Political Struggle and Racism Was: Re: I am not a racist

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Wed Apr 28 04:50:16 PDT 1999

Jim heartfield wrote:

> Reading Doug and Carrol's points about racism I hesitate to trespass on
> beliefs so fundamental, but nothing ought to be above debate, so forgive
> me.


I have argued before on several lists that there are only "racisms," no racism. That is, the racism of the United States is not (at least necessarily) the racism of the UK is not (at least necessarily) the racism of Australia or France or Japan (it almost certainly is *not* the racism of Japan, about which I know little execept that it exists, and exists powerfully).

I speak only of the racism of the United States of America, about which I have a good deal of historical knowledge/understanding. (I am radically anti-empiricist and anti-psychologistic enough to dismiss my own experience except when it is supported, illuminated, and made intelligible by historical analysis.)

The political issue at stake is whether a working-class movement in the United States can be successful beyond the limits of its struggle against racism both in the society as a whole *and within its own ranks.* I don't think it can. Bill Fletcher is only the most recent of a string of powerful analysts who have argued (I think established beyond reasonable doubt) that the CIO drive of the 1930s had as its limits the willingness of its leadership to make anti-racism a core component of its organizing.

I will allow myself one remark from personal experience -- but it is also supportable by a good deal of historical argument. The anti-war movement of the '60s had a number of crippling weaknesses -- but the failure to recognize fully the threat of racism to all organized resistance activity was perhaps the greatest of these weaknesses.


Jim heartfield wrote:

> Reading Doug and Carrol's points about racism I hesitate to trespass on
> beliefs so fundamental, but nothing ought to be above debate, so forgive
> me. As a general point it seems to me that both of you are so bewitched
> by racism that you seem to grant it supernatural powers that rise above
> mere human history, to become 'all-pervasive' and ever present. (I was
> reminded of the hymn, 'immortal, invisible God only wise')
> First on the 'all-pervasiveness' of racism.
> Carrol and Doug both resist my rendering of their belief as one that
> racism is uniform and undifferentiated (guessing that this leads
> logically to a quietistic view that racism is unassailable, a trap they
> want to avoid). But their resistance is token.
> >Who said anything about it being "uniform" or "undifferentiated."
> Challenges Carrol. But all-pervasive implies uniform: Its singular form
> is that it is all pervasive. And then he goes on to show the way that it
> is differentiated:
> >the main (differentiated) form it takes is that of making
> >it a merely individual thing
> But this is clearly a sleight of hand. Carrol does not believe that
> racism is an individual thing, only that it presents the false
> appearance of being such. Consequently he means that it appears
> differentiated, but is not.
> Similarly Doug:
> >It takes different forms at different times & places. There's no pure
> >racism apart from a given culture, class structure, etc.
> A formulation which pays lip service to historical materialism, but only
> really to dismiss it. Something that
> takes different forms at different times & places
> is a pure racism, an essence or idea that simply assumes worldly guises
> at different points in mundane history.
> As to the nod towards Marx's formulation
> >Sort of like class society, which is the history of all hitherto existing
> >societies, but which take many different forms.
> I always thought that this was a poor formulation on Marx's part, one
> that tended to substitute Hegel's 'idea' with a dehistoricised essence
> of 'class struggle'. But in any event, the idea that racism is something
> that has existed in all societies just strikes me as wrong, and
> ultimately to be fatalistic, like those apologists who say that it is
> just human nature.
> To put it bluntly, racism is a modern, capitalistic ideology, quite
> distinct from the petty parochialisms of feudal society, or the rigid
> hierarchies of ancient slavery. Clearly identification with one race is
> not something that the Anglo-Saxons felt towards their Norman ruling
> class.
> Second on the 'we are all racists' argument.
> I realise that anyone who challenges this argument makes Carrol angry
> >the most disgusting form of racism, the form which
> >is the chief barrier to fighting it, is the form which includes (implicitly
> >or explicitly) the claim, "I'm not racist."
> But I take a different view. Rather I would say that anyone who thinks
> that racism is an insurmountable human condition is apologising for it.
> Carrol's argument is a bit like the psycho-therapist's trap, 'you're in
> denial'. If you disagree, then that just shows that you are a racist.
> But it seems to me that Carrol wants it both ways. First he says that it
> is not a personal thing, but a social thing. And then he puts great
> premium upon one's personal beliefs. The way I see it, I am not
> interested in anyone's personal prejudices, unless they put them into
> action in supporting racism.
> My prejudice that Carrol's view of racism is drawn from psycho-analysis
> is reinforced by this formulation:
> >the first step in
> >being
> >an anti-racist is to admit to yourself that you are a racist.
> Anyone who knows drug counselling or alcoholics anonymous will recognise
> this piece of psycho-babble. This is nothing to do with the political
> struggle against racism, and everything to do with personal redemption.
> Maybe Carrol is troubled by such demons. I'm not.
> But more to the point this is an utterly crapulous strategy for fighting
> racism. It is all about personal guilt (which as Freud said is pure
> self-indulgence) and nothing to do with addressing the problem.
> Over here it is commonplace to ramble on about how we are all guilty of
> racism. Politicians do it here all the time - and then prove it by all
> voting for the new asylum bill! Every English police chief that makes a
> public statement now prefaces their remarks with the guilty admission
> that the force is 'institutionally racist' (as Merseyside's Police Chief
> did last night, and London's last week).
> The ideology of collective guilt doesn't stop anyone from being racist.
> I would have thought that the German example would have demonstrated
> that by now. 'Oh yes, we're all guilty' was the official government
> policy. But that did not stop them refusing citizenship to Turkish guest
> workers.
> In Carrol's formulation racism is some kind of psychological
> predisposition that we can never overcome. He should know that the AA
> pledge is only a secularised form of the religious dogma of original
> sin, that man is fallen from grace. I take a sunnier view of things.
> There is a problem. Let's deal with it. But erecting it into an all-
> powerful fetish that can never be beaten is not really the best way to
> address a problem. It's the best way to wallow in it.
> --
> Jim heartfield

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list