The "Role" of Challenging White Supremacy
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
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
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
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
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
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)