ontology of class and race? (was Alabama and Tibet (?))

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Wed Jul 8 13:36:37 PDT 1998

I don't know why I am so easy to tease.

> PS. I saw your name in the Nation's letters section in reference to the
> critique of the Alertman's column. I thought you would support his
> position, no?

> Regards,
> Wojtek

Wojtek you saw the full letter I wrote to the Nation; after all, I submitted it here. The most laughable thing about Alterman's reply is promulgation of the New Deal as the kind of class politics he supports over identity politics. I don't have the Nation with me, so from what I remember...

First, he simply ignores on-going research of how the New Deal explicitly disenfranchised blacks by disqualifying the job categories in which they were over-represented from (I believe) social security and unemployment insurance (Jill Quandango); that is, he ignores that identity politics often attempted to universalize his beloved New Deal (Piven and Cloward's latest book) and that his identity politics foes are every bit a New Deal liberal that he is. By holding up the New Deal as paradigm without even mention of its limits, he shows himself to have not a clue about a major impetus of black identity politics.

And today what is all this stuff about the rights of domestic partners if not an attempt to universalize the kind of class reforms he supports? Or aren't black struggles against ghettoization attempts to redress the racism in the FHA attempts to make housing available for the working class? It's often the very attempt to universalize the 'class' reform he supports that explains the identity politics he despises.

He seems to forget that due to the limits of the New Deal and the exclusion of millions of workers from the corporate manor (as Sanford Jacoby calls it), a disproportionate number of women and people of color have been left in the cold, as Nelson Lichenstein tries to remind him; and that identity politics can thus be a contribution to universalizing the kind of narrow class reforms he promulgates.

Secondly, I think Robin Kelley is correct to point to the narrow limits of his vision of class reform. Alterman wants to fit everything into what the DP and AFL-CIO can possibly deliver and then call everyone else a loser.

Thirdly, he ignores all the other more economic problems with the New Deal. We can talk here of the monstrosity of how food prices were supported by the destruction of food and the eviction of sharecroppers; or we can talk about the limits of New Deal underconsumptionist measures to solve the Great Depression until all those war orders solved the overproduction problem in the capital goods industries.

At any rate, I think I will have to read Rhonda Levine's (sp?) The Class Struggle and the New Deal before getting deep into this debate.

Aside from this, I think the guy is obnoxious prepster. I don't see how Robin Kelley was trying to play the race card; and the snideness of his reply to Pollitt surprised even me. I do think he has not a clue of how much hatred or latent hostility a black person, a woman, or lesbian or gay person often encounters from simply acting in a dignified and open way. I don't think I am the only one who sensed that latent hostility in his own column.

best, rakesh

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