There is a kind of socialism that perceives itself to be pure, untainted, and somehow above and apart from the contradictory elements of capitalist society. This is the socialism of the philosophical idealist, and it can be called “white socialism.”
White socialist beliefs are rooted in the assertion: “I think, therefore I am.” In other words, white socialists believe that a thing is brought into existence simply by thinking it (what Kwame Nkrumah called “a god-complex”). Meanwhile, white socialists do not recognize the work that has brought about the conditions which led to their ability to think and to assert this belief, or to do anything else. But it is on this airy and detached foundation– free from the soil or the toil of nature’s contradictions– that the ideologies of the white power structure have also been built, as expressed by the white supremacist system of bourgeois democracy in the United States.
The exploited labor, land, resources, and culture of colonized Africans and Indigenous peoples are the material basis for democratic bourgeois or capitalist society in the United States. And it is on Black bodies– on the lives of Black women in particular — that the altar of White Idealism has been constructed in reverence to Freedom, Justice … and (in reaction to capitalist ideals) White Socialism. White socialists, like all whites, are empowered to hold our viewpoints only on account of the exploited labor of Black and Brown people– that is, only through the systemic oppression of Black women.
It’s not very difficult for us to illustrate this reality. We can do it with the following example, which can be applied to nearly all whites in capitalist society: let’s say there is one white individual who holds a certain political view (it could be conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist, anarchist, whatever), and there is another white who holds a very different political view. They disagree– this is a contradiction. But their antagonistic relationship exists mainly (if not entirely) at the level of their ideas. We haven’t gone into the details of their status within the colonizing white population in the United States: they may be wealthy, middle-class, or poor. In any case, we can relate their views– and their status– to the colonized population of Africans/Black people, and specifically to Black women who have experienced material and historical factors of systemic oppression: racism, sexism, misogynoir, economic exploitation, and possibly transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and Islamophobia as well. So, taking their specific situation, and relating it back to the two white people in question (who, like all whites, have enjoyed– albeit at unequal levels– the benefits of these oppressive forces), we can now recognize that their ideas– while antagonistic to each other– do nothing to change the situation of Black women. And, again, we’re keeping mind that the capitalist and colonialist subjugation of Black women, specifically, is largely responsible for uplifting these two whites who happen to be in disagreement. They are able to disagree, or agree, or do anything else in their lives, only on account of a system of power which elevates them at the expense of Black women and all colonized peoples.
So this is hopefully a useful illustration of the reality that encompasses white socialists, and all whites. While we’re sitting here, theorizing, we’re doing nothing to change– in material or measurable ways– the conditions of people whose exploited labor allows us to sit here, post comments on Facebook, or do anything else.
Nevertheless, white socialists– from the elevated position which all whites enjoy in capitalist society– often theorize that Safety Pin Box promotes capitalism, and so they say that they are against this organization, and then they refuse to join or pay. The problem isn’t only that they refuse to become a subscriber to Safety Pin Box; because they could do this (that is, refuse to recognize their revolutionary obligation to uplift the work, lives and well-being of Black women) without saying anything. If a white individual wants to avoid the responsibility of addressing our historical and material elevation at the expense of Black and African women, we can do this without any critique against an organization which has given us a means of taking “effective, measurable” actions as “white allies.”
The problem is that white socialists, as part of the colonizing class of all whites on this continent, attempt to rationalize their opposition to Safety Pin Box by capitalizing on the unequal amount of power that all whites have in our political, economic and social relationship to Black women. This unequal relationship of power exists even if we aren’t wealthy or middle-class, and even if a Black woman is wealthy or middle-class, because capitalist oppression goes beyond economic status. Capitalism is a global arrangement of power– a European imperialist system– which was built to benefit all whites. So, while we may not be rich, or middle-class, we are still incentivized by this system to capitalize on the unequal power which we hold within the context of colonialism. This incentive to control Black women may be economic, but it may be political and social as well. In any case, our attempt to keep Black women, and colonized people, “in their place”– while it may not directly affect our individual economic status– still contributes to the power of a system where the white capitalist class can then grow wealthier, and gain even more profits, off its continuing oppression of Black women. And then some of these benefits eventually reach us too, because the capitalist power structure in the United States remains intact, and is able to inflict greater harm on Black women and on all the oppressed communities of the world.
Thus the idealist approach of the white socialist, which not only refuses to pay reparations to Black women but also insists on criticizing organizations which are created and led by Black women, actually reinforces the power of the very system it claims to be against. But this reaction isn’t hard to understand: whites are looking at material conditions from the level of the colonizer, and this class status shapes our view. The white “left” is basically speaking on the same plane of colonial society as the white “right” and as an entire political “spectrum” built on the capitalist subjugation of Africans, as well as Indigenous peoples and the global majority (“people of color”).
If you produce the wealth of society through your labor– and your resources, culture and land– then this work will shape your perspective of the conditions in society. And, if your work is exploited, and you belong to a class category which has been historically subjugated by a system of power on account of “race,” gender, sexuality, nationality, etc., then it becomes the responsibility of your self-defined identity to move against the source of your exploitation and gain power for your group (or class, community, nation). This definition, and the organized movement that it defines, cannot come from the outside– from the exploiter, the oppressor.
However, capitalist society in the United States has taught the white population to distrust oppressed people and their movements for control over their own lives. We often feel that Black women– particularly working class transgender Black women– do not have the capacity to know their own interests, and then define their political, economic, social and cultural movements (based on these interests) for themselves. White feminists try to define all women in terms of cisgender white womanhood (usually middle-class or wealthy). Similarly, white socialists try to define the revolutionary movements of colonized peoples by testing them for “purity” and determining whether they are “socialist enough.”
For example, when the FBI and the entire capitalist system of the U.S. were hunting down Robert F. Williams and Mabel Williams, and they sought refuge in Cuba (at the invitation of Fidel Castro), the white led-Communist Party USA (CP-USA) tried to convince the Cuban government to reject this invitation because the two who were fleeing capitalist violence were Black nationalists, and not true socialists (according to their white gaze). White led socialist organizations– or whites who aren’t part of any organization– often criticize Black and African revolutionary organizations for being “too violent” or “racist” (impossible) or “not socialist enough.” Meanwhile, we don’t move against the number one enemy of every socialist movement on the globe: U.S. capitalism.
If white socialists were paying attention to Black revolutionaries– and paying money to Black and African women– we would possibly recognize how we could contribute to the global movement to dismantle the power of this world economic system. Because we would be engaged in the actual dialectical process of revolution, rather than criticizing it from some imaginary and elitist position. White socialists might then be able to put into action what Huey P. Newton wrote in his article regarding Black capitalism: “What we must do then is increase the positive qualities until they dominate the negative and therefore transform the situation.”
That is, returning to material reality, or back to the world, we would “make a truly dialectical analysis of the situation.” Rather than just focusing on some ideal of socialist struggle, by paying Black women through Safety Pin Box we could recognize the revolutionary aspects of “merging your theory with your practices.”
Huey P. Newton also said, “Revolution is a process, not a conclusion.” And part of this process is raising the consciousness of the people, gradually moving from one stage of the process to a higher stage. But this process is not limited to teaching people more and more theory. It means “merging theory with practice” and– back to the world and its material conditions– engaging in struggle with our immediate environment. For white people in the United States, this immediate environment may be our checking account– our money. That’s not a glamorous approach if we’re talking about socialist struggle. But if we want to get together– as European colonizers– and wage some other kind of movement against capitalism, on our own terms, no one is stopping us. What we cannot do, unless we wish to leverage our advantage of power within this racist system, thereby capitalizing on our whiteness, is go around telling Black women and colonized peoples how they ought to organize for their liberation. As Kwame Ture said, we cannot “have the oppressors telling the oppressed how to rid themselves of the oppressor.“
So, back in the material world, having safely landed, you will no longer conclude– as a white socialist– that the revolutionary theories regarding our shared conditions should somehow be free from contradictory elements. Huey P. Newton talked about “a concrete analysis of concrete conditions.” Elaine Brown, who was Chair of the Black Panther Party from 1974-1977 and, later on, wrote A Taste of Power, has talked about having “a correct analysis.” She talked about the time that she was organizing to free comrades who were locked up in the California prison system, and how she was urging people to go to the legislature and try to get certain laws passed. When she was criticized for taking a bourgeois or capitalist approach, Elaine Brown said (in essence): OK, then let’s go and get a tank and knock down the prison walls right now … but if we aren’t willing to do that, then we need to work, to struggle day and night, in order to change the situation and gradually move toward the same goal. Professor Brittney Cooper recently wrote, “Black feminist theorists beginning with Professor Stanlie James have long talked about what they call the ‘visionary pragmatism’ of Black women.” That may be one example (it’s not for me to say).
However, white socialists– like whites in general– tend to distrust the “visionary pragmatism” of Black women: rather than funding their own organized vision for changing a racist, misogynistic and capitalist society, we choose to criticize them– and then we find we are willing to move against Black women. We become what Huey P. Newton called the “revolutionary cultist” (although he used this term in a different context). Huey Newton said, “Revolutionaries recognize the difference between what the people can do and what they will do.” If white socialists believe we can organize the white masses for armed struggle right now, why aren’t we doing it? Instead of becoming politically conscious of our conditions– back in the world of material reality– we make the idealist leap toward some position of imagined socialist purity (otherwise known as “white supremacy”) which differs little from the elitism and racism of white capitalists.
Getting back to this world, we ought to recognize, as whites who are socialists, that, if we wish to move phenomena in the direction of our choice, we must consciously engage in struggle with our environment, and gradually change our own position inside capitalist society. This isn’t the same thing as wishing to change capitalism incrementally, reforming it in order to preserve it. We wish to increase capitalism’s contradictions in order to destroy capitalism. And this begins by engaging with our own elevated status of wealth and power.
Whiteness means power. So any challenge to our power– to our whiteness– can be used for revolutionary purposes. If a white socialist wants to tell a Black woman, “You can’t do that, that’s too capitalist, or too rude, or … whatever” then they are leveraging their power– capitalizing on it, the same as any bank, or bourgeois politician or racist police officer in a blue uniform. They are policing the lives of Black women. We know, as part of conditions today, that whites are unwilling to move against capitalism in the United States, because you can’t find any effective white revolutionary organization that is doing this on a consistent and principled basis. What you can find, on “the right” and on “the left” of the colonizing white population, is plenty of criticism aimed at Black women.
All white people– socialist or otherwise– enjoy the benefits of capitalist oppression, even if we experience some of its exploitation. And all people depend on capitalist power in order to gain access to the resources necessary for survival; because there is just one economic system that dominates the globe, and that’s capitalism. So, our very ability to live as white people depends on capitalist violence. Our obligation is to move against capitalism, bit by bit, by contributing materially to the ability of Black women, in their own oppressed communities, to survive (as well as thrive) inside this system.
If we want to move against capitalism as Europeans, in our own socialist organizations, that’s our business. But what Black women do with their money, their time, or anything else, is their business. Our job– if we recognize the dialectics of the situation, and how the capitalist arrangement of power benefits us at the expense of Black women– is to move some of our power (or wealth) out of the oppressor class and into the oppressed class: to pay Black women. What they do with all these payments is then out of our control; and this loss of control means loss of power, and that means moving in a revolutionary direction against a system which empowers white people (rich or poor) by moving to keep oppressed communities powerless through its colonial control.
And it probably hurts and gets us really upset to give up so much control– but that’s part of the struggle. In some ideal world, whites would move against capitalism without feeling any pain; but even white socialists– who are idealists at heart, mind (and soul?)– recognize this is impossible. So that pain you are feeling (or that progress) is the hit to your checkbook, to your monthly budget, to your planned trip for a vacation in the Caribbean on some colonized beach. If white progressives want to bring down a whole system of exploitative, racist, sexist, transphobic oppression, but we can’t even change our vacation plans, or go without some of the luxuries of empire, then how socialist or revolutionary are we anyway?
In some ideal world, it may be enough to “Feel The Bern” and let a wealthy, white cisgender U.S. Senator lead us to the promised land, as we continue our (very white) struggle to resolve our own economic exploitation through more racist imperialism disguised in the ideals of “socialism.” However, back to the material world, back in this world, we may recognize that funding the well-being of Black women may be all that we are willing to do at this point– which is actually a lot, a whole lot. How do we know this is true? We know, because it pains so many whites– including white socialists– to pay Black women. That means loss of power. And that means revolution.