Why Whites Are Pieces of … Something

RWB

The white identity is entirely unnecessary– that is, unless the political or class category of whiteness is placed in the context of a global economy where Europe and Europeans (and therefore white people) receive the greatest material benefits of imperialist capitalism.  Then the necessity of whiteness becomes particularly true for white “Americans” in the United States, which is a settler colony of Europe built on genocidal violence against Africans, Indigenous peoples and most (or all) so-called people of color.  In this colonial context, whiteness is not just a matter of skin color, or an indication of one’s origins: whiteness is a ticket to resources, to security and to protection from the state.

Frantz Fanon wrote, “Looking at the immediacies of the colonial context, it becomes clear that what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to.  In the colonies the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure.  The cause is effect: you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.”

An English person in England, many centuries ago, would no more be described as “white,” on account of their pale skin, then they would be called a “person” in order to differentiate them from someone else.  The requirement of whiteness as a differentiating factor only came about when the question of resources in a world economy had elevated the political categorization of “white,” and so an individual in England now was not merely English but was a “white person.”  However, since they were already a person, prior to Europe’s imperialist conquest of Africa and the Americas and the world, their personhood had already been established.  As an English person who didn’t belong to the nobility, and who didn’t have the “right” blood, they may have been considered an inferior person, yet they remained a person nonetheless– particularly if they were a cisgender man.  And whiteness– while dividing up the conquered world, as well as the unequal distribution of the great wealth accumulated by this conquest– actually provided an ideological or political basis for the lowly Englishman to ascend toward full personhood, particularly at the stage of Europe’s development when bourgeois democracy replaced monarchy.

The United States, as the former colonies of England, gave the white person– who was no longer English or British– the ability to achieve full personhood, as guaranteed in the Constitution.  The ideological basis for this ascendance toward full personhood experienced by the white person in the colonies was the Declaration of Independence at the beginning of the war against England, which stated that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Prior to the European conquest of Africa and the world, which gave birth to capitalism, the English person in England was not considered equal by the feudal monarchy, and so the white person (both a person and white) was not yet born– not until France, the United States, and other white powers began to legally recognize the equality of “all men” (all white men).  After this point of history, if you were white in the United States, this meant you were free, you were an equal among men, and therefore you were granted the constitutional right to enjoy the spoils of imperialist conquest.  And if you were free, and equal among men, and were granted the right to the riches of empire, you were white.  Under world capitalist rule, whiteness became very necessary.

Beneath this ideological basis for the recognition of complete white personhood in the United States was the material basis of access to resources and wealth within a global economy controlled by Europeans (wherever we live).  As the globe has become smaller and smaller in the collective imagination of the European– its many territories outside Europe having been explored, conquered and often populated by whites– our consciousness of more resources and more land has grown bigger and bigger.  Whiteness, a political category, connects the European population to the land and its materials, and often to the sources of labor– the masses of brown workers– who must be dominated by imperialist power and forced to extract and produce these commodities for our benefit.  As a result, whiteness and property became inseparable, even as white people felt compelled to separate ourselves– once again through force– from the brown people of this new and growing global reality.

Europeans held the imagined world in our mind, and now it was just a question of how to bring its material fact– its resources, labor and land– toward our actual bodies, who were achieving greater and greater levels of humanity (that is, the liberal and humane ideals of freedom, justice and equality) through greater and greater levels of genocidal violence and imperialist conquest.  What was needed to make the dream of “the good life” a reality in “America” (and the world) was a political category, a system of identification which could serve as a differentiating factor for superior class status, or power: what was needed by Europeans was whiteness.

By connecting our identity to property and to the gains of capitalist empire, Europeans transformed our relationship to nature and to the world’s population outside Europe.  Whiteness is power.  Whiteness is wealth.  Whiteness is ownership.  And in order to identify as an owner, something (or someone) must be owned.  The masses of Europeans who had struggled under the system of feudalism could only gain full personhood through ownership and the creation of capital.  Whiteness is capital.  This is why the “white working class” is largely mythological– even when European colonizers aren’t wealthy we may still be able to cash in on our whiteness, or capitalize on our whiteness.

Without whiteness, our land, our labor, our very personhood might be up for grabs by the reigning global system of power, capitalism.  Without whiteness, we may become the owned, not the owner.  And a white person who is poor, who lacks property, who hasn’t done much with all these guaranteed constitutional rights to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, and doesn’t enjoy many of the benefits of whiteness, is considered a great disappointment by this racist, bourgeois society.  They must be lazy, stupid, and worthless– like the rest of the people are, those who are less than human because capitalism requires that they be so.  If they were otherwise, and were fully human, there would be no Indigenous land for the United States, no African labor to create its empire, and no profits for G4S (one of the largest corporations in the world today).

Yet our relationship to colonized populations under the global economic system of capitalism has also transformed the European colonizers’ relationship to nature.  In an earlier stage of capitalist ascendance (and the ascendance of whiteness) the English poet John Donne famously wrote:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.  And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Donne referred to “every man” as “a piece of the continent” in the metaphorical sense.  The identity of man, in John Donne’s imagination, wasn’t that he’s a piece of dirt, a clod.  Donne was talking about the spiritual connection of humanity, and specifically the individual’s involvement in the “mankind” of “Europe”— as a piece of the human continent.  Donne meant that the material reality of “man” involved a unity of spirit.

In England, we were previously just English.  Perhaps we originated in Normandy or Scandinavia, but white skin was hardly a differentiating factor, and certainly not a basis for class division.  However, in the colonial context of English and European capitalist rule, now our connection to nature, and the elevation of our personhood, is signified by our whiteness.  We are fed by capitalist empire.  We are clothed by capitalist empire.  We are able to grow and develop on account of capitalist empire.  Whether we are white in Europe or white in the United States, or Canada, or Australia, and whether we are wealthy or poor, whites are a “piece of the continent” in a very different sense, as part of a transformed relationship to people and planet.  To be a “[white] American” means we are part of conquered land, connected to territory ripped from the lives of Indigenous peoples, and henceforth developed through the subjugation of African lives.  In England, we were just English.  In Europe, we were just Europeans.  In the United States, whites are defined by an entirely different relationship to our physical location: we are nothing without the stolen earth which sustains our existence, and the exploited labor upon this occupied soil and all around a planet dominated by capitalism.

As far as our philosophical idealism is concerned, which fills the mind with visions of wealth, freedom, and decent, humble, kindhearted living, the white individual in the United States is free, and believes in justice and equality.  Yet in materialist terms, the white individual in the United States has only attained this liberal and humane sense of self through the theft of land, resources and labor, exchanging the personhood of Europe for the whiteness of “America.”

Whiteness sustains the metaphysical image of the liberal, humane “American,” yet this image is disconnected from the material reality of ongoing colonial oppression and genocidal violence against Africa and the world.  Our dreams of middle-class goodness stay there in our heads, empowered to be disassociated from the reality of capitalist empire because whiteness itself is insulation, a wall of colonial fantasies which shuts out the objective world, while the racist bourgeoisie piles up its profits and grows richer and richer.

And should it be any wonder that “racial tension” exists and that whites are not loved by the world as much as we believe we ought to be?  The global system of capitalism, through its ideology of white supremacy, has empowered Europeans to exchange personhood (however unequal it was prior to our invasion of Africa and the Americas), for the material benefits of whiteness.  These benefits of whiteness established a liberal, democratic, bourgeois equality among Europeans, in addition to a belief in freedom and other worthy ideals.  Yet whiteness transformed our relationship to the material world and to the population outside Europe.  Having elevated the white individual– particularly the “American” settler in the United States– to some lofty vision of human rights, Europe’s system of imperialist conquest subsequently disassociated the European person from their natural environment, by transforming the white identity into capital itself, based on its connection to land or property.

Capitalism reduced the European person to an inhumane object– or objectifier– in the dialectical relationship of the colonizer to the colonized, the oppressor to the oppressed, and the owner to the owned.  The greater sense of power and self-fulfillment experienced by the white “American” represented a disintegration of his connection to humanity and planet.  As a result, rather than being a piece of the human continent, as the pre-colonial, pre-capitalist European might have become, the white individual and whiteness became inseparable from the colonial and capitalist occupation of land and people, disconnecting us from nature and humanity.  Under capitalism, whites have become pieces of … well, something.

Why Whites Are Pieces of … Something

Making a Democracy Move

SteelBall

A steel ball rolls on the surface that is flat until it runs into an object– another steel ball perhaps, either larger or smaller– and then is redirected, or stopped, or obliterated.

This image may represent the human will– the volition of the individual.  One might argue that each of us just rolls along in a certain direction until a greater force prevents us from going any farther.  And freedom in a democratic sense seems to be the ability of each person– or steel ball– to roll forward, unimpeded by any power which may take us off the course of our choice, or may even destroy us by its oppressive weight.

This freedom for the individual to make their move sounds good, but then we may also have to recognize that in a class-based society, or as part of a system which divides people into different tiers of wealth and power, an individual’s movement is (pre)determined by where they are situated– that is, by their social plane or class.

We may believe that we are completely free if we are just rolling along, with no objects getting in our way, but the surface upon which we roll– the plane of our existence– has been constructed by a greater force or system of power to make the ride smoother for us.  Our subjective experience (as all experiences are) tells us that we are free: no one is bumping into us and changing our course, nor are we crashing into anyone else.  We’re just rolling along, enjoying the choices which we have as individuals in a capitalist, democratic society.

However, the objective reality is that our experience is situated on a plane (our class) which has been created by a system of power (capitalism), and this plane rests on top of the individuals below (in the subjugated classes), preventing them from rolling along (if we go back to the image of the steel ball).  So, what may have felt like freedom has proved to be a sloping plane of a giant structure whose surface we are simply running down as this entire structure sits on top of identities who can’t move– because we can.

Sure, we can encourage an individual just to move— simply go in the direction of their choice.  Live and let live.  But, at the same time, certain objective factors will still determine their movement and ours.  And the oppression of some identities will be unavoidable as long as a class structure is in place.  This class structure is what is keeping privileged identities on one plane above, and oppressed or marginalized identities on a much lower level.

The tiered system of capitalist power is far stronger than any individual.  Oppressed identities, by definition, struggle against this force that is weighing upon them– if they don’t they will be crushed.  Individually, they may survive.  But a greater force must somehow be created in order to challenge the power of the current class-based system.  Nothing can change if all the steel balls are just rolling around, bumping into each other, running down the path of least resistance until something stops them.  Somehow a mass force must crash into the entire structure, flattening the stacked levels that divide individuals into classes, with a few on the top feeling the least impeded, and each plane below experiencing greater and greater oppression.  Only a mass force can crush this oppressive hierarchy of classes, so that all the people will be equally free to move on the same plane.

Capitalist society incentivizes any behavior that will keep this class structure in place.  Individual freedom is highly valued.  The ability to move and to do whatever we want is one of the most attractive aspects of bourgeois democracy.  Of course, money is required to do anything.  But we believe that, as long as we have the resources, we can do, speak, and think pretty much anything we want, and live the way we please.  And it’s hard to argue against that.  Why would we?  The problem is: statistics prove that we are largely stuck in our class until the day we die.  And individuals in some classes (working class Africans/Black people, Indigenous peoples, Latinxs) have identities that are not valued by this society.  Their freedoms, their identities and their lives don’t matter under the oppressive weight of capitalist democracy, which values, instead, individuals who are white, cisgender, and wealthy or middle-class.  And it is the subjugation of these other (or Othered) classes by capitalist power which allows individuals in the classes above to live freely, and to feel that they can move.

At the same time, it may be difficult to tell people who have some freedom of movement that they should relinquish a certain amount of this power, this volition, for the sake of the masses.  Essentially, many people would be forced to give up their freedom (some of it at any rate) in order to guarantee freedom for all.  And, to these privileged identities, such force naturally feels oppressive.  And this goes for individuals in subjugated or oppressed classes too.  Why would they exchange whatever level of oppression they experience under capitalism just to have another steel object crashing into them and similarly knocking them around?  As long as you are going to be bumped into by a greater force, it might as well be capitalism, right?

There’s an unscientific theory which states that if you give a person a cell phone, a flat screen high-definition TV (with wi-fi and cable, or satellite), and maybe a few “cool” clothes, and at least the illusion that they may soon get rich, then such a person will not only put up with any amount of oppression against them, but will likely support the oppression of everyone else.  That’s capitalism.  And that’s entertainment– just turn on the TV, or go to Facebook and Twitter, and experience how the dreams of eternal youth, fun, popularity and influence are marketed by capitalism on an hourly basis.

But we probably should stay with a scientific approach, and the materialist theory which says: whoever controls the means of production in a society becomes its ruling class, and their ideology is then perpetuated through every institution which they have created for their own benefit.  So if we have a job at an institution– public or private– and we depend on this job for all the necessities of life, then we pretty much have to go along with whatever ideology is being promoted by this source of our material benefits.  We might resist a little bit– take longer breaks, call in sick and skip a workday once in a while– but, even so, we recognize that our survival depends on this system; and not only on our place of employment, because we also need the system for clean and unpoisoned water (a luxury in this country), and we need the system for our schooling, our healthcare, our clothes and our food.  Unless we want to go hungry, we need capitalism.

Suddenly that steel ball that was rolling along so freely doesn’t feel so free, if we consider the contours of the plane and how it pushes us this way, then that, up and down, as we go through the motions to get all the things we need to keep moving.  In fact, we might ask ourselves: what makes us go?  How do we move?  After all, something (or someone) had to give us a shove at the outset and get the ball rolling.

What we may discover is that our ability to move– determined at the class level– is based on our relationship to the power structure of society, and how this structure acts like a magnet, or an object with gravitational pull, working against our own composition and internal contradictions.  In other words, the body (unlike a steel ball) needs food, so it reacts to the larger system of power in order to obtain access to this material necessity.  It moves in the direction of something to eat.  If it didn’t need food, it may not move in that direction– and go to the grocery store, requiring gas for the car, and a refrigerator for some of the purchased items, and a job to get money to purchase these things.  As our stomachs become emptier, we turn more and more to the source of power that controls access to food.  And as we become more and more dependent on this system, our minds are shaped by this necessity; the ideas we have in our head, and our view of the world begin to conform to the contours of this daily struggle of ours to survive.  And at some point, we do become a bit like that object, the steel ball, just going through the motions– flipping through the channels, watching sports and eating chips.  It’s not as if there’s anything wrong with watching sports– or doing anything else we want– it’s just that such behavior on our part won’t challenge the power of the existing system, and will probably strengthen it, as capitalism profits off our mechanical movements.

So the question is: how do we resist?  How do we survive, but also, how do we resist?  How do we move?  For some of us, there has never been a question about how to resist, because it is how they survive.  But for the rest of us– white people in particular– survival often means running down the path of least resistance, just staying on the plane of our privileged class experience, rolling along without much consciousness of the larger political, economic and social consequences of our white behavior.  And what seems to be needed is a force of resistance– a bigger, badder steel ball– knocking our complacent white selves off course, and perhaps getting us out of this comfortable rut.  But, as long as we feel that we are running smoothly across the surface without too many inconveniences in our path, whites may not change anything about our behavior.  It is only through resistance that we can be bumped into a line of moving– thinking, speaking, feeling– that we haven’t experienced before.  Until we’re made to move, we will just keep running down the flat surface that is the plane of our bourgeois, colonial class.

How do we resist?  How do we make an anti-imperialist, proletarian democracy move?  For European colonizers (or white people) in the United States, it is not the composition of the steel ball that is our identity which must be changed, but rather the plane upon which it moves, the class structure that sustains white existence at the expense of Africans, Indigenous peoples and the majority of humanity.

In order to revolutionize this white existence it seems that Africa, Latin America, Asia and “people of color” within the illegitimate borders of the United States would have to rise up as a mass movement and knock the European identity off this smooth surface that sits atop a pedestal resting on genocidal violence against the world.  Otherwise, we’re going to do what we want to do, and believe this is just “freedom”– when it’s a freedom based on the subjugation of the global majority, who won’t be able to move according to the will of the people until they have leveled this oppressive system of capitalism.

Making a Democracy Move

Visualizing a Tree’s Branches in Gusts of Wind, but Recognizing the World As It Is

Tree

Each of us is a branch connected to the same tree, reaching to the sky only on account of the same roots which grow into the earth, and, while these remain under the ground, they dictate our ability to blossom and to bear fruit.

Once in a while a gust of wind– although unseen– will blow the branches back and forth, shaking off the green leaves, and each one of us will experience the force of this wind in our own way.  A few of the branches may break and fall to the ground, even if the same wind is hitting all of us with equal force.

And so, individually, we feel the wind differently, from branch to branch; and, since the stronger branches can withstand the wind, perhaps they may feel that the wind really isn’t very strong after all, so why don’t the weaker branches show more strength?  This is where the subjective experience and identity of the individual may get in the way of their understanding of objective reality: just because they’re not broken (not yet), this doesn’t mean the wind isn’t very powerful.  And even when we do prove to be stronger (for now), we are still connected with every other branch on the tree to its central trunk, and our individual power is entirely dependent on the tree’s roots which grow deep into the earth.

A storm is raging in the world today; the winds are growing stronger.  And within the current global arrangement of power– controlled by racist, patriarchal, colonial capitalism– we are encouraged to look inward, and to focus on our own feelings during this loud storm.  Since we subjectively experience the storm winds differently than the branches next to us, we may be led to believe that a special gust of wind is blowing against us– or perhaps we’re a special branch.

Capitalism tells you: you are uniqueFeelings are the most important thing– at least my own feelings.  Life is more valuable than ever: at least my life is.  The feelings of other people (especially “Other” people) and their lives– these are more expendable than ever.  In the world economy of racist capitalism, Black lives don’t matter.  But as long as the individual is secure and comfortable within ourselves– and is strong enough to survive the invisible gusts of wind– then capitalism tells us it is these feelings that are what counts: go by how you feel about the situation, not by how hard the wind is blowing, nor by how the political factors beyond your control have shaped your ability to weather the storm.  All credit, all blame is on you– and how much money is in your bank account.  That’s capitalism.

And the unstable contradictions of capitalism (or imperialism in crisis) are creating invisible but massive gusts of wind in the world today, and great volatility in our lives, both on a global, systemic scale and on the scale of the individual, the singular identity  who depends on this system for the necessities of life.  These are scary times.  People are anxious.  We’re frightened for ourselves and for those around us.  But the expectation that only the stronger people– or stronger branches– will stand up under this pressure is individualistic, ableist, elitist, reactionary.  At the same time, the belief that the winds aren’t really so frightening after all (don’t be afraid! just show courage– be yourself!): this idealistic conclusion, which we may arrive at because we are withstanding the winds fairly well, is subjective, and also individualistic and reactionary and opportunistic.

These are times which encourage liberal behavior– that is, capitalism, during these anxious and uncertain times, encourages the reactionary behavior of the liberal which will benefit the system.  Any effort to resolve conflict in terms of the individual, rather than the overall society, is liberal behavior.  If we believe only the individual is responsible for their behavior, and for how they are able to withstand the powerful winds created by unstable conditions in the global economic system of capitalism, then we are isolating them (the branch) from the masses (the tree and its roots), and also failing to recognize that the same powerful gusts are hitting all of us.

Liberal reactions to this crisis of capitalism– or, these massive gusts of wind shaking the tree– are those which lead us to look inward at our special composition, our special condition, our entirely unique experience.  And, in a sense, this is true: each branch of the tree does have its own weight and density, and a specific number of twigs and leaves.  We can only experience our own lives, according to our own personality.  Yet this uniqueness, this special condition, and the truth which we feel inside, doesn’t change the fact that the outside reality– that of the great gusts of wind– is hitting all of us in much the same manner.

The tragedy of this increasingly turbulent age– “The Trump Era”– is that each of us may be incentivized by capitalism to look inward, and to regard the causes of our feelings and experiences as somehow unique to us, and then we may end up resolving these contradictions in ways that add to the oppressive conditions which have led to these feelings at the outset.

Yes, you are special; you are unique.  But white people in particular may wish to consider that our special condition– especially if we’re gay, or trans, or women, or all the above, and if we suffer from chronic illness or we’re poor, or we’re lonely, or isolated, or all the above– is not some secret burden which we have been designated to bear on our own.  These negative experiences– just like the positive experiences– are the result of objective conditions, the knowable phenomena of the material universe which are hurting (or helping) all people, only each of us feels the impact of these historical processes in our own unique way.

Our feelings are legitimate: they just are.  Our feelings aren’t the problem.  The problem is our location within conditions controlled by a system of tiered classes which favors some identities over others, which takes from one class in order to elevate another class.  The problem is capitalism.  The problem is ameriKKKa.  The problem is whiteness– for all these are pretty much synonymous: capitalism, ameriKKKa, whiteness, as well as white supremacy.

So, what’s ameriKKKa have to do with our tall, beautiful tree which perhaps we haven’t forgotten?  And its many branches?  Nothing, actually.  We don’t want to extend the metaphor of the tree’s branch too far or it may break off and crash to the ground.

At this point we can only say: white people, as a group, are elevated at the expense of oppressed peoples, and therefore, even when we’re sad, lonely, sick, poor, or just plain tired, it is nevertheless an objective reality that we experience these things– the negative processes and even the positive ones– through our imperialist exploitation of the majority of people on the planet (and the planet itself).

Our feelings aren’t the problem.  The problem is that capitalism invents a million ways– or more– for us to resolve these internal contradictions of ours, causing us to stay “in our feelings” (to [mis]appropriate a phrase) as we stomp on the masses, climbing up and up, while simultaneously experiencing a myriad of emotions which we mistake for some universal experience of suffering or success.  Actually, we’re quite pathetic.  Whites push and shove the rest of the people around, taking up extra space, shedding white tears, expressing white fears, and then believe our lives– although unique on one level– are the universal experience of humanity.  No– they are the expression of class identity, of racist, colonial whiteness.

But getting back to the tree … a nicer, gentler image to be sure.  Let’s consider for a moment that our feelings of turmoil, anxiety and uneasiness are not simply the expression of our internal composition, even if we do relate to outside forces only through the stability or our instability of our own contradictions (as individuals, organizations, classes, or nations).  Perhaps we can consider that these feelings are just the result– the effect– of the great gusts of social change that are blowing against every branch with much the same force; and, while each branch is unique, all branches are connected to the same tree and to the same roots deep down in the soil.  Where capitalist ideology seeks to isolate, and encourages individualistic behavior, perhaps we can connect, and imagine forms of resistance which are unified: a mass force of power to counter these reactionary forces of social change.

It’s true, the metaphor of the tree doesn’t seem to illustrate this mass resistance.  But that’s okay because now we want to look at the world, not as we wish it to be (a pretty tree), and not as something to escape (a virtual tree?), retreating into the infinity of emotions within our scared (or sacred) isolated selves, but the world as it is.  Now we’re no longer in the realm of metaphor but material reality.  The world as it is.  And now we recognize that, in order for anything or anyone to grow– trees or children, the food we eat or the people who are fed by this fruit– we first need to gain control of the means for producing the fruit, the productive forces which use the materials of nature for the survival of societies who are– in turn– part of nature.

By recognizing the world as it is, perhaps our understanding of it may lead to actions based in egalitarian principles; and, chief among these, is the belief that from each should be gained that which they are able to produce, and to each should be given what they need.

Visualizing a Tree’s Branches in Gusts of Wind, but Recognizing the World As It Is

“Change the environment, change the man. Simple.”: Overcoming Individualism, Pride and Whiteness to Transform an Oppressive System

GeorgeJackson

The main obstacle to human progress has nearly always been the individual putting themselves ahead of the people.  And part of this individualistic roadblock to human progress is our tendency to place ourselves outside the objective laws of nature, believing our subjective experience and our own lives are somehow an exception to the rule: that is, the rules of science, and the rules belonging to the overall development of humanity.  While this behavior is quite understandable, it seems to be rooted in pride.

Islam teaches us that the first sin of the Shaytaan (Satan or Iblis) was his pride, after he refused to bow down with all the angels to Adam and Eve whom Allah had created from dark clay.  Islam also teaches us that everything else in Allah’s Creation– rocks, trees, animals– continuously gives praise to Him, yet humans often refuse to show gratitude to our Creator.  We begin to think that we are outside, above and beyond the laws of the universe; and soon this pride on our part becomes a kind of “God-complex.”  Every time an individual places themselves ahead of the people, they are starting to show that they have a “God-complex,” and it is this pride and ingratitude which can lead to feelings of fear, unhappiness and hatred.

This obstacle to social progress– pride, individualism– is not isolated to one “race” or region of the globe, yet it does seem to be expressed most glaringly among the European population, and especially among whites in the United States, a settler colony of Europe built on slavery, genocide and capitalist oppression.  While this arrogant and individualistic behavior is not unique to the European colonizers who occupy North America, it’s only natural that we should behave this way after our lives have been elevated through the violent subjugation of Africans, Indigenous peoples and the majority of people on the globe.  This elevated class status of ours isn’t so much a question of whether we’re “good” or “bad”– although we may wish to take into consideration these moral judgments of our evil behavior– but is, instead, the inevitable and material consequence of a world economic system (capitalism) which values “whiteness” over any other– or Othered– class category.  If we believe that we are somehow above these objective laws of the universe, and the processes by which society develops, then our belief is most likely an expression of our pride, and of our refusal to recognize how the power and the wealth of European imperialist capitalism have shaped the political category of whiteness.

We can call this behavior “white privilege” or something else, but the recognition of our elevated, colonial class status seems to be a helpful starting point whenever we begin to consider how we approach conflict and seek to resolve the violent contradictions of the global society during this age of increasingly frightening and volatile conditions.

It’s not that we have to agree or disagree with any particular view of the world: the crisis in Syria; an organization that we won’t join but will only criticize from the outside; family turmoil; Twitter beefs.  Each individual or group has the right to share their own version of the events, and experience their own subjective feelings (as all feelings are), and express any narrative which they may wish to shape.  In fact, any effort to twist and push the narrative of someone else until it fits into our own is an expression of whatever level of power we as individuals may hold on account of our class.

In human terms (the only terms we know) the search for the singularly authentic narrative, the true story which will supersede all others, is an endeavor rooted in the arrogant assumption that we are capable of riding above the fray as some omniscient and detached individual possessing unique powers of observation and wisdom.  In Islamic terms, there is just one God, one Who is All-Wise and All-Knowing, the one Judge who is above (Greater than) all His Creation:  Allahu akbar.

Thankfully, the development of human knowledge has led us to a theory for understanding the objective processes of the world without the proud, individualistic need to place ourselves above or beyond these processes.  This theory, demonstrated but not invented by Karl Marx, is dialectical and historical materialism.  Instead of demanding that we know the singularly correct version of events, calling every other view a lie, or immoral, or stupid, we can choose to examine the material and historical basis for these conflicting narratives.  And now our focus won’t be on the things that people are saying– about themselves, about us, about the world– but on their situation within society: where they are saying it from.

Every individual and every group has the right to their own truth or truths, their own experience of the material universe.  Our goal– if we wish to resolve conflicts within the increasingly turbulent global society– is to recognize that the ideas in a person’s head, and the feelings in their heart, and the things they say, are not the basis for the synthesizing argument which perhaps may resolve the thesis and the antithesis of opposing realities which created this antagonistic situation; instead, the basis for transforming this volatile conflict of ideas, feelings, opinions, values, interests– this clash of wills– is the transformation of the material conditions which have led to this conflict in the first place.

George Jackson taught us, “Change the environment, change the man.  Simple.”  He went on to add: “Change the environment, educate the man, he’ll change.”  Kwame Ture also summed it up nicely: “If you want to get rid of poverty, you give people money– period.”  In other words, if we want people to get along (“improving race relations”), and we want to overcome our disagreements, and all this hostility, we won’t focus on the things that we are saying and our conflicting views of any particular situation.  Instead, we will work to change the situation– “change the environment.”  If a white person who is positioned in society as part of a class which gives them security, comfort, and some degree of wealth is saying one thing, and a person of color (an African, an Indigenous person, a Latinx person) is arguing another thing, it seems our struggle should not be to change the white person’s viewpoint, nor the viewpoint of the person of color, but, instead, to change the material conditions which have created their unequal class status.  Take some of that wealth and power away from the white person, and redistribute it among the people from whom it has been taken as part of a systemic effort to elevate the situation of the white person– not as an individual, but as part of their class– and we may soon begin to see a change in viewpoints, on both sides.

If our political identity is white– an identity based on exploitation, colonization and capitalist oppression– then, no matter what comes out of our mouths, our viewpoint will be shaped by this status: by where we’re historically situated within conditions.  If we wish to change our racist viewpoints, change the conditions out of which these viewpoints arise: transform the systemic basis for this antagonistic relationship, and soon we may recognize that, with less wealth and less power, our subjective truths will also be transformed.

Humanity is quite capable of making progress– we have come this far, from an era when we didn’t know how to create and use tools, and when scarcity of resources led to shorter lives that were filled with more difficulty.  We escaped those conditions by struggling together, as communities.  And, as better methods for survival and development emerged, our views of ourselves consequently changed.

Yet around five or six hundred years ago a system of global exploitation, enslavement and genocide was developed by the European population– the system of capitalism— and since that time we have used the ideologies which have grown out of this world economy to create progress for a few at the expense of the many, and this unequal development has shaped our viewpoints during this historical process.  White people have become unavoidably racist, as well as proud, individualistic, and violently reactionary to any threat (real or perceived) to our elevated status of wealth and power.

As a result of the philosophical idealism that underpins imperialist and capitalist rule, white people have developed what might be called a “God-complex” within our view of ourselves and the rest of humanity.  Kwame Nkrumah wrote:

“Idealism suffers from what I might call the God-complex; it is what Marx called ‘intoxicated speculation’; it is what may be called the ecstasy of intellectualism. The concept of an object, let alone the concept of the same object, cannot be properly formulated in idealism.”

This idealism of the white bourgeois class leads to the European population’s inability to understand the world.  And, in particular, Europeans fail to understand conflicts in the world, at least beyond the confines of our subjective view, and outside the colonial imagination of whiteness which has been elevated by the riches and power of capitalist rule.

For instance, if we examine the crisis in Syria, the tendency of Europeans on the left is to choose one side or the other (or yet another, or a fourth) as possessing the ultimate truth to the exclusion of any competing truths.  And this view seems to be based almost entirely on recent events, rather than on an overall historical process which has shaped conditions in Syria today.  Such an isolated view of the world, based mostly on ideals of right and wrong, and good and evil, inevitably leads to the promotion of a master narrative which matches the European view of ourselves and our position in the global society.  First, we detach ourselves from the situation, hovering over it as monopolizers of moral truth– the sole judges of correct human behavior– and then we inject our politically, economically and socially elevated class identity into this situation.  The view that emerges from this intellectual exercise becomes solipsistic, and a sort of vicious circle, as we go around and around within our conflicting white, colonial views of the situation, forgetting the basic fact that, if we break something (as in, the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916), and keep breaking it over and over, the result will be a nation and a people who are deeply divided and oppressed.  Since Europeans are responsible for this broken society, and have experienced order and stability on account of its chaos and turmoil, we are ill-equipped to form viewpoints (especially from afar) which can be anything other than reflections of our elevated class status.

Another example of this individualistic, arrogant behavior on the part of European colonizers can be found in our attitudes toward education.  We mainly view education as a means for getting ahead, and this is on account of a system of power– capitalism– which isolates us in our class and creates incentives (carrots and sticks) for how we go about our daily survival, whether we’re struggling for access to housing, food, water, clothing, and culture, or we’re struggling to earn an advanced degree.

The first thing the capitalist system teaches us is that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is (taken together) all about the individual, and so we use whatever level of wealth and power which we have been granted by the capitalist system to gain access to resources necessary for living: including education.  According to the white, bourgeois, colonial view, getting an education means filling our minds with all the ideas and knowledge that we can then convert into a degree, and then into a higher-paying job– so we get an education to get ahead, on an individual level.  In contrast, the materialist view– which leads to an egalitarian system of power– teaches us that the purpose of an education is to give this knowledge back to the people in order to improve our overall situation, because our own education was made possible only through the struggles of the masses of the people.  Democratic capitalism– which leads to oligarchy– ignores this material reality in favor of the view that, if the individual succeeds or fails, only they can be given credit or blame.  This elitist view doesn’t take into account how a society which is divided into antagonistic classes– where the classes above exist entirely through the exploitation and oppression of the classes below them– makes individual achievement something of an illusion.  But what if we were to argue instead: the only real measure of individual progress is how much we have been empowered to contribute to the progress of the overall society?  Such an argument will remain largely meaningless until white people have experienced a severe blow to our elevated class status and are forced to view our situation from the ground level.

Rather than taking a scientific, materialist view of society, democratic capitalism encourages the subjective idealism which breaks into the two conflicting bourgeois views held by conservatives and liberals, two views which mirror each other.  In either case, any effort to resolve conflict in terms of the individual, rather than the people, will strengthen the wealth and the power of the current oppressive system.  We might call this liberal behavior.

Liberal behavior– which focuses on the ideas up in our head rather than the material reality on the ground beneath us, and in the larger world around us– encourages the individual to take advantage of the antagonisms of a class-based society for their own benefit.  This might also be called conservative behavior, but it is liberal in the sense that it places the rights of the individual, and their own comfort, security and happiness, ahead of the masses, an elevated position they are only able to attain on account of their class status.  For white people, we make these gains– on an individual level– over and over by cashing in, as it were, on our class status of whiteness, and the situation in which we have just happened to find ourselves located because of the racist, genocidal, imperialist force of capitalism.  By looking inward, rather than at the larger world, we fail to change the dynamics of these class antagonisms to any meaningful degree.  If we’re lonely and turn on the television, nothing changes.  If we’re sick and go to the doctor, and get a prescription, nothing changes.  Our individual situation changes, and perhaps we escape some of our personal difficulties on account of these choices, but chances are we haven’t done anything to alter the overall class structure of an oppressive society, and have, in fact, added to the exploitative, oppressive force of our class behavior.

For this reason, it seems important that white people recognize: even if you are open-minded, quirky, “weird,” offbeat, have a unique beard or other facial hair, and lots of tattoos or piercings, and even if you are gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, gender nonconforming, even if you have read all the books on the subject, and learned all the words (the trigger warnings, the microaggressions, the need for safe spaces), and even if you have an advanced degree (or two, or three), and even if you have spent years teaching anti-racist workshops, and even if your partner is Black, and even if your child is Black, even if you are the most unique white person in the world, you are still positioned in the same class with me, and, as result, we are both racist.  Even– or especially– if we are liberal.  Whites are racist, not on account of our individual behavior, or how educated or uneducated we are in terms of the things we’ve learned in bourgeois institutions (which are violently white supremacist), and certainly not on account of how liberal we are; whites are racist on account of a system of power which places us above the rest of the people on the planet, elevating us at their expense, and thereby shaping our experience.  And whites will be racist until we qualitatively change the basis for this elevated class status, and collectively move and organize to resolve the antagonisms of the oppressive capitalist system, so that the hierarchy of wealth and power which encourages this racist behavior is replaced by a political system whose principles are based in the egalitarian, materialist view: or socialism.

Therefore, the situation is far from hopeless.  If we can look at some other situation in our lives– a car that is broken and needs to be fixed, a child who is sick and needs medicine– then, by applying the same scientific approach to a broken and sick society dominated by capitalism, we can transform this situation as well.  The great difficulty for whites seems to be the struggle to overcome our individualism, our belief that somehow each one of us– each special, unique individual– is affected differently by the objective laws of nature and laws of social development than the person of color down the street– the Indigenous person, the African, the Palestinian.  If you benefit from a system that has been built on the violent acquisition of land and resources, and that daily terrorizes the majority of humanity, forcing people– brown people– to work for pennies, so that you can live comfortably and securely as a white individual, then the unique personality of you and me or any other European colonizer won’t make one bit of difference, in materialist terms.

And so, perhaps our worry shouldn’t be so much whether we’re racist or not– we are– but just how in the world can we resist this system: push back against capitalist oppression, collectively, as a group, over and over again, quantitatively knocking down its power day after day until, finally, it collapses.  It’s not hopeless– but, as individuals, we’re helpless.  We need each other to bring down capitalist power, once and for all– for all humanity.  And, as Muslims, for the sake of Allah.

“Change the environment, change the man. Simple.”: Overcoming Individualism, Pride and Whiteness to Transform an Oppressive System

Red, White and Who? The Search for a European Revolutionary Identity

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If you want to find the “ideal” group of white people in the United States that is the most likely to create a revolutionary movement among whites– in order to qualitatively change this backward, inhumane, and exploitative system called capitalism– then it would seem to be a good choice to look for whites who support African/Black revolutionary organizations: the “race traitors,” the “accomplices,” and even the “white allies.”  But then again, if we were to think for a moment about this effort to find the “ideal” white revolutionary, this whole process might start to feel more than a little strange.  After all, why do white people who are left-wing, or radical, or revolutionary, and who believe we have some reason to fight against the current system, go running to Black people or Africans for inspiration and guidance?

The answer seems simple: oppressive conditions for African people in the United States, and Africa, and everywhere in the world, create the necessity for a revolutionary identity, an identity of resistance.  Therefore, Africans in America (and around the globe) continue to lead the way when it comes to revolutionary struggle.  We could look to Toussaint L’Ouverture, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Claudia Jones, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sékou Touré, Walter Rodney, Imam Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown), Kwame Ture, George Jackson, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Marcus Garvey, Gabriel Prosser, Frederick Douglass, Robert and Mabel Williams, Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Maurice Bishop, Thomas Sankara, Amílcar Cabral, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jalil Muntaqim, Cyril Briggs … and the list goes on and on.

But it’s one thing for Africans to view themselves as belonging to a revolutionary identity, an identity of resistance.  They have the right to create their own definitions on their own terms.  So if a “woke” African were to say “all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk,” and were to tell a reactionary African (for instance, a cop) that they are betraying their community, then such a view would be coming from inside their own identity, and through their own experience of Blackness, and therefore would carry the extra weight of actually being Black.

However, if white people automatically associate Blackness with revolutionary politics, then– coming from the outside— we would seem to be saying that a conservative Black person, or a Black person who isn’t “woke enough,” is somehow less Black, and perhaps even less human.  And, of course, this is racist.  We have no right to hold this view.  What’s worse, a white person might even believe that because they are “woke”– in the same way as Huey P. Newton or their revolutionary Black friend– then somehow this puts them in front of the Black person who is a Republican or a cop.  Perhaps we should remember the words of Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael): “Every Negro is a potential Black man [sic]; we will not alienate them.”  At any rate, this is just something for us to consider the next time we are talking about pigs and liberal bourgeois politicians (Barack Obama) in some general, The Intercept-type way.

The constant need for Europeans (whites) to associate revolutionary consciousness with Blackness and with Africans seems to indicate a deficiency of humanity on our part.  Europeans in the United States should have our own reasons for wanting to dismantle capitalism, as well as our own revolutionary identity to engage in this struggle, as subjects of our own narrative of liberation– similar to the Vietnamese, the Chinese, the Palestinians, and the people of Cuba, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico who are non-African.

At the same time, white socialists who are not “pro-Black” (if it’s even possible for white people to be pro-Black) often go to the opposite extreme: all the sudden, the Black struggle is meaningless as a part of socialist organizing or class struggle.  In fact, Blackness becomes an obstacle to revolution, reinforced with the white leftist claim that “identity politics” is liberal.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white or whatever– it’s about the proletarian class and generic workers.  This is their view.  And this is a strange argument coming from many white socialists who oppose violence as a tactic and who favor the election of Senator Bernie Sanders (former Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination) as a means toward a revolutionary change of systems.  Sadly, it seems to be the case that whites either attach ourselves to Blackness, in order to appear “woke”– placing a great deal of our focus on Black liberation– or we ignore Blackness altogether, and believe that anyone who says “Black Lives Matter” is “too liberal.”

So, in short, whiteness is a mess.  You can’t fight for liberation while, at the same time, showing loyalty to the United States– the most oppressive and violent empire in the history of the world.  But you also can’t fight for liberation without pointing to some land, some culture, some community, and righteously declaring “this is ours“: “Everything that is ours has been stolen.”  Europeans in the U.S. don’t have any land that legitimately belongs to us.  We don’t have any culture that hasn’t been appropriated.  And instead of a community we have a capitalist system– we can buy a T-shirt that says we’re “woke” but true community or authentic revolutionary consciousness isn’t for sale.  Meanwhile, a large number of white atheists aggressively argue that we also don’t have a religious basis for our struggle against injustice.  In fact, whites often behave as if we lack a soul.

But we do have a soul– it must be somewhere in there under all this mess, this whiteness, this capitalist greed, this constant need to consume, to take up space, to get in the business of everyone else.  Note to self: let Black people have their own revolution.

If we consider ourselves to be pro-Black, whites may wish to focus on actively supporting Black-only spaces and organizations– often by simply going away.  For example, so-called “Black Twitter” may be one of the newest forms of uncompensated labor by colonized Africans in the United States (and beyond its illegitimate borders).  A European (white person) can follow just about any African (Black person) on Twitter, and this becomes free entertainment, or almost free.  And this activity (always understood in a colonial context) is like watching sports, or watching movies, and television shows, and comedians, or like listening to Black musicians on the radio– it’s an escape from whiteness.  Except Black people don’t ever seem to be allowed to escape our white gaze.  Revolutionary or not, we latch on to Blackness, go wherever it goes, mimicking (or mocking); and then a Black person who isn’t as “woke” as we are shows up, and we act like we should correct them, and so we use all this free knowledge we’ve accumulated to put them in their place– which is pretty much the same relationship of power that existed under slavery and Jim Crow.  By following “woke” Black people on Twitter, whites seem to think we have a ticket to Blackness, to revolutionary consciousness, and therefore to humanity (in this dehumanizing, colonial, white supremacist system).  But this is really just a ticket to cash in our privilege, to capitalize on the colonial status of whiteness, by learning the outward forms of the Black experience while never actually experiencing what it means to be Black.

Europeans who want revolution should learn how to create our own revolutionary identity, which can happen only through principled organized struggle.  And even then, this revolutionary identity may not be possible without first having experienced a massive loss of wealth and power, as these are taken from us– not given by us– on account of the global struggles of oppressed peoples.

Whites may gain inspiration and guidance from the Black Panther Party and African revolutionaries, but let’s face it– it doesn’t look so good on us.  Red, black and green go with skin that has melanin, history that has resistance, and a land called Africa.  Of course, European revolutionaries should reject red, white and blue– burn it, and refuse to salute it or pledge allegiance to it– but, at the same time, we could say: unoriginal is unoriginal, flavorless is flavorless, Becky is Becky, whether we’re on the right-wing or the left-wing.

So the question is: can white people overcome our whiteness– an identity based on exploitation, colonization, and the theft of land, resources, culture, and labor– to the point of creating a positive force for humanity?  Stay tuned!  (But don’t hold your breath.)

Red, White and Who? The Search for a European Revolutionary Identity

Collective Resistance, the White Identity and Giving Away a Bigger “Piece of the Pie”

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“Dialectical materialism is my bag.  I identify with anyone who hates just one fascist.  I don’t want a piece of the pie, I don’t want all of it even.  I think it’s rotten, should be discarded, we should start all over again.” — George Jackson

Perhaps it would be helpful for us to think of “class” as “collective resistance”:

Every individual resists any threats– perceived and real– to their own interests, and seeks to protect the gains that they have made as part of a group, or who they are, their identity.  Or we might argue instead: it is identity that grows out of collective resistance, not the other way around.  That is, as a class struggles to survive, and maintains its existence through the level of power it has collectively accumulated, this unity of struggle (or unity through struggle) creates identity.  Either way, the individual– all on their own– is mostly powerless to survive or develop to their highest potential.  So each person recognizes (consciously or unconsciously) that they are part of a class, and this identification with a community sharing many of the same interests is what drives their behavior in their continuous effort to fulfill their destiny.

Collective resistance seems to be most frequently associated with the class behavior of oppressed communities (for example, Black people, Palestinians, Indigenous peoples, “the transgender community”).  So, a shared experience of oppression by a community creates the necessity for resistance and this resistance, in turn, shapes their identity (and the very sense of community).

However, it seems important to recognize that any group who has attained a certain level of power and wealth will seek to preserve the progress that they have made.  So this collective resistance may come from above as well: the difference is that individuals who are part of the oppressive class, or privileged class, are resisting a force which has originated below them.  The white identity resists Black liberation.  The cisgender identity resists trans liberation.  Men resist the struggles of women to break free from the patriarchal structures which have benefited the former.  Through collective resistance, we resist any threat to our own identity and to the gains it has made on account of its stronger political, economic and social power.

And this collective resistance can be either reactionary or revolutionary.  Reactionary resistance is class behavior which seeks to preserve the existing system of power.  Having gained a certain level of political and economic status, due to one’s class identity, the individual reacts to any behavior which threatens to overturn this beneficial arrangement of the overall society.  And, therefore, it follows that revolutionary resistance is this perceived “threat,” this dangerous, immoral, illegal behavior.  In order to survive, the oppressed identity must continually struggle against the current arrangement of society which benefits the privileged identity, and move upward against all the institutions which the oppressor has created for itself.  To the oppressor, these threats are oppressive.

And, since the oppressive class or privileged class (by definition) possesses more power, it is therefore able to create the rules by which the oppressed classes engage in their own struggle to survive.  The class on top in this dialectical relationship can label certain behaviors as crimes, as well as create the conditions for these crimes, as a means of controlling the situation.  The oppressor controls the institutions of society, even as the amount of control they have will vary among individuals in this class.  Some actually run the institutions, shaping laws, policies, the narratives of the media (including advertisements).  Others simply benefit from these institutions and depend on them.  However, this dependent collective of individuals actually holds the power because they are more numerous.  Their class behavior becomes an invisible force giving a massive push to an entire society so that it will move in the particular direction which they wish it to go.  And this great force, while invisible, is shown in the visible forms of the institutions of a society and how these institutions behave: government, businesses, churches and so forth.  In addition to these institutions— the military, the police, courts, prisons, media, schools, stores, offices, factories, ranches, farms– the will to power expressed by a class is also made visible in the structures of society, such as the family, and these structures carry out in tangible ways the ideologies which define gender, sexuality, morality, and even what it means to be human.

On the screens of televisions and handheld devices, or (if we happen to look up and study the world around us) on the streets of the city and in the fields of the countryside, we can recognize these class factors at play: the forces of collective resistance continually moving against each other.  The privileged classes, which benefit the most from this current arrangement, see this evidence of resistance differently than the oppressed classes.  A certain mood develops out of these clashing views.  Within the oppressive class there those who believe it is necessary to exert extra violence– all very legal, of course– to go back to the way things were, the good ol’ days.  And then there are individuals who believe that we have made progress– we cannot go back– but we must continue to build on the gains that we’ve made so far.  The first belief is that of conservatives and the second is the belief of liberals, both belonging to the oppressive classes– particularly if they are white.

Since the oppressive classes within this social arrangement have power, they are able to shape the beliefs of the individuals who belong to these classes, and even those who do not.  In the case of individuals who share privileged identities, the current system of power encourages us to measure our conceptions of progress, freedom, justice, peace, equality, morality, and humanity against our own feelings.  This is understandable, and perhaps unavoidable, since we possess no other way of experiencing reality except through our own identity or “lens,” each as the subject of their specific narrative or truth.  However, the point here is: we “see” what we want to see, and– under the current arrangement of power– if we are white, our view tends to be solipsistic, as we assume that our own comfort, security and well-being must be evidence that things are going just fine for most people (those who deserve it anyway), so why drastically change the situation?  Why throw out the whole system when it is working pretty well for me?  Let’s simply make things better– either by going back a little or by moving forward a little, but– in either case– by keeping the current system intact.  This is the white view.

White people are conditioned, both historically and materially, to view the general situation (not just our own) as mostly acceptable, a view which is shaped by the level of wealth and power each white individual is able to enjoy (albeit unequally) within our class.  And so we say: “We must not allow our way of living to be destroyed; we must protect it, and we can do this by becoming more inclusive.”  That’s the white “progressive” talking.  And the white conservative argues pretty much the same thing, except about the part at the end, where they say instead: “We must go back to the good ol’ days, and rid ourselves of these criminal elements.”  In either case, the white identity is collectively resisting real and perceived threats to the class status that we have gained on account of the current system of power, and we do this not only through self-interest, but because our very identity (which is interested in itself) has been shaped and governed by this system.  Whites have the literal luxury of remaining unconscious about our class, believing our behavior is only about the individual.

There are no drawbacks or disadvantages to belonging to an oppressive or privileged class.  We may feel that we have lost a certain amount of our humanity due to the dehumanizing factors of the current system.  However, we can take whatever wealth, comfort, security and free time that we have gained through systemic power and apply these material advantages toward our effort to become less racist, less misogynistic, less transphobic, less ignorant– and more humane.  So, while it can be argued that the prison guards and prison warden are oppressed and dehumanized in much the same way as the prisoners, because all remain enclosed by the same gray walls, the difference between them is: the former may choose to go home, or find another place of employment, or talk with a counselor who may help them overcome their guilt and fear.  The difference is a question of choice, or power.  And in a global economy where power– as well as resources and wealth– has been so unequally divided, those who have more will protect this choice, even if it means the additional exploitation and violent oppression of those who have less.  And this need to protect our identity and the gains we have made will necessarily shape our sense of self– at a class level and then at the level of the individual– leading to our particular views of good and evil, and patriotism, and even how we deal with a guilty conscience.  As C.L.R. James wrote: “Men will say (and accept) anything in order to foster national pride or soothe a troubled conscience.”

The white oppressor has been empowered by capitalism to justify our oppression of the majority of people in the world, either through our “American exceptionalism” (honoring the troops, saluting the flag) or through “anti-racist work” as “white allies,” as we position our guilty selves in proximity to Black lives.  But what we cannot and will not tolerate is any threat to the gains we have made as “America,” as a “progressive” and “free” country, a capitalist democracy.  So we seek to stabilize the situation, which we see as mostly positive– otherwise, why should we preserve it at all?  Why not throw the whole thing out and start over?  No– this would threaten our position in the world.  We must remain nonviolent.  We must love our opponents, even the fascists, and never think of punching them, much less shooting them.  And we argue for this approach because we’ve been shaped– through our collective resistance in the white identity– to protect our gains.  We may “give” a bigger piece of the pie to those whom we oppress (especially when they show signs of becoming too aggressive), but white people mostly want to keep things the way they are, only making slight improvements on our own terms.

The dialectics of class struggle demonstrate that our wish to build on what we have already gained– and not “start all over again”— is a political expression of an identity shaped through collective resistance.  Whites don’t want another king, or dictator (although these days we may wonder).   And we do not want socialism.  We may want so share the pie, but we do not have the least desire to throw it out; and so we resist any threat– or upward movement against us– because, after all, we got the whole thing (or stole it) through centuries of struggle.  And since we gained it through systemic violence, we turn to this same system and demand that it protect our gains.  Why should it matter to us what happens in a small country like Haiti or Guinea, or what happens to Indigenous people on a reservation, or Black transgender women?  Out of sight, out of mind.  Of course, we are all part of a world economy– all of us– and are connected by its class structure, and so our own behavior does affect what happens to workers in Africa, to Africans (Black people) in Brooklyn, in Portland, Oregon– anywhere, and everywhere.  But whites feel the rest of the world pushing in on us, threatening our advantages, our historical gains, and it is our identity– a reactionary, racist identity shaped through imperialism and capitalist exploitation– which compels us to resist, and resist, and to protect the way of life that we enjoy (whether we’re rich or poor, or in-between).

Dialectical materialism demonstrates that two objects that come into contact will work on the weaknesses of each other, seeking to transform this shared space, and will only preserve their respective identities based on the strength of their ability to resist this outer force.  And the power that an identity possesses to maintain its existence, when confronted by an external power, depends on the stability of its own internal contradictions.  The political identity of whiteness dictates that conservatives and liberals within our identity struggle and fight for domination, but at the same time work together, and consequently form a stronger unity against the outside forces of the world.  And, since capitalism has empowered the white identity, and given it shape, the “progressive” elements of whiteness are able to create rewards (or punishments) for “people of color” to join the ranks of liberal whites, and struggle alongside whites to get a bigger piece of the pie, even as whites enjoy the greatest benefits of this “diversity” and, by taking advantage of destabilized contradictions within oppressed identities, are able to hold on to the whole pie (the same as conservatives).

Mao Tse-tung wrote:

“The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development. Contradictoriness within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development, while its interrelations and interactions with other things are secondary causes. Thus materialist dialectics effectively combats the theory of external causes, or of an external motive force, advanced by metaphysical mechanical materialism and vulgar evolutionism. It is evident that purely external causes can only give rise to mechanical motion, that is, to changes in scale or quantity, but cannot explain why things differ qualitatively in thousands of ways and why one thing changes into another. As a matter of fact, even mechanical motion under external force occurs through the internal contradictoriness of things. Simple growth in plants and animals, their quantitative development, is likewise chiefly the result of their internal contradictions. Similarly, social development is due chiefly not to external but to internal causes.”

The development of the white middle-class in the United States (a settler colony of Europe) has been the result of contradictions within this identity, and it is this ongoing struggle of whites– our collective resistance– that holds our class in place and gives it motion as a political force in the global economy.  We may want justice, peace, equality and freedom– but we also want to upgrade our cable TV package so we can watch the games in HD.  We want lower gas prices, we want to attend graduate school, and we want necessary surgeries.  These wants or demands become our collective resistance.  And this resistance means our internal contradictions, as part of the white identity, must be resolved so we can then exert our strengthened and unified political power over the rest of world, bringing more resources and more wealth to the white middle-class in the United States: high-definition TV, graduate school, surgeries, lower gas prices, President Donald J. Trump.  At the end of the day– this is what we want, and we’ll do almost anything to protect our desire to survive and develop on these terms.  And so the entire white population has become complicit in what Dhoruba Bin-Wahad has called “democratic fascism.”  And as long as we measure our freedom against our own subjective feelings (as all feelings are), and against our isolated class view, the white identity will refuse to throw out this whole “rotten” pie and “start all over again.”

Whites who are conservative, liberal, or socialist, will still be collectively resisting– as a class— any perceived threat to the advantages we have gained within this global system of power– capitalism– even if we “give” a bigger “piece of the pie” back to oppressed communities from whom we have stolen the whole “rotten” thing.

Collective Resistance, the White Identity and Giving Away a Bigger “Piece of the Pie”

“Society is at boiling point and therefore fluid”: the Dialectics of Creative Destruction

CLRJames

A phrase jumps off a page in the classic book The Black Jacobins where C.L.R. James speaks of “one of those rare moments when society is at boiling point and therefore fluid.”  This is such a vivid image!

But are we living in an age today when “society is at boiling point”?  It seems we are.  And, since C.L.R. James illustrates “one of those rare moments” by employing the language of nature undergoing an objective process, perhaps we can use his highly visual language to explore the meaning of this era of phenomenal change that we are in, and get to the material basis of this fluid social situation.

During “the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production” (to borrow or steal a memorable phrase from Karl Marx), the rising class of the bourgeoisie sought to break up the old feudal structures of European society.  In order to make the situation of Europeans more fluid– to melt down the rigid class elements which had fixed in place for so long the status of the nobility as well as the serf– it was necessary for the socially ascendant capitalist class to implement a program of global conquest which involved the “discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins.”

As so inadequately described by Marx, this “primitive accumulation” became the foundation, or the launching pad, for the great upward historical force created by the dynamic class of Europeans whose system of power– capitalism– has dominated people and planet over the course of five hundred years.  Yet the dialectics of this qualitative transformation of society within a world economy controlled by Europe continue to require not only the perpetual fluidity of the upwardly-mobile class of wealthy owners, as well as the general white population who depend on these owners for jobs and commodities, and similarly rise as the owners’ profits skyrocket, following the same trajectory, but also that this arrangement of power– formed on a global scale– be locked into place, forever unyielding in its ideological aims, and, as it were, fossilized for all time.   The bodies, the land, the labor and the countless lives and resources which are the collective fuel that energizes this world economy must be continually oppressed, pushed down, so the ascendant bourgeois class of the West, and the petty bourgeois class who depend on this class for our survival, will not lose the source of its dynamism, its imperialist thrust which has brought so many riches, and such comfort and security, to the white population.  This fuel, this source of Western power, is Africa– Black people, and the proletariat outside Europe.  As Frantz Fanon wrote, Europe is literally the creation of the Third World.

It has become an absolute necessity for Europe to disrupt and dislodge the old customs of the West, and to destroy the traditions and structures of the white world, but not just the white world– in order to create a new and liberal global society which would benefit whites on an unprecedented scale, the capitalists were driven on and pushed forward by an ideology of white supremacy, exploitation, and greed to create chaos in Africa, the Americas, Australia, Asia: all of the world.

In order for the capitalist class of Europe to rise, pulling the general white population along with it, accumulating greater wealth and greater power as it was catapulted to the sky, this world economic system of capitalism required all the institutions and structures of Africans and Indigenous peoples– their governments, their families, their markets, their religions, languages, art, libraries, armies, and their very identities– to be melted down, made fluid, agitated and dispersed, and then rearranged to fit the capitalist framework.

But this white supremacist project to reorder the global society was, in a sense, too successful; chattel slavery, genocide, colonization, and neocolonial rule have broadened the base of European power– particularly in the United States– but also created a strict necessity to keep this trajectory toward greater power in place.  As Europe hurtles forward, fueled by the productive forces of Africans and so-called “people of color,” its own dynamism is threatened by the need to press down more and more, to spread chaos across the earth, until the basis for its power disintegrates because the global proletariat simply cannot withstand any more weight.

These contradictions of capitalist society– created by the dislodging of timeworn elements belonging to all the older societies, both within and without Europe– are driving the white identity toward untold wealth and power, but the very rigidity of this ideological thrust, and its reactionary need to repeat the same process over and over, are simultaneously urging Europe and the white bourgeois population toward our inevitable destruction.

And so, today “society is at boiling point and therefore fluid.”  Capitalism requires class behavior to remain constant.  Even our feelings must be kept in specific plastic boxes, available at Amazon.com.  Everything has to be held in check.  But it also must be agitated.  Capitalism drops guns and drugs into communities of color because crime is profitable.  The United States creates ISIS.  By creating greater violence, both at home and abroad– through the police pigs and the military pigs– capitalism keeps the whole situation in check, and the profits grow.  This expanding wealth is then dispersed primarily within the white population: for example, the median net worth of whites in the U.S. is $141,900, while the median net worth of Black people in the U.S. is only $11,000.

This highly profitable arrangement of imperialist rule requires a static view of the world, and feelings that flatline as the value of 401(k)s increases.  Capitalism requires philosophical idealism: dim, dreamlike conceptions of “justice,” “equality,” “freedom” and “peace.”  We must feel, at all times, that we are part of some liberal– but not too liberal– march toward an impossibly “more perfect union.”  So we shouldn’t bicker or call each other names; we should reach across the aisle, and keep our cool– easy now, watch out— because there’s this dreadful feeling that things are breaking down, falling to pieces, slipping through our hands, and the situation is becoming too unpredictable … too fluid.

One role of the European revolutionary, during these anxious days, is to accelerate the process of social disintegration, and to encourage the further heating up– and melting down– of capitalism’s rigid hierarchy, creating greater pressure on the ruling class.  But the goal is to aim our creative destruction at the capitalist rulers, challenging their power.  Because the process of social change is dialectical.  Revolution is a science.  While we are agitating over here, stirring up trouble, heightening contradictions, punching Nazis, we will be encouraging greater stability over there, more security, and more support for the identities who have historically been the most marginalized by capitalism.

We can’t do one without the other, not if we wish to be something other than unprincipled, reactionary troublemakers, on the one hand, or white saviors, and smug and condescending do-gooders on the other hand.  The rich give to charity too.  The comfortable white, liberal middle-class is fine with social programs that benefit “those poor folks on the other side of town”– just don’t get too loud on our side– the part of town we are gentrifying– or we will call the cops.  So it’s not enough to make the situation more fluid– it needs to be directed (or redirected), re-channeled, not through charity, but through principled methods of community empowerment, through intentional and ever-increasing quantitative changes, as resources are poured out of the parasitic white world into the colonies of ameriKKKa– Indigenous, African, Latinx– whose chaos has become our order.

Turn up the heat on the racist, patriarchal ruling class, bring this thing to a boil and be prepared to destroy the capitalist world order– but avoid the reactionary behavior of the adventurer, and remember whose world is already burning for the material benefit of the upwardly-mobile white identity.  Do it fluid.

“Society is at boiling point and therefore fluid”: the Dialectics of Creative Destruction