Any understanding of privilege in America has to begin from a scientific understanding of American history. The social position of the white worker was created at the inception of this country as a result of the capitalists' demand for labor and the need to control its exploitation. The legal system, social institutions and the ideas of society were reshaped to divide white and black workers from one another by granting social privileges to one group over the other. The 'bribe' was made possible by the ever expanding American economy. Imperialism, and particularly post-World War II imperialism, provided the wherewithal to create and consolidate privileged upper strata of the working class who were heavily bribed and controlled by either business unionism or a raft of 'misleaders' who tied them to the ruling class. History made this section of bribed workers predominantly white. The ideology of race was one of a set of ideas that served to buttress the economic system by unifying whites and masking the reality of class differences among them. In order to carry out this racial division, the reality of white poverty had to be covered up. Poverty was made to appear "black", and poverty among whites was seen as a result of personal failure. Under the these conditions regardless of how heroic their attempts might have been at different points in history, it was not possible for workers who were unequally exploited to unite.
The historical role of the South is pivotal to our understanding. Violence and brutality swept the South in the years after the Civil War, fostered by the forces of the victorious Northern industrialists and financiers. These tactics were not simply aimed at keeping whites dominant. The ruling class sought first and foremost to guarantee the subjection of the South as a region, and the colonial exploitation of the Black Belt in particular. The imperialist North inherited and utilized white supremacy of the defeated South to keep it subjugated. Throughout the twentieth century, this colonial relation guaranteed that racism and its results were never uniform throughout the country. A black worker in the North was very often better off economically, socially and politically than his or her white counterpart in the Black Belt South. Thus, it was not a simple question of all whites were better off than all blacks. It was rather a matter of the threads of history, the brutality of economics, and the demands of politics that gave shape and substance to the development of racism in the twentieth century.
We are now entering a new historical epoch. Electronics is throwing the formerly bribed workers into poverty right along with impoverished whites, blacks and other minorities. The mass of African Americans who form the core of the new class and the growing number of impoverished whites joining its ranks unmistakably have common interests which grow out of not only morality, but objective economic interests. Class unity is now possible.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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