My reflections during this morning’s walk were triggered by a portion of a comment made by Ed Barreras several days ago. Here is what he wrote:
“T***p's campaign exhibited a particularly virulent form of racism, from his conspiracy theories about Obama to his disseminating false statistics about black crime (and we all know "black crime" had its own tag on Steve Bannon's Breitbart News). Some were able to dismiss this as a misdemeanor; others thought it was closer to a capital offense. I guess we all have to decide for ourselves. But what I find interesting is that when it's pointed out that Hispanics and (especially) blacks support Democrats in overwhelming numbers, the paternalistic assumption is that this must be due mostly to identity politics -- as if blacks cared only about the Civil Rights Movement two generations ago, and not at all about economic policies in the present. And yet when it's pointed out that maybe white people are subject to identity politics coming from the other end, everyone balks and starts hurling accusations of liberals being overly obsessed with race. “
I am having a good deal of difficulty coming to terms with the election results and trying to decide on the best course going forward. As is so often the case, I find it useful to begin by reminding myself of what I have learned from Marx. If we set to one side the Labor Theory of Value, the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to fall, and other such arcana [on which I have written two books and a number of lengthy journal articles, so don’t get me started], we can sum up what Marx taught us in three simple propositions:
1. We human beings live by collectively using our labor and our intelligence and accumulated knowledge to transform nature so that it yields the food, clothing, shelter and other necessaries we need to survive and flourish.
2. Recorded human history teaches us that in all societies a small group appropriate the lion’s share of the collective social product, defending their appropriation with the state, the law, the military, and the police, and justifying it to themselves and those being exploited by appeals to religion, to gender, to race, to nationality, and, alas, to philosophy.
3. Capitalism is distinctive both in its enormous and continually expanding productivity and in its ability to present a surface appearance of equality and fairness, so that those being exploited find it difficult to penetrate this surface in order to recognize the underlying exploitation that defines their life chances and condition.
These three propositions are self-evidently true and can be recognized as such as soon as they are enunciated. To them Marx added a fourth proposition which held out hope for a better future.
4. The inner logic of capitalist development is self-defeating in two fundamental ways: First, the centralization and rationalization of production necessitated by ruthless competition have, as a byproduct, the unification of the working class, who come into contact directly in factories and workplaces and learn to see their bosses rather than each other as the enemy; and Second, the conflict between the increasing socialization of the production process and the unyielding privatization of ownership and control of that process triggers a series of ever more severe economic crises of over-production and under-consumption, which go hand in hand with the ever greater unification of the working class. The inevitable result of these two tendencies is the overthrow of capitalism, in the wake of a world-wide economic crisis, by a unified working class and the establishment of a truly rational society in which the benefits of the collective labor of men and women redound fully to those who perform the labor.
As I have explained at some length in my paper, “The Future of Socialism,” this fourth proposition has turned out to be false in several fundamental ways. First, the persistence of a hierarchical and segmented labor force has fatally impeded, and even reversed, the development of a unified working class. Second, capitalism has proved more nimble and adept at managing its repeated crises than Marx [and others] anticipated. And Third [most particularly relevant to Ed Barreras’ comment], the passions of gender, of race, of religion, and of ethnicity have proven far more powerful and deep-rooted than Marx and many other late nineteenth early twentieth century social theorists anticipated.
Let me descend from the abstract and general to the concrete and particular. In America today, by and large, the Democratic Party defends programs and policies that protect and advance the interests of the least well-off Americans: raising the minimum wage, extending health insurance, protecting workplace safety, fighting for equal pay for women, defending union rights, and so forth. Not enough, God knows, but whatever is on the plate nationally and politically that helps workers has been put there by the Democratic Party. All of this is fought tooth and nail by the Republican Party. The Democratic Party regularly receives the votes of millions of men and women who are doing quite nicely in the present grotesquely unequal economy – people like me, for example. The Republican Party regularly receives the votes of millions [or tens of millions] of Americans who rely on the policies implemented by Democrats – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the minimum wage, etc. – despite the fact that the Republicans are committed to undoing every one of those policies.
Now look, this makes no sense, does it? I spend my life working for government programs I do not need and could survive quite well without, trying with pathetic eagerness to win the support of people who desperately need those programs and will be destitute without them. As Thomas Frank memorably said in What’s the Matter With Kansas, the peasants grab their pitchforks, march on the castle, and shout loudly, “We have had it, we are fed up, we demand that you lower taxes on the rich!”
At this point, I returned home and took off my reflector vest, my hoodie, my scarf, my two pairs of mittens, my two sweaters, my thermal underwear, and had breakfast. I will continue these reflections later.