Political Power in America and the Role of the South
Politics in America is about power. It is about how a class asserts its supremacy. It is about how a class maintains and defends its power as a ruling class in order to exercise its domination over an exploited and subordinate class. For the subordinate (working) class, it is a question of how political power may be won or wrested from the ruling (capitalist) class in order to reorganize society in its own interest.
That struggle for power, either to maintain it or to overcome it, is in play today more so than ever. These are new times. Today we would not recognize the world, or the America, that prevailed even 75 years ago. Who then could have known that today our time would be described as a “post-industrial” era? The advent of the microchip has changed everything.
Laborless production is creating a new class of permanently unemployed, part-time, temporary and contingent workers who are growing proportionately to the decline of industry. More and more shut out and excluded, this new class points to the crisis of capital itself. The system is broken. It can no longer deliver, except as an expression of the growing polarity between wealth and poverty, and as a consequence, the very ability of the ruling class to rule is called into question.
While we may describe the new epoch inaugurated by electronics today as a qualitatively new time, we also know that our present develops out of our history, and the struggle for power cannot be understood apart from that history.
American history is Southern history
American history is Southern history, and that is a history that is rooted in slavery, white supremacy and the direct, brutal control of an oppressed people. The Southern program, entwined with white supremacy, marked the South as the first fascist State. This State oversaw the South, and particularly the Black Belt, as America’s first colony, and the profits it yielded built the foundation of U.S. imperial expansion.
Democracy prevailed for the ruling class and at least the illusion of democracy was extended to some sections of the white worker in the South. But the objective reality of the segregationist Jim Crow terror exposed the lie of Southern democracy. To guarantee the profits for imperial expansion, the workers of the South had to be made to submit.
The formula for rule for the South became a question of the control of the Blacks in the South. In this way, the question of political power and white supremacy are inextricably intertwined. The ruling class divided Southern workers by attacking, isolating and dominating the Black worker on the one hand, and bestowing social and, for some, meager economic privileges on the white workers on the other. In this way, they tied the white worker in the South to the ruling class, but through this control they were able also to control the Northern workers.
In reality, for the white worker in the South, white supremacy meant not their own supremacy, but acting and voting against their own interest. The Southern program was, and still is, to slash social programs, privatize public services, deregulate the economy and the environment, cut taxes for the rich and the corporations, and increase military spending in the drive for empire. Today, this Southern program fits hand in glove with the newly emerging market-state.
And, while there is plenty of racism to go around, white supremacy is more about political power. It is about the control of a class. It is really about ruling class supremacy, and wielding the power to carry out its program as a ruling class.
With the end of World War II, processes were getting under way to put an end to a South based in agriculture and to launch the industrialization of the South. At the same time, the Civil Rights Movement arose to confront and challenge the Jim Crow State. This movement was about achieving civil rights, but it was also about abolishing the form of rule in the South.
History is about continuity and discontinuity. Southern history is a history of white supremacy entwined with the question of political power. That was the case 100 years ago with the rule of Jim Crow, principally through the Democratic party. The content remains the same, but the form has changed.
With the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, African-Americans were enfranchised by the millions, and flooded into the Democratic Party, many achieving political office for the first time since Reconstruction. Whites flooded into the Republican party and it began its steady transformation to a party of white supremacy with its program the Southern program. While the form of rule is different, that is to say, discontinuous, the content remains the same. But this by no means says that the Democratic party today has shed the shackles of white supremacy. It may take another form, but it remains the second pole of ruling class power.
Georgia 2013: Concentrate and Divide
The results of last year’s election would appear to reveal that the Republican Party is now a minority party and unable to adapt to what is being termed a “rising new electorate”. Yet it unquestionably exercises political sway in the South, still the key to political power in America.
The Republican Party has accomplished this supremacy by concentrating and dividing. By a process of gerrymandering, redistricting and packing Black voters in concentrated districts, thereby securing Republican majorities in the remaining districts, Republican supremacy was and is assured throughout the South. Georgia, for example, has 16 congressional representatives, 12 of whom are white and Republican, three are Black Democrats and the one white Democrat is the only white Democrat remaining in the entire South.
The virtually all-white Republican party in Georgia also enjoys for the first time a supermajority in the state legislature, allowing them to consolidate power on the county, city and local level as well. They are in a position to exercise their power virtually unfettered, and to carry out the Southern program unchecked.
In her book The New Mind of the South Tracy Thompson shows that Atlanta, located mostly in Fulton County, is a kind of Mecca for young, educated and upwardly mobile Blacks. It has enjoyed an unbroken 40-year history of Black political leadership, but also has a pattern of ingrained residential segregation and the biggest gap between rich and poor of any city in the United States. The alliance of the Republican governor with Kasim Reed, the Black Democratic mayor of Atlanta, indicates how the Black political elite are complicit in the formula for rule in the South.
Today, however, segregation is less a matter of overt racism than it is a reflection of wealth and income, as Thompson points out. In the metropolitan Atlanta area, most African Americans are concentrated in urban Atlanta and the southern part of the metro region. That is also where the greatest poverty is concentrated. The more affluent African Americans and whites are concentrated primarily in the northern part of the city and suburbs, as well as in the counties that surround the urban core.
Secession: Divide and Conquer
The South’s long and particular history of racial division is being used once again divide the workers in order to implement the Southern program. Today the virtual political supremacy of a mostly white Republican party in elected political positions in the South practically guarantees their success.
All local legislation is routinely passed through the state legislature. With a Republican supermajority, legislation has been introduced and passed that would allow a Republican takeover of the Black-majority and Black-led urban counties and cities.
In the first place, legislation has been passed to incorporate new cities in the more affluent northern half of the urban counties – in effect seceding from the urban county governments – keeping the resources for themselves and undermining the tax base and resources for the southern, Black majority and poorer part of the counties. This process is still underway, and includes legislation to have the entire northern part of Fulton county secede and form its own separate county.
Via gerrymandering and redistricting after the 2010 census, the Republican majority counties that surround Fulton county grabbed for themselves a slice here and a slice there from parts of Fulton county, thus qualifying themselves as a part of the Fulton county legislative delegation. Now, 13 of 18 Republican delegates, all white, have effectively taken over Fulton county government, although none of them actually reside in the county.
Legislation has been passed to redraw districts within Fulton county so that the Republicans can take over the county commission and the elections board; freeze tax revenues for the next two years and require a three-fourths majority to pass any tax increase; make it easier to fire public employees and limit pay and pension benefits; move to privatize and outsource jobs and services of MARTA, the urban mass transit system; and lastly, to double the homestead exemption, which would withdraw some $48 million in revenue, affecting the funding of Grady hospital, the only hospital providing care to the poor.
The governor has already taken over two of the urban and majority-Black county school systems, first in Clayton county in the southern half of the metro region, and most recently in Dekalb county, where six school board members (five of whom are Black) were fired and replaced. The scenario is familiar: billions of dollars are cut from education budgets, falling home values also lead to declining revenues for education, the schools fail, and, claiming corruption and incompetence, the state takes over, laying the ground for further corporate privatization.
The governor has also decided to opt out of the expansion of Medicaid, thereby denying coverage to some two million Georgians. And in keeping with maintaining corporate supremacy in the name of making Georgia the “most business-friendly state in the country” legislation has already been proposed to do away with both corporate and income taxes in the state and replace it with a drastically increased sales tax. The tax burden will be shifted almost entirely to the backs of the working class, particularly the poorest whites and Blacks, with increased taxes on all consumption.
Power in America Today
In spite of everything most people living in Georgia today would probably be appalled to think they are living in a fascist State, yet when we look at actual objective developments and conditions, what else could it be? The merger of the corporations and the State could not be more complete, and what is the form of rule if not the direct control, not of Blacks as a people, or based simply on skin color, but the control of a new class of which the Black worker is found to be at its core? It is a question of political power; it is about one class exercising its rule over another class.
We see the same kind of developments going on not just in the South but throughout the country. When we look at developments on the ground in states like Georgia, the utilizing of white supremacy is virtually self-evident. Yet it is not simply an extension of Jim Crow white supremacy. Local governments are not overtly taken over in order to control Blacks as such, but to enact economic control using the historical racial divisions so deeply engrained in our country.
The reality is that much of what is carried out is done in league with Black politicians. Immigrants are never criminalized because of their skin color, but because of their economic status. The ruling class taps into the history of racial division in the South to implement and spread the Southern program throughout the country. The old saying is still true – as the South goes, so goes the nation (and today, the globe).
So this is not just about power in Georgia. It is about power in America. While large majorities of the youth, women, African American and Latino were captured by the Democratic party in the last elections, the Democrats are after all, a party of the ruling class, attempting to tie the workers to them by appeals to the “middle class,” another form of all-class American unity. The objective structural inequalities in capitalism make this call nothing less than a call for all-class white unity. The Democratic version of the quest for ruling class supremacy and power remains a program of the domination of one class by another, and indeed needs the Southern program to attain its goals.
The ruling class confronts a common problem regardless of which party they are in or which section of society they have been called on to control. How are they to maintain and defend their rule under new conditions, and to control an increasing and restive new class of workers who are seeing their very means of life being denied them. For the ruling class, history compels them to take the path toward a fascist solution. For the new class of workers, the solution lies in that class, as a class, fighting for political power. Out of the revolutionary struggle for emancipation, which propelled the Civil War to its conclusion, the banner emerged, “Bottom rail on top.” That is what having the power to reorganize society in the interests of the working class means today.
July/August 2013. Vol23.Ed4
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