“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.” —Karl Marx, The German Ideology (1845)
I hear it argued in the context of reparations that we should consider who did the labor in American history. Why is it so easy to erase the role of proletarian labor in that history? Because the exploitation, impoverishment, displacement, killing and wounding of proletarian labor continues. The capitalist system is founded upon it. To be sure, we need to account for the history of slavery and racism. But dwelling on past injustice distracts from present injustice. And maybe that’s the point.
I wrote “maybe” above because it sits nicely in that sentence. Of course I mean that is the point. That’s why corporations are funding Black Lives Matter to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and have been for years. BLM is rolling in so much dough that they can hand out six-figure multiyear grants to their affiliates like candy (What’s Really Going On with #BlackLivesMatter). It’s why the media are pushing the BLM agenda. It’s why the globalists are behind the movement. It’s why the Democratic Party leadership takes a knee wearing the Kenta cloth of the Ashanti Kingdom (see Democrats Pander While Managing America’s Decline).
The corporate elite and their political and administrative functionaries and the intelligentsia are taking a page from history. They’re using race to divide the working class. Again. This time they’re eschewing the pseudoscience of racialism and using instead New Left and postmodernist jargon as cover while framing a different scapegoat: the white deplorable. It’s new and improved racism. Corporations would never fund a proletarian movement against capitalism. The corporate media will never support any movement destructive to the interests of the class they defend. They are using racial division to thwart the working class populist movement sweeping the trans-Atlantic world, the movement rejecting the corporatist-globalist establishment led by the Democratic Party in the United States and inspiring the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom.
According to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture exhibit on “Whiteness”: “Since white people in America hold most of the political, institutional, and economic power, they receive advantages that nonwhite groups do not.” But it’s not white people who command the dominant institutions of the nation. It’s capitalists and their functionaries. This is why most poor people are white while the media promotes the myth of “white privilege.” The corporate elite know that there would be no poor blacks if poverty were eliminated for all people. They don’t care about poverty per se. They only care about finessing it. Same with crime and punishment. Obviously. They’re capitalists. They care about keeping proletarian consciousness and politics disorganized. You’re naïve if you think otherwise.
Marx tells in The German Ideology, “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.” Black Lives Matter illustrates the relevance of his argument to today’s situation. Antiracism is a project of neoliberal capitalism. The project means to create the illusion of justice through proportional representation of identity groups. It’s tokenism on a grand scale. This is why the principle of equality is replaced by the ideology of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Inclusion in what? A society predicated on material equality? Substantive economic justice? Hell no. Rather inclusion in the administrative apparatus of the corporate state. It’s the way kings manage tribes. It’s an exercise in legitimation. It’s about control: co-opt enough of the opposition to defang it. Make them feel important. Marginalize the rest. As Adolphe Reed, Jr., tells us in his 2016 essay “How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence,” “antiracism is not a different sort of egalitarian alternative to a class politics but is a class politics itself: the politics of a strain of the professional-managerial class whose worldview and material interests are rooted within a political economy of race and ascriptive identity-group relations.” (See my Zombie Politics: the Corporatist Ideology of Antiracism.)
You can see the capitalist agenda in the actions BLM takes. For an example consider BLM’s partnership with organizations advocating on behalf of immigrants, including illegal immigrants, and its demands to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Immigration has proven devastating to the American workers (see The Immigration Situation), especially black workers. This in turn impacts crime rates and rates of incarceration. A NBER study finds that “immigration has more far-reaching consequences than merely depressing wages and lowering employment rates of low-skilled African-American males: its effects also appear to push some would-be workers into crime and, later, into prison” (see Effects of Immigration on African-American Employment and Incarceration).
In a study examining the period between 1960 and 2000, a period covering the opening of the United States mass immigration, including the effects of NAFTA, George Borjas and colleagues find a strong relationship between immigration, black wages, black employment rates, and black incarceration rates. “As immigrants disproportionately increased the supply of workers in a particular skill group,” they conclude, “the wage of black workers in that group fell, the employment rate declined, and the incarceration rate rose.” (See Immigration and African-American Employment Opportunities: The Response of Wages, Employment, and Incarceration to Labor Supply Shocks.)
Specifically concerning illegal immigration, a US Commission on Civil Rights the Commission report published in 2010 reports estimates finding that illegal workers account for as much as a third of total immigrants in the United States, that illegal immigration increases the supply of low-skilled, low-wage labor, which throws native-born workers employed in the low-skilled labor market, who are disproportionately black, into competition with immigrants. The panel found that employers use ethnic networks among illegal immigrants to recruit workers and that employers say they prefer immigrants to blacks because of the latter’s perceived inferior work ethic. Of course, employers prefer immigrants because they can exploit them at a higher rate than native-born workers (see The Koch Brothers and the Building of a Grassroots Coalition to Advance Open Borders). As I have written about on Freedom and Reason, Bernie Sanders in his previous populist phrase got the issue of immigration (see Bernie Sanders Gets it on Open Borders Rhetoric—At Least He Did in 2015). However, as his politics have converged with those of Black Lives Matter, so his views on this matter have changed. In terms of electoral politics, there is no viable populism on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Marx pointed out long ago that one of the strategies the capitalists use to disorganize the working class is bourgeois nationalism. Bourgeois nationalism is the practice of fracturing the proletariat (the working class) by dividing the people by ethnicity, race, and religion. Thus, after liberating business, culture, and religion from the state, fractions of the bourgeoisie work to retribalize society. Such a move is always obviously to disrupt the class consciousness that threatens to strengthen proletarian politics. Anyone can see that. Or at least should see it. We see it in the practice of bourgeoise nationalism today in the doctrine of multiculturalism, the importation of culture-bears with different religious sensibilities, and the selection of collaborators among them, the practice of tokenism veiled in the virtue of diversity. The promotion of identity politics in the United States is the child of the the cultural pluralism of Horace Kallen, representative of the progressive cosmopolitan crowd, who, writing in the pages of the progressive magazine The Nation in 1915, and ultimately for the interests of the industrialist, deceitfully claimed that cultural relativism would provide a greater national unity. I have discussed this in detail on Freedom and Reason. This is the argument in defense of open borders. It is central to the logic of BLM advocacy.
Marx grasped the tactic in his in a letter, from London, to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt in New York, in 1870, where he observed that the English bourgeoisie sent Irish labor made redundantly through the rationalization of land use “to the English labor market,” a practice that “forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class.” The effect of this was to divide the working class into “hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians.” In a communication on Bakunin, Marx writes that the English working class “feels national and religious antipathies for him [the Irish].” And insofar as the English worker identifies with the ruling class and regards himself a member, and falls into supporting English colonization in Ireland, he strengthens its power. Insightfully, Marx writes, “This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organization. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.”
Thus we have the ruling class consciously pursing a strategy of divide and rule. As I have shown on my blog in numerous essays, it was not until the American working class won restrictions on mass immigration and sharply reduced the proportion of foreign born workers in the population that we see a unified working class movement that won, in many aspects before the European countries, rights for workers. Yet another blow struck for progress. But if people are taught to believe that the United States is no different today than it was when Jim Crow prevailed, or the brutality of the Gilded Age, or worse, no better than the days when blacks were chattel, then the interpretation of selectively presented facts shaped by that framing comes out wrong and potentially destructive. Privation may lend this feeling energy, but it is the interpretation of American history that is malignant. And it is this interpretation of history that Black Lives Matter pushes. Ideas matter. BLM is is not a pro-worker.
That there are those on the left who believe that corporations can be good faith actors in the struggle for justice testifies to the capacity possessed by corporations to warp popular consciousness. Just stop and consider the fact that a therapeutic like Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility declaring all whites racist and claiming that only whites can be racist can become a best-selling book used in diversity training in corporations and universities and then try to imagine a scenario where a book critical capitalism and the bourgeoisie could enjoy the same status. Such phenomena reveal perhaps more explicitly than anything could the extent and entrenchment of corporate power than the current situation. “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” Indeed. The ruling class owns the left.
In The German Ideology, Marx writes, “The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.” Black Lives Matter powerfully illustrates the argument Marx made more than a century and a half ago. We would do well to listen to what the man had to say today in preparing our response to the corporate war on the working class.