To win victories requires unity. Communists understand that well, but so do corporate America and the far right. Thus they work overtime to divide the people’s movement.
They pit employed against the unemployed, men against women, straight against gay, believers against nonbelievers, workers against welfare recipients, native born against immigrant, old people against young people, labor against environmentalists, occupiers against election activists, and white people against people of color.
Each of these deserves some elaboration, but what I would like to do is focus on the fight against racism.
Racism is the most persistent and pernicious form of division in our country. It creates a fault line in the labor and people’s struggles that, if not overcome, irredeemably weakens them.
Racism appears in structural and ideological forms. It is more than prejudice or attitude. It rests on the systematic elaboration of the notion of white superiority.
This notion has its origins in, and is sustained by, racist practices and structures that confine people of color to a subordinate status relative to white people in nearly every area of life.
Much has been said in recent years that the country is in a post-racial era. The only problem with this claim is that there is little evidence of it.
By every social measure people of color find themselves in inferior conditions. A quick glance at unemployment rates or life expectancy rates or wealth accumulation rates or incarceration rates or poverty rates offers ample proof of this fact.
Nor has racism in its ideological form abated. Perhaps its contemporary expression is different than it was a half century ago, but its essence hasn’t changed.
In a column a few weeks ago, Pat Buchanan wrote:
“Can Western civilization survive the passing of the European peoples whose ancestors created it and their replacement by Third World immigrants? Probably not, for the new arrivals seem uninterested in preserving the old culture they have found.”
He doesn’t say segregation now and segregation forever, but it is a hardly concealed appeal to the worst instincts of white people.
Buchanan is not a lone voice in the wilderness however. Since his election President Obama has been the object of open and unrelenting racist vilification by the Tea Party and others.
“He’s not a citizen,” “he’s in over his head,” “he’s Hitler in a black face,” “he’s a tribesman,” “he’s a dick,” “he’s your boy,” and on and on.
All of these vile expressions of racism pollute our political culture, rationalize the harsh conditions in which people of color live, fatten the corporate bottom line, and sustain the rule of the most reactionary sectors of our society.
It is also the ticket of the party of white supremacy – the Republican Party – to return to the White House next year.
This racist ideological offensive attempts to convince white working people that they share common cause with the reactionary right.
But there is no evidence for this claim. While the program of the extreme right falls especially hard on people of color (cuts in people’s programs, denial of voting rights, obstructing jobs legislation, etc.), it also negatively impacts on white working people.
This is the common thread that binds the multi-racial working class together. And this is especially so if the democratic demands of people of color and other oppressed people combine with the overall demands of the working class and people as a whole.
Thus, what is urgently needed is a broadly-based and sustained struggle for economic justice and equality.
Such a struggle not only brings relief to the victims of racism, other forms of oppression, and class exploitation, but it also constitutes the strategic cornerstone of a winning struggle against the Republican right in the elections next year.
I emphasize this question because there is a tendency to lose sight of the special oppression those sections of the working class experience, and the democratic demands associated with that oppression. This is a mistake at any time, but particularly now when such grave dangers are facing our country and the world.
Photo: Workers cheer President Barack Obama during 2010 Laborfest in Milwaukee. (Marguerite Herbst)