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The racialization 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 Capitalism and Slavery.




 An Overview of Marxist Ideological Thinking


Sharif 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 social reality.   

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 political epistemology.

In Physics 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 reverse. 

The racialization 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 Capitalism 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 than human.   

Based on 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 and slave-owners.

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, subhuman."   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 tests, etc.  

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

                 The young bee gets the honey

                 The Negro grows the cotton and corn

                 The White man gets the money.  

Obviously the 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.

But 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 sharecroppers.  I remember reading this in the Introduction to the Black Bourgeoisie by E. Franklin Frazier, where he discussed the populist movement.  

Black 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.

Historically it 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.

Sharif: 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.

Lil Joe: Yes, brother, I agree!  Although "race" is a "myth" – check out Ashley Montagu's 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 history!

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.

But Americans pride themselves on being a "Christian" and "Bible believing" country" with contempt for science.  The 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 culture.

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.

The individual “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 class protection.

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.

As economic 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.

The White 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 politics.

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.

Today the 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.

Socialist 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.

Revolution is civil war – it is a WAR in which we, as workers, are participants are each and all are individually/ collectively participants.

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 Representatives.  We 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 parties. 

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 accordingly. 

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 psychology.  Wilhelm Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism is useful toward understanding this problem from one standpoint, and Fanon's Black Skins, White Mask  and Nathan Hare's Black Anglo-Saxon 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 generous responses.

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.—WashingtonPost

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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