Racism, Ideology, Elite Interests, and the Nation

There have been historic moments in the evolution of public discourse in the United States in which the corporate elite disseminated false claims in order to promote its particular interests.  Such irresponsible conduct is profoundly unpatriotic, because it confuses and divides our people, making it impossible for the nation to understand and confront the challenges that it faces.

     The U.S, corporate elite consolidated its control of the institutions of the nation during the second half of the nineteenth century, during the age of the “Robber Barons.”  At the beginning of the twentieth century, the elite generated false claims about other nations in order to justify imperialist policies, which were designed to ensure the access of U.S. corporations to the markets, natural resources, and cheap labor of the nations of the world.  Since that time, imperialist military interventions and interferences in the domestic affairs of nations has been a consistent characteristic of U.S. foreign policy, carried out by both political parties, disguised by a pretense of defending democracy. 

     The failure of U.S. imperialist policy in Vietnam exposed the pretense, discovered by the black power and student anti-war movements, but neither of the movements had the capacity to establish anti-imperialism as a permanent aspect of U.S. public discourse.  In in its early manifestations, imperialism used racism, portraying the peoples of the world as inferior, to justify intervention.  Since the 1960s, imperialist justifications have been more ethnocentric than racist, relying on the ignorance of the people with respect to actual conditions in other nations.

     A second historic example of elite ideological distortion occurred in the 1970s and the 1980s, when the U.S. corporate elite and the leadership of the Republican Party disseminated the false idea that black people are the primary beneficiaries of government programs, utilizing remnant racist attitudes among the people in support of its ideological attack on the state.  The elite had determined that its interests lie in the reduction of the state (except for military expenditures), in order to preserve its privileges in the face of the sustained structural crisis of the world-economy and the decline of U.S. economic capacities relative to other major powers.  The elite apparently was unable to grasp that global political stabilization and the steadying of the U.S. relative economic decline could only be accomplished by fundamental structural transformations in the world-system.

      The African-American Movement has constituted the most sustained challenge to the rule of the corporate elite.  The movement began in 1917, constructed on the social base of the black migration to the urban North.  It formulated declarations with respect to the civil, political, social, and economic rights of all citizens, thus seeking to expand and deepen the American promise of democracy.  It also had a Pan-African perspective that envisioned the independence of Africa and that called for the unity of the African Diaspora.  In the period of 1955 to 1965, the movement used mass action techniques to drive for black civil and political rights in the South, a campaign that was supported by the corporate elite, because of its consistency with U.S. imperialist interests in a historic moment in which the world-system was in transition to neocolonialism.

     In the period 1966 to 1972, the African-American movement put forth proposals for black control of the black community, the protection of the social and economic rights of all citizens, and an end to imperialist policies in relation to the Third World (see “The black awakening of 1964 to 1972,” April 16, 2021).  These proposals were inconsistent with U.S. corporate interests and objectives.  The elite was able to contain the movement, through the repression and assassination of movement leaders, and as a result of the rise of accommodationist black politicians during the 1970s.  The goals of the period of 1966-1972 were lifted up again by Jesse Jackson in the period 1983 to 1988, but the Rainbow Coalition could not sustain itself as a mass organization with permanent presence among the people (see “The Rainbow Coalition challenges the establishment,” April 27, 2021).  During the 1990s, identity politics emerged as a phenomenon that took some of the previous demands of the movement, but its proposals and strategies could be accommodated to elite objectives (see “Identity politics crashes; the elite-supported woke comes to the rescue,” April 30, 2021).

     The political security of the elite was threatened by the Recession of 2008 and the subsequent popular protest in defense of the interests of the 99%, inasmuch as the protest had correctly identified the revolutionary subject in a process of transformative social change.  In response, the elite came to the support of Critical Race Theory, and it was successful in pushing the concept of the 99% to the side in favor of a racialized narrative that distorts important historic and contemporary facts and that provokes divisions among the people (see “Identity politics crashes; the elite-supported woke comes to the rescue,” April 30, 2021).

     In a 2018 article in Dialectical Anthropology, “Antiracism: a neoliberal alternative to a left,” Adolph Reed, Jr.. Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania and a recognized black political scientist, maintains that the new anti-racist politics is an oppositional tendency in the dominant neoliberal ideology of the nation, a critical self-consciousness within neoliberalism.  It is not compatible with leftist politics as conventionally understood; it is in fact anti-leftist.  It “is fundamentally antagonistic to a left politics of broadly egalitarian social transformation.”  It is characterized by “militant opposition to conventional left norms of justice that center on economic equality.”  It does not seek the elimination or reduction of inequalities of the nation; it only seeks equal access to the hierarchical distribution of goods and services.  It is committed to the pursuit of racial parity within the established order. 

      According to Reed, anti-racist politics promotes the interests of the professional-managerial class, and therefore, it does not seek to forge a large, broad political base seeking social transformation.  It is rooted in the social position and worldview of government administrators tied to the Democratic Party, news analysts and commentators, educational administrators and professors, corporate administrators, social service and non-profit sectors, and the diversity industry.  The members of this stratum are in agreement that race and other ascriptive identities should be central to the framing of social justice issues.   

    Drawing upon Reed’s analysis, I am inclined to describe the new anti-racism as the ideology of a political alliance forged by the corporate elite and the black professional/administrative class, an alliance needed by both to protect and attain their political interests.  The elite wants to retain its privileges, but it is in an ideologically disadvantaged position, because it cannot declare and defend its true goals before the people.  It cannot declare that it is entitled to live in privileged luxury, while many of the people struggle with increasing anxiety to protect basic needs, and many who are better off struggle to pay for the ideal comfortable life styles of the consumer society. In this situation, the ideology of white racism gives the elite the ideological upper hand.  Armed with the anti-racism ideology, the elite now appears to be virtuous, defending the victims of racism.  At this virtuousness has no cost for the elite, for it matters not at all to them if more blacks and other ascriptive identities enter higher positions in the management of a society that the elite controls.  Moreover, the divisions provoked by the false claims of “systemic racism” and “white privilege” undermine the possible popular unity that is the principal potential threat to the privileges of the elite. 

    At the same time, for the black middle class, the support of corporations in the anti-racist political agenda means that it can much more readily attain a greater number of the coveted professional positions in the society, especially important in the context of the sustained structural crisis of the world-economy and the relative economic decline of the nation.  Cooperation between the black professional/managerial class and the corporate elite is the perfect alliance, benefitting both.

     Whites who support the anti-racism ideology of the corporate-black alliance, who outnumber black supporters, are well represented in the upper-middle and middle classes.  They are persons who feel secure in their relatively privileged position, and at the same time suffer from an unresolved guilt with respect to the nation’s historic social sin of slavery and racism.  They feel guilty about their relatively privileged position in the world, which is in actuality rooted partially in their skin color, but principally in the social class and nation to which they belong.  They are conscious of the fact that they did not earn their relative privilege, even though they are only vaguely aware of the historical, economic, and political sources of their privilege.  Support of the anti-racist ideology enables their personal redemption from the social sin of racism; and the inclusion of blacks and other ascribed categories is perceived as having little likelihood of threatening their own relative economic security.

     The anti-racist ideology not only distorts reality, it also imposes.  When there are inaccurate conceptualizations that are designed to formulate a political agenda of a sector of society, their dissemination will be unavoidably driven by authoritarian tendencies.  They cannot be disseminated through reasoned discourse, because the practice of reason would expose the inaccuracy of the formulation.  And thus one sees examples of persons being fired from their positions or expelled from their universities for challenging the assumptions and the inaccuracies of the anti-racist ideology.

     So once again, the elite, as in the beginning of the twentieth century and in the 1970s and 1980s, has divided the people, stoking our differences with respect to race in defense of its particular interests, thereby causing great harm to the nation.

     We the people of the United States cannot permit to stand the sustained effort of the elite to divide us.  In order to successfully resist, we need to improve the quality of our discourse with one another.  We need to listen more and accuse less; we need to focus on ideas and not on personalities; we need to rely more on the written word and less on the video; we need to give careful reflection to everything we send; we need to pay more attention to the history of our nation; we need to listen more to the voices of the Third World neocolonized of the world; we need to give the quest for the true and the right a higher priority than the promotion of a political or personal agenda; we need to believe in the essential goodness of the peoples that form our nation; and we need to have faith in the future of humanity.

     Above all, we need to be patriotic.  Nations are fundamental to human identities and to human social organization.

    During the second half of the twentieth century, the nation made great strides in overcoming its historic social sin of racism, as a number of black scholars, politicians, news analysts, and celebrities have declared in recent years, responding to the distortions of the anti-racism ideology.  At the same time, the nation has tolerated the betrayal of the nation by the corporate elite, in defense of its particular interests and privileges.  The ideological manipulation of the people by the corporate elite is today the fundamental social problem to which we the people must attend.

     We need to go beyond superficiality and to seek to understand the sources of our social problems in their depths, and to always formulate solutions with the analysis of problems, solutions that logically and reasonably are based in the analyses.  This is what I have tried to do with my life, and it has led me to an understanding that draws upon Marxism and Third World socialism, but also draws on the principles of traditional American conservativism (see “Preface: An intellectual autobiography,” April 6, 2021).  It is an understanding that sees the solutions to our problems from the framework of colonial analysis and the proposals of the Third World movements of national liberation, combined with an epistemological foundation in Catholic philosophy.  My intention in writing this editorial column, “Knowledge, ideology, and real socialism in our times,” is to communicate the understanding to which I have arrived, with the hope of making a modest contribution to elevating the social consciousness and political maturity of the peoples of the United States and other English-speaking nations, especially of the North.

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Preface - April 6, 2021