[Fwd: "White Trash" -- A Spurious Category (was Re: Populism as Masquerade)]

Katha Pollitt kpollitt at thenation.com
Mon Nov 15 07:30:15 PST 1999

> Mike Yates wrote:
> >On the other question raised in connection with the exchange among Doug,
> >Cockburn, et. al. concerning militias, populism, etc. let me say a few
> >words from experience. My youngest brother is what some might call a
> >raving lunatic: sees conspiracies everywhere, lives in the woods, owns
> >guns, thinks Y2K may lead to chaos in the streets, etc. But he is most
> >definitely not a racist or an anti-semite (two of our nieces are black,
> >for which fact his own health and life have been threatened more than
> >once). He is well-read though not too systematic in his thinking. He
> >was once unemployed for several years and had to get by with odd jobs.
> >He was fired for refusing to take a lie detector test, and this whole
> >awful affair hurt his confidence and self-esteem a lot. My parents
> >helped out a lot, but this did not do much for his ego either. He feels
> >a lot of rage and directs this as best he can against the powers that
> >be: hatred of local police, diatribes against Clinton, etc. I am sure
> >there are tens of thousands of persons just like him. Are they
> >unorganizable? white trash? future militia bombers? future religious
> >zealots? Maybe. But then maybe if we had a decent left movement,
> >inclusive and democratic, maybe not. I do know that I'd trust my
> >brother to hide me if the Nazis came to town. And I'd be glad he had a
> >gun and knew how to use it.

Well, many people might hide their brothers from the nazis, but not anyone else. The examples of places where nazis actually did come to town (Germany, France, holland etc) are not too inspiring! And I don't think your brother's guns would hold off the nazis for long. If he actually shot at a nazi, they would slaughter him and you both, and arrest all his and your relatives and friends just to underline the message. The nazis were the govt, remember, not freelancing bandits, and the romantic idea that someone living in a shack in the woods --or Yoshie with a gun -- could actually defeat a nazi-like police force, or an Army, is totally counter to the facts of history and common sense. (Remember Randy Weaver, Waco -- if I remember correctly, each of those cases began with the killing of a govt agent and ended with total defeat for the armed private citizen. the Panther experience of fighting cops with armed violence wasn't a big success either). It's like when larry pratt argues that "if only" the Jews in the warsaw ghetto had been armed, they wouldn't have ended up in Auschwitz. but, of course, they WERE armed. They had a rebellion. They lost. They were murdered.

I don't mean to be cruel, Michael, but from the way you describe him, your brother sounds like he has a lot of problems, internal and external. I'm not saying he isn't a candidate for the left in some future set of conditions we can't imagine now, but a movement centered on people like him isn't going to get too far or be able to make a major social intervention. He's too marginal.

What I don't understand about the whole fascination with the leftwing potential of militia people, white guys in the woods,conspiracy theorists etc is why privilege in your thinking people who have so little apparent interest in your politics? Here are people who say they hate govt, love private property, oppose reproductive freedom (not universally but often enough), long for a vanished world of "jeffersonian" small farmers etc -- are you imagining a socialist US without a govt? Where private property is sacred? where there's no national health or public school system or public benefits for mothers and kids, abortion is illegal, the "family" is a sacrosanct unit, and so on? Where people print their own money and the law stops at the county line?

There are millions of Americans who already have the idea, without which I don't see how socialism can exist, that the wellbeing of all is a collective social responsibility and that society is everyone , including the people who live in cities, are black, are gay, don't speak English etc. Not that I am advocating this, but It would make more sense to see caregivers -- daycare workers, practical nurses, teachers, etc--underpaid people, mostly women, doing incredibly necessary work -- as the potential radicals of today's world.


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