An Overview of Marxist Ideological Thinking
Interviews Lil Joe on the Dilemma
of Class and Race in Political Struggles
Sharif: I would like to put to you a
question concerning how you see racism in the U. S. and around
the world. Yes, we agree that it is a tool of the capitalist
class used to divide the working class. But I do not see a clear
analysis on how we should proceed to deal with it.
Lil Joe: Racism in the U.S. is a
How are we to do deal with racism in this
country? By waging
an ideological struggle against it, exposing its sources and
show how it benefit the capitalists by keeping American workers
stupid and at each others throats. Blaming each other for their economic woes, whether or not
they get a job or their children admitted to a college. We should call for full employment by reducing the working
day with no decrease in pay, and free and open enrollment in
colleges and universities.
American workers need a class party, a
trade union based Labor Party fighting for these class
objectives. Our fight for full employment include fighting for economic
rights of Latino/a immigrants as well, with full and equal
access to sick-leaves, medical and hospital care, unemployment
compensation, and so on.
The first clearly
stated race-politic, as an ideology that dehumanized slaves, was
articulated by Aristotle. In his
Politics, Aristotle said
that Men are rational animals but that slaves, and women as
well, were incapable of reason (“deliberative thinking,”
judgment) and so are less than “human.” Aristotle called slaves
“animate tools,” capable only of understanding
commands in order to obey.
I call this class prejudices articulated in ruling class
Aristotle approvingly says: "That is why the poets say: 'It
is correct that Greeks rule Barbarians'; for by nature what is
barbarian and what is slave are the same."
Yet, in ancient Greece, and also Rome “barbarians”
were not a “racial” category. Slaves in Greece and Rome came from Europe and Asia, as well
as Africa. And
among the “free Greeks,” Greek and Roman citizens included
free men that originated from Africa and Asia as well as native
born free men. Members
of the Greek polis and Empire as in Rome and its Empire were a
variety. One might
just as well see a Black freeman with White slaves as the
of slavery was the product of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in
connection with the world-market and the rise capitalism.
Marx deals with this in outline in Capital, which
Eric Williams takes up and analyses in deals his
and Slavery. The
existence of a “race of slaves” in America, and in
particular in the United States where following Aristotle's
class definition of slaves as less than human the American
Constitution declared slaves as less than human – it followed
that the race which constituted the slave population was less
technological-economic history in the United States, a history
of class struggles, the triangular trade displaced White and
Native American indentured servants and slaves by an influx of
slaves human beings from Africa who were sold into chattel
slavery. The first
African 'bondsmen' arrived in 1619.
By the 19th century there were no more White bondsmen or
Native American slaves. While
it was true that not all Blacks were slaves, and were free
Blacks, it is also true that by this time all slaves were Black.
In America, at
least in the South were most Blacks were and were slaves, class
relations appeared as race relations. To say that one was
against slavery, the emancipation of slaves and 'freedom' for
Negroes meant the same thing.
The struggle for “racial equality” meant the
abolition of slavery since there can be no equality of slaves
The existence of
slaves as a race thereupon appropriated all the class prejudices
voiced by ancient slave-based societies including Greece and
Rome. What happened
in the United States was that this prejudice of class was
articulated in racial sociology.
In terms of the Aristotelian syllogism: If A=B: Slaves
are animate tools, subhuman; and C=A: Africans (in America) are
Slaves; then C=B: Africans (in America) are "animate tools,
Thus the class
prejudice became a race prejudice. After the period of chattel
slavery ended, the African former slaves became, for the most
part and in the immediate majority of cases, sharecroppers.
The sharecroppers were a neo-serfdom, which had no more
rights than did serfs in feudal Europe.
But, whereas White sharecroppers "po' White
trash," and the dirt-poor farmers were excluded from
political participation economically -- poll taxes, literacy
I recall the
lyrics in a song by Tennessee Ernie Ford -- 16 Tons:
Sixteen tons and what do I get
another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't call me cause I caint go
I owe my soul to the company sto'
And once read a
'rhyme' by Black sharecroppers:
The young bee makes the honey cone
young bee gets the honey
The Negro grows the cotton and corn
The White man gets the money.
White sharecroppers, though a "white man", did not get
any of the money appropriated by landowners and store owners
from Black sharecroppers. The problem was that the "white" sharecroppers
thought of themselves as "White men" as against
"Niggers", which compelled the Black sharecroppers to
see white sharecroppers as "White men".
The problem is
that still today, a century and a half after chattel slavery has
ended, and the bulk of White and Black sharecroppers have
migrated to cities and are proletarians they yet see themselves
as "Blacks" and "Whites", rather than as
workers and workers.
this is because although "race consciousness" in
America is derived from a class situation, racism in the farm
belt was different in that it enabled the ruling class to buy
the loyalty of White sharecroppers at the expense of Black
remember reading this in the Introduction to the Black
Bourgeoisie by E. Franklin Frazier, where he discussed the
proletarians FORCED their way into the American working-class,
and unions. The White workers thought of Blacks as competitors for jobs
and were hostile to them. Check out the racist history of the
Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor.
They thought of themselves more as "White men,"
and "Americans," than as proletarians.
The lily White, snobbish craft trade unionists like
[Samuel] Gompers excluded not just Blacks in general but also the
unskilled White workers from the trades unions.
By this racial
pragmatism the White workers, although thinking they were
maintaining a racial monopoly on certain jobs were actually
setting themselves up for class struggle defeats.
Black sharecroppers, and capitalists to brought others up
North break strikes. It was only then that racist White worker, and trade
unionists realized that it was in their own best interest to
bring Blacks into the proletariat and into the unions.
It was the
Marxists in the Socialist Party, such as Eugene Debs, and Daniel
DeLeon in the Socialist Labor Party that fought racism in those
socialist organizations, although comprised of the brightest and
the best class conscious proletarians in the United States.
The illusory (but
real!) divide of White workers from Black, and for that matter
Catholic and fresh immigrant workers from Southern and Eastern
Europe, was not just the sociology of race consciousness but its
reinforcement in job protectionism and racial nepotism.
Today the game continue but it is not just native White,
but also Black workers that are hostile to immigrant workers
from Mexico and Central America.
has been working-class immigrants from Europe that opposed the
brutal exploitation of Black slaves, the lynching of Black
sharecroppers and discrimination against Black proletarians.
Today, the immigrants from Mexico and Central America are
what Gil Scot-Heron called “the New Niggers."
Naturalized, second and third generation
"native" American immigrants from Europe have
assimilated the racism, which plagues this culture, but are now
joined in their hostility to Latino/a immigrants by Black
Americans as well. Yet,
like immigrants from Europe the immigrants from Latin America
understand class issues and politics, they do not think of
themselves as a race but as human beings, and workers.
Their participation in the trade unions has revitalized
this movement, and their participation in labor politics will be
healthy in healing the racial wound Black and White workers
inflict on one another.
Some say that by building a multi-national working class
organization that trust will be established as we fight side by
side. But, this has never been the case in the U.S. The history
of the white working class here has always been one of self
(racial) protection – not class protection first.
Yes, brother, I agree! Although
"race" is a "myth" – check out Ashley
Race, Man's Most Dangerous Myth – has been
articulated ideologically, "going back to slavery time"
(as the old folk used to say).
It was altered and even more deadly during the
sharecropping days. All
this time, pasted from generation to generation as written in
the Bible, the "myth" of race is a sociological
reality. It cannot be dismissed as a "myth", like stories
about Zeus or Thor because everyone knows Greek and Norse
religious tales are myths while they thing the Bible is actual
I maintain that
the sociology of race in the economic structures of economic
competition, and discrimination oozing from sewers that keep
communities separated. I know that the proofs in empirical sciences – physical
anthropology, biology, and so on has demonstrated that the race
theory has no empirical basis.
pride themselves on being a "Christian" and
"Bible believing" country" with contempt for
so-called 'three races of man comes from the Bible, in that we
are supposed to be descendents of the three sons of “Noah,”
– Shem, Japheth and Ham – and Ham's son Canaan 'cursed' and
condemned to slavery. This
has no basis in science. There
was never a "Garden of Eden," no Adam and Eve, no
"curse," no Flood, no Noah.
But American preachers teach these myths every Sunday and
all day every day on religious television and radio stations. Yet, although race-theology has no empirical basis racism is
a sociological and psychological reality because it is in the
Now I am just
beginning to do a scientific study in sociology and psychology,
with Nathan Hare's guidance.
The focus of my personal and political study has been of
Revolution, and economics, philosophy, literature, and history
in this context. There
has been some great social scientists and psychologists who
were, and are revolutionaries – Du Bois, Frazer, Hare and
others. I think
that the answer to the question you race, regarding race
relations is in the works of these scientists.
Although I am familiar with some of their work I have not
done enough study and thinking about them and the problems and
polemics they have achieved to feel comfortable enough to make
an independent contribution.
For now, I do not
have the answers you raise.
Maybe we can figure them out together.
However, from the
standpoint of empirical science I think that you posed the
question from a false premise:
The history of
the white working class here has always been one of self
(racial) protection-not class protection first.
“self,” i.e., “self-consciousness,” is derived from
acculturation, by upbringing and education social relations are
conceptualized and internalized by means of which one becomes
acculturated. It is
only as an American, a product of racial sociology that is the
perspective behind your statement.
I think it would
be more accurate to say:
The history of
the working class in America has been presented as one
of racial conflict, thus internalized by White workers
as promoting racial "self (racial) protection-not
It is economic
conditions that make you what you are -- relations of production
– e.g. slave-owner, slave, sharecropper, capitalist, farmer,
proletarian, or what have you.
Economical conditions -- relations of production –
objectively define What you are.
The culture, which is the product of economic conditions,
is what gives "meaning" to what you are,
and based on that culture determines Who you are.
Race, and therefore race relations is a social fact.
conditions change, for instance Blacks move from the life of
sharecroppers into the cities as proletarians and professionals,
they begin to demand social changes, changes in the culture.
The Civil Rights Movement exploded on the American scene
in the 1950s and 1960s primarily in the cities -- Atlanta,
Georgia, Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama; Jackson,
Mississippi; Topeka, Kansas; Chicago, Detroit, New York, San
Francisco and Oakland; California, and so on.
The methods of struggle – mass rallies, demonstrations,
boycotts, picket-lines, and even Molotov Cocktails were the
methods of struggle developed by labor in its wars against
capital. The UAW and the AFL-CIO backed these struggles, because Black
workers were a significant force in the unions.
In a limited
sense changes in the culture can change while economic facts –
i.e., capitalism – remain the same.
Thus, George Wallace in Alabama beg Blacks for
forgiveness and endorse Jesse Jackson's bid for Presidential
nomination in the Democratic Party primaries and Colin Powel
became a General and is the U.S. Secretary of State.
capitalists and bourgeois politicians have no problem
“integrating.” White, Black, Chicano and Indian workers have no problem in
volunteering into the U.S. armed forces, nor working together,
"side by side" in killing Iraqis.
Yet, as you pointed out, when it comes to class struggle
issues they have problems working together in working class
I think you hit
the nail on the head (or how ever the saying go) when you
conceptualized that the objective in racial thinking is to
PROTECT their individual interests as perceiving themselves a
racial group. But
the 'history' to which you refer is when Blacks were excluded
from the industrial proletariat, and restricted to menial jobs.
situation is quite different. Although Blacks are 10% of the
U.S. population we are 90% working-class and 30% of organized
labor in every position in the labor movement.
Black and White workers work side-by-side and when there
is a strike they must act as one, if they are to win. It does
not matter whether they like each other.
revolution similarly requires the unity of workers qua workers;
no ethnic group can do it alone. It is therefore not a question
of WHO they are, but WHAT they are, and what historically they
will be compelled to do that will in the class war itself
dictates. They have
no choice but to come together: workers of every race,
ethnicity, creed, and color of both genders in order to take the
means of production from the capitalists and by civil war
destroy the bourgeoisie and its state power.
civil war – it is a WAR in which we, as workers, are
participants are each and all are individually/ collectively
As I said Black
and White workers in the military fight side-by-side when it is
in U.S. imperialisms interest to send them to murder Koreans,
Vietnamese, Chinese, Serbians, Afghanis and Iraqis – fighting
the enemy of their enemy. If
this is so, then it is all the more possible for them, for us,
to fight side-by-side in workers militias against our own enemy,
the bourgeoisie. What
is needful is for workers to recognize that their real enemy is
the American capitalist and the state.
They already have experience of fighting side by side, so
to mutiny and continue fighting side by side but now against the
officer corps, the state and the capitalists.
What I am dealing
with here is class war. What
is needed in this country, before class consciousness can
displace race loyalties (which in the last analysis is loyalty
to one’s own racial or/and national bourgeoisie) is that
workers must learn to think and act as a class in the political
arena. We need a
Labor Party, financially and socially based on the trade unions
that will run candidates for national office – the House of
can win. This
praxis will engender a lot of social and psychological
challenges to workers, and the race issues should be dealt with
front and center.
But in this
context: the context of workers engaged in a struggle for power!
Racists will expose themselves in the process, and be
dealt with as enemies (not only of Black workers but of the
working class). I
don't advocate that 'White' workers love Black workers nor the
reverse, but mutual respect and reliability.
They need each other:
WE need one
another to do what is expected on the battlefield.
We need to challenge the Democrats as well as the
Republicans, and drive them from the Unions.
We need labor members of Congress, from every community,
writing working-class legislation to get workers into the habit
of governing. If we
win the majority in the House, we need to abolish the Senate,
the Presidency, the Pentagon and the federal courts, call a
Constitutional Convention and write a new Constitution.
Sharif: Lil Joe, thanks for your
insightful answers to my questions. There is definitely a need
for these kinds of discussions. And I agree that I presented my
questions through the myopic lens of race relations in America.
But I have yet another question: Can a section of the
working class commit reactionary suicide"?
Lil Joe: I don't think they will do
so voluntarily, but may need help achieving this objective.
Some would rather be "dead than red," so we
should accommodate them.
Sharif: Can white workers who have
been educated that Black people and other non-white members of
the working class are their enemies refuse to participate in
fulfilling their own class interests? Are there any examples
that would apply to this kind of thing?
Lil Joe: Yes.
The obvious example is the working-class in Germany,
whose hatred of the Jews (or rather what they were manipulated
into thinking about "Jews") brought millions into the
NAZI movement and participated in the destruction not just of
Jews but German trade unions and socialist and communist
In every revolution (civil war) there are
members of the oppressed class which nonetheless fight on the
side of the oppressors. White
workers which refuse to accept Black and other non-white workers
as part of the leadership in the movement and instead declare
Blacks or/and Latino/as their enemy are by doing so declaring
themselves enemies of the revolution and should be dealt with
Sharif: It seems to me that the
question of whether member or sections of the working class can
refuse their political role is one that all revolutionary
theorists, such as yourself, would be concerned.
Lil Joe: You are right. That is why I am beginning to do a serious study of social
Mass Psychology of Fascism is useful toward
understanding this problem from one standpoint, and Fanon's
Black Skins, White Mask and Nathan Hare's
are useful from the other.
I think that serious revolutionary socialists in the past
such as Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and so on have developed their
strategies primarily on economic grounds, and did not anticipate
the kinds of psychological variables that could result in
another Germany 1933.
Sharif: There is not time and space
to answer my every question. But I thank you for your more than
Lil Joe: No problem.
I respect you and the work you are doing. I appreciate your taking the time to formulate these
important questions. These kinds of serious discussions are
never a waste of time.
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Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
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The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance
Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It
By Les Leopold
How could the best and brightest (and most highly paid) in finance crash the global economy and then get us to bail them out as well? What caused this mess in the first place? Housing? Greed? Dumb politicians? What can Main Street do about it? In The Looting of America, Leopold debunks the prevailing media myths that blame low-income home buyers who got in over their heads, people who ran up too much credit-card debt, and government interference with free markets. Instead, readers will discover how Wall Street undermined itself and the rest of the economy by playing and losing at a highly lucrative and dangerous game of fantasy finance. He also asks some tough questions: Why did Americans let the gap between workers' wages and executive compensation grow so large? Why did we fail to realize that the excess money in those executives' pockets was fueling casino-style investment schemes? Why did we buy the notion that too-good-to-be-true financial products that no one could even understand would somehow form the backbone of America's new, postindustrial economy? How do we make sure we never give our wages away to gamblers again? And what can we do to get our money back? In this page-turning narrative (no background in finance required) Leopold tells the story of how we fell victim to Wall Street's exotic financial products. Readers learn how even school districts were taken in by "innovative" products like collateralized debt obligations, better known as CDOs, and how they sucked trillions of dollars from the global economy when they failed. They'll also learn what average Americans can do to ensure that fantasy finance never rules our economy again. The Economy
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