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Liberalism as Class Warfare

With apologies in advance for forcing unpleasant thoughts this early in an essay; reflexively, what economic class do the national Democrats’ ‘deplorables’ inhabit? With the persistence of institutional racism (graph below) across both Democrat and Republican administrations, why wouldn’t the answer be the rich who own the corporations that employ people and the professional class that does the hiring? If racism doesn’t motivate institutional racism, what does?

The question is loaded for a reason— the corporate titans and capitalist class that fund the major political Parties have uniformly rejected explicit race and gender bias in hiring through the institutions they own and / or control. As a point of social logic, if economic outcomes differ by race and gender but the entities doing the hiring aren’t racist or sexist, the fault must lie with jobseekers. Enter the bourgeois storyline of racism and sexism as misplaced blame from ‘losers’ for their own failures.

An obvious problem with this explanation is the systemic nature of institutional racism and sexism. The White / Black employment rate (below) is one of many measures that demonstrate systematic differences in economic outcomes by race across time. Unless one wants to posit bottom-up causality, that corporate hiring, compensation and wealth distribution are decided along racial lines by working class ‘deplorables,’ blame belongs with those who control the institutions that produce it.

ruclasswar1

Graph: Institutional racism has persisted across Democrat and Republican administrations since the onset of neoliberalism despite claims by Democrats and their supporters that they are the Party of racial reconciliation. Economic cycles explain the periodic convergence and divergence of the ratio of White to Black employment. Dean Baker explains the appearance of convergence in 2016 here. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

The practice of blaming down in an increasingly hierarchical and anti-democratic society produces an obvious benefit for the economic powers-that-be and their servants in the political class. It blames the powerless for social dysfunction over which they have little to no control. And the self-serving tautology at work, that social power is distributed through a natural distribution of virtues— qualifications in the language of corporate apologists, provides faux meritocratic cover for the social violence of economic exclusion.

The issue here is not racism per se, but rather the division of the working class along racial and gender lines for the benefit of plutocrats and their servants. In what configuration of the world does it make sense that a working class that has been systematically disempowered for the last half-century is responsible for the social disintegration currently unfolding across the West?

In the case of institutional racism, the savage histories of slavery and genocide are used in the present to misrepresent the current distribution of social power as their artifact to the exclusion of class explanations. To the extent that working class racism does exist, it doesn’t explain the differences in institutional outcomes that have resulted in increasingly widespread economic exclusion. Again, assertion that the poor and working class determine institutional prerogatives is not supported by the evidence.

Put differently, the aspect of existing social divisions that has been carried forward from the pre-modern past is class relations. America was founded as a ‘new world’ plutocracy— there never existed a past where the poor and working classes determined the social policies that explain institutional racism. The idea that the laboring classes and petite bourgeois would create a slave class to lower wages and undercut their capacity for social negotiation is a non-sequitur created by plutocrats as cover for their own crimes.

As slight evidence— readers are invited to read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States for detailed background, the U.S. Constitution counted slaves as 3/5ths a person to accrue political power to the owners of ‘capital,’ not to the laboring classes. And today capital and its servants in the professional class determine who is employed and who isn’t and at what wages. Deference to labor ‘markets’ is misdirection, else systematic race and gender bias wouldn’t exist. (Ask an economist to explain why race and gender bias shouldn’t exist in a market economy).

Where economic power translates to political power, economic power frames the discourse. As the facts have it, this intersection finds the non-racist owners and senior managers of America’s dominant institutions being the major campaign contributors to both political Parties and thereby setting both the political and economic agendas of the nation. From this perspective racism is difficult to resolve because it requires the redistribution of social power. And it is this mal-distribution of social power that is the effective residual of the pre-modern past.

The class dynamic of the national Democrats’ ’deplorables’ comment has been lost on the liberal class for a reason. The corporatist frame that allows institutional rules to obviate factual outcomes under the manufactured logic of individual capacities only makes sense from inside a closed logic. It allows professional-class liberals to congratulate themselves on their social virtue without requiring the distribution / redistribution of social power that would affect the actual outcomes upon which this virtue is claimed.

In a material sense, enlightened liberal Barack Obama oversaw the near total destruction of Black wealth, a foreclosure crisis that continues to eviscerate communities of color and the elevation of the most predatory of capitalist institutions— Wall Street. The liberal chide that Mr. Obama’s (and Hillary Clinton’s) critics are racists posits an ethereal realm where intentions matter and factual outcomes don’t. Self-righteous liberals claim moral superiority based on their outcome-free intentions with social disintegration as their product.

Put differently, the two-Party back-and-forth between explicit and implicit racism since the rise of neoliberalism has had little to no impact on institutional racism. The evidence of difference that has been offered is economic cycles through which both institutional racism and the immiseration / evisceration of the laboring classes have persisted. Donald Trump is the ‘explicit’ variant who used the outcomes of bi-partisan policies as misdirection to win political support. He no more caused institutional race and gender bias than Democrats have resolved it.

The broader social product is a hermetically-sealed (through tautology) apologia for the existing order. It is hardly an accident that the deep-state, the self-perpetuating bureaucracy that supports the financialized death-state (militarism and environmental catastrophe), prefers the predictable ‘liberal’ hard-right to its loose-cannon brethren. The explicit racism and classism of the belligerent hard-right risks exposing the state-of-affairs ‘managed’ into existence by plutocrats and their political servants charged with overseeing the metaphorical plantation.

urieclasswar2

Graph: ‘Resistance’ to racism and sexism posed in terms of competition between the major political Parties confuses bi-partisan class warfare with product branding. Self-righteous posturing by liberals regarding racism and sexism serves as cover for the institutional perpetuation of both. Divide and conquer to protect ruling class gains is the intended outcome. Source: Cosmopolitan / U.S. Election Project.

Plutocrats and their servants have organized social resources so that ‘qualifications’ fall into their laps through the normal course of existing. This insight was behind the New Deal build-out of public education and Great Society programs of economic inclusion— without public provision of these ‘qualifications’ serve mainly to perpetuate the existing order. And even with these, a parallel private system that provides class distinction serves to undermine the leveling effect of public institutions.

The national Democrats’ con that they oppose racism while they support the institutions that perpetuate it links dog-whistle racial politics like the Clinton’s 1994 crime bill to the national Democrats ‘positive’ support for the capitalist institutions that perpetuate economic exclusion. The Clintons (and Barack Obama) aren’t racists— how could they be?—even though they supported mass incarceration, mass deportation and predatory lending by Wall Street that devastated communities of color.

urieclasswar3

Graph: Economic inequality is posed as a fact of nature as cover for political capture of the professional class for the benefit of the ruling plutocracy. In this context the liberal charge that social disintegration is being led by working class racists requires near-total ignorance of the mechanisms of economic distribution combined with class-based contempt for the working class and poor. Source: CBO.

The fear-mongering storyline of White backlash used to explain Donald Trump’s election perpetuates the myth of democratic rule in a plutocracy. It assumes that the political class is led from below when all evidence has it that wealth = political power. The political class does the bidding of the rich and the institutions they control. Race and gender bias are evidence of the mal-distribution of social resources, not the cause.

What anti-establishment voters, and those who consciously withheld their votes, got right in the recent election is that the illusion of choice provided by the major Parties is anti-politics. Liberals, as guardians of the status quo, are class warriors on the side of economic mal-distribution and the immiseration of the laboring classes and poor for the benefit of the rich. The ease with which the misdirection of ‘deplorables’ was sold illustrates the conundrum confronting any actual Left political movement.

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Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

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