Note: This chapter expresses income figures in 1979 or 1978 dollars. Convert specific figures to current dollars using this site (or multiply by roughly 3.2).
A UE international officer said, in November 1968, to a group of shop stewards and local union officers:
"For the past two years, as you know, we have been having widespread discussion in our union on the general feeling of rebellion, cynicism and disgust among young workers. Let's examine, now, why these young workers coming into the shops today feel and act as they do.
"When this young guy starts getting his weekly paycheck it looks pretty good, but not for long. Soon he buys a house with a thirty-year mortgage. He puts some furniture in the house. He buys a car, a refrigerator, washer and dryer. A TV - likely a color TV. On top of all that, his young wife is pregnant again.
"As the monthly bills start piling up, his pay envelope looks ridiculous. He sees no reason at all why America, the richest country in the world, can't give him a job that will provide him with all of the necessities and some of the luxuries of life - and what's wrong with that? He is frustrated, he is mad, he is ready to fight the Establishment that fails to give him what he needs."
- Matles & Higgins, Them and Us.
"I'd like to tell you why we are troubled... First, we are tired of being politically courted and then legally extorted. Second, we are sick and tired of institutions, both public and private, not being responsive... Third, we feel powerless in our dealings with these monoIiths. Fourth, we do not like being blamed for all the problems of Black America. Fifth, and perhaps the key, we anguish at all of the class prejudice that is forced upon us."
The speaker is Barbara Mikulski, a third-generation Polish-American from Baltimore and there is little question but that she speaks for millions of the inhabitants of what Peter Binzen calls Whitetown USA...
People forget that, in the metropolitan areas, twice as many white as non-white families live in 'official' poverty, and of course many Whitetowners don't quite qualify for that governmental distinction. They are poor but not poor enough... The Whitetown husband and father works hard as a truck-driver or turret lathe operator or policeman or longshoreman or white-collar clerk - perhaps at more than one of these jobs - to buy and hold on to his fourteen-foot-wide house and new color television set.
"The only place we feel any sense of identity, community, or control is that little home we prize," says Mikulski. "But there again we feel threatened by Black people."
Carnegie Quarterly, Fall 1970.
Euro-Amerikan workers are absorbed, as are Boer-Afrikaner workers in Azania, into supra-class settler communities where the petit-bourgeoisie is leadership and the labor aristocracy is the largest and most characteristic element. There is a distinct and exceptional Euro-Amerikan way of life that materially and ideologically fuses together the settler masses - shopkeeper, trade-unionist and school teacher alike. The general command of bourgeois ideology over these settler communities is reinforced by the mobilization of tens of millions of Euro-Amerikans into special reactionary organizations. Those Euro-Amerikans who are immiserated or heavily exploited are not only still commanded by loyalty to "their" Empire, but are submerged and disconnected amongst the far larger, heavily privileged mass of their fellow citizens. These "white poor" are truly the lost; the abandoned remnants of the old class struggle existing without direction inside Babylon.
While there are numbers of Euro-Amerikan workers, they no longer combine into a separate proletarian class. The old white industrial proletariat of the 1930s has been dissolved by promotion and privilege, and its place taken by the colonial proletariats. The abnormal and historically -brief contradiction of proletarian class conflict within the settler garrison has been ended. Just as in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the U.S. oppressor nation is again a non-proletarian society that is purely capitalistic in character.
The level of decadence and general privilege can be measured by examining the class structure. Revisionist analyses of the U.S. class structure are, of course, deliberately misleading. Most typically, the revisionists lump together the U.S. oppressor nation with the various Third-world oppressed nations and national minorities as one society. Their scheme is to try and hide Babylon behind the masses of colonial workers. They typically say: "America has a working class majority." This implies about settler society what is not true.
A more subtle distortion is to focus on Euro-Amerikans, but to determine "class" by sorting each individual man and woman into different occupational groupings (roughly correlating to a private relationship to the means of production and distribution). This approach lets the revisionists claim that "the majority of white Americans are working class."
This approach denies the "sensuous" reality of human society. Classes are huge, self-defined, living social formations, with general aspects and aspects unique to their own history, time and nation. Engels, in this regards, notes: "The working classes have always, according to the different states of the development of society, lived in different circumstances and had different relations to the owning and ruling classes." (1) It is our task to discover and explore the tangible class formations that have their own existence in material life (completely independent of our investigation). The revisionist distortion on the contrary, seeks to arbitrarily concoct statistical categories, fill them up (on paper, anyway) with abstract individuals - and call this "classes." This is just bourgeois sociology with "left" rhetoric.
The U.S. oppressor nation is a patriarchal settler society of some complexity. In general Euro-Amerikans exist in family units, with the class identity of the family primarily dependent on the husband or father. We should say that we neither advocate this situation nor see it as eternal. It is the prevailing reality at this time, in this century, and it is our task to understand it.
The revisionist methodology comes up with conclusions like: "all secretaries are in the clerical sector of the working class." That sounds reasonable to many. Factually, however, it isn't true. For example, if a young Euro-Amerikan woman works as a secretary, came from a petit-bourgeois family background, is married to a professional, lives in an exclusive white residential suburb or "arty" urban community, shares in a family income of $30,000 per year - is she working class? Could she be working class but her husband and children petit-bourgeois? Obviously, such a person would, in the actual social world that exists, be solidly flourishing within the petit bourgeoisie.
This is not such a far-fetched example. Fully 25% of Euro-Amerikan women employed as clerical-sales personnel are married to men who are managers or professionals. 17% of the wage-employed wives of male managers (includes small retail businesses) are blue-collar workers. (2) Due to the patriarchal nature of Euro-Amerikan society, most women from the middle classes are forced, when seeking employment, to accept non-professional clerical and retail sales jobs. This does not necessarily change their class identity. One study shows that roughly one-third of all secretaries under 30 years of age are graduates of colleges or junior colleges. (3) This is commonplace knowledge. We have to describe classes as they exist, not define them as concocted categories of our making.
We can gain a better idea of this patriarchal settler society's class structure by looking at Euro-Amerikan male occupations alone. While this is nowhere near as accurate as conducting social investigation, actually going out and surveying the masses in all aspects of their lives, it should help us see the general outlines of the class situation.* This outline is not a full class analysis, we must caution; for our purposes here we do not need to separately delineate the big bourgeoisie, regional and local bourgeoisie, and the varied middle classes (small business proprietors, salaried managers, land-owning farmers, professionals, etc.). All these are placed into one bourgeois-petit-bourgeois grouping (which contains what are separate classes). This is based on the 1970 Census:
*[Mao Zedong, for example, in his social investigation of China's countryside, found significance not just in economic roles, but in concomitant social changes: "As to the authority of the husband, it has always been comparatively weak among poor peasants, because the poor peasant women, for financial reasons compelled to engage more in manual work than women in the wealthier classes, have obtained greater rights to speak and more power to make decisions in family affairs. They also enjoy considerable sexual freedom. Among the poor peasants triangular and multilateral relationships are most universal." ]
*[The actual U.S. bourgeoisie is abnormally large. The wealthiest 1% of the U.S. Empire's population - one out of every 100 adults of all nationalities (primarily Euro-Amerikan) - own an average of $1.32 million each. (5) This is the zone where the upper petit-bourgeoisie and local bourgeoisie meet. Earlier studies indicate that the actual Big Bourgeoisie (DuPonts, Rockefellers, Morgans, etc.) is only a fraction of this number, perhaps as few as 15,000 individuals.]
This breakdown of Euro-Amerikan male occupations has a very clear meaning, verifying everything about White Amerika that daily life has told us.
The bourgeois, the middle classes and the core of the labor aristocracy are the absolute majority (over 60%). The labor aristocracy is swollen in size. Almost 2 out of every 100 male Euro-Amerikans are policemen, firemen or other protective security workers. Highly-paid construction tradesmen, machinists, mechanics and other skilled craftsmen outnumber ordinary production and transportation workers. Even this greatly understates the extent of the settler labor aristocracy. Many Euro-Amerikan factory workers, technicians, clerical workers, and even general laborers (such as municipal Park Department "laborers" in the major cities) receive extra-proletarian wages, sometimes doing light labor and usually no toil at all. The settler labor aristocracy is considerably larger than its hard core, perhaps comprising as much as 50% of all male Euro-Amerikans.
Most importantly, Euro-Amerikans share an exceptional way of life. What is so exceptional about it is that almost all get to live in a bourgeois way, "quite Philistine in the mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook..." Thus, the mass of the lower middle classes, the huge labor aristocracy, and most workers are fused together by a common national way of life and a common national ideology as oppressors. The masses share a way of life that apes the bourgeoisie, dominated by a decadent preoccupation with private consumption. Consuming things and owning things, no matter how shoddy or trivial, is the mass religion. The real world of desperate toil, the world of the proletarians who own nothing but their labor power, is looked down upon with contempt and fear by the Euro-Amerikans.
Euro-Amerikans know how privileged they have it on a world scale, how exceptional they are. Interviews by one reporter in an Iowa industrial city found: "...the prevailing attitude expressed here was capsuled in this comment from Don Schatzberg, the 46-year-old foreman of a concrete-pipe plant:"
"If you had a chance to pick your country, where else would you go? Where else can a working man own his own house and two cars and take a vacation every year? I'd say I'm a happy man, not a bit unhappy with my lifestyle..."
Like Mr. Schatzberg and many other Americans elsewhere, workers here often seemed to equate success with ownership of homes, cars, campers, boats and the like.
"I work a lot of hours," said James Dirkes, Teamster union shop steward at Zeidler, "but I've got a car, a truck, a boat and a camper to show for it."
And LaVone Feldpouch, a 36-year-old wife and mother who works as a clerk for Deere, where her husband is also employed, said: "I feel my life is an upward curve." She noted that she and her husband had accumulated three houses and added: "We're not going to stop there." They also own two cars, a truck, a boat and a motorcycle and take two vacation trips a year, one with their children and one without. (6)
All statistics show that the amount of consumption in Euro-Amerikan society is staggering. Enough so that it establishes for the mass a certain culture. In the settler tradition today's Euro-Amerikan culture is one of homeowning, with 68.4% of all settler households in 1979 owning their own home (up 50% from 1940). These households share a cornucopia of private electric appliances: 89.8% of all U.S. homes in 1979 had color TVs (watched an average of over 6 hours per day), 55% had air-conditioning, 77.3% had washing machines and 61% had clothes dryers, 43% had dishwashers, 52% had blenders and food processors, and so on. (7) Much of the world's health products are hoarded in the U.S., with, for example, one out of every three pairs of prescription eyeglasses in the world sold here.
In terms of the "basics," the most characteristic for Euro-Amerikans is the automobile. In 1980 there were a total of 104.6 million cars on the road. 84.1% of all U.S. households had cars, with 36.6% having two or more. (8) Everyone says that owning automobiles is a "necessity," without which transportation to work, (83% drive to work) shopping and childcare cannot be done.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics study shows how the "average wage owner" in Boston of 1875 had to spend 94% of the family income on "necessities: food, clothing and housing." A "Century of Progress to 'the Good Life"' later, the study found that the "average wage earner" in 1972-73 in Boston spent only 62% on these necessities, meaning they "could afford to spend 38 percent ... on nonessentials." (9) We should note that few Euro-Amerikans would agree with this elemental definition - since in their society such things as automobiles, sleeping pills, college education, drycleaning, telephones, etc. are viewed as "necessities."
These by no means exhaust the list of Euro-Amerikan private possessions. Stocks - one of every seven Euro-Amerikans owns at least some corporate stocks - vacation homes, land, hair dryers, motorcycles, exercise equipment, guns, boats, annual changes of clothing styles, and on and on. We have brought up these boring, almost mind-numbing lists of possessions to drive home the point that consuming is a disease among settlers, an infection that is dominant in that culture. Euro-Amerikan life is no longer centered around production but around consumption. This is the near-final stage of decadence.
All this is only made possible by the generalized high income that characterizes Euro-Amerikan mass life. The median Euro-Amerikan family income in 1981 was $23,517. (10) This is not equally distributed, quite obviously, but the extent to which many Euro-Amerikans in all classes - an absolute majority - shared this generalized high income is striking. Between 1960 and 1979 the percentage of settler families earning over $25,000 per year (in constant 1979 dollars) doubled, making up 40% of the settler population. When we examine Euro-Amerikan families earning over $20,000 per year in terms of different occupations, this income sameness is very conspicuous:
|HUSBAND'S OCCUPATION||% EARNING OVER $20,000 IN 1978 DOLLARS|
This generalized high income has come to characterize even industrial production workers, who in previous historical periods were highly exploited, and lived in abject misery. An upper stratum of unionized production workers in heavy industry earn on an approximate level with the petit-bourgeoisie. At the end of 1982 General Motors was paying its blue-collar workers an average base wage of $11.53 per hour, plus an additional .99 per hour average in shift and overtime premiums, and an additional $7.13 per hour in average benefits (health insurance, SUB, holiday and vacation pay, etc.). This is a total package of some $40,000 per year. Steelworkers average 1981 total wage package was $19.42 an hour. This compares to craft incomes in the most fortunate high-wage areas - in San Jose, California the latest pact raises union electricians' total wage to $24.40 an hour. (12)
Most Euro-Amerikan workers no longer can go into such industries, however. Much more typical and more exploited would be Maureen Akin, recently written about as one of the 9,000 Motorola workers in Phoenix, Arizona. A 41-year-old divorcee, Ms. Akin earns $7.02 per hour (for a 36-hour work week) as a production worker making semi-conductors. Living on a restricted budget, she saw only one movie last year in order to pay for her son's orthodontic work and her daughter's college. When we go down even lower, we find the notoriously low-wage North Carolina textile mills (which in a low-wage industry have the poorest-paid workers of those in any state). Virtual symbols of backward, "poor white" exploitation, they paid an average production wage in 1982 of $5.24 per hour, or $10,900 per year. (13)
This low wage of North Carolina textile mill workers is much higher than world standards. This is roughly 30 times the wage that the Del Monte Division of the R.J. Reynolds Corp. pays the women workers who toil 10-12 hours each day on their vast Philippine plantations. (14) It is 11.5 times the wage that Rawlings Co. pays the Haitian women who stitch together all the major league baseballs. It is 5 times the wage that General motors pays its Afrikan autoworkers in Azania. (15) The most exploited Euro-Amerikan workers live whole levels above the standard of the world proletariat, since they may be on the bottom, but they are on the bottom of a privileged nation of oppressors. Nation is the dominant factor, modifying class relations.
No matter where we look, the mass, extra-proletarian privileges of Euro-Amerikans have structurally insulated them within their exceptional way of life. "Problems" like high mortgage rates for homes are problems of a particular way of life. The full extent of what the Euro-Amerikan masses get from their special relationship serving imperialism cannot be measured in dollars alone. Everyone in the Empire understands the saying: "If you're white, you're alright." To the settler garrison goes the first pick of whatever is available - homes, jobs, schools, food, health care; government services, and so on. Whatever security is available under imperialism is theirs as well. This is taken for granted.
A 1977 survey by the Center for Policy Research among Vietnam veterans in the Northeast showed that while Afrikan Vietnam-era vets surveyed had an unemployment rate of 28%, corresponding Euro-Amerikan veterans had an unemployment rate of only 3%. Further, the employed Euro-Amerikan veterans earned an average of $4,212 per year more than even those Afrikan veterans who were working. (16)
Even the Women's Movement became a real factor in preserving their exceptional way of life. While the Women's Movement both expressed anger at sexism and greatly improved Euro-Amerikan women's lives, it was largely co-opted as a political movement by imperialism at its birth. The imperialist-sponsored "liberation" of settler women has been a major prop to reinforce and modernize the patriarchal family structure; for that matter, to transfuse the whole settler society. Just as the Empire called out white women from the kitchen during World War II, to be "Rose the Riveter" in war industry, so in the 1970s white women were again freed by imperialism to enter the labor force in new areas and in unprecedented numbers.
First, at a time when the Empire had decided that Afrikans were again too rebellious to be employed in any great numbers in key industrial, commercial and professional institutions, Euro-Amerikan women were recruited to stand by their men in filling up the jobs. "Equal Opportunity" in medical schools, law schools, business, etc. meant a large influx of Euro-Amerikan women - and few Afrikans. This is noticeable even in the blue-collar skilled trades, which have long been male sectors of employment. During 1970-1980 the percentage of women in these restricted crafts rose at a rate 3 times that for Third World workers. This was like a new wave of European immigration to reinforce the settler hold on their job market.
And it was a "breath of fresh air," modernizing settler society. Now, for instance even the New York Times has a very literary "women's consciousness" column (called "Hers"), where feminist leaders and writers can reach a mass audience. The fractures of the sixties are being reconciled and reunited among settlers. Novelist Gail Sheehy wrote in this column: "Behind just about every successful woman I know with a public as well as a private life there is another woman. The dirty little secret is, all but one of the female leaders interviewed here has household help..." Sheehy herself tried Filipino and Argentinian domestics unsuccessfully (too "hostile") before going back to the tried and true Afrikan woman domestic. (17)
While Women's Liberation is an essential part of the world revolutionary future, the struggles of women in various societies have their own national characteristics. In the U.S. oppressor nation the politics of Women's Liberation form but one small current within the much larger, overall Women's Movement. This larger Movement is pro-imperialist, and is concerned only with equality of privilege among male and female settlers. It is opposed to any liberation in general. The revolutionary ideas of Women's Liberation rested lightly upon the surface of the Women's Movement, and some individual women did pick them up.
Real wages in the U.S. began to stagnate in 1967, when imperialism ran aground on the Vietnamese Revolution. For the first time since World War II rapid inflation was eating at the upward spiral of Euro-Amerikan income. In this continuing crisis the new income of Euro-Amerikan women saved the settler family from "loss of buying power" (a phrase of the oppressor nation economy that carries an almost traumatic weight). The new income of employed women contributed to the 22% increase in real per capita income in the U.S. between 1970-1980. The Euro-Amerikan family continued its way of life by becoming a two-wage-earner family (at a time when Afrikan proletarian families, for example, were increasingly becoming the reverse). By 1978 some 75% of the U.S. families with incomes over $25,000 per year had two wage-earners. The New York Times reported:
Across the nation women have swarmed into the workforce by the millions, swelling the numbers of multi-income families. That trend can mask the effects of inflation, since a substantial number of families are living better than they did.. (18)
We are not just describing simple social bribery, as in the bourgeoisification of European workers in Germany, France, England, etc.
In Europe the bribed workers came from a long history of class war, in societies with centuries of sharply defined and rigid class divisions. Their classes, however bribed and infected, still exist as formations in the actual social world - occupying traditional communities, continuing a definite class culture. Politically, the European working class still swell the large, nominally-"socialist", voluntary industrial unions (which do not exist in the U.S. oppressor nation), and are electorally represented by their traditional working-class parties - the German Social-Democratic Party, the French Communist Party, etc. Of course, the long-range trends of world polarization and internationalization mean that all oppressor nation societies have become more alike and will become even more so.
In Amerika this bribery, this bourgeoisification, took place within the context of a settler society, which has its own history, culture and traditions - based not on class struggle, but on their material role as the privileged garrison over the continental Empire. The immigrant European proletarians were bribed by being absorbed - "integrated" if you will - into this specific society.
Militant mural in east Los Angeles: Strident voices from some quarters have grown louder
So in Amerika intra-oppressor class distinctions have always been muted on the mass level by the fact that the main distinction was whether you were a settler or a subject, whether you were in the slave patrols or enslaved in the fields, whether you were in the frontier garrison community or imprisoned in the reservation. This was the all-important identity, to which everything else was subordinate. Only someone with no contact with reality can fail to see this.
The Euro-Amerikan community is not just a conglomeration of stores and residences. It is a physical structure for settler life, in which the common culture of the Empire garrison still lives on. These garrison communities are enforcers of the oppressor nation way of life among its citizens, demanding social conformity and ideological regimentation. They have certain specific characteristics: the most glaring of which is that colonial subjects are generally barred out. Why should the settler garrison let the "Indians" live inside the walls of the fort? There is an arrogance but at the same time an underlying feeling of being threatened or besieged by "those people" - which occasionally breaks out in collective hysteria (during which guns are flourished and the laggards rush to buy out the local gunshops). The confining, boring and philistine way of life of these communities is one reason Euro-Amerikan youth "dropped out" of them in such numbers during the 1960s.
There are, of course, different types of settler communities, distinguished by a number of things, including by class. The community of multi-millionaires in Palm Springs or Aspen is very different from the communities of Canarsie or Skokie or Charlestown. As are the "hip-eoisie" communities of Berkeley or Greenwich Village. On the mass level, however, a certain type of supra-class Euro-Amerikan community has been characteristic for over a century. It is a small homeowning, small-propertied community. In it the lower middle class, the labor aristocracy and other workers share the tight but generally comfortable life of the settler garrison. This is where community life is supported by the conspicuous concentration of state services - parks, garbage collection, swimming pools, better schools, medical facilities, and so on. In contrast to the reservation or ghetto, the settler community is full of the resources of modern industrial life.
Increasingly such communities are suburbs (or "exurbs"), filled with the Euro-Amerikans who are regrouping away from the old central cities. Today the suburban population is 103 million, roughly half of the U.S. population. These suburbs are fundamentally "all-white," averaging around 90% Euro-Amerikan. Those numbers are misleading, since most Third-World people in the suburbs are either tightly segregated into ghettoized small towns and residential pockets or are Asian. The social character of the typical suburb is relentlessly, monolithically "white."
We can see in such garrison communities, urban "ethnic" enclave as well as suburb, how the shared exceptional way of life materially and ideologically fuses together the masses. There, on the same block and street, the families of electricians and small retailers, truck drivers and schoolteachers, policemen and grill owners, bookkeepers and telephone repairmen, white-collar supervisors and factory workers, computer programmers and legal secretaries grow up together, go to the same schools together, and intermarry. Nominal class distinctions on the common level pale beside their supra-class unification as a settler mass, most characterized by the labor aristocracy.
Here also is the home of the State labor force. Policemen and firemen are quite common, and in some communities almost everyone is related to, friends or neighbors with police. Literally thousands of "all-white" voluntary organizations criss-cross settler communities. Tens of millions of settlers are organized into special reactionary groupings of the most diverse kinds. Some, such as the KKK or the Moral Majority, are overt. Far more respectable and wide-reaching are reactionary organizations such as the AFL craft unions, "ethnic" organizations like the Sons of Italy, the "all-white" Roman Catholic parishes, the "Right-To-Life" groupings, the Mormon Church, the NRA, the Betar and other Zionist-fascist groups, sports leagues, thousands of neighborhood "Improvement Associations," ranchers associations, military reserve units, and on and on. The list of special "all-white" organizations with reactionary politics is endless.
The National Rifle Association in the state of Pennsylvania alone has ties to over 1,000 local gun clubs with 200,000 members. One report shows how Jim Price, a part-time farmer and factory worker, is also a "power broker" as president of the state Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs. This grouping was credited for electing Republican Richard Schweiker to the U.S. Senate when the Democratic incumbent spoke out for gun controls. The report goes on: "Mr. Price's forebears were original settlers here, so when he talks of the threat of government dictatorship through gun controls his sense of history sounds personal. "My people were chased off twice by the Indians before they stayed for good," he said." (19) Everyone who has had any contact with the NRA network of gunmen knows exactly how they expect to use their weapons. This network alone mobilizes millions of armed Euro-Amerikans.
Such special reactionary organizations are far from all-commanding even within the settler community, but their strength is considerable. What is most important is to realize that White Amerika is not a political "blank." The Euro-Amerikan "left" sometimes discusses things as if this were true, discussing "organizing white workers" as though they were frozen in place. Settlers are not waiting passively for "the Movement" to come organize them - the point is they already have many movements, causes and organizations of their own. That's the problem.
The U.S. oppressor nation does have its own casualties and its broken remnants of the industrial past. These constitute an insufficient base for revolutionary change, however. Approximately 10% of the Euro-Amerikan population has been living in poverty by Government statistics. This minority is not a cohesive, proletarian stratum, but a miscellaneous fringe of the unlucky and the outcast: older workers trapped by fading industries, retired poor, physically and emotionally disabled, and some families supported by a single woman. The whole culture silently reminds them that if they are poor and white the fault must be theirs. The rate of alcoholism in this layer is considerable. They are scattered and socially diffused.
Some entire industrial communities do exist as outmoded but surviving pockets of the old way of life. It's interesting to see how imperialism controls them. The Appalachian coal mining communities are the sharpest example, having their own economic, cultural and union tradition going back to the 19th Century. What a great contrast between these old, torn-up mountain miner communities and the new Euro-Amerikan white-collar suburbs. Yet, there is an "inner interrelationship," even in the exceptions to the trends.
Precisely because of this stark, deeply ingrained tradition the Appalachian mining communities have been special targets of radical organizing efforts. The Communist Party USA has had organizers in the mountains for some 60 years. It was there during the 1920s that the most famous of the CPUSA's "Red Unions" - the National Miners Union - led the coal miners into the bitter, violent Harlan County strike. Even during the reactionary 1950s the Southern Conference Education Fund maintained a radical presence.
In the 1960's we find numerous Appalachian organizing projects, including those of the Progressive Labor Party, SDS, and Southern Student Organizing Committee. By the 1970s many radical groupings were helping promote dissident movements, such as for community reforms or the Miners for Democracy (MFD) that eventually won control of the United Mine Workers Union. In the mid-1970s the Revolutionary Communist Party had its own rank-and-file miners organizations (just as the CPUSA had over 40 years before), which for a time had some following.
Despite the 60 years of repeated radical organizing drives there has been, in fact, zero revolutionary progress among the mining communities. Despite the history of bloody union battles, class consciousness has never moved beyond an embryonic form, at best. There is no indigenous revolutionary activity - none - or traditions. Loyalty to the U.S. imperialism and hatred of the colonial peoples is very intense. We can see a derailment of the connection between simple exploitation and class consciousness.
To see why we can look at Martin County, Kentucky. This has long been one of the poorest counties in the U.S. There are no highways, no sewage system, no garbage collection, no hospitals or even movie theaters, and one radio station and one fast-food franchise restaurant for its 14,000 citizens. The community is ripped off, exploited to an extreme degree. Even the Government, while spending close to $20 million a year in Martin County for school programs, job retraining, etc. takes out twice that much, $40 million a year, in taxes.
One corporation dominates the economy. In fact, owns it. The Norfolk & Western Railroad has mineral rights to some 129,000 acres, over half of the total land area of the county (the second largest landowner is Harvard University). The 13 million tons of coal taken out every year not only brings large profits to the mine operators (Occidental Petroleum, Fluor Corporation, Ashland Oil, and MAPCO) but gives N&W coal royalties and freight fees of over $30 million annually. This is an annual rate of return on their investment of 120%. Over the fifty year life of the coal field, N&W's total return will be something like $1.5 billion - or 6000% on their investment. As everyone knows, the rampant stripmining is rapidly destroying the area's simple road system, choking the streams with corrosive coal refuse, fouling the underground water supply, and generally causing more physical and ecological destruction than repeated bombings. Harry Caudill, author of Night Comes to the Cumberlands, says: "They've treated the region as if it were a colony. When they finish taking what they want from it if, they'll just let it go to hell." (23)
Why don't the workers in this ripped-off "colony" organize, seeing in a revolutionary change a way to keep the wealth for the community of their children's generation? In fact, to really have a community? Why don't they resist? The answer is that the majority of them welcome such exploitation, whatever the future price. Their community may have nothing, may be sliding back into an eventual future of undeveloped desolation, but right now those who have jobs are making "good bucks." The 5,000 coal miners have been earning around $30,000 per year, while the county's per capita annual income is up to $7,000.
The employed miners who are getting those "good bucks" are unconcerned about the poverty right at their side. Disabled miners and the elderly live in poverty, children are uneducated, while what income exists in the community is eagerly thrown away on individual consumerism. This points out the fact that what is poverty-stricken about settlers is their culture.
The Euro-Amerikan coal miners are just concentrating on "getting theirs" while it lasts. In the settler tradition it's "every man for himself." They have no class goals or even community goals, just private goals involving private income and private consumerism. Meanwhile, the local N&W land manager says that they do have future plans for Appalachia: "We don't intend to walk off and leave this land to the Indians." Of that we can be certain.
The most significant fact about the real consciousness of the Euro-Amerikan masses is how anti- communal and private it is. Settlers recognize no common bond with the rest of humanity. That is why everything they build is perverted: why settler trade-unions are anti-proletarian, and settler "Women's Liberation" is happy to exploit the women of other nations. It means nothing to Euro-Amerikans that the winter fruit they eat was really paid for by the lives of Mexican or Chilean or Filipino children. For them the flavor is so sweet. Euro-Amerikans don't even really care too much about each other. Lower taxes are more important than food for their own elderly. This is a diseased culture, with a mass political consciousness that is centered around parasitism.
The mere recognition that there are rich and poor, or even that corporations exploit people - any idiot can see this - cannot constitute class consciousness. The long, long history of unionism in the coal counties shows this. Class consciousness implies a participation in the class war. While such a consciousness certainly can involve fighting for better wages, it cannot be limited to or even centered on this.
The Euro-Amerikan "left" has completely mystified the question of class consciousness. They see in every labor strike, in the slightest twitch for reform, examples of proletarianism. Some "socialist scholars" (a self-awarded title, to be sure) conduct almost anthropological expeditions into the settler masses, seeing in every remembered folk song or cultural nuance some profound but hidden nuggets of working class consciousness. Others, who have spent years as working class "experts," find proletarian vision in every joke about the bosses told during coffee breaks. This is not politics, whatever else it may be.
There is nothing mystical, elusive or hidden about real working class consciousness. It is the political awareness that the exploiting class and its State must be fought, that the laboring masses of the world have unity in their need for socialism. The Red Army is class consciousness. An action for higher wages or better working conditions need not embody any real class consciousness whatsoever. Narrow self-interest is not the same as consciousness of class interests. "More for me" is not the same slogan as "liberate humanity."
Lenin wrote on this: "Only when the individual worker realizes that he is a member of the entire working class, only when he recognizes the fact that his petty day-to-day struggle against individual employers and individual government officials is a struggle against the entire bourgeoisie and the entire government does his struggle become a class struggle."(24)
This famous and often-quoted passage set forth a clear threshold - by which the coal miners or any other significant grouping of Euro-Amerikan workers do not in a scientific sense have any real working-class consciousness. Much more than this, however, is the reality that practice is the proof, that the actual struggle reveals more than any theoretical criteria. Lenin pointed this out at the 2nd Congress of the Communist International:
We cannot - nor can anybody else - calculate exactly what portion of the proletariat is following and will follow the social-chauvinists and opportunists. This will only be revealed by the struggle, it will be definitely decided only by the socialist revolution. (25)
We have lived through two decades of the most tumultuous political struggle on a global scale. The Afrikan masses broke through the colonial repression in massive urban uprisings during the 1960s. The Chicano-Mexicano Land struggle revived in the Southwest. Armed self-defense became a popular concept. Wounded Knee lit a signal fire for the Indian Nations. Socialist ideas and international solidarity took root in the new insurgencies. The Puerto Rican revolution brought an armed struggle once again to the front door of the Empire. The answer to their actual consciousness, to what class awareness the Euro-Amerikan workers had, can be found in what side they supported in the wars to overthrow "their" U.S. Empire.
The August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium anti-war protest, attended by 20,000 persons.
The connection between Euro-Amerikan settlerism and Zionist settlerism - twin servants of imperialism - is shown in all the recent reactionary political developments within the U.S. Jewish communities. Repeated propaganda about the Holocaust is used as fascistic indoctrination, to whip up a belligerent sentimentality that both justifies Euro-Amerikans as victims ("no more guilt trips about racism") and powers new terroristic attacks on colonial peoples. The same ultra-Orthodox Zionist elements are killing Afrikan youth in Brooklyn and shooting Palestinian youth on the West Bank. Now even the anti-Semitic bigots of the Moral Majority recognize the Zionists as their "kith and kin."
This Zionist example has stirred many of the Russian Jewry, and brought some 175,000 of them here to become settlers in the "New World." Again we can see how the division of the world into oppressed nations pervades all relations and events. The Russian Jewish immigration is not like the Puerto Rican immigration, for example, which is the forced dislocation of a colonial people in search of employment. In contrast, the Russian Jewry come as more reinforcements for the U.S. oppressor nation; come not for survival or bread, but for the rich, privileged lifestyle of settlerism. Beneath the propaganda, this is all very evident. A recent New York Times report from Russia's Jewish "human rights" underground is revealing:
About 30 Moscow Jews and a few Westerners gathered in a private apartment recently to mark Purim with poetry and amateur theatricals. The players shifted easily from Russian to Hebrew, and some members of the hopelessly cramped audience joined in the songs. Even the children readily recognized Queen Esther and the other characters in the ancient legend of how Persian Jews triumphed over a devious plot to massacre them by the wicked Haman, done up for the evening as a Palestinian guerrilla... The Six-Day War of 1967 is generally recognized as a turning point in the self-esteem of Russian Jews and in their identification with Israel. "There was a sense of colossal national rehabilitation," recalled Naum Meiman, a 72-year old physicist and human rights activist. (20)
We see the same pattern - how the conquering and killing of Arabs, Afrikans, etc. is felt by Zionist settlers as therapeutic "rehabilitation," restoring them to European dimensions. This is the same virile restoration through mass murder that was so ecstatically praised by Adolf Hitler.
Jews do face an entrenched anti-semitism, which in Russia definitely makes them "second-class citizens," restricts advancement into upper management, and limits religious and cultural expression (such as the "human rights" get-together described). About 30% of the Russian Jewish immigrants here are university graduates. One such family are the Resnikovs, interviewed in Forest Hills, N.Y.:
"Russia was a beautiful country. But not for us," said Mrs. Resnikov, a brief sorrow in her huge dark eyes. She was a technician in an electronics plant and her husband, a squarely built man of 42, was a construction engineer. "Higher I couldn't go in Russia - a Jew for them is an enemy," he said ... Now, after four years here, Mr. Resnikov is impatient with "working like a worker" in his $6.50-an-hour job as a roofer but has found nothing better... "We live nice," he said, "but we didn't live bad in Kiev or Haifa. I would like to have my own American business..." (21)
Some two-thirds of all Russian Jewish emigrants have come to the U.S. rather than Israel. A survey for the council of Jewish Federations found that in 1981 the median family income of these new settlers was $19,632; other surveys have found that less than 1%, mostly the elderly, have to stay on welfare. (22) Coming from thousands of miles away, often speaking no English, their new citizenship in the U.S. oppressor nation gives them an instant lifestyle above the colonial world.