The social, economic, and historical bases of the reactionary political
consciousness of the working class in the USA.
I have glanced at the current discussion about the reactionary 'nature' of
the working class of the United States, and would like to make a few comments.
The first two historic, social and economic, building blocks of the
reactionary consciousness of white workers in the USA were: the USA is a
settler state; black chattel slavery.
The working class of the United States never has formed a cohesive, self
conscious class. Part of it has always been closely attached to the petty
bourgeoisie, conscious of its self interest in the gains and conquests of
imperialism, and utterly reactionary in its political consciousness - even
when it was very militant in its own economic self interest.
This part, the aristocracy of labor if you want, historically was white and
This part of the working class is similar to the white working classes of
other settler states: South Africa, the Jewish workers of Israel, Canada,
Australia, New Zealand.
Their privileges historically were based on the plunder of the land of
another society, and the enslavement, genocide, and racial oppression of
those who lived on the land. And in the case of the USA, on the additional
factor of the wholesale enslavement and kidnapping of people from another
The first white workers in the United States were indentured servants, who
fought tooth and nail to end their indentures - but not usually to end the
slavery of their black brothers. Instead they fought to join the white
landstealers and murderers carving out farms from lands expropriated from
the native American tribes.
Later generations of white wage workers, followed the same path. The Irish,
oppressed by the Protestant majority, fought to gain the same privileges as
their oppressors. And did so.
Later waves of white immigrants, followed in the footsteps of the Irish.
The dividing line between white workers and black, Asian, Latino
(especially Mexican) and Native American workers was never seriously
breached until the Second World War.
The second great historical fact which has absorbed and built open the
first, is the emergence of the United States of America as the dominant
imperialist power of the world. This occurred in several 'stages': 1)
premodern imperialism, which began when the Brits landed in Virginia and
lasted until the American Civil War, (and continued after the civil war in
unity with the emergence of modern US imperialism. 2) the transition to
modern imperialism, US Civil War to WW1; 3) the transition to world
dominance, WWI to Hiroshima; 4) the 'cold war', 5) US victory in the cold
war and globalization, 1980's until the present.
Each of these transitions was pushed on by the class struggle within the
previous period (although not the class struggle between workers and
capitalists in the earlier stages.)
The extreme militancy of the settler state workers in stage 2 - I refer you
to the great strikes and mini-civil wars of the late 19th century from the
railroad wars and general strikes to homestead and on to the Western
Federation of Miners - was one of the pressures pushing the emergent
capitalist class into expanding their investments outside of the borders of
the USA. Their ability to achieve social stability at the end of the
period was due to their success in that effort.
Similarly, the extreme militancy of the white workers during the 1930's ,
who for the first time made some real efforts to include black and Latino
workers in their ranks, was essential in pushing the imperialist capitalist
of the USA into WWII - which they, the capitalists, fought as a war for
world domination. And which they won.
The subsequent victories of US imperialism strengthened the reactionary
consciousness of the US working class, and even made it possible to
incorporate parts of the black, Latino, and Asian minorities into the
privileged sector of workers, and into the petty bourgeoisie.
The privileges of the imperialist, settler state workers are very real and
have a very powerful effect on political consciousness: ownership of a
house with electricity, running water, a TV, computer, refrigerator, and
maybe a swimming pool; a car, a pension plan, some shares of stock, a bank
account, a university education (for the kids at least.)
However, this story may be at its end. Globalization, the transcendent
victory of US imperialism, is undermining the economic basis of privilege
for the imperialist working class.
Now they will fight to maintain their privileges. That fight undoubtedly
will split them: one sector will side with the proimperialist petty
bourgeoisie in an effort to return to the past. Pat Buchanon.
Another sector will ally with the oppressed, and more oppressed workers.
They will turn against imperialism.
This was the split that emerged briefly in the 1960's and early 70's, that
will - in my opinion - become the demarcation line of the class struggle in
the USA in this new century.
A final note. In this very summary note, I have emphasized the 'objective'
causes of the reactionary consciousness of the white working class of the
United States. I believe the 'subjective' factors, were secondary in
determiningg what has happened. They are not secondary in another sense,
because they are the part of the story we, marxists and revolutionaries,
can have some effect on. Our history of fuck-ups (and outright betrayls)
great and small isn't something I dismiss, even if I think that part of
history (in the USA) was secondary to the 'objective' factors.
All the best, Anthony
Marxism-Thaxis mailing list
To change your options or unsubscribe go to: