The centrality of race in the formation of the American working class, its inseparability from the question of class, can be stated very succinctly: in 1848 and 1968, when working- class upsurges exploded in Europe under the slogans of “socialism” and “communism”, American working-class containment in the Democratic Party was exploded by the race question. This is the key to the Americanization of Marxism.
Only very recently has it been generally acknowledged that it is impossible to discuss American working-class formation without an analysis of race. Race and class in American history have been treated by such figures as DuBois, Genovese, C.L.R. James, Eric Foner, or more recently, Allen and Ignatiev. The following, however, moves on a different, perhaps complementary, level. “Social history” as such is not its sole focus or forte. While using such materials, it attempts to develop a broad theoretical perspective that more narrowly-focused histories tend to eschew. On one level, its thesis is simple: in the 1670’s, in Massachusetts and Virginia, two fundamental components of American ideology were set down. The Puritans, in the wake of the 1636 Pequot War and the 1676 King Philip’s War, worked out the theological justification of wars of extermination in terms largely borrowed from the Old Testament, transpositions of the old Iranian dualism of good vs. evil, projected onto the dark-skinned enemies of the “mission into the wilderness”. In Virginia, after the black slaves and white indentured servants rose up together in 1676 in Bacon’s Rebellion, the planter class began to create an ideology and practice favoring the poor white at the expense of the black, in order to better chain the poor white to the status quo. The fusion of these two creations of the 1670’s, produced a complex that has run through 300 years of American history, in which questions of class, race and imperial expansion have all been inseparable. The key to this ideology is the appearance of a class condition as a racial condition. The working out of this complex has been one in which, from the beginning, questions of race and empire have cast their shadow over all attempts at working-class politics.
This “logic” imposed itself, in particular, in two periods. The first was in the rise and consolidation of Jacksonian democracy from 1828 to its collapse in the sectionalist crisis of the 1850’s. The crucial year was 1848, (the year of European revolutions) in which the battle over the Mexican-American War and the slavery question (reanimated by the war) destroyed the Jacksonian Democratic coalition. White America, in the period from 1828 to 1848, showed a level of popular political activity and participation then unknown in Europe. European history exists relative to American history as a “film run backward”. Figure such as V.0. Key and W.D. Burnham have presented participation in American popular politics (within the confines of bourgeois democracy) moving to a peak in the period of the Civil War, staying on that plateau into the 1890’s, and then beginning a long descent to the situation of today. The latter decline occurs with the rise of a new phase of capitalism, heralded between 1900 and 1920 above all by “Progressivism”.
In Europe, by contrast, mass participation in bourgeois democratic politics attained America’s mid-l9th century levels only in the period before and after World War II. The real social content of the struggles of the great Socialist and Communist parties of Europe were essentially, despite their anti- capitalist rhetoric, struggles to propel Western Europe into the phase of the “real domination of capital”.
The second peak is the rise of the New Deal machine of FDR and its hegemony in American politics from 1932 to 1964, when it, like its Jacksonian predecessor, was destroyed by the rise of the black movement and the Vietnam war. Since the mid-1960’s, the American political landscape (beginning at the mere level of electoral politics) has been redrawn by the collapse of the Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party, its absorption by the Republicans, and the entry of large numbers of Northern “white ethnics” into the Republican party, assuring the latter of five of six national elections beginning in 1968. But, given steady downward movement of electoral participation through the 20th century, Republican hegemony at the national level has only been the expression of a stalemate, expressed most graphically in the fact that barely over 50% of the American population votes at all.
We thus “turn around” Social Democrat Michael Harrington’s designation of the American Democrats as the “submerged Social Democracy” in the U.S., to the detriment of European socialism. The American Democrats are merely the cutting edge of a general movement in Western capitalist societies, as shown by the crisis and decline of Western Socialist, Communist and Labour parties and their welfare states since the 1960’s under the impact of factors similar to those which undermined the American Democrats. In the specifically American context, only when the white stratum of the working class in the U.S. breaks from the pattern ultimately traceable to the 17th century will it be possible for genuine working-class politics to emerge in America.
But it is also necessary to situate U.S. working-class experience in an overview of the history of the world socialist movement, in an attempt to explain its failure to make much of an impact in America. This requires a world conjunctural analysis of phases of capitalist development, based ultimately on a distinction between extensive and intensive accumulation. The first runs from the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 to the 1890’s; the second is in place by 1933 and consolidated by the boom phase which begins in 1945 under U.S. auspices. There is a “phase change” in world capitalist accumulation ca. 1900. The most important symptoms of this change are the levelling off of the growth of the industrial working class as a percentage of the capitalist population and the rising importance of the unproductive service sector. The 19th century phenomenon of emptying of the countryside and the decline of artisanal petty producers (in two words, primitive accumulation) continues, but instead of contributing to the growth of a productive work force, the demogaphic shift ultimately expands the service sector. This is a sign that capitalism has run up against a barrier in which it must periodically destroy productive capacity in order to maintain itself. The barrier is one in which the increased productivity of labor of society as a whole can no longer benefit society but rather becomes a problem for the dominant social relations. The coming to power of FDR and the Keynesian New Deal in 1933 was the consolidation of this phase of “real domination of capital over labor”, and the Democratic Party’s stewardship of this phase was its real historical content from 1933 to its demise in the crisis of the mid-1960’s.
Again, this approach stands in stark contrast to the “social historians” who have dominated American working-class history in the past 20 years. They are by and large oblivious to the Marxian concepts of expanded reproduction and a model of society and demography that would situate the emergence and struggles of the working class in such a perspective. Authors like Gutman, Thompson, Foner, Rachleff, Wilentz et al. who have set the tone for these issues, pay little attention to the percentage of the population engaged in production, its share of the social wealth, the international labor market, flow of investment, the distinction between production and unproductive labor, etc.
From this periodization of capitalist accumulation, it is necessary to reinpret working-class history within it. The Italian Marxist Amadeo Bordiga (cf. Communism is the Material Human Community: Amadeo Bordiga Today) saw the agrarian question, the realization of a capitalist agriculture, as the fundamental revolution in the origins of capitalism (Robert Brenner more recently has moved in the same direction). A society is only fully capitalist, only experiences real domination, when a trivial percentage of the work force remains in agriculture. This analysis serves to shed a new light on the history of European socialism and communism. There is a remarkable correspondance between the presence of 17th and 18th c. enlightened despotism and the presence of a powerful Socialist or Communist Party, in or out of power, across Europe in the 20th century. The Communist Parties in particular seem to have had the greatest influence in the countries dominated by absolutism, and had less influence in countries which had achieved a “civil society” by the end of the Reformation Wars. There is an historical watershed ca. 1650 separating these societies (England, the U.S., Switzerland, Holland, Scotland) from countries of the continent, namely France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Russia, (Italy presenting a special case where the argument must be made regionally) where large Communist parties existed at one time or another before or after World War II. The demise of these parties correlates with the end of pre-capitalist agriculture, and such parties in power essentially accomplish that end themselves.
The absence of mercantilism, based on the absence of an pre-capitalist agrarian question in the U.S. is the key to understanding why no major Socialist or Communist Party ever emerged here.The intensive phase of capital accumulation and the depopulation of the countryside seem to dovetail with the crisis of both Western European socialist and communist parties and also with the crisis of such parties in power in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and elsewhere.
This combination of mercantilism, the agrarian question, extensive accumulation and the official workers’ movement of the 1840-1945 period, is the key to the crisis of the contemporary Marxist movement. The “vulgar Marxism” of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals, reproduced the mechanical materialism of the Enlightenment for the simple reason that these movements were extensions of the bourgeois revolution and not movements for the overthrow of capitalism. The world was less capitalist than the revolutionaries of pre-1914 Europe believed. In the last decade of his life, Marx was studying Russian agriculture and the Russian peasant commune. This study was linked to growing doubts about the unilinear model of world capitalist development in his earlier work, a model that was popularized for a century by his followers. The socialist movement in Europe, unaware of (and having its own reasons to suppress) the last turn of Marx’s evolution, was conquered by the rationality of the Enlightened despotic state. The “material basis” of this was the completion of the bourgeois revolution set in motion by that state. Autarchic mercantilism (e.g. Stalinism, Third World Bonapartism) as a development strategy breathed its last in the mid-1970’s, not accidentally as the international left went into crisis and was overwhelmed by the worldwide wave of neo- liberalism.
Thus, there is a “political” level in the crackup the Democratic Party in “1848” and “1968” around the interrelated questions of race and empire, and an “economic” level in the correspondance of the Democrats’ hegemony from 1933 to 1964 with the phase of the real domination of capital. But figures such as Andrew Jackson or Franklin Roosevelt, who epitomize these phases, require a “third” level of analysis, It is impossible to see the a complete picture of the centrality of race in the American experience of class without the dimension of myth and culture. Figures such as Wilhelm Reich and Ernst Bloch attempted before and after 1933 to explore the subjective side of fascism’s triumph in Germany and to see what attracted people to fascist myth-making. In the American context, in contrast to the European, myth pervades the culture and has a potentially positive and emancipatory side. It is further impossible to understand the ideological hegemony of the capitalist class without recourse to this mythical level, a level skillfully exploited in the past decade by the hegemonic neo-conservative right.
Because in America, “civil society built the state” (as Sombart put it) instead of (as in Europe) the other way around, religion and myths derived from religion never underwent the critique of Enlightenment (Aufklaerung) that was indispensible to the success of the bourgeois revolutions of the continent. The pre-capitalist frame of reference for Europe, and also the ideological source of the universal pretensions of the mercantile state, was the Holy Roman Empire; the pre- capitalist frame of reference for America was on one hand the Indians and on the other hand the Puritan’ s “memory screen” of Old Testament Israel. More interestingly, of course, from the perspective of the 1676 King Philip’s War, it was an interpretation of the Indians in terms of Old Testament Israel.
The decisive formation of American ideology occurred in the period between 1492 and the 1670’s, in the “interregnum” of the Renaissance and Reformation, an interregnum between the decline of the universal Holy Roman Empire in the high Middle Ages and the consolidation of a new universal empire, Louis XIV’s France, after the Reformation wars. The hropocosmos” and “imperium”, and these currents both have deep roots in the history of the West, going back to the “cosmic states” of Egypt and the ancient Near East. It was here, in the first class societies, that the idea of “universal empire” was first conceived historically, and that a tradition called “cosmic kingship” first came into existence. This relationship between imperial kingship and universality can be traced from the Egyptian pharoah through the Israelite kings, Alexander the Great, the Caesars, Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire, to Frederick II and Saint-Louis in the mid-l3th century. At that juncture, the Holy Roman Empire and sacred imperium were jolted by a revolt derived from the counter-tradition of “anthropocosmos”, or the “Adamic”, expressed in the millenarian movements that rocked Europe from 1100 up to 1650, (i.e. when the extreme-left wing of the English Revolution was defeated).The “anthropocosmos” is a subterranean current, rooted in the rejection of the state, which emerges when the dominant tradition of sacred imperium enters crisis. This “anthopocosmos” and the Adamic, central to the radical currents of the Reformation such as Anabaptism, were “projected” onto the peoples of the New World, and this projection–in contrast to the European tradition of imperium sacrum– is the true American universal.The emergence of white supremacy and racism as an ideology in the 1670’s (cf. Race and the Enlightenment, Pt. 1) was the extinction of this interregnum utopia (utopia on the level of myth), but aspects of it have resurfaced whenever the dominant American ideology enters crisis. The universal moment of America was neither the Puritans’ “City on a Hill” nor the 18th century liberalism of Franklin, Jefferson, Paine and Washington, but a Renaissance- Reformation anthropocosmos of European- Indian-African fusion. The creation of the dominant ideologies of the 17th and 18th century, drawing on ancient Israel, Greece and Rome as their models, repressed and ignored this multi-racial “work in progress” (Melville called it the “uncompleted pyramid”) that ultimately points beyond Europe and the West. America is distinguished from Europe by wilderness, Indians, Africans and native Protestantism. The most striking “fusion” of these currents is the black religious music that began to develop in the 18th century, and which is the source of most original American music up to the present.
This Adamic “anthrocosmos” is the “archetypal man” expressed in the work of figures such as Boehme, Blake and Swedenborg. Europe, as stated above, derives historical consciousness of a pre- capitalist past with reference to the Holy Roman Empire; America’s “pre-capitalist” past is ancient Israel. We can see this dialectic at work in the counterposition of Adam and imperium sacrum in ancient history in American ideology, i.e. the central presence of ancient Egyptian imagery: the Puritans’ metaphor of exodus, the black religious use of the same metaphor, an opposed counter-current of belief among blacks that ancient Egypt was a black African civilization, Egyptian symbolism connected to 18th century Freemasonry, and finally “Egyptian revivals” in high culture (Poe- Melville) such as those of the mid-l9th century, and perhaps currently.The two generally emphasized sources of the Western tradition, ancient Israel and Greco-Roman antiquity, both defined themselves by their emergence from the Egyptian “archetype”. Exodus, in this view, means a break with myth and a break with the archetypal. Yet, in periods of interregnum, a vast wave of the repressed returns, as in late antiquity (200- 476 AD) or in the Renaissance, and ancient Egypt is always prominent therein. There is also an “Oriental” hue to this tradition of “cosmic kingship”, from Alexander through Napoleon. This Oriental hue is another expression of the self-definition of the West as an anti-mythic break from Egypt and the ancient Near East. But the break with cosmic myth in ancient Israel and in Greco-Roman classicism is not merely a break with “Orientalism”, but also a break with “primitivism”, the legend of the anthropocosmos in Egyptian, Jewish (Adam Kadmon) , Iranian (Gayomart) , Indian (Purusha) and Chinese traditions. Behind the mask of the pharoah and class society, is the vision of the “society before the state”, and hence state civil servants, of the anthropocosmos. The historical phases represented by ancient Egypt, the ancient Near East, Zoroastrian Iran, ancient Israel and Greco-Roman antiquity are all present in American culture in the symbols of the fused religious and imperial ideology of the state. The periodic phases of the “Orientalism” of the intelligentsia, such as that of the Transcendentalists in the 1830’s or of the Beat and hippie counter-culture of the 1950’s and 1960’s, add an Asian dimension. Finally, the Cold War transposed the earlier Christian wars with Arab and Turkish Moslems to a world-wide battle with “Oriental despotism”.
Liberalism is born with the expulsion of the archetype from reality, in the 1670’s. It is also born contemporaneously with atomist physics, political economy and with racism. The sources of Hobbes and Locke are in philosophical atomism, inspired by Galileo, but the process goes much farther. In this conception, one cannot understand American liberalism merely by looking at figures like Locke, Montesquieu and the founders; one must also look at the “regeneration through violence” myth represented by Boone and Crockett.
The “mythic” dimension in the 1670’s conjuncture was decisive for American history. The transposition of the theodicy of ancient Israel to New England brought the ideas of the chosen people, the city on the hill, the new convenant in the wilderness, New Canaan, exodus from Egypt (i.e. decadent Europe) as well as the idea of the unfolding of the history of the chosen people as expressing God’s intervention in time. The Iranian idea of the universe as a war of the forces of good against the forces of evil was projected onto the Indians, and founded
“American Gothic”. One can trace this battle against “radical evil” from the Puritans to the Cold War. The specificity of American racism, in contrast to the fate of blacks in other parts of the Western hemisphere, is this Puritan theological source. It fused with the racist ideology evolved in the Virginia colony after Bacon’s rebellion in 1676. The ultimate creation of “Boone” and “Crockett” as the myth of white male individuality, continuing their secularized version of the “errand in the wilderness”, was realized politically in the proto-“New Deal” figure of Andrew Jackson, hero of the Florida wars and of the Battle of New Orleans. The white working man thus stepped onto the American political stage in alliance with both genocidal expansionism against the Indians and accomodation with Southern slavery. This complex was repeated on a more international scale with the New Deal of F.D.R., and his alliance with the Dixiecrats. The status of the black at the bottom of the social scale gave the poor white, and later the working white, a hallmark of the social floor, above which he stood one small step. It created, along with other factors in the American liberal ideology, a duality in the white worker between his status as (white) “citizen” and his status as a proletarian. Key aspects of the degradation experienced in Europe as the proletarian condition were shunted onto the black, and have remained there ever since. Thus Cash (in The Mind of the South) was correct is calling America a “Herrenvolk (master race) democracy”
This peculiarity sets up a “dialectic” between foreign expansion and domestic racism, because the theological foundations of the ideology justifying expansion are a form of social bonding. The primordial episode is the Salem witch trials of 1692. There are rumors (in the midst of the “Nine Years’ War of 1689-1698 in Europe) of Indian and French military threats on the nearby frontier; there is an accusation against various women rumored to have learned witchcraft from a Caribbean slave. (In the backdrop of the 1740 New York slave conspiracy, the immediate setting is again threats from Spanish and French fleets, at the beginning of the war of Austrian Succession.)
George Washington emerged as a national figure from his role in the “French and Indian” war of 1756-1763 (known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War). A generation later, Andrew Jackson emerged as a national figure from his role in the Florida wars of 1811- 1813 and above all from the Battle of New Orleans. This culminated, again, in the crisis of imperial ideology after the Mexican- American War in 1846 and the intensification of the slave issue. Washington is the first important American military figure to embody what we will analyze as the “pseudo- sacred” imperial myth drawn from imagery of Greco-Roman classicism; with Andrew Jackson, the pseudo-sacred is fused to the enrollment of the white working man in the politics of racism and empire.
Once secularized into the Boone and Crockett legends, the “regeneration through violence” (as analyzed by Slotkin) loses touch with theology. (If Slotkin is right, the Boone myth of the “walkabout” reproduces, in twisted fashion, an old Delaware Indian practice.) In the same way, when the Puritanical obsession with predestination recedes from the culture, what is left is this odd synthesis of the religious idea of the “chosen people” and the 18th century liberal ideology drawing on Greco-Roman and European Enlightenment sources. America, both as an obsession of the European Enlightenment and in its own self-understanding, incorporated into its ideology the “pre-historic” (i.e. pre- Hegelian) sense of 18th century English and French thought. The founding of the American state was built upon the “balance of powers” ultimately intended to hide power behind apparent de-centralization. In mercantilist Europe, as we indicated, the state constituted civil society; in America, civil society constituted the state. The “escape from history” inherent in these Enlightenment origins, the “Adamic” ideology of the New World garden, the unusual (relative to Europe) role of the “imperial presidency” in foreign policy (e.g. Jackson, Roosevelt) laid the foundations for the dialectic between war and domestic crisis over the question of race. But all this l8th century libera1ism was marred from the beginning by the “ringing firebell in the night”, as Jefferson called it in 1820, the “fact” that one-fifth of the population was enslaved. Similarly. Madison saw the fragile American democracy threatened by the combination of the red Indian on the frontier and the black slave within. The ahistorical nature of “American- ness”, which meant whiteness, was another “social bonding” that nevertheless, in moments of crisis, made ideologies that seemed to refer to history “alien”. This notion of the alien also established the moving line of “whiteness” that can be traced from the 1840’s onward, when it still excluded Roman Catholic Irishmen. In 1877, there was the remarkable convergence, (again, analyzed by Slotkin), of the end of the Indian wars, the end of Reconstruction and the first insurrectionary strike wave of the American working class. This was the last such convergence when American expansion was still confined to the development of the continent. In 1919, with the U.S. emerging as a world power, the annus mirabilis of mass strikes following World War I occurred simultaneously with race riots in numerous cities. In 1943, a strike wave in Detroit and in the coal fields overlapped race riots. World War II as a whole must be understood as process of “nationalization” or “tribalization” of the white ethnic stratum of the working class, putting an end to its exclusion from full “whiteness” . (In 1920, the red scare hysteria fell upon white ethnic–,mainly Jewish and Italian– labor radicals; after 1945, its McCarthyite resumption fell largely upon middle-class, often Jewish, intellectuals.) The Cold War revived the 17th century theological dimension with a vengeance. The theodicy of good vs. radical evil had been transposed from the frontier to a worldwide struggle, and the internal enemy was “un- American”. It has often been noted that social advances of the black population in the U.S. have occurred through wars, because the appeal to democracy necessary to justify the wars clashes with the social reality of blacks. This tendency culminated in the Vietnam war in the 1960’s.
It is here that we arrive at the bridge between the more traditional Marxist approach to the class question in America and the mythic level essential to understanding American politics. This is the concept of the pseudo- sacred–ultimately, the consciousness of the state civil servant– and its link to the concept of universal imperium sacrum.
The “mestizo” civilization of the New World has also been developing in the Americas since the 16th century in countries such as Mexico and Brazil. But America has a special uniqueness because of its Radical Reformation Protestant origin, whereas the Catholic Church and the Enlightened despotic state played their respective roles in other parts of the hemisphere (thus, once again, the presence of more recognizable Socialist and Communist parties in these countries). he pseudo-sacred is the reconstituted universal empire of Carlos V and the Hapsburgs, the supreme world power of the 16th century, that dominated the first phase of the history of the Americas. (The English attempts to enter the race for New World influence against both Spain and France utilized, on behalf of Indians and Africans,a demagogic rhetoric of emancipation of subjugated peoples). The “pseudo-sacred” is therefore the reconstituted universal empire after the massive dislocations and crises of the 14th and 15th centuries, which was immediately put to the test of further disintegration under the schismatic blows of the Reformation. But the Hapsburg empire of Carlos V and Philip II (along with their Oriental dimension, the ongoing war against the Turk) is still a Renaissance culture, and its civil service still essentially medieval. The full elaboration between the pseudo-sacred and the universal imperium sacrum comes only after 1648 with the Bourbon monarchy of Louis XIV. Here, we enter a truly modern problematic for the first time. The missing element of “de- cosmization” that appears between Spanish world hegemony and French world hegemony is the scientific revolution of the 17th century and the application of the new rationality to state reform, creating the modern civil service.
Modern science grew out of neo-Platonic, Hermetic and Kabbalistic sources (exemplified by figures such as Newton) as much as from atomism. The triumph of Bacon, Newton, Boyle, Hooke et al. over Kepler and Paracelsus is the expulsion of the archetype from nature, as experienced in alchemy, astrology, etc. This means in particular the status of the “imagination” which in neo-Platonic science still was grasped as a part of nature. The polemic that freed modern atomism from these sources culminated during the 1688 English Revolution and its ideological aftermath. There is also the interesting role of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry after its 1492 expulsion from Spain, and particularly in Amsterdam, the 17th century haven of free thought. One of the earliest formulations of liberalism, that of Spinoza, emerges from this atmosphere. But more central still is the case of Menasseh ben Israel, whose 1654 book Hope of Israel popularized the idea that the Indians of the New World were descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, a view that was widely held into the early 19th century. Spinoza’s deus sive natura was the origin of the view of the Indian as the “natural man” , point of departure of 17th and 18th century liberal political theory, but the Indian, as a descendant of the Lost Tribes, was also the Jew. Thus the modern, at the source of liberal political theory, is founded on a transformation of the archetypal into the natural. The question of the origins of the Indians, which posed such an ideological problem for Europe from 1500 to 1700, gave rise to theories that saw them as survivors of Atlantis, Phoenecians, subjects of Hespero,(the mythical 12th king of Spain), descendants of the Lost Tribes, and descendants of Noah’s son Ham. A “fantastic geography” was “realized” in the discovery of the New World, best epitomized in Columbus, and extended in the legend of El Dorado. This mixed with the legend of “Prester John” of Ethiopia, the black Magus king, the black virgin cults, and black figures in alchemical painting (such as that of Bosch) which show the “archetypal” framework through which blacks were viewed prior to the 17th century. Racism is as modern an ideology as atomistic science and political economy, and appears precisely as these archetypal views fall away, to be replaced with the modern, degraded views of a sub- human fit only to be a slave. (Moreover, the archetypes also tend to reappear in social crises where racism is radically attacked, as in the 1840’s and 1960’s.) The early modern discussion of “actual infinity” in such figures as Nicholas of Cusa, Giordano Bruno and Spinoza is similarly replaced by the “bad infinity” of Newton. The move from actual infinity to bad infinity is a move from an archetypal view of the imagination to the trivialization of the imagination as contingent in the universe. (cf. “Race and the Enlightenment”, Pt. II)
Racism is, along with atomistic science, political economy and liberalism, a creation of the 1670’s and the origins of modernity, and that we must therefore put Boone and Crockett, as the origins of the core white myth, alongside Locke and Hobbes as founding “theoreticians”.
Hence the purpose of the “level one” (politics) and “level two” (critique of political economy) analyses, now apparently left so far behind. The whole discussion of the relationship between Socialism, Communism, mercantilism, the agrarian question, relative surplus value and intensive accumulation clears the decks for the question of revolutionary intellectuals and their historical role, as representatives of the pseudo-sacred. This perspective draws on the model of the classical workers’ parties of the continent, wherein the intelligentsia spun off the civil service of the mercantile state in order to lead the revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.
We thus put on trial the “unhappy consciousness”, the “moi absolu”, cut off, by “de-cosmiz ation” from a productive relationship to nature. The first expressions of this consciousness are figures such as Pascal, but the “moi absolu” is first located socially in the state civil service consolidated in the Enlightened despotism of Louis XIV. The “moi absolu” is the shadow of the dominant figure of the pseudo-sacred, King Louis XIV and his successors in the deflated universal sacrum imperium. In the Prussian philosopher Hegel, the notion of the pseudo-sacred is politicized (Napoleon); in Fichte, it is aestheticized and linked to nationalist- populist ideology.
The “de-cosmization” of the mid-l7th century had its antecedents. The 6th century B.C. saw the consolidation of the Western philosophical problem of the “continuum”. In the emergence of Parmenides and Zeno occurs the first de-cosmization in the history of the West, following the partial de- cosmization of ancient Israel and exodus. In this juncture a link emerges between the appearance of bad infinity, conceived as repetition, de-cosmization (conceived as the expulsion of the archetype of mythepoesis, or the myth of creation), the hegemony of commodity relations, the appearance of the state civil service, and the separation of mental and manual labor. (cf. the work of Sohn-Rethel and Henri Frankfort). Insofar as the ancient world knew nothing of actual infinity, its appearance in early modern Europe, in Nicholas of Cusa and Bruno, is the philosophical expression of the unique historical situation of that culture (cf. “The Renaissance and Rationality”)
Marxism has not been–with a few exceptions such as Ernst Bloch–brilliant in dealing with the dimension of myth. But the importance of the neo-Platonic origins of Marx is the the theory of actual infinity, understood in a “naturalistic” sense of the human imagination’s role in transforming the laws of nature themselves. The colonization of Marxism by the world outlook of the state civil servant is one fundamental source of this weakness. One cannot expect a social stratum whose consciousness is trapped in the pseudo-sacred to deve1op an adequate critique of that very consciousness.
The “trial of the moi absolu”, the pseudo- sacred in culture and in politics, from Pascal to the 1970’s, shows how a certain “Marxism” was colonized by a problematic external to it, namely that of the unproductive state civil servant. This consciousness moves from the “man of negation” of the 17th century to Jacobinism and regicide. But the regicide of 1792 is only one further step in the secularization of the universal sacred imperium. The further evolution passes through Napoleon, the completely secularized pseudo-sacred emperor, and to the theorization of the French Revolution in the work of Hegel and Fichte. In the case of Hegel, the state civil service and the Prussian monarch join the tradition of the bourgeois revolution; in the case of Fichte, the aestheticized moi absolu, still universal in the French case, acquires national populist- romantic overtones and an economic program: the closed mercantile state. At this turn of the ratchet, the “moi absolu” has passed into the tradition of the “left”. Further evolution of the pseudo-sacred passes through Louis Napoleon in 1851, and finally, key and decisive, Bismarck; both of them made successful demagogic appeals to the working class. With Bismarck and the unification of Germany, the “first underdeveloped country”, the aestheticed “moi absolu” of the pseudo-sacred has crossed the threshold from univerality to populist nationalism, and can serve as a model for “anti-colonial” movements for the subsequent century. (The prototypical figure of the pseudo-sacred as a left-wing spokesman of the state civil service is Bismarck’s Social Democratic interlocutor Ferdinand Lassalle). Once having arrived at the “German” stage of the evolution of this consciousness, one can trace it through the rest of its trajectory from the constitution, after 1905, of the West-Russia- “Third World” triangle, the figures of Roosevelt, Hitler and Stalin (1933) in the consolidation of the phase of real domination, and finally Third World nationalist “anti-imperialism” from 1945 to 1975. This is not just “history of ideas” because this ideology is “seated” in the state mercantile stratum and has its economic program in the “closed mercantile State”.
The history of these concepts also sets the stage for a discussion of the black movement in the U.S., represented by figures such as (the –in part–Prussian-educated) W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, and the black nationalists of the 1960’s. vil servant cut off from transformation of nature experiences wealth as a form of consumption, and transgression against power is seen as a transgression against a kind of consumption.
The ideology of the non-productive civil service classes is constituted with Malthus, Darwin and Clausius. The identification of the “animal” underside of man–another fundamental pil1ar of racism– in liberal theory begins with the atomist Hobbes. Once men are defined as cut off from transforming nature (a transformation in which they still participated in the pre-Newtonian, neo- Platonist theory of the imagination) (e.g Kepler), a logic is established by which their sensuous side is identified with animality. With Malthus, this “ontology” is expressed in the theory of population and the necessity of non-productive (“parson’s”) consumption to overcome economic crisis (a theory acknowledged as a precursor by Keynes himself) ; with Darwin, Malthus’ theory of population is incorporated into a theory of evolution as random and as bellum omnium contra omnes; with Clausius, the atomism of physics sees the universe as necessarily winding down. (Ricardo, the most advanced theorist of political economy, sees capitalism as ending from excessive ground rents as poorer and poorer soils are forced into use by growth.) What all these ideologies reveal is that any atomistic theory leads to an “end of the world” scenario for capitalism and society because they obscure the one superiority of human beings to both animals and machines: the creation of new technologies and “new natures” exploited by those technologies. We further note the convergence of the origins of the modernist avant-garde with neo-classical economics, in France, Austria and in England (most strikingly, Keynes and Bloomsbury). At this point, the stage is set for the sacralized “moi absolu” of the unproductive classes to enter the tradition of the “left”.
All of these concepts are necessary to understand the different levels that come together in Jackson, and later, in Roosevelt.In 1848, as the European working classes were moving toward communism and (apparent) class consciousness, the white American working class’s Jacksonian Democratic political expression was being torn apart by the inseparable questions of race and empire. Jumping ahead, we also note that in 1968, when the working class again erupted in Europe, the second phase of the white American workingman’s political expression through the Democratic Party was for a second time being torn apart by the questions of race and empire.
THESE PARALLEL CRISIS OF 1848 AND 1968, IN EUROPE AND AMERICA, ARE A POWERFUL HINT THAT IN THE U.S. THE RECOGNITION OF THE PROLETARIAN CONDITION IS DEFLECTED INTO A DISGUISE AS A RACIAL CONDITION.
We are in a position to synthesize all these strands. The “intensive phase” of capitalist accumulation is of course precisely the phase of consumption. But now it is possible to see consumption filled with the overtones of the pseudo-sacred going back to the civil service of Louis XIV. America, with Germany, was the vanguard of the transition to the production of mass consumer durables. This shift, from 1873 to 1945, went hand in hand with the agrarian crisis of the late 19th century and the cheapening of consumer durables. Thus the “pseudo-sacred” triumphed in the rise of the material content of working-class wages simultaneous with the fall of nominal wages and ultimately of the working-class share of total social wealth. This same increase in productivity gave rise to the unproductive service classes and their impact on the parties of the workers movement. The modernist avant-garde was the mythical response to and expression of the new pseudo-sacred, consumption. But in America, and then on a world scale, the new phase of accumulation was accompanied by two new cultural forms, the film and jazz. In both of these phenomena, the black presence was central from the beginning.
Jazz was a “concrete universal” art form for America, with its roots in the Afro-American religious music of the Great Awakening of the 1740’s and thereafter. The revolutionary movements in Europe before and after World War I looked above all to either classical European culture or to the modernist avant- garde for their “poetry”. But the black-based music and culture of freedom that existed on the edges of the new culture of consumption in the U.S. offered something that the austere European traditions did not. We note the impact of black American music on Europe from the 1880’s onward, just as the high tradition of European music is dying out. The “night life” of U.S. cities also offered a kind of freedom to a growing mass constituency that was unknown in Europe. This culture was further developed in film, and the first “art film” in American history was the white supremacist W.D. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. The rise of Hollywood was the crucial 20th century extension of the pseudo-sacred, and was linked to the appearance of California agro-business, which became a model for intensive accumulation, with the reduction of the agrarian working class to a trivial percentage of the work force.
In the “revue negre” mood in Europe in the 1920’s, or in the Harlem Renaissance of the same period, society was America moved closer to its role as purveyors of the modernist consciousness of the pseudo-sacred in the New Deal coalition.
The struggles of the American working class from 1870 to 1945 for new national political expression, wedded to the Democratic urban patronage of Northern cities left over from the Jackson era,come together in the decade of the 1930’s and the New Deal coalition of FDR. FDR is the “concrete universal” of the pseudo-sacred for intensive accumulation in the same way that Jackson was for extensive accumulation. As with Jackson in 1848, the New Deal coaliton was destroyed in the mid- 1960’s by a crisis over the combined questions of race and empire.
But what is central for understanding the crisis of the left was the entry en masse in the 1930’s ,into the workers’ movement of the unproductive service classes and their Malthusian, modernist and entropic views. The Communist Parties of Western Europe and the U.S. became mass parties not after 1917 but in the era of the Popular Front, the Resistance and World War II, in the era of the consolidation of real domination. This was the meeting point, in the American context, of “socialism” with the sacralized “moi absolu” of the intelligentsia of the unproductive civil service. The genuine working-class currents prior to 1930, in the U.S., the I.W.W. in particular, were buried in the consolidation of this new statism.
The denouement is the period 1964/65-1973 in which all the categories of the pseudo- sacred and the unproductive middle classes are destroyed once and for all, with the appearance of both the economic crisis and the ecology/energy crisis. This development was echoed on the global scale by the end of the “closed mercantile state”, ca. 1975, and the rise of neo-liberalism. Trapped in their Keynesianism, their Malthusianism and their entropism, the unproductive middle classes of the “left” went in one direction (to post- modernism) and the working class went in another. At the center of this was the black question, and its association with devalorization. To the white working class, whose living standards began to fall in 1965, the growth of the Northern urban black underclass was the immediate “appearance” in which devalorization presented itself. As in the past, proletarianization or sub- proletarianization from capitalist crisis was widely perceived as a racial and not a class phenomenon.
The destruction of the pseudo-sacred in the 1965-1973 period was the end of the illusion of the historically progressive role of the unproductive middle classes. The revolt of the 1960’s in America was brought to a head by the Vietnam War and the black movement. The hidden backdrop to these events was the beginning of the economic crisis after the 1957-58 recession and the plateau of real working-class incomes ca. 1965. The true trajectory of the unproductive middle classes was downward social mobility. Yet the “cultural” ideas which animated the 1960’s presented downward social mobility as “anti- bourgeois” emancipation. (e.g. the romanticization of the black ghetto population and its revolutionary potential) the way of any adequate working-class response to the crisis. To see this acutely, it is necessary to see, in conclusion, the internationalization of American domestic politics through the experience of World War II and subsequent world hegemony.
World War II and its immediate aftermath in the “reconstruction” phase constituted both an internationalization of capitalism and an internationalization of political life in the previously “isolationist” United States. Although the full implications of the internationalization represented by the U.S.- dominated Bretton Woods system and the establishment of the dollar as the international reserve currency on a par with gold did not become clear until the 1960’s and thereafter (and are still being worked out today) the impossibility of another phase of isolationism comparable to the 1920’s was apparent from the beginnings of the Cold War. We have seen how the confrontation with the Soviet Union and Soviet-allied Communist movements around the globe generalized the Old Testament dualism of good vs . evil worked out through the history of the chosen people to a global conflict, and how the social bonding first elaborated in the Salem witch trials were used against “alien ideologies” in the McCarthy period. But the Cold War had also made the Jim Crow system of the American South into an international issue in a way it had never been before World War II. Already during the Pacific war, the Japanese had made propaganda use of the oppression of
American blacks. But this was just a foretaste of the problem posed when the U.S. had to vie with the Soviet Union and China for the allegiance of the “non-allied” (Third World) bloc during the period of de-colonization (1945-1962) and particularly after the Bandung Conference of 1955. Following the Brown decision in 1954 and the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, the use of U.S. troops to enforce de-segregation in the Little Rock crisis was an event in the Cold War. Experience in Europe, as well as fighting and dying in the “war for democracy” had intensified the desire of American blacks, (as in previous wars) to experience some democracy at home, but their renewed struggle occurred in an international spotlight rarely, if ever, focused on their condition in the past, particularly insofar as “international opinion” now included many Third World and particularly African nations which had not existed prior to World War II. The civil rights legislation of the early 1960’s was won first and foremost by the mass struggle of blacks and their allies in America, but one important factor favoring their successes was the new international context.
Let us see, in conclusion, how the different levels of politics, economics and myth worked themselves out, culminating in the crescendo of the 1964-1969 period. Here the Democratic Party of the New Deal was destroyed as a national ruling party, the U.S. ‘s world economic hegemony peaked, and the “pseudo-sacred”, the ideology of the unproductive middle classes in “progressive” politics, was destroyed. Most immediately, the destruction was wrought by the combined inseparable rise of the black movement and the intensification of the Vietnam War. But just below the surface of those two aspects of the crisis was a change in the U.S. international economic position and hence a flattening out, followed by precipitous decline, of American working-class living standards. This was presaged by the beginnings of retrogression in black living standards, which by some criteria can be dated from the early 1960’s.
The turning point of the post-war history of the American working class was the 1957- 1958 recession. This recession marked the beginning of large-scale U.S. direct investment in production abroad, initially in Canada and Western Europe, and after the mid-1960’s, increasingly in select zones of the Third World. The result in the U.S. domestic economy was the end of the expansion of the industrial work force and the drying up of industrial employment for black migrants from the South.Blacks first felt the squeeze on incomes and opportunities that hit the white working class from the mid-1960’s onward.
This is easy to see in retrospect but at the time very few observers, let alone high-level participants in politics or the economy, were aware that the post-war expansion had essentially run out of steam by 1965. A major signal of working-class discontent was the success of Wallace in both the 1964 and 1968 elections among Northern white ethnic workers. This was widely interpreted at the time as a response to liberal Democratic sponsorship of civil rights and welfare legislation, to the black urban uprisings from 1964 to 1968, and to the radicalization of the black movement from its civil rights to its black power phase in 1965-66. But the incipient economic squeeze intensified the climate and made the race question more volatile. Historically, it seems incontrovertible that white American workers experienced the simultaneity of the successes of the black movement and the squeeze on their own situation through de- industrialization , and associated the two phenomena. This is the “material basis” of the latest phase of white racism among the working class (albeit with the centuries’ old historical roots we have attempted to trace): the emancipation of blacks was the first and most palpable form in which devalorization confronted the white working class. Further, this occurred in an unprecedented situation,
for America, of overall national economic decline. The liberal middle class and white- ethnic working class wings of the New Deal coalition were headed in different directions after the mid-1960’s. Because the liberal middle class, today deflated into post- modern Malthusianism, still sets the agenda for the American “left”, both inside and outside the Democratic Party, it is understandable that the white ethnic stratum of the working class remains trapped in its own provincial ghetto of urban patronage politics (the true “submerged Social Democracy in America).
The race question can be said to have shaped the agenda and determined the outcome of American national politics since 1964. Significantly, John Kennedy was the last Democrat from the Northern liberal urban New Deal tradition to win a national election. Since 1964, the only two Democratic presidents have been Southerners capable of keeping the forces today called the “Reagan Democrats” in the fold. The Dixiecrat wing of Roosevelt’s coalition has disappeared as a factor in a successful national “political equation”, and has been superceded in a Republican hold on the South since 1972. alty, AIDS, education, literacy, urban decay, welfare reform, drug wars, the minimum wage and even foreign policy (as in the Middle East or South Africa) have had racial overtones just beneath the surface that play havoc on the former component parts of the defunct New Deal coalition. Most of these phenomena result directly from economic decline and high-tech restructuring, both of which reduce number of well-paid blue-collar jobs which bought two decades of social stability after World War II. Diverting attention from the real sources of such phenomena in the capitalist world economy, conservatives exploit to the hilt the inability of the current organized opposition to formulate a serious alternative,. These phenomena are the visible materialization of devalorization in the economic crisis to white workers, associated with the black question. It is the latest, and perhaps most lethal manifestation of the way in which, in America, the class question has historically been made to appear as a race question.
The American working class has always been an international class, whether through immigration from the unviable agricultural regions of Europe between 1840 and 1924, or from the Caribbean and Latin America since World War II. Capitalism has similarly always been an international system. But since World War II, and particularly since the beginning of de-industrialization and U.S. economic decline in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the internationalization of the world economy and hence of the position of the working class has broken forever the apparent “national” framework of working-class politics. The last major “dispensation” of working-class politics in the U.S. in the 1930’s already occurred in a context of national isolation after the defeat of the world-wide insurrectionary upsurge of 1917-1921.
There has never been a viable and lasting solution for any working class within a national framework, but never has that truth been as palpable as it is today. Since the 1970’s at the latest, (a charitable estimate of the fall of real living standards in the U.S. since 1973 would be 15%) the American working class as a whole has been caught in a negative sum game, a worldwide capitalist strategy to lower the total wage bill at the expense of American and European workers through high-tech innovation in the advanced sector and the farming out of mass production to the Third World. As we have pointed out, the first phase of this process was already affecting American workers in the late 1950’s and its first victims were blacks and potential black members of the working class, by the early 1960’s. The Malthusian world outlook of the former constituency of “liberalism”, as well as most of the U.S. “left” renders it incapable of responding effectively to that situation. A successful renewal of the international working class movement, and a fortiori of the American working class, must have at the core of its strategy the breaking of that negative-sum game in the international economy. Without such a perspective, opposition to austerity can only occur in categories long discredited (essentially, the pipedream of a revived Keynesian welfare state, or more recently, the grafting of “industrial policy” onto such a state). Current conservative hegemony can set virtually the entire “visible” political agenda by manipulating symptoms of social crisis caused by its own policies; the pseudo- left opposition, still wed to the Malthusian and entropic outlook of the state civil service, can be sufficiently hogtied to allow neo- liberalism to paint the world in its own image. Until an international strategy is developed to confront an international crisis and an internationally organized capitalist class, until a new left perspective offers the white stratum of the working class a practical alternative to urban patronage politics and its revulsion at the Keynesian legacy it blames for the crisis, one can fairly predict that many white workers will continue to perceive the black underclass as the most immediate cause, at its doorstep, of its own immiseration. In such a situation, the material basis of racism will intensify, and the decades-old deadlock and drift of the husks of the U.S. political system will continue unabated.