The Intersection of Class and Race and Its Impact on the Struggle

September 22, 2015


We are a movement propelled by ideas. Ideas of fairness, morality, decency those are the foundations of every position, the very basis for every one of our analyses. But the structure of our discussion, the impetus for our actions is an ideological frame work to implement a strategy with tactics to coincide with the ultimate or at least the immediate goals.

That ideological framework necessarily includes a relationship between class struggle and the struggle for racial liberation. And the two do not coincide. As a result, our tactics and strategy are often in conflict with those two struggles as they manifest.

Unfortunately, we are severely hampered by the absence of a voice. The corporate media frames the issues, sets the agenda. When that agenda is set, most often it is set for a conflict between the struggle for racial liberation and the class war that’s going on in this country.

For instance, if a young innocent man with his pants around his butt is viciously attacked by an undercover cop and thrown to the ground, it is not news. But if James Blake is attacked, it is news. Yet it is equally unfair and probably happens more often to the former. The result is that racial oppression not class oppression is recognized as unfair and immoral. More importantly, it means no one identifies with the young man with the “wrong” style. To add another dimension: assume he had done something wrong. Then through the distorted logic of the corporate media, the action of the police officer is “justified.” “Justified” even though said action is in violation of the constitution and any sense of fairness.

Because James Blake allows a discussion of race, not class, that becomes the issue as framed by the corporate media. Even worse, the corporate media has eliminated consciousness of class questions. They have even eliminated the vernacular of the working class. Certainly, they never talk about class war unless it’s in disparaging terms. We now only discuss the “middle class.” By implication, those not in the middle class have no rights. In this ideological frame work, those in the so called lower class are at fault and through the prism of the corporate media, have no rights. Those in the lower class have done something wrong and that is why they are there. The entire zeit geist prohibits working class solidarity.

This corporate framing of the issue has the effect of defining legitimate leadership and the issues that arise from that leadership. It means that two groups emerge in terms of providing leadership. One group I would label as petty bourgeois leadership. That is the professionals – lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc who have a stake in defining race as a sole issue. The second group would include the super militants from those rejected by society. They establish leadership by hostility and anger. In both cases, the importance or even the existence of working class unity becomes non-existent. Super imposed on this impossible situation is capitalist individualism. The media the cultural impact of the capitalist and corporate media establish the principle that the individual is all important. As a part of this matrix of individualism, advertising hammers away minute after minute, hour after hour, and day after day. It turns individualism into consumerism so that there is no collective consciousness. The objective fact is that the one percent creates our society, and the violent culture that we live with. Collective action against the one percent becomes daunting at best.

It is that undertow that drags us against the tide. It is that undertow that progressive leadership must develop and consolidate. The problem is that progressive leadership is subject to the same forces of individualism and opportunism. The progressive movement faces two problems: 1) defining the leadership we need; 2) how do we develop that leadership and finding a way to support that leadership.

We need leadership that has an economic analysis. Not a simple analysis that the economy fails to provide jobs. We have answers for the absence of jobs. It is those answers and those demands that progressive leadership must provide.

Unless we address the issue of class and its extant war against working people and have programs that will alleviate the class oppression caused by capitalism, we have no viable programs to stop police brutality. The programs now miss the target. Civilian control of the police force, demilitarization of police departments, better training of police officers are not programs that address the fundamental problem with policing in this country.

Under capitalism, the police are in place to oppress and suppress a population that economically rejected by a system that is only interested in immediate maximum profit. That system either fails to provide jobs or if provided the jobs are insufficient to make a decent living. Poverty causes violence. Charles Dickens proved that even without the incendiary element of race with its history of slavery, lynching and Jim Crow. In many ways, the racial oppression mixed with class oppression has generated a culture of extreme violence.

Because capitalism demands the suppression of a large sector of the working class, the police forces in this country are designed to be violent. Until we address the reality of capitalist exploitation; better training or civilian control are bandaids on a cancer. We must develop programs that address racial oppression and class exploitation simultaneously.

Obviously, if we are to address police brutality we must demand a $15 minimum wage which would be of enormous benefit to the great majority of working class African Americans. This demand must be not only a part of the discussion but must be front and center.

Because of the financialization of capitalism, bankers, hedge funds and their ilk control the supply of capital. Therefore, progressive leadership must demand a 2% transaction tax. That is simply a sales tax on the sale of stocks and bonds. After all, we pay a 6% sales tax. That tax would produce $1 trillion per year. In addition, it would reduce high frequency trading which is robbing the system of important capital. High frequency trading is simply gambling with our money. If they lose we pay. If they win they keep the winnings. In fact, it was the gambling and excessive leverage that led to the 2008 collapse. At that time, the operatives of the 1% demanded an immediate payment of $600 billion. The demand for a 2% transaction tac would immediately respond to the inane question – how can we pay for it.

Working people are already paying for mass incarceration, militarization of the police and the concomitant cultural corruption that attends these policies.

As progressives we need a demand to nationalize or restructure all those banks that are too big to fail by their own definition. 2008 set that definition. We need to demand state banks. We only have one state bank and that is in North Dakota. It has been very successful and was absolutely opposed by all the bankers in this country. State banks would provide needed capital to the intercity entrepreneurs.

The purpose of this analysis is to indicate that any discussion of race must provide a sophisticated economic program that would provide relief such that criminalization can be done away with. These programs would eliminate the necessity to incarcerate those individuals without jobs.

Relative to the question of jobs, we need a federal work program that would use thousands perhaps millions of workers to go to every house in this country, every apartment in this country and do an energy analysis to make these places energy efficient. The advantage of that is that it would reduce the cost of energy particularly in a intercity and reduce the need for energy such a program would also bring in those focusing on environmental issues. Such a federal work force can only be developed by the federal government. There is no profit in this process. In fact, the energy companies would probably be opposed to such a program.

Then as a part of any progressive leadership we need to demand an end to student debt. The banks have mortgaged our minds.

The question is how these programs speak to the issue of races. That is the very point. These issues speak to the intersection of race and class. No one can deny that these programs would be a tremendous benefit to working class African Americans. Their program would therefore or at least hopefully build working class leadership.

By demanding that all leadership and especially African American leadership address these issues would confront opportunism particularly within the African American community. Too many African American leaders propose programs that will allow them to pull the ladder up after them. It is not just Clarence Thomas and Ward Connolly and their ilk who block working class African Americans. Leadership of that ilk permeates every institution and every rung of our societal institutions. Until leadership requires an economic analysis directly relating to racial issues, the opportunists will continue to eliminate the discussion of class in this country. The corporate media will require that result.

In fact, if the organization of Black Lives Matters or for that matter any militant African American organization would put forward such a program, the attack would be that it does not address the issue of race. That would be done to ensure that race would be separated from economic questions.

To counter that attack, the conscience leadership could demand reparations with payment to all people making under $100,000 a year. That proposal would unite or could unite the great majority of workers behind African American leadership.


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