Bob Wing

‘The White Republic’: Concluding Thoughts by Bob Wing

‘The White Republic’: Concluding Thoughts by Bob Wing
Sharing is caring...Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Email this to someone
email
Print this page
Print

Multi-racial, multi-class forces united to defend the November 2020 election, and Pennsylvania was a key battleground. Photos from Pennsylvania Stands Up.

By Bob Wing

Many thanks to the editors of Organizing Upgrade for coordinating responses to my essay, “The White Republic and the Struggle for Racial Justice.” And special thanks to Bill Fletcher, Jr., Gerald Horne, Erin Heaney, Peter Olney and Rand Wilson, Van Gosse, and Barry Eidlin for their thoughtful and comradely contributions to the discussion.

The respondents agreed that “white republic” is an accurate historical and strategic concept. Most used their responses to deepen, refine, and or apply it to their organizing work. They are well worth the read but too numerous for me to respond to here. However, I believe that a class realignment strategy, as outlined by Barry Eidlin, divides the antiracist forces and diverts the left from the historic racial justice struggle, so I will respond to it at the end of this note.

FASCISM HAS A HISTORICALLY SPECIFIC FORM IN THE U.S.

I think the terms “fascism” and “fascists” are overused and overbroad. More importantly, history itself has now produced a more specific concept that is also better understood publicly: “racist authoritarianism.” In other words, the specific form of authoritarianism and far-right populism in the U.S. is not fascism but racist authoritarianism. And the specific name of the U.S. version of fascists is white supremacists/nationalists. MAGA movement is also on point. Trumpism or Trumpists are best used when it is made clear that the main content of these terms is racist authoritarianism. It is also likely that a powerful white nationalist movement will survive Trump. Finally, some people use the term “New Confederacy,” which I am not quite ready to adopt though I see its attractions.

THE STRUCTURE OF WHITE MINORITY RULE

In my essay, I briefly discussed some of the critical remaining racist political institutions: the Electoral College, the Senate, gerrymandering, and various forms of voter suppression. I explored these in more depth in a previous essay, “Notes Toward a Social Justice Electoral Strategy.”

Here I want to brand this system of institutions as the “structure of white minority rule.” Without them, we would be thrashing the Trumpists. With them, we have a winnable but grueling fight ahead.

Notably, each of these institutions is part of the system of federalism enshrined in the Constitution that, among other things, purposely empowered the slaveholders at the expense of democracy.

The size of each state’s congressional delegation determines the number of votes it gets in the Electoral College. Thus, the notorious constitutional rule that counted each slave as three-fifths of a person even though they were disenfranchised enabled slaveholders to augment their representation in Congress and the Electoral College.

Today, the Electoral College still subverts the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote. It effectively disenfranchises about 40% of the national Black presidential vote when white Southern reactionaries outvote African Americans and thereby garner all of the electoral votes of most Southern states for the Republicans. And it gives three times as much weight to an electoral vote from small-population (primarily Republican) states as large (mostly Democratic) states. As a result, the Republicans have held the presidency for twelve years since 2020 despite losing the popular vote in all but one of those elections.

The Senate is composed of two Senators from each state, allowing the numerous small states, now overwhelmingly Trumpist, to lock in their power. Ian Millhiser, writing for Vox, calculates, “the Democratic half of the Senate represents 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half.” Thus, even if we eliminate the filibuster rule, the Senate is a bulwark of racist authoritarianism. Still, we can and must win the Senate.

Similarly, racist gerrymandering and voter suppression laws enable Trumpists to control state legislatures and congressional representation even when they lose the popular vote.

UNITED FRONT, POPULAR FRONT AND DEMOCRATIC FRONT

In my essay, I invoked the concept of the united front as the principal opposition to the racist authoritarians. In the 1930s and 1940s, that concept referred to building strategic unity among different working-class forces within the advanced capitalist countries. In most countries, that meant unity among social-democratic (and socialist) parties and trade unions and communist parties and unions, which together dominated the working-class movement in Europe. In the original conceptualization, the popular front was the multi-class front of all peoples’ forces against fascism, and it excluded big capitalists.

However, in my opinion, the most progressive political forces and movements in the U.S. have been multi-class for at least half a century: for example, the movements of Black people and other people of color, the multi-racial antiracist movements, the women’s movement, the movements for climate and health justice, against war, for LGBTQ rights, etc. Moreover, although working-class forces have been present in each of those multi-class groupings, they have been far weaker and less politically advanced than in Europe and the U.S. in the 1930s. At that time, they were undeniably the leading and most powerful movement.

Thus, although building the working-class movement, including working-class poles within the multi-class movements, is a crucial priority, it is likely that Black-led people of color and antiracist movements will continue to be the main anchor of the people’s movement.

Finally, I believe capitalist forces are crucial to defeating the MAGA movement, and I do not think this will change anytime soon either. By capitalist forces, I refer to most elite Democratic Party elected officials, funders, think tanks, and operatives; the mainstream media and corporate cultural institutions; large, moderate non-profit organizations and funders; liberal colleges, etc. It is significant that, so far, the only giant corporate entity publicly aligned with the Trumpists is Fox and that the mainstream media is virtually unanimous in opposition. Although the left and progressive forces have made massive gains over the last 10 years, we still have little to take the place of the crucial role those forces and institutions play.

Consequently, I purposely used the term “united front” to refer to multi-class forces united to defeat racist authoritarianism and fight for an antiracist democracy. And I believe it compels us to adopt another strategic concept that recognizes the breadth of the anti-Trumpist alliance, including capitalists: the democratic front.

Yes, including capitalists in the democratic front tremendously complicates unity and struggle dynamics within that front, with constant class struggle. But, in my opinion, that is the political reality on the ground, regardless of whether we recognize it conceptually.

Making strategic and tactical unity-and-struggle decisions regarding various capitalists is, in fact, a crucial task for virtually every social justice organization in the U.S. It is a constant in electoral, community, policy, and labor organizing and fundraising, and media work. It is almost impossible to seriously engage, let alone win any campaign, without making smart decisions about which capitalists might align with our immediate goals, which are unalterably opposed, and which might be convinced to stay neutral. This critical work is a combination of winning powerful allies and dividing our opponents.

 

Consequently, it is far better to consciously and strategically deal with this reality rather than allow it to blindside us or facilitate a devastating Trumpist victory by making enemies of all capitalists. We can only build the social justice movement if we can navigate the complex unity-struggle dynamics with powerful allies, even if those allies sometimes undercut, block, or even outright attack us. But, of course, this alignment of forces will almost certainly change once the white nationalists are defeated and before we win an antiracist democracy. In short, politics are in constant motion, and we need to be alert to changes that require changes in strategy and tactics. But this is my read at the moment.

Soon, I hope our movement will name itself (as the far right has) and replace the clunky concepts that we now work with. The Rainbow Coalition once accomplished this. Black Lives Matter is a significant step in that direction. Our ability to agree on a powerful identity will mark our maturation and unity and be crucial to our further development.

CLASS VS. CLASS IS A LOSING STRATEGY

I believe the strategy proposed in Barry Eidlin’s response to my essay divides the antiracist forces and diverts the left from the frontlines of the historic struggle now raging. But his and similar views are influential in the Democratic Socialists of America, which, as a national organization, still holds back from making its potentially weighty political contribution to the fight against racist authoritarianism.

Eidlin states that he agrees with me that: “Clearly any movement for social and economic justice in the U.S. must place the struggle against racism and white supremacy at its core. More specifically, it’s hard to find fault with his assessment that ‘race is the pivot of U.S. politics’ and that the contemporary Republican Party has doubled down on naked, overt racism as its fundamental appeal.” He also positively invokes the concepts of “racial capitalism” and “the white republic.”

However, the article’s strategic punchline omits all of those racial justice affirmations in favor of the class struggle between workers and capitalists: “The goal of today’s antiracist alliance should not be to array one cross-class alliance against another. Rather, it should be to realign the entire conflict along class lines.”

The lynchpin of this class strategy is a belief that racial oppression and white privilege are merely ideological, not systemic, structural, or material. Eidlin writes: “Does this mean that racist domination of Black and indigenous peoples was and is simply an instrument of economic exploitation? Far from it. Ideologies often take on a life and logic of their own once established.”

This consignment of racial oppression to “ideology” has significant consequences. Only class exploitation is considered the “material base” and, in Eidlin’s framework, is far more important than ideology. He does not consider the vast economic and social differences between whites – capitalists and non-capitalists alike – and people of color to be “a material basis of racism” since they are not, in his view, class exploitation. This analysis leads to an antiracist strategy designed to “realign the entire conflict along class lines.”

By contrast, I believe a strategy that seeks to realign antiracist struggle to class struggle rather than directly confront systemic racism and the racist state is ephemeral at best and racist class collaboration at worst (expressed, for example, in the practice of the American Federation of Labor until fairly recently).

Eidlin acknowledges that rabid exploitation of African slaves and seizure of Native land were the chief purposes of racism in the U.S. But he ignores the development of the system of white privilege that gave white supremacy its unique shape, political dynamics, and power in this country, including racist state power.

The thirteen colonies and the U.S. were the only slave societies that produced a stark racial polarization based on the one-drop rule. And the United States was the only former site of African slavery that later legally instituted and enforced, often by white terror, a systematic Jim Crow color line of white supremacy/white privilege and Black oppression throughout its economy, society, and politics. Consequently, while sharp racial disparities, discrimination, and colorism are rife in countries where Europeans enslaved Africans, racial politics are far more potent in the U.S. than in the others, and the U.S. is the only one I consider to be a white republic.

BEYOND THE MATERIAL BASE

The capitalist “material base” alone cannot explain any of these unique historical developments or comprehend their specific politics. Racist exploitation and white privilege have, from the beginning, led to the creation of a vast system of economic, political, legal, and institutional structures that permeate every aspect of U.S. life. Its politics cannot be comprehended in class terms alone.

Finally, the proposed class realignment strategy downplays the power of millions of Black and Latino(a) non-working class people who possess less net wealth than white high school dropouts and whose lives do not matter to racists or the racist system. A class-versus-class strategy diminishes the grievances and political importance of the millions of non-working class whites who oppose racism. And it underestimates the crucial role of tens of millions of white workers who, as we speak, are going to the mattresses for Trumpist racist authoritarianism.

In short, this strategy weakens the antiracist forces and oversimplifies the racist forces. The left needs to take history and politics as the basis of analysis and strategy rather than squeezing reality into a theory.

Should we ever win socialism and eliminate capitalism in the U.S., significant racist stratification of the working class and society, racial profiling, and voter suppression will undoubtedly continue. So we will need to continue to systematically root it out and defeat the racist forces within the working and middle classes that promote it.

Sharing is caring...Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Email this to someone
email
Print this page
Print

13 Comments

Leave your comment
  • Meredith Tax
    Meredith Tax July 14, 2021 at 6:45 pm

    I agree with most of this essay, but the main thing I want to say is that it and the pieces written in response, all have what seems to me the same blind spot: a failure to note the leading role that the feminist movement and LGBT movement are playing in fighting the right–usually under the leadership of Black feminists and trans people.

    The US left has tended to see the women’s movement only as a stripe in the rainbow. But the women’s movement is its own united front, including a wide variety of political and class positions. That is why it is always being trashed by the “class against class” people. But the 2016 Women’s March, the continuing struggle for reproductive and trans rights, and the huge demonstrations for Black Lives Matter illustrate the potential and centrality of women’s and LGBT leadership at this time.

    A longterm strategic alliance between feminists and the left could potentially make the progressive movement strong enough to achieve its goals. But socialists have seldom given this kind of recognition to autonomous women’s movements or seen its possibilities without wanting to control it, and and in very few places has the feminist movement has been able to make its demands central enough to affect the general direction of the left. The Kurdish freedom movement is the only one I know that has fully integrated feminism and is trying to set up an autonomous socialist region in Northeast Syria (Rojava) that is both pluralist and democratic. The US left has a lot to learn from their struggle. For more information, go to https://www.defendrojava.org/

    • Bob Wing
      Bob Wing July 15, 2021 at 9:38 pm

      Agreed! Thank you, Meredith.

  • Andrew Stewart
    Andrew Stewart July 15, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    I read this with interest but ended with disappointment. For all the talk of “materialism,” there’s no acknowledgment of the material engine of reactionary politics and chauvinism in the USA: bipartisan austerity!

    Furthermore, what differentiates this abstract ideal of a multi-class united front from the historical material reality of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign? Didn’t that include all classes, nationalities, and sexual/gender advocacy groups alongside all the major Wall Street endorsements? Didn’t everyone from Richard Trumka to Lloyd Blankfein endorse Clinton? Call it a popular front or united front, the sad fact is that a majority of people in key swing states thought Clinton was just a front. As such, they voted for a white nationalist that spoke undeniable truths about Clinton’s endorsement of NAFTA, TPP, and other policies that have pulverized the living standards of workers and made their lives miserable. I live in RI. Look at the electoral returns for a state that has a significantly high union density. That’s not going to change until we quit dancing around the fact that the Democrats have been half the problem when it comes to bipartisan austerity measures in the past three decades.

    • Bob Wing
      Bob Wing July 17, 2021 at 12:56 am

      I agree that the bipartisan consensus for austerity was a centerpiece of racist politics and policy since Reagan. However, the Republicans have exited that consensus in favor of racist assault and authoritarianism and Biden has proposed replacing it with significant new social investments. The bipartisan consensus has been ripped to shreds.

  • LEO CASEY
    LEO CASEY July 15, 2021 at 7:50 pm

    I think the general strategic orientation of this essay — and in particular, the criticism of the class vs. class position put forward by Barry Eidlin — is on target. I do agree with Meredith Tax’s comment above, that the complete absence of a discussion of feminism and LGBTQ movements is problematic. I understand that the main focus of the essay was on race and class, but surely we know better than to think it is possible to discuss either of those two questions without any mention of feminism and LGBTQ movements.

  • Hilton Obenzinger
    Hilton Obenzinger July 16, 2021 at 6:12 am

    The formulation of two fronts – a united front of working class forces and a democratic front – is very valuable. Thanks for articulating that.

  • Jacob Swenson-Leygel
    Jacob Swenson-Leygel July 19, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks for this valuable piece, Bob.

  • Rick Saling
    Rick Saling July 26, 2021 at 4:34 am

    What are your thoughts on divisions within the capitalist class? Which seems especially important for forming a “democratic front”…
    I’ve read of many different proposed divisions and which sectors might be part of such an alliance.
    An extraordinary phenomenon right now is the vocal support for BLM and anti-racism by many major corporations. This is really the first time in my life I have ever seen such a thing, it was certainly NOT the case during the 2nd Reconstruction/Civil Rights movement. Seems to me unlikely that all these corps will be part of a democratic front, especially the CIA with its “woke” commercial, the military, and presumably a lot of the military industrial complex, who are all claiming the mantle of anti-racism.

    I guess what I am asking is: do you see any persisting class divisions within the capitalists? Or is this something we will have to figure out in the context of specific campaigns? My recollection from reading Dimitrov is that he did distinguish between consumer-oriented industries, and heavy industry, in terms of support for fascism.

  • EFIA NWANGAZA
    EFIA NWANGAZA July 31, 2021 at 9:17 pm

    just frontin’

  • Jeanette Gandionco Lazam
    Jeanette Gandionco Lazam August 4, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    Bravo! Well written and deeply understood. I guess this Edilin fellow doesn’t believe that the US working class and middle class are not tainted by racist politics, economics, ideology, etc. and the anti racist struggle is merely a class struggle…hmmm. My example: One day while marching in a demonstration to support the FLMN in El Salvador. This guy comes outta of a neighborhood bar and yells at me to “GO BACK WHERE I CAME FROM IF I DIDN’T LIKE IT HERE!” Mind you we were marching through the Mission District! I turned toward him and yelled back. “YOU YELLING AT ME?” “YOU WANT ME TO GO BACK WHERE I CAME FROM?” “YOU STUPID, IGNANT, IDIOT YOU MUST MEAN I GOTTA GO BACK TO NEW YORK CITY!” He slowly slithered back into the bar.
    I rest my case!

  • Guy A Berliner
    Guy A Berliner August 7, 2021 at 2:26 am

    I am still unconvinced that there really is a powerful segment of the capitalist class in the US that is prepared to “go to the mat” to support small “d” democratic institutions. Take Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s congressional kingmaker. We just watched him intervene to crush popular sovereignty in a state he doesnt even live in, while claiming to abhor the Trump driven fascist onslaught on voting rights. I hope he’s really being sincere about the latter sentiments, but I have a lot of cause to doubt that he is prepared to invest more than a miniscule fraction of the kinds of energies he has put into championing the cause of the big bourgeoisie into defeating out-and-out fascism. If he really were that committed, he’d be pressuring Biden non-stop. He is, afterall, the single man Biden basically owes his presidency to.

  • Guy A Berliner
    Guy A Berliner August 7, 2021 at 2:37 am

    For that matter, listen to the rhetoric coming from the old guard reactionaries of the Democratic Party establishment in places like Buffalo, NY, where their power is being seriously threatened for the first time in generations, and they sound for all the world a lot more like the Trumps and the Keiko Fujimoris of the world than they do advocates of small “d” bourgeois democracy. Or take Seattle for another case in point: the big bourgeoisie there is actively attempting to engineer a quasi-legal coup d’état against that city’s first elected openly socialist officeholder in a generation, by deliberately orchestrating a recall campaign to fall during the lowest possible turnout off-cycle election they can, even though they had the ballots to qualify it for November: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2021/08/kshama-sawant-socialist-recall-seattle

    • Bob Wing
      Bob Wing August 10, 2021 at 3:16 pm

      The obvious fact that many big capitalists and pro-capitalist politicians do not support a strong progressive or antiracist agenda should not obscure that most oppose Trump’s racist authoritarianism and are a key force in that fight. There is and will be struggle inside the democratic front between different class and political forces, but hopefully in the context of unity against the white supremacist forces and agenda.

Leave your comment

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap