Smearing the National Proletariat with White Nationalism

Did you see Who Joins the Alt-Right? A Look at Charlottesville Anniversary, Newsweek, August 11, 2018? It cites a University of Virginia study that found that white nationalists are likely to be low-income, divorced, uneducated and unemployed. Let me help you understand the situation.

Money is a chief source of stress in a marriage. Divorce is often the result of economic hardship and arguments over finances. To the extent that people see divorce as a social problem (it is harmful to children; even if most adjust over time, the fact that adjustment is needed tells us it’s a problem), it is in part a consequence of an economic system that cannot provide stability for working families. To be sure, there are other reasons people divorce. But if you want to reduce the prevalence of divorce, then you have to raise the level of social support for working people. I’m not saying that marriage is always the ideal arrangement. The point is about keeping families together. Brutal capitalism breaks families down and tears them apart.

The problem of working class ethnonationalism is this: whites who are uneducated and poor—i.e. low-skill labor—in a society that divides its population into white and black and expects minorities to operate on racial identity, tend to see their exploitation and oppression in racial terms. This is the predictable result of American history, a situation that represents the abject failure of the left to organize workers along class lines. The left today—the left that asks us to vote for one of the two bourgeois parties—peddles token diversity and neoliberal identity politics, things that don’t help the working class irrespective of race, but actually deepen capitalist hegemony among the predominantly white middle class, who are educated and affluent, and look down on the white working class while virtue signaling their concern for racialized minorities. It starts with an acknowledgment of “working class racism” among whites. Soon, the problem of racism is the working class.

Poor whites see this and resent it. They see that those privileged by the history and the needs of economic system, and by birth in well-off families, see them as bigots, racists and ignoramuses, while identifying low-skilled blacks and other minorities as vulnerable, as victims. Poor whites are used car trailer park white trash. They have no legitimate grievance because they are instinctively white nationalist in orientation. They must be imagining their disadvantage, after all, they have “white privilege.” The affluent whites do, too, they admit, but they are “self-consciousness” and “allies”—while still benefiting from the privilege those they look down on don’t actually have. 

Meanwhile, the capitalists whom the white middle class supports by voting for the political party representing establishment interests (there’s some false consciousness for you), ships low-skilled jobs overseas where it can, replaces low-skilled labor with machines where it can, and pulls cheap low-skilled labor across the border to compete for the jobs of domestic workers—all to drive down the wage floor for everybody forced into that class by private control over capital. Since the left isn’t giving low-skilled labor a voice—white or black—some poor whites express their grievances through the distortion of ethnonationalism, while seeking a painkiller in evangelical Christianity, alienations kept alive by a society shot through with elite-shaped race politics. All for the sake of elite control of the masses. And the unwashed masses are to blame for all of this. “Why do they vote against their interests?” the smug liberal asks. 

“Behold,” Newsweek declares, “the real enemy: the poor, uneducated white who can’t even hold his marriage together, who blames others for his problem [because, in fact, others are the cause of his problems]. The white nationalists is the greatest threat to humanity.” Translation: Don’t look at the environmental devastation poor whites have no power to cause (but do keep buying stuff we tell you to with money you don’t have). Don’t look at all the wars poor whites have no power to start (but do keep providing taxes and lives so corporate state can wage them). Don’t look at the establishment poor whites play no role in (it knows better than you what’s good for you). All must fear those who rolled the dice on a man they believed would disrupt what the establishment wishes could be a seamless system of capitalist hegemony, what the news media tells us is “mainstream” and “acceptable” politics—the new media that pines for a “return to normalcy.” What’s normal? Duh, globalism, imperialism, and war. What’s abnormal? A spray-tan combover meeting with the leader of a country armed to the teeth with planet-ending weaponry in order to ratchet down tensions. Show us you’re normal, Donny. Antagonize Russia. More sanctions? Nice. Good dog.

Weren’t the “deplorables” supposed to be too stupid to see this? Why weren’t the “irredeemables” scared of the Orange Man? What happened? The left has moved so far away from class politics that somebody like Steve Bannon can provide a better explanation for what’s happening to them than the left can (and it is a good explanation). It’s happening in Europe, too. The right is listening to the people the left is supposed to represent but is too busy belittling. The left abandons class for identity, or at least reduces class to one identity among many. The ultimate cause of the problem is capitalism. But the proximate cause is the establishment left, the Democratic Party, the Labor Party, the Social Democrats. They have sacrificed working people on the altar of neoliberalism.

The problem is not the poor working class. But don’t expect Newsweek to even suggest that.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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