White Supremacy as a Unifier and Political Rallying Point
Here is the platform of ‘Race Traitor’ (2005), an organisation that takes the dangers of ‘white supremacy’ to their limits and that calls for the abolition of whiteness:
What We Believe
The white race is a historically constructed social formation. It consists of all those who partake of the privileges of the white skin in this society. Its most wretched members share a status higher, in certain respects, than that of the most exalted persons excluded from it, in return for which they give their support to a system that degrades them.
The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race, which means no more and no less than abolishing the privileges of the white skin. Until that task is accomplished, even partial reform will prove elusive, because white influence permeates every issue, domestic and foreign, in US society.
The existence of the white race depends on the willingness of those assigned to it to place their racial interests above class, gender, or any other interests they hold. The defection of enough of its members to make it unreliable as a predictor of behavior will lead to its collapse.
RACE TRAITOR aims to serve as an intellectual center for those seeking to abolish the white race. It will encourage dissent from the conformity that maintains it and popularize examples of defection from its ranks, analyze the forces that hold it together and those that promise to tear it apart. Part of its task will be to promote debate among abolitionists. When possible, it will support practical measures, guided by the principle, Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.
I have argued elsewhere (Cole 2008a, p. 115) that the style in which the ideological position of the organization, ‘Race Traitor’ is written is worryingly reminiscent of Nazi propaganda, and seriously open to misinterpretation: that it could be interpreted as meaning the abolition of white people. In fact, it is made clear above and in the book of the same name (Ignatiev and Garvey 1996) that this is not the case.8 However, when one taps in ‘Race Traitor’ on a Google search, it is the above statement written by the organization ‘Race Traitor’, which comes up first. I am not questioning the sincerity of the protagonists of ‘the abolition of whiteness’, nor suggesting in any way that they are anti-white people -merely questioning its extreme vulnerability to misunderstanding.9
Antiracists have made some progress, in the UK at least, after years of ‘establishment’ opposition, in making antiracism a mainstream rallying point, and this is reflected, in part, in legislation (e.g. the (2000) Race Relations Amendment Act).10 Even if it were a good idea, the chances of making ‘the abolition of whiteness’ a successful political unifier and rallying point against racism are virtually non-existent. For John Preston (2007, p. 13), ‘[t]he abolition of whiteness is ... not just an optional extra in terms of defeating capitalism (nor something which will be necessarily abolished post-capitalism) but fundamental to the Marxist educational project as praxis’. Indeed, for Preston (2007, p. 196) ‘[t]he abolition of capitalism and whiteness seem to be fundamentally connected in the current historical circumstances of Western capitalist development’. From a Marxist perspective, coupling the ‘abolition of whiteness’ to the ‘abolition of capitalism’ is a worrying development which, if it gained ground in Marxist theory in any substantial way would most certainly undermine the Marxist project, even more than it has been undermined already (for an analysis of the success of the Ruling Class in forging consensus to capitalism in the UK, see Cole 2008b, 2009c). Implications of bringing the ‘abolition of whiteness’ into schools are discussed in chapter 8 of this volume. As is argued in this volume, racism, xeno-racism, racialization, xeno-racialization, when informed by Marxism, are far more conducive to understanding racism in contemporary societies than is the CRT concept of ‘white supremacy’. ‘White supremacy’, I believe, should be restricted to its conventional usage.
Tenet II: ‘Race’ Not Class as the Primary Contradiction
As noted in chapter 2 of this volume, the key formative event in the establishment of CRT was the CRT workshop in 1989 which made clear CRT’s location in critical theory, and crucially ‘race’, racism and the law. Ladson- Billings and Tate (1995, p. 62) confirm the CRT belief in ‘race’ as primary by aligning their scholarship and activism with the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, who believed that any programme of emancipation would need to be built around the question of ‘race’ first. As they observe, Garvey is clear and unequivocal:
In a world of wolves one should go armed, and one of the most powerful defensive weapons within reach of Negroes is the practice of race first in all parts of the world (cited in ibid.).
Similarly, Mills (2003a, European Spectres, chapter 6, p. 13) rejects both what he refers to as the ‘original white radical orthodoxy (Marxist)’ for arguing that social class is the primary contradiction in capitalist society, and the ‘present white radical orthodoxy (post-Marxist/postmodernist)’ for its rejection of any primary contradiction. Instead, for Mills (ibid.) ‘there is a primary contradiction, and ... it’s race’. For Crenshaw et al. (1995b, p. xxvi) ‘subsuming race under class’ is ‘the typical Marxist error’.
‘Race’, Mills goes on, is ‘the stable reference point for identifying the ‘them’ and ‘us’ which override all other ‘thems’ and ‘us’s’ (identities are multiple, but some are more central than others)’, while for Crenshaw et al. (1995b, p. xxvi), although they acknowledge that ‘race’ is socially constructed, something with which Marxists would fully concur,11 ‘race’ is ‘real’ since ‘there is a material dimension and weight to being “raced” in American society’. ‘Race’, Mills concludes is ‘what ties the system together, and blocks progressive change’. For Marxists, it is capitalism that does this.
Mills (1997, p. 111) argues that ‘[w]hite Marxism [is] predicated on colorless classes in sturggle’, and goes on to suggest that ‘European models of radicalism, predicated on a system where race is much less domesti- cally/internally important (race as the external relation to the colonial world), operate with a basically raceless (at least nominally) conceptual apparatus’(Mills 2003a, p. 15). ‘Race’, he states, ‘then has to be “added on”’ (ibid.). Claiming that Marxism is ‘largely seen as dead’ (Mills 2009, p. 271),12 Mills states that he would like to think that ‘a modified historical materialism that takes race seriously instead of seeing it as merely epi- phenomenal to class’ can explain ‘white supremacy’ (ibid., p. 273). If so, such a Marxism, he concludes, ‘does have to be a theoretically revised one’ (ibid., p. 273), not ‘the class-reductionist Marxism’ that he designates as ‘”white Marxism”, a Marxism that fails to recognize the import and social reality of race’ (ibid., p. 273).
My response to Mills’ desire for Marxism to explain ‘white supremacy’, for which in the closing paragraph of Mills 2003b (p. 247) Mills states that he has ‘left open the door’ but is unsure if it can, is that I do not believe there will be a Marxist explanation of ‘white supremacy’, since, as outlined in the previous section of this chapter, the concept is incompatible with Marxism. With respect to Mills’ call for a non ‘class- reductionist Marxism’, and his proclaimed sympathy with the idea that Marxism ‘ultimately provides the most promising theoretical tool for understanding the genesis and persistence of racism’ (2009, ibid., p. 272), I would answer in the following way. Mills use of the adverb ‘ultimately’ and his statement that ‘this seems more of a project in progress that a successfully completed one’ (Mills 2009, p. 272) does not do justice to a long-standing and wide range of US- based (e.g. Torres and Ngin 1995; Zarembka 2002; Darder and Torres 2004; Marable 2004; McLaren and Scatamburlo-D’Annibale 2010), and UK-based Marxist analysis of ‘race’ and racialization (e.g. Miles 1982, 1984, 1987, 1989, 1993; Sivanandan 1982, 1990; Callinicos 1993; Cole 2004a, c, 2006a, b, 2008a, c, 2009a, b; Cole and Virdee 2006; Virdee 2009a, b, c). Such scholarship strongly contest Mills’ (2003a, p. 16) suggestion that contemporary Marxists have a notion of ‘abstract “workers” and “capitalists”’ devoid of ethnicity (the Marxist concepts of racialiazation and xeno-racialization are discussed in more depth later in this chapter; see also chapter 5 of this volume for a discussion of Marxism and antiracism, and chapter 6 for a discussion of Marx and ‘race’).
Mills (2003a, p. 16) invites readers to
Imagine you’re a white male Marxist in the happy pre-feminist, prepostmodernist world of a quarter-century ago. You read Marcuse, Miliband, Poulantzas, Althusser. You believe in a theory of group domination involving something like the following. The United States is a class society in which class, defined by relationship to the means of production, is the fundamental division, the bourgeoisie being the ruling class, the workers being exploited and alienated, with the state and the juridical system not being neutral but part of a superstructure to maintain the existing order, while the dominant ideology naturalizes, and renders invisible and unobjectionable, class domination.
This all seems a pretty accurate description of the US in the twenty-first century, but for Mills (ibid.) it is ‘a set of highly controversial propositions’. He justifies this assertion by stating that all of the above ‘would be disputed by mainstream political philosophy (liberalism), political science (pluralism), economics (neo-classical marginal utility theory), and sociology (Parsonian structural-functionalism and its heirs)’ (ibid.). While this is true, my response to this would be, well, of course it would be disputed by mainstream philosophers, pluralist political scientists, neo-classical economists and functionalist sociologists, all of which, unlike Marxists, are, at one level or another, apologists for capitalism.