Friday, September 9, 2011

The truth about the "skin game" and class politics


In a letter on this page, David Altman asks why the Militant uses the "inaccurate and unscientific" term Caucasian.

The reason has to do with politics and the class struggle, not linguistics. As Socialist Workers Party leader Jack Barnes points out in Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, those who think being "white" or "Black" is a matter of science not politics under capitalism will "be reminded by Caucasians who are convinced they are 'white'—'God's color.'"

Thinking of yourself as "white" is a barrier to working-class consciousness and solidarity. The term "whites" is tied to the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and anti-Black discrimination and brutality.

As the capitalist crisis intensifies in years ahead, class polarization and conflict will mount, putting wind in the sails of rightist groups espousing, among other things, "white power" and a "white nation." Sections of the capitalist class, to maintain their rule, will fund fascist outfits to crush workers battles and organizations. As we organize to defend ourselves, the struggle for workers power and socialism will be fought out in the streets.

The rulers' divide-and-rule strategy has time and again led to defeats of working people or prevented our struggles from going as far as we could. An example is the defeat of Radical Reconstruction, the worst setback ever suffered by U.S. workers.

When the U.S. government withdrew federal troops from states of the old slaveholding class in 1877, gangs of armed reactionaries were emboldened to step up lynchings and other assaults on toilers who were Black. Well into the 20th century, says Barnes in Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, "organizations such as the Knights of the White Camelia, the White League, the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens' Councils, and many others—named, unnamed, or renamed—carried out an unrelenting reign of terror against the Black population in the South."

Another example is the failure of class-collaborationist union misleaders to organize the South, a goal they trumpeted after World War II. But doing so would have required a battle against Jim Crow segregation and its chief political prop in the South, the Democratic Party, which top labor officials wouldn't do.

It is true—and extremely important—that racism has been dealt historic blows by the struggle for Black rights in the U.S. As a result of the powerful proletarian-based social movements that built the industrial unions in the 1930s and brought down Jim Crow in the 1950s and 1960s, more and more workers of all skin colors and national origins "work alongside each other in many workplaces, often doing the same jobs [and] engage in common actions and class fraternization," says Barnes.

"But the fight to combat multiple forms of segregation and racism, and to overcome national divisions in the working class—through mutual solidarity and uncompromising struggles using any means necessary—remains the single biggest task in forging the proletarian vanguard in this country."

Merriam-Webster's dictionary says Caucasian is used "especially in reference to persons of European descent having usually light skin pigmentation." For reasons of working-class consciousness and solidarity—of more interest to the Militant than word origins—we'll continue using Caucasian, not "white." 

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