The Neo-Confederate States
With the defeat of the oil and gas lobbyist Democrat Mary Landrieu in Louisiana by another oil and gas lobbyist Republican, the southern U.S. is now a ‘solid south’ dominated by the Republican Party, at least in electoral offices.
Ever since the Democratic Party jettisoned its openly racist and segregationist wing in the 1960s, that voting bloc moved over to the ‘tough on (black) crime’ Republicans. When the Democrats began to abandon labor under Carter, the movement continued. Clinton did his best to stem that Republican tide by becoming one. He executing a retarded black man in Arkansas in the 1992 presidential campaign, got rid of AFDC, passed a strict ‘crime’ bill aimed at the working classes, and then starting funneling military weapons to the police through Joe Biden. Obama kept these policies in place, the third Democrat to govern by neo-liberalism.
Yet even with all these concessions to the wage-slave states and their official ideology, the Civil War still goes on. Much of the hatred of Obama from the Republican Party originates from this racist source. With the weak position of the Democrats, the old Jim Crow voting laws now have their modern equivalent in the lifting of federal voting controls in the south, and a rush by southern states to disenfranchise black, Latino, working-class and young voters. The Christian Dominists, given birth by the Southern Baptist Convention, are just the latest echo of the original Bible-thumping slavers. They all expect to be ‘raptured’ soon, so fighting ‘disorder' is just part of their biblical plan.
Much like the pre-Civil War 1850 compromise with the Southern slavocracy, the Democrats have compromised for 30 years. Many Democratic leaders are really modern-day Copperheads, who want to coddle Republicanism and unite with them on many of their tenets – war and imperial adventures, budget-cutting, privatization, the drug war, the attack on public education, the dual-track legal system, support for Wall Street, the police and the incarceration state. They only differ in tactics. Institutional racism still exists – not in the obvious Jim Crow sense, but in a more subtle yet strong version – in education, housing, employment, the legal system, policing, the media. Some have compared the police in black neighborhoods to ‘slave patrols’ who carry out modern-day legal lynchings.
Here is a quote from Britney Cooper, a professor active in Ferguson:
“The old conceptions are dead and gone. The 20th century civil rights project has failed. It has proven insufficient for the challenges of the 21st century. The vote is unprotected, the jury system is a sham, abortion rights are increasingly nonexistent, and urban public schools have become not training grounds for citizenship but holding cells for underprivileged black youth who learn what it means to exist in a state of social death.”
No one wants a real civil war with the south - as a place. The “South” in general is not the culprit, as even W.E.B. Dubois recognized. One thing you notice about most working-class white people in the south is that bigotry is just a part of their class system. Ethnicity and class are deeply intertwined. They are actually extremely subservient and fearful of their white overseers. Anyone who has spent time around southerners knows that, except when drunk, there is a certain conformist servility about them. The key insight about the south is that the class system there is stronger than in the north. Everyone is supposed to respect their 'betters.' Part of that bargain is that some whites can then look down on the ‘black trash.’ And sometimes even ‘white’ trash gets thrown into the bargain. This is why unions do poorly among many whites. They are afraid of losing their little bit of low wages, low-end health care, half-educations, shoddy skills and slightly elevated status in the face of the violent reactionary capitalists who run the south. Those latter are the real culprits.
This pathetic situation has been going on since after the Civil War. The South is consistently home to the lowest social and economic statistics in the U.S. and this affects white people the most, as they are the majority. Ironically, the social and economic statistics for black people show the worst conditions in inequality in mostly northern states, as the white people in the north do much better. This is a legacy of national institutional racism, which is anchored in the rural southern experience and slavery, but has obviously affected the material and social conditions of whites too.
Why has the dead weight of the neo-Confederacy lasted so long, in its various forms? The first thing to know is that the northern and international capitalists – Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the automobile industry, the oil and coal industry – needed a cheap labor colony within the U.S. An English-speaking maquiladora with a southern drawl. And they got one. They don’t always have to go to China. Southern servility is useful now. But in the 1930s white and black southerners organized sharecroppers, initiated large labor strikes in textile, docks and mining and elected left-populists like Huey Long. So there is nothing ‘eternal’ about the servility of the majority of the white working class in the south. Yet the Democrats long ago gave up on them. Starting with Georgian neo-liberal businessmen Jimmy Carter and following with Arkansas’ lawyer Bill Clinton, whose wife sat on the board of Wal-Mart, they remade the Democratic Party to the right. The official labor movement followed, starting back in the late 1940s by cooperating with the Dixiecrats and cutting themselves off from southern black – and white labor.
So what to do to untie this Catch 22? Mary Landrieu was an example of the modern Democratic ‘blue dogs’ – a species that is going extinct. Southerners now vote for another kind of dog - rabid ‘yellow dogs’ named Republicans. The Democrats have abandoned the working class nationally and in the south specifically - and the Republicans have fed a fake superiority to white workers in order to make the cheap labor southern Maquiladora possible. This has resulted in dividing labor and keeping out unions, and the strategy has spread to the whole nation now. In effect, no one really represents the working classes anymore. This is especially true in the 'enterprise zone' that is the U.S. south.
What we need is a large group of "Atticus Finches" to oppose the rabid yellow dogs. Instead of giving up on white workers as so many (white) middle-class liberals counsel, or leaving the south to neo-segregationists, secessionists and Christian Dominionists - or insulting everyone who lives there as a 'redneck' - it is incumbent on the left and labor movement to actually provide an alternative. Movements and organizations have to convince white workers that their real enemy is the white businessman who runs everything. That means taking a class line at all times – not just culture-war, identity politics, with which the electoral appeal of the Democratic and Republican Parties are both exclusively based on.
Turn the civil war into a class struggle.
Books reviewed directly related to the Civil War: “The Civil War in Florida,” “Why the South Lost the Civil War,” “The Bloody Shirt,” “County of Jones,” “Guerillas, Unionists and Violence on the Confederate Home Front,” “Slavery by Another Name” and “The New Jim Crow.” Commentaries: “A Snake Slithers Up the Mississippi.” Us blog search box, upper left.
December 10, 2014