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This Issue: Race and Class

Class conflict – first and foremost, the relationship between the capitalist class and the working class -- is the fundamental contradiction that defines capitalist society. Class is a reality which simultaneously encompasses and collides with other dimensions of oppression and domination, such as gender and race. The relationship between race and class, in particular, is the theme of this issue of Other Voices.

The concept of “race” is a relatively recent invention, born out of the need to invent a justification for the enslavement of black Africans. Race theorists developed pseudo-scientific biological theories to ‘explain’ why Africans were ‘inferior’ and therefore could justly be enslaved. Race theory was then also used to justify and explain social hierarchy in other contexts. It is worth remembering that conservative European social thinkers long held that working people and the poor belonged to a biologically different ‘race’ than their social superiors. The French aristocrat and race theorist Gobineau wrote “Every social order is founded upon three original classes, each of which represents a racial variety: the nobility, a more or less accurate reflection of the conquering race; the bourgeoisie composed of mixed stock coming close to the chief race; and the common people who live in servitude or at least in a very depressed position. These last belong to a lower race which came about in the south through miscegenation with the negroes and in the north with the Finns.”

It was in the Americas, and especially in the United States, a society founded on slavery, that ‘racial’ divisions were cultivated and sharpened to their highest degree. After Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, when black slaves and white indentured servants rose up together, the colonial elite began consciously to foster ‘racial’ divisions by granting poor whites a few social privileges (but not, in most cases, money or power). Immigrants who had been considered non-white and racially inferior, such as the Finns, the Irish, and Slavs from Eastern Europe, were ‘promoted’ into the “white race.”

In the eyes of Karl Marx, the division between whites and blacks within the American working class (which in his analysis encompassed slaves as well as wage-workers) was the fundamental contradiction which stood in the way of developing class consciousness and creating a socialist movement.

In the 20th century, Communists and Trotskyists in particular stressed the central importance of challenging racism in order to build a united working class movement. In the last few years, this insight has been carried forward by other social movements. The concept of ‘intersectionality’ has recently come into vogue in some circles, though others argue that ‘intersectionality’ is actually a step backward in that it assumes that there are separate ‘identities’ that ‘intersect’, an approach which can end up seeing the differences but missing the whole.

These are questions which will continue to challenge us. In this issue, you’ll find a small selection of resources from a vast and ongoing social movement. Exploring the subject links below each item will lead you to many more.


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Topic of the Week


Race and Class

The Connexions Library features an enormous selection of resources that touch upon issues of race and class in many ways. One of the many pathways for exploring these resources is the Race and Class page here

This Week on Connexions.org


Class is More Intersectional than Intersectionality

The Left as it exists currently is often ashamed of and apologetic for its class struggle orientation, chasing after demographic-specific oppression issues. An approach that leans toward greater emphasis on a class struggle focus is actually more intersectional than a focus which gives more attention to demographic-specific issues than to class. Read more

Keywords: Class Solidarity - Working Class

Health Disparities By Race And Class: Why Both Matter

The authors examine three competing causal interpretations of racial disparities in health. The first approach views race as a biologically meaningful category and racial disparities in health as reflecting inherited susceptibility to disease. The second approach treats race as a proxy for class and views socioeconomic stratification as the real culprit behind racial disparities. The third approach treats race as neither a biological category nor a proxy for class, but as a distinct construct, akin to caste. The essay points to historical, political, and ideological obstacles that have hindered the analysis of race and class as codeterminants of disparities in health. Read more

Keywords: Inequality - Social Determinants of Health

Race, Religion and Rounding Up Africans in Israel

Israel is engaged in a crackdown on African immigrants, whom members of the ruling parties call a "cancer" on the Jewish state. To circumvent court rulings against imprisonment without trial, the government has packed the refugees into a detention centre in the desert. The aim is to convince the Africans "to give up all hope of a normal life in Israel" and go back where they came from. Read more

Keywords: Israel - Migrants

Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class

During the exhilarating and dangerous late 1960s and early 1970s, no world historical figure of older generations had a more militant defense of Black Power than CLR James. But it was always a vision within a context, and after all these years have passed (along with James himself who died in 1989), the context remains crucial. Read more

Keywords: Black Liberation - Race and Class

Combatting Caste

The caste system in India originated as a way of dividing labour, as well as a method of exercising social control and maintaining order. Its power – and almost absolute acceptance – stems from the fact that caste derives religious sanction for India’s majority from the 4,000-year-old Manu Sashtra or laws of Manu. Today, in India, the Untouchables call themselves ‘Dalits’, which means ‘Broken People’. There are almost 180 million Dalits in India alone and at least another 60 million around the world who face caste discrimination of various kinds. Read more

Keywords: Caste - Human Rights Abuses – India

Race Obsession harms those it is meant to help

According to Kenan Malik, ethnic monitoring does not just produce misleading data. The process of classification often creates or worsens the very problems it is supposed to solve. Local authorities in Britain have used ethnic categories not only as a means of collecting data but also as a way of distributing political power - by promoting certain 'community leaders' - and of disbursing public funds through ethnically-based projects. Once the allocation of power, resources and opportunities becomes linked to membership of particular groups, then people inevitably begin to identify themselves in terms of those ethnicities. Read more

Keywords: Anti-Racism - Ethnic Groups

Website of the Week


Solidarity

Solidarity (www.solidarity-us.org) is an independent socialist organization dedicated to forming a broad regrouping of the U.S. left. We include activists from many long-standing socialist traditions, as well as younger members from newer movements. We do not attempt to put forward a monolithic platform which we all have adapted to; rather, we rely on the richness of our traditions and the creativity and newer experiences of our younger members to foster and develop a forward-looking socialist thought. Solidarity was founded by revolutionary socialists who stand for "socialism from below," the self-organization of the working class and oppressed peoples. We are feminist, anti-racist, and democratic. Within our group, we are trying to foster cultural diversity, flexible practice, and straight-forward socialist politics. Find Solidarity here

Keywords: Radicalism - Socialism

Book of the Week


Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides Are Wrong in the Race Debate

By Kenan Malik

Malik says that most anti-racists accept the belief, also held by racialists and outright racists, that differences between groups are of great importance. While racialists attribute the differences to biology, anti-racists attribute them to deep-rooted cultural traditions which are typically seen as inherent in the group. Malik argues that these positions are actually quite similar, and makes the case that racism and racial inequality are best combatted by focusing not on our differences but on what unites us. Malik also strongly criticizes the cultural relativism of many anti-racists, and their increasing tendency to reject science as some kind of western imperialist conspiracy to oppress the rest of the world. Read more

Keywords: Identity Politics - Racialism

Film of the Week

Favela Rising

This documentary tells the story of one man, Anderson Sa, and his quest to create a non-violent cultural movement known as Afro-reggae. Anderson Sa was born in one of the worst favelas in Rio de Janeiro and grew up in a world full of violence and drug wars. In the favelas, children join the drug trafficking gangs at a young age because of the overwhelming poverty and the allure of money that drugs bring. The film makers follow Anderson Sa as he attempts to create an alternative space for community members and children where they can go to participate in music, art and dance. The members of the movement put on performances in order to gain media attention to the worsening conditions of Rio de Janeiro's favelas and the corruption of Rio's police force. The film documents the birth and spread of a non- violent movement within one of most violent places on earth. Find out more

Keywords: Music - Popular Culture

Organizing


Ideas for the Struggle

Marta Harnecker insists that victory is possible -- but only if social movement organizers and activists sharpen the revolutionary edge of their work through rigorous reflection and evaluation. Ideas for the Struggle goes beyond the narrow confines of national borders and represents a compilation of the best practices and most promising experiments of social movements around the globe. Read more

Keywords: Praxis - Struggle

People's History

Ten Days That Shook the World

John Reed's gripping account of the Russian Revolution of November 1917. One of the great classics of revolutionary literature. Read more

Keywords: Revolutionary Moments - Russian Revolution

From the Archives


The Nature of Mass Demonstrations

By John Berger

In this article, written by John Berger in 1968, Berger (who died last month at the age of 91) explores why protest demonstrations take place and what they are meant to accomplish. He writes: “Theoretically demonstrations are meant to reveal the strength of popular opinion or feeling: theoretically they are an appeal to the democratic conscience of the State. But this presupposes a conscience which is very unlikely to exist. If the State authority is open to democratic influence, the demonstration will hardly be necessary; if it is not, it is unlikely to be influenced by an empty show of force containing no real threat.... The truth is that mass demonstrations are rehearsals for revolution: not strategic or even tactical ones, but rehearsals of revolutionary awareness. The delay between the rehearsals and the real performance may be very long: their quality – the intensity of rehearsed awareness – may, on different occasions, vary considerably: but any demonstration which lacks this element of rehearsal is better described as an officially encouraged public spectacle.” Read more

Keywords: Demonstrations, Marches, Protests - Mass Action

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Connexions Calendar


February 11, 2017
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Promoting science and gender equality. According to a study conducted in 14 countries, the probability for female students of graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and Doctor’s degree in science-related field are 18%, 8% and 2% respectively, while the percentages of male students are 37%, 18% and 6%.

February 15, 2017
Finding 19th Century Black History In Toronto
Through the examination of petitions and Black newspapers, historian Hilary Dawson sheds light on the successes, struggles and realities of Toronto's 1799 Black Etobicoke community.

February 18, 2017
Screening of All Governments Lie: Winnipeg
Independent journalists like Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and Matt Taibbi are changing the face of journalism, providing investigative, adversarial alternatives to mainstream, corporate news outlets. Our cameras follow as they expose government and corporate deception. Followed by a discussion.

February 20, 2017
World Day of Social Justice
An international day recognizing the importance of movements toward social justice.

March 3 – 5, 2017
Conference: Future of Left and Independent Politics Network
A national conference March 3 – 5, 2017 in Chicago to gather candidates, individuals, and organizations committed to a left political alliance in the United States in opposition to the two-party system of corporate-capitalist rule.

March 4 – 5, 2017
Permaculture Foundations: The Path of Regeneration
Permaculture is a complete design system, based on principles of ecology and sustainability that can be used to create resilient, economically stable, and productive landscapes, home and communities. In this workshop you will learn the foundations of Permaculture.

March 8, 2017
International Women’s Day




The Connexions Calendar is an online calendar that exists to advertise events that support social justice, democracy, human rights, ecology, and other causes. We invite you to use it to promote your events. Adding events to the Connexions Calendar is FREE. We'll give you a username and password which you use to log on. Use the contact form to arrange for a username and password. Read more →

Seeds of Fire


February 11, 1916
Emma Goldman arrested for lecturing on birth control
Emma Goldman is arrested in the U.S. for the crime of lecturing on birth control. Sentenced to a fine, she opts to spend two weeks in prison instead.

February 11, 1937
Flint autoworkers win their strike

Forty-eight thousand General Motors workers win their 44-day sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan.

February 11, 1990
Nelson Mandela released from prison

Nelson Mandela is released from prison after 27 years of incarceration by South Africa’s apartheid regime. On the day of his release he makes a speech calling for intensified struggle to bring an end to apartheid and bring about a democratic, non-racial and unitary South Africa.

February 18, 1946
Royal Indian Navy mutiny

Start of the Royal Indian Navy mutiny, a turning point in the struggle against British rule over India. It starts when Indian sailors based in Bombay harbour go on strike against the British. The strike becomes a full-fledged revolt, encompassing 78 ships, 20 on-shore facilities, and 20,000 sailors in various ports. Though the revolt is condemned by Gandhi, and eventually suppressed by force by the British, it becomes a decisive factor in the British decision to grant India independence.

February 22, 1848
Uprising in Paris

Anger over the outlawing of political banquets (a popular means of holding political meetings) brings crowds of Parisians flooding out into the streets. The crowds direct their anger against King Louis Philippe and his chief minister, Guizot. Shouting “Down with Guizot” and “Long Live the Reform” the crowds march past Guizot’s residence. The next day, February 23rd, Guizot resigns, but the revolt continues.

February 24, 1834
The Tolpuddle Martyrs

Six farm labourers in Dorset, England are charged with taking an “illegal oath” – a pretext for stamping out their attempt to bargain for higher wages. The men – George Loveless, James Loveless, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield and John Standfield – who become known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, are sentenced to ‘transportation’ to Australia: a fate from which few return alive. Supporters rally to raise money to support their families. Massive protest demonstrations in London, and an 800,000-strong petition, eventually lead the government to relent and allow their return three years later.


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This issue was edited by Ulli Diemer.


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