To understand racism in the U.S. and the role of the Democratic Party

7 February, 2021 · History

In the United States, racialism has become the leading ideological campaign directed against workers. But the Black Lives Matter movement has not had a remotely comparable impact in most other countries despite media pressure and the effort of the Democratic apparatus to export it to Europe and Asia. The question is, why is it so powerful in the United States?

Slavery and the American political system

United States Slave Trade

The institution of slavery in the British North American colonies was of enormous importance to its industrial development, particularly in the southernmost colonies, until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. The unity of the nation – that is, of the ruling class of the new state – after independence was based on a fragile consensus: the understanding that it was necessary to preserve slavery in order to prevent the secession of the southern states from the Union.

This was not the only source of tensions between capitalists in different regions of the United States. While the economic crisis of 1819 led Northern manufacturers to fight for higher tariffs, Southern cotton owners, who relied heavily on foreign trade, fought against them. But of course, the position on tariffs was inextricably linked to and subordinate to that on slavery. The entry of the state of Missouri into the United States further exacerbated the tension by raising the question of the limits of states’ rights… that is, whether to endow the states with powers that would make it possible to preserve the so-called peculiar institution.Would the conflict between the slaveholding landowners of the South and the industrial bourgeoisie of the North take the form of a race to constitute states from East to West of the continent? In part it did, generating clashes over the control and status of the new territories, such as Kansas, which heralded civil war. But these tensions, increasingly unsustainable, were not only expressed in this way. At the same time, they tore apart the Union’s institutions and political apparatus. .

The partisan expressions of the conflict

Jackson

The election of 1824, created the conditions for the Democratic-Republican party to later split into two: On one side, the Anti-Jackson party which later became known as the National Republican Party and which would later merge with other opponents of Jackson to form the Whig Party. On the other, the Jacksonians who formed theDemocratic Party. That is, while the party today known as the Republican Party would not be formed until 1854, the modern Democratic Party was formed shortly after Jackson’s election in 1828.

The Whigs represented the industrial bourgeoisie of the northern states, the merchants, the petty bourgeoisie of New England and even the southern cities. The base of the Democrats was composed of slaveholders and the rural petty bourgeoisie of the West and South. There was also a considerable number of craftsmen in the party. For the craftsmen in the Democratic party, both slavery and the exclusion of blacks from craft work were necessary conditions to avoid proletarianization and preserve their social position against the historical tide. The main banner of the Democratic Party was to reduce the centralizing powers of the federal government. No wonder it was the preferred party of the slaveowners.

If Congress can make banks, roads, and canal under the Constitution, they can free any slave in the United States

This Mighty Scourge, Nathaniel Macron,

The split in theDemocratic-Republican party was not intended to provoke an irreconcilable split within the ruling class, but to manage the already existing division within it. They agreed not to discuss the question of slavery, lest it break the fragile unity of the states, and, beginning in 1833, they upheld certain agreements on tariffs.

This was the period when the right to vote was extended to white propertyless males in many states. The expansion of suffrage was necessary to maintain the idea of the representativeness of institutions since, due to the increasing concentration of property, the masses of people qualified to vote had been substantially reduced.

The Democrats, reflecting the interests of slaveholders and the rural petty bourgeoisie, opposed suffrage for women and freedmen. Freedmen were not included among the beneficiaries of their campaign to eliminate the property requirements of suffrage. The Whigs, on the other hand were sympathetic to female and black suffrage and were in favor of retaining property requirements. But they often faced a situation in which they had to deal with the consequences of a Democrat winning local office and successfully expanding suffrage among white males in the state. The Whigs had to adapt to the situation since maintaining national unity -that is, that is, sustaining and developing a giant unified national market- was the priority.

Irish immigration

Puck’s caricature in 1893 of the American bourgeois classes’ rejection of immigrants, then Irish.

At the same time, the US was experiencing a third wave of Irish immigration. Many of the Irish who arrived during the second wave were professionals, merchants or artisans. In 1826, 48% of Irish immigrants had been skilled artisans. The third wave of Irish immigration, however, was provoked by the great Irish famine. The majority of these immigrants were made up of the of the poor, unwaged peasantry, whose life experience consisted of subsistence farming. Between 80 and 90% of the newcomers were poor peasants and servants without training or resources.

These immigrants with no work experience ended up joining the ranks of the unskilled workforce. Then there were also many others who were unable to find any work at all. Not a few of them became lumpenized and formed gangs as early as 1825. These immigrants used to live side by side with the masses of free blacks in the slums of the cities. And this wave of mass immigration was impossible to ignore politically.

Moreover, the extension of the vote to all white males, regardless of property ownership, allowed increasing numbers of poor Irish to become voters that were capable of influencing future elections.

The new migration, for example, filled a good part of the New York police force with Irish lumpen. Permeating neighborhood control the new gangs demonstrated their loyalty to the Democratic cause by collaborating in voter fraud and in establishing racial segregation in the cities. he firemen, who in the United States were at that time organized as volunteers and were originally liked to the territorial control of the gangs, were also filled with the new lumpen, who gained impunity in exchange for political loyalty. Not a few artisans in the Democratic party were appalled by this turn in the party’s direction. This political shift, furthermore, was certainly not limited to New York.

Around half of the Philadelphia American Republican Party was composed of native-born ex-Democrats who had left their old party when, among other things, it began rewarding its Irish supporters with places on the night watch and the staff of the public markets in Democratic districts.

Riot, Rout, and Tumult

Soon another nativist (xenophobic) party was born, e closely linked to the rise of the lumpen…the Know-Nothing party:

In the 1850s another burst of nativist sentiment would lead to a second American party, more popularly known as theKnow-Nothings. Recent investigation has established that virtually no Know-Nothing was past the age of thirty and that the party drew its greatest electoral support among new voters just turned twenty-one. They were a party of artisan youth…… These were the sons of skilled craftsmen who had been forced to become mere semi-skilled machine tenders. While their fathers had largely failed to realize earlier aspirations to become master craftsmen, these young men no longer had any such expectations.

The Craft Apprentice

They fought to restrict immigration and to make naturalization more difficult. They also argued for the deportation of immigrant vagrants and for the exclusion of immigrants from the positions of public office. According to these craftsmen, Irish immigrants accelerated the industrialization of society. This was the crux of the matter. Immigrants filled the ranks of unskilled workers and therefore undermined their efforts to prevent proletarianization. On this basis, their ideology was formed. According to this ideology, the immigrants were alcoholic Catholics that undermined the Protestant values on which this nation was founded. They were criminals that threatenedthe republican values of the honorable petty bourgeoisie.The fact that they depicted themselves as an honorable petty bourgeoisie, however, did not prevent them from relying on the lumpen when it was in their interest to do so .

Until the emergence of the Republican party, the Know-Nothing party was the main opposition to the Democratic party. But it was neither the only nor the first xenophobic response from the petty bourgeoisie. Among the best known was Tammany Hall. This was originally a Democratic-Republican organization that claimed to represent the interests of the petty bourgeoisie against aristocratic privilege and foreign competition. Its backbone consisted of both migrant and native craftsmen. The extension of the vote directly undermined their class position and their reaction was immediate. Tammany Hall learned to adapt, however, and would turn into a corrupt patronage system that also served as the apparatus of the Democratic Party.

The Civil War

The Republican Party was formed on March 20, 1854 shortly after the passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act which signified :

The formation of two territories on the assumption that Nebraska would enter the Union as a free state and Kansas as a slave state. Under these circumstances, Northern and Southern strength in the Senate would be equalized. Secondly, the act provided for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise line of 1820. By so doing, the measure gave the slave power what it most desired: the recognition that the area of slavery in the United States was unlimited.

The Civil War in the United States

The Republican party was a regrouping of antislavery forces that had been gathering strength. In essence, they came from the forces surrounding the Free Soil Party and the abolitionist Whigs. There are historians who argue that the grouping of these forces was based more on xenophobia than anti-slavery, although it is clear from Abraham Lincoln’s own comments about the Know-Nothing party, that this was not the case.

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that all men are created equal.We now practically read it all men are created equal, except negroes. When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read all men are created equal, except negroes, foreigners, and Catholics.

Abraham Lincoln’s letter to Joshua Speed, 1855

South Carolina had already threatened to secede from the Union in 1832 under the pretext of the Tariff of 1828. Shortly after Abraham Lincoln was elected president, however, South Carolina admitted that it was seceding in order to preserve slavery. During this time, slave power had reached its height.

The encroachments of the slaveholding power reached their maximum point, when, by the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, for the first time in the history of the United States, as Mr. Douglas himself confessed, every legal barrier to the diffusion of slavery within the United States territories was broken down, when afterward, a Northern candidate bought his presidential nomination by pledging the Union to conquer or purchase in Cuba a new field of dominion for the slaveholder; when later on, by the Dred Scott decision, diffusion of slavery by the Federal power was proclaimed as the law of the American Constitution, and lastly, when the African slave trade was de facto reopened on a larger scale than during the times of its legal existence.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Civil War in the United States

At the same time, however, it had never before been so threatened.

The Kansas war, the formation of the Republican party, and the large vote cast for Mr. Frémont during the presidential election of 1856, were so many palpable proofs that the North had accumulated sufficient energies to rectify the aberrations which United States history, under the slaveholders’pressure, had undergone for half a century, and to to make it return to the true principles of its development. Apart from those political phenomena, there was one broad statistical and economical fact indicating that the abuse of the Federal Union by the slave interest had approached the point from which it would have to recede forcibly, or de bonne grace. That fact was the growth of the Northwest, the immense strides its population had made from 1850 to 1860, and the new and invigorating influence which it could not but bear on the destinies of the United States

The whole movement was and is based, as one sees, on the slave question: Not in the sense of whether the slaves within existing slave states should be emancipated or not, but whether the twenty million freemen of the North should subordinate themselves any longer to an oligarchy of three hundred thousand slaveholders; whether the vast Territories of the republic should be planting-places for free states or for slavery; finally, whether the national policy of the Union should take armed propaganda of slavery in Mexico, Central and South America as its device.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Civil War in the United States

It was a conflict that, moreover, was not only of interest to the slaves and the Northern industrial bourgeoisie. It was a war of enormous importance both to the working class of the United States and to the working class of the world. What was at stake was the abolition of a barrier to the real progress of the working class and the progress of the human species as a whole.

Racism after the Civil War and Reconstruction

The Civil War, however, was not enough to abolish racism and its devastating effects on the movement of the working class to emancipate itself. The Southern slave oligarchies remained and the Northern bourgeoisie, triumphant but exhausted by the war made no small number of concessions.

The South could no longer depend on a slave population, but it could bring the conditions of the newly freed black wage earners as close as possible to the conditions they lived under the slave regime. Plantation owners, who now had to deal with the economic consequences of the abolition of slavery, wanted a stable, cheap labor force to work during the crucial planting and harvesting seasons.

The solution: Limit the mobility of workers in order to prevent them from migrating to find better job opportunities. In this way, they could keep wages low.

The Enticement and Contract-Enforcement laws, implemented only a year after the end of the Civil War, established that workers who were already under contract could not be hired — or be offered higher wages by other employers– and that workers were not allowed to break labor contracts. If a worker abandoned his post he would go to jail.

At the same time, vagrancy laws criminalizing unemployment were passed. People arrested for being unemployed were often forced to work through the convict-leasing system -forced inmate labor- that spread throughout the South during the first two years after the Civil War.

Limiting worker mobility in the South was in part, by the plantation owners’ own admission, an attempt to keep black workers’ wages down. But it was a strategy that sought to keep wages low in general, not just on the plantations and not just for black workers.

The formation of terrorist and paramilitary groups such as the KKK, the White League or the Knights of the White Camellia, were inseparable from the machinations of the Democratic party. White supremacist terrorism was intended to maintain Democratic political dominance in the South…as a way to avoid any legal barriers to its way of organizing labor.

After the open – and militarized – confrontation during Grant’s presidency, Congress reached the Compromise of 1877: the conciliatory Republican Rutherford B. Hayes -who had won the nomination over Grant after a smear campaign against Grant – would become president in place of Democrat Samuel J. Tilden in exchange for:

  1. The removal of all remaining U.S. military forces in the former Confederate states. (At the time, U.S. troops remained only in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, but the agreement finalized the withdrawal of troops from the entire South.)
  2. The appointment of at least one Southern Democrat to Hayes’ cabinet.
  3. The construction of another transcontinental railroad using the Texas and Pacific in the South.
  4. Legislation in order to industrialize the South and restore its economy after Reconstruction and the Civil War.
  5. The right to treat blacks as it saw fit without interference from the North.

In essence, it was the end of the Reconstruction period period and laid the groundwork for the subsequent Democratic domination of the South. The Northern Republican bourgeoisie had taken the reins of the country as a whole and determined the shape of its westward expansion. It had emancipated itself from the control of the Southern oligarchy by defeating it militarily. And it was willing to allow a certain autonomy to the southern ruling classes as long as they formally abided by the laws. The bourgeois revolutionary impetus of Lincoln and Grant was to give way to the development of investments, and these demanded a political stability that the Southern Democrats threatened with tenacity.

Racial segregation laws were born as a weapon against workers’ struggles

Scene from the 1886 railroad strike

The passage of Jim Crow laws, which imposed racial segregation on the South, was made possible by this framework. But it cannot be explained by it alone. For the establishment of both racial segregation and the ban on black voting did not begin until the 1890s and was preceded by a period of great labor struggles in the South as well as an economic depression that radicalized the local ruling classes.

The Great Southwestern Railroad Strike (1886)affected several southern states that made up the Confederate States-Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas. A year later, 10,000 sugar cane plantation workers in Louisiana went on strike protesting against wage cuts and against payment in (scrip) that they could only use in company stores.The militia, a paramilitary group and vigilante squads that were organized to assassinate the strikers eventually destroyed the strike.

Although the Knights of Labor (KOL), the first United States union, played a decisive role in the strike and had white members that suffered repression because of their participation in it, the strike was described as a battle between whites and blacks. It was a massacre that was characterized as an example of anti-black violence. The strike ended in late 1887. Shortly thereafter, laws were passed establishing segregation, even though the earlier laws of post-Civil War Louisiana prohibited segregation.

In the Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886, both black and white workers participated, just as in the railroad strike of 1877. There were newspapers that reported on the strike and said that the influence of the Knights of Labor in that strike, and in many others in the South, was a threat to white supremacy. After the strike, the police tried to turn the workers against each other through the use of racist arguments. For example, to extract information from a black striker, a deputy told him that he was going to protect black strikers and that he was only going after those white sons of bitches.

They spoke in terms of race, not because it was fundamentally about race, but because it served to divide the workers. It was essential for them to divide the working class just as it was becoming formed and centralized. The capitalists of the South, and their political expression, the Democratic party, always used racism as a weapon to discipline the workers.

The craft unions, moreover, aligned themselves with the Democrats. The AFL, called itself a pure and simple union that disassociated itself from politics but in reality often worked with the Democrats. It was linked in New York, moreover, with Tammany Hall, as the Socialist Labor Party denounced. And this was no small matter. The AFL had a massive presence in the U.S. labor movement. The industrial unions, on the other hand, had the capacity to serve as a base for workers to overcome all obstacles to their own centralization. But by the time the Socialist Labor Party began to decline, the Socialist Party of America, an ally of the AFL, had become the leading socialist party. The KOL had already collapsed and the emergence of the IWW would inspire hopeup until the moment it turned into an anarchist organization that rejected the need for the working class to centralize its struggle.

At the outbreak of the World War, the AFL aligned itself with the war effort. The industrial unions that came into being after this period also had nothing to do with the industrial unions of the Socialist Labor Party era. Fully integrated already into the state, their aim to obtain political recognition in exchange for maintaining social peace. Nor can we forget the role of World War I as a driver of la Gran Migración. The Democratic party in the North stayed true to its history and continued to use gangs to commit electoral fraud and enforce racial segregation in northern cities. The goal? To maintain control over the masses of black workers that migrated from the South.

Also read.
- Daniel de Leon and American Socialism
- Lumpenization, police violence and racism in the U.S.

The transformation of both political parties

In the 1936 election, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt won a majority of the black vote. Both the Democratic and Republican parties were stunned by the result, as they took for granted the fact that the Republican party always captured the majority of the so-called black vote. It marked a turning point in the history of the two major political parties. This occurred at the same time that the tendency, within the Republican party to reinvent itself as a friend of the South and as a party for respectable whites had become dominant.

Historians who portray this period are bewildered. They say that Franklin D. Roosevelt did not at the time offer any policies aimed specifically at black people.But the rise of the Democratic party had nothing to do with a black agenda, but with how the New Dealcould address the needs of a capital in crisis. The unions, essential to carrying out the New Deal, had historically been tied to the Democratic party.

The party was quick to react upon discovering that it was in a position to continue winning the black vote. It even dedicated a song to its new base: a song often played in its campaigns whose lyrics talk about how black people supposedly view Franklin D. Roosevelt like a God and name their children after him. If that wasn’t bad enough, the onstage performance of the song follows the extremely racist and characteristically American tradition of the minstrel genre.

The Democratic party, who had always been linked to the craft unions, had been transformed at the same time as the unions. Since World War I, the unions, like the AFL, demonstrated their ability to serve the interests of national capital by controlling the working class as a whole. New Deal politics reflected this shift in orientation among Democrats in the Northern states, while Southern Democrats continued to fight for segregation until the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. The notorious Alabama governor George Wallace, a Confederate-worshipping segregationist who resisted the changes pushed by the Civil Rights Movement, was a typical Southern Democrat.

But Roosevelt’s appeals to black people already indicated the decline of the segregationist tendency within the Democratic party..it was becoming increasingly aware of its possibilities. And, after the Taft-Hartley Act, the influence of labor unions would wane even within the Democratic party. So it is not surprising that the same party that had led and imposed segregation was able to promote a Civil Rights Movement that eroded workers’ ability to resist in the workplace in the name of integration. For a century it had claimed to be the party of the white worker, and, upon the arrival of the Civil Rights Movement it suddenly changed its tune and began to declare that white workers oppress black workers. Opposing slogans that share the same goal: to keep workers divided, segregated in fact, from the same job.

Is Biden like Abraham Lincoln

The Democratic party, in its rebranding of itself, has gone so far as to rewrite its own history. We are told that the Democratic party was actually the Republican party during Lincoln’s term, while the Republicans were the Democrats. Of course, such nonsense could not be further from the truth. And it is a folly that is far from innocent.

The Democratic party wants to present itself as a party that was always progressive nd will therefore save us from the Republicans, whom it uses as a scapegoat to cover up its own crimes. They call Republicans racist for appealing to the base that used to be theirs. It proudly declares that it has always been a pro-inmigrant party… but then forgets to mention how it argued that the welfare of immigrants depended on maintaining slavery, and when slavery was abolished, racial segregation. It declares that it is going to stop racist police violence when it was responsible, not only for filling the police force with racist lumpen, but for the War on Crime that was the cause of the massive increase in police presence in poor neighborhoods.

Their coherence must be sought elsewhere: the use of race to attack workers. It was, after all, the pro-slavery party.

Nothing has changed today. In the midst of a pandemic that won’t let up, in the face of teachers fighting to defend school closings until they are vaccinated, Democrats speak of the supposed need of black students to have schools reopen…they do this in order to force the teachers to work in conditions that can only end up landing them and the students’ families in the ICU. In other words, Democrats call workers racist when they stand up for such basic universal needs as not to not infect or be infected; and they call themselves universalists for promoting a racialism that horrifies even the most narrow and rancid French universalism.

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