The Movement

Latest Chapter of Anti-Racism: Tim Wise Defends Obama

One More Saturday March: Meanwhile, It's 1914 Again

The "Role" of Challenging White Supremacy

Against the WCAR Fraud: Anarchism, Racism and the Class Struggle

Kinder, Gentler Private Property


The "Role" of Challenging White Supremacy
Jack Straw
While the global movement against corporate restructuring of the world continues to draw large numbers of participants, as shown in Quebec this April, it is running into a glaring problem: its inability to formulate a coherent critique of and an alternative to corporate plans, beyond a moralistic attack on greedy businesses and a hazy suggestion of "fair trade". The movement could stand sharpening its theoretical understanding of global capital and what a socialist alternative would be. But currently, many activists, at least in the San Francisco Bay Area, seem to have other priorities.

In reaction to critiques by, among others, Elizabeth Martinez and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz ( e.g. What is White Supremacy? by Elizabeth Martinez, prisonactivist.org/cws/betita.html), lots of folks are attending workshops to combat the white racist attitudes supposedly prevalent within the movement and in general moving to confront what they see as insufficient attention to racism, sexism and heterosexism.Typical of that effort is a recent letter to Hot Tide www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/ioaa/dixon2.html by Chris Dixon. A key point of the letter is Chris's approving quote of a statement by Pauline Hwang that we should stop "making a fuss" over capitalism and instead focus on "imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy and racism".

Chris Crass, a promoter of "anti-racism" and anti white supremacy workshops within the Bay Area anti-globalization movement, makes similar points over and over, likewise quoting Pauline Hwang. In a piece he has posted at csf.colorado.edu/mail/pfvs/2001II/msg00427.html, he calls for redefining anarchism as being "in opposition to not only capitalism and the state, but also to white supremacy, patriarchy and heterosexism."

Are racism, sexism and homophobia disgustingly common and institutional in this society? Of course. Can they be found within the movement? Unfortunately yes. Are they of the same importance as capital and the state? Their existence prior to capital and perhaps the state is no indication of relative importance now, just as the older reptilian part of the human brain is not the key to understanding human thought processes. Unfortunately, both Dixon and Crass reduce capitalism and the class relation that constitutes it to just another personal identity (i.e. 'classism', as is often spouted), just another principle of stratification/inequality.

In fact, the class relation is the basic relation of the social process of capital accumulation. This is not because economic relations are the central relations of any society, but because they are the central relations under capitalism. Those who own/control the means of production face the vast majority who basically own nothing except their ability to work, then buy this ability to work with a wage, and sell the products of this work , which yields (if things work out right) more money than was spent on wages and material, so the process can be repeated on a yet bigger scale. This process is totalizing, increasingly encomapassing all aspects of living, and recognizing of no bounds to its expansion.

And capitalism did not arise out of colonialism, racism or traditional patriarchal relations. It arose in England in the late Middle Ages, not in the urban trading centers, but in the countryside. Its birth came with the Enclosures, the turning of previously unowned land (the commons) and small farms into the property of large landowners, the expulsion of most inhabitants, and the turning of the few remaining into wage workers for the new mega-farms. These were now operated with the intent of production for a market, and the accumulation of capital via competition on that market based upon the most "efficient" (ie cheapest) production.

Crass asserts that calls against power should be balanced with those for building power, since certain groups have been kept out of power.Why not also call for building the capital holdings of such groups while at it, as they have been kept out of the top business ranks? He demands "anti-authoritarian leadership" (and leadership by persons of color, i.e. leaders chosen on the basis of race - and this from an anarchist), and labels the confusion inherent in such a demand desirable and honest. Others echo the call for leadership by people who are deemed correct. The essentially alienated character of state power and social/political hierarchy is thus blurred. In a similar vein, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has called in a show on radio station KPFA for new faces on money bills, replacing the racist Washington and Jefferson with more correct people, as if the faces are the essential aspect of the social power of money. Clearly she wants to keep money, i.e. commodity relations and the accumulation of wealth.

These expressions are part of a trend that is likely to sidetrack the movement away from clarity as to the overarching system we face and into the morass of identity issues. This is precisely what the African-American radical writer Adolph Reed Jr, denounces in his book Class Notes. He talks of the mechanistic nature of this perspective's analysis of how identity is constituted, and notes how this inevitably results in an endless fragmentation of larger "essentialisms" into ever smaller ones, e.g. Crass's contemplation of what it means to be privileged on the basis of race, but oppressed on the basis of gender. He asserts his experience of this type of intervention is one whose result is the sidetracking of whatever larger (and common) objective the people assembled sought to pursue, in favor of settling identity agendas.

Reed notes how such a method of operation is just heaven-sent for opportunists, wackos and provocateurs seeking the movement's diversion or even destruction. He wonders what exactly gives the people of a certain identity the legitimacy to speak on behalf of everyone who shares that aspect of identity, and points out how this is all too similar to market segmentation by the mass media, and mainstream interest-group politics, a vital part of the maintenance of the status-quo.

Imperialism, colonialism, sexism and racial/ethnic prejudices have all been utilized by capital to extend and perpetuate its rule, primarily by fostering divisions within the "have-nots". Capital will incorporate whatever it finds already existing in society in order to facilitate its all-important drive to accumulate, and recognizes no boundaries to this drive, as it expands not only geographically but also into every facet of existence.

But its contradictory ways also lead capital to dissolve divisions when it suits its purposes, eg developing new markets, just as capital tends to dissolve national boundaries in its globalization drive while hanging on to the nation-state mechanism which is necessary to enforce the interests of national groupings of capital. After all, being non-white, a woman or gay does in no way mean the person can't be a well-functioning corporate manager or ruthless business owner.

For example, how could the role of Japan Inc, which almost became the world's leading capitalist power just a few years ago, and is still quite near the top, be explained in any way by white supremacy? While capitalism was introduced into Japan from the outside, as it was everywhere except its English birthplace, it has set up a center of accumulation there that has been highly competitive and not subservient to anyone, with its own imperialist and globally ecocidal dynamics. Note also the growing role of up-and-coming giants China and India in global capital, beyond that of mere investment zones.

Check out a current outstanding example of diversity, the Bush cabinet. I'm sure the presence of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Elaine Chow and Gale Norton in high positions surely signals a new day, as does the reaction of liberal California senator Barbara Boxer to the nomination of Monsanto executive Anne Veneman to be Agriculture Secretary:"She's a woman!" And don't forget San Francisco mayor Willie Brown's responding to growing criticisms of his extremely corrupt, all-out pro-corporate administration by trying to paint his critics as "Anglos" who are picking on a minority figure.

Capitalism could still function without racial and sexual divisions, as useful as these are . But it could not operate for a second without surplus work being squeezed out of masses of people all over the world who have been separated from the means of producing their survival needs, and who depend on self-sale for a wage in order to survive. The class system, as i've said before, is far, far more than a means of social stratification. It is the blood and guts of capital accumulation. Nor could capital function for long without continuing to turn the natural living world into dead commodities for sale on the market. This is what the movement ought to focus on at this point if it to avoid slippage into reformist dead-ends or sectarian marginalization.

(July 3, 2001)


Contact Us Copyright 2001