Ronald Reagan And Capitalist Racism

March 13, 2012


The death of Ronald Reagan and the anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education are two events seemingly unrelated but tied together by a history of race in this country: Tied together tragically, intricately and necessarily.

Brown vs. Board of Education released tremendous energy in the fight for justice, provided hope for progress, broke down the ideological fortress justifying Jim Crow segregation and destroyed the underlying justification for racism.
Ronald Reagan, 26 years later, established a new form of coded racism and method of oppression by pandering to the most racist perspectives in the South and then using those perspectives for a political power movement.

Certain basic principles need to be analyzed to understand how we can build a new movement for social change.
Before Brown vs. Board of Education, ideologues for capitalism had constructed a body of ideas to justify the manifest injustice of concentration of wealth and oppression of working people. The foundation was that capitalism under a democratic system of government allowed everyone to compete equally and many people were able to reap enormous wealth or at least a comfortable living through hard work, etc. While the myth had little factual basis, it had a considerable emotional attraction.

The most blatant example of the senselessness of this apology for capitalism was Jim Crow segregation. The vicious violence used to secure positions of privilege in the South destroyed any pretense of equality of opportunity.

The Communist/Progressive movement led the battle to expose this contradiction. In doing so, the two-pronged attack by a section of the ruling class was to eliminate de jure segregation and countenance the Red Scare McCarthyism.

Elimination of the de jure segregation also benefited a section of the ruling class: This section could move plants to the South and undermine the unionization that existed in the North. It all seemed so easy for those engineers of social manipulation:

“In 1954, or even 1955 or ’57, few imagined that the system wouldn’t last another generation. Even activists weren’t prepared for the prairie fire of insurgency that opposition to Jim Crow ignited between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s. Brown was both illustration of and impetus for that change. It was also a culmination of decades of careful strategizing and organizing, of protracted legal struggle, against one facet of the segregationist order – a point where its separate-but-equal sophistry was most vulnerable – led by the NAACP and its allies.” Adolph Reed, Jr., Watson (5/3/04 – Page 17)

It was not just Brown vs. Board of Education, but Emmett Till’s murder and the organizing of the bus boycott when Rosa Parks refused a segregated seat. The above discussed prairie fire, most importantly, eliminated the ideological and moral foundation not just of Jim Crow segregation, but also the very concept of racial inferiority that justified segregation.

Soon, the entire structure began to crumble. Miscegenation laws came under attack. Scientifically, the entire concept of different races was destroyed. There is only one race, the human race. That only left the cultural mores to hold up the citadel of capitalist racism.

The ideological principles of capitalist racism were destroyed:
1) There is no genetic basis for racial differentiation;
2) The entire human race originated in Africa and visual differentiation was, at best, superficial;
3) The history of racism and segregation was, in fact, a history of “racial” mixing principally through the rape of Black women.

The picture of hateful, vicious Whites screaming at young high school students trying to enter their high school in Little Rock Arkansas, the police dogs, the water hoses, the bombings, the murders, all exposed the bankruptcy of the ideological structure. Once these vivid images were brought into living rooms, Whites could no longer ignore the racist oppression of Blacks in this country.

But then the plants moved South, the unions were subverted, and a new strategy was created using new code words and subtle alterations in racial ideology. Concepts of reverse discrimination, and a so-called colorblind society were used. More importantly, there was a separation of concepts; the concept of economic oppression was separated from the concepts of the oppression of women and the oppression of African Americans and national minorities.
In the development of the movement, women played a leading role in breaking down both political and legal barriers. Emmett Till’s mother refused to accept the murder of her child quietly and bore the pain of an open casket. Fannie Lou Hamer came out of the fields to lead a major political movement. This leadership linked up with the past of Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells and the Blues singers as described by Angela Davis. Angela Davis herself emerged as a major feminist leader.
The Civil Rights movement re-energized and nurtured the feminist movement and the liberation of sexual orientation. It was the power of this combination of forces that revolutionized the cultural foundations of the United States capitalism and capitalism throughout the world for that matter.

But the right wing was not standing still. Instead, the right wing began to regroup, create new concepts to justify the extant structures and build coalitions to keep political power.

Ronald Reagan perfected the attitude of coded racism, tokenism and defended capitalist racism. Opening his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1984, where three civil rights workers were brutally murdered trying to register Negroes to vote, he symbolically pronounced his support for the most vicious forms of racial oppression while verbalizing principles only of reverse discrimination and the colorblind society. In that way he could justify economic determinism which supported the most grossly disproportionate concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.

There were many unanticipated legacies of Brown. The most obvious is white flight. Who could have anticipated that whites would start leaving communities because their schools were going to be integrated? Who would have anticipated that we would find ourselves with so few African American educators as role models when other doors opened? Who would have thought that an academic achievement gap would be something that we would be talking about five decades later?” Cheryl Brown Henderson, Black Issues Book Review (6/04 – page 15).

As stated by Cheryl Brown Henderson, the unanticipated legacies of Brown were surprising. However, it could be expected that a victory of such magnitude would generate a counter attack. The Reagan conservative movement fought for these results.

Shocking as it may seem, the single greatest weakness of the full spectrum of left thought in this country has been the failure or refusal, especially by liberals, to recognize that there is a powerful and fully operational right wing in this country. Whether it is Ralph Nader or Susan Brown-Miller, these individuals look at all differences as antagonistic contradictions without accepting that differences can be nonantagonistic, capable of discussion and operational unity.

Obviously, this is a complicated social process. The right wing in this country must be fought militantly and with considerable discipline. However, because of the cultural history of this country, there are many differences within the working class. Those differences have to be struggled against but the struggle has to bring unity, not separation. Every step towards unity, however small, builds a movement.

“Racial apartheid has shaped and continues to shape the intimate lives of citizens in the United States. Most black people spend their personal social time primarily with other black people. The same is true for whites and other nonblack groups. Within all of these groups some form of color caste system exists, for example, whites valuing blond blue-eyed people more, seeing them as the epitome of beauty, or different Asian groups overvaluing fair skin. Tragically, in the midst of state-legitimized racial apartheid, in predominantly black communities everywhere, the intimate terrorism of the color caste is enacted. Children are its most vulnerable victims.

In my first women’s studies class, when contemporary feminist movement was just starting, I was the only black female. The white students did not comprehend what I was talking about when I disagreed with their assumption that at the moment of an infant’s birth (when it exists the maternal body), the first concern is the child’s gender identity. I shared with them that in black American life when a newborn is emerging from the body what is first noticed is skin color, that black parents know skin color will, to a grave extent, over determine some aspects of their child’s destiny as much as gender.” Bell Hooks, Rock My Soul, Atria Books 2003, Page 41-42

Illustration of this process of breaking down separation was provided in the Progressive Film Festival. The film “Panther Women” discussed the tactical and strategic methods of fighting against sexism within the Black Panther Party while building unity to fight against capitalist racism. To put it in Panther terms, it was necessary to fight internal contradictions in order to build unity for the fight against external contradictions.

The film festival provided these historical landmarks: Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit as a fight against lynching; Marin Luther King’s linking of racial oppression and capitalist oppression and the Black Panther Party’s fight for female leadership and against sexism within the Party along with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers fight at the point of production. The film festival provided practical and operational methods of building unity.
The Civil Rights Dinner of April 3, 2004, also provided that organizational framework. By fighting for the democratic rights of women within the NLG, we established the basis for building the broad coalition that became the Civil Rights Dinner. That coalition reenergized forces throughout Michigan.

Willie Mukasa Rick’s speech was integral to building that coalition. Historically, the Guild Civil Rights summer provided protection for field workers trying to register Negroes to vote but it also exposed the violence of segregationist oppression. One forgets that the South with the compliance of an important section of the media contended that Negroes in the South were content with segregation and it was only communists from the North stirring up problems. Mukasa’s speech reminded everyone that violence was the preferred method of social control by segregationist institutions. The success of the civil rights summer of 1964 and the Civil Rights Dinner of 4/3/04 depended on uniting with the most oppressed sections of the working class. To the extent that we separate ourselves even in the slightest manner from the vitality and militancy of that movement, we become sterile and ineffective. Mukasa’s speech provided that powerful energy.

In continuing this struggle, the NLG unites with its past history and obtains immediate credibility in current struggles. Guild members have made a choice to become advocates for the working class for individual reasons. But, in doing so, they have united with a collective struggle. Now we must look at methods for building operational unity with the African-American struggle in general and the NCBL in particular. If we are successful we can then build broader coalitions with the Wolverine Bar, the Detroit Association of Black Organizations, the NAACP, women’s groups, etc.

We are part of a bigger picture. The one factor that we must learn is that culture is far more rigid and immutable than we realize. Patterns of behavior, once learned, are passed to the next generation with only minor alterations.

That is why the conservative movement was able to reshape a racist society with new symbols and shibboleths even though the underlying concept of racial inferiority had been destroyed. The “Bell Curve” rewrote the junk science and they started all over again. They have now created a new series of lies and myths that must be destroyed.

The Guild has had a breakthrough and we now have 3 years of tentative operational unity. We must now look at building on this unity through further joint activity that can breakdown the cultural barriers created by capitalist racism.

Yours in Struggle,

Ronald D. Glotta
220 Bagley, Suite 808
Detroit, Michigan 48226
(313) 963-1320
(313) 963-1325 fax


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