Those among you who live in the United States have probably seen reports of the confrontation in Charlottesville, VA between white supremicists and members of the Ku Klux Klan on one side and protesters against them on the other. There has been a good deal of commentary to the effect that Trump’s presidency is empowering and legitimating the racists, and of course that is true. But it is useful to remember that the American colonies were built on slave labor [as well as other forms of unfree labor] and lying at the heart of the United States is structural racism that persists to the present day. Indeed, one of the reasons why America, alone among advanced capitalist nations, has never had a strong, successful socialist movement [my grandfather’s efforts to the contrary notwithstanding] is that after the slaves were freed, and four million men and women well prepared for industrial, agricultural, and craft labor entered the free labor market, white labor unions struck a devil’s bargain with employers accepting lower wages in return for an exclusion of the Black workers from the workplace. Even such low wage jobs as department store sales clerk were for a long time closed to Black women, and the reason why Black Pullman Sleeping Car porters were often leaders in the Black community is that those service jobs were the best available to Black men, and hence drew the smartest and ablest men from the Black population.
The election of a Black president aroused, and right-wing media legitimated, already widespread deep seated racial prejudice. Progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders need to embrace Black members of the working class, along with White workers who are prepared or can be brought to make common cause with them. Identity politics is not in conflict with class politics. In the United States, they are inseparable.
These are depressing times.