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Race and Class in a Time of Epochal Change

With the beginning of the new year of 2019, African Americans in particlar and indeed the American masses as a whole, are facing a grim uncertain future. A recent study by the Third Way found that 62% of jobs today do not even provide a basic living for an individual, let alone a family. In May of 2018, Philip G. Alston, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights for the U.N., published a report saying 40 million Americans live in poverty and 18.5 million Americans live in extreme poverty.

Within this downward spiral, the masses of Blacks suffer profoundly and disproportionately from almost every social and health problem facing the American people. In every state, the unemployment rate among Blacks is higher than the overall unemployment rate for that state. African Americans have the highest rate of infant mortality, HIV infection, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The imprisonment of African American youth and adults has reached epidemic proportions.

We must examine these conditions — not simply point to the CEOs, the professors, and the generals, the Black elite who have made it in the system. The masses of Black workers are economically stuck and cannot move forward without fundamental changes in the entire social and economic system.

Epochal Change and the Challenges of Leadership

Today it is broadly accepted that humanity is in a period of epochal change. The fundamental changes in the production and distribution of the means of life compel all social relations and formations to change accordingly. Such change isn’t simply the destruction of the old and introduction of the new. It is a complex process involving changing relationships of form and content and of quantity and quality. Such a period demands a leadership capable of understanding and working with social motion in transition.

Quantitative changes in the economy are incremental, but as they accumulate, they force social changes that appear suddenly, and as crisis. Social ideas do not evolve as a reflection of the evolution of the economy. The ruling class will not allow them to do so. The old ideas serve as a reactionary counter-balance to the emergence of revolutionary new ideas. Such old ideas, hangovers from previous periods, have played a very special role in disorienting radical movements in our country.

At the center of these old ideas is the political concept of race. The question of race was the central issue in preventing the American people from achieving their goals in the Revolutionary War. Those goals, enshrined in our documents of the Revolution, were unattainable for the mass of white toilers, while a quarter of the working class was in chains. The question of race was central to frustrating the popular aims of the Civil War. Before abandoning the goal of breaking the political back of the Southern planters, the ruling class needed the American people to first abandon the vision, “And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” Playing the race card did this.

In the midst of this new epoch of transformation, the race question again presents itself as a changing but central question. The profound economic changes are creating a new class of workers whose economic destitution is cutting across the color line. Now the mass of African Americans, who formed the core of the new class, and the growing number of impoverished white workers joining its ranks, unmistakably have common interests, which grow out of not morality alone, but objective economic class interests. The only way this class can survive is to take over the massive means of production and distribute the wherewithal of life on the basis of need. The only alternative is fascism. This time we dare not fail.

Race and Changing Conditions

Racism in America has been directed against the the Native Americans, the Irish, the Latin Americans, and the Asians, among others. Most of all it has centered on the African Americans, because it is a political question. Politics, it has been written, is the art of the class struggle. Nothing could be more artful than to use a myth to convince literally millions of people to do harm to themselves in the interests of the people they are struggling against. Yet this is precisely what has happened in our history. It happened because the American people became convinced that they were dealing with a biological, rather than a political question. Today we understand that contrary to common usage, race is not a valid biological reality, but rather a social and political construction, formed by the ruling class to facilitate the capitalist system. We emphasize this point because the great economic and political changes taking place are having a profound effect on the politics of race and color.

One of the ideological hangovers from the period of segregation is the tendency to see the African Americans as a category, rather than a scattered grouping of over 40 million individuals who have different histories, ideals, and goals, and who belong to different economic classes. This characterization was correct years ago, when the pressure of segregation isolated the African Americans from the rest of society. This isolation allowed for the creation of a common culture, internal class stratification, and a common political agenda.

The elimination of de jure segregation allowed the Black elite to leave the segregated areas, and work their way into the general American elite. To a lesser degree, this also applied to the growing ranks of Black professionals and even to a section of the upper strata of Black workers. This dispersal of the African Americans into their different economic classes marked the beginning of the end of their cohesion as a community or a people. The Black elite presents itself as speaking for all African Americans, since they still need a social base for their economic and social advancement. Actually, the two classes objectively have little in common, and both sides are drifting toward class orientation.

Race and Unity of the New Class

Race is a political, not a scientific concept. It is used for identification and can be used in any manner that suits the political needs of the ruling class. The ruling class cannot abandon the weapon of race, since it is historically evolved and an integral part of American politics. Irreversible changes in the world economy, expressed as globalization, are incompatible with race as color. The ruling class must adapt. Color as racial identification by the ruling class still exists, but they are replacing it with identification based on culture and class differences. They are using these class and cultural differences with the ruling class as the ideological basis for their savage assault against the new class as a class.

Class and color are intertwined. The old is never abruptly replaced by the new. The tactical offensive by the ruling class against the masses of Blacks is central to their fight to impose fascism on society as a whole.

No matter how the ruling class attempts to divide us, the new class is already forming along the lines of a unity based on what is practical, real, and possible. Fully conscious of the viability of the race question and how the ruling class uses it politically, we revolutionaries concentrate on the question of the political unity of the new class.

In summary, the political struggle is an art. It requires the ability to sum up, to make decisions on the basis of the temporary relationship of subjective and objective forces. This is nowhere more true than in the effort to unite the historically disparate sectors of the new, revolutionary class.

January/February 2019. Vol29.Ed1
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
P.O. Box 477113 Chicago, IL 60647 rally@lrna.org
Free to reproduce unless otherwise marked.
Please include this message with any reproduction.

Photo of Protest

30,000 March in Support of
Chicago Teachers Union Strike
Photo by Ryan L Williams
used with permission

The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.

'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011

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