Exterminism and the World in the Wake of Katrina
PART THREE OF FOUR
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The Crony-Warfare State
The latest in a series of scandals being tamped down with the able assistance of the mainstream media is the indictment of the Texan Bush-crony, Congressman Tom DeLay, on charges of conspiracy and money laundering. While this relates to the whole question of legitimacy, it is not (yet) a political crisis.
The interesting thing about DeLay – at least for me – is his background. DeLay is known for his scorched earth political tactics; he is even admired for his ruthlessness. Before he went into politics, he was a Houston exterminator. The Texas Toreador refers to him as “the Bugman of Sugarland.”
What can we infer about a government that heads up its own most representative federal body with a man who made his living spraying poison on bugs? Reichsfuhrer Heimlich Himmler was a failed chicken farmer. This stratum has long been the birthplace of sociopathic reaction.
Let’s compare warfare to pest extermination. Both are instrumental in the extreme – accomplishing what they set out to do with little to no regard for tangential consequences. They both objectify life for the purpose of taking it. They both expose their foot soldiers (DeLay was never that) to the hazards of operation. And they are both ecological travesties.
When I stated that the US is no longer a productive economy, it was of course hyperbole. Things are still manufactured here. Commodity-production is seen by classical economists as a question of balance. Does the nation export more than it imports, or vice versa. By all classical economist accounts, if a nation imports much more than it exports, its currency is endangered. By many mainstream political accounts, so is that nation’s security, especially when massive debts are incurred to support that nation’s continued expenditures as its currency zooms across the planet chasing cheaply-made commodities.
Xenophobe Pat Buchanan, a former Nixon aide and anti-Semitic homophobe who has professed admiration for Franco, has been warning that China’s growing pool of US debt has given the world’s most populous nation a grip on the trachea of the US economy.
But that’s not true, and the Chinese – no chumps – know this better than anyone. China, like Japan and other US debt-holders, know that selling the dollar short would crash their own central bank reserves, which are flush with T-bills. It’s a game of finance-capital chicken. The dollar-economy is worldwide. We all bluff together or we fall off the bluff together.
That’s the secret of the US’s “dematerialized economy,” which I, along with many others, have written about in more detail elsewhere. The economy is not dematerialized at all. You are likely reading this on a material computer, nibbling on material food, dressed in material clothes, and inside a material house. There has been an international division of economic labor realized, in which the US consumer is required to buy Wal-Mart’s shit, which is made in China or some other Dickensian paradise, in order to complete the virtuous cycle of global capital.
The transnational ruling class is largely American. It is “transnational” because it operates overseas, not because it is diverse. With the military power of the United States to ensure its overseas assets, and dollar hegemony to ensure the repatriation of currency, they have moved productive platforms offshore to widen profit margins, driven by their own cannibalistic competition. US exports are relatively low, but US capitalists have five times more assets overseas than they do in the US itself.
But there has to be some production in the domestic economy, even when dollar-hegemony makes the stuff we build too expensive for other nations’ people to buy – and ourselves, too.
There has to be some kind of market for the stuff produced more expensively in the US, so the US state creates surrogate markets (in the face of its own grand pronouncements about the invisible hand of supply-and-demand). The US massively subsidizes its agricultural exports – to the outrage of the rest of the world that the US consistently punishes for the same thing. And the US has created a huge and cancerously growing consumer surrogate for other “goods,” and that is the Department of Defense.
Much of this materiel is pure shit, by the way, making many high-dollar weapons systems a cosmic money-sink. Lockheed-Martin’s F-22, for example, is the most expensive airplane in the world ($300 million a copy). It’s legions of detractors – which include many former fighter pilots – call it “Tiffany’s on wings.” Not only does it constitute a waste of many rare minerals and a history of corrupt contracts and cost overruns, the US has had to bribe other nations with more money to get them to buy the thing. It has never performed correctly, and will likely never see combat unless someone blows one up on the airfield – doing its pilot a tremendous favor.
Now there’s a support the troops concept!
Lockheed-Martin pulls in an average of $228 per American household every year.
Agri-subsidies and weapons contracts go hand in hand. We can starve ‘em or we can shoot ‘em. Peripheral nations are increasingly incapable of food self-sufficiency because they entire economies are directed to getting dollars (through export) to pay usurious perpetual debts denominated in those dollars. Then they have to float further loans to buy subsidized food produced in the US.
New Orleans is the major US export terminal for both agricultural products (60%) and military technology (The largest buyer is Israel, but the US peddles military technology around the world – even knowing we will eventually see it used against us.). When the port closed in the wake of Katrina, these industries both made panicked calls to Washington – which threw gas on the fire of no-bid reconstruction contracts for the Bush administrations buddies.
This port is so critical that the Export Administration Act prohibits any boycott activity against it – to include prohibiting interaction with countries that are involved in boycott-like activity against Israel. WECO Agencies, a Louisiana firm, was fined last year by the US government for a 1993 trade with Lebanon when that country still boycotted Israel.
Of course, the biggest purchaser of US-manufactured military hardware is the US state itself. It is a massive shell game of no-bid, cost-plus contracts, the pillaging of the public sector to increase “defense” spending, and the aforementioned international debt profligacy. In the unhidden costs of war spending, the US government spends the equivalent of $6,000 a year for every man, woman, and child in the country.
Hmmm. Maybe the war-tax resisters are onto something.
In 1997, I was at a meeting at Chapel Hill about organizing the Labor Party. Left luminaries with roots in the labor movement were there, and there was a sense that this, at last, was the idea that would break through the post-1990 metropolitan malaise that smoldered off the collapse of the Soviet Union and the embrace of Dickensian capitalism by China. It was octogenarian pacifist and physicist Joe Straley who elected to be the skunk at this party, if you’ll indulge my zoological allusions, by asking, “Does anyone notice the elephant in this living room?”
He was talking, of course, about the fact that the Labor Party program mentioned not one word about either war or the bloated US war industry. The reason, of course, reluctantly admitted by Adolph Reed who was there as a Labor Party rep, is that there is scarcely a productive industry of any scale left in the United States that is not vitally linked to what is satirically referred to as defense spending. Even if the company is not Northrop Grumman or Lockheed-Martin, who make the majority of their money on high-dollar weapons contracts, there are innumerable companies who rely on the contract for ripstop nylon, Angora goats (used as patient models in medical training), eggs (to prepare a million breakfasts each day), dehydrated strawberries – and the list goes on almost endlessly – for the margin of profit upon which they depend to remain viable as capitalist enterprises.
The US economy, quite literally, would collapse if the Department of Defense closed down. This is a very tough pill to swallow for pacifists, leftists, deep-libertarians, and others who might like to see precisely that. It is not a happy circumstance that our very social stability is now predicated upon military power (which is being called into serious question in Southwest Asia right now) but also on the Romanesque venality of “defense” contractors and the parade of generals who enter their ranks upon completion of uniformed service.
This form of “military Keynesianism” as it is inaccurately called has been going on to one degree or another since the end of WWII, but it has been expanded dramatically as a compensatory measure ever since the crisis of the late 60s and early 70s.
Extraterrestrial anthropologists who are dispassionate about outcomes may be watching us right now, wondering what happens when the key maritime export facility for US agricultural products is closed down by a hurricane, the vast majority of the population is turning against an oil war that has already been lost, a million new displaced persons are poised as long term unemployed in a frangible shell-game economy, racial-national contradictions have been suddenly exposed by a disastrous and racist occupation of an American city (posing as a relief effort), more fictional value will be inevitably pumped into the world economy in the form of more un-payable loans to the US through its treasury bills, and the Visa-card storm clouds gather over middle America – now hefting the greatest personal debt burden in the history of the species.
Escape to the Sunbelt
The principles – however contradictory – of liberal democracy that are associated with productive capitalist economy were rendered obsolete by the crisis of the early 70s, when that crisis was resolved the only way available, by lifting the controls off of the financial pole placed there in the wake of the Great Depression.
Peter Gowan, wrting for Critical Asian Studies in September 2005 (“Triumphing Toward International Disaster”) noted that “it is far from obvious that a state devoted officially to the social power and values of the business class and openly and directly controlled by the leaders of that class is actually the optimal form of capitalist state. It can, instead, become a state devoted to the immediate gratification of the desires of business people to the exclusion of all the other considerations that a capitalist state should concern itself with. There are plenty of symptoms of this kind of problem at the present time. The emergence of leaderships capable of resisting immediate gratification of the business class in the name of longer-term goals that require reorganizations unpalatable to powerful business coalitions is very difficult in the United States.”
While Gowan cites the defeat of William Jennings Bryant by William McKinley for president in 1896 as the nodal point for the first triumph of American “business ideology,” the post-WWII reassertion of this ideology as a real political force comes with the election of Ronald Reagan – the first post-WWII president to bury the nation in debts to aggrandize giant weapons contractors.
The military budget has acted as a crucial counter-cyclical fiscal policy tool in macroeconomic management — a functional alternative to a large welfare state repertoire of instruments.
Military spending has also acted as an important lever of industrial policy by offering a protected state market for large industrial sectors, ranging from aircraft manufacturers like Boeing to the big car companies and many other, largely civilian sectors, as well as armaments contractors.
Military spending has also acted as a very important center of state research and development (R&D) spending, which, though formally devoted to military R&D (plus “dual use” R&D during the Clinton period), in reality provides a central mechanism for generating new high-tech sectors in the national civilian economy.
Military spending has also been an important way of binding the American South into the American state through the large role of southerners in the military, the large numbers of U.S. bases in the South and Sun-Belt states, and the significant military-industrial activity in the South/Sun-Belt (in addition to California).
The defeat in Vietnam did lead to a serious split in the governing elites of the American state in the 1970s, but the militarization of the United States was not, in the end, reversed. On the contrary, it was eventually reinforced by the Reagan administration in the early 1980s. (Gowan)
It is interesting that Gowan talks about the Sunbelt in this regard, because this is the region that includes East Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi where we just saw the face of malevolent racialized neglect in the wake of two storms.
It is also where two other significant things happened that conditioned this shameless exercise of exterminism within the boundaries of the United States. It is where Richard Nixon – who oversaw the (exterminist) last stages of the US occupation Vietnam – led the Republican Party to capture the mantle of “party of white supremacy” from Southern Democrats, a process that was capped off this year when Tom DeLay and the Texas Republican Party redistricted Texas to ensure Republican Congressional majorities there into perpetuity.
The militarization and political re-ascendancy of the Sunbelt are but two symptoms of a deeper historical process.
Privilege and Colonization
One can’t help but ponder not just the obvious about the Gulf Coast’s National Guards that were off in Iraq during Katrina, whose members had to sit by helplessly wondering about their own families, neighbors, friends, but about how much relief could be provided, and how effective an evacuation might have been mounted if the total assets of the US military had been available and put to use.
Cuba evacuated 1.4 million people in advance of Hurricane Dennis, a Cat 4 that hit them in July, and suffered 16 fatalities (the greatest number for any storm since 1963). That’s because Cuba not only invests in disaster preparation and strong civil defense, but because there is a social commitment to medical infrastructure, high literacy levels, and government support of community organizers, to mention a few of the reasons.
We did the free-market evacuation, an unenforceable order for people to leave under their own power – by private automobile – after it was too late. Cuba is resource poor. The United States is resource rich. Figure it out.
An Oxfam report on Cuba’s response system notes the following as “intangibles” that make the difference:
• social cohesion and solidarity (self-help and citizen-based social
protection at the neighborhood level)
• trust between authorities and civil society
• political commitment to risk reduction
• good coordination, information-sharing, and cooperation among
institutions involved in risk reduction
• attention to the most vulnerable population
• attention to lifeline structures (concrete procedures to save
lives, evacuation plans, and so on)
• investment in human development
• an effective risk communication system and institutionalized
historical memory of disasters, laws, regulations, and directives to
support all of the above
• investments in economic development that explicitly take potential
consequences for risk reduction or increase into account
• investment in social capital
• investment in institutional capital (e.g. capable, accountable, and
transparent government institutions for mitigating disasters)
The reaction of the US government to Katrina was an ugly snapshot of exterminism. You’re on your own… if you’re poor (and especially Black), too fucking bad.
There was also no more stark a picture of the African American national question, to my mind, than seeing Black families in New Orleans roaming through the poisonous floodwaters in search of survival. African America is only one disaster away from third-world status, and we can see clearly how Black people are the vast, vast majority of those who were left behind, without transportation, by the free-market evacuation. The White Nation managed by and large to get out. The Black Nation was left to fend for itself.
The poor whites among these refugees have been effectively excluded from the White Nation by their class, but the fact that they are “white” does not change the essential reality of race as a national question – discernable only through the twin lenses of privilege and colonization.
Looking at the whole question in light of Katrina’s aftermath, it becomes much more difficult to shazam away the national reality we witnessed on the devastated Gulf Coast. Historically, empirically, dialectically, subjectively… doesn’t make a bit of difference which method you use, the scenes from places like New Orleans, 80% under a toxic soup that the EPA has said couldn’t be cleaned up with the equivalent of the US Gross National Product, are scenes from the African Diaspora and scenes from a colonized nation.
Jordan Flaherty, reporting from the zone on September 2nd , wrote:
In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through, it would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside (we were told) evacuees would be told where the bus was taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas (for example), even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp.
“I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers, Salvation Army workers, National Guard, and state police, and although they were friendly, no one could give me any details on when buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to, or any other information. I spoke to the several teams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been able to get any information from any federal or state officials on any of these questions, and all of them, from Australian to local Fox affiliates complained of an unorganized, non-communicative, mess. One cameraman told me ‘as someone who’s been here in this camp for two days, the only information I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. You don’t want to be here at night.’
I cannot imagine this “plan” for a destitute mass this size if they were mostly white folks.
Or such a response. On the news, white families foraging through flooded convenience stores for food and water were said to be “recovering” food. Black families doing exactly the same thing were called “looters.” The organs of commodified information were clamoring for control of this deracinated mass of black bodies — get law and order back, even though the city is gone, was a more urgent cry than finding those who were still trapped in their sweltering attics, slowly dying of dehydration and vascular collapse… children the most vulnerable.
Bush spoke on September 2nd in response to the mounting wrath at how the Federal government has responded, and all he could think of to say was, “We are going to restore order in the city of New Orleans.” He knows his White nationalist base well, and that was all he had left. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, at his wits end with diplomatic restraint had to be bleeped on the radio when he said, “They don’t have any fucking idea what’s going on!”
Louisiana’s Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu, a fully-owned political subsidiary of the oil industry, was being interviewed by Anderson Cooper of CNN on September 1st. Cooper, normally the insufferable news model offspring of the Vanderbilts, had been immersed in the post-Katrina reality of New Orleans for four days prior to the interview, and the reality had pierced the shell of privilege around his own heart. Landrieu offered some insipid remark about “Anderson, tonight, I don't know if you've heard – maybe you all have announced it – but Congress is going to an unprecedented session to pass a $10 billion supplemental bill tonight to keep FEMA and the Red Cross up and operating.”
“Excuse me, Senator,” interrupted Cooper, “I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that, because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.
“And when they hear politicians slap – you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there's not enough facilities to take her up.”
Even from the mouths of the press…. such was the hellishness of these scene to the innocent sheltered eyes of White America. Rats eating corpses.
The emergence of the American Empire has taken a terrible toll on many people, many nations. I’ll be the last to argue for competitive oppressions. Each was unique in its particulars, and each the same in its purpose — the capitalist must continue to make money, continue to expand, and the capitalist state must continue to ensure his access to materials and — most critically — human beings to work and valorize his capital.
When people are excess to that process, when they become surplus people, they are sent away and left to die – exterminism.
In New Orleans, where there was 40% illiteracy in the Black Nation, and a terrible job shortage, petty crime and drug use were survival industries that also serve to feed the Dantean slave-mill of Angola State Penitentiary. Now, with Katrina and poverty displacing them, we can pretty well expect the speculators and developers to come in and make good on Bush’s weird promise today that this would lead to a “more beautiful Gulf Coast.” First slaves, then sharecroppers, then meatpackers, then service workers and convicts… now Indians – thrown off the land.
The Black Nation is a colony of the White Nation, as is the Brown Nation now re-forging itself out of multiple Latin American Diasporans in the Sunbelt.
Past as Present
What is unique about African America is that this nation traces back a history of captive immigration. There were no potbellied Minutemen volunteering to guard the border and prevent them coming in. The market had resolved the question of how to make a proletarian an instant and complete 24/7 commodity. Import-slavery.
We can say whatever we want to claim this is merely the past, but the descendants of these Africans did not draw a single property line on an expropriated continent. The “white” bourgeoisie — and White became the national-racial identity, since it no more a scientific category than bodily “humors” — drew the lines, passed out the land they had expropriated by force of arms, and proceeded by fits and starts to construct the intergenerational wealth that today can be counted — not anecdotally, but statistically. “White” net worth in the United States is 14 times that of Black net worth, and when a Katrina happens, this translates into the capacity to escape, to re-establish some measure of autonomy, and to reconstruct one’s life. It reflects the ability of families apart from the disaster to intervene and assist with that recovery.
During Reconstruction, when the Black nation was being forged out of the charred remains of Atlanta and the blood-soaked battlefields, New Orleans became a unique place in that nation. African Americans managed to gain a toehold in the city, even in the face of renewed white racial terrorism with the 1877 collapse of Reconstruction. And before the Civil Rights movement achieved many of its national goals, as early as the 1950s, the Black community of New Orleans had established a complex institutional infrastructure that gave this community political influence.
Reconstruction is important in this discussion because it not only forged a Black nation inside the territorial boundaries of the US, it was a period when the “white” working class — and not just the ruling class, as some schematic lefties would have it — continued to forge the White national identity as well.
The American Civil War would resolve, once and for all, what class would determine the direction of US development. An old order – the planter class that oversaw the political separation from Britain – now faced a challenge from its own offspring. New geography, new demographics, and new technology – and the emerging industrial bourgeoisie of the North – had been born of the plantation, nursed at the breast of the Cotton Economy, and was now grown strong and demanding the keys to the state.
Revolutions happen only when conditions bring together economic, political, and military crisis. Lacking that complete combination, the most that happens is a restructuring of the existing order, an adaptation, a re-structuring of the same power. The cataclysm of the American Revolution set in motion the unfettered evolution of Northern machine manufacture – an economic amplifier for cotton production in the slave economy. But the two predominant and contradictory forms of production could not share a political system. Slavery and the tributary economy of sharecropping existed in direct contradiction to the “free labor” dynamism of the industrial capitalist North. A Second American Revolution, the Civil War, followed quickly on the heels of the first.
Contained within this titanic power struggle that would unleash the bloodiest war the world had ever seen, were millions of sullen slaves, heads bowed before the gun and the lash, but waiting and watching.
Haiti’s successful slave-led revolution in 1804 had simultaneously quickened the American slave’s will to insurrection and the slave-owner’s terror of slave revolt, and the repression of slaves in the South became even more ferocious.
The Haitian Revolution smashed the foundations of the white supremacist ideology. Reconstruction would give the lie to white supremacy as well.
With the military defeat of the Confederacy, in a matter of a mere two years, Black civic and political organizations proliferated with blinding speed across the South, especially the Black Belt – so called because of the dark, rich soil from which slave labor had extracted profits for the planters. Under the nominal protection of Northern occupying troops, many Black themselves, the newly liberated slaves – aware of the need for their own institutions to achieve self-determination – created self-help organizations, schools, became active members of the Republican Party, published newspapers, organized banks, established “burial societies, debating clubs, Masonic lodges, fire companies, drama societies, trade associations, temperance clubs, and equal rights leagues.” (Eric Foner, “Reconstruction,” pp. 95)
Blacks also established churches. White churches that allowed them at all, still clinging to the markers of white privilege, segregated white and Black in the church. So the Black church became the focal point of Black collectivity. Social, economic, and political leadership in Black communities sprang from the independent Black church. The Black church linked “blacks across lines of occupation, income, and prewar status… offered the better off the opportunity for wholesome and respectable association, provided the poor with a modicum of economic insurance, and opened positions of community leadership to men of modest backgrounds.” (ibid.)
Through the coming decades of shifting social conflict, high spots and low, to the present day, the independent Black church has persevered as the locus of community life – for good and ill – where a distinct community identity was forged in resistance to the pressures of persistent white supremacy.
It would also be the most reliable Black institution within the white-capitalist society. Blacks would never control the means of social production, so Black churches became the vehicle for social mobility, and therefore the occasional battleground for power within the Black community. The church became a point of resistance to white supremacy, and at other times, opportunist leadership within the church would collaborate with the White Nation. The Black church quickly developed into a patriarchal establishment where internal battles between liberation and accommodation trends, which corresponded to the interests of developing classes among Blacks, would be fought out.
Such is the nature of colonialism. Read Fanon.
More than any other factor, the intractable nature of white supremacy as a practice would maintain the solidarity of these institutions through all their internal tensions. And it was this gradual recognition by Blacks in the United States that they would never be allowed an equal partnership – even with so-called white allies – that led to the emergence of Black nationalism. This idea was a direct reflection of the lived experience of Blacks, now cohering into a homogeneous community that was only still partly African and not fully integrated as American, but African American. With the decisive defeat of Reconstruction, and the literal consignment of African-Americans to colonial status within the South with codified segregation, Black national consciousness put down deep roots that persist to this day.
The period of Reconstruction, officially from 1865 to 1877, with political consequences that weren’t decisively reversed until 1898, was turbulent, contradictory, and complex.
Black nationalist consciousness was only dim when Reconstruction began. The early development of Black civil society was a heady and hopeful time, when Blacks were demonstrating a rapidly sophisticated grasp of issues and organization, and asserting these often in the face of furious and violent reaction – reaction that was egged on by the bitter remnants of the planter class, who would never miss another opportunity to inflame and alarm whites of every class about the perils of “Negro power,” but also — as Ted Allen and David Roediger and others have pointed out — with the active and sometimes leading participation of the “white” working class.
Blacks fought for social and political power, and developed a society within a society. The desire of Blacks to determine their own future was constrained economically and politically within a larger, white-dominated system, that was itself undergoing a radical reconstruction – one based on the needs of a new Northern-dominated industrial bourgeoisie, based on fortunes grown fat with… war profiteering.
Lincoln dimly recognized the dangers these profiteers posed even before the Civil War was over. In 1864, he wrote to Colonel William F. Elkins and said, “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. … corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
While Black civil society hitched its hopes to Federal Republican repression of the post-war planter class, the Republican Party itself — an eclectic mix of unionists, abolitionists, proto-libertarians, utopian socialists, “free-labor” advocates, and now Blacks — came under the powerful financial influence of big business. Much like the Democratic Party of today, the Republican Party was ratcheted to the right, subordinated to big business, and led to court Black voters at election time, then betray Black interests when they were brokering power.
This is the dynamic of an internal colony yet largely unconscious of its distinctly colonial status.
The ideology of white supremacy was deployed by Democrats as the twin of an anti-federal government ideology in the South, a coupling of ideas that persists to this day. The paternalism of much of the white Republican support for Blacks – reinforced by the unofficial and official systems of white privilege – soon suffered a kind of “compassion fatigue.”
When Blacks didn’t “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” (ignoring of course not just economic disadvantage, but escalating violence, including the organization of a Southern planter militia named the Ku Klux Klan), white Republicans began to recite from the chapbooks of biological racial superiority. Even the movement of white feminists, formerly the allies of abolition, opportunistically attacked the Black franchise, and resorted to crude racist appeals.
In the mid-1870s, on the heels of a period of wild economic speculation, the United States was gripped by a harsh depression. Economic hardship sharpened class differences between “free labor” and industrial capital, and between small farmers and the predatory lenders of the day. In response, the Grant government, which was now filled with appointments from the new dominant class, pushed for Westward expansion to relieve the tensions that had begun to break out in strikes and riots. By 1876, there would again be talk of Civil War.
Even Westward expansion was class war from above.
On June 27, 1876, President Grant received disturbing news. On June 17th, the Lakota Sioux leader, Crazy Horse had defeated an incursion by General George Crook in South Dakota. Crazy Horse had then linked his forces with Lakota chief, Sitting Bull, and on June 25th they trapped General George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry in the valley of the Little Big Horn and annihilated them.
Federal forces could no longer be spared for the increasingly ineffective occupation of the South with an indigenous rebellion in the West delivering tactical defeats to the US Cavalry.
In 1877, Reconstruction was officially ended. The white capitalist establishment – once providing allies for Black liberation – now left Southern Blacks to the tender mercies of a bitter planter class and the New South bourgeoisie, in order to more effectively pursue genocidal expansion in the West.
In some places along the Black Belt, the gains of Blacks had been consolidated, and Blacks held political office even after 1877. With the deepening severity of an economic crisis, however, and the behind the scenes promotion of racist ideology by both planters and New South bosses, white labor largely embraced white supremacy to secure some elements of white privilege by excluding Black labor.
Black Republicans then found themselves in a marriage of convenience not with white free labor, but with white small farmers – the basis of the anti-monopoly Populist movement – and a powerful fusion politics emerged, especially in the Carolinas, but also in places like New Orleans, uniting white Populists and Black Republicans.
The southern Democratic Party then became the political home for an alliance of planter and New South industrialist – both now threatened by this black-white coalition – and the Democratic Party then declared itself the “party of white supremacy.”
The decisive defeat of Reconstruction coincided the defeat of Louisiana fusion candidate for Governor, John N. Pharr, by Democrat white supremacist Murphy James Foster in 1896. Jim Crow arrived in New Orleans with that election, and had been thoroughly codified into law within a decade.
One aspect of racism seldom discussed at any length is the potent psychological poison of the Calvinist male terror of women’s sexuality, and the irrational transference of that sexual anxiety to a bestialized Black male. Progressives often don’t understand the significance of it, but racial demagogues have always understood its power.
The campaign of the Democrats against Black-Populist political power was based on lurid images – oft repeated – of Black men ravishing white women. This image became the cornerstone of the ideological assault on “fusion”, the on Black political rights altogether. Ultimately, the violent defeat of Fusion and the last vestiges of Black political power in 1898 was launched as a campaign to protect “white womanhood,” and Reconstruction was done away with once and for all.
Populism was co-opted with the carrot-and-stick combination of racial privilege and punishment for “racial collaboration.” The Black community, after showing the world its vitality and dynamism in the post-Civil War interregnum, became an occupied people within the United States.
Those who claim there is no direct line from slavery to the present are not only wrong, they are trying to jump over Jim Crow. Slavery ended in 1863. It took Jim Crow another 100 years to reach its legal end, and it has been re-imposed through economic warfare since then.
It wasn’t long after the end of Reconstruction that Black nationalism became explicit, and with it pan-Africanism. Garvey and DuBois leapt onto the scene, one emphasizing the national character of Black America and the other talking about unity across the African Diaspora — pan-Africanism. These currents became the theoretical expressions of the lived experience of national oppression and collective solidarity for African America.
Torn from their African history, yet struggling to make their way after manumission in North America, Black people in the United States at the turn of the 20th Century were neither wholly African nor incorporated with full citizenship into the American social and political body. Yet there was a distinct and cohesive community that had emerged in the interstice of Reconstruction along the former plantation stronghold of the Black Belt, and that community — oppressed, exploited, and reviled as it was — maintained its distinctive coherence as a both a colonized people and a self-supporting community. It was Fanon’s settler-native construction turned on its head.
It took Garvey to call it a nation, but it took DuBois to point out that a national minority could not pursue a struggle for self-determination against a national majority except in an international context. across the African Diaspora, and linked to the anti-colonial struggles around the rest of the world.
Oppression built the Black Nation in the South, and privilege built the White Nation throughout the United States.
Privilege blinded the “white” working class to their latent solidarity with Black workers, and not only the trade union movement, but many white-led revolutionary formations that were midwifed out of the Great Depression either actively excluded Black participation or relegated the Black Freedom Movement to a secondary status.
Privilege is vehemently denied by most white people, but the reason privilege is repeatedly acknowledged in the overwhelming rejection of the modern Republican Party by Black folk – regardless of class – is that this privilege is “felt on their skin.”
The sharp variance between Black and White net worth, the stark differences in mean income, and the population demographics of the American prison system, are all visible manifestations not of mere prejudice, but of structural colonialism. Just as there is unequal exchange between the core and the periphery in the world system, that unequal exchange exists inside the US and is one source of material privilege for the White Nation.
The privileged victories of the “white” working class over and against the Black, Brown, and even Asian workers were Pyrrhic at any rate. The existence of the South as the preserve of white reaction created the refuge to which Northern industry retreated from powerful, Northern-based, white-male led unions, and now the United States has the lowest unionization levels of any core nation. What’s left of the labor movement are a collection of feuding white men – splitting the AFL-CIO this year – who share a history of selling out their own membership in a bureaucratic orgy of collaboration with the bosses, and fusion with an ever-more-inept and marginalized Democratic Party.
The shift of political dominance to the American South and Sunbelt was based directly on privilege and colonization.
This is the history that culminated in Anderson Cooper observing rats feeding on the floating corpse of a woman on September 1, 2005. This is the essence of colonization… and the basis of a struggle for national liberation. Under the Republican Party after Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the war profiteers were effectively re-merged with the ideology of white supremacy, and they have achieved their zenith under this administration.
Alf Hornborg describes imperial privilege as the entitlement to “appropriate space and time,” and he describes the imperial-core/exploitable-periphery relation as one where the core imports wealth and orderliness, while it exports disorder, poverty, and waste. The white citizens of New Orleans – and who can blame them – jumped in their vehicles, gassed up, and headed north away from Katrina’s ruthless power. They appropriated space and time, using the universal equivalent of money. Those without the money and the cars, they are left behind, trapped in space and time to face the social disorder and to wade through the carcinogens, mutagens, and embryotoxins.
The material basis for all society is a finite planet subjected to the needs now of almost 7 billion people. The political viability of the current regime is based on preserving the privileges and illusions of the American White Nation – its political base. So the exported disorder in the peripheries inexorably encroaches on the core nation’s space as the pace of extraction and exploitation is augmented. The cities fill to bursting with ever more sullen masses. War itself is transformed from discrete if deadly episodes between nations to the war of a transnational ruling class headquartered in a hyper-state against throngs of billions – economic war, cultural war, and offensive war.
When that fails, they will go after the White workers who will have been the former “middle class.” If they come for me in the morning, they will come back for you in the afternoon.
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