruling class propagate or develop ‘ideas’ in society that serve their own economic interests” I attempted to choose my words carefully.

You can get economic rivalries between segregated sections of the working class developing on their own ‘naturally’ as it were without the interference of the ruling class. Particularly with economic migration, as in the case of the Irish, Italians or poles etc. As the incumbent working class feel the economic pressure of having their wages undercut in times of economic pressure.

The ruling class can actively encourage this, ignore it or in some cases when it becomes inconvenient try and stamp it out. At the moment in the UK we have quite a significant economic migration from Poland in particular. As our welfare system is at the moment is not stretched and many of these workers are skilled we are all being told how wonderful it all is by the capitalist class, and the ‘indigenous’ workers in their turn don’t seem to be the slightest bit bothered by it.

The capitalist spokesperson Enoch Powell, who later made the infamous racist rivers of blood speech, was at an earlier time encouraging economic migration into the UK of these very same people when there was a labour shortage in the 1960’s.

When we do get these divisions within the working class which grow out of the competitive nature of capitalism they are justified or to use a psychoanalytical term are rationalised in the form of an ideology. A set of ideas are developed to excuse the oppression of one section of the working class by another for reasons other than the real one, or possibly to supplement it .

Thus it can be claimed to be reasonable for one section to be disadvantaged because they are innately stupid, lazy, criminal, culturally inferior or sub human or something.

The level of awareness that these people have that the ideological justification for the oppression is just that, probably varies. Just as the level of awareness amongst the media and political elite that the justifications for the invasion of Iraq was bullshit probably varies. Once the ideology of racism for instance becomes institutionalised, for many of the more sincere and most dangerous bigots the original economic reason can be of little importance.

For them the prejudice probably satisfies another need of having an outlet and object for their repressed anger, frustration and sense of perceived humiliation as a result of living under capitalism’s worst effects. Commonly understood as scapegoating, kicking the cat, or in psychoanalytical terms ‘displacement’.

This in itself can be useful to the capitalist class in order to deflect blame from themselves and channel anger in a safer direction ie Germany in the 1930’s. Although in that case it got a little bit out of control.

In fact the ruling class in manipulating ideology play a dangerous game as they are often not much interested in the nature of the justification but only its consequences and the short term consequences at that. Hence there is nothing particularly anomalous about them supporting Islamic fundamentalists in the past. And even concurrently supporting the notional idea of democracy in one Arab country whilst supporting a feudal dictatorship in another.

Sometimes for the ruling class some of this stubborn retro superstructure created in the distant past becomes inconvenient and needs reform. I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if some sections of the capitalist class would agree with Tom that they needed to ;

‘recruit and train women and non whites for the building trades’.

If you do not understand what you are about you can find yourself keeping rather strange company.

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author by Tompublication date Tue Sep 11, 2007 03:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

my description of how hiring works in the building trades is not accurately described as "nepotism." that's because, for one thing, it can be friends and neighbors who are referred to contractors or given an in in joining the union. if you read books by people who tell people how to find jobs, they will always say, rely on your network of friends, former coworkers, ex-bosses. in a segregated society where the better paying and more skilled jobs are held mainly by white people, those in the networks of white job seekers will be mainly other white people.

this explains a lot of the reason for higher unemployment and worse paying jobs by non-whites in the USA.

because these networks give white workers a material advantage over non-white workers who don't have this access, it is in their short term interests to protect this system. if people have a material advantage from an arrangement, this will tend to encourage them to adopt ideas that justify it. so, if you have a material structure -- a pattern of advantage -- that benefits whites, this tends to encourage them to have racist ideas.

since dave says racism is just ideology -- it's just bad ideas in your head -- he has a hard time explaining why it persists. of course we know that the elite classes use divide and conquer but why do racist tendencies persist in the white working class?

basically dave doesn't understand structural or institutional racism, as distinct from racism as conscious prejudice or ideology. but I've given just one example of how a structure or pattern can persist racial inequality without it being based on overt racist ideology, tho it tends to encourage that ideology. dave's way of looking at it has the sort of disadvantage that Marx called "idealism". It doesn't really explain what in material reality persists the ideas.

moreover, if dave is opposed to affirmative action, then he agrees with the bosses and the conservatives in the USA. they also say we should "not think about race." but, then, how do you deal with the fact of racial inequality and oppression? developing class unity in a country with a multi-racial working class means that you have to take seriously the aims and struggles of the various groups that make up the working class. unity doesn' t happen automatically, due to abstract class position, but has to be developed in practice.

maybe the problem here is rooted in the WSP's abstract ideological approach.

author by Tom - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Tue Sep 11, 2007 07:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

ajohnstone says:
"i don't believe DaveB or anyone would dispute that the basis of his analysis is that of one of a Marxist - the materialistic conception of history - eg in Northern Ireland "...the culture of prejudice clearly has an economic origin..." but for Tom that is a crime in itself , it appears .

For Tom , the solution is " positive action such as developing programs " - reformism"

So, according to ajohnstone, any struggle to make any changes in society is "reformism." Apparently then all we're left to do is preach revolution. that is a recipe to be a tiny irrelevant sect.

the working class gains the consciousness and capacity and unity it needs to change the society and free itself only thru struggle. Collective struggle cannot initially be for revolution because people will only seek aims that they believe they have the power to attain, and the working class at present lacks the power to eliminate the dominating classes. Struggles take place around the immediate problems that the working class faces.

the working class in the USA is highly heterogeneous. this means that the problems or oppressions faced by different groups are not the same. the problems faced by women or by a black person or Latino immigrant are not the same as a native-born white male American worker. this is precisely why there is a point to struggles specifically around the forms of oppression that apply, such as against police brutality, whch affects especially communities of color, or against criminalization of immigrants. this leads also to organizations or movements rooted in communities of people subject to particular oppressions, such as African Americans or women or gay people (an example would be Pride at Work, a gay workers movement for equal rights at work).

it is only thru struggle that eventually the working class can work out its unity by coming to understand and accept the aims of the various groups of people that make it up.

in the '70s/'80s black and Latin construction workers in New York City banded together in groups like Harlem Fightback and other groups to break their racist exclusion from construction jobs. Groups of them invaded construction sites to press their case with contractors -- a direct action tactic called active shapeup. in some cases they had to arm themsevles with sticks and guns because some contractors had mob links. But for the abstract ideologists of the SPGB apparently this is to be derided as "reformist".

i explained how racist ideas in the white working class have a material basis in patterns of advantage, such as access to better paying jobs. I didn't use language like "crime in itself". ajohnstone is inventing a strawman.

if the SPGB agrees that racism has an explanation in material reality, then how can it be purely superstructural? how can it be merely ideology or bad ideas? if it has an "economic foundation" what is it? it's not just the interests of the employers because that would deny that there is in fact an immediate material benefit that white male workers get from having better access to the better paying jobs.

the solution here is to distinguish immediate shortrun material interests from the bigger picture of longrun class interests. white male workers may gain a bit more than their female or non-white compatriots by going along with the existing scheme, but they'd gain vastly more thru a unified working class movement which would have the potential to liberate the working class, or even make major shorter term gains.

author by mitch - WSA (per. cap.)publication date Tue Sep 11, 2007 22:16author email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Over the decades the question of whether or not anarchists believe reforms--any reforms---are of value or place us in the camp of social democracy.

I recently had the chance to read this article by Malatesta. Although I've had his works on my self for years I've never really had a chance to read him.

While this short article is not a major theoretical undertaking, I think it squarely addresses the question---and makes a case for both struggling to make today a little better, while fighting for the whole bakery in the future.

"Towards Anarchism" by Malatesta:

author by Dave B - World Socialist Movementpublication date Wed Sep 12, 2007 04:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A response to;

structural racism
by Tom Monday, Sep 10 2007, 7:07pm

There can nothing so tedious and tiresome with these kinds of discussions than for everyone to have to endure one of the adversaries having to endlessly repeat what he or she has said before because their opponent has not bothered to read or understand what they have written.

I said that;

“Once the ideology of racism for instance becomes institutionalised, for many of the more sincere and most dangerous bigots the original economic reason can be of little importance.

For them the prejudice probably satisfies another need of having an outlet and object for their repressed anger, frustration and sense of perceived humiliation as a result of living under capitalism’s worst effects. Commonly understood as scapegoating, kicking the cat, or in psychoanalytical terms ‘displacement’.

This in itself can be useful to the capitalist class in order to deflect blame from themselves and channel anger in a safer direction ie Germany in the 1930’s. Although in that case it got a little bit out of control.”

This idea of one or two reasons why racism can ‘persist’ after the first economic cause from which it originated has past is hardly unfamiliar. In fact it is so trite and hackneyed that I was concerned that it might seem patronising to even mention it.

How then can Tom respond by saying that I have;

‘a hard time explaining why racism persists’

when I did in fact explain how it could persist, is beyond me. It matters little in this respect whether or not you agree with the explanation or not. To imply that I did not or could not provide an explanation is demonstrably false.

I also never did say that racism was ‘just ideology’ as I thought I made clear that racism was typically an ideological justification for an economically based imperative.

It can be the case however that an ideology like racism can persist as just that and on its own, when there are no pure economic causes for it.

(Even though it may continue to serve other purposes related to the economic position of the working class.)

So in that sense it can be under some circumstances ‘just bad ideas in your head’, placed there, as some workers come to realise.

Another trite and hackneyed idea that seems to be unfamiliar to Tom.

An idea so trite and hackneyed in fact that it even appears and is expressed by semi fictional characters in Hollywood blockbuster films, picking a random example out of the ether;

Mississippi Burning (1988)

Mrs. Pell:” It's ugly. This whole thing is so ugly. Have you any idea what it's like to live with all this? People look at us and only see bigots and racists. Hatred isn't something you're born with. It gets taught. At school, they said segregation what's said in the Bible... Genesis 9, Verse 27. At 7 years of age, you get told it enough times, you believe it. You believe the hatred. You live it... you breathe it. You marry it. “

What should be an interesting fictional illustrative example as this is an example of a throwback or retro-superstructure ideological and biblical justification for the slave economy and racism itself in the United States.

And to state clearly again, the ruling class are also not immune to being infected by their own ideological bullshit and behaving appropriately, even though it maybe hurting them in their pocket or elsewhere. We could suspect therefore that the likes of John Kerry in the Vietnam may have believed in all the justifications for that economic adventure.

Perhaps even some of the chicken-hawks did as well, but for them it wouldn’t be that easy figuring out whether they had their heads screwed on correctly or were just cowards.

The class analysis of capitalism that all the working class are in the same economic position is no more abstract than the abolitionist position was that all slaves were slaves.

On affirmative action, the more ideologically liberated capitalists, who are free to concentrate on maximising the exploitation of labour power are affirming their economic necessity for free access to all sections of the working class, unimpeded by anachronistic ideologies.

The WSM position is an holistic one and requires and understanding of all the issues involved and the working class needs to learn to look carefully in the mouth of any gift horses that come along and beware of ‘Greek’ reformists bearing gifts.

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author by Tom - WSA (personal cap.)publication date Wed Sep 12, 2007 12:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

dave B says: "I also never did say that racism was ‘just ideology’ as I thought I made clear that racism was typically an ideological justification for an economically based imperative. "

But this sentence itself directly implies that racism is "an ideological justification". but the idea of "structural racism" is that it isn't "an ideological justification".

and what is the "economic imperative" that racism is supposed to "justify"? economic interests of the dominating classes? but that would imply that white male workers gain no material benefit from being male and white.

so, here is the issue point blank: does dave or SPGB acknowledge that there are material advantages from being white in the USA? is there a pattern of inequality on the basis of "race"? all of dave's verbiage skirts around this question.

a pattern of material advantages based on race isn't an "ideologial jutification". racism as an ideology may try to justify this pattern of inequality, but it isn't identical with the system or pattern of material advantage. this pattern of inequality isn't the same thing as class inequality because it isn't based on class.

now, i would agree that it is in the interests of white workers to band together with workers of all colors to develop a movement to fight the bosses, and to get rid of the class system altogether. that's because the gains to white workers from a unified movement are potentially much greater than any material advantages within the current pattern of white supremacy.

author by dave Bpublication date Thu Sep 13, 2007 06:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi Tom

Well at least we have reached some kind of consensus with your last point although I would wish to phrase it differently, perhaps something like;

That it is in the interests of all workers to band together, irrespective of colour or whatever else, to develop a movement to get rid of the class system and establish a socialist or perhaps as a concession an anarcho-communist society.

That's because the gains to all workers from a socialist society would be much greater than any material advantages that one group can obtain at the expense of another within capitalism.

The issue of workers uniting within capitalism in order to obtain as many economic concessions as possible is a separate one and part of trade union consciousness. Many workers are quite familiar with the idea that when they are divided upon whatever lines they are much less able to collectively resist the encroachments of capital. As it can selectively play one section of workers off against another and pick them off one by one.

On the issue of the nature of ideology or just ideas or opinions on issues, I think to say that this is a difficult subject would be more than an understatement.

Forgetting racism for a bit, and going back to discussing basic ideas.

The difference between an ‘ideology’ and an ‘ideological justification’ is a bit like the difference between a lie and the truth.

Without wanting to get too philosophical about the definition of the word ideology and getting dragged into some Descartes type argument about the nature of subjectivity.

People who hold onto a set of ideas believe them to be true, irrespective of whether they are or not, otherwise they would not hold onto them. Thus they are ideology or from a collins dictionary; a body of ideas that reflects the beliefs of a nation or political system etc.

An ideological justification ie propaganda is not true for those that propagate it nor is it true for those that can see through it. The idea that is put across by the propagandist is a lie for the propagandist and the truth for those that believe it. It is a ideological justification for an action using a set of false ideas for one and an ideology or truth for the other.

The actual propaganda itself, to begin with anyway, is not the ideology of the ruling class that are putting it forward as they know it is bollocks.

Dr. Joseph M. Goebbels, Nazi minister of propaganda put it well enough;

“The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can
shield the people from the political, economic and/or military
consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to
use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the
mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the
greatest enemy of the State."

How this works in reality is a bit more complex because for some reason or other most humans seem to have an innate dislike to this kind of reasoning plainly put by Dr. Joseph M. Goebbels. So what happens when capitalist class wishes to invade Iraq for nefarious reasons that can barely be admitted is that well funded think tanks develop ideological justifications for such action. For large sections of the American working class who still believe that Saddam flew planes into the world trade centre this becomes ideology. For a select few who know better, them and us, it is just an ideological justification.

For the not unimportant group in the middle who wish to believe in what is useful to them and understand the advantages of burying yourself in the part and loosing yourself the issue of whether it is ideology or ideological justification is less clear.

However in this case an ideology and an ideological justification, eg Saddam flying planes into the World Trade Centre, can coexist as the same thing but meaning two things, a self-serving lie to one and the truth to another.

Once the need to tell this lie disappears there are no longer any lies and ideological justification and all that remains is a belief in an idea. Albeit a belief in something that was never true for the people who first originated the idea.

The situation is made more complicated by the fact of why the ruling class needs to make ideological justifications in the first place. It is because the current ideology including morality and what is right and wrong etc stands in the way or opposes what the ruling class want to do to enrich themselves. Even the morality or ideology of the ruling class themselves, who may not be as gifted with the clear thinking of a Machiavelli or a Dr. Joseph M. Goebbels, may struggle with their own conscience when it comes to doing what they want to do, and profitable behaviour.

One problem for slave industry was some of the bloody awkward Christians like Harriet Beecher Stowe, who seemed to take certain parts of the Gospels too literally. These kind of people were part of the retro superstructure and the ideology that reacts back as Engels stated. Christianity was supposed to be about keeping the labouring class compliant not about treating human beings made in the image of god worse than animals.

So hard nosed practical men of the world with a ‘capitalist outlook’ got their paid theologians to drag out mumbo jumbo quotes from the ‘world was made in seven days book’ to provide an ideological justification for slavery.

An idea that persisted in a slightly different form long after or not long after the reason for its introduction by the slave owning class had disappeared.

The valid question remains whether or not the working class uses racism or religious bigotry as an ideological justification for the economically advantageous oppression of another section of the working class. Or whether or not it is just bad ideas put into their heads for other reasons. You would have to take it I think on a case by case basis.

Ideology itself is not black and white as belief systems can be held with varying levels of conviction and can be emotive as well as rational.

Talking to intelligent ‘leftwing’ people who have been infected with this kind of thing when they are pissed can be instructive. So a ‘Sikh’ can babble on about how evil the Muslims are because of something the Moguls did 500 years ago and a ‘Northern Ireland Protestant’ can go on about people being under the sway of foreign Romish bishops with evil designs. They all know its bollocks and bad ideas in their heads and probably have never had the idea, rational or otherwise, of putting it to or taking any kind of economic advantage out of it.

There are material advantages from being white in the USA but is that what really motivates the racists, taking material advantage of them or is it just hate. Many would like to see these races ‘sent back to where they came from’, evacuated from the planet or even exterminated at considerable material expense.

Taking material advantage out of people is the ideology of capitalism and the capitalist class and that is from where it normally originates.

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author by Tom - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Fri Sep 14, 2007 01:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

after a huge amount of irrelevant verbiage dave finally answers my question: "There are material advantages from being white in the USA but is that what really motivates the racists".

because the material interests of all members of the working class are not identical, there are likely to emerge movements or struggles specific to non-class forms of oppression, which affect particular groups of people, such as African-Americans or women.

the motivation of racists isn't what this thread is about. the issue is support for movements or struggles around non-class forms of oppression, and the relationship of these movements/struggles to the working class.

I don't think there can be class unity unless the struggles around non-class forms of oppression gain support and are part of the working class movement.

author by dave Bpublication date Fri Sep 14, 2007 08:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If you choose to concentrate your efforts on single issue campaigns and levelling the playing field within capitalism for the labouring class rather than getting rid of the capitalist system , then do so, there are plenty to choose from.

If I was to adopt your approach, which I don’t, I am sure I could find more deserving causes to choose from than the one of raising the affluent economic advantages that African-Americans or women have over the rest of the international labouring class to that of the white American males.

So you go ahead and struggle on in your noble cause so that African-Americans can have equal access to dental care as your white American brothers. Whilst capitalism trundles on and real African children go blind for the want of a starbucks coffee.

author by Tom - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Sat Sep 15, 2007 06:55author address author phone Report this post to the editors

okay, dave, do you regard all struggles of working people as "single issue"? suppose people go on strike for a wage increase? Is this a "single issue" struggle? Or do you see this as part of the class struggle? if not, then you are making an arbitrary distinction between one kind of struggle of the oppressed and another kind.

it's rather bizarre for you to refer to "affluent" African Americans since I've been talking about working class African-Americans.

but why should struggles against aspects of oppression specific to women or African-American workers get short shrift compared to, say, a fight over wage increases or health benefits? so either you take a line of preaching abstract revolution and ignore actual struggles -- a recipe for an irrelevant sect -- or one supports movements against oppression as they actually emerge.

without support for movements and concerns that working class people have specific to race or gender oppression, a unified working class movement can't be developed. and in that case there won't be the movement that fundamentally challenge the elite classes and liberate the working class.

author by Dave B - world socialist movementpublication date Sat Sep 15, 2007 22:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Equal Bourgeois Rights Under Capitalism

Hi Tom

I am trying to prevent this degenerating into a testosterone driven Monty python type ‘I came here for and argument not just contradiction’ type thing.

We are discussing under the headline of ‘Working Class and Nonclass Oppressions’ so going out on strike for wage increases or better work conditions etc falls outside that as that is an attempt to resist the oppression by the capitalist class of the working class.

So the question remains about what the working class should do about the intrinsic economic inequalities within the working class itself in capitalism which is innately competitive.

I am all for getting rid of all inequalities within the working class and world humanity itself and for a social system in which it would be impossible for inequality or oppression to exist in any form, but I do not see it as possible within capitalism.

For me it is from each according to their ability and to each according to their own self determined need not some form of meritocracy however that meritocracy is defined.

So I don’t not think a person should receive more because of the colour of their skin, where the so happen to be born, how clever the are and good at IT skills, how strong they are and how quickly they can dig a hole in the ground or whether or not they are blind or something.

The issue within capitalism as regards racism and everything else boils down to this; I am as a human equal to another but because I am dark skinned, a woman, not good a maths, disabled etc I am placed at an economic disadvantage.

It isn’t fair that one person should be disadvantaged for any reason be it because of the colour of their skin or because they so happen to lack the skills that are in high economic demand in capitalism at one particular point in time. Or for that matter that they so happen to be living in the wrong place at the wrong time.

They issue you seem to be focusing on is that a member of the working class should be rewarded based on their ability to work alone and not on their need, something that incidentally those members of the capitalist class who know what is good for them would entirely agree with.

Presumably if everything was meritocratic the people on low wages and cleaning the toilets of computer programmers would be so not because they were ‘black’ but because they were ‘stupid’ or were not intellectual and lacked natural IT skills or something.

I do not want any social system where one individual is put at a disadvantage to another for any REASON. We hear plenty about racism in first world countries but not much about intellectualism were non-intellectuals are discriminated against .

That is presuming that there is a natural variation of talents and gifts within the human race and that Noam Chomsky could no more be an O. J. Simpson than O. J. Simpson could ever be a Noam Chomsky. A debatable point perhaps.

For people like yourself who seek a solution within the rat race of capitalism. It is worth contemplating not so much the worker above you who is putting his boot in your face but whose face you are stamping on with your own third world, sweat shop produced Nike trainers to clamber up the ladder.

So ultimately we return to the Parecon solution in which by some incredibly complicated system all these natural variations in ability are taken into consideration and somehow or other personal effort is calculated and remunerated appropriately.

Not my way of solving the problem.

Here is what Karl had to say about ‘rights’ and the bourgeois right of ‘to each according to his ablity’, and reluctantly contemplating labour vouchers and remuneration according to effort.

Dripping in the true spirit of ‘Anarchism’ in my opinion, although I will probably get into trouble for saying that.;

“But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor.

It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right.

Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only -- for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored.

Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal.

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! “

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author by Tom - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Sun Sep 16, 2007 15:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

dave b writes: "For people like yourself who seek a solution within the rat race of capitalism. "

Where did i ever say that we should be limited to solutions that are obtainable within capitalism? What i said is that struggles exist -- the class struggle, and movements around non-class forms of oppression that apply to members of the working class -- within the existing system. Through collective struggles, the consciousness of the class changes, their self-confidence and organizataional strength and unity can develop. Only in that way can the working class develop the mass movement that could challege fundamentally the dominating classes.

You want to talk abstractly about a total alternative to capitalism but you don't want to talk about the struggles for less than total changes that develop within this society, and our need to support these struggles. Limiting oneself to abstract revolutionism is a recipe for being an irrelevant sect.

And bringing in participatory economics is a red herring....I never mentioned it, and how is it relevant? You seem to always want to change the subject.

author by Dave Bpublication date Mon Sep 17, 2007 01:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi Tom

The difference and sticking point between our two positions is that you are a reformist and I am a revolutionary socialist. Although you may claim to adhere to the oxymoronic idea of ‘revolutionary reformism’ along with a multitude of other leftwing organisations that claim that reforms within capitalism are stepping stones along the road to socialism or revolutionary change.

The type of campaigns and reforms that these organisations pick is just about the only thing that differentiates one from the other.

Unfortunately I cannot comment on the ‘WSA’ as I do not know who they are and you are not even providing any links. I am assuming it is not the Welsh Sports Association.

Past experience with this kind of thing eg the Leninists Socialist Workers Party, is that their propaganda is thick with various reformist campaigns and references to a revolutionary society are absent or extremely difficult to find. That leads one to the conclusion that these kinds of organisations and people only pay a whispering lip service to the idea of revolutionary change.

What we see is all these revolutionary reformists organisations competing with each by attempting to select the most appealing reforms to attract the attention of the working class.

Without wishing to tar all these revolutionary reformists with the same brush all we revolutionary socialists see is a myriad of snake oil cures for the mass of ailments and social injustices that capitalism creates.

We believe in one cure, the radical solution of tackling the root of all the problems, capitalism itself. Whether it is even possible to achieve many of these reforms in capitalism, that are to numerous to even name and catalogue, is for us a questionable point. Although you have a fighting chance in picking one that has some support within the ruling class like affirmative action in labour discrimination against African and Hispanic American working class.

I have my own personal reasons to detest racism however I do not believe that the divisive nature of racism will be cured buy positive discrimination as discrimination in the labour market is a symptom of racism the origin of which lies elsewhere.

The pernicious nature of reformism is that implicit in it for many that receive it is the idea that the present system, capitalism, is fundamentally acceptable and only requires some kind of alteration, correction or improvement. This is an ideology that has been the major obstacle over the last 150 years for revolutionary socialists and remains so to day.

To seek to iron out all the economic disadvantages between the international working class within capitalism to encourage working class solidarity seems like a hopelessly optimistic task.

However if you wish to start out on such a project you are probably correct in starting out in thinking very small and focusing on a parochial issue like the economic advantages that the white working class have over their African American brothers.

But whilst millions are dying from starvation every year and from affirmative military action in Iraq, expiring for the want of an affirmation of their own. Don’t expect the rest of the world to be beating their chests in solidarity whilst the African American working class demand the same indulgences as their white working class brothers most of whom have dietary problems of a very different nature.

This much can be said for the Parecon people that they are ambitious and are at least attempting not to focus on single issue economic disadvantages and are claiming to be able to iron them all out together.

So are we but our solution is even more radical and simpler than theirs.

From another reformist, but at least this one thought that charity begins overseas;

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just."

The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: This way of settling differences is not just”

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
By Rev. Martin Luther King
4 April 1967

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author by Tom - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Mon Sep 17, 2007 06:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

you and i differ about what "reformism" is. only the working class en masse can liberate itself. It isn't something that a vanguard of saviors or a "party" will do. So any revolutionary must answer the question, how is a mass movement of the working class to emerge that can do this? You've not addressed this question.

The movement of the working class that can effectively challenge the capitalists for control of the society emerges out of the class struggle. The class struggle involves many fights and until a revolutionary juncture arrives these struggles are fought over changes in society, in the circumstances of ordinary people, that are less than total, that is, for reforms.

But there are different ways that reforms can be fought for. They can be fought for thru electoral politics, routine negotiations between union bureaucrats and employers, lobbying, and so on. That method of struggle is what reformism is. The alternative is to fight for reforms thru mass mobilization, rank and file participation, collective struggle, strike actions, occupations, in other words, struggle from below. It is the latter that is the revolutionary approach to struggle for reforms.

You apparently have no conception of the class struggle or of how a mass working class movement with a revolutionary politics and consciousness can emerge.

Your abstract revolutionism is, as i've said before, a recipe to be a tiny irrelevant sect.

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author by ajohnstone - socialist party of great britainpublication date Tue Sep 18, 2007 17:55author email ajsc21755 at blueyonder dot co dot ukauthor address author phone naReport this post to the editors

"a tiny irrelevant sect."

Accepted - and just how different are all the myriads of anarchist [ or Parecon ] groups at this moment of history if n world view is taken of the reality of to-day . People in glass houses...

What is the role of a revolutionary organisation except to bring under its umbrella all the struggles of the working class nto a mass movement , exactly as you say .
To unify towards one goal . The Abolition of Capitalism .

With or without revolutionary organisations , workers and oppressed peoples will and do resist and they discover for themselves the best means of that struggle .
Unlike Leninist/Trotskist parties , the SPGB along with many anarchists has no program of assuming leadership of such struggles and its only advice is simple - such movements has to be democratic , and adding the caveat, that such victories which are achieved will never fully satisfy aspirations and may indeed be only transitory and require constant defending .

So , therefore , understanding that the working class ( and , of course , it accepted that we are a heterogenous class - with conflicting interests at times and in certain places ) do engage in the class struggle and require no declaration of class war from any political group ,what then is the role of a revolutionary party but to advocate and educate , until itself is in a position of being a mass movement that can go on to organise as the expression of the class .

And what is it we advocate and educate for ? A new society that is an alternative to the existing one . And if you consider that as abstract propagandaism , so be it , we plead guilty . But we stand accused alongside many others

"... It's very seldom that a revolutionary organization can "convince" people that they should make fundamental changes in society . The need to make changes , not to speak of the conviction that they should make them , is overwhelmingly the work of historical forces , such as serious economic crises , social instability , ecological breakdown , and the like . But it is on eo thye tasks of a revolutionary organization to offer them hope , the sense that the world couldbe better if they acted as social beings . People must sensethat they need notforver beleaguered by th4 demands f modern apitiatlis , that insufferable conditions need not exist , that better world is possible if they act ...A serious revolutionary movement can provide to discontented people who feel oppressed by bourgeois society but do not clearly know why by making the problems created by capitalism explicable to them and providing them with a clear direction that they understand and pursue ..." Murray Bookchin

A tiny irrelevant sect , perhaps , but at least we understand the limitations of a revolutionary organization in our present time and make no grandoise claims of our own organisation's importance to the workers actual battles in the class struggle , that they can and do conduct without the intervention of a revolutionary political party .

The crime is to forget what we struggle for .

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author by A. Weaverpublication date Thu Oct 25, 2007 09:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Dave B wrote:
There is only one ‘race’ and that is the human race.

Marx wrote:
“There is no one single humanity. There is a humanity of classes. Slaves and Masters.”

Material analysis, which Marxists claim to subscribe to, is based not on abstract idealisms of humanity as evidenced above with Dave's quote, but an examination of actual existing society. Whether it fits into your conceptions of class and class struggle or not, the reality is that colonialism and race globally have played an integral role in capitalism. Its no secret that capitalism was largely funded through European conquest of the Americas and the bringing of African slaves to work in the plantation system, this is what moved European countries from a backwaters to a leading role in the emerging world economy.... fast forward a few centuries and it is no suprise that the presence of people of color in western countries is directly due to our imperialist policies which has forced them through slavery, war and econmic policy to migrate. Maybe not so much in Britian, but large parts of the US economy rely on low wage labor of people of color; and mostly immigrants- entire industries in fact: agriculture, restaraunts/service, particular types of trucking, certain areas of residential home construction, etc.

Race is a structural, social reality just like capitalism and we can analyze it materialy and ideologicaly in many of the same ways as we might look at capitalism. In fact to look at capitalism and not look at race, colonialism, imperialism, is on the real, simply a poor analysis of capitalism. Now I haven't mentioned a thing about gender and how it allows for the social reproduction of capital, etc. which sucks- but I'll just leave it at that.

But is it any wonder that people would begin to organize themselves on these basises and call it like they see- or is that as Tom says just 'single issue politics'? These critiques have been raised powerfully by folks over the last 50 years, but apparently you all didn't get the memo (or perhaps threw it in the trash without reading it).

If you reject or refuse to engage in analyzing on a material basis several major aspects of how capitalism functions and has been brought about by not looking at race, colonialism, gender/patriarchy, then I think you need to seriously re-evaluate whether you consider yourselves revolutionaries in this day and age.

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